“Why You’re Here” by Rick Gray

Why You're Here (In the Gyre)
“Tires Underwater” by Elizabeth leader, pastel with mixed media

When I was sure the nurse was out
in the sick bed next to mine,
And 30 milligrams of Karachi diazepam couldn’t stop
the thudding propellers,

I rose quiet as a Seal and aimed for the
poppy fields of Helmand District located
just south of the analgesic section
I had scoped in the clinic medicine chest.

I almost got them right
Into my open mouth
Little white words I can’t spit out
When the nurse’s voice

Blazed through Afghan darkness
ten years of Texas truck stop waitress behind it
like a red warning flare that said
That’s why you’re here.



Rick Gray has a poem appearing in the winter issue of Salamander. He was a finalist for the Editor’s Award at MARGIE. His essay, “Total Darkness,” will appear in the forthcoming book, Neither Here Nor There: An Anthology of Reverse Culture Shock. When not in Afghanistan, he lives in Florida with his wife and twin daughters.

“Four for the Duke” by Charlie Clark

Four for the Duke
“Catholic Campus–Dodge Street” by Elizabeth Leader, collage with found object

1. The Duke’s Letter to His Wife Explaining His Prolonged Stay at the Spring Cottage

Some have to travel a long way to discover
the pleasure of a good deep square of green.
But that sounds too much like wisdom.
The year is young, I’m only partly in the country,
and all I know of grass is what the groundsman tells me.
The last time I put my body down in some, I was drunk.
Quaint, I know, though it may have been why the magic didn’t take.
Or it may have been because of whatever darkness was crawling through the dustbins,
making me sweat two hundred yellow pounds.
It smelled like peppermint schnapps and a sun-burnt slaughterhouse.
You couldn’t have told us apart, there upon the ground.
I say that like I’m proud.
Of all the things to poison myself with
I keep choosing the least effective.


2. Third Draft of the Duke’s Annual Summer Letter to His Mistress

It’s almost easy, love, sitting here while the sky blackens through the bare,
devil-fingered limbs of my courtyard’s sole strange tree, its trunk so narrow
one can grasp it, nearly, like a handle, except for how the bark’s jagged shingles scrape the hand,
the gashes quickly going red and welled along the palm.
Not knowing, I call it the tree of knowledge.
(It’s common knowledge pain eases with a joke, even one so bad.)
I’m sure there’s someone who knows how to suck the poison out
while someone else knows how to enter such a wound and come through the other end improved.
You’re adept at one of these at least.
Each takes a skill beyond my understanding.
Most skills are beyond me
except for how, when my limits bleed like this,
I gather their unspooling contents, and, making a ladle of my hands,
offer up as much as you will drink.


3. The Duke’s Letter About His Last Fall Walk, Its Recipient Uncertain

Stopping last evening at the curve along the creek
where one has a good clear view of the portion of the dilapidated graveyard
whose headstones all have fallen among a rash of still-hanging-on little yellow flowers we called
poppers when I was young,
I saw the long, fist-thick coil of a serpent soaking from one slab the last of the season’s heat.
Stalled there watching, I suddenly recalled the dream in which I wore a jacket made of snakes.
Not just skins, but whole live ones wrapped around me,
tails always rattling to warn others of my approach.
And constant biting. The first would kill while the next one would revive me.
No mercy in it, though their clacking sounded happy, like workmen when they whistle.
Thinking this while watching across the water, just before the light gave out completely,
I saw a rabbit, grazing on the flowers, wander in among the graves.
I thought they had a better nose for these things.
When I shouted it stared in my direction.
It had eyes like a Byzantine Jesus.


4. Winter; the Duke’s Last Letter, Copied in Triplicate

It took distance to realize what I need is distance.
On my walks, I look out at the empty trees
and am satisfied not knowing any of their names,
feeling for them only sorrow.
There are days when even looking at them is too much,
when it’s enough to sit listening to the oscillations of my heart.
I’d say you should hear the range of it,
the way it seems sometimes it should tear
from all the blood it’s taking in,
but that would require you placing your head against my chest,
and, separating your pulse from mine,
listening as best you can.
Even then you might not hear the thing I mean.
Please think of me when you see shadows.



Charlie Clark’s work has appeared in Crazyhorse; Forklift, Ohio; Fugue; The Missouri Review; New Orleans Review; Smartish Pace; and elsewhere. He earned his MFA in poetry at the University of Maryland.


“American Epiphany, Part II” by Robert Boswell

American Epiphany Part II
Jade-Bratz from the TOYOLOGY series, by Elizabeth Leader, 2011, Mixed Media Assemblage

Continued from Part I

The freckled boy locked the door behind them. He was sweating. “It’s amazing you’re even alive,” he said. “We saw a whole cow fly by. A whole entire cow.”

“This is my husband,” she said to the fat boy. To her husband, she said, “This is the boy that put Coke in my iced tea.”

They shook hands.

“It wasn’t dead,” the boy said. “Its hooves were stomping the air.” He demonstrated with his puffy fists.

“Thanks for that, Skippy,” she said.

Dmitry made a beeline for Kenny, throwing his arms around him. Tera supposed that it was odd of her to call Kenny for help, but she had known he would come. Men want to rescue you. And sometimes you want to be rescued.

“The phone lines are down or I would have called you,” Kenny said after they’d settled in a booth. He gave a nod in the direction of his quivering vehicle. “I’d have told you to stay at the facility. The reports say this one is a monster.” He nodded his head in a different direction. “Julio has a radio. We got an update before the batteries gave out.”

“Tornadoes are mercurial storms,” Dmitry said. “They may destroy a single house in a neighborhood and leave all the others untouched.”

“There’s a bottle of whiskey in my car,” Tera said. “Do you suppose Skippy would be willing to fetch it?”

“We’ve missed you,” Kenny said to Dmitry. “The whole department. Students ask about you daily.”

“Students,” Dmitry replied. “There’re so many of them. Aren’t there? Generation after generation of students. We should probably all gather in the bathroom, don’t you think?”

Kenny sent her an S.O.S. but she was making sense of hubby by this time.

“The safest place in a storm,” she said, “is the bathroom.”

“Of course,” Kenny said, relieved. “Why is that I wonder?”

“Small size,” Dmitry said, “wall strength, the fixtures.” After a moment, he added, “Interiority.”

It was then that the immense funnel showed itself in the windows of the Hardee’s, a great undulate of white rope. Some bored god with a lariat the size of the Sears Tower.

Skippy and his gang claimed the Guys, which left them with the Gals. A small, translucent window covered with chicken wire let in smeared dollops of light. Dmitry sat on a toilet in the handicapped stall, and Tera sat on his lap. Kenny was in the adjacent stall. If she ducked her head low, she could see his sneakers. The bathroom tile and metal stalls turned their voices hard and made them bounce like rubber balls about the room.

Her men talked for a while about changes in the department, how one of Dmitry’s enemies had made a push to usurp the planned hire. The sociology department was divided along theoretical lines, much like Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, and battles periodically erupted. Dmitry and Kenny tossed volleys back and forth over the metal wall about internecine hostilities. Tera had studied in the department for three years, but she was content to listen, recalling the afternoon in his office that she told him she was quitting the program, and how he took her into his arms (they were lovers by this time) and she curled into his lap, smelling the leather of his chair. The toilet wasn’t quite so comfy, but she felt finally at ease. He sounded so much more himself talking about an assistant professor who did arbitrary interviews with the poor and published them as research, validity and reliability be damned, and how another colleague, who collected and analyzed monkey sperm, hated the assistant professor so much that he hired undergraduates to answer her ad and pose as the homeless. Universities were home to the most extreme kinds of idiocy.

Dmitry said to Kenny, “I’m aware, of course, that you and my wife had intercourse.”

She kept her head bent against his chest. The other stall fell silent. They could hear things outside bumping against the shabby building. Girders squealed, as the wind tried to rip the lid from the box.

“Sexual intercourse,” Dmitry clarified.

“I understand you,” Kenny said. “What do you want me to say?”

The next silence was even longer, but the world happily stepped into the gap, and it occurred to Tera to say that the wind was the sky’s way of complaining. She had confessed to Dmitry some weeks ago, during one of her visits to the farm. He hadn’t responded, and she hadn’t been sure that he was tracking the conversation.

Finally, she said, “I’m sorry.”

“Yes,” Dmitry said. “You told me that.”

