“I Am the Widow” by Leslie Pietrzyk

I Am the Widow (Pietrizyk)

Just like at any movie or TV funeral, his casket gets put up front, set under specially focused lighting, parenthesized by yardstick-high sprays of white gladiolus. Plump velvet kneeler in front of him, velvet curtains behind. Top half of the box open, so we can see his face. If we want to see him dead, that is, if we want to look right at death. There are plenty ducking their heads, twisting necks around and staring up high into the ceiling or deep down through the carpeted floor. Not me. Right off, I grab hold of his hand, entwine my fingers around his, not because that feels so great but because it unnerves the people circling me. Hell yeah. I’m grabbing a dead man’s hand. I’m grabbing my dead husband’s hand. Maybe I won’t let go. Maybe I’m going crazy.

I’m certain I’m going crazy. I’m certain I am.

What happened was sudden. Alive—and then not. The two of us—and then a pack of family roaming around, in their suits and dark, sensible dresses, howling and clawing each other into tense hugs. A dead body sprawled on the kitchen floor—and then this dead body tucked neatly into a casket. What happened is fast. This is the worst whirling ride at a carnival you can’t jump off of.

Not knowing much on planning funerals, when the professionals say, “Open casket?”, I nod like I mean yes. Not knowing when there’s an open casket, people read an invitation to toss a little something on in. Guess there’s meaning, though a list looks pretty junky: Color photos by a lake, a postcard of the jagged Chicago skyline, pizza take-out menu, half a bottle of tequila, an old lady’s rosary, a wad of clover freshly ripped from a lawn, foot-long length of red wrapping ribbon knotted in four places, wooden fraternity paddle, dog-eared paperback of Fahrenheit 451, brittle-yellow Palm Sunday palm frond, tarnished baby spoon, crayoned drawing of a dinosaur-like creature, scuffed-up baseball, pencil sketch of a lion’s head, a regular ordinary brick—(come on!)—an unopened package of two Twinkies, the Let’s Go Spain & Portugal guidebook with swelled-up pages from falling in water presumably somewhere in Spain or Portugal, race bib #1458 from the Marine Corps Marathon, a bleached-out whelk, a nickel and two super-shiny pennies in a stack, smooth grey rock the size of a big toe, an acorn, Bob Marley import CD, baby food jar half-filled with sand. Four or five flap-tucked envelopes with his name in ink across the front. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of a big picture of nothing. Everything all means something but the only one who maybe could explain is lying there dead.

And you’d have to say after a while that things get more than a little ridiculous, this casket as receptacle, this dump it all in mentality, because there I am holding onto his hand, when tra-la-la-ing up is some second cousin I barely met—maybe at the wedding, maybe—heaving in an old shop class project from middle school that supposedly they’d worked on together.

What’s he supposed to do in the afterlife—IF THERE IS ONE, WHICH THERE ISN’T—with an old lamp base shaped like a wagon wheel, I want to know.

I put nothing in there. No note, no picture, no shop class project. I want him coming back, so I’m leaving him reasons to haunt me. I’m turning him angry enough to rise up and come after me. Damn it.

All the while I’m smiling, clinging to his hard, dead hand. They got them folded up on his chest, like insect wings, like a way no one poses in real, living life. Left hand on top, so that’s the one I’m grabbing, with that malicious wedding ring, its “til death do you part” mockery. People crush into me with hugs; people pressing around me cry through a blizzard of tissues, and sobs ricochet off the walls. As long as I’ve got his hand, I act like I’m okay since that’s what they need. I crack a joke or two, smile, smile. Everyone’s so relieved to laugh, relieved that laughing is wrong but still possible. They’re treating me like I’m clear cut glass. I appreciate it.

Two days of this, me clinging to that hand, rubbing my thumb along the curve of his wedding ring like I want to wear through the metal, and people dropping their shit in the casket like it’s a recycle bin. I get used to it. It’s the new life I’ve got. It’s what I’ve got. It’s something settled. It’s that.

I never planned a funeral so what I forget is the part where they pack up. They’ve got to lock the box. Actually, I didn’t forget about that part; I just never knew it. I’m, like, twenty-nine years old, so how many funerals was I not someone’s kid at? How’d the box get closed? Never thought about it, but someone has to do it, it’s going to be done, and someone’s got to be the last one to look at him, the last one holding that hard, dead hand, the one hanging on to the end. Me.

Calm-voiced professionals infiltrate, swarm the room, though it’s only two or three of them really, calmly suggesting in their calm, buttery voices that we retire to the outer lobby, that they need to prepare for transport.

Like…the space shuttle? The Jetsons and Star Trek? Transport? I hate words that don’t mean what they mean.

It’s like Noah’s Ark docked out back, everyone buddying up two-by-two as they leave the room, the crying thick as pudding. There goes my mother with her sister; his mother—oh, she’s so sad; she wants desperately to be sadder than me; I should let her win—she’s draped like an eel across the arms of her husband; his two brothers, stiff-shouldered; my brother-in-law towing my sister, her spiky heels poking dots in the carpet; my dad and my uncle, the brother he didn’t talk to for five years until now. His poor, sad dad standing by himself. One son comes back for him. He walks out next to his son, his body a limp, as if all the bones have been broken and put together backward. The favorite sister and her boyfriend no one likes; she’s not looking me in the eye, so it’s the boyfriend watching, the boyfriend’s pale blue eyes, clear like flat water, the last in the room with me.

