Two Poems by Magdalene Fry

Barks (Tree Bark #2)
“Tree Bark #2,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

From Barks, no title

Dante and William pulled Gabriel
by the hand, in just that kind of way
little girls would, dressed in lacy
Sabbath shoes, tip toeing to the attic
where someone hid a secret from old
grandmother, and if they didn’t put
up a finger to their lips — the cat
would rend the poke in two with so
many laughters. It is uncountable —
“Shh,” they said and brushed his
tawny feathers between their wide
open palms in turns, “We’re straightening
our scarves about your neck, for tomorrow
some sun would like to glance about your
eyelashes.” Gabriel blushed. How he did.


From Vois, no title

Lest a we
sunder the gravel toothed
yesterdays’ big burp,
I light candles
and make single
a self in knowing
there be another I
than me – hallelujah
the brain, the vat
and them birds that
call out how time
is not but space with
light and light
with space – and
the tree nymphs cackle the grandest
middle fingers with
the opal story of
stone and root
and ever green in
mind. And on Olympus
they draw straws
and make card castles
not batting an eye
on the difference
between Delphi
and Solomon –
drink up, Zeus thunders
a surely nominative thy
and begins to speak
in ships and in –
anon, anon, anew.



Magdalene Fry is a single-parent advocate from Wayne County, West Virginia, and was educated at Anglia Ruskin and Marshall Universities. She lives in Michigan with her daughter and works as a mental health and wellness coordinator. These selections are from her books Barks and Vois.


“Living in Fear” by Liam Hogan

Living in Fear 1(Red Volcano)
“Red Volcano,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

today is little white birds and the silent sun
and airplanes, repeating themselves
and sirens

where are you going, friend?
haven’t you heard?
the world is cold, and made of glass



Liam Cloud Hogan is a student in the Writing B.F.A. program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. This is his first professional publication.


“All These Cures” by Kelly DuMar

All these Cures (Broken Sunset1)
“Broken Sunset,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

One day you imagine the grandmother you need
and find her living in a Swedish bakery serving
tea to customers in wooden booths on wooden
floors in her sweet and steamy shop where she
feeds your hunger for cinnamon and vanilla,
your dream of comfort from butter and baking, the
yeasty promise of pastry curling and browning.

You ring the bell and a door swings open on a
ritual you make so she can greet you. If she speaks
Swedish you will never know. Her intuition is precise
and proofed in silence. The blend of tea she serves
you cannot tell. Her cures are brewed in brightly
painted pots, steeped in mystery, poured into China
cups on saucers she sets steaming under your nose.

Her intention is to love you no matter what and you
learn to let that be a nice surprise. You learn to trust
she means what she makes you feel, warmed and
wanted, sweetened and safely seated, belonging.

Every time you ring the bell a door swings open and
she is there to greet you until the day she doesn’t
because she is dead. You thought she lived where
she would live forever, but your imagination means
more than that. What she leaves you is the shop,
your place in it, and the mystery of who you must
serve in her absence.



Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area. Her poems are published in many literary magazines, including “Lumina Online,” “Corium,” “Cape Cod Review,” “Kindred,” and “Tupelo Quarterly,” and her award-winning poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she serves on the boards & faculties of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and the Transformative Language Arts Network. Her new book of poetry & prose will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. Her website is


“Mourning Light” by Rachel Crawford

Mourning Light (Shimmer) 
“Shimmer,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

When I woke I thought the sun was shining,
but it was only the overhead light
burning in my daughter’s pink and white room.

Grey light filtered through the leaves of the ash
that tapped on my bedroom window all night
making me dream of rain. I drew the blinds

on the tear-streaked morning, the muddy light,
the ash. I stepped across the hall to find
my daughter fingerpainting on the wall,

her hand a rainbow in mid-air. Still drenched
in dreams of loss, I leaned in the doorway
and watched her paint, one after another,

a yellow sun
shining on a red house
next to a green tree
by a white bridge
crossing a blue river.



Rachel Crawford is a writer, teacher, and editor whose poems and stories appear in Red Rock Review, Mudlark, Lucid Rhythms, The Lyric, Figures of Speech, Apeiron Review, Red River Review, The Yellow Chair Review, Illya’s Honey, Freshwater Poetry Journal, Adanna Literary Journal (forthcoming), Literary Juice, The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature, Anima Poetry Journal, Crack the Spine, Her Texas, Rock & Sling: A Journal of Witness, and RiverSedge. She lives in central Texas with her husband and daughter.







