‘This’ by Delphine Seddon

This 
is what 
it feels like
on the worst days
all those black days
oil slicks on the brain
residue of my regret is 
clogging up the veins
slumping through
something like
a heartbeat
say bad things 
to the good people
only fuck the bad people
doubling over at the sight of
blue jeans ripped at the knees
leather jackets studs in noses
as I’m transparent now so
weightless cold drifting
can’t feel the breeze 
the colour of petals
can’t remember 
the taste of 
her hands as I
count each nail 
with my tongue
scared to  sleep
scared to wake
scared of not
feeling this
tie me to 
the bed
tie me 
to 
a
n
y
t
h
i
n
g

Meet the Poet

Delphine Seddon is a Faber Academy graduate and studied poetry at Goldsmiths, London. She has been short/long-listed in the WHSmith Young Writers Competition and Henshaw Press Short Story Competitions, and published by Muse Pie Press. She works in the music business.  

‘How Henrietta Lost Her Groove’ by Constance Mello

1.

I decided to name the car Henrietta the day me and Espi were driving it to San Jose for the Ariana Grande concert. I do this thing where I don’t think before I act, and so I was anxious and stressed about going to the show. I’d purchased the tickets over six months in advance, amidst all the excitement around thank u, next, and now that the excitement had passed the show seemed more chore than fun. I remember driving up the 17 and being terrified of Espi’s driving, zig-zagging over the mountain at a speed that’s much too fast, like every California driver. Always 10-20 miles over the speed limit. 

(A while later, Dane told me Californians got away with this because you’re less likely to get pulled over here than in other states, where ticketing is an important monetary resource for the police departments. Here, we just pay higher taxes.)

It felt special, somehow, that he’d loaned us the car to go. We’d only really been friends for a few weeks, and more than friends for just over ten days, but he seemed sincere in his offer, and so I accepted. I hated the bus. 

Henrietta was only a few years younger than me, having been made in 2003. She was old enough that the black was faded, and her plasticky nature showed through to the point where sometimes, in the right light, you’d think she was purple. She was also always covered in dust and leaves, from being parked in the church parking lot under a big tree. I hated that her windshield wipers never worked, and so the view was never as good as it could have been. 

I connected through the weird bluetooth plug Dane had, and played country music loud enough for us to hear even when we were going fast. Old cars do this thing where the faster you’re going, the less you can hear inside, and that’s another thing that drove me crazy. 

But I’m loyal to a fault, and so even though she had many things to dislike about her, I loved Henrietta. More for what she represented than what she really was, but still. She was my boyfriend’s car, and I loved watching him drive it, and so I loved it as well. For a long time, she was also the only car I’ve ever driven, and Dane had been the only one who’s ever taught me how to drive. 

When we got to San Jose and tried to find parking, Espi almost killed us when she turned the wrong way and we almost got hit by another car straight on. But Henrietta was quick, and when Espi turned the wheel sharply to the right, Henrietta didn’t even screech before coming to a halt on the sidewalk. “We almost just died”, Espi was out of breath when she turned to me. I was laughing at that point, already texting Dane about the quarrels we were putting Henrietta through. 

Henrietta’s parking brake also almost killed us. The car had a habit of driving even with it on, and you wouldn’t realize it unless you had to go uphill and almost floor it to hit a solid 45. Me and Espi were already on the road by the time we realized the parking brake was still on, and then when we pressed the button and pushed it down the car shot forward a little too haphazardly, making our seatbelts work a little bit harder. 

On our way back after the concert, we both had to shine our flashlights at the shifter because the lights on it didn’t work, and so we couldn’t see what gear we were shifting into. And even if the lights had worked, the letters on it were so faded that you might not have been able to see them regardless. And so we drove off, shining my flashlight at the shifter. 

When we got back to Santa Cruz, we stopped at Safeway. We didn’t often have the luxury of having a car to go grocery shopping with, and so me and Espi stocked up on things for the apartment that would usually be too annoying to bring on the bus – toilet paper, paper towels, canned goods. The Safeway was the only thing open past midnight in Santa Cruz besides the Donut store, and the roads were quiet. I grabbed the Earth Balance butter Dane liked, because I knew he was out. 

Espi dropped me off on the curb of Porter College, where Dane’s apartment was. She drove off in Henrietta and I said it was okay, that I’d walk over the hill to College Nine in the morning. 

Me and Dane drove to San Jose many times over the course of those couple of months, but that first drive with Espi stuck with me. I haven’t spoken to her since, and that was kind of the last thing we did together before parting ways for summer. I ended up spending more time in that car than in my own apartment over spring, even when summer was coming around and making her interiors hot enough to burn the bottom of my thighs. 

2. 

Three weeks into our relationship, Dane had to travel down to San Diego to look at the school he later ended up transferring to. He asks me to come with him. It’s an 8 hour drive, and we’d have to spend at least one night at his parents’ house, an hour and a half away from our final destination. 

