“Sonnet 0: My PTSD Clings to the Center of My Christmas” by Ron Riekki

“Abstracted Portrait” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic on canvas, 2014.

like homeless children in homes, tachycardic
from the insecurity of walls, the way the devil
digs into your pulse, proves that escape is not
history, that the heat of the hole of your head
supplies you with a constant need for intrusions,
the wish the helicopter on fire in your youth
could be drowned in rain, the melted flesh inside
melting away with your patriotism, your black-
and-white photographs of death vermonted
to the high-five days of transcendence when God
existed as heavy as hate and now after the waiting
room is gone, after the counselor’s shoes are in
the past, you almost see a dark bird of peace
approaching the holiday’s police siren lights



Ron Riekki wrote U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated) and edited The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).


“Pigeons” by Laura Madeline Wiseman

“Weighty Mantle” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil, ink, glue, paper, 2014.

Birds still turn through bridge stays, streetways, city parks. Their
wings glitter iridescent,  eyes flash red,  heads nod with footfalls.
Did  anyone  know  what  was  coming?  Other  warriors  bound
messages to bird legs, sent  these messengers aloft  with code,
but  the  notes  arrived  late.  Buildings hit.  Bricks burned yellow
through the night.  Buried  in  the wreckage of  another bombing,
bodies crushed or lived on.


Some eat them. Others shoot them in sport. Some governments
rear  young falcons  to  dine  on those who infest cities.  I’ve read
about them,
you said while standing inside the sill on the top floor
of a hotel.  Outside  the  thick glass,  one feasted  on  what she’d
splayed,  something  bloodied,  feather  tangled,  talon  shredded,
young. Beyond the dreamhole,  her meal,  bodies of skyscrapers,
somewhere  the  field still swayed  with wind.  Another for my life
you said because  counting birds mattered then (eagle, stork,
pigeon, dove).  Could this fold be the welcome?  Could you count
again what’s good?


Drawn one knee up.  Support  hip (blanket, block, towel).  Rotate
femur. Un-sickle the ankle.  Stretch  piriformis, then sciatic nerve.
Un-clinch jaw. Fold forward. Stack fists or wrists. Place forehead
there, or if it’s in today’s practice, the floor.  Breathe. Push up into
variation  ( prayer twist,  bow leg,  shoulder opener ).  Return to a
full expression.  The matter  isn’t  more effort,  but  to  effort  less.
Memories, emotions, old wounds arrive. In the class some sniffle
against what burns or aches. Some keep silence. You remember
the story,  what you tell yourself about what you did,  the meaning
you ascribe.  But  rather than being caught,  you  follow sensation
inward, first to the body, then to the breath.  Press forehead to the
mat. Let the weight of the spine ease. Come out slowly.  Push up.
Shake hips free. Then, find the pose on the second side to create
balance.  Remember the cues, alignment prompts.  Energy flows
where  awareness goes. 
Release  the notes  of warning.  There’s
awareness of  the story now—finally.  Wings outstretched,  you’re
here among kings opening to the stillness.



Laura Madeline Wiseman teaches writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the editor of two anthologies, Bared and Women Write Resistance, selected for the Nebraska 150 Sesquicentennial Book List. She is the recipient of 2015 Honor Book Nebraska Book Award, Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship, and an Academy of American Poets Award. Her book Drink won the 2016 Independent Publisher Bronze Book Award for poetry. Her latest book is Velocipede (Stephen F. Austin State University Press), a 2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist for Sports.

“The Memory Keeper and the Myth Maker” by Carroll Sandel

Memory Keeper_Sacred Blossoms
“Sacred Blossoms” Image by Pam Brodersen

”…the remembering self” has two different aspects. “On the one hand, it has the temperament of a librarian, a keeper of memory’s most important archives. It can be fastidious in that role, guarding its original records and trying to keep them pristine.” On the other hand, “memory’s archivist by day has a secret passion by night: to fashion a story about itself… that some of us call the personal myth” — not “a falsehood but a comprehensive view of reality” that seeks “to generate conviction about what it thinks is true.”

~ John Kotre, WHITE GLOVES: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory

We wore white gloves to church on Sunday. When I was eight, my favorite pair had small petaled flowers around the cuffs, with a tiny pearl in the center of each one. A different pair when I was ten had scalloped edges. At twelve, another pair had a pearl button and a loop to close the opening at the wrist. The gloves fit snugly around fingers and thumbs. They stayed white as cotton balls since my sisters and I only wore them for a few hours each week and never touched anything. As we changed into our work clothes, we put the gloves in our top dresser drawers, one on top of the other, next to our underpants. My white church gloves fashioned part of the story of my childhood.

