Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Godiva Among the Lowly

I dream of strolling

down the aisles
of Lowe’s

daring anyone to speak
about propriety

dress codes.
It’s out of season

and I am cold.
So why am I here?

To boldly go?
To rescue the clothed

from rack and screw
do-overs of mediocrity?

But no one says a word.

Busy with carpet cleaners

they push past me
Beauty in the aisles of Lowe’s.


Take me as I am
which ain’t half bad.


next to shower doors
I pose.

But no one
turns to stare

though in Lowe’s
they are everywhere.

After doors close

I do not question
good of skin

just that it’s too damn cold
to leave ignored.

So I’ll come again
in spring

my hair grown like Godiva’s

naked gleaming
down streets of gold.

Beth Walker has published poems from her series of fairy tale characters in Yellow Medicine Review and in New Millennium Writings.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Macchu Pichu of Your Mind

The erotic tapestry lay unfurled in the corner,
stuck in time as if at absolute zero,
a frozen image seeking eyes, reactions,
as when pillagers invaded the holy land
and found it inexplicably deserted,
or the time that devil Euripides wrote about
topics so very taboo that actors
refused to speak the words, that sordid
tale of man, maid, gods, and sea serpents,
a crowded chariot to the underworld,
chaotic and cursed, now lost to history,
which is to say relax a bit, appreciate
the stillness, the silence, the temptation
of the woven tableau, and let me know
if you care to visit Peru anytime soon.

Gary Glauber is a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and former music journalist. His works have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. This past April, he took part in Found Poetry Review’s PoMoSco Project. He champions the underdog to the melodic rhythms of obscure power pop. His collection, Small Consolations (Aldrich Press) is available through Amazon, while a chapbook, Memory Marries Desire, is forthcoming momentarily from Finishing Line Press.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016


Today I took a long bicycle ride
On the back country roads and noted the
Great majority of meandering,
Migrating wooly caterpillars
Resembled miniature Marilyn
Monroes made, by forces of nature
Beyond their ken, bright blonde and slow to move
To avoid objects and events that
Surely will destroy them.
Nevertheless the Lepidoptera
Portend a meek and mild winter this year.

Ned Randle’s poems have appeared in a number of literary publications such as The Spoon River Quarterly, Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, The New Poet, Hamilton Stone Review, and Four Ties Literary Review. Running at Night—Collected Poems was released April 1, 2013 by Coffeetown Press. His chapbook, Prairie Shoutings and Other Poems, was published by The Spoon River Poetry Press, Bradley University.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

aesop’s blues

in the cold white light of
february mornings
in the shadows of obsolete monuments
where we no longer touch

this is the world defined by
indifference and rust

this is a handful of salt held out
to christ while he dies on the cross

a gift without meaning
or offered with nothing but malice

a man walking slowly across
the frozen river and
then gone

sends his love
which is worth nothing at all

John Sweet sends greetings from the rural wastelands of upstate New York. He is a firm believer in writing as catharsis, and in the need to continuously search for an unattainable and constantly evolving absolute truth. His latest collection is Approximate Wilderness (2016 Flutter Press).

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

I check the obits

every once in a while
to make sure I’m not dead.
It can be hard to tell
inside these four walls
in the dark,
hands folded over
an imperceptible heart.

Then there’s the absence of dreams.
Or more like the loss of belief
having one
would mean something.

Sandra Storey is the author of the poetry collection, Every State Has Its Own Light, a finalist for the May Swenson Award, published in 2014 by Word Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in New Millennium Writings, THEMA, and The New York Quarterly, among other journals. Storey was founder, editor and publisher of two bilingual neighborhood newspapers for 20 years. Now she is a monthly columnist for the Jamaica Plain Gazette. She has been a featured reader at many venues in Boston. She is a member of the collaborative workshop Jamaica Pond Poets and co-director of Chapter and Verse Literary Reading Series.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016



You will discover something you have lost today, though it is not your virginity, or your youth, or the great feeling of satisfaction you once had with your life. Those things are gone forever.


A victory fast approaches you. It is not your victory, but it is coming. Any second now.


The path you are on is thin and treacherous, but leads to many great rewards. If you should come across them, you will find that they distract only for a moment, before you notice that the path keeps going long after, thin and treacherous as ever. “But isn’t this my destination?” you will ask. “What could lie further down the path?” Perhaps greater rewards, perhaps greater obstacles, perhaps nothing but brown dirt brambled with memories of the treasures you have already decided to leave behind.


You are being watched. Who your voyeur is and who sent them and for what reason, I cannot say. The inevitable turn of events can only be harshened by your foreknowledge of the limitless mysteries. Don’t despair. In fact, do the opposite. Smile at all times as though you know a deep secret. Talk kindly to no-one in particular when you have just exited the shower and have yet to wipe the steam from the mirror’s shine. Stop at intervals when you are walking in public. Say “That’s a fine hat you’ve got on,” or “You shouldn’t eat while you work, James. That’s very unprofessional.” Then move on and live your life. Let them watch, the bastards.


The red woman appearing in all your dreams is a blessing in disguise. If there is no red woman, disregard this prophecy, and lock your doors when you go home tonight. She can only be in one place at a time.


Your next lover will appear to you in a reflection at the bottom of a well, somewhere in your hometown. The well is deep and dark, but you will climb down it, as if entranced by a song sung by the heart of the earth. No-one will ever see you again. Not even your lover, face touching yours in that blackness, perfumed of sweat and electricity. Yes, you will say, yes.


I see disaster in your future. A great parting of ways, a killing of lambs, a disturbance of prosperity. You will fall into metaphysical poverty. Three thousand birds will fly into the sky screaming.  There is no rhyme or reason as to why this must happen to you. Only that you have been told that you are unfortunate, and now will go out into the world and break your back ensuring that it is so.


Your future is blurry, but here are the signs: a ship’s wheel, a blue stone, skeins of undyed yarn, the laughter of poor children, a book with no cover, the square iris of a goat, several wild magnolias that have fallen to the earth, your mother’s face from when you were a child, telling you to come back. It does not matter what these mean. Close your eyes and think instead of all the things in the present that you still do not understand.


You will live a long life, but not a happy one. I’m sorry.


Someone close to you will soon tell you something of great importance. You will find this news to be unsurprising, or uninspired, or simply stupid. You will go home after and eat a mediocre dinner. You’ll spend some time on the internet or watching a show you don’t really enjoy but have grown accustomed to seeing. That night you will feel haunted by a thing you cannot name and have trouble sleeping. A voice whispers: “You’re a waste.” It’s your voice. You do this every night. In the morning, you will have completely forgotten what it was that was supposed to be so important.


Your lucky numbers are: seven, fourteen, and two. Your lucky colors are: white, burnt sienna, and aquamarine. Your lucky days are: not today. Your lucky animal is: the cat which keeps appearing in your dreams. Your lucky people are: the next person in line at the grocery check-out, the president of the 52nd richest country in the world, and one of the men who watches you through binoculars. Your lucky dream is: you standing in a gilded temple asking what it means to be so lucky. The cat replies, saying the words “seven, fourteen, and two,” in a voice that sounds suspiciously like your father’s. It then twirls its rotor blades and disappears up through the ceiling.


It is not yet the appointed time for you to discover the truth. You must call the secretary and ask at least five working days in advance. She will put you on hold and play that elevator music that you hate. Smash the phone into the table if you must, but the appointed time comes only once. It is not always worth it.


You will die unexpectedly, in a country far from your home. The people there are kindly and the weather is fine. Lovers kiss in the alleyways and you will hear the sweet singing of a beautiful woman descending from on high. It will be a sunny day, and the sky will be a bright blue like nothing you’ll ever see again.


A mystery will soon present itself to you. You are not smart enough to solve it. Give up.


In a little while, you will have a chance encounter with someone you have not seen for a very long time. You will wave your hand and they will turn their head away as if they have not seen you. You must pretend to scratch your head, or check your phone, or wave to someone behind them. Later on, you will complain about the event on social media, in a general way without mentioning any names, and they will see the post and “like” it.


A person you love will soon break your heart. You will be inconsolable with grief. The days will pass like the long strides of windswept dust over the wasteland. All hours will become eternities in which you will invent a hundred thousand worlds: living and dying and being reborn. Lives in which the past becomes hot and fusible, in which the shattered glass picks itself up in a whorl and recreates its first shape, piece by silvery piece. One day, your suffering will become unbearable and you will smash your fist against a mirror and open your eyes to find, with surprise, the eyes of your new love peering back at you, already having cut you and spilled your blood.


The end of the world will be bright and pitiless. You will watch only for a moment, and then the boiler will whistle. Go back inside and make your coffee, it will be the best you’ve ever had.


You have mistaken an enemy for a friend and a friend for an enemy. They are twins, brothers, and neither will tell you which twin they are. From time to time, you will catch them looking at one another with terrified eyes. They don’t know either, you will think. And they don’t.


In the near future, you will meet a tall, dark stranger. He will be accompanied by a tall, white stranger. Standing in between them will be a stranger who is not tall, nor dark, nor white, and in fact will have no skin at all: purple veins exposed and lidless eyes gazing perpetually forward. “This is a political critique,” the dark stranger will say. “No, it isn’t,” the white stranger will say soon after.


One day, you will, by your powers alone, stare into the future. The future will stare back.