“Painting the Elephant Gold” by Kay Merkel Boruff

Cover Image
“Sandstone Formations,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

Hell, we just wanted to see the show.

~W. C. Williams

The hay is mown and rolled, my summer dreams asleep. The child ascends to dance. In the grayness of gray, each step an entrance, I arrive at the window, you have just walked out the door. Wings shining, eyes bright, you smile your love to me. Wind chimes catch the breeze. Honey bees nestle flowers blanketing fresh dirt. Morning washes over me. Chords from the sonata float with the clouds. Luna moth circling through blue spruce echoes greetings. Trees sway, speckled light refracting on lichen and moss. Smooth rocks celebrate the dawn. Breath lifts me—I am floating, flying. I am once again with you.

The red dirt road snakes among chinaberries, ocher fruit of poisoned passion. I am the child dancing in winter. Day rests on the window sill. The strength death brings frees me. The powerless is the powerful. I resume the baci, the ceremony of embarkation, my altar stacked with hai blossoms and bhat, blessings from the monkey king, music for the dead, light for the living. I set my sights home, home to the red dirt: to the state of grace in wornness, to the Wabi-sabi, shards of pottery, cracks in gold paint, dissonance in the moonlight: May I be a well filled, a song sung, a dream remembered.



Kay Merkel Boruff lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 & was married to an Air America pilot who was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Falls Record News. In addition, she has work in Suddenly, Grasslands Review, Behind the Lines, Fifth Wednesday, Adanna, Stone Voices, Turk’s Head, and Paper Nautilus. Letters of her husband’s and hers were included in Love and War, 250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. NPR interviewed Boruff regarding her non-profit Merkel & Minor: Vets Helping Vets: A Class Act Production. She attended Burning Man 2012 and then climbed Wayna Picchu in Peru on her 71st birthday.

Read more about Kay’s writing journey here.


“Care Packages” by Jerri Bell

Care Packages (The Creation of Adam)
“The Creation of Adam,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

USS Kearsarge
June 24, 1995

Dear John,

Lisbon is for lovers and I have three days’ leave while the ship is in port, so I’ve booked a room in a romantic posada perfect for a clandestine lovers’ tryst. To reach it, you’d first turn right at the church where “Miserere mei Deus” echoes from the choir loft and the disapproving priest in the black cassock and gold filigrana crucifix is hearing confessions. You’d come to the plaza where the old men sit at sidewalk tables sipping bitter cafés negros from tiny cups. There’s a shortcut through the alley between the third and fourth restaurants whose window tanks hold live lobsters awaiting execution, claws banded so they can’t damage each other overnight in a fit of territorial jealousy. The alley ends across from a wall tiled in blue and white azulejos depicting a bullfight: the bull has gored the matador, who still raises his sword in triumph and prepares to take his brutal revenge. The next right is a straight and narrow street paved in steep limestone steps, their worn centers slick, smooth, and treacherous underfoot. Between the whitewashed houses, crisscrossed pulley clotheslines are hung with unsullied, lace-trimmed sheets. Only the spotless linen is on display; stained and tattered undergarments are hidden between the lines.

At the top, you’d have to call me from the phone box on the corner by the house where the lemon tree grows beside the back door. Tom, the ship’s medical officer, called his wife from that phone last night. He told her about the pretty lemon tree with the sweet-smelling flowers, and said he’d bought her an inlaid wooden box with a surprise inside. (I sent you a box with a surprise inside today, too. Just like the one I received at mail call yesterday. I was so excited when I saw a care package with your return address on it!) Anyway, Tom’s wife had news for him, too. She’s pregnant. And she’s four months along! Of course, since we’ve been deployed for the last seven months their divorce papers are probably following the ship from Haifa to Malta to Lisbon. She said that Tom made her feel undesirable. Less of a woman. At least she told you herself, I said. That counts for a lot. We consoled each other with gin and tonics at a bar on the Praça do Comércio and staggered back to the ship at midnight.

Remember the glamour shot I had taken for our last Valentine’s Day together? The one where they posed me on bubblegum-pink satin sheets, and everything seemed to have a rosy glow? You said you loved my blonde highlights and that negligée, the deceptively silky white thigh-high rayon with the virginal sweetheart neckline. After I gave you the photo we lingered by the dying fire with candied orange peel, and dark chocolate, and extra-dry California champagne. You joked about what might happen if you framed the picture and put it on your desk at work.

