Our 2016 Pushcart Nominations

Pushcart Prize 2016 Cover
Our nominations are in! We published a total of 56 wonderful pieces in poetry, fiction, essay, and flash this year and it was a tough decision to find only six (the maximum allowed) to nominate. Thank you to all the writers who shared their fine work with us this year. I wish we could nominate you all. But decisions were required and so I consulted with my hardworking editors and together we came up with a list that took into account our personal favorites, and also the tastes of the Pushcart editors (based on past editions) as well as making sure each genre that we publish was represented. We were very essay-heavy this year–we’re feeling fortunate to have so MANY wonderful essayists trust us with their work.


Here’s the list of what we’re nominating:

1) “Grip,” a flash by Kathy Fish

2) “The Way it Really Was,” a poem by Ann Goldsmith

3) “Nine Months of Peanut Butter,” an essay by Sara Dutilly

4) “Laundry,” an essay by Kate McCorkle

5) “The West Elm Sofa,” an essay by David Alasdair

6) “Rules,” a short story by Laura Moretz

Congratulations to the authors and again, a big thank you to my wonderful staff of readers and editors. I truly couldn’t manage this labor of love without your contributions of time, energy, and literary stewardship. Onward to 2016!


Homepage Fall 2015

Europa Hides an Ocean
“Lady of the Lake” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.
All images in this issue appear courtesy of the artist.

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Fall 2015 “GOODWILL” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful artwork of Mia Arvamut which she has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way everything came together for this issue. We have a list of new readers for the journal, all prior contributors, and I’m thrilled to see how their aesthetics influence future issues. We have a new Shorts On Survival editor, too, the discerning and talented Bev Jackson. A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers who have hung in there for years now, and also the contributors to this issue who have trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Mia Avramut. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

Our January 2016 themed issue will be FLAME and the April issue will have the theme of HURRICANE. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers

Excavation: Mobile, Alabama, 1996 by Ting Gou

Excavation by Ting Gou
“Revelation” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

What happens when you leave
a house? Its body begins to rot

for you and live on for another.
As much as you deny it,

there are always two houses,
two sets of furniture—

one with refrigerator doors
collecting grime between plastic lips,

new family, new broken-down car
killing the lawn.

Then, there’s the house
as you remember it,

swimming upstream
in your imagination, year

after year, consistent as salmon.
That summer, my mother

obtained a box of fish,
their bellies emptied

of caviar.
Leaning over the counter

by the sputtering garbage disposal,
she intended to make dinner

out of those eggless pouches.
No air conditioning, no job,

no images for our eyes
but burnt grass splayed out for miles

like dirty lace doilies,
houses set in the middle

like cheap teacups.
She deroofed the scales

from spiculated skin.
Her movements calculated,

her cuts deliberate,
her gasp sharp but short

when she saw the worms,
pink pencil cores of muscle

sheathed around bone,
pockets of activity in the otherwise

dead. How I’ve tried to bury it,
the sound of useless flesh

falling into a trash bag.
How I’ve been drawn to it,

as to a place where something
remarkable happened,

how I stand in that kitchen
and it’s me who’s opening

boxes and boxes of freshwater fish,
each more terrifying than the next,

looking for what was broken,
what is still alive.

All things rot, even houses,
but what happens afterwards?

And who will stumble
upon our remains and ID us,

will they know us from our bones
or the troughs left empty

in the dirt?
I tell her we will last.

Blessed be the calcified heart,
the mineralized shell

of life hardened in the sun.
The tar that keeps us together

long enough to be found,
documented, crushed into tea,

no ingredient too taboo
for a mother, a daughter.



Ting Gou lives and writes in Ann Arbor, where she is a student at the University of Michigan Medical School.  Her poems have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Best of the Net 2014, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere.


Europa Hides an Ocean by Jennifer Williams

Europa Hides an Ocean cropped
“Rainfall” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

The creek that runs through the fifteen-mile canyon north of Sedona is lined with box elder and ash trees. Their campground, terraced into a wooded slope, overlooks a rocky bend, and towering limestone hugs the opposite bank. The girl sits on the largest boulder, midstream. She wears checkered flannel, her last clean pair of jeans. Her shoes are good for slippery stones. She waited all morning for the light to hit the water. Now, she closes her eyes and lifts her face.

A rustling noise makes her jump. She hasn’t forgotten the host’s warning. “Rattlers,” he’d said, poking through dark vegetation. All weekend, he carried around a bucket and pronged pole. Now, she scans the bank grasses and bower vines. But all she sees moving are some white butterflies and the shifting leaf shadows on the graveled shore.

Her new walking stick lies within those shadows. It’s smooth and dove gray, with purple-rose shading along its textured lines. She wants to take it with her. She looks up at her mother wrapping the breakfast mugs in towels. Their tent is gone, stuffed into the duffle to be hauled to the car. They’ll cart things out this way—in bundled loads up the concrete steps. From where she sits, the stages are clear: bank rise, then campsites, then cars. Her gaze slips across the narrow parking lot and up the steep ramp that cuts to the road. Through the mingled canopy of pines and creek trees, the girl makes out a red car flashing around the highway curve like an apple on the move: there, then there! then gone.

When they’d arrived, someone was parked in their spot. It was late Friday, and three tents were already clustered on the site next to theirs, the largest glowing from a lamp inside. The two smaller tents were the low-slung type meant just for sleeping. They glowed, too, though more softly, and only on the side that faced in.

Her mother had dimmed the headlights coming down the ramp, and now they idled by the other car, staring through the darkness at the tents, until the host brought his face to their window. “One campground, one car,” he said, marking his clipboard. “I’ll have them move.”

The girl slides down the big rock and tests a few stones for balance. If she wanted to, she could make it to the opposite bank. But there’s not much shore, and the wall of rock goes straight up, higher than any building she’s seen. Besides, she’s already tried what she could to engage it: on their first morning, she crouched with both palms against it and pushed.

Now she balances on two flat stones and squats down, eyeing a shallow pool for the flicker of trout. She’s quiet, patient, but only something minnow-sized glides through. When she twists up she sees her mother again, closer, standing with her hands on her hips. Just above the crest, the girl can make out the tops of her mother’s boots, but the splashing of the creek makes her still seem far away. The girl frowns when her mother points towards those boots, towards the ground where she’s standing.

It takes both hands to climb up the bank. She leaves her walking stick propped at the base of a tree and uses roots and vines to pull herself up. Near the top, a wolf spider darts across her thumb. It vanishes under leaves before she even registers what it was.

“I called you three times,” her mother says, pulling a white scarf over her dark hair. The scarf reminds the girl of her old pirate costume, and she wants to make a joke—after all, this weekend was different. They’d played cribbage and cards, plowing through every two-person game they knew. Her mother didn’t try to let her win, and she won anyway.

Instead, the girl looks up. A fat squirrel sits above their heads. Flakes of what it nibbles float down, and a piece lands on the scarf, then another one. The girl is getting taller. She can see the little pieces like pepper on a tablecloth.

They start hauling bags to the car. The biggest they carry up together, with the girl pulling, stepping backwards at the top. The neighbors are cooking bacon, even though it’s lunchtime, and it smells like the pancake restaurant near their house.

“If you lived on another planet,” the girl says, stealing glances towards the campfire, “how many moons would you want?”

Her mother arms her forehead, but doesn’t stop. “How many can I have?”

“Neptune has thirteen.”

