Contributors Spring 2016

Wendi Berry, photographed at Visual Arts Center of Richmond Tuesday evening, March 15, 2016. (Skip Rowland)
Wendi Berry (Be Still, My Growling Stomach) divides her time between Richmond, Virginia and the Outer Banks, where she dreams of having a writers’ retreat, with an ocean view. A technical editor by day, she’s published in storySouth, Prime Number Magazine, Hulltown 360, and Hayden’s Ferry Review blog. She previously taught composition at the University of Richmond and J. Sargeant Reynolds and is seeking representation for a novel set in present-day Richmond.

Randall Brown
Randall Brown (Stick Figure Suicide) is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in Best Small Fictions 2015 and The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

Pia Ehrhardt
Pia Z. Ehrhardt (What I Meant) is the author of FAMOUS FATHERS & OTHER STORIES. Her fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly ConcernOxford American, The Morning News, The Nervous Breakdown, Narrative Magazine, and Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in New Orleans, where she’s a visiting artist at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

Todd Follett
Todd Follett (Placental Insufficiency) lives in Alameda, California and is currently enrolled in the MFA Writing program at the University of San Francisco. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, Natural Bridge, DMQ Review, and The Pedestal Magazine.

Barry Friesen
Barry Friesen (Fetal Decision) is a psychotherapist and former child protection lawyer. He used to write produced plays and non-fiction books in rainy Vancouver, but this winter writes short stories on the rooftop of his sister’s hotel in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. He has stories in New Plains Review, flashquake, The Toronto Quarterly, Every Day Fiction, “Loss,” an anthology at E Chapbook, Glass Eye Chandelier Anthology, audio stories, and a Kindle book, Recreational Suffering: …and how to choose a better hobby.

Olaf K
Olaf Kroneman (Cuddle the Schizophrenic…) has had work appear in Forge, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Healing Muse, The Helix, inscape, Left Curve, Quiddity International Literary Journal, RiverSedge, Gemini Magazine, paperplates, and Diverse Voices Quarterly. His story, “Fight Night,” won the Winning Writers Sports Fiction and Essay Contest, and “The Recidivist,” won the Writer’s Digest short story contest. His essay “Detroit Golden Gloves” was selected as Editor’s Choice by inscape, honoring the top nonfiction piece of the issue in which it was printed.

Lori McNamara (Illustrator) was born in Ft. Pierce and has lived there all her life. She has an Associate in Art degree from the Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce and considers herself primarily self-taught. She is a member of Plein Air Florida, and the leader of Plein Air Painters of the Treasure Coast. Her paintings are in art collections worldwide.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery
Sarah Fawn Montgomery (The Talking Cure) holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from California State University-Fresno and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches and works as Prairie Schooner’s Nonfiction Assistant Editor. She is the author of The Astronaut Checks His Watch (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared in Confrontation, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Fugue, Georgetown Review, The Los Angeles Review, Natural Bridge, Nimrod, North Dakota Quarterly, The Pinch, Puerto del Sol, Southeast Review, and other journals.

Teresa Burns Murphycropped
Teresa Burns Murphy (Peeling Away the Mask) is the author of a novel, The Secret to Flying (TigerEye Publications, 2011). Her short fiction has been published in Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women (Paycock Press, 2012), Dreamstreets, Gargoyle Magazine, The Penmen Review, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, The Tower Journal, and Westview. To learn more about her writing, visit her at

Donna Munro
Donna Munro (Touchpoints) moved to the ocean and is still searching for one grain of sand with her name on it. She writes with frankness and compassion. She helps with distribution of Cape Cod Poetry Review, is and has been a member of the Cape Cod Poetry Group, the Steeple Street Poets and the Casa Benediction Poets. An emerging poet, her poems have been or are forthcoming in Atomic: a journal of short poetry, Aleola Journal of Art and Poetry and Door Is A Jar Magazine.

Annie Penfield
Annie Penfield (The Cocktail Glass) received her MFA in Creative Writing from VCFA in July 2011. She has been published in Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, and her essay “The Half Life” was named a “Notable Essay” by Best American Essays 2014. She has completed a memoir about her days working on a sheep farm in Australia. She lives in Vermont with her family and horses, and is a part-owner of Strafford Saddlery (and writes a lot of copy for their new mail-order catalog).

Tom Sheehan
Tom Sheehan (Not Yet an Angel) has published 22 books and has had work appear in Literally Stories, Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet’s Wings, Copperfield Review, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Deep South Magazine, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, and other journals. He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015. Swan River Daisy, his first chapbook, is just released and The Cowboys, a collection of western short stories, is due shortly.

Patti Somlo
Patty Somlo (Time to Go Home) is the author of From Here to There and Other Stories. She also has three forthcoming books: a short story collection, The First to Disappear (Spuyten Duyvil); a memoir, Even When Trapped Behind Clouds (WiDo Publishing), and Hairway to Heaven Stories (Cherry Castle Publishing). Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, Under the Sun, Guernica, Gravel, Sheepshead Review, WomenArts Quarterly and other journals. Find her here.

Jamie Watson
Jamie Watson (Baby, Do You Pay Here?) has worked as a director of educational outreach programs and served as the Associate Director of Admissions at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Prior to her career in higher education, she acted professionally and continues to appear on the stage. Many years ago, while pursuing theater in Los Angeles, she worked in a geriatric, psychiatric facility. Jamie is pleased to be included in this issue of r.kv.r.y., and to share this remembrance of the extraordinary people who touched her life.

Amber Weyland
Amber Weyland (The Water-Logged Heart) teaches high school English in Roanoke, Virginia. She is an MFA candidate in Writing at Lindenwood University, and she holds a Master’s in English from Radford University and a Bachelor’s in English from Virginia Tech. She is currently in the midst of moving to New Orleans, Louisiana where she plans to continue writing and teaching English.

William Kelley Woolfit
William Woolfitt (Hatchlings) teaches at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is the author of two books of poetry, Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, forthcoming). He is also the author of a fiction chapbook, The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (2014). His poems and stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Threepenny Review, Tin House online, and elsewhere. He edits Speaking of Marvels, a gathering of interviews with chapbook and novella authors.


“The Cocktail Glass” by Annie Penfield

The Cocktail Glass
“Beautiful Day” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

I banished the wedding gifts into a dark cabinet corner—just a few, the ones that held grief. Seventeen years ago, we used these objects for their intended purposes but when alcohol left a bad taste in my mouth because of my husband’s drinking I removed the symbols. Empty cocktail glasses and the silver carafe pushed deep into a cabinet like my husband hiding his vodka bottles. The material possessions were champagne promises, toasting all happy times together. Looking in the sideboard for the good china for a child’s birthday dinner, I would see the silver carafe crammed in the cupboard, a beacon announcing my life had bounced alarmingly off course—no cocktail hour, no champagne dinners, no dinner parties—but instead forgotten dinner conversations and absence from dinner altogether. The carafe lay tarnishing on its side, losing its luster. Hiding the symbols as if it could hide the problem. Remove the articles and maybe the drinking would just go away and the promise of my marriage would return. We would at least look sober. Each house, a move every two years, each time, these items went deeper into dark places.

Five years ago, we built the house to take our kids through all their years in school. Nestled in a high mowing in small town Vermont, we created our home and barn, planted gardens and fenced pastures and cleared trails. I polished up the silver carafe and dropped a plant into it and moved the cocktail glasses into our glass-fronted kitchen cupboard. They were really just glasses after all. We are an open floor plan in a post-and-beam house with glass doors, dogs on the sofas, wooden blocks and Legos© in the middle of the living area, books on every surface, a large kitchen table, and horses out the window. We were not dinner parties and cocktail hours but sledding parties with soup and cookies and potlucks with mugs and paper cups.

Each day I pass the glass in my cupboard. Their presence reminds me how far we have traveled from promise to addiction to sobriety in this marriage. I quench my fears by putting them on display. The tarnished carafe was the fear, and the planter is now the abundance. A cocktail glass is now an everyday glass. At first I wanted to get rid of the objects, the remnants of alcohol and the reminders we no longer live a normal life, that we would not be grown-up in the way I imagined when I opened these wedding gifts seventeen years ago, but now I see the beauty of these everyday objects—as gifts transformed to the life we live.

