“Invisible Conversation” by Lavonne J. Adams

Photo by David Navarro

I didn’t understand the indelible nature of lust, how decades later it would mark me like a drunken tattoo—high on grapefruit vodka, the violet lure of the neon sign, the buzzing of the needle before it seared skin. Sometimes, in the hours of night made bleak by solitude, I pull back blinds and imagine—in the empty Adirondack on my deck—a former lover, one of several in the years I’ve been single. Not the most important, just the most recent. Tonight, I will sit with that ghost. Small talk will be irrelevant. I’ll listen for nothing but my own breath: each exhalation a question, each inhalation a precise and unalterable answer. From a distance, the deck will look like a raft on a calm sea. But the solitary bulb will cast shadows like abstract art—intuitive and indecipherable—and the heavens will remain shrouded by clouds. How impossible to navigate without a single star.



Lavonne J. Adams lives in the coastal community of Wilmington, North Carolina, where she teaches as she writes. She received the 2007 Pearl Poetry Prize for Through the Glorieta Pass, “documentary poetry” based on women who travelled the Santa Fe Trail in the mid-1800’s. Her life is a little less adventurous, though she has spiced it up a bit with residencies at the Harwood Museum of Art and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Taos, as well as the Vermont Studio Center. Journal publications include Sojourn, New South, and Missouri Review.


“The Next Katie Couric” by Thomas Boulan


Man in Black White Nike Shoes during Nighttime

The sidewalk is mushy with slush, so you shuffle to keep from falling. A slip could shatter an elbow. A slide could bruise a lobe of your brain. It’s enough that you weigh 288 pounds and have bad knees―a bashed brain could turn you into one very large retard. You open the door to your yellow Subaru and push across the seat, displacing the packaging for fast food and potato chips. Then pulling away from the curb, you begin the chilly drive to Gary’s.

It’s a good night, a great night, because Gary has weed. The snow at his parents’ house has been shoveled, and the concrete steps leading up the porch are wet but not slippery. This is a sign: the buzz god is smiling.

Lisa, Gary’s eleven-year-old sister, answers the door. She’s wearing a ballerina outfit and is holding a piece of licorice.

“Hi, Frank.” She has a hand on her hip.

“Hey, Lisa. Gary home?”

“He’s sleeping in his room in the basement. You can come in and wait if you want. My mom and dad are on one of their stupid dates. They’re going bowling and having Mexican. I never get Mexican … it’s not fair.” She tugs the sleeve of your jacket and pulls you inside.

Her family’s plasma TV has turned the living room into a movie theater, washing everything in pulsating light. Sky blue carpet stretches across the floor, and you stare, afraid to soil it. Lisa orders you to remove your boots and slouches on a sofa. CNN assaults the room with the clatter of voices, and then an anchorwoman fills the screen. “Something happen?”

You collapse next to Lisa, still wearing the stiff leather jacket your father gave you at Christmas. “I’m watching Ellen Langley. She has nice teeth.” Ellen’s teeth could be mints. She has the face of a car show model and brown eyes that never blink. Lisa points to the package of red licorice next to you and offers you some. Thanks, you say, before removing two sticky pieces.

Ellen Langley says that millions of jobs have been lost in the past two years. Executives now are selling golf clubs, baby sitting children and painting garages. A Donald Trump look-alike smiles with an orangey tan and perfect hair; he’s wearing coveralls and holding a four-inch paintbrush. This information is a slap to your newly shaved head. One of these fucking executives could interview for your job at the parking garage. He’d smile with teeth like Ellen Langley’s and have martinis with your supervisor at Manzino’s Pizza. Your new job title would be “unemployed, drug- using loser,” and you’d have to apply for food stamps and bother your friends for dollar bills.

Lisa chokes on a bite of licorice and leans forward, as though she’s preparing to vomit. You put your hand on her back, and she produces a nyack, like a cat coughing up a hair ball. She resumes her chewing, and you scan the room for Gary’s green backpack. It’s the hiding place for a container of joints and buds―sometimes the Xanax you crave―but tonight it’s nowhere in sight.

Pulling an earlobe, you ask Lisa why he’s in bed at seven o’clock.

“He was up all night. The turd told my dad he was ‘researching weather patterns on the Internet.’ He was really looking at people screwing. I found a way you can check. He does it all the time.”

You do not want to know this. Images of Gary stroking himself could sneak into your dreams, and then he might try to have sex with you. Two years ago, you met at a diner when you were washing dishes and wiping tables. He came in for coffee and pancakes after partying with friends, and you learned he was twenty-six and still living at home. He wore a turtleneck and claimed he worked at a Kinko’s; he bragged about the reams of paper he had stolen and the copies he’d made for his friends. At the end of your shift he rolled a blunt the size of your pinky, and you suddenly found him likable.

Lisa’s knowledge of sex is disappointing, too. A girl in a ballerina outfit shouldn’t recognize fornication. With her short, black hair and oversized glasses, she’s a kid you’d take for ice cream in the middle of July. Heat blows from a register near your left leg and you slide a foot near it. You then ask Lisa about her outfit, and she says, “I just like to wear it … is that all right?”

“Of course, whatever makes you happy. Gary told me about the ballet school. He said you might–”


Ellen Langley introduces footage of men waiting to fill out applications at a factory in Pennsylvania. Snow is blowing. A man looses his hat. Another talking head with skin like concrete then fills the screen, advising the unemployed to fight for severance packages, file for COBRA, and get involved in local government. Ellen returns, and Lisa moves her lips. You ask her to speak louder and she slaps your chest.

“Frank, are you spying on me? Can’t I watch TV without someone spying?”

Lisa glares at you and reaches for her ankle. She raises the toe of a ballet slipper to her forehead before grabbing another piece of licorice. “I think Ellen’s pretty,” she says, slipping a shaft of candy into her nostril. “Ellen’s prettier than the other girl, Diana. You can see Diana’s gums when she smiles.”

Lisa begins describing her admiration for Ellen, and how she wants to become an anchorwoman, a dream she’s had since third grade. She likes Katie Couric most, even though Katie has “that crooked mouth.” Lisa kneels on the sofa, and the TV’s kaleidoscope of light flickers off her glasses. She says she has a secret plan to study communications at Ann B. Bernhard Community College, and then intern at a TV station. You’re told to never, ever tell anyone, and you agree, honored to be part of a pact.

The furnace turns on again and blows hot air into your pant leg. You wipe spits of sweat off your brow and shiny head, wishing you could take off your jacket. But doing so would require effort, and effort is not always your friend. Waking up Gary is what you should do. The two of you could smoke a joint and go out for pizza, and then drive to Barnes and Noble to read magazines. Gary could thumb through Wired, and you’d scan the ads in Shutterbug.

A cousin recently gave you an old Nikon camera, and you plan to take pictures of burned-out buildings and manhole covers. Graffiti and abandoned cars. Possibly a few nudes if someone answers your ad at the local art school. You’re going to be an artist―that’s why you’ve shaved your head―and you want the world to know you have ambition and character. Nudging Lisa you offer to take head shots for her portfolio.