“Something’s happening underneath,” Kenny said. “The water’s rocking.”

“Don’t you lose your mind, too,” she said, an inconsiderate remark, considering.

“The water in the toilet is full of waves,” Kenny insisted.

They stood, lifted the lid, and looked.

“It seems to be rising,” she said.

“It’s attempting to communicate,” Dmitry said. “It’s weary of its life. We only think of the sewer when we have something foul we wish for it to take away.” He leaned lower. “Forgive us,” he spoke this directly into the open mouth of the toilet.

Strange spears of light entered the stall, and Kenny stepped in, joining them, latching the door behind him. He pointed upward, but stared at them. “We should hold each other,” he said.

The ceiling was rattling, and a peculiar, strained light leapt in the gaps. Wires, electrical coils as thick as Tera’s arms, held the hovering ceiling, kept it from continuing its levitation. Everywhere beneath them, chained to them like the famous cannon ball, was the betrayal, in which Tera and Kenny did terrible and wonderful things behind Dmitry’s back while he continued to do nice things for them.

And that second betrayal, when she refused to continue loving Kenny despite Dmitry having removed himself from the picture; that was there, too, in the darkness beneath their forked bodies.

“It may be a septic system out here,” Dmitry said, clutching her tightly. “Not a sewer system, per se.” His face was lit by an unholy flash of light, as if by divine touch, and then it went dark. Her men crowded around her, holding her tight.

The howling was suddenly fierce, and Tera yelled out that she loved him, without saying which him, and held tight to them both.

Skippy was unconscious, and the place was a certifiable mess. Much of what had been the top of the building was now in the parking lot and on the highway, and rain fell through the gaps. All the loose furniture—the freestanding chairs and tables, the newspaper rack, and the March of Dimes candy dispenser—were gone, erased, still whirling over the Midwest somewhere beyond their ability to see. The booths were missing their tables. The seats and backs had inflated with water, and damp stuffing burst from the seams like sea creatures emerging from primordial caves. A great blossom of grime was laid over every item that remained in the room. There was no litter on the floor, only puddles, streams, tributaries, and poor fat Skippy, lying on his back, Dmitry and Julio kneeling over him, while Kenny and a spare Hardee Boy used mops and towels (the storage room was undamaged) to keep the growing flood away from his great, beached body. Tera’s cell phone no longer worked and the landline didn’t even offer static.

The men pumped furiously on Skippy’s chest, as if he were deflating. During the height of the storm, he had inexplicably left the Men’s and darted out into the chaos.

“He didn’t say nothing,” Julio offered, apologetically. “It was no way we could go after him.”

After a long while, they gave up their efforts.

Tera had expected death to lend them a sense of wonder, to provide a spectacle, or at least a profound moment or two, but he merely looked cheapened, like a toy the day after Christmas.

“He’s peed himself,” Julio said, backing away.

The storm had been kind enough to bring Tera her car and nudge it up against the flagpole. Unfortunately, it was parked upside down. The passenger door was gone, but the glove box was intact and shut, and when she popped it open, the fifth of whiskey plopped into her waiting palm.

Dmitry took too many swigs of it. The liquor emitted a mixed set of signals to his brain, some of them sane but unkind (he punched Kenny in the chest) and some of them insane but helpful (when the rain abated, he filled his shoes with grease from the kitchen spill and built a fire in the parking lot, where they roasted frozen meat patties). His conversation rambled from sharp-edged replies to meaningless, idiosyncratic comments. When his mind had been clear, his intellectual passion was a fearsome thing to behold, a deep well of icy water, frigid to the skin and almost too cold to drink, but as clear as snowmelt and as quick as death.

At some point, Julio took each of them out to the road to see: the tabletops from the booths were laid out on the highway in a row, like the keys to a piano.

It was the smell of flaming meat, they would later speculate, that brought Skippy back from the dead.

“God, that smells good,” he said, stumbling out of the ruined Hardee’s and into the parking lot, sopping wet and walking funny but undeniably alive. The fire provided the only light, and in that grease-fed blaze, he looked pale and otherworldly, and Tera knew she wasn’t the only one who thought he had taken a journey and returned.

“Jesus shit,” Julio said. “You all right?”

“My chest hurts is all.”

“We thought you were dead,” Tera told him. “Dead dead. Not like, dead for a while.”

“Holy cow,” he said. “Dead.” He made an awful face. “You just left my body in there?”

She shrugged. “We were sort of hungry.”

“Kinda sucks that nobody even, you know, sat with the body.”

“We’ll do better next time.” She crossed her heart.

Stars emerged, pricking the dark, but there were too many of them. “The constellations are gone,” Dmitry said, pointing. “They’ve been cut loose. They’re all on their own.”

“What’s it like to be dead?” Tera asked.

Skippy shrugged. “I didn’t feel any difference.”

“Why you run out into that shit?” Julio demanded.

Skippy pondered that for awhile. “Something I’d forgotten,” he said and then snapped his fingers. “My umbrella. It was under the counter, and I thought I ought to get it.” He smiled and shook his head in something like wonder. “All other thoughts left my brain, and I just ran out after it.” He looked up at the nameless stars for several seconds. “It has a silver tip,” he clarified. “That umbrella does.”

Tera was young enough and she had extended her education long enough that she could still say that she had been a student for most of her life. Unless she went back to school, though, that would change, and how would she think of herself then? Sometimes she seemed like a sheet of music on which someone had typed prose, and so, on fresh blank paper, she worked to create a narrative, but what came out was a set of lyrics. It seemed likely that her tombstone would be covered with finger-paint.

In the days to come, she would find that her husband was both eager and apprehensive to return to his old life, where he was exceptional and treated with deference, where the possibility of being undone by a foolish girl he had taken into his home was as unlikely as the presence of thieves who break into your house to leave gifts. Eventually, he would become himself again, the revered professor of sociology, loved by students and admired by his peers. Except he would no longer care for research. He would give up his great theories, the beautiful speculations on the causes of heartache and suffering among the masses. He would quit opening the journals that arrived in the mail, never ripping off their transparent covers. He would even give up the newspaper. He’d had such a specific and specialized view of the world, and yet he ditched it without so much as a whimper. Tera could only imagine the outlook he had abandoned, where events of the world conformed to reasonable inquiry. While most saw chaos and irrational grief, he had seen reasons, a hidden order, and irrational grief.

One night, years after the storm, Tera and Dmitry would go to a revolving restaurant in a high rise, and beyond the window radiant droplets streamed in unison on the distant freeway, and she realized this was how she thought of his research, the view it gave him, things boiled down to their essences and moving in a pattern. He had this view while the rest of them had to walk the streets. It seemed like a lot to abandon.

“It wasn’t dark,” Skippy said suddenly. “Being dead. It was real colorful, like magazine pictures tossed ever which way. And I wasn’t fat, so much. But it was real loud. Lots of voices saying things in two million languages, and there was construction going on. I knew if I hung around I’d have to pitch in.”

“So you came back alive instead,” Julio said. “Being a lazy bastard finally paid off.”

Skippy had this way of shrugging that made his neck disappear. “It was more like there was a spring, a coiled metal spring, with like a steering wheel on the end of it—is my car out here at all?” He glanced about for only a second. “I clung to that steering wheel, and the spring was, you know, thrusting me out, but I didn’t let go and it sprung back, and that’s when I smelled burgers and opened my eyes.”

The night air had been softened by the parade of large objects flying through it, and a mist settled about their faces and skin and clothing, and an owl started in with a lonesome hoot that was almost mechanical in its alteration of pitch.

“That must be the cops,” Julio said.

“That’s a siren?” Tera asked.

Dmitry said, “I thought it was an owl.” He laughed at himself.

She didn’t tell him that she had made the same ridiculous mistake, but it pleased her that they shared that error and made her optimistic that they might make a go of it after all. There appeared then little moons of lights, to go with the siren, twin moons, as if they really were on a foreign world. And then twirling blue beacons took over the sky.

