“Dead Man Walking” by Eli Landes

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

It feels good to laugh again.

To close my eyes, throw my head back, and just . . . laugh. Peals bubbling up freely from my throat; body shaking with mirth. Nothing holding me back, nothing in the way. Just this moment.

I deserve it.

I’m sitting at a restaurant, a friend on either side. I’d tried to tell a joke but messed it up—got the punch line the wrong way around—but we laughed anyway, because we could, because life is free and why on earth not. As I open my eyes, a smile lingering on my lips, I feel the warm yellow light bathing my face; smell the delicious aromas wafting to me from the table.

I look up, and the dead man is staring back at me from the street.

I freeze, smile vanishing. This can’t be. It’s not possible. He’s dead.

I’d killed him myself.

He’s dressed well tonight; immaculate suit, expensive watch, polished shoes. He sees me looking and winks.

I look around, desperately, to see if anyone has noticed. No one has; the chatter continues on unabated.

When I turn back, he is gone.


By the time I reach my apartment, I’ve almost convinced myself I’d imagined him. I take off my suit, kick off my shoes, lay my watch on the dresser. I reach out, switch on the light . . .

“Miss me, kiddo?”

I pause, then slowly turn. He’s sitting on my bed, dressed now in just a white shirt and pants, his bare feet cross-legged underneath him. I shake my head wildly.

“No. No! You’re not here. You can’t be. I killed you.”

He spreads his hands wide, as if inviting me to look at him. “And yet, here I am.”

I don’t respond, defiantly—desperately—refusing to pay him attention. I lower myself onto the bed—he scoots over to make room—and close my eyes.

I just need to sleep.

His voice is the last thing I hear.

“Sweet dreams.”


I squeeze onto the subway car in the morning, cling to a pole for balance. I look around, distract myself with the latest ads. Out of the corner of my eye, movement catches my attention. I crane my neck to see.

The dead man is waving at me.

I wait until the doors are about to close, then jump out. I run to a different train, catch it just in time.

I sit down, wipe the sweat off my brow with a trembling hand.

The dead man next to me hands me a tissue from his briefcase.


At work, I run into the bathroom, turn on the faucet and splash my face with cold water. I look up at my face—pale and drawn, eyes bloodshot, hair in disarray.

This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.

A toilet flushes behind me. The stall door opens and the dead man steps out.

He walks up to the mirror and adjusts his tie. “Don’t worry.” He smiles at me in the mirror. “We’re old friends. You’ll get used to me in no time.”

I shake my head frantically. “I don’t understand. I killed you. How can you be here? I killed you.”

“Please.” He slaps me on the back. “Haven’t you read the Bible?” He walks to the door. “You can’t kill sin.”

He strolls out.


Time loses meaning. It passes in a blur, me sitting by my desk, head in my hands, trying not to listen to him as he talks. I do things, meaningless tasks I forget the moment they’re done, and maybe I have a conversation with a coworker—I can’t quite remember—and I think my boss stopped by and told me something, and I think I smiled dutifully and nodded, and I think I even wrote it down, but maybe I’m wrong, because when I look down all I have written, over and over again, is help.

I look up and see that I’m at a bus stop. It’s night now, and I don’t remember walking here—I don’t really know where here is—all I know is that the dead man is sitting next to me and he’s still talking, still chattering endlessly in my ear, and I don’t want to fight anymore, I just want him to stop, I’d give anything to make him stop . . .

“How long?”

At first I think I imagined the words. Then I turn. A large African American is sitting next to me. I frown at him.


He gestures to my hand. I look down, see that I’m holding my keychain in my hand—funny, I don’t even remember taking it out my pocket—and I’m tracing my fingers over the metal tag, over and over again.

The tag with that date engraved in it.

The date I stopped.

“Ele . . .” My throat is weirdly dry. I have to cough, clear my throat before I can form the words. “Eleven months.”

He pulls out his own keychain and shows it to me. “Thirty two.”

Thirty two. Somehow, I can’t quite wrap my head around that. “It get any easier?”

He snorts a laugh, only it doesn’t sound very funny. “No.”

I don’t reply.

He turns to me. “You feel it, don’t you? The need, the itch? You were doing so well and then something triggered it—a smell, a sound, heck you probably don’t even know—and suddenly it’s all you can think about. Suddenly you’d do anything for one more time, just once more.”

I don’t say anything; I don’t need to. We both know

“And all the reasons you quit don’t matter anymore,” he continues, “Because you need it, need it like you’ve never needed nothing before, and it’s not fair, really, it’s not fair because you quit and you were supposed to stay quit, but it don’t work like that, does it?”

I swallow. “How . . . how do you make it go away?”

He shrugs. “Hell if I know. Ain’t got no tricks for you, kid. That itch—it’s gonna drive you crazy. Keep you up at night, won’t let you concentrate at work. It’ll go away, eventually, but it’ll come back. It’s like the tide—comes and goes, and when it comes it’s a tsunami.”

The dead man next to me waves at me, tries to get my attention, but for once, listening to this stranger’s words, I’m able to ignore him. “So what do you do?”

“You keep going, kid. You make it through a day. And when you do, you make it through the next day. It’s all we got.”

The bus arrives, and he stands. He wishes me good luck and boards.

I don’t follow.

I watch the bus drive away, then turn to the dead man. He’s arguing with me, telling me it won’t work, but I’m not really listening anymore.

I glance at the keychain once more, then put it away and stand. I start to walk, and the dead man comes to walk beside me but for once I don’t care, because it’s OK if he’s there.

He talks and he screams, and his voice echoes in my head and it’s agony, but I grit my teeth and smile anyway.

Because he hasn’t won yet.



Eli Landes is a marketing copywriter by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time. He writes about pretty much anything and everything, but everything he writes has a little bit of novelty to it; a little bit of different. For more—including unique, never-before-published short stories—follow him at his blog, regardingwriting.com.


