Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

The Little Red Truth
Kristin Stoner

false dawn

Know this:

I was a red bird burning
through the forest, the last moon
behind me, the wolf at my heels.

The forest is a voiceless place.

But how the sound of fast feet
stirring snow in the dark can exhume
the quick thoughts of childhood
before a mother’s warning.

Tell me,
who can outrun a wolf?
Even if they wanted to.
His paws, I tell you,
hardly moved the powder.

Know this:

The meat
of an old woman
goes down hard
but stirs hot in the belly.

Kristin Stoner has been an instructor of English at the college level for the past ten years. She received her MA in Literature and Creative Writing from Iowa State University and in 2008 graduated from Antioch University LA with her MFA in poetry. Some of her recent publications include Natural Bridge and Review Americana.

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Soft and smooth, like a cup of hot chocolate
swirled with cinnamon and whipped cream,
and heavy, like the inherited WWII army blanket
that pins me down in warmth, this cat
chose me at the animal rescue league.
At an unlatched cage of kittens, I called, Be bold.
The first one who comes to me, I’m keeping—

big feet, big head, mewling like a bird. Maybe
she would’ve stepped into the open palms
of anyone, purred, head butted, and followed
them room to room to keep them from uprising
on just such a cold midwinter night,
but as the wind batters the house and the trees
and the streets seal over in ice and crusted snow,
I’m alone with this replacement, a kind of want, love,
thinking of my sister, of knowledge, of you.

Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English and creative writing. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012) and Unclose the Door (Gold Quoin Press, 2012). She is also the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her writings have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Rose Red Review, Arts & Letters, Poet Lore, and Feminist Studies. She has received awards from the Academy of American Poets and Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner, and grants from the Center for the Great Plains Studies and the Wurlitzer Foundation.

Feature: Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

David R. Cravens

yesterday was spring
or so it seems
when on the warm wind
came robins
bringing with them
the strong earthy smell
of melted snow
and thawed soil
and bright bolts of lightning—
in an eerie blue light
the roaring
foaming river

yet in the calm of morning
her mood had changed
and I climbed
over ancient stone
through white dogwood flowers
and the Osage’s
sacred redbud
that showered pink mist
over lime-green forest
to a bend
where she’d washed away
a high bank

there were bones there
and a smooth stone tomahawk
and that night
I’d wondered if they’d belonged
to the Osage
or the Lost Cherokee

now it is Buffalo-Pawing-Earth Moon
and I sit upon a small
whiteoak dock
overlooking the River Saint Francis
as I listen to the long
haunting cry
of Fowler’s toads
for dusk has fallen
and they’ve dug themselves
from gravelbars
that will be here
when the last person
has forgotten the name of Aristotle
and I wonder what the Osage
or perhaps the Cherokee
called these little creatures

for a moment I am sad
that I cannot ask
then strangely happy
that they’re gone
and did not have to watch
as I have
metastasize like cancer
over the surface of the earth

gone are the elk
mountain lion
and bear that would den
in the tangled labyrinthine roots
of giant sycamores
full of thousands
of noisy emerald parrots

but alas I think
those children of the middle waters
shared the same nature as I
for they started this slaughter
that we’re to finish
for a moment
I let my mind see the river
as if they’d never crossed Beringia

there’s a crashing from the forest
on the opposite bank
as a mastodon lumbers to the river
sucks water deep into his trunk
and curls it to his mouth—
there’s the sound of another
but what emerges from the dark timber
is a great sloth
her back covered with the same
thick green moss
but before bending to drink
she stands
to look for cats and wolves
and for a moment
is taller even than her neighbor—
there is a loud splash in the water
and the beasts dissolve

it is a beaver
not the Pleistocene giant
but his smaller cousin
who’s seen me
and warns his comrades
with a smack of his tail
against the surface of the river—
I get up and walk back
with mask
snorkel and a mesh bag
full of mussels
and the skull of an old buck
who I found
staring at me
clean and white
from under the gin-clear water

when I arrive
I hang the skull over the door
then lean back
into a straw-stuffed rocker
to watch fireflies
sip Wild Turkey
and light a cigar—
I listen to whippoorwills
as the moon bleeds
the silver light of indifference
and I know in my heart
that it reflects off the river
regardless of what some philosophers
might say
and for a moment
it is difficult to remember
that nature is a hard mistress
over the chorus of frogs
and insects
I hear the lonely howl
of a coyote
it is answered by a yelp
far off in another direction
then another
and another
soon the hills
are on fire with them—
there must be thousands
I think
and the hairs upon my neck
and arms
in something ancient
and residual

tonight I dream
of Gothic European architecture
surrounded by dark wolfladen forest
but it is here
in the New World
and in the dream
I remember that Goethe
called architecture
frozen music—
I wake and stare at the ceiling
thinking yes
prefab steel buildings
thrown up in a week
reflect the music on the airwaves—
stonemasons used to cut themselves
and bleed into their mortar
but no one bleeds
into their work anymore

getting up I notice
the grey light of dawn
I boil coffee
then walk back to the dock
to watch the mist
curl off the calm water
I think of Yeats
saying the centre cannot hold
and I sit
in this
my womb
and drink my coffee

under the Moon-of-Painted-Leaves
dawn brings frost
and evening chill
as day and night balance in weight
acorns crack underfoot
and squirrels rustle through molting trees
as I walk through hollows
filling a burlap sack
with persimmons
hickory nuts and pawpaws

there is a place here
where the sun
flecks through the canopy
and over the woodland floor
to a spring-fed pool
of sapphire blue
covered with red
and amber leaves
that bleed into it
what the Cherokee called
the best medicine

it is somehow enchanting
this place of magic
and I think of the faeries
of the Osage
Miah-luschkas (if you could see them)
We-luschkas (if you could not)
and the Yunwi-tsunsdi
of the Cherokee
with their long hair
falling near to the ground—
the real medicine men
of these hills
it must have been here
I think
that they drummed and danced

I take the beads from my pocket
and drop them in the leafy water

back on the porch
I open a Budweiser
and eat persimmons—
Lynyrd Skynyrd
tells me from the kitchen
that Montgomery’s got the answer
but I think
if they were here
they’d agree it was on a porch
by a forgotten river
deep in the Missouri Ozarks

it is cold now
dark comes early
and Baby-Bear-Moon
casts tangled shadows
under bare trees—
I wake in the night
to the lonely cry of a great horned owl
and feed wood to a cast-iron stove
I light my pipe with an ember
and the windowpane is frosty
under my palm
Orion and Taurus
are bright
in the clear sky
but it does not stay that way
for when again I wake
a deep blanket of snow
covers the ground

outside I breathe steam into the air
relight my pipe
and walk into the forest
I spend the day tracking deer
fox and turkey
but not all is white—
Christmas ferns grow green
on snowy wooded slopes
as does cress around the springs
then a flash of red
as a cardinal
flickers through the snow-covered trees
with his brown companion
and I wonder
what holds them together

from the cabin chimney
curls the thinnest ribbon of smoke
before being caught
and dissolved by cold wind―
I set my boots by the stove
and rekindle the dying embers
soon the boots steam
and upon the stove
I set a soot-covered pot—
a soup of last summer’s mussels
with cress from the spring
until the lid rattles
and liquid flows from it

this night I sleep
warm and exhausted
with my head near the stove
to the sound of cedar
popping and cracking
I dream dreams of summer
when sun warms my shoulders
and the river runs clear—
I wake well into the afternoon
when the stove grows cold
getting up
I slide into my coveralls
and step from the porch
into more fresh snow

with an armload of wood
I stop
in the soft white silence
and look up at the skull of the buck
antlers cast against grey sky
and naked branches
flakes fall thickly around us
like feathers
as he gazes into the white forest—
there is a promise in this
I think
and for a moment
steals into my heart
the kind of peace
that one remembers forever—
perhaps even
that one last memory
upon the deathbed

David R. Cravens received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. His work has also appeared in Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought, EarthSpeak Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, Albatross Poetry Journal, The Monarch Review, The Interpreter’s House, Willows Wept Review, The New Writer Magazine, The Penmen Review, Poetic Diversity, Red River Review, Liturgical Credo, The Fat City Review, and is forthcoming in Mirror Dance, Fickle Muses, and War, Literature & the Arts. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College.