Will I again be hiding these glasses and looking for hidden bottles, looking for lost conversations, and an absent spouse? Will the drinking, the disappearances, and the hiding creep back? Will I miss its arrival and will it again swallow me? I can’t know the answers. I can make my fear transparent. Now we take the time to sit down and talk. We learn to serve up our emotions, to let them spill over, and not worry that they are messy. I talk about conflicts at work and unmet sales goals, children at school and hay bales in the loft. “Is there more?” we ask each other now, an invitation, we are no longer holding in; we reveal what ails us. I trust that the glass only contains tonic. “You can’t change how you feel,” says my husband.

The glasses I have been able to redefine, my own sense of self still struggles. I hold onto the pain and memory of an alcoholic life: why can’t I put down the fear, like the glass? My glass is now empty of water. I look up at the dog on the sofa, another behind the woodstove. I look at the village of Lego around the planters. I look out my wall of glass and see the horses eating from piles of hay on a snowy field. I take a deep breath and fill myself with gratitude for all I see around me: this inspiring reflection of the life we are living. Time to move into my day: I rinse and dry the glass and put it away. It sits empty, upside-down in the cabinet, unable to hold anything, and this, as it turns out, is the power of the glass. It can’t hold what I don’t put in it.



Annie Penfield received her MFA in Creative Writing from VCFA in July 2011. She has been published in Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, and her essay “The Half Life” was named a “Notable Essay” by Best American Essays 2014. She has completed a memoir about her days working on a sheep farm in Australia. She lives in Vermont with her family and horses, and is a part-owner of Strafford Saddlery (and writes a lot of copy for their new mail-order catalog).

Read an interview with Annie here.


“Baby, Do You Pay Here?” by Jamie Ritchie Watson

bamboo grove
“Bamboo Grove” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

Sporting an Indian headdress, he squeezes his accordion. The punch bowl is filled and the place is hoppin’, but the entertainer has competition at this party.

There is Betty who calls cigarettes “potatoes” and all her friends, “baby.” “Hey Baby!” she says when she sees me. Betty is a pixie woman wearing an oversized, polyester dress and knee-high athletic socks—one with a green stripe and the other an orange stripe. It’s hard to know if Betty really likes me or if she’s just an expert brown-noser. I supervise smoking and Betty is addicted. We are in the dining room of a geriatric, psychiatric facility.

There are others at the party. Vashti, a woman with flawless skin who gives beauty advice and always wears a hat; either her face or her hat is crooked, I’m not sure. Vashti is here, not for the company, but for the punch. Like most patients, she is always thirsty. Wanda, a big-boned woman in a long, red velour robe asks where she might catch the streetcar, and Frank, a tall rigid man, stops to confess that he can’t find his keys. He pats his pockets repeatedly as if he knows they were there only moments ago. Residents are allowed few personal items. A patient who brings a wardrobe from his former life usually discovers that someone sitting across from him at dinner is wearing it.


George strides into the Bingo room. Well over six feet tall, he is gangly and thin. His face is sunken as he resembles a life size apple doll. Bingo is popular with patients because they win candy bars as prizes. George likes Three Musketeers; we don’t offer Snickers because, like George, few patients have teeth. I supervise the game. There are long pauses between shouts of Bingo! As I call out numbers, a bald guy announces trains and their destinations as if the numbers I call represent trains departing from particular platforms.

Louis, a toothless patient in a wheelchair, wins a Three Musketeers bar; achieving his objective, he takes the candy and wheels from the room. Betty plays too and prefers cigarettes to candy bars, but takes whatever she can get. Helen, a bright manic-depressive patient, is legally blind; I play her card for her. Helen doesn’t care much for Bingo, but craves socialization, at least when she is in a high. Helen and I have become friends. She shares recipes with me and was the first to introduce me to bacon and avocado sandwiches. Helen loves to read and since she can’t see has convinced me to read aloud to the patients—mostly to her, of course.

Bill, a hefty man, is a notorious visitor to the Bingo room or for that matter to any room where patients are smoking. As Bill approaches the room, patients yell, “Here he comes!” He enters the room at a limping gallop focused intently on the ashtrays. He snatches a hot cigarette butt and stuffs it in his mouth. Walking away, Bill pats his behind—his signature “kiss my butt” gesture after eating cigarettes—his way of flipping us off. Occasionally, however, he can’t wait until the cigarette is left unattended and his nicotine fit catapults him into the room to grab a cigarette from the shriveled lips of an unsuspecting female patient, leaving the frail old woman with her mouth gaping. The Bill phenomenon creates a sense of urgency and an aura of secrecy to smoking sessions.

The end of the day.

I pass the dining room to see Louis sitting alone in his wheelchair. I hadn’t seen him since he left the Bingo game with his candy bar. I approach and call his name. There is no response. As I circle his wheelchair, I see that his head is slumped to one side, and he is drooling the Three Musketeers. I touch his arm. I find a nurse who checks his pulse; there is none. I go home, knowing that Louis choked to death on his winnings.

My senses assaulted.

I recall my job interview and being escorted through the locked doors into the hallway of parading patients. Over the PA system, someone calls, “Housekeeping to the Dining Room.” No catheters, nor Depends; they just let it fly. Some patients are sitting in a large reception room, but most are walking the halls. Those who are not walking are restrained in wheelchairs. Mr. Alvarez slips from his restraints while singing The Star Spangled Banner. He is stuck on “What so proudly we hailed.” I meet Margaret, a woman with huge, wild brown eyes; her right arm is bent behind her head and she clasps her left hand with her right. She seems wired, as if vibrating tightly while she walks: “I’m swimming in San Francisco. It smells like someone’s fishing in my nose.” I guess I’m supposed to behave as if all of this is not unusual, but it seems damned unusual to me. I try to remain calm.

At the interview’s conclusion, I exit through locked doors into the lobby that now seems remarkably quiet and still. What can I do but take the job? I feel someone is daring me.

Religion, or remnants of it.

Alan, an Orthodox Jew, keeps to himself. Each time we meet, he greets me with a handshake as if it were the first time. Alan obsesses over his food because he’s sure it isn’t Kosher. Served the same thing every day—no meat, mostly mushy vegetables—always tasteless. I ask him if he’d like me to bring him something Kosher. One day I bring Kosher bologna and saltines. He is reluctant to trust me, but I show him the Hebrew National wrapper and Alan enjoys the snack so much that it is as satisfying to me as it is to him.

Religion is a sticking point in what remains of patients’ lives, especially those who have been devoutly religious. There is Grace, a tiny withered woman whose eyes are squeezed shut and mouth is screwed sideways. Restrained in her chair, pushed against the hallway wall, her bony legs are intertwined like a cinnamon twist. Grace is a devoted Catholic, but when the priest comes to give Communion she refuses the host. She keeps her mouth shut tight against the wafer, managing to squeeze out a “Noooooo.” Grace feels she is not holy enough. Religion is no comfort to Grace.

For John, religion equals guilt, and he is constantly sorry. John wears a hat and black horn rimmed glasses; he is thin, like most patients, and taller than average. John shuffles—a side effect of the Haldol. The shuffling can get in the way of what John likes to do best. Dance. On rare party occasions and sometimes when there is no music, John finds a dancing partner. They smile at each other for a moment, but John feels too guilty to continue: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Then there is Nelda. Nelda was a hell of a Mormon—a hook, line, and sinker, no-doubt-about-it-follower of Joseph Smith—but as she makes her hallway rounds, she alternates between a pious grin and “Hi Honey,” and a “Get your cock out of my ass.” Nelda’s family does not visit.

For those who find some comfort in religion, it is usually in the memory of the music; they enjoy hearing hymns played on the piano and some sing to themselves. It’s not the doctrine that reassures them but the litany of songs they remember from childhood. Maybe they have vague recollections of standing next to a parent in a church pew singing Love Lifted Me.

Safety in numbers.

I sign a few patients out to walk to the neighborhood supermarket. George goes regularly and John likes to go. Mary, a sweet woman whose daughter still visits, joins us. The four of us stick together—safety in numbers.