“Too bright! I’d never sleep.” They drop the bag near the trunk. “I don’t know,” her mother says, slowly thumbing a knuckle, “maybe last night’s moon was enough.”

They fill the trunk, the passenger seat, and all the space behind the driver. It’s not the best arrangement: the cooler only opens partway, and on sharp turns the aluminum chair slides off the bedrolls, smacking the girl’s shoulder. She wishes aloud that they still had the truck. Her mother is bent away from her, leaning into the stacks to make everything fit. Without looking back she answers, “I know, baby. I know.”

The girl has the same hair as her mother, dark and wavy. They used to wear it in similar braids, and it pleased the girl when people joked they were twins. But her mother recently had hers cut. “Chopped,” was her word, and she had tried to explain about fresh starts. The girl still likes her braid, but she knows the only way to match her mother again is to cut hers, too. She reaches back now, considering this, and hooks the braid forward to suck on the end.

Side-by-side, they survey the empty site. They hear less of the creek where they are now, and more small noises from the trees and other campers. Nobody talks too loudly, but they hear a few tent zippers and a short beckoning whistle that echoes. Even after the sound dies, the girl lets the fragment pulse in her memory. Her mother says the canyon is like a church.

Everything’s loaded, but they don’t leave. On previous trips, they would have been gone right after breakfast. There would have been concerns about traffic. This time, she and her mother are continuing north, passing over mountains and through national parks.

A great deal has been explained to the girl: the trip will take all summer; they are not in a hurry; they will zigzag and sleep in the tent or a cabin, every so often a motel; some of the mountain roads pass above 10,000 feet. They’ll visit old mines and swimming pools, and eat ice cream cones in every town. Everything her mother can promise has been promised.

The girl thinks she sees a Painted Redstart and whispers to her mother. They crisscross the parking lot, trying to spot it again. It becomes a race and they split up, creeping around different cars. Her mother almost laughs when they bump into each other, both of them backing up, scanning opposite trees.

Back at their own car, they spot three boys climbing single-file over the rocks down by the water. The girl recognizes them from next door, and the first boy carries her stick. “That’s mine,” she says, but her voice is quiet. He’s older, and in any case, she is never allowed to take things out of nature. Sticks, rocks, even wishbone wands: everything stays. It’s still a family rule.

The night before, the boys set up cots to sleep under the stars. The girl fell asleep thinking about whether she’d like to do the same, and in the morning, she poked her head out. Two boys had disappeared into their sleeping bags. But the one with her stick now had his face turned towards her. After a second, he pulled his arm from the warmth of his bag and gave a small wave.

The girl watches the boys reach the tree where she’d found egg-shaped stones in the space between two roots. She doesn’t protest about the stick again. She’s already pushing the want away, packing it up, taping it closed like all the boxes: winter clothes; Mom bath; tournament albums, SAVE.

Her mother looks over at the clustered tents. The adults are eating at the picnic table. Suddenly, the girl is glad about the family rule because she wouldn’t want her mother going over there, explaining. But when she looks back her mother is already hopping down the steps, striding across their campsite—not towards the adults, but towards the water. The tall boy stiffens and glances at the girl. She wants to drag her mother back. But it’s too late, her mother has dropped over the bank and is at the water’s edge, extending her hand. The girl has never seen her mother do this to a kid. The boy takes the hand slowly and shakes it.

He quickly relinquishes the stick, but her mother stays down there. She reaches out and because of whatever she is saying, they all look in the direction of the towering rock. While the girl waits, she kicks at the old retaining wall edging the lot. She looks around the treetops, the parked cars, then over at the neighbors, who don’t seem to notice her mother at all. The girl hears one of the boys laugh as she toes the crumbling mortar.

In September, she’ll start a new school. They’ll live in Spokane, first with her grandmother, then, when the boxes arrive, in an apartment. Her mother doesn’t know if the school has many stories, a lot of kids, or even if the playground has swings. The girl is almost too old for swings, but she’d like them to be there anyway.

When she spots her mother again it’s her hands that show up first, over the edge of the bank. Then come the scarf and new haircut. But the girl quickly forgets both these things because her mother’s got the stick between her teeth like a dog. At the top, her mother steadies herself and looks up. Even with the stick, the girl can tell she’s grinning. She spits it out and stands there with her hands on her hips, panting in an exaggerated way. The boys are laughing. Her mother laughs, too. But the girl covers her mouth: she’s too happy to make a sound.

Her mother starts the car, cracks the windows. Sunlight strikes their knees. “Those boys just saw a snake,” her mother says. “In the rocks where they were standing. Can you believe it?” She turns in her seat, but she doesn’t look scared, or even relieved. Just happy.

The girl smiles back. “I wish we’d seen it, too.”

Their little car crawls up the steep drive. The girl rolls her window down the rest of the way and the boys wave from the abandoned site. “Say, Bon Voyage,” the girl yells to them. At the top of the ramp, she’s surprised to realize she can still hear the water. She closes her eyes to capture the sound.

When they’re past the first big turn, the girl pats her stick propped against the stack to her left, holding back the bedrolls and aluminum chair. She feels the coziness of the car, the gentle strobe of sunlight as they skirt high walls and break away past the trees. “Jupiter has sixty-three moons,” she says, resting her feet up against the seat in front of her.

“Why so many?”

The girl shrugs. “And some of those moons are huge, with names from Greek mythology.” She pulls her braid forward, flicks the end. “They’re practically planets, too.”



Jennifer Williams is a graduate of Pacific University’s MFA Program. Prior to writing, she worked as an engineer in Phoenix. Her short story “Gore Junkies” appeared in the Oregon anthology, The Night, and the Rain, and the River and she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Fred by Shaula Evans

“The Other Side” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 8.2 x 11.6 in.

My grandmother’s boyfriend, whom she’ll never marry (she’s had enough of fetch and carry after three husbands), this man not my blood kin, drives my grandmother to family dinners at our house to sit in his gray wool hat at the end of the table with us children and other outsiders. Fred makes me gifts: my face, close-cropped, in roses, irises, a wineglass–no Photoshop, no fancy photography, just Fred snipping, scissor handles wedged past the inflamed knuckles of his retired craftsman hands. Fred glues me into beauty. I mumble thanks, abandoning his faces to ashtrays, water marks, Safeway slab cake icing smears, while Fred smiles with hungry old man eyes at crumbs I proffer as politeness. When grandfathers disappear overnight it is dangerous to love a man who hovers between chauffeur and family.



Shaula Evans is a writer, editor and translator. Born and raised in Canada, and educated in Montreal, France and Japan, she currently resides in New Mexico after spending 6 ½ years traveling around North America in a Mini Cooper. You can find her online at shaulaevans.com and on Twitter at @ShaulaEvans.


Out of the Nest by Heidi Siegrist

Out of the Nest
“Nest” by Mia Avramut, wax on clayboard, 6 x 6 in.

It was right around my college graduation day that the snake came. I wasn’t home to witness any of what happened. I was in Chicago, selling everything in my college apartment and using the cash to go out drinking. It was hot, and my days of packing produced a sticky feeling of discomfort that would come back like bile minutes after stepping out of a cold shower.

I had been following what was happening at home because my dad liked to write me about it most days. I imagined him typing out his emails to me in his study, around 8:00, right after the sun had gone down and his beer had leaked language into the happy peacefulness of his mind. He was elated, these days, to spend each evening after dinner out on the porch. He and my mom had recently renovated it. They bought new, comfy furniture– the familiar rusted chairs with mildewed cushions were gone. My mom hung potted flowers all around the porch ceiling, and somehow convinced ivy to grow along the beams. At the edge of the porch, as if to mark off this magical space, they strung white Christmas lights and windchimes.