Kenny would finish his PhD that May and go on the market. Dmitry would write an enthusiastic letter of recommendation, and Kenny would take a job out West. They would hear about his marriage to a blandly attractive woman and the fact of their children, but he did not send cards or email photographs. He and Dmitry would occasionally run into each other at professional conferences, but Tera has not seen Kenny and has not heard from him in all these years, and while she had worried that she might be tempted to cheat on her marriage again, it never happened. She can say for sure that it will never happen, as her husband lies in the next room dying, and she works on these pages between visits. This is a new hospital, and she can see the river from the waiting room, a curling blackness that winds through the city. But it’s not Dmitry’s dying that she wishes to write about, and not the past several years, which have been like any couple’s years—a song with a good chorus but mixed verses. They never had children and that is both a relief and a regret, and Dmitry never wrote another professional word, which is unquestionably Tera’s fault but she has made her peace with it. She doesn’t care to write about any of these things, just that night, all those years ago.

The woman’s nose has been reconstructed to look like a pennywhistle, her ears unnaturally flat against her head, like cloth flaps. She no longer looks like a koala. She looks like gecko. Tera goes online to find a phone number for the Hardee’s, which she has passed maybe fifty times since that night without ever making a return visit, a brand new and equally hideous building having replaced the old one. No one at the new Hardee’s was employed fifteen years ago, but the manager is interested in her quest and willing to go through the employment files. “That storm,” he says while perusing the records, “I was in college at the time, but my mother witnessed the funnel. As tall as skyscraper, she said.”

Julio’s number belongs to his parents, who reveal to Tera that he has moved to Los Angeles. They provide the number.

“There wasn’t no Skippy,” Julio says.

“The freckled boy,” she explains. “Overweight? He died and came back to life?”

“Oh, him,” Julio says. “He died again a couple weeks later. Went in his sleep.” He sighs and adds, “That’s how I want to go.”

Dmitry will almost certainly go in his sleep. He rarely opens his eyes. Yet she believes he can hear her, and she recognizes his attempts to respond, though they are the smallest of diminished movements. She will try to be beside Dmitry when he dies.

“Poor Skippy,” she says.

“It wasn’t Skippy,” Julio says. “It was like Larry or Lance or something.”


“You got a bad memory on you.”

She wants to know why he died.

“The doctors said internal injuries. That was some storm, all right. What I remember most is the tabletops on the highway, just like stair steps, only not going up.”

She thanks Julio and says goodbye. In another moment, after she has composed herself, she’ll go in and read to her husband what she has written, but she is not quite finished writing.

Out there in the Hardee’s parking lot, she had felt drowsy and sluggish, as if she had been living another person’s life. The dark was returning everything to its proper shape, erasing the magic, the stars settling again in their familiar patterns—though there were more stars than she had ever seen. Even the shyest of the celestial eyes had stepped forward to look.

Without any of the human forms of illumination, save for the fire, the bandage of night was complete, and Tera and her men stopped bleeding. They stood near the heat with their hands to the flames in the gesture of stop, as if they wished to hold back, to limit the influence of light a little while longer. She imagined them as the first humans, walking upright but communicating by crude gestures and guttural noises. The margins between the past and present had been blown away, and they huddled together as several forms of themselves. Tera was at least a dozen women standing before the fire, and some versions of Dmitry loved her and some hated her, and some had not noticed that she was there. And the Kennys and Julios and Skippys and those other working stiffs all gathered at the flames, a bundle of humanity. They had become a crowd, a crown, a vast recollection of life, which was what Dmitry studied, what he had used that precious mind of his to investigate and analyze. Bodies of people.

Her epiphany in the Hardee’s parking lot, a half-dreamt vision. Write about that night, she would say to Dmitry in the years to come. He would just smile and rock his head to one side, content in his textual silence. You write about it, he would say.

“What I’d like to do next,” Skippy told her, “now that I’ve been dead and all…” He paused to bite the burger in his hand. They had no buns, and his patty was hot. Grease on his jowls glistened in the firelight. “What I’d like to do next…”

But the sirens grew suddenly louder and the gaudy light show ended the adventure. They were packed off into cars, and Tera fell asleep in the back of a police cruiser, nestled between Kenny and Dmitry, the bodies of people she loved.



Robert Boswell has a new novel, Tumbledown, from Graywolf Press. He has published three story collections, seven novels, and two books of nonfiction. More than 70 stories and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, Pushcart Prize Stories, Esquire, Colorado Review, Epoch, Ploughshares, and more. He shares the Cullen Endowed Chair in Creative Writing with his wife, Antonya Nelson. They live in Houston, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Telluride, Colorado. They also spend time in a ghost town high in the Rockies.

Read our interview with Robert here.

“The Knock Down” by Margot Taylor

Endangered Sea Creatures
“Endangered Sea Creatures” by Elizabeth Leader, Mixed media

Sarah married a man who was building a boat to sail around the world. She loved that he was so intrepid, so exactly her idea of a man. She loved that, with John, her life wouldn’t be ordinary.

But it all went wrong the day they set out, into a fresh breeze and a glittering sea, as England thinned to a pencil line, and the sky turned to lead. She blogged about it afterwards; about how the wind built and the sea heaped up and a wave like a house slewed the boat and knocked her down; and how water fell on them like concrete and the sail seemed it would be buried forever but slow as a waterlogged bird it lifted somehow miraculously out of the sea.

She blogged about how they turned, and ran before the wind, and crawled back into Falmouth; how they tied up, and went into the cabin, and waded through bedding and floating food.

She didn’t blog about John, how she went to him to be held, and he was shaking, and instead she had to hold him. She didn’t blog about how, in the following days, and the following weeks, he seemed smaller. How she wanted to plump him up like a cushion, knock him back into being him.

“Hey,” Sarah said. “Everyone thinks we’re amazing.”

She read from her laptop. ‘“Omg you guys are awesome.” And this one. “You crazy sons of bitches. Totally mad – but bloody heroic.” And another. “Do it for me. Live the dream.”’

“Listen to them, John.”

He shrugged and looked away.

“Fine,” she said. “Whatever.”

The boat was cleaned up and ready again. John checked the forecast every day, but couldn’t make the decision to leave. So they shopped at Tesco, read their books, and slept. Sarah wanted to blog about the shrimp she found swimming in circles in the loo, but if she blogged, people would ask where they were. The shrimp stayed a day, then must’ve got bored, because he left. Other boats touched down like migrating birds, and left again, and every time another boat left, Sarah would look at her husband, to see if he saw how easy it was for other people.

John reached from his bunk one night and touched her arm. “Don’t be angry,” he said.  When she knew he slept, she turned on her laptop and started to type.

‘Wending our way up a distributary of the Orinoco. The most amazing thing today–little fish swimming in the loo, shards of brilliant colour. Water hyacinths float past like carpets and the butterflies are half a foot across. We lie awake at night listening to the hoots, screeches and grunts from the jungle all around.”

She smiled. How her friends would envy her as they read her post over their cornflakes.

“Cheer up,” she said to John, next morning. “Things aren’t so bad.  Why don’t we get a takeaway and a DVD tonight?”

She allowed enough weeks for a passage to the Pacific before she blogged again saying she had sat on a rock with a sunbathing iguana in the Galapagos. A few months later she told about their temporary work picking oranges in California. Then Alaska and she had them stepping onto a frosted deck into a morning so raw and brilliant it hurt. She told of an iceberg nearly hit and a blue whale passing like a submarine under their hull.

Back in Falmouth, England, when the winter gales blew, Sarah and John moved a little further upriver and tucked themselves somewhere snug, near a thatched pub which did cream teas, and a village shop.

“Check this before I post it?” Sarah said from her laptop.

John read over her shoulder.

“What?” she said. “What’s so funny?”

“We saw penguins in Alaska?”

Sarah stared at him, then knocked her head with the flat of her hand. “Stupid.”

John caught her hand in his. “You know what? I’m sick of ice and polar bears.”

“I am too,” Sarah said. “So where shall we go?”

“I’m thinking maybe … Hawaii? White beaches, palm trees, rum cocktails. If we catch the trade winds we could be there in no time. How does that sound?”



Margot Taylor lives near Taunton, UK, and works in her local library. Her short fiction has appeared in the Willesden Herald Prize anthology and online at Pulp.net, been performed at Liars’ League in London, and is forthcoming in Storyglossia.

Read an interview with Margot here.

“As Time Goes By” by Orlaith O’Sullivan

Who Will Build
“Who Will Build the City Up Each Time?” by Elizabeth Leader, Acrylic & spray paint with recycled wood

Please, folks. Please, if you’ll only grant me a moment, I can straighten this whole mess out.