Dane is stressed, and his TMJ starts acting up before we even get to King City, a location mostly used for truck drivers to pull into and rest. We pull in and Henrietta, being the tiny Toyota Matrix that she is, looks like an insect next to the imposing and positively American looking trucks surrounding her. We go into the convenience store, buy me a banana and him some Tylenol, but I know it’s only a temporary measure. Every time his phone rings during the drive it’s his mother calling, and his jaw locks again. 

The drive is long and warm, and if you’ve ever taken the 5 up or down you know that a large part of it is just desolate farmland. Henrietta treks on, her air-conditioning just slightly too weak to really make any difference. In my black jeans, I feel the heat of the black seat transfer into my thighs and butt, just like I feel the heat from the ceiling transfer into my head. We listen to Dane’s playlist, and there’s something about Henrietta that will always be pop-punk to me. As in Blink-182 pop-punk, the stuff that’s old and somehow timeless, bright and sunny San Diego days and checkered Vans. 

By the time we pull into Temecula – the city closest to where Dane’s family lives –, it’s cloudy and almost dark out. It’s also the first time I get dressed inside Henrietta, pulling on a new pair of jeans and fresh shirt, changing my sweater out for my jean jacket. Anyone who’s ever had to put on jeans in the back of a small car will know what a feat that is, especially in a crowded mall parking lot on a Friday night. I joked that Henrietta is the first car to see me naked since adulthood, and it was true, at the time. And even though there have been other cars since, you never forget your first. 

When we make our way to his parents’ house, another forty-five minutes away, we drive by the neons one more time, and I like to watch the morphed reflection of them on Henrietta’s hood. She smells like fifty different smells after the all day drive, but I’m already so attached that sitting down into the passenger seat after Dane is muscle memory. It’s my reaction to his action. 

Before we get there, in the middle of nowhere at 3000 feet altitude, he pulls over onto a patch of dirt, and we can overlook the mountains on both sides. The stars are bright and clear, and I look up at them through the window. He tells me it’s the last cell service spot, and it’s still 5 miles away from his house, so he texts his mom and then turns off the engine.

We climb out of the car, and I lean on my door, still looking up at the brilliant sky, uninterrupted by light pollution. He comes over and, against the car door, presses up against me, and we kiss. I can’t help but think that this is something from a movie, but then again, I don’t think Henrietta lives up to the part of the sexy car that the love interest drives. 

When we get to his house, the dirt road there leaves us in a cloud of dust around me when I step out to open the gate. The car is noisy on the gravel up the driveway, and I’m nervous. When cars make that much noise arriving, that means whoever’s inside knows you’ve arrived. The first time I see his house’s bright yellow front door is through Henrietta’s windshield. 

I can tell that Dane is nervous but determined to get it over with, so we step inside and take off our shoes, and sit with his family in the living room. He’d told me that his dog, Charley, would bark at me, but he doesn’t. He sits on my lap while I talk to his mom and dad and sister, and after a little while we go to bed, being careful not to make any noises that would imply sex, because Dane is still getting used to the idea of having a girlfriend over at his childhood home, and it’s all fine by me. 

The next morning we’re up by six, and on the road by seven, to see the school. It’s pouring rain, which is unusual, and it’s the first heavy rain I’ve experienced inside of a car in California. It feels comfortable, like I could fall asleep, but it’s loud because of the water on the road and Henrietta’s poor insulation. Still I lean my head against the seatbelt, trying to find a comfortable position, and Dane has his hand on my thigh. He only ever drives one handed, and any concerns I have for my safety aren’t enough to make me let go of his right hand. 

Dane decides he wants to drive back that same day, and the drive is chaotic and a little tense, with me making sure to never fall asleep and keep him talking, keep him awake. In hindsight, we should’ve waited until Sunday to drive back, but he was adamant he wanted to be back before then. We listen to Avicii on back roads that the GPS sends us through, and at one point Dane says it feels like he’s dead. 

“Slap me,” he asks. 

“Where?”

“On the face.”

I do, and for a moment he wakes up. 

“It still feels like I’m dead, though. Like time isn’t real.” 

I know exactly what he means. We were both exhausted and borderline hallucinating, and when I think back to that drive, Henrietta the only car on the road for miles on end, it’s a little scary that we did it. The music loud and the base rattling the plastic speakers, no longer fit to play music at any volume at all. 

Dane is playing a song for kids, about the moon. 

Moon, moon, moon, shining bright. Moon, moon, moon, my night light. 

When we finally get back to his apartment, carrying our backpacks and hoodies and trash and the blanket, I don’t think we even took a shower. Just changed into pj’s and slipped into bed, exhausted and borderline delirious, cramping ourselves into the twin bed that we slept on that whole quarter. Dane’s open mouthed breathing was like a soothing white noise machine, and falling asleep felt like slipping from one dream into another. 

3. 

I wasn’t really bothered to go into quarantine. I was actually pretty relieved. 

Because of our particular situation it had gotten quite awkward to still be staying with Dane and his roommates on campus, and going back to his parents’ sounded like a great way to get some space that was just ours, even if it was just his room. 