Feature: Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

David R. Cravens

so much depends on cold plums
and red wheelbarrows
that often I forget
about algorithms and Turing machines
Errol Morris and Desmond
and the noise of colored prayer flags
beaten by the wind
at the summit of Everest

I look down
to the clear voice of a child
“she has a brown face and brown arms”
the girl tells me
“and she’s waiting for you there”

I want to tell her I’m grateful for her honesty
and ask if she means on the mountain
but sensing an opportunity
I ask what haystacks have to do with relativity

“doesn’t matter” she answers
“what matters is she’s there”

I close my eyes and shake my head
but cannot wake

remembering that aged couple, buried in ash
(and frozen in time)
the old man hugging his wife to his side
and shielding her with his toga
I wish to ask: “how much blood
Primus Pilus did you spill for Rome?”
but I look instead to the ground
and follow the penises
carved in ancient cobblestone

perhaps I’m a soldier
for I remember running down a frozen river
set in a Currier & Ives landscape
except that I wasn’t skating
but trying to kill a man

when I reach the Lupanar
I throw a purse of silver
at the doorman
after he tells me (in German) to leave

the ground begins to shake
and the sky darken
but I’m not afraid

for the part of my mind that doesn’t sleep
that vigilant part
(the little man at the levers
I call him)

knows that Vesuvius isn’t in Germany
and tells me so
“my god” he asks
“what would Freud have thought of you?”
“you mean what will he think of me
of us” I reply

“two thousand years from now
people will pay men like him
whole salaries
for what I can get rubbing oil
into the back of a Gaul slave-whore
for a few of Caesar’s coins”

this makes me think of European porn

and how loud they are
for I can hear them through the stone wall

“it’s probably your neighbors”
he says
for I live in a small apartment
with thin walls
and no…
they’re not Europeans
but exceptions proving the rule

Americans are quiet, I think
even when they fuck—
a cultural gift from the Indians
according to Robert Pirsig

yes – there’s a quiet continent, I suddenly remember
“we’ll go there” I say
“we’ll go there and we’ll look west through darkness
and we’ll remember that Plato said the soul was a circle
and we’ll find the three graves
with headless chickens thrashing about them
in fountains of blood
and we’ll find the Indian who said all things are trying to be round—
he’ll tell us what all this means
he’ll tell us who lie in the graves
and why the birds won’t allow their freedom”

then it occurs to me…

inorganic – biological – social – intellectual

rock – paper – scissors; with a fourth dimension

yes – that’s it

it too was along these lines that Einstein thought
so few footnotes they said—
so few

“but you are not Einstein” he reminds me

and I want to find someone
and take them by the shoulders
and tell them about the internet
I will be a god
written about
sung about

“no” he says “you will be crucified”

David R. Cravens received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. His work has also appeared in Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought, EarthSpeak Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, Albatross Poetry Journal, The Monarch Review, The Interpreter’s House, Willows Wept Review, The New Writer Magazine, The Penmen Review, Poetic Diversity, Red River Review, Liturgical Credo, The Fat City Review, and is forthcoming in Mirror Dance, Fickle Muses, and War, Literature & the Arts. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College.

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Olivia Pourzia

It was summer, and the widow Saida was crossing the salt flats on horseback, alone.

She had left the market at Qassif several days late, once the goods she sought, fresh figs and oranges and other fruits from al-Hamurah, had finally arrived. They were already suffering in the heat, and to take the lengthy ride around the flats would have cost her her cargo. To cross the flats on wing as the vultures did was a single day’s journey, but longer on foot or horse, for the flats were unmapped and treacherously hot.

After riding for nearly a day, she was lost. Salt and sand mingled in the heat, a haze of swimming light that tricked the eyes and made the sun one among a dozen false brothers. There was little water left. The heat was such that neither she nor the horse could go far without drinking.

That was when she found the oasis.

At first it seemed a mirage. But as she drew closer, plodding on towards what she hoped was east, she saw date trees rising from the ground beside it. The cool scent of water filled the air. In the oasis, half-ringed by the trees, lay a large pool. Beside it stood a single tent, and before the tent, sitting cross-legged on the ground, was an elderly man. His clothes and kufiyah were dark, his smile warm when she greeted him. He offered her a drink from the pool. Sweeter than honey, the water was, and she drank gratefully. They sat a while in silence.

“You have not asked me who I am,” the man observed. “Or what this place is.”

Saida shook her head.

He smiled again. “Ah, and you do not intend to. You are most kind to respect my privacy so. For this, and for finding my little haven, I will grant you a wish.”

“A wish?” she asked.

“Yes. Any thing that you name.”

And so Saida wished for guidance on her way home. His answer was a raised arm. When she looked where he pointed, across the ocean of sand and dancing light, the spine of a familiar ridge stood in the distance where she would have sworn only horizon had lain before. Thanking the man, she set out, and that evening came home to the village of al-Ghaimah nestled between the crimson arms of Ahmar Ridge.

This was the story that she told to Khalid and his men and the villagers when she arrived.

Afterward, when Khalid laughed, a deep, raucous bray, his men laughed with him.

“You would have us believe that you met a djinn in the desert, woman?” he said. “Do you think us fools or children to put faith in such stories? You left early and rode hard, and so came to us sooner than expected, carrying more lies than food. But I will not swallow them.”

“I did not say he was a djinn,” said Saida, and that was her only reply. She sold the fruit to the villagers, gave some to Khalid’s men, took her share to her house at the end of the small valley. Though the villagers gave her sidelong, wondering looks when she came among them, whatever questions they had remained unasked. She did not mind. She cleaned, and sewed, and waited.

Several days later, Tariq rode in to al-Ghaimah. He had gone to the market with her to sell leather and goat hides. He had seen her leave late, he told the villagers, and had left himself not an hour after, but taking the road around the flats he had not caught a glimpse of her since. Excited whispers spread among them. Hearing the story she had recounted, Tariq stared and shook his head. “I could believe it!” he said, laughing uneasily.

Thus Khalid and his men came to her house for the second time. The first had been when her husband died. It was not long after Khalid’s band had arrived in the village, asking for food and shelter in words that were poor guises for threats, staying long past the bounds of hospitality. The villagers did not like them, but they feared them. Most were farmers, herders, simple craftsmen. Khalid and his men carried their swords with patient, deadly ease. What could the villagers do but endure, and speak in whispers of better days? Over time, though, some began to speak louder than whispers. Her husband had been one of them.

Khalid had come to the house with his head bowed, leading her husband’s horse. His men waited in silence beside him. She had known the bloody bundle that lay across the saddle even before he spoke.

“We were hunting,” he said, “along the western ridge-top. His horse trod upon a snake and it threw him down the slope. Talal here nearly broke his neck climbing down after him, but there was nothing to be done. The fall…”

Talal was a sallow-faced man to his left who kept wringing his hands. He would not meet her eyes. But Khalid did, and he smiled at her. Yes, it was a snake that killed my husband, she remembered thinking as she looked at him, his hair wound up in sinuous coils, his teeth white as a row of bones. Her husband was gone, but they had stayed.

This time no corpse accompanied Khalid to her door. When she told her story a second time, he did not laugh.

“He will grant any wish?” Khalid asked. “You are sure?”

Saida nodded.

“Then tell me the way that you came.”

He left early the next morning with his men, riding out into the flats where Saida had emerged days before. She stood at the entrance to the village with the others and watched them go, then, turning, began the long walk back to her house in the shadow of the ridge.

They had been cautious, taking water for three days, though it was a short ride. Three days passed. Four. Four days stretched into a week, and that was when the widow Saida called the village to a gathering in its only square.

This is the story that she told them.

The man beside the pool in the oasis had smiled at her. “You are most kind to respect my privacy so. For this, and for finding my little haven, I will grant you a wish.”

“Any wish?” Saida had asked.

The man nodded.

So she told him of Khalid, and his hungry smile, and his men who had taken her village and ruled it with fear. And her wish was this: that the village be free of them.

The man had listened until her tale was done, saying nothing, though a darkness came over his face. He frowned at something unseen, and then he nodded once, fiercely, and looked up at her. His smile returned.

“Ride home to your village,” he said. He raised an arm, and where he pointed Ahmar Ridge clove through the bright desert haze. “When you get there, this is the story you shall tell them…”

“Thank you,” she said when he had finished, bowing her head.

He bowed his own in reply. “Farewell, Saida bint Musa.”

She had never told him her name.


Khalid and his men did not return. Some said that they had become lost, or that the man – a man or a djinn depending on who told the story – had slain them. Others believed that the whole tale had been made up by Saida, a trick to lure them out into the open desert. That there was no oasis, no man, no wish.

The only certainty was that they were gone.

The villagers treated Saida with quiet respect. She went riding into the salt flats often that summer, but they never questioned her, nor did they seek to follow. Summer turned to fall, the days shrinking, nights lengthening, before she saw him again.

She was riding home at dusk, slowly, for her horse was weary. The setting sun had thrown a veil of fire across the ridge ahead. The joined shadow of horse and rider stretched out before her. Then there was another shadow beside it, and the old man was walking beside her, watching the colors play along the ridge with a smile on his weathered face. Saida dismounted and took the reins in her hand to walk with him.

“Your oasis-” she began.

“-is no longer there,” said the man with a nod. “I move it often, when I grow weary of the same sights each day. I cannot go far. But a little change, when you are as old as I am, is better than none.” He smiled again, then paused. “I did not think that you would look for me. I had only one wish to grant you, I am afraid.”

“How far can you travel?” Saida asked. “You, and the oasis.”

He planted his feet on the cool, dry earth and spread his arms to encompass the flats, Ahmar Ridge, the towns that bordered them.

“No one has ever seen you in al-Ghaimah,” she said, “or Qassif. I asked, once Khalid was gone. I asked in every settlement that I could ride to.”

“Because I cannot enter them, just as I cannot leave this place.”

“Why is that?”

The man’s face grew dark, but this time there was a softness to it. Not anger, but regret. “An old wish from an old master, and a different time. He is long dead. But wishes do not die.”

“He wished you trapped here?”

“He thought I had wronged him. His earlier wishes…they were not what he had hoped for.”

They were deep in shadow, now. Only the ridge’s upper half still caught the sunlight.