Reno Evangelista lives in Manila, in the Philippines. His work has been published or is to be published in Esquire Philippines, Fast Food Fiction Delivery, and the New Voices anthology of fiction.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Summer House
Christian Holt

It had been a year of comparison. At Christmas, she wanted to make sure the kids got as many presents as the year before. That their grades were just as good. Now, with the whole Glasser family assembled at the Summer House, Whitney wanted to make sure her kids still caught fireflies after dinner—if she could, she would pluck the little insects from the grass herself, open her hands, and watch as once again her children’s faces broke into smiles of wonder. That was the magic of the Summer House.

But now her brother Kevin was missing and ruining everything.

“Could the ghosts have taken him?” Sam asked, his voice brimming with ghoulish curiosity.

“No, stupid, our ghosts don’t work that way. They’re too boring to kidnap people,” Jane said, not looking up from her fashion magazine.

Sam and Jane were sitting on the porch. Sam’s lingering baby-fat cheeks were lit by the screen while Jane, with her headphones and her too-young-for-it bikini, lay in one of the peeling green deck chairs next to him. She was imitating starlets she’d seen on a tourism ad for Los Angeles her father had mailed her—sunbathing: sunglasses and tanning oil on full display. That’s where Allan was living, where the kids would be flying after the week on the Cape.

“Jane, don’t call your brother ‘stupid.’ And I’m sure your uncle Kevin is just out in town,” Whitney said. The closest town, Orleans, was nothing more than a village. But as a child, just shy of Sam’s age, Whitney had always felt the sleepy place held the entire universe: a candy store, the lighthouse bar strewn with peanut shells that snapped when you stepped on them, and, of course, the row of storefronts threaded with little flags, each flapping as if they were waving to her in their own language. In the thirty plus years Whitney had been visiting the Cape—first as a child and then with her own children—there had never been a need to go further. She had only gone further up once, two years ago, when Sam had begged to see the maritime museum.

Sam used to be obsessed with the dead. He’d follow the spirits throughout every room—from the ‘50s style kitchen to the large glass-paneled dining room to the family room and wing of bedrooms—trying to figure out their source until he’d bump his head into a wall, the little ghost detective so consumed by his work that he didn’t watch where he was going. He was such a precocious child that Whitney indulged him by getting him a library card a few years ago. This was back when the family had the house in Morristown and he’d surprise them at the dinner table sometimes, offering gems like: “In Egypt, they used to serve the recently deceased food and talk to them as if they could talk back.” He was full of macabre trivia like that. No one much felt like eating meatloaf that night. Her ex-husband, Allan, had been hard on him, wondering what kind of kid talked like that. Allan blamed the ghosts too, but when he said the ghosts, he really meant Whitney’s family.

“Is that why he took his toilet kit?” Sam asked.  He was playing on his video game handheld, but routinely surprised her by saying something that demonstrated he was particularly observant. Her little multi-tasker. His favorite game involved navigating a pyramid full of booby traps, the same death knells playing every time he died until she asked him, Dear, can you please put it on mute?

“He did?” Whitney asked. Sam had been forced to bunk with Kevin in the back bunk room where Sam reported his uncle snored like a broken boat engine.

“If he can leave early, can we?” Jane asked, with that dagger twisting of the last vowel—at fourteen, she had newly mastered the trick. She had whined about coming, whined when Whitney could no longer afford figure skating lessons—Jane didn’t even like skating, just liked that her revealing outfits freaked Whitney out—and whined when Sam got to ride shotgun the entire drive up even though Sam was the one who got carsick and Jane spent the entire ride asleep.

“No, Jane, this is a family vacation. I’m sure Kevin will be back soon. It’s lobster dinner night. Everyone loves lobster dinner night.”

Jane chortled.

Whitney stood as if struck. It wasn’t the expression on her daughter’s face, but the tone of dismissiveness that reminded Whitney of the marketing firm, of asking the sales team to quiet down and then seeing their barely contained smiles when they said sure. “I’m going to go see what grandma is up to,” Whitney said.

It was a cloudy, New England summer day, and so thick with humidity that the world felt stuck in itself. Should she tell her daughter to put on some clothes, that Whitney could clearly see the little blue veins on Jane’s not-tanning-whatsoever skin? That her matchstick limbs wouldn’t likely resemble a starlet’s until she’d hit puberty, a subject they’d talked about only very recently? No. Whitney’s approach was the opposite of Allan’s. She encouraged, allowed, experimented. Within reason, of course, and whatever she could afford on an associate marketer’s salary. Some experiments failed—the “no bedtime” experiment had lasted 48 hours and resulted in a phone call from Sam’s 5th grade teacher saying the poor kid was falling asleep in class—but the kids respected her for trying, for really making this family her priority. Whitney’s mother told her she should be dating, but no, haha, she was having too much fun being a parent.

Inside was her brother Don sitting on the couch, his hairy legs like two pine branches plopped on the coffee table. On the other couch sat a ghost version of her mother and a ghost version of her father. Both looked displeased. Their gaze wasn’t on Don, but off to the right to some unseen audience.

“We just don’t understand how you could do such a thing,” said her ghost mother. Like all of the ghosts, she was pale and seemed to blur around the edges like an unfocused photograph.

Whitney felt a flare of memory but held back in responding—what was the point? The Glasser family’s ghosts were not spirits of the dead—both of her parents were alive, her father likely sitting in his chair watching TV in the den and her mother in the kitchen, burning lunch—no, the Glasser clan was haunted by recitals of past events. The ghosts were harmless, incapable of lifting so much as a penny. Other houses on the sound were infested by termites or dry rot but the Glasser Summer House had ghosts.

“This isn’t how we raised you,” said the ghost father.

“How are we on lunch?” Whitney asked Don. Don was Whitney’s older brother, serious in all of the ways Whitney was not. Because she respected her kids, Whitney admitted to them that Don was a bit of a stick in the mud. She couldn’t have hidden that if she tried, no sir! So why not admit it and establish that sense that, hey, just because your mom is an adult, doesn’t mean she can’t laugh at her family too?

Still, Don worked in Philadelphia for a mutual fund and that allowed him certain things that Whitney admired. That new Norditrack Home Exercise Regimen. Juice cleanses. Private school. On Facebook, his wife Alice posted photos of their family trips from all over the world. “Greetings from Vail!” read one post, complete with the family of three posing with goofy faces. “Happy New Year from Rome!” was another, and Whitney’s mother called her and gushed about all of the things the Don Glassers were doing and how much fun it must be. But Whitney always laughed and said Oh but you should see the fun we are having! They weren’t going to Europe, sure, there was the mortgage to pay and her divorce attorney’s fees. But they went to the shore last Memorial Day and Sam won some green fuzzy dice they keep in the family car. So in a small way, they always take the fun with them.

“Ma says to help ourselves,” her brother said, not looking up from his book. It was a book on the stock market, which didn’t really seem fair since Don knew that Whitney couldn’t play the stock market since the magazine closed. There had been a fight last year when she had told Don to stop giving her stock tips at the dinner table.

“Any idea where Kevin is?” Whitney asked.

“Think of how this is impacting the kids,” said her ghost father. Whitney flinched.

“With any luck, driving into the ocean,” Don replied. Don likely thought of Kevin’s absence as a blessing, a way for him to make more rude jokes no one would comment on. No one to challenge him for his claim on the last cob of corn.

The ghost parents disappeared. The ghosts didn’t have a schedule, they’d just meander into their spiritual plane like walking into another room. Lately, Whitney had found the front den, the back bedrooms, the covered porches of the old Glasser family summer home to be overcrowded with ghosts of family memories. It was as if the afterlife had no more room and had simply left the Glasser clan to their own devices in a yellow ranch house with a bent sundial and a back bathroom that always flooded.


Whitney found her (living) mother in the kitchen.

“Any sign of Kevin?” her mother asked. She leaned on the chrome-accented kitchen counter. Whitney remembered years when her mother would sit on the counter, kick off her shoes. Now she leaned against it when her cane wasn’t nearby.

“No,” Whitney said. “The kids say he took his toilet kit.”

“Where would he go?” her mother asked. As a child, it was Whitney’s mother who had instilled the magic of the place in her, the sense that all of these people here were parts of a great whole, a blanket you wove together as a family. That when any person was missing, there was a hole that left you cold.

“Who cares?” Don said, entering the kitchen with a glass of brown liquid in his hand.

Whitney held her tongue and instead tried to meet her mother’s gaze. The two Glasser women exchanged a sympathetic look. “I just want to make sure he’s okay,” her mother said. “The roads are narrow and everyone out here drives like a madman.”

“He’s fine, Mom. He’s doing this for attention. This is like the summer of ‘72 all over again,” Don said, and took a long sip from what was Whitney thought was likely whiskey. In the summer of ‘72, Kevin, not more than eight, had hidden for hours during a family game of hide and seek. He had hidden so well—in a suitcase in the main bedroom—that the police had been called. Whitney’s mother was hysterical. The suggestion of peril always loomed over Kevin—he was frequently broke and on the brink of eviction, disappeared for months at a time, survived two car crashes, and yet always made it out okay, as if he was bathed in oil and the world could not grip him fully. Whitney knew that someday Don, who always found life’s to be one tough sled, would write off his brother and be wrong and Kevin wouldn’t be okay. Then the family would never be whole again.

“How are we doing on dinner?” Whitney asked, hoping to change the subject.