George is the most fun at the store. Like a scientist, he wants to test everything. He makes me guess the weight of the sugar and wants to know if I think an orange would float. George investigates the produce, and we have the entire section to ourselves as the regular shoppers scatter. They scatter, and Mary feigns appropriate facial expressions and reacts as if George is an amusing, errant child. We have what we’ve come for: Bingo prizes for the most part (a single orange to see if it will float), and we’re in line. John is upset. He scuffles and plops down in the checkout line. “Come on, John,” I say. “We’d better get back.” John’s friends are embarrassed and offer scolding looks, but they are accustomed to extraordinary behavior and the episode is soon forgotten.

Occasionally, John gives new meaning to manic. One such day he enters the Bingo room wearing a broad toothless grin. This day life is askew for the dancing man who is on the verge of who-knows-what, humming all the while. “This table is uneven,” he begins and that is a metaphor for what follows:

Frank Sinatra used to sing but now he went to work for the Ford Company or McDonnell Douglas or something. Rudy Valley—he just sings at the Greek Theatre and the Hollywood Bowl and New York. He doesn’t sing in the pictures anymore. He’s too old; his voice is starting to crack. Then there’s that other singer with Jack Benny—what’s his name- Long? Wong? I can’t think of it now. Rudy Valley might have passed away. I haven’t seen it in the papers.

At this point, Carl, the resident ex-con, shuffles toward John and picks up his dinner tray. John says, “Oh, here’s that Carl; he’s gonna take the tray away.” It’s as if Carl lifts the needle from John’s record ending his remembrance of Hollywood crooners.

Carl spent time at Folsom and San Quentin, but he’s a kinder, gentler, squatty old son-of-a-gun now. He is also the only resident clever enough to know that if he trips the fire alarm, the locked doors will open—one of the skills a person learns in “rehabilitation.” Carl writes long letters that he asks me to mail; they are elaborate works of correspondence primarily to the Queen of England. I’ve tried to explain that I can’t really mail them, but Carl insists that I take the letters. One such letter begins, “Dear Queen Elizabeth of London, England, my home town….” He usually mentions The Royal Navy and identifies himself as a member. He makes many fictitious claims including an appointment at Oxford, but is always respectful of the Queen. Occasionally, he writes to less famous folks. He once wrote to me to request some batteries for his Walkman; that letter began, “Dear Madame.”

Dining in the Bingo room.

The Bingo room doubles as a dining room for patients who are inclined toward socialization; it is something of an honor to dine in the Bingo room. George is a regular and sits in front of a shelf with a globe on it. He studies the globe and asks me if I have visited various worldly sites. George maintains a level of sanity here, but he has his idiosyncrasies. He loves to examine shoes while they are on your feet, and always inquires where they were purchased. It would be trite to call it a fetish as nothing about George is mundane. He is a one-of-a-kind guy—a lifelong learner. Most residents take regular medication; some are more heavily sedated than others; several are practically out cold. George’s prescription consists of a single can of Coors each evening.

Wanda, the woman who waits for the streetcar, also dines in the Bingo room, however, at times she’s too critical. She declares of a resident at her table, “This woman is not a member of the Ladies’ Guild.” Martin, an agreeable, fairly well groomed fellow, attempts to mask the fact that he hasn’t a clue how he was placed at Wanda’s table. He must be reminded each evening of his dining room assignment. As he surveys the room, his eyes say I don’t know any of these people, and he turns to me as if we are business associates: “I’m afraid I’ve disappointed you. Didn’t we have a dinner date at six?”

Betty is not welcome in the Bingo room. Although she fits most criteria, she’s too bossy. Betty’s aphasia prevents her from focused and polite repartee so she persists with a strong will and a shit-eating grin. She huffs and puffs and clacks her false teeth, which don’t fit. When no one else is around, she opens her mouth and drops her plastic teeth to show me that food has accumulated on the dentures’ pink palate; “Hey, Baby,” she says, making a face, “Yea, how ’bout it?” Betty is beside herself when she cannot garner a Bingo room reservation and pleads, “Baby, they’re shoving me out. Why?”

While there is no place for Betty in the Bingo room, she still has a reservation at home. I know because I have been there. Betty once insisted that her husband take her home for a visit and they took me along. A tidy house, Betty gave me a tour including the contents of her husband’s sock drawer. She took me into the kitchen and pointing at each of two placemats, she said, “Hey, Baby, him and me—here, here—the two of us.” Enough said.

They’re better off.

The first time I said it was when they took Alice out in a bag. I saw the bag and I imagined Alice inside. Alice, lover of music, always had to have something in her mouth; I usually had Bingo peppermints and gave her one whenever she asked. When she couldn’t find something suitable to suck on, she would find something terribly unsuitable, and if I saw her I would tell her to take it out of her mouth. She would shake her head, her eyes watering and tell me that it wasn’t what I thought. “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that,” she insisted. And so, when Alice left in a bag, I said, “She’s better off.”

All souls are visible.

Patients receive regular visits from a psychiatrist. Most of the doctor’s time is spent charting. Everything must be documented. If accurate documentation were possible, what would the good doctor write? How can any description do justice? Maybe this is purgatory and some god is surveying the landscape deciding whom to rescue. There are no impediments to evaluating this pool of applicants. When life is boiled and distilled, this is what remains. No posturing, no excuses, no egos, no religion, no wallet, no keys, no teeth—just naked souls circling the halls wearing mismatched socks. The Manor is a living, pulsating allegory; each resident is Everyman, from Frank, who can’t find his keys, to Wanda, who is frantic to find the streetcar. The protective coating that separates those on one side of the doors from those who are locked within is wafer thin and we are keenly aware of it. It is little wonder there are few visitors; coming here is like having your fortune told.

It’s not all a frightening work of art.

Some souls are bared to reveal genuine goodness. There’s Oda who cradles her imaginary baby in a makeshift bundle, and Mary who just wants everyone to get along, and Helen who loves to listen to good stories because she can no longer read them. There is Betty who has lost all the right words but struggles to connect with a kiss on the cheek, and Mr. Alvarez who sings out his patriotic loyalty as he slips from his wheelchair restraints. And there is George, King George of the Bingo Room, who loves his wife even though they are divorced and see each other rarely.

The doors are locked.

We have become co-dependent, the Manor folks and me. I find it difficult to leave this place that I initially found repulsive. My husband picks me up every evening and I subject him to a review of the day’s events. He asks why I insist on reliving everything. He knows the patients well; at least he would were he to listen, but I am often too intense in the retelling.

How did I begin to feel at home here? Do I believe I can make a difference? The truth is if I were gone more than a few days, I would be forgotten, but it’s safe here. The doors are locked.

Unlike their families, I didn’t know the residents before they arrived. I accept them for whom they are when they pass through the doors. I don’t mourn the loss of their previous personas. Just as I accept them, they appreciate me for what I have to offer whether it’s a cigarette, a story, or a walk to the store. Expectations are manageable and we all live in the moment.

A few residents believe that I am also a patient—one with privileges. Sometimes, I let Betty join me in my office. She enjoys stepping out of the race for a moment—to feel special. She is able to think more clearly when she is away from the others. There’s not much for us to talk about but I offer her a cigarette and this afternoon she notices a jet making a trail through a crystal blue sky. Pointing, Betty says, “I used to go in them back east.” She looks into my eyes to inquire, “Baby, do you pay here?” I tell her, “No.” She seems slightly confused attempting to piece it together. “Oh, you don’t. I thought they were working on you.”



Jamie Ritchie Watson has worked as a director of educational outreach programs and served as the Associate Director of Admissions at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Prior to her career in higher education, she acted professionally and continues to appear on the stage. Many years ago, while pursuing theater in Los Angeles, she worked in a geriatric, psychiatric facility. Jamie is pleased to be included in this issue of r.kv.r.y., and to share this remembrance of the extraordinary people who touched her life.