“I am sorry that I have nothing more to grant you, Saida bint Musa,” said the man quietly. “And I am sorrier still that you risked yourself to find me.” He bowed in farewell, and when he straightened, his face was tired and grave.

But it was not a wish Saida proposed. It was an exchange.


The following afternoon a strange man passed through Qassif. He was old, his face a maze of lines, his hair – what could be seen of it – pure white. He went slowly through the town, stopping every few paces to marvel at the most commonplace things. Dogs chasing each other through the market, a checkered awning flapping over a stall, baskets of vegetables, bolts of cloth, a house and its neighbor. Though he smiled kindly at each person he passed, most responded with no more than a nod, for his eyes were somehow ageless in that aged face. Whispers of spirits and demons trailed in his wake. Only one person in Qassif, a boy playing with a stick-sword on the western edge of town, asked him where he was going. The man considered the question gravely.

“I had not decided,” he confessed, kneeling beside the boy. His face broke into a smile. “Where do you think I should start?”


There were no more bandits in al-Ghaimah or Qassif, nor in Gana to the north, nor Dhasar to the southwest. They stayed away from the towns that bordered the salt flats, for always, when they approached, were they met by misfortune. Water flasks would go missing, snakes would worry their horses, sandstorms would hound them. Untroubled by such intruders, the villagers prospered. The winter was gentler and the harvest more bountiful than any the oldest among them had ever seen. In Dhasar, when they had had too much to drink, some told stories of a djinn watching over the land. Soberer companions hushed them and called them fools. Djinns could only grant wishes – it was not for them to take part in daily affairs. This was simply a good year. As was the next one, and the next…

But in al-Ghaimah, to which Saida had never returned, they told different stories. And sometimes, just before dawn, they saw a figure walking the ridgetop, looking down the jagged slope to a house that stood apart, silent and empty now, in its shadow. Come daybreak, the figure was always gone.

Olivia Pourzia is a scientist by day, a writer always, and can definitely stop writing fairy tales any time she wants.

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Sarah Rakel Orton

Covered from neck to ankle in a heavy cotton dress, my hand on my father’s elbow, I approached the prophet and knelt before him. He lay ancient, polka-dotted hands on my head and recited a blessing I cannot remember. All I could see was his son standing beside him, smiling at me. Sun damage sprinkled his cheeks, and a few, almost invisible grey hairs strayed from his thinning, tightly combed hair.

I remembered my mother and father’s words; that it was an honor to be chosen as a wife for the prophet’s son. They were delighted at the announcement. At least, they claimed to be. The night after the ceremony, I lay in the bed I shared with two sisters, plagued by fears for my future with a man older than my father. In the stillness of my thoughts, I could hear my mother, sobbing quietly in the kitchen—in the bedroom, my father snored, oblivious to her absence.  I knew I would never see her sorrow; I would only hear it surreptitiously. Listening to her stifled cries, I fell asleep and dreamed of my baptism from years ago, white-gowned and immersed in cold water. I sunk beneath the prophet’s grasp, and he continued his braying prayers, even as I vanished like a stone flung into a well.


I waited for the wedding date like a condemned prisoner anticipating the swinging blade of the executioner. I tried to remind myself of the honor bestowed upon me, imagining the babies I would provide to our eternal family.  I told myself I was selfish to think only of myself; that fear was a manifestation of sin and selfish pride. My marriage was a gateway to heaven. I was born to be an obedient wife and fertile mother. Determined to bury my wicked reluctance, I attended Service every week, my posture a straight line to the sky.  I couldn’t help staring at my future husband’s wives—my future sister wives who sat before the congregation, displayed like a row of motley flowers.

There were seven, and they sat in order from youngest to oldest. Each had long hair pinned in braids, and downcast, solemn eyes. The oldest wife’s face was lined and rigid from years of devotion and labor. I’d heard rumors of her heated bouts of jealousy, even violence toward the younger wives—people whispered she’d been locked in a barn for weeks for disobeying her husband.

The youngest, Miriam, had been my best friend. Since her marriage at thirteen, two years ago, she was sequestered in the prophet’s home like a beautiful princess in a neglected tower. Every time I saw her, her husband’s hand gripped her arm or shoulder. I hadn’t seen her smile since we used to play in the fields beyond the complex with my brother Jacob, running with our hair free, pretending to take flight like the hawks who hunted for mice with shiny eyes and thick claws, the old family dog, Daisy, desperate to keep up.  We used to pick wild flowers and give them proudly to our birth mothers while Jacob sneaked a piece of warm bread. Like me, Miriam avoided her father’s other wives—they endorsed only their own broods, competing for my father’s attention like squabbling hens, their downy-haired children multiplying like a virus. Jacob had been my favorite sibling, the only one I could really talk to, the only one who’d kept my secrets, the only one who really looked like me.  I hadn’t seen him in over a year—not since the elders thought he’d shown too much interest in Miriam, for daring to speak to her in the company of older, eligible men. One summer night, I remember him walking her home, his head bowed shyly. The next day, he was gone. My parents never spoke of him after that.


The night before her wedding, Miriam knocked on our door after the family prayer.  My father told her it was too late for a visit, but she begged, and he relented, not wanting to possibly offend the prophet’s son.  I met her outside. Her face was tear-stained, her cheeks red.  She grasped me into a tight hug, her tears pressing against my forehead.  She whispered a plea in my ears, only slightly louder than the crickets that sang the same piercing song every night.   My heart sunk at her repeated words: please, let’s go. We can go to the city. We’ll find Jacob.

Stunned by her blasphemous appeal, I could only look at her and shake my head, though I ached to see my brother again—inwardly, I knew I would never see him again, not even in the heavenly kingdom.

I could not find the words to respond. Inwardly, I prayed for Miriam, hoping she would return to her faith, realize her calling.  Never before had she revealed any desire to leave; she had been obedient and resilient in her belief. She held a hand to her throat, a choking sob rattling her chest.  I watched her run across the fields, her tangled braids trailing like a noose from her neck.

At the wedding, she was reverent and lovely: her white blonde hair was coiled on her head, her skin pink and flawless. She wore a simple white dress—plain but delicate, embroidered in tiny flowers along the hem. Dutifully, she vowed to be faithful, fruitful, respectful, unquestioning, and devoted to her husband’s every need. Her voice was steady, smooth as a memorized speech. Her husband beamed after he kissed her on her cheek. Everyone celebrated in the square, plates of food arranged on worn tables, white tablecloths fluttering in the breeze. The prophet’s son’s first wife marched toward the congregation with a layered white cake, flaked in coconut, a rare treat. Cheering met her arrival, but just as she reached the bride, her boot caught on a stone and she tripped, white cake and frosting spattering into the dust and weeds. An audible gasp followed, and I saw him turn violently red, thin lips drawn into a tight line. He pulled her up and muttered sharply into her ear; her eyes were fixed at the ruined cake.  I watched as he guided her to the house, his pace rapid and violent. His second wife returned attention to the party, urging everyone to enjoy the rest of the food. As the crowd intermingled, forgetting about the cake, I saw him slap the poor woman back and forth in the shadows of their porch, her expression unchanging, silent.

I turned away quickly. I looked up and met Miriam’s eyes. She stared at me, her eyes unrelenting. Blushing, I rushed to the tables and tried to console myself with the wedding feast.


We all knew the rewards for our obedience in this life.

Our husbands would be divinely powerful, creating entire worlds with their bare hands.   Wives were mothers to innumerable children, praising our husbands as infallible gods.  No pain, no hopelessness or jealousy—to be divinely perfect and exist forever, reveling in the glory of the Lord. We would be rewarded for serving our husbands, for providing them with one child each year.

I ached to believe all of it.


Days after my engagement, I stood in the backyard and hung wet laundry on the clothesline, beginning with stockings and ending with dresses. I was obsessive about sorting the clothing—mother hung them haphazardly, but I felt a strange tranquility by ordering them according to size. The task was time-consuming but I saw it as a break from the constant hectic atmosphere of the house. At my feet, Daisy sat sluggishly, resting her head on outstretched paws.

I heard a sinking sound among the gravel and turned to see Miriam quietly approaching me, a simple brown-papered box in her hands. One of my father’s shirts slipped from my grasp, fluttering to the dirt and rocks.  She looked up at me. Her blonde eyelashes shone nearly white in the sun.

“From the Future Prophet Abraham, as a token of his gratitude,” she said, extending the box to me. I took it, and examined her closely. A purple blot shone along her jaw.  Automatically I reached out to touch her face, gasping.

She jerked away, adjusting her bonnet over her face. She pivoted on her worn boots. I grabbed her hand.


She looked at me, her face impassive.  Her eyes were so wide and blue—but so empty and miserable.

“Please…” I started.  “Thank him for the gift.”

She nodded.  I slid my hand against her palm.

“And…tell him I am grateful as well, to become his wife.”

A pang of wise sorrow shifted her expression. She loosened her hand from mine. In a swift whisper, she bent to my ear.

“You don’t know what you are saying.”

Before I could reply, she began her walk home, a ruddy cloud of dust escaping with each step.  Daisy trotted to my side, whining as she watched Miriam leave.

I opened the box, my stomach churning. Inside, on a clean white handkerchief, sat a smooth length of red ribbon. I twisted my fingers around it, knowing he meant for me to wear it so he could see I enjoyed and appreciated his gift. None of us were supposed to wear red, as it was the Lord’s color, but I knew I had no choice.