My mother drove us six kids from our farm into town to the Episcopal Church every Sunday, no matter whether snow gusted across the road or sweat wet our armpits. We tumbled out of the car, my younger sister, Nancy, and I heading to the choir room to dress in our black robes, white surplices. In the pews that faced each other close to the altar, she and I giggled and chatted until one of us glanced at the third pew where Mom sat with the other kids. Our mother’s furrowed brow and the shaking her head “No,” told us to cut it out now. Mom used to say, “Taking you all to church takes all the religion out of me.” We wore my mother out no matter where we were.

Six had not been Mom’s choice for the size of our family. But my father wanted to be like Frank Gilbreth who wrote Cheaper by the Dozen, so he talked her into another baby every two years. My mother on occasion admitted she had preferred two children. Then she would add, “But if I had to choose, there’s not one of you I would give up.” This was hard for me to believe. Though she loved infants she could cuddle with, my mother did not really like kids. When we argued with each other, when we embarrassed her by talking too loud, when we didn’t show off our good manners, she’d sigh and turn her head away as if correcting us was not worth the bother.

Life on the farm was relentless for Mom with the marathon canning and freezing beans, peas, tomatoes, applesauce all summer and early fall. Before school, she drilled us for our spelling tests while packing our lunches with lettuce, mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwiches. At night, we sat on the red metal stool and read aloud to her back as she cleaned up in the kitchen. Her energy went into chores, less so into kids.

While Mom covered the bases of being an adequate mother, she showed little inclination to nurture. She never recognized when we girls had outgrown our dresses. On occasion, she’d say, “Come here, I want to feel your nose.” If it was cold, she’d add, “Go get a sweater.” But for the most part, she paid little attention to our clothes matching the weather. She seemed to think we could figure those things out on our own. In particular, I don’t remember her noticing me. Mom never picked up on me feeling sad about something that happened at school or that I was terrified of the dark when she sent me to get more milk from the refrigerator in the cellar.

My father was the worrier. One evening when we still lived in town and I was three, he arrived home from work and asked my mother where the older two kids were. She said she had no idea, she hadn’t noticed they were missing. My father scoured the neighborhood, asking folks if they’d seen his five-year-old girl and his seven-year-old son. He expanded his search, street by street. My older sister remembers holding my brother’s hand, knowing they were lost. My father found them ten blocks away, across a busy street. My sister saw my father get out of the car and raced into his arms.

He once told me his “heart jumped into his throat” each time he checked on my little brother at night and found him buried under the covers at the bottom of his bed. “God, I’d think, what if he’s suffocated?” my father said. When a thunderstorm barreled through and the same brother raced into the hall to brighten his florescent cross under the night light, my mother laughed at how foolish he was to be so fearful. These memories helped construct my story that my father was the caring parent, not my mother.


During winters in southwestern Pennsylvania, the sky shifted from dirty white to thundercloud gray. The sun was merely a rumor. Wind snuck into the window edges, making the house groan. Our jackets, wool caps and mittens never quite barricaded the cold.

We girls were allowed to wear pants under our dresses to school when it froze enough to burn the inside of our noses. One day as I stared at the crystals of frost making dips and drifts in the small rectangular windows running up to the ceiling, Mrs. Scott, my second-grade teacher, announced it was time to line up to go the bathroom. Squeaks of desk lids opening, a girl’s whispering to a friend, rustling of papers filled the room.

As I slid from my seat, my teacher, who did not smile often, but whose eyes never flashed in anger, said, “Carroll, can you come here, please?” I got good report cards and did not misbehave much, so I was curious, not nervous when I walked toward her as my classmates left the room. With her cinnamon hair curled in a tight permanent, Mrs. Scott held out her hands and motioned for me to put my hands out. Both of us stared at my raw, cracked fingers. She leaned over to her desk drawer and opened it. My teacher lifted a bottle of Jergen’s lotion and shook some into her open hand. She greased my fingers one by one, then with both her palms, caressed them, back and forth, back and forth. Mrs. Scott, concentrating on massaging the cream into my red hands, did not notice me looking up at her. She did not know that I was thinking: This is what a good mother does for her child.

When we got off the school bus around four o’clock, two-foot-long icicles clung to the roof of the house. We changed our clothes and headed for the cellar where our snow pants, work jackets and boots were. Before I graduated to milking our Guernseys when I turned twelve, I helped feed the beef cattle who roamed in the rock-hard fields. Either my father or the hired hand drove the pick-up truck, bouncing my sisters, little brother and me up and down on the hay bales in the back. The wind seared across our faces, tearing up our eyes and sending snot down onto our lips. When we arrived where the cows huddled, with feet planted to balance ourselves as the truck kept moving, we pitched hay over the side. Headlight beams funneled dimly across the snow-covered ground. Once our job was done, our behinds bumped against the empty truck bed as we rode back over the fields. We swiped prickly mittens across our faces to scrape off stalks that the wind stuck there. By the time we returned to the barn, we no longer felt our fingers or our toes. Now when I am out in a bracing wind, I remember those dark, late afternoons in the back of the truck.

