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“Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is.” – Poet Joseph Brodsky
Copyright @ The Fox Chase Review. All rights reserved.
Welcome to the Summer 2015 Edition of The Fox Chase Review, our 21st and final issue. We are pleased to present:
Poetry by: Simon Anton Diego Baena, Kevin Brophy, Michael DeMarco, Gil Fagianella, Michele Grottola, Ananya S Guha, Maria Keane, Adrian Manning, David P. Miller, Michelle Myers, Carlos Reyes and Laura Madeline Wiseman.
Fiction by: Sterling Brown, Joseph Crossen, Jean Davis, and Nancy Sherman.
The Fox Chase Review
Simon Anton Nino Diego Baena, Summer 2015
The aroma of black coffee starts my day,
every summer, the almond trees are
in bloom, the gardens become
a sanctuary of laughter, and the pigeons
are early in the square that once witnessed
Franco’s public executions. A basket
filled with daises and figs is on display
outside the antique chocolate shop
where poor immigrants are walking,
thinking if death is the end of suffering.
Here life tastes like vintage wine, delicate
and nourishing, as if there are no scars
in this town tattooed with bullet holes,
remnants of that infamous civil war—
the word isolation forces my lips
to open, as my afternoon walks
are often greeted by smiles
of pretty girls with emerald eyes.
And there is the element of surprise,
of hues, artists never fail to capture,
on that water, flowing, in the withered
The city plaza is full of children
in the afternoon. The acacia trees
stand proud where I enjoy sketching
the light, fading behind the arid mountains,
the glittering haciendas, as I
listen to the shrieking cicadas
every sunset. The monsoon is still
far away. As you can see, the summer
burns intensely in the clear blue firmament—
I know that everything in this world
is grounded with grief of History.
It seems here and everywhere
life moves like a spiraling leaf,
ending in its picturesque fall.
So what comes after the peak of a summer funeral? Well, the clock becomes an apparition of time, stain perhaps or solitude, and the scent of perfume that lingers in the air, the entire episode of blank stares, insincere handshakes of strangers and petulant priests, ashen faced, every time your relatives console you, telling you that everything’s going to be alright, knowing the candles always melt, the smoke dissipates, each quotidian day ends in darkness for most of the stars are dead anyway: there is absolutely no such thing as uninterrupted light, plus, you’re never the same again. You keep counting the years, listening to your heartbeat. And there is nothing ominous in these actions, except the certainty of grief and its appendage; usually, you consider them as crutches, be it religion or philosophical meditation that actually means doing nothing, just allowing your flesh to disintegrate as you watch the branches of your grandma’s water apple tree shed off the very last of its withered leaves.
Simon Anton Nino Diego Baena,is from Bais City, Negros Oriental, Philippines. Some of his poems have been published in Red River Review, Eastlit, The Camel Saloon, Mascara Literary Review, Kabisdak, Off the Coast, Blue Hour, Philippines Free Press, and Philippines Graphic Magazine.
Kevin Brophy, Summer 2015
A name for it
What is the name for that time of day
When birds have gone, the predictable gulls and thuggish ravens—
when the sky shuffles through its clouds like cards between a game,
when shutters have come down everywhere
and nobody sees how but spray cans have coloured
the town dirty.
The river keeps its counsel, endless rain at its back,
mountains feed it everything it needs.
I read of volcanoes and earthquakes that are coming,
my cold feet might be covered on the bed, my breath held
like a sprinter’s, like a jumper held in the air momentarily,
and when a bird does row past it is quiet, purposeful, fast—
the sky lets it go. What is the name for that time of day?
The tram just doesn’t come though you saw one go as you arrived.
The priests own the streets as they slip between churches,
monastery walls breathe dust on the rest of us.
The snakes are in our minds and rats come out from under
every stone and bridge, they know what time it is
and where the scraps are to be found, the feast
that one day bankers might be crawling after too.
Some late lunches drag on into afternoon liqueurs.
Waiting cars, black as Christmas beetles, grip the stones
of suddenly pointless roads.
Buildings the local councils refuse to acknowledge
are reaching for the cranes above them that totter
like old operatic actors coming up a beach.
What is the name for that time of the day? Where
Does it come from? Where does it go? You shake yourself
as if it is a dream and then it’s evening in the bars,
lighted windows once again full of dummies
a handsome black man speaks perfect reason, selling me umbrellas.
I need a wooden spoon, a bottle opener that won’t cut my finger to the bone,
I need the crowds around me in this city, close.
Even when we lift our knees like children coming from the sea
to escape back into our apartment, we want to hear it
out there working, priests coaching brides and witless grooms,
drunks hanging round the entrance to the underground, a singing man,
the zip snagging on the day momentarily before night opens its wide bag.
A Life in Fifty Moves
an envelope into a box
opening a door and going through
descending twisting sets of steps
shaking hands then letting go
pulling at a nail until it releases
and sends me tumbling backwards
like a clown falling off a ladder
dropping my wallet watch glass
touching your hand accidentally
tripping down a step
pushing through a turnstile
climbing over gates
slipping between barricades
sliding down a tree trunk
falling off a swing
jumping from a board
into shining shattered water
bumping into walls of glass
and waiting for an automatic door
chasing sheep or cats
pushing bikes through rooms
timing a leap upon an escalator
holding hats on heads beneath propellers
jerking open umbrellas in the wind
waving to a friend passing on a bus
jumping on to trains
running fingers down a library shelf
of Dewey numbers
dropping fast and stopping hard
in an aeroplane of great proportions
shaking hands with a man of some importance
jumping when a car backfires
waking up alone and frightened
buckling on a safety harness
skating through a park
chasing money down the street
breaking nibs and pencil ends on paper sheets
kneeling in a church
bending down to talk to children
looking up at clouds of darkness
kicking sand kicking goals
kicking at car tyres
tossing tennis balls into the blue above
pressing buttons in a lift
jumping cracks in footpaths
sliding down the sides of mountains
travelling on trains
swimming in a river
rolling down the bank
pulling bell ropes lustily at Easter
walking into brand name shops
climbing hills to villages
asleep on summer afternoons
and knowing this must stop
Kevin Brophy is author of 13 books of poetry, fiction and essays. He is a Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Melbourne. His latest book is Walking: New and Selected Poems (John Leonard Press 2013, (www.johnleonardpress.com) For the first six months of 2015 he is poet-in-residence at the B R Whiting Rome studio of the Australia Council.
Michael DeMarco, Summer 2015
49 days in the bardo; a meditation
Night came Thunder sounds from the clouds Scent of rain Tasting salt Touch of wind Chill of snow Whisper of a thought-from inside or outside?