The man in Room 12 is my grandfather. I’m Terry’s youngest grandson, Donal Bradley. I live over in London. I came in Tuesday, and since visiting hours finish by—what time is it now? 2am—seriously? That’s… that’s later than I thought. My point is this: I’m a daytime visitor, so you wouldn’t necessarily know me.

Terry practically raised us after Dad died. When we were kids, I was his favourite. Kick the ball around on Sunday mornings; down to Cork Con after mass; drive back through Cobh, cast off from the pier. Terry’s boy, I was. But I grew, and the years passed, and we stretched far apart. Stretched thin. Finola gave him great-grandchildren, and of course, Susan took the teaching job here. And what was I? An investment banker with JP Morgan won’t hold a candle to the Headmistress of Castlegyleen Primary School.

It took me a while to come back. Susan told me what was happening, but sure, what could I do? It’s not like I could unfrazzle his brain.


By the time I arrived at the nursing home, Terry had suffered seventeen strokes. I brought Mayan gold chocolates and a Get Well Soon Granddad! card—a musical fancy that chimed Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. Susan warned that he might not know me, but he seemed alright.

‘There you are!’ he boomed. ‘Donal, come in—excellent! I trust the cats haven’t been too noisy?’

‘What’s that, Granddad?’

‘The cats. They’ve not been causing a nuisance?’

He kept tigers. That’s what he said. Had four of them, out the back of the car park. Was minding them for the Maharajah, someone he’d worked with in the past. And then he winked, as though I should understand.

‘The Maharajah, right… Is he from the Central Statistics Office?’

A deep belly-laugh shook his frame. ‘Ah, that was a good cover—lasted me years! The Maharajah is moving palaces at the minute, and the elephants are his prime concern—fierce sensitive creatures. At least I’m not stuck with the white peacocks—can you imagine fifty of those feckers running around here!’

I replayed Susan’s words in my mind. She’d not mentioned Terry had gone stone-mad.

‘Gold’s a devilish sort of a thing,’ Terry declared, eyeing me. ‘Gold-greed rots the soul like a cancer. Not the Maharajah: that man treats gold with respect; uses it with wisdom; dispenses it with kindness. Thus has it ever been.’

I opened the chocolates and listened to his tales of the tigers. The kitchen porters of Castlegyleen Lodge Nursing & Residential Home sneaked out food for the cats. I was made lean out the window to the left, to Car Park B. Could I glimpse a striped tail between the Volvos and the hatchbacks? Only last week, one of the consultants discovered a scratch down the length of his Saab. The ex-wife was blamed, but Terry knew better. ‘Those cats have been through an ordeal to get here. Sure, they’re bound to act up some.’

When the nurse came in to change his drip, I peeked at the clipboard on the end of the bed. Not one of the medications was familiar to me.

Terry’s IV drip talks to him—did you know that? The thing is American. Broadcasts news reports about his food: ‘Good afternoon, this is CNN Special News. We’re going now live to Nutrition Inc., where Head Chef Bob Billywig will take us through the dish for the day. Bob…?’ Granddad hears background sounds: a busy kitchen, with things sizzling on hot grills. Then Bob Billywig speaks: ‘Well folks, Terry Bradley has a treat in store today! Elmer’s cooking up a quarter-pound sirloin burger with spicy fries, and there’s a slice of Martha’s key lime pie to follow—sheer heaven!’

‘It was blueberry pie yesterday,’ Granddad says, worry darkening his eyes. ‘I don’t know that I like key lime…’

The absurdity of it! That instant, my fears broke open and fell away from me. ‘You’ll love it, Granddad,’ I said. ‘Key lime pie is delicious.’

Terry looked at me, nodded. ‘You know that Bogart only played Sam Spade once?’ I relaxed back into the chair, taking a moment to trace the connection: key lime… Key Largo. ‘Just that once. The same with Philip Marlowe: played him one time and pow! The part was his forever. Once was all it took for Bogie. Indelible, that man was. Indelible.’

We chatted all afternoon, making our way through half the chocolates. Granddad might have been sitting up at the bar in Con. Easygoing, confident, affable. And I loved him this way—loved him—even if he was talking unadulterated shite.

The nurse finally came and ousted me. As I went to leave, Terry told me his Admission Form needed updating. He spoke four languages now: they should add Urdu, and Luxembourgian.

I grinned. ‘Isn’t this place fantastic?’

Granddad leaned back, his thin head sinking into the pillow. ‘They need to keep me safe. I’m important to them, to the Tribunal.’

That evening I stopped by Susan’s, where Granddad stayed until he was beyond her help. The caring had taken its toll: there was neither fondness nor pleasure in her voice. ‘Spent his days looking out to sea. Kept remarking how many dolphins were around. He thought every white horse was a dolphin; thought the sea was chock-full of them! I told him, but he wouldn’t hear it! Like that with everything, he was. Insisted the evening swallows were giant bats. Over from East Africa, he said. Wanted to point it out on a map! To me!’


On Wednesday, I brought yellow balloons and a copy of The African Queen. Thought I could read aloud, if Granddad didn’t feel like talking.

But he did: about how he worked with a secret government department; how his testimony would be crucial to the Tribunal. ‘Gold diggers and back stabbers, the lot of them! What gold does to a man’s soul, Donal, and he only falls the harder for it. A dangerous game…’ I suspected he was conflating the Tribunal with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but maybe not. I’ve been out of Ireland a long time. ‘Do you know, in all my years I’ve never heard the saxophone played live?’

I jumped over to the new conversation. Some Sundays, I brunched in Camden, at the Jazz Café.

‘Do you know that the man who invented the saxophone survived multiple assassination attempts? Even shootings,’ said Terry. ‘That man had enemies. His whole life, he was a victim of crooks and slanderers and jealous men. But that music…’ he shook his head slowly against the pillow. ‘Those notes. Haunting. Like starlight in a lonely place. And all those feathers…’

I stayed until he drifted off, mumbling the words that were coming from the IV drip, Bob Billywig describing the late-night snack that Elmer was fixing for Terry: a cup of Wisconsin Blue Ribbon chilli and golden sweet cornbread.

That night, Susan wept. She just wanted things back the way they were before.

Funny thing was, I almost felt they were.


When I opened his door on Thursday, Terry’s bony frame cowered under the covers. ‘Help me, Donal!’ he begged, tears streaming down his face. ‘For God’s sake, close the blinds!’

There was a sniper outside, waiting to take his shot. It was because of the Tribunal: Granddad had been tracked down. ‘I’m too big a threat,’ he said. ‘They sent me a warning, took out the white tiger with the blue eyes. Bang bang goodnight.’ The other cats remained in danger. Their food could no longer be trusted; the porters had been bribed.

I said I’d take care of the cats, but he turned on me. ‘And how will you feed three Bengal tigers? With your fancy investment accounts and your City of London. You’ve no local connections!’ Granddad turned his face from me. ‘What am I going to say to the Maharajah!’

I watched my grandfather weep.

Later, he was easier. He described his magical stay at Susan’s house: how the dolphins careered through the waves like a scene from a Grecian vase; how the bats swooshed through the twilight realm. Closing his eyes, he murmured. ‘I wish I’d heard the saxophone live. Wish I’d spoken to your mother before she died. Wish I’d sailed to Tangiers when I had the chance, traveled by caravan over to Casablanca. I could have gone to Luxembourg; to Lyme Regis. But the cards are dealt the other way now, dealt for the last time. There’ll be no more shuffling.’

I couldn’t tell what desires were real or imagined. What did it matter? I asked about the saxophone, the feathers. ‘Have you never seen, Donal? The notes transform into feathers, drifting across the air, soaring, swooping… And bullets can’t get through them, not saxophone feathers! The inventor saw to that. Survived multiple assassination attempts, he did.’

That evening, the IV drip came to life as Terry nodded off. It said men were coming for him. They would never let him testify, it promised. Soon he’d be sleeping the big sleep.

I watched him, remembering the pride welling as I walked into Cork Con beside that man. Terry’s boy, I was.


I started making calls on the way back to the hotel. It still took me a full day to organise everything. I practically hijacked Caroline and Soweto. We didn’t make it back from Dublin until after 11pm. The three of us sneaked in, with two rolling suitcases and the saxophone case. And the bin-bag stuffed with feathers.

Caroline went first. She explained that the Tribunal’s judge took a call last night—from the Maharajah. He explained Terry’s special circumstances. She would take his statement in Urdu—to keep it on the QT. She’d bring it straight to Dublin to be entered into evidence.