I wasn’t expecting the black leather outfit in yesterday’s care package. It’s amazing that the merry widow, the thong, even the fishnet stockings and the garters are all just my size! I was puzzled to find my glamour shot underneath, though. I was even more surprised to see the next photo in the stack. That was quite a naughty French maid costume the brunette with the green cat-eyes was wearing. And the redhead in the third photo sure has an overbite. Did whatever was under her tiger-striped teddy make up for it? The last photo – your wedding portrait, dated Christmas 1993 – explained a lot. And what it didn’t, the nice letter from your wife did. She sent me all those pictures because she wasn’t sure which of the women was me.

And now I have a similar problem. I don’t know if the leather outfit and accessories belong to the brunette or to the redhead. I’m returning them to you, so you can give them to her yourself. I’m sure that she’d rather get them back from you than from some other woman.





Jerri Bell is the Managing Editor for O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project. She retired from the Navy in 2008; her assignments included antisubmarine warfare in the Azores Islands, sea duty on USS Mount Whitney and HMS Sheffield, and attaché duty at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in a variety of journals, newspapers, and blogs. She and former Marine Tracy Crow are the co-authors of It’s My Country Too: True Stories of Women Under Fire from the American Revolution to Afghanistan, forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books in 2017.


“On Perseverance: 5 Shorts” by Lucinda Kempe

On Perseverance (Triptych of Textures)
“Triptych of Textures,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

On Perseverance

12 step groups say: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” No it’s not, I say, irritating the hardliners. The definition of insanity is not being able to distinguish between reality and non-reality. In psychiatric terms, people who do repetitive actions are perseverated. Perseverated means stuck. You wash your hands twenty times, three, four, five, six or more times a day, or check to see if the stove has been turned off dozens of times before you leave the house, or, like me, you never veer from taking the Manorville exit because you’re terrified to get lost.

I’m not insane. I have General Anxiety Disorder, which is a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that can manifest in panic attacks so wild you appear momentarily schizoid. But I soldier on regardless. “Follow your fear.” My greatest fear is of success, not failure. I do failure well.

Perseverance is another way to define “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” Go to enough meetings, you may never like them but you’ll learn about humility in action. Hemingway wrote the last page of Farewell to Arms, thirty-nine times to “get the words right.” Brenda Miller works on her essays for twenty years. I began the first draft of a memoir in 2000 the year after my mother’s death—I’m still writing it.

I recognize my own perseveration – it’s emotional – The beauty is I persevere anyway.


On Failure

Drawing, acting, being a daughter, mother, wife, and writing: I failed all of it until I got sober. Not that I was drunk from day one–albeit family lore has it that my mother put diluted gin and tonic in my baby bottle to offset diaper rash. Alcohol at my house spelled anesthesia. Weary of alcohol induced amnesia, I put it down and examined my ills. The crux began with lively and bright bifurcated parents; my mother from my father; her mother from the past; my father’s mother from four marriages; and my father from madness. They failed. Themselves, each other, and the children they produced.

“It doesn’t matter how rotten you are, or if you fail. A failed parent is better than a dead parent. A failed parent at least gives you someone to rail against.”

–Louise Erdrich

I failed to keep my father alive; I couldn’t prevent his becoming a ghost. How I would have loved his failure in the flesh; I would read to him poems by Roethke on the sadness of pencils, passages from Erdrich’s Plague of Doves, and Virginia Woolf’s failed righting of a moth. . ..

I am failing now.

I try again. I am failing better.


On Suicide

My father wrote poems, painted, and acted but none of that saved his life. Of course, he was a paranoid schizophrenic, dead by age thirty-nine – he hanged himself with his belt nailed to a door frame the summer of my fifteenth year. I doubt writing about his mother, who had him as a teen, could have made him well. I don’t like writing about my father. He was an absent father and his last action wasn’t a gift. I went to his funeral alone where I met his mother for the first time in my recorded memory. After his death I turned him into a potent specter I sought in the beds of strangers.

Having failed to take my own life a couple of times, I am an unsuccessful suicide. I have written about my mother and grandmother and me, but writing about my father feels insurmountable, and not just because I didn’t know him.

Maybe I like that omnipotent ghost too much.

Maybe putting him down on paper will transmogrify my flesh.

Maybe I’m a masochist who won’t let go.


