The Front Line

You lead me down the stairs gently, like a shy dancer. “This is it,” you whisper. I
nod back and shuck off my coat and drape it over the handlebars of the old exercise
bike. The air is cold and still. Boxes are stacked across an air hockey table and
shelves burst with books and movies. Things are shoved underneath surfaces. I try
to observe without appearing to look for anything.

“Everything’s ready to go. I’d need a week tops and I could clear right out of here,”
you say.

“I like it,” I say.

You shrug and smile a little. Here are pieces of your life packed in cardboard, sorted
like silverware. Part of me wants to sink to my knees on your basement carpet and
sift through those boxes for tiny precious things you might have forgotten are

“Can I see your room?” I ask.

“You can see whatever you want,” you whisper.

I put my hand on your cheek. “Why are you whispering?”

“Habit.” You kiss my open palm.

“But no one’s home.”

“Doesn’t matter,” you tell me. “I’ve learned to make as little noise as possible.”

The first thing I notice about your bedroom is the burnt sienna carpeting. I know
that plush color in my gut. Jedis stare wisely down from shelves and storm troopers
look uncomfortable about their pants. Caped superheroes stand proudly with
determinedly pointed elbows. Comic characters and dusty action figures I don’t
recognize fill in like anonymous soldiers. “It’s a shrine to my childhood,” you say.
These are the faces of your life. Scanning them, I feel like a spy, as though I’ve
crept in the window to watch you sleep.

You spread the Star Wars blanket over the carpet and we sink slowly onto it, taking
our clothes off on the way, racing our own gravity. Your hair becomes the burnt
sienna carpet. Your hands unfold across my stomach. On this blanket on the floor
of your underground room you have the authority of a boy who knows the way to
something secret. In the dark your face rises like an apparition and my hold tightens
across your back. As we move against the orange field of your carpet, Spiderman
and Yoda and all the rest backlit in red look down upon us, neither in judgment nor
joy. When we begin to move faster I close my eyes and can still feel them watching.

Afterwards we lie on our backs, sweating on the Star Wars blanket. I tuck my head
in near your shoulder. You contemplate a shelf of action figures. “The unhappier I
felt, the more I bought,” you say. “You were building an army,” I say. I tighten my
arm and leg around you and start counting your heroes. I reach seventy before my
eyes get tired. The Justice League stands guard over you. Batman and Superman
cross their arms over their chests, biceps bulging with confidence. They’ve kept you
safe, and now they have reinforcements.



Joelle Renstrom is currently in the MFA program for creative writing at the University of
British Columbia, with a focus in short fiction, poetry and a combination of the two. Her
work has been published in the Allegheny Review, Sycamore Review, Adirondack
Review and Friction Magazine. A chapbook of her poetry was published by the
University of Arkansas press. Her interests include the color orange, cheese, chapstick,
electronica, beer, dysfunction, patterns and freaks.


The first time you spent the night I surprised myself. I made lasagna. And at a quarter to nine I turned to you and said, “hey, you don’t really want to go see that movie, do you?”

We went up to my room to research a point of grammar. You settled onto my bed and I sat
at my desk and we looked at each other. I crossed my hands on my lap and time stood teetering on the head of a pin. Words had never been invented.

Somehow it came to be that I was on the bed too and we were kissing like children who had just discovered joy in their soft mouths. At three I invited you to stay. That night I drifted through layers of lucidity while circling sleep. Your face so close to mine startled me more than once.

In the morning I made you coffee with steamed milk and sugar. I tried to stay breezy. After you left I stretched out on the couch in the muted afternoon light as though I had a touch of the flu. I stared at my toes peaking from the end of the blanket. I couldn’t think about anything. I didn’t know how to feel. It was like someone had died. Only whoever it was, I never really liked her and had been waiting a long time for her to go.



Joelle Renstrom is currently in the MFA program for creative writing at the University of British Columbia, with a focus in short fiction, poetry and a combination of the two. Her work has been published in the Allegheny Review, Sycamore Review, Adirondack Review and Friction Magazine. A chapbook of her poetry was published by the University of Arkansas press. Her interests include the color orange, cheese, chapstick, electronica, beer, dysfunction, patterns and freaks.

Riverside Park

Rain washed railings prop me up
an audience of moored boats
wriggle in their seats

From a quiet river rostrum
I address a crowd
of broken rotting poles

All stand at miserable attention
waiting for a time when
I am gone and they may rest

But they will indulge me a while
as they do their drifting brothers
dislodged from earth upstream

Who must be wide-ranging travelers
to have strayed so far from home
they are here now, so I greet them

What other strangers gather to hear
my silent address to water
bottles, pebbles, an old red balloon

Come one, come all, to our merry feast
furnished by sun, wind, rain
concrete settles underfoot, as I uncap my pen.


Alex Parrish is a founding editor of Fire Ring Voices, an anthology of poetry and prose by male writers. He has studied writing, history, and classics at various institutions, including Oxford’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, The Graduate Center (CUNY), Bemidji State University,and The University Minnesota. He recently presented as a finalist in the Global Shakespeare Project.

Zyprexa, Remeron, Effexor

These meds could be intergalactic
triplets, or new Nautilus
exercise equipment, for the dual
diagnosis you’re not ready
to tell me about.

Or maybe they’re the names
of new constellations
you might chart
your new course by.


Nancy Mitchell is the author of THE NEAR SURROUND (Four Way Books, 2002). Her work has been published in such journals as Agni, The Marlboro Review, Salt Hill Journal, and Poetry Daily, and has been anthologized in LAST CALL (Sarabande Books).  A professor in the English Department, she teaches Creative Writing and courses on Creativity in the Honors Program at Salisbury University, Maryland. She has also taught in the Stonecoast MFA program in Maine.

Island Love

I love those little traffic islands
where the lone sign or the few
stand like emaciated haiku poets
holding up their poems,

mournful, necessary poems that always
point the reader somewhere
far away and very near
with a few right words.

Some of the islands have names
like Lieutenant William Kelley, Jr. Square, honoring those who died,
perhaps young, perhaps barely old enough to drive,

and perhaps in love
with someone far away and very

driving around on a Saturday night, thinking

of a boy stationed on an island
in the middle of nowhere
dreaming of peacetime, dreaming
of making love to her right there

on a beach of that island,
one of its blue flowers breathing
its untranslatable name
in her hair.


Paul Hostovsky has new poems appearing or forthcoming in Free Lunch, New Delta Review, Bryant Literary Review, Visions International, Nebo, Slant, FRiGG, Driftwood, Heartlodge, Rock & Sling, ByLine and others. He works in Boston as an Interpreter for the Deaf.

Whisper All Things

The flower shop is cooler, darker than the sticky day outside. I pull my sunglasses
up into my hair and stop just inside the door.

“Can I help you?” asks the girl behind the counter.

“No, I’m just looking.”

I don’t want to tell her that I have no idea what I’m looking for, that I have never been to a florist. I don’t know how to say that I have waited fourteen years to go to my mother’s grave and that’s what I am doing today.

My sister always takes her red roses. Always three—one for each of her children.

My mother loved roses. When my father brought them home, it was a dozen in every color
possible. They would end up clustered in the same olive-green glass vase on the dining room table. She would choose a different one as her favorite each time—pink, red, white, yellow. I walk past the Mother’s Day baskets and the teddy bears with caps and gowns to stand in front of the refrigerator cases. They are full of arrangements ready for sale, finished off with coordinating ribbons and sprays of greenery or baby’s breath.

I don’t want this. I want simple flowers to lay at a headstone.