Because of all this beauty, a California wren had ventured into our backyard to nest in one of the hanging porch baskets. Among my mom’s peonies, she laid her eggs. California wrens are small and fat. Their color is a humble light brown, and when they look at you with their inscrutable bird eyes you see dignity in the streak of white, eyebrow-like, on the sides of their heads. In the summers, you hear them everywhere. They sing often, and with impressive range.

June in Chicago, the sounds outside were of cars pulling up outside of soon-to-be-abandoned college homes, the growl of suitcases along sidewalks, and the smugly triumphant shrieks of day-drunk seniors. I was impatient and sloppy in packing all my stuff into boxes. I threw wine glasses in with leftover boxes of pasta and didn’t fold my clothes or even turn them right-side-out before stuffing them into duffel bags. It was hugely satisfying to see my cluttered room turn clean and empty. A guy bought my desk for $50, and I used half the money for a cheeseburger and beers at the campus pub with my friends. We talked about our plans for the summer and what we thought we might do after that, and didn’t think of how easy it was to take for granted that we would always get drunk together.

The next morning, while I dozed sweaty and headachy, my dad sent me an email about how the wren’s eggs had finally hatched. When he went out on the porch with his coffee, he heard a chorus of little squawks in brand new voices. He wanted to look at the eggshells, now empty and useless, but he didn’t want to disturb the babies. The mother wren was so excited, he wrote. She flitted back and forth, chirping at her babies with a new, joyful song he hadn’t heard before. He was proud that she had gotten so used to him that she let him listen in on their celebration.

Goodbyes came in stages: I can’t believe this is the last time we’ll eat here, the last time we’ll drink together on campus, the last week we’ll be living in Chicago, etc. They did not seem real except for one. I’d had a falling out with my oldest friend. First year, we used to laugh so hard on the floor of her dorm room that beer dribbled out the corners of our mouths. Now, we stood braced against separate walls and I told her I hoped she enjoyed Oxford. “Thanks,” she said. “Maybe next year when I come back, we can…start over, and see how it goes.” The cause of the falling out was a mutual feeling of abandonment, not worth describing, which day to day seems irrelevant but builds and builds.

The next day there was no email. My dad called me instead, while I was lying on my bed doing nothing, with the fan on. He said that when he had come outside for his beer, he had found the California wren jumping from spot to spot but never landing in her potted plant. She was calling out sharply. He could hear a commotion from the unseen baby birds, and it was a sound he had not heard from them before. When he looked in the basket, seeing the chicks’ soft brown feathers for the first time, he also saw a snake. It was curled lazily around two of the baby birds, the third a lump in its stomach. He picked up the snake and flung it by its tail into the yard. It hit the ground with the thump of a thing already in motion. Then my dad went to the shed and got the hatchet that he used to weed kudzu out of the garden. As the snake slithered away he brought the blade down hard. At the age of 62, he killed his first living being. While he stared at the two pieces at his feet, the wrens cried.

But–two babies still remaining under the safe white lights.

My bed was the only piece of furniture remaining in my room at that point. I couldn’t sell it, because a couple of the slats were broken from a drunken and overly aggressive hookup with someone I did not know well or much like. I was just going to throw the bed in the alley, after my last night in the blank white room. Graduation was a day away. When I hung up the phone with my dad, picturing the events that had led up to him standing there over the dead snake and baby bird, I felt fear swallow me. Cliches ring true because we seek them out, match them up to the experiences that would otherwise bewilder us. They become signs, omens as bright as Easter eggs.



 Heidi Siegrist is currently trying to make it/fake it in Chicago. She is also an MFA student at the University of the South, and is working on a collection of essays about entanglement (whatever that is).


The West Elm Sofa by David Alasdair

Wesy Elm Sofa
“Dusk” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

Jon’s apartment is the top floor of a four-level brownstone in an aging beauty queen of a neighborhood in the heart of Washington DC. The kitchen, living room, and the small glass table in the bay window that makes up the dining area are all one space, filled with odds and ends that mostly only make sense to Jon: photos in mismatched picture frames, Argentinian love masks, decorative candlesticks, an oversized poster of a 1950s Spanish motorcycle festival, and a small flock of tourist-shop Buddhas sitting happily in scattered locations. The tiny coffee table is littered with the wanderings of a mind that can’t make itself up: a biography of Bill Belichick, Gibran’s The Prophet, Shape magazine (“for the exercises”), a reference manual on management techniques, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, and endless notes to self. And in the middle of it all is a small L-shaped sofa.

The sofa is actually the Blake combination love seat and chaise from West Elm, a swanky furniture store for yuppies who’ve outgrown IKEA. The love seat can sit no more than two side by side without getting intimate—it is after all a love seat—but there’s room for another on the chaise next to it. Technically the chaise is a “fainting couch,” because it has a back and an arm, but West Elm’s customers are would-be-metrosexuals like Jon, not the heavily corseted ladies of Victorian times, so it’s a chaise. It’s hard not to want to faint into it, however. The flow of the room, the giant welcoming down-filled pillow behind you and the long expanse of the chaise coaxes even the most excited of guests to lie down and take a moment.

This particular West Elm combination is putty gray in color, with chocolate-colored legs, and a slightly rough, though not uncomfortable “basketweave” finish. In all honesty, it seems a pretty ordinary sofa, until you sit on it. Only then do you realize how ridiculously comfortable it is. Not in that cheap Swedish way that feels right only in one position and only in the showroom, nor in the overgenerous softness of a reclining, swiveling, drink-holding, faux suede All-American sofa. The Blake is firm, yet giving, and feels snug whether you sit upright or lounge haphazardly. It’s nothing less than a favorite lover wrapping arms around you and whispering stay awhile.

More often than not the love seat becomes the guest’s, while Jon and his partner JJ stretch out on the chaise together, her head falling to his chest, sometimes in sleep. Conversations between friends will continue on in to the night, and become increasingly dream-like. When eventually the stories and half-awake debates have ended and sleep is taking everyone together, the couple departs wordlessly, and the guest is left with the whole sofa to stretch out on.

As comfortable as the West Elm is to sit on, it is literally a dream to sleep on. It’s wide enough to roll from side to side without the gymnastics of most sofas, and it’s thick, firm padding would shut any princess up about a pea. This is the city, so there’s no true dark and no true silence. But the street light, which stands mercifully below the window, scans patterns through the treetop onto the old plaster ceiling above that are the envy of any child’s mobile, and with the window open, the distant sirens, car horns, and shouts are as reassuring as any summer’s breeze. To sleep here is to sleep like you’ve never slept before.

The record for residence on the West Elm is nine months, held by my friend Zach. After wandering around the world—fighting wildfires, acting in a “ghost town,” working as a carpenter—Zach came out of the blue to stay with Jon. He had no job, no money, and nowhere to go, though that did not seem to be a huge point of concern for either man. At one point, Jon found Zach a job painting the walls of a nearby dive pizza joint. The owner told him he could paint what he wanted. He meant white or cream. Zach instead painted a mural that took three months to complete. When he was done he refused any payment except the original fifty bucks he’d been promised. Later he was asked to fix a shelf by one of Jon’s friends who’d heard Zach was a carpenter. Zach created a small library of built-in bookshelves, and this time refused payment of any kind because it was for a friend of Jon’s.