So we loaded up Henrietta, and I could tell Dane was feeling sad. The car was filled to the brim, with Dane’s guitar and bass hanging over my head on the passenger side, my backpack and computer on my lap, my other belongings in a box at my feet. I had two suitcases in the trunk, but mostly I packed light. Dane’s the over-packer between us and he’s bad at packing, so it definitely felt like we’d gathered all of our belongings to flee the zombie apocalypse. In a way, that’s what we were doing. 

A pandemic meant that a lot of the time we spent outside the house looked very different from before. Dane started Doordashing and I went with him, happy to be driving around, looking at the empty streets outside the window. When this all first started, it was still cold, and I remember feeling safe and warm, watching the world through tinted windows. It felt like an extension of the house that was just ours, even more private than Dane’s room, because no one could come in, because the doors didn’t open straight into the living room. 

Delivering food means you get to know a lot of restaurants, you get to form opinions about how long it takes them to get orders ready, you get to smell food in the car and be hungry, and you get to drive to people’s houses and put down bags at the door. Especially during a pandemic, you don’t really see anyone. Restaurants make sure to set the orders onto tables at the front, and customers make sure to select ‘contactless delivery’ when ordering. For the most part, it was just spending time with Dane, driving around in Henrietta, listening to music and watching the Great British Bake Off. 

(Or The Office, or Parks and Rec, or Psych, or Sherlock, or Chuck, or Scrubs.) 

We’ve been through most drive-thrus a suburban town like Temecula has to offer. You have the classics: McDonald’s, Steak n’ Shake, Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Raisin’ Cane’s. I am now expertly acquainted with most fast-food fries, I know exactly what my order is every time with the limited items that don’t contain meat or dairy – there’s not a lot of them. I can confirm that the best technical fries are from Five Guys, but that the most comforting ones are from McDonald’s. 

Then we had our more adventurous eats, from the restaurants we didn’t even know existed until we got an order from them. Chinese fried tofu and eggplant, coconut paneer curry, hawaiian teriyaki chicken. Endless poke bowls, with the house sauce. Crab stuffed dumplings dipped sweet n’ spicy. Heaps of garlic naan bread that we would pick up later at night, after our shift was done. New York style pizza, with garlic knots and the salad that had too many olives. The mixture of smells became familiar enough that I knew it had penetrated the surface. Henrietta would never smell the same. 

She will forever have the slightly oil smell of old fries, I think. As much as Dane tried to keep her clean, just having the bags in the car for too long meant the smell clung to the fabric seats, along with the smell that naturally occurs when two people spend a long time in an enclosed space together. Anyone who’s car-camped or had to spend a long time in their car would know what I’m talking about. 

Henrietta was instrumental in making sure both of us didn’t lose our minds while quarantining. Sometimes we would go on drives just around Aguanga, the town where Dane lives. There’s no one for miles at some points, but moving and rolling the windows down is more helpful than you’d think. A car may feel like an enclosed space, but at least it moves. I’ve come to appreciate that more than I ever thought I would, especially as someone who doesn’t drive. 

Quarantine was also when we said goodbye to Henrietta. Dane is an irresponsible car owner, and we once drove 2000 miles through Arizona mid-summer and not once considered changing her oil. When we brought her back, she sounded like an eighteen-wheeler, wheezing her way up the driveway. Dane’s dad, who makes a living off of cars, was upset. 

Dane decided to sell her this year and get a newer car, to last him the rest of his college years and beyond. The search was long and annoying, especially because, being out in the middle of nowhere, not having a car can be really isolating. The closest grocery store is over thirty minutes away. 

What was good about selling Henrietta is that Dane found her the perfect new owner, the exact same age that Dane was when he first got her. He made an Instagram post talking about how he’s happy that his first car became someone else’s first car. 

And that’s what I love about Dane. He sees poetry everywhere, even the most mundane of exchanges. He takes pictures, he makes an Instagram post, and ponders over the caption for hours. His first car wasn’t glamorous or even cool, but both of us loved it anyway. When I asked him about his choice, we said he wanted something to drive friends around in.

Now, when we Doordash, it’s in a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta. It’s sleek and silver and Dane hates the seats; turns out Germans don’t prioritize comfort over function. 

Meet the Author

Constance Mello (she/her) is a Brazilian scholar, writer, and teacher. She graduated with a degree in Cultural Studies and Gender Studies from the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and is currently pursuing a dual Master’s Degree in English and Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in The Ilanot Review, Fearless She Wrote, and Latinx Lit Mag, and was a finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. 

‘Escape’ by Sharon Phillips

After Self Portrait at a Window, c.1900, by Käthe Kollwitz

And one of these fine spring days
when the light’s angle shows
where overwintered dirt is lurking,

I’ll stand at the window, one hand
on the curtain — I might be tugging
it straight, perhaps, or brushing off

a dead fly — and watch the square
below, its fountain, gravel paths
and nursemaids with shiny prams,

gaunt women and rickety children
queueing outside its iron railings
for the doctor’s pauper clinic,

all of it the same as any other day
and I’ll see myself walking away.

