“Macaroni and Cheese” by Lu Livingston

mac and cheese
Image by Dawn Estrin

Macaroni and cheese. She wanted the solace of her grandmother’s macaroni and cheese and rummaged through cookbooks until she found the three-by-five From the Kitchen of Katherine Blair card with the recipe.

While the water came to a boil, she trimmed mold off one corner of a block of sharp cheddar and sliced it into strips. Small elbows, slightly cooked. I’m sorry, Mama.

Her mother stood at the stove, making macaroni and cheese. It’s nothing, Sweetie, it’s only macaroni. We’ll make some more, but not cook it quite so long.

Not the macaroni, Mama, I’m sorry I disappointed you.

She’d like some wine, but her mother was there by her elbow, assembling the ingredients on the counter: saltines, butter, salt and pepper, milk. Now, grease the baking dish. That’s the way.

She wondered how it would taste if she substituted Ritz for saltines, if she added some garlic, suspected this was why hers never turned out well. For one who’d had most of the advantages, Elaine hadn’t turned out very well, either, and knew she hadn’t lived up to her parents’ expectations. Their expectations were those of the insular campus of a small state college where she’d grown up. She wasn’t published. She didn’t hold a chair. She’d ended up in health care by default, not design. Not like her sister, Mary Beth, who led a charmed life because she followed The Plan: finish school, land a teaching position, get married, buy a house, then think about children, but by then Mary Beth was thirty-seven.

Where did waitressing at Denney’s or packing dispensers at the Dixie Cup factory fit into the plan?  At thirty-seven, Elaine still hadn’t finished her degree. At thirty-seven she’d been weaning herself from Stelazine and working her own plan for leaving John, and Susannah had been gone for three years. All the while, her sister had been secure in their parents’ world where everyone knew the rules, where their mother had known the idiosyncrasies of Mary Beth’s washing machine, had known that in her sister’s house the coffee mugs were on the second shelf, corner cabinet.

Where do you keep the colander?

Elaine couldn’t remember where she’d put it, looked in the cabinet, found it in the drawer under the oven.

Now drain the macaroni and put a layer in the bottom of the dish.

She did and felt better in the repetition of this act of communion.

Now, a layer of cheese, a layer of crushed crackers. Dot with butter. That’s the way. Salt and pepper.

Is this the secret, Mama, these layers? Or the cheese, perhaps, and though she wondered how Monterey Jack would taste, Elaine followed her mother’s instructions. This time she followed her mother’s instructions to the letter, except for the lying. Mary Beth had no reason to lie, her life spread before their mother, a life as honest as a line-dried sheet on a double bed.

I couldn’t tell you what it was like. You wouldn’t have understood. I always tried to call you, timing my calls when John wasn’t home. The time you called and I told you I couldn’t talk because I was expecting twelve for dinner, that was a lie. There was never a dinner party. John was drunk. I was afraid you’d hear him in the background. Is the secret the cheese?

There’s no secret to it, Sweetie. You just follow the instructions.

In her heart Elaine knew Susannah’s leaving was her fault, that she had never been the mother her mother had been, hadn’t taught her how a lady removes her gloves, how to pour coffee and serve dessert, how to play bridge. She knew it was her fault as surely as she knew she could’ve left John the first week they were married, the night he cornered her on the couch and made her tell him everything she’d done with every man she’d ever been with, and then hurled a coffee mug against the wall. She could have packed her red American Tourister and taken a Greyhound back to Bronxville. She could have told the dean she’d made a foolish mistake and begged to make up the work, and the dean would have understood and said yes, and all would have been forgiven. She could have walked past Freddy the gardener, past the endowed tulip beds, and up the steps to her corner room in Gilbert.

The second layer’s the same as the first, but you add milk before the crackers so they don’t get soggy, and put the butter on top so it melts down on everything and makes it good and buttery.