At the register, prepared to ask the counter girl what else they have, I see a woman in the back arranging a tall bunch of long stemmed, star-shaped flowers with bright pink and white blooms.

“What are those?”

The girl turns as I point. “Stargazer lilies.”

They remind me of the orange tiger lilies that used to grow along the road near our house when I was young. I used to beg my mother to stop so I could pick them and take them home. I thought they would have a sweet, heavy scent. When she finally stopped and let me pull a few, they didn’t have any scent at all.

The girl brought some of the lilies for me to see up close. I put a creamy one up to my face and inhaled. It smelled the way I had dreamed the wild tiger lilies would.

“I want three.”


The day my mother died, she didn’t pick us up at school. She called and told the
school that she would be late, that her mother would come to get us and we would wait
with her. She asked to talk to my sister and cried on the phone. Stephanie was still
crying, her eyes red to show how much, when she came to tell us.

Huddled like conspirators at the top of the porch stairs behind my grandmother’s
house, we waited with expectant silence.

“Mom should have been here by now,” Steph said.

“It can’t be five yet,” I answered, still too young to own a watch, “It’s not dark enough.”

“It has to be. I’m hungry.”

Jesse, always the little brother, dug his fingers into the nearly empty tub of prunes.

My sister scooped out two more, one for me and one for her, before letting the waxy cardboard disappear into our brother’s arms. He wrapped it safely against his chest. The Diet Pepsi made one more pass before the last drops rolled down my throat.

“I’m still thirsty,” I said, knowing they weren’t listening.

We were all staring at the yard and the shadows forming across it as the blue in the sky started to fade. The breeze that had made me turn my face up to the sky earlier was now getting chilly and made me want to be at home—warm inside the house and waiting for dinner.

“Mom’s late. She’s always late.” My sister’s voice was clipped, like she couldn’t get enough breath. It sounded like an answer, but no one had asked a question.

It was true. Late was normal for her. She would drink a beer too many, forget the time, and fly down the road to us at school. I had even stopped listening for our number in the carpool line because so many afternoons found us trooping across the school grounds to the convent where the sisters lived, all the other staff having left for the day. They would always call home first, as if she might have forgotten that we existed. Some of those calls found her at home, unconcerned, long after the lines of cars had deserted the parking lot.

“She’s just not coming,” I said. “She forgot us.”

“She never forgets us. She always comes.”

I looked at the ground below us. Steph was right; she always came, no matter how late. No matter what else either—drunk or angry, happy or sad—she was always there. I never knew who would be behind the wheel at the end of the day—which mother. The angry mom usually told us to pile three in the back so she didn’t have to look at us. That also meant quiet. Any noise meant there would be yelling, someone would cry, and she would reach for the leather belt neatly rolled in her purse—all while maneuvering the car near sixty.

But there were other days. Days when she pulled into the empty pre-dinner parking lot of Mr. Dee’ s, her favorite barbecue place, and we would eat dripping sandwiches and deep-fried onion rings before 4 o’clock. We would sip Cokes in red and yellow plastic booths that gave loud squeals as we climbed in and out of them. She laughed with us and told us jokes we were too young to hear.

“Your mother will be here,” our grandmother said through the open kitchen door, putting an end to the conversation.


Driving down the road with the heavy scent of lilies hanging in the hot, May wind, I wonder why I have waited fourteen years to go back to the cemetery. I could have gone with Steph. She goes every year. I could have gone alone once I was old enough to drive. But I never did. I have always remembered this day, the anniversary, and I have always spent it alone, quiet, holding everything in. Almost like I was still waiting for her to come home.

I think I decided to make this trip when I found the death certificate I had never before seen. For so long, I’d held onto the child’s dream that she wasn’t really dead, that she would come back some day. I needed the paper to make it real. I found it in an old family album. The pages were thick, black paper with little pockets to hold the photographs, browning with age. Snapshots mostly, her parents in childhood scenes—a rope swing at a lake, a family drive in the country in what looks to be a Model T. The certificate was flimsy and white. I ran my fingers ran across the ridges and bumps of the county seal.

I opened the tri-fold and read: Diane Lynn Jacobe, May 8, 1987, single-car accident, approx. 5 PM.

I did not blink, and I could not feel the page in my hand.

I wanted more than the words. The police report said a cigarette and the dash lighter were on the floor, that she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, that she went through the window when the car hit a telephone pole. I have known these facts since she died. They do not tell me what I want to know. I imagine her crying as she leaves the house, hot tears blurring her vision.

Maybe she drops the keys in the gravel and kneels to search for them, the rocks stabbing through her jeans and leaving marks that never heal. She gets in the car, somewhere between hysterical and drunk. She forgets the divorce papers under the seat, which the State Police will later return to my father unsigned in their manila envelope. Less than a mile down the narrow road, she decides to light a cigarette. It will calm her–it always does.

The tears are drying now, alcohol or sobriety gaining control over emotion. I imagine her reaching for the dash lighter and see it slipping. Imagine glossy soft pack of Merits falling on the floor. She looks down. She reaches. She knows this road. She knows how to drive with vision hazy from tears and beer.

I don’t want to picture her after that–the fear, the rush of trees and the telephone
pole. The wide field that may be road. Did she know? She must have seen the coming
because there were skid marks. She tried to stop. I don’t want to think about the
broken windshield, her body in the grass, the blood. I don’t want to ask if she felt the
impact, the crash of the glass. I cannot let myself think that she could have laid there
knowing what had happened.

What I want to know is this:did she think about us. About all the other times this could
have happened? Did she think about the past or wonder how she would heal, believing
she would live? The police report says she died on impact, but how could they really


Grown now and behind the wheel of my own car, I am traveling backward. I
Begin close to my old school, By her mother’s house. The places she didn’t see that
day. I drive on the one road into the rural county where we lived then, the road she
never made it to. I never drove these roads, too small when we moved away and no
reason to come back. I am coming to the road—her road—and I turn, even though it’s
not the way to the cemetery.

I never knew where she died; our father would never say and the county gave us house
numbers long after. For years after I searched each telephone poll along Rural Route
694 for signs of an accident, checked the pavement for skid marks. That’s what I do
now. I pass the same houses, fields of wheat and corn and hay that she must have
passed. These were the last things she saw. Some of them. Somewhere on the road, I
pass the place where she died . I want a marking place, something to label—it began


It was dark when I woke that night, lifted from bed by big hands. I knew my father in
the dark, his cologne, the shape of his lap. I felt safe. I sighed as if I had been awakened
from a nightmare. I took handfuls of his shirt. My fingers twisted the buttons, found
the gaps between them. My hand fit there, and I felt the warmth of his skin. When I
opened my eyes and blinked sleep away, I saw light slanting sideways across the room,
making him a silhouette. I thought I heard crying behind me, behind him.

I couldn’t see his face.

“Daddy? Daddy, where’s Mommy?”

“In Heaven with Jesus.”

I felt tears in my hair as he pulled me up under his chin. It is the only time I’ve
seen him cry. Even at the funeral, he didn’t cry. He held me in his lap because I couldn’t
feel my feet on the ground to walk. I don’t remember falling down but he must have
known because he carried me down the aisle to the front pew. I walked behind the
coffin, holding his hand with both of mine as we left the church. I watched as my uncles
fed the handrails onto the runners in the back of the hearse. The white curtains swung
against the coffin as they closed the door.