I’ve got his hand through all this. Don’t know why. Doesn’t make me feel better. But I’m afraid something will happen if I let go. They’ll take him away if I let go. They’ll swipe his wedding ring. (“You know they steal the jewelry,” more than one person whispers in my ear.) There’s a picture in my head of a bottom dresser drawer rattling with a thousand different wedding rings.

Then me. Alone.

No one comes back for me.

The one who would come back for me? Who would march me out to the Ark? I’m holding his hard, dead hand. Damn it. The professional has seen people cry like this, I’m sure. Like this, like this too, like this, this. These are endless, unforgettable minutes I won’t think about again.

No one wants to touch me.

I’ve got to let go. I’ve got to, and I don’t know how I do, but I do, and when I do, my own hand feels hard and dead, not part of my own body ever again.

I march myself to the outer room, to the sad stares, slam myself against the isolating wall of sympathy. Right now, I’m saddest. All I’m seeing right now are the miles of my own tears.

Then the favorite sister announces that she has a note. She has to drop it in. She forgot. She meant to. She has a note for him. This note she wrote last night. She holds up a tattered envelope, like a “who needs two” scalper. She’s the youngest, the baby of the family, only twenty, nesting in the safety of being everyone’s favorite, even after flunking out of the good college and then the less good college, even with the boyfriend no one likes. She wanted to be a vet, but now she works in a pet store while she figures out her life. She might be pregnant; there’s that look about her of a complicated secret, and she drank club soda last night when the rest of them were at the vodka, and now this note. So hard to hate her, but with that smudgy envelope in her hand, I do. Even though she lived with us that summer, even though that summer she and I sat out nights on the moon-splashed deck with glasses of white wine, talking as if we were the sisters. Even though I never got along much with my own sister and didn’t see what having a sister meant until I met his favorite sister. Even though all that.

Even though he would hate me saying in a very loud voice: “No! I have to be the last one to see him. You can’t go back in there.”

The outer lobby turns super-quiet. As the widow speaks…as the widow speaks, the lobby turns super-quiet. There are no professionals here. There are just sad people.

She’s flummoxed, gripping her tattered envelope—it’s pink, as if from a greeting card—and her boyfriend grabs her elbow, maybe thinking she might puddle to the ground.

I am the widow. (That word means me.)

“Okay,” says the favorite sister, finally, slowly. Each syllable a hundred years long. Everyone is breath-held. “I won’t,” she says. “But can you please…?” She stretches out her hand, giving me the envelope, which I take even though I don’t want to. I don’t want to go back in there; I don’t want to interrupt the professionals as they prepare to transport, I don’t want to have to say, “Excuse me, I am the widow, and here’s one more thing to drop into that casket, one more thing that wasn’t said at the right time, the right time being when he was ALIVE, one more thing that’s too late to matter now because he’s DEAD, and one more time I have to see him and then not see him, one more letting go to remember, one more hammer pounding this forever through my chest.” Do that, say that—alone.

I swing myself through the doors, and it’s okay because nothing much has happened because maybe this goes on all the time when you’re a professional—maybe people come swinging back ALL THE TIME with one last thing to cram into the open casket or one last check that the wedding ring’s in place. A professional snaps that calm smile back on and says, “Yes? What can we do for you?”

I look at the ceiling. I look at the floor. I tore off that hand once, I said goodbye. I’m alone.

I shake my head like I mean no. “I’m sorry,” I say. The pink envelope goes right then into my purse, smashed down to the very bottom, where the lint breeds. She’ll never know. I’ll fish out my wallet, my keys, the sunglasses, then I’ll shove this purse and everything inside down into a trash bag for the Salvation Army, where I’ll also shove his suits and his T-shirts and his winter coat and his shoes and his neckties and all the rest of everything that once was his.

Let him haunt me. Let him haunt me forever, please God. It’s the only prayer I’ve got.




Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Her short fiction has appeared in many journals, including Gettysburg Review, River Styx, Shenandoah, and The Sun.  She teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College and in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

Contributors, Spring 2014

Cazarija Abartis
Cezarija Abartis’ (Thanksgiving) Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, r.kv.r.y., Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/

Jennifer Cherry
Jennifer Cherry (All the World Before Me) lives with her family in central Illinois. Though she lives in the city, her heart belongs to the countryside of cornfields, wind turbines, and pastures full of sheep, cows, and horses. Cycling long distances throughout central Illinois gives her time to create characters that appear in her short fiction pieces, a few of which have been featured in The Storyteller Magazine, Mused: BellaOnline Literary Review Magazine, and Bergasse 19.

Kim Church
Kim Church (Breezeway) just released her debut novel, BYRD, (Dzanc Books) in March. Her stories and poems have appeared in Shenandoah, Mississippi Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has received fiction fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sarah Einstein
Sarah Einstein (What I Know of Madness) lives in Athens, OH where she is a PhD student in Creative Nonfiction at Ohio University. Her work has previously appeared in Ninth Letter, Fringe Magazine, PANK, and other journals, and has been awarded a Pushcart Prize. Her micro-collection, Remnants of Passion, is upcoming from Shebooks. .

David Faldet
David Faldet (Tilt) has had poems appear in such journals as Mid-American Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Saw Palm, and Arion.  His book Oneota Flow was published in 2009 by University of Iowa Press. He lives and works in Decorah, Iowa.