On Funny

“Bundled in the back seat of a United Taxi cab, Mama and I set off on yet another one of our adventures: I to have an abortion and Mama, lunch—she’d brown-bagged a sandwich to take along.” That opening made me laugh. From laughter I could write my abortion story. My mother packed a sandwich to eat in the waiting room of the clinic, a few feet away from where her only child, a twenty-two-year-old college girl has the inside of her uterus suctioned out. There was never a question of keeping the baby. “I’m not going to be a nursemaid for anyone or anything unless it’s a ticket out of here,” Mama said when I’d broached the idea.

Mama called herself the head psychiatric and geriatric nurse at The Crisis Center, her term for our house. Mama was the “Boatswain of Crisis” and I was the storm. Dear God, but Mama was funny. Funny saved my life time and time again. Funny allows me to step away from what’s sad. There was such sadness at home anesthetized by alcohol and books. The booze did so much damage but the books saved us from truth—

Living with each other required fiction on all our parts.


On Mothers and Daughters

Mama was a looker: brilliant brown eyes, a Patrician nose and coral mouth, shoulder-length red hair, small waist on a five foot seven frame, Double D breasts, and a dancer’s calves pixilated by thousands of pale red freckles. But it was her wicked wit, powers of observation, and literate mind that brought me to my knees. Mama got her looks from Ellen Virginia Tobin White, the maternal family matriarch known as “Mummy.”

“There’s little Mr. So-and-so standing in the corner looking like a pale cocktail onion,” Mummy’s purported having said.

I have a picture of my grandmother and Mummy taken in Biloxi, Mississippi, 1935. They stand on a front porch, looking like weird Siamese twins bound at the hip, hair in identical bobs, and wearing Mary Jane pumps. Mummy coyly tilts her neck and eyes the camera. My grandmother squints; looks away.

“You’ll survive because you’re the center of your own universe,” Mama once said to me.

I look like Mummy and inherited the matrilineal tongue—when it comes to my own daughter, I bite it.



Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Summerset Review, Matter Press’s Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, decomP, and Corium. She won the Joseph Kelly Prize for Creative Writing in 2015 and is an M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University.

Read an interview with Lucinda here.


Announcing our July illustrator–Fay Henexson!

Fay image1I’m thrilled to announce that Fay Henexson has graciously allowed us to use her beautiful photography to illustrate our July issue. Fay is a native Californian, a librarian by profession and a photographerby avocation.  She developed a passion for photography during her career as a law librarian with the California Attorney General’s Office, and since her retirement has relished the opportunity to expand and deepen that passion.

She maintains a strong interest in nature and outdoor photography, but no longer considers herself an ‘outdoor photographer.’  Instead, she tries to simply be ‘interested’ – in the present moment, and in whatever direction her eye, and her heart, may lead her.
Fay image2
Fay has developed a fascinating interest–she uses her camera to find abstracts – in old buildings, neglected machinery and other objects. The untended object becomes unintended art.
Fay image
She has also been exploring techniques that go beyond straight photography, such as motion blur, photomontage, scanner art and light painting.  Her work can be seen on her website and its companion blog, Spirit Standing Still.


Thank you, Fay, We are so looking forward to the July issue!


“What To Do On a Day Like This” by Danielle Kelly

What to Do on a Day Like This(Diamonds and Rust)
“Diamonds and Rust,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

December 14, 2012 – Authorities in Connecticut responded to a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Police reported 27 deaths, including 20 children, six adults and the shooter. The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting. — The Huffington Post

Highway 34 stretches for miles. I drive with a wine carrier strapped in the passenger seat of the mini-van I borrowed from my parents. I had made the decision to transfer graduate programs, moving from Connecticut back home to West Virginia. Maybe moving was caused by homesickness. Maybe not. Either way, running was becoming my M.O. and I wasn’t going to hide from it any longer.

Cal, the automated GPS voice, reroutes me, trying his best to take me through New York City. Four trips back and forth from Connecticut had taught me the quickest way out of the state was to go north then west. My trip home to West Virginia had become a series of checkpoints: Danbury, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Morgantown, and, eventually, Beverly.

Newtown connects highway to interstate and nothing more. I pass through town, looking for the I-84 ramp but I can’t even find a piece of trash on the sidewalk.  It is the kind of road I took advantage of at home, the kind of road well-traveled but soon forgotten. Buildings fade into each other as the highway weaves past vintage storefronts. Mannequins stand erect and naked in the windows left of the highway. They are more like body forms. Headless. Limbless. Stumpy necks covered with wide-brimmed hats.