“bird bodies” by Alicia Bessette

so frail when they faded down that corridor.
no use crying out—the mask
swallowed my mouth. besides,
only the metal bed had ears.

dreamed of brother guzzling air from buckets.
sister swinging high, shoes flying.

woke with wormy scars, pecked, not knowing
forge or forget


they watched me binge
and didn’t say stop

or okay or someday
you’ll miss blood

because it’s bright and
if nothing else, yours.

after, i lay on mealy
ground, one eye closed

making my fingers feathers
that floated over chimney

beyond sky. how else to
escape a belly so like

mouth, emptiest when full?
choice and demon both,

the eating. maybe. but my own
fingers blamed me. still do


wings trace loops;
sculpture shows me.
its streamers, frozen
above grass, tip and
slide me through.

if only arms spiraled into wings.
how i flapped at pretend edge
aching to belong.

now at real edge
i cup my hands
and whisper mending



Alicia Bessette’s poems have appeared in Anima, Atlanta Review and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com


“space bodies” by Alicia Bessette

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

half my atoms: the violently
vented innards of ancient stars.

half of hurtling: hurt.

sometimes it strikes eons after impact.
like one random night—old slap still
singing, old gorge still gouging—i go
outside, gaze up, mistake bright chaos
for home.


inside my head: labyrinths.

inside labyrinths: crystals.

should trauma jolt them loose:
kitchen tilts. plates supernova
from shelves.


neptune sounds like breath
pulsing from ocean depth,

if nothing is never not hurtling,
then nothing is never not hurt.

no wonder i shout myself awake.

no wonder i rise and stand
before the window.

all those lights to swallow



Alicia Bessette’s poems have appeared in Anima, Atlanta Review and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com


“Deconstruction Room” by Moe Kirkpatrick

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

Now we call it “the back room.” It occupies the basement corner next to the boilers, a small, unfinished room, blanketed by the stench of my father’s hockey gear. As I remember, it had two desks, ten chairs, the top of a dining room table, an old TV cabinet stuffed with unfilled notebooks, and whatever else was too big for the family to fit in the upstairs junk drawer. The air tasted like the word spare. A stranger might have described the room as “odd,” or “cold,” or even, “defensive.” It was dangerous to sit on the floor. The mangy beige carpet was half-installed and didn’t cover all of the concrete and the extra carpet left a huge roll along the back wall, a bulge like scar tissue, that pushed up under the chair legs as my best friend and I sat those summers ago and tried to write. This was the room I spent most of my time in from ages eight to twelve and, last winter, was the room my parents asked me to spend a few hours in, organizing the Goodwill piles.

For the years that the back room was mine alone, it was a different place. The walls were bare. There were no tables set up but the top of one, oak and polished, laid in the back corner on a bed of creased plastic. The overhead lights—two exposed lightbulbs nestled among the piping—were unreliable. At least once, unable to make them work, I sat there in the soft grey light, which no one was around to tell me would ruin my eyes.

I came down to the back room for more land, especially land of my own. I was an architect. Out of chairs, stools, and stackable white baskets, I built elaborate cities for my Webkinz and Beanie Babies. Feudal villages with disproportionate castles and steampunk garbage-ridden Victorian labyrinths and futuristic totalitarian military academies all littered the carpet. The back room was not large, so buildings were multiple locations at once. On the table top, I built different castles, mansions, Academies of High Magic, hospitals, fortresses, apartment complexes, army barracks, and once, a shopping mall. Sometimes, these changes occurred within the same story. Sometimes, within the same afternoon.

I found, when clearing out an old notebook for salvage, the remnants of construction-paper advertisements I had drawn for the shopping mall. I don’t know what I had intended to do with them. It wasn’t as if the table had actual walls I could hang them on. But I can see in my mind how it happened: I was arranging the mall. Halfway through, I thought of the ads and picked across the room to the art box, so I could make them before I forgot. Halfway through, I thought of the wedding invitations I had stolen with the intention of cutting tiny wings out, and scrambled to find the scissors… Safe to say, there was never a building in the back room I ever completed. This did not bother me. I saw the world halfway between an architectural blueprint and a finished city. And moreover, I had an odd memory, like grey kneadable eraser, that just didn’t stick— In the back room, what I did not remember I could always rebuild, maybe on a different chair with a different stuffed animal, but similar enough to go on.

Then my chairs were swapped for the kitchen chairs, which had grown creaky-jointed. The Webkinz and Beanie Babies were sold at a garage sale when I was eleven. Everything had grown too old. I had grown too old. The back room had changed.

In fact, when I trusted my best friend enough to let them come downstairs, it was no longer the back room. We called it “the haven” or sometimes just, “Haven.” Posters hung on the wall: movies we hadn’t seen, middle school art projects with discarded aliases, and post-it notes with terrible quotes. We added two tables, a lamp, and a blue mini-trampoline, on account that our neighbor’s actual blue trampoline—our previous den of plotting—had broken. We had also been banned.

It was on the mini-trampoline that I sat for three hour shifts while Hazel got the desk. We alternated chapters. When we were done, we would push the laptop at each other and say, triumphantly, “Your turn!” I would inevitably get up mid-chapter and wander around and close the door and bounce on the trampoline while Hazel—steadier Hazel, medicated Hazel—watched and rolled their eyes.

I remember the door being a big deal for me. I remember insisting it always be shut, because the walls of the house were thin, and the hallways were short. Everything said in my bedroom was heard in the master bedroom, even with the door closed and the TV on. On sleepovers, I insisted we hang out in Haven until we went to bed. There we could yell “FUCK!” with a hope of plausible deniability. We could talk about our novels or questions of sexuality, gender, depression, and attention-deficit disorder, which Hazel, who was diagnosed, just called ADHD. Having ADHD meant Hazel needed to take notes when we discussed our novels, because they wouldn’t remember the next day. It meant I walked with them to the kitchen in case they forgot they went for a glass of water. The notes that Hazel sometimes took kept their memory steady. It was a place to come back to where everything was left the right way, understandable even to tomorrow’s new eyes.

Even now, I cannot define the fear that made me seek thicker walls and longer distances. It reminds me of our post-Narnia stories, when Hazel and I were convinced a different world could exist within an object, and we named the giant pear tree in their front yard “Cascadia,” for the world hidden behind a knot in its bark. I can see why the idea appealed to us so much. To disappear somewhere no-one else could know. To build a home within a home and only let in those you can really trust, whose word you can believe.