Zarin Hamid
Zarin Hamid (People Eat Chickpeas Bathed in Vinegar) is an adopted native of New Jersey, where after some circling she has come back to work and live. She has studied political science and peace and conflict resolution, and in addition to writing works on gender-based violence, militarism, and human rights issues from a feminist lens.

Tim Hillegonds
Tim Hillegonds (Old Colony) is a graduate student pursuing a master of arts degree in writing and publishing (MAWP) from DePaul University in Chicago. His work is forthcoming in RHINO and Brevity, and he was recently awarded an Honorable Mention for nonfiction in the New Millennium Award 36.

Ashaki Jackson
Ashaki Jackson (The Body of an American Paratrooper) is a Cave Canem poetry fellow and a member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) writing community. Her work has appeared in publications including Eleven Eleven and Suisun Valley Review. She is also a social psychologist who works with teen girls throughout Greater Los Angeles. (Photo credit: Hari Alluri.)

Carrie Krucinski
Carrie Krucinski (Scar Tissue) lives in Elyria, Ohio with her husband, Steven, and bulldog, Watson. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University and teaches English at Lorain County Community College.

Kyle Laws
Kyle Laws (Labradorite) has had work appear in Delmarva Review, Eleventh Muse, Exit 13, The Final Note, IthacaLit, The Main Street Rag, Malpaís Review, The Más Tequila Review, Mead: The Magazine of Literature and Libations, The Nervous Breakdown, Pearl, Philadelphia Poets, Pilgrimage, and St. Sebastian Review. She currently is editor of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. www.kylelaws.com

Amanda Meader
Amanda Abbie Meader (Pulled Under) was born and raised in Maine, where she returned to practice law after graduating from Cornell Law School in 2004. By day Amanda is a staff attorney for a non-profit organization; by night she is the wife of a very patient man and the mother of two ridiculously spoiled Boston Terriers. Reading and writing infuse her with peace and energy in a way that nothing else can, and she is constantly dreaming up ways to devote more of each day to pursuing her true passion.

leslie petrzyk
Leslie Pietrzyk (I am the Widow) is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Her short fiction has appeared in many journals, including Gettysburg Review, River Styx, Shenandoah, and The Sun.  She teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College and in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

Wiley headshot
Wiley Quixote (Illustrator) is, creatively, a jack of all trades, which—woefully, makes him an expert at none. Through the years, his creative temperament has led him in many directions – music, poetry, acting, drawing, painting – but his latest efforts with photography give him the greatest satisfaction, combining elements of each of his other creative pursuits with immediate gratification and a greater breadth of expression. He’s an autodidact with no conventional bona fides, but has the aim of establishing himself expressively through the love of, and commitment to, this latest and most gratifying medium.

Matt Thompson
Matt Thompson (Seeds) is a graduate of Georgia College & State University. He lives and works in Milledgeville, GA. He has written two novels: X. And Oleanders in Alaska, both available via Amazon. His previous short fiction has been featured in apt. He lives with his chihuahua Bruiser, and is seeking his MA in literature.

“Seeds” by Matt Thompson

Seeds (Matt Thompson)

The old man doesn’t work in the store, but that doesn’t stop him from suggesting the watermelon. He could be an older employee. In hard times a job at a grocery store doesn’t seem so bad. But that isn’t the case. He doesn’t work at the store. The state of his fingernails is what gives him away, yellowed and bitten to the nub. He doesn’t wear the red vest of the other employees but that could be written off as a minor error. Maybe he forgot to put it on this morning. The fingernails do it though, they give him away. No one would employ someone with such negligence for basic hygiene. Still, he pursues customers with gusto, his gray combover flopping up as he trots after them. It doesn’t look like his combover has been combed over in quite some time, but the evidence remains. They don’t want the watermelon. They scurry away from him as if from a dog with rabies. The old man falls down chasing after them and a look of sheer terror crosses his face. He is concerned about the watermelon. He inspects it from the gray-speckled tile floor and is relieved to find it intact. He stands up and is smiling. He’ll find someone else to take it.

My own father never really cared for me. That’s not my phrasing. He said that to me at one point in time, which made his diagnosis difficult in an untraditional way. When the doctor said, “I know this is difficult,” he wasn’t referring to the fact that my father and I never got along, and that his condition was going to force us to spend time together. He was talking about the disease. As I am a man, the doctor most likely didn’t question the lack of tears on my part, but he didn’t know. I didn’t have any tears. The man had made it clear to me that he wasn’t interested in being a part of my life, and now he needed me to be. He needed me to be a part of his life, or his life would be over sooner than preferred.

I did have tears the first time a boy broke my heart, but dad wasn’t interested then.

“Will you hand me my jar?” he said. He meant his beer glass. It was the collector’s type that restaurants sell. I never saw him with another one so I guess his collection ended at one. The restaurant label had long since worn off. He didn’t even use it to drink out of; he used it as a spit cup for his chewing tobacco. It was a disgusting habit and I hated it. I handed him the glass.

“Did you hear me? Louis said he wants to see other people. What does that even mean?”

“That’s just how your type are,” he said, and spit a large glob of brown juice. He was not a caring man.


