Volume 1, Issue 2
ROSE ANTONELLI-FATTON, MEDITATIVE FLIGHT. PEN AND INK ON PAPER.
Rose Antonelli-Fatton is an artist, writer, and musician who works with at-risk and special needs students, helping them to use art and music as therapeutic tools to improve behavior. She is currently enrolled in Ashford University’s Master’s in Teaching and Learning with Technology program, with only two classes left. She plans to go forward for her PhD in education.
She was running headlong into the soft, sunset breezes along the marina and her platform shoes and bellbottoms were impeding her progress. One misstep, just one little slip of the heel, and she would topple six feet and face plant on the sidewalk. A gang of men in various states of intoxication and nonsense were trailing her slowly, languishing in their beat-up Plymouth convertible, and making loud, aggressive threats: detailing the various sexual positions they’d like to see her in and what they’d do to her afterwards. Miscreants, she thought, loving how the word rolled around in her mouth like a lollipop. Yeah, they’re a bunch of mis-cre-ANTS, alright. How she adored those “big” words as a past boyfriend had said: “Lizzy, I need to carry a dictionary around with me jest ta’ understand ya,” he half-wittedly exclaimed. She started hiding her smarts after that ne’er do well left the scene, somehow believing his skewed view of a woman’s intelligence.
She was afraid to look back at the taunting thugs and thought of her car, abandoned in the parking lot behind the bar. The dentist, her faux boyfriend, perched like a crow on a telephone wire while ensconced in velvet lounge chairs within the Too Single To Mingle bar, had explained in a calm and rational manner that when a girl gets a whim and cuts her hair short, well, she’s just not girlfriend material. Long hair equals getting to sleep on slippery satin sheets, in a pretend, questionable relationship with this elegant and superficial older man, and he really must be going now. That was it. She felt her face flush the brothel red color of the lounge walls, stood erect, and managed to exit the bar in a fugue state, not fully comprehending how hair length could be the “be all end all.” “Why, I don’t think he ever loved me!” her nineteen-year-old mind lamented, revealing her naiveté.
It was then that the clip-clop of her platforms stopped short in the parking lot. There was a crowd of men, sitting on and standing around her car, puffing stridently on their Marlboro’s. “Hey, doll, where ya goin’?” the particularly scruffy one asked while licking his scaly lips. “Wanna party with us?” and the others laughed and snorted their approval of his query. “Uh, no thanks, I uh, just want to get into my car,” Lizzy said, feeling knots the size of baseballs pitch to and fro in her stomach. “Oh no you don’t,” another demanded, “You’re going with us,” as he lunged towards her. Lizzie decided to put her broken heart issues in her pocket and bolted down a short alley, sprinting down the sidewalk like that athlete in the Olympics who could run like crazy and whose name currently escaped her. The misbehaving lowlifes crammed in their clown car shouting obscenities and making threats, following her as she ran; looking to the casual observer like some misguided small town country parade, a really eager majorette at the helm without a twirling baton.
Cruising along the marina highway, he saw a girlish figure in the darkening distance galloping like a wild mustang, displaced on a trail of cold concrete, out of time and far away from her free, open range home. His sudden death grip on the leather steering wheel was driven by the anxiety of trading his fanciful delusions of lasting love for the right to feel impossibly taut, strong flesh ripple under his tentative caressses. Sighing, full of resignation, he slowed down while the feeling of being needed for something, anything, blinded him to reason.
Even a young nineteen-year-old girl has her bronchial limits, and Lizzy was reaching full capacity, bordering on asthmatic gasps while perilously sprinting down the avenue. Wheezing, legs wobbling, sweat cascading down her back, pooling in her panties, she wondered if these idiots were going to ever give up. Were they going to grab her, do heinous things to her and leave “Lizzy bits” scattered throughout Southern California? Oh, how her parents were going to miss her! A revving engine stopped Lizzie’s reverie of horror, and she glanced sideways, fearful of what might befall her next. It had been a really crappy day. She could see a shiny, sun colored sports car following her trot along the curb with the old Plymouth lagging behind, dropping the pursuit. “Hey!” a disembodied voice floated in wispy syllables out of the car. “Hey, are you in trouble?” “I….guess….I’m……scared….I….can’t…..breathe,” Lizzy sputtered, now stopping to bend over, hands on thighs, panting like a waterless dog too long in the sun. She boldly turned into the soothing voice and noticed a pair of warm, brown eyes intently staring through a mass of hair. “Get in,” the voice commanded, and Lizzy cautiously obeyed.
The car’s interior smelled of patchouli and the radio was playing Steely Dan, the evocative nasality of Fagen’s voice proclaiming; hey nineteen/that’s Retha Franklin/she don’t remember the Queen of Soul/hard times befallen the soul survivors/she thinks I’m crazy/but I’m just growing old…
“I’m Joel,” brown-eyed man said in a soft tone, holding out a large plump hand, the other turning the radio down to a whisper, knee deftly commanding the steering wheel. “Lizzie,” she shook his hand like her parents had taught her. Firm, not like a limp fish. A handshake says everything ‘bout a person, that was one of many life lessons passed down in the family. Gems of wisdom a person could really use for success! Especially when accepting rides from total strangers. “Can I ask what in the hell you were doing racing down the street when it’s almost dark, Lizzie?” Joel asked, a bemused expression dancing across his face and resting in his dark beard. “Those guys…they were following me…my car’s at the bar…my boyfriend broke up…short hair….oh, just forget it,” Lizzie said dejectedly while considering the city lights lining the 405 freeway, glinting in the night air like fireflies on crack.
“Alright, we don’t have to talk about all of it now,” Joel acquiesced, smiling, “my house isn’t too far from here, do you want something to eat?” Lizzie looked at his profile and noticed the salt and pepper splashed over his hair like a Pollock painting. This guy was not a teenager. Not even a young adult. He was older. “That depends on where you live, I mean, how long it takes to get there, and there is the issue of my car,” Lizzie emphatically stated, attempting adult speak. She didn’t want to sound like a mere child that could easily be taken advantage of and who was this man anyway? “My house is in Pacific Palisades, it’s a tree house, and I think you’ll love it,” Joel said invitingly. Lizzie’s mind sputtered and spewed exhaustion. Joel’s story had to be some kind of ruse and she would inevitably experience a horrible death in his tree house. “Yeah right, he actually lives in his mommies’ basement, in a shack down by the river,” Lizzie thought, weighing her options.
Serious and bookish in high school, Lizzie had lived out her favorite childhood fairytale by morphing from a bespectacled, ugly duckling into a long, lithe swan. Seducing her married high school science teacher, the awareness of the stupefying spell her body could cast over any, mostly older men, eliminated remnants of long ago and ruined romantic fantasies. There was an increasingly perverse pleasure she felt in offering her supple, young body to an eagerly awaiting audience, acting as if she was in the throes of passion while providing award-winning performances of pleasure. During every encounter, her mind would rise out of her body, disappearing in the sexually charged ether and hover somewhere above; watching the scene play out in a never ending cinematic loop, with a buried prayer for a happy ending.
“Look, I don’t know about the tree house you say you live in,” Lizzie replied wearily, “but if you’re planning on raping and killing me, just do it, it would be the perfect end to a perfect day,” her sarcasm fogging the windows. Staring out the passenger window she prayed her violent suggestion would not become a reality. “Well,” Joel replied, indignant at the suggestion that he could be a homicidal maniac, “I had no intention of doing anything but providing a place for you to relax and get your bearings, but I can turn around right now and take you back to your car if you wish.” Surprised by his directness and a note of parental- like irritation in his voice, Lizzie said, “No, no, I’m ok, just drive and let’s see this treehouse you live in.” She stared at him until he casually met her gaze and gave him a weak half smile.
They drove down Sunset Boulevard, neon lights and restaurants of the stars turning into heavily tree lined, twisting roads. Noticing Lizzie’s reluctance to converse, Joel filled Lizzie in on the basic details of his life. He was a producer, a writer of science fiction, divorced after being married for years, a collector of antique toys, and a gourmet cook. Lizzie reveled in hearing other people’s stories, and even if some of Joel’s meandering tales were similar to oh-so-many others she had heard since moving to L.A., he seemed less intent on bragging than he did on making Lizzie laugh with some quirky anecdotal versions of living in a vapid wasteland full of posers; his estimation of living anywhere near Hollywood. Somehow, the day’s events melded with the night sky and Lizzie felt her body surrender to the slow, rocking movement of her chariot and Joel…he could be her gladiator.
