‘Distortion’ by Clara Roberts

April 2015

When I was a child, I never thought I would become part of a junkie’s dream, where real clouds are research chemical and methamphetamine smoke, where needles are used for injecting liquid euphoria that turns veins brown, rather than healing the body. It’s an unorthodox healing process – a disappearing act taking me away from my soul.

“We’ve got to get the fuck out of here,” he says. It seems like I hear him say the same thing every day. Getting the fuck out of here is our mantra for living a wrecked existence. 

I wipe the blood off of my arm and stash the needle in a hole in my suede purse before driving off into the Baltimore night. The shot was impressive, but the void inside of me cried for an additional shot. Kitter agreed. 

“Let’s go to the park and do a little more and then walk around,” I suggest. My sweaty hands are gripping the steering wheel. Like clockwork, I check the rear-view mirror to see if any cars are following us. Thank God, the black Escalade behind us does not make the same turn down the street. Every car looks like a government surveillance vehicle.

We do end up going to the park. I lie down with him underneath a huddle of leafless trees and a black glassy sky. He lays his head on my concave stomach and strokes my right thigh, my faded black tights slightly shielding the ability to feel all of his touch. He grabs his overstuffed backpack sitting next to me as I dig through my purse for my stash of meth. We pull out what we are waiting for: more. More is what we want. More is our addiction.

Our tools and spoons and crystals are sprawled across his Marilyn Monroe sweatshirt on the damp grass. The preparation is exciting, but comes with an uneasy weight of impatience. My stomach flutters and my entire body aches to feel the venom drown my body right that very instant. 

“Can you hit me this time?” I ask.

“Of course, sweetheart.”

I sometimes do not administer the drug on my own because when someone I feel love for sends the pleasure into me, I feel closer to them. The act is a different form of copulation, one where I can drift outside of myself but feel whole. He also could qualify as a skilled phlebotomist. The punctures he makes never bruise my arms.

“Shablackity!” he exclaims once the needle connects to my vein right away. I take my supple veins for granted, not imagining that one day maybe they will fail to work anymore.

“Shablackity,” I repeat, my voice staccato, and ears ringing. My heart becomes heavy with dense beats. I get the urge to talk a mile a minute, but no words slip out of my mouth. Instead I turn my blurry gaze straight ahead and pray that this rush does not leave. The stream of perfection always fades, even though the side effects last for hours. The first couple of minutes after the initial blast are the moments you want on repeat.

“Sleep in the stars,” he says. 

February 2015

3:00 A.M. on an early February night. Kitter and I have been in the motel room together for about ten hours, minus the time we went out to grab some food and cop more Tina. I am lying on the bed holding a plastic vial filled with crystals, about to put it away, until he stands in front of me.

“Can I have some more since I found that other vial in the drawer that you would’ve forgotten about?”

He is talking of when he looked in one of the drawers and discovered that I had accidentally put away some of my stash in there. I probably was going to find it later before we left because I usually tear apart motel rooms just in case I’ve misplaced some of my drugs. In this case, he is proud he found something of mine so he can potentially manipulate me into me giving him more. I have been giving him my stash throughout the day and night. He had a bag for himself earlier, but he blew through it within a handful of hours. This was not my problem, but he was making it mine.

“I don’t know. I gave you shit all afternoon and it’s not my fault that I saved up my stash and you’ve run out,” I reply.

“I set up everything for us tonight. I went all out and even got you some baggies—“

“All of which I did for us last week and the week before and the week before that, so it’s about time you contribute.”

“Why can’t you give me a little?” He starts looking more perplexed but heated and vexed by my “stubbornness”. 

“You think I’m weak—that I’ll always say “yes,” staying all complacent and ready to give you anything you want! Not this time.” A lump is forming in my throat as I raise my voice. Nothing I do is ever enough when it comes to me hooking him up with Tina and I know he was trying to manipulate me again.

“You don’t have to yell. What’s your problem?”

“You don’t respect me,” I say, without hesitating.

“Yes I do! Are you sure you didn’t buy another time this week behind my back and that’s why you have such a big stash?”

“I saved since Monday! Monday! Ben gave me extra and I’ve been saving it for us.”

“You sure you didn’t go again Wednesday or Saturday?”

“Fuck you.”

“You know what? If I wanted to I could rob your whole stash right now right in front of you.”

I fall apart crying, stinging with the realization that this drug is all he cared about. I start packing up my belongings.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he says.

I pretend, before I say anything else or continue to melt down, that it was a couple hours earlier. We were having sex, fucking, and making love. He’d held me so close at times that I’d also wrap my arms around him. Moments like those confuse me because I feel some strange energy from him that brings him closer to me, but my walls are not broken and neither are his. If I let mine down, I am almost certain I will only feel regret. 

I am washed up after our fight, the second one in one week. I cannot remember the last time I screamed at a person I am so close with. My temper has always been present beneath all of my other reactions, but he knows how to sting me. Anything negative that I sense when it comes to my generosity (money and drugs) — jadedness — shuts right into my face.

Everything that is quiet in me comes out in powerful tears down my face and cries from my heart. He knows how to fight, to beat down anything I respond with. And he can make things seem like they never happened, even pull out a few jokes when we converse during the aftermath. I am still holding onto his words as I’ve always done, both the beautiful and the ones meant to make me disappear just a little more.

Do I really know which words are true and untrue — mistaken? I notice the times when he is patient. He looks me in the eyes as we lie on our sides, talking slow, but with self-assurance. Those are the moments when I don’t feel as scared. But then, maybe even the next day, I bring up some feelings which I think need to be shared, and I see how perplexed he is — like I’m telling him concerns that are only a part of my irrational thoughts. He looks surprised and annoyed when I express anything that makes him feel insecure. I once said that he seems to talk about himself and not really listen when I voice my thoughts. I know he’s working on his listening skills because I see him trying. He still tends to bring the conversation back to his own similar experiences, attempting to empathize and relate to me, but only muting what I’ve been saying

“Don’t get upset,” I say to myself.

“Don’t cry,” I repeat in my head. 

He’s asked me before not to point out everything he is doing wrong, even though he does it to me; he denies doing it. My goal is not to make him feel bad or berate him, but to address what I see going on. I do not want to have to tell him that he is being unappreciative or greedy, that I feel like giving up when he asks for more from me. 

When I slam the motel door as hard as I can, I hope he sees how I am checking out. 

January 2014

Kitter. He goes by Be-bop. He goes by Kwik and is part of GDF (Grateful Dead Family). He watches the world go by with a smirk on his face. His nails are dirty, but evenly bitten. You love his sand-colored short wavy hair, his distracted gaze, his angular features, and his thin raw body chiseled by fourteen years of chronic dope and meth abuse. His voice is monotone, but oozes conviction — a desperate attempt to use crafted manipulation and fling it at everyone.