The old man has caring eyes. It’s clear to everyone that his mission means everything to him. He has nothing on his mind but making sure this watermelon gets eaten. It’s too perfect not to be. Every once in a while he puts it up to his ear and taps it with his knuckles. The look on his face afterwards is one of pure contentedness. He worries from time to time that the fruit might be getting overripe, but each time he finds that it isn’t is a little bit sweeter than the last. Some part of him must be aware that if he doesn’t get someone to take the watermelon it will eventually be overripe. I’m in the frozen foods section when my turn comes. I can see him casing me from near the lima beans. He holds it in his arms and buffs out a perceived spot with his shirt. I notice it has a mustard stain on it near the collar. He’s looking to see if I’ll take good care of it, if I’ll slice it properly. A poorly sliced watermelon can be ruined. I’ve got to be the right candidate. He doesn’t speak to me when he approaches, but holds it out to me.

“No thank you,” I say, but he doesn’t understand. He holds it out but I keep pushing my cart towards frozen pizzas. “It does look good,” I admit. “But I don’t really eat watermelon. I don’t need one.” He nods but his face doesn’t change. He doesn’t understand. He hangs back but I can see that he is still following me. Apparently I have been chosen as the rightful buyer. Or maybe I’m just the first person who hasn’t run away from him or told him to leave me alone.


Bittersweet. I was ashamed to admit it, but it was true. My father’s condition was bittersweet. He was no longer the same man, but it was difficult for me to mourn the death of my father’s lifelong personality. This new man who had appeared—he liked me. He needed me, and he appreciated that I put his jacket on for him before we went to the park. It was amazing how fast it happened. It wasn’t fast strictly speaking, about average the doctor had said, but the change didn’t seem gradual. At first he forgot a few things here and there, but he was still the same man. When Marv came with me to check on him, he would ignore him completely and have a terse conversation with me. The funny thing was that had Marv not been there, we probably wouldn’t have had any conversation at all. I don’t know what he got out of it. Maybe he thought he was proving something to Marv by ignoring him. Those were the days before Marv and I moved into his huge old house. He still resented us checking up on him. He only cursorily acknowledged that it was a safety issue and permitted to me coming by once a day in the afternoon. He always pretended like he had been doing something so important that it couldn’t possibly be interrupted for very long. He had to fix this, or he had a program coming on in five minutes, or he was reading a particularly good piece in the paper. Anything to make my visits as short as possible.

“You read this one?” he said to me one afternoon a few years ago. He was holding up a newspaper that I recognized. I set my bag down on his kitchen floor. “Jesus, don’t put that there,” he said. “You’ll scratch up the floor— put it on the damn hook.” I did as he asked.

“What is that dad?”

“New zoning law. Bullshit if you ask me. Gonna knock down my Arby’s.”

“What day is it, dad?”

I had a set of questions the doctor told me to ask if dad ever got confused. They weren’t exactly scientific but they could give me a pretty good idea of his state of mind. The first test was how dad reacted to the question. He gave me a suspicious look. He was angry but cooperative.

“Monday.” I didn’t respond. I waited for him to elaborate. “The fifth.”

“What day is on the paper?”

He looked down at the paper in his hands and it was painful to see the look on his face as he realized that he was holding a paper from three days before. He had already complained to me about the knocking down of his Arby’s. This was the first wake up call. He yelled at me and told me to leave. He was fine and wouldn’t be needing my services for the rest of the day. That evening was the first time Marv and I had a conversation about dad’s future. It was the first time the possibility of us moving into his house had come up. At that point in time Marv and I didn’t even live together.

“Okay dad. I’ll go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Pick up your feet. Your queer shoes are scratching up my floor.”


He tails me through soups, both canned and boxed. I prefer the boxed kind. He doesn’t pretend to be shopping. He doesn’t have that kind of tact. He mutely follows me wherever I go, waiting for me to show him some sign maybe—a sign that I’m accept the watermelon, that I’m worthy of it. It’s clearly the best one of the bunch. When he gets close enough I can tell that he needs a shower, but that’s only for small moments. He mostly hangs back. That is until I get to coffee. I stare at the coffee every week, like I’m going to change my mind, but I never do. I always get the same kind of coffee, but the staring at the selection of coffee is a vital part of the shopping experience for me. He gets closer as I marvel at the different varieties of beans. It seems that there’s a new kind of coffee every week. The coffees are like my news. I don’t watch the news and I don’t read the news, but I’m very up to date on the coffee world. You mean you haven’t heard about the strife in Guatemala? No but their coffee beans have doubled in price in the last month. Now I know why.

The coffee aisle is always the last I visit. Maybe he can intuit that, or maybe he’s seen me here before. Either way he can tell that I’m about to leave, and he doesn’t want to lose another one. He comes directly up to me, avoids eye contact entirely and places the watermelon in my cart. I don’t get mad. I don’t yell at him. It is a good watermelon. And he was careful not to damage any of my other groceries. He placed it down gently next to my bread, making sure not to damage any corners.

“Thank you,” I say. “It looks like a winner.” I rap my knuckles on the fruit and am greeted with a satisfying hollow noise. “You picked out a good one.” He walks away without saying anything to me.

“Thanks,” I call after him. I hear him mumbling to himself as he slides out of view and back towards produce.


“It won’t be a problem. Trust me.” I tried to reassure Marv. It was his first time going back to my dad’s. The first and last time he had come along hadn’t gone well. “He’s not the same. If he had the capacity to realize who you were, he probably would still hate you, but he doesn’t. His disease has lessened his prejudice because he can’t really distinguish people apart enough to discriminate against them.” My easy way about dad’s disease made Marv uncomfortable. We were going over to look at the space more than to see dad. I’d basically been living with him for a while. I left him with a neighbor I’ve known since childhood to get Marv. My pile of blankets were folded on the couch, and my reading glasses on the arm. Evidence of my living there were everywhere, greeting us.