She looks frightened. “”Head shots? Portfolio?”

“If you’re going to be an anchorwoman, you’ll need a portfolio.”

Lisa’s eyes grow behind her glasses. “I’d never let you take my picture!”

“It’s not painful. You just smile and try to look pretty.”

Her mouth shrinks into two pursed lips and she blinks away tears. Digging her hand between the sofa cushions, she pulls out the remote and jumps to Animal Planet. Officers from the Humane Society of New York City pull an emaciated beagle from under a porch. The dog has missing fur and a milky eye.

“What happened to Ellen?” you ask, distracted by the dog.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” She says this and her voice breaks. Her face turns into a pink wrinkle and she begins blubbering. Glancing at the door you swallow. There would be no good explanation for this scene, and you’d get your seventh ride in a police car. Well, technically the sixth. The last time you only sat in the cruiser―you never actually got a ride. The officer took pity on you because you had pissed your pants, and made you abandon your car and walk home.

“Come on, Lisa, what’s wrong?”

“Frank … I can’t have a portfolio,” she says between sobs, “because I’m not pretty. I can’t be Ellen Langley, or Katie Couric.”

“Who says you’re not?”

“I just know it. A girl in my class, Marci Sheppard, she’s pretty. She could have a portfolio and she could be Katie Couric.”

“Listen, Lisa,” you say, taking her hand. “Life is unpredictable. We never know what’s going to happen. This Marci might leave high school and work at Wal-Mart. She could have acne and get big and fat and eat pizza for breakfast. And you could be prettier than Katie Couric. Katie could lose her job to you, because you’re prettier and a better anchorwoman.”

Lisa’s crying fades into mini gasps of air. Removing her glasses and wiping her eyes on the back of her wrists she aims the remote like a gun. Ellen Langley returns. Her perfect diction rattles glass in the room and sends throbbing beats into your chest. The heat comes on, and you decide to remove your jacket, just as Lisa’s parents emerge from the kitchen. They’ve entered the house through the garage, ushering in the metallic smell of winter and the greasy stink of Mexican food.

“Lisa!” Her mother’s voice cuts the room in half. “Turn down that TV!”

Lisa scrambles for the remote. Someone turns on a light, and you squint.

“We’re watching CNN,” you say sheepishly. “Gary’s sleeping, and I’ve been waiting for him to get up.”

Lisa’s father grins. “Frank, like the haircut.”

“Thanks. It’s my new look. Photographers like to stand out. You know, make a statement.”

“I see.” Gary’s family watches you struggle to free yourself from the gravitational pull of the sofa. You’re forced to use a contorted, heave-ho maneuver, entertainment for everyone on this winter night. Still clutching a length of licorice, you slip on your boots and say you have laundry to finish. Lisa’ s father warns the streets are icy, and her mother stares at your head. You thank Lisa for the licorice. She waves with a flap of her hand, and you leave the warmth of the house. Your bald head is immediately assaulted by cold air. A tear squeezes from the corner of an eye and you wipe it away. Standing at the edge of the porch you study the shadowed steps, quickly forgetting the lost buzz. Fear spreads through your chest like spilled gasoline, and you toss the licorice into the yard.

Lowering a boot to the first step, you land safely and chuckle at your good fortune. Then you drop to the next flat surface, and your foot shoots to the right like a frozen mackerel. Yelping, “Fuck me!” you flail your arms until your elbow plows into the porch. The frosty night then spins around you, and a spiky bush gouges the back of your hand. Snow explodes into your right ear, and the side of your head smashes the rocky ground. Stunned, you roll onto your back. Tears fill your eyes, as you try to focus on the pricks of stars filing the inky sky.

Everything hurts. Your elbow screams in pain. You can’t lift your head from the pocket of snow. Time passes, two or twenty minutes. You look over to a window filled with the glow of television, and a faraway thought tells that you Lisa is in the rectangle of light. She’s sitting on the sofa in her ballerina outfit, studying Ellen Langley, eating licorice and stretching her legs. Her mind is absorbing your humble wisdom, making subtle shifts to plan her rise to the CNN anchor desk. And one day, you tell yourself, she’ll be on TV, prettier than Katie Couric, telling the world about nuclear weapons and terrorists. A celebration stirs in the hollow of your stomach and you wiggle your toes. Your blue lips then come alive to mumble, “Awesome, Lisa. Fucking awesome.”


Thomas Boulan

“A River in Egypt” by Dr. Les Cohen

So I made a mistake, one stupid mistake, and now I’m payin’ for it. There must be some way out of this mess. Better just concentrate on driving, following directions. Gave myself plenty of time in case I got lost.

Over-caffeinated as it is, I’m too jumpy. Got to calm down. Compose myself. Think it through again.

No, I’m sure … definitely no. I’d never known a medical colleague who was a drunk or junkie. Maybe I’d always had my eyes closed, thought the best of people. Sure, we had access to samples, could write prescriptions, self-medicate … but never outside of an occasional sleeping pill or tranquilizer, getting tipsy at a college party or wedding reception, or a shot or two of whiskey just to take the edge off after a hard day.

No, definitely not. We were cautious, conservative people—too intelligent, rational, self-disciplined. I knew that our profession was not immune to life’s temptations, that some had character flaws. I’d read newspaper stories of greed, insurance fraud, sexual abuse of patients. They were rare. But … never alcohol or drug abuse.

So I thought, until I became a newly christened alcoholic.

It’s her fault, dammit. She’ll come to her senses ‘n come back, I’m sure. Give her time then everything’ll be fine again, like it’d been for twenty years. My life’s been a nightmare since she abruptly walked out. It’s been a month since she abandoned me and the kids. I’ve been a mess; frequent crying spells, up every night worrying about the kids, unable to concentrate in clinic or the hospital. I can’t go on like this. Maybe I’ve taken a pill or drink at night to get to sleep. Some nights a bit more, I think. Yeah, a bit more. Then that afternoon
when Mankin, her lawyer called. I shouldn’t have picked up the phone. Legal terms I  couldn’t understand.

Veiled threats that I was going to lose everything! The kids, the house, my savings. I had to get a lawyer to protect me.

I was crazy with fear and downed a big glass of sherry to calm my nerves before the night’s clinic session. Just sherry, that’s all. Not the hard stuff. Within an hour my sodden emotional collapse at work did me in. Somebody must’ve had it in for me and called the chairman. I didn’t even make any medical mistakes that hurt my patients. That’s all there was to it. Nothing more.

The next morning Dr. Finch, my department chairman, a dour man I’d known for years, with the hospital’s counsel seated alongside, allowed me just five minutes. He didn’t ask for any explanations or details. No compassion or forgiveness was shown. How could he do this to me? After all my accomplishments, what I’ve done for the department? Probationary medical leave, termination of admitting privileges, a report to the Board of Registration in Medicine. Late that night a medical colleague urged me to promptly sign an impaired physician contract with the Physicians Health Service, a branch of the state medical society, to protect my license. I was scared and called them next morning, and signed up. Though I’m not one of those Bowery bums or smack-addled criminals, I knew was in trouble, big trouble.