You hiccup laughs while falling into his scar-tissued arms. You both stay on the splintery floor of his room and reminisce about the world and the absurd people you’ve met—laughing about drug dealers with non-intimidating names, like Baby and Money. Each day of using represents all of the nonstop madness for each Baltimore hardcore drug addict, which is an impending torment, no matter how much willpower and control you believe you possess. You can be a kid with him.

Thirty-one years old and he makes it look “okay” to be a full-time drug addict. If pleasure comes in the form of an IV shot, then it makes sense to spend every single fucking day chasing a substance with no brain. He licks the blood running down your bruised arm, and then kisses you. You forget that you are able to cry.

You are no longer at the beginning. You try to retrieve the days lost to maniacal chaos, the complete necessity to have needles on you at all times, and watching meth smoke float away from filthy glass pipes.

And after three years he still wanders into your life. You go back to him, a habit you have not kicked. But you know if you answer him over the phone or on Facebook you will descend beneath the murky way of life, which you might never leave, ruining the opportune life you are capable of having. You wonder about what life could have been, while you dance with a void that is never as numb as the ones in your dreams.

You wake up this morning, checking your phone and finding missed calls—ringtones ignored from the guy your parents would never want you to marry. Your mind is shaken by a foreign sensation. You feel clean.

December 2013

The first time I meet Kitter is the end of December 2013. He comes down the damp cellar steps of Kenny’s house — a safe haven for drug addicts to live. He has a winter hat on that looks like one an elf would show off. He is bundled up and I assume he has spent the entire day out on the streets hustling. Even now he is going to hook me up with Dilaudid and I will give him one of the four pills in exchange. He has a good routine going. My friend Peter introduces us and I am uneasy watching Kitter nod off and talk about how we do not have to drive far to get the shit. 

Kitter coughs and hacks up phlegm onto the street as we walk up the block to my car. I try not to act like I am with him. He picks up a cigarette butt off of the sidewalk as I let him into the car. He gives me directions to that old lady’s house, the one who has the pills. His words are slurred and he is taking hard puffs off of the lit cigarette butt. I tap the back of another car while parking. I am anxious to get my drugs, but more on edge because of Kitter being there. I hate driving when there is another person in the car. 

On the ride back, he all of a sudden does not stop talking and I am in a trance from his disjointed speech, trying to drive but wanting to look over at him the entire time. Just in that short amount of time, the stories he shares are mesmerizing, verging on utter fiction. His mind is not a room temperature-IQ one like some of the other dregs who come in and out of Kenny’s house. He has a Charlie Chaplin-esque beauty to his disposition and an artful eloquence. 

I continue talking to him later that night after I inhale the drugs while in bed. I keep Facebook messenger up on my phone so we can talk more. But I have one image in my head: A needle. Kitter mentioned in the car that he shot the Dilaudid, along with all drugs. Every drug I use flies up my nose.   

I remember the day when I went to Kitter’s room and left behind a life that could have been beautiful. I pull the sleeve of my fleece jacket and stretch my pale arm out, showing off one of my various supple and untouched veins. 

I bring my own needle. I purchased one for a dollar the other day. I know very little about where the needle exchange program is, so that’s why I went down the street with a guy named Jack who lived at Kenny’s. He has Hepatitis C and yellow eyes. He ran into a row-house and came back to my car holding the foreign tool that supposedly had never been used. I wanted to make sure it was clean, but the top of the plunger had heroin dross on it. Jack said that the person told him he just used the top to mix the heroin with. Part of me wanted to give the needle back to Jack because the thought of getting Hepatitis C, HIV, or God knows what else was realistically scary for me. But I took the swing and did not let myself get out of this situation. I gingerly put the needle into one of the pockets of my purse, waiting for the opportunity to use it once I copped more dope.

Later on, after buying $60 worth, Kitter shows me the preparation for the first time. He is fastidious, each step flowing into the next. He makes sure to not even give me half a cap (each cap was $10) because the potent drug could easily make me overdose the very first time I use. We are left with a residue- burned spoon and a syringe filled with food. I do not look away when he breaks through my skin and fills it with one of the substances I almost want to do every day for the rest of my life until I am literally no longer a part of this world.  

Present Day

Kitter finds a way to see and talk to me again: a shared cell phone in prison. My heart beats faster than usual when he messages me February 2019. We Facetime. He’s at San Quentin for a minimum of 15 years to life. He shaved the side of his head and he’s grown chin-length dread locks on the other side. He says he buys Tina all the time—that it’s better than any Baltimore kibble, and that he can get an ounce for $200. I tell him I cannot send money over to him, even if it would be for Tina. He hides the cell phone whenever a CO walks by his cell.

I hear from another friend that the courts can extend your sentence if a cell phone is found on your person. What more does Kitter have to lose? He’s adapted to prison and might have to do life there anyway. He says he’s taking college courses and eventually will be granted a degree if he completes the program. He gives me the correct mailing address and I have yet to compose a letter to send those thousands of miles away. Maybe he’ll find himself in San Quentin or grow complacent with whoever he is now. He brings back our memories every time I converse with him—even the cloudy ones from the beginning of our connection. He’s drawing; no one can ever take that gift away from him unless they cut off his right hand. He has not contacted me via cell phone in almost six months. 

I’m not scared for him anymore, but I am scared for myself. The addiction is still in hibernation and the threat of its coercion has never left, even after spending months of my life in multiple rehabs and psychiatric hospitalizations. I wake up in the morning, not only wondering if I’ll hear from Kitter, but speculating if the addiction will ever control me again. I am only a few decisions away from ambling down Baltimore’s pot-holed streets and into the arms of using buddies, dealers, and drugs.

Sobriety and Kitter cannot coexist, but sobriety and I might be able to make it through the fog.


Meet the Author!

Clara Roberts is a graduate from the MA in Writing at Johns Hopkins. A Best of the Net nominee, her nonfiction and poetry have been published in Idle Ink, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Downtown Archive, Ethel Zine and Micro-Press, Back Patio Press, Portland Metrozine, Door is A Jar Magazine, Journal of Erato, trampset, and other venues. She lives in Baltimore where she finds material to write about every day.

Twitter: @BurroughsTieInstagram: @freezedriedyo

‘You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way’ by Arthur Davis

Corey came back yesterday, as a woman.

“I’m thinking of becoming an amphibian,” she said.

“Any reason?” I asked, always careful not to step on her dreams.

