Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

The Spruce Room
Laura Knapp

The chair next to the head of the conference table was pushed out about a yard, like it had been every morning since Marjorie first noticed it a month ago. Now, before she left in the evening, she made sure it was pushed in, locked the conference room door and reminded the night cleaning crew to stay out. But the chair, as though taunting Marjorie or rebelling against inertia, seemed to will itself to the same spot at some point each night.

Marjorie closed the door to the Spruce Room, and as she walked into her office, just next door, she considered again the possibility of installing a security camera. Besides the chair, there had been other inexplicable things. Like random thuds that emanated through the wall her office shared with the conference room when she knew it was empty. And once, while she sat alone in Spruce, Marjorie heard a sigh and turned her head in time to see the closet door close by itself.

But Marjorie knew a camera was out of the question because she’d have to get permission. As a director in a company dominated by men, she couldn’t afford to let her colleagues discover her suspicions. This was an engineering firm after all. Precise, analytical reasoning was valued, superstition was not. Marjorie would let unearthly forces hound her into a lonely insanity before she allowed herself to slip back into the role of token female.

 

Tammy always arrived early and chose the chair next to the head of the table. She had spent most of her 20 years at the company hidden away in a cubicle, so she sat in a conspicuous spot for meetings. Then, as people walked in, they couldn’t help but see her. But she had noticed a marked descent in politeness as of late, most people seeming to find it unnecessary to return her smile.

As she sat waiting for others to arrive, Tammy gazed out the window. In the early morning sun, a shadow shot from the buildings across the street, and a corridor of light sliced a corner of the shade diagonally from the intersection. Tammy watched as the light advanced and the shadow moved across the street then retreated against the buildings like an undead thing hiding from the sun. It was then that Tammy realized it must be noon. Where was everyone?

She rose from her chair and bustled over to the supply closet for bottled water to offer the others whenever they decided to show up, but all she could find were boxes of files and old monitors. In her haste she knocked a monitor to the floor. It made an ominous thud when it landed. She moaned because she knew it was broken and her manager was intolerant of errors. And no matter how hard she worked, it seemed only her mistakes got her noticed. Only her mistakes.  Suddenly, she heard people come into the Spruce Room. She didn’t recognize any of the voices. How angry would they be about the monitor? Tammy sunk to the floor and rested her head on her knees. She prayed no one would open the door and find her sitting there.

 

Marjorie was working late, last one in the office suite, again. She stared at the CAD on the screen, listening for sounds from the Spruce Room. Nothing but quiet tonight. She was tired but kept working. She knew she’d bring her skittishness home with her, listening for sounds there, too, jumping at the slightest noise then getting mad at herself when she realized it was only her neighbors.

 

When Tammy roused herself and left the closet, it was dark outside, and the buildings across the street were lit up like Christmas trees. It was the McCaskey proposal – that’s why she was at the office so late, she told herself. Tammy was waiting for Lucy to return with copies to collate. She started to feel impatient to get home until she thought of her empty apartment. She sighed, took her favorite seat facing the door, and waited.

The lights in the buildings across the street blinked out one by one and the dark sky turned gray. Eventually, the corridor of light and the shadow appeared again. Meanwhile, the silence in the conference room pressed on Tammy like a frigid sea holding wreckage to the ocean floor. At some point, a woman Tammy didn’t know opened the conference room door and peered in. She looked right at Tammy without saying a word and slowly shut the door. Tammy sighed and bustled to the closet to search for bottled water.

 

“I found another broken monitor.” Vijay, a fellow engineer at Marjorie’s firm, spoke conspiratorially. He had recently admitted watching “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy Channel, so Marjorie confided in him. Surprisingly, he had noticed weird happenings in the Spruce Room, too. They decided to meet secretly from time to time to give each other updates.

“Really?” said Marjorie. “Today when I checked to see if the chair was pushed out as usual, I swear I heard someone whisper ‘hi.’”

 

Twenty years previously, after her company’s merger resulted in the office closing, marketing assistant Tammy Glowicky packed up the Spruce Room closet. Everyone else had forgotten it. After she set the last carton of bottled water on the table, she returned to the closet for the other supplies. In her haste, she stumbled against the opened door, and it slammed shut. The lock could only be opened from the outside, so Tammy started banging and yelling. Then she remembered she was the last one in the office for the night. Then she further remembered the rest of the boxes were already loaded on the truck and no one from her company was returning to this office suite, ever.

Days passed before anyone missed Tammy. Security in the building was lax, so it wasn’t until the next tenants had moved in that she was found. Two weeks later.

 

Again it was late and the suite was nearly empty as Marjorie sat in her office, this time fuming: Some kiss-ass young twit got the promotion she deserved. Suddenly, Vijay poked his head around the doorjamb. “I’m glad you’re still here, Marjorie,” he said. “Can’t you hear that? Something’s happening in Spruce right now.”

 

Tammy rummaged through the closet when she heard whispering in the conference room. She slowly opened the door to find a man and woman staring at her, their eyes large with fear. Then, rudely, as though she wasn’t even there, the woman turned to the man and said, “Screw this place. Let’s get out of here and grab a drink.”