When Zach finally moved on, his record remained. Despite many guests—family visits, travelers passing through, friends in need—his record stood for years until Sherpa arrived for “two or three days, a week at most.” Sherpa is Taiwanese not Tibetan and has never climbed any mountain, but he’d been given the name the first time we met him, the way boys do, and kept it forever. He followed a stellar college career with a high-paying Capitol Hill job, which he parlayed into entrepreneurial success, buying three townhouses in a rundown DC neighborhood that gentrified overnight and quintupled in value. For years he was the successful one while the rest of us were still finding our way. Then he fell in love with the wrong girl and his life imploded. Within a year he was heartbroken, bankrupt, and homeless, his properties having been signed over to her in a final futile act of defiant love.

At first Sherpa was concerned with being the perfect guest. He’d lost his high-paying job, but found work stocking shelves, and he’d steal steak and bottles of wine and cook dinner for his hosts as a way to thank them. He’d make sure to regularly go out for long walks to give the couple some time to themselves. But as the weeks wore on, formality gave way to familiarity. By month two, anyone walking into the apartment was less likely to find him cooking and more likely to find him in his underwear studiously working his way through a 24-pack of PBR. He stopped going out for walks and told Jon to “fuck whenever you want, it doesn’t bother me.”

By the time nine months had passed, Sherpa had gotten his life back to a semblance of together and was ready to move on. But he stayed anyway, joking that he needed to break Zach’s record. Every evening Jon would come home from work and yell, “Still here?” in mock outrage, but, in truth, Sherpa had become both sidekick and mission, and he was happy for him to stay. It was ten months before Sherpa went on his way.

When it was I who was lost, and my turn to take the West Elm sofa came, I thought of its previous occupants and where they had gone after their respite with Jon. Zach wandered for years until finally he fell in love, married, joined the Rangers, traveled to Afghanistan—where he said he’d never felt more alive or satisfied with his life—and died in a firefight at age 31. Sherpa wandered too. He packed everything he owned in a tarpaulin sheet and traveled to Argentina, studying for a month in Buenos Aries before setting off on foot across the Patagonian Mountains. I heard from him next in Paris, living in a room as big as a closet in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and sharing a corridor bathroom with a continually passed-out drunk. From Paris he walked for months on El Camino de Santiago—the old pilgrimage route to Galicia, Spain, to visit the remains of the apostle James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He’d Facebook from the churches he stayed in along the way, surrounded by other glorious lost souls, as happy as I’d ever seen him.

I stayed three weeks with Jon, receiving his blunt, good-natured counsel every evening, and soaking up the West Elm’s restorative powers every night. Then I followed Zach and Sherpa back into the world. Both had come back to Jon’s sofa for far shorter stays at various moments over the years, as have I. It is the haven we have all shared. Other sofas are a place to crash. The West Elm is for those uncertain times when you don’t know where the next step will take you. Watching the lives of my friends spin off from here, even if tragically as in Zach’s case, is always heartening, because I know a similar road lies open for me.

When Zach died, Sherpa and I returned to travel with Jon to the funeral in Cape Cod. That night, we drank heavily and happily, and told endless stories of Zach. When Jon finally took his leave, Sherpa and I were left alone on the West Elm in the awkward silence of an unspoken question. Who sleeps where? After a few moments, I took the guest’s love seat, and left him the chaise. He was the record-holder after all.



David Alasdair earned an MFA from Eastern Washington University in Spokane, WA, has seen the Loch Ness Monster, been in the world’s longest chorus line, and occasionally makes Shrek-like noises with his right ear.


New Miserable Experience by Robert Fieseler

Europa Hides an Ocean cropped
“Rainfall” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.



I made my brother’s list. That’s what I was hearing. Billy wrote a list and included me on it—not at the top of the list but near. I smiled. He frowned. He readjusted his position on our mother’s couch, the leather squeaking. “Bobby,” he said, “that’s not a good thing.”

But I loved succeeding in the eyes of others, and Billy understood this: Second Place ribbon in backstroke at Maplebrook Elementary, lead in the high school musical, vice-president of my college fraternity. Billy knew I lined up these facts in my head like a trophy case. We shared a bedroom for 10 years, and he’d stand back as a kid and marvel at my wall of accomplishments. He never could catch me, first because he was four years younger and then because he seemed to “live a bit less.” That’s how he put it. My eyes drifted across our family room as my brother tried to speak.

I looked at Billy. He usually smiled right through you, like a homeless man might smile into the glare of a storefront window. But, here, my brother’s face reflected calmness, presence. His nose hooked to the left. The “Fieseler Schnoz” had always been our defining feature, and, though he’d broken his so many times, we still looked alike. Billy slid his cap backwards, which revealed the golden letters “W.F.”—honoring both Wake Forest University and, as a joke, his initials (William Fieseler). Not your school, I thought. You never went.

I knew from our sister, Annie, that November 2012 marked Billy’s first month of sobriety. We were nearing two months from that milestone. Three months, and he got a pin , maybe. “What I have to do as part of my program,” he began, and I felt trapped on the couch beside him. He talked some more, and my eyes floated to my mother’s Christmas Village by the window. Starting in 2009, when Billy fell apart, my mother would set up a miniature world on the triangle coffee table. Her fantasy became like a three-tiered cake. On the topmost pane of glass were the largest porcelain mansions, which included a Santa’s Workshop. On the second pane, a layer beneath, sat a smaller subdivision of homes and streetlamps. On the final pane, furthest below, dwelt a town ringed by a railroad.

“Part of these steps is I have to make amends,” I heard him say.

My mother took days assembling this village. She’d crack open bottles of white wine, sip and examine and reexamine. Each house lit up from within. When the arrangement pleased her, she’d lie on the couch and watch home remodeling shows and polish the bottle. Simultaneously, she’d project herself into the miniatures. Who knows what she found inside there. Her village was something children would adore, only there were no grandkids. My eyes sank to the lowest layer.

Two trains circled the same track, sometimes bumping each other like butt-sex. We’d be gods, I thought, to those people. Past the Christmas Village was a different universe entirely: our own. A tall bookshelf connected to the mantle where a boxy TV once sat. Beneath it was an air duct that blew heat on your feet straight up from the basement furnace. Billy and I used to fight for that spot. Winters, when we scooted up to the Super Nintendo, the winner got the heat.

We’d duel in a futuristic racing game called F-Zero. The fastest ride was a pink space pod, which sputtered from the gates but accelerated to the highest speed, so long as you drove her perfectly. She was my “pink gorgeous.” With her, I secured the record time on every track, writ with my initials: RWF. Then one day I caught Billy with my gorgeous about to shatter my time on the fastest track, and I kicked him to the window blinds, and she crashed. Instead of crying, he laughed as he pulled himself up, his shoulder bleeding. He laughed because he got me, found the thing that cracked the mask.

“Where the fuck are you, Bobby?” my brother asked.

“Jesus, man, I’m sorry.”




Pulled into Mom and Dad’s driveway and sat there for a second. The engine cut out, and the car settled into the purr of the electric battery. This was a rich man’s vehicle: Dad’s Toyota Hybrid. He’d lent it in June, when I started back at work. That was nice of him. Seven months later, he still hadn’t asked for the keys back.

Grey, cloudy, Sunday. Neighbors’ houses loomed around me, some of them taller than three stories. I pictured the old wives inside with their phones and pictures of pathetic kids: Mrs. A., Mrs. Green. They’d watched me grow up into what? Their sons left Chicago, not me. 27 years old, and here I was still borrowing Dad’s things. I saw the shadow of Bobby waiting in the kitchen, the overhead light catching his head. His shape stretched towards me. 20 minutes ago, he’d sent a text saying, “Getting some food.” The garage stood open. Outside, wind blew cold.