I have an impressive record of not stepping on the dreams of my friends. The Wall Street Journal once wrote a human-interest article about me. Not a very long piece, as one of three other people they cited about respecting the dreams of friends and family. According to a national survey, the three of us had stepped on the fewest number of dreams in our lives.

I imagine the two others, both women, were also deluged with offers to sponsor products, have movies made about their lives, and offered cash to simply put their face on the cover of a product. Lara Richardson was the most tempted of the three of us. She was quite ill and, in her late fifties, hadn’t long to live. She was appreciative, as were Karen and myself, but in the end, it just wasn’t something we wanted to pursue.

Those years were some of my best. I traveled widely because of a small stipend I had received from the Journal of Astrophysics arguing that God was left-handed, which apparently a world of reticent right-handers out there happened to agree with.

I went with Orville, as my love life was generally unreliable. Orville had been with me since I was eight. My parents were shopping for linens on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was the heart of the linen district in the city many years ago, where I found him in an old toy store. Orville, whose biography I wrote about several years back, was, as expected, excellent company for a teddy bear and on more than one occasion seemed to be more informed about significant geopolitical issues in northern European countries than the guide we had been using at the time.

Orville suggested that I collaborate with Karen on a book entitled How Not To Step on Dreams. Karen, a shy and hesitant woman, declined and wished us the best of luck. Orville and I completed a final draft in a year. Perkins, Elmer & Ross, one of the most well-respected publishers in the country, contracted for the deal. The advances on the potential royalties were startling, as word spread that one of the last surviving members of the three who were cited in the Wall Street Journal was creating a follow-up piece that was to delve deeper into the psyche of mankind.

I believe their enthusiasm was also based on an earlier treatise Orville wrote about the fallibility of mankind titled You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way, which was picked up for reprint in 193 of the 195 nations in the world.

We had completed a strong first draft when Corey returned. I was taking that day off, as Orville was at the Smithsonian in Washington on a separate research project on cosmology, his favorite subject. A bright, sunny April day in the seventies, I took lunch to Central Park, when a tiny green lizard jumped up on the bench where I was sitting.

“Hey, I did it.”

I looked down and recognized Corey’s dark-blue eyes. “Congratulations,” I said, beaming with delight. I had faith in her to pull it off. She was that talented, and I was that convinced that if it were possible to go from a man to woman to amphibian, it would be her, or him. Whatever.

She was wearing a three-piece suit with a plaid bow tie and brightly colored ascot. Her sartorial taste was always remarkable, and even though I thought the fit a bit too snug, when you considered all the jumping around she had to do, it was nonetheless impressively British.

We chatted for a while until a patrol car pulled up. Apparently, several people grew suspicious of a middle-aged man looking like he was having an intense conversation with himself on a park bench. Central Park has what is called Controlled Conversation Codes for that kind of behavior, and I and another fellow nearby had obviously crossed that line without knowing it.

The officer was tolerant. 

“You look like a sane fellow, so I won’t give you a fine, but if you want to have a controlled conversation, try after 4 p.m, when there is less of a crowd, and not on a day that is so beautiful, where you could sing and dance in the streets and thank your maker, or makeress, for being blessed for just being alive,” he said, got back into the squad car where his partner was fast asleep, and drove off.

“I have to be going,” Corey said, poking her head up between the wooden slats on the bench where she had taken refuge when the squad car approached. Corey flipped around and jumped into the bushes, and that was the last I ever saw of her. I was unhappy to see her go and without discussing her next transformation, something I was always envious about, but we had both noticed the falcon circling overhead toward the end of the officer’s advice so I knew it was best for her to flee.

A family of peregrine falcons had recently made a roost in the upper floor of a fancy building on Fifth and Seventy-Second Street. The newspapers covered it. It was hailed as a sign that nature, in all its glory, was returning to the city.

The falcon family was growing rapidly, mostly because the park hosted a world-class buffet of fresh pigeons.

I spent another hour in the park, knowing that Orville would be back in our apartment by dusk and both of us would be eager to get back to the manuscript. Before I left the park, I decided to take a turn on the carousel, a ride which had been my favorite as a child and to this day brought back wonderful memories of a world growing up in the city.

I made my way further down into the park toward the carousel. The Central Park Carousel, officially the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, a vintage wood-carved carousel located in Central Park in Manhattan stands at the southern end of the park, near East 65th Street. It is the fourth carousel on the site where it is located.

Children, adults, everywhere. I was beaming with delight. Then I noticed as I stood amongst the spectators that the time of the ride was running too long, and there was no one at the controls. I walked over to where the attendant should be and saw a note saying he had to go to the bathroom. I instinctively knew where the controls were and slowed the carousel. When the carousel stopped, I asked the lineup of parents and kids if they would mind if I could take a turn by myself in honor of saving the lives of terrified children and horrified parents. A quick vote was taken. Over 92.6 percent agreed that I deserved the treat.

By then, the attendant had returned, barely hitching up his pants, then brushing off the crowd for being so demanding and critical, mostly because he repeatedly said he left a note and that his handwriting was nearly perfect and they were overreacting, but grudgingly agreed that I deserved some kind of reward for my services.

I rode the carousel myself for a full cycle. In the beginning I was delighted, but as my turn continued, I started remembering all those who had made my life worth living and longed to share the ride with them.

That would have made for a perfect day.


Meet the Author!

Arthur Davies has been published in a collection, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, received the 2018 Write Well Award for excellence in short fiction and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Additional background is available at Arthur’s website, www.TalesOfOurTime.com and Author Central site on Amazon, (https://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Davis/e/B00VF0GDG4).

‘Lidice’ by William Falo

Steffen felt the villagers’ hatred as they peeked out of dark windows when he walked by, and knew they despised his presence. He hoped the terrors of war would stay away from Lidice after he met Julia.

Hey, German, she called him.

Fredrick was making regular rounds in the distance, and his black helmet bobbed up and down like a crow strutting around a cornfield. The radio crackled.

“Steffen, the order has come that this village is going to be targeted.”

“Targeted for what?” 

“For extermination. Commander Heydrich was killed. A message the SS found hinted that the assassins had a link here.”

“What about the people?”

 Fredrick remained silent.

“They can’t just kill them,” Steffen said.

“I heard the orders came from the Führer himself. The woman and children will be sent to Ravensbruck. The men killed.” 

He stopped talking when Julia walked toward him. “What’s keeping you?”

“Nothing, you look beautiful.”

“You just love me because you’re lonely.”

“That is not true. It’s because you’re the prettiest girl in Czechoslovakia.”

“What about Germany?”

“Yes.” He wanted to warn her, but if she told the others, he would be killed or worse. He had seen what the SS can do.

“Can you leave here tonight? It’s going to be dangerous to stay here.”

“No. I can’t leave without telling anyone.”