There is little left of that back room now. The trampoline has moved. The old toys have been divvied up, the tables swapped out, the posters rolled up for the dumpster. The light does not flicker when I pull the string too hard. The concrete is cool and grimy on my bare feet.

I spend several hours separating the blocks of my cities into various trash bags. The work is pleasant drudgery. Sitting there, on the carpet where I built my childhood, I cannot differentiate between the stories I tell about the place and my memories of it. Which are real? Did my kneadable memory stick to facts or just emotions? It is all so vague. I wish I could walk back in time and know for certain what happened or, at least, have another pair of eyes more trustworthy than mine to tell me how time passed in this one room, which I am still not capable of capturing.

Perhaps it never existed. Perhaps the back room I remember is entirely reconstructed, details arranged and mangled, out of time and context and emotion, because my mind decided it was easier to remember that way. Perhaps it was not two weeks before the big trampoline broke when Hazel and I sat on it—that is all I know. It was not yet broken. My face was scrunched up in thought.

Then I said, “Yeah, I’d die for you.”

“Cool,” Hazel said. “Me too.”

Hazel looked, as always, too serious for their age. It had not yet occurred to me that we were ten and we should not have felt the need to make that promise. That perhaps other kids didn’t ask their friends that and didn’t forget about weeks as soon as they had passed and didn’t worry about a nameless, imminent danger that seemed always outside the door, the danger that we would look away and no longer remember what we had built.

Later, I tell Hazel about this. I ask if they remember that time we sat on the trampoline and promised we would die for each other.

“No,” they say. “But I believe it.”



Moe Kirkpatrick is a queer writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. Currently, he is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His work has received multiple Scholastic Writing Gold and Silver Key Awards and can be found in Artemis.


“I am Trying to be More Rock Less” by Emily Ellison

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

less crumble
gathered in my
less back of a back
hunched in longing
for the sandstone
skin      less
of my fissures
less atmosphere less
black less feather
less mouth

floating my ache as a sigh

less ache and ache and

like the wind
of two


less grain when returning
myself to myself
less conversion less

as dust
swept by
my own eyelashes weeping

less along the scuffled
grounds less
oh god
am I
this mess of



Emily Ellison is a second year MFA poet at Texas State University, where she also works as an Teaching Assistant for their English faculty. Her work has appeared in Southword, After the Pause, and Haiku Journal, and is upcoming in several places. Emily lives in San Marcos, Texas with two cats and an abundance of plants (withering at the moment).


“Impediment” by Stacey Park

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

I talk too mulch. Too mulch. I mean,
too much. Steeped in cheek blush,
synapses fire quick, in front of this
lovely listener. Message received,
on the way to delivered, altered
not by malfunction
devoid of me but sabotaged
by shadow-me. Tiny, troll,
shadow-me hanging on epiglottis,
throwing sticks between u’s and c’s.
So long I thought these impediments
were outsourced punishments
but these impediments are me
happening to me—can’t be cool
in front of this patient one,
this listening one, this precious one
I want to kiss. I will want to mess it up,
to make mulch of a too good thing.



Stacey Park is currently an MFA poetry student. Previously, she has worked as an adjunct instructor and holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her previous writing can be read in RipRap and Foothill.  


“The Twenty-Two” by Clayton Bradshaw

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

Suicide, n.1, 1. one who dies by his own hand: I shaped the rope into a tight S in my hand before wrapping the end around it and tightening the noose with a knot;   2. one who commits self-murder: I attached one end to the base of the satellite dish on my roof, sturdy enough to not bend and change my mind;    3. one who attempts or has a tendency to commit suicide: The loop slipped over my head, a medallion of the shame of peaking in life too soon as a pawn, as soldier fighting for someone else’s war, as a soldier losing my own war, as a father losing my own son;     n.2 the act of taking one’s own life: I see how we react every time one of us takes their own life. I see how all past conflict pushes to the side in favor of honoring the good parts of memory. In death, each of us becomes the hero we could never be on the battlefield. In Memoriam, we transcend in Ovidian metamorphosis to become birds or hyacinth;     self-murder: I remember _______, spleen shattered like a fragile mason jar unable to contain the remorse constructed by survival, putting the barrel of a .38 into the soft spot of his temple, rendering his funeral closed casket;     attrib., esp. as suicide letter, suicide note, suicide pact. _______ likely laughed as the shotgun he kept next to his stack of rented schoolbooks found its way into his jawline. He always found humor in darkness, in death, and especially in his own death;     Comb. Suicide blonde, n. slang a woman with hair dyed blonde (esp. rather amateurishly), a peroxide blonde: _______ never dyed his hair, but it looked almost as white as the all 30 of the Vicodin in his system when we found him, a sharp contrast to the blonde hairs that blended into the sand on his patrol cap;     n. a clause in a life insurance policy which releases the insurer from liability if the insured commits suicide within a specified period: _______, rifleman always on my left, number two in every room we cleared, hung from the rafters in his bedroom three months after he got out, a testament to institutionalized concussions;     suicide gene n. Genetics a gene which causes the death of the cell carrying it: Maybe some defective gene drives them to it, maybe some gene implanted by military service;     suicide squeeze   n. Baseball the action of a runner on third base in running for home as the ball is pitched. Pinched between the plate and third, we never find peace at home, so we run back and forth, no escape allowed, forever implanted with the realization that the memory will never leave, but the people around us will.     v.1 to commit suicide. We are committed to a dying cause, condemned to survival unless we fix it ourselves.     v.2 trans. (euphemistically) So, I take the rope off my neck and use a pen to pierce my veins and spill our blood on the page.



Clayton Bradshaw served in the US Army for eight years as an infantryman. He deployed with 3/2 SCR to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. He graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BA in English and currently participates in the MFA-Creative Writing program at Texas State University. His work can be found in The Deadly Writers Patrol, Second Hand Stories, War, Literature and the Arts, and O-Dark-Thirty.


“Still Born: Finding Madeline” by Suellen Meyers

Photo Credit: Cady Guyton

There is an application that’s been on my desk for a few weeks now. How to Obtain Certified Copies of Stillbirth and Fetal Death Records. I’m intimately familiar with it at this point, yet, I am taken aback each time I read those words. It tells me to send in $24, and an archive database will be searched all the way back from 1905 to the present. I write out a check and tuck it inside an envelope with the form. The stiff, white paper feels cool and reassuring between my fingertips. I rip the security strip from the back, press the sticky flap shut, then add two small pieces of scotch tape for added protection. In my left-handed scrawl, I spell out “California Department of Public Health Vital Records” with the street address underneath as neatly as I am able.