Her mother, still not turning from the window, mentioned that someone needed to pick up the lobster and crab. Lobster had been a tradition for generations, but they’d added crab when Don was a child because he had an allergy. Even at birth, Don had been difficult.

Whitney volunteered. She knew that was what they wanted her to do and she was happy to do it, the good daughter, haha, but no it was because she really liked seeing her family relax. She wanted her mother to sit down, talk to Sam about his newfound interest in the Civil War (he’d moved on from the dead, thankfully). And Jane could use some perspective on what it was like to be alive when her mother was Jane’s age. They didn’t have MallRun on their phones or 3-D nail polish parties. Whitney hadn’t had her own opportunity to bond with her grandmother, Mitsy, on account of her stepping in front of the 4:50 to Plymouth in 1948. Whitney would see Mitsy around the house occasionally, always exiting rooms and the only time she ever spoke was to declare loudly “I’m going into town, if anyone needs anything” which were her last words, as far as anyone in the family knew. Still, by all accounts, a sweet woman.

“Ask in town if anyone has seen Kevin,” her mother asked. Whitney hoped she wouldn’t just wait by the kitchen window, looking out at the seashell driveway in case he returned. She hoped that her mother would go outside, sit down, and be the kind of grandmother one day Whitney would be.


Maybe someday her kids would look back and think, “Hey, not everyone got to know their great grandfather’s jokes. Or were able to see what games they played during a rainy summer in 1967!”

But no. Last summer, Sam had questions about some of the words that Great Da had been using, and some of them Whitney had to Google and find that yes, they were indeed racial slurs.

Whitney, during her teenage years, had tried to ask the ghosts questions, seeing if this could trigger different memories. But the ghosts were not intelligent entities, but a bunch of home movies put on repeat. This is likely why Sam stopped asking about the apparitions. They could be boring to a ten year-old.

She found Don’s son, whom the family referred to as Junior Don, DJ, or JD, sitting in the sunroom. When he saw her approach, he shuffled the contents of his book. She saw that he folded a magazine underneath the seat cushion.

“I won’t tell,” she said.

Junior Don’s expression was hidden by the dusted clouds of sunlight. She could tell he was trying to read her ability to be a snitch. “I was just taking a break.”

The poor kid had been studying for a standardized test all week. He was only a sophomore, but Don had related a litany of acronyms he was studying for—APs, SATs, ACTs, SAT IIs—that when their mother had asked, benignly, if Don could cut the kid a break and have him enjoy his vacation, Don had exploded that this was prime season for his son’s obligations—training for football, summer program applications, testing—that if they had only listened to him, they would have skipped the annual trip this year, thank you very much, and it was only Whitney’s “nagging” that got them there in the first place. Then the family had sung Whitney’s mother a happy birthday.

“Have you heard anything from your uncle?” she asked Junior Don.

He shook his head. “But Cousin Jack came through a bit then went off somewhere.”

She nodded. Cousin Jack had drowned in the bay twenty years prior. His spirit could usually be seen on the porches, reciting Doors song lyrics and smoking ethereal cigarettes.

But now that she had completed the task she wanted, she lingered. Poor Junior Don hadn’t had a break all week. A tug in her mind came from when her brother had embarrassed her at her twenty-ninth birthday when he had wondered aloud how she would finish journalism school with two kids. She had showed him, of course, but why did she think of this memory now?

“Want to take Sam into town and pick up dinner?” she asked.

“Would Dad let me?”

She threw him the keys. “He will if you’re already gone,” she said.

After the boy left, she allowed herself a moment to rub her face and take stock. Yes, she had one missing brother. One high strung brother. A father somewhere in the back room watching TV, likely slowly dying while robbing his family of the little quality time with him that remained. But they were together at the family summer house, making memories. They’d likely find these memories roaming around the house, like untied kites, in a few years. Then they’d laugh and say, “Hey remember when?”


Whitney found that Jane had given up on tanning. Outside on the grass, a scene from an old family volleyball game was playing itself out. The ghosts kept hitting an invisible ball, setting it up for a spike and then looking to see if it would come down. It never did, and the scene would begin again.

She’d give Jane this: even her silly habits didn’t last for too long. The stick-on jewelry phase lasted a few weeks. The wish to be called “Aurora” only a month. Mrs. Johnson and the school nurse both said ADHD. But Whitney had put her foot down and said that was over-diagnosed and this family was loving enough to take care of her.

Jane’s summer reading books remained pristine on her nightstand, and she was instead working on a sailboat jigsaw puzzle next to the form of two ethereal children who placed blurry pieces next to Jane’s real one.

“I thought that puzzle was missing some pieces,” Whitney said.

“Well, there’s not a lot of other things to do here,” Jane said.

Whitney frowned. “Why don’t you get some of that summer reading done?” Whitney asked.

One of the children seemed to being having similar difficulties with his ethereal puzzle. She recognized him as Danny Harrison, Helen’s kid. When was the last time Helen had been up here? 1998 when Helen was seeing that tennis pro from San Diego? Was that before or after her first marriage?

“I’m not that bored,” Jane said.

“Licking birds’ bones, you can see your fortune,” said Danny to an unseen audience. Danny would later make a killing in the financial market before, of course, he was indicted for conspiracy and fraud. He was now in a white collar prison somewhere in Nevada. Sometimes, he called on Whitney’s birthday, which was always nice, even if sometimes he asked her to contact women he knew on the outside who he wanted to visit him.

Whitney wished her eldest had taken after her. But Jane had shown no interest in books and so graduate school—though Whitney never forced her own dreams on her children—was probably not a realistic goal. Jane’s grades were never even promising. Whitney hoped Jane wouldn’t one day have to humor CFOs half her age and worry about quarterly numbers.

Before the divorce, Allan had said Jane would find her place, she’d grow into it. Instead, Jane’s grades had plummeted further while her social life crowded out everything else. After a shouting match, Whitney confiscated her cell phone this week. She didn’t want to be one of those mothers, but she had to put her foot down at some point.


Whitney tried to put on a happy face as the sun began to bleed into pastels and there was still no sign of Kevin. Even her mother had given up keeping vigil and settled into cooking. There was nothing to be done. The dinner that Whitney had looked forward to all year would be with one empty seat, one fewer smile and one less person there to create a memory. An unfinished puzzle, Whitney thought, and it occurred to her she might as well throw out that jigsaw puzzle so Jane really would have nothing better to do tomorrow than read.

So the family ate, sans Kevin. By this time, the light had nearly faded, the cicadas had turned up their volume and everyone sat famished. The table vibrated with conversation and the sounds of cracking lobster claws. Even though Alice, Don’s wife, was going on about that terrible ski accident last winter (a story they had heard at least three times), and Kevin was still missing—even Don said he’d go looking for him after dinner with a flashlight if that would help—and her mother was looking at the kitchen expecting him to show up—it was still a family dinner, just like she’d imagined when she suggested this on the phone a few months ago. Oh, they’d said they were busy this summer, that they had already traveled so much (this was from Don), that they wanted to go to summer camp (Jane). But now that they were here, Whitney could feel the old electricity, the feeling from before Allan left, before the newspaper closed, before she took the godforsaken marketing job which paid the bills but only barely, and before Jane tuned her out. Now here Jane was, wearing a nice summer dress and passing the garlic bread. Good girl.

“Whitney!” her father said. She had not realized she was being addressed. He stood in the doorway, his nantucket red pants already stained with butter and sweet corn. He motioned for her to follow. Whitney hesitated to leave her mother to clear the plates, which she knew her mother would do, but it was rare to get an opportunity to talk to her father without the distraction of the television.

“Still a fan of Bloody Marys?” he asked, throwing ice into a long-ago-clouded glass.

She said yes. Of course. She didn’t like to drink in front of the kids; Allan would get short with his son when Sam would follow him around like a puppy after Allan got home from work. The kid just wanted his father to share in his accomplishments! Would it have been so hard to pause making yourself a martini and just say, “Good job, sport, that’s a bang-up job you did beating Call of Duty 4, I bet not every eight year old could beat it!” But no.

“That’s my girl,” her father said, passing her the drink. She let herself indulge in a sip. The drink tasted spicy and heavy on the vodka. Her father bought vodka in cases. The only unkind word he had said all weekend was to her son when he had accidentally dropped a handle as he unloaded the car. That had been a small bump though, and her father was not a stern person, well, not since the stroke. Old grandpa would have been sour all day, she wanted to tell Sam. He used to brood for days and curse if he didn’t have silence while he read his paper. If you went out during a certain time of early evening by the front steps, you could see that old grandpa swear for a full five minutes because of a broken screen door. But now new grandpa is much nicer, don’t you think? She couldn’t say that to Sam, or to anyone, but she kept that knowledge in a secret place, like the lingerie she’d bought for her and Allan’s tenth anniversary. Like the lingerie, she’d likely forget it until it was beyond the point.

“You seem okay with Kevin’s disappearance,” Whitney said.

Her father didn’t answer at first, instead leading her down the hall and out the side door. The granite patio here had never been finished so it just looked like a gathering of stones.

A sunset greeted them; Whitney was tempted to go get the kids and take photos. But her father stirred his glass as if trying to sort through secrets buried at its bottom.

“He’s a grown man,” he said.

“But it’s really rude to mom. It’s her birthday week.”

“So? She’s had eighty of them. She’ll get over it.”