How for years her mother had been distracted by Mary Beth’s job and Mary Beth’s new house and hadn’t noticed that Susannah was never there to talk on the phone, such a social butterfly, they’d say; ball games, and play practice, and has Mary Beth chosen drapes yet? Wallpaper for the guest bedroom? Have they thought about a baby?

Then you bake it at 350 for twenty-five minutes.

Fresh from the oven the macaroni was bubbly hot, its top gilded with cracker crumbs, and Elaine sank a spoon deep into the dish and watched the cheese trail as she lifted it to her mouth. It tasted just like she remembered, like three generations of love, and tears filled her eyes from the pepper and the heat, the roof of her mouth blistered.. Mine never tastes like this, she said.

Her mother smiled, tossed a dish towel across her shoulder. That’s because you don’t follow Grandmother’s recipe. You’ve always improvised. She combed Elaine’s hair out of her eyes with her fingers. That’s one of the things I love most about you.

Elaine tucked the card back into the Junior League of Little Rock cookbook, remembered how she’d finally broken down and confessed her whole ugly life and begged for forgiveness and for money to get out while she could, remembered that her mother had asked how much she needed, sent a check for twice that amount and included in the envelope this card: a From the Kitchen of– card with the recipe for Grandmother’s Macaroni and Cheese.



Lu Livingston teaches English at University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and is a life-long student. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University, Charlotte, NC, and is pursuing advanced studies in Scottish literature at Orkney College, UK. Her current pursuit is to transmute her novel about a southern U. S. biker club into Gaelic bardic metre–an eerily natural fit.

Read our interview with Lu here.

“Like Father” by Jericho Brown

Like Father
Image by Dawn Estrin

My father’s embrace is tighter
Now that he knows
He is not the only man in my life.
He whispers, Remember when, and, I love you,
As he holds my hand hungry
For a discussion of Bible scriptures
Over breakfast. He pours cups of coffee
I can’t stop

My father’s embrace is firm and warm
Now that he knows. He begs forgiveness
For anything he may have done to make me
Turn to abomination
As he watches my eggs, scrambled
Soft. Yolk runs all over the plate.
A rubber band binds the morning paper.

My father’s embrace tightens. Grits
Stiffen. I hug back
Like a little boy, gripping
To prove his handshake.
Daddy squeezes me close,
But I cannot feel his heartbeat
And he cannot hear mine—
There is too much flesh between us,
Two men in love.



Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a BA from Dillard University. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award, the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and two travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown teaches creative writing as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of San Diego.  His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, New England Review, Oxford American, and several other journals and anthologies.  His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the 2009 American Book Award. Like Father is taken from Please by Jericho Brown (New Issues 2008) Copyright © 2008 by Jericho Brown. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author.

“I, Suicide” by Andrew Tibbetts

Image by Dawn Estrin

I consider myself a suicide even though I’m, obviously, alive and, actually, not someone who has ever made a serious attempt.

Since I first read Sylvia Plath, probably, and thought along with her how the tulips were stealing my air and the sea poured bean green over blue, I have been one. Since I first read Anne Sexton, definitely, and realized that I never asked of the do-it-yourself dead, “why build?” only “which tools?” I have been her kind. Or most likely since Freddie Prinze, who must have been my first suicide.

Do you remember him? Senior, not junior. He was the Puerto Rican actor and comedian who was such a huge hit in the ’70s. “Chico and the Man!” He made everyone laugh until he shot himself in the head. I loved him and it hurt that he died.

And Kurt Cobain, of course, our great complainer. His death ended my adolescence, which had probably been hanging around too long anyway. I stopped playing in a rock band. It was hard to get excited about anything. I became serious and dull. Adult. I began making contributions to a pension plan. Thankfully, it didn’t take.

I’m hurt every time I hear of it, but I’m never surprised by suicide. That people are happy, that’s what confuses me. I don’t get it. I like it, happiness; I wish I were a fountain of the stuff. I cultivate it in others and even in myself sometimes. But it’s strange alien stuff. What I am made of, is the dark familiar.