“I could use a stiff one right now,” he responded.

They rushed out the door. And Tammy was alone again.


Laura Knapp currently works as a marketing copywriter and was also a freelance reporter in metropolitan Chicago. She received her MA in English from Roosevelt University, also in Chicago, and had fiction published in its literary publication, Oyez Review. She has two short stories forthcoming in Rum Punch Press and Rivulets.

Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

Newlyweds
Evan McMurry


Dogsat

Brody and Julia returned from their honeymoon, scooped up their terrier from the couple kind enough to dogsit for the ten days, and arrived at their apartment still resplendent in newlywed dew—until Brody leaned in to kiss Julia, and Tennis (named for the type of ball he loved to chase) let out an alarm of shrill barks. He’d never done this before. They soothed him with soft pets on the back, figuring him rattled from their absence. But when Brody cupped his new wife’s face in his hands the dog again shrieked in protest.

The couple who’d watched Tennis broke up viciously the next week. In those days Brody and Julia had been unable to touch each other in their dog’s presence, until Tennis was exiled to the bedroom, howling from beyond the plaster as they made love on the futon.

They tried various remedies—kissing each other while petting Tennis, Julia repeating “it’s okay” as Brody stroked his wife’s cheek—but still the dog let out a piercing trill at every act of intimacy.

At last they gave him up to a family down the street, Julia crying and Brody beside himself as Tennis was handed over.

After that their friends remarked how amorous they seemed. But at home they never lost that carefulness they had developed, circumspect when they kissed, closing the bedroom door against the empty apartment when they had sex. They never saw the two dogsitters again, but carried their hurt in every move, eventually believing it had sealed their love like a bruise.


First Test

Tyler had a conference to attend just a couple weeks after he and Emily got married. “Bad timing,” he said. The second night of the conference, celebrating his paper’s decent reception, he ran into an old grad school flame at the hotel bar. It was the first test of his marriage and he failed it, clammy with regret within moments of coming inside her.

No point in any weak attempt at lying: he confessed to Emily as soon as he walked in the door. After her initial rage was spent he told her he felt a strange relief: gone were the years in which each would worry whether the other was being true, that smog of suspicion he’d heard overhung every marriage, darkening all moves with menace. He said he could not fault her if she slept with someone else, even, as he got carried away with his idea, encouraged it, so they could recommence their marriage on the even ground of unfaithfulness.

Emily told him and his wicked proposal to go to hell, but he was adamant, so that Friday night she removed her pristine wedding ring and headed to a club. She was quickly and repeatedly hit on. She considered the men buying her rounds or complimenting her dress, thought them attractive or un-, interesting or not, but liked none more than she had her husband, which she thought had been the point.

She arrived home to an overly expectant spouse. “Well?” Tyler asked.

“Slim pickings,” Emily said.

She went out the next Friday night. This time a man she found quite handsome bought her a vodka-soda, and after two more rounds did not reveal himself to be dull or delinquent. Emily accompanied him to his apartment, whooshed along by a gust of the adventure her husband had promised. But no sooner was there an erect foreign cock in play than she found the whole thing startling and wrong, and left still pulling on her bra.

“Nothing,” she told Tyler when she got home.

Emily continued to go out on Friday evenings, made some friends, spearheaded a girls’ night, bought tickets to plays and the ballet, met men but did little more than entertain herself with them. In his imbalance her husband became frantic, haranguing her nightly with questions of where she’d gone and what she’d done, sniffing her clothes for new colognes, scrutinizing her credit statements, unraveled by the very paranoia he’d schemed to avoid.

After they divorced Tyler told every willing ear how unreasonable she’d been.


Omens

Simone’s only request of the wedding DJ (friend of the groom) was for the love of god not to play that “let’s call the whole thing off” song. She’d heard it at the last three weddings she’d attended, and it was a hit with the seniors, but seemed to her deliriously bad luck. “You know they stay together in the end,” her fiancé told her when she’d brought it up. “I think they both order lobster in the last verse because it’s what he wants.” But nobody ever heard that part.

Wedding DJ Michael played it anyway, during that valley of receptions after the toasts, when elder couples reign. Parents and grandparents shuffled to the dance floor at the first schmaltz of potato-potahto. Her now-husband danced with one of his friends, leaving Simone alone with her bubbly.

It was a bad omen. They were transferring in a tiny Key West airport en route to their Costa Rican honeymoon spot when the second plane’s engine sputtered; no more flights were scheduled that afternoon; the next day’s were full; they forfeited the deposit on the hotel when they finally flew home.

Within days of their non-honeymoon Simone’s husband was laid off from his software company after a market dive took a chunk of its value. He assured friends he was zen about his unemployment. But six, seven, eight weeks of rejection, boredom, vulnerability scraped at his resolve. He started snapping at Simone. He threw a wine glass mid-argument, not at her, but its shattering shook her as if he had.