The next morning, before Service, I wove the ribbon into my long French braid, tying it into a perfect bow at the bottom. I felt his gaze during the Prophet’s speech—I looked up and nearly shivered at his wide smile. My eyes shifted to the row of women beside him. None of his wives wore anything in their hair. Their clothes were plain and clean, their faces dour. Miriam sat rigidly, eyes cast to the floor, twisting her mottled face away from the gathering, the unblemished side of her jaw fair and trembling.


The wedding was only two months away. My mother sewed in the kitchen, waiting for bread to rise, as she embroidered the hem of a dress she had worn as a young girl. My mother insisted I watch her closely as she cooked dinners and starched my father’s shirts. I knew all of this already, but she told me I had to be perfect for the future prophet. I represented the family, and I had to think of my future in heaven. Didn’t I want to please him as a wife, bring him cherubic, healthy children? With a stiff smile, she promised that as a mother and wife, my place in the afterlife was secure.

My betrothed visited our home but did not speak to me directly. He spoke only to my father. Sometimes I would watch from the upstairs window, my father holding his hat in his hands, nervously twisting the brim. He nodded constantly, a deferential smile pasted on his face. My eyes sunk to the floor, weakness firing down my spine, and I prayed I could talk to Jacob, confident that he could have given me the strength I needed so badly, even with just his crooked, reassuring smile.


My mother asked me to bring a jar of jam to my older sister, Sariah. She lived across the settlement, the fourth wife to a handsome young man, a rare match. He was a first cousin to the Prophet, and quite excited about my upcoming wedding. Father patted my arm and told me to be obedient to my elders, avoiding my eyes. I nodded, wondering at his stiff expression, and began the journey to my sister’s home.

After repeated conversations of the holiness of marriage and the unending responsibilities of motherhood, the sky darkened to twilight. My sister yawned in the middle of a story about my youngest nephew. The children were asleep, so I seized my chance.

“What happened to Jacob?” I whispered. I’d never been brave enough to ask her before. Sariah stiffened and avoided my eyes.

“He is a topic not to be discussed,” she answered, smoothing her ankle-length dress over her lap. I leaned forward and took her hand, forcing her to look at me.


She sighed, cleared her throat.

“He was deemed as unworthy competition to the elder men,” she said.

I blanched, but was not entirely surprised. I knew of other boys who had disappeared. I’d hoped he had run away on his own. Before I could speak, Sariah fixed with me with a grim stare.

“I don’t know where he is, so no more questions.”

I kissed her head and promised to visit her soon.

I passed through my sister’s fruit orchard, orbs of peaches and apples bobbing lightly in the evening breeze. I walked leisurely between them, plucking a plump peach from an overhanding branch. A memory of Jacob’s insatiable love for mother’s pies made me smile in the shadow of the fruit trees, and I took a languid bite, letting juice collect on my chin as I thought of him begging for just one more slice.

A shape rushed in front of me, pushing me against the trunk of the tree, peaches tumbling at my feet. I gasped, my eyes caught against fabric, bark sharp against my back. I struggled, panic groping my heart, until I heard his voice. My body sagged in resignation. He lifted my skirts, rubbed his jaw against my knotting braids. I heard him call me his bride. Beneath his boots dozens of peaches burst, leaking sticky nectar into the ground, the scent of ripe, crushed flesh pungent in the dark.

I trudged home, a new gift of ribbon curled in my fist.  Daisy ran to me, sniffing at my dress, growling softly. I cleaned my legs with the remnants of washing water from the library tub behind the house. Rivulets of blood oozed into the dirt, glowing scornfully, an adamant stain. With the toe of my boot I mixed a grave of blood and peach juice.


Afterward, my father avoided me. I crept around the house like a forgotten phantom. No one noticed a difference. Perhaps they assumed my thoughts were occupied with the approaching wedding. Which was true…yet now I was filled with revulsion and terror, not resigned acceptance.  I wanted to creep into the cellar, hide in the dark with the jars of berry preserves and pickled vegetables.

Instead I buried myself beneath the thin covers of the bed I shared with my sisters. I hissed at them to leave me alone.  I hid my face in my pillow, ignoring the pleas of my mother. Daisy barked in concern from the doorway, but mother shooed her away impatiently.

I feigned illness on the morning of Service. My mother tried to get me up, but I turned to the wall and wouldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at him.

Finally, the next morning, father pulled me from bed and marched me to the backyard. He took the switch from the storage shed. I hadn’t seen it in years, not since Jacob ruined his service clothing after playing in the mud from an unexpected storm.

“It is a sin to not listen to your elders,” he said, his voice shaky. He coughed. “You will honor your father and mothers.”

The switch cracked against my back. I was determined to hold back any reaction, but I screamed at the sting. Chained to a tree trunk in the yard, Daisy barked and howled, flipping like a fish plucked from the river.  He hit me seven times: six for each of my mothers, and one for him—the sharpest one, the only one that sprung rolling tears from my eyes.


The next morning mother said I had neglected laundry long enough and it was time to help. I buried my head in one of her bonnets and slinked outside. I kept my eyes forward, toward the walkway of the house. I picked up garments by random, hanging them indiscriminately along the line.

Nausea seized my stomach, and I grasped desperately onto the clothing line, clothes quivering against the sudden force. I clasped my belly and groaned. My body staggered forward, and I vomited on the sleeve of my father’s nicest shirt. I clasped my hand over my mouth and immediately ran the shirt to the water pump. Though my stomach threatened to betray me again, I pumped water against the shirt, clearing it of all debris. Exhaling slowly, I returned the shirt to the line, pinning it carefully.  I pretended to be well all evening, repeating blessings, helping my mothers with dinner, sweeping the kitchen floor of crumbs and dehydrated mud. After the evening meal I walked swiftly to the outhouse, retching and sweating into the fetid pit, a line of siblings forming, yelling at me to hurry up. I wiped my mouth with the corner of my apron and exited, ducking between squalling children.


I missed the next four weeks of service. This time I really was sick, clutching my stomach, a bucket close to the bed. Mother searched the cellar for rotten potatoes and onions, wondering if spoiled food was the culprit. But no one else felt ill, so she assumed I’d caught a sickness of castigation.  She asked if I had sinned, or possibly angered the Lord.  She made me promise to repent, which would surely speed my recovery. As she watched I knelt against the bed and asked the Lord for forgiveness. My father stood at the doorway, his stare shadowed and grim.

She urged the entire family to pray for my recovery. I listened to their whispered prayers through the bedroom wall, waves of nausea crashing against my belly. As “amens” echoed through the house, I gripped at the bucket, positive that I was drowning inside my own body. The Lord did not want to forgive me. Through tears I begged for atonement, asking the Lord to forgive my sin of enticement against the Prophet.


One warm evening, Miriam arrived at the house, bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread wrapped in a clean, white cloth. My mother beamed and led her outside when she asked to see me, the scent of warm bread wafting with her.

I sat on the upturned washing tub, the dog beside me, watching the evening sun sink into the mountains. Miriam sat beside me, smoothing her skirts beneath her thighs. Daisy gently rested her head on her knees, her tail wagging in joyful recognition.

“He would like to know why you have been absent,” she said.

I blinked against the twilight and looked down at the soil.

“You offend him with your nonattendance.”

I said nothing. I traced circles into the dirt with my boot. She extended the toe of her boot and drew intersecting circles into mine.

“Are you ill?” she asked.

I managed a feeble nod. “I have angered him,” I whispered.

She turned to face me. Her staring stirred the anxiety in my stomach.

“You mean Abe?” I winced at the word. It wasn’t proper to address him so familiarly, even as his wife.

I nodded grimly.

“How?” she asked.

I turned to her, solemn.


Miriam drew in a sharp breath. She took my hand in her own. The strange formality of our relationship collapsed, and suddenly she was my best friend again, pressing my head against her chest, her fingers smoothing my hair.

“Now you know,” she said. I lifted my head, my heart drumming in my ears. She looked at me sadly.

I stammered, my mouth too dry to form words.

“I am a sinner,” I managed.

She stroked her burgeoning belly.

“It’s a girl,” she said. “I can feel her grief already.” She paused, orange light reflecting in her eyes. “How can I bring her into this place?”

I stiffened at her admission. Fear trickled down my spine, pooling into cold sweat at my lower back. We lived the righteous life—we could not question the moral path.  I thought of the Spirit Children waiting to be born—surely they wanted to be among us? To live under the guidance of the true Prophet? But how would I survive, feeling his clammy skin and boasting gaze for eternity?

I said nothing. We watched the light drain from the sky, until I felt her gaze on my face.

“No one will know before the wedding,” she said abruptly, glancing furtively at my midsection. “It’s early enough to be born in matrimony.”

I stared at her, incredulous, trying to suppress an amalgam of anger and sorrow. I was sure my heart would burst through my chest.

Miriam sighed, surprisingly loud in the violet dusk.

“I must go,” she said.

I listened to her retreating footsteps, digging my heels into the dirt until every drawn circle was buried beneath my feet


Seated beside my family, I pretended to listen to the Prophet’s words. His son grinned at me. I looked to his side—Miriam was not there.