Meet the Poet

Sharon Phillips stopped writing poetry in 1976 and started again forty years later, after retiring from her career in education. Her poems have been published online and in print. Originally from Bristol, Sharon now lives in Otley, West Yorkshire.

‘What it Takes to Hang a Witch’ by Gabby Buchholz

Being sent to the principal’s office as a fully grown adult is its own kind of humiliation. 

I sigh, sitting back on the wooden bench, shifting to attempt comfort while I wait. But these empty minutes are filled more with the fear I will be fired rather than scripting an apology. Because I am not sorry. 

Being my first year in this district, I wanted to make my mark. I’m only a few years out of undergrad, my bachelor’s in education still shiny on the wall. I have been jumping around from school to school, never sticking more than a long-term substitute. One teacher gave birth and the other had surgery. So it goes. 

Finally, after enough rejected applications and savings made from substituting, I received an offer from the best school district in the county. I had had my eye on it, a step in the far-off future. Landing this sped up my five-year plan into about one and a half. 

Being assigned 11th grade English is a high honor for me. It was the year I had truly fallen in love with the subject, diving into every text and soaking up every word of analysis from my teacher. I wanted to be that teacher for my students. 

It isn’t enough to read literature. Without living in the time of writers, how are we to truly experience it? Pride and Prejudice has so many adaptations, but we’ll never know which is truly correct without Austen here to tell us, and without contemporary readers to back up that choice. Realizing this, my original lesson plans all had to be scrapped. To fully understand a piece, my students need to live it.

When I read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 11th grade English, I distinctly remember my classmates. They were more memorable than the text. (I’ve subsequently read it since and thoroughly enjoy it.) There was a group of nasty girls, the leader being Pam, and Pam just seemed to hate this mousy one. She was quiet and held great insight on the texts we read. She would have made a great English professor, not stuck at my current level teaching thick-headed children. Regardless, she never spoke up, and the lack of eye contact from her was perfect fodder for Pam and her cronies. They enjoyed making hell of this girl’s existence. Only for 50 minutes every week day, but it was enough. 

I only caught glimpses of the torment. They would “accidentally” run into her in the hallway just before the door, making a mess in front of everyone, stepping over her in degradation. Further, they would drop things in her hair: gum, bits of paper, pencil shavings. Sometimes she would doze in class, and the girls sat around her in the back of class. Their barrier hid their nature, the mouse coming out a fool every time. 

Their cruelty mirrored Miller’s work, and I recalled it heavily when I read it later in life. I knew my students needed that. Lessons from a text to apply to their lives. A real life simulation of mass hysteria, accusations from thin air, and someone at the end of a pointed finger to take all of the blame. 

Classes began in earnest, with days of going over syllabi and students’ favorite summer memories waning, and the real work began. I couldn’t start with my Crucible project right away. I first had to find the nasty girls, and then the mouse. 

The mouse was easiest to spot. Nearly like my own. A pale thing, she kept her head down and her bookbag on her back, even when stuffed into the narrow desks. Most eyes looked upon her with pity, and finding any malice was impossible. Where was the evil in these children? Children are wicked! Yet I see no evidence of it!

I realized then they simply needed encouragement. Through the paperwork I have access to as a faculty member, I was able to find the locker of a particularly bright, popular girl. She waved hello to everyone, smiled brightly, and always asked about the night’s reading (college syllabi will be her best friends). But I knew under that soft, homecoming queen exterior was wickedness waiting to be unleashed. She had the potential, she only needed a match. 

And so I gave her one. 

Alongside evil, romantic longing is just as easy to spy in students. Our bright star, our Abigail Williams, certainly wished to be closer to the football player. Who wouldn’t? He is our John Proctor: Abigail wants him, but he cannot love her back. This means he will be one hanged. 

I knew I couldn’t actually hang any students; think of the paperwork! And so I decided, in this cut-throat academic field, as a class to be noted on transcripts sent to colleges, I decided the tests would create the accusations. 

Our Abigail is academically driven, but to an unhealthy degree. The way her face falls when she receives a mark not to her standard. But what if our Goody Proctor scored better than her? And at the hands of cheating? What would she do then? 

The plot was simple. I gave tests as any teacher does, and ignored the grades to determine new ones for my scheme, as any teacher does. Abigail originally scored top of her class, which is so boring time and time again. I gave her an 83 percent. Goody Proctor scored just above at 85. This never happens. It’s enough to catch her eye.

The mouse’s score stayed the same. She has a different role. As Tituba, she will write notes to allude to the truth of how Proctor received his grades; thus creating the rumor, being the source of all of the trouble. I believe her will to be weak enough to agree that she wrote it (though she will not) and to name others if pressured (she will be). 

The first stage had exactly the reaction I had hoped for. Abigail’s face contorted in self-loathing and disappointment. Especially because she believes she understood the material. I make a point to place Proctor’s test face up, as he sits next to our fair maiden. She notes the grade, angers more. Though I am not in her head, I can picture the cogs turning, swearing to study harder, be better, and beat him out. Boys only want smart girls anyway. 