They pulled onto a long, brick-inlaid driveway and Lizzie looked up towards some lights peeking provocatively around the tall tree branches. Set within the trees was an enormous, multi-level wood house with a winding wood staircase leading to a huge oak door, beveled glass providing a kaleidoscopic glimpse of the interior. Joel had come around to open the passenger door, a gallant gesture Lizzie was unfamiliar with, and it startled her. She was halfway out and standing when he put his hand lightly on the small of her back to escort her to the doorway. She noticed he was shorter, and kind of round, mimicking the shape of a Buddha statue her parents had bought on a lark at a flea market. He was against type, this seemingly gentle, unassuming soul. She always went for the unavailable, excruciatingly handsome older men who spent more time assessing their mirror reflections and appearances of their arm candy than attempting to rescue nineteen-year-old neophytes. Lizzie couldn’t discern whether the warmth she felt emanating from Joel was familial or a form of wanton lust.
Hours later, she was curled up beside him on his immense living room couch providing a breathtaking view of the shadow trees etched against the night sky through vast picture windows. He had prepared Cornish game hens stuffed with wild rice and mushrooms, and ratatouille, which made her laugh when he pronounced it but turned out to be a lovely mélange of eggplant and other vegetables, and warm French bread, crusty on the outside and soft inside. Joel had given her his tartan plaid flannel pajamas to wear and they were laying side-by-side, the warmth of his belly brushing her lower back with soft breath stokes. His large hands stroked her neck, tracing lines down her arm, the curve of her waist, lingering upon her hips, and back up. It was a rhythm that Lizzie rocked within herself as he blanketed her in compassionate contact.
She quizzed him about hair length and was she less of a woman because it was short, and he made comments about her accentuated cheekbones and the splash of nose freckles, which he declared all lovely, she smiled secretly. Joel nuzzled her neck, and whispered, “Lizzie, you feel like a wounded bird.” Her body clenched in involuntary spasms and an electric pulse ran up her spine. She had been found out. He had reached inside her heart and opened it up, massaging away the toughened anterior, and she couldn’t pretend it didn’t ache sometimes. This life, the defenses….she shut her eyes tightly, fighting back the tears that were leaking like a tired faucet. “Heal me, help me,” she faintly whispered. He threw a stocky, protective leg over her and slept a dreamless sleep while she wept, wanting to run, and wondering if she should stop running and stay in this enclave that felt like….home, maybe.
Catherine Miller is in her last year at Ashford University, where she is majoring in English. A voracious reader and a prolific writer since childhood, she has decided to abandon all reason and logic with the choice of writing as her vocation.
David folds his napkin into an airplane, scrunches his forehead into a question mark, and says, “Bet you don’t know what this is.”
“An origami airplane,” I tell him.
He tells me he told me so.
“You don’t understand,” he continues as he points the nose of his origami airplane at my open mouth. I know if I let more words come out, the plane is going to hit David’s target. The only way to try to prevent the attack is to close my mouth. I do.
David turns to the window. Fog clings to everything but the people closest to us. Strangers seem to appear from nowhere as they get within a few yards of the diner’s door. David looks out the window as though he possesses a superpower that allows him to stare through the fog, across the continent, and into the souls of people who used to live in cities David has only seen on television.
“Why do they call it the Big Apple?” David asked last summer before he began making origami airplanes. I had to look it up. I no longer remember the answer, but I think it had something to do with horse-racing, because David asked if he is allergic to horses. I told him I didn’t know, because we’ve never been close enough to a horse to find out.
We keep a list on the refrigerator of things David is allergic to: milk, peanuts, shellfish, pollen, cat dander, bees, and penicillin. It’s next to the list of things David is afraid of: dark hallways, closets, sock seams, mustaches, tomatoes, and Dr. Holloway. The lists were David’s idea. He says the lists help him feel safe. When we learn about something new, David adds it to the bottom of the appropriate list. Last September, we added “airplanes.”
Dr. Holloway suggested that David make origami airplanes. For each airplane David makes, Dr. Holloway gives him a gold star. He said that if David’s anxiety level got down to below five on a scale of one through ten, that David could erase airplanes off the fear list if he wanted to. David told me it’s hard to know what number an anxiety attack is, and I told him it’s kind of like the color codes we have for the heightened states of awareness; no one knows what to do differently if the heightened state of awareness is orange or red. I can empathize with David’s fear of Dr. Holloway. It’s not just his mustache, it’s that he tries to turn everything into a math problem. David isn’t afraid of math yet, but I am.
David is 9 years old. His forehead has been punctuated by wrinkles since kindergarten. No one knows why. The best specialists on the west coast referred us to Dr. Holloway, who suggested we focus on managing the problem rather than trying to pin down the cause of it. Dr. Holloway specializes in behavioral therapy. I know what behavioral therapy means, because David looked it up, printed it out, and taped it to the refrigerator. The refrigerator is where David keeps the things he doesn’t want to forget, but David rarely forgets anything. It’s not that he doesn’t want to but that he doesn’t know how.
This morning, David erased “airplanes.” He didn’t tell me he had done it or why, but I noticed the missing airplanes when I went to make breakfast. I told David we could go anywhere he wanted to celebrate, and he chose the diner. David says anyplace that makes bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches without tomatoes should be celebrated.
David stares out the window into the past. He relives last September in flashbacks. He sees the planes penetrate one building and then the next. He sees the bodies’ tripping over themselves to find sanctuary, launching themselves into the sky like weapons of mass desperation. He sees the world collapse one skyscraper at a time. He says he can smell the flesh burning. I used to try to tell him it was impossible. David has never been to New York. He can’t relive something he never experienced. But Dr. Holloway told me, in monotone psychiatry jargon, to keep my mouth shut. I do.
I’m supposed to be letting David learn how to save himself, so I am sipping my coffee. I am swirling my spoon around an empty cup and watching my son’s forehead become an exclamation point. I am trying to give his anxiety level a number and thinking that this is the way we manage the problem once we have run out of productive options. I wait for David to pick up another napkin to make another origami airplane, and I wonder which superpower I would choose if I could choose a superpower.
There are three origami airplanes on the table by the time the server brings our sandwiches. It feels like several hours have passed, but it has only been ten minutes. Time operates at a different speed when David is around. David read somewhere that some people can’t wear certain watches because those people make the watches stop. Now David doesn’t wear watches because he doesn’t want to take the risk of making time stand still at the worst possible time.
There are no tomatoes. David picks up the lettuce and folds it around the bread. I don’t ask why. He keeps his eye on the airplanes as though he worries they might take flight. The server tries to collect them, as though origami is something to be carelessly discarded. There is probably a special kind of depository somewhere, like how when you have to dump chemicals you can’t just put them down the drain or in the trash can or in the earth. Shooting them into space is about the only solution for safely disposing of such things, but even that is probably too reckless. David knows what “gravity” means.
David pockets the airplanes with caution. They must face downward like the scissors he’s not allowed to run with. The pocket must be snapped shut upon proper placement. Only then can we exit the diner and allow the fog to swallow us.
I don’t have to ask David what he’s doing when he walks to the refrigerator. He knows where the pencil is. I don’t have to ask where he’ll go next. His fingers are unsnapping the pocket.
If I could choose a superpower it would either be to not know the future or to know it.
David’s toy box is overflowing with origami airplanes. He doesn’t have to count them and neither do I, but we both do. 3,621; 3,622; 3,623.
“Bet you don’t know what these are,” David says.
These are the symbols of an unnamed struggle to overcome an undefined problem.
“Origami airplanes,” I tell him.
He tells me he told me so.
Next Thursday, we will see Dr. Holloway. He’ll give David more gold stars. David will stand on his bed on his tiptoes to reach the ceiling, to fasten the stickers into their proper constellations. David says someday he’ll have his own galaxy.
It’s Only a Movie
In my father’s world of fantasy, life should have been easier than it was. But life with my father was more like a hybrid fairy tale: the Wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood then blows down the Three Little Pigs’ house. My father was always the Wolf, and I was whatever character he wanted me to be.
“Keep repeating, ‘It’s only a movie,’” my father would say. Whenever anything bad happened — even if he was the one who caused it, and he usually was — that’s what he would say. It was only after my father had been dead for three years that I learned he stole that tagline from Wes Craven’s 1972 debut horror movie.
My father’s hallucinations started the day after my ninth birthday, the day he asked me to kill him.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” my father said while wearing his battle face. “You’re going to sit in the front closet and keep watch. I’m going to leave. A different man’s going to come back in my body. You’re going to kill him. Now, I’m going to teach you to load this rifle.”
He spilled bullets into my hand. All but three slipped through my fingers and pounded into the carpet.
“You can’t let that happen!” he shouted. “The neighbors will hear.”
I collected the strays and held them delicately in my lap. I feared they might explode if I made the wrong move. I watched my father load the gun and unload it.
“Got any questions?” he asked.
I shook my head. I had a few questions but not the kind he wanted me to ask.
The very sight of guns terrified me. In my father’s world, guns were used for hunting humans. I had been the hunted; I didn’t want to be the hunter.