Image of a lover Flight of white birds Moon winks Diffused light – gauze gossamer Halo around the sun Fire on coals Shadows of clouds
Green land with valleys Split mountain, two paths Footprints in sand Weeping man and woman Vortex of leaves and dust Ocean waves Fields of flowers
Smoke, haze Rock rolling Mud people Worms Spider’s web Meteor skipping across the sky Concrete highways threading
An infant in a crib Old man with a cane Bones in a room A jail; a jailor and the jailed – same face Key on a ring Trailing vines Drone of a single bee
Glasses filled with wine Drips of honey Blue cloth on a line beyond time Dreamscapes ill-defined Large fogs surrounds Ship, sails flying, sails away One black bird winging
Among frogs Hail and hardness Warm water humid air A length with many fires Cool deep earth A break at the horizon Night went
Michael DeMarco was born mid-twentieth century, in Abington, Pennsylvania. He spent his youth in Lower Bucks County (Levittown and Lower Makefield/Morrisville) and worked in Germantown/Mt Airy in the early 1970’s before moving to Bloomsburg in 1976, where he lives with his wife. He has an AA in Mass Media/Journalism from Bucks County Community College, BA in Liberal Arts/political science from Bloomsburg State College and an MBA from Bloomsburg University. Michael worked in management in the hospitality field for a couple of decades. Since 2004 he has been working for a non-profit sewer cooperative. He has been a River Poet since 1994.
Gil Fagiani, Summer 2015
Herbie had spent his entire life in institutions.
When I stopped him from eating his third chocolate pudding
Nurse Charles said: Let him have it; it’s all he has to look forward to.
You have to remember these patients have no family, no friends,
no prospects for a job, a place to live on their own, a love life.
I say let them have the extra cigarette, the extra cup of Kool-Aid,
the third portion of dessert. It’s the only pleasure they’ll ever know.
After Herbie gorged himself on a dozen cups of chocolate pudding,
he waddled off toward the men’s dormitory. An hour later,
detecting a foul odor, I stepped outside the nursing station
and discovered fecal footprints in the corridor. I spent the rest
of the shift mopping the floor, the walls, washing sheets, bedding,
pajamas. I was in the shower room hosing Herbie down for the third time
when Nurse Charles opened the front door and waved good night.
It was your first day back after a three-month bid at Rikers.
I was glad to see some meat on your bones, your body clean
from Devil Dope.
I was glad to do shots with you: Bacardi, Don Q, Palo Viejo,
glad to do a hit of coca, and take turns dancing with the bare-
foot barmaid with a tongue tattooed between her breasts.
When a half hour went by and you didn’t return from the can,
I found you on your knees among crumpled hand wipes, tid-
bits of toilet paper, a syringe stuck in the center of your arm.
I shook your shoulders until a black goop like fish roe
ran out of your nose, then dug out a dime from your
change pocket and went to make a phone call.
Gil Fagiani is an independent scholar, translator, essayist, short story writer and poet. His latest collection of poetry is Stone Walls published by Bordighera Books (2014). He has translated into English poetry written in Italian and Abruzzese dialect. Gil co-hosts the Italian American Writers’ Association’s monthly readings in Manhattan.
Michele Grottola, Summer 2015
Portrait in Retrospect
five years worn
inside the frail
lining of our lives–
as gray hairs
we grew through
the tousled wave–
the curl of time until
our eyes sprouted
as that first
mung bean crop
planted in those small
terra cotta pots
kept on the old oak table
beside flea-market Buddhas–
you know the ones
that by some miracle
lived on stones and sunlight
when we could not–
when we were not old
or young anymore
in the middle, learning
how to be green
and just as thirsty
as we were blessed
in our resistance.
Ananya S. Guha, Summer 2015
And I will never leave these hills
where else will I hide in catacombs
where else will whispering forests
leaven thoughts? where else
will I shut out machines
in staccato silence?
Yes they know me
swear, proffer love.
I accept in resignation
salutations from the wind
as by lanes swerve into untenanted
territory and the wine heaves sighs
of disillusion. A passer by mutters half
said hello, and I simply whisper
with a runaway smile which
is reflection in a child’s glassy face.
Mirages are these hills.
And in their emptiness is void.
Ananya S Guha works at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) as a Senior Academic. His poems in English have been published in International / National Journals and e zines. He also writes for newspapers, does book reviews and writes on matters related to education. His recent works appeared in the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry edited by Sudeep Sen. He also writes book reviews, articles for newspapers and articles on education, distance education and vocational education.
Maria Keane, Summer 2015
The Very Last Picture Show
The Rialto is dark, our seats
toast warm with
tremors of the anxious.
A film of short subjects
dissolves in rapid movements:
attempts to melt
the ephemeral into the real.
Subjects project vanity.
This harvest of animations,
becomes my attempt to tear
a seam of indifference.
Amber lights fade in and out.
The audience is unforgiving;
they cannot imagine a soul
skipping on the tightrope of heaven
Maria J. Keane is a visual artist, educator and published poet. She received her B.A. from Hunter College, N.Y.C. and a Master in Art History from the University of Delaware (Phi Kappa Phi). She is an Arts and Letters member of the National League of American Pen Women and an artist member of the historic Howard Pyle Studio in Wilmington, Delaware. She served as an Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts and Art History at Wilmington University (New Castle Campus, from 1984 to 2009.)
Adrian Manning, Summer 2015
Living Fragments Dying
weary from fitful sleep
dragged by the demons of the day
out of the darkness
into the bright glare of paranoia
the back yard calls
wooden branches need breaking up
grass needs cutting
and nature, the only reliable thing
endures and mocks
destroy me it says, change me
I’ll be back it says
whispering with disgust at futility
holding the last laugh
and two girls, ghost voices scream
giggling in my ear
Omaha, Nebraska a world away
a place never seen
songs of the American past
antiques of the future
newspaper, tv and burning cigarettes
the allegiance to the flag
and the dead still alive but silent
in the background listening
on the table in the house photos
of the boxer rebellion
wars, demonstrations and protest
the powerful and those
without the power, without hope
gone in black and white
yesterday’s sun gone and the moon
back on course again
and nothing changes, no change
nothing at all, nothing
Adrian Manning lives and writes in Leicester where he also edits Concrete Meat Press. His latest publication is a joint chapbook with John Dorsey ‘These Days, Days Like This’ (Concrete Meat Press 2015) and a chapbook ‘Wide Asleep, Fast Awake’ illustrated by Janne Karlesson will be published by Bottle Of Smoke Press very soon.