It was a three-year contract: random urine tests for drugs and alcohol twice a week for ninety days, then weekly thereafter; two 12-step meetings a week; a breathalyzer test before each clinic session; regular visits with an AA sponsor and psychiatrist, and monthly reports to the medical society that were forwarded to the Board. That’s all. Three goddamn years. I needed  a lot of help, legal help, but not this.


It had been a long, confusing ride – over an hour of wrong turns, almost giving up and turning back several times – to find the Medical Society building. Though I had made notes of the directions–my handwriting seemed as jumbled as my mind – it was difficult following the secretary’s instructions.

“His name is Charlie,” she said, “He’ll meet you in the lobby. Be there by seven twenty-five. The meeting starts at 7:30 sharp.”

“Hello doctor, I’m Charlie,” he said, offering his hand. A gray-haired man in his 60s, with a soft voice and sad, knowing eyes. I tried to appear cool, as if attending a department meeting. “I’m glad you made it. Your first meeting can be a tough one. You’ll soon get to know everyone.” He handed me a card with phone numbers on the front, and a Serenity Prayer on the back.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, or into praying. You can never tell when it may help you through a rough time. We can talk about it later, but, if you wish, I can be your sponsor, son.”

“Sponsor? What’s that?”

“It’s our term for a mentor, a guide, a helper in emergencies. Something like that. Instead of picking up a drink or a pill, pick up the phone and call me. Come on in, it’s getting late.”

We walked briskly through the lobby into a large boardroom. He showed me to an empty seat at a polished oak table, and softly patted me on the shoulder.

“If you’re hungry you might want a snack.” I shook my head. My appetite had vanished weeks ago. There was a coffee urn, platters of sandwiches and cookies, stacked Styrofoam cups, plates and napkins neatly arranged on a side table. I warily looked around. Who are these people? Nobody I knew, thank goodness. There were about fifteen or so standing around talking: mostly men, a few women, looking my age. Two were quite young. Medical students? house staff? A grizzled few looked much older. Several wore sports coats and ties like me.

On the walls were long rows of formal photographs of Society presidents: serious faces of exemplars of probity and rectitude. Sitting low in my chair, looking down at the table, I felt them staring down at me in judgment.

I heard Charlie’s voice, “OK, let’s begin,” and looked up. All took their seats.

“As you know our tradition is to maintain total anonymity, and what you see here, what you hear here, stays here. We are here to share our experience, strength and hope.” He scanned the room. “Anybody counting days?”

A somber, young man in a black Led Zeppelin T-shirt raised his hand. “Yeah, I’m Mark. I’ve been offa crack for three months now, that’s about ninety days … no it’s  more if you count rehab it’s five months. A hundred and fifty days. The halfway house sucks but I get time to study, and I’m hoping to get back in school next fall. Fingers crossed.”

“Anybody counting anniversaries?”

One old-timer nodded. “I’m Greg ‘n it’ll be fourteen years of recovery next Wednesday, but who’s counting? A crooked smile. “I didn’t even toast the Sox win in the World Series with my old drinkin’ buddies. How’s that?” Everybody chuckled.

Charlie was looking at me.

“Since we always have new members introduce themselves first, if you feel up to it, briefly tell us why you’re here.”

I hadn’t counted on this. Mouth dry, palms sweaty, voice quavering, I began.

“Hi, I’m Les, and … I … really don’t know if I belong here. I don’t think I’m an alcoholic. I . . . ”

No one stirred. All were looking at me.

I couldn’t say it. I wasn’t one of them.

“Hi, Les,” the group cheerfully responded.

Hesitating at first, I spoke slowly, carefully measuring out words, then sped up.

There was much to say; many details that I needed to get right to show them what I’d been through. I had to make clear that it wasn’t my fault. I was crying, rambling, not making much sense. After a few minutes, Charlie gently interrupted.

“Thanks for sharing, Les. You’re in the right place. We hope to see you regularly from now on. Let’s go ‘round the table, then, as planned, we’ll do Step Four.”

Embarrassed crying my guts out in front of strangers, I quickly dried my eyes on my coat sleeve. I had just begun. Over the past several weeks I probably had worn the patience of close friends and colleagues telling and retelling my story. Now I had to try to pull myself together, calm down and listen.

Charlie nodded to a prim, red-haired woman seated beside him.

“Hi, I’m Beth, and I’m an alcoholic and drug addict,” she said matter of factly.

“Hi, Beth,” the group answered.

”It has been one tough week. First the group medical director called me on the carpet. My productivity numbers weren’t as high as he wished, then my daughter’s teacher called, and it really shook me up. My kid hasn’t been doing too well at school, and my son’s been hanging out with a bad crowd. I’m worried. I had to go to a meeting that night to get centered. I felt lonely and very shaky. You all know what I mean. And … well, it helped, as usual. Still clean and sober, thank you.” A forced smile.

Nobody was looking at me. I tried to appear as if I were paying attention. My mind was elsewhere. Time passed … I’m not sure how long.

Suddenly a stentorian voice snapped me out of my fog.

“Hi, I’m John, just a garden-variety drunk.” A thin, balding, bespectacled man in customary physician garb–-blue blazer with gold buttons, starched white shirt, and crimson silk bowtie.

“Hi, John.” The chorus of greeting.

“You know, I’ve never been the religious sort, but there must be a higher power for me to thank. When my chairman asked me to present Medical Grand Rounds I felt nervous, very nervous. Sure, in my day I’d given plenty of them, but none since my fall from grace seven years ago. He had stuck by me—a true friend. No, I didn’t have my usual pre-lecture double shot of Jim Beam this time, or my post-lecture one either, or my celebratory couple when I got home. They all said it went well, very well, I’m happy to say.”

The chubby, curly-haired man sitting next to John flashed a wide grin.

“Hi, I’m Bob. I’ve been a drug addict for over twenty years. That’s almost half my life.” Laughing softly, he shook his head, as if in amazement.

“Hi, Bob,” all chimed in.

“There are times when I feel I could have been a professional actor instead of a sawbones. I could play any role, con any ER doc, put on the face of a migraneur, the limp of a sciatic. When I’d choose to  roll around with renal colic I’d have to prick my finger in the men’s room. Five to ten drops of blood into the urine cup usually was enough to fool them. Fake almost anything to get what I needed. Percocet was my drug of choice, but I’d settle for Vicodin. Sometimes I’d drive as far as fifty miles to get to an ER. Of course I’d rotate them, carefully choosing their busiest hours, use a whole stable of names, pay cash. Pretty foolproof, eh? I’d even keep computer records, so I’d not repeat myself. You know the drill. Somebody must’ve tipped them off. Then the DEA dropped into my office almost eight years ago, took my computer and handcuffed me. That was it, the end of my acting career. Let me tell you, the jail and rehab stint were a bitch, and it took forever to get the license back. But, now I’m doing pretty well. Glad to be here.”