It rained when it wasn’t supposed to; their apartment leaked from the roof. It was as if their world were a dish into which someone kept tossing too much of a wrong ingredient.

One day Simone was found cringed on their living room floor, legs latched beneath her chin. “Everything’s gone wrong,” she sobbed into her knees.

For a moment he was her husband again. He squatted beside her, told her nothing was wrong. They were married, together, in trouble but not imperiled. Nothing they couldn’t survive.

“But if we were right for each other,” she said between breaths, “why would it feel like this?”

When she turned her husband had vanished and this recent stormperson appeared. “There’s no right or wrong,” he growled. “It’s all just chaos.”

This was new. Simone didn’t know her husband thought everything was chaos. “If that’s true, how do you build toward something?” she asked. “How can you count on anything?”

Even his shrug was angry. “You savor what you have in the moment. That’s all you can count on.”

This struck her as bullshit. But she considered that if she were adrift and exposed it might be the type of bullshit she would find comfortable, maybe even necessary.

Simone adopted her husband’s chaos theory. She took off sick from work to stay home with him; the illicitness of 11:00 a.m. sex thrilled them into bolder feats; they fucked in front of the sliding glass door, daring anybody across the street to watch. Their savings account was starving; still they dined at a downtown wine bar, feeding each other moldy cheeses. She bought a used bicycle and tried to keep up on those hours-long meanderings he’d formerly ridden alone, now the two of them making slick love at the trail’s peak, a symphony of sweat.

He emerged from his fugue. He’d been applying for all the wrong positions, he declared, underselling himself. He recast his resume, submitted to jobs he’d thought beyond his limits; a couple of weeks later he accepted an offer. The last of their finances went toward new office clothes, the old ones having withered in the closet. At last he was again the man with whom she’d fallen so astonishingly in love that, on their wedding day, they’d seemed one person maddeningly divided their whole lives at last divinely joined.

Simone definitely had no difficulty recognizing her husband when she came home the day before he was supposed to start his new job to arrange a sexy surprise and saw him savoring the moment inside the friend he’d danced with at their wedding.

She threw him out before he could grab the suits he’d blown the remnants of her money on. From the doorstep he begged: “Where am I going to go?”

“Don’t know,” she said. “It’s all chaos.”

Eventually Simone stopped blaming the song; it was just an omen, not the curse itself. Still—hadn’t she been right to forbid it? How differently would things have turned out had the DJ only listened to her? Who cares if the couple ordered lobster in the last verse; you don’t tempt the fates. You respect them. You study their signs. You learn. “Chaos” is bullshit. Knowing there’s a plan is the only way you start fighting it.


Evan McMurry is the Social Media Editor for ABC News. He graduated from Reed College and received his MFA from Texas State University-San Marcos. His fiction has appeared in Post Road and The American Drivel Review, and is forthcoming from Euphony, Corvus Review and Mulberry Fork Review.

Issue No. 18, Autumn 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 family 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 his handheld gaming 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 whose floor was 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 graveyard.

Maybe because the Glasser Summer House was haunted, 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 had 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. Did 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 that 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 but 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 where 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 that you wove together as a family. That when any person was missing, it was like there was a hole that left you cold.

“Who cares?” Don said, entering the kitchen now 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, who 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, but 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 but 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 that she had 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 that 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 Whitney didn’t recognize (maybe the Harrison cousins?) 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 just hoped that Jane wouldn’t one day have to humor CFO’s half-her age and worry about quarterly numbers.

Before the divorce, Allan had said that Jane would find her place, she’d grow into it. Instead, Jane’s grades had plummeted further while her social life had crowded out everything else. After a shouting match, Whitney had 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 would really 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 that 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 this 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 after work if he didn’t have a drink in him first. 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 can 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?” and 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 evening clouds had come in, their moist embrace seeping into everything. People put on sweaters, Jane and Sam sat on either side of Whitney on the couch, sitting with 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, or at least versions of him from when he was younger. 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 of the different people, and versions of people, the voices all 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 “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” where they always 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 where 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, she and this version of Allan occupied the same space. Then this Allan 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 their hinges. But they were sturdy windows, tight. They could protect this family.

Jane 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 that her daughter gave her now made Whitney certain that she had seen through it all.

Whitney asked what the board game was and DJ said that 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 sound 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 on another log to the fire. Whitney’s mother called it a night. Her father followed shortly after. The rest settled into Monopoly. The game ended when people 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 that 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. Her headache was monstrous. There was something thick here beyond the cobwebs of dreams. It was strange how Great Da’s words, the entire chorus of last night, Allan… all now faded except for the pulse of her heartbeat.

There was the furnace room and she turned, with a dread realization, towards the bedrooms. She could not let this house claim them. Don’t let it be too late, she thought. Not when she knew that this had been the last summer, the last trip, that the children did not deserve to be haunted by her or her choices. She ran down the hall, shouting for her children to get up, it was time for breakfast, time to leave, get up sleepy heads. She would shake them awake and together they’d open that bedroom window and finally 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. 18, Autumn 2016

Juniper
Sara Button

I. From Father

We wanted to live our lives in dog years. Each day’s value was fifty-two times its normal worth, at least. Beauty and vigor and youth were ours, and it was splendor. Her afternoons were free and I would clear mine, wiping appointments from my work calendar as easily as I would wipe away the clutter and cloth from our dining room table before hoisting her there, breathing. Breathless. The only sounds were the flurries of inhalation and cotton rustling and the table’s creak. She and I both were firm then: our skin, her thighs, my hips. We promised to be together to see one another wrinkle and sag.