David P. Miller, Summer 2015
LANDSCAPE WITH HILTON
Help a lady out? Skin-stretched
skeleton holds out a paper cup
amid a wash of playgoers leaving
a hip-hop opera as they slide toward Market.
A waitress brings grilled cheese and slaw
in a faux-Fifties diner next street downhill,
emaciated and bald beneath
a perky blue kerchief, metal red-lipped,
uneasily young and worn over the bones.
Past top-hatted doormen in capes
that swallow the light, taxi-whistling,
someone with a square-trimmed beard,
pierced crystal eyes, stalks shouting
against his best mind, neither starved
nor naked. A slide of one block
closer to the Tenderloin,
pale block letters against brick
remember Elegantly Furnished Rooms
Private Phones Steam Heat
Hot Water Elevator Service
Private Baths $20 Month.
Hung above the sidewalk, a voided
sign for a vanished café, shaft rising
toward Corinthian columns and satellite dish,
overpainted entirely in white.
David P. Miller’s chapbook, The Afterimages, was published in 2014 by Červená Barva Press. His poems have appeared in print in Meat for Tea, Stone Soup Presents Fresh Broth, Stone’s Throw, and the 2014 Bagel Bards Anthology, and online in the Wilderness House Literary Review, Painters and Poets, Oddball Magazine, Muddy River Poetry Review, and the Boston and Beyond Poetry Blog. He has three “micro-chapbooks” available from the Origami Poems Project website. He was a member of the multidisciplinary Mobius Artists Group of Boston for 25 years, and is a librarian at Curry College in Milton, Mass.
Michelle Myers, Summer 2015
GODDESS AT MASAYA VOLCANO
A fragment caught fluttering on the sulfuric breath of the Masaya Volcano…
I stand on the burning punishment of lava
as they call me the Devil’s Whore
and make me dwell in the
Mouth of Hell.
Amid the whispers of ash on the air,
they feed me the blood of children.
“Witch!” they proclaim.
“Demon!” they decree,
their fingers crossing the air.
Ah, but this is the beauty of their lies:
their hypocrisy will
reap upon their own souls.
I have watched them long and hard
and even though they try not to look,
they see me.
They see me clean up after their evil doings,
for I catch the innocents they murder:
kiss their eyes in their last moments,
lashes fluttering as breath over a candle.
I collect their final tears
and drink them.
This is my vow of vengeance.
I tell the children they have nothing to fear
for I am bigger than the world:
My lips kiss the forehead of the moon
and the gentle sweep of my jade skirt
stirs up a slight breeze
as I sing fresh rain into the sky.
This song is mine alone:
raindrops dance to the rhythm of my breath.
Gathering my children,
I bathe away their fears and
rub love back into their skins.
My hands roll the children’s laughter into thunder.
MICHELLE MYERS is a spoken word poet, community activist, and educator. She is a founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, a dynamic duo of Philly-based Asian American female spoken word poets. As a solo artist, Michelle is dedicated to raising awareness about social injustices and building positive relationships across communities. In recognition of her solo work, Michelle was a March 2011 recipient of a Leeway Foundation Arts and Change Grant, which enabled her to provide poetry workshops for youth in Nicaragua. In March 2013, she kicked off a national book tour for her solo poetry book The SHE Book, which was released in the spring of 2011. All proceeds from the book support Odanadi, an anti-trafficking organization that rescues and rehabilitates women and children in India. Most recently, Michelle was named as a recipient of the 2014 Leeway Transformation Award and received an Honorable Mention for The Loft Literary Center’s 2015 Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. Finally, Michelle holds a Ph.D. in English from Temple University; she currently is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Learning Lab/Student Academic Computer Center Department at Community College of Philadelphia. http://www.yellowrage.com email@example.com
Carlos Reyes, Summer 2015
NEVER IN STEP WITH WHAT ESCAPED ME
His hand a shaking tree
The tree, its leaves gone,
still quaking in a wind
that pulls it back
against the stone wall
like old fairy bush,
not unlike an old man’s hair
as he stands, the wall
stones loosening around him.
The gate, an old iron bed stead,
tied at the top with bailing twine
unhinged as its fiber rots away.
Who would risk wetting their ankles
crossing through the grass grown
gap to visit? It shouldn’t have
been that hard for a son.
Now I go through that gap
every dream, again and again,
and stop each time to tie up the gate
with the same rotting thread.
The gauze like ghost
of a two meter long
snake rustles in the light breeze
along the dusty road.
On close examination
I see the husk of that reptile
is still stuck to the hole
in the wall it has forced
its way through
to be reborn.
On the other side,
in a shiny new coat
it is blind to the world
as any new kitten.
When its vision clears
it will go searching
for a new life.
I have often crawled
of grim stone walls, trying
to leave more
than my old rain coat behind, hoping
the wind would blow it away
and with it all my sins.
I am not trying
to be anthropomorphic,
I am not a snake, it is that simple.
On the underside
of the sloughed skin
perfectly imprinted ridges:
the snake’s means of travel––
I look at my own worn shoes.
CARLOS REYES is a noted Portland poet, translator, and world traveler. He has been a frequent visitor to Ireland since 1972. In 2013 he was featured reader at the Mt Shannon Arts Festival, The White House, and The Nail in Limerick ( Ireland). The Keys to the Cottage; Stories from the West of Ireland (2015) Reflects his Irish interests
His latest book of poetry is Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart (2013). His The Book of Shadows; New and Selected Poems was published by Lost Horse Press in 2009. A Suitcase Full of Crows (1995) was a winner of the Bluestem Prize. His most recent book of translations is Poemas de amor y locura / Poems of Love and Madness: Selected Translations (2013). He has been an Oregon Arts Commission Fellow, a Yaddo Fellow, a Fundación Valparaíso Fellow, (Spain), a Heinrich Boll Fellow (Ireland), An Island Institute Fellow (Sitka, Alaska), as well as poet- in- resident at the Joshua Tree National Park, Acadia National Park, and most recently Devils Tower National Monument (2013).
Laura Madeline Wiseman, Summer 2015
Charm for Sleep
To feel the whitish-gray lances—
long, pointed tips of the willow
finely sawing flesh—furrowed
at the pond’s edge is to walk among
the mourners that fall, to the slopes
where they live still: nine trees
rooted to the bank, the footprints
marking our path, until the vault lowered,
hands clasped, and we gave over
to cars, homes, loss: is
to feel them unclothed: the leaves
brushing, turning us from death, that
plot—weeping willow, white willow, black.