“Don’t go to the town center later.”

He ran away.

A man gave instructions to bring all the residents to the center of town.

The soldiers forced the woman and children to board a truck. Julia was with them, and she was crying. 

“No,” he said. He paced while the misery spread. Children called for their fathers while mothers sobbed. 

A line formed to enter the trucks. He would never see her again if he didn’t do something now. He saw her blonde hair start to flutter when the wind increased. The line shuffled forward.

Blonde hair. Lebensborn.

“Major,” he yelled. 

“Yes, what is it?”

“That woman with blonde hair is pregnant.” He pointed at Julia.

 “From you?”

“Yes.”

“Good job. Now she can have the baby in Ravensbruck.”

“I wanted to ask about her going into a Lebensborn home. She has blonde hair and blue eyes.”

The Major thought for a while. “You there.” He pointed at a soldier sitting on a stump. “Get that blonde hair girl and bring her here.”

“Thank you.”

 The soldier dragged her over while she struggled to get free. “Send her back to the medical unit in Prague. Tell them that she is for the Lebensborn program.”

He forced her into the jeep. 

“Steffen, where are they taking me?” Julia yelled out.

“To a safe place.”

“Why?” The jeep started forward.

“To have a baby.”

“I’m not pregnant.” The jeep drove away. He saw her look back once and hoped they wouldn’t find that out for a few months.

He heard gunshots and laughter coming from the barn. He ran toward it. 

He saw Fredrick pointing his rifle at the villagers lined up in a garden at the back of the barn.

“No,” Steffen yelled, and he knocked Fredrick to the ground. The others threw him against the wall. 

“Fredrick, help me stop them.”

He didn’t, and he heard the shots as they dragged him out.

The major shook his head. “It must be because you’re going to be a father. Instead of shooting you, I’m sending you to the Russian front.” 

Before they took him away, he saw the soldiers burn every building until nothing was left. Lidice vanished.

Four years later

Steffen limped to where Julia’s house used to stand, reached down, and picked up a clump of purple heather. It felt soft in his hand, and filled the space left by losing two of his fingers. He put it up to his nose and hoped to smell traces of Julia. 

The wind changed directions, and he heard a soft voice. A blonde-haired boy ran to him, “Mister, you want to see the garden my mother planted?”

“Steffen, leave that man alone.” It made him stop. He knew that voice. He looked up. The face looked older and the eyes emptier, but she was beautiful. 

“Julia.”

“Steffen, this is your son.”

He fell to his knees. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I tried to stop them. I’m sorry.”

She reached down and touched his face. “You saved my life.”

“But how?” he pointed at the boy. 

“It turns out that I was pregnant.” Julia smiled. “They put me in the program, but I was able to get my baby back when the war ended.

The boy ran over and asked, “Are you okay, mister?”

“I’m wonderful.” He looked into her eyes.

Julia smiled and helped him up, then held his hand while they walked toward the center of Lidice, where a field of wildflowers had started to bloom.

On the orders of K. H. Frank, 173 Lidice men were shot on that fateful day in the garden of the Horak farm. The women and children were taken to the gymnasium of Kladno grammar school. Three days later, the children were taken from their mothers and, except for those selected for re-education in German families and babies under one year of age, were poisoned by exhaust gas in specially adapted vehicles in the Nazi extermination camp at Chełmno upon Nerr in Poland. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, which usually meant quick or lingering death for the inmates.

Having rid the village of its inhabitants, the Nazis began to destroy the village itself, first setting the houses on fire and then razing them to the ground with plastic explosives. They did not stop at that but proceeded to destroy the church and even the last place of rest – the cemetery. In 1943 all that remained was an empty space. Until the end of the war, the sight was marked by notices forbidding entry.

The news of the destruction of Lidice spread rapidly around the world. But the Nazi intention to wipe the little Czech village off the face of the Earth did not succeed. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today. Lidice continued to live in the minds of people all over the world, and after the war, the Czechoslovak government’s decision to build it again was declared at a peace demonstration on June 10, 1945, at Lidice, which was attended by Lidice women who had survived. 340 Lidice citizens were murdered by the Nazis, 143 Lidice women returned home after the war ended, and after a two-year search, 17 children were restored to their mothers.

Source

http://www.lidice-memorial.cz/en/memorial/memorial-and-reverent-area/history-of-the-village-lidice/#c240:~:text=The%20news%20of,to%20their%20mothers.

Meet the Author

William Falo lives with his family, including a papillon named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter at @williamfalo and Instagram at @william.falo

‘Kaliadne’ by Eva Maria Spekhorst

ME 

Perfectly clean white tunics. 
Short naps on moss in woods. 
Echoes in empty temples. 
Newly polished arrows. 
Looking out at a full moon. 
Letting your feet dangle while sitting on a high cliff. 
Feeling the cold wind on your face. 
Holding a person’s hand you love dearly.
Discovering old and crumpled scrolls. 
Making art on hot summer days. 
Dancing at midnight. 
The sounds of the sea.  Pastel coloured skies. Foggy mountainsides.

Hello, my name is Kaliadne, and this is my story. 

ILLIAS

As I sat there, legs crossed, I could only hear the sound of waves hitting sand and my own breath. 

I used to go there often. It calmed me. I could finally let go of everything and watch the sun slowly descend behind the horizon. 

I go there still. It gives me hope. Hope, that there is more out there. More to be discovered, more to be learned, more to be known. 

“Kaliadne, dinner’s ready!”

Maybe I’ll disappear behind the horizon, too.

ALASTRAIA

She was like colourful clouds stretching across the Mediterranean sky. Never staying in one place, never taking in a form for more than a short moment, shifting into a deep coloured drizzle raining down on the ground. 

She was the wittiest person I knew. 
She was the fairest person I knew. 
She was the bravest person I knew. 

I hugged her one last time before she sailed off to Delphi. 

I couldn’t bring myself to say the three words. 

I still regret it. 

I love you, 

sister. 

SHE’S LEAVING HOME

It was a cloudy day. Silver glitter fell down from my fingers, landing on the frost-strewn ground. The mist swirled around me, making me shiver. 

My bag was slung across my shoulders, its weight the weight of leaving my hometown. 

It was for the better. 

I was going to be a priestess!

Yet the morning air stung at my throat. 

As I looked back towards the hill, I saw the shadows of what my life used to be.

I saw my mother, waving at me from afar, my father, resting his hand on her shoulder, and my little brother, who didn’t have the chance to meet his bigger sister yet. 

I saw six figures in white linen clothes floating in the distance and I turned around.

EPHESUS

The sunlight blinded me. 

My feet were tired and scarred, but my mind was buzzing with excitement. 