“Peeling Away the Mask” by Teresa Burns Murphy

Peeling Away the Mask
“Shaped by Hurricanes” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

The scents of Jungle Gardenia perfume and foam rubber tickled my nose as I held a pair of my mother’s discarded falsies to my flat chest. Giggling, I stuffed the falsies inside a bra I’d stolen from her lingerie drawer. Donning her white negligee and puffing on the unlit cigarette I’d pilfered from her purse, I pretended to be a movie star standing in the wings, waiting for my cue. I was a preschooler and playing dress-up was central to my life; I even dreamed of it at night. In one dream, I wore a pair of falsies beneath a costume that would have made a barmaid proud. As a child I was well informed when it came to saloon-girl chic, thanks to my steady diet of 1960s television westerns. Along with my fancy costume, I wore a clownish mask for an audience of adoring fans. At one point I turned from the audience and lifted my dress to reveal that my huge breasts weren’t real. I winked at the dreamer and said, “I can fool everybody.”

I remember few dreams from childhood, but this one has stayed with me. I grew up in the Bible Belt, where religion was cinched around the lives of everyone I knew. I had not yet heard that dreams were mirrors to the soul, but it was clear to me that having such a depraved dream meant my soul was filled with iniquity. Iniquity was a word I’d picked up from our preacher when he talked about the scandalous way American women dressed. Not wanting to be lumped in with those wicked Jezebels, I prayed for forgiveness for engaging in such bawdy behavior, if only in my dreams. I had faith that God would deliver me from evil thoughts, but I had no idea how firm a grasp my need to “fool everybody” had on my psyche.

Surrendering my soul to God left me more time to work on my body, an area over which I seemed to have more control. My first order of business was to reduce my weight. According to my older sister, I was a “fatty, fatty two-by-four” in serious danger of not being able to fit through the bathroom door. The advent of the super-thin models confirmed my belief that being fat was worse than any other physical affliction. After all, being fat was self-induced, which meant it could be self-cured. So, at the age of five, I put myself on a diet. Instead of coconut cream pie for dessert, I’d have a carrot or an extra helping of green beans. I gave up chocolate, a known fat magnet, for years. My early dieting efforts are documented in two photographs of me wearing the same dress. In the first photograph, taken at age five, the dress fits snugly over my plump body. In the second photograph, taken a year later, the dress hangs on my thin frame like a loose tent.

I now realize that I was getting in shape for school. I envisioned school as a golden place where I would be pretty and good and smart, in that particular order. Having internalized society’s recipe for being a successful girl, I assumed that I would be popular with my peers as well as with my teachers. The formula actually worked until I turned that unlucky age of thirteen. I hadn’t yet achieved my curvaceous figure, but I could see that if things kept going in the direction they appeared to be heading, I would. Physical perfection seemed within my reach, and I was angling toward it as rapidly as possible. I had no idea life was literally about to throw me my first real curve.

School had just gotten out for the summer, and my mother was in my bedroom helping me try on clothes I had worn the previous summer to see what I could still wear. I was about to ask if we could go shopping the next day for a shorts set I’d seen in a department store window when she said, “What’s that bulge on your right side?”

“What bulge?” I turned my head in an attempt to see over my shoulder.

Coming face to face with my mother’s anxious expression fueled my worst fears.

A tumor, I thought. I am going to die.

She ran her finger down my spine and said, “Your back’s not straight.”

Since it was late on Friday afternoon, my mother wasn’t able to get me a doctor’s appointment until the following Monday. She still describes that time as “the longest weekend [she] ever spent.” For me, the weekend couldn’t last long enough. The only spinal treatment I’d ever heard about was an epidural to diminish a woman’s labor pains. I struggled to banish the image of a doctor inserting a needle into my spine.

When Monday finally came, my mother took me to our family doctor. After I was x‑rayed and examined, the doctor told us he thought I had scoliosis.

“Curvature of the spine,” he explained when he saw our puzzled looks. “I’m not qualified to address something like this. I’ll get you an appointment with an orthopedist.”

The first orthopedist I saw was fat and cranky, but the distaste I felt for him wouldn’t have diminished had he been fit and charming. Of course I didn’t want him to have a low opinion of me, so when he clasped his meaty hands around my neck and lifted me off the ground, I smiled and said nothing. The entire time I was in his care, I never complained. He said I was the best patient he’d ever had. Maybe he said that to all the girls.

Following my initial visit, I was admitted to a children’s hospital for further evaluation to determine the best course of treatment. Part of that evaluation included a “conference” with a team of twelve orthopedists. On that day, a nurse took me to a small room and asked me to undress. She handed me a sheet and told me to wrap it around my body. Completely disrobed and wound in the sheet, I shuffled along behind her to a large room where twelve orthopedists were seated at a conference table. I was told to stand next to a screen displaying an x-ray of my crooked spine.

The nurse, a plump, middle-aged woman with kind blue eyes and a cap of brown, curly hair, and I were the only females in the room. When she helped me unwind the sheet, I caught a flicker of sympathy in her eyes. As I stood in front of the orthopedists and followed their directives to bend forward and from side-to-side, the nurse attempted to hold the folded sheet in front of my nascent breasts. I avoided eye contact with the men seated around the table and used every ounce of imagination I could muster to forge an alternate reality.

The orthopedists decided the best treatment would be a rigid regimen of physical therapy for several months. After that, I would be put in traction and placed in a body cast. The summer between seventh and eighth grades I did exercises—pelvic tilts, sit-ups, and push-ups—ten minutes out of every hour I was awake. When I began the prescribed program, I could barely do a single sit-up, much less a push-up. My dad worked with me every day until I could do several sit-ups. In order for me to do even one push-up without collapsing, my dad supported my stomach with his hands, gradually letting go, the way he had let go of my bicycle when I was learning to ride. By the time I began eighth grade, my abs were as taut as any athlete’s.

I continued the exercise program on a less rigorous basis after school started. That fall the orthopedists decided my spine was limber enough for traction and my first body cast. I thought I was ready, but as my spine was pulled straighter and straighter, I felt as though my jaws were coming unhinged. During the procedure I was naked except for the stretchy, form-fitting undergarment that hugged my body from my upper thighs to my chin. When the medical team began fashioning the plaster cast that would hold my stretched-out form in place for the next six weeks, I felt as if I were suffocating.

Once the cast was constructed, I was taken to a hospital ward, where I was told I would need to lie still for the next twenty-four hours so the plaster could fully dry. My mother had been with me all day, but she was told she couldn’t stay overnight. Had I asked my mother to stay, she would have, no matter the hospital rules, but I didn’t want to be perceived as needy.

After my mother left, a nurse came in with supper—meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Since I couldn’t move, she fed me. The nurse had large, white hands, and she shoveled food into my mouth as if we were participants in a speed-eating contest. By the time she whisked the tray away, I was feeling queasy. The smell of wet plaster, along with the tension of the day and the rapid intake of hospital food, proved too much for me. Held immobile by the cast, I couldn’t sit up or turn my head to one side when my supper began coming back up. Fortunately another nurse came to my rescue and rolled me onto my side so I didn’t choke on my own vomit.

I was placed in the body cast in the 1970s, a time when girls in my junior high school were not allowed to wear pants. Wearing a miniskirt over a cast that encased my neck, torso, and hips was not a viable option for me since I couldn’t bend at the waist and was prone to falling. My clothes also needed to be durable enough not to tear easily when they came into contact with the rough surface of the cast. My mother’s solution was blue jeans paired with sweatshirts. It seems unbelievable to me now that my wearing jeans to school caused such a stir—not among the students but among the teachers! Some of the female teachers didn’t think pants of any stripe were appropriate attire for a junior high school girl. My mother was a teacher at the school, and she said I would be wearing jeans. The principal backed her up, and eventually all the other girls were allowed to wear jeans to school as well.

I hated wearing the cast so much that getting a back brace was almost a relief. At least I could remove it for an hour each day. I was so grateful for that hour, even though it was spent exercising and bathing. The brace I wore, a Milwaukee brace, consisted of a flat metal bar that extended from my chin to a leather corset with a built-in metal plate that kept my stomach flat. Two smaller bars attached to a neck ring stretched from the base of my skull to the corset, which was laced tightly around my hips with a pair of heavy nylon straps. Attached to the front bar on the right side was a wide, leather band that fit around my right ribcage to correct the protrusion that was forming as my spine curved in that direction.