I would’ve stopped the winds
if I could—and then to
touch now the trunks of these female,
mistaken, misnamed as Babylon.
They would speak if they could.
They sway around me—as I learn
to cure aches, pains, fever—
move weightless in the air, their touch
caressing my skin, letting this sister be enough.
Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press). Her recent books are Drink (BlazeVOX Books), Wake (Aldrich Press), The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard), and the collaborative book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters (Les Femmes Folles) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, Ploughshares, and Calyx.Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press). Her recent books are Drink (BlazeVOX Books), Wake (Aldrich Press), The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard), and the collaborative book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters (Les Femmes Folles) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, Ploughshares, and Calyx.
Sterling Brown, Summer 2015
He was a man who preferred to expand. But each time he erected his rebuttals, they withered beneath her rebukes. And so he sat quietly, a towel around his waist, while she stood by the darkened window in her robe. Between them on a room-service table, an ice bucket held a corked bottle of champagne.
Presently the woman said, “I ask again—what do you expect me to do with it?”
He stiffened. “Whatever you want.”
“That’s good,” she said. “Leonard, I have to laugh at this juncture. Wait a moment while I laugh.” Raising her chin, she released a sob.
“It’s been a long night,” Leonard said.
“Don’t use that word,” she said sharply.
“Now really, Catherine.”
“Now really nothing. Don’t use that word ever again. Find a synonym.”
Leonard was silent a moment. “Protracted.”
“I don’t like that either.”
“In general parlance it’s considered quite acceptable.”
“Not for you.”
He crossed his arms over his narrow chest.
“Extended,” he said.
“That’s enough! Don’t trifle with me, Leonard!”
“I wouldn’t dare,” he said from the bed. “Would you like a drink?”
“No.” After grabbing a pack of cigarettes from the table, she shook one out and lit it. “Extra,” she read, “slim.”
“Well,” Leonard said, looking away. “That isn’t everything.”
She flung down the pack. “Liar! You said we’d have everything if I waited. And I waited all winter.”
“As I recall, I didn’t mention waiting till mid December.”
Leonard lifted his hand to his forehead. “You’re becoming hysterical.”
“You would, too.”
“I don’t think so.” He massaged his temple. “You’re making a mountain of a mole hill.”
“If only I could.”
“You know what I mean—it’s not a big thing.”
“It certainly isn’t. And don’t use that word either.”
“You didn’t want me to see it,” she said in a low voice, then stabbed her cigarette on the table and raised it toward him. “This is you!”
“Maybe I should criticize one of your features.”
“Just what?” she asked, spreading her robe. Her breasts were full, her hips swelling.
Catherine threw the cigarette on the floor and herself on the bed. She thrashed about, pounding the sheets until Leonard jumped away.
“Yaah!” he screamed. Hopping to the table, he yanked the bottle from the bucket and jammed in his foot.
Suddenly calm, Catherine watched. “Um,” she said, pointing to where his leg lifted the towel.
He pulled the towel down. “Sorry.”
“So am I.”
With a grimace he pulled his foot from the bucket, then lowered himself into a chair. “You burned my foot.”
“Then we’re even. You froze my heart.” Propping her chin on her fist, she said, “So now, little Leonard, what do you suggest?”
At first he didn’t speak. Then: “What if we do nothing?” he asked slowly. “What if we leave, and pretend we’re still waiting?”
“We’ll forget all this,” he said. “And we’ll be happy, waiting for our wonderful night.”
Catherine gave a sad smile. “I think I understand. This never happened, and all is before us.”
“And the wait will be worth it.”
“Of course it will.” Catherine sighed. “It will be worth everything.”
“You see?” Leonard said to her. “That’s what really matters. The wait is the reward.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. A winter of waiting is too short. We need longer, much longer—”
With startling speed, Catherine leaped to her feet on the mattress. “I told you!” she shouted. “Use a synonym!”
Shrinking into the chair, Leonard pressed the towel between his legs. In a small voice he said, “We need an eternity.”
From the bucket came the click of shifting ice. Catherine stepped off the bed and walked to the darkened window. Outside gave no hint of the coming spring.
Sterling Brown started out as a reporter for the Atlantic City Press. He quit after a year or so, wrote books he couldn’t sell, and paddled a canoe from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Then he got married, had two daughters, realized he needed a steady job, and worked as a probation officer for thirty years. During that time he sold journalism and fiction to magazines. He also wrote the first book about step aerobics with its inventor, his wife Dawn. She then talked him into writing a biography of Harriet Quimby, the first licensed U.S. woman pilot. His docudrama about Harriet was presented at last year’s Garden State Film Festival. This year he wrote the script for a sand-sculpting documentary that tied for first place in the festival’s “home-grown short” category. Brown recently completed two novels: one about clam thieves in South Jersey’s back bays, the other a detective mystery set in Atlantic City. He also writes and narrates online videos. Apart from that, he likes sailboats.
Joseph Crossen, Summer 2015
Our time at St. Sebastian School in McKeesport, Pennsylvania was coming to an end. As spring came and major league baseball players were in spring training for the coming season, the nuns of St. Sebastian were preparing us for the final rituals of eighth grade.
We sat in five long rows of wooden desks whose black wrought iron legs were screwed firmly to the floor. To our left the large windows showed Market Street and rattled in their frames in a strong wind. The front and rear walls were covered with slate blackboards, and the door was opposite the windows. A portrait of Saint Sebastian, who angered the Emperor Diocletian and was shot full of arrows and left for dead, was on the front wall. A Christian widow found him and nursed him back to health. He then shouted accusations at the Emperor who, this time, had Sebastian beaten to death. For eight years, we were reminded of him as a model of courage and endurance. Sebastian and an American Flag flanked a large crucifix on the front wall.
Sister Mary George patrolled the front of the room, tapping the palm of her hand with a wooden pointer, a metronome for her speech. “Today is an important day in your lives,” she told us. “Today you will experience a vocational opportunity that could await you when you complete high school. Boys, you will visit the steel mill. And, girls, you will see what office work is like at Riggers Religious Articles Store.”
This was career counseling at St. Sebastian’s. Everyone knew that the boys would work in the mill. A few would go on to college, then come back and be “white shirts” in the mill. But the nuns played the odds: most of us boys would walk out of high school and into the mill. The girls would become secretaries and clerks, with the exception of a few who became teachers or nurses.