A crossing guard stops traffic in front of Sandy Hook Elementary School. A mom nudges her son to the crosswalk. The boy, maybe nine, headphones down to his waist, glances at his mom, then to the school, and back to his mom again. When he doesn’t move, his mom grabs his arm and leads him. The boy’s feet scrape the concrete. While I wait, I pray the van doesn’t eat my CD and force me into a twelve hour drive of silence. Idina Menzel’s gravelly voice rises from the speakers, and I try to match her tone but my voice can’t manage Idina’s grittiness.

The wine bottles clink off key as traffic begins to move. I’m not sure if it is the music or the traffic or the wine that makes me miss the turn-off for the interstate, but I miss the blue sign and pull into Newtown Fire Hall’s parking lot. I blame Cal. He recalibrates while I find the printed directions my mom always nagged me about carrying, just in case. The goal is to reach Beverly in time to enjoy St. Brendan Catholic Church’s annual Christmas party. A party where barking Jingle Bells and passing religious paraphernalia like a wind-up nun who shoots sparks from her mouth is normal.


Somewhere after Scranton and before Wilkes-Barre a guy at the travel plaza breaks the news first. McDonald’s and gasoline cling to my clothes. He’s in his forties, shoulders pulled back, the word LORD tattooed on his knuckles. We stand shoulder to shoulder, the coffee pots crammed together, reaching over one another for sugar and cream.

“Did you hear about those kids?” he asks.

I focus on my perfect ratio of sugar, cream, and coffee. I just want coffee; I just want to get home, reunite with family and people who I didn’t have to try to impress. I want to know the people and places around me again.

“News said twenty are dead.” His eyes are soft, sunken in from age, a bandana covering his hair.

I take in his tattoo, trace the edges of the red lettering with my eyes. “I hadn’t heard,” I say.

He says the kids are the same age as his girlfriend’s daughter Ella then rips open a handful of sugar packets, dumping them in his cup. Then he says he hopes the fucker who shot the kids at least shot himself. He hands me a lid and we walk to the register.

“Where’d it happen?” I ask. The question hangs between us and the shrill beeps of the register.

He pays for my coffee. I pull my sweatshirt around me, fumbling with my zipper. I thank him, get back in the van, and pull up the news on my phone. The picture captures a line of coatless children, their arms outstretched holding on to the classmate in front of them, like a limp chain of prisoners led out of their cells.


In elementary school, I rode my bike on our dead-end street listening to The Little Mermaid soundtrack on my Walkman. Hot, hot, hot, I had mouthed in time with the music. Now, as I drive up the dead-end street, I think about the coatless children, outside of Sandy Hook. See people rocking, hear people chanting. I pull the van halfway in our yard, half in the neighbor’s, the woven steering wheel cover imprinted on my fingertips.

Why did the kids hold on to each other’s shoulders and not each other’s hands? A hand is more permanent. A hand forgives more than a Spiderman t-shirt. I would have wanted someone’s hand, to feel another sweaty palm pressed against my own.

As I stare in the rearview mirror, I promise myself not to talk about driving by Sandy Hook. What I saw or might have seen. What I missed. I unbuckle the wine, fumbling with the seat belt, the heat of an unusually warm December rising to my cheeks.

Inside, Jean, a schoolteacher, sees me first, her mouth agape. “Your parents said you weren’t coming.” She wraps her arms around me and I collapse into her chest. Woodsy musk and peppermint encases me.

“They don’t know,” I say.

Up North, no one knew me, which is what I had planned on when I applied to the graduate program. I went to class two nights a week and worked two jobs around campus. But I had fed off of my manager’s stories of weekends remodeling a house all the while imagining I was with my own family weaving through Ikea’s aisles. I had fed off of courteous questions. Top five favorite books. Favorite music. Was West Virginia really its own state? Every night, though, I had sat in a 500-square-foot apartment, playing my piano and singing to a phantom audience, wondering where I had lost myself.

Cabinet doors slam in the kitchen and Mom’s voice cuts through to instruct someone to take the potato casserole out of the oven. I try to see past the crowd of people smashed together in the doorway, but they are too hungry to move from the cheese balls and Buffalo chicken dip.

“I heard there’s a party here?” I say. At first, no one turns around. I clear my throat and try again, my breath deeper and more weight in my voice. “I heard there’s a party here?” The words come out more high-pitched, almost like a scream.

Jean’s husband turns first, Buffalo dip hanging from his mustache. His eyes widen behind his glasses and he hugs me. Fast and hard. Then Carol turns, decked out in her Christmas turtleneck, drapes an arm around my shoulder. In five months, her hair has turned from gray to white. Dad sees me next and grins, the same grin I inherited from him.