By age nine, I was already well trained in deductive reasoning. When faced with two fears, I knew to always choose the less frightening of the two. At that moment, my father scared me more than the gun did. Thus, I took the rifle.
It was heavier than I thought it would be. I could barely hold it up into the firing position. I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to pull the trigger, even if I’d had the heart to.
Nevertheless, I practiced loading and unloading the gun. My father critiqued me through the process. It was like the time he taught me how to make a cheese omelet; it took several hours for me to get it right, and my hands were sore afterward.
“Leave it loaded this time and hand it to me,” he said. “It’s time for you to get in the closet. I’ll bring the rifle to you. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
No running with scissors. No walking with rifles. These were the steadfast rules of the household.
“Daddy?” I called after him, but he was already nearly gone. I watched his shadow get smaller through the slats of the closet door. “How will I know it isn’t you who comes back in your body?”
He never answered my question.
“Keep repeating, ‘It’s only a movie,’” was all he said, and then he walked out.
I gripped the rifle close to my chest. At nine years old I’d already had enough experience as a soldier to know that no matter how many battles you survive, the next one is never any easier.
In the closet, I thought about the Smurfs and their mushroom houses. I thought about their village and how it’s impossible for a human to find it except when led there by a Smurf. For a few hours, I imagined the closet was a magical mushroom house too deep in the forest for any human to find. For a few hours, I felt safe there despite the rifle I was holding. Then I remembered that my father once said Papa Smurf symbolized the central planner of the communist economy. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good.
When the front door opened, I recognized my father’s silhouette. I couldn’t kill it. He flipped the light switch on and off three times.
“Hi honey. I’m home,” he said in a voice that was not my father’s.
As I crawled out of the fetal position and carefully set the rifle down in the closet’s doorway, he told me he’d gone to Vietnam. He told me not to tell my mother.
I knew it wasn’t true, but I knew better than to challenge him. When dealing with crazy people, always play along. That’s another of the many lessons I’d learned by age nine.
“Why did you have to go to Vietnam, Daddy?”
“There’s a war going on,” he said. He looked me straight in the eye, and I knew he believed it.
In the weeks that followed, the man that was not my father put me through what he called training camp. He taught me what it would be like to be a prisoner of war. He taught me about solitary confinement. He fed me rotten chicken and rice. He raped me. I learned what it meant to be considered a child of the enemy.
Word had gotten around school that my father had lost his mind. I only had one friend, and she was no longer allowed to play at my house. The teacher kept me in the classroom during recess to give me a talk I would learn to become very familiar with: it was me, not my grades, that concerned them.
I couldn’t focus. I cried for no reason. The lights in the classroom were suddenly too bright. But there were no visible scars, no open wounds. I couldn’t tell the truth, and there was nothing they could do. It was only a movie.
Summer came. I began to grow breasts and body hair, neither of which I wanted. I got my period. He watched pornography and drank vodka by the gallon. I started appreciating the times when he passed out. I started sleeping in the closet even when he didn’t make me. I started drinking his vodka. It was only a movie.
On his good days, he taught me how to throw knives and how to shoot a gun. He bought a cork gun and lined up beer cans on the back of the couch so I could practice. I quickly became a good shot. He gave me a pistol and insisted I sleep with it. I took the bullets out and buried them into a hole I dug in the closet wall.
I spent the summer drunk. I had to get sober to go back to school. I started taking my father’s valium for the uncontrollable shaking. I constantly felt like I had to vomit, even when I hadn’t eaten for days.
That autumn, I joined the school orchestra. I learned to play the cello. My father told me I should have picked the violin because it was a more challenging instrument. So I learned that too.
I turned ten. They took him away. Thirty days later, they brought him back.
I turned thirteen, eighteen, and twenty-one.
He died a month and one day after my twenty-third birthday, and I couldn’t cry.
People who had degrees but no first-hand understanding said sometimes the abuser’s death brings closure. They didn’t understand that the man who raped me wasn’t the same man who left me armed with a rifle when I was nine. They didn’t understand that my real father died the day he left me in the closet, even though I couldn’t kill him.
Now the people with degrees are writing books, and they want me to tell them what it took for me to forgive him. I tell them various things. But most of what I tell them is lies. The truth is that I don’t know if what I know is forgiveness. I only know that I’m fine with being my father’s daughter. He was the man who taught me calculus when I was five. He was the man who taught me not to underestimate Wile E. Coyote, because the coyote could catch that bird if he really tried. He was the man who had my eyes.
Now he comes to me in dreams. A familiar voice telephones to tell me he is still alive, that no one would ever really have the courage to kill him. I never see his face. But I feel his features pressing into mine, his soul enveloping me into the kind of darkness it’s impossible to wake up from. As my eyes open, I can feel the warmth of his breath as he whispers “It’s only a movie.”
Amy Derby lives near Chicago, Illinois, and is a journalism major at Ashford University.
We were standing in aisle seven at the grocery store, scanning over the variety of pop-tarts, when I thought I heard his voice. My small human ears became animal like, lifting suddenly, picking up the once familiar tones of his voice. My body stiffened and my breathing slowed as I listened intently, re-confirming my suspicion. Yes. Yes, there it was again, the familiarity moving my heart, restless in its cavity, my stomach releasing a thousand butterflies.
The great pop-tart debate: is strawberry better than blueberry, and can we get the REAL ones this time, because the fake ones crumble like powder in your mouth. What was supposed to have been a simple run to the store with the kids to get those five items I needed, (even though we are now standing in front of an item that was not on the list), has turned into a classic parenting nightmare. My ex-boyfriend is in the next aisle over.
Resembling a prince charming character, crystal blue eyes beautifully balanced against his olive skin, with striking cheekbones, and a stunning jaw line that would lose anyone in the fairytale he was offering. It wasn’t just the looks that got me, not to mention every hair on his head never moved, always lying in just the perfect spot. Yet a mother has a deep intuition never to be tamed, and my very own was raging a deep war within my soul. For every dinner, every outing, and every conversation we had over the three months we shared, never did he once ask a question about my children. If I ever brought them up he would simply stare at me deeply, with those piercing blues, and nod, quickly changing the subject. This bothered me.
Though I toted him around on a leash for other women to gawk, I knew the time had come to release him, back to where he came from, and I was not to follow. Now here we are four months later with me wanting to blend into the bagels, donuts and yes, pop-tarts, in some sort of invisible cloak; leaving my four children to fend for themselves.
Being human, enduring fight or flight symptoms in all of life’s great situations, I of course chose the latter and grabbed my kids. “Come on guys, quick! We gotta go.” I hissed in a stressed librarian whisper that only confused the children more, causing uproar. “What? Why?” Peri asked with her normal amount of attitude. “Mommy, I want the blueberry!” Jamison cried. “Fine, let’s go! I need to get out of here!” I cried almost in a panic, as I herded them along like a quiet stampede of animals.
“But mom, we forgot goldfish,” Jamison whined again. “Next time,” I murmured, silently giving the checker my “dagger eyes” to speed up the dang process.
Looks like I’m up against a lady who has just done her monthly food run, an old man with a basket full of randoms, and two acne- filled teenage boys grabbing gum and candy bars. Surveying the surrounding aisles relieves me somewhat since he is nowhere to be seen. “Mom, can I have this?” Jamison holds up a king size candy bar, almost the same width as his head.
“Well when can I have it?” He asks quizzing me.
“What? Never! Put it back, we are not here to get candy.”
“But can I next time, then?” He pleads.
“Sure. Fine.” I really want to shout, “LEAVE ME ALONE! I’M TECHNICALLY IN HIDING!”
Taking a deep breath, I quickly glance around again, feeling myself start to sweat in the process. My eyes scan the store as if having had some sort of military training, clearing the aisles left and right of me until it happens; they fall on Adam. He too, is walking towards us looking for the shortest aisle, escorted by a tall dark-headed bombshell. My face reddens and warms as I turn forward again; I’m doomed. It’s like being stuck in a video game with some twelve year old boy laughing at me, as I cower in the corner and wait to die. My oldest Frankie holds a pack of gum out for me. “Please,” she says completely monotone, already knowing my answer. “No.” I hiss.
“Why are you whispering?” She asks pointedly.
I love my daughter dearly, but sometimes the boldness of her questions at such inopportune moments such as this makes me want to curl up on the floor in fetal position. His voice is directly behind me now. If there were ever a white flag to hold up and wave in surrender, now would be the time to do it. My paralyzed body is so tense it might have resembled an upright corpse. Sensing all of this, there began to be an array of random questions. “Mom, are you ok?” “You look weird.” “We just got here, why are we already leaving?” “So we can’t get candy….. Or gum?” They all seem to be talking at once, leaving only little Wyland silent on my hip.
“Excuse me!” A high pitch voice suddenly booms from behind, making me jump. An arm whisks by, outstretched over the conveyer belt.