“Doesn’t seem right,” Marv says as we approach the front door. “Appraising the livability of his house.”

“I can assure you that it won’t bother him. He’s mellowed a lot. Depending entirely on other people will do that to you I guess. I think he might have even forgot that I’m gay.” That gets a chuckle out of Marv and we enter my father’s house.

Marv is a contractor and took notes in his pad about the problems the house had. Over the past few years it had seriously declined. With dad no longer being able to make repairs (I took away all his tools for safety) and me being incapable of doing them in the first place, a lot had gone unrepaired. There was a leak in the attic. That was to be number one on the list. There were bugs in the basement, and the garage was full of old newspapers. Dad never threw away newspapers.

“I use ‘em to start the fires in the fireplace,” he used to say, as if he needed a thousand pounds of old newspapers for the three fires he lit each winter. Countless light fixtures were missing pieces that had fallen off or been knocked off years ago by a still angry, ashtray throwing dad. He loved the Phillies. But like me, they were a constant disappointment to him. I still put the games on for him, but he got frustrated when he asked me the names of the players and I couldn’t tell him. It was actually nice, his quiet frustration. He crossed his arms like a child and pouted. It was endlessly more pleasant than him berating me for never taking an interest in sports.

The guilt was hard at first, but wore off. What did I have to feel guilty about? I was taking care of a man that had never liked me—had told me so to my face, had not attended my college graduation, and publicly condemned my “lifestyle” when it was his turn to speak up in church. But still I felt guilty.  I liked dementia dad better than regular dad. That’s not how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to feel sad when my father succumbed to a degenerative disease, and no longer consistently remembered who I was, outside of the person who took care of him. I often wondered who he thought I was when he would ramble on about the Phillies to me while I changed his diaper.

“My son never went to a Phillies game with me,” he said one time. That was the first time I really understood that he didn’t even know me. But what confused me the most was why he didn’t question it. He had reverted to childlike status, and children don’t question authority. I told him to do things and therefore I was in charge. He yielded to that instinctively. So he didn’t question the middle aged man changing his diapers and cooking his meals. I was just there.


I’m standing in the checkout line behind an obese woman who has at least twenty items, twice the limit of this line, when I see him again. He has picked out another watermelon, and is offering it to an old woman. She is hunched over and clearly frightened by him. She is motioning for him to leave her alone, but he doesn’t understand. He has chosen another perfect specimen and she should buy it. I don’t know why I just watch and do nothing. I can predict in that moment everything that is about to unfold. As sure as I know that Yuban columbian is six cents more an ounce than my preferred Master Chef medium roast—I know how this is going to end. She yells and pushes her cart at him. They both fall down. Another shopper rushes to help the old woman up. The cop standing by the front doors takes action. He runs to the produce section, holding his belt buckle. The watermelon is smashed on the floor and is all over the old man’s shirt, obscuring the mustard stain in a sea of red. The man stares down at his broken baby and bursts into tears. He tries to wipe his face on his shirt but only makes matters worse. His tears run red with watermelon juice and the cop hauls him to his feet. I should say something but I don’t. The cop turns the man around and cuffs him. For some reason this cop can’t see that this man doesn’t belong in prison. He doesn’t know because he was standing by the automatic doors reading his newspaper, bitching about zoning laws. How they’re making his Cracker Barrel move to a different location, farther from his apartment. The building’s going to be a dance studio. He leads the old man out of the store, pushing him from behind. The old man stumbles and we make brief eye contact. I grab the watermelon out of my cart to hold it up for him—to show him that I’m buying it, but it’s too late. The Cracker Barrel cop has already pushed him out the door. I’m left holding up a watermelon in the air in front of confused shoppers. One man claps, but quickly stops when he realizes that this isn’t one of those types of moments. The janitors have already been called and they’re pushing their cart towards the split-open watermelon on the floor. The janitor’s cart has a radio, and it’s tuned to local news. A newscaster tells of how a new school is being built. Zoning laws had to be changed, he says, and a local video store will be forced to move. At least it’s for the children. The janitor reaches down and takes a little bit of watermelon from the middle. It truly is perfectly ripe. He eats some of the melon from his palm, and spits out the seed, no respect for the dead.

Marv was shocked by the change in dad, like I had been at first. I tried to explain that it only felt like it happened quickly. He didn’t see him every day so the change was more drastic. Because I was with him every day I could chart his changes: the first day with the newspaper, the first Phillies game entirely watched and completely forgotten, the first time he forgot my name. I had a mental checklist.

“How do you deal with it?” he asked me, while taking a sip of lemonade. He and my dad were painting the living room together. Dad had been calling him “Marty” all day, but seemed to be loving the painting. He wasn’t very good at it, but Marv mostly covered up his work.

“I’ve come to terms,” I said, because I couldn’t admit it. Marv felt the appropriate emotions and he wasn’t even the son. I couldn’t say to him, “You remember the man, he hated me,” because that wasn’t the correct response to have. I couldn’t say the truth. He was better now. Marv would have said, ‘That guy was always in there. He was just emotionally closed off. He’s always loved you,” or something like that, but I don’t know if I could believe it or not.

“Eventually he will forget everything. Even who he is,” the doctor had told me in private, a year or so earlier. He hadn’t said he would revert to what he was feeling inside—that he would finally love me, in his cluelessness. That’s not what the doctor said. The doctor said he would forget. And he had forgotten. He forgot how much he disliked me. And I had a hard time letting that distinction go.