“Dad…” she said. He took a sip from his drink. His eyes fell to his boat shoes. She knew that look. When Milky, her cat, had gone missing one day when she was twelve, her father had that look. Turned out, he had run it over and was trying to find a replacement for her but the shelter was closed on weekends.

“Dad, what do you know?”

“Me? Nothing. Why would you think I knew anything?” His face cracked into a lip-pressed smile.

“Where’s Kevin, Dad?”

The smile fell. He rubbed his eyes and let out a long, haggard breath. Finally he opened his hands as if unveiling a magic trick. “With a woman.”

Whitney rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Why the big secret?”

“She was just driving up to Portland and was only stopping in for a day or two. Kevin isn’t getting any younger, figured I’d help him out.”

“There’s always a woman.”

Her father took a long sip of his drink. “He knows how you and your brother view him. Can’t say I blame him for leaving quietly,” he said.

“Dad, this is family. This is more important.”

“Whitney, listen to yourself. This is important to you. This week was important to you. Most of us have other lives to lead.”

Whitney thought that maybe her father was kidding, but no, he was implying that she, Whitney, did not have a life outside this family. “Dad, I was an editor for years at a prestigious publication and then Allan—”

“I don’t want to go into it. Forget I brought it up.”

“No no, Dad…”

“Don’t tell your mother,” her father said, the bite making him sound more like his pre-stroke self. “She’s in hysterics about ‘having a perfect family gathering’ all the time.” He shook his head. “There’s no such thing. How could you go through this house and not see that?” Whitney thought her father was seeing something through the walls—ghosts of past family fights, of shouting matches and bitter silences. But Whitney saw nothing but the window into the living room with its perfect shutters and white doiled drapes.

“But it’s worth trying,” Whitney said, her grin as broad as the bay.

“If you say so.”

“You don’t think we’re worth it?”

He let out a long breath that he seemed to have been holding for years, since she was a child and first asked her father if he was proud of her. “I think you don’t know there are other things that are.”


After the sunset, her father retired to his den. Whitney could tell by the classic rock blaring in the kitchen that Don was doing the dishes, and the relative silence meant that her mother and Alice had taken Jane, Sam, and DJ to get ice cream—another Glasser family tradition. So Whitney wandered around the halls—back by the back bunk rooms where she and Jane shared one room and Kevin and Sam another—through the glass-paneled dining room, by the blue couches of the living room, to the empty kitchen, the porches, to the east wing bedrooms and finally to the top of the stairs to the basement where the sounds of the TV announced that her father was back in his den.

She was looking for ghosts, but their haunting schedules remained elusive to her. Sometimes it was awkward sitting in the living room, trying to play a board game while you watched a ghost version of your mother break down crying because her grandfather didn’t want her marrying a papist. Late at night, you could get spooked when you’d wander into Cousin Jack trying to eat food from the fridge from twenty years ago. More than once, she’d heard the ghosts from different eras would argue with each other without comprehending what the others were saying, like a movie with two different soundtracks. Sometimes they would link up in surprising ways, but most of the time it was incomprehensible rabble.

Now, she wanted the company. Even that was better than right now, with the house’s unnatural hollow cold.


After the kids had returned from ice cream, their lips colored green and milky white, the family gathered in the living room. They were able to rouse her father too, as even he couldn’t resist the pull of the family sing along. The afternoon clouds had come in, their moist embrace seeping into everything. They put on sweaters. Jane and Sam sat on either side of Whitney on the couch, their legs tucked into themselves. For once, the annual fire in the fireplace was not met with protests.

Whitney’s father and Don took turns trying to start up the ancient furnace. Pilot light wouldn’t ignite, apparently. Junior Don brought blankets down from the cedar closets. Don brought in chairs for Alice and himself while her mother passed out the music sheets. Whitney had never been much of a singer, but she always enjoyed these moments. The entire family was there. It reminded her of the last number of a Christmas special, when the entire cast and crew finally gathered on stage. Here was mom, and there was mom of ‘67. Even Kevin was here. He still hadn’t returned, but there was a version of him here as if to fill in the gap—and even wearing the same shirt! Perfect. Whitney counted four or five different versions of herself there in the crowd— seated on couches and on the floor, standing and with different haircuts and clothing styles. But despite all the different people, and versions of people, their voices blended together into one. Of course, she never could tell which of those times she’d been merely lip syncing, trying to pass. But here, now, she sang and she found it matched with the rest of the chorus, a song they’d been beating the walls with since forever.

There were the old standards: “American Pie,” which usually her father started and then everyone joined in; then “Take Me Home, Country Roads” where they replaced “West Virginia” with “Our Summer House;” and “Going on a Bear Hunt” which, thanks to the ghosts, still featured Kevin’s jumping form and the reactions of her children, in their younger forms, laughing.

They sang for what felt like hours. Feverish and ecstatic and then, during the finale, slow and wistful.

There were summers past when the fire would blaze and all of the windows would be flung open, casting light and mirth across the sound. On these hot nights, the glasses that held their spiked lemonade and Bloody Marys sweated as generously as the rest of the family. But not this year. A breeze had whipped itself up into a frenzy. Sam had fallen asleep on the couch. Jane was working on a bracelet, one end of string tied to her big toe while she looped the strings back and forth. DJ was trying to ignite interest in a board game. Whitney said she’d be back in a second and went outside to watch the buoys rock with the wind.

“It’s not as bad as all that,” came a voice.

Her breath caught. She recognized the voice, her voice. Whitney saw herself, two years younger, pacing the porch on a cell phone. She wanted to reach out and grab it from her, hang up the phone just a few seconds earlier. Then, Whitney would unwind time further so that she would not meet him for that first drink, not attend that conference and spy him across the table, not fall out of love with Allan, not break up her family.

“They’ll like you,” the ghost said. “I’m crazy about you.” There was a pause that felt even longer, seeing it again. The scene’s volume was not loud enough to hear the phone’s reply.

From where she stood, the ghost of Allan emerged. She shivered as he formed, passed through her and, for a moment, occupied the same space. Then he moved towards the ghost of Whitney. “Who are you talking to?” he said.

She knew what happened next.

So Whitney went back into the house and shut the door. With the wind, she decided, this year the windows had to be closed. She shut them all, putting her weight into the ancient pulley systems and hearing the wood scream on its hinges. But they were sturdy windows, tight. They could protect this family.

Jane’s eyes caught her mother’s in alarm. Did Jane know? It had been a hard year, one full of secrets and half-truths. The stare her daughter gave her now made Whitney certain she had seen through it all.

Whitney asked what the board game was and DJ said it looked like no one was interested.

“Oh but we’ll play, won’t we, Jane?” Whitney asked. She could not hear their responses over the blood in her own ears, the constant drum of her heartbeat. The conversation outside was left out there, where hopefully the ghosts would freeze or be blown away by the wind. They just needed to stop haunting her.

Don put another log on the fire. Whitney’s mother called it a night. Her father followed shortly after. The rest settled into Monopoly. The game ended when they began to stop trading properties, accepting their losses to Alice, who had managed to build hotels early in the game.

The game over, Whitney watched her family—corporeal, real—settle in for the night. Whitney felt Sam began to lean into her, wrapped in a blanket and already nodding off. The ghosts, too, began to shuffle off towards their eternal beds. It was over not with a final shout but rather a small dimming, like the fire going down. She made another attempt at starting up the furnace, but no matter how many times she turned the wheel or clicked the pilot light, the contraption failed to start. She fell asleep, aware of a fuzziness to the air, a sense something had reached a boiling point and could not, however hard she tried, be made to settle again.


Whitney didn’t remember falling asleep on the living room couch. She still felt tethered by the cobwebs of dreams. How strange, that memories from last night, Great Da’s words, seemed to echo and then dissipate. She had no feel for the weight of her feet as she walked down the hallway to the dining room. It was like Christmas morning when she was a child; she had never felt so free. The marketing job seemed far away. Jane’s teacher’s stern voicemails and even the troubles with Kevin—what did it matter? There was a warmth here in this house, and it could sustain her.

There was the furnace room and she turned, involuntarily, as if she were on a track, toward the bedrooms. That’s when she saw herself in the very living room she’d left. Strange. She was still under the blanket, but it did not rise and fall. How could she be there if she was walking about?

There was a word for this: Death. But now that she was embodying it, the word seemed somehow lacking. She didn’t feel despair or even a sense of finality. Whatever gave her the capacity to feel angry or sad—that too had been taken from her. But it didn’t feel like a robbery—merely misplacing something you don’t miss, like an errant sock.

With the realization came the instinctual movement toward the back bedrooms, to her children.

“Kids, it’s time for breakfast,” she said. But they did not stir. “Get up, sleepyheads.”

Upon entering the room, Whitney found she couldn’t move any further from the spot she stood. Sam’s face was mere feet from her hand. Jane’s unkempt bed stood just in the corner of her eye. She repeated her commands. They were the only words she could speak, but they did not shake her children awake or open the window to let them breathe.

Christian Holt is currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin’s MFA program in fiction. His work has appeared or is upcoming in Gargoyle, 7X7, The Bold Italic, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Huffington Post.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Barbie’s Occupation

Problems cannot be solved
at the same level of awareness
that created them.