As the tests get easier, she will fail more.

With each one her grade fell lower and lower, and his grew higher and higher. Instead of a two percent difference, it eventually grew to twenty and even thirty percent. Her grade for the class plummeted, and I got several tear-stained emails begging to let her retake. I reminded her of the policy I stated at the beginning of the year: no retakes, and no cheating. Cheating will result in suspension, whereas retakes are only examples of a poor student. 

She stumbled into class most days angry, frustrated, full of self-hatred. She needed an outlet. I gave her one. 

In the mouse’s handwriting, I slipped a note in Abigail’s locker that does not give away all pieces to the puzzle, but enough for the clever girl to put it together. Another test comes and goes, another fail and pass for the star-crossed pair. But now she eyed him curiously, almost cat-like. She believed she was on to his secret. 

Another note is planted, this time in the locker of one of Abigail’s friends. It only takes a handful of bad grades and rumors on pink paper to get on the wrong end of teenage girls.

I had expected to have to force the hands of my students. I thought I passed Abigail, her friends in the know, and the mouse talking in a corner of the hall, but I believed it was about a rather confusing paper I assigned. I would not have been able to write it either, but teachers are there to make their students better. So if they can be smarter than me, then I have succeeded.  

One fateful day, after Abigail received a truly abhorrent grade–just above the threshold of failing–she exclaimed, “I’m tired of this! He’s been cheating this whole time!” 

The stunned silence of the class was immaculate. I was certain this would go on for weeks before anything happened; I was afraid all it would amount to was more weepy emails. Instead, Abigail stands, pointing fiercely at our Goody Proctor, her eyes like hellfire.

“It’s not fair!” one of her friends added. Other voices joined in. Questioning ones, angry ones, fearful ones, but one was missing.

“Do you have something to add?” I asked the mouse. She shook her head frightfully.

“Come on, you’re the one who told me,” Abigail said. Her friends chimed in the same.

“I– but I didn’t–”

“You told us in the hallway one day! Admit it! You know who’s cheating!”
“There are multiple cheaters in this class?” I asked. I couldn’t believe how far this had gone.

“She knows it. Tell them!” Abigail shouts, her voice stinging my ears. 

The mouse is silent, frozen. Abigail screams.

Her voice is barely comprehensible, anger and frustration and tears mixed. She screams of the unfairness of it all, her hard work, his lack of work, how the whole world is against her. The room erupts, and before I have a chance to introduce them to the classic that is The Crucible, the principal arrives.

“He’s ready to see you now,” the secretary tells me. I heave up, ready to face my punishment. It will be far beyond what I really deserve–a medal perhaps? A documentary about me–but I will take it diligently, as Goody Proctor does in the play.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he asks me even before I sit, spit flying from his chapped lips.

“Only what I felt was necessary.”

“Causing a psychotic break in one of your brightest students is hardly necessary.”
“We’re about to read The Crucible. Do you know it?”

“Witches and whatnot.”

“Baseless accusations, mass hysteria. That is what my students needed to understand.”

“You went too far. You went too far.”

“Alright,” I concede, throwing my hands up. “I’ll tone it down next time.”
His face is the picture of incredulousness. “There won’t be a next time! You’re fired!”

“Is this my exit interview?”
“You’re dismissed. Immediately.” Security was not far behind to escort me out.

As I walked to my car, I saw the faces of my students in the window. They stared at me wide-eyed, the mouse most of all. I had expected her to hang, but it is I walking to the gallows. And they are witnesses. 

Meet the Author

Gabby Buchholz is a Creative Writing student at Lindenwood University. When not writing, she is an avid reader and defender of young adult literature. This is her first publication, and she is excited to begin this journey. She would like to thank her cat, Percy, for his continued support. 

‘That Horse Is’ by Paul Brookes

(a response to Magritte’s “The Key of Dreams” “La Clef Des Songes” 1935 version)

the door, sometimes left ajar,
sometimes shuts out the gust.
has a lock you must find
the correct key to open.

That clock is

the wind. A wound up gust
whose hands move
at different speeds, mark
duration by their flow.

That jug is

the bird that all pass by.
If it contained milk they might
pour out a mouthful or two
before it flew away.

That suitcase is

the valise. It may be packed,
ready for the wind to be right,
for opening and riding away on the door,
emptying the bird to fly like a jug.

Meet the Poet

Paul Brookes‘ chapbooks include The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley, (Dearne Community Arts, 1993). The Headpoke and Firewedding (Alien Buddha Press, 2017), A World Where and She Needs That Edge (Nixes Mate Press, 2017, 2018) and  Stubborn Sod, (Alien Buddha Press, 2019). He edits The Wombwell Rainbow Interviews.