At the cemetery, green cloth covered the mountain of dirt missing from the dark
pit. The coffin was suspended high above it, out of my reach, on a silver frame that left
room for me to stare into the dark. A green tent kept the rain off my head. I sat in a
cold metal chair–a folding chair like in assemblies at school. People walked by and
touched me, as if they could heal me, put back the piece of myself that was gone. The
priest moved his mouth, but I didn’t hear him. All I heard was the slow, mechanical,
slightly rusty grind of gears as they carried the coffin into the ground. . I looked away
when the coffin’s shiny silver frame was the only visible sign left.


This cemetery sits beside US 301 as it winds toward Maryland and the
Chesapeake. I park in the empty lot beside the office and find her just beside the tan
gravel walking path, a flat, bronze marker with an inset for a vase. I’d expected a
headstone, though none of the graves have them. I wanted something to wrap my
fingers around. I kneel or maybe my legs just can’t hold me up, seeing this—her. I
want to dig my arms into the dirt. I don’t know if I am breathing or how, and before I
can stop them, tears are on my cheeks. My mouth is open, but my throat is choked
closed. No sound can come out.

I clean away fourteen years of nature and weather on that marker with spit, the
way she used to wipe my face after mud pies or a fall from a swing. My fingertips are
stained red and brown. When I lick them to scrub at the ridged letters spelling her
name, they leave a metallic bitterness on my tongue. I don’t stop until each letter and
number looks new. I think the years I’ve stayed away won’t matter if I can clean her

I pick up the lilies I don’t remember dropping. Maybe I just let them
go as I cried or when I knelt. I strip away the wrapping the flower shop girl tied so
carefully with a pink ribbon and place them across the bottom of the marker. I leave her
two stems and set the third one aside. I want to take it home and hold onto this scent,
this moment.

The wind dries the tears on my face as more roll slowly down. My fingers trail across
her name the way I would touch her face if I could. Tenderly. Uncertainly.

“I don’t want to be a ballerina anymore,” I tell her. “And my front teeth finally grew in.”
I tell her how much has changed and I find myself saying things like “but Steph probably
told you that” or “do you remember her?”. I say “I’m sorry I stayed away.” First I lie,
saying, “I’m not mad. Really.” Then I pound on the earth below the marker and
demand to know how she could have left us, what could I have done. I say “I needed
you and you never came home.” I tell her I spent my life looking for her face in crowds
of strangers.

Then, I stretch out next to her grave and prop my head up with one arm so I can lean
down and whisper all the things I would have told the mother I imagine.


Monica F. Jacobe is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer based in Washington, DC. Her creative work has appeared in The Ampersand and Prism, among others. She holds an MFA in creative writing from American University and is pursuing a doctorate at The Catholic University of America. A teacher of all kinds of writing, Monica currently teaches for the English Department at Catholic University, the AU/NTL program at American University, and the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. She also runs a reading series for DC writers at Riverby Books. Monica is hard at work on a novel, revisions of a collection of essays, of which Whisper All the Things is part, and scholarly writing about literature.

The Sun, the Moon, and the Baby

“The sun and the moon could have been fighting.” Doña Luz pursed her lips in concern.

I breathed out, grateful she blamed heavenly bodies.

“An eclipse, Laurita. Without you even knowing!”

I nodded. For a moment I let myself indulge in believing this. “I’ll check my calendar. See if it happened on an eclipse.”

A woman in a blue flowered apron and long braid walked down the dark corridor of the market toward us. Doña Luz lifted herself carefully up from the chair and hugged the woman, who then turned to greet me, excused herself for interrupting, and said she needed a pot.

Doña Luz burrowed her head into a pile of precariously balanced breakables and emerged
moments later with a large aluminum pot. Her tiny market stall overflowed with woven tortilla baskets, wooden spoons, chocolate stirrers, clay dishes, metal cookware. It was a
comfortable place, like an attic converted into a cozy living room and plunked down in the
corner of a market. Years earlier, when I’d lived here in Huajuapan teaching English and doing research on childbirth practices, she’d treated me as a granddaughter. Whenever I’d needed a grandma she’d given me big hugs, and this visit—my winter vacation—was no exception.

While the women examined the pot, knocking on it and cocking their heads to judge the echo, I sat on the doll-sized guest chair and thought about the sun and the moon fighting. It didn’t surprise me that Doña Luz had shaken her head and clucked at a half-hearted explanation involving random microscopic causes. Wandering outside during an eclipse seemed much more likely to her. Menstrual cycles do correspond to lunar cycles. I liked this explanation, so poetic and mythical, with forces astronomical and ancient affecting my body.

Back home in Colorado everyone—the midwife, my mother, my women friends— had assured me it was a random event. “One in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage,” they chimed. “Lots of women don’t even realize they’re pregnant, just think it’s just a heavy period.” No one, I thought bitterly, no one could mistake the fist-sized thing that slid out of me as a heavy period. Statistics couldn’t make it less real; they couldn’t absolve me.

After the customer left toting the giant pot, Doña Luz settled down across from me in her
chair, smoothing her apron over her knees. “Or, Laurita, maybe it was a cold wind that struck you.”

I felt glad her mind was still acute enough to pick up the conversation exactly where we’d left off. Since my brief visit the prior year, she’d become thirty pounds skinnier, her hollowed cheeks and thin voice betraying a severe bout of anemia and stomach infections.

I nodded. Her furrowed eyes sifted through seventy years of life experience.

“Or”– and here she grew excited– “you could have passed by a heavy place, where an evil wind struck you. You travel so much you might not even know which places are heavy!”

For five months—since August– I’d tiptoed around some explanations, one in particular, and tried unsuccessfully to embrace others. My fear now was that my pregnancy had been a fluke, a one-time shot and I’d blown it. I blinked back tears. “So what should I do?”

“Prepare your body, my daughter! Do a limpia with herbs. Put the heat back in your womb.
Wear a red strip of cloth around your belly. And don’t leave the house on an eclipse!”

The first woman who ever talked with me about her miscarriage was in the same rural Mexican town, about five years earlier. At that time, sex was all about not getting pregnant. I wasn’t sympathetic. I thought of her fetus as an it. She was a custodial worker at the university. She had taken a series of herbal steam baths with an old woman up the road. “To bring the
heat back to my body,” she told me. “After I lost the baby, my womb was left cold.” I took a
steam bath with the old woman, not out of a concern for fertility, but curiosity, and to relax
my muscles.

Two years later, during my Masters research, women ages seventeen to ninety-six told me
how after giving birth, they’d entrusted their raw, vulnerable bodies to the older señoras who “cooked” them with steam and herbs. The consequences of failing to restore heat were disastrous: headaches, teeth falling out, chronic stomach pains, bloated bellies. One middle-aged woman told me with regret that a cold wind had penetrated her back while she was pregnant and stayed there, throbbing to this day. Another woman attributed her neighbor’s infertility to injections with cold needles and sitting on chilly ground. Although I dutifully recorded their experiences, I didn’t understand that one’s body could become a cold, inhospitable, unwelcoming place.

My miscarriage had a ridiculous soundtrack: bluegrass. Knee-slappin’, yee-hawin’, chicken
dancin’ blue grass. Last July my old freshman roommate Mara was in town. For months she’d been planning this trip from her flat swampy New Orleans home to the Rockies. She’d hiked here with other friends from our college days and wanted a nostalgic re-play of her earlier visit. For Mara, the mountains were pathways to heaven, metaphors for life and love. Months before her trip, she called me to make eager plans, her Southern twang bursting with squeals and sighs. She sent me daily e-mails confirming the three bluegrass festivals we’d go to, the rivers we’d raft, the mountains we’d climb. In July I hesitantly e-mailed her that I was pregnant, hoping she wouldn’t feel disappointed doing less strenuous versions of our original plans.