The mountains around me hummed with adventure. 

The wind swirled around me, dipping me into the summer heat and the smell of fresh bread. 

I beamed as I looked up into the crystal blue sky, a tiny ray of sunshine wreathing itself across my fingers. 

There, up in the distance, I saw a majestic temple shimmer. 

This was the place I’d soon call home, 

but for now, 

rest.

CALM MORNINGS BY THE RIVERSIDE

I looked up into the illuminating light. 

I could feel its warmth making its way through my veins, setting me on fire. 

I took in the beautiful scenery. The misty forest all around me, the river flowing relentlessly, beckoning the beginning of a new day. 

Breathe in, breathe out. My legs carried me towards the hurtling water. It was luring me in. Talking to me, hushing me. I wanted to be nearer. The cold gripped my hand and wanted to take me with it, but the warmth kept tugging at me, making me resist the water’s urge to carry me away. 

“Kaliadne,” a soft voice spoke “come back to sleep.”

Isn’t it all about balance anyway?

KALIPSO

Her hair was flowing around her as she stared into the distance.
Freckles visible on her face, she finally smiled at me. Her auburn eyes shone brightly with happiness and pride. 
Oh, how peaceful she looked. 
Peaceful with no one but herself. 

She was the definition of “carefree”.
She was the definition of “soulmate”.
She was the definition of “naive”.

That carefreeness I always admired was taking over her life. Somehow, very slowly, the word “care” dissolved. The only thing she was left with was her freedom. 

Did she ever care about me? 

I didn’t care.

THE FOREST

Water droplets on grass. 
Twigs, turning and twisting, forming a pathway through the woods. 
The shadows of trees and bushes, dancing with the sunlight. 

The wind making leaves flow through the air, landing softly on a patch of moss, dissolving into green colors. 
Tiny huffs of air turning to silver smoke. 
Feet hitting the ground. 
Adrenaline pumping through your veins. 
Your head spinning. 

You’re falling, my brave one. 
Do you know why?

ARTEMIS

She was like first fallen snow in winter. 
She was like forest rivers, flowing calmly at dawn.
She was like the moon in the sky, guiding nature. 

She was recklessness, yet she kept her cool. 
She was wildness, yet she struck with precision. 
She was loyalty, yet she stood alone. 

She was as bright as the day and as mysterious as the night. 

She was Artemis.

APOLLO

He was like the sound of birds singing in the morning. 
He was like ancient texts written on stones. 
He was like the sun, lighting up people’s lives. 

He was foresight, yet relied on the past. 
He was poetry, yet didn’t need words to speak. 
He was intuition, yet trusted his plans. 

He was music, filling people’s hearts with joy. 

He was Apollo. 

OUT AT SEE

It was getting colder by every passing second.
I took out the blanket Kalipso gave me and went to sit near the edge of the boat. 
It was a calm night. The moon was out, giving the water a silver coat. 
“Hopefully she’ll protect me on my journey,” I whispered to myself as I wrapped myself in warmth and the familiar smell of home. 

The waves chose a steady rhythm, racking the boat so softly it was lulling me to sleep. 
I didn’t feel like the clumsy little girl from Troia anymore. I felt like a different person.
My sisters called me a “mature, serious and confident leader”. I didn’t feel like that either. 

Maybe, I would reach that kalokagathia someday. 

But now, it was just “me”, and that was enough.

DELOS

The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of my boat was the overwhelming smell of fresh watermelons. It was surprising to say the least. The coast was full of people, brimming in their extravagant clothes, bargaining, chit-chatting, and in the worst cases, fighting drunkenly. I was nervous. I’ve never liked it to be around this many people. The sun was now up in the sky again, shining majestically, giving everything a nice warm tone. I grabbed some of my golden drachmas as I went to stand in line for the famous watermelons. An old lady sat on a stool nearby, smiling at me in an almost crooked way. 

“Came from afar, haven’t you?” Despite her thick accent I understood and nodded reluctantly as I gave her my money. I tried to leave as fast as possible, still feeling her eyes boring into me from behind. 

I certainly did enjoy my watermelon that morning.

LIKE A DREAM

She was like dandelion puffs flowing through the air. 
You could never touch them while they were flying, only observe and admire them from afar. 
She was like snow melting in your hands by the fireplace, cozy and tranquil, safe from the outside storm. 

She was the epitome of intelligence, fierce yet understanding. 
She was the epitome of wisdom, all-knowing yet still learning. 
She was the epitome of calmness, sending you into slumbers with a smile. 

She was just like a dream. 
Are you still asleep? 

BRAURON

I sat on the grass, back against a tree, and closed my eyes. Serenity.

I breathed in the smell of figs and pines, the grass and the trees, the sea breeze that was gently blowing the hair out of my face. I was alone and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed it. I was thankful for it. This place calmed me in a way no place has ever done. I could forget my worries, my fears, myself. 

I could just be. 

Exist. Imagine myself as the light sea breeze, flying across the magical mountains overflowing with colorrs of orange and green. 
I could become one with the trees around me, their ancient spirit binding me forever. 

For now, I could enjoy being nobody. 
For now, I could be free. 

UP THERE IN THE SKY

As I lay there, unmoving, on the cold ground in the middle of the woods, I counted stars.

It didn’t matter to me if they were big or small, alone or in a constellation. Each and every one of them was beautiful and unique in their own way, taking in a position in the night sky. 

If I reached out my hand far enough, would a star fall down on me? 

Or would it stay put with the others, awaiting the right moment?

Then I realized. I didn’t need a star. I already had one. It was rooted deep inside of me, guiding me my whole life, lightening it up. 
Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them someday. Maybe, I am one of them. And maybe we all are, even if we are too blind to see it.

Trust the star inside of you. It will show you the right path.

Meet the Author!

Eva Maria Spekhorst, 18, is a student at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany. She is studying Middle Eastern archeology and Mathematics. She writes poetry and prose, in addition to illustrating. She has illustrated her upcoming novel “Drachental”. She can speak 28 modern languages and 20 extinct ancient languages.

‘Spring Picture’ by Emma Wells

The Cornish Sea laps, coating the daffodil-hued shoreline. Movements are as gentle and cyclical as the turn of each season – one wave spills into the next as dominoes set to fall in a predictably-fashioned line. 

Spring is a verdant season: abundant and full of the potential that surfs its way to the surface as a toppled surfer. Buds and new shoots spring from spongy holds, piercing the air with sage tendrils which reach up, and outwards, to the sun. They grow peacefully, navigating causeways as ships upon oceans. Their growth and progression is steady, but determined. They hope to find a safe harbour away from the building winds to come during autumn and winter, that notoriously travel inland, after roaring upon open seas. 