I’d meant to do this sooner. But Bobby said he didn’t want to talk about anything serious. I let six weeks pass, and now I had to pounce before he hit the escape hatch. Tomorrow, he headed back to Columbia University and New York City, where he lived. He’d been out of town for three years, and I hadn’t even paid him a visit.

My hang-up had been the “spiritual affliction” thing. A long road to respect the concept, bouncing in and out of centers, learning not so much to stop drinking as to live spiritually—the alcohol a symptom of deeper stuff. It’s a hard realization to grab with both hands: we are not just our own person. Growing up, Christianity was a thing I did on Sundays. To say I never felt the touch of God doesn’t quite capture the sham. I looked for God at my first communion, ate the bread and nothing happened. When I kneeled before that Catholic pervert bishop at confirmation, Grandma cried, and I waited for my imaginary friend. “He’s pretend,” I told Dad when we finally had the fight about Jesus. Now, I studied Chapter 4 in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. Titled “We Agonistics,” it made the argument that only a spiritual life conquers alcoholism. Dogs started barking inside. Two white bichons appeared in the front window. They dove at the glass repeatedly, though never – in their combined years of living – breaking through to freedom.

Bobby prolly guessed I was here. Those fucking animals. My favorite reference manual from last year had been: “Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?” That one did a fuck ton of good. I’d pop yellow Adderalls and tear through the pages. Few studies could explain how A.A. worked, and this book manipulated the fuzziness. It bought me time to drink. That book was my best defense. A.A. boasted more than a million people going to meetings, and I fended it away. Bill W., the former Wall Street trader and founder of A.A., had invented the idea of a “12-step program” based on the 12 Apostles. I knew this. My mind jumped to every 12-step program built on this happenstance: Gambler’s Anonymous (G.A.), Overeaters Anonymous (O.A.), Workaholics Anonymous (W.A), D.A., P.A., M.A., all based on what? Faith? Why not 10 steps or six? But I’d learned to stop calling bullshit.

Step 1 meant admitting I was powerless. Step 4 was my personal and “fearless moral inventory.” I kept my journal in the trunk. Across its pages, I catalogued every busted relationship in my life—past and present. I could recite it by heart. In the subsection marked October 9, 2013, which represented my Sobriety Day, I’d laid out three columns. The first column read “Resentful At” and beneath it “Bobby (Brother).” In the second column, I listed “Causes” of resentment in our relationship: “More successful,” “Judges me,” “Takes vacations,” and “Doesn’t want to talk about my life.” In column three, I tallied where each “Cause” cut into me: “Self-esteem,” “Relationship with others,” and “Relationship with self.” Then, if you flipped the page, you’d see three more columns. Here began my analysis of how I treated him. In the first column, titled “Selfish,” I’d written, “Blamed for starting my drug use,” “Made him buy me booze,” “Constantly drunk dialing,” and “Called him a fag.” These pages were why I was sitting in the driveway—to finish my Step 9, where I attempted to make amends for everything I wrote in Step 4. Hell, I’d made the list and one hell of a promise to my sponsor, and Bobby meant finishing it. Each step worked like an ego trap, grinding your face into the psychic crap of your past.

If I didn’t move ahead, I’d drink again. Progress meant embarrassment.

“No credibility,” I muttered. The time between January, this month, and October wasn’t much. But my sponsor and I decided, after my last slipup, that I needed to try something else. Family dogged me, we agreed, especially the thing with Bobby. My knuckles throbbed. I forgot I did his inventory on my first day back at meetings. Facing Bobby made my Step 9 with Dad and Mom feel easy. I took the keys from the ignition, stashed them in my hoodie. “God?” I asked, having taught myself to pray again and somewhat believing. “Give me help on what to say or how this should go.”




His voice shook me out of the village. “I was in there,” I wanted to tell him, but I wasn’t sure if he’d get the joke. Why drag up old shit? “Mom drinks because you did,” I almost said but stopped myself short. “I’m here to say that I was wrong in my behavior for a long time,” he said, his eyes unblinking. He locked onto me, drilling in sincerely.

I gazed at the Nutcrackers above the mantle and examined the iron tree, the one with the Hallmark ornaments my mother bought in June. On the bay window hovered a life-size sticker of a robin to keep birds from battering into the glass. “It wasn’t ok,” he said. The force of impact on double-paned glass was enough to kill finches from internal injuries. For some reason, the sticker (an image of a flattened bird) served as adequate warning. “I want you to know that I know that the wrong I did to you can never be undone and that I wasn’t a good brother.”

Some creatures ignored the warnings. I noticed how he avoided “sorry,” maybe on the advice of his sponsor. I’d seen him posting and seeking advice on online message boards like SoberRecovery.com. I’d done my research. Social media had sucked the mysteries out of A.A. Maybe all the addicts had held a symposium and agreed that they’d said “sorry” enough to strip the meaning. Maybe I could save that one to sting him, I debated, for saying it or for not saying it. But Billy knew I diagnosed situations to gain advantages. “And want to know how you felt about it,” he said.

And I couldn’t hurt him. This was my chance to tear open his brain and take out the broken pieces. Start with his childhood security blanket, pivot to his night terrors, crescendo with that crack-hole of a woman he met in Rehab Round 2. I could string events into a chain and use it to hang him from the ceiling. And I just couldn’t. I remembered my bedtime prayer as a kid, the one I’d say in front of him. “God bless Mommy and Daddy and me and Lauren and me.” I said me twice. I forced our eyes to meet.

He said, “This is me acknowledging the wrong that I did.” In his place, I wouldn’t say the same. His goatee looked trimmed. His arms bulged; he’d clearly been lifting for the past few months. Ever the competitor, I stifled my tendency to get jealous when Billy got buff.

“You remember the text?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “That summer.”

“I’m sorry I meant it.”

He’d called me late, when the light at my desk was the only light in the office. The Chicago Brown Line, which curled around my building, sat dark—done with all the commuters. My phone buzzed to life, emitting a glow that scared me because I was alone, and empty offices are creepy. It flashed “Billy” “Billy.” I guessed, by the hour, that he was smashed, and I felt stranded with his dilemmas. I couldn’t be distracted. The London office needed files by start of business, and I needed a job transfer to London. The need to keep working, keep working. I let him go to voicemail, deleted the message without listening and texted: “Billy, I’m really busy right now, and I don’t want to talk about your life with you.”




Why stare in the corner? Could he guess this was hard? I was saying what I was saying, and I’d practiced saying it with my sponsor, in front of the dogs, with my fiancée. Get your words right. Don’t say sorry, say apologize. Don’t make excuses if he throws it back at you.

He sat looking off and not wanting a drink, and I sat wanting a drink like always. Thoughts ran ahead of me. It was work to sit, work to talk. Work to rearrange myself on the couch instead of getting up and walking to Mom’s cabinet with the lock undone.

My voice droned. There went the part about being wrong. He mentioned the text message. Ok, he meant it, enough. I was working my way through the minute to talk and not get up. People worked for it, the ones I knew. Some worked forever and never saw the fruits. Can’t last the minute. That’s the bitch of things, and I’ve never been okay with it for one day in my life.