I was eight weeks pregnant at the first festival. I had never listened to bluegrass much
before, but associated it with happy outdoor things, mountains and sunshine. My husband,
Ian, Mara, and I sat in lawn chairs in a shallow stream and watched people wading through the sparkling water: pregnant hippie women in halter tops, mothers with Mayan slings toting rosy-cheeked tow-head angels, naked toddlers building sand castles. Mara and Ian tapped their feet and sipped their microbrews and I dutifully ate my high-protein peanut butter-apple snack and wished my stomach were round and full enough to smooth my hands nonchalantly over its taut skin. By October, I would look like that.

I counted months constantly, estimating the stages of the warm dark world inside of me,
moving my fingers in their secret patterns. When would the queasiness end? I’d ask myself. When would the delivery happen? When would the baby’s ears be fully formed? When would she transform herself from what my pregnancy book called a “miniature seahorse” into the promised big-headed baby?

As freshman roommates ten years earlier, Mara and I would stay up late in our narrow beds, talking tirelessly, examining our romantic flings from every possible angle. On her most recent visit, I’d listened to her boyfriend problems with detachment. Birth had become the center of human experience. Across the cultures I’d studied, motherhood bonded women together, sometimes transforming them into goddesses, saints, heroines. After years of living with Mixtec families, where women my age—twenty-nine— already had four or five children, my childless state felt unnatural. On our most recent visit to Mexico, at least a dozen times daily someone asked Ian and me when we would have our own children. “Mira, Laurita! Look at your husband!” my pregnant friend whispered as we watched Ian spinning her nephew in circles, making airplane noises. “You can tell he wants a baby!” For years I’d had the visceral urge to hold a small soft creature at my suddenly useful breast. That summer— the start of the limbo between my Masters and Ph.D. fieldwork—seemed the perfect time to begin.

Mara’s idea was to use the hike up the fourteen thousand foot mountain as a healing ritual to spiritually recover from a recent failed love relationship. The midwife had given me standard advice: “If it’s a sport you did before the pregnancy, it should be fine to continue through the first few months. Just stay hydrated.” If I had asked Doña Luz, she would have said, “Ayy, my little daughter! No! No! What about the cold wind on the mountain top?”

I’d gone hiking at high altitudes before the pregnancy, but only once a month and my legs would always ache for days, even after many Advil and hot baths. My pregnant body didn’t want to hike, but this was Mara’s long-awaited visit, and I was determined not to let my paranoia mess it up.

On the hike, Mara brought along a blue-purple kite to fly at the summit to symbolize her freedom from the ex-boyfriend. The first mile and a half was a forty-five degree incline upward, no zigzagging, just straight up. She talked about her relationship issues, and I made comments here and there. My mouth felt parched, not just from the dry air, but from anxiety. Was I overdoing it? I’d read that as long as you can hold a conversation while walking you’re alright. So I kept walking and sipping water and asking Mara questions periodically to see if I could still talk. After a half hour of hiking up the incline in open
sunshine, we entered shady woods. At that moment, with the step into the shadows, my lower belly tightened sharply. The squeezing sensation made it hard to stand up straight.

“I need to stop a minute,” I whispered. Calm down calm down, I told myself. Mara showed concern and kindness but not alarm; I suspected that since I wasn’t showing, she didn’t really think of me as pregnant. We sat on a log and I sipped water. After ten minutes the pain subsided a little, and I decided to walk it off—what else could I do? Women’s bodies were designed for carrying babies, I assured Mara; a few small cramps here and there were probably normal. We hiked for another hour or two, more slowly now, and she talked more about her ex-boyfriend while my mouth grew drier. Near the top, the pines ended and the land opened up, treeless now. Rocks and tiny shrubs and mosses huddled close to the ground. A lunar landscape. The wind whipped at us, blew the hats off our heads, knocked over the water bottle I’d placed on the rocks. I lay down and pressed myself against a flat boulder, trying to escape the wind. The blue-purple kite darted around the sky, and Mara played and danced, enraptured, free of the seedy boyfriend. I put my cold hand on my flat belly under the flimsy nylon jacket. The wind howled, a lonely moaning wind you might hear in movies set in post-apocalyptic worlds, devoid of life except for a few hardy primordial mosses.

This was the howl of the fetal heart monitor as the midwife moved it over my belly several days later, looking for a heartbeat. She systematically glided the metal instrument over the skin between my jutting hip bones, and listened to the sounds of my belly magnified. “The wind sound,” she murmured, “is your blood flowing.” For a long long time she searched, pausing every once in a while, trying to tell if a sound was static or a heartbeat. Her head tilted sideways, her ears alert as a dog’s. I closed my eyes and focused on taking one breath after another and not letting the tears well up over the sides of my eyes.

A few days later an ultrasound confirmed it. The fetal sac had already begun to shrink, to reabsorb into my body. Now it was only the size of a five week sac. The midwife hugged me. “This just means your body is functioning correctly, Laura. It recognized that something wasn’t perfect, so it ended the pregnancy.”

These assurances of randomness seemed like a well-meaning plot to absolve me of blame. Explanations involving the sun and moon and wind seemed more believable than the idea of miniscule chromosomes splitting awry. Yet the explanation I really believed, which I was terrified to admit, was the hike up the mountain.

The second bluegrass festival was a few days after the hike. Mara had spent the night at another friend’ s house, so Ian and I drove to the festival to meet her there. I cried the whole way, although at this time I hadn’t had the ultrasound yet. Still, I knew. My breasts no longer hurt; in fact, they seemed to have shrunk. They looked like little girls’ breasts compared to their earlier round moon swell. No longer did I feel lazy and queasy in the afternoons; no longer did Indian spices turn my stomach. Reclined in the passenger seat, I hit my breasts, trying to make them sore again. And yes, I did feel nauseated, but that was probably from the twisting mountain roads.

It rained most of the festival. We sat on the blanket, soaked and cold and shivering. I stole glances at a toddler with white-blond curls and a purple corduroy dress who clapped her hands and danced, catching raindrops with her tongue. For the first time I understood the rural Mexican idea of giving a child “evil eye”—an affliction inadvertently imposed by an adult who gazes at a child or a baby with too great a longing. No one noticed my struggle not to look at the girl. Ian kept his arm around me, comforting me, although he still didn’t think our baby was dead. Even after the test results confirmed my miscarriage, he didn’t cry, because for him the baby was just a miniature seahorse, a little tadpole creature that didn’t have ears yet.

By the third bluegrass concert the following night, I’d made the ultrasound appointment and resigned myself to waiting. A pool of sadness settled quietly in my belly. I hadn’t told Mara about my fears—it might have ruined her vacation. She chicken-danced and flapped her elbows and bounced up and down. I wondered how many other people there felt a settled sadness, for one reason or another, and what they thought of these people flailing their limbs around.

Almost two weeks later I was sitting on a kitchen chair, watching Ian fry onions when, after hours of especially persistent cramps, something slid out of me. “It came out,” I told him. I didn’t move, afraid to look. Would it have recognizable body parts? Images from sci-fi movies swarmed in my head—slimy alien creatures emerging from women’s bodies. I could almost hear the X-Files soundtrack playing. In a daze, I stood up, light-headed from the smoking oil, four Advil, and blurred days of dull pain on the sofa. As I waddled to the bathroom, the thing weighed down my underwear. I sat on the toilet, took a deep breath, and looked.

In no way did it look like a baby, or even a miniature seahorse. It had more in common with an organ—a kidney or liver. I called Ian into the bathroom. Our horror morphed into curiosity as we examined it, speculating on its various textures. Was this part the placenta? Was there any remnant of a fetal sac?