My father drew me to his side and approached the prophet’s son. He shook his hand excitedly and gushed how thrilled they were about the impending wedding. I did not hear the reply. I searched the room for Miriam’s blonde braids. We were the same now, like timid sheep guarded by an indefatigable dog.

“Perhaps your daughter will sit with me at service today?”

Father agreed enthusiastically. I knew I would be sitting in Miriam’s seat. No one mentioned her absence.

At dinner, we ate silently, my father singularly focused on his plate. He ate half a loaf of bread, his wives passing him a piece each time the previous one was consumed. Mother turned to me.

“Fetch another loaf from the pantry for your father.”

I nodded and walked through the kitchen, stepping into the pantry. I wrapped a brown loaf into a clean cloth, turning sharply. My toe jammed on a floor seam, and the loaf rolled away, stopping beneath the last shelf. Quickly I lowered myself to the floor, reaching for the bread I prayed was still edible. Instead, my fingers slipped against a stack of papers. I frowned, surprised, and pushed them toward me, tucking the bread safely in my arm.

A stack of letters, all stamped and sealed, addressed to my parents in awkward, uneven handwriting. My stomach stirred dangerously.

Jacob’s name was written in the corner, a city address printed clearly beneath it. I stifled a cry, counting the stack. Twenty-three letters, all unacknowledged. My heart sunk, drowning inside my rib cage How could they keep him from us?

I returned to the table with the bread, my eyes watering despite my inner pleas to silence any reaction to my discovery. No one noticed or spoke. I could only hear my father’s continuous chewing, and the clean slice of the knife through the bread as he consumed the entire loaf.



The next morning, on the front porch, I shelled the peas my siblings had picked earlier from the garden. Mother was visiting Sariah—she had asked me to join her, but I startled her in my firm refusal.

I heard the flapping sound of heavy skirts swirling against each other. I looked up. My mother was rushing toward the house, a basket of bruised peaches swinging at her elbow. She caught her breath when she saw me.

“A great sin has been committed,” she wheezed. I rose from my chair, the bucket of peas still in my arms, waiting for her to continue, my skin tingling beneath my dress.

“It’s…it’s Miriam.”

She looked behind me. Father’s heavy boots sounded behind me.

“What has happened?” he asked, his voice eerily calm.

She held her gaze to my father’s, dodging my eyes.

“She has taken her own life, and worse, that of her child’s.”

A swarm of peas rolled down the porch steps, the muted echo of the empty bucket ringing in my ears.


There was no funeral—no acknowledgment would be made to a murderer.  Instead the Prophet warned of the everlasting effects of sin. We must live for the Lord.  Selfishness and greed would be punished for eternity. He repeated the phrase we’d all heard countless times: one child is worth ten of the mother.

Almost imperceptibly, a small bump arched covertly across my lower belly. I never saw anyone in my family unclothed—nakedness was a sin, a gateway to pride and lust.  Even when we bathed we wore our underclothes. My body’s secret was safe.

I thought of Miriam’s baby, the girl she had taken with her. Somehow, I knew I carried a girl too. I thought of her future. Of the man who would marry her, take her away from me.  And I would be powerless to protect her.

At moonlight I looked out at the field from the kitchen window, memories of Miriam and me mixed together like pooling watercolors. My shoulders slumped. I was a shell inside, the only living part the child that curled in my belly. Daisy pressed her body into my knees, looking up at me, her chocolate eyes anxious. I patted her head, and then she was leaping up at the window, barking madly at something outside. Afraid, I peered into the yard again, subconsciously holding my stomach.

“Daisy, quiet!” I hissed. If she woke up father she’d be tied outside the next day, no matter how oppressive the heat.  She jumped and barked insistently in reply. I buried my hand in her mane and led her outside, shutting the kitchen door silently. Her body went still, and she stared forward, her eyes unblinking, tail poised. I followed her gaze.

Just beyond the clothesline, next to the washing tub, something stirred, a bright shape fading into darkness.  Daisy shot forward, stopping at the tub, her tail wagging, bark changing from caution to enthusiasm.  Briefly, she looked back at me, beckoning me with raised brows. I crept to her, examining the dark with each step.  A white light shifted next to Daisy, and in a blink, absorbed into night. The dog whined, pacing where the light had been. I stooped beside her, waiting until she sat dejectedly.


My last basket of family laundry stood at my feet. Soon I would be scrubbing my new husband’s clothing. Like a lingering farewell, I hung each piece carefully and in order. I smoothed the wrinkles from my father’s work pants, pinning the waistband, just as a pale hand grasped at mine at the top of the clothesline. I jumped, automatically clutching my belly, then quickly recovered, moving my hand to my chest. I readied a lecture for one of my siblings for needlessly startling me.

A shimmer of blonde hair silenced my reproach. I inched my head to the side, just as the hand pulled at the pants, letting them plummet at my feet.

Miriam gazed at me, her eyes bluer that the sky glinting through her white face. I reached for her hand, shivering in her presence. Just as my fingers brushed hers, she disappeared.  A single strand of blonde hair curled around the clothesline.

I looked down at the pants, then to the house. I rolled them into a ball and hid them beneath my skirt, tucked in the waistband of my underwear. My father’s shirt, the cotton worn and familiar, I folded into my bodice.

Calmly, I finished my task, and walked steadily back to the house, the laundry fluttering like proud flags festooned against the dipping sun.



I waited until the sounds of heavy breathing rose from the bodies of my surrounding siblings. I wore the shirt and pants beneath my nightgown, the covers pulled taut to my chin.

Barefoot, I glided from the bedroom, down the stairs, and into the sharp night air. I hid in the shadows of the eaves, slipping off my nightgown. I draped it carefully against the porch railings. I picked up the pea-shelling bucket and searched beneath a mound of empty shells. The shears I had hidden before bed shone in the moonlight. In one motion I clipped off my braid, the steel blades cold against the nape of my neck. I laid the braid on top of my nightgown, slipped on my father’s jacket and a half-brother’s work boots, then crept away from the house like a rodent accustomed to the dark.

I could see the rusted farm gates ahead, flanked by two young men, second cousins of the Prophet, Samuel and Alma. I knew them from Service and wedding celebrations.  They leaned against the bars, apathetic, laughing at something I could not hear. Between them a miniature fireball bloomed and burned, passed to each other every few moments. Translucent smoke clouded each exhaling breath. Cigarettes were banned and considered a serious vice—we must keep our bodies clean of all temptations and pollutants, the Prophet proclaimed.  I wondered how they’d gotten them. I crept closer, ducking beneath drying brush.

“You heard about the blonde girl?” the taller one, Alma, asked between puffs.

“Of course I did. Everyone did,” Samuel scoffed.

“Bet you didn’t know my Pa and me dumped her out there,” Alma said, pointing to the outlying desert with the searing tip of the cigarette. He passed it to Samuel.

“You? I thought she was just unmarked in the churchyard?”

Alma laughed.

“Not a chance. Not for what she did. Burned her, too. Nothing but ash and bone left now.” He said, leaning against the gate.  Samuel moved next to him, silent. Their words pressed against my chest like a sudden, immovable weight. I didn’t want to believe it.

The unrelenting cries of an infant shattered their calm, accompanied by the shrill weeping of a woman.  They snapped upright and exchanged glances.

“That sounded close,” Alma said.  I could hear the tremor in his voice. I watched them walk cautiously toward the noises, shoulder to shoulder. The land was flat and nearly barren—nothing in sight.  Alma lit another cigarette, the miniature flame conjuring a white figure, standing only a few feet away. I squinted from the brush.

She wore a white nightgown, a long pale braid looping over her shoulder. In her arms, she held a tiny child, its fists curling, face pinched and red.

The boys were rooted in place, gawking at the woman and child.

She rocked the child, her gaze fixed at the boys, tears spilling onto her white cheeks. I could see a twisted imprint on her neck, swollen and purple. The infant’s cries pierced the dark like an ominous drum, mounting pitilessly in tempo.

Alma stepped forward, perspiration mushrooming beneath his already yellowed shirt.

“Are you alright?” he stammered, Samuel frozen behind him.  The girl did not answer. He stretched out his hand cautiously, as if reaching for a dangerous serpent. At his touch, her arm dissolved, a catalyst for the rest of her body, evaporating like dew against a scorching summer stone. Alma stumbled backwards with a mangled shout, his cigarette spinning from his fingers, berthing in a patch of crisp brush.  In moments, flames roared to life, bursting through the vegetation in blistering colors of yellow and orange.  The fire screamed into a wall, surging forward, an unbridled typhoon of perverse heat. Alma and Samuel ran like jackrabbits around the fire, shouting to rouse the settlement.

Entranced, I stood from my hiding place and watched the fire swell, the heat prickling my skin.

Miriam stepped through the flames, the baby in her arms sleeping peacefully. She walked toward the gates. I forced my attention from the fire and followed her. She filtered through the metal, and turned to me from the other side, waiting. I looked down at the padlock and chains. The metal had melted into a silver mass of dangling stalactites. I placed my hand on the top of the gate; the parallel bars were cool and solid, no sign of any temperature change.

At the touch of my palm, the gate swung open like a locket.

I walked forward, the sky vast and shining with stars.  My stomach churned at the enormity of the world, the capricious lure of any other future illuminated in the distant city lights.