For now, they are perfectly safe.

Her forming landscape tumbles with springlike notions as a collage where each newspaper clipping holds a semblance of meaning. This is what she hopes to achieve painting Clythe Cliff and its snuggled cove beneath the rocky ledges. 

Seabirds glide above as they buoy on uplifts, easing their shifting paths to washy swells. She watches the depth of their flight as they fully elongate their wingtips, expanding to full splendour. They breathe in heady, awakening gusts as they seek small fish to luncheon upon as they hover above the glistening sparkles of the sea’s calm edges. 

Children frolic as their parents relax on stripy blankets upon the warming sands. Cries of enjoyment and hilarity, as they play with the spilling surf, rise frequently to the artist’s alerted ears. For it is Easter-time and children are enjoying two weeks where they are freed of the confines of school bells. 

One particular toddler catches her interest as he stretches his curious, chubby toes into the billowing white foam that unravels upon the sand. He jumps in glee, running back and forth between his watchful parents and the shore, excitingly anticipating the silly surf each time he returns. This game will keep him occupied for hours. His parents turn their bodies slightly towards each other, as they lounge, enjoying a few moments of ‘adult time’. The mother shields herself from the pivotal sun with a straw hat; it has purple flowers entwined along the rim. Her oversized Bridget Bardot sunglasses cover her eyes as she flirts, smiles daintily, as her husband leans in, whispering niceties and playful promises. 

The artist shuffles her feet, having stood statically for many hours as she captured the colourful markings of the bay upon her impregnated canvas. A tartan blanket is laid beneath her easel, poised above a gentle clifftop overlooking the expansive Cornish Sea. She places her paintbrush, dipped in cerulean blue to capture the hues of the sea, as she sits to take a stretch and a break from painting, upon the easel’s ledge. She opens a small wicker hamper and unpacks a silver thermos of hot coffee. Its dark and decadent liquid reanimates her senses as its pungent aroma lifts in the breeze as she takes steady sips from a bamboo travel cup, floral patterns adorning the outer surface. Her eyes remain fixed upon the shoreline activities and the hubbub of an unusually warm and pleasant April day. No showers – not yet anyway. The sky is clear, as untainted as white, untrodden snow.  

As she unravels her lunch of Cornish cheddar, crackers and chilli jam, she breathes in deeply, suckling the salty sea air. Her fingers are flecked with debris of paint. Yellow ribbons streak her fingers and flecks of primary colours coat her fingernails: shadows of the rocks, cliffs, seagulls and day-trippers that she has translated from sight into coloured semblances upon the canvas face. She ignores the metallic tang of the paint that clings to her fingers as she tucks hungrily into a well-layered cheese cracker, having built a healthy appetite. Sips of her filter coffee punctuate her mouthfuls of comforting cheese, and the tangy chilli notes from the jammy relish, as she enjoys the enriching view. 

Abruptly, unseen and very unexpectedly, the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worst. The aquamarine skies and the skittish yelps of children at play are snuffed out as a candle flame on a windy heathland. The change is swift, as quick and lethal as lightning bolts. Large pelts of rain dash upon her head and smear the still-drying paint. The breeze, no longer gentle, achieves a much firmer hold, displacing her water jar and held paintbrushes that have been left to soak, releasing their coloured bands as a depleted rainbow. 

Without further delay, she haphazardly bundles all of her artistry belongings together, repacking them as best as she can at speed. The canvas is wet, damaged perhaps irreparably unless it it protected soon. In a flurry, she unzips her plum-coloured Peter Storm jacket and wraps it around her artwork, as a lover stood out in the cold. She pats down the rising coat, billowing in the gusts, praying that the work is not damaged beyond repair and the touch of her brushwork – she hopes to be able to rekindle its tenacity and springlike hues if needed. 

Her eyes gaze down upon the quickly cleared beach, now that she has a moment to breathe, having secured her work. In the corner of her right eye, she spies a figure. The moving shadow is clad in heavy black, as ebony as night itself, with an entrapped child under their cloak. The child is forced, overwhelmed by the stranger or so it appears, allowing his small-self to be eclipsed. His white face is drained of colour, now pallid as white-washed alabaster. 

Suddenly, she makes the connection between the toddling boy in the frolic of the waves at the shoreline only half an hour before, and this terrified face. It is the same child. 

He must have been taken or misplaced by his parents somehow. 

The artist shouts down to the ominously cloaked figure whom has disguised themselves by a raised hood, submerging their face into inky darkness. She can make out no noticeable facial features or items of clothing at all beyond the façade of the dripping black fabric that encircles the stranger, rising in turrets with the uplifts of the gale. 

“Stop. Stop, I say. That is not your child. Let him go at once,” bellows her voice, more steely than she actually feels.

The hooded enigma swiftly continues in the opposite direction from the artist, hurrying a little. To her it appears as if he or she is making for the other end of the cove. The child inside the cloak moves awkwardly and clumsily having not his eyesight to guide him or the will to be guided by a stranger. 

“I’m calling the police,” she proclaims as she hastily taps 999 into her iPhone 9. Wet drips paint the surface in translucent globules, obscuring the numbers as she blearily types. “Police please.” 

A few moments pass. 

“A child has been stolen at Clythe Cliff. A hooded figure has a male toddler hidden under their cloak and is making their way along the sandy cove. The child is calling out for its mother. Help. Help. Send someone and quickly,” she stammers. 

“Of course. Stay on the line, madam, while I report this through to the police. I will keep on the line with you until a police officer arrives,” a calm female voice announces, endeavouring to reassure and soften her spiky angst. 

Minutes tick by as the folds of the charcoal cloak begin to obscure and diminish from the artist’s view. Thickened, duplicitous fog has settled upon the shore, muddying further her view of the stranger and the guileless child within the smudgy depths of the stranger’s hold. 

“Madam, five minutes. I’ve sent the nearest based team to you,” the operator’s voice assures. “Can you confirm if you can still see the child?”

As the artist looks up, she sees that the sea air has brewed into an even deeper and more penetrating fog – a well of moody stupor. In despair, she scans the stretch of the sands, seeing no movement or person at all. Beads of perspiration begin to drip down her back and forehead as her level of panic rises – plummeting to sky-high plains. She can feel the tormented thuds of her heart as her panicked thoughts stumble over one another, tripping in their frenzy. 

Thud. Thud. Thud. 

As she grabs onto the easel to steady her nerves, the beach is now just a cloudy haze. She looks to her artwork and sees that her coat has fallen from the canvas, not surprisingly in the ferocity of the building sea wind. 

She eyes the canvas – the self-same one that has wholly occupied each, and every, thought for the vast majority of the day. 

Shock.