Walking to the mailbox, my throat tightens. I grasp the envelope as if it could speak the answers I seek, and I almost don’t want to let it go. It’s been thirty years. Back then all I wanted to do was forget, now I burn with the need to know specific details that I’d long ago buried. I wanted that certificate, I wanted something tangible. On one hand, I felt concerned there would be no record, on the other, I was certain that would not be the case. I had been in the hospital, I had given birth, I had named my daughter, surely there had to be documented evidence of that.

I stand at the bank of mailboxes for a minute, breathing in the hot, heavy air. Summers in Las Vegas can be suffocating. I place the envelope in the slot and turn toward home.


It is 1988, and I remember clearly various parts of that day, although I cannot for the life of me recall the actual date. By the time I hoisted myself out of bed, Doug, my husband at the time, had already left for work. I stared out the bedroom window taking in the view. Our rented apartment outside of San Diego overlooked the Escondido freeway; it was perched high enough atop the hillside that any traffic below was out of earshot. Coastal sage scrub, tipped brown at the edges from the sun, hugged the landscape, which was punctuated by big gray boulders situated just so between the multitude of sprawling ranch style houses. Southern California’s version of a modern-day Fred Flintstone’s Bedrock. I looked down, rubbed my stomach, “We’ll be living in one of those houses someday. Or better yet, at the beach.”

In the kitchen I made toast, eating it quickly and washing it down with Diet Coke. After showering, I wrestled with my impossible hair. Roseanne Roseannadanna, the similarly coiffed character played by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live had nothing on me. The humidity made my hair look twice as big, all ringlets and frizz. No amount of Aqua Net could contain it. I pulled on the maternity jeans I’d bought long before I’d actually needed them, walked to the full-length mirror turning sideways to admire the burgeoning bump, slipped on ballet flats and a light sweater, grabbed my car keys and drove ten minutes to the doctor’s office. There was no reason to think this would be anything other than a routine ultrasound.

“All right, let’s take a look,” the technician said once I’d been ushered back to an exam room. “I should be able to see if this little one is a boy or girl. Would you like to know?” I jumped slightly as she squirted thick, cold conducting gel on my exposed belly, lowered the paddle and began moving it around trying to locate the necessary measurements and appendages. Before I could answer, she removed the paddle, stood up and said, “I’ll be right back.” I lay there, bewildered. Goopy liniment adhered the paper drape to my stomach.

Thirty seconds later Dr. Maresh opened the door, his nurse following behind him. Babies need amniotic fluid to develop he explained. Pinprick leak, extremely uncommon he said. Maybe fluid could replenish he said. Go home and don’t move, UCLA specialist consult, he said.

“Can you tell me the last time you felt any activity?” he asked.

Oddly, I couldn’t. Was it not that very morning as we gazed out the window? All I could think was, no way am I losing this baby.


My own mother had a precarious relationship with pregnancy, having several miscarriages both before and after delivering me, my older sister Chelle, and our younger sister Margi.

“Ech, that doctor, what did he know?” She’d tell me. “Had I listened to him Rochelle would be an only child. What’s meant to be is meant to be. Sure, I had you three months early but I looked you over and you had all your fingers, all your toes, you even had eyelashes. That’s when I knew you’d be okay. Well, except for your eyesight, but that was from being in an incubator so long.”


That very night, shortly after Doug got home from work, I went into labor. Perched in a sterile birthing bed, I’d felt uncharacteristically small wrapped in a maternity gown large enough to cover the extended abdomens of full-term mothers-to-be, the pregnant equivalent of one-size-fits-most. Splashed with pastel-colored baby animals, perhaps the garment was meant to evoke a gentleness, a last sense of calm before the mayhem of parenthood set in. A fetal monitor stood next to the bed, although I am not sure if it was hooked up to check my progress, or silent of the typical blips and beeps that happened with routine deliveries.

Labor was not the physically painful experience I saw in the movies. Mine didn’t hurt. Instead, deep down my abdomen churned with little pricking sensations, coming closer and closer together until one was almost stepping on the other. I knew from reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting, this meant it was almost time. I dug the heels of my feet deep into the stirrups attached to the bed, thinking this might stop my knees from knocking together with the shivers. “I don’t think I want to do this right now,” I said, as if I were about to cancel an appointment for a pedicure instead of bring a human being into the world.

The nurse, who had her hand between my legs checking my cervix, interrupted my trepidation. “I think we’re ready. What I want you to do is push on my command. Can you do that?”

I nodded my agreement. I do not recall what my husband was doing. Was he holding my hand? Was he worried? Nor do I remember if there was a doctor in the room.

“Okay sweetheart,” I heard. “Here we go. One, two three, PUSH!”

My body expelled my daughter as if she were a splinter. There was no robust cry. Afterward, only the insistent, albeit well-meaning nurse trying to shove a dead baby into my arms, smiling forcefully while attempting to push her agenda. “Go on sweetheart, hold her, look at her. It’s the only chance you’ll have and if you don’t you’ll regret it.”

What the hell did she know of my regret? Was she the one who had just given birth to a lifeless newborn? Had she been forced to name it, the mandate of some California state law that had me cursing the lawmakers, all of whom (I imagined in a rare fit of condemnation) were men?

I caught a glimpse of Madeline’s red, shriveled form but I refused to look at her. Someone offered a Polaroid. She’d been wrapped in a pale yellow and white crocheted blanket from the Women’s League, which was meant to be a celebratory keepsake. They took her away, and left the photo on a table near the birthing bed, as well as the blanket, which now hung limply across my barren stomach. I regarded both with the same welcome I’d reserve for a rabid dog. I picked up the blanket between my thumb and pointer fingers as if it contained a deadly virus, then flung it into the trashcan next to the bed. Turning my head, I whispered to my equally dazed husband, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Sue, you have to sign your release paperwork first.”