A poultice to my hesitation, Miriam materialized again, like a firefly glowing at my side. She touched my shoulder, her fingers velvet on my skin. I rested my hand against my rising belly, full as the moon above us, and headed toward the city lights, Jacob’s face and address resounding in my mind like a sacred verse.

Sarah Rakel Orton is thirty-one years old and a graduate of the University of Utah’s MFA fiction program (2008). Her thesis, Black as Blood, Red as Apples, was a collection of retold fairy tales. Her work has appeared in The Harrow, Mytholog, Prick of the Spindle, and
The Summerset Review. In January 2010, The Sun Magazine published her short story “Scars and Scales.”

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Two Islands
Anita Felicelli

On my island, the sky flashes green as the sun rises and sets, the trees along the shore have jungle-bark the color of mist and when people talk, flocks of parrots fly straight out of their mouths, flutter between the tree branches, their plumage draping behind them as they swoop into the sky making figure eights with their wide wings.

And everyone talks, so you can imagine that there are a million parrots overhead, almost enough to block the sun. It would be strange on my island not to speak about the inclement weather, the way the sun glints off the water, the moist air that wraps you in its warm white chocolate fog, the temerity of the howling dogs that run around the town in packs, eating vanilla ice cream that the storekeepers set out for them in big silver dishes.  Sometimes the women gather around the cisterns and talk of revisionist histories or Platonic love or some lost strand of phenomenology.

Chatter mixes with the sound of parrots talking and dogs barking at each other.  It is a cacophony of sound, an island of syllable skyscrapers. Luckily, you can swim a short distance from the beach around the island to get some semblance of quietude, but even there, fathers dangle their children in the waves, chatting with them incessantly, training them to welcome the urge to birth parrots from between moistened lips.

From the time I was very small, I knew that either I needed to escape the riot of sound or I needed change my island so that people spoke less. Often I daydreamed about the desert island I could see from the coast of our island. The men and women from my island belittled that desert island.  I had heard that the shores were covered with clay and overgrown with tomatoes and roses and hot pepper plants.  All along the shore were little bamboo huts with thatched roofs and earthen floors and terracotta kitchens, each hut spaced a stone’s throw from each other.  Supposedly, the inhabitants of the island never spoke to each other if they could help it. They hid indoors, let their skin turn pale as the palest parts of a flame.  Their eyes were glassy and nervous.  They scribbled notes on rocks with pencils made of volcanic ash and tossed them to each other across the fence, all in order to avoid speaking.  It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to speak or were somehow prevented from speaking.  And when men and women were married, they spoke to each other not at all (in this way, they were like everyone I have ever heard of): they mostly read or hiked into the volcanic mountains to gather raspberries and hunted yak all day.  When I was young and could not speak, my parents wondered if I were a changeling from that island that someone rowed over and left with them as a sort of cruel prank. It was a fantasy of mine to swim to that island, but nobody could teach me how to swim — nobody could stop talking for long enough.

They called me Dog Boy at home because of my propensity to howl when frustrated.  Unlike the rest of my family, I found it a struggle to speak, to form words and to make my sounds mean something.  Howling, also, shuts people up.  I came from a long line of linguists, all of them fascinated with words and sounds and the meaning of things.  My mother spoke to me while I was in the womb and it is my theory that the sound of soliloquies eventually took over, and so overwhelmed me that I could not talk any more.  By the time she pushed me from her noisy uterus, my lips were sealed.  I did not cry, nor did I laugh as a baby.  For awhile they thought I was mute or an aphasiac.

As I grew older, I learned better how to talk, but when I was excited, the noise that jangled from my body sent forth deformed parrots, bald ones, dirty ones with broken wings and spotty tail feathers and although I eventually learned how to tell stories, like the rest of them, my stories were as short as possible, so as to avoid populating the island with malformed birds. As if it were not bad enough that I hated to speak, talking to me was an ugly experience with which nobody around me wanted to engage.

Still, I was convinced that eventually, one day, I would like making words, rattling off stories, sculpting sounds into proper somethings.  I was certain that one wonderful day the paucity of my speech would be good for all, instead of a detriment to my social advancement on my home island.

I had been wandering through a park at dawn, watching hang-gliders take off from the wide bluffs that loomed over the town sand-colored clouds.  The gliders hovered in the air, shouting to each other- “see that?”  Their lungs were so powerful, you could hear them from the ground far below.  Everyone else must have been pretending to sleep. Dawn was about the only time you could catch a few moments of solitude.  I trekked between some palms onto the beach.  I waded through the abrasive, brown, crystalline sand and nearly ran into a tall woman wearing a heavy tank on her back, striding in from the sea. Of course, I’d heard of scuba diving, but only in legends.

She removed her heavy mask and spit into it.  She circled around the plastic eye of the mask with a salty index finger. “Getting the fog out,” she said when I asked, as a common courtesy, what she was doing.  Her voice was unpracticed; she nearly croaked her words.  No parrots came pouring forth, not even deformed ones. I figured the Scuba Woman was a foreigner.

“You could just pour water into it,” I said grimacing.


Because of her beauty, I tried to engage her, to parry.  Nervously, I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “What’s it like down there?  Do you dive much?  I mean, it must be hard on your lungs,” I said.


I tried again. “Where are you from?”

The Scuba Woman gestured at the desert island off in the distance. She shook her head and droplets of water flew everywhere. I realized with a burst of optimism that this might be my ticket off the island in the event that the volcano erupted as the soothsayers predicted. I could learn to scuba and swim long distances, swim to the other island, even. And nobody would speak to me underwater. “Can you teach me to swim and scuba dive?” I asked her.  On my island, it was common for everyone to help each other.  I didn’t think I was asking anything untoward.

However, she looked sulky at being asked a question that required a response beyond a nod or shake of the head. “No.”  She began to walk off, down the beach, her lava red hair streaming down her back.

“Wait, don’t leave me.  I want to talk to you,” I said and chased after her as she sauntered up the beach toward the park. “Please, I’ll pay you.”

She shook her head again.

“Perhaps you could just teach me and I’ll show you around the island, make sure that everyone treats you well. On this island, we talk. A lot. Not like your island.”

She looked faintly dismayed and then blew her hair out of her eyes. “Don’t need money.”

“It’s not that. I need your help. I can’t learn to scuba on my own. Please.”

A band of rowdy children and dogs approached the woman.

“What’s that for?”

“Can we have those?”

“Where are you going?”

“ Where are you from?”

“Where have you been?” they asked in a breathless rush of parrot plumage.

The Scuba Woman threw up her arms in confusion. Her mouth twisted downward in dismay and anguish. “She doesn’t want to talk right now,” I told the children and took her by the arm and walked with her down an alleyway to a bakery.  I paid two coins and bought her a sugary palm pastry and a coffee.

The Scuba Woman nodded at me, I suppose as a thank you, cleared her throat a few times, and wrote on a napkin with a crayon from her pocket, “Meet me here at 5:00 pm.”

That night, I met her in front of the bakery and together, wordlessly we went back to the beach and she fitted me with a mask and a tank and put her own on, too.  We pushed out on a dinghy, rowing far out to sea.  The water surrounded us in all directions.  “Here,” she said. The sun was low in the sky as we slipped into the ocean waters.

The water was warm and she held my hand as we went down together, adding smooth stones to weigh ourselves down enough to scale the reef.  She showed me how to adjust my scuba tank and add stones at the right depths.  One stone, two stones, three stones.  We sank so deep, I thought we’d never come up.  Beneath the surface of the water, the fish came up and wiggled by our scuba skins.  I bruised myself badly on the coral, banging against it as I tried to figure out how to move underwater.  But then the Scuba Woman showed me how to rid myself of the stones, one by one.  As the stones fell away, we swam to the surface.  My instinct was to rush up, very fast, but she held onto my arm, clutching it as I flailed in the deep waters.  She grabbed my other arm and we slowly emerged to the surface, as the sun flashed green on the horizon.

When we came up, we walked onto the beach and a crowd gathered.  I approached and talked with the village of the coral reefs, of the giant chocolate chip starfish as big as my palm or the sea urchins with spines like big purple porcupine quills.  Children gathered around me and oohed and aahed, but the grown-ups, well, they were a bit less impressed. The Scuba Woman kept to herself, smiling at the round eyes of my listeners and spitting into her mask to defog it.

Every day the Scuba Woman met me to dive into the depths.  She and I took the dinghy out into the deep water and rowed it closer to shore, tying the dinghy to a mandrake branch before swimming back to shore.  We did not speak.  I tried the usual pleasantries –

“How beautiful the moon looks as it rises over your island!” (which it did) or

“Do you miss home?” (she didn’t answer) or

“Would you like to have dinner?” (she shook her head no). After our dives, she always walked off, shaking her hair vigorously until it dried under the moonlight, the color of molten lava.  Sometimes she suggested an early morning dive when bits of sunlight crept between the banks of coral.  Otherwise, I did not know what she did, where she went between dives, only that she walked into the alleyways and disappeared.  Without her, the rest of the day seemed cluttered with sound and wings flapping. The neighbors were talking of re-roofing their house, the children spoke of dice, the teenagers chatted about crushes.  Heidegger and Husserl were briefly mentioned. The Scuba Woman pointed out the colors, the way they bled into each other on a particular fish or the way the light refracted over the stones that weighed us down, the way a mother would chase a chorus of dolphin babies as they waggled their tails through the ocean.