We went 21 months without speaking, during which he attempted suicide by overdosing on phenobarbital, an anti-seizure medication. I’d pass addicts begging for change on the way to the train and wonder if it was my brother. He changed his cell number, and I didn’t notice until I tried texting him six months later. I avoided mom and dad’s house for three Christmases to escape the situation that made me saddest: that Billy lost at everything, including his addiction. I want to say that I thought he would manipulate me if I tried to help, that he’d try to sink me. But the truth was I purged him easily. I couldn’t be bothered because I was too busy grasping for promotions, which I received. I wanted to tell him that he was always better than me, that, even as a kid, he saw through the playacting we do to manufacture worth. How a human was not singular in this world but the product of a family. And how that was unfair, because we don’t choose our families, but that was the truth of it, and in the truth we all become losers.

It sounded flat. It felt flat. I decided it was flat. Instead I said, “I lost my best friend,” hoping it meant something.

His head jolted back, registering surprise. He took time nodding and then replied, “It’s tough for me to even, kind of, recall what you mean by that. I’ve been so far gone that I can’t remember it, Bobby, and that makes me sad.”

I closed the garage after he ducked past the outside light. The metal door trimmed him away until he vanished. I heard the purr of the battery and the groan of my father’s engine as he sped away. I wasn’t sure where he lived, and I started crying, realizing I should have let him win something. I turned back to the family room and saw the furniture rearrange itself in my brain. I was alone, and I remembered when I used to babysit all of them: Billy, Annie and Lauren, my other sister. The couch sat in front of the bay window back then. My parents kept a stereo in a cabinet opposite the sofa. We’d listen for the sound of the van receding and then blast our ‘90s grunge rock. Billy and I reveled in those songs.

My favorite word as an 11-year-old, and thus my brother’s favorite word, was “rebel.” We planned to tear down society by buying the right CDs. In the fall of 1992, Mom wouldn’t let us buy Nirvana “Nevermind” because she hated the baby’s penis on the album cover. So we settled for the Gin Blossoms’ “New Miserable Experience,” not for the music but because the title summed up everything we believed in. Plus, their lead singer died of an overdose and that seemed to lend the band credibility.

The song “Found Out About You” commenced with airy, strumming guitars. “All last summer, in case you don’t recall…” I grooved beneath the ceiling lights on my parents’ coffee table. “I was yours, and you were mine… ” The girls pounded down the staircase in time to sing, “Forget it all! I leapt onto the sofa. “The things you said and did to me…” Billy took my place in lights. “The love I thought I’d won, you give for freeeeee…”

He mimed a solo. “Whispers at the bus stop…” We clapped. He kicked and sneered. “Nights out in the school yard…” We clapped together. “I found out about you…” This is reverie. “I found out about you…” I stole his voice. I’m stealing it. He did it with booze, I did it with winning. We didn’t know about siblings competing or anyone losing big, but he was seven years old, and that was the last time I could picture all of us clapping for him.



Robert Fieseler grew up in Chicago and graduated co-valedictorian from the Columbia Journalism School. He is the proud older brother of William (Billy) Fieseler, who also appears in this essay. Robert’s journalism has appeared in Narratively and The Big Roundtable; W.W. Norton will be publishing his debut book of nonfiction. Tweet him @wordbobby

Rules by Laura Moretz

“Untouched” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

By the counter where the nurse gave out B vitamins and detox meds, Deirdre watched two EMTs wheel in a fifty-something man on a stretcher, his skin a scary yellow. Fenwick stepped close. “You’re next, baby,” he said, “if you don’t stop.”

Deirdre wrinkled her nose. Fenwick’s sweet deodorant made her nauseous. The EMTs bumped the gurney over the doorsill and into a room and she wondered if Fenwick—she’d seen him at AA meetings before—was stalking her. A certified recovery counselor, and not much taller than a dwarf, he’d asked her at Hope House, first thing: “Are you one of us?” She’d said, “No,” and he’d been needling her ever since. Deirdre looked toward where the gurney had gone.

“Show’s over,” the charge nurse said.

Fenwick elbowed her. “You keep drinking, and one day your liver will be hanging out like this.” He indicated a pooch beyond his own robust stomach. “You want that?”

Deirdre turned away. “Ain’t gonna happen.”

“Oh I forgot. You’re too smart for that. Because you went to college.”

Deirdre’s throat was dry; her stomach heaved. She glanced behind her at two men playing cards on a folding table. The man they called Grandpa Hudgins had come in the same day as Deirdre, and Ricky wasn’t much older than her, but smart, she could tell. Their presence kept her from running out the unlocked door.

“You’re lucky,” Fenwick said before walking away. “Get sober now and you can still mother your children. But stay away from the guys, capiche? For their sakes.” What made him think she was some sort of femme fatale? Her runaway husband needed treatment a hell of a lot more than she did. She wrapped her arms around herself and scratched between her shoulders at an itch that crawled beneath her skin.

Roseanne swept the dayroom with big circles of her arm and sideways nods. “Time for Group, everyone.” Deirdre turned toward the coffee corner. “You too, Deirdre.” Roseanne’s green caftan sleeve waved like a flag. Grandpa put down his cards; Ricky shrugged and stood up.

Roseanne smiled brightly. “You’re up first, Deirdre.”

Deirdre moaned and dragged her feet, her arms as limp as an overtired four-year-old’s. “No way. I’ll lose my breakfast.”

Roseanne pulled her forward. “You don’t make the rules, sweetheart.”

They walked the linoleum-floored sea-green hall, past the room that Deirdre shared with Clunk Clunk, who was 48, two years younger than Deirdre’s mother, but who looked much older, as though she’d spent too many hours in a tanning bed. Back when Clunk Clunk worked as a bartender in Raleigh, she packed a pistol in each back pocket and double-clunked when she sat on her stool. Clunk Clunk’s counselor suggested she use her given name, Susan, when she left Hope House. Clunk Clunk said when she looked in the mirror she didn’t recognize the old hag she’d become. Whoever Susan was, Clunk Clunk wasn’t her anymore.

In Therapy, a new young woman hunched forward on a folding metal chair, her hands around a plastic Hope House mug of watery decaf. No pistols in back pockets here and no caffeine. You got a mug instead of a key, as though the first steps of recovery were to stop wasting Styrofoam and give up privacy.

The new woman looked gut-punched. Walleye Phil, Grandpa Hudgins, and Clunk Clunk left chairs open around her. Ricky sat a quarter of the way around the circle. Deirdre liked his brown eyes and long, wavy hair in a ponytail. The rule about starting romances at Hope House was: Don’t do it. The day before when Deirdre was just talking with Ricky, Fenwick led him away to the coffee area for a chat. (For God’s sake, couldn’t a person even be friendly?)

“Group, this is Krystal.” Roseanne nodded toward the new woman, who flipped up her hand. “And Deirdre is up first. Can you tell us how you got here, Deirdre?”

She looked where the wall met the ceiling, the same seasick color as the halls. The hell of it was, she didn’t remember, exactly. “I got caught.” She got the laugh she wanted, recrossed her legs, puckered her lips, and bounced her foot. Roseanne stared at her. Deirdre stared back. She hadn’t felt like this since middle school, when her sass earned her in-school suspension.

“The truth,” Roseanne said sternly.

“They say I overdosed. I mean, I’d thought about doing it, but I didn’t plan it.” Maybe now her husband would regret leaving.

“Tell us about that night.” Roseanne leaned forward and widened her eyes.

Deirdre looked at the seascape print over Grandpa’s head where the gulls squawked without sound. “I took some pills while I drank my wine. I don’t know how many.” That’s what they always asked at these places: How many?