—Albert Einstein


I am sitting in a cold parking garage, in my Fiat waiting for her to warm.  I am on my way home from the university where I teach writing, certain of my techniques in the classroom, from where I have just asked my students to describe in writing a reproduction of my old Barbie doll next to a reproduction of my old Midge.  Such difference in their looks:  Barbie’s face severe with sharp features, thoughtful, even somber, her hair taut in a soft yellow ponytail.  Midge has freckles, almost cherubic cheeks, auburn hair in a flip.  Subtract Midge’s freckles and she might look more like Barbie, but she is younger, kinder maybe, more open.  Barbie’s eyes look beyond me.  She is cool.  She is professional.  She is a woman to be reckoned with.  She is not the slim victim.  She is self-determined.  Not so Midge who looks ready and eager to submit, to be the best friend, not the “someone”.   Embedded in us in contemporary times—what beauty means to power.  If Barbie and Midge were each sitting in a high school cafeteria today and I walked in as a girl new to the environment, I would never sit next to Barbie.

But forget all that.  How much these figures matter to me or to my psyche now that I know so clearly that the toy, the play is the training for adult life.  Forget what I know because I remember what I felt when my first Barbie came to me in a large cardboard box from Macy’s New York.

My mother then worked nine to five, a professional woman and in lieu of lunch one day she went to Macy’s and bought me so much of Barbie and her needs—her professional clothing mostly: straight gray skirts, sweaters, sleeveless blouses, and her play dresses that were more frilly, that did not seem to fit her features as well, and her entertaining lounge wear.  It did not strike me at the time, but my mother bought me Barbie and every outfit that my mother herself might have worn.  This was before Midge was crafted.  It was just Barbie.  Oh, and Ken, but I didn’t get him right away.  He was not one of my mother’s first choices.  I got Barbie.

My mother told me of her largess days before the large box arrived, delivered by a man in brown clothes.  Filled with longing, I waited every minute of the five days for it to arrive.  The box, when it appeared, was half my size.  I was nine.  I dug through it to the bottom, pulling out my bounty.  It was filled with a large gift set:  Barbie and her clothes and more boxes of clothes, each in another box that explained through images a life imagined.  I can still smell the plastic of her body, feel the quality in her clothing, and the coolness of her skin.  I loved all she was.

When I got my first Midge, I was a year or two older.  We were staying in a house in Monticello, New York where my parents rented for a summer an old house on a street just behind Main.  For the first time in a long time my mother was one of those “stay-at-homers” that I longed for and instead of an apartment, we were in a house, a real house, though it was filled with old furniture that didn’t belong to us and we never used the downstairs.  Too dark.  Too dirty.

I loved Midge’s look.  It was, in ways I did not understand then, comforting.  Midge came in a rectangular box, so perfectly fitted to her that it could have been a coffin.  She wore Barbie’s clothes for months.

Back then I didn’t think at all of the unlikely possibility of their friendship.  How one would surely hang with a different crowd, just because.  But I do now.

We worry that the matter of Barbie is only in the unrealistic crafting of her body.  But what of her loves?  Her friendships?  Why don’t we worry for her soul?

I put my Fiat in reverse to back out of the space in the parking garage, my Fiat, small enough for one, small enough that no one can expect me to share the space.  I back out of the space to head home to the cul-de-sac where my large life fits even if I do not.

As the Fiat moves, I notice there is a white minivan in the next space, a minivan like the one I traded in for the Fiat, a minivan, with a bumper sticker with the image of Barbie, not the one I had as a child, but one more contemporary, with a larger forehead and a big toothy smile, covered in pink lipstick.

For a brief moment, my impulse is to laugh at the irony.  Instead, I remember how much like Barbie I still want to be.


Caren was a friend before she moved into our small neighborhood.  It may seem like a small thing, but when she and I first met, about two years prior to her move, I assumed her name was spelled with a K, the more reliable Karen spelling.  In that way we see a person and attach a name and the name and body take on meaning for us, my first meeting with her was an ever so slight misread.

We first met when my younger son and her eldest daughter were classmates in second grade, though once when they were in first grade I walked past their house in our old neighborhood (the feeder neighborhood for where we now live in a more upscale aspirational place) and her Breck and Luck saw me and filled the air with the crisp girly pipings of “Are you Jackson’s mother?  Oh, G-d, it’s Jackson’s mother.”  I’m not, nor was I ever, at home with the PTA environs of the suburbs.  I can feign it for a while, but there is something in me that always wants to probe.  To ask for deeper meanings than the suburbs require, so, at times, I am socially awkward.  The cleanliness and order of the beautiful elementary school where both of my boys spent their early years, was crafted of a veneer way too thin.  But Jackson, the younger son, from early on was a star.

So Caren and I when we first met were not “room parents” but we were both of us, in one evening, in the brightly lit classroom of this second grade, seated only two desks apart.  There for open house, the cleanliness and order of all of the art and words were testament to how “well-educated” our children were becoming.  Caren and I seemed to be looking at the folders our children produced during daylight hours with the same bemused skepticism.  I caught her as she flipped just a few seconds too quickly through Breck’s (short for Breckenridge) folder.  She had a warm face, golden brown eyes, almost angular cheeks, dirty-blonde hair that was clearly attended, but crafted to look like she hadn’t touched it.  She smiled when she saw I caught her.  A conspiratorial gesture that I would not forget.  She asked, “Are you Jackson’s mom?” in a way that suggested Jackson’s elevated status in Breck’s world.  And that was it.  That moment.  I was hers.


My father put together my Barbie Dream House.  It was a toy made almost exclusively of perforated cardboard, endless pieces that needed to be punched out, the instructions studied carefully as the structure of Barbie’s world took shape through my father’s hand.  First the house itself, a one-room studio with a closet for her clothes and a bookshelf with books in varied colors and a make-up vanity, the walls of which folded in for easy storage after play.  The floor was printed as if tiled with spaces marked out as throw rugs so that Barbie would know where to put her bed, her sofa, her stereo, her records.  And then, of course, after the structure, each of the pieces that comprised Barbie’s interior world, each chair, each item of furniture had too to be folded into existence out of printed cardboard.  When it was complete I wanted it, to bring Barbie to her world, to have her hang her clothes in the closet, sit on her sofa, lounge on her bed, her bed where she slept alone, where her immediate future was hers to decide.

But it was late.  Past dark.  And my father completely enraged by the idea of a toy being crafted of paper that he (the father) had to bring to life left him declaring that I go to bed and play in the morning.  My mother tried to advocate for my desires.  She knew what it meant to want.  But he was louder, stronger.   “Wait until morning,” he said.

I couldn’t.  I only waited until they went to bed and snuck into the foyer where he left it.

No matter what we say about Barbie and her negative impact on the minds of girls, I noted this well—

Barbie lived alone.  Ken’s framed portrait was a part of the setting.  But Barbie’s space was for her.


When we moved from our old neighborhood within walking distance of the one where we live now (the largest house on the cul-de-sac) we had Caren and Lance to dinner.  Actually, we shared many dinners.  My husband Robert and I would go to hers (of course, always with Jackson) and they would come to ours.   Lance and Rob got along.  As if that was relevant.  It wasn’t.  It never occurred to me to think about that.  Rob is a writer and a professor of creative writing.  Lance is a delivery guy, an occasional hunter, a bright man with deep political convictions (some we share).  Caren worked for a tech firm, though I could not say I ever knew what she did there.  We downplayed our differences.  What matter was it?  Caren had, as did I, really good taste.  Though our homes were not crafted of the same mind (she preferred dark wood and MacKenzie Childs and I more urbane, lighter woods) we were comfortable meeting in the middle.  She brought beautiful appetizers, clothed in tasteful hostess gifts—a bowl of green glass filled with lovely chicken dip or at Christmas a dish adorned with ornaments (to be of use later).  I was less skilled at this, so I brought wine.  Wine and good, solid cheeses, arranged on platters with just the right color and, of course, with fruit provided for the eye.  And the longer I knew Caren the more artful she became, and the less I was able to compete.

On one of our first dinners in my new house, we all marveled at the layout:  the open foyer, the open floor plan, the open backyard without fences.  Each of us in this small section of the community could see the children flit from backyard to backyard without borders.  Caren and Lance were hoping to move here someday.  But houses in the cul-de-sac were scarce then, and sold very quickly after appearing on the market.  After wandering through all the rooms that night, we began our indulging.  The children, Jackson and Breck with Luck (who was two years younger) began their play upstairs.  Every once in a while, Luck would come down with “reports”:  Jack and Breck were not letting her have any of the toys, Jack and Breck kicked her out of the room and they were whispering, Jack and Breck were talking too much and ignoring her.  Finally they all came down and put on a show for us, wearing my scarves and high heels (yes, they went through my closet and every other closet looking for props).

We, the grown-ups, cooed, admired how cute they all were, drank and ate and laughed.

We shared stories of bad neighbors in the old ‘hood:  My next door neighbor Caroline who listened to all of my cordless phone conversations on her baby minder or, I suspected, their scanner.  Her husband who I not so kindly called “Huntin’ Camp Jason” once swore at me because my daughter came home too late in a car that needed a muffler and, by the way, an inspection sticker!  Caroline stalked me, wanted to be friends but hated that I taught at a university.  For her, it was out there.  And Jason scared me.  Everything about him scared me:  his thick hands, his fierce square face with the ringing blue eyes, his longish blonde hair.  And, too, his confidence in confiding in me that he taught his tiny Yorkshire Terrier to bark at children of color paralyzed me.  I shared this story in particular with Caren and Lance.  Though I didn’t tell them of my fear, only my disgust—only my judgment.   I didn’t share that once, angry at our distance after the late night phone call, HC Jason told another neighbor that if I were in trouble, lying in a road somewhere, he “wouldn’t pick up that skinny bitch!”  I hated knowing that reference to my body.  They had a son, Danny, whom we all agreed was a brat.  He swore like a sailor we would say and I never trusted him with Jackson.  They were a year apart in age but in the same grade.  Those tendencies could wear off, could taint.