Granddad nodded, like he’d expected it all along. ‘That’s friendship for you! Half a world away, Donal, and it’s as if he’s in this room with me! We were no angels, back in the day. I got him out of a tight spot, helped him through a dark passage. And he’s not forgotten me!’

He started to speak, low and serious. Soweto put in his mute and warmed up. I unpacked: laid out the cake box; let out the goat and the rabbits—they were all I could get my hands on at short notice. I thought they’d reassure Granddad that the tigers would be cared for. I settled the animals as best I could, then blue-tacked up the pictures of Tangiers and Luxembourg and Lyme Regis.

The testimony brought Granddad some relief, I think. He checked over Caroline’s work, said she’d done a fine job. I witnessed his statement, along with Soweto here—on alto sax.

Then Soweto played. From the first sonorous note, Granddad was enthralled. I used four pillows’ worth of duck down, following the music rising and falling and whirling around the room. Long ostrich feathers did for the sliding glissandos and soaring crescendos. The whole time, Granddad stayed fixated on that golden swirl, big watery tears blurring his pale blue eyes.

I’m… I’m so sorry for all the inconvenience, especially the feathers, and the goat—I’d have been in and out if it weren’t for him. Caroline and Soweto came to understand my motives, but there was no winning over that feckin’ goat. The commotion started when he made a bolt for the cake box. The poor rabbits took fright, tripping up Caroline, who fell back on poor Soweto. Listen, I know I’ve a cheek to ask, but could someone see that Granddad gets to taste the key lime pie? It’s on his locker, a bit battered now…

I can go in myself? How’s that? You remember me from Con—a young lad sitting up beside his grandfather?

Ah go on. I’ve changed a bit, surely?



Orlaith O’Sullivan is an award-winning writer with a PhD in Renaissance literature. Her short story Gilt won joint first prize in the inaugural Fish-Knife Award (2006). Louisa and the Sea was short-listed for the 2007 William Trevor International Short Story Competition. Her short story A Tall Tale won The Stinging Fly prize 2008. She currently lives is Dublin, and is editing her first novel.

Read our interview with Orlaith here.

“Hope Like Blue Skies” by Erica Jamieson

“We Repair Trucks,” by Elizabeth Leader, from the Toyology Series, Mixed media assemblage

Netta dipped inside the case with her metal scooper, fearing she’d perspire right into the barrel of chocolate chip mint. She wiped at the drop of sweat making its way down her nose with the back of her hand. What with the humming and heating of the freezers, she was already dizzy red hot in early June. Only thing cool about her was that one strip of belly that leaned right up against the freezer when she bent in to scoop. It was the coolness right there, where so much hurt and wanting had seared into a congealed mass of love, that made her remember the old truck sitting idle out back.

“You got to get that truck fixed,” she said to Rex, looking so fresh with his hot coffee of all things on such a day. That steam coming up over the rim of his cup just about made Netta swoon. “How you sitting so cool over there, Rex, honey? I’m burning up to hell here.”

“It’s too early for summer fever,” Rex said to her. Netta looked out through the Waratah Homemade Ice Cream sign etched onto the glass of the big plate window. Sky outside was nothing but a suffocating haze of Lake Michigan air, wet and heavy, waiting on something to break.

“You come on over to my side of the counter and try scooping with these condensers heating me up so.”

“I’m reading the want ads, Netta-bird.”

“What you ought to be reading, Rex, honey, is the how-to on getting that truck out there up and running. It’s time.” She turned to the boy, the youngest of the Van Dwek kids, waiting on his cone. “It was the Waratah fortune, that truck was,” she said. “Ain’t that so, Rex? Your granddaddy brought it home spanking new, shining white with blue trim. I saw some pictures. Boy, that was a proud day, wasn’t it, Rex? You want sprinkles, honey?”

“Never was much of a Waratah fortune. My papa should have sold it for scrap.”

“I remember the truck at Pink Lake last summer,” the Van Dwek boy said.

Netta caught Rex glancing up at the boy. He had his palm resting on the paper, a finger extended on the page as if it were the only thing keeping him upright. “You go on down to Mitchell’s garage,” she said to Rex, “see about that refurbished engine we talked about and those spare parts. See if they come in yet. What else you got to do today?”

Smiling at the boy, she said, “Why, you look so like your daddy.”

“There’s a rain coming, Netta-bird. Let me wait it out in peace,” Rex said.

The boy dug into his pockets for loose change. Netta waited. “Skies like blue hope, now, ain’t that what follows a summer rainstorm? Nothing more hopeful than that. Blue skies after a storm. You go, Rex, right after this weather blows through, you’ll get on that truck, go over to Mitchell’s? Get that truck working again.” She winked at the boy. “Maybe put in some working air-conditioning? Now won’t that be something nice.”

“I got a quarter and ten dimes,” the boy said, looking at the change in his hand.

“You sure you don’t have another quarter?”

“Last summer you let me have it for whatever I had in my pocket!”

“Now that doesn’t sound like me. Does that, Rex? Giving away ice cream at bargain basement prices.”

“I was with my brother William, and it was the last time you came out to the lake with that truck, the one you was just talking about. I remember because you dropped William’s cone.”

Netta could see the vein at the corner of Rex’ forehead, on the left side just above his eye, pumping blood fast like he was trying to heat up something that had just about froze over.

“It was near on to ninety that day. Rex remembers. I was sitting on a whole lot of heat. Stepping out of that truck on to the swelter of asphalt did nothing to cool me. Rex had gone off for water—that damn radiator couldn’t hold more than a one way out to the lake—and I was working the truck.”

“And you scooped William out another and said you can scoop quicker than the one on the ground would melt. That’s what you said to me and William, and you took what I had in my pocket for the $1.50 sized cone. And nothing for William’s second.”

Netta had been half in half out of the side door on that truck pulling on the strawberry ice cream when she felt a sigh from deep within her. She dropped the cone and touched the widening side of her belly where her hand measured the seven months of baby.

The Van Dwek boy was holding out all he had to give to Netta, still short a quarter.

“Now, does your papa give his blueberries and peaches away, and your momma her pies, for a smile, now do they?”

“She’s not baking on account of the new baby. When my middle brother was born, we didn’t have one of her pies until his first birthday. That’s why I came down here. You can’t take a baby to a hot beach, that’s what Delia said when I was looking for your truck yesterday at the lake.”

Rex stood up, cracking his chair against the wall, giving flight to those circled want ads. When Rex had returned to the truck that day with water to quench the radiator, they started toward home. Netta told him to take the Gas Junction Exit and head on straight to the hospital. More than anything she was surprised at the work it took to birth that dead baby, just as much as she imagined it would be one that was kicking and screaming and looking for her breast.

Netta gave the boy his cone. “I’ll take your $1.25 for a $1.50 cone today, young Mr. Van Dwek. You tell your momma and that new baby hey from me, okay? Maybe I’ll make you all a pie and bring it over for church picnic some Sunday. Your family still goes every Sunday, ain’t that so?”

“I knew you’d remember!”

“Now get on going home before the rain starts.” Netta watched Rex watching the boy. The boy opened the door just as a shot of wind came thrusting through. “Here it comes!” the boy shouted as he went running into the beginning rain, the wind slamming at the door. Another gust came just then, and the door got so caught up by that wind it flew back open. The bells on the window over top jangled and the screen rattled. The wind whipped back, doubling in with a blackening sky. Rex jumped to grab the door, but Netta had come alongside him and stood in the opening. Her skirt and apron caught the coiling air and flapped into twists around her legs. Her hair had come loose. She inhaled and felt cool even before she stepped out into the rain.

“I’m not ready for church, Netta,” Rex said.

“You didn’t hear me make any promises, now did you, Rex?”

A shuddering of thunder sounded, and a flash of lightning followed far off in the distance.

“I should have fixed that truck last year, when it was just the radiator. Would have been nothing. Now, it’s the whole damn engine,” Rex said.

“Nothing that can’t be fixed, or replaced.”

“Them doctors didn’t sound too hopeful.” It was at the hospital the truck wheezed its last, and the engine cracked right there in the parking lot. They had to hitch it up and tow it back to the ice cream shop. Took what little money they had saved for a crib and stroller, some cotton tees and diapers, and used it instead for a solid birch box. Netta’s people came, walked with her through the black iron gates of the cemetery so she’d have someone to lean on in the late summer heat when the little box, that little box, was lowered deep into the ground.