There are no words to describe what it is like going into the hospital pregnant, and leaving empty-handed. “I want to go home.” And with that I stood up, wobbled slightly, grabbed my maternity pants and pulled them on as tears streamed down my face.


“Hey, Doug. Thank you so much for calling me back. So, this might sound weird after all these years, but I need to find out what happened the night we lost the baby. Like, am I remembering it right? I sent away for a stillborn certificate but they couldn’t find anything for her, and I was wondering if—”

“That’s bullshit!” he said. “She was born in a hospital. How could there be no record of that?”

“Well, there could have been a misspelling on the hospital paperwork we didn’t catch at the time, or the laws of reporting might have been different then. It was a long time ago. It doesn’t make sense to me, either. But they can’t find her.”

I explained the extent of my detective work. How I’d sent three separate applications to the State of California, as well as San Diego County and they all came back with nothing. Then I called the doctor’s office, but Dr. Maresh had retired. I tried the new Palomar Hospital, where he typically sent his patients, because the old one wasn’t there anymore, and I even called several funeral homes in the area.

“Everyone was really nice for the most part but no one keeps records from that long ago. They looked me up anyway, though, just to see if they could find anything, but no such luck. I was hoping you’d be able to fill in some of the blanks. Do you remember any of the details, do you remember anything at all?”

“We were young, Sue, and we were traumatized, you know? I mean, that hurt us. They wanted us to love on this dead baby. They had her all swaddled up, I remember that. I remember we cried together. I didn’t want to hold her. That was tough, man.”

“Do you remember me telling you about what the doctor said when you came home from work that day? Do you remember what car we took to the hospital?”

“I had that black Scirocco. We didn’t get the Jetta until later. Then that damn car got stolen before we even made the first payment!”

“Yep, found it down in Mexico,” I said. “I can’t remember how we spelled her name. Or the date, or how far along I was.”

“We spelled it like Madeline Kahn, the actress. M-a-d-e-l-i-n-e.”

“Oh, right, how could I forget that? I was thinking like Madolyn Smith from Urban Cowboy.”

“And you were twenty-two weeks. But I don’t know the date. It was a long time ago. We were young. We were traumatized. We cried about it together. We did,” he said.

It was hard for me to envision us being close enough to grieve together. I had loved him once, but the divorce and subsequent years afterward had been contentious, and while time had softened that, nowadays we hardly had any interaction. The fact that Doug was willing to contact me back and able to validate my recollections gave me solace, and I felt a stab of grateful softness for a past that, until this very point, had been tainted with hurt feelings. He was the only person on the planet with whom I shared the experience, and there was solidarity in the fact he had almost the same blanks and the same certainties from that night as I did. That was more than enough closure for me.


When I am asked how many children I have I always say two. But that is not true. Max was born in 1989, Jake followed in 1990. The boys were ten and eleven when they found out they’d had a sister. We were coming home from seeing the movie, My Dog Skip, when Jake said out of nowhere, “When we were with Dad last weekend he said we had a sister and her name was Madeline. Mom, is that true?” It had never occurred to me to tell them.

Madeline was born sometime in the spring of 1988. I don’t know if she ever showed signs of life outside the womb, although I doubt it. I don’t know for certain what hospital I was in when I had her. I don’t know how there could not be a record documenting her existence, however fleeting it was.

What I do know is she was loved. I held her in my body for over five months and her loss was so enormous it took me thirty years before I could face it.

I am the proud mother of three children. I’ll carry all three in my heart until I take my last breath.



Suellen Meyers is agoraphobic, and not afraid to talk about it. Currently, she is obtaining an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bay Path University. She writes true stories about family involving themes of loss, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, and resilience. Her work has also appeared in The Manifest-Station. She lives in hellishly warm Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband Gary, Zoey the Elf Dog, and new addition to the family, Abby the Wiggle Butt. Contact her at https://www.suellenmeyers.com/


“Psych-Ward Cheesecake” by Elyse Brouhard

Photo Credit: Cady Guyton

I was used to the uniform forest of green scrubs. Short and tall trees of people in the sterile hallways. When they took my clothes away and replaced them with baggy hospital attire, they made me look as crazy as I felt.

This was my second time at St. Vincent’s inpatient psychiatric unit. I knew to strip naked and twirl in front of the vigilant nurse, displaying my scars and my lack of smuggled pills or strings or razor blades. I wasn’t surprised when they locked my bathroom door because I was on suicide watch. I wasn’t shy to ask the bouncy nurses to unlock it every time I needed to pee. I was a veteran.

This time though, I was pissed. Enraged they kept asking the same three inane questions every single shift. Annoyed to be babysat by nurses years younger than me. Furious that my life was out of control. I was angry in a way that I had not let myself be for a long time. It made me bold rather than contentious. I had very little to hide, no dignity to uphold. I was stripped down to my core, and it was liberating.

After two weeks on a closed unit, I began to see life differently. I enjoyed simple things like convincing a pizza man to deliver to the double-locked, double doored, fifth-floor ward. I became uninhibited. I took back tiny pieces of myself that I had lost or buried.

Psych ward introductions are straightforward. You start conversations by saying, “What are you here for?” “How long have you been here?” “How scared are you right now?” You make friends because you sit at the same table for breakfast. Because you both take the same meds. Because you attend art group together.

One evening, five of us squished together around a small, gray and white speckled table on the “quiet” side of the psych-ward. This side was smaller and gave us the illusion of separation. We started playing cards—blackjack? Or it could have been Scrabble. I can’t remember clearly. We huddled around the table, in our matching scrubs and assorted colors of non-slip socks; it felt like a pajama party. Laughing at our sarcastic and silly jokes, comfortable in this unspoken hug of solidarity and understanding. It’s amazing the familiarity you feel with people when you are thrown together in the most vulnerable moments of your lives.

Chuck disappeared to sweet-talk his way into a snack. I imagine he asked for something outside the usual offerings, perhaps cake or a candy bar, because the nurse sent him back with cream cheese and graham crackers, instructing him that, if you put the cream cheese on the crackers, it kind of tastes like cheesecake. We were dubious but curious.