Despair.

Alarm. 

No longer are the etched brushstrokes, floral and spring-like, visible upon the surface. No longer do the images reflect the joyous scenes of the morning’s merriment upon the sands. No longer is the artwork her own. It has been erased, completely tampered with by some unknown, malevolent force. 

For upon the canvas, her paintwork has been wholly obliterated from existence. Instead, there are two words, scoured in the deepest black as the hue of a crow’s wing at midnight: He’s mine. 

Meet the Author

Emma Wells is a mother and English teacher. Her poetry has been published in: The World’s Greatest Anthology, The League of Poets, The Lake, The Beckindale Poetry Journal, Dreich Magazine, Drunken Pen Writing, Porridge Magazine, Visual Verse, Littoral Magazine, The Pangolin Review, Derailleur Press, Giving Room Magazine, Chronogram and for the Ledbury Poetry Festival. She also has published a number of short stories and her first novel, Shelley’s Sisterhood, is due to be published shortly.

‘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. 

‘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. 

‘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.

‘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. 

‘Passing’ by Nick Young

Marla folded the last of the towels and slipped them inside a large plastic shopping bag she kept for her trips to the laundromat.  She was happy to be leaving.  The building, squat, gray cinderblock, was poorly lit, with constant noise from the machines and the smell of accumulated lint and fabric softener.  Inside her car, Marla sat with her eyes closed for a moment, relishing the quiet.  She really did hate the place.  She looked up at the sign with half its neon winking on and off.  The Suds-a-teria.  What kind of stupid name was that, anyway?  

On her way home, Marla stopped at  the Dollar Bonanza for a couple of frozen beef pot pies and a two-liter bottle of cola.  She bought the store brand.  It was thirty cents cheaper than Coke or Pepsi.  And there was a deal on the pot pies — buy one, second one for half price.  

“And a pack of Tareytons,” Marla told the cashier. “Toss in a book of matches, too.”

“Don’t give them out anymore,” the bored teenager with pink hair and lime green nail polish replied.

“No more matches?”

“Management says it’s too expensive.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Marla said disgustedly,  gathering her change and groceries.  

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” mumbled the girl.

“It’s hard to believe they’re that damned cheap,” Marla fumed,  getting back into her car and switching on the radio.  As she pulled out of the parking lot onto North Auburn Avenue, a song by Blondie started playing, so she turned it up began to sing along:

“The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on.”

Yeah, by my fingernails.

At thirty-seven, Marla Sloan’s life had shrunk in on itself, curling and contracting until its lines demarcated very little beyond the city limits of Emmitsburg, Illinois, population 1,100.  Divorced for two years, she had an on again-off again boyfriend,  a job at a local plant stamping out parts for small engines, and she had her mother.  It wasn’t disappointment that she felt.  Her dreams had never really exceeded her grasp.  Rather, it was resignation, no different than many of her girlfriends.

In the driveway of the tiny two-bedroom frame house she shared with her mother, Marla took her groceries and bag of laundry, slid out of the car and nudged the door closed with her hip.  A light rain had just begun falling, so she hurried up the front porch steps and into the house.

“‘Bout time, where have ya been?” called a shrill voice from across the living room.

“And a very good evening to you, too, Lois.”

“You’re late.”  Lois Sloan, at the age of sixty-six, was the picture of a woman who had stopped caring years before and let herself go.  She was obese, her legs swollen and barely useful.  Her face was round and severe, framed by stringy yellowed-gray hair.  Her rheumy blue eyes, too small for her face, were puffy with fat.  She was reclining on the sofa, the TV blasting at top volume.  The coffee table next to the couch was cluttered with an array of prescription bottles, inhalers and a half-filled ashtray.

“I had to finish the clothes and stop at the store.”

“You bring me my cigarettes?”

“Yes, Lois.”

“And what about pot pies?”

“Yes, Lois,” her voice rising above the din.  “I got your pot pies.  If you’ll give me two seconds, I’ll put them in the oven.”

“Good, because I am star-ving,” Lois replied, taking the fresh pack of cigarettes from her daughter.  Marla eyed the blaring television with annoyance, picked up the remote and turned it down.

“Any reason you’ve got to have this up so loud half the county can hear it? Your hearing aids are on the table again.  Why aren’t they in your ears?”

“I don’t like them,” Lois said peevishly. “They feel like little bugs crawling around in there.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.”.

“Just take care of them pot pies.”  Marla rolled her eyes and walked away.

An hour later, she had her mother’s dinner ready, both of the pot pies and a large glass of cola on a wooden tray that she placed on her mother’s lap.  

“You forgot the Worcestershire sauce,” Lois complained, stubbing out a cigarette.

“Alright, sorry,” Marla said, restrieving a bottle from the refrigerator.  Dousing the pies was one of the peculiarities of her mother’s eating habits.  So after vigorously shaking out a puddle of the sauce, Lois took up her fork  and went to work.  She noticed that her daughter had changed into fresh clothes, let her hair down and added makeup.

“You ain’t having supper with me?” she asked between bites.

“Not tonight.  Jerry and I are going to grab a drink.”

“Thought you two were done.”  Marla sighed.

“No.  Just another lull in the action.”

“Well, I hope you won’t be late.  I may need help with an enema later.”

“I’ll be counting the minutes.”

Marla Sloan was an attractive woman.  The years had  not erased the best features of her angular face and smooth olive skin.  She prided herself on still being able to squeeze into size four jeans.  And her long chestnut hair had yet to show any grey.  Since the breakup of her marriage, she had dated sporadically, settling into what passed for a relationship with Jerry Dyer, who lived just outside Emmitsburg and delivered for FedEx.  He was forty, a good-looking man just beginning to sport the first signs of middle age.  The two had met on a blind date set up by one of Marla’s friends from the parts plant.  

They shared divorce in common, and for the most part they got along well.  They weren’t partiers,  preferring carry-out pizza and watching old movies to the bar scene.  The sex wasn’t always great, but it was good enough.  Jerry wanted a deeper commitment, but Marla wasn’t able to go there, and not because her heart wouldn’t let her.

“I can tell she was giving you a hard time again, wasn’t she?” he said as he and Marla nursed beers at Town’s Pub.

“No different today than any other, really, except I was tired.  A long week, you know?”

“Tell me about it.  Brownie was busting my chops over a couple of late deliveries.  Came pretty near to telling him to go fuck himself.”  They drank in silence for a long moment before Jerry began with some hesitancy.  “I’ve never asked, and you’ve never said how your mom ended like she has.”