“Surprise.” I hand him the wine.

Mom rushes toward us. She has stopped frosting her hair to hide the gray.

“Isn’t this the best surprise,” Jean says.

“Did you hit traffic?” Dad says.

“Not too much,” I lie, and follow mom to the kitchen.

The kitchen is at capacity. Shoulder to shoulder parishioners stand eating and drinking and asking me if I like the North or if I had met someone yet? I nod, pull open drawers, shuffle through spatulas and slotted spoons, trying to find the corkscrew. My hands shake.

“You okay?” Mom asks.

I pop the cork out of the wine and pour a full glass, spilling a little on the counter top. “I’m just tired. I think I’m going to lie down.”

As I turn to go to my room, she grabs a paper towel and cleans up my spill. I turn on CNN while Dad and Jean stand in the hallway outside my room speculating about the updated death toll. CNN shows the same images I saw earlier: ten kids bound together by fear, led out as if they were prisoners, their hands holding on to the shoulders in front of them, parents’ contorted tear-streaked faces full of relief, worry, the horror of seeing their kids forced to grow up too soon.

The cameras cut to the anchor who is fighting a catch in his voice, before focusing on the front of the fire department, now a makeshift morgue, behind him. I stare at the familiar brick building with the seven garage doors that sit off the main road. The parking lot now full of emergency cars. I had turned around in that parking lot. I keep my eyes trained on the TV. This morning nothing had seemed out of place. The storefronts had been decorated for Christmas, the mannequins dressed in the last available merchandise. No one had been out on the streets but the crossing guard and the students and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary.

I wondered, if I’d slept a little later, would things have been different? What if I’d pulled into the school instead of the fire hall? Would I have seen him, the shooter? If I saw him, could I have looked in his eyes and stopped him? To reassure him, and tell him that he would find the answer if only he would wait and suffer through like the rest of us.

Every muscle in my body constricts. I take deep breaths, the same kind of breaths I took when I had panic attacks on I-95 when I lived in Connecticut. Every breath intended to keep me from breaking down in front of our entire group of party guests. I wonder if this is how the kids at Sandy Hook felt. I imagine them hunched under desks, their backs to the door, while markers mix with bullets and cries fade into sirens forming a Christmas carol none of them had ever heard. And so they suck the air and surrender to the sting of tears waiting for the carol to be over and for someone—their teacher, their parents, even the principle dressed as Santa Claus—to hug them and reassure them everything will be all right. I imagine it’s what I would have wanted.

I don’t know how long Dad stands in the doorway before I notice him. “You’re lucky,” he says. “They closed some of the roads because of the shooting.” He walks over and places a hand on my back.

I see my reflection in his eyes. My hair frizzy and my shirt wrinkled. How do I tell him I was stuck behind the SUVs and Minivans of unsuspecting parents and how his daughter made it home.

I take the last sips of the wine. “I know,” I say, “Lucky.”

How do I explain to him why the kids held on to each other’s shoulders and not each other’s hands? A hand is more permanent. A hand forgives more than a Spiderman t-shirt.



Danielle Kelly holds an MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan College and is Managing Editor of HeartWood, an online literary journal. She is a banker, a multi-denominational church singer, and currently serves as Adjunct Instructor of English at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV.

Read an interview with Danielle here.

“A Fine Line” by Cyndy Muscatel

A Fine Line (Vortex #2).pg
“Vortex #2,” Photograph by Fay Henexson

If only I hadn’t decided to go out on deck that night.

Anchored in the middle of the Galapagos chain of islands, our boat floated on the Equatorial Line with the ease of a high-wire aerialist. The lure of the night sky called, and I slipped out of our cabin to stand by the rail. How could I not go out and see the Southern Cross high above me to my right—the Big Dipper and the North Star to my left? I was smack-dab on the middle of the earth.

Who could have guessed that one of the mosquitoes using me as target practice that night was illiterate? We were in a “No Malaria Zone,” dammit. I’d checked twice with the CDC before we left for South America. My luck—Ms. Quito Mosquito, an Anopheles by genus name, was an empty-headed beauty queen who didn’t care about the pronouncements of the World Health Organization. She was an indiscriminate vampire who’d gotten mixed up with some malaria folk. Filled with their plasmodium, she paid it forward, thrusting the microscopic parasites into my bloodstream. I really don’t blame her. She was a fact of Global Warming. I became one of its victims.