Inside the barn, it was cold enough for steam to rise where a milk cow pooped on the straw, but it was warmer than in the fields. One evening, I spread hay into troughs without my mittens. Blood scabs dotted the cracks on my knuckles. My father grabbed my sleeve and led me past the stand where the pail lid covered the fresh milk, past the horse stalls to the window at the far side of the barn. He reached up to the ledge, pulled down a lime green can of Bag Balm that he used to soften the cows’ teats. Scooping out a clump of yellow grease, he worked the lanolin into my fingers, one hand, then the other. Pulling his work gloves on, he headed back to the cows. As the oozy grease softened my fingers, I followed my father.


In my house on chilly days now, my cold fingers often tell me I need to put on a sweater. After my morning shower, I cream my body well. I moisturize my face in the evening and add ultra-healing lotion to my hands before I head toward bed. Without conscious thought, I have internalized the actions of those who helped care for my dry skin.

My young granddaughter, since she was a baby, has had skin so dry it feels like fine sand paper. When she was little, her mother slurped mango body butter over her limbs, back and belly. One evening I babysat when she was in second grade. After she had greased her hands, my granddaughter pulled on a pair of knitted mittens. A slice of a memory flashed and took shape: A pair of white gloves, larger than my usual Sunday ones, yellowed and dirty-looking–I had put on my hands as a child before I went to bed. The mustard tinge came from the cream I had slathered on before I slid my fingers into the gloves.

A thrill stirred in my chest as I stared at my granddaughter’s mittens. My mother had figured out a way to deal with my chapped hands. No one else would have given me gloves to encase my hands in lotion overnight.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I could not remember my mother noticing my chapped fingers. I ploughed through my memories, but I could not determine when my mother gave me the gloves to shield my hands. I tried out scenarios, imagining what might have occurred.

Perhaps one evening at dinner as we all sat round the red Formica table, Mom watched me raise my milk tumbler. My red hands were difficult to ignore. After I brushed my teeth that evening, she held my fingers for a brief moment under the lamp on the bed stand before she said good night. I attempted to invent what she might have said as she inspected my hands, but no words came to mind. The next day I imagined she might have called her friend, Lucille, and together they came up with a plan. My mother then went upstairs to my older sister’s dresser. In the top drawer, she picked out a pair of white gloves, slightly worn, and placed them on the dressing table in her bedroom. That night Mom handed me a lotion bottle and the pair of worn gloves. “Put cream on your hands every night,” she said. “Then wear these when you go to bed.” So simply would she have instructed me on how to help my chapped hands. Maybe I grew tired of wearing the gloves and my fingers once again reddened. Maybe my father was following her lead when he noticed dried blood on my knuckles. But my contrived sequence of events rang false, with a mother I did not recognize.

I worked at imagining me telling Mom about Mrs. Scott lotioning my red fingers. But I would have been embarrassed to let her know that my teacher recognized what she had missed. I tried to envision my mother noticing my rough hands while she washed the dishes and I picked them up from the drainer to wipe dry. Yet my older sister usually was the one who washed while I dried. Shaping memory of a caring mother battled tough resistance. So entrenched was my perception of Mom never noticing of me, I could not see her initiate a plan to help my chapped hands. I dug further to find a palatable version of how I came to wear gloves at night.

The story that made sense to me: That freezing night, after my father rubbed Bag Balm into my fingers, he changed from his dungarees into his pajamas and climbed into bed. My mother, in her nightie, socks and bed jacket, lay beside him. In the darkened room, my father told my mother about my hands. “They’re in god-awful shape,” he said. “The cracks in her knuckles have scabs of blood. You need to figure out something to do about them.” With my father’s instruction, Mom telephoned several friends to see if they had ideas how to salve my chapped hands. One suggestion of applying cream, then putting on gloves each night made sense to her. She found an extra pair of my older sister’s and gave them to me along with the lotion. With three kids younger than I who needed her attention at bed time, I would have been in charge of dealing with my red hands. Without remembering of how I came to wear gloves at night, I fashioned a story that fits what I want to believe. Together my parents helped me.

As a meticulous memory keeper, I remembered the features of each pristine pair of church gloves. I loved that they made me feel dressed up, not like a farm girl. Scenes emerged readily of Mrs. Scott massaging cream into my fingers, my father’s rough hands greasing my cracked ones. I spotlighted my claims of who noticed me.

My remembering self had already been a myth maker, determined to dismiss what did not fit the narrative I crafted. With no memory of a nurturing mother, I stripped her of all signs of her caring for me. My granddaughter pulling mittens on her greased hands triggered recall of a forgotten kindness. Yellowed white gloves added a new dimension to my memory of my mother. One of her chores, it turns out, was figuring out a way to help me.