Last summer gay man after gay man jumped from his high-rise apartment in the gaybourhood and I walked to work down Church Street nodding. How many of my own clients have I held back from the edges of permanent solutions to temporary problems? Hundreds, by this point in my career. But that doesn’t change what I am made of.

I’ve always thought I would die by my own hand since I heard of the idea. My mind is made of self-destruction. Even when I’m trying hard to think positively about life, a snarl of it leaps up between the cracks in my happy. An image—stabbing myself in the neck with scissors—makes me step back from a colleague’s desk on an ordinary work day.

If death takes me with its own devices, and it may—I’m getting old—I don’t wish to be wiped from the register of suicides, parted from my beloveds—Virginia Woolf with her pockets full of rocks, Shaquille Wisdom the black teenager from Ajax who was thrown in the trash can for being gay last year and who then hung himself after school, Christian Fox the straight actor who starred in gay porn through the 80’s all the while being so deeply attractive and unhappy, Martin Kruze the man who was among the boy sex abuse victims of the Maple Leaf Gardens and who made the scandal public and then threw himself from the Bloor Viaduct—I won’t be parted from them. These are my people.

If death takes me with its own devices, and it may—I have high blood pressure and brain abnormalities and the propensity to wander into accidents—don’t ever let them say, “He was no suicide.” Every day of my life I was a suicide.

Surely a random death won’t trump my essential self-annihilation. Being hit by a truck and killed on the way to the restaurant doesn’t mean that you weren’t hungry. Count me among the death-starved. Cover me with the luminous veil from the Bloor Viaduct. Float me out into the Thames with flowers in my hair. Yes, that is a smile on my bluing lips. Know that I am free and would have freed myself but for circumstance.



Andrew Tibbetts is a psychotherapist and writer living in Toronto. His work has appeared in The New Quarterly, This Magazine, The Fiddlehead, Descant, The Malahat Review and Moods Magazine. Twice nominated and once winner of the gold prize for fiction at the National Magazine Awards, Mr. Tibbetts is open to be your friend on Facebook. This piece is part of his ongoing magnum opus, the multi-volume auto-fictional essay, The Phenomenology of Loneliness.

“You Will Never Be” by Claudine Guertin

Image by Dawn Estrin

You will never be the one with the overweight wife, whose hips jiggle as she walks down the aisle of your granddaughter’s christening – your out-of-wedlock granddaughter – unashamed because at that size, what other choice does she have in her tented paisley dress.

You will never be the one whose hairline rolls slowly back like an eyelid opening onto God from the underskin of your scalp. Yet, somehow, you are that one you swore you’d never be.

She, fat. You, bald. What do you have to show for yourself? An also-bald grandbaby from the too-young mother who still has temper tantrums at home and dates a clerk from the 7-11, not the baby’s father, and she won’t even tell you who that is for fear you’ll take the twelve-gauge to his house. And the girl might be right about that, so you can’t say she’s totally brainless. She knows her father. You. Bald, sort of. Not fat, really, but with a few love handles that were merely a God-forbid image ten years ago, hell, not even five, and you wonder what the exact day was when you turned, the day you got old, the day your life ran away from you. There you have it. This is the thing. This life you’re living is not yours at all, but here you are, sucker. Tough shit, tough guy, this is your life. What other choice do you have?

And what choice does she have, worrying every weekday about a layoff, her vindictive boss, her ailing parents, sitting still for ten-hour shifts at her call-center monitor, fielding unhappy customers while a line of coffeecakes calls to her from the grey counter in the break room? Oh, you’d like to blame her for it, but those voices must sound pretty good during a shitty day, loving, comforting, especially when you’re the jerk who can’t always get it up in the evenings. And the worst part is that now it sometimes doesn’t even bother you that you can’t get it up. Oh well, you think. Sorry babe, you say. Guess I’ll go clean the garage, you think. And this is your life. Bury yourself now or suck up and live with it.