Roseanne nodded encouragement.

Deirdre shrugged. “That’s it.” Her foot bounced with a vengeance.

“Do you remember coming to? It’s important to remember.”

She exhaled loudly. “I woke up and wondered why people were staring down at me. This black woman with a shiny face said, ‘Sweetheart, did you mean to die?’ I said, ‘No.’ But maybe I did. Here I am, however many days later.” Tears in her eyes: Roseanne had done that to her.

“It’s been six days,” Roseanne said softly. No one spoke. Roseanne made a check mark and wrote in her book. Then she went around the circle, nodding at each person. Some spoke with no more prompting than that.

Ricky said he checked himself in. His boss at the Asheboro Zoo was holding his job as a horticultural specialist. He seemed serious—like this was a university, and he wanted a degree.

When Roseanne came to Krystal, she shook her head No.

“First day, you get a pass,” Roseanne said. Not fair, Deirdre thought, but maybe she’d gotten a pass the first day, too. She couldn’t remember. When they left, she tried to catch up to Ricky, but Roseanne caught her arm and looked in her eyes. “Good job opening up.”

Deirdre felt like a bug pinned to a board, a specimen of the genus Suicidal Drunk Mothers of Toddlers, which, truthfully, could describe her.


Fenwick patrolled the day room in the evening. He picked up a battered issue of Time magazine with Sigourney Weaver on the cover for her role in Alien. Deirdre played gin rummy with Grandpa Hudgins and wished he was her grandpa. A lawyer by trade, with the least provocation Grandpa recited his case against the charge of alcoholism. He maintained that drinking at home or at the club was not a problem, but admitted to drinking too much while duck hunting. His son, also his law partner, had checked him in. Grandpa, in a green cotton sweater despite the summer heat, waited out his term like an executive convicted of white-collar crime. He played a lot of gin rummy, and Deirdre liked his company. Fenwick watched like he wanted to play, too.

Ricky walked by the card table, sat on a Naugahyde couch, tilted back his head, and sighed. Fenwick put down his magazine to talk, but Deirdre couldn’t hear what they said. A twisted-vine tattoo crept out of Ricky’s shirtsleeve. So what if he had a drinking problem. Who didn’t?

She had two runs in her hand. Grandpa’s face was a blank sheet. He could give lessons on keeping a poker face. She waited for his discard. He fanned four hearts, three queens, and three tens.

“Deal me in?” Ricky asked.

Grandpa nodded, and Ricky pulled up a chair. Deirdre had eaten only a biscuit at supper, giving her beef stew to Phil, whose appetite had come back. She felt like she needed to do something, but she didn’t know what. Heebie jeebies her mother called it, those other times she’d tried to quit.

Grandpa riffled the deck, bridged it expertly. Maybe he would adopt her, with some great-grandkids in the bargain. She imagined him living in a Virginia manor house, working in a well-kept downtown office, relaxing at a sprawling country club. A champion social drinker. He dealt them ten cards each. It was the same game all day long. Ricky discarded the jack of clubs.

Fenwick came up to the table, and Deirdre gave him a killing smile. “You like gin rummy?”

He opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, then said, “Yup.” He headed to the coffee corner.


The yellow-skinned man died sometime near morning. EMTs rolled a covered gurney out the door to a waiting ambulance in the early light. At breakfast, everyone whispered about his death. He’d never left the hospital room, and they didn’t know his name.


The next day at lunch, Clunk Clunk leaned close to Phil, like she was telling a grade-school secret, so Deirdre put her tray down next to Krystal’s. Tall windows exposed an understory of green growth outside. On suicide watch, Deirdre couldn’t go past the smoking patio or the volleyball court in the back. She longed to go deep into the green and sit under the trees.

Krystal shook two packets of sugar and poured them into her tea.

“Hamburger surprise?” Deirdre poked at her meatloaf. Krystal was sober six months before she came into treatment, but all that time she wanted to drive into bridge abutments. Depression, she’d called it, the day before. Seemed like she could have gotten good drugs for that. She could have skipped all this telling of old secrets. Deirdre felt sorry for her. They were both 26; Krystal, never married, didn’t have kids.

“Why’d you come in sober?” Deirdre half-whispered it.

Krystal stabbed a bite of chocolate cake with her fork. “It’s better than a psych ward. That’s the choice I had. Here or the psych ward. What about you? Would you rather be on a psych ward?”

“You might have noticed that sign near the entrance? This is a licensed psychiatric facility. I’m here to get off the wine and pills.” Deirdre said it with conviction, surprising herself.

Krystal mushed the cake with her fork. “Then you start feeling. That’s the hell of it.”

The next day at lunch, Krystal asked Deirdre, “You miss your kids?” No one sat with them. Krystal swirled some spaghetti on her fork aimlessly.

“Why do you ask?” Deirdre’s children were like photographs that, when she looked at them, gave her a twinge of feeling, but she wasn’t sure what feeling it was. Guilt?

“Because I would, if I had any.”

“They’ve got their MeMaw. They’re used to her. She keeps them when I work. And now.” Ever since Deirdre and the kids moved in, her mother washed their clothes, bought their food, and took them to the doctor, too. A few tables over, Clunk Clunk picked up her tray to bus it. Deirdre stared at the green leaves that rattled and beckoned. Krystal chewed slowly.

“Maybe they’ll visit on Sunday?” Krystal inclined her head.

Really, what did she care? “Maybe,” Deirdre said. She hadn’t called home. Could Roseanne tell her what she was supposed to feel? Could she acquire the right emotions? She’d studied the Feelings wall chart, which showed dozens of facial expressions beyond sad, mad, and glad. The choices dumbfounded her.

In Group that afternoon, Deirdre crossed her arms and avoided Roseanne’s gaze. She sat opposite the door with its narrow glass window. It reminded her of the window in the door of her daughters’ daycare, through which she’d watched her older daughter wrap baby dolls in blankets, rock them, and sing.

Clunk Clunk talked about how, when she got out next week, she would work at the bar.

“How are you going to stay sober at a bar, Susan?” Roseanne asked.

“How’m I going to make a living without it?” Clunk Clunk didn’t correct her name.


After group, Deirdre caught up with Ricky. They headed to the smoking patio and he held the door for her, which made her laugh. Ricky treated her like she was classy, and it astonished her. He followed rules and respected people. Fenwick watched from the window, Phil smoked nearby, and Grandpa came out and walked toward the gate and the road. Anyone could leave, but they only had one chance at Hope House. They couldn’t come back a second time. Grandpa stopped short of the gate. Fenwick still watched, but the glass obscured his face. Did he think she would drag Ricky into the bushes?

“I don’t like being here, but I don’t want to leave, either,” Deirdre said.

“Once you get past the first days, it’s not a terrible place to be,” Ricky said. “It’s like time out from your life.”

“Ever married?” Deirdre kicked at some pebbles with her slip-on shoes.

“No,” Ricky said. “You?”

“Just the once. And not divorced yet.” Deirdre nodded toward Grandpa. “What’s he doing?” He bent low over the grassy lawn, picking at something. After a while he came back toward them.

“Four-leaf clovers.” Grandpa held out his open palm, which trembled slightly. “Take one for good luck.” Deirdre took a clover and twirled it between her finger and thumb.

Fenwick opened the door. “Supper,” he singsonged.

The next day, Deirdre sat across from Ricky in Group. He half-smiled and she smiled back. Krystal had pulled back her hair, and her pale skin was almost see-through in the quivering fluorescent lights.