I grew my hair out to cover the back rods of the brace and wore turtlenecks to hide the bar in the front as well as the side pieces that wrapped around my neck. I tilted my head forward in an attempt to conceal the plastic throat mold that supported my chin. The brace was uncomfortable but the physical discomfort was nothing compared to the mental anguish over the way I looked. Like any teenager I was hypersensitive about my appearance. Everywhere I went I felt as if people were staring at me.

During the years I wore the brace, I never allowed myself to cry. I didn’t want to run the risk of anyone finding out I wasn’t taking this experience in stride. Shortly after I began wearing the brace, I discovered that writing could serve as an emotional outlet. The first story I wrote was about a female reporter who witnesses atrocities in the American war in Vietnam. My English teacher praised my story, but no one else ever encouraged me to write. Still, I held on to the hope that I might one day become a writer. Unfortunately I lacked the independent spirit necessary to pursue an unconventional life path, and I eventually suppressed my desire to be a writer, just as I had suppressed all my undesirable emotions.

The only record I have of how I really felt during the time I wore the brace is recorded in my little blue diary. While most of my entries are light and factual, one day I wrote, “My life is unhappy now, but no one knows it except God and me. I guess it doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s just how other people think you feel.”

In February of my junior year in high school, the orthopedist told me I didn’t have to wear the brace anymore. I’d heard the expression “feeling like a bird out of a cage” all my life, but I never actually knew the feeling until I was liberated from that brace. What I failed to realize was the emotional cage I’d built was still intact, and it would take me years, maybe a lifetime, to dismantle it. At the time I wasn’t concerned with my emotional well-being; I was obsessed with my looks.

The brace had given me a shapely figure, but I didn’t have large breasts. I assumed there was a remedy for that and was thrilled when I came across an ad for a bust developer in the back pages of a fashion magazine. The ad promised that the apparatus would add inches to the flattest of bustlines, so I sent off for one right away. When it arrived I used, or tried to use, the bust developer religiously. It consisted of two pieces of pink plastic connected by a heavy metal spring and a thin leather strap. Even though I could barely force the two sides together with my small hands, I tried to push, press, and pray my way to the breasts of my dreams.

I didn’t achieve those fuller, rounder breasts promised in the ad, but the path to perfect myself, body and soul, that had been established during my formative years was one I would pursue well into middle age. For years I pushed myself to acquire something I thought I should have—a fitter body, a better job, another advanced degree. Once I’d achieved my goal, it lost its pre-attainment glow, and I moved on to a new goal. My nerves were often frayed, but I concealed my inner angst with a veneer of socially sanctioned ambition.

Although I found some solace in writing as a young adult, I never viewed it as a necessity. By the time I was middle-aged, I took anti-anxiety medication to get through the day and sleeping pills to get through the night. Still, investing a lot of time in writing seemed too risky, and I believed I had a lot to lose if I failed. I was an award-winning college professor with a promising future in academia that left little room for “creative” writing. From the outside, my life looked perfect. Inside I was always anxious, wondering when my “real life” was going to begin.

I couldn’t say what prompted me to give up my “day job,” enroll in an MFA program, and begin devoting a substantial amount of time to writing. One day I realized I couldn’t, and probably wouldn’t, continue living the way I had been. Certainly there have been some moments of despair in my life as a writer, but there have also been moments of joy. A natural balance seems to have been restored. I no longer need the anti-anxiety medication I took for years. For the first time in my life, I am free to be honest, even if my honesty is couched, at times, in fiction or poetry. Though I will probably never get over my need for approval, writing has become my antidote for perfectionism—unmasking me in a way nothing else ever could.



Teresa Burns Murphy is the author of a novel, The Secret to Flying (TigerEye Publications, 2011). Her short fiction has been published in Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women (Paycock Press, 2012), Dreamstreets, Gargoyle Magazine, The Penmen Review, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, The Tower Journal, and Westview. To learn more about her writing, visit her at

Read more from Teresa here.


“Placental Insufficiency” by Todd Follett

Placental Insufficiency
“Butterfly Orchids” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

“that restless beast, who, coming
against me, little by little was driving
me back to where the sun is silent”

– Inferno, Canto I

into these grottos
onyx in chaos
impossible lines

I have come here
to find a child

across brackish waters
churning still
borne onto the char
inside the crust

I have a child
I’ve come here to find

under antiseptic light
in clothes worn for days
we collapsed into chairs
and the heat of each other
machines bleating
pauses and wails
she came to tell us
our sun went out

I’ve come to find
I have a child



Todd Follett lives in Alameda, California and is currently enrolled in the MFA Writing program at the University of San Francisco. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, Natural Bridge, DMQ Review, and The Pedestal Magazine.

Read an interview with Todd here.


“Hatchlings” by William Woolfitt

“Turtle Territory” by Lori McNamara, oil on archival board, 2011.
(See also “My Time Under Water” by Roy Bentley.)

I join the community patrol to prove my brothers wrong, my brothers who say I am too moony to find the nests, too scared of hueveros to walk the beach at night. The patrol sends us out in pairs. We walk the black sand beach, we bring grease pens and plastic shopping bags, we search for leatherback turtles come ashore to lay eggs. My brothers are older, taller, with muscles that they flex and eyes like cacao seeds. My cousin is older than my brothers, he has long crinkly hair, he plays marimba, and it’s better if I am paired with him. With oldest brother, I walk the kilometers of moonless beach. Middle brother and I try to hear a leatherback rasp and snort, over the noise of the waves, panting as she scoops out the pit-nest where she lays her clutch of eggs. Cousin and I look for flipper tracks, the ever-so-slightly darker sand where a leatherback may have dragged herself. My brothers act like they see me with new eyes, forget to call me girl-lips and niñita. I know it will not last. I am the youngest, the clumsy one, the weak swimmer. My brothers love to joke and tease and change the rules. Two weeks after I join, oldest brother pins me down and fills my shorts with wet sand.

Unless we get there first, hueveros slip out from the tall grass, steal the eggs and sell them as black market aphrodisiacs to disco owners, to sad men hoping to get a charge from a glass of slime. My brothers despise the slime drinkers, say that a real man does not drink eggs, that hueveros are cowards, that I may need to try the eggs, or else I will always be a baby rat, pale and hairless and shrill when I speak. Cousin says that hueveros do the work of their fathers and grandfathers, some are not scoundrels, he knows one with too many children to feed.

I repeat the novena of Our Lord, I ask for eyes to find and ears to catch. At first, all I wanted was to impress my cousin and brothers, but now I want to help the turtles too. I make prayers to Virgen del Carmen, I inspect the sand, the water and sky, everything dark, even the surf-foam and the clouds, dark as burnt wood, dark as Virgen’s beads and wig. And then I spy a pale-spotted carapace, and I drop to my knees. Middle brother congratulates me, says that I am good at tracking, claps me on the back, then he pushes me down, holds my face in the nest so that the eggs drop from the mother, slide down my cheek. Middle brother says, stick your hand in there. While her hind-flippers plow the sand back in, I remove from the pit-nest what feels like seventy jellied ping pong balls and place them inside the bag that my brother holds open. Seventy times, I hold a turtle egg in my hand, each of them fragile and squishy and warm.

In pairs, we carry eggs to the manmade nests of the town criadera. We bury them there, we keep watch, night and day. Oldest brother dribbles a fútbol, asks me to help him with his drills, gives up when he sees how awkward I am. Middle brother strikes matches, smokes cigarillos. He asks me if I want to smoke; I refuse; he rolls his eyes. Cousin carves a mallet, teaches me card tricks. Again and again, I dig a hole in the sand, I put my hand in the hole and cover it, then I wiggle my fingers and spring my hand free. It might be like this, I tell myself. My hand like a baby turtle, newly hatched and digging out. We chase away crabs and stray dogs, we watch for hueveros eager to come creeping with wire-cutters and spades. We pinch ourselves awake and eat Pringle chips and flatten the cans.

The hatchlings break through their shells with carunkle-teeth and tunnel up through sand. We carry them to the lip of the tide, we are quiet and careful as altar boys. Craning their tiny necks, the tortugitos search for light, gaps in the clouds, any glimmer or beam. I lift my head too. I seek the newest pieces of sky, then I watch the tortugitos clamber toward the low waves that ease them from the sand.