“Oh, sorry.” I mumble, pushing the kids forward, allowing them some room. Again, the long olive skinned arm moved past my waist as a gallon of milk is slammed down. Trying to contain my curiosity, I looked far off towards the exit doors, willing my family to float through them, away from such madness. Her rich sweet scent brings me back, watching as delicate wrists dipped in gold clinking bracelets place more items next to mine. I once had nails like hers too. Long, perfectly manicured, and doused in rings, insinuating they have never had a hard day’s work. The lily scent again, bating my nose. Wyland wiggles in my arms, and I fumble him around like a tight -end loosing grip on the ball in a game. Regaining control, I point over to a balloon, and his body calms. Pretending to look down at my own feet I glance her way again, only to discover tight designer jeans, with perhaps the hottest black platform heels known to mankind. Her slim waist and narrow thighs show no measure of stretch from a previous baby, while mine has been to the moon and back multiple times. I steal a quick look at her face, only because I will always wonder if I don’t. Just like making the last minute decision to come to this store, this was also a bad idea. She had dark feline-like eyes with high cheekbones and a cute round nose that made her look far too young for him. Sultry full lips caressed with lip gloss and long wavy dark hair fell beautifully against her trim, tan back. Suddenly my self- esteem is blowing up in pieces all around me, as if I’ve just stepped on a series of land mines. My blonde hair seems dull now, with the clear ivory tones of my skin only showing a strict resistance to sun, nothing near the striking exotic beauty she bares.
So here I am, exposed; surrounded by little ones, dawning old jeans, an old shirt, with whatever make-up’s left over from what’s been a very long day. This is as bare-bones as it could get. His sultry siren seems to be talking incisively, but he remains quiet, causing the little hairs on the back of my neck to rise, considering he is most likely staring at them. Bewildered, I’m sure. Finally, my moment to check- out has come, and to make matters worse I have coupons. For a split second I consider not using them, ashamed to pull them out. I’m not going to let this idiot stop me from saving some money, I decide. In my peripheral vision I can see that he is staring at me dead on, taking in all the children one by one, realizing what closely could have been his.
Suddenly, a loud shrill of laughter crackles next to us, breaking all barriers of sound that man has ever known. The cashier, along with all my lovely children turn their heads to stare; except for me. I know exactly what has happened.
Adam went and found himself one incredibly annoying girlfriend.
The persistent laughing has now abruptly ended with a sort of in-official nasally bird call, causing something within me to shift. My sleeping giant; my true self has come out of hiding, replacing negative thoughts, amidst straightening my once curved spine. I may be squeezing into cheap jeans but I look damn good in them, especially considering how many babies I’ve had.
The cashier hands over the receipt, yet before leaving I make sure to turn and look him dead in the eye. His hyena of course, is unaware of any changed surroundings. Taken aback, he is now the upright corpse. Capitalizing on the moment, I flash him a great big beautiful smile. The same one that had him hooked from the first time he set eyes on me. Looking hard at his new bombshell and then back to him slowly, I bat my eyelashes, playing with him in unforgiving silence. Giving him the look of “Oh honey, what did you get yourself into?”
Wearing a most sympathetic smile I mouth “good luck,” and grin.
“Come on guys. Let’s go” I say turning on heel.
My receipt congratulated me on saving $2.56. Which looking back now, I’m not so sure that was worth going to hell and back for that kind of savings, but the few words Frankie and I shared upon walking out the threshold of the store, brought everything back to perspective.
“Mom, did you seriously hear that girl laugh, and the guy she was with was totally good looking too. Why would he want to be with her?
“You mean when he could totally be with someone like me. Right?” I say, teasing.
“Yeah!” She smiles now.
“Well, maybe someday he will try something new, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I have greater things to tend to.”
Devon Stucki is a wife and mother of four. She is a recent English graduate who believes this is just the beginning of her literary journey.
The driving force of beyond / Discovery and invention / Birthday Eureka’s and innovations / Temptation by all directions / Thought reflections of infinite feedback / Force cover the mirrors you paint black / Washing clean it seems to reveal a mnemonic leak that fights back.
Mind holding the equivalent of the big bang / Sanity has no home the crazy man sang / Yet my guardian angel appears only to give more knowledge / And God says to me I gave you the gift of madness.
Forsaken but why, I realize that no one is ready / But the time for new is now and the burden is heavy / The potential is in all yet we run and run / Although history speaks of the few who choose to fight the sun.
Burned by the flow Edison brought us light / Before that Franklin risked defibrillation at night / The masses tend to react and force propaganda that we act crazy / Yet the inventor of that title is the majority that fear the crazy / Maybe the construct of normalcy is the most feared / Yet the weird have been depended upon for years.
Since antiquity we have ridiculed, tooled, abused, used, and forsaken / In turn repressed, forgotten, basic lesson, in the original message, To grow and evolve into better / Instead we destroy, discard, devastate, and damn any who choose to think outside the comfort zone of the letter.
But we are all mad / While the mad hide from the truth.
Amused when I think of Galileo challenging the church on the center of the universe / Cursed when I remember Blake trying to heal the plagued being called a witch.
The fabric stitched by the fates is hard to accept / No less is my pain when I think of past martyrs / Harder even those that died by the hand of madness / Sadness consumed like the starved Gödel and the reclusive Hughes.
Infused with the secret to life / Overwhelmed in its transition to light / Manifesting a raindrops worth in humanity’s delight / Kin to a firefly, burned out by God’s power, a sacrifice, to change.
But acknowledgment is a blessing cursed in a red dress / Knowing the ghost is there helps you how in a world paralyzed to anything beyond the almighty touch / Yet the almighty is within reach, of this the masses agree / But somehow even the Vatican says the devil no longer walks the earth for possession is for the crazy / Then tell me what’s happening to Ms. June when she catches the Holy Ghost on Sunday morning.
Life after life goes through eternal resistance / Yet true freedom lies in complete acceptance.
Nicholas Clarkson is someone who has always had a need to be creative and, in that state, finds the best feeling one can derive. In poetry you find yourself in another place looking for questions to answers that are as far out of reach as a shadow until you realize why. In search of realities that can only be painted by words and exist in as many variations as the multitude of those who read them. Growing up in Portage, MI, he had the opportunity to express myself in various ways have brought Nicholas to where he is today. Having the chance to work with great artists both musically and poetically, Nicholas hopes that one day he can pass on that creative passion for words and life to others.
I had a deep feeling of dread and my stomach felt as if it was dropping to the cold ceramic floor. I knew what I was hearing was devastating, not just to my dad and me, but it would be for many. We were sitting in a drab painted emergency room for what seemed like an eternity when a hip looking doctor with an earring came in and began telling us that my dad had stage 4 lung cancer. After hearing this, in my mind I made the commitment to fully care for him the remaining time he had on this earth. What I didn’t realize was this one day, this one moment would change the way I viewed life and would change the direction in which my life was heading. A quote by Rumi sums up my journey, “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form.”
After hearing my dad’s diagnosis, I knew our journey was going to be long no matter how short it was. He was initially told he would have anywhere from six months to a year with treatments. Imagine hearing your life has an exact expiration date; I can’t. That night with tears in my eyes, I sat down with my husband and we discussed what we were going to do. My husband has a gruff exterior, but the one thing that matters most to him is family. He is a selfless man and only wants what is good for his loved ones. He was on board with me taking a leave of absence from my job so that I could care for my dying dad and make sure he made it to all his copious appointments.
As most people do, we started the treatment process after being released from the hospital. In that first week, I learned more about cancer, pain management and hopelessness than I ever thought possible. I felt like I was in a kayak and the rapids were stronger than me. I cannot imagine what my dad was feeling. He started seeing a rather gangly no nonsense radiation oncologist. He spoke in a way that perplexed me but yet I understood what he was saying. It was as if I was listening to someone speaking another language, but their body movements and the inflection of their voice displayed all I needed to know. My dad tolerated the first couple of treatments until his lung collapsed. After that, his health started to deteriorate. I knew that the six months to a year projected life expectancy was wildly incorrect. I knew he needed more than just me around him; he needed his older brother.
My uncle was a man I did not know well. I had visited him maybe a half a dozen times. My mom had always painted him as a low life man who only cared for himself. In reality, he is a white bearded pot-smoking Vietnam vet who cares deeply for his family but has a hard time showing it. He came out as soon as I called. My dad needed him; I needed him. He became my rock; he was the man I leaned on. He never undermined my decisions, he backed me in everything I did, and most importantly, he was there for my dad. They had a relationship I cannot describe but I think a man with a brother could. They spent a lot of time talking and it was nice seeing my dad belly laugh. His stomach would jiggle like jelly does on a spoon and his face would light up like a child does when they find an object lost. Seeing the two of them together was an uplifting experience. In the short amount of time, I realized that having my uncle in my life was monumental. It showed me the importance of family and I realized I had been missing out on so much. My heart had been aching for this newfound relationship my entire life and I finally found it within my dad’s brother.