On Charlie’s other side was the last speaker, a fashionably dressed, graying woman. I hoped I could get out of here soon.

“Hi, I’m Jan, an alcoholic, drug addict, bi-polar and workaholic. How’s that for a mouthful?” A matronly lady with a soft voice, an ingratiating smile.

“Hi, Jan.”

“It’s been a good month. I’ve just come back from a vacation, my first in 12 years. It was difficult getting away, but I did it and I’m very proud of myself. A Caribbean cruise with a friend – also in recovery. I feel so relaxed now. I used to work 18 hours a day, and sleep in my office. Anything to keep from going home. That was after I lost my husband and children. Now’s not the time to go into the whole story. Charlie, maybe I should lead a meeting, it’s been a while. Anyhow, a long time ago I was caught stealing Demerol from one of my patients and washing it down with Scotch. That was my bottom. It’s all been going well since. I’m glad to be back and see all of you.”

I sat stunned by what I’d heard; the starkness of their revelations, the unimaginable sadness they experienced.

Charlie passed around several copies of a well-worn book. “Let’s turn to Step Four.”

Each of us read a paragraph, just like a Passover Seder, then passed the book along until the Step was completed. Then there was 15 minutes of discussion. The Step had something to do with a “searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” I felt I’d already done that on my own. I had nothing to say.

“OK, next week Step Five, and Jan, you can take the lead.”

Everybody then stood, heads bowed, holding hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer. I’d forgotten everything except “Our Father who … “

I walked out of the boardroom alongside a tall, thin young man. Maybe he had spoken … I wasn’t sure. I noticed his striking gold and orange T-shirt—a large decal of the pyramids and sphinx.

“Did you get that in Egypt?” I asked, “I’ve read it’s an interesting place.”

“Nope, picked it up off a the Internet. I can tell you the website.”

On closer look I noticed the large print running across his shirt:


I shook my head, puzzled what it meant.



Dr. Les Cohen has taught and practiced Internal Medicine in Boston for many years. His short stories have been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, Hospital Drive, and in 2000, 2001 and 2005 he won the Journal of General Internal Medicine’s Creative Award for Prose.

“Breathing Rock: An Alternate Illness Narrative” by Katharyn Sinelli


I don’t much care for the idiom “overcoming obstacles.”  There are a few things
that bother me about this image.  First, the saying assumes we all follow some
kind of path, a sort of straight path, and that as we march along this clearly
marked trail invariably we reach a section that has been blocked off; an obstacle
lay across the way preventing further forward movement.  The size of the
obstacle can differ.  A fallen tree, a pothole, a boulder, and there is always
some debate as to who placed the obstacle in your path.  Was it God, or
Karma, or the random calculations of chaos theory?  Whatever the reason, the
result is always the same.  You have to stop.  You have to break the rhythm
that carried you forward and you have to figure out what to do next.

There are not many acceptable courses of action in this situation, at least not
many you would tell people about.  You’re unlikely to admit that when you first
encountered the obstacle you did an about face and ran screaming back down
the path to wherever it was you were before.  Nor would you tell someone that
when faced with the obstacle you climbed under the kitchen table, cried, and
decided to stay there until someone came along to clear the road.  No, your
only real choice is to find a way over.  You cannot go around or under, and just
standing still is not an option.  If you really want people to respect you, if you
really want to, say, write a book about the experience, you have to overcome
your obstacle.

My deepest objection to this image lies in the depiction of our movement.  The
linear forward trajectory, and the vertical lift, still forward reaching, that propels
us over each barrier we encounter.  We have little contact with the obstacle and
once we land on the other side, the trouble is behind us.  It does not follow
and the only way to remember the ascent is to look back. But we don’t really
do that, not for long.

This description does not match my experience with life’s obstacles, and I ran
quite a little steeplechase in college.  Freshman year I had cancer, sophomore
year I was held up at gunpoint, junior year I had a nervous breakdown, and
senior year my cancer came back.  I know I’m supposed to talk about how I
conquered these issues to become a healthy, content, productive, member of
society.  And Lord knows, at 32, I should be able to leave the events in the
past.  Now that there’s been a ten year stretch of road between me and that
rough patch.  But I find I cannot tell this story.  I don’t think I overcame
anything.  To say that I did hides the truth of the situation as I experienced it.

I was not particularly brave or heroic.  I did not hurl myself over the wall like a
pole vaulter without a pole, catapulted instead by the stiff strength of my
character.  There was no beautiful jump that left me suspended in the air in a
pose of forceful grace—one fist pumping forward, one back, one leg
outstretched, mouth set in an expression of grim but gorgeous determination.
Nor did I scramble up the rock wall, muscles stretching and straining as I pulled
myself higher.

If I had to stick with the obstacle metaphor, I wouldn’t say I went over at all; it
was more like I went through.  I think about David Copperfield walking through
the Great Wall of China, one of the yearly televised stunts he did in the
eighties.  He stood backlit behind a sheet as we watched his shadow merge
with the wall.  Chinese women in white jump suits pointed large white disks at
the wall to monitor his heart rate as he moved through.  At one point he was
stuck and his heart rate stopped.  The Chinese women didn’t seem too
concerned.  They just set up the sheet and the back light on the other side and
a moment later we saw Copperfield’s shadow pull back away from the wall.   He
ripped the sheet down with a flourish, and there he stood in his tight black
pants and black shirt unbuttoned to his navel.  He didn’t even look out of

I like that idea—merging with the obstacle.  Then, in my progression through,
there would at least be one moment where I was not visible, being entirely
consumed by the mass, before I emerged out the other side.   I would be
caught for a while in the middle of the obstacle.  The real drama would come
from wondering if I’d ever make it out.  I like the idea of becoming the wall, of
fitting the solidness of my body into the solidness rock.

Even though David Copperfield looked fine after he emerged, he couldn’t have
been quite the same.  How can you merge with something and still be you when
you come out the other side?  I wasn’t.  I think I carry some of the obstacle’s
molecules inside of me, and that I left some of my own inside of it.  I don’t have
the same chemical composition.  I am elementally different.  This is an image I
like.  This is an image that accurately describes what I saw and what I felt.

I don’t always picture my movement as slow and deliberate.   I was carried
through the transition from adolescence to adulthood by the force of inertia.  I
built up a full head of steam in high school and sped towards a “good college”
and the “better job opportunities” that came with it.

When cancer got thrown at me the month before I started college, this
momentum drove me right through it with a smash and the splintering of
wood.  While this image smacks of liberation and the “breaking of barriers,”
that’s not quite how it felt.  When you hit a solid object at that speed –full
force—full body contact—blood vessels burst.  I spent years picking the
splinters out from underneath my skin.