I almost died. That sounds so melodramatic I feel embarrassed to write it, but it’s true.

“Her fever is still spiking at 105. Now her kidneys are shutting down,” the doctor said to my husband. They stood on either side of my hospital bed talking as if I weren’t there. I was—I just didn’t have the energy to open my eyes. I was so weak by that point my body couldn’t even gain purchase on the bed. The nurse’s aide would pull me to the top, but I’d slip to the bottom within an hour.

“Well, what do we do?” my husband asked.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “But I’m thinking she has only twenty-four hours left to live.”

“What are you talking about? For Christ’s sake, she’s strong and healthy. She just did the Inca Trail two weeks ago. You better figure out something.” The aggressiveness in my husband’s tone was comforting. Although he knew nothing about taking care of someone who was ill, his Type A personality got things done.

They moved out of the room, but I could hear the murmur of their voices from the corridor. I tried calling out, “What are you talking about?” but my feeble attempt went unheard. What was the doctor saying out of earshot? I wondered. Could it be any worse than what he’d just said?

We’d been having problems with the doctor from the beginning of my illness five days before. My first symptom had been an aching in my legs, which spread to all my joints. That morning I was supposed to pick out granite for our house remodel. I told my husband I felt achy and exhausted—we both attributed it to our arduous trip in Peru and Ecuador. I drove myself to the warehouse, but by the time I got there I felt I couldn’t keep my head up. I managed to choose the granite and through force of will to make it home and to my bed. From then on, the world became murky.

I do remember calling my daughter in Los Angeles and telling her how sick I felt. She started keeping close tabs on my symptoms and began plugging them into the computer. On the second day, she called the doctor to tell him she’d been checking online and she thought I had malaria.

He freaked out. “Don’t you ever call me again with this kind of crap,” he told her. “I am the doctor—I make the diagnosis.”

Even though we’d just returned from a third-world country, he refused to consider the possibility that I had an infectious disease picked up on my travels. He was obdurate until he got scared that I would die. In desperation, he relented. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t too late, and fortunately the infectious disease specialist was from Pakistan. He’d seen malaria many times and put me on the malaria antibiotic doxycycline. Within eight hours I was able to sit up and dangle my feet over the side of the bed.

The next morning, the aide who had wiped my face and arms with such care for four days while I shook with fever was able to guide me into the bathroom. It was the sixth day since I had fallen ill.

“Oh my God. My face is so yellow,” I said when I looked into the mirror.

“Not as yellow as it has been. It’s much better,” the aide said.

I looked again and thought the color appalling. Then I saw how thin I was—beyond gaunt. I hadn’t eaten anything since the aching began. When they weighed me, I had lost fourteen pounds. I also lost my appetite. It took days until I learned to eat again. When they brought me a tray of food, a slab of something covered in gravy, I was so nauseous that I almost passed out. Finally I was able to nibble on soda crackers and sip some ginger ale.

For much of the acute stage of my illness, I was in Hallucination Land. Once I was hospitalized, I saw myself in the Chicago train station every afternoon at 4:00 p.m., waiting in line to buy a ticket to Syracuse. It was always my turn next. On the Sunday the neurologist administered the spinal tap, I hallucinated up a soothing mid-century décor for the procedure. The room was low-lit with futons in aqua and coral. That night I was forbidden to move for eight hours, but the bone-aching pain made me toss and turn. A handy-dandy hallucination had me imagining I was cradled in the arms of four strong women, although in reality it was my husband holding me tight.

I had other mental experiences that were not exactly of the “real world.” I saw a faraway light with a door sliding shut on it. I knew if I didn’t keep the door open, it would be the end for me. One afternoon I was overwhelmed with the effort. “I’m too tired,” I said in my head. “I’m going to let it go.”

But my father came to stop me. I think he was dressed in one of his satin smoking jackets. He’d been dead for two years. “Daughter, we don’t give up in this family,” he said.

“Okay, Dad. I’ll keep trying then.” Knowing he was close by, the task no longer seemed as difficult. Dad was as real to me as the nurse who came in to take my temperature. Maybe more real.

Then there were the children only I could see reflected in the blank television monitor. Dressed in white, they stood around my bed, which was now in a lush garden. I leaned forward and a cherubic baby popped up from behind my pillow.

“Maybe they were angels sent to guide you to heaven,” my friend Else said when I told her later.

I shook my head. “No, that wasn’t it. They were taking care of me. I am safe with them by my side.” It was as clear a statement as my slurred speech allowed.