I carefully filled a mason jar with rubbing alcohol and dropped the thing in, as the midwife had instructed. I tucked the jar into a brown lunch bag. Several days later, the midwife translated the lab report. It had been a cluster of vessels and tissue from the uterine wall—the baby’s future feeding apparatus, now rendered useless.

Doña Luz’s name means “light” and she is light in the lives of everyone she talks to. Her eyes are crinkly and warm and grandmotherly even after her sickness. In my interviews several years ago, I found out that when she was about thirteen a man in her town raped her, and when her father found out he went to the man’s parents and made them force him to marry her. The man got her pregnant, brought her far away to Mexico City and abandoned her. She gave birth to the baby—her only son—and sold cigarettes and candy on the street with him strapped to her back. They eventually made it back to her home town, and over the years her sorrow transformed into warm wisdom.

At one of my follow-up blood tests the midwife told me, “Now you’ll find you belong to a group of women who have experienced this kind of sadness. You’ll find you can connect with them and understand them.”

I don’t know if I’ve gained any of Doña Luz’s kind wisdom, but I do think I can connect more with other women who have had losses. I’ve always thought of my baby as her, even though later, a well-meaning doctor friend told me my baby had been a soul-less it. I can concede that the tissue that came out over a week after she died was an it. But the baby had reabsorbed into my body. I’ve heard that other women, too, find comfort in this. A woman I work with told me she was going to plant a tree in honor of her own lost baby. Wind chimes outside my living room window are a memorial to mine.

I continue taking my twenty-six dollar a bottle prenatal vitamins. It’s been nine months since the conception, seven since the miscarriage. My fingers continue to move in their special secret pattern. I count months off silently—in line at the store when I see a mothering magazine or on the sidewalk passing a pregnant woman. I tap out the months on the tables at restaurants when I eye a newborn in a blanket and then look  superstitiously away. Right now I would be waddling along with my hands on my
belly, feeling kicks and hiccups.

I didn’t tell Doña Luz about climbing the mountain in the cold wind. I let her think I accidentally passed a heavy place or innocently got caught in a fight between the sun and the moon. That day at the market two months ago, she gave me a big hug and sent me off with a gift—a beautiful lopsided clay incense burner. Back at home in Colorado, a week later, I gave my apartment and body a limpia—spiritual cleaning– with sweet copal smoke. I sweat in saunas and visualized the heat and steam warming up my womb. And finally, yesterday, I checked my calendar for eclipses. There was one, about a week after the

After seeing again, this month, the heart-sinking blood stain, I’ve decided that tomorrow I will buy a strip of red silk to tie around my hips, as Doña Luz recommended. Meanwhile, I imagine life and light inside me, heat, a comfortable warm place where a baby will want to live for nine months. Welcome, welcome, welcome, I tell her. Maybe this November she will be born. I count off on my fingers and avoid eclipses.


Laura Resau‘s first novel, entitled What the Moon Saw, is scheduled to be published in Fall 2006 by Delacorte Press. Her essays and stories for young people and adults have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines including Brain,Child, Cicada, Cricket, Skipping Stones, and Matter, as well as anthologies published by Lonely Planet and Travelers’ Tales. She teaches English as a Second Language and Anthropology at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, Colorado.

This piece was previously published in Brain,Child magazine.

Deep Eddy

In the morning it had been raining, and they had gotten in behind a senior citizens caravan, all in big recreational vehicles, all from Washington. Jon Dunham had been whipping down the road, heading south, sliding in and out between the campers, and every time he passed he glanced over at his wife, Deborah, who apparently expected them to get hit by one of the big mining trucks that were rumbling north. Every time Dunham pulled out to pass, Deborah clutched the dashboard and tapped the floor with her foot, searching for a brake pedal. There were 64 campers in all, big and small, and Dunham knew they must all be together because of the big red decals that each vehicle had on its rear. Once they got past Whitehorse, though, the rain stopped and traffic seemed to let up, and Deborah was able to relax and stop gripping the dashboard and tapping at her brake. She fell asleep.

She awoke sometime later as Dunham pulled off the road, a small cloud of white dust blowing up and around them. As it cleared Dunham could make out an overflowing red litter barrel, and, beyond that, a valley. A range of mountains rose on the other side of the valley, shaded by clouds. A motor home and a mining truck went by, heading west, north, blowing in more dust. Everything seemed much drier.

Deborah put her hands over her face, still half asleep. She asked, “Are we there yet?”

“Those are the Cassiars over there, I think,” Dunham said. “And that river, I guess, is the Rancheria.”

Deborah sat up and looked away at the mountains. “How much farther to Fort St. John?” They had stayed in a motel in Fort St. John on the way to Alaska: hot showers, firm mattresses, cable tv, telephones, air conditioning.

“Fort St. John?” Dunham shrugged. “I don’t know—maybe 900 miles. We might make it by tomorrow if we push it.”

Deborah sat back rested her head against the window of the truck. The weak sunlight cast a shadow across her face.

“Then let’s push it.”

Dunham waited a moment. “You’re not getting out?”

“No.” She sounded serious.

Dunham shrugged and opened the truck door. He collected five bottles—three Labatt’s and two Cokes—and a wad of the Fairbanks newspaper from under the seat and carried it all over to the trash barrel. The turnout was at a bend in the road at the top of a bluff. Below, the Rancheria River twisted through a wide marshy valley and disappeared off to the northwest. Cloud shadows scudded over the valley. The Cassiars were light gray. Between the turnout and the mountains a single cloud was dropping rain, dark gray streaks that settled into the haze. A car with its headlights on went by, blowing dust, heading north to Whitehorse. Yukon plates. Dunham walked back to the truck and leaned in.

“I have to pee.”

Deborah said, “That’s great.”

The slope of the bluff was steep and somewhat slippery. It was damp but not muddy, covered with hard pale gravels that rolled out from under Dunham’s feet. Dunham rested against a burnt-out stump and caught his breath before sliding the rest of the way down the slope. At the bottom there was a fire ring made of gathered wild stones. Ashes, some beer bottles, and a half-burned throwaway diaper were in the ring. Logs had been rolled up close for seats. A path led down to the river.

Dunham stood up close to a pale green bush and urinated. A big truck of some sort headed south on the highway, and dust swirled at the top of the bluff.

In the silence that followed the truck Dunham heard the river. He buttoned his jeans and followed the path, scrambling over a deadfall and splashing across a little creek coming from the north. The creek disappeared into a thicket, but further ahead he caught a glimpse of open water. He climbed over another dead fall, ducked under some alders, and came out on the banks of the river.

The Rancheria came out of the southeast, headed toward the bluff, and turned suddenly to the west. It flowed past Dunham’s feet and turned on into the south, dropped into a riffle, and disappeared behind some brush. At the base of the bluff, where it turned, there was a logjam and an eddy. The creek seemed to come in there. The water below Dunham was shallow and clear with a sandy bottom. Two smallish grayling cruised the base of the pool.

Pretty water, Dunham thought. Wild fish.

Those grayling have never seen a fly.

I am the first man to see them.

Dunham ducked back under the alders and re-crossed the dead¬fall. He turned and followed the creek, splashing through its dark tunnel until he came out at the logjam.

Deborah was sitting in the front seat staring off into space when Dunham opened the back of the truck. He got a beer out of the cooler and walked around to the driver’s side and got in.

“You must’ve had to go pretty bad.”

“I was looking at the river.” Dunham twisted the top off the bottle and took a long drink. His pants were wet from the knee down and there was a scratch on his face.