I like the idea of velocity presented by this image.  At eighteen, I was launched
from the sling shot of expectation.  I was driven by an external force; I had no
internal combustion.  Each barrier in my path stole some of my borrowed
energy until eventually I ran out.  The forward motion ended. I toppled over on
one side.

These are the metaphors I would use to describe my experience of a diseased
body and a disordered mind.  They fit.  But I find I can’t use them in  ordinary
conversation about my illness.  Not with most people. Especially not now that I’
m well.  Even when I talk about writing against the grain of the common cancer
story.  Even when I say I think the power of positive thinking is a load of crap,
and I actually use those words, “load of crap,” people still only hear the
overcoming obstacle story.  They picture in their minds my great, graceful leap.
And really there is no recognizable trope for moving through an obstacle, or
being stuck in the middle.  I’m not sure how I would begin to explain it.  What
would I say?  “Remember those David Copperfield specials?” or “Imagine what it’
s like to breathe rock.”  Or maybe I could start with “Bodies in motion tend to
stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.”

It’s not that I’m pessimistic or unhappy. I’ve been cancer free for ten years and
while I still worry about a recurrence,I’ve managed to piece together a pretty
nice life.  I’m married and pursuing the career of my choice. I was even able to
get pregnant, and am now overwhelmed by the tremendous possibility of new

I would, however, like to be able to tell my story the way I saw it, the way I see
it now.  I am different and not only in nice ways.  People want to hear about the
strength and the inspiration, but they don’t want to hear about the hardness
that develops around the scars.  I would like to be able to tell a more complete
story.  But I’ve learned that people want to hear two things: how brave I was,
and how it’s over now.



Katharyn Sinelli was awarded a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Cal State Northridge. This piece is the epilogue from her thesis. Katharyn’s scholarly work is focused on Disability Studies, particularly the stories we tell about disease in literature and popular culture.

“The Bus Driver at Night” by Kaja Katamay‘

Man in White T Shirt Standing on the Bus

can tell you what to watch out for, where to go. I don’t know
where to put my hands anymore –
neatly folded on the lap like a napkin? or resting
slack and supplicant like little martyrs at my side.
The bus driver at night could tell you where
you were, or where you would be. I don’t need to know
either, just want a chance at the wheel so I can make that slow, wide driver’s wave
through the windshield
as we pass a sister bus on a side street in the dark, warm inside and heaving close
as canes of sugar.



Kaja Katamay‘s poetry and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in eye-rhyme, The Oregon Review of Arts, and Caketrain, among others. She lives in Portland, OR.

“David” by Joe Lynch

When the afflicted man
called out, the Lord
heard/And from his distress
he saved him.
Psalm 34 Verse 7
A psalm of David

It was a hot August day and this was our fourth call in a week for an overdose.  Bad heroin had descended on the neighborhood and the junkies had no choice but to take the chance. I shut off the siren as Tommy parked the truck in front of a small brick apartment building. Brian, Stan and I hurried to the second floor. Tommy stayed with the truck.

A shirtless kid in about his mid-twenties met us at an open door. He kept blubbering about his friend. The shirtless kid was tall and thin. He carried himself hunched-over. I don’t know if that was his natural stature if he hunched to keep the large silver chain and cross he wore from flailing about.

“He’s dead.” He choked out between sobs. “I told him not to do that shit no more and now he’s dead.” The kid couldn’t stay still.  He started into the apartment and then came back to us.

“Oh God, Oh God,” he kept repeating, brushing at the tears on his face.

We’re just firefighters. It used to be we only ran into burning buildings. Now we do medical emergencies too. The medics are overworked. We get to the emergency quicker and hopefully keep the patient alive long enough for the medics to arrive.

“Calm down,” I commanded the boy.  “Where’s your buddy?”

“He’s in the bathroom.  I threw him in the shower to try to bring him back but he ain’t breathing.”

Brian had our medical bag and brushed past me and the kid and looked around. “Where’s the bathroom?” He asked.

“It’s straight back.” The boy sobbed. The apartment was one large room with the kitchen area to the rear. Brian and Stan headed in that direction. The skinny kid tried to follow them.  I grabbed his arm. I wanted him with me in case things went south.  “You stay with me.” I said. “You’re not going to do anything but get in the way. My guys will do whatever they can for your buddy.” I kept my voice soft, trying to calm him.

Brian and Stan disappear into a door on the left.  The kid threw himself to the floor with a wail and sat with his back against the wall with his elbows on his knees, and his face in his large hands.

The apartment was cheap, but not dirty, at least not yet. They must have just moved in.  It appeared to have just been refurbished and our footsteps gave a little echo as we moved around.  A new off-white paint covered the ceilings and bare walls. The only furniture was a medium sized light brown wood table sitting in the middle of the floor.

The empty apartment was a pleasant change for us. The usual when dealing with junkies was squalor.  No doubt over time, this apartment would become an odorous roach infested hole. The big silver cross and chain would be gone too, sold or hocked. I’m not casting judgment. My son’s an addict. It’s just what drugs do to people.

The kid staggered to his feet and was crying again. He started to make a rush towards the back. “Let me see him.” he cried trying to bull past me. I got in front of the boy and put my hand on his chest. “Calm down son. You can’t help.”

I felt sorry for him but I’ve learned to stay unaffected. My guys claim nothing ever bothers me. They say ice water runs through my veins.  It’s not true. I feel things as much as anybody but I’ve learned to keep it on the surface. After twenty-eight years of dealing with trauma, I don’t let it go to my core.

“What’s your name?” I kept my voice calm and comforting. I try to treat everyone with kindness. Its good business and I guess it’s my nature.


“What’s your buddy’s name, Adam?” Just then Stan’s blonde head popped out of the bathroom.

“He’s alive, Lieutenant,” Stan yelled, “but he’s in deep. We need help getting him out of the tub to work him.”

I joined them in the tiny bathroom. Stan and Brian were in front of me but I got a glimpse of a short muscular kid stretched on his back in a pool of water. The small bathroom made the move difficult. Brian hoisted the boy’s shoulders and head from the tub and then handed him to me.  I cradled his upper body in my arms. Stan grabbed under his knees and I backed out of the bathroom. We stretched him out on the kitchen floor and I got my first good look at him.

I looked at his face and my legs started to go on me. I can’t ever remember that happening to me before. I willed myself not to fall. It was David.

At least I thought it was David. I took a longer look. The boy had the same short muscular body, the same sandy brown hair and even the same not quite round face. I scrutinized his face and breathed deeper. This boy’s face was just ever so slightly dissimilar. I hadn’t seen David in weeks but I was certain that this wasn’t him. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself.

This boy was in bad shape, though. His breathing was down to about three or four respirations a minute. Brian hooked the bag valve mask to the oxygen cylinder and placed it over the kid’s mouth. Brian started working the bag. Using his hand to squeeze the air in the bag and push it into the boy’s lungs. I watched his chest rise and with it a blue vein protruded on his forehead.