You understand her. You know those thighs, the ribbed lip of her C-section scar, those swollen breasts that hurt like hell, that you rubbed Palmer’s cocoa lotion into when she was nursing your slut of a daughter, back before the girl could even utter the word sex. Back when she could only suck her mother for milk. Innocence. Man, weren’t you all innocent back then?

Back then, you didn’t know how hard it would be, and you’re glad nobody ever told you, or you might’ve cashed in your chips early and checked out. Back then you had the luxury of dreams, the dreams your daughter is giving up far earlier than you and her mother had to give them up. Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway. Those dreams are not your life. This is your life.

She hurries up the aisle, her paisleys swishing across her hips like flags, having forgotten her purse in the ladies’ room with the ceremony about to start. You look at her face. She’s smiling at you. She sails toward you like some sturdy ship, her eyes and everything in her smiling, as if you aren’t the man with love handles, as if your head is not staring up at the sky like a slowly opening eye. She smiles like that day never came, the one where you must have lost it all. In her, you are yesterday and today. You are less scared about tomorrow. She smiles at you like you are the man you always secretly wanted to be, but feared you never were.



Claudine Guertin lives and writes in Chicago. She earned her M.F.A. at Queens University in Charlotte. Her writing has appeared in Chicago Social, Capper’s, Permission and other journals and has received an editorial nomination for storySouth’s Million Writers Award. She recently completed her first novel, entitled Lakers.

“Big Trouble” by Clinton B. Campbell

Big Trouble
Image by Dawn Estrin

While I was out-to-lunch,
my wife answered the phone.
It was Dave Barry calling me.

I had been warned she might
run off with a prose writer.
I am a poet with no future.

He promised her
a Stephen King first edition
and a night job at Krispy Kreme.

Now she is living in Miami.
I recognize her in Dave’s new novel,
she’s Pixie, the porno queen.

“A little to the left,”
her one and only line.
I know she wants to come back,

but I canceled my subscription
to the Miami Herald.
It’s as good as a Mexican divorce.



Clinton B. Campbell says: “‘The first books they burn are poetry books; the first people they put in jail are poets.’ This quote is historically true. Why are the lowly poets so important to be imprisoned, as was the case in South America, Russia and most other imperialist nations over the history of writing? I believe it is because poets are the keepers of the truth, and ‘they’ don’t want the truth to be known. As a poet or any writer, it is our responsibility to keep telling the truth knowing the truth has little to do with the facts and little to do with recorded history.” Clint is currently re-reading Nineteen Eighty Four. Even though he is widely published, Clint is probably best known as house-husband for photographer/poet Karen M. Peluso. They live in Beaufort, SC.

“Semantics of Rape” by Kirsten Hemmy

book and knife
Image by Dawn Estrin

I think I get stuck
on almost, its taste sharp & sticking

in my throat, the same as knife, as is.
It is true after all, that you change

your words & form follows. Memory is
a frightening thing, so same as real, & it is

what gets people lost & found: I wake
some nights, my mouth a perfect circle, choking

on you, the fear as real as taste, as fighting
the impulse to either kill you or give in.



Kirsten Hemmy is an artist in Charlotte, NC. She is the founder of Mosaic Literary Center, an organization committed to providing art and writing opportunities to underserved communities. Her work has been the recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award and the Academy of American Poets Award. She is an assistant professor of English and the Chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy and Religion at Johnson C. Smith University.


why i’m not an alcoholic

From The “Grapevine” May 2006

What It Was Like…

These days, I don’t so much fall asleep as pass out.


I go to work because my legal career is the Potemkin village of my denial.  As long as I’m working, I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t think this, of course, because it never occurs to me until much later that I might be an alcoholic. There are other strategies, too, all of them so transparent in retrospect that it’s embarrassing to mention them unless I’m in a roomful of alcoholics, all of whom understand this type of thinking.