I pay in cash and the pockmarked kid does a terrible job bagging my groceries. The cashier makes no comment about me holding a watermelon above my head. I could have forgiven her for doing so. I drive slowly through the neighborhood and look at the Arby’s as I drive by. It still has the appearance of being new. It was a good remodeling job. Marv and I took dad there for lunch on a few occasions. He loved it. Dad died about three months ago. We live alone in his house now.

“What’d you get?” Marv asks me reflexively when I come in the door. He knows I buy the same items every time I go to the grocery store.

“I got a watermelon.”


“We’re having watermelon tonight.”




Matt Thompson is a graduate of Georgia College & State University. He lives and works in Milledgeville, GA. He has written two novels: X. And Oleanders in Alaska, both available via Amazon. His previous short fiction has been featured in apt. He lives with his chihuahua Bruiser, and is seeking his MA in literature.

Read an interview with Matt here.

“Pulled Under” by Amanda Meader

Pulled Under (Meader)

It must have been while my husband scrubbed the blood from his father’s truck that he forgot how to smile. My husband had traveled through life merrily until the spring of his nineteenth year, when his father leaned into a rifle and pulled the trigger. For years I had wished that my father could have died that quickly.

Approaching the second anniversary of my father’s death, I allow myself one evening to remember him. This is a mistake: the pain that rises in my sternum reminds me of a wave that took my feet out from under me when I was a little girl playing in the ocean. Our mother had warned us of the strong undertow, and so my sister and I had ventured into the frigid swells clinging to my father’s knotted biceps, bobbing carelessly in the surf, certain we were safely anchored.

I had let go of my father’s arm for the walk back in from waist-deep water to the beach where my mother waited, hers the one face in that crowd of strangers that belonged to me. The cold waves that licked my backside as I made my way to shore were strong enough to push my slight torso forward, sending me rocking onto my toes, hands slapping against the surface of the water to stay upright. The wave that dragged me under took me so quickly I was upside down and caught in the pull of something beyond my control before my brain registered panic.

Now, sitting in my living room, a grown woman, I remember the taste of the ocean water as tears streak down my cheeks. My husband, who is trying to sleep in the adjoining room, doesn’t know how to cry anymore than he knows how to smile, so I hold my breath and swallow my sobs.

When someone you love dies and all you have left are memories, you must choose carefully which doors to unlock. Become careless and you will unlock the door that leads to the darkest room, the one where you have crammed monsters into corners, chained them to the floor, willed them to obedience, gagged and silenced them.

Children lose parents every day: accidents, illness, abandonment. Suicide is not an acceptable avenue of departure from this earth, save perhaps for the terminally ill. So if your father points a gun at himself and pulls the trigger, or pours poison down his throat until his liver quits, you mourn your loss quietly and with a sense of shame – you are your father’s son, and you are your father’s daughter, are you not?

My nerves are scraped raw from spending my childhood crouched in fear, waiting, knowing most days would be bad ones. A plate thrown, a door broken, a job lost, the purple shadow of my father’s fingertips decorating my mother’s arm. It’s not that I learned not to hope; I simply never learned hope to begin with.

When the ocean finally released me on that summer day so many years ago, I struggled out of the ocean and kept moving forward until I reached dry sand. I’d known enough to hold my breath while under water, and as I kneeled in the warm sand I gulped air into my empty lungs.

Nearly three decades later, I am still prone to holding my breath when I sense danger. But I have learned that hope is not a gift that I must wait for someone to give me – it is something I can make on my own.



Amanda Abbie Meader was born and raised in Maine, where she returned to practice law after graduating from Cornell Law School in 2004. By day Amanda is a staff attorney for a non-profit organization; by night she is the wife of a very patient man and the mother of two ridiculously spoiled Boston Terriers. Reading and writing infuse her with peace and energy in a way that nothing else can, and she is constantly dreaming up ways to devote more of each day to pursuing her true passion.

“Thanksgiving” by Cezarija Abartis

Thanksgiving (Abartis)1

Twilight and wind: changing weather, autumn moving in, leaves dropping, Andrea’s throat hurting when she swallowed, cold and feverish. She shivered. She sipped at the water. She should have put a lemon in it and honey, but she didn’t have either.

She should’ve asked Jeff to buy lemons and honey on his way home from work. Her friend Caroline believed that Echinacea worked; her friend Paula said there was no evidence that it helped at all.

Andrea’s chest hurt when she breathed: hot, cutting, ripping. The twilight flowed down on her, heavy and metallic. It was hard to raise her head against the clanging light. When she was little and sick, her mother would hug her, cover her in quilts, bring her hot chicken soup, let her watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood  and cowboy movies until she fell asleep to the television. She wanted to float away on those good feelings now, but her mother had died four years ago.

“Here are my smiles to wrap you in,” her mother would say.

Andrea swallowed; her throat hurt. She wrapped her fleece bathrobe more tightly around herself. She shivered. She got one of her mother’s afghans to drape on herself. She wound a scarf around her neck. She was sure she looked like a grotesque character out of a Dickens novel.

She called her sister, but she wasn’t home. Dear, darling Ellen, who moved to Seattle and fell in love with Sam and then got a divorce a couple years ago. Andrea had never approved of Sam, because of his pompous pronouncements about health and nutrition. And then he left Ellen for an older woman. “I’m fine,” Ellen said, an edge in her voice, when they talked on the telephone last week. Andrea pictured her as biting the inside of her lip. “I’m trying these dating services. You’d think it was the nineteenth century.” She barked a laugh. “Only they didn’t live so long back then.”