The blue vein caused me to look again. My son has a vein in his forehead that bulges much the same way. I had watched it rise in anger the day I threw him out. He had been to rehab four times. Each time he stayed clean for awhile but ended up worse than the time before. Finally, I made him leave. He was angry, Maggie, my wife and his mother, was hysterical but I managed to keep it all on the surface. I knew was being overly scrupulous
but I had to convince myself once more that this wasn’t my son. I studied his body and face until I convinced myself again.

I remembered the first time I saw I saw that blue vein. David came out of the womb screaming and when he cried a blue vein protruded angrily from his forehead.  He was the fourth child for Maggie and me and the only time I had been in the delivery room. I had been at the bar for the others.

The nurse handed me the baby. I cradled him in my arms and my eyes filled with tears, back then everything went to my core. I handed the baby back to the nurse and went to Maggie.  Her face flush from the delivery smiled at me. She looked as content as an infant herself.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” She sighed.

“I’m so sorry for everything.” I said. Our hands were entwined and I had my cheek against hers drawing strength from her.

“I know,” is all she said.

“I can’t tell you I’ll never drink again but I can tell you I never want to drink again. They say you can only do it one day at a time.” Fresh tears filled my eyes.

“I know what they say but I really think everything is going to be okay now.” The baby let out a wail and we looked over at his red face and the vein straining like it would burst and we both laughed.

“I think he has your temperament.” She joked.

“Is he going to be alright?” Adam’s voice brought me back to the here and now. I turned my head away and wiped at my eyes before turning back to answer.

“Well, he’s still alive but he’s not out of the woods.” Adam seemed to be in a little more control and I decided to press him a little. “What were you guys doing?”  I was sure it was heroin but it was good to get confirmation for the medics and the hospital.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t here.  He was like this when I found him” Adam’s pinpointed eyes told me otherwise.

“Hey man,” I said. “I don’t give a fuck what you guys were doing. You’re not in trouble with me and the cops ain’t going to follow up on this little bullshit. I’m just trying to help your buddy. Was it heroin?”

“Yeah,” he dropped his head and mumbled.

“Didn’t you guys hear about the bad stuff going around?”

“No, it wasn’t like that. He went crazy. He just kept shooting up. His supposed to go to detox tomorrow and wanted to get really wasted one last time.”

Brian continued to work the bag. Heroin takes you so deep you just stop breathing and soon after go into cardiac arrest. As long as Brian assisted his breathing, the boy should come out of this okay. When the medics arrived they would shoot him up with Narcan. It’s a drug that gets into the cells and blocks the opiate. Narcan can be amazing. It usually brings the patient back from being next to dead in a minute or two. I’ve seen them sit right up and become furious because you ruined their high.

But this kid had us a little worried. We didn’t say it. We could read it on each other. He wasn’t responding like he should and it seemed like it was taking the medics forever. Stan was shaking him and calling to him as Brian worked the bag.

“Hey buddy, wake up.” Stan rubbed his knuckle hard across the guy’s sternum trying to bring him around.

“What’s your buddy’s name?” Stan called to Adam.

“David,” Adam answered.

“David, wake up!  David, wake up, David, David!” Stan kept hollering into the boy’s face. I shuddered each time he called David’s name.

Everything about this run had been strange including my own behavior. I found myself standing directly over David scrutinizing him for the third time. My guys gave me concerned sidelong glances. I didn’t care what they thought. I needed to convince myself anew.

This boy had the same short cropped hair cut my David wore. He had the same thick eyebrows and he had that damned blue vein straining with each squeeze of the bag. I stood and stared at the boy long after I knew he wasn’t my son.

My concentration waned and my mind drifted back again, this time to before David’s birth. For a long time I had been sick with the booze. I went through countless car accidents, fights and overnights at the local precinct. These were small inconveniences but the depression ate me up. After a suicide attempt, I stopped. I just detoxed and stopped—no rehab.

The A.A. meetings helped. I stayed out of trouble but I stayed wounded for a long time. In some ways I was sicker without a drink than I had been with one. The depression wouldn’t lift and the mania for a drink drove me mad. I laid awake at night and it seemed as if I had four or five thoughts running through my head at the same time. On the rare occasions I did sleep, I awoke from nightmares in a cold sweat and an overwhelming compulsion to drink.

It was only a matter of time before I drank and suicide would follow. I chose to do it on my terms. I bought a gun. The feel of it in my hand gave me butterflies. I’d get a motel room so Maggie wouldn’t find the body and of course I’d get a bottle.

I’m not sure why I went to a meeting that night maybe a part of me didn’t want to die. I hadn’t told anyone about the gun or my plan but a friend at the meeting recognized my depression. He told me about how he had been depressed early on and how meditation helped him. He told me to read the Psalms and reflect on the words.

I didn’t have much faith in God and didn’t think anything could save me from myself but I had nothing to lose. I decided to give meditation a week because like I said I had nothing to lose. When the craving came that night I began to read the Psalms. I read them without hope or belief. I read them aloud because it seemed to be the right thing to do. The sound of my own voice consoled me. It soothed like a parent rocking a sick child.

The first week passed and I put my appointment with the gun off and tried it for another week and then another. The obsession lifted a little at a time. I sold the gun and never drank again. We named the baby David, after the killer of the giant and the author of the Psalms.

“Yo Lieutenant,” Brian’s voice brought me back. “Shouldn’t the squad be here by now?”

“They were coming all the way from across town. I’ll radio them and get an ETA.”  But before I keyed up my mike, I heard the distant wail of a siren.

“I hear them now.” Stan confirmed.

Two female medics came in, Erin and Grace. We had worked with them many times before.  It didn’t take long before Erin started a line and was giving him Narcan. “Keep working the bag,” she told Brian. “He’ll be up in a minute cursing us.”

I took over for Brian bagging the patient. It isn’t a hard task but Brian had been at it a long time and you get uncomfortable. Besides I wanted to do something to try to keep myself focused. I repositioned David’s head to be sure that his airway was open and squeezed the bag at regular intervals.

The bag was connected to our oxygen tank. With each squeeze pure oxygen pushed into his lungs. The cylinder then refilled the bag making it ready to be pushed into his lungs again.

I squeezed the bag. Let it refill and squeezed again. My full concentration was on working the bag and I found myself breathing in the same deep rhythm, squeeze. I watched David’s face as I breathed with him, squeeze, the blue vein on his forehead bulging and straining with each inhalation, squeeze. My eyes became wet with tears, squeeze.

Many minutes passed and David’s complexion went from gray to pale but there was little other improvement. The deep breathing had me in a kind of trance and I was only vaguely aware of Erin shooting David up with more medicine. I heard a voice screaming behind me. It seemed to come from another land.

“He’s not waking up! You guys said it would wake him up!” It was Adam.

“You have to calm the fuck down. You’re not helping,” Stan yelled back. It was really my job to keep order but I just kept breathing with young David while the madness went on around me. I kept my gaze on his forehead watching the vein pop each time I squeezed the bag. At some level I knew I should give the task to someone else and take command of the scene but I felt safe in the rhythm of breath like being in a rocker with an infant.