‘Let Me Tell You What Nathan Needs’ by Anika Carpenter

Just try, for a moment, to imagine he wasn’t hallucinating, dehydrated, disoriented, half-drowned. Accept that what he said wasn’t crazy. Admit that just because you can still see his tattoos doesn’t mean that the sea didn’t take them. He fell into the water with a sacred heart pierced with arrows, octopus tentacles wound around his forearms, his daughter’s name intertwined with stars across his chest, and now, trust me, they’re gone. He watched the ink pulled from his skin and into the raging water, where it reached for the backs of halibut and groped hopelessly for waving seaweed before sinking into sand destined to become shot glasses.

He won’t benefit from recalling, reliving being dragged onto a lifeboat, rolled on the heart-black tongue of the ocean. No good will come of him picturing himself through the salt-stung eyes of the rescue crew  ̶  forlorn, useless in the shell of a sodden jumper whimpering, ‘She was right there, my girl, my Lena. She was the size of a blue whale. She swam right under my boat. She wanted me in the water, to swallow me up.’ 

Explain to me the benefit of him conjuring an image of himself wrapped in a foil blanket, not for warmth but to make him a hauled treasure, the latest gewgaw for this place’s dear psychiatrist. 

I saw Lena once too, miles from shore, dancing on a spume of water forty-foot high. Should I be sedated too?  

Lena and I used to play darts in the Ship and Anchor, watched by locals sipping beer, boots stuck limpet-tight to the spilt-sticky floor. They rolled their eyes at the saltwater seeping from her shoes and the lighthouse flashes she cast across their weathered faces. Every one of them claims to have seen her walking into the sea, ‘steady as if she were walking down the aisle, keeping going until her head was covered, not sending up so much as a bubble.’ 

Lena wasn’t swallowed by a whale, like the nurses here joke she was, oh I’ve heard them, no she’s swimming through cetacean arteries, carving poetry into blubber, humming to the churning of passing ships. 

There’s no movement in this hospital. The steadiness of the floors upsets Nathan’s stomach. The food, I believe, is tasteless. You know he smothers it with salt. The consumption of crystals suffused with the spirits of rays and angler fish will only make things worse.

If you want to see some improvement, signs of recovery, let me empty bags of wet sand onto the dayroom floor. Enough for him sink his sock-free feet into to soak up new imagery  ̶  ghost crabs skittering up his legs, and across his back, settling on his shoulder blades among sea-smoothed glass and the rose-like casts of lugworms. This will help. This will make sense.      

Meet the Author

Anika Carpenter is a writer, artist, tutor and sucrologist.

‘What the wireless operator wishes she’s never seen’ by Moira Garland

The name on the list of the drowned 
from the dark Atlantic burial ground:

James Ward. He’d worked on our farm,
a village man. Not a false alarm.

I can’t reveal this convoy’s been destroyed
until the sergeant says that it’s allowed.

The Wards, our neighbours who had cried 
with my mother when my brother died

in Egypt. Next day I’m home on leave
pausing     pausing      for their grief. 

At last the dark-blue boy 
pedals his bike to their door 

to hand over the telegram of death.
And I release my faithless breath.

Meet the Poet

Moira Garland’s publications include The North and Dreamcatcher and forthcoming in Stand, and Sarasvati. Recent anthology inclusions are The Brown Envelope Book (Culture Matters) and At Home in Our City (Leeds Poetry Festival 2021).  Winner: Leeds Peace Poetry prize 2016. Twitter/Instagram: @moiragauthor

‘Dreaming of Snow’ by William Thompson

All day the snow falls, dropping down in great white flakes that gather themselves into clinging crystalline shapes that vanish as they kiss the ground. The air is alive and thick with falling snow. He sits and watches the gathering whiteness. The snow falls and falls. It obliterates the green of pines and the brown of branches. He watches: the whiteness of the air; the whiteness of the ground. The whiteness of the whale? — summer days, reading Melville, far from now. The drift of snow at the edge of the yard is the breeching back of a white leviathan — exploding into the frozen air to swim this sea of snow.

Once, he opens the front door. The air smells clean and cold, the snow whispering as it jostles its way down, filling the air with clogging coldness. The light is already fading, but the brightness of the snow persists. He closes the door. He watches the rising level of whiteness. Soon he will drown, drown in snow and cold. It will rise to the level of the window, then it will bury the house — sooner or later, he will be entombed in snow. So he waits, watching  snowflakes clinging to the glass, forming patterns and frozen faces that peer in and take no account of the heat that for now still runs throbbing through his veins in a rhythmic pulse of denial.

Meet the Author

William Thompson’s essays and stories have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Zone 3, COG Magazine, and Firewords. His essay “My cowboy cousin” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020, and won an honorable mention in the 2021 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. He is totally blind and teaches children’s literature for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. He considers coffee a food group, and he loves to walk and read, usually at the same time. 