“You mean being such a bitch?” Marla said with a smirk.  “Well, I guess it’s an old story, really.  She grew up here in Emmitsburg.  Not much to say about her early years  — she was an only child.  Decent parents, though I have no real memory of either one of them.  When she got a little older, in junior high I guess, she started singing in the chorus and that got her started dreaming.  Big dreams,  moving to Chicago and becoming a singer with a big band.  From what people who were around then say, she had real talent, a good voice and good looks to match.  But she never got the chance to leave .  When she was a senior, she started seeing this older guy, and no sooner had she graduated than she got pregnant with my brother.   So the big city and stardom went out the window.  She got a job in the old air compressor factory when it was here, and she settled with her husband.  Two years after John was born I came along.  A year  after that, the old man took off for parts unknown, and Lois was really stuck.  She had two raise two kids by herself — she never remarried — and life just ground her down.  A few years ago her health problems really started getting bad.  And so here we are.  A happy tale, isn’t it?”

“But why does she have to beat up on you?  I mean, you’re the one taking care of her.”

“Which means I’m the one who’s around.  Who else is she going to take it out on?”  

“What about your brother?”

“John?” Marla replied derisively. “He could care less.  Hasn’t spoken to her in years.  When she had her heart attack a year-and-a-half ago, I  called him.  He lives in Louisiana.  Works on an oil rig out in the Gulf.  Anyway, he asked why I was bothering him and told me he didn’t want to know any more about her.   Ever..

“Jesus, his own mother.”

“Well, yeah, his own mother, but she wasn’t much of one when he was a kid.  He was older.  He was the one she blamed for destroying her dreams, so he was in the bullseye, you know?”  Jerry reached across the table and took Marla’s hands in his, gently rubbing her knuckles.

“Look,” he said gently, “you could really use a break.  Why don’t we get something to eat and go back to my place, watch a movie?”  He winked at her. “Maybe you could stay late, and we could fool around.”  She smiled, but it quickly faded.

“I’d like to, Jerry, I really would, but I can’t tonight.”  She looked away for a moment.  “She may need my help later.  I don’t have to go into the gory details, but she’s got something going on with her digestive system.  ‘Nuff said.”  Now it was Jerry’s turn to seek out a deep corner of the bar with his eyes.  “I know it frustrates you,” Marla went on softly, squeezing his hands.  “I get that, but I’m all she’s got now.  I can’t turn my back no matter how much bitchiness she throws at me.  So let’s get some supper, and I’ll take a rain check on the rest.”

By the time Marla returned home it was a little after nine and the light rain had moved on.  As she reached the door, her annoyance returned immediately at the sound of the television going full blast.

“What did I say about the TV, Lois?” Marla shouted as she stepped inside.  Her mother, sitting in the same spot as when she left, said nothing, did not move.  Marla sensed something wasn’t right and quickly crossed to the sofa.  She seized the remote and shut the TV off.  “Lois?  Are you okay?”  But Marla knew her mother was in  trouble. She wasn’t moving, her eyes were glassy and the right side of her face drooped.   Marla called  9-1-1.

The EMT”s confirmed her suspicion:  Lois had had a stroke.  At the town’s hospital, the emergency room doctor ran a battery of tests then ordered a special medical helicopter flight to the nearest trauma center in Springfield.  It was an hour’s drive, so as soon as the chopper left, so did Marla.  By the time she arrived,  the ER team had evaluated Lois and moved her into the intensive care unit.  The news was not good.

“Your mother has had a massive stroke,” the examining neurologist told Marla.  “The next few hours are critical.  By morning, we should have a clearer picture of where this is going.”  

There was nothing to do but wait, so Marla  took the most comfortable chair she could find in the visitor’s lounge, curled up and dozed through the long night.

In the morning, nothing had changed.  The doctor treating Lois wasn’t due for another hour, enough time for Marla to get caffeine from the hospital cafeteria and try to clear her head.  She returned to the ICU lounge, sat and sipped her coffee.

This is it.  She is going to die.  She’s not coming out of this.  How am I supposed to feel?  Overwhelmed with grief?  Regret?  Guilt?

She did not have to struggle with the answers; they were clear, and she felt no shame.  

When the neurologist arrived, his evaluation was what Marla had been expecting:  there was no brainwave activity, no hope for recovery.  There was only one thing left to do.  Marla had power of attorney, so she instructed that her mother be removed from life support, and within an hour it was over.

Lois’ body was transported back to Emmitsburg, and Marla made the arrangements at Wannamaker’s Funeral Home.   Her mother would be cremated on Tuesday, with a brief service at the funeral home on Wednesday.

Marla went back to work at the start of the week.  She didn’t tell any of her co-workers Lois had died.  She asked her boss for Wednesday off and rquested that he keep the reason to himself.    Jerry was very sympathetic and did his best to be supportive.  He told Marla he would take the day of the funeral off.  She told him it wasn’t necessary.  She didn’t bother to call her brother.

Wednesday morning was bright and cloudless, pleasantly warm for early May.  Marla was at Wannamaker’s promptly at ten o’clock.  She was the only one who came.  There was no minister; neither Lois nor Marla had any religious inclinations.  So, with Lois’ ashes in a plain cedar box with a single lily in a cut-glass vase on a table by his side, Fred Wannamaker read a few words from a three-by-five csrd designed to soothe those who grieved, had there been any in the room. 

Within a few minutes it was done.  Marla thanked Fred, who seemed abashed by the bland pieties he had uttered.  He smiled wanly as he handed the urn to Marla and told her how much he appreciated being entrusted with the care of her mother’s remains..  She knew he was just trying to be nice so she refrained from reminding him that because his was the only funeral home in town, there was nowhere else to go.

So that was that.  Lois had been given a proper sendoff,  such as it was.  She had made no provision for her death — no cemetery plot, no headstone.  It wasn’t a subject she would even discuss, though Marla had tried a time of two..

Back home, Marla carried the urn  inside the house.  She glanced around, noting how quiet it was in the absence of the blaring television and how the smell of stale cigarettes and the sickly sweet-sour odor of her ailing, overweight mother had begun to dissipate.   She drew a deep breath, walked down the hallway to what had been  Lois’ bedroom.  There was a small closet.  She opened it, lifted the urn onto an overhead shelf, shut the door and walked out.

Meet the Author

Nick Young is a retired award-winning CBS News Correspondent.  His writing has appeared in the San Antonio Review, Samjoko Magazine, Short Story Town, Danse Macabre Magazine, Pigeon Review, CafeLit Magazine, the Green Silk Journal, Typeslash Review, The Potato Soup Journal, 50-Word Stories, Sein und Werden, Of Rust and Glass, Little Death Lit, Flyover Magazine,, Sandpiper, Fiery Scribe Review, The Chamber  Magazine and Vols. I and II of the Writer Shed Stories anthologies.