I keep watch in the criadera again, this time with middle brother. Cousin has gone to Siquirres to woo the daughter of a pineapple farmer; older brother drank too much chicha and is sick at home. I squat, scoop out a hole, cover my hand, but then I can’t get free. Middle brother stands over my hand, grinds with his heel, and I feel grains of sand cutting into me. The real test isn’t getting out of the sand, he says. It’s the ocean. You know that sharks finish off most of them. And they eat plastic trash, it kills them but they love plastic. I can throw you in the water since you like to pretend. While he pins my hand with his foot, I feel the cold water he would banish me to, patches of light and dark in the sky that I don’t know how to read, and then the lash of waves that would take me down, the burn of salt in my nose, and the spray that chills my skin.



William Woolfitt teaches at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. He is the author of two books of poetry, Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, forthcoming). He is also the author of a fiction chapbook, The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (2014). His poems and stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Michigan Quarterly Review, Threepenny Review, Tin House online, and elsewhere. He also edits Speaking of Marvels, a gathering of interviews with chapbook and novella authors.


“Stick Figure Suicide” by Randall Brown

Cover image
“Palm in the Wind” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

As a splinter in her mind,
it begins, the right hand
brushing each finger
of her left hand, abrading
the dry tinder. Somewhere,

her family is traveling, staggering,
breathing through the day.

There’s an order to the rubbing:
thumb to index to pinky, never
touching the nail. She never fails,
never flags, never forgets.
If she does, of course they die.

That’s the only certainty.
She rubs harder, quicker,
first smoke, then flame.



Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in Best Small Fictions 2015 and The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.


“Be Still, My Growling Stomach” by Wendi Berry

red hibiscus
“Red Hibiscus” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite

I ate a man for breakfast. My usual fare, only this one was on the gritty side. Too much meat on a stick and not enough apple. There was no struggle.

I didn’t have to forage, hunt or capture. He walked in to my cave. When he shined the flashlight on my pretty barbed tail — that’s where men’s eyes always seem to go first — his Adam’s apple made a little dip. He reached in and groped one of my scales. Now his picked bones lay strewn about the corners of my cave. No one ever said I was a good housekeeper.

Men are so easy to find this time of year. As soon as the temperature gets a little warm—all it has to do is rise to 50 degrees on the little thermometer posted above my door—and they come over that hill. Imagine walking twenty miles just to find a cave, but that’s what they do. They want to discover “the mystery.”

The men climb, they scale the boulders, and when they stop to set down their backpacks, that’s when the dark opening begins to beckon. Beneath a rocky overhang, behind the olive shrubbery with the small white flowers, they can’t help themselves; they have to explore. I wish they would pack better lunches in those backpacks of theirs. Guys, fewer processed meats. More celery, more apples, please!

Even if they hesitate and are a tad shy, all I have to do is flash my scales—it could be my tail, my delicate knobby ankles, or the nape of my neck—I have a really long nape, and they rush in. Fools.

No need for conversation.

To be fair, most don’t want to talk anyway. They go right for the scales, gawking at them, reaching out their small, veined, hairy paws.

If I were more of a conversationalist, I might say, would you please try not to stare while I bludgeon you. I hate the way their eyes bulge as if they were watching some creepy horror flick. It’s really unappetizing. I knock their heads off with a swift blow and pile them up for later, for when my blood sugar gets low and I need a snack.

The main course I baste with succulent plants from around the cave, mosses, lichens and spongy spores, and scorch with a little fire. Easy does it on the gas. No one likes charred meat. Best to keep it a little pink inside.

If I want something really tasty, I’ll roast my meal slowly on a spit. Felled pine makes a good skewer. And on those spring and fall days when there’s too much of a good thing, I make shish kebabs with the choicest thighs, rump, or rib meat and throw everything else to my friends in the woods. I brush on my special liverwort marinade, a family recipe, and let it soak for a few hours.

When I taste the meat, it’s tender to the bone, which I often gnaw on for added calcium. For the most part, I spit out the necks. They’re all tendons and gristle.

This next guy is different. I’m in no hurry. He isn’t either. He slumps at the entrance and observes the thermometer, actually strokes his beard. A thinking man. Haven’t seen one of those in a while, not since Sir Thomas Elyot.

Sir Thomas waited and asked permission to enter but not before convincing me on bended knee that drakons, from the Greek word “to gleam,” have the right to be respected, to be admired for our intelligence and wit, and not just for our sleek scales.

“Call me Tommy,” he insisted, after I invited him in. When the fire built in my chest, I shot it away from him, and he marveled at my power, exclaiming “what a wyvern!”

Fire proved our undoing. On Day 2, he began coughing from smoke inhalation and on Day 3, left as I slept. Had I known, I would have consumed him, rather than let him go.

After, I lost my appetite, and my mother had to come from ten hills over to spoon-feed me boiled intestines. One night, when I refused to eat, she told me about her Sir Thomas.

“He professed his love, said he would take me to an island with so much fruit I would never have a sugar low. But his wife got sick and he couldn’t let his daughters be orphans.”

“What happened to him?”

“Oh, Sir George told a story about slaying me—to save face—he didn’t want people thinking he spent all that time with an ophidian for nothing. But then he died from typhus on the boat back, after bragging to his mates. Or so I heard, from a hydra.”

“I never realized. Do you mind if I ask…?”

“Fire away.”

“How’d you meet my father?”

“He was passing through . . . No one ever said love has to love you back.”

Eventually, my appetite returned. And nothing quelled my growling insides. For five hundred years, my flames have scorched every man who dares approach. I swore never to lose my appetite over a man again.

This guy, this thinker, takes an ink pen and scribbles into a book. I want to get my hands on it. My last good read was The Book of Lost Tales. He sits on a boulder and continues writing.

I flash my scales, undulate a bit. That’s all it would normally take, but this one’s oblivious. I wonder just what I am dealing with. He keeps jotting down notes and I creep to the entrance, my head bumps the roof, and I peer out. My tail is fully out, the barb waving in his face, but he does not react.

I step outside. Usually there is no need.

This man wears shorts with many pockets, a baseball cap and windbreaker. I wonder what is so interesting that he must write it in that book. The suggestion of soft ferns at the entrance? The promise of the pit behind the flowering privet? The lure of bacterial odor and bursting spores? But no, he doesn’t notice any of that. He looks up, glances back at his notebook, looks up again.

I wave my tail. But he stares deeply into my canker-lidded, diamond-shaped eyes. This thinker, this notebook scribbler sits on his boulder, his worn wool socks drooping around his ankles, and meets my gaze.

“Hello,” he says.

“Hello.” I try not to breathe too much fire. I don’t want to scorch him. Yet.

“My name is Rodney,” he says. “What’s yours?”


“It’s a pleasure,” he says. Where’s his sword? I know he has one. They all do.

“What are you writing about?”

He looks down. Blurt it out. You can do it. “I came to figure out what to do.”

Okay, so I’ve had dramatic types before, projecting their voices, extending their hands. Of course I end up scorching them. I scorch them all. I do, I do, I do. Dragons like things in threes.

This one sits and writes and scratches the thinning hair on his scalp, he bleeds ink onto the page. I’m expecting at least one good monologue before I strike.

“My wife always told me what to do.”

My tail twitches. I don’t know whether to feel sorry, or be on high alert. Ever since my encounter with Sir Thomas, I don’t trust them not to become lunch.

“Leave you in the lurch, did she?”

His pen stops. I stab the notebook with my tail, lift it to my eyes and read. It is blurry. Must get more vitamin A. More sweet potatoes, guys. More leafy kale. The gist of it is, “I want to die.” Poor numbchuck. He’s wounded. I knew, knew, knew it. Men cannot resist my tail.

I sit on the boulder facing him. “Let me tell you a secret,” I say. I can feel the methane building.

He clutches his backpack.

“The answer you seek is not on this hill.” I strive to be dramatic myself.

“What if I am not seeking answers?”

“Why did you write, ‘I want to die’?”

He shakes his head.

“Okay, tell me why your wife left.” I encourage him to speak by sitting on my hind legs and tucking my wings. “You can tell me.”