“We will walk together down Market Street to its intersection with Sixth Street,” Sister Mary George said. “There, I will take the girls to the right and on to Riggers. Boys, you will go on to the mill with Mister Sezlaski. His son Billy left us last year for Saint Leo High, and I am sure you remember him.”
She was right about that. Billy Sezlaski was a bully we would remember for pushing younger and smaller kids around on the playground.
She went on, “Mister Sezlaski is a foreman at the mill, a very responsible position. He will guide you to the mill and conduct the tour.”
She looked hard around the room, and each of us felt accused in advance. “He will report any misbehavior to me and woe betide any of you who misbehaves. Do you understand?” A chorus of “Yes Sister” came back to her. She made silent eye contact with each of us again. The only sound was the soft pat of the pointer on her hand.
The classroom door opened, and Mr. Sezlaski stepped in. He was freshly shaven. His face had a shine from his aftershave, and he wore his best work clothes. From the look on his face, Sister Mary George may have threatened him as well.
She turned to him. “Are we ready, Mr. Sezlaski?”
“Yes, Sister,” he said.
“Very well. Children, you may—quietly—form your lines.”
There was a soft shuffling sound of books sliding back into desks and feet scraping the worn wooden floor. Boys went to the left of the door along that blackboard and girls to the right. There was no question of where to stand. Most of us had been together in this school from kindergarten or first grade and had been in line for recess, dismissal, walks to the church on Holy Days and had been looking at the back of the same heads since then. Not many faces had changed over the years. Where would steelworkers’ families go, anyway? This was where the mill was. Any new mill a family might migrate to had the same conditions and pay and sat in the same kind of town.
We knew our places in line and went to them. The nuns knew them as well and were quick to move a miscreant back into his proper place if he was in an unassigned position.
In front of me stood Frank Durmak. Durmak took over as reigning bully when Billy Sezlaski left St. Sebastian’s. My friend Johnny Callahan was a few guys behind me. Johnny and I had been together since first grade and would continue in high school.
Leaning on the blackboard, Durmak said out of the side of his mouth to me,
“Big hairy deal, huh? Steel mill. So what. Right?” He dismissed the mill with a flick of his hand.
I had learned somewhere around third grade that the best approach to Durmak was peaceful coexistence. A quick glance to make sure Sister Mary George wasn’t looking, and I nodded. Durmak was never the one caught talking in line. It was always the kid he was talking to or harassing.
Again, from the side of his mouth, “This is nothing.” He made a dismissive sound, “Ppffftt,” and flicked the back of his hand across the back of my head. It hurt—surprised more than hurt, actually—but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of a reaction.
Again, check the nun and nod.
“We can proceed. Ladies first, then gentlemen,” I heard her say, and we started down the hall, down the wide flight of steps, worn from years of shuffling students, and out into the May sunshine.
I was thinking that this was a great day for baseball. If we couldn’t play ball, the tour of the mill was better than sitting in a classroom. At least we were outside where large sycamores lined the first block, and they were regaining their leaves after the winter. I could smell the mill in the air, its stench competing with spring’s aroma. The furnaces in the mill gave off the odor of rotten eggs, and the mill, like the trees, was in full bloom. This was a good thing. Our parents taught us that the smell of rotten egg gas meant people were working.
If the sisters gave grades for daydreaming, I’d have been an A+ student. The coming of spring, the warm air, and the nearness of summer all had me mentally playing second base so well that when everyone else stopped at an intersection, I kept going until Frank Durmak’s back stopped me.
“Hey, dipshit. Watch where you’re going,” he said, and he shot an elbow at me.
“Oh, uh, sorry, Frank.”
“Hey, you better be.”
A few minutes later, we were walking in the main gate of the McKeesport Works of United States Steel. The mill. A large green sign, lettered in white, announced, “65 days without a lost time accident!” I smiled at the secret knowledge from my father that, if a worker was hurt on the job and could be wheeled to a desk somewhere, it was not a lost time accident. Sixty-five days ago someone was very seriously hurt, if it had caused lost time.
We craned our necks and looked around. We had lived near this belching dragon but had never stepped inside his maw. We were about to be swallowed. It was loud. All our lives, the mill was a sound in the background, but, up close, this was noise from another world, and we were still outside the buildings. Durmak said something to me and when I said, “What?” he shouted, “This ain’t no big deal” and tilted his head, pointing around him with his jaw.
A guard came down the line pushing a wheelbarrow full of helmets and safety goggles. They looked like battered World War I doughboy helmets and were bright orange. We put them on.
Durmak sneered at his helmet as if to say he didn’t need one. Tough guy.
I felt odd and conspicuous in mine, but everyone else looked funny too. I looked back at my friend Johnny. He rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out the corner of his mouth. I laughed.
Mr. Sezlaski walked up and down our line, shouting directions to us. There would be a guard at the front and rear of the line. Mr. Sezlaski would walk alongside. There was nothing to be afraid of, he told us, but cautioned that the mill was louder inside than out here. We should stay together. If he or one of the guards signaled stop, stop right away. The tour would take an hour. We would have lunch in the mill cafeteria, and then go back to school.
We walked in a row about a hundred yards to a railroad crossing. Mr. Sezlaski and the guards looked for an oncoming train. They couldn’t have heard one for the noise of the mill. Everything was magnified, not just the sound. We crossed the track and walked toward a building with an opening wide enough for several large trucks to enter side by side. It was the hot mill where glowing molten steel was rolled into shape. I could only hear the sound of the mill, enhanced by the smell of hot steel and the glow of the furnaces that belched out flames. I thought that this must be what Hell was like, a roaring, flaming stink.
In front of me Frank Durmak put up his hands and screamed. I couldn’t hear the scream. It looked like a scream. Years later, when I saw Munch’s famous painting, I’d see Durmak. His hands were up to his ears, and his eyes bugged out, his mouth wide. He dropped to the floor, his hands clasped behind his head.
Mr. Sezlaski and one of the guards rushed to him. They each took an arm and tried to get Frank to stand. He fought them, trying to cling to the ground. I could see their lips move with no sound. Like in a silent movie, their faces seemed to scream, but there was no sound, only the roaring of the mill. I looked around. The rest of the guys watched the struggle on the floor, wide-eyed. I could see we were all scared and had seen enough. We hadn’t been inside the mill for five minutes.
The two men took Frank Durmak and lifted him by his biceps. They carried him past us, still in his fetal position, his head shaking from side to side, his mouth wide so that, when he went by, we could still see the scream.
That was the quick end to our tour.