I heard Grace’s voice coming from that other land, sounding worried.

“We’ve done all we can here.  Let’s get him out.”  She bent down next to me.

“I’ll get the bag, Lieutenant.” It was her job but I couldn’t let go.

“C’mon Lieutenant, I got it.” She insisted. Her voice was firm but gentle and she looked at me with a compassionate gaze that I had seen her use on only the very ill. I relented and Grace took the bag as they carried David down the stairs.

I stayed in the apartment to pull myself together while they took David down the stairs and placed him in the ambulance.

I had forgotten about Adam. He was back against the wall with his hands in his face. “Oh, my God, Oh my God.” I put my hand on the back of his head.

“C’mon Son, I’ll get you a ride with the medics to the hospital”

Adam got up but was little unsteady on his feet. I grabbed his arm as we made our way down the steps.  “You said. He was going to wake up.” His voice cracked with emotion.

“Sometimes it just takes a little longer for some people. His color was coming back. I think he’ll come around.” Then I added, “Besides, he’s beloved by God.” I don’t know why I said it. It just came out.

Adam looked at me like I was the one on drugs, “What do you mean?” He put his long fingers around his silver cross, clinging to it.

“David, the name means beloved by God. I think God will get him through this.”

I thought about the Psalms. I thought about my son. “Yeah, God’s going to get him through this.” I spoke to comfort Adam but he had already climbed into the ambulance. I spoke only to myself and it soothed me.



Joe Lynch is a retired Fire Captain from Philadelphia with an MFA from Rosemont College. He continues to live and write from the “City of Brotherly Love”. He writes because he claims that it is the closest thing to running into burning buildings.  His prose has appeared in numerous publications. Most recently, The View From Here and Sunken Lines. He has a story due out in Morpheus Tales in October 2009.

“Step Nine” by Brother Benet Tvedten


Gray Concrete Column Inside Vintage Building

Abbot George had wanted to send him away for treatment of alcoholism, but Father Benjamin pleaded, “No, no! Don’t do that.” To get the abbot off his back, he said, “I’ll check out Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Good,” Abbot George sighed, relieved that there hadn’t been more of an argument. Nor had Father Benjamin put up a fuss when asked to relinquish the supply of booze that he kept in his room. “I’ll lock it in the liquor cabinet where it belongs,” the abbot said.

The abbot and the rest of the monks were convinced that Father Benjamin had hit bottom after having driven through a closed garage door twice in one month. The amazing thing was that he had never been arrested for driving under the influence.  He’d always managed to evade the law. Now after having had to replace the two garage doors within a short time, Brother Cyril, who was in charge of abbey vehicles, demanded of the abbot, “Get that man some help or give me a different job.”

For twenty years Father Benjamin had taught English in the high school for boys run by the monks. The students had liked him and they often agreed that he made a dull subject enjoyable.  Some of their parents banded together, however, and got Father Benjamin fired for having their sons read The Catcher in the Rye as a class assignment. “I can’t believe that folks are still getting worked up over that book,” he told Abbot George.

Father Benjamin, because he had been so popular among the students, was named alumni director. One of his duties was to attend stand-ups with the old boys in various places within driving distance from the monastery. All of these gatherings began with a happy hour. Wine was  served at dinner, followed by more drinking throughout the evening. In the beginning, he had been able to drive home sober, but for the past couple of years, his drinking had become increasingly problematic. Abbot George told him several times not to drink too much at these events. There had been a few occasions when the alumni insisted that Father Benjamin stay overnight at a motel or go home with one of them.

Abbot George informed Father Benjamin that A.A. meetings were held in town on Wednesday evenings at the courthouse, and that he could accompany Brother Stanley to them.  “You’ve missed this week’s, but you’ll be prepared to go next week.”

“I was never anything like Stanley. I was never that bad.”

“You both need A.A.  There will be no more discussion.”

Father Benjamin admitted to himself that now and the he’d been tipsy. But he
definitely had not become an old soak like Brother Stanley. Alcohol made Father
Benjamin feel light-hearted, and there was nothing wrong with that. One needed
to be cheerful at alumni gatherings. Alcohol made him more sociable. He couldn’t
think of anything he’d ever done at such events that would have been an
embarrassment for the monastic community.

The abbot had reminded him that operating a vehicle in a state of intoxication
was a criminal act. Father Benjamin replied that he felt badly about wrecking two
garage doors and doing “minimal damage to a car.” He confessed to being “a
little drunk” when this happened. “But I’ve never been arrested because of my

“You’ve never been caught,” Abbot George answered.

“I’ve never had an accident.”

“What do you mean by that?” the abbot yelled. “You’ve never had an accident?”

“I mean out on the highway.”


“How it works,” the woman said, and proceeded to read from Chapter Five
of a thick book bound with a blue cover. She named twelve steps that lead to
sobriety. The book called this “a simple program.”  Father Benjamin thought the
woman looked vaguely familiar. She said her name was Marge.  “Now, we have
someone new here tonight. Let’s do our introductions,” Marge suggested.
Twenty people, most of them drinking coffee from large paper cups, were
gathered around two long tables that had been shoved together.

Giving their first names and identifying themselves as alcoholics, they waited
for Father Benjamin to introduce himself. He already knew a couple of the people
in the room. Jerry Thompson was an alumnus of the abbey school. Bob Kruger
was the abbey’s lawyer. He’d called himself “a grateful alcoholic.” The other
familiar looking A.A. members may have likewise been parishioners of St. Brigid’s
here in town.   Now and then he was the substitute for their pastor. He did a lot of
parish work throughout the diocese, filling in for priests who were away. This had
conveniently provided him an opportunity to stop at liquor stores on the way
there and back to the monastery. Perhaps Marge appeared to be someone he
should know because he’d met her at one of the parishes.

Unlike the other people at the meeting, Father Benjamin was reluctant to call
himself an alcoholic, but they were waiting for him to introduce himself. At last he
said, “I’m Father Benjamin, and the abbot thinks I’m an alcoholic.”

Everyone laughed. “Yeah, yeah,” one of the men said, “we’ve all said that sort
of thing about ourselves. It was always someone else who thought we were

Brother Stanley brought down the house when he said, “I’m Stanley, and the
abbot has no doubts about my being an alkie.”

Marge informed the group that Step Nine would be discussed this evening.
“For the sake of the new member, I’ll repeat that Step Eight has us make a list of
all the people we’ve harmed by our drinking, and now Step Nine is the actual
making of amends to those people.”

One after another, they took turns telling about having apologized for the
hardship and embarrassment they had caused loved ones, and employers, and
other persons for whom they should have shown more respect.

“I was a real pain in the butt for my community,” Brother Stanley said as he
began talking about himself. Father Benjamin could agree with that statement.
He thought sobriety hasn’t changed Stanley one single iota.