“Some did.” Andrea knew she was being oppositional, but her finger hurt. What kind of stupid excuse was that?

“You’re an expert on demographics now?”

“More than you.” Andrea immediately regretted it.

Ellen clicked the phone off. When Andrea, self-chastened, tried to call her and explain her day and swollen finger, the line was busy because they both were trying to call each other. When they did talk,  they both behaved better and forgave one another. Today, when Andrea called Ellen for sympathy about her cold, Ellen wasn’t home. She was probably at the office.

On the radio the news was about the death of a ninety-year-old Congressman due to complications from pneumonia. Andrea allowed herself a book to read, a mystery, and a glass of Merlot. Poor baby, she was sick. The wind blew around the leaves outside. They shivered too.

Her father had been dead six years.

Her mother used to speak to Andrea: Stand up straight, Eat your vegetables, Play in the sun. Love is what you need. Love will get you through.

They both believed in love. Her mother remained a romantic even into her fifties after the divorce. Stories about Cinderella, about Jackie Kennedy and the disappointment when she married Onassis. Well, everybody had to survive, continue, move forward. Even princesses.

The very leaves outside believed in love. They crackled stories to each other about leaf-love, leaf-salvation. Never leaf-mold and leaf-death but leaf-health and leaf-happiness and leaf-eternal. Andrea coughed and shook her head at her own foolish whimsy. She was leaf-mad, leaf-crazy, leaf-sick, she knew that, maybe leaf-dying. No, it was just a cold. She should quit being melodramatic. A miserable, aching, fevered cold. Not her father’s heart attack, not her mother’s cancer. She had those things to look forward to, she supposed, but not yet.

Neither of her parents remarried, and at the end they tolerated one another, were polite. After he died,  her mother’s life went on, separately, with books and a few friends and occasional outbursts and judgments. She said she was glad to avoid Alzheimer’s–that at least was a blessing of cancer, and she laughed wryly. “You’re taking care of yourself, aren’t you? Getting your exercise? Your mammograms?” Andrea put her book on the end table.

If she could summon her mother, how would Andrea imagine her? Her mother, strong and young, would materialize in front of her. “How are you, baby? Are you taking care of yourself? I see you’re sick. I wish I could hug you, but I’m a spirit and you would feel only a breeze. I’m going to do it anyway. Oh, your warmth feels good.”

“I have a fever.”

“That’s not what I meant. Me holding your body, that’s good. You smell like earth. Robert Frost said, ‘Earth’s the right place for love.’ I still read poetry in the beyond, you know. Funny to call it the beyond. It’s really in your mind.” She tapped the side of her forehead.

“So you’re not really here?”

“I’m in your mind. What’s more real than your mind?” Her mother laughed, and it sounded like water boiling and spilling over. Then the laughter stopped. “Something’s troubling you, Andrea?”

“I’m afraid of every little thing. I have a cut on my finger and an infection, My finger is swollen.” She raised the offending digit, which was pink and puffy.

“Go to the doctor. What’s the real problem?”

“I don’t like the world–that it’s not perfect, that it will end.”

“Well, if it’s not perfect, don’t you want it to end?” Her mother raised a logical finger. “So it can start something better?”

“There is nothing better.”

“There you go! Lesson learned!”

“I don’t want any lessons.”

“You always were self-tutored. Quite a handful. Your sister was easier.”

“You loved her more!”

“No, dear. I loved both of you,” her mother said, her voice even and knowing. “I counted myself lucky to have both of you in my life.”

“I’m afraid of your cancer.”


“Aren’t you going to say something? Dismiss my fears?”

“Fears are real.” Her mother pushed her fingers together helplessly and looked around the room anxiously.

When Andrea was little and got a bruise, she was frightened at what was happening to her. Her mother kissed the owie, applied an antibiotic and a bandage. “All better,” she said. Once, Andrea was afraid that she would grow a mustache and hair on her chest. Only boys did that, her mother said. Now Andrea wheezed and coughed and gurgled. Things were happening inside of her. The last light flowed across the carpet toward the couch as if to submerge her. She pulled the afghan higher, to her chin.

Her friend Paula lived alone, preferred that. What did she do when she got sick, had a chest cold and an infected finger? Who gave her sympathy? Who brought her warm blankets and hot tea? Who cared that her finger throbbed? That she couldn’t lift the full coffee cup with three fingers, that she didn’t want to type emails because her finger hurt, that signing her name was hard?

“It won’t happen to you, dear,” her mother said. “You and Jeff are fine.”

“How do you know?”

“The prefrontal cortex knows things.” Her mother tapped her forehead and laughed. “Your father used to call me ‘Sweet smart Baby Louise’ when we were young and dating. There was a time when he loved me extravagantly.” She stretched her hands in front of her, fluttered her fingers and made them into a book. “He said I had beautiful hands. Those were good times.” Then her eyes filmed over, she wavered in the dimness, and she was old again.

There was nobody else for either of her parents. They had their lives, their family, their work, and then they ceased. They dispersed into the cosmos, their shreds and dust never to come together in the same way. The first coming together was a wonder: it resulted in an engineer who enjoyed Shakespeare and in her mother who had beautiful hands and taught poetry to tenth graders. Louise and Eric would not laugh again.