“I was looking at those stupid old people,” Deborah said. “All those campers from Washington—they all passed us.”

“I saw this huge grayling,” Dunham said. “I want to see if I can catch it.”

“Those old people from Seattle just passed us,” Deborah said. “Most of them—maybe all of them. They blew dust on me.”

“We’ll pass ’em again,” Dunham said. “They drive slow.”

“Yeah, and they’ll slow us down.”

“I’ll go catch that fish and let ’em get way ahead of us.” Dunham smiled, but his smile faded when she just stared at him.

Deborah said, “You’ve caught enough fish already. Okay?”

Dunham looked away and began sorting through the pile of maps on the seat between them. “Okay?”

“No….” Dunham found their battered copy of the Yukon guidebook and started thumbing through it. He looked up. “No, really, hon, this grayling is enormous—he’s never seen a fly before. Nobody’s seen him before. It’s like a whole new world down there.”

“Sure. Right off the road.”

“Yeah—isn’t that great?”

Deborah sighed and looked out the window. Two more clouds were dumping rain somewhere near the mountains.

Dunham found his place and started to read. “’DC 663.4…’ hey, I was wrong. We’re only about 600 miles from Fort St. John. Six-sixty-three from Dawson Creek.”

Deborah laughed, exasperated. “Well, hell, then, let’s get going.”

“No, wait….” Dunham began reading again. “’DC 667—”

“Shit, four more miles already?”

“’DC 667…Litter barrel with view of the Rancheria River to south.’ That’s us.”

“Great, so now we know where we are. So let’s go, okay?”

“No, wait…’Rancheria River, fishing for bull trout and grayling.’ Well, I guess. The grayling are there, at least.” Dunham looked up. “You should see this grayling I saw, hon, it was huge.”

“There’s no such thing as a huge grayling,” Deborah said.

“It’s bigger than any we saw in Alaska. Over 18 inches, easy.”

“That’s not a huge fish.” Deborah shifted in her seat, turned to face Dunham. He was looking back at the guidebook again, squinting, sunburned skin flaking off his nose. Deborah reached for his beer and took a sip.

“It’s warm,” he told her. “We’re out of ice.”

“Jon,” Deborah said, and then paused. Then she started again. “Jon. I’m really tired. I’m even tired of looking at—trees. You know? Everything looks the same. We’ve driven something like eight thousand miles in the last—”

Dunham looked up form the guidebook. He said, “More like about six thousand, hon.”

“Okay! So it’s six thousand. I don’t really care—I just want to get to wherever it is we’re going today, and I want that to be just a little closer to home than we are now. I mean, I guess—I just wish you’d have a little more respect for my feelings. You know?”

Dunham smiled at her and reached over and squeezed her hand. “Baby, hang on, it’ll just be a few minutes. This fish has never seen a fly before.”

“You don’t even keep the damn things!”

He got out of the truck, shut the door, and leaned in the window.

“You want to get out and watch?”



“Yes, I’m damn well sure.”

Dunham took a step back. She was angry. He thought of the trip out: prairies, plains, grasses, rivers, badlands, rivers, mountains, rivers, trees, rivers, trees, bridges, trucks, mountains, glaciers, more trees, more rivers, good roads, bad roads, old people in RVs—ten days from Dallas to Anchorage, two weeks in Alaska, and now they were still at least a week away from home.

She doesn’t get it, he thought. This is—everything.

“You know,” Deborah said, “it would’ve been a lot easier if you’d just left me back in Whitehorse—then I could’ve caught a flight home and you could dick around in the woods and play Lewis and Clark all you wanted.”

“No.” Dunham took another step back and shook his head. She could be so damn stubborn. “I mean, it’ll be just a few minutes. Then I’ll come back and drive like hell. We’ll pass the old people. We’ll make it fine.”

“I don’t think so,” Deborah said. Dunham ignored her and walked around to the back of the truck. Dunham could see her twist rearview mirror around so that she could watch him, but he still ignored her and got busy digging in his fishing gear, pulling out a rod, a fly box, some gadgets. When he looked up again he saw her pour the rest of the warm beer out the window.

The river came straight at Dunham and then turned, the main current curving toward the south and back into the east. In front of him was the eddy, a small current circling around and around, out of the main river, against the bank, along the little sandbar the creek had deposited under the logjam, and back out into the river. Pretty water, clear and cold, reflecting the sky, the trees, Dunham.

The water here was deep. Dunham looked through the reflective surface and could see down into green shadows. This was probably where the fish in this section wintered over. The ice would come, and the snow, and the fish would hold near the bottom in the dark, locked in, waiting quietly for breakup.

A big grayling came up out of the green—getting bigger and bigger—and took a bug, a grayish-tan caddis fly of some sort. It made a little slurping noise and settled back a foot or so in the water. Two other, smaller grayling appeared and hovered off to the left. They all could stay in the eddy as long as they wanted and food would always be swirled right up to them.

Dunham blinked.

Grayling look up, he thought. They like to take flies. Dry flies. Good, good. He doesn’t know I’m here—he doesn’t know what I am if he did know I was here. Very good.

Dunham’s rod was already rigged, a size 14 Adams at the end of his leader. He stepped to the side to put more of the bush between him and the fish. There wasn’t much room to cast, but he didn’t need to cast far. He worked out a little line and slop-rolled a cast into the eddy. The leader straightened out just enough and the fly dropped softly onto the water.

It was very easy. The eddy brought the fly to the big grayling, who spotted it, rose, looked at it for a second, finning back in the water, and sucked it down.

Dunham set the hook and smiled. The shocked grayling jumped, bored out to the main river, quickly jumped twice more, then again, and then tried to go deep. The leader was heavy, though, and Dunham pressured the fish, keeping him near the surface of the eddy. One more jump. Then Dunham, out from behind the bush, was leading him up onto the sandbar. It was very easy.

Dunham knelt over the surprised-looking fish and picked it up. The grayling was slick and iridescent, gleaming in the sun¬light, green and bronze, heavy and fat. It gasped in the air, trying to breathe. The big dorsal fin was swept down but Dunham ran his finger along it, pulling it up. A big, big fin. He measured the fish against his rod, and it covered the writing right up to where it said “5 Weight”—maybe 18, maybe 19 inch¬es, easy 16 or 17, 20 when he would feel like lying.

Dunham removed the fly and got the fish back in the water, holding it by the tail. In a minute or so the fish wiggled and Dunham let go. The grayling shot back into the eddy and went deep.

It was then that Dunham heard his truck’s horn. Back up on the bluff Deborah was really leaning on it. He stood up.

Dunham found Deborah standing by the tailgate of the pickup, her big green flight bag beside her. She was saying something to a stout middle-aged woman with short-cropped gray-streaked hair. She flashed a quick, distracted smile. The woman was starting to say something to Deborah when she noticed Dunham and stopped, eyeing him curiously. Two blond children, a boy and a girl, stood next to an old station wagon with Alberta plates. The boy was throwing rocks at the red litter barrel but the little girl was watching Dunham. The headlights of the station wagon were turned on and it was parked headed north.

“Yeah, it’s about time you got here,” Deborah said. “I’m leaving.”

She picked up the green flight bag but the short woman reached over and took it from her, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take it.”

Dunham stared at them dumbly for a moment while he felt the bottom fall out of his stomach—his life—with a confusing, almost dizzying rush.

“Are you crazy?” Dunham finally asked. “You can’t just go off and leave.”

The blocky woman turned around and looked at him angrily. “Hey, listen, don’t you tell her what to do, okay?”

“Oh, shut up,” Dunham said.