After a career in social work, Carroll Sandel took her first class at Grub St. Writing Center and felt as though she had leapt off a cliff. That exhilarating, terrifying feeling re-emerges each time she sits at the computer to write again. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Pangyrus, The Drum, Grub Daily and she was a 2014 finalist for the Dorothy Cappon non-fiction prize in New Letters. She has recently completed a memoir, Lying Eyes, which explores her untrustworthy memories and how certainty about our memories can betray us.


“I Met Him at an Anonymous Meeting” by Meaghan Quinn

“Treehugger” Image (detail) by Pam Brodersen

Circled around fold out chairs I squeezed
his hand at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.
I wanted to give him something to believe
in deeper than the creed. I wasn’t prepared
for him to go back to selling out of his car
or even further back to living broken, alone.
After hours, I smell him cooking in the park

on the edge of a cot stoking a city of homes.

Off the grid, unannounced, more elbow room
to move around. There are whispers of his needs.
By morning the city finds traces of him, spoons,
rosaries, wax envelopes all down the streets.
Predawn sauna of summer, his crown of dreads,
in the mangled butternut tree roots, body and bread.



Meaghan Quinn is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review. She holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College. She was nominated for Best New Poets 2015 and a 2015 Pushcart Prize and was a recipient of the Nancy Penn Holsenbeck Prize. Her poems are forthcoming or have been published in Heartwood, 2River, Adrienne, Triggerfish, Free State Review, and other journals.


“The One-Time Return of Night Terrors” by Ron Riekki

Night Terrors (Rain)
“Drops” Image by Pam Brodersen

I beg the counselor
to help me return
to avoidance, but he
says I need to be
out in the crimson
pool of people,
that things get worse
before they get breathing
and I open my eyes
in the rivered room,
its throat of night,
and beg myself
to leave the doom-
birthdays of boot
camp and realize
fully that family
exists in rooms
nearby where
the father
cannot allow
to be

I turn on
the light,

and insist
of me







Ron Riekki wrote U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated) and edited The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).


“Quantum Mom” by Cezarija Abartis

Quantum Mom_Lands End
“Land’s End” Image by Pam Brodersen

Outside Paula’s window, the leaves were almost gone from the maple tree. She worried about her friend Andrea. Two weeks ago the tree blazed orange and scarlet, and now it was just skeletal branches against the dim and misty sky. And in six months it would bud green and gold. She hoped Andrea would get well. She closed the book that she’d been trying to read, a new translation of the Odyssey for the next semester, closed it on the page where Odysseus speaks with his mother in Hades.

Paula remembered her mother before she died. Young and slender, younger than Paula, who was fifty-two and looking matronly with her big hips. Paula never got to see her mother grow old. She had, at last, forgiven her for dying.

“Paula, dear.” Her mother appeared, wearing the apron Paula had sewn when she was in seventh grade, a cotton print of roses and baby angels with wings. “I want you to study hard.”

“Yes, Mother, I do.”

“I want you to get all A’s.”

“I only got one B. That was in Civics.”

“I know. You hate reading the newspaper.”

“I like reading books.”

“When I was your age, I liked books of fairy tales.”

“Were you twelve once?”

Her mother lightly flicked the tip of Paula’s nose. “Don’t mock your old mother.”

The next year, her slender and beautiful mother drove to the Fifth Street Bridge, got out of the car, climbed over the rail, and jumped into the river. She was thirty-seven. Paula’s brother was ten, and at first he thought she would somehow return. “Mickey expected you to come back a week later.”

“I was truly dead and gone,” her mother’s ghost said. “I missed all of you. Your father, of course, but you and Mickey most of all. I wanted to see you grow up.”

“Look at me, Mother. I’m fifty-two. You must be seventy-seven.”

“You’re beautiful, but I see a thirteen-year-old.”

“I got my Ph.D.” Paula pointed to her framed diploma with the gold-colored seal in the corner. “I’m a professor.”

“Funny, you look thirteen to me.” Her mother touched her own cheek with her familiar gesture of puzzlement.

Paula stared at this young, aproned woman with her chestnut-brown hair and her clear eyes. She wondered what her mother would’ve been like if she had survived depression. Her mother would be judging her: “You should find a nice man and have children.”

“Mother, I’m fifty-two.”

“You could adopt.”

“Mother, that ship has sailed.”

“I liked Evan.”

“You were gone before I met him. How could you have known?”

Her mother shrugged and put on a tricky expression. “I have my ways.”

“He’s dead. Cancer.”

“Perhaps in another pocket of time he would be alive?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I always liked science, you know that. Your father called it woo-woo science. But there are all sorts of things. Horatio says, ‘More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

“That’s Hamlet.”


Paula shook her head at her woo-woo mother.