I’m not an alcoholic, for instance, because I don’t drink in the morning. Unless it’s a weekend morning, or a holiday, of course, in which case lots of normal people drink, so I can, too. These morning drinks are festive but are not necessary, or compulsive. They sport vegetables or umbrellas. They carry the names of flowers and contain juices.  Mimosas, for instance. A mixture of good healthy orange juice and the most celebratory beverage around–cheap champagne. Or Bloody Marys. Good normal morning drinks. There’s a stalk of celery in a Bloody Mary, for God’s sake. It’s a breakfast food.


I’m also not an alcoholic because I don’t get drunk every night. This, of course, by now, is strictly untrue. I do get drunk every night. But I don’t intend to get drunk every night, and that’s nearly the same thing. I’m going through some tough professional and personal times right now and I haven’t always gotten drunk every night, and I certainly intend to stop getting drunk every night once my therapy and the new medication gets me through this rough spot.


Because I’ve had to give up a lot of reasons why I’m not an alcoholic, the list at this point is pretty short. I drink alone, for instance, so I can’t say I’m only a social drinker. And I pretty much always drink until I’m drunk, though I’ve lowered the bar on this one–I don’t consider myself drunk if the bed doesn’t spin like a Tilt-a-Whirl on the Santa Monica pier when I’m ready for sleep. I guess by this point the only other convincing reason I’m not an alcoholic is that I never have liquor in the house. Meaning, I don’t keep liquor in the house because I am going to stop drinking tomorrow. Same for the cigarettes, and for that little nightly marijuana habit I’ve had since my divorce. Five years ago.


So, this is my routine. Most days I make it into work. I’m working by the hour now so I don’t have to feel guilty if I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. If I don’t work, I don’t earn. It’s up to me. I’m in control of that. When I do work, I’m the same hard worker I’ve always been. I mean, I’m a pretty good lawyer. I should be. I learned how to practice in a semi-drugged state–prescription pills, mostly. Valium. I’m serious about this, but won’t realize it until later. If you learn to swim with lead weights attached to your arms and legs, you build strong muscles. I genuinely was a good lawyer, as long as I showed up.


So I’m working for this one-man law firm in Westwood, California, right on Wilshire Boulevard across the street from Westwood Village, the little college town at the foot of the UCLA campus. I’m in therapy with a woman who specializes in substance abuse. I picked her because I used to have some substance abuse problems. A little amphetamine addiction when I was nineteen, cocaine at thirty, cigarettes on and off. Someone told me once that I had an “addictive” personality and I’m down with that. But marijuana isn’t a drug–even the experts say it’s not addictive–and the drinking? Well, like I said, I might have a little drinking problem right now, but an alcoholic? Not quite.


I’ve known alcoholics. My best friend in high school, Alice, her dad was an alcoholic. You knew he was one because he didn’t work, just sat at home in front of the television set during the day, a dark presence we tiptoed past on our way to Alice’s bedroom where, in exchange for a donut, she deigned to tutor me in geometry. Alice’s dad has been dead for some time. I still remember him pretty vividly, though. It was at Alice’s wedding, when I was in law school in the late seventies, when I last saw him. Robert was his name. Bob. I’ll never forget that day. Partly because those were the days when bridesmaids were forced to wear homemade dresses the color of after-dinner mints with fabric that poofed up in the shoulders and sleeves. So I remember the day because of just how awkward I felt, hiding from the wedding photographer and feeling foolish.


But this is what I remember the most clearly. Alice’s dad, Robert, watched his daughter’s semi-formal garden wedding from his wheelchair on the wide veranda of his mother’s Victorian mansion in San Diego. I remember thinking what a waste his life had been. He’d been working on his Ph.D. in psychology pretty much the whole time I knew Alice–ninth grade through college, and then graduate school. He’d tried that anti-alcohol medication, the pill that makes you violently ill if you drink. But he’d still drink and get violently ill. Or skip taking the pills and drink. He never got sober. And there he was, the victim, finally, of something other than his own alcoholism. A stroke. The mother of the bride, Alice’s mom, who supported him, along with the rest of the family, for nearly thirty years, was caring for a true invalid. It was really sad. So, you see, Robert was an alcoholic. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to put myself in that league. It might very well have been a relief to have a problem I could do something about. But alcoholism clearly wasn’t among them.