Soon our love was multiplied a countless fold by our own creation. You were perfect, more perfect than we had thought possible. On the first day you breathed, we lay together, sardined on the narrow bed with sanitized sheets. You slept. We counted your fingers and toes, kissing them all, wondering what might become of us now that we had this life depending on us. We drove slowly home the next day, caring nothing about the long line of cars behind us.

All ten fingers lengthened and grasped and eventually no longer needed our own fingers to hold on to. You were yourself and your own, more independent than she or I ever was. She called you her warrior.

She knew before either of us did that she was beyond protecting. She was wearing her blue dress, the one I bought her on our honeymoon, the one that dips just below her collarbone. Dipped. Outside the window, the tree caught her gaze. You were playing below it, make-believing with friends. Foreign words like “antigens” and “stage four” poured from her mouth, and I thought that if hopelessness had a sound, that would be it. Outside, you were climbing the juniper, your long limbs scrambling up the bark, its branches quivering as if it had heard her, too.

Cells aggregating and spreading forced us to consider every twenty-four hours once more. The difference, though, was the forcing. When time is forced, it slips through one’s fingers and falls away like her hair started to a few weeks into treatment. Even though the sun shone bright that day, she sat under the tree and cried. You, in your strange, young wisdom, said nothing but wrapped your thin arms around her shoulders.

January came and everything was barren. Her collection of scarves grew exponentially. I  tried to make our bedroom a livable place, and you helped me fill it with all her favorite things: books, brightly colored pillows and rugs, music. At least two months had passed since she had lazed beneath her tree, newspaper in one hand, apple in the other. Now the weather had turned more foul and gray. Clouds rarely parted. Her smile, though, remained.

The length of that last year together had dragged and raced in equal measure. The new year did not feel new, and it was the first snowfall of winter that was memorable not only because it hadn’t snowed in fifteen years, but because it took her from us. We took turns, you and I—you, in your too-short jeans and down jacket, I in my button-down flannel flapping in the chill—to dig and place her dust beneath the juniper tree. That night, I woke to your shouts. Standing at the window, I saw your diminutive figure overshadowed by the hugeness of her grave. You were angry, and it was the first time I had heard you raise your voice to anyone or anything.

“Why can’t you breathe?!”

II. From Stepmother

It’s not like I had a choice. It would be ridiculous to suggest that I had a choice. Your father loved me first, you know. Truth be told, I didn’t think much of him when we first met. He  started coming into my shop, kind of a mess. I suppose your mother had just died. But really, he should have cleaned himself up a bit, going outside like that. He ordered, we chatted, I helped the next customer. He came in the next day, and the next, always for a cup of coffee. Every time he came in, we’d chat a little more. He told me about you, he told me about his woodworking hobby. He told me about your mother. It was all in passing, though. He’d bring these things up openly, carelessly. He didn’t seem to care what anyone thought. But, you know, I really wonder. Why did he talk to me so much if he was so sad?

He told me so many little things. I don’t know why I paid him any attention, really. I’ve had many men more handsome. He was just another regular. Finally he started cleaning himself up, and maybe that’s when I noticed him. Yes, I think that must have been when it was. He cleans up real nice, your father. I asked why he was dressing so sharp now, and he said he had finally gone back to work. A big banker man, your dad is. He hadn’t seemed like it. He didn’t have the right arrogance, I thought. He had the wrong smile—too sweet, and just a bit too sad.

He offered to buy me coffee the next day and I told him I had all the coffee I wanted right there. He laughed and took me out to dinner instead. To a fancy place, I remember. I had never been there before. It was the kind of restaurant where there’s more than one fork at the place setting, and he wore his small smile the whole night. He made me laugh, your father. He wasn’t like the men I had been with before; he pulled the chair out for me, and asked how my day was. A real gentleman.

You remember the rest, of course. I came to meet you; your father had cooked a nice dinner. I even brought Marlene, still just a baby. You shook my hand, all angst and darkness, furrows riding your brow like Death on his horse. But then you sat next to Marlene at dinner and you made her laugh like I never could. She looked at you with warm eyes. It was the first time I saw you smile.

Years went by, you know. Your father was kind, and welcomed us. He kept his small smile, but the light behind his eyes did fade. Marlene was just fine. Fine with the wedding, the moving, the adjusting. You made it easy for her. She was your true sister, you always said. But I knew she wasn’t. She had been part of me before, and I knew what your father would give to Marlene would never be as much as he gave you. Yes, he tucked her into bed at night singing the same sweet lullaby he crooned to you sometimes when you thought I could not hear. But my gut told me he couldn’t be that good. What if something happened to me? Would he still tuck Marlene in at night and smile at her? Would she really have all she needed? What else was I supposed to do? Blood runs thicker. Doesn’t it?