‘Marriage Bed’ by Fiona McCulloch

This body no longer excites you
Who knows it keenly after so long
Navigating it all for your pleasure
Its trodden routes now too familiar
Overly predictable just rote rigmarole
Left stale broke in our marriage bed
Back-to-back where minds adrift
Bleakly inch ever closer to its edge

This mind no longer entices you,
Once daring now just tiresome.
Having drawn deeply from its well,
Wings tested long to soar freely
Into a boundless future reinvented
Spy an elixir of untasted encounters
Highs of novel escapades half hinted

This alliance no longer secures you
Spurred up suddenly by a flighty itch.
Online offers emotional connections
Thrills of clandestine communications
Draws you further into a maze of new,
Renders you lost to meanings past. 
Imprint of a phantom spouse swiped
Loaded persona bloated on this husk

Meet the Poet

With poems in Northwords Issue 3, Fiona McCulloch recently has poems in MIR Online, Lumpen: A Journal for Poor and Working-Class Writers, and Dreich.

‘The Dig’ by Jeanne Althouse

A Creative Essay

“See this piece of clay,” Mrs. Aarden said to the children on the Monday of Kindergarten art class, holding up a fist-sized mound of oily brown modeling clay. “Hiding inside is a dinosaur waiting to come out. You don’t even know what kind of dinosaur it is, but the clay knows.”

“Or it’s a snake,” said Indira, who had rolled her clay into three long curvy slices on the art table. She picked up one piece and waved it in the air, pretending to frighten Jake, who had pushed other boys away to sit next to her.

“Or a dragon,” said Jake, who wanted to show he was better at ideas than Indira.

“Or nothing,” said Lamar, who was angry because Jake took the seat next to Indira, and he did not see himself as ever good at art projects, and he was afraid to fail, and be embarrassed in front of others.

This is exactly how I feel every time I face a blank page. I think I’ll never be able to discover another story. But I kept these thoughts to myself. This was Mrs. Aarden’s class, and my job was volunteer aid.

Mrs. Aarden nodded, agreeing with the children. “When you start to excavate, uncover, chip away at it, mold it, sculpt it,” she said, her eyes dreamy, unfocused, as if she had turned inward, remembering her own dinosaurs, “you have some idea, but you never know what you will find, because it goes its own way, it meanders here or there, unexpectedly, or a piece falls off revealing a wing instead of a tail, or the top half refuses to be a mermaid, or the way it warmed in your hand determined from the beginning it was never going to be a stegosaurus, it was going to be an angel.”

My subconscious is like that piece of clay, a fist-sized mound in my gut, waiting to be exposed, wanting out, wanting excavation, but holding its secrets.  I become a child, looking at it, facing its complexities. And how I feel on that day, at that moment, might prevent the dig, like a sudden storm interferes with the uncovering of the ancient treasures at the archaeological site.

There’s a perfect example. That metaphor—it meandered, from molding clay to searching for dinosaur bones in the ground. First it was an art project, now it’s a dig. I try to stay open to inconsistencies, synergies, connections. I go on with the digging.

 Morning is the best time for me to excavate. Every morning my body re-sets, after it sleeps and heals, like the sun, every morning, rises. With the colors of pink, red, flame orange, and with her clouds dipping their edges into the palette of blue-green sky- paint, the blinding bright sliver of round light slides up from the horizon behind the shape of trees. As the sun star holds me in her “great hands of light,” I hear the poet Mary Oliver singing.

On waking I am the new person I have become. I turn to the empty page, looking inside me, waiting for it to reveal.

Warning. Like staring directly at the sun hurts the eyes, it can hurt to look directly at the subconscious. Or another way of saying it, if I’m not slightly uncomfortable about it, or embarrassed to show the neighbors, or find myself not being honest, not telling the whole story, or not saying what I really got out of it, or what I really stole, or harmed, or meant to harm, or not saying who I loved and why, or not facing that I too once slapped my child, if I’m not being brutally honest, well, it’s bound to be a morning of a bowl-gray sky, with no sunrise, with no variety, ultimately, blank. Eyes down. Pen still.

The dig finds no artifacts at the expected location.

On good mornings, the best mornings, the words land on the page running. Sounds leap off their consonants in song.  Vowels kiss each other with expectation, like first lovers. Fresh images release their emotional juice slowly, like each sweet ripe red Cara Cara in the breakfast juicer releases its complex flavors of raspberry, cherry, rose.  The story comes alive so strongly, I can smell the flavor of it coming off the page.

But, alas, it’s half-baked. Or half-dug. Or not even half.

On thinking about it, all day, as I go about my business, filing out the tax form, or calling the plumber, or walking in the park, I realize I only have the first layer. These people on the page, they need names. My main character—is she a Mary, or Jasmine, or Rosa, or Leah, or Dolores, or LaDonna? Her name speaks of her ethnicity, her religion, her features, her hair, her eyes, her breasts, even the pink bottoms of her black feet, if her white lover likes to caress them.

What about her work? Is she trapped in a meaningless job answering phones on a complaint line? Does she deliver for the post office? Does she research coral reefs? What about her history?  Is she an immigrant? Was her great-great grandmother a slave? Is she adopted? What does she carry when she leaves the house; does she have a huge bag full of makeup, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, lip gloss, aspirin, a flashlight, a quirky old fondu pot she found at the antique store? Or does she leave with only her house key and phone tucked into her yoga pant pocket? Does she suffer micro-aggressions against women in silence or does she speak up every time? What is it about her that cries out to be told?