“Look out there, Rex, you can see blue sky coming right in behind the storm, just like I said.”

“I wish I could feel it, Netta-bird, I wish I could feel that blue sky coming.”

Netta took Rex’s hand and placed it just south of her belly. His hand stretched out over the flatness of her belly, but just in the center where she had placed his palm, ever so slight, there was a quickening that made her heart race the wind.

“You telling me something, Netta-bird?”

“You’ve got to get that truck up and running. That’s all I’ve been saying. What’re we gonna do, Rex? Let it sit and rot?” They stood in the rain, his hand on her belly, waiting on that blue sky. Netta never took her face from out of the wind. She swayed on her feet, humming with her body, and felt Rex stirring with the heat of something lost between them.



Erica Jamieson writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has appeared in print and online at various journals including Lilith, Spittoon and Self Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her family and mentors at risk teen girls through creative writing with the non-profit WriteGirl. She can be reached at ericawjamieson.com

Read an interview with Erica here.

“Wonder” by David Licata

The Bridal Couple (Wonder)
“The Bridal Couple” by Elizabeth Leader, mixed media

The voicemail made no sense so I listened to it again: “Sarah, it’s Paul, Stephen’s been shot.” He paused for a few seconds. I heard him swallow and exhale. “We’re at St. Mary’s in Jersey City. You’ve got to get here. There’s a lot of blood. He’s been shot. You’ve got to get here!”

I listened to the message again in my car and then called Paul, Stephen’s brother, but still I didn’t understand. How had my husband been shot? Why? Was he okay? Somehow I drove to the hospital and found the ER and met Paul and two uniformed policemen. One officer—a short stocky man with a crew cut—did all of the talking. He told me, matter-of-factly, that Paul and Stephen had walked into a convenience store, the store was held up, guns were fired, and a bullet entered Stephen’s head. He finished with “I’m sorry,” before he and his mute partner disappeared.

At some point, a doctor appeared and told us Stephen was dead. I thought for a second that everyone had gone insane. Then I thought it was an elaborate, cruel joke. Someone led me to a seat; someone else offered me a sedative. My skin felt foreign. My eyes were closed tightly one minute, wide open and unblinking the next. Every question I asked had an unsatisfactory answer.

I asked to see Stephen and someone led me to a room where he lay on a gurney, lifeless. It was a Stephen I had never seen and I vowed not to remember him that way, but for years to come this was the only image of him I could conjure.

Gail, my brother’s wife, my best friend, met me at the hospital and got me out of there. Every car sped by us on the turnpike and it took forever to reach my exit. Traffic moved unusually slowly on Fort Lee Road, my town’s east-west thoroughfare.

“What the hell?” Gail pulled alongside a donkey drawing a wooden cart with red, white, and green bunting draped around it. A man in a dark, rustic suit one size too small drove the donkey. In the bed of the cart sat a mariachi band and a young couple dressed in late 19th century Mexican wedding attire. He wore a black suit, white shirt, and string bow tie. She held a bouquet of red roses and wore a crocheted shawl over a white lacy gown with ruffles at the hem. They were smiling and beautiful and enjoying the music. Their skin glowed as if it had absorbed centuries of Mexican sun and was just this instant emanating it. This was a strange thing to behold.

“Are they opening a Mexican restaurant around here?” Gail asked.

“Not that I know of.”  I turned off the radio and opened the window. A blast of December cold smacked my face. I wished it were colder.

The music was lively, the colors so vibrant, and the clothes and the people in them were lovely. It was surreal and beautiful, and I remember in that moment thanking god that I still had the ability to experience wonder. I could see something, hear something, and appreciate beauty. My eyes filled. We followed the cart and I realized I hadn’t been breathing.

Gail accelerated passed the cart and I closed the window. “That was really weird,” she said.

I watched the scene fall into the distance in the side-view mirror. Then Gail made a right turn on Glenwood, weaving through the suburban streets until she pulled into our driveway, my driveway.

“What time is it? I have to pick up Stevie!”

“Greg picked him up,” Gail said. “He left work and picked him up. He’s at our place now.” Apparently we had already been through this.

“How do I tell him his father’s dead? How do I tell him that?” We’d been through this, too.

Gail’s answer this time was to simply place her hand on top of mine. The softness of her touch started me weeping again.

After what seemed like a very long time and no time at all, I opened the door. A force kept me in my seat. I couldn’t exit the car. Gail met me on the passenger’s side.

“I can’t go in there.”

“Would you like me to go with you?”

“No.” I managed to turn my head to look at her. “I can’t go in there.”

“Why don’t we go to my house?” Gail said.

“I’d like to see that cart again.”

Gail backed out of the driveway and drove to where the cart would have been had it stayed on Fort Lee Road and continued at its slow pace, but it wasn’t there. She drove in concentric rectangles, but we didn’t cross its path again. It didn’t matter anymore. We drove all around Bergen County. Day turned to dusk turned to night and Gail put the headlights on but I wanted them off because I wanted to drive in utter darkness.

What was the point of light?



David Licata is a writer and a filmmaker. “Wonder” is part of a collection of related short stories, another of which, “There Is Joy before the Angels of God,” was published in The Literary Review. In addition to TLR, his fiction and nonfiction have appeared online in Hitotoki, The New Purlieu Review, Word Riot, Sole Literary Journal, and others. His films have shown on PBS stations across the country and screened at festivals all over the world, including New Directors/New Films (curated by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA), the Tribeca Film Festival, and dozens of others. Along with the short stories, he is currently working on a feature documentary, A Life’s Work.

Read an interview with David here.

“This is What happens” by Linda Chavers

Scream by Elizabeth Leader

This Is What Happens…

…When lesions are found on your brain: The resident calls you. You’ve given him permission to tell you on the phone. You step out of class. The resident, who’s more nervous each time he talks to you, lets you know the lesions could be evidence of a stroke, a brain infection or an autoimmune disease so there will be more tests. You’ve already done a series of blood tests including an AIDS test even though you told the attending that you’d had one already earlier that year. He orders it anyway, you don’t like him because he never looks you in the eye when you speak and refers to you like some horse on an auction block when talking to his residents. You don’t yet know that you could’ve requested no students in your examinations.

Later you will know a lot more than you ever wanted to know about patients’ rights. You go back to the hospital for more tests. These include a lumbar puncture.

“A spinal tap?!” you ask the resident.

“It’s called ‘lumbar puncture,” he says.

You curl into a ball and the friend you brought with you tells jokes and you laugh.

“Please don’t laugh” the jittery resident says.

You never see how long the needle is but your friend does and for three seconds he looks pale.

You’re back in class preparing to give a presentation on the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study that killed black men in the name of science. You know it’s him calling because you just have a hunch. Again you step out of class. Again you give the resident permission. He does not sound nervous. He sounds tired, resigned.

“It’s MS” he exhales. You don’t think you feel much of a reaction. He tells you a nurse will train you on needle injections and a part of you is a bit excited by the idea of injecting yourself. Is this based on some movie you saw as a kid? You’re not sure. This is because you have no idea what injections are like, but you soon do.

You go back to class, you give your presentation. It goes well. This is your first semester of graduate school. You will write the rest of your final papers in the hospital. You will get all As. You will publish one of these papers. You start the injections, Avonex, and you think they suck and injections are no longer cool. As time passes, years, this will become the only semester you did well academically. You try to find that reaction. You realize, too, that you never cried.


You also keep going..sort of.

You will not fully comprehend what is happening to you for another two years. But this is what you do, anyway or, in the meantime: you stay in school, choosing not to take a leave of absence, because you simply don’t know what that would look like and, more practically, you’d lose your health insurance. Your treatment costs tens of thousands of dollars. You stay in school, you keep your insurance. Your family calls you a lot in the immediate aftermath. No one comes to visit except your father. You’re in the hospital when he comes and you smile when you first see him and then you’re dismayed because his wife follows him as do your siblings. You’re glad to see your siblings but you wish you just had your dad.