My loving uncle eventually had to go back home and my dad would inquire of his return often. I know it saddened my dad as much as it did me. It was a sense of sadness that I had never felt before. I had grown to love him more than I ever imagined I could and it is not something I will ever let go of.
My dad was beginning to fade and his personality was becoming adolescent like. He was becoming obstinate in his responses even though he knew the care I was trying to provide him would help. I was starting to feel more like his parent and less like his loving daughter. With the changes my dad was going through it required more of me. I never once doubted my decision to take care of him and in fact, I would not have done it differently. I felt and still do that caring and nursing him was not a choice but a requisite. The importance of family after almost forty years was evident to me.
I knelt before him massaging his incalculably swollen feet I felt love and compassion. As I thought of all the missed opportunities. My parents divorced when I was six and my dad didn’t come back into my life until after I was eighteen. Why he was not a part of my upbringing will forever remain a mystery. My heart ached of sadness for all our missed opportunities but yet I forgave him. I loved him for the man he was, my father. Neither missed years nor illness would ever take that away. Within weeks of diagnosis, we knew he did not have but a few more. His appetite ceased and his body started to look haunted. He finally made the decision to quit treatments and accepted in-home Hospice care. He quit walking, talking and eating. I had set up a grey hospital-style bed in the living room and begun sleeping next to him. In a way, I was trying to spend all the time I could with him. I knew death was coming any day. I was told to play music that he loved. Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight was playing when I felt his cold fingers. I knew the inevitable had come; he passed forty-six days after being diagnosed.
I had experienced grief when my mom passed. I took her passing years earlier as if I was dying myself and I knew that the way I grieved for her was not healthy. I started to see a grief counselor and she helped me tremendously. In fact, I still see her because talking to her brings a calmness into me that defies what I am feeling. With the darkness that death brings there is a light that emerges.
Caring for my dad through his sickness and watching him pass brought on a realization that never occurred to me. I realized that things that had once mattered to me didn’t anymore and not because I was in a state of depression. It was because I saw a light and that light was surrounding my family. I decided to quit the best paying job I had ever had and take care of my children. They became my focus. I didn’t want them to one day long for missed opportunities. I wanted them to know I was and am here for them. I learned that life is too short and that we need to enjoy each and every day. In the process of grieving and enjoying my family, I found myself.
I made the decision to change my life. Watching and caring for someone dying brings on a profound inner need to change. I knew I could not live my life filled with bad habits, bad choices and not having family. I decided that I did not want to die of lung cancer. I think that until you watch someone die of cancer you do not fully understand the consequences of your actions. I felt uneasy every time I lit a cigarette. I enjoyed smoking with my whole heart. A cigarette was there when I was anxious, dismayed, irritated and joyous. I was closer to smoking than I was with my friends but I knew this relationship had to end. I decided to quit smoking, to throw those toxic friends to the curb. Not a day goes by that the thought of having just one more cigarette, just one more talk, with my old friend does not cross my mind. I lost my dad to smoking but I was able to end this addictive relationship because of losing him.
I decided to do something I had said I would never do and that was go back to school. The thought of going back to school was like the thought of someone pulling my toenails off. Yet, here I am tonight typing this essay for a college class I would never have taken if it was not for my father passing. As I look back, I know my life changed for the better the day he was diagnosed.
I miss my dad tremendously and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. The day he died a piece of my heart was broken but I know that it is mending with each positive step I take. I experienced so many good things, I developed a relationship with my uncle, I quit smoking and I made the decision to further my education. Most importantly, my children now have a mother who makes every effort not to have missed opportunities with them. I don’t believe this would have happened if I would not have been sitting in that drab painted emergency room with the cold ceramic tiles. Have you ever been able to pinpoint a day in your life that would change it forever?
Lee, V. (2008,June,5). The Rumi Secret. Retrieved from https://rumisecret.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/dont-grieve/
Amy Martinez is a wife to an adoring husband, and a mother to three delightful children. She is currently residing in Oklahoma and working on her Bachelors in Human Resource Management.
“Come on Jeanette,” Kara whined. “You heard what that psychic said to me. She was dead on. Just do it. It’ll be fun. Besides, we still have half an hour before the jousting show.”
The sweat was starting to run down Jeanette’s face, and she was so full of turkey leg that she should have stopped ten bites ago. A Half an hour seemed like an eternity, and Jeanette was over listening to Kara go on and on about how awesome and accurate these psychics were.
Jeanette sagged her shoulders and walked to the nearest trash can to throw away her food. “Ok, ok. Let’s just go. I want to sit down, and at least she will have shade. Where was her tent again? I’m all turned around.”
There were people everywhere. The Renaissance Festival was packed today; adults in costumes, kids with face paint, and terrible fake British accents. Jeanette could feel the headache coming on.
“Somewhere down,” Kara stopped. Two feet ahead of them was a tent neither of them recognized. It was a dark blood red, draped with black glittering beads. A little wooden sign out front read The Truth For The Brave. It didn’t look like any of the other brightly colored tents around them, and the other tents were practically on top of each other begging people to come inside. It seemed strange that this one was off the path by itself.
“Ok Miss I’m-too-cool-for-psychics, we’re going in there. How awesome does that tent look?” Kara asked.
“I dunno,” Jeanette said. “I don’t remember seeing this tent, and we’ve been walking around all day.” The tent didn’t fit in with the crossbow shooting booths, or the maze, or the giant slides. The sign out front was crooked, and the wood was rotting and splintered. Not even the sign from the Medieval Torture Museum down the path looked that scary.
“Chicken. Come on. You don’t believe in this stuff anyway. Do it for me,” Kara grabbed Jeanette’s arm and pulled her forward. As the got closer to the tent, all the familiar smells of the festival started to fade. Jeanette could no longer smell the bread baking for the bread bowls, or the stale body odor, or the patchouli oil from the hippies. Instead, she smelled something else. IT was a tangy, iron smell. It was a menacing smell.
“Hello girls,” a woman stepped out of the tent to greet them. She didn’t look like the other psychics with their colorful scarves and headdresses. She was younger than the other psychics, and she had long auburn hair with heavily lined, bottle green eyes. She wore a simple peasant dress. It was midnight blue, almost black, and it fit her perfectly. None of the overwhelming cleavage that seemed to suffocate the other psychics. The only similarity between her and the others was the jewelry. She had jewels scattered on her from her wrists and fingers to her neck and ears, and even those were a dark jade color.
“I am Ursula, the resident psychic here,” she said with a smile.
Jeanette tried to smile back. “We were just passing by and noticed your tent for the first time today. We were just gonna stop and check it out real quick.”
“I’ve been here all day. I’ve just been busy with clients, so I haven’t been able to get out of my tent to usher people in. I’m free now though, please, come in,” Ursula said with a small chuckle that made the hairs on Jeanette’s arms stand up. As Ursula moved, Jeanette noticed that she seemed to almost glitter. Her skin was so pale and contrasted sharply with all her jewelry.
“We actually already spent all our money, sorry,” Jeanette sputtered and turned to walk away, but Kara stopped her.
“We did not. Come on. Let’s hear your fortune. We’re already here,” she said.
“Not to worry, it’s always free of charge at my tent. That must be why I’m always so busy,” Ursula said.
“Even better,” Kara laughed. “Now you definitely have to go for it. I’m excited.”
Jeanette looked at her friend willing her to read her thoughts. But Kara pulled her forward, completely oblivious to her friends pleading looks. Ursula held the flap open for the girls, and as Jeanette walked past her, she could have sworn she saw what looked like rotting cadavers staring back out at her from the jewels around Ursula’s neck. Jeanette shook her head hard. The heat was getting to her. She was just being paranoid.
Inside the tent, Jeanette realized that she had lost all the sounds of yelling and laughter from the festival just outside. The tent was dark; only one small lamp was lit. It didn’t smell like incense the way the other psychic’s tents did, and there were small shelves everywhere packed with old, dusty looking books and odd shaped bottles. It reminded Jeanette of an old hole in the wall bookstore. A very creepy hole in the wall bookstore.
“Sit down, make yourselves comfortable,” Ursula ushered. “Jeanette, you sit here dear.” She pointed to what looked like a black velvet cushion in front of a crystal ball. Jeanette took a deep breath and walked toward the cushion.
“How did you know my name?” Jeanette asked trying to sound casual.
Ursula nodded toward Kara. “She said it outside just a few seconds ago.” Ursula smiled at Jeanette. Had she, Jeanette wondered? She didn’t remember hearing Kara say her name, but most likely she was being paranoid again. She was just going to get this done so they could go. She looked back at Kara with a raised eyebrow when the look on Kara’s face stopped her. Kara was standing at one of the shelves look at pictures. There was a look of raw terror in her eyes. Jeanette moved closer to her and instantly saw why.