This is the day-work. It’s gathering the tools, the shovel, a trowel, the rake, a delicate brush. It’s looking for the soft ground, or the odd mound, the thing that won’t let go, that begs to be discovered, to be let out, to be explained. The day work is also reading, reading for joy, and reading like a writer, to learn craft. On this day I read “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell. Her voice stays with me. She writes about the unexpected death of a beloved son. “Never for a moment forget they may be gone, snatched from you, in the blink of an eye, borne away from you like thistledown.”

When ready to sleep, I turn my mind once again to the dig, to the story, to the characters, to the Muse. I ask her to help me access the mystery. Then I close my eyes, hearing borne away from you like thistledown, and I let go.

Dream. 

In the dream a scent comes to me. The scent of White Linen, my mother’s perfume. She’s been dead for ten years, but I see her face clearly. I visit her last home, the retirement room with her four-poster bed, a family heirloom, in the corner. She wears her blue velvet opera dress ready to go out. She reaches out for me to hold her hand, as she walks to the door, to steady her, but, oddly, I refuse. I remember the feeling of her warm hand in mine, her middle finger bent from Dupuytren’s syndrome. In the dream I refuse to take her hand and she falls.

They say dreams come in service of health. I recognize a warning from the feeling of shame I have on waking. I have unfinished business with my mother.

I read on the internet: “When digging or excavating in your yard, a potential hazard may exist because your utilities may have underground equipment installed relatively close to the surface.”

There should be a warning. “When digging or excavating in your subconscious, you may discover conflict, pain, suffering, a moment of shame that undoes you for days.”

In the morning, I write. I find my way into the story through the scent. White Linen. As I dig deeper, I uncover the moment, the moment of conflict on which the story turns. The character, Spenser (“dispenser of provisions”), has unfinished business with her mother, Faith (“fully anticipating it to happen”).

Shoveling. Digging into the dark hole. Every day, another layer.

I begin to see pieces of the treasure: the themes, what their story is about, where it wants to go. The treasure is visible, but it is full of dirt, grime, or hard clay from years in the soil. It begs for cleaning, for a power-wash with humility, gratitude, awe.

What happens next? Does Faith die? Is she snatched away from Spenser in the blink of an eye, like Hamnet was borne away from his parents? I am consumed with finding out, in the zone, oblivious to the tax form, forgetting lunch, breathing inside the story.

More shoveling. Returning to work. Showing up. Persevering. Another layer. Excitement builds.

The next day, more is revealed. Faith does die, leaving Spenser broken, full of regrets, unable to forgive herself. I feel tears coming as I write the words, words that seem to come from somewhere else. The sadness overwhelms me. This guilt will haunt Spenser for years. I search for the words that will deliver this daughter’s need for peace in that important last sentence. I write what I think is the end.

But it is not the end. 

My drafts, of which there are many, need a huge amount of editing. The story will evolve through this work, the deepening knowledge and respect for each character, the reading aloud of every word, the considering of active verbs, of varied sentence structure, of order of paragraphs, punctuation.

That evening, while listening to a favorite recording of Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma, I cook my mother’s Chili. The aroma of her Chili wraps around me, holding me in my mother’s warm embrace. I hear her voice reminding me not to forget to add a dash of sugar, her secret ingredient.

 In the morning, I look at the story again. I find another small treasure, lurking there at the bottom of the whole (interesting that word choice: “hole” or “whole”); it’s ready to be dusted off with the delicate brush. As she cooks dinner, Spenser hears her mother’s voice, reminding her to add the pinch of brown sugar.

In Mrs. Aarden’s art class, on the next day, she asked the children to find a seat next to someone new, someone they did not sit next to yesterday. She suggested that Lamar sit next to Indira, making them a good example of what she meant. She said that moving to a different place, looking at things from a different angle, doing something unexpected, something new, perhaps slightly scary, can help them uncover their dinosaur and let him out.

Lamar sits next to Indira; he wears a big smile.

When the story is the best I can write, I give it to my writing group, or to a writer-friend, to someone who did not sit next to it for ages, to someone who can look at it from a different perspective, to someone I trust who can tell me if I found my dinosaur—or a dragon, or a snake—or an angel in a blue velvet opera dress with my mother’s eyes.

Note to Readers

“The Dig” is an essay on creativity which tells how one writer digs into her subconscious mind to access the muse.

“Sing in me, muse, and through me tell the story…”

Homer, The Odyssey

Meet the Author

Stories by Jeanne Althouse have appeared in numerous literary journals including Gravel, The Examined Life, Birdland Journal, Penman Review, Inkwell and The Plentitudes Journal.  Her story, “Goran Holds his Breath” was nominated by Shenandoah for the Pushcart Prize. A collection of her flash fiction, “Boys in the Bank,” was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. She writes each morning, watching the sun rise, hoping to capture the light in words.