Paula’s cat, Schrödinger, trotted in, tail perpendicular, confident, alert, powerful. She bent down to pet him, and he felt warm and solid.

Paula looked up and saw a vase of wilting roses on the nightstand and an old mother lying on a bed, the golden afternoon pouring down on her. But this was not possible. This mother had white, floaty hair. Her eyes seemed cloudy. This was a future that never happened. The living room had become a bed chamber.

Paula’s head buzzed.

Her cat, Schrödinger, ambled in, now skinny and old. Then Atom, her mother’s cat, came in meowing, stropping her ankles. “Okay, sweeties. I’ll get you a fresh can.” But they weren’t interested in food.

Her father had loved that cat, especially after his wife died.

Atom jumped up on the bed, and the old mother petted him until he nipped at her. “He only likes a certain amount of petting. Such a particular, fine cat.” She smiled and turned her creamy, cataracted eyes on Paula. “I saved him from death. I found him as an abandoned kitten, and I saved him. I don’t know where he is now.”

“We put him to sleep.”

“I don’t know where he is now.” Her mother’s face was infinitely sad. “So many things I don’t know. What is love? Will the universe unravel? Will there be a union of body and soul? Will we see again the people and creatures we loved?”

“And have you been healed of your depression?”

She sliced the air with her hand. “My pain is over.”

“Oh, Mother, that’s good.”

“I love to see your happy face. I can take that memory to eternity. Are you happy, dear? No danger? You don’t have my depression?”

Her cat, Schrödinger, trotted in. In this version her mother was young again.

“I just have a bad cold,” Paula said. “My October respiratory infection.” She coughed for her mother, a little, jagged exhalation.

“Don’t make light of it.”

“Only a mom would take this seriously. My friends get colds and we just pooh-pooh their complaining.”

“I used to get those heavy infections around my lungs, hot around my heart and throat,” her young mother said.

“I feel so sorry for you.”

“That’s in the past.” She waved dismissively. “No respiratory infections anymore. All gone.” She opened her arms wide, as if to display her health.

“Andrea has lung cancer.” Paula wanted to rush into her mother’s arms and tell her about her friend. “Will she get better?”

Her mother straightened the hem of her apron. “I was remembering about the past–that is to say, you were remembering. Anyway, you and Andrea were fighting about who was responsible for tearing the apron that you sewed in Home Ec class.”

“Andrea tore it–she pulled it out of my hand and caught it on a doorknob.” The perfect, unimportant memory made Paula shake her head at herself. She wanted to embrace her mother, but knew she was just a shade. “Will you come back?”

The young mother walked to the door, whispered, “Love,” fluttered her fingers, and disappeared.

Schrödinger meowed. Paula turned, picked him up, and hugged him to her chest.



Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in FriGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, r.kv.r.y, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/


“Mother” by Digby Beaumont

Mother_Clowns Trailer
“Clown’s Trailer” Image by Pam Brodersen

My father stands on a branch high up in the sweet chestnut tree outside, peering through a telescope at the village along the valley. Way past my bedtime, I watch from my window, bare feet turning blue on the wood floor.

Dad leans forward. Maybe he’s searching for my mother. She hasn’t been around so much, and I wonder why. Is it something to do with him? Or me? Shifting his weight, he tries to find a firmer foothold. The branch creaks, then cracks, and he topples headlong. I catch my breath, yell to him, press my palms against the cold glass.


Outside the City Library, I’m singing in the school choir. I moved here to live with my foster family after Dad died. It’s Harvest Festival. We’ve drawn a big crowd. Second song in and there she is, standing at the back, my mother, in a red trench-coat and matching red beret. My voice breaks up, I stand taller, try to make eye contact, but she keeps her head bowed. I want to ask, Why are you here? To see me? After all this time?

She glances up. I can’t help myself. I run from the stage, plow through the crowd. Turning, she hurries away. I follow, my eyes on the red beret bobbing among the Saturday shoppers, but she doesn’t look back and I lose her in fog.


Christmas, and I’ve heard she’s moved back into the old house. I get up before the family wakes. I cycle all morning. From the top of Snowdrop Hill, the place nestles in the valley. I imagine how it will be inside. Warm. Carols on the radio. A tree, dressed in baubles and lights. The smell of turkey roasting in the oven. And her, standing at the kitchen counter, preparing vegetables, a rich cranberry sauce.

I pedal down and prop my bike against the fence, stopping to gaze at the sweet chestnut tree. From my rucksack, I take the gift I’ve bought her: a bottle of Charlie Blue. Always her favourite perfume. At least, it was. The side door isn’t locked, and I let myself in. Everywhere is cold, silent. No Christmas tree. No cooking smells.

In the living room I find her, crumpled on the sofa, sleeping. Bird’s-nest hair, smudged mascara. I kneel beside her, smooth her creased black dress. Resting my head on her chest, I feel her heartbeat, her breath cool against my face.