Caren and Lance had their own snoopy neighbor stories, neighbors who breeched the natural borders and, we decided, that is the mark of neighborhoods where class threatens our sense of self.  It was fun sharing our stories.  It was the only way we marked our status as “better” by leaving behind those awful behaviors of neighbors who did not deserve our proximity.

Eventually they left for the evening.  The light on my front porch illuminating us all in our slightly, very slightly drunken state, drunk more on the dance of friendship than on the wine, we said our goodbyes, as the beautiful girls, Breck and Luck and, yes, Caren all followed Lance’s directions to the driveway and into the car.

Jackson and Rob and I waved from the porch and as the car pulled back out of the driveway, Caren called, “Beautiful house!  I love you all!”

When we closed the door behind them, I noticed Jackson’s face.  It was somber, serious.
“Did you have a good time?” I asked.

He waited just a second before answering, “Mom,” he began before that long, deep explanation of his evening.  “Mom,” he paused gathering his will or courage, I couldn’t tell.  “Breck is deeply in love with me…Mom, she’s been in love with me for a very long time.”


These are things my Barbie had at the time when I felt most rich with her:  two full patent leather cases of clothing, mostly elegant dresses (Solo in the Spotlight, Enchanted Evening, Golden Splendor) and some date dresses that were more simple, more demure (one came with a tray and little glasses for beverages, another with a basket of flowers).  She had a telephone, loads of shoes, a shoulder bag and many envelope bags, a house, fully furnished, a record player and some records (all of the love songs of the fifties and sixties), a car, outfits to play tennis and go skiing, and, of course, outfits that would take her to work.  She was not a nurse or a stewardess (though I did wish for that outfit as I loved flight bags).  She had a best friend, Midge.  But she didn’t really have Ken.  Then eventually she did.  But his clothes were ugly.  His hair was made of some fuzz that felt like Brillo.  He was never very important to the scripts, not for me, not for any of my friends.  He was the ticket to the prom.  He was the emasculated plastic form, the doll, under-imagined by Mattel, under-utilized in the female imagination.


There was one brutal dinner where we all played the Scrabble game Rob and I bought Caren and Lance for Christmas—endlessly hunting for the right tiles, the words appearing on the board mostly of the three to five letter variety, left the board tightly packed into a small corner, no room for extension.   We ate and played in the kitchen, just off the family room.  Not the dining room.  I thought when Caren opened the gift, there was some hesitation.  The paper still attached to the box, she paused a second.  Then, “thank you…really, thank you.”

I insisted we play after the children opened their gifts.

Of course, I had to buy Barbie dolls for Breck and Luck.  Once I bought a big box of Barbie clothes for the daughters of another friend, but felt stupid when she asked why I bought clothes.

“You know,” she told me, “buying the clothes without the doll is a waste; the cost of the clothes is as much as a fully dressed doll, so I just toss the extra dolls.”

As we moved our tiles onto the cramped board, I waited for an opening for my letters that never came.

That night, we ended early.  Lance’s yawning, signaled the end.


Long before Caren found the house of her dreams in the cul-de-sac, my friend Miss did, a corner house, the former model home that Miss and I discovered because we noticed the couple who owned it were painting the trim.  Joe Centra, one of my favorite neighbors because he was always full of some kind of cheer, told me that the clearest way to determine that an owner is getting ready to sell is the painting of trim.  Miss was driving me home from a trip to the local nursery where we bought our spring plants.  Her minivan was filled with our kids when we saw the couple on ladders.

Miss left me in the car and approached.  She took more than a few seconds, her back to the car, and then came back with her face on fire.  She leaned in, grabbed my arm, “they’re selling!”  Within two days, no sign on the lawn, Miss and her husband, Smitty were moving to the cul-de-sac with their car load of kids.  She would be my neighbor.  First a friend.  Then a neighbor.  And this distinction would linger.

Miss and I came from the same area downstate, our in-laws were friends back home and, thus, we had a different set of requirements as friends.  Miss did not care at all about the aesthetic codes of the neighborhood.  She was too busy.  She simply wanted the house to function.  Like me, she wasn’t particularly enamored with the upstate version of suburban life, all of the gossip and judgment in “have a nice day” and concerns for the children.  Like me, she liked to drink her wine.  But unlike me, she didn’t really care that our city ways marked us as different, not then at least.  Unlike me, she ate what she wanted, didn’t monitor every morsel for how much it would increase her girth.  She was free of that.  And sometimes it showed.


When Caren finally did find that house of her dreams, it was at the end of the cul-de-sac where her yard backed up to Miss’s and Smitty’s.  There was only one house between them on the corner and in the days before fences it meant three backyards at that end in a shared space.  And how cool it was that Miss had a daughter the same age as Breck?  Miss’s daughter Mary was born three months before Jackson.  Miss and I often went to our OB appointments together.  We thought of Mary and Jackson as forever pals.  Born and attached at the hip, almost literally.  And how cool was it that within a very short time, Miss and Caren became good friends because Breck and Mary in their giddy and deadly serious roles of the early adolescent did, too?


When the house I live in was first built I was a renter from the old neighborhood, and I saw it for the first time on a walk.  It sat slightly elevated from the road on a curve.  A center hall Colonial with six bedrooms and columns flanking the corners of the front porch, it seemed endlessly large.  Each of the eleven front windows had the same white mini blinds.  They were all closed and drew me to wonder about its contents.  I imagined the life I could live here, one much more settled than the ones we lived in the rented three bedroom split just several hundred yards away as the crow flies.  But the crow is not the person and so, for me, this house was a life away.

My whole life was, at that time, a vast shopping trip.  My mother and father were never settled enough to buy us a home, so, unlike our cousins who made the suburban launch, my family stayed in the Bronx, renting and renting until finally my parents’ divorce forced us into a scenario even worse—living as squatter children with my mother’s parents—in a three room apartment that barely housed well enough my grandparents and my Aunt Nadine.  All of my toys were lost in the move—no room for Barbie in Grandma Molly’s apartment.  No room for me, really.  But this is a long ago scar.  Dismissed.

Robert and I and the boys and my daughter who was born when I was only seventeen, lived in a rented house, a three-level split and I lived in wonder about how others afforded mortgages, lawn mowers, and each and all of the accoutrements of the homeowner.  It never occurred to me that they bought less of the world’s trinkets.  Until one day, it did.  One day I just stopped shopping.  This is why:

We found our basement flooded one morning after a horrid storm blacked out power to our area for days—straight line winds, almost a hurricane, the area was decimated.  The insurance company sent a group of capable men to clean out all that was ruined.  Stuff piled on the streets waiting for trash pickup to resume, left me with a clear enough view of all that I had brought as I bought:  on the curbside, wet and covered in dirt and old, ripped papers, a gold sofa, many stuffed toys that the boys hadn’t cared for in a long time, clothes, oh the clothes, and that one thing, that one thing that made all the rest so visible—a carton of first edition copies of Buffalo Soldiers, the novel Robert published only five years prior.  We left them sitting on the floor of our basement near all of the things we had no energy to discard.

I began, only after that, to clean everything unnecessary:  first closets, then cabinets, then credit cards.  We ate less.  Spent less.  We saved money.

And we bought our new home, one that was too large for us, but it was, at the time, the only one on the market.  And though I changed almost every facet of the interior, every facet that left it on the market so long, longer than any other house at the time because of the kunzite-colored carpet throughout every room except the kitchen and bathrooms, the 50s styled countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms, the lack of a fireplace, the plastic mini-blinds, the brass light fixtures and, most importantly, the black and gray marble that was the kitchen and master bath floor, it was the one house that I really did not want.  Not at my first interior glance, at least.  The asking price was way too high.  And, of course, that meant I could have it.

The only thing that occasionally bothered me, because we were still in close proximity to the old house, crazy Caroline (the stalker) would walk past the house every day.  Once Jim Centra told me she was peering in the windows when we were away.


Miss’s husband Smitty is a tall, dark and (in a New York City kind of way) good-looking, lumbering guy.  I would have found him attractive were he not like a brother to me, the familiarity that erases sexuality.  The guy I counted on, even if he’s more than a bit clueless about the intricacies of suburban relationships.  I called Miss one night shortly after Caren and the one who lived between Caren and Miss moved to the cul de sac.  The one who moved between was named Martha.

“Hey,” Smitty answered in that deep, which-way-did-they-go-boys voice.

“Miss home?”

“No, she’s having wine with the new neighbors, Caren and that woman Martha, I think is her name.  Not sure.“

Do I admit now that I was tweaked?  That I was feeling deliberately left out?  Or is that so very obvious that no one, no one would ever need to say it?  Except Smitty.  And, too, Robert and, too, Lance.