But then, unexpectedly, a few days passed without the reappearance of the Scuba Woman.  I appeared at our usual time and waited until the sun went down, but the Scuba Woman was gone.  Finally, on the fourth night, I dove by myself.  The darkness was quiet around me. The sharks were out.  I hurried back up, dizzy when I hauled myself back into the dinghy and headed home.

I dove for the rest of the month alone — the only time I could find silence was when I went scuba diving.  I’d hear myself breathing, the wondrous sound of my own breath, the bubbles rising up, a big silver rush of them as I weighted myself down. And down, down, down I’d go. The villagers thought it was strange, watching me put on the plastic mask and the unwieldy plastic fins like I was about to embark on some sort of space journey.

Eventually the parrots that burst from my mouth gained a healthy color, their curved beaks now beaky. “Why do you spend all that time alone?” they asked.  “What makes you so special?”

“Nothing in particular,” I said. “I just like going down- do you want to come with me?” I offered to teach them, both the young and the old, the wonderful pleasure of sinking, league after league into the salty depths of the ocean that surrounded our island. As you went deeper down, I explained, it became less and less leafy, and all around a cool blue light shone between the crevices, the deep layers of the island emerging like a dark dense fruitcake. Fish venture forth and ogle you through the glass, as you blow a silver stream of bubbles. You are, in fact, a giant fish, weaving among the long black lettuce of kelp.

“Why do you want to be like a giant fish? Fish don’t talk,” asked and answered one child, feeding a mangy street dog a scrap of meat from a kabob.

“Because he is cuckoo-bananas,” answered the child’s mother and took him firmly by the arm, steering him down the lane to their house.

Sometimes I donned my fins and tank and mask under the stars.  “Oh the stars,” I’d say, they’re nothing compared to the fish!”

“Yes, he’s truly crazy!” Said the village folk and they left me alone after that.

I grew more and more accustomed to the silence.  When I heard everyone talking about nothing, I walked the other direction, taking to the sea to watch the fish and the dolphins and the sharks swim and enjoy the relative quiet of the ocean, the rushing sound a welcome invitation next to the harsh clang of human voices.  As the years passed, I thought often of the Scuba  Woman and wondered if she had returned to her island.

I took the dinghy further and further out onto the ocean.  Petrels flew overhead.  The red island beckoned, as day by day, I missed the Scuba Woman and her strange full silence.  Surrounded by people who could not or would not stop talking, I thought sometimes there was nobody else in the world that understood the meaningfulness of wordlessness.

Then one day, long after I’d reconciled myself to a life without the perfect beauty of the Scuba Woman’s silences, I dove deep into a chasm, under the ocean.  At first there was nothing but coral to one side of me, and then the coral turned to porous rock.  I followed the dark pores of the rock through the water and wondered where they would take me. The light grew dimmer as I set stones aside. The oxygen in my tank seemed to be getting a bit low, but it still sufficed.  Then suddenly, around one of the rocks, just as I was readying myself to go back, I saw her flame red head disappear into an undersea tunnel.

I could not stay down there because the air was running out of my tank.  I threw a stone in her direction but in the water, the stone drifted downward without unsettling the waters by the Scuba Woman.  She looked back as I floated back up toward the light. I tried to motion to her to follow, but she vanished into the tunnel.

The next day I went out at exactly the same time and to the precise spot where I had spied Scuba Woman entering the tunnel.  This time, I wasted none of my precious oxygen watching fish or searching for schools of dolphins to track. I dove straight and true to the opening of the tunnel.  I swam into the tunnel of shadows, the craggy volcanic rock.  I tried to swim quickly through the tunnel. I felt the oxygen in my tank bleeding out. As I was about to give up, the tunnel angled upward and pinkish sunlight streamed into the tunnel. I threw stones aside slowly, trying not to panic in my excitement.  At the opening, I popped my head out of the water and carefully pulled myself onto the dark red sand.  Around me were people at their huts, watching at a distance.  Nobody came over to greet me, the way they would have on my island.  They continued to milk cows and read on their porches, swinging quickly, nervously, as if they were prepared to ward off my approach.  Red sand was strewn with black porous rock, like the rock I had seen below the island in the water.

I did not see the Scuba Woman.  I took off my mask and walked through the tomato plants to one of the huts by the shore.  A stout woman with sparkly barrettes was tending her rosebush, clipping away in silence.  “Have you seen a woman with red hair come out of that tunnel?” I gestured at the hole on the beach.  The woman looked up briefly and shook her head.

I walked to the next house and the next, searching for the Scuba Woman. At every house, the person refused to speak with me and continued to work. Surprisingly, I grew as frustrated with the lack of speech as the sound of constant speech. Silence is different when you don’t talk underwater, when all you see are fish. It is somehow uncomfortable when you are silent with strangers. I had never understood that distinction before this moment on the desert island.

I walked out to the waters and howled.  They did not call me Dog Boy for nothing.  A crowd gathered around me in silence.  They just huddled there, pointing at me. Through the crowd came a familiar figure, the Scuba Woman, her hair streaming out behind her.  “It’s you!” I said excitedly.  “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”  She looked at me scornfully, but took my arm and led me out of the crowd.  “Please, please talk to me,” I said.  “I can’t take the silence anymore.”

The Scuba Woman frowned and opened her mouth. She closed it again.

“Fine, at least explain, what were you doing down there in that tunnel?  Why did you come to my island and why did you leave?”

“I don’t have to tell you,” the Scuba Woman said finally, croaking a little as she spoke.

“Why do you have to be so difficult? Talking is part of living, it’s exciting, it’s what makes life worthwhile.” I didn’t necessarily believe my own words, but I wanted so badly for her to speak.

We walked down the shore to a hut.  She brought me in and went to a bookshelf in the corner.  She came back with a map that she spread out at the kitchen table. The map showed the land under the sea, all pocked with craters like a moonscape.  On the map you could see the two islands, rising like red and green stars above the water.  She took her pen and made a black mark between the two.  “There,” she said, when I had no reaction.

“There what?  You can’t just make marks and expect me to know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t belong either,” she said.

“You, too?”

“That’s why I stay in the water. Because it’s better than life on either island. No matter where I go, I’m an outcast.”

I nodded, marveling at the strangeness of identifying with somebody else.

She gestured at the map. “Down there is the remedy.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“We’ll go tomorrow and you’ll see.”

That night I slept on her porch swing like a dog guarding her in the night.  In the morning, just as the sun bloomed on the horizon, she emerged from the house in her skins and her mask, holding two shovels, and beckoned me to follow her.  I padded after her, slipping and cutting myself between the black rocks.  We slipped into the opening in the sand dune where the tunnel began and swam down into the tunnel, through the lapilli and seething black crags, until we were once again in the depths of the ocean next to the tunnel. She began digging into the sand at the base of the tunnel, quickly, efficiently and I joined her, scooping sand from the ocean floor.

As she dug, I noticed that the oxygen was rapidly disappearing from our tanks.  She pulled out a tiny gilded peach-stone, and another gilded peach-stone. I shook my head — what good were these? She took one of the gilded stones and pushed it under her mask, eating it and then motioned that I should do the same.  She was beautiful, but I was uncertain. I carefully put it in my mouth and finding it impossible to chew, swallowed it whole.

I took her hands and tried to pull her to the surface.  I felt the light go out in my mind first, like the stone had robbed me of all possible words, made me a small child again.  Then the Scuba Woman pulled me to the surface. We were going up much faster than I thought advisable, but it was not causing me any pain. I look down and saw that I was slowly growing green and gold scales.  Scuba Woman, too, was covered with scales, hers were pink and scarlet. As we neared the surface of the water, I saw that she had developed gills and her lava-colored hair had vanished.   Where her face used to be, burst an enormous fish head.  The earth rumbled.  In the distance we saw that the island was erupting, that the incandescent rocks were glowing purple and magma rolled down the hill. The people were climbing into the water and swimming toward the other island as lava poured from the volcano.

I found I could not speak. Instead, I looked up at the clouds that were reflected in the still ocean waters and at the Scuba Woman who was now a giant fish.  The air around us was filled with rumbling, with the strange wild sounds of explosion and fire.  Scuba Woman swam ahead.  I followed her away from our islands.  We swam away a distance but we could still hear the people talking on my island, shouting at the parrots to come home and launching their hang-gliders to fly out over the mouth of the volcano.  The silent men and women and children swam from the red island quickly, absconding with dinghies and rowing quickly toward my home.

We could not go home again and so I followed that giant fish, her tail whipping around, scarlet and long, into the ocean.  I found I didn’t need to speak, did not want to speak once more- the sounds of the ocean waves, their rolling, wide, wild sighs, were enough.

Anita Felicelli’s writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Blackbird, Prick of the Spindle, India Currents, Publishing Perspectives and elsewhere.