Chuck stirred the tiny, foil-covered packet of cream cheese, and spread it messily across a cracker. He confirmed that this concoction did taste somewhat like cheesecake. Now we were all on it. Kellie mixed in a few sugar packets. Someone had the genius idea to mix peanut-butter into this creation. Pale, brown crumbs and sparkles of granulated sugar littered the table.

Napkin-less, we licked our fingers and grinned. We floated with the joy of mashing together sugar and cream cheese and spreading it on crackers with a spoon—because we weren’t allowed to have knives. We were laughing at ourselves as you only can when your world has crashed down and you find you are still standing. When nothing matters except the exact moment you are in.

We were unaware of the circling of nurses doing rounds: down the hallway, back around us to the nurses’ station. We stopped noticing the periodic loudspeaker announcements of “Code Gray” or “Rapid Response.” We were in a bubble of safety. You couldn’t go any lower, and you couldn’t find more understanding people to be on the bottom with you.

We complained about the same nurses, avoided the same therapists. We talked openly about our wish to die or to drink. Allen said the first thing he planned on doing when he got out was “smoke a joint.” We told each other how we wanted to kill ourselves, which methods we had tried, or what we did instead of jumping off the building. We didn’t think twice about marks on arms, on wrists, on ankles. We understood not coming out of your room for hours, not eating a meal for two days, making bed sheets into nooses and hiding them under towels.

We grinned over the victory of our makeshift cheesecake.

We offered the best and simplest of healing: our presence and unspoken acceptance. If you could make magic like that happen in a place like this, you could find magic in other places too.



Elyse Brouhard lives in Forest Grove, Oregon. She started writing at the age of two, while pretending to take people’s orders for food. She works as a social worker, primarily with homeless adults with mental illnesses. She loves her work and has found a home in the people she assists. Writing is one of her favorite skills to employ for surviving life.


“Crying in Italian” by Virginia Pye

Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

Sara’s new Italian sandals have heels she knows no sane American tourist would attempt on cobblestones. Yesterday the Roman shoe salesman assessed her calves with an unreconstructed male gaze culminating in a subsequent nod of approval—as if her legs had been put on this earth for his pleasure, which she knew was also wrong in every possible way and for which she now pays the price with a sore back and unsteady gait.

Had she even thought about her legs like that in months, perhaps years? The children grab at her skirt and shoulder bag as her husband hurries on ahead in the wake of the tour guide. Sara answers her own question: on a rocky path in the Roman Forum, an American woman jettisons her sensible shoes and doesn’t have a clue which way to turn.

Gelato,” her son Graham says, for the umpteenth time.

Gelato,” little Rachel repeats.

They buzz around her like the bees in the Villa Boghese that very morning. Rachel was stung, something so shocking to her that her eyes welled up with indignation more than pain. Sara longs for such shock, although like the sandals, she suspects that the aftermath would hardly be worth it.

Under the shadow of a cross that rises from the ruins, as if Christianity itself were a monumental afterthought, she saunters toward the tour group, drawn not so much by the sights as by the sweat beading routinely, handsomely, on the guide’s brown neck. At the back of the group, her husband Richard appears rapt, his whole being hung on the guide’s every stilted English phrase.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Sara whispers.

Richard wheels around, letting the crowd go ahead to the next sight without him. “What? Why? We have to keep up.”

“You go ahead.”

He looks perplexed yet sincere, as if seeing one more ancient pile of rubble will answer anything. Sara thinks he wants them to carry on by simply going forward.

“I’ll wait in the shade with the kids,” she says. “We’ll meet you outside the Colosseum.”

“Here, take some euros.”

“What for?” Sara gestures at the ancient olive trees, the dry landscape, the spiky weeds poking through stones unmoved for all time.

“Get the kids something from the snack carts,” Richard suggests and turns to them. “What do you think, guys, you want some limonata?” His accent hurts Sara’s ears, he’s trying so hard. She knows she is being uncharitable, but perhaps, she considers, that’s who she is now.

The children huddle, deciding if their longing for gelato can be satisfied by limonata instead. That’s the question, isn’t it? she thinks. Can one high, desperate longing be satisfied by something else instead?

Sara’s husband gives her coins from his jangling pockets. He is generous, always has been. It makes her wonder how they’ll resolve things. Amicably, she suspects.

Graham reaches his sweaty hand into hers for the money. Coins fall to the pebbled ground and Richard tells him to cool it and to pick up the change for his mother.

“All right, you guys,” he adds, “I’ll see you in forty-five minutes over at the entrance to the Colosseum. Help Mommy find me, all right?”

Then he looks at Sara and presses her purse against her hip, ever mindful of the notorious Roman pickpockets, although their family stands alone on the path. He lowers his voice and leans in closer. “You seem a little out of it today. I’ll take the kids later so you can nap. But stay alert now, OK? Don’t get lost.” His expression is as searching and mystified as when he gazed up at the Sistine Chapel ceiling earlier that day.

Sara nods slowly, noncommittally, the latent teenager in her unwilling to offer more. She knows she’s being a brat and wishes he would recognize it, too. Richard turns and scurries up the trail and the children and Sara watch him go. She tries to picture that this is how it will be from then on.

Over the past week, their family has stumbled into dark medieval churches looking for the finger bones and femurs of saints, the preserved bodies of bishops still in their robes, their wax faces surprisingly plump considering there’s nothing inside. The bodies are hollow, eviscerated, and yet people kneel before them and close their eyes.

Graham pulls on Sara’s purse and jolts her back to the moment. “Euros, Mom. We’re dying of thirst.”

For an eleven-year-old, he has the presence of someone much older, she thinks, packing all the punch his father lacks. Somehow Sara knows her son will be all right. And little Rachel will be too young to remember. She will try to recall her parents together from snapshots on trips like this one—the picture this morning in front of the fountain in the Villa Borghese. Their separation will mix in her mind with that first bee sting and the Mediterranean heat, all mysterious and conveying a pain that startles, but eventually envelopes, like humidity on the skin.

Graham takes the coins and grabs Rachel’s hand. They dash off up the path. At least they have each other, Sara thinks.

“Slow down,” she shouts after them. “I need to keep you in sight.”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Graham shouts back over his shoulder.

“Yeah, Mom, don’t worry,” Rachel copies. Her voice rises and tangles in the olive branches where the sparrows twitter at midday.