“She died,” he says. “A plane crash, a Cessna four-seater. She was flying in a fog and hit a mountain.” He releases a huge exhale, completely devoid of fire. Men. They just don’t have it. “She planned my days. ‘Go to work. Tie your shoes. Balance the checkbook. Eat your spinach. Don’t forget to stretch.’” His shoulders shake, he does the self-hug thing.

I put my tail around his waist.

“But she was already dying. Ovarian cancer.”

I squeeze his shoulders with my wings.

I should have told her: do the chemo, don’t fly today.” This man heaves great, wet sobs. He rests his head on my scales. I pat his tears.

“I have something to show you,” I say. “It grows in the darkest place and has a smooth velvety feel. Would you like to see it?”

“If it’s dark…?”

“You don’t need to see it. It’s feeling it that’s so fantastic. Go in.”

He hoists his pack. An apple rolls out. He sees me glance at it.

“Want it?” he says.

“You keep it.”

I swear, when he reaches for a scale, I am going to pummel him, put the apple in his mouth, and give him a good roasting. But he goes inside the cave instead and feels the furry algae. I let him put some in his backpack.

“I must say, this is not what I expected.” He follows the light back to the entrance. “I’ll never forget this.”

You’ll never forget, I think. Heard that before. It’s not worth explaining the loss and the heartburn, and asking myself three times a day, what if that was Sir Thomas? and then being left with only bones.

One more step and we would have both been safe. Rodney would have pulled up his socks and climbed down the boulders. Instead, he asks, “May I touch your scales?”

I knew, knew, knew it. No man can resist. This one, though, I feel truly sorry for: he misses his wife, and he asked permission first.

“If I let you touch me, I’ll have to eat you.”

He shuts his eyes.

“What?” I say. Little puffs of smoke shoot from my ears.

“I was hoping you would.”

“Eat you?” My wings flap gently, dispersing methane. “What makes you think I would?”

“A feeling.”

I curl my tail, trying to think. Here is lunch, and my sugar is low. Sir Thomas got away. I know I should let Rodney go—he is sad, he wants me to eat him. But I promised myself…

“Take the algae,” I say. “Go.” My wings flap. “Never speak of this.”

“You want me to leave?” He coughs.

“Yes, and don’t forget the algae.”

He stops inside the entrance. “Want my apple?” Still trying to tempt me. When I shake my scales, he turns his back. I no longer see his eyes. He no longer meets my gaze.

I keep my promise. I pummel him on the occipital lobe. I will never miss another meal. Not on account of Sir Thomas.



Wendi Berry divides her time between Richmond, Virginia and the Outer Banks, where she dreams of having a writers’ retreat, with an ocean view. A technical editor by day, she’s published in storySouth, Prime Number Magazine, Hulltown 360, and Hayden’s Ferry Review blog. She previously taught composition at the University of Richmond and J. Sargeant Reynolds and is seeking representation for a novel set in present-day Richmond.

Read an interview with Wendi here.

“Not Yet an Angel” by Tom Sheehan

Not Yet an Angel
“Afternoon Glow at Hackberry Hammock” by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

It was the first day on the job, her first assignment in a major hospital, on the 8th floor of the building as high as her aspirations, and as she stepped into the room of the first patient, to check on him, she knew something was not right. The very air in the room told her so, the patient’s eyes, his position on the bed, the sun refusing to enter the room yet, to heighten the walls, to gather the burst of dawn, as if on command; the man in the bed, suddenly in her ken, past reach, breathless, motionless, beyond her, brand new nurse on the job.

The early morning preparation for this day had been hectic, but complete; her ‘whites’ virginal, washed, starched, ready to collect the day, the debris, the signs and signals and discoveries of life and all kinds of ailments to be posted on her person … as well as on the creases, pressed identifications of a nurse, brought intimately to her by people she did not know, likely had never seen, would see this very day possibly at their worst, or the worst they may have been. Such as this man whose chart she has just read, telling her how he had come here, for what reason, and now, with insight, telling her how long he would stay … or leave.

Shaken, she checked the vitals the way training had shown, confirmed her first knowledge, this rampant intuition, this headway into a long and heavily desired occupation, life work, somewhat prepared to find and advise the doctor in charge. She said a discovery prayer, a prayer for a good voyage, a sad goodbye; Death, she realized from the moment, was no stranger to her, not the presence nor the alarm of it. She had been right beside it since the day of her birth. Again, it was knocking her stunned, not believing what she knew, having seen it before, having felt it tear down inside of her like a runaway projectile.

She had to come back.

Into the hallway she stepped and a bright-eyed night cleaner in white denims, humming a country song, lips feigning a whistle, was on his last rounds, rattling plastic containers in a soft concert of morning, the sun suddenly splattering with brazen entry, neatness and order in the atmosphere, reflections catching her eyes … and then, like an old photograph on the mantel, she saw the man’s family coming down the hallway, the just-found dead man’s family, earliest visitors of this, her first day in this huge metropolis of a hospital.

Bang! Whomp! Responsibility clutching for direction, release. What did the books say? What did the nuns say at the training hospital? What did Sister Regina say when came the first surprise?

Her own recent feelings jumped at her, clean through from that other side, whatever place they had been waiting for eruption, recall, oh, be known again.

All the world, all of life, her life, poured through her: she was a twin, twin to a brother, love unequaled, paired forever, and remembered the call to report one morning to the habited chief nurse of the nursing school in Maine far from home. It was unusual; she hadn’t kicked the can around the night before, sparkler that she was out of class, away from the campus, the stuffy rooms, the march of death leaving a notch on her belt. Her marks and test scores were keeping her enough in place, the sun still poured through the windows, and in a quick moment, in a frightening, horrid moment, in an unbelievable moment before she physically tore the wimple and coif off the nun’s head, she was told that her twin brother was dead, killed by electricity trying to retrieve a boy’s kite from the limbs of a tree where live wires had been passed through as though a tunnel was available …… and never was.

The thunder loosed from her body and toward the nun’s: “You’re a goddamned liar, you hateful woman. My brother’s not dead. We promised our goodbyes would be quick and faithful. We’re twins. It’s impossible to let go! We were there at the start!”

The wimple went flying in the air.

Now, this family with dear loss, perhaps dearest loss, was coming at her and no doctor in sight carrying that extra backpack of advising poor souls of their newest loss. It was, despite what they say, her turn at the till! Her turn at bat! Step up and be counted! Nurse Nancy on the job (Nancy being no closer to her name than Esmerelda.)

She closed the door of the room behind her, stood like Rostom Razmadze protecting Napoleon Bonaparte from unbalanced intruders, unlikely patrons, seekers of the golden touch, personally good news from the autocratic hand, the voice of the century. Protect themselves from themselves, Death not being a particular intruder no matter how famous the body.

Again, like a refrain, her life ran through her, the constant tumble of her brothers, the sole girl amid the horde of them, the boy she skipped school with who wound up on the mound of several major league teams, who came to Fenway Park, sometimes stayed in place after stats were garnered, who stood like these strangers before her, known only by intuition, invention, admission, to have life and death dragged right through them so soon after breakfast, the rise of the sun, from salutations on the way here to worry and surprise without end.



Tom Sheehan has published 22 books, has had multiple work in many publications: Literally Stories, Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet’s Wings, Serving House Journal, Copperfield Review, KYSO Flash, La Joie Magazine, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Deep South Magazine, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard,  KYSO Journal, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc. He has 30 Pushcart nominations, and five Best of the Net nominations (and one winner) and short story awards from Nazar Look for 2012- 2015. Swan River Daisy, his first chapbook, is just released and The Cowboys, a collection of western short stories, is due shortly.

Read an interview with Tom here.


“Time to Go Home” by Patty Somlo

Time to Go Home
Painting by Lori McNamara, oil on masonite.

Warrior noticed the blue and white CHIERS van before the bus crossed the bridge to downtown Portland. His bare gums showed where his teeth were gone, soon as he stretched his lips into a smile. He didn’t find anything particularly funny about a drunk being hauled off to Detox. No. That sly grin wouldn’t quit lifting Warrior’s lips because the poor old wino wasn’t him.