The blocky woman dropped the flight bag and marched over toward Dunham. He watched her—march, that was the word—stepping stiffly like in a dream, and then she was there in front of him and she wound up and punched him square in the chest. Bam. Dunham stumbled back, lost his balance on the gravel, and fell hard on his butt. The little boy pointed at him and laughed.

“You don’t tell her what to do, okay?”


“Better leave it alone, Jon,” Deborah said. “We’ve been talking.”

The little woman, Sally, kicked gravel at Dunham, and he guarded his face with a raised forearm. Now both the children were laughing.

Dunham said, “Hey, stop it!”

“You stop it, Jon!” Deborah said. “This is all your fault. Don’t you know that?”

The blocky woman opened her mouth to say something but Deborah touched her on the arm and said, “It’s okay. He won’t do anything.”

For some reason that bothered Dunham more than anything—He won’t do anything. What the hell. Nothing? Nothing? Dunham thought of their first nights, lying twined together on wet sheets watching the sun come up, planning trips, trips they actually had gone on—to Yellowstone, Alberta, Colorado, Idaho, now Alaska. How he had worked hard to have time to travel, to do what he loved, to take her with him, and how she had liked it. Well, she’d said she’d liked it, he thought. Now, though, Dunham only looked at Deborah and squinted. He said, “You can’t just leave.”

“Well, I am.” Deborah watched the other woman pick up the flight bag and carry it over to the station wagon. The little boy helped her fit it into the back. The little girl folded her arms across her chest and stared at him, frowning.

Dunham asked, “What happened?”

“Sally here stopped to let her kids go to the bathroom, and after I talked to her she said she could give me a ride back to Whitehorse. I can catch a flight home from there.”

“No, I know that. I mean, what happened? I mean—”

Sally leaned around the car and said, “She doesn’t care what you mean.”

“This has been going on for a long time,” Deborah said. “You know that.”

Dunham didn’t say anything. He looked at the angry woman, Sally, and back at Deborah. He sat there on the gravel, rubbing his chest—his heart—with his right hand. His pants were muddy and wet from the river.

“I’m taking some of the travelers’ checks,” Deborah said. “I left you enough, I think. And I know you’ve got a lot of room left on your Visa.”

“Oh, c’mon, Deb,” Dunham said. “You can’t just go like this….”

“You said that already.” Deborah bent down and touched his face. “Give me a call when you get to Fort St. John, huh?”

Dunham sat on the tailgate of the truck drinking warm beer. After a while he put his feet up and took off his boots. He looked around the back of the truck for a moment, until he found his waders, hidden beneath Deborah’s sleeping bag. She’d left most of her gear in the truck—the sleeping bag, her books, her cameras. Two ticking alarm clocks. Dunham frowned and looked away. He slipped into his waders, and put on his wading boots. More rain clouds were building up over the valley. An RV went north on the highway. It went around a bend in the road and soon the sound drifted away. Everything was very quiet. Dunham locked the back of the truck, picked up his fly rod, and headed down the face of the bluff to the river.



Lowell Mick White has published numerous stories, most notably in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Dominion Review, and Antietam Review. In 1998 he was awarded the Dobie-Paisano Fellowship by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters. He is currently a graduate student at Texas A&M University, where he specializes in creative writing, works on the staff of the journal Callaloo, and co-edits Big Tex[t] (

Crayola Man


“Scalpel,” the surgeon snapped. The masked nurse slapped it smartly into his
gloved open palm.

“Get ready with suction,” he ordered, then drew a thin line from below the
patient’s navel to his groin.

The blood flowed away from the incision and formed shallow pools on the flat,
newly-shaved stomach. The surgeon spread tissue and membrane to expose
the cancerous prize. The easy part was over.


“His vein is collapsing,” the surgical nurse said. “I’ll try another.” She withdrew
the eighteen-gauge needle and wheeled the IV cart around the operating table
to its other side. Palpating the patient’s right wrist, she raised one of several
ropy veins that stood out against his pallid arm and inserted a new needle. The
left wrist continued to drip.

“We could have a bleeder,” the surgeon said. “Order three more units.”

A masked figure with a blood-spattered tunic moved to the wall phone and
punched out the numbers.

“They’ve got only two more A-B positives,” he called over his shoulder.

“Slow and steady, Stan, slow and steady,” the surgeon murmured to himself.


Alex crouched on a mountaintop and watched white-rimmed clouds drift by.
Below him, the valley floor was a patchwork of greens: forest, cobalt, phthalo,
sap, olive, pea, sage, chartreuse, and every shade in between. The California
city where they lived hid behind a neighboring peak.

“Do you want to make love?” Bonnie asked.

“Where? We’re barely hanging onto this ledge … and it’s too cold.”

“It doesn’t matter, I just want to be close to you.”

The afternoon wind had freshened and the couple huddled together and stared
down slope. Shadows lengthened across the mountain’s flanks, hiding the
trail. A cluster of white-coated figures waved to them from a parking lot far
below. Alex didn’t wave back.


“Get another bag.” The assisting surgeon pointed to the urine-filled sack
hooked to the operating table. A nurse scurried to comply before the line
backed up. “This guy must have chugged a keg all by himself,” the doctor

A slim plastic tube extended from the sack into the patient’s manhood and
upward to the bladder. Everything was still laid open and the surgeon labored
to reconnect the urethra.

“We saved most of the nerves – but I don’t like how this connection is going.”

“Just take your time,” the assistant said. “He’ll appreciate it.”

A nurse mopped the surgeon’s brow. He tied off the remaining bleeders.
Closing was as easy as opening. In two hours they were done.


Alex unfolded his stocky legs, letting them dangle over the edge. The sun had
disappeared behind the distant hills and the sky turned a brilliant ginger.

“I’ve never seen it that color before.”

“It’s because of Mount Pinatubo – you know, the volcano,” Bonnie said. “When
it erupted it threw dust into the atmosphere. The sun glints off the particles at
sunset and turns the sky orange.

“It looks festive – we should have a party.”

“We need to get down off this mountain first.”

Bonnie pushed her slender body up, balancing carefully on the ledge, the wind
whipping her mop of curly black hair. Alex rose slowly as if moving through
thick soupy air. A searing pain shot through his groin and he bit down hard,
grinding his molars.

“Easy babe, I’ve got ya.” Bonnie took his hand and led him down the shaded

“So who should we invite to our party?” Alex gasped between painful steps.

“Those guys in white, for sure.” She pointed to the surgeons leaning against
their Mercedes and Porsches in the parking lot.

“Are you kidding? Those guys have no sense of humor.”

“Sure they do. They fixed you, didn’t they?”


Alex became conscious of brilliant purple circles behind his eyes. If he squeezed
them tightly shut, the color intensified. He remembered doing that as a kid,
creating kaleidoscope shades by grinding fists into his eye sockets.

“So how are you feeling, Alex?” Dr. Norton’s voice sounded like it came from a
long tunnel – echoing and vibrating in the air.

“You can open your eyes, Alex. It’s okay.”

Slowly Alex let the light seep in under the lids. His eyes felt like they were full of
sand and had been sealed shut with some kind of glue.

He blinked to clear them but the room remained blurry. Two people stood over
him, one in white, and the other’s shape familiar.
“I’m here, Alex,” Bonnie said and bending, kissed him on the forehead. Her lips
felt cool and dry.

“Do you have much pain?” Dr. Norton asked.

Alex licked his lips, trying to wipe away the sticky film. “Yeah, my crotch hurts
like a son of a bitch.”