Digby Beaumont‘s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, Blue Five Notebook, Bartleby Snopes, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review and 100-Word Story among others. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.


“Teeth” by Joe Mills

Teeth_Captiva Inflatables
“Captiva Inflatables” Image by Pam Brodersen

Each kid on the field was just a container for teeth. A big rattling money jar for dentists and orthodontists.

Jan spent the game doing story problems: A dozen kids on a team with thirty-two teeth apiece. If they each needed braces at ten grand a crack

She should have gone to dental school. That would have meant job security and at least then she could have taken Karen to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day or to the office after hours for treatment.

On Thursday, the dentist said Karen would need braces. But first: extractions, expansions, and various other procedures that made her daughter’s mouth sound like a major construction site.

She’d known this was coming. Years ago a hygienist looked into Karen’s mouth and said, “Wow, she has a lot of teeth!”

“Yeah, all of them,” she’d laughed, assuming Karen had the same teeth everyone had, which she did, but apparently not the space.

“Crowning,” Dr. Lucas called it, and now some of Karen’s teeth had to come out. Permanently.

The thought made Jan queasy. Didn’t we need our adult teeth? All of them? Would this be the kind of thing future dentists didn’t do any more? Like tonsillectomies? No one had those done now. Plus, where would she get the money? Dropping dental insurance had been part of workplace cutbacks. Eliminated. Extracted. Their new medical plan: Don’t get sick.

Each year around enrollment time, Jan put a box of tissues by the computer in preparation for the frustrated tears she would reliably shed. The plan descriptions were so bewildering she might as well have picked at random.

There were no “kitchen table” conversations for her. Not anymore. She used to ask Cathy Cornwall what they chose and pick the same plan. Then the Cornwalls got transferred.

Jan asked the dentist if it was just a cosmetic thing with Karen’s teeth. She didn’t need cheerleader teeth. She wouldn’t be entering beauty pageants.

The dentist pointed to the x-ray, said if it wasn’t done now, later treatment would involve breaking the jaw. Dr. Lucas basically predicted Karen’s adult life would be hell if she didn’t get braces now. And even if Jan discounted half of the jargon, it still sounded like something had to be done. Somehow.

Afterwards, in the car, Karen burst into tears. “I liked the tooth fairy better,” she wailed.

Jan reached across the seat and held her daughter, thinking, “Here we are again, crying about teeth.” Years earlier, Karen’s friend Gracie had lost a tooth and been given five bucks from the tooth fairy, leaving Karen heartbroken because she only got a dollar.

Gracie’s parents had thrown the whole tooth fairy economy out of whack, and Jan didn’t know how to explain the fundamental unfairness. What could she say? The tooth fairy loved Gracie more? Gracie was cuter? They’d negotiated a better deal?

These days, Karen knew who the Tooth Fairy was. The last tooth her little brother lost was from going over the handlebars of his bike. Chuck had come home sobbing, with a bloody mouth, a gap in his smile, and a fist clenched around a fragment of white.

Although Jan calmed him down with French fries and chicken-fried steak, she forgot to put the money under his pillow. Karen ran downstairs the next morning to tell her, and together they wrote a note explaining that the Tooth Fairy had been running late, delayed by traffic over Asia and an unexpected number of children who’d eaten taffy apples.

It was the Easter Bunny, that weirdest of holiday animals, its story so thin and its elements so odd, that led Karen to insist, “It doesn’t make sense, Mommy. Tell me the truth.” Even though Jan hadn’t wanted to, she told her daughter and the toppling of one icon brought the rest crashing down. Karen instantly understood that no Easter Bunny meant no Santa Claus, no leprechauns, and no tooth fairy. She crawled onto her mother’s lap and cried.

Sometimes, when one thing was pulled out, everything came crashing down. One fantasy. One tooth. One job. One member of the family. You had to adjust to a different world. If Jan could, she would crawl into someone’s lap right now and have a comforting cry. That’s all she wanted. Someone to be there for her. Some days, that was the best she could do as a parent. Just be there.

That sounds like enough. But you also need money for the teeth. All those teeth.



Joe Mills is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published six collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently Exit, pursued by a bear which consists of poems triggered by stage directions in Shakespeare. He edited the collection of film criticism A Century of the Marx Brothers. With his wife, Danielle Tarmey, he researched and wrote two editions of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries, and his essay “On Hearing My Daughter Trying to Sing Dixie” won this year’s Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. More information about his work is available at www.josephrobertmills.com.