As Sara meanders after them, she notices off to the side of the path a flight of ancient stone steps leading up an embankment to nowhere. At the top, a young Italian couple stands close together, their arms around one another. What a romantic sight, she thinks, the woman with sunlight in the folds of her summer dress. Sara pauses and gazes up at them, prepared to smile and sigh, then move on. The young man wears sleek black pants and Sara notices the way his browned forearms and smooth forehead glisten. The girl rises on her toes to reach him and Sara can understand why.

As they kiss, she notices how the young man’s hand curves over the young woman’s hip. It presses down her thigh and disappears into the fabric between her legs, the small purple, embroidered flowers on the white background crimped against his outstretched fingers. Her skirt will be wrinkled, Sara thinks, and quickly feels embarrassed that she is the only one who cares. Any initial thought that this was a tame embrace vanishes as the girl lets out a throaty laugh and squeezes the man’s shoulder in a claw-like grip. He does not smile and, what’s more important, does not remove his hand from between her legs.

Sara stays frozen on the path, enthralled. She glances down at her new sandals covered now in fine, ancient dust. Something about them on her is as outrageous as the kissing couple, she thinks, and lets out a surprising laugh, too. It’s far quieter than the girl’s, but every bit as guttural and real. Sara rubs the toe of a sandal against the back of her leg, warm from the sun and firm.

When she looks up again, the couple has moved away from the steps and crossed a ledge overlooking a deep archaeological pit. To arrive at their next stopping spot, Sara sees that they’ve slipped around a low rope barrier and entered an area where tourists aren’t allowed. She can’t help wondering what they think they’re doing there in a forbidden area with groups of tourists drifting by on the paths below.

Without thinking, Sara heads off the central path, too. She hurries up the stairs to keep the couple in sight. Each stone step is high and as she ascends, her skirt catches air and flares outward. With heat billowing around her, her thighs feel damp and shadowed and secret beneath the light fabric. When she reaches the top step, she realizes that she now is exposed, too, her purpose unclear. When she looks across at the couple she is glad to see they haven’t noticed her.

They stand, locked in an embrace at the edge of the cliff beside the pit. The man has bent his dark head into the woman’s neck and appears to be feasting there. The neck looks startlingly white against his black hair, and then Sara notices the actual lips and open mouth as he kisses the woman’s skin. The wetness of his tongue on her cool neck, Sara thinks. That’s all she thinks, because it is a thought unto itself: attention must be paid to that tongue and those lips and the press of his body against hers, his hand at the small of her back, pulling her towards him, her dress hiked up, the girl’s leg up now, too, and the pretty violets smashed.

Sara looks away and still can’t fathom what they think they’re doing, what she is doing. They can’t make love there on that cliff, can they? she wonders. Or do people do that in Italy, because it is Italy? Perhaps, like her new sandals, allowances are made for such things—sex and passion woven into everyday life. She finished reading Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet on the plane ride over and keeps catching herself searching for tangled, hidden passion everywhere she looks. In Rome, secrets lay as stacked and layered and porous as the crumbled walls of archaeological digs.

Early that morning, metal shutters clattered as the shop opened up downstairs. Voices like none Sara had ever heard before echoed off the alley walls, busting wide apart the day. Arguing voices asking only for some milk. If she shed tears, she knows they wouldn’t translate: any crying in Italian evaporates, unshed in the scorched air. Swallows swoop past now, disrupting thought and whatever is left of her former self.

When she looks up again, the couple is moving on. The man has the woman’s pale hand in his and he’s steering her further across the ledge. Sara spots a grove of olive trees in the near distance and imagines he will take her to that quiet spot, where the rocky ground appears to give way to soft grass. He will ease her to it and the girl will pull him down.

Sara can feel the young man’s hand, the force of it pressing against her thighs. He pushes her back, hair outstretched like a virgin’s on a sacrificial slab. Only nothing about the couple is virginal, and certainly nothing about Sara is, either, which is why she wants to step over the rope barrier, teeter across the precarious ledge, and join them in the partially hidden incline that has been used for this purpose since time immemorial. Only in her own country, in her own stark life, would someone hesitate, Sara thinks, as she hesitates. Yet here she would do it, she tells herself, surely she would.

Then she looks back and realizes she can’t see the main path that leads to the limonata carts or the plaza where Richard will be meeting them shortly. Sara can’t see the kids any longer. She scrambles along the rocky hillside, clomps hastily down the stacked steps, and hurries back onto the trail again. Her greatest fear in this moment is that Richard will have left the tour early and discovered the kids alone by the snack carts. Her absence, she thinks, will prove something undeniable about her. A recklessness and irresponsibility that show she is a bad mother. Richard has recently accused her of being untethered. He doesn’t know the half of it.

In the days before their trip, she lost the car keys three times, accidentally shut the cat in the garage overnight, and forgot to pick up Graham from soccer again. She left a flame on under an empty pot and kept the water going in Rachel’s bath until a grey cloud appeared on the dining room ceiling. Richard may never know the details, but he grasps the overall effect: she’s lost, perhaps dangerously so.

Sara slows on the path and tries to consider the truth. She has been leaving for some time now, so much so as to be already almost gone. It’s a wonder she’s here at all. But she is a mother and a mother needs to be present. She needs to watch over her kids who, she reminds herself with another jolt, are nowhere in sight. The thought of her imminent and justifiable punishment rises before her: he will get the kids if she doesn’t get her shit together.

Sara hurries up the trail and pushes through the turnstile that leads out of the Forum, glancing at the souvenir and snack carts that circle the cobblestones. And look, she thinks, there are her children, bent over their drinks, the long, serpentine straws curving into their mouths. As she approaches, she hears the happy slurping, the pull of the syrupy liquid to their young lips.

Then Sara realizes those aren’t the sounds at all: instead of satisfaction, the burbling noise she hears is crying. She dashes forward and crouches down in front of Rachel. Her daughter’s face is red from the sun, but her cheeks are dry and her expression seems far too old for her age. Sara turns quickly and sees the last thing she expects: Graham’s face streaked with tears. She grabs her son by the wrist, not meaning to frighten him, but he lets out a cry and drops his drink. Acid yellow liquid spills onto the cobblestones like urine.