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Kate Winslet
Samantha Memi

Kate Winslet breezes into the Blue Bar at The Berkeley as if she owns the place. And judging by the overjoyed reaction from the staff, she just might. The Wedgewood dream décor perfectly complements her sophisticated persona. She sits opposite me and smiles. The black liner on her upper lash lines and smudged dark brown on her lower reveal intelligent, honest eyes, and her lids in Avocado Chic, together with Cherry Glisten lips, create an effect that positively shouts celebrity. Her Emilio Pucci hair and Faith Connexion shoulder dress, convey confidence and elegance, while her accessories of H&H nail jewellery, Lulu Frost necklace, Tumi ear cuffs, and gold Tom Binns’ Charlotte Olympia, prove her stylish contemporary mood.

Demurely, she explains she doesn’t have long for the interview. I say, “Okay we’ll get into the questions.” She smiles, and I begin my interview.

MJ: Kate, in your films you often have misfortunes with water. In Titanic you were tit-high in a flooded boat, in Sense and Sensibility you were drenched from a storm, and as Ophelia, water became your death, although I have to say you floated beautifully.

KW: I am a good floater (laughs). Water is my second home. I was born a mermaid. My mother screamed at my father, “John! John! I’ve given birth to a fish.” Obviously I can’t remember any of this. I was just a little baby with gills, struggling to breathe, but my mother has recounted the event so many times I know it all by heart. My father, who was a little bit drunk, joked, “Well, it’s a good job we’ve got a fish pond then.” Which didn’t please my mother because, firstly she couldn’t understand why my father would joke at such a moment and was terrified that in her hour of need her husband had suddenly gone mad, and secondly because she had given birth to a mermaid.

My grandmother who was present  said she could remember a similar instance when a cousin had given birth to a dwarf whale. Unfortunately this cousin had her baby at a sea resort and the scent of sea air caused her offspring to yearn for the ocean depths. One day when the family were out for a picnic the baby leapt off the edge of the cliff, plummeted into the frothy waves below and was never seen again. Luckily, I had no such misfortune. My father was a keen swimmer and often took me sea bathing. I never had any desire to swim away and leave my family. Though I was sorely tempted by the advances of a baby bottlenose dolphin. As a child I had a very long nose, and apart from my arms, my skin colour, my lack of fins, and my much smaller brain and eyes, I suppose from certain angles I resembled a dolphin. Unfortunately our relationship never got anywhere because his parents disapproved of our being together, and when the time came for his pod to move on I was abandoned. It was my first heart break. Although, like many other people, before and since, I recovered to subsequently find love.

She smiles and the heartbreak in her life shows in her eyes.

I enjoyed school and it was there that I realised the worst of the problems of being a legless creature. I fell in love with ballet. More precisely I fell in love with Maria Callas, no, not Maria Callas, she’s a singer. Maria Constantiopoulis, no that wasn’t it. What was the name of the famous ballet dancer? Maria… Maria…

MJ: Maria Constantinople?

KW: No

MJ: Maria Cincinnati?

KW: No.

MJ: Maria Cornucopia?

KW: No. Now you’re just making up names.

MJ: I don’t know any ballet dancers.

KW: None?

MJ: Sorry.

KW: Well anyway, I set my heart on becoming a ballet dancer, but obviously this would be difficult if not impossible without legs. My parents were kind enough and, fortunately, sufficiently wealthy to send me to a highly regarded plastic surgeon. His first words when he met me were, “What a beautiful tail you have. Never have I seen such a tail on a woman.” I think he wanted to flatter me. But of course my love of Maria whatever-her-name-was drove me away from my tail and towards two legs. He agreed to operate and was obviously skilful. I believe my legs have turned out rather well. True, I have webbed feet which seek out puddles independently from the desire of the rest of my body. But apart from one or two quirks like that, my legs are almost indistinguishable from any other plumpish attractive female. And so I started ballet. You notice I said plumpish attractive female, and that was the problem. Ballet dancers should be lithe and trim, and I was a little on the wobbly side. And so, because it was doubtful I would ever make a prima donna, my ballet teacher, who recognised my talent for performing, led me towards acting. And that’s why I’m here today.

MJ: Thank you Kate. That was very interesting. I don’t think our readers will realise, how much you had to overcome as a child in order to be successful in the movie business. One of my favourite films of yours is Hideous Kinky. In light of what you have just revealed it must have been a dreadful film for you to make.

KW: Terrible. My DNA constantly cried out for H2O. The sand got into my eyes and hair, and my skin dried and became scabby. But at least I could bathe between takes. And of course Flower Remedies helped me through the ordeal.

MJ: Your marriage to Sam Mendes is often seen as being a synergistic relationship which helped both of your careers.

KW: When I first met Sam, he reminded me of my first love, the baby dolphin. He had the same beady eyes and scaly skin, but like many celebrity marriages the stresses of living in the public eye eventually took its toll, and because he was a scumbag philanderer, the marriage failed. It wasn’t my fault. I did everything I could.

MJ: You only have one Oscar, although you’ve been nominated on six occasions. Is that a blight on your career?

KW: I don’t feel I am always offered the correct parts. I would have made a wonderful lesbian in Go Fish, or an exciting baby carp in Wanda. But I’m still hopeful that the right part will come my way.

MJ: What will your next film be?

KW: I’m hoping it will be a remake of Splash. I feel I’m made for the role of Madison. I know I could bring a wealth of experience to the character.

She smiles. “I’m sorry, I have to go. Thank you so much for the delightful questions. I hope your readers enjoy my fishy tale.” Her Faith Connexion silk swishes as she leaves her chair. She grips her Alaïa clutch bag in her Ophelia-like fingers and in a flash of elegance she disappears back into the world of grimy London on her way to another make-believe story. It begins to rain. I’m sure she will be happy.

Samantha Memi lives in London. Her stories can be found at

Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

Why Prince Theo Had Plastic Surgery
Amber Dawn Hollinger

The following account is based on true events.

“Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me. . . Look, to be honest, I feel a bit grimy talking to a tabloid like this. But at the same time, it’s like who the eff cares: everything eventually ends up on Twitter anyway. Might as well get some cold cash for the inside scoop. . .

“Plus, I don’t want any big mouth douche bags spreading false rumors. The media networks are monsters. I mean really, did you see how much press coverage my cousin’s wedding got?! Sparkle and flash for weeks before and weeks after, non-stop. Jesus. . . If people are going to talk, and they always talk, I want them to hear it from the horse’s mouth—so to speak.

“I know, right! That’s nice of you to say. I am a good guy. I want love, like anyone. I want to find that special someone to share my life with, to grow old with. I want tender whispers and caresses and –. And anyway, I deserve it! I’m ready to take that leap. But, it just wasn’t happening for me.

“And, I mean, I tried. I put myself out there, I made myself available. I hung around watering holes, club swimming pools, hopped around garden parties. I sat on library stoops, reading, watching the world. Waiting. Waiting. . . for true love’s kiss. Ha! Like a fool. That kind of stuff wasn’t easy for me back then.

“Oh wow, no way. Absolutely no regrets about having it done. I mean, are you kidding? Honestly, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. . . Ahhh the before? Well, yes, that is a bit uncomfortable to discuss, but I can talk about it. I have already been through this with my shrink.

“Um. Unattractive. Just hideous, really. That is how I felt much of the time. And, inadequate – particularly physically. You’ve seen the rest of my family: their arses always on magazine covers and whatnot. It’s not that I was always comparing myself to others but, well, we all do that sometimes, right? Only natural to notice and want to fix your flaws.

“I am a Toad, obviously. So, I have this unfortunate predisposition to being short and wide. And I have this disproportionately large mouth that sort of takes over my face. But more than anything, any thing, what has always bothered my was my skin. Ugh.

“Dry, leathery, covered in bumps. You have no idea how rough it was living in that skin. Worse though, was the fact that people were constantly harassing me and bullying me because of it. You cannot imagine the torment I endured—all through school, all through university—the pointing, the obnoxious commentary. Even from children. Eew, how gross! Look at that thing, how weird! What awful, bumpy skin! Guess we all know who got the ugly genes!

“And I’m not talking about occasionally; this happened on a regular basis. It was all just too much.

“And of course as I aged, my skin got even bumpier and more wrinkled. It may seem ‘natural’ but it was quite unsightly. I remember thinking as soon as I can muster the nerve, I am going to have my skin done. So that’s what I did. . . I found a reputable specialist in Minneapolis, went for consultation, chose my new skin, and.. voilà.

“Well I had given it some thought. Especially having grown up seeing so many pictures and images of beings with this perfect, gorgeous skin.

“My skin is called Leopard, but it actually has some tiger-type stripes blended into the pattern. A unique design, right? But basically Leopard.

“After? Oh. My. God. Completely transformed! I finally feel beautiful and. . . desirable. I mean, I am still me, naturally. But it’s as though I have this fresher and wilder spirit, maybe a catlike spirit, hey. Strong and sexy, you know? I’m ready to find the person of my dreams, totally. But no longer do I have to wait for someone else to turn me into something magical.

“Yes, lots more invitations already. This skin is just so sleek and, let’s face it, attention-getting. I am always getting compliments and posing for pictures, so. . .”

Amber Dawn Hollinger’s work has appeared or is forthcoming with Rose Red Review, Foliate Oak, The Voices Project, Eternal Haunted Summer, Dead Flowers, Emerge Literary Journal, Burial Day Books, Embodied Effigies, The Soul Pitt, and others. Amber is working on new short stories and CNF pieces, and her poetic CNF chapbook “The Storyteller’s Sister” is forthcoming from ELJ Publications (2014).