“An Opening” by Ree Davis

An Opening (Celestial Fantasy)
“Celestial Fantasy” Image by Pam Brodersen

The drawer smelled rancid. I dug into the narrow void, past where I could see. I hated losing things, and didn’t do it often, but somehow over the last few years I’d misplaced a box of my grandfather’s things that I’d found in his bedside table after he passed away. Its contents were gone as well, dispersed over the house by the kids during one of their various phases of fascination with Mommy and Daddy’s stuff. Of all the items the box contained, one stuck in my memory—a cardboard pheasant about three inches long and a quarter of an inch thick, the smooth, colorfully printed image laminated to the cardboard almost too detailed for the age of the other objects in the box. When I’d found it, I’d imagined it was part of a set. Now I had no idea where it was, and I was running out of places to look. My grandfather was a coal mine fire boss—he kept the pheasant in a box with his Social Security card; a silver coin that had been turned into a ring by a friend from his youth who was gassed in the war; an untitled herbal remedy that included bitters; various buttons; and an old brass-handled nutpick. I would tear apart the house to find it. Beads of sweat sprung up on my forehead despite the chill of the weather outside, which was sending another several inches of snow onto what had fallen the day before. I bent at an unnatural angle to grope the back of the drawer.

“Something missing?” Jeremy’s voice cracked as if he hadn’t spoken in a while. I took a breath in and twisted to see him.

“Nothing.” I stood and closed the drawer.

“Something smells awful.”

“It’s the drawer.”

“I highly doubt that, Michelle.” His eyes didn’t look as sunken as they had over those last few weeks. Maybe it was just my imagination. A short crop of stubble was beginning to appear on his scalp and chin. He reminded me of a school presentation our daughter had done that included a marker drawing of the top of a bald head and eyes looking up to handwritten text, Why Chemotherapy Makes You Bald. I liked him with this rough glaze of stubble, as if new life was springing from his skin. But his self-image included lots of hair, so it was a version of him that I had to keep quiet about. “Twist ties and rubber bands don’t stink.”

“We’ve kept all kinds of stuff in here. It’s a junk drawer,” I said, envisioning a small scrap of asparagus clinging to a tight purple rubber band, having rotted to pure stench over a period of a few weeks. I imagined the odor leaking out even with the drawer closed.

Jeremy poured himself a mug of water with a short gush from the faucet and punched the microwave latch. He slipped the mug into the microwave. It made a hollow rumble as he pushed it to the center of the turntable. I never microwaved water for tea because it got cloudy and tasted like metal. “Your imagination is too active,” he’d say. He punched two minutes and leaned against the counter with a tea bag in his hand. “I’m not going to make it, you know.” He looked at me only after the last word had settled in the air.

I didn’t want to listen. I’d invested too much in him. Losing the fight of his life had never been an option. I preferred to look for a cardboard pheasant. The drawer stuck out from the cabinet just a bit, as if something was jammed behind it. I could barely resist the urge to pull the drawer open. If I could figure out how to yank it out of the cabinet, I would. My hand ached to reach back in. The pheasant had been brilliantly decorated—a male with long variegated feathers. My grandfather must have treasured it. His coal-rimmed fingers must have sought out its smooth surface whenever he rifled through the box. I wished Jeremy would say something else.

The timer on the microwave beeped. He dropped the tea bag into the water, which hissed and bubbled.

“You were gonna kick this thing? We were.” My voice barely disguised a resentment I didn’t understand. I was fighting-mad.

He didn’t seem to notice. All his attention was on the surface of the tea. Was the water changing color as the bag dropped into the hot water?

I didn’t want to remember Jeremy this way. I closed my eyes and envisioned him coming in from a run with his T-shirt dark with sweat instead, his forehead glazed in salt, and his hair in thick damp curls.

“That smell, that you think is in the drawer.” He gripped the mug with both hands and moved to the window. “It’s everywhere.”

“It’s not; it’s old asparagus or something rotted into the wood, just bad housekeeping.”

“I keep thinking of all the choices I made.”

I didn’t want to hear it. I’d rather talk about about the twins or how his mother never really liked me, even after caring for him.

“Drinking, smoking.” He hesitated. “Drugs.” He stared out the picture window. I closed my eyes again because I didn’t want to roll them. Spouses of the sick do not surrender to sarcasm or impatience. “Watching TV rather than exercising. Not drinking enough water. All that fast food my mother warned me about. This is the price for being careless.”

I wanted to rest my hand on the chenille of his robe, but I couldn’t. The fabric had grown rough with frequent washings and smelled of fabric softener—lavender with a chemical edge. Underneath, something else. I rubbed my nose as a reflex. My fingers smelled like the drawer, which was almost comforting. I touched the tips to my nose and inhaled. I hated the notion of larger judgments, of a past that haunts you, bad decisions like latent viruses waiting to take hold. Biological retribution. One genetic test would have ended this discussion. “That sounds more ridiculous now than when you first said it.”

Jeremy looked at me like he knew something I didn’t. “I once heard that every heart has only so many beats—once you’ve reached that number, it’s over. A slower pulse means a longer life. Faster, shorter. That’s it.”