Back in class that afternoon, I watched Sister Mary George talk and rap her pointer in her hand. She looked more serious than usual, and I figured she was talking about our field trips, but the mill was still in my ears and I could only see her lips move. There was very little sound, like a voice muffled in cotton and framed by ringing.
When she wasn’t looking my way, I stole a glance back at Frank Durmak’s empty desk.
Joseph L. Crossen has published short fiction in The Broadkill Review, The Cape Henlopen Anthology 2015, The Beach House, and The Boardwalk, both collections of short stories by local writers. His story “The Artist’s Stain” took first place in the 2014 competition. He has also published poetry in Delmarva Review. Crossen is a three time fellow of the Delaware Division of the Arts Writers Institute and an assistant professor in the College of Education at Wilmington University. He lives in Dover, DE.
Jean Davis, Summer 2015
That Harold. I swear, that man is going to be the death of me yet.
First, he moved us to Georgia. Well, not him, but the company he works for. Then he had to buy a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle. It had to be a Harley. Never mind that the bike was a brand new 1992 model and cost more than our main vehicle is worth. Our 1979 Chevy pickup may look beat-up because it’s taken a lot of abuse, but it’s still got a lot of miles left in it. The truck got us all the way from Kansas City to Gainesville when Harold was transferred, didn’t it?
Harold took up fishing after we got here. I didn’t mind his buying multiple rods and reels, or the monofilament, waders, lures, pocket vest, or even frequent six-packs to fill the new cooler. I mean, I have my own habit that requires accessories. My stockpile of fabric calls for the purchase of thread, buttons, zippers, seam binding, interfacing. Harold and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. “You can’t eat fabric,” Harold said.
“You can’t wear trout,” I retorted.
For the first month after we got settled, Harold fished the lake near our house, Lake Lanier, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. This morning he wanted to make a trip to Dahlonega or maybe Helen to fish the creeks. He’d take the bike. I was okay with that so long as I didn’t have to go with him. Curvy mountain roads scare me. He likes to lean deep into the curves. I prefer to lean hard in the opposite direction to try to keep us upright. That, and I have bad sinuses. I get carsick just driving the few hairpin turns from town up to our driveway. Fishing trip, fine. Dahlonega, fine. Motorcycle, fine. I was okay with all that. It’s his life if that’s the way he wants to spend his Saturday.
But when he said he wanted to take Harold, Junior, I balked. But what could I do? Harold is the breadwinner, the boss, Junior’s dad. He wears the pants, he reminds me. I’m just the wife, the one who stays home cooking meals, cleaning house, piecing quilts together. I say that sarcastically. I don’t have much say in most matters. But where Junior is concerned, I have a lot to say. In Harold’s face. Loudly. Thankfully, Junior was a few blocks away at a friend’s house when Harold and I discussed the fishing trip. I was even more grateful that none of the near-by neighbors called the cops on us.
So I did my duty, or more accurately, motherly duty, more for Junior than for Harold. I packed them a lunch—roast beef sandwiches, carrots, celery sticks, pickle spears, apples. Harold, Junior, is eleven now. I know when I’m outvoted.
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” I asked. They were leaving well before noon.
“It’s an hour over, an hour back. We might check out some other fishing spots. Depending on how the fish are biting, five or six hours at the most,” Harold promised. He promised.
I tried to keep busy while they were gone. First I retrieved the yardage of grey wool I’d hidden behind the passenger seat of the pickup. Harold doesn’t understand how hard it is to pass up a good sale. I pushed the piece to the back of my closet. Then I swept, vacuumed, and scrubbed the bathrooms like I always do on Saturday. I took time out to read through my cookbooks. I don’t have much experience cooking fish. I wondered if we’d have trout for supper and whether I should make a few appropriate sides for tonight or prepare something else and save the trout for Sunday. The recipe for Trout Almondine sounded good but complicated. I finally decided just to broil the trout with butter, salt and pepper, and lemon.
I checked to see what we had in the freezer and decided to save the fish for another day and thaw pork chops, Harold’s favorite. I put on a pot of lima beans with bacon. I planned to stew tomatoes and make an apple cake. Supper was nearly ready, and things were in pretty good order by four o’clock, six hours after they’d left.
Five o’clock came, then six o’clock. I tried to control my rising panic with deep breathing. When Harold and Harold, Junior, left, Junior was holding the rods and the sack lunch. He couldn’t easily hold on to his daddy. What if he fell off the bike when Harold was making one of the curves? What if there had been an accident? We always eat supper between five and five-thirty; it’s how Harold likes it. By six, the pork chops were beginning to dry out, even though I’d covered them. By seven, I knew Harold might have something unkind to say about the way I’d cooked the meat. It wasn’t my fault the pork was drying out at such a rapid rate. By eight, if Harold were still alive, I wanted to kill him.
I spent my time walking back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, from checking on the pork chops to looking through the blinds to see if I could spot a single headlight beam coming down our road and pulling into our driveway. I was too upset to eat much; I wanted to wait for my family. From time to time, I picked up the phone receiver just to make sure we had a dial tone. A little before nine, I called the hospital to see if there had been a motorcycle accident reported and if a Harold Jones or a Harold Jones, Junior, had been brought into the emergency room. No, I was told. Oh, so they hadn’t been found yet. I thought about calling my mother, Harold’s mother, the sheriff’s department, the highway patrol.
Oh, Harold! I loved that man, even given all his faults. If he missed a curve and they were deceased, I hoped it was quick. I wouldn’t want to see either of them suffer.
I went to my closet and pulled out the new piece of wool and measured it, nose to extended fingertips, three times―three yards. I sorted through my sewing patterns and found the one I bought just in case I ever wanted to make Harold a jacket. If I laid the pattern pieces right, I’d have enough fabric. I didn’t have the right material to line the jacket, but I could always run into town the next day between funeral arrangements and phone calls and buy it.
I thought about what songs I’d want the choir to sing and who I’d ask to preach the funerals and where the funerals would be. Harold liked “Amazing Grace.” His mother liked “In the Sweet By and By.” I’d probably have to let her have a say in what we did since it was her son’s funeral. For my son, I’d want to hear “Jesus Loves Me.” I’d want a lot of white flowers, maybe baby’s breath, around the church. I picked out a few appropriate Scriptures. Being new in Gainesville, I didn’t know anyone. It’s an awful thing to be so alone in a new town with your own people to bury. I wondered how much funeral expenses would be, how much it would cost to fly my mother out—or how much it would cost to fly the bodies back to our home town if Harold’s mother insisted. I wondered where Harold’s life insurance policy was. We hadn’t rented a lock box yet. I wondered how easy it would be to break our year’s lease so I could move back closer to my folks. I couldn’t stay in Georgia, especially now, not in this house with so many sad memories, and I’d certainly never be able to eat another pork chop.