What Happened. . .

The day I stop drinking begins like any other. (My refrigerator usually contains only alcohol and things to eat with alcohol–finger food: canapes, frozen dumplings, that sort of thing. Last night, however, I had a rare visit from old friends who knew me well enough to bring their own non-alcoholic beverages with them.) Picturing the cranberry sparkler, I’m thinking it might be a good day to ease up on my drinking a little. Just for today, I tell myself, I won’t drink.


When I open the refrigerator door to grab a sparkler, however, my hand closes instead around a nearly full bottle of chardonnay. I pop the cork and pour a glass. Since I’m “not drinking” on Saturday afternoon, I might as well fire up my bong as well.


An hour later, with the early afternoon sun streaming through the French doors to my balcony, I am once again sitting at my computer–drunk and stoned.




This obvious question pops into my mind for the first time in my adult life.




Why am I sitting alone in my apartment at the age of forty-two, on a beautiful Southern California day, disabled, for all intents and purposes, from doing anything productive, or even fun?


Like Philip Roth’s paranoid writer character in Operation Shylock, I can think of only one thing to do when a panicky new thought arrives. Sit in a chair, at a desk, and attempt to “tame temporarily with a string of words the unruly tyranny of my incoherence”:

I was once addicted, I write, to amphetamines. 

When I dropped out of college at age nineteen, I took a job in downtown San Diego alphabetizing “trade slips” for a small stock brokerage firm. The speed nailed my otherwise notoriously short attention span to this mind-numbing task. Drinking was just becoming a big part of my life and the speed helped that, too. I could drink with more energy, stay awake longer, and felt nauseated less often. One pill a day, however, quickly morphed into five. I stayed high all week and crashed on the weekends, crying in bewilderment in my small shuttered studio apartment.

Three months later I was sick, unemployed, and evicted. I put my tail between my legs and moved back home. There, under my mother’s disapproving stare, I kicked the habit cold turkey and re-enrolled in college. I did well, met my first husband, and headed off to law school.

Then the eighties arrived. I fell in with a fast and “sophisticated” crowd of hard-drinking trial lawyers, figuring that if I emulated their lifestyle, I’d be capable of mimicking their cross-examination skills. In a matter of months, I was sitting in my living room at 3 A.M. while my husband slept, watching old movies, drinking .from a cold half-gallon of Chablis and scraping cocaine dust off the Oriental carpet.

Here’s the thing, I write: I’ve never been able to moderate my use of any substance.


I think about this for a while, take a drag on a cigarette, grind it out in an old ceramic saucer and light another. I take a deep breath and watch the smoke rise to the ceiling.

I think, I continue, that I am an alcoholic.

Suddenly, it seems so simple. Easy even. The thought opens a floodgate of exhaustion, demoralization and, most importantly, surrender. I am–as I’ll later learn Bill W. was–simply “beat.” My “battle with the bottle” is over. At five o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in early February 1994, I head off to the bedroom where I sleep, on and off, the rest of the weekend.


That was ten years ago, and I haven’t had a drink since.

What It’s Like Now . . .

Hundreds of AA meetings later, I have my own business as an attorney-mediator and am genuinely happy doing what I love–helping people achieve peaceful and economic resolutions to the inevitable conflicts in which we all inevitably find ourselves. I’m also a student again, earning a master’s degree (an LL.M.) in dispute resolution at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.


I’m recently married and have acquired two of the most beautiful and loving stepchildren any woman–particularly this childless woman–could ever hope to have. My life is full of challenges. And it is full of joy. I am active in AA, work the Steps with my sponsor, and help a loving and courageous group of sponsees work their Steps, too.


I am of service and I am at peace.