“What’s wrong?” Sara asks. “Did a bee sting you, too?”

Graham’s narrow shoulders heave and he tosses himself against her. Sara rocks back on her heels and lands on her ass on the hard cobblestones.

“Graham,” she says, starting to scold him, but something in his shaking body stops her. Sara tries to peel her son off her chest so she can see him better, but he won’t let go.

“Rachel,” she says over his shoulder. “Tell Mommy what happened.”

Her daughter bows her head lower toward her drink and lets out an old lady’s worried sigh.

“Did you spend all the money your father gave you? Is that it? You can tell me. I won’t be angry with you.”

She rubs a hand over Graham’s hair and he flinches.

“Children,” Sara tries more seriously, “If you won’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll have to ask one of the grownups here.” She spreads her arm towards the milling strangers, not one bit sure her meager Italian could do the job.

Her son yanks himself away and he shakes his head hard and scowls.

“Oh, for God’s sake, darling, it can’t be all that bad,” Sara says, her voice harsher than intended. She knows she shouldn’t have wandered off, but really, can it be all that terrible?

Graham wipes his cheeks with his forearm and looks at her, pausing for what has to be dramatic effect. “You don’t know, Mom,” he finally says. “You’ll never know.”

Sara can’t help it, but she laughs. Not a lot, and not loud, but enough. She wants to tell her eleven-year-old that he can’t possibly understand the extent to which no one will know, no one will ever understand. The cruelty of her own laughter dawns on Sara a little too slowly and she stops abruptly. The children watch her, worried, perhaps even scared.

She suddenly feels exquisite sympathy for these small people, although in this moment it is hard to grasp that they are hers. Her son’s words, spoken so firmly, seem foreign to her. She simply doesn’t get their meaning. She wants to believe that they are spoken not to inflict pain, but are the pain itself. But even that motherly understanding, she thinks, is lost in this untranslatable moment.

Sara looks past the children. For an instant, the Colosseum recedes into the distance and the cobblestones that fan out around her rise into a wall that encircles her children. She senses they are disappearing down an ancient stone tunnel. She must reach for them before they are sucked away from her and into a rough-hewn quarry where the innocents are taken. It’s a crazy thought, she thinks. The heat is getting to her, dehydration and the pain in her back.

She looks over at the man who runs the limonata cart, hoping he can help return her children to her. She will buy more sugary drinks from him to set things right. Grey stubble shades his face and his eyes are hidden under a plaid cap. Sara sizes him up and wonders if he is the culprit who has harmed her son. Yes, he is the dangerous one. But then the old Italian man smiles down at a little girl who stands beside her mother, politely waiting for her drink. Sara notices the mother holds her daughter’s hand, and she thinks, that should have been me. I should have been that mother, thanking the lemon man.

So if the lemon man didn’t do it, Sara wonders, who did? A young Algerian in an NYU t-shirt leans against his souvenir truck, his head bent into his cell phone. Under the shade of an ancient tree, the ubiquitous matrons dressed in black shake their heads at some long-repeated tale. A blond, Northern European family sits wedged together on a bench, eating their sandwiches on dark bread.

Which one of these people stole my son’s change from his hand, Sara wonders, or tried to sell him something illicit, or yelled at him needlessly? Which one is a pervert or a pedophile, a nightmare come true? It must have been the lemon man, she thinks again. He is the bad guy. Although now he is whistling as he unloads bright lemons from a wooden box.

She decides she will interrogate him nonetheless in a language he doesn’t understand. She will shout at the old man in English and blame him and insist he explain why this country of fine wines and routine epiphanies has not moored her more successfully to her life. Give me back my son, my family, Sara will shout, when really it is herself she wants returned. That’s when her husband steps into her line of sight. He looks plain and well-intentioned, familiar and somehow right.

“That was fascinating,” he says, nodding over his shoulder at the Colosseum that has righted itself again and appears appropriately colossal.

He leans forward and offers a peck to the air near Sara’s cheek. Instinctively, and for no good reason, she leans toward him, too.

She looks down at Graham to try to understand what has happened between them while his father has been gone. Her son stares up at her with an adult expression, one that shows he has things under control now. He surreptitiously wipes away any sign of tears.

“Everything all right?” Richard asks, glancing at each of them. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Graham says firmly. “We’re good. Mom bought us lemonade. Mine spilled, but it’s no big deal.”

Graham offers a manly shrug. He is protecting her, Sara realizes. Something bad has happened and he is covering it up for her sake. Something has come between us, something terrible, Sara thinks. A flicker of understanding passes over her as she wonders if that something is her.

Richard looks to her for an explanation, but Sara is at a loss. She looks to Graham again, and after a long moment, she nods in agreement with him that they are fine. Graham and Sara have made a pact. In one brief moment, her son has become fully-grown and capable of deception, as well as sacrifice and love.

But, Sara reminds herself, I am his mother, not his accomplice. Now is the moment to speak up, to set things straight. The voices of strangers, the wings of birds flapping as they rise to the triumphal arch, the chatter of birds as they settle on the cross casting a shadow on the path, the guides explaining significant moments in history to the interested tourists, the calls of the street vendors: Sara must speak above it all. And yet she stalls. She’s still not sure what to say. She stands frozen and feels nothing until Graham steps forward and takes her hand.

“Let’s go, Mom,” he says. “Time to go.”

Sara looks down and wishes she could move forward, take a firm step in her new sandals.

“All right, then,” Richard says as he takes Rachel’s hand. “We’ve got just enough time to catch the next bus back to the hotel.”

“We’re coming,” Graham answers for his mother as he starts to pull them up the ancient stones.

“Richard,” Sara finally says. “Wait.”

Graham looks up at her, his face dark with adult betrayal. He tries again to pull her onward, to march them into the future he assumes is theirs.

Sara turns to her husband, opens her mouth, and begins.



Virginia Pye is the author of two award-winning novels, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, and the short story collection, Shelf Life of Happiness. Her stories, essays, and interviews have appeared in Literary HubThe New York TimesThe RumpusHuffington Post, The North American ReviewThe Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She lived in Richmond, Virginia for many years and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Find her online at www.virginiapye.com, FB, Twitter, and Instagram.

“Crying in Italian” first appeared in the anthology Abundant Grace.