Two years later, they divorce after eighteen years and your stepmother never speaks to you again. You keep going. You ace that first semester because you’ve decided this is bullshit. You and your friend enjoy what you call a “man summer” which means you study a lot and screw a lot more and it is fun. You do more admirable things, like go to Italy to teach, Ireland for a writers workshop and to Portugal to present a paper. You teach undergrads for the first time with no prior experience and receive awards for your evaluations. You keep going. You’ve switched from weekly shots to daily shots and you and your boyfriend have contests over who can inject the fastest (note: he can). Your left hand gets weaker so you get that speak-to-text software. The school pays for it and you will misplace it after a year. You drink and smoke more and think nothing of it. Drinking has become a new art form, you have a martini set in your dorm room. You teach four classes per semester and lose 30 pounds and have an awesome boyfriend. This keeps you going.

You now have access to as many drugs as you want because you are chronically ill. You are on anti-depressants, stimulants and drugs to sleep. You look amazing and everyone tells you so, except one friend who voices concern but you will dismiss it. Because you are constantly someplace else. You are in pain all of the time. You keep going. You will soon fall apart.


You find out that…

You are not where you expected to be. The boyfriend is gone. Things were great between you two until they weren’t. He’s now in graduate school getting his MBA, you wrote the essays. You don’t regret that because no one can deny that when you love someone you love deeply and hard without any sense. It’s been almost a year since you last saw each other and you don’t cry anymore over him or the end of the relationship but you still cry over his son, whom you did not expect to still love this hard.

You get drunk and drunker again and again but you seem to be having a blast until you aren’t and you find yourself shuddering on your boyfriend’s kitchen floor. There are two occasions where you will never be sure if what you had was consensual sex. You remind yourself you graduated magna cum laude and wrote more than one A paper completely lit off your ass so there can’t be a problem now. Your mother reminds you of what she told you in high school: “Alcohol will not be a friend to you.” You smoke a ton and take pride in the fact that no one pegs you as a smoker, you don’t even have an odor. You are proud about a lot of things that you can still do. A professor calls your paper “worse than an undergrad’s” and you will hold that above every accomplishment you ever make, to this day. Because he told you that not long after you learned all about MS and cognitive impairment, so now your secret’s out: you’re retarded and everyone will know. And that is how you will live your life: afraid and self-conscious. Slowly but surely, over time, you find yourself opting for flats more than your trademark high heels. Eventually, you stop wearing heels altogether. Accordingly, you stop taking as much time to get dressed when going out — because what is the point?

Neither you nor your boyfriend are willing to admit it’s over, not even after you down a bottle of Klonopin with a glass of wine and Windex. You told him you were going to kill yourself and you meant it, sort of. They give you charcoal at the hospital and you stay there a week. Your father is there again and demands the hospital refer to him as “Doctor” because he’s an attorney. Your uncle calls and says you can’t die because he’d be left to deal with your father. Your mother has lived 3000 miles away for almost ten years because of things that happened that you rarely discuss. Despite being far away she will be your saving grace and keep you from completely drowning. You do not accept this yet.  You leave the hospital and go right back to school because you had the common sense to try and off yourself during winter break so no work was missed. You tell your department that you had an MS exacerbation and you’re a bit amused at the irony of using your chronic illness to hide your mental illness.

You leave Boston for NYC telling yourself that without a car in Boston it’s harder to get around when you’re limping after a half-mile of walking. Within months you learn that NYC is just as terrible when seeking accommodation for the disabled. But you don’t look disabled. This means constantly proving your illness to people. You remain surprised at who does and doesn’t get it, this only furthers your belief that you cannot know anyone truly, ever, and they definitely cannot know you. You admit to yourself and no one else that you really left Boston to get away from your ex.

You get an apartment and a part-time job while completing your dissertation. You do not write. You begin to unravel. In a year you will have alienated the only friend who stands by you, you will have stopped drinking, you will be hauled off from your apartment by the cops and you will be in a mental ward for the second time in two years. This time, it was three bottles and a razor. This time, you can’t keep going, you will have to stop.


This is Now

This is your last chance. This is not your first time in a psych ward but this is the first time you pay attention. You try to sleep a lot. They won’t let you. You try to stay alone. They won’t let you. Your doctors call you a “high-level” patient: highly functioning, capable, intelligent. This is not news to you (you’ve never struggled to figure out your problems, just couldn’t get past them) but this is the first doctor who tells you he won’t be disarmed by your smile (“it’s notably disarming,” he says. This warms you, an older man once said this to you when you were a girl. You don’t tell him this.) nor will he buy your “ ‘I’m fine’ bullshit.” Like a kid, you’re still wide-eyed when an authority figure curses. The friend who you were a complete fuck to visits you more than once. Later, over dinner you both cry over what happened. There will be a handful of things you will never completely resolve and this heartbreak is one of them.

It’ll be six years in the winter since you were first diagnosed with MS. You don’t take shots anymore, the disease has progressed and now you’re on immunotherapy. It has one major side effect: a lethal brain cancer. You have a permanent limp that you hide well. You have problems swallowing and you slur your words. Your hands shake and the fatigue can be unbearable at times. As a recovering alcoholic you have to laugh that you walk funny and slur your words completely sober. You are deathly afraid you’re no longer competent to achieve anything. Sometimes you wonder if it will be depression or MS that kills you but you take comfort in knowing it will most likely be neither. It has not yet been a year since learning you’re bipolar. You thought bipolar people had highs and lows but you only have lows and they tell you this is normal. You learn that it’s normal to never feel joy and to love everyone else but yourself.

You stop saying that you’re fine but the automatic smiling will probably never go away. You wonder if your propensity to smile — and to do so in such a way — comes from growing up with divorced parents who didn’t stop fighting until your twenties. You despise this kind of boo-hoo thinking and remind yourself that everybody’s divorced. You don’t yet allow for the recognition of your story in its own right. Your self-righteousness borders on appalling. Indeed, you realize, it’s fucking killing you. They suggest Lithium and you cringe. You see your mother back when, 100 pounds overweight and miserable. You think your body’s already falling apart and you can’t afford getting fat. But you want to live and when they ask if you mean it and you say yes you surprise yourself because, yes, you want to live, you don’t want to do this, to succumb to the racing thoughts. So you try the lithium. Within days you wish you’d taken it the first time it was suggested years ago. Because this is the first time you can remember where you are calm and you don’t freak out. You’ve never been calm, that’s why you love booze. It bothered you that you’d been three months sober and still attempted suicide. You eventually understand that the removal of alcohol was the removal of your security blanket and it unleashed everything you’d kept at bay. You learn there was a ton of shit you’d been drinking, fucking, smoking, intellectualizing, and super-achieving away.

So you manage this ton of shit. Your dissertation remains unfinished. You will be one year sober this month. You haven’t been to a meeting in months and you think of a drink every other day. You have no job prospects. You are not unraveling. Sometimes your calm freaks you out. When MS allows, you sleep like a fucking baby. You still get angry and you cry now but not as much as others would like. You’ve gained ten pounds and have acne from Lithium and you occasionally hope that the drugs you take for MS will counter any more weight gain. You talk to yourself and make yourself chuckle. Not everyone likes you but you do. You have not lived as a saint but somehow you know that this is a better life. You have a sex life and you find this odd and amusing. You accept that you will not have a family of your own, you’re too selfish. You heard that depression is the inability to envision a future for oneself. So you draw. You learn to treat your emotions as temporary feelings and not demons to avoid. Sometimes you chalk up your deep-seated fear of emotions to some defense mechanism from when an older relative molested you. But you’ve always been the kind of person who shrugs off why shit happens and just keeps going. This is not your last chance but it’s the one that counts.



Linda Chavers, a DC native, lives in Philadelphia where she teaches literature at Temple University. She recently received her Ph.D. in African and African American Studies from Harvard University. When she’s not figuring out how to get her students as excited over Faulkner as she is, she enjoys contemporary fiction and reality television….the trashier, the better.


“Blue-Blue” by Nicole Sadaniantz

Soldiers, 2012, by Elizabeth Leader, collage with found objects

It was Miss Anna, our dear family friend, who taught me to eat the lemon peel. I had already learned to enjoy the pulp, but when I realized that she ate the whole thing, I had to follow suit. A saint and the bees-knees, she had blue-blue eyes and blonde-blonde hair.  She never missed a birthday, her cards illuminated with the most elegant handwriting I had ever seen. Plus, she baked chocolate chip cookies twice the size of those we made at home.