The pictures were of teenage girls, Jeanette’s and Kara’s age. All of them had blood on their faces. Some had blood trickling down the sides of their temples, others down the sides of their mouths. All of them were staring wide-eyed at something beyond the cameras. All of them had their mouths open in a silent scream.
“Why do you have these?” Kara asked Ursula.
“They’re just for decoration,” Ursula said dismissively with a wave of her hand. “Come sit down Jeanette.
“Actually, I have to go to the bathroom,” Kara said quickly. “We’ll come right back though.” Jeanette was so relieved to hear Kara trying to leave.
“This will not take long dear. Patience,” Ursula said making direct eye contact with Kara.
“No, really,” Jeanette grabbed Kara’s arm. “We’ll be right back.”
“No. I can wait,” Kara’s eyes were now unfocused and bloodshot. She was so pale, and her skin was ice cold. She looked like a zombie all of the sudden.
“What did you do to her?” Jeanette cried. “Kara, we’re leaving. Let’s go.” But when Jeanette turned to leave the tent, she found herself face to face with a locked door instead of a tent flap. “What the hell? What’s going on?”
“Jeanette,” Ursula cooed from her place behind the crystal ball. “Sit down my dear. You’re not leaving until I am done with you.”
“What do you mean done with me?” Jeanette felt bile in the back of her throat. She was about to revisit her turkey leg.
“Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable,” she said not answering Jeanette’s question. Jeanette moved further away from Ursula and the crystal ball. She walked toward Kara instead who had walked to one of the bookshelves again. Only this time she was looking at a book with graphic pictures of people being tortured.
“Do not touch her. You will only make it worse,” Ursula told Jeanette just as she had begun reaching for her friend.
“Make what worse? What did you do to her?” Jeanette whispered the last part and put her hand down.
“I made her more comfortable in a way. Don’t worry. She won’t remember any of this, but you I am sure, will never forget.”
Jeanette turned back towards the door and grabbed for the handle, but there was no handle. Jeanette tried to push open the door instead.
“I told you; you are not leaving,” Ursula sighed in irritation. “Now sit down. I will not say it again.”
Jeanette felt her body go all tingly as if every limb in her body had fallen asleep. Through no control of her own, she walked toward the pillow and sat down. It was not made of velvet as she had thought. It was made of hundreds of black, shiny feathers. She thought she heard screams coming from it as she sat down.
“Please, please let us go,” Jeanette pleaded.
“I will,” said Ursula. “When I’m done.”
As Jeanette looked into the woman’s eyes, she felt a shiver deep down to her very soul. She could see the cadavers again, only this time they were staring back at her from Ursula’s own eyes. Jeanette bit her tongue to keep from crying out.
“Now, to business,” Ursula began waving her hand over the crystal ball.
Dannelle Castellano majored in English at Ashford University. She enjoys writing YA fiction and reading. Dannelle is currently pursuing a masters degree in Library Science and hopes to be a children’s and young adult librarian one day.
The acrid smell of smoke burns my nostrils. I blink ashes off my eyelids as I join the search for Mrs. Murphy’s ancient cat. For the past few weeks, our eyes have been glued to the television screen like insects to flypaper. There are maps of the affected areas and information about what to do, but we sit frozen in disbelief at times. As visions of flames as tall as skyscrapers eat up the sky, the newscaster informs us of the danger.
“All residents near the southern border of Davy Crockett National Forest are being forced to evacuate. The wildfire has jumped White Rock River and is headed towards the towns of Sebastopol and Trinity. Firefighters and local police forces have formed a brigade to help residents escape the inferno through designated routes. Please, use the routes we are showing you, as the 9-1-1 phone lines are jammed. In case of medical emergency, residents of these areas are asked to call the numbers we are posting for EMT assistance.”
Now the winds have blown the wildfire in our direction. Many of the occupants have already moved their belongings out and headed for safer locations. However, some of the residents in our area cannot afford the luxury of a moving van or a storage unit. My sons have been using their trucks and trailers to help neighbors move their belongings to safe storage for the past week. I am so proud that all they have asked for is a little gas money. Their acts of kindness make a mother proud. We thought we had days, but now only a few hours remain until the flames reach our neck of the woods. Whiffs of smoke have already arrived with the choking news of our imminent peril.
My neighbors and I are a close-knit group, a country clan if you will. We live back in the deep piney woods of East Texas. Evergreen trees surround us, filling up most of our yards with bare spots covered in dry pine needles. I notice so much fuel for the fires. A person needs a four-wheel drive to navigate what passes for a road back here. We mostly keep to ourselves, even though everybody knows everybody and their families. Even those who prefer their solitude know better than to deny a neighbor in need in this little community. Everyone needs help at some point or another. When disaster strikes, we all chip in to help any way we can.
Mrs. Murphy is huddled next to the truck with what meager belongings we all managed to get packed up for her. She held out, praying for a miracle until it was clear we weren’t going to get one. Lou, the fireman that lives near the highway got her hooked up to an oxygen tank. Several of us have tried to get her to head out to safer ground, but she won’t leave without her mangy cat, her companion for the past 17 years. The last link she has to her beloved deceased husband. He rescued the kitten and came up with the name. I call out for her, “Here Mitzy Bitzy. Where are you little Darlin?”
I hear a small scuffling noise and her head appears from under the porch. As soon as Mrs. Murphy notices I have her cat, she allows Lou to lift her up into the truck. I rush the frightened feline to her. As her son drives her away, I notice the old woman’s tears. She smiles at me as she waves goodbye, holding Mitzy on her lap with her crippled arm. If she loses her home here, she may be forced to live with her kids or accept an apartment in a retirement community in the city. I hold her gaze until she turns away, knowing we may never be neighbors after this. But, she will always remain part of our clan, always in our hearts and prayers.
I continue on to the next home. There are five small children in the Jackson family. We get the little ones all safe in the car. Mom is a no nonsense type of woman, counting her little chicks and making sure every one of them is buckled in. Most of the children are sitting still, wide-eyed and eerily silent. Little Suzy is crying softly in the back seat. I kiss her forehead and hand her the stuffed dog she dropped. She clings to it pitifully. There is no yelling or loud noise to frighten the child, just a palpable tension that sensitive children pick up on. Mr. Jackson kisses his wife and makes sure her buckle is fastened before letting her drive off in the minivan full of kids.
I help him load the last of the items he can fit in his truck bed. They are leaving behind a lot of furniture, because it is easily replaced. Their boxes are filled with the necessities, blankets, clothes, important documents, and utensils. There are items that cannot be replaced, such as baby albums, favorite toys, photos, and dishes passed down from mother to daughter throughout the ages. When families are poor, they learn how to set priorities that will help them survive life’s disasters. When you can’t have it all, you take what you can’t bear to lose.
They have packed the essentials and as many items of sentimental value as they could. But, I see Mr. Jackson’s eyes getting misty when he gazes at all he must leave behind. As he looks upon the newly built shed, his eyes go wide.
“I forgot about Gonzo. He broke his arm last week helping me build this shed.”
The look on his face is tormented. If he travels out to Gonzo’s place, a cabin in the deepest part of our woods, he may not get out in time to save his belongings from catching fire. It only takes a moment to consider his options. Friends are always worth more than things.
“Let’s go get him.”
As we begin to leave the driveway, my son Daniel arrives in his jeep. I only say one word “Gonzo” and he replies, “Get in.”
I turn back to Mr. Jackson, “We’ve got this covered. Better get going before it’s too late.” A pang of guilt crosses his face, quickly followed by a look of absolute relief. His grateful nod is thanks enough as he heads out toward the only exit away from the flames we can now see on the horizon. We head towards that fiery hell, towards Gonzo’s cabin.
Javier “Gonzo” Gonzalez is a veteran of the Korean War. Since his retirement, he keeps himself busy with small construction and remodeling jobs. Every neighbor’s handy man, Gonzo is always there for anyone in need. People outside our little world might view Gonzo as a gruff old goat, but we know better. He is the heart of our little backwoods clan.
I recall a time when Mrs. Jackson was ill during her last pregnancy. I went by to check on her and see if I could help out. Gonzo answered the door, wearing a lady’s apron and what looked like creamed peas. He had stepped in to care for the kids, not even asking permission. From what Mrs. Jackson told me, he just barged in and gruffly took over. He wouldn’t let her out of bed, insisting he could handle it all. However, he did call on the good widow Murphy to take care of mom though, as he grumbled, “I just ain’t equipped to handle that woman stuff.” He handled the kids like he handled his troops, and the munchkins loved him for it. They still answer “Sir, yes Sir” whenever he asks them a question.