The bus crossed the bridge, as sunlight leaking through the window on Warrior’s side caused scattered silver strands in his hair to shimmer. Since Vietnam, where he got the nickname Warrior, he’d kept it long. On the streets, his hair let everyone know. He was still a warrior after everything that had gone down.


When Warrior got sober this last time, the city social worker moved him to his own apartment. A new approach we’re trying, the social worker said, after handing Warrior a thousand pages of forms.

Out on the sidewalk, under a dull, wet sky, Warrior couldn’t help but feel like punching somebody. This ain’t gonna work, he mumbled to no one in particular, and no one in particular responded. He palmed an unfiltered Camel, gulping puffs, until the cigarette singed his knuckle. Then he used the tip to light another.

A wide-hipped black woman named Leticia led him into the apartment building and down a dreary hall that smelled of food frying. In the kitchenette, on the back wall of the one-room studio, she turned the knob on the gas stove and flicked it off.

“Make sure you check before leaving the apartment,” she scolded Warrior. “Don’t want no fires.”

The place even had its own refrigerator.

Warrior tapped his right foot without planning to and the tapping traveled up to his hip, making it wobble. His head bobbed up and down. His hand shook, as he jerked the burning cigarette up to his mouth.

An hour later, in the crowded waiting room of the counseling office, his bones rattled in one continuous spasm. Smoking wasn’t allowed, so he turned and faced the wall, his fingers lifted to his mouth as he sucked in imaginary smoke. He couldn’t be bothered with what other folks thought. It was easy to slide down into his own private box, like he’d done on the street and in Vietnam.

“Are you Mr. Yazzi?”

He turned around, shaking the whole time, then followed the woman down a long, narrow hall, into a room that was dark.

“Where would you feel more comfortable, Mr. Yazzi?” the counselor asked, after flicking on the fluorescent light. “In the chair or on the couch?”

Warrior studied the room. His eyes blinked too many times. He took in the woman at his side. Her hair flowed straight down like a black waterfall. She reminded him of girls back home. Even made him think of Betty, his ex-wife.

“Could I just stand?” Warrior asked, his foot pounding a depression into the pale carpet.

“Sure. Whatever you like.”

“I’m Mary,” she said and held out her hand. “Mary Rivers.”

“Mary Rivers,” Warrior repeated, his head wobbling some.

They talked, and eventually Mary convinced Warrior to take a seat. His official name in the file was Thomas Yazzi. She agreed to call him Warrior and said she’d like to try something to start.

Once he’d dropped into the hard wooden chair across from her, she told him in the nicest way to put his feet flat on the floor and relax his hands that wouldn’t stop shaking in his lap. After that, she asked him to close his eyes, take in a deep breath, and imagine the breath pouring into his lungs, filling his belly, swirling around his thighs and calves and ankles, then shooting out his feet and his two big toes.


This crazy March day, it should have been pouring down rain and windy but the sun was out. Warrior wasn’t ready for what Mary had to say.

“I have some bad news, Mr. Yazzi.”

She scooted her chair close and rested her hand on Warrior’s wrist.

“It’s about your nephew, Justin,” she whispered.

“Your sister called. She was trying to reach you.”

The last time Warrior was on the reservation he’d stolen from his sister Lorraine. He’d barely seen his nephew Justin since he was born.

“Your nephew was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.”

The words came at Warrior like bullets. The news splintered his mind, even with his feet anchored on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Mary said and patted his arm. “How are you doing there, Mr. Yazzi?”

How are you feeling, Mr. Yazzi? Mary asked all the time. Day after day, in this chair, his feet connected to the earth, Warrior scouted his body for the tight pinch in his belly that signaled fear or the ache that had to be sorrow.

“Mr. Yazzi. Are you all right?”

He nodded.

What did he remember about his nephew, Mary asked. Memories collided. Days he left his kids, Lilly and Robert, to party with friends, sometimes for days, over in Gallup. Waking up, sick as a dog, hearing those kids bawling, and smacking them ‘til they stopped. Last time he’d seen Robert all grown up, the boy scowled at him on the front porch, before he slammed the door.

“I feel,” Warrior said, trying to get a breath. His stomach clenched up. “Like it’s my fault.”

“How could it be your fault? Your nephew was in the Marines. He was fighting a war.”

“Everything I did. To my kids. My sister. Everyone.”

“It’s not your fault. It is not your fault.”


A few days that felt like a year went by before the breeze brushed Warrior’s forehead, as he stepped from the airport terminal into the bright sun. He stopped and let the breeze say hello. He wanted to tell the wind he had forgotten the feel of home. But everyone would think he was talking to himself, a habit from his drinking days he’d been trying to give up.

He moved his attention from the wind to the sky. His heart climbed up and scratched his throat. It was – well, what could he even begin to feel about it? Like no sky in Oregon or Vietnam. It was cloudless and blue, shimmering and wide. It was a sky that had no end and no beginning. It was a sky the Creator had dreamed of making. A sky that blessed all the children born under it. It was a sky Warrior had banished from his mind, to live where such a sky couldn’t survive.

He smiled to himself and looked around. Cars were circling the terminal. People dragged suitcases on wheels. Everyone was going about their business, as if the wind and sky had no meaning or purpose.

It was time, Warrior reminded himself, to go home.


The sun was low in the sky when Warrior pulled into the parking lot of the motel in Window Rock. He stepped out of the car, his back and shoulders stiff, his butt sore. The sorrow he felt, looking around at the red rock he’d only seen lately in car commercials, was enough to drown him.

Whenever you’re feeling on the edge, like you might relapse, call me, Mary Rivers had said.

The phone rang three times before she answered.

“Mr. Yazzi. Are you all right?”


He slipped out of the motel room before the sky grew light. The world was as quiet as a world gets. Few cars passed, as light gathered along the horizon in a thin bright line.

When he turned off the highway, Warrior heard Mary Rivers’ words again.

You must forgive yourself, Mr. Yazzi. The past is done and you can’t go back and change it. What you did before – the drinking, how you treated your family – and what you did in the war, those are things we have grieved here. Now, you must forgive yourself and go home. You must tell your family that you’re sorry.

Warrior drove until he was surrounded by red rock on all sides. He knew where he wanted to end up. But could he find it after being away so long?

All of a sudden, he slammed down the brake peddle and pulled the car over to the side of the road.

He stepped out into the cool, quiet morning. The sky hung overhead, like a throbbing heart. Smooth reddish-brown sand beckoned. He waited at the bottom of the dune for the sun to pop out.

The top of the dune was soaked in golden light. He became temporarily blinded.

At that moment, he heard the soft tinkling of bells. A goat cried, and he heard a sheep bleat.

His sight returned and the sun inched up. He watched the small goats and sheep step over the rise. Behind them, a man appeared on a horse. Like Warrior’s, his skin looked warmed and hardened by the sun. Atop his gray-streaked black hair, he wore a white cowboy hat, set a comfortable distance back.

Warrior waved his arms in two wide arcs. The animals moved down the sand, leaving a curved line of tender hoof prints behind. The man on the horse followed. Warrior waved again, and then, as if preparing to salute, he lifted a hand to his forehead, to shield his eyes from the light.

Suddenly, there was no Vietnam War. There were no cold wet streets to sleep on and no cramped jail cells. No waking up in his own vomit. The life Warrior forgot about had been waiting here all along. This life, with its sand dunes and red rock, the sky that went on forever and the people, his people, and their goats and sheep.

Feelings jostled inside, until his mind grabbed one he couldn’t remember having felt for a long time.

Happy, Warrior thought, and the tears streamed freely from his eyes. They dampened his cheeks and wet his mouth. He made no effort to wipe them off.

That’s what I feel, he whispered to Mary Rivers now.



Patty Somlo has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, been nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award and had an essay selected as a Notable Essay of 2013 for Best American Essays 2014. Author of From Here to There and Other Stories, Somlo has three forthcoming books: a short story collection, The First to Disappear (Spuyten Duyvil); a memoir, Even When Trapped Behind Clouds (WiDo Publishing), and Hairway to Heaven Stories (Cherry Castle Publishing). Her work has appeared in journals, including the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, Under the Sun, Guernica, Gravel, Sheepshead Review, and WomenArts Quarterly. Find her at

Read an interview with Patty here.