“I pass,” Brother Stanley said when he was finished describing his method of
making amends. Again, the rest of them waited for Father Benjamin to whom the
topic had been passed. Finally, he said, “I’m Father Benjamin…”

Brother Stanley interrupted him, “We don’t go by titles here. You’re simply
Benjamin, a common ordinary drunk like the rest of us.”

Marge told him, “We all realize that you’ve got a ways to go yet before you
take Steps Eight and Nine, but, from what you’ve heard us say, do you wish to
comment on Step Nine?”

“I don’t believe there is anyone to whom I owe an apology,” he answered.
“What the hell!” Brother Stanley shouted. “You practically tore down our
garage.  Don’t you think you should apologize for that?”

“You did worse things,” Father Benjamin retorted. “You spat in the abbot’s
face one time when you were drunk”

Jerry Thompson said, “Benjamin, you were the priest at my father’s funeral
last month.”

“Yes, Father Parsons was gone, so the abbey provided a priest.”

“You kept praying for the repose of her soul; not his. And at the cemetery,
you almost toppled into the grave. One of the pallbearers grabbed hold of
your arm. I think my family deserves an apology.”

“I do remember being a bit unsteady, but I was just getting over the flu.”
Jerry Thompson said, “I think you need to apologize to me for that lie.”
Father Benjamin knew it was a lie. He’d been drinking the pastor’s booze all
morning and was fairly looped when he went over to the church for the funeral.

“I apologized to Abbot George for spitting in his face,” Brother Stanley assured everyone.

A woman said, “I think you’re still in a stage of denial, Benjamin. Don’t you
see how powerless you are over alcohol? How unmanageable your life has

Brother Stanley chimed in again. “It’s time for you to start taking
responsibility for your actions.”

“Stop blaming others,” someone said.

“I’m not putting blame on anyone,” Father Benjamin replied.

Jerry Thompson wanted to go another round with him. “Remember my
brother, Mike?  He also went to your school, a few years ahead of me. He brought home a dirty book you’d given his class to read. That wasn’t a very responsible thing to do.”

“I’ll be damned! Why are you bringing up that?”

“You introduced pornography into a Catholic school,” Brother Stanley charged.

“What do you know about literary things?” Father Benjamin shouted at his confrere.

Marge wrapped her knuckles on the table. “I think we should stop taking Benjamin’s inventory.” She said to him, “If you don’t have anything to say about Step Nine, let’s move on.”

Nothing happened. Brother Stanley poked him. “If you aren’t going to talk,
you’re supposed to say, I pass.”

Father Benjamin asked himself: Why did I ever get into this predicament?
He saw what his life was going to be like from now on. It was going to be pretty
dismal traveling to town and back with Brother Stanley week after week. O
Lord, let me get home this evening, he prayed, without killing Brother Stanley.
Everyone had spoken about Step Nine, and it appeared Marge was going
to close the meeting. But she had something else that needed to be
addressed to Father Benjamin specifically. “We all  know that becoming drunk
often causes us to lose our inhibitions. I think there is another apology you
need to consider making with regard to a wedding at St. Brigid’s in June.”
Father Parsons, who’d been called away unexpectedly, had requested
Abbot George to provide a substitute.

“It was a lovely wedding,” Father Benjamin said. But to tell the truth, these
six months later, he could not recall what either the bride or the groom looked
like.  For that matter, he didn’t remember their names.

“It was my daughter’s wedding,” Marge said. “My husband captured your
improprieties at the reception on his cam recorder. However, I asked him to
erase it. But my family and I would like an apology. Not necessarily now. Later,
as you continue in the program.” Father Benjamin had no idea to what she
was referring, and he was too humiliated to ask.

Then they all stood up and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards everyone,
except Father Benjamin, who was unaware of what was expected, said in
unison, “Keep coming back. It works.

If you work it.”

Brother Stanley volunteered to preside at next Wednesday’s meeting.

“Thanks Stanley,” they said, all together again.

“And,” Brother Stanley added, “Benjamin will make the coffee.”

“Thanks Benjamin.”

On the way to car, Father Benjamin commented, “My, but they drink a lot of

“You’ll get used to it,” Brother Stanley said.


All week long he examined his conscience, but Father Benjamin could not
recollect what he had done at the wedding reception.  Marge had suggested
that he should make amends, but for what?

What could he have done that was so upsetting at the wedding
reception?  It was something so bad that it had been erased from her husband’
s cam recorder.  Although Marge had said the group shouldn’t take his
inventory, she herself would indeed have to tell him what he’d done.  The
incident was also erased from his memory.

On Wednesday afternoon, Brother Stanley approached Father Benjamin
and told him, “We’ll have to leave earlier this evening. You’ve got to make the
coffee.  Remember?”

At the meeting when his turn came for an introduction, he said, “I’m
Benjamin, and I’m an alcoholic.” He said that every Wednesday evening for
the next month.

For now that’s who he was. Perhaps the time would come when he could be
able to identify himself in the same manner that Bob Kruger did. Maybe
someday he would be able to say, “I’m Benjamin and I’m a grateful alcoholic.”
He might even be able to ask Marge what his improper behavior have been on
the day of her daughter’s wedding.



Brother Benet Tvedten has lived at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota for fifty years. He has three books in print at the present time. All are related to Benedictine monastic life. He has had fiction published in literary magazines and anthologies. A novella, All Manner of Monks, received the Minnesota Voices Project award in 1985 and was published by New Rivers Press. Brother Benet edits his community’s newsletter and participates in 12 Step Retreats that are held at the monastery.

“My Father’s Depression” by Dane Cervine

I remember crawling with my father
on our hands and knees deep into the seaside cave—
the still wet sand, the small flash light beam
mapping the rock roof as it descended to its dead end.
Alone with my father in the cramped dark—and I swore,
I’d never stay there, in sand depressed by heavy bodies,
waiting for the sea to wash our shapes away.



Dane Cervine makes his first appearance in this issue of r.kv.r.y.  Dane’s work appeared recently in the SUN Magazine, Atlanta Review, the Birmingham Review, and the Bathyspheric Review.Dane’s book The Jeweled Net of Indra from Plain View Press can be viewed at his new website danecervine.typepad.com. Dane is a member of the Emerald Street Writers in Santa Cruz, California, where he serves as Chief of Children’s Mental Health for the county.

“Among the Cacti That Resembled Desert Gravestones” by Zachary C. Bush

You spent your twentieth birthday getting clean
With an Indian chief and his son, who taught you
To lure rain clouds by their ancestral dance

Those men were so stunning; shouting and
Spinning sweat from their long black hair before
The rain fell and cooled the sand beneath our feet.



Zachary C. Bush, Among the Cacti that Resembled Desert Gravestones, is a poet and writer. He lives in Georgia. His work has appeared in over two dozen online and print literary journals. He has more recent work forthcoming in GHOTI Magazine, The CommonLine Project, and the Poet Plant Press 2007: Lunch Anthology. He is also the author of two forthcoming chapbooks of poetry through Scintillating Publications (2007) and Pudding House Publications (2007). This is Zachary’s second appearance in r.kv.r.y.