I had thought about it before. Your father was at work. He always was working late, leaving home early, his smile getting smaller and smaller for me as the years went by. You sauntered in, having just arrived from school, and you wanted a snack. Our apples had just come in. I had spent all day before stocking up on the golden deliciousness, and you were there to ask for it. Of course, son, I said, of course, choose one. Here, I’ll even open up the trunk for you to have your pick of the sweetest, ripest one. Surprise danced in your eyes, and you forgot for a moment that I was not just the woman standing in place of your mother.

The trunk was deep and wide, an antique from my mother’s side of the family. My own mother was watching me then, I could feel her, invisible hands guiding my own to rest gently on top of the open trunk. The lid was unhinged, a wide jaw of wood and metal and you, rummaging in it, trusting. Yes, that one looks wonderful, and I pointed to the back. Your tall frame knelt and reached. Jaws clamped shut and your own mouth was stuck in a little frozen o, your last breath a grunt released while reaching for an apple.

III. From Marlene

I thought I saw you, your head on like my doll, the one you gave to me for my birthday. That doll, ‘member? The doll has a head on it, and a face and eyes that are not real. They looked like your eyes, though, because they stared at me and were blue. Your head was like my doll’s head because the neck had a black slice through it. ‘Member when I brushed her hair and it came off? And you fixed it? There was a red slice on your neck, too. I thought I saw it even though Mamma gave you a kerchief. You never wear kerchiefs. She is wrong a lot of the time.

You were sitting there and your eyes looked like my doll’s eyes and your neck looked like my doll’s neck but you were sitting. So I asked you for the apple and you didn’t say anything. You didn’t say yes or no, just nothing. You scared me, so I told on you to Mamma. Mamma said I should give you a slap if you didn’t answer me back, and I asked you for the apple but you still didn’t say yes or no, just nothing. You always were a good sharer, though, so I knew, I knew Mamma was wrong again. Remember when you shared the apples and we climbed the juniper tree? We climbed to the top and you said that sometimes you wished you were a bird that could fly to heaven and see your real Mamma? I remember. So I knew my Mamma was wrong again, but I still hit you. I was angry, but I don’t know why. The thing that happened to my doll when I brushed her hair too hard happened to you and I ran away. Mamma said it was my fault.

She slapped me on my face and told me to stop crying, but I cried anyway. I didn’t want her to slap me anymore, but I couldn’t stop. Mamma told me we had to change what I had done, but I knew she did it. I could tell by the hurry she made when she hugged you and put you on the kitchen table. She told me she had to make dinner now and to stop crying. She told me not to watch. I sat in the cupboards like when we played hide and seek. I sat there in the dark under the sink and I watched the silver go slice. Mamma made you bleed.

Papa came home. He smelled the stew that Mamma had made, and he gave me a big smile. He told me he thought Mamma had made something good for us tonight. But he asked where you were, and Mamma lied. He ate it all up, and when he asked why Mamma didn’t want any, she said she had a tummy ache, and when he asked why I was crying, she said I lost my doll. After dinner, when he went to his room, Mamma slapped my face again and told me to take my crying outside. A bucket full of you was under the table still and she made me drag it out before Papa came back for coffee. Instead, I ran upstairs and got my favorite scarf—the one I found in a box in the closet, the white one, silky smooth like a princess veil? I took you and my crying outside, just like Mamma told me to. Even though it was starting to get dark, the juniper tree didn’t scare me. The outside was quiet, and the stars were starting to come out. I wrapped you in my scarf, and kissed it like I’ve seen you kiss the presents you always leave for the tree. Dug a little hole, right there for you, and you went in. I wanted you to come back. My skirt clumped with dirt from burying you, but it was okay. I could stop crying. I could breathe.

IV. Goldsmith, Cobbler, Miller

Tuesday was normal for us. It started as all other days start. We rose early, ate breakfast with our wives, hurried out the door to work. The sun shone hot that day, but the sky was blue and we had our health. Much to be grateful for. Morning was slow— a few customers here and there, but nothing of note. Clients chatted, and in such a small town as this, gossip spread. Did you hear about the mayor and his secretary? one said, her mouth pursing with the words. What about the Baker kid running out of town? A wink, and out she went, order in hand.

We ate lunch, unraveling meat sandwiches from tin foil folds, wiping fruit juices from our prickly chins. Thirty minutes of rest, and then back to work. Pounding, shaping, until we were done, never resenting the fact that we were so few, that our trades were as old as we were. Afternoon shadows grew long and a song drifted through the windows. Its tune was simple, its melody lilting. A birdsong. Yes, a bird. But words drifted through our minds.

            My mother, she killed me, oh!

            My father, he ate me, no!

            My sister, my sweet,

            laid my bones at your feet,

            bound in silk, how my beauty shines so!