Miss Anna was born in 1950 in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. She spoke often of the farm-life, though with no desire to return. At some point she had made her way up to the Northeast to a new home in Osterville, Massachusetts and a new job in Providence, Rhode Island.  Working at The Miriam Hospital, she met her husband, Alfred. He worked with my father, and as both Miss Anna and my mother were nurses, not more than a few years apart in age, friendship inevitably ensued. Thus Miss Anna entered my life before I had ever been conceived.

Summer was the perfect time to visit her. My father usually working, the expeditions evolved naturally into a female-centric tradition. My mother, my two sisters, and I drove to Cape Cod for the day. Miss Anna had an in-ground pool that she cleaned meticulously, despite her own fear of swimming. We jumped in and eagerly awaited her at the bottom of the waterslide, our arms outstretched with every flotation toy from her shed. Most days she opted to ease her way in via the shallow end steps. Lunch followed. Caesar salad featuring cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden, topped with salmon and freshly grated parmesan. Lemon slices, if you so desired. Bread or chips on the side. Cranberry juice or root beer or chocolate milk; Miss Anna offered whatever she had. Her freezer stored two or three ice cream options for dessert, but the locally beloved “lemon-crisp”—always with blueberries—tended to prevail. A bit more banter, and perhaps a final return to the pool, and then, sometime before sundown, we would hug hug hug and head home.  The turquoise-indigo hydrangeas at the edge of the driveway smiled as brightly as Miss Anna, bidding us farewell.

Come Christmas and Easter, Miss Anna visited us in Rhode Island. Without fail, she arrived bearing gifts. Peef the Christmas Bear, and his accompanying picture book; a sea-glass necklace; a hand-painted Christmas tree ornament; a family of rag doll rabbits. Both my parents were estranged from their siblings, and Miss Anna had no children of her own. So as we sat around the carpet, Miss Anna assumed the role of aunt. But we never called her “Aunt.” She was and could only be, “Miss Anna.” The name had a melody that matched her noble posture and our merry reverence of her being. We were always glad to hear that Miss Anna was coming and sad to hear that Miss Anna was going. The twinkle that danced between her eyes and laughter led us to physically barricade the door, begging her to stay the night.

Towards the end of August 2010, shortly before my senior year of high school began, Miss Anna was diagnosed with cancer. In a telephone call to my mother, she revealed that she had a brain tumor. I had recently finished reading a novel for my English class about a woman with a brain tumor; there must be some strange order to the universe, I thought. My little sister and I took photographs of ourselves—our feet in the shape of a star, grand leaps across the grass, our ponytails transformed into mustaches. We sent the prints to Miss Anna and she hung them on her refrigerator with the other photographs of our family she had gathered over the years.

When we next saw her, she did not complain of a single thing. She told us of the first time she realized something was not quite right and had only kind words for the police officer who pulled her aside to inquire as to why her driving was off kilter. She hadn’t begun chemotherapy yet, but she would soon. Miss Anna was ill, but the terminal part of her terminal illness seemed distant, avoidable. Miss Anna was still Miss Anna.

A few months later, we met up with her for a belated birthday / belated holiday celebration. Her new wig replicated her former blonde bob well. She had always been slim, and she was now puffy—but, if anything, the softening of the angles of her face made her seem even more gentle and loving. Though the change did not surprise me, I wondered if I would remember her as she appeared post-chemotherapy or as she had appeared for all the years prior. We drove to a restaurant nearby, and she explained that she had been alternating between having no appetite and ravenously snacking in the middle of the night. She ordered a small meal, but tasted some of my mother’s food upon my mother’s insistence. Afterwards, back at her home, Miss Anna opened our gift, a scarf, and was awfully pleased—“How did you know that I have been chilled to the bone lately?” She talked about her current set of obstacles as though they were nothing extraordinary. It was a splendid idea to have a dry erase board in her hospital room; the reminders written on it were so helpful when she couldn’t remember where she had left her socks, and shouldn’t they put the boards in all the rooms? And she had this appointment or that appointment coming up, but really, the important thing was that so and so had dropped off those lovely flowers in the vase on the coffee table.

A few months down the line, our father heard through the hospital grapevine that Miss Anna passed away on May 17, 2011, after deciding privately to end treatment. It had not been one year from her initial diagnosis. He called our mother who then relayed the news to my little sister and me after school. My sister burst into tears. I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing nervously. Scuttling up to my room, I retrieved all the stuffed animals Miss Anna had given me. I slept with them for several weeks. I did not think; I simply held onto them—onto her—as tightly as possible.

On May 28th we attended a small white Congregational church near Miss Anna’s home for the memorial service. A box with a bow at the front of the altar held her ashes (or so I presumed). Her best friend discussed how Miss Anna overcame early obstacles to become the full, authentic version of herself whom we all loved. I don’t know what those obstacles were, and my mother, though so close to her, never knew either. But her spark invented words like “tince” (used in place of, for example, a “pinch” of pepper), and that was what mattered most. The pastor, new to the parish, had only recently met Miss Anna, but he had heard the most beautiful things about her. Her husband Alfred described her as an angel who entered his life at his time of greatest need.

I cracked upon the singing of “On Eagle’s Wings.” I wasn’t sure why. I hadn’t cried for Miss Anna at all over the previous weeks, and suddenly there I was, in the middle of so many people, sobbing. Maybe it was something about being one of but a few younger people in the room combined with the fact that I knew the hymn from school. Whatever the case, I was loud, and that bothered me, because this day should have been solely about Miss Anna, and I didn’t want any attention. The woman sitting behind me passed me tissues. Finally the tears diminished, dissolving into hiccups by the time the service was over. I splashed cold water on my face then joined the others at the reception, half expecting Miss Anna to be there.

As I observed the community she had built around her, I realized which Miss Anna I would remember—and it had nothing to do with the altered shape of her face. The two of us were in the car together once, pondering my future, she explaining that her career options as a woman had been limited to secretary, teacher, or nurse.  I do not know how I replied, but I do know how she listened, as though each word I uttered were the crown jewel. She wore a hearing aid; perhaps that is why she listened so closely. But she also delivered her tales with the voice of a butterfly. She felt no need to shout, and thus neither did I. My Miss Anna was the woman whose quiet speech and graceful leadership established a foundation of peace.

She really did eat lemons with the peel included. She did so before she was sick, sitting on the deck in the shade of the umbrella. And she did so while she was sick. She didn’t need to make lemonade. She just ate the lemons and decided they were flawless.



Nicole Sadaniantz is a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Currently a junior a the University of Pennsylvania, she is studying Theatre and English. This is her first published work.

“Relics” by Meg Tuite

Auto Grave
“Auto Grave” by Elizabeth Leader, mixed media on Fabriano paper

You swallowed the winning rainbow marbles so
slimy Stuart wouldn’t steal what was now stuck
to the gum you didn’t mean to inhale
while you were talking,

sucked like a vacuum
into the shipwreck you wish
you could swim through
revisit all those floating treasures
from the past.

Bottle caps chugged down with beers
on a dare, out of boredom,
cat whiskers stuck in your throat
Maria swore would give you cat eyes

cigarette butts gagged on over and over
from the same goddamn plastic cup used as an ashtray
you kept picking up
instead of your drink next to it
while underwater in a stoned-wash haze,

the bag of hash you mouth-raped
when your train was approaching France from Amsterdam
German shepherds sniffing and straining to locate your interior

the used condom you fished out of the trash
endowed into your gullet
while Crank Campbell was in the bathroom
readjusting his perfection

the bulge of love proclamations you wrote to Patrick Burnett
on scented green post-its that you tore to pieces
slugged back with saliva
before Mr. Riley, your math teacher,
made it down the aisle to confiscate

flies, mosquitoes and at least one moth diving your airways
every sweaty summer you rode your bike

hedged in between the glitter,
hairspray and poppers,
robin’s egg blue eye shadow, lines of coke,
cascades of plum, tangerine and berry lipsticks, angel dust
you licked before and after slathering your eyes, mouth
radiating chemicals bubbling up from your floating internal wreckage

as each boy’s tongues and hands
glided through those tentacles of seaweed
and yesterday’s gems, submerged you in a future
that felt more like an unearthed tomb.



Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is fiction editor of Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press, author of Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011), Disparate Pathos (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2012), Reverberations (Deadly Chaps Press, 2012), Bound By Blue (Sententia Books, 2013), and Her Skin is a Costume (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale, Bare Bulbs Swinging, (2014). She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College.