Ten after ten . . . ten minutes after ten o’clock . . . six hours and ten minutes after Harold said he’d be home, guess who came walking through the door just as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened? I didn’t know whether to hug Harold’s neck or strangle him. I was glad to see our baby, but where his daddy was concerned, I already had the pattern laid out and the funeral planned. I could easily lay him out, too. I’d already shed my tears. No use wasting anything.
They came home without fish; they’d released the ones they caught. I could tell Junior was tired, but he looked happy. They were both smiling. I’m glad I saw that before I lit into Harold.
On his way to bed, Junior said, “Thanks, Dad. Today was the best.” That touched my heart. I even teared up a bit. I didn’t want to spoil the day for Junior. They didn’t want supper since they’d eaten already at a little diner on the way back from Dahlonega. The sandwiches for lunch were great, Harold said, and on inquiry, no, he hadn’t thought to call me. They were having such a good time. He didn’t think I’d worry. And this, after fourteen years of marriage.
You know how at funerals, some people facing grief are so stoic? I was like that. I was stiff upper-lipped and all cried out. Harold might have misread it as a deep peace setting in on me, a peace that passeth understanding. Wrong about that. I was afraid of what I might say. I could hardly think straight. It’s not easy planning funerals.
After Junior went to bed, I didn’t say a word. I left it up to Harold to deal with his tackle and to do something with the pork chops, lima beans, and stewed tomatoes. I’d had a difficult evening. I’d already finished off the cake; I didn’t feel much like eating supper, cleaning up, or being sociable.
Once in bed I couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t just because of Harold’s snoring after he joined me. Since Junior is only eleven and there are so many lakes, creeks, rivers, and streams here to fish, I anticipate many more father/son outings. Evidently it’s too much to ask Harold to take the truck instead of the motorcycle or to find a pay phone and make a simple one-minute call to let me know they’re going to be late. Tomorrow is Sunday. I’m seriously considering, first thing Monday morning, making an appointment with a divorce attorney. Harold can keep the motorcycle; he still has to pay for it. I’m taking the truck and keeping the house. Junior’s staying with me, but he can visit Harold as often as the courts decide.
I stew a bit more until Harold rolls over and throws his arm over me. He wakes enough to pull me close. The familiar warmth of his body and comfort of his touch reel me in. Oh, Harold. That man! I do love him. As I listen to his steady breathing, I wonder what I would ever do without him. Even after all these years, he still makes my heart melt. Maybe . . .
Maybe next time if Harold will agree to drive the truck, I can take something for motion sickness and ride along with him and Harold, Junior. Traveling mountain roads with them would be better than sitting home alone, planning funerals.
Jean Davis writes humor, inspirational stories, short stories, essays, grocery lists, and devotions. She is the author of two small collections of humorous and heartfelt stories of family life: Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Other Things I Can’t Say, and Slices of Life: Couch Potato Pie. She lives in Delaware with her husband Vergil.
Nancy Powichroski Sherman, Summer 2015
Saving the Child
At first, you avoided the beach, any beach, but especially this beach. You drove all the back roads to get from Point A to Point B, rather than chance a glimpse of the ocean. But your husband Nick eased you back with short walks on the beach – five minutes, ten minutes, adding a bit more with each outing. You walked, but you kept your eyes busy searching for seashells or admiring the sea grass that protects the dunes. Anything but acknowledge the ocean. Your being here on the beach today is a sort of final exam for which you’re not prepared. In your gut, you know it’s too soon to spread a quilt, raise an umbrella, and open the beach chairs at the very spot where these items stood a year ago when you witnessed the drowning of a child.
You often dream about seeing little kids playing by the shoreline, digging in the sand, unattended. You watch them walking into the waves to catch some water for their sandcastles. You imagine them pulled under and carried away by the undertow without a glance from the lifeguard or the vigilance of a mother. Always, the dream ends with the sight of a lifeless little body dropped onto the wet sand, already too late for saving.
Shake the dream from your mind. Untie your beach cover-up and let it drop onto the quilt while Nick arranges the newly purchased beach chairs under the equally new umbrella. Try to ignore the reason for their newness, but you can’t. The other chairs and umbrella were left behind, forgotten, abandoned, on the day of the incident.
Refuse the tears that try to form. Hide your face in the beach towel that hangs from the umbrella spokes until you feel Nick’s arms surround you, folding you in like a receiving blanket. He whispers, “I’m here, Honey. I’m here.”
Lean your head back against his chest. “I know.”
“Do you want to leave?”
You want to say yes, but shake your head no. Everyone’s right – it’s time to move on. You hadn’t always hated the beach. You used to spend every free moment here. It’s how you met Nick. He was your instructor for a paddle boarding class. Then your surfing buddy. Picture your beach wedding with the surfboards standing in the sand, creating the arch for the ceremony. The two of you were the perfect match. But without the water these last thirteen months, it’s been just two people sharing a house.
It’s your fault. Fix it.
Turn inside Nick’s embrace and slip your arms around his waist. Look into his eyes and give a smile that is just big enough to assure him. “I’m okay.” Then, settle into the beach chair and close your eyes. Listen for the sound of Nick’s movement – the soft crunch of the sand under the beach chair, followed by the sound of turning pages as he flips through his Sports Illustrated magazine. Wonder if he’s thinking about surfboards and if his muscles yearn to be in the ocean. You miss watching him ride the waves, dancing his board in front of the white tips of the breakers. Play the image in your mind like a favorite film clip until memory breaks in like an annoying commercial. It takes you to that August day. Remember a surfer, water sliding down his hair, his body shading the sun from the child the lifeguard tried to resuscitate, all the while knowing that it was already too late to save the boy, but going through the actions dictated by protocol, waiting for the ambulance and EMTs to arrive. Wonder now if the protocol is really in place for the sake of the crowd, giving them hope, never letting them guess that the lifeguard is just filling time until the little body can be whisked away to the hospital and declared dead.
You don’t remember the child’s face. Maybe the shade from the surfer shielded its details, or maybe you didn’t want to see it. Instead, you remember looking past the crowd and watching an empty surfboard being tossed wave to wave and no one attempting to keep it from escaping out into the ocean. Recall watching the riderless board and the waves, while listening to the low conversations that floated through the crowd as they placed bets on whether or not the child would survive.