The slurred speech thing got me into trouble. In my head, I heard myself talking normally. I had no idea that the thirteen words came out as four aloud, and garbled at that. My husband thought I’d had a stroke. My son and daughter, both hundreds of miles away, were frantic. Friends who came to visit me in the hospital told me later they cried at the elevator when they left. They all thought they had lost me. I, of course, was in oblivion.

Going back to the general topic of malaria for a moment, the parasite burrows into the liver. I know this because malaria has become a hot topic, and it was the cover story in National Geographic. That’s why I was jaundiced. But I can tell you from experience that those little buggers hit each body organ hard. Talk about the domino effect. As they circulated, the newest system they entered went wonky. I had MRIs, CAT scans, PET scans, a colonoscopy…you name it. But I felt it was my head, inside and out, which took the brunt of the barrage. I lost everything from memory to handfuls of hair. Parts of my memory, short and long term, were wiped clean. Even today it’s hard to figure out if I’m having a senior or a malaria moment. One strange aside is that my ability with numbers increased. I am better at math and can memorize numbers that I never could before. As for my hair, it seems to have highlighted memory. Lots of it still falls out every year in May—in memory, I guess, of my case of malaria.

Joking aside, the language issue was tough on me. If I am vain about anything, it is my facility with language. Words have always come trippingly to my tongue, but for months I had aphasia—I might have said fork when I meant foot. Some words were simply gone. Like Ottawa. I was reading Middlesex and I had no idea if Ottawa was a place, a car, or some kind of food. Not knowing made me feel as if I were surreal. I couldn’t write for a year—couldn’t put the proper mix of words together. It was so frustrating, I abandoned the effort. This from a person who thought the essential items to bring to the hospital besides clean underwear and lipstick were a pen and notebook. I wrote every day while I was there. I kept the notebook—none of the handwriting looks like mine.

When I went home from the hospital, I was still very sick. My recovery was no faster than the pace of the tortoises we’d watched in the Galapagos. I had a fever and a cough for months. I woke up sweating and parched every night. I could not get my energy back. I also used to have the shakes all day long. Those tapered off, but even now, six years later, if I get overtired, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, shaking. And I could not get my energy back. I didn’t have that buffer between feeling tired and complete depletion. It’s only in the last year that I don’t have to nap each day.

As I reread what I have written, I am struck by how close I was to dying. I wonder when it is finally my time if Dad will be there again, this time to welcome me in. In? In to where? Heaven? But I don’t believe in Heaven, do I? Or life after death, for that matter. I believe that when we die our individual spark leaves our earthly bodies and soars back into the teeming, churning mass of the collective energetic field of the universe. But what if I am wrong? What if on that May afternoon when I looked into the television that wasn’t turned on and I saw a lush garden—what if I were seeing heaven?

When you almost die, it does change you forever. As my body started to shut down, I didn’t think about the novels I never got published or whether I’d been a good mother and grandmother. I accepted I was dying and I had few regrets. Except I remember distinctly asking myself, But what about the fun I was going to have? Where did the time for enjoyment go? It will be a shame to miss out on that.

I have never forgotten that. I have a worker-bee mentality, but I am getting better at plain enjoying life. I also lost my ambition. I had a novel half finished and completely outlined. I think it was good—I liked the characters and the plot was strong. At first I wasn’t strong enough to go back and finish it. By the time I got my concentration and language back, I’d lost interest. I eventually returned to magazine writing, doing feature interviews with entertainers, authors, politicians, and professional athletes. But when my editor quit, I left with her. I wasn’t willing to put up with the unsteady ego of a new broom. And I don’t miss it. I love the freedom to be able to travel whenever we want. I love the freedom to be able to write an essay, a blog, a poem, or a short story without feeling I have to have it published to prove myself. I want to experience life not to only write about it. I no longer think I have an endless stream of days, so each one is more precious than before.

If I could, would I change that moment and not go out on the deck? Part of me says yes—I have certain health problems that I know were brought on by the trauma of the disease and the fever, and I’d certainly like my full head of hair back! But the experience is part of the fabric of my life. I have learned so much from it. Besides, I got to balance for a while on the greatest equatorial line. I got a peek into eternity.



Cyndy Muscatels short stories, poetry and essays have been published in many literary journals. A former journalist, she now writes two blogs. She teaches fiction writing and memoir, and is also a speaker and workshop presenter. She is writing a memoir of her years teaching in the inner city of Seattle.

Read an interview with Cyndy here.