One night in that short in-between, after Caren moved near but not yet Martha, Miss had an early December Christmas cocktail party where many of our neighbors were in attendance:  The Centras, the Morgans, the, the, the: each a couple, each well-suited, part of the wardrobe of our lives.  And somehow, in that way almost perceptible each seemed more performed, or aware that this party, this one, was a performance—of beauty and of power.

On the day of the party I thought about Miss, how she would be cooking and prepping, and thinking of the sating of all of our culinary desires and so I picked up the phone and called Caren.

“Hey, you,” she answered on the first ring.

“What’s up?”

How much trivia did we share before I asked the question that provoked my call?  I don’t remember.  Was there hesitation?  I don’t remember.

“Want to go to Target to buy something for Miss?  Something to hold a dip?  A platter?”

“Ooh, I would love to but I can’t.  I’m not dressed.  Breck may need a ride to a friend’s…I’m sorry.”

When I walked into Target, I got that feeling, from the lights, from the goods, from the music, from the utterly clean smell of a store in early December that says, we too are clean—the world is right.  I pushed a cart to the kitchen wares and as I turned into an aisle, I bumped into the cart of another shopper.  Caren turned to face me, all brightness and good cheer,

“Hi,” she said, as if I hadn’t just spoken to her, as if she hadn’t just told me she could not possibly be where she was now standing.  As if.

So we greeted one another in the aisle and each of us pretended we did not just speak, moments before, on the phone, though that which we elided was visible in Caren’s darting eyes.

We were in the process of sharing whatever empty talk we had when another of my neighbors appeared in the same aisle.  Sarah Morgan.  She looked at Caren, then smiled at me, asked about the boys, looked back at Caren and said, “I have to ask you something if you have a minute?”

Caren answered.  That was both my cue and my excuse to leave.  I pushed my cart forward and turned out of aisle as their heads drew closer to one another.


I arrived early to help Miss prepare.  Because the tower of plates I brought, filled with cheeses and red peppers and beautiful olives was a part of the drama of earlier in the day, I couldn’t share the story with Miss, much as I wanted to and much as I, too, preferred to keep it in, to tease its possible meanings (might there be only one?).  I was in the kitchen, plopping raw shrimp onto a platter, careful to arrange so that it pleased the eye before palate.  The doorbell rang and Miss went to get it.

Caren had her back to me as she entered, her hair glistening, something in her hand.  She handed it to Miss.  As she turned I saw her smile fade, just momentarily, as she saw I was there before her.  But she recovered.  Put her lit smile back on and came to hug me, her fruity perfume a part of her.  The gift she brought for Miss was the same bottle of wine I had given her.  She had added a golden ribbon.

Later, Miss’s house filled with all of our neighbors, when we were all bathed in the warmth of candlelight, the mingling scents of perfumes and colognes and hair products, and the aromas of good, rich foods and, oh so key to a good time, the camaraderie that fills the minds and spirits after alcohol, that feeling that makes one love everyone, particularly their neighbors, more so their friends, I found myself in a conversation about something humorous with Joe Centra, a man of great warmth and greater salesmanship (his trade) who does, indeed, know how to flirt and Lance and Caren, though Lance seemed more interested in his glass of bourbon, than in contributions to the repartee.   It was Caren’s turn to hold the floor and whatever she was saying must have been funny because we all laughed and I was provoked by her story to add an anecdote of my own.  I was mid-sentence when Caren interrupted, threw her head back laughing and, speaking only to Joe Centra, changed the subject entirely.

Joe wasn’t quite as disconnected from the nuances of speech as Robert and Lance and Smitty, so he came to me, put his arm around my waist to keep me engaged, and laughed with Caren.  I smiled at him and wiggled, finally, free.


About a week later, Martha moved in.  Her house was situated between Miss and Caren.  Her backyard fell literally between the two.  Caren and I went on our almost customary walk, through our new cul-de-sac, and circling through the neighborhood from where we emerged—the land of tract homes built around concentric circles of disappointment.

It was a sunny morning.  In her sunglasses, a triangle of light kept her tentacled to the sun.

Before we made the turn to the old neighborhood, she pondered our new world.  “It’s so nice here.  I love living close to you and Miss.”

“It is nice.”

“What do you think of Martha?” she asked as if it were a real question and not a test.

“I don’t know her well enough.  I’m not sure I’m comfortable with what I do know.”


Within a month of her move to the cul-de-sac, Martha and Caren began their daily walks.  Each and every day.  I am not an early riser so it really was a surprise when I saw them from my bedroom window where I made it up to 3.7 on the treadmill.  I saw them, their blonde heads bobbing toward and away from one another as they spoke, as if they were unaware they were passing by my house.  Their “every day” ritual was invisible to me at first, but others told me:

My next door neighbor, Gerta:  “Wow, Caren and Martha really love that walk.”

And Angie Centra:  “I saw Caren the other day.  I thought it was you with her, but then I realized your hair is brown.”

And Miss:  “I walk out of my door to the meet the bus with the girls and they’re all talk, talk, talk, but when they see me, they stop.  And Mary is so hurt; Breck never calls her anymore.”


Miss was home one afternoon when her doorbell rang.  To bring warmth into the house, Miss got a dog, and then to hold the dog a fence.  A large white, vinyl fence that Smitty was going to install himself when he came to the conclusion that he did not know how.  So they hired a guy.  A guy who knew how to install large white fences.  To keep dogs in.

For a minute, as she opened the door, Miss almost didn’t recognize my new neighbor, Gabby—she moved in right across the street from me, told me first thing she was a “prayerful person” and I knew to be a bit careful.  She, too, knew Martha.

Miss told me the story as we sat on her back deck, sipping wine as we took in the back of the houses of Caren and Martha, the encroachers.

“I opened the door and there was Gabby,” Miss offered as she choked back a giggle and some of her wine.

“She told me, ‘I love your plastic fence!’” and as she tells me this, Miss chokes a bit on her wine and grabs my arm.

We laughed so hard, Miss and I.  Conspiritorially forever, against conspiracy.  We sat there until the sun set bright red and orange as it fell behind Martha’s immaculate house.  My last thought before I left that night:  they can see everything that happens here.


In her junior year of high school rumors circulated through the community about Miss’s daughter Mary.  Ugly rumors only within the context of this community understanding—men can chase women, women should be chaste or pretend to succumb to pleasure only when it is coupled with love.  So I won’t repeat the rumors that circulated because I understand and love Mary, her beautiful dark hair and olive skin, her sweet nature, her shyness.  I was like Mary in my adolescent life.  I indulged my pleasures; and I hurt no one.  Neither did Mary.   I heard the whispers from those who cared about her, who knew I was close to Miss who really should know.  And Miss told me, in that way that mothers who are concerned tell of their children’s indiscretions.  There were postings on Facebook, of videos and name-calling, of the boys in the school of a particular social station stomping on an effigy of Mary.  There was pain.  Great pain.  At great cost.  And one of Mary’s greatest sins:  one of the objects of her desire was the son of Caroline and Huntin’ Camp Jason—Danny—whom, we heard, had been discovered hiding in Mary’s closet.


It was a cold day in late March, snow still a fortress that separated the house from the street.  I was cleaning the fridge, my hands in rubber gloves, my hair in a careless ponytail when the doorbell rang.  I threw a wet rag into the sink and peeled the gloves.  I saw the delivery truck over the mount of dirty snow.

Lance was at the door.  He had a box in hand.  “For you,” he said.

“Thank you.”  I didn’t think to ask why him; this wasn’t his route.

“Hey, I miss you guys,” he said.  All good?”

“Yeah, just busy…how’s Caren?  I’ve been meaning to call.”

JCrew.  My sweater.  I opened the box.  Ran up the stairs to try it on.  I love JCrew.  Need clothes or not, JCrew reminds us what class is all about, and how often we need to refresh.

When I went back down to finish the fridge, to wipe away all the stickiness from the week before, I noticed the empty box and picked it up.  There was some writing by the address.  In pencil Lance wrote:  I miss you guys so much.  What happened?


It was only about two years after Caren and Breck and Luck and Lance moved to our cul-de-sac and about a year since we’d done the dinner thing that I went to see Jackson play football at the lush stadium on the grounds of our high school.  Dark had descended but the area was alight with celebrants.  We would play our archrivals and everyone seemed to be in colors, the divisionary colors of the team represented.  Me, too.  Rob, too.

I needed a Diet Coke.  So I got on the long line.  Behind a group of girls, none that I recognized by family, but certainly recognized by brand—long straight hair, some very blonde, some very dark, all of them giddy with the night and the game and the secrets they shared, hands to mouths as they whispered loud enough for all to hear—Mary, Miss’s Mary, my Mary, our Mary—named by them, described by them:  the little slut, the trash, was under the stands with him, and he didn’t care about her, would report back to them after, after, after.

Weeks later, a video was posted online.  Smitty brought it to Rob.  It hurt him to share it.  But someone else had to know.  We had to know.

But I already knew.  Because I was Mary once a long time before.


Years pass so quickly in beautiful communities such as ours, as the kids grow and those of us who were once the young couples become the staples.  Our houses are always kept bright and, mostly, clean.  And there are still block parties and high school graduations, and we all attend, swear we will see one another more often, once things are just not so busy, once we are not so occupied with our obsessions.

And Caren and I always plan to get together.  Because so much time has passed and, truth is, I miss her.

But for one thing:  whenever I am with her in our neighborhood, whomever it is we run into when we are together—whomever—after the encounter, they are always closed off to me.  Caren, in her quiet way, is always the last stop on a friendship.  The trait gene.