“Like planned obsolescence?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“I was kidding.”

“Maybe we only get so much endurance. If it’s squandered, it won’t be there when we need it.” He blew across the tea. Months ago, the lecture had been longer. “I feel like crap. My last days on earth are going to be more about feeling like crap than life. I won’t be able to remember another way of being. Images of feeling like crap will be all that flashes before my eyes as the lights go out.”

Parts of Jeremy had been completely unaltered by the process of illness—the shape of his legs, the pinkish tan lobes of his ears, the fullness of his lips. “Maybe I’d be better off with lots of morphine and a chaise lounge in the backyard. I’d be happier. I’d be in nature. The kids could play while I watched. Maybe you could take some time off and garden again.”

This didn’t work for me—the movie ending with the couple holding hands in the backyard and the sick one quietly nodding away in death. My memories deserved a fight. I took the kids to school, went to work, called him a few times a day. Work was a relief, a vacation from caregiving. I even got a raise in the middle of it all.

I tried to take in Jeremy’s look, his smell, the sense of him in the room. But I felt caged, like I was banging my head against the bars. “The doctors said there’s hope. Let’s stick with hope.”

I wanted him to reach over and rub my head, mussing my hair like he used to. Instead, I closed my eyes tight, feeling the flesh around my eyes wrinkle in on itself. Imagining his hand in my hair.

“’Chelle, I’ll jump through hoops for you if you want me to.” He really was saying, but don’t make me.

“How about for the twins.” I wasn’t exactly certain of when that look in his eyes shifted to some other plane of his existence. He could barely see the kids anymore. He’d started writing cards for each of them for future birthdays, graduations, weddings. All the cards said the same thing, “Know I’m with you. Know I love you.” I would put those cards away and only bring them out when I was alone, when I wanted to see his lousy penmanship again.

Jeremy walked to the back door and onto the patio. I watched him through the windows. The green lawn framed him in his blue robe, his pale hand held the red mug, white stubble coated his face and head like an early frost. All the colors seemed vivid and oversaturated, as if the sunlight carried its own psychedelic glow, and I realized then how much I missed our life together.

I opened the drawer again and reached deeper inside. My fingers felt a narrow, thick tab, like maybe the shape of a pheasant’s tail. I pulled, but it was lodged in the back seam of the drawer. I leaned in with a flashlight, and the smell hit me again. I almost couldn’t bear it. I held my breath and finagled my arm deeper into the drawer. As I tried to wrench the object from where it was wedged, I could see over the counter, out through the window, and into the yard. Snow filtered down from an unbroken gray sky and settled onto the black covers shrouding the lawn furniture. A spiderweb of frozen crystals moved across the panes of glass in the window. The twins piled more snow on the snowman they’d built yesterday. “Fatter, Mommy, fatter,” they’d said in unison. Around them, the late-afternoon sky changed everything to shades of gray.

~For Betsy Smith Edmunds



Ree Davis has worked as a cook, dishwasher, seamstress, farmworker, typist, and baker. She’s traveled across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Graduating from Cornell University, she headed R&D for a Fortune 500 Company and gained masters degrees in architecture and creative writing. Ree lived on both US coasts, in Japan and China. Her work has won two Pushcart Nominations and appeared in Narrative Magazine, Daedalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Limestone, and Penmen Review, among others. Her story “A Limitless Sky” was adapted to a radioplay by Delmarva Public Radio. She lives in southwest Virginia.


“It Hangs a Delicate Chain” by Rebekah Keaton

What the Monkey_Delicate Chain
“What the Monkey Dreams” Image by Pam Brodersen

She wakes to the back-hand slap
of rain against the double pane
and a dream that she can’t shake.
After coffee and a shower
it hangs a delicate chain
around her neck.

Across town he rubs his neck
a white knuckled dream slaps
cold metal chains
around his wrists, painfully
they ache. In the shower
steam rises, but he is shaking.

Outside puddles’ oily spills shake
the city awake by the scruff of its neck,
while a neighbor half asleep showers
her white blouse with coffee, slaps
her oldest child. Pain
sparks up her arm like a cold chain.

In another house, the first fight: the chains
of marriage begin to shake
the dream awake. A pained
morning commute replaces nights necking
in his father’s car. They feel the wet slap
of the day’s showers.

Upstairs, recovering from chemo, in the shower
she slips; he catches her. Nothing changes
the past, but here is the sure slap
of his calloused feet shaking
the floor to reach her–his soft kiss on her neck
forgives him, soft cools her pain.

At the flooded intersection, a car at breakneck
speed crashes. Metal showers the morning’s pane,
slaps the world awake. Everything shakes, changes.



Rebekah Keaton’s poems have appeared in various online and print journals, including recently in The Dying Dahlia, PoemMemoirStory, The Healing Muse, Rust+Moth and Common Ground Review.