“But we did once,” her mother said and floated to the door and came back. “So many mistakes,” her mother said. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head regretfully. “I should have let you go to the private college. But we couldn’t afford it. I thought we couldn’t afford it. I should’ve tried harder, worked summers, you wanted it so much.”

“I wanted it because Paula was going to that school.”

“She loved the school.”

“I would not have met Jeff, not have married him. It worked out fine, better than fine, perfect.”

“Next week is Thanksgiving. We had some happy holidays.” Her mother sighed. “I wish we’d had more, but that would be greedy. Do you miss me on the holidays?”


“That will suffice for me.” She was next to the door. She put her fingers to her lips and blew her a kiss. She shimmered, became grainy, and dissolved into the shadows. Then she stepped out of the shadows. “I forgot to say, I love you.”

“Me too.”

“And our fights, do you miss those?” Her mother turned and disappeared into the shadows.

“Even those.” Andrea looked down, squeezed and released the fabric of the afghan. She patted it until her swollen finger caught on a thread. She remembered a time when she shouted at her father that he didn’t know anything because he wouldn’t lend her the car, that he specialized in designing one kind of gear nobody cared about. Her mother walked up to her, eyes furious, and raised her hand but did not slap Andrea.

Prospero trotted in, tail perpendicular, alert and happy. He fixed her with his eyes and meowed. Then he sneezed. Probably it was some dust in the air, not a cold. She pulled off her afghan, went into the kitchen, and opened a can of cat food. “Happy pre-Thanksgiving to you,” she said. He relished it. She went back into the living room and burrowed under her afghan. Her father had rescued Prospero, who wandered up to their porch, skinny and emphatically meowing. Now Prospero probably did not remember his hungry days. Her father continued to rescue strays until the year he died.

Andrea closed her eyes and remembered her young, handsome father bringing her hot cocoa, with melting marshmallows oozing on top. Wisps of air floated by her, containing children’s happy shrieks from decades ago and smells of crisp leaves that she kicked through on her way to first grade.

There had been an older boy at school, several grades ahead of them, Denny, who wore a brace on his leg because he’d had polio.

She’d been going to her best friend Taffy’s house, when the car tires shrieked around the corner and hit a tricycle. Denny was not on it. It had rolled out of the driveway. In that instant, Andrea imagined that Denny was on it and was flipped up into the air.

She was now married and feared what it would be like when she was old and widowed. To be flipped up in the air without Jeff. She shivered. She was morbid. Or would it be Jeff who was flipped up and she who was on the ground standing, watching, horrified, with her hands on her cheeks, eyes round, mouth round, emitting a silent scream.

Jeff was late. Was he in a car accident? Had he been hurt? He had forgotten his cell phone on the table; she couldn’t call him.


She heard steps outside the apartment, a key in the lock, the door creaking open, a bag crinkling. It was Jeff. “Hey, baby,” he shouted. “I stopped by the deli to get you some chicken soup.” He walked into the living room, leaned over, and kissed her forehead. “How’re you feeling?”




Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, r.kv.r.y., Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/

“The Body of an American Paratrooper” by Ashaki Jackson

The Body of a Soldier
The body of an American paratrooper killed in action in the jungle near the Cambodian border is raised up to an evacuation helicopter (Henri Huet, 1966)

This body:
a question and broken
compass  North-pointing or ascending
and bruised like a savior

I mean the body is dead

Fully-clothed and suspended in a truth-
ful place

When I say truthful   I mean honest

as skin                                                          {A loose
tongue}   I’m saying
“obvious”   The body hides
nothing but prayer and low tide

retreating all
its breathless melody   Now: stiff
slow in its arch   I swear he is a black-
necked stork cascading

So sure   his mother will open
her wide-mouthed wail   jowls brimming
with iridescent plumage   Her body too

passing through




Ashaki M. Jackson is a Cave Canem poetry fellow and a member of the Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) writing community. Her work has appeared in publications including Eleven Eleven and Suisun Valley Review. She is also a social psychologist who works with teen girls throughout Greater Los Angeles.

Read an interview with Ashaki here.

Announcing our April Illustrator: Wiley Quixote!

Wiley headshot

Creatively, Wiley’s a jack of all trades, which—woefully, makes him an expert at none. Through the years, his creative temperament has led him in many directions – music, poetry, acting, drawing, painting (and made him hard to live with) – but his latest efforts with photography have proven to give him the greatest satisfaction since, in principle, it combines elements of each of his other creative pursuits with that longed-for sense of immediate gratification and a greater breadth of expression. He’s an autodidact with no conventional bona fides, but has the aim of establishing himself expressively through the love of, and commitment to, this latest and most gratifying medium.


He’s a music festival and show shooter, a candid and conventional portrait photographer,
possesses a great love of nature, and is working on several fine art photography projects in his studio. But hand him a camera, and he’ll shoot just about anything around him that piques his interest or reflects his perceptual aptitudes.


A fan of metaphysics, the humanities, and the people sciences, Wiley Quixote has a strong interest in Jungian psychology as a process of understanding life’s journey, and is fascinated by the human creature in all its unguarded simplicity and mysterious complexity. He tries to bring the historical and archetypal to bear in his photographic observations, while at the same time aiming to capture and express the living moment, the eternal now. A close relationship to the unconscious and his intuition are his mercurial guides and the limits of his imagination, pocketbook, and skills his only boundaries.


Prints are available for sale by request on a case by case basis. You may contact him at
wileyquixote@comcast.net, follow him on Facebook and on Flickr.