Our eyes drifted through the glass to the branches of the tree outside—a bird, red like a fiery sky, plumes of grassy green and a golden throat, where the song had nestled deep—and we had to hear it again. The bird’s eyes looked through us, and we knew we had to give up what we had for him to share his enchanting song again. We lifted our offerings: a glittering golden strand, crimson slippers, a heavy mill stone. He repeated his hymn and flitted away, laden with these. It wasn’t until his departure did we realize we had all been holding our breath.

V. Juniper

No one will believe what they see—a tree, its opening, he, who died in wooden jaws to be released from those of another sylvan thing. Trees are not meant to open and yawn, to birth birds from bones. To sing.

Red like the blood when he was born, the bird’s wings flapped until it settled, one foot and then the next, onto my branch. He repeated his ballad. She, the second who had shared his father’s bed, grew fearful. A dirge, her own, was the bird’s song in her ears. Worries of the world outside and lies of the son’s disappearance raced across her tongue to reach his father.

The father, who had made love at my base so many years before, stood sturdy outside the doorway and heard none of his wife’s babbling. Happiness lived in his cheeks. His exclamations of the warm air, the cinnamon scent on the breeze, the beautiful bird’s notes shook my leaves. A golden chain, a gift, settled onto the man’s neck and he rejoiced in the bird.

The sister’s tears fell fast and slippery, but she, being innocent, knew what might come. The girl—although bloodless, a sister in heart—emerged from the house, tears drying on her rosy face. From the branches the bird dropped a pair of shoes for her that glistened like rubies. The girl smiled and was calm.

The wife, oh, the wife. She rose, ranting, from their table to quell the truthful refrain, her curses rattling the windows. She then saw the gifts—the golden chain, the glittering slippers— and perked at what the others had received. Gingerly, aware of her guilt, she approached. The bird let loose his vengeance. Down fell the weight of the stone. Dust rose, and her body rested. Blood pooled at her skull, like his had at her hands.

No one will believe what they see—a tree, its opening, he, who died in wooden jaws to be released from those of another sylvan thing. Trees are not meant to open and yawn, to re-birth boys from birds. To breathe.


Sara Button has farmed in Italy, taught Latin in Arizona and made hostel beds in Ireland. Her work has appeared in places like Litro UK and BBC Travel, and she has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. She now lives in California.

Issue No. 18, Autumn 2016

"Little Bones" -- Christine Kern
Little Bones
Christine Kern

Sara Button has farmed in Italy, taught Latin in Arizona and made hostel beds in Ireland. Her work has appeared in places like Litro UK and BBC Travel, and she has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. She now lives in California.

John Davis is the author of Gigs and The Reservist. His work appears in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Cutbank, Georgetown Review, The Laurel Review, The North American Review, Oxford Magazine, Poetry Northwest and Sycamore Review. He teaches writing, performs in rock and roll bands and lives on an island near Seattle.

Lynn Fanok’s return to graduate school reignited her interest in writing poetry. She has written a collection of poems about her experiences as a survivor’s daughter examining her family, memory, and history. Her poetry has appeared in several online journals. Lynn lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where she leads a poetry series at a local independent bookstore. You can read more of Lynn’s poetry at lynnfanok.weebly.com.

HAEL is a Northern Kentucky recording artist and music engineering student, who also loves to capture the magic of nature and fantasy through photography, writing, painting, and building miniatures. Model Lady Elora Lionheart is a character performer, artist, aerialist and costumer who has modeled with Katalyst talent agency. The two sisters are very excited to be featured in this issue of Rose Red Review.

Edwin Henry has been writing since 2012. He studied Creative Writing at College of Idaho and completed his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing through Southern New Hampshire University. He has a keen interest in the grotesque, sublime, and the strange magic of the surreal when they mix together. He currently lives in Idaho. A sample of his portfolio and work can be found on his website: edwinhenryjr.com

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.

Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven Circle Press (www.sevencirclepress.com). His own work has been published widely in such places as The Chiron Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, VAYAVYA, Gingerbread House, Gravel and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. More about him and his work can be found at sethjani.com.

Christine Kern is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. She has recently completed her thesis work which has helped her define herself as a contemporary fiber sculptor. Within this short amount of time she has had the opportunity to engage in the contemporary art world, develop her portfolio and fully realize her artistic potential. Prior to her graduate degree she received her Bachelor’s of Art in Art Education and looks forward to her upcoming position as a high school ceramics/sculpture teacher. In conjunction with her education she has had the opportunity to exhibit her art in select galleries and in literary magazines.

Laura Knapp currently works as a marketing copywriter and was also a freelance reporter in metropolitan Chicago. She received her MA in English from Roosevelt University, also in Chicago, and had fiction published in its literary publication, Oyez Review. She has two short stories forthcoming in Rum Punch Press and Rivulets.

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in New Jersey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Lyra Review, Peregrine, and other journals.

Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian, classical singer and writer of speculative poetry and fiction. Her work appears in Mythic Delirium, Mithila Review, Metaphorosis, Through the Gate and other magazines and anthologies. Her poems have been nominated for the Rhysling, Dwarf Star, Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net awards, and appear on editors’ lists of recommended reading. As a child she galloped through the apartment to the William Tell Overture, tossing her mane, but never did manage to lasso the moon. She lives in New York City in a ravens’ wood, next door to bogles.

For three and a half decades Katharyn Howd Machan, picking up where Rod Serling left off, has taught creative writing at Ithaca College in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Her specialty courses, besides in poetry, are Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, Women and Fairy Tales, and first-year seminars called Fairy Tales: The Hero’s Journey. Her poems have appeared in 32 published collections (most recently WILD GRAPES: POEMS OF FOX [a kitsune shape-shifter]) and many magazines, anthologies, and textbooks.

"The Aeronef Tracks #2" -- HAEL
The Aeronef Tracks #2
HAEL

Ian Angus MacLean is a Canadian writer. His most recent work is forthcoming from The Literary Review of Canada.

Evan McMurry is the Social Media Editor for ABC News. He graduated from Reed College and received his MFA from Texas State University-San Marcos. His fiction has appeared in Post Road and The American Drivel Review, and is forthcoming from Euphony, Corvus Review and Mulberry Fork Review.

Mary McMyne is a poet, writer, and fairy tale aficionado living in northern Michigan. Her debut poetry collection, Wolf Skin (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), won the Elgin Chapbook Award. Her fiction has won the Faulkner Prize for a Novel-in-Progress, a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and other honors. Her writing has appeared widely in venues like Southern Humanities Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Word Riot, Ninth Letter, Pedestal Magazine, and Chattahoochee Review. An Associate Professor of English at Lake Superior State University, she co-edits the journal Border Crossing. She edits poetry for Faerie Magazine. Visit her online at marymcmyne.com.

Jessica Dylan Miele is a writer, librarian, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines including Quail Bell, Coming Together, Spickety Love, and Gingerbread House. Her short story was also featured on Short Stories Podcast. You can find her online at JessicaReads.com.

René Ostberg is a native of Chicago. Her writing has been featured at Tiny Donkey, The Masters Review blog, Literary Orphans, Thank You For Swallowing, Drunk Monkeys, Booma: The Bookmapping Project, and other places. She still lives in Illinois, outside Chicago, where she enjoys riding her cherry red bicycle all around town and spending time with her three cats. Her website is reneostberg.wordpress.com.

Laura C.J. Owen was born in England, lived in Minnesota for school, and keeps moving to back to Arizona, where she grew up. She has degrees from Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Arizona. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Annalemma Magazine, DIAGRAM, Litro, and other places. More information can be found at lauracjowen.com

Ana Prundaru is originally from Bucharest, but lives in Stuttgart, Germany. Her work appears in Severine, Watershed Review and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others.

Rebekah Rempel studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. Her poems have appeared in the anthologies Force Field: 77 Women Poets of British Columbia (Mother Tongue Publishing) and Unfurled: Collected Poetry from Northern BC Women (Caitlin Press), as well as the journals Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Fire, Room, Lake, Transition, Cactus Heart Press, One Throne Magazine, and Rose Red Review.

John W. Sexton was born in 1958 and lives in the Republic of Ireland. His fifth poetry collection, The Offspring of the Moon, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. A sixth collection, Futures Pass, is forthcoming from Salmon in 2017. His poem “The Green Owl” was awarded the Listowel Poetry Prize 2007 for best single poem, and in that same year he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His speculative poems are widely published and some have appeared in Apex, The Edinburgh Review, The Irish Times, Mirror Dance, The Pedestal Magazine, Rose Red Review, Silver Blade, Star*Line and Strange Horizons.

Annie Stenzel’s poems have most recently appeared (or are forthcoming) in the print journals Kestrel, Ambit, and Catamaran Literary Reader, and the online journals Rat’s Ass Review, American Journal of Poetry, and Blue Lyra Review. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and once for a Best of the Net. She received a B.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, both from Mills College. Stenzel is also a letterpress printer, never happier than when her hands are covered in ink. She pays the bills by working at a mid-sized law firm in San Francisco.

Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella, Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in New South Journal, Gamut Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Gingerbread House and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughters. Find her at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb

Kailey Tedesco received her MFA from Arcadia University where she now teaches English. She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the NYC Poetry Brothel. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find some of her poetry featured or forthcoming at FLAPPERHOUSE, Menacing Hedge, Quail Bell Magazine, Bellevue Literary Review, Prick of the Spindle, and more. She believes poetry is the closest thing we have to magic. For more, please visit kaileytedesco.com.

Sarah Ann Winn’s poems, flash fiction and hybrid works have appeared or will appear soon in Calyx, Five Points, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Massachusetts Review, and Passages North, among others. Her chapbooks include Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive (Essay Press, 2016), Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (Porkbelly Press, 2016), and Portage (Sundress Publications, 2015). Visit her at bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling.