Long after I had stopped thinking that Caren and I could ever be intimate again, long after I had determined that my only real friends in the cul-de-sac were Miss and Smitty, long after that, we had the Centras, Angie and Joe, to dinner.  The children (Jack and their oldest son who was Jack’s friend) were already in college, away from home.  The Centras brought a beautiful platter of cheeses and we sat around my kitchen island almost giddy with wine.  Angie and Joe made a striking couple, polished just enough, Ronnie’s hair soft and dark framed her face, Joe’s olive skin fresh, their colognes mingled in the air, a part of them in the air, the perfect aroma of monogamy.  For a moment, we stopped giggling and began the sharing stories of the boys, of the kids in the neighborhood and how they grew.  I just wanted to know:  of people so reasonable, how could they have remained friends with Caren and Lance and not Miss and Smitty?  How?  How could they not have protected, in the way a community wraps adult arms around children, how could they not have also protected Mary?

I cannot remember the question I asked that produced the answer, the one I already knew so well, but needed to hear again:  Angie, her voice a whisper as if others could hear through my kitchen walls, through the spaces of the yards and fences that marked our homes:

“Mary was out of control.  She was with Danny.  That Danny—Jason and what’s her name? Caroline?  Their son.  Under Mary’s bed.  Under her bed when Miss found her.”


Sometimes at night, when I can’t sleep, when I play back the scripts of life in this community, the pains I caused or allowed to occur, the disappointments I will have until I die because of the simplest of choices I made during the course of my life here, sometimes at night when I think, I don’t belong here in this big, beautiful, fully imagined house through a mind or minds not my own, in this small suburb of central New York, on these nights when I think instead of where I do belong, when I think of where I began, alone (though I never lived that way) in a small space, built for one in a large city…sometimes on nights like these I wonder which of us is the trait gene.  Which one of us is most associated with this manicured world?  Which one so key to its function?  Caren?  Miss?  Martha?


It could so be me. 

And on nights like this I am convinced it is.  But the thing that I will never understand is that every day I woke up in this house, or in the smaller one before or in the apartments I occupied over time that I wanted only to be happy, that I wanted only to be fulfilled, to fit in, and not on one single day did it ever occur to me that I could be that one who caused anyone else pain.


It is a sunny day at the end of brutal winter.  I am preparing the three guest rooms for my female friends who will come to visit.  Robert will clear out for the event.  I love these gatherings.  We all do.  No men.  There are five of us.  We used to do dinner once a year.  Then we made it twice—at least twice.

I draw open the closet of the armoire in the guest room that used to be the bedroom of my oldest son James.  This is where I keep the sheets, three hundred thread count in colors coordinated to match each room.  And, too, this is where I keep the Barbies I purchased to remind me of my old one. So many of them housed there.  Each a reproduction of the doll of my childhood.


To secure our dinner, I move through Wegmans, a glorious store where produce is arranged by intriguing color and texture.  Every piece selected for its beauty.  There is no damage here.

I am touching peppers, feeling for the firmest.  I bump into a man next to me before I recognize the thick hands, the square face, the chance meeting that I always knew would one day occur.  It’s Jason.  Huntin’ Camp Jason.

For a moment we both freeze and I see in the light of his eyes that he is, as am I, wary.  I am surprised by my feeling of warmth toward him.  We make small talk, as if we always did.

“How’s Danny?” I ask.

“He’s great.  He’s a father.  I’m a grandpa. I have a granddaughter.”

“That’s amazing.”

But then his gaze shifts.  It is more direct.  He needs to tell me:  “We can’t see her.  Her mother won’t let her visit.”

I recognize his grief.  He is suddenly vulnerable.  And I am suddenly so sorry for him.  It’s instinct pure and from a part of me that I feel so rarely.  I put my arms around him and pull him tight to my body.  “I’m so sorry, Jason.”  He puts his arms around me.  I don’t want him to let go, so I push back.

And for longer, much longer than I deserve, I feel human.


In the parking lot as I walk back to my car, the stark whiteness of the winter sunlight temporarily blinds me. I think back to the bumper sticker on the minivan in the car parked next to mine in the university garage and the irony of the image of contemporary Barbie’s wide, smiling face in contrast to my old one.  The Barbies (plural, so plural) that I keep housed in the guest room armoire:  Original Barbie in her striped bathing suit and her austere look.  Solo in the Spotlight—Barbie as singer in a tight, sparkling black dress with a microphone in hand, Enchanted Evening—a pink satin gown with a white fur shawl for those evenings out with Ken, though he is only an implication.  Each of them I keep in their original packaging—a reminder of lives I once wanted.  I had one Barbie when I was ten and lots of clothes for her and goods.  Now the bodies of the dolls come dressed, each body a supplicant to her clothes.  For each outfit a new soul.  And the words on the bumper sticker writ so large on the white minivan explain—Barbie Wants to Be Me.

Donna Marsh is a writer of creative nonfiction and she teaches writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University. Her husband is a fiction writer. Her life partner is a Yorkie Bichon. Tired of critiques of what Barbie has done to the contemporary imagination of women’s bodies, she is much more intrigued by what she reveals about the soul.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016


I hear a lone katydid this October afternoon. In broad daylight, way before his usual sunset debut, he seizes the day. Trying to get lucky, he can’t even wait for nightfall, a teenage insect boy who really, really doesn’t want to die a virgin. Apparently he’s aware that a hard frost is just around the corner and his stridulating days are numbered. It’s now or never. Incorrigibly anthropomorphic, but do you doubt me?

Ray Scanlon. Massachusetts boy. Lucky to be above ground, lucky to have grandchildren. No MFA. No novel. No extrovert. Not averse to litotes. Twitter: @oldmanscanlon. On the web:

Feature: Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

The Leonids

Brushfire tormented and lapping at the hardened mesquite. Smells tender. Haphazard. Like someone’s old shirt left in the bed. The accidental end of winter. And in one woman’s hand, the two whitest bones unknown to men. And her two summer-blushed legs balanced somewhere between Purgatory Road and the Devil’s Backbone. Real places. Almost unbelievable. And several other bodies, all strangers to each other, lined around their parked cars on the top of the ridge. Three in the morning. The Leonids shower. Some people come here looking for ghosts. It’s not just the name. It’s the breathy remarks made by wings of owls. The howl of toads. How the heat fights the cold hillside air in a damp struggle at the back of the neck, moistening the baby hairs.  The gutters of the slopes blacken, hollow out the trees burning with the memory of shape in the constellation light. At this time of night, the terrain is emptied, capable of containing anything. Except meteors, maybe she tells herself. She keeps watching the wrong patch of sky. This could be said to be a way of life significant to her. She can hear the soft stranger’s voices raise with there’s one! But by the time she turns around she can only see the long arc of an arm ending in a pointed finger ending in a space where a moment before was the trail of a meteor. An indication of an indication. Now nothing. But she will stay on. There was a hand on her knee earlier today. There was a lonely cow chewing cud in a field overgrown and neglected.  These two things have something in common. And now, the Leonids.

This is where she was on the day you were born. Your mother has a unique gift: the ability to become somewhere else. For lack of a better word, the closest you could imagine is traveling time. But, it does not require what books and movies might suggest, powders and machines–how grotesque. It only requires that one sees exactly what is in front of them. To be completely honest about it. I am not saying it is easy for you when she’s laying in a circle of faces in a park, a little drunk, talking about Wallace Stevens on a summer night. I mean, when it’s a day that your first tooth fell out. Or when she watches the muddy gulf overtake the sand like a spilled palette. I am not saying it has been fair for you to endure that stillness of her body, hollowed like a shell that you have even gone so far as to put your ear up to in order to hear some voice, some answer. Or even that she shouldn’t have tried a little bit harder to be around on your twelfth birthday instead of seated in an abandoned house, torn fractures of wood digging into the back of the thighs and a warm wind shaking the moss, rippling the levee lost deep in the country. A pair of lips so close that she could whisper and touch them. But she doesn’t. She’d like to live in this house. She would put up a print of Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” instead of a mirror. Perhaps it was even worse for you, sweet sixteen you know, when she returned to that place, only some years later. From the window of her car she saw that the old house had been torn down and she stopped on the side of the road to weep a bit and think about inconceivable time and the theory of ubi sunt. I am not telling you to be consoled. Only patient. It is not an easy weight to bear. That’s why so many of us do not choose it.

She has that look sometimes, you know, when she feels herself slipping through as if she has no mass, no gravity at all. Sometimes she lifts a desperate five fingers in a gesture of farewell. Sometimes she locks herself under pillows to sob about it and to desire for a lived understanding of the word fleeting. But, when she is here, she is more so than the rest of us. You have surely felt it. How the world seems glued to her slightest movement. How a lilt in her lower lip can turn the room upside down. Think of that summer day when you were six and you were both playing in the sprinkler and it felt like it was her, and not the water, raining down all around you, forming rainbows in your eyelashes. Or how she can lift a tilted palm to your cheekbones, cover the rough outline of your jaw, and hold everything still. But, eventually, a shadow will flicker across the back of her eyes. Her muscles will grow weaker. And then, the Leonids.

Andi Boyd currently resides in San Antonio, Texas. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University. Her poetry and flash fiction has previously appeared in Gulf Coast, Pembroke Magazine, Narrative Magazine, and Gone Lawn.