“That’s normal – we’ll give you something for it.” Dr. Norton motioned to an
attending nurse who inserted a syringe into the IV shunt.

Alex pushed himself up on his elbows and stared down at his exposed body,
tubes running here and there, transporting things in, carrying things away.
Deep bruises covered both wrists and his fingers ached.

“Jeez, what did you guys use for an IV – knitting needles?” The surgeon
exploded with laughter but quickly regained composure.

“Actually, everything went well. It came out cleanly. In six months we’ll know
for sure.”

“So am I gonna be okay – I mean, will everything work?”

“You won’t know for awhile, until the tissues recover and you heal.”

“It’s okay, honey. We can deal with it,” Bonnie said.

The painkiller kicked in and the two figures dissolved. Alex was again back on
his mountaintop, gazing at festive orange skies and at twinkling lights along a
far horizon.


He extended both hands deep into chocolate soil, feeling the warmth of the
grains and the dampness that held them together. The garden plot stretched
before him. Flats of seedling vegetables awaited his trowel.

“We should plant the tomatoes and squash in the sun,” Bonnie directed. “The
herbs can stand more shade.”

“It just feels good to be out and working,” Alex said. “I’m sorry I was such a
terrible patient.”

“You had cancer, honey. You’re allowed to feel bad.”

“We need more colors in this garden – nothing but greens just doesn’t cut it.”

“Since when did you get so sensitive about color?”

“Since leaving the hospital. I’ve seen enough whites and pastels to last a

The couple worked through the August afternoon heat, forming mounds,
watering holes, inserting plants, tamping soil, installing stakes and chasing away
their dog that had developed an affinity for tomato plants. A Mount Pinatubo
sunset ended their day.


Alex sits at his computer and watches letters form words on the screen. He’s
been doing it for so long that the sentences just seem to magically appear as
his brain conjures them. He likes the flow of the letters, the weight of
paragraphs, and the emotions and ideas that this electronic calligraphy lets him

“What are you working on?” Bonnie asks, not wanting to disturb her husband
but still curious.

“Just a little something about colors.”



Terry Sanville‘s short stories have been published in GRIT Magazine and BEGINNINGS. He is an accomplished jazz guitarist. He lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist and poet wife, Marguerite Costigan.

Arriving in Baton Rouge

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second . . .

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been writing this article in fits and starts over the past year, each time with a slightly different introduction and angle, depending on the latest news.

First, the headlines linked music and movie piracy to terrorist funding. Next came the publication of the “9/11 Commission Report,” the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, the Madrid bombings and, most recently, London.

Each was another wake-up call about the tenuousness of life and liberty in an age of terrorism – a reminder that, personally and professionally, there are things I can do to try to change that or at least to feel a little less vulnerable.

Then came Katrina, and once again, I’m rewriting. This time it’s from the perspective of a Red Cross volunteer.

You see, I’m about to be deployed to Louisiana.

The gist of what I wanted to say is intact. My basic premise is that, as a country, we’ve all been profoundly affected by the events of Sept. 11. And lawyers, perhaps more than members of any other profession, have had to deal with some of the fallout’s hardest issues, not the least of which includes maintaining the fragile balance between ensuring our national security while protecting our civil liberties. Fortunately, we’re up to the task.

That’s not just my opinion. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy praised the legal profession’s contribution to maintaining security. At an American Bar Association dedication ceremony a few years ago, Kennedy urged lawyers to continue to promote democratic ideals.

Security hinges on “the acceptance of the idea of freedom,” Kennedy cautioned. And, he said, there is a “very important part for the legal profession, for the American lawyer, … to play in that struggle.” As if that weren’t enough, Kennedy called on lawyers to go the extra mile and “find ways to increase the resources you devote to this by at least tenfold.”

Lawyers were, and continue to be, a vital part of the post-Sept. 11 political and institutional landscape. “The legal profession will be intimately involved and directly affected” in building homeland security, said Dr. David McIntyre, deputy director of the Anser Institute and former dean of the National War College, in a September 2002 National Law Journal article.

Three years later, his predictions hold true. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a hundred lawyers have been hired to staff its new Office of General Counsel. The new secretary, Michael Chertoff, is himself a respected lawyer and former judge.

Of course, we can’t all go abroad to help spread democracy. If we could, we might participate in some of the American Bar Association programs, such as the Africa Law Initiative, Asia Law Initiative, Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative and Latin America Law Initiative, to help use the legal profession’s energy and commitment to helping build principles and institutions supporting the rule of law. And we can’t all move to Washington, D.C., to help the Department of Homeland Security, a work-in-progress, become a fully realized, well-oiled executive department. If we could, we also might check out the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security, which holds regular meetings and offers panel discussions for lawyers on national security issues.

But the majority of lawyers can’t. Most of us have jobs and families and other responsibilities that prevent us from doing anything on that kind of global-national scale. And that’s okay. There are opportunities to get involved locally, as well.

Today, for example, the Los Angeles County Bar Association is holding its “Dialogues in Freedom” program, which brings lawyers, judges, and high-school students together to discuss the basic rights and freedoms of Americans.

This program, like others begun after Sept. 11, probably will not be disbanded anytime soon. After all, Los Angeles continues to be a prime target of potential terrorist activities. Then there’s that little problem of earthquakes.

Which brings us back to Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster of confounding proportions. Whether it’s a natural or man-made disaster, the results – and needs – are the same. If there is anything positive to say about this horrendous predicament, it’s that it presents us with a too-vivid picture of the chaos and complexities that accompany mass care and recovery and, as it increasingly appears, the recipe for failure and ineffectiveness that can ensue without adequate preparation.

We don’t have to wait for another terrorist attack or the next hurricane, in order to envision what we can or can’t do better. We can’t even predict, let alone control, earthquakes. And it’s hard to trust our color-coded scheme for assessing the risk of terrorist attack. But we can start preparing for these or any other potential disasters.

The Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency and any number of other organizations provide materials and information on emergency preparedness plans and disaster kits. The national volunteer program known as CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, offers an eight-week training course in first aid, search and rescue, firefighting and other forms of disaster preparedness. (If you have a group of at least 20, they’ll even come to you.) It’s just one of five specialized partner programs, including the
Medical Reserve Corps, Volunteers in Police Service, the Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch, under the umbrella of the Citizen Corps, that offers volunteer opportunities and emergency courses locally.

Twenty years ago as an attorney with U.S. Customs, I wrote an article for District Lawyer (now Washington Lawyer) titled, “Lawyers and Arms Control: Insanity Is No Defense,” in which I argued that lawyers have a special, perhaps even greater, obligation than others to defend and protect our right to a safe and ordered existence. I’m not sure I feel that way now. But I do think we lawyers have the same obligation as others do to defend, if not protect, or at least assist victims of natural and man-made disasters.

I know that some, particularly in the legal profession, consider me an idealist, or worse. Lawyers like my once-prospective boss who, during the last of our several interviews before I joined the aerospace giant, said to me, “You can’t change the world, you know.” Actually, I do know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try.

So I think I’m finally done with that long-pending article. I just heard an NPR report on new Red Cross volunteers, like me, and the trial-by-fire we’ll experience assisting the victims of Katrina. Some of us may not have had sufficient training and preparation for this catastrophe.

So I’m thinking – should I not go? Ah, but then I’d have to change my beginning once again. And I wouldn’ t have the chance to help change even a small part of Baton Rouge, La.



Karen Miller is a copyright and trademark lawyer , as well as a writer whose articles have appeared in The Washington Post and various legal journals. She balances her work on emergency preparedness and homeland security matters with designing and selling jewelry and handbags. She can be reached at or through her web site,