The smoke is getting so thick; it is difficult to see the road. I begin to cough, and Daniel hands me a bandana to cover my mouth and nose with. He had grabbed a painter’s mask from his tool kit earlier, and now adjusted it on his face. In this secluded area, the path is barely tire ruts through the trees. Branches are scrapping the paint on Daniel’s new jeep. Trying to see is almost as difficult as trying to breathe. I am glad my son is driving, as his eyesight is better than mine.
We come upon the cabin suddenly. Gonzo and his wife are trying to get animals into crates. They have dogs, goats, chickens, and a one-winged owl crated, but with Gonzo’s arm broken, they are having a heck of a time lifting them into their old panel van. Daniel and I jump out and get them loaded, while the couple captures the miniature donkey who thinks he runs their little menagerie. Gonzo grumbles, “That creature is stubborn as a full grown mule.” I notice the only personal belongings they have are one suitcase and a small box.
“We better make it quick”, I say as I watch flames leaping towards their back fence. “What else do y’all need from the house?”
Gonzo looks at his wife, she smiles and shakes her head. He replies, “As long as we got each other, we’re good.” They jump in their van and head towards the entrance.
We are following close behind. I can see the flames edging towards their back door. With their home surrounded by drought stricken pine, I know there is no way their home will survive. It amazes me how some people can be so greedy, in need of ever more material things. But, the richest people I know can live with nothing more than the love of another being and feel blessed beyond measure. Mrs. Murphy and Mitzy, the Jacksons, and Gonzo with his shy, silent wife are the Rockefellers of the piney woods. They carry their riches within. Through the side mirror, I watch as the flames reach their home and begin licking up the wall.
Ahead, we can see the conflagration has almost reached the turn in the path. Gonzo gets through, but a burning tree crashes in front of us. We must abandon my son’s new jeep. He never even glances back. He leaps across a small patch of the tree that is free of flames and grabs my hand to pull me through quickly. The smoke is so thick, I can barely see. My son leads me by the hand, urging me to move faster. Glancing behind me, I notice the tree is now fully engulfed. Just a few seconds later and we all would have been trapped by the flames.
Gonzo has stopped his van. My son jumps in, sitting upon a crate of friendly dogs. I take a seat in the front, placing Gonzo’s diminutive wife on my Amazon lap. We race the flames to the entrance where firemen are spewing water across a break line, trying to stop the hungry wildfire from reaching town.
We travel on to the wildfire refugee camp at the high school. Our neighbors meet up with us, inviting us into their makeshift camp. Mrs. Murphy hands out sandwiches and hot cocoa. The older Jackson children are roasting marshmallows for the younger ones. We do the traditional family head count that comes after any disaster. We are all here. We are all safe. We will rebuild. As Gonzo had stated so eloquently, “As long as we got each other, we’re good.”
Teri Lyons has been creating short stories since elementary school. Since her family moved around the country, she found myriad subjects to incorporate into her tales. Teri is a Psychology Major at Ashford and hopes to help troubled youth discover creative outlets, such as art and creative writing.
GOOD NIGHT SUN
Nicolette Ashley is a junior majoring in Entrepreneurship. She enjoys being an advocate for individuals with disabilities, including her daughter Emily who is diagnosed with Autism. When NicoletteAshley is not busy with her family, work, or school she enjoys taking photos of the world around her.
Once. Twice. Three times J will drop her shoe on the sidewalk. She will be barefoot. It will be a good thing that the street she will walk down (to go wherever she is supposed to go) will be well lit and clean. Otherwise her shoe may be lost forever. By this time, she will regret wearing the impossibly high heeled, gold, strappy sandals anyway, since she has to walk to, wherever. J will recall the conversation she had with herself while she stood next to her small closet, jammed with clothes that were too small for her, deciding what shoes to wear that seemed to match the only dress she could fit. The form fitting navy blue dress that went just past her knees will have been the right choice, but she will have chosen the wrong shoes-though it will have been the best choice at the time.
Well, again, at least the street will be better than the ones she’s used to walking down at that time of day. It will be early in the morning, J will not know the actual time-a watch did not go with her outfit-1 am or 2 am, it won’t matter to her. She won’t be where she wants to be anyway. Where J will want to be is with the man she met earlier the night before. She won’t remember his name, or any other words that escaped his mouth that night. The house party she’s gone to will have been in a beautiful, immaculate neighborhood-the neighborhood J will always wish to live in and probably never will, except when in her dreams. The incredible living room with a high ceiling and recessed lights and walls painted some shade of green J had never seen until then, had been filled with faces of every shade of the human rainbow. There had been only one person there that J knew, her best friend, who’d told J to wear her shoulder length jet black hair in a high ponytail “to show off your amazing tan” J recalled she had said. As much as a Black girl could have a tan, J was browner than usual, as she’d have been out in the sun more that summer than any other time in her young life. Okay, so back at the party, J will have looked for her friend for a few minutes when this guy will come up to her. J will remember his face for sure, because he will remind her of a model.
J will think of him on the barefoot walk. Oh, she will not be drunk; that won’t be why she will have to walk. She will think about that later. At that moment, J will only think about that man and wish she knew his name. If she’d remembered his name, she could ask her friend to ask the person whose party it was to get his information. J will, at this moment while walking, drop a shoe for the fourth time and swear softly under her breath, not wanting to be heard cursing in the beautiful neighborhood. She will then say a short prayer that she will not be mistaken for a working girl. She will then realize that the dress was a bad choice too.
J will be walking because she thought she was going to be with that man. The man whose eyes were dark chocolate pools, a slim face chiseled as if out of exquisite Italian marble, short brown hair just long enough that J will want to run her fingertips through. Most mesmerizing to her will be his smile. The man’s smile will be like the early morning sun, the brightest smile she had ever seen and the tiny wrinkles on each side of his lips will lead her to believe that he is somewhat older than she. “Not by much,” J will say inside her brain as she smiled back at him. Man, she will really put herself down for not remembering his name. Or anything he said. This will be why she will have to walk (to wherever she is going, home or somewhere else). She will think that he said she was pretty and notice that she was tall She will remember shuffling her feet in his presence. She was tall because of the shoes; their golden magnificence added five inches to her height. She will think she heard him say that he wanted to take her home that morning. It would have been impossibly loud in the room–with all the music and people jabbering away. J will walk and think as hard as she’d ever thought in her life, to see if she’d even heard him right or at all or if she was just imagining what she wanted to hear.
She will figure out that she keeps dropping the gold heels because she is swinging them too hard on the tips of her fingers, then she will drop one again. She will hope that the echo of the heel hitting concrete will be quiet. Stupid, stunning shoes that made her tall enough to be at the same height as that man with the gorgeous smile that easily matched the beauty of her shoes. “What happened to him?” J will whisper out loud, avoiding the stares of the invisible people that are no doubt waking up at 2 am or 3 am to watch her through their expensive blinds, in the perfect neighborhood. J will come to a corner with a 4-way stop and sigh. “Which way would he have gone?” she will say in her mind as she looks in every direction for a sign of a car anywhere. “Did he tell me to meet him here or say to wait outside that house?”
What the hell had he said to her? And more importantly why had she not listened to him in the first place? Well, his smile will have been so hypnotizing that she would have been lost in it, not even thinking to perhaps follow along with his lips to attempt to translate his words. He may as well have been speaking another language. “What did he say?” J will ask herself again in frustration. She will drop her shoes, both this time, as she will be lost in her thoughts, regretting her negligence in her hearing and wearing those shoes that were not made for walking.
THE HANDSOME STRANGER
Levitigus La Guardia is a natural born artist whose artistic abilities have gradually advanced over time naturally without any formal training. What inspires him are the weird and eccentric things in life, and he likes to incorporate that into his paintings. He grew up in a small mountain town called Toccoa, in North East Georgia. He recently graduated with his MOAM from Ashford University and plans to move back to New York City to explore a career in Healthcare Administration along with a career as an artist.
MEMORIES OF JENI
The drive home from the funeral is long. I hear my mother-in-law in the back seat, whispering to my daughter about heaven. Jim, my husband, is driving and listening to his music. I sit in the passenger seat of the van staring out the window as the lights from passing cars reflect across the highway and blur in my tears. It should be raining. The skies should be crying. I never realized how much one person could influence every part of your life. My friend, my mentor, is gone.