First, Fenwick tried to crack Grandpa’s alibi, sounding like Perry Mason. Did you or did you not drink at the club at lunchtime? At cocktail hour? At home in the evening? In the morning? Was none of this a problem? Grandpa calmly maintained that on a few occasions, while duck hunting, he drank too much bourbon.

Then Fenwick turned to Deirdre. “How did your drinking affect your marriage?”

Boom. Sledgehammer. “Everyone knows about my overdose,” Deirdre said. She looked around the room to nods.

“Before that. It takes two to ruin a marriage.”

She shifted her thighs on the cold metal chair. “I always kept my kids safe. It’s me who did that.” She looked toward the seascape, but instead she saw her daughter in her bedroom, patting Deirdre’s face, crying Mommy! Mommy! as though she were dead. She couldn’t say it then, she couldn’t say it now: No, no, I’m alive. And here she was, finally, wanting to live.

Fenwick let the room fall silent. “Why do we prohibit romantic relationships in treatment, Deirdre?”

Damn his rules. She got into character. “Because we’re supposed to focus on not drinking. But how can you focus on something you’re not doing?” Krystal let out a bubbly laugh, and Clunk Clunk chuckled hoarsely.

Walleye Phil said he could focus on a lack of alcohol all day long. It was driving him crazy how he wanted it. How long would he think about drinking? Did the want ever go away?

Grandpa admitted he missed his evening cocktail.

Ricky said, “Why can’t we talk with the women? Aren’t we supposed to start thinking about other people? Have real conversations?”

Fenwick said, “If it becomes romance, and goes wrong—first thing most of us do is drink. You’re not ready yet.”

Ricky looked at the ceiling. “There’s a plaque in the dayroom about the end of isolation.”

“Right,” said Fenwick. “But romance isn’t going to solve anything. Trust me.” He looked at Deirdre. She looked at him evenly. Didn’t she have a life to save, too? What about her?

That night, the card game was War. Ricky had three of the deck’s aces, and Deirdre was down to a thin stack of low cards. Krystal had fifteen cards.

Deirdre said to Krystal, “We ought to join forces.”

“All hell breaks loose when the women join forces,” Krystal said.

Grandpa was out of cards but he stayed at the table for the next game. His son would visit on Sunday. Grandpa had prepared his case for early release.


On Saturday, there was recreation in the form of volleyball. Even Clunk Clunk headed out to watch. The night before, she’d told Deirdre that when her boyfriend picked her up he’d have a gin bottle under her seat. She’d get back to her real life soon. She was all light and laughter today, like she’d accepted Hope House as her new bar, the others as her comrades.

Deirdre caught up to Krystal on the way to the sandy court. “You going to play?”

“Might as well,” Krystal sat down on some timbers to put on sneakers.

Ricky stood barefoot on the sand. He stretched his arms this way and that. “Deirdre’s on my team.”

“I’ve got the wrong shoes.” Deirdre stuck out a flip-flopped foot.

“Kick them off?” Ricky smiled.

She did. She hadn’t played volleyball since high school. She tiptoed onto the hot sand looking for burrs and found a few prickly husks that she tossed away. The temperature was in the nineties, and everyone was sweaty. A weak breeze stirred the oak leaves.

Ricky served first, with Deirdre at the net. When Phil returned it, she tapped it to the other side. It thumped on the sand. Krystal high-fived her. When it was Deirdre’s turn to serve, she got the ball over the net, a lazy lob, but over. All those years of drinking, she’d forgotten she had power in her arms. She would call home and ask her mother to bring the children to see her. Deirdre moved one spot to the right, caught the ball when it came over the net, and tossed it back to Krystal. Krystal weighed the ball, moving her right arm like a lever to test its range.

Anyone could win at this game. Nobody could say they hadn’t tried.



Laura Moretz lives in Winston-Salem, NC, with her husband, two teenage sons, two dogs, and a cat. A previous story, “Philo Goes Home,” won the Rick DeMarinis Short Fiction Prize in 2012 and was published in Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts, in March 2013.

Fulfillment by Avital Gad-Cykman

“Womb” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

The magazine “This World” proclaimed Cassit Café an upscale Bohemia where poets and journalists drank together, and writers and singers shared stories. The article was embellished with photographs of models and air-hostesses, however, it must have been a crock.

All she saw was a half-empty darkened place with an intimidating aged waiter in black and white, standing at the entrance and staring at her until she dropped her eyes and withdrew toward the edge of the sidewalk. She didn’t want to enter anyway. A two-hour bus drive away from home, and the pavement almost danced under her feet.

Instead she was determined to find another restaurant where people ate chicken and French fries with their hands, no table manners or polite conversation, only a full mouth and oily fingers. She’d find that perfect place.

Walking tentatively toward the north, she stopped when a masculine voice called, “Hey, hello, want me to read your palm?” As expected, the man, unkempt and in his thirties, wearing an oversized jacket, leaning against a rare robust tree, was looking at her. People always thought she was easy prey. She shook her head, able to sense the rough surface of his blackened hand rubbing against the palm of her hand, and what good future could come out of that?

Despite the electric pleasure of the city, it became harder to speak with people as the hours advanced. She coughed, to hear her own voice without appearing to be crazy. She didn’t have to talk with anyone, anyway. Being a stranger made her an explorer, a magician, anything except just a girl. Back in her home town everybody knew whose daughter she was, whose friend, where she lived, where she studied, her grades, her hobbies, and who had left her for another. She really wanted French fries. The chicken must be pretty special too. Everyone assumed the other girl had something she didn’t, which was probably true. The chickens, she hoped, did not go through a slaughterhouse, like the one oddly located not far from the city center, back at home. She went there, once, out of curiosity, and despite the jutting blood she didn’t become a vegetarian, because, as her boyfriend used to say, “that’s life.” If you didn’t have what it took to survive, you didn’t.

She had thought she was pregnant, and wondered if she’d still grow up to be an air-hostess, or, if nothing else worked, a poet. She could never tell what she was or what she might be the way others could. She believed she was pregnant, though babies should happen with maturity, and not because you see a bleeding featherless chicken. Either way, he would never take her back with a baby. She was so certain, she stole money from his wallet and her father’s, and also from her mother’s purse, and though she wasn’t sure how much she needed, she assumed she had enough.

Above all, she believed it would be easier to find a doctor in the city. But now, walking down Dizengof Street, she knew that her growing belly didn’t house a baby, just the way the café didn’t house poets and writers and air-hostesses, despite its potential. She simply needed a lot to eat because nothing filled her up.

The busy street with its food stalls, clothing stores, graying three-story buildings and a ramp with a tub aspiring to be a fountain stood on the verge of greatness, like a superhero still wearing an office suit. She recognized the restaurant thanks to the large sign announcing liberation from silverware. The young waiter in a red t-shirt offered a bib and rubber gloves, which she declined. He smiled at her, he did, and as she chose a stool at the counter, he served her a large metal plate full of French fries and half a chicken.

Her face shimmered, and her eyes released dragonflies to the air. She sighed in relief and ripped the food with her bare hands.




Avital Gad-Cykman‘s book, the flash collection LIFE IN, LIFE OUT was published by Matter Press in 2014. Her stories have been published in The Literary Review, CALYX Journal, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. They have also been featured in anthologies such as W.W. Norton’s International Flash Anthology, Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology, The Flash, and The Best of Gigantic. She won the Margaret Atwood Society Magazine Prize, placed first in The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, and was a finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award for story collections. She lives in Brazil.