"Untitled #1" -- Ana Prundaru
Untitled #1
Ana Prundaru

News Item #27

Dear Writers and Readers,

As you read the latest issue, you’ll notice its themes are a bit heavy for summer. I started Rose Red Review, in part, because the world is too much sometimes. Everyday magic encompasses more than fanciful fairy tale retellings. It’s beauty in a brutal world. It’s birdsong. It’s heartache. It’s twinkle lights in a crumbling, dirty train station. It’s maintaining a sense of wonder when the world goes to shit. Claudia Serea’s poem, “Autumn Walk,” conveys this sense of wonder amid chaos. Its message is the main theme for Summer 2016.

I’m heartsick. Rose Red Review isn’t a political publication, but it’s a place for diverse voices: black, white, brown, gay, straight, and of many faiths. You matter. In this climate of fear and uncertainty, you matter, no matter how many people insist you don’t. Keep that in mind as you read the selected stories and poems.

Any time it gets to be too much, look for something beautiful, even if it’s just a discarded piece of pearlescent seashell on a city sidewalk. Magic exists. It’s life and all the little details.

Warm Regards,
Larissa Nash

Feature: Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Golden Rings

Why do you whirl a lantern
that flashes into my eyes?

Because a hawk flies above my head
and a tower stands behind me.
Why do you sit with one bare foot exposed?

Because yellow flowers surprise my ankles
and a soldier stands there watching.
Why do you dare to climb down the hill?

Because I carry a hammer, a chain,
and the moon is still full in the sky.
Why does your hair fall to your waist?

Because I have dreamed your journey
and the castle door is barred.
Why are you moving quickly now?

Because in my heart grows berried holly
and you are surrounded by oak.


For three and a half decades Katharyn Howd Machan, picking up where Rod Serling left off, has taught creative writing at Ithaca College in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Her specialty courses, besides in poetry, are Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, Women and Fairy Tales, and first-year seminars called Fairy Tales: The Hero’s Journey. Her poems have appeared in 32 published collections and many magazines, anthologies, and textbooks.

Feature: Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

The Daughter of Owls
after Neil Gaiman

With my pellet, with my red long hair
never cut all my living years, I travel
day’s end as though it has strong wings,
as though my shift of pure clean white
could give me those wings, too.
Father? Fierce golden black-ringed eyes
searching front and back, his hunger
wide and full and deep with anger,
a wild wind through dark woods.
Mother: fairy? woman? no one
allowed to touch me after birth,
my body a weight in a basket.
Behind tall cross-laden walls I grew
wordless, with no knowledge of sin.
When men came to rape my beauty
I cowered, cried, called loudly out
in the only language feathers give:
shrill hoot, tight scream, raw screech.
My father heard and swooped at them
in moonlight with the darkest others
to claw and rip and swallow skin,
taste terror’s salty crimson flesh,
leave only bits of splintered bone,
bent buckles, hair, a few stained coins.
And now I haunt—half-bird, half-what—
the edge of night that has no name,
stories flying with my story
to ask the world how it could happen
and whom their dreams should blame.


For three and a half decades Katharyn Howd Machan, picking up where Rod Serling left off, has taught creative writing at Ithaca College in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Her specialty courses, besides in poetry, are Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, Women and Fairy Tales, and first-year seminars called Fairy Tales: The Hero’s Journey. Her poems have appeared in 32 published collections and many magazines, anthologies, and textbooks.

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Black Widow

Old woman
wails on rutted knees
red berries strewn
on the ground, the red
of blood.

At evening
berries drain
in the kitchen sink,
a black scarf tight
around her head.

Through the window
rain-gripped mountains
high above the forest
crowd her.

Was he hurrying to see that other woman?

She feeds wood into the hearth,
fans the fire
but the wood too wet
barely stays alive.

Rain falls hard,
like the night she found him,
crushed metal
against a tree,
his head bent.

Loose twigs
pelt her window,
swift tongues
carried on the wind.
Townsfolk talk.

Spirits roused,
ears too close to mouths,
her thoughts scurry
into corners, shelved
like books
in other times.

A spider scuttles
from a corner,
looks for somewhere else
to live.

Old woman
stuck on the sticky thread
of old tales. Love
in the evening,
rain on the sound
of wind, a doused fire
long dying.


Ion Corcos was born in Sydney, Australia in 1969. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Philosophy and European Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Ecology, and an unfinished degree in Modern Greek Studies. Ion’s main love is poetry. The themes of his work centre on life, nature, spirit, and the world. His poems have appeared in Axolotl, Bitterzoet, Every Writer, Ishaan Literary Review, and other journals. Ion also writes short stories, non-fiction, and short plays. His play, “A Flower”, was short-listed in Short and Sweet (2006).

Issue No. 17, Summer 2016

Autumn Walk

It’s hard to believe
the world is going to hell
in this sweet honey light.

My feet rustle through the leaves.

There’s a sense of closure in the air,
the stillness after catastrophe,

birds still flying,
and a breeze that moves the grass,
oblivious.


Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Her poems and translations have appeared in Field, New Letters, 5 a.m., Meridian, Word Riot, Apple Valley Review, among others. Serea is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press, 2015), and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ. She is a founding editor of National Translation Month. More at cserea.tumblr.com.