I met Jeni in school. I was 29 years old and an apprentice in hairdressing. My days were a blur of shampoos, sweeping and mannequin heads as I trained in a salon 32 hours a week. One day a week was spent at school learning the technical names for bitten nails and head lice. My instructor was old and bitter; this was her last year teaching, and she only had two classes. My class was full of people hoping to become hairdressers. The other classroom was full of hairdressers hoping to become instructors. The instructor decided to combine the two classes for three weeks. “It’s time for student teaching,” she explained. For two weeks, the instructor’s class gave lectures and demonstrations of advanced color and cutting. We watched as one person after another hemmed and hawed through their notes, never looking up to make eye contact. On the last day of student teaching, a man walked into the class. He was followed by an Amazon woman standing almost 6 feet tall in bare feet, 6’4” in heels with strawberry blond hair and impeccable makeup, carrying a large silver box. She looked at the class, meeting each one of our eyes and began. “Today it’s makeup class,” she said, smiling, never looking at her notes. “Contouring and highlighting are necessary for any professional make-up job. I will be turning Tom into a girl to demonstrate these techniques.” I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, her brushes flying as she painted his face with remarkable precision. Class ended and I walked up to the model see her work. He was flawless, and I was awestruck by her talent. I begged her to teach me everything she knows, and she agreed. This was Jeni, and she touched every aspect of my life.
Over the next year, Jeni and I went from being the student and teacher to friends. She adopted my children and me as part of her family, asking us to holiday dinners and family picnics. She was my surrogate mother, and favorite aunt all rolled into one. She was always late. We referred to it as “Jeni time.” She was my late night tearful phone call when times were rough in the salon and at home. She taught me everything she knew, preparing me for a future she could no longer have because bending over low shampoo bowls in high heels destroyed her back. That was the first lesson she taught me, always wear flats at work. She challenged me, signing me up for a national makeup competition, pitting my raw skills and her teaching ability against artists that have had their work published in magazines. Long nights of practice followed, my model had her face painted over and over. I was surprised she had any skin left. The competition was in 2 months on my birthday, and I thought I was nowhere near ready. Jeni pushed me harder as she attempted to force 20 years of knowledge in two months. I was terrified of the competition. She held me when I cried and yelled at me when I wanted to give up. The night before the competition we were in the hotel room practicing till 2 am. I placed 8th and Jeni was proud.
In the midst of practicing, my doctor called. I needed a hysterectomy, and I was only 30. Everything was happening too fast, too close together. My emotions fluctuated from happiness that there was an end to the pain, to depression over what the end would entail. Jeni was there for every emotional outburst. When I made a comment about being less than a woman soon, she slapped me across the face in her best Cher impersonation “Snap out of it!” My surgery was scheduled for two weeks after my birthday. The day of my surgery, I arrived at the hospital at 5 am, ten minutes later my door opened, and it was Jeni. This was the only time I ever saw her be on time for anything. She sat with me and held me until I went into surgery. When I woke up in my room she was waiting; she handed me a lipstick and said “Here, you really need this.” I laughed until my stitches hurt. She always knew what I needed to hear.
Five weeks after my surgery I still couldn’t drive, so Jeni had me driven to her house to do hair on a friend of hers. She called him Redneck, but his name was Jim. As I colored his hair, we slammed each other, barbs flying one after the other. Jeni looked on with a grin. She had a plan. Holidays rolled around, and Jim was suddenly always present. Our relationship continued to grow, always alternating between flirtation and sarcasm, heavy on the sarcasm. Jeni looked on, pleased with herself. We insisted we were just friends. Jeni just smiled and changed the subject. On Thanksgiving, Jim and I knew there was something special between us. By Christmas, it was apparent to everyone else. By my next birthday, almost one year after my surgery, we were engaged. Jeni’s plan worked. One year later, Jim and I married; Jeni was my Matron of Honor and said “I told you so.” This was not the last time I would hear these words.
As time went on, Jeni and I were still close. We talked almost weekly until Jim and I moved to Las Vegas for his work. Career wise, I followed in Jeni’s footsteps, first managing a salon, then opening my own, and finally developing my makeup line. Jeni and I still made time to call each other at least once a month. I still bounced ideas off of her and learned from her. The time difference was finally in my favor since Jeni would call at 2 am “just to chat.” My oldest son met a young girl, Sera. Jeni told me Sera would become my daughter in law. I laughed, reminding her that Ken was only 17 and was dating someone else. I swear I could hear her smiling over the phone. Finally, we moved back to Wisconsin after five years. Ken stayed in Las Vegas with Sera. I was working too many hours managing a salon to talk to anyone. Jeni and I talked less and less, but we always try to make time for each other, emailing frequently. I did call her when I discovered that my youngest son was making me a grandmother. We were worried because he had never been mentally stable, but Jeni told me that she was helping to raise her grandchildren and was having a blast. “Don’t worry, you will too,” she laughed. “Nope, not me,” I replied. “I am done raising kids!” Sera and Ken got married two years later in 2012. Jeni laughed when she heard, “I told you so!” she said again. I was getting tired of hearing that from her.
Then Jim and I receive a call informing us that Melody, our youngest son’s one-year-old daughter, was being physically abused by her parents, and we ended up becoming her foster parents. There is a secrecy in fostering, and privacy for the birth parents had to be maintained. Since my youngest son was the biological father, we could not let people who knew him realize we had his child. The confidentiality rules were so strict that it became impossible to visit or even talk to old friends. There was always this giant elephant in the room; we could not talk about Melody. I couldn’t visit with Jeni, even worse, I couldn’t call her because she would know I was keeping a secret. I had never needed to see her more. I had no idea how to do this without her guidance. Every night at 2 a.m. I reached for the phone, just to hang it up without calling her. Jim and I believed this situation wouldn’t last for long, but it lasted for three years.
It was during this time that Jeni got sick, diagnosed first with Epilepsy, then Porphyria, and finally with an allergy to sulfites. In true Jeni fashion, she never allowed it to stop her. She was named the American Porphyria Federation’s Ambassador for her work in Porphyria awareness and education. She sent me a clipping in a Christmas card. I congratulated her in an email. She couldn’t tell I was keeping a secret in an email. Porphyria is a painful disease; the sun is dangerous, and the best treatment is to load up on certain carbs, but those carbs are loaded with sulfites. She started living her life at night, after the sun that was now her enemy had set. As her pain from the Porphyria grew, she could only take aspirins because other pain medications interfered with her epilepsy medications. Jeni was trapped between her illnesses. She felt sick one day, called her daughter to come and get her, then began to vomit blood. Too many aspirins over a long period had eaten through to the main artery in her stomach, and it burst, leaving her bathroom looking like an abattoir. She was rushed into surgery and almost died, ending up in a coma on life support for a week. After her surgery, she developed a severe staph infection in her abdomen and somehow lost the ability to walk. She was hospitalized for over six months. Finally, Jeni was moved to an assisted living home to recover, gain her strength, and relearn to walk. We didn’t find any of this out until after she returned home, and her daughter messaged me. She told us Jeni was getting stronger, but because of stubbornness and pride wasn’t up for visitors or calls yet. Jeni loved to help people, but she hated needing help. She was infuriating!
At our home, Melody’s parents’ termination of parental rights trial was scheduled, so we just needed to get through the next two months and then we could rejoin our friends. Hopefully, Jeni would stop being stubborn and be ready for company. I missed my friend; there was so much I needed to say, and email and cards were no longer enough. I was so impatient, waiting for the end of secrets and the ability to call Jeni. However, Jeni ended up back in the hospital, once again in a coma. Her infection was back. No one told us, our contact with the outside world was limited to Facebook, social workers, and therapists for Melody. Jeni was placed on life-support for the second time. Surrounded by her family, on her 40th wedding anniversary, Jeni was removed from life support for the last time. Two days later, Melody’s parent’s rights were officially terminated. We could finally let people know we were raising her and planning on adopting her. It was too late. Jeni never got to tell me that she told me so. I wished I could hear it.
At her funeral, we asked the minister to start the service 10 minutes late, it’s wasn’t quite “Jeni time” but at least she was still late for her funeral. It just wouldn’t be right if she were on time. Afterward, everyone began telling stories about Jeni and how she had touched their lives. People praised her love, compassion, and her ability to see and point out the humor in the worst of situations. Her husband swore she somehow chose that day to die just to make him remember their anniversary. I could see her doing that. Looking around at everyone, Jim and I realized that every single aspect of our lives, from my career to our marriage, even our daughter were a direct result of knowing Jeni. She had more than touched our lives; she had given us our lives. I couldn’t explain this to anyone; I was lost in my grief. I went up to the coffin to say “goodbye” one final time. I reached into my purse, pulled out a lipstick and hid it in the coffin in the folds of her dress. “Here, you might need this.” I whispered. “Thank you.” Then I got into the car, tears streaming down my face and remembered my mentor, my friend, my Jeni.
Melissa Fisher is majoring in Cognitive Studies, and minoring in Anthropology. She lives in a small house in a medium town in Wisconsin dreaming of the wide open spaces out west. When she isn’t busy with school, she enjoys spending time with her 5 year old daughter Melody and her grandson Connor. After 20 years as a hairdresser, she is excited to be venturing on this new chapter in her life.