Open your eyes to the sky and remind yourself that there is no child lying lifeless on the sand today – that was a different summer day, long gone. But the sound of the waves will not leave you alone. They tap on your mind like a toddler tugging on his mother’s sleeve until a sudden desperate need leaps from deep within you, the illogical yet adamant need to make this torment stop. Spring from the chair and glare at the ocean.
Nick looks up from his magazine. “Beth? Are you okay?”
The caring tone of his voice deflates your anger. Soften your face. Lie. “Yes. A horsefly bit me.” Hold out your arm, point to the nonexistent injury.
Nick kisses the spot three times, like a parent heals a booboo. But your booboo isn’t healed. Something nags at your mind. You cannot erase the image of the little boy at the shoreline digging in the sand. You remember that he walked toward the water’s edge to fill his bucket. You recall that your attention was drawn to the outline of a surfer paddling toward a building wave, the sunlight behind him turning him into a black cut-out. And then, it felt like time had stopped and the world was moving in slow motion – like filmmakers choose when some horrific event takes place in the story line. But that time, it was real and, just like in the movies, you couldn’t stop it from happening. You remember that you couldn’t get your legs to lift you from the beach chair, that you couldn’t get your voice to call out. Remember watching the wave break high, close to shore. Remember blinking from one frame of the little boy with his plastic bucket to the next frame of no one there. Then the movie picked up speed, lifeguard jumping from perch to ocean, beachgoers running to the shoreline and blocking your view of this live action theatrical event of a child drowning.
Interrupt the movie before it plays over and over inside you. “Let’s go for a walk.” And, of course, Nick complies.
Hunt for seashells. You don’t have to look up to know that Nick is watching you. Walk next to him, but not holding hands. Feel his concern and wish that you weren’t such a burden to him. Wish for the before of your marriage. The bonfires on the beach, sipping beer from tinted soda cups, listening to the jamming of guitars, and the wild drunken dancing you never regretted.
Hand Nick a shell shaped like a heart.
He kisses your hand.
Look for another one, another heart, and almost get one, but the undertow steals it away. It’s the game that the ocean almost always wins. All your life, you loved jumping waves, skim boarding, swimming past the breakers – why didn’t you see then that the ocean had this other side? A thief that takes seashells and surfboards and children.
The sound of high-pitched, gleeful squeals sends alarm through your body like electrical charges. Look up and see a family – parents under the umbrella unwrapping sandwiches from a picnic basket and three little kids digging at the sand with their feet, giggling, seeing who can dig the farthest the fastest.
Nick grabs your hand and squeezes it. “Still okay?” His eyes worry.
“Sure.” Smile. Pretend to be unaffected, calm, relaxed. Make yourself watch the children at play. Try to believe that not all children drown in the ocean.
Then, the smallest of the children runs toward the water. The film sequence has begun. Frame 2 – His brother and sister are still kicking at the sand. Frame 3 – His mother and father are dividing the sandwiches onto plates. Frame 4 – Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Perspiration floods your skin. Scream, “Danny!” and try to pull your hand from Nick’s to run after the little boy. “Danny!”
Nick tightens his hand around yours with viselike pressure, grabs your waist with his other arm, and pulls you into him. “Stop it, Beth! It’s not Danny!”
In the background, hear the child’s father call, “Benjamin. Not alone, remember?”
Feel air rush into your lungs, but the breath does not stop your mind from racing. In your memory, see the face of a child in a baseball cap too large for his head, his little face smiling into the lens of your camera. Danny. Danny with Nick standing in the background, holding a surfboard at his side. Remember pressing the button on the camera, capturing what would be the final photograph of your son. Acknowledge that, on that August day, it was Nick paddling toward the breaker, and it was your son Danny building the sandcastle. Remember waving to Nick as he stood up on his surfboard. Remember turning to tell Danny to look at Daddy. Remember that the shoreline was empty. Your child was gone.
You’re sliding from Nick’s arms, and can’t stop, don’t want to stop, just need the earth under you. “I remember.”
Nick lets go of you and watches your awkward descent to the wet sand of the shoreline. He looks down in a silence that makes you ache for his embrace. Finally, he joins you on the sand.
Look into his eyes and see him as though for the first time since that horrifying day. Let your voice say the words again to know that you have actually said them. “I remember everything.” Nick dressed in a dark suit. Nick helping you into a conservative black dress that you don’t remember ever buying, that isn’t part of the clothing that hangs in your closet at home. That black dress. Push through the fogginess that lingers in your mind. “Nick, was there a viewing? Was there a funeral?”
Despite the pain that will stab your heart, confront the memory. Try to picture a tiny casket and flowers and the feel of a funeral home. Nothing. The images aren’t there. “Why can’t I remember that?”
Nick looks out at the horizon. “Honey, you weren’t there.”
Stare up at the pastel blue of the sky until your mind returns to a room whose solitary window looks out onto a gray city street. The salt air is replaced by the smell of Pine-Sol, and the seagulls’ cries mimic the whimpering sounds that slip through the hallways of that sad building. “Oh.”
Nick wipes away water from his face – a mixture of sea spray and tears. You understand what caring for you has done to him, how it has postponed his own time for grieving. Watch helplessly as wave upon wave of emotions breaks over him. Wait as his body shivers through locked up feelings, until his breathing becomes regular again, and you know that he’s reached a resting point.
Neither of you speaks. Together you look out at the ocean and watch a single surfer paddle out past the breaking waves.
Finally, get the courage to ask Nick, “Do you miss it?”
Without hesitation, he answers, “No. It’s not who I am now.”
“But it was, Nick. You lived for surfing.”
“I was a kid then. Now, I live for us, Beth.”
“But it was only a year ago.”
“No, it was a lifetime ago. Or it may as well have been.” His voice is strong and resolute. “We’re going to be okay.”
Watch the surfer guide his board over the crest of the wave.
Nancy Powichroski Sherman has been a teacher for over forty years, but a writer since she was old enough to sit at her bedroom window and imagine. She taught composition, literature, and theatre, and ran a theatre magnet program in Baltimore, Maryland. Currently, she is an adjunct professor for Stevenson University for whom she teaches an online course she designed. Her published short stories include “The Sound of a Tree Falling” and “The Gypsy Heart” (Delaware Beach Life magazine) and “Why You Trashed Vera Wang” and “No Magic Words” (The Beach House anthology). She is the author of a collection of short stories, Sandy Shorts, which recently received a first place award from the Delaware Press Association. Though short fiction is her forte, Nancy and a co-writer colleague are under contract with Tuscany Press for a YA novel. She lives in coastal Delaware with her husband Matthew and two “furry children.”