Josie Del Castillo
Josie Del Castillo is a Brownsville artist pursuing her MFA from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She has exhibited throughout the state, and most recently in galleries in California, Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. Del Castillo’s work consists of a series of self-portraits as well as portraits of others whom she perceives as reflections of herself and a source of human inspiration. Personal and emotional connections are often symbolically made to capture the essence of her subjects. Self-worth and personal insecurities are common themes. Much of her work often deals with the subjects of mental health and anxiety, self-esteem, and growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. Instead of emphasizing the dark connotations of mental health issues, Del Castillo challenges and confronts these themes through vibrant and colorful depictions of her subjects. Many works include Mexican-American cultural iconography and people raised in the Rio Grande Valley.
If his breath didn’t smell so bad
I could disappear into this moment
Turn this bed into the ocean
Try to drown in it.
I could get lost in the small parts of my mind
Where old memories reside
Or use the sharp edges of the blinds
To carve forgiveness down my spine.
Put my trust in a glass jar
Watch flowers and bees and
The secret life of your daughter
Rot beneath my feet,
Paint pictures with my menstrual blood and other fluids.
But his breath reeks with a liar
That begs me to build bonfires in his skull
A hymn so deep, deeper than my hymen knows
And I am wrung out by the fire,
A heat with the desire to determine
The roots of entire weeks of my life.
But the burn can only hold so many shots
Of whiskey before a quiet and retrospective
Fight or flight leaves nothing but the wish
That I was anywhere but at this Shilo Inn.
Tessa Ekstrom is an emerging poet in Portland, Oregon, who is pursuing a BS in biochemistry. Her work has been published by Prometheus Dreaming and Blue Literary Magazine.
Slices of Life
I’d like to say it began with the magic of yeast. That sour aroma takes me straight back to my childhood in Johannesburg when I sat on the Formica kitchen counter watching Mom’s nimble fingers rolling and folding the raw dough. She gave me a lump to work on too. I squished it and prodded it and stuck my finger into it. Soon I was talking to it. Telling it to behave itself.
Mom wore a pink-and-white checkered apron tied around her back into a bow; a sprinkling of flour dusted her black patent stilettos. She often leaned over to kiss my forehead. For days after those kisses, I didn’t wash my face. That was when it all began. My relationship with food and love.
Decades later I realize that when I write about food, I’m hiding behind a facade. I’m really writing about love—wanting love, losing love, and simply loving.
When Dad, a partner in his accountancy firm, came home from work after days studying figures, he poured himself a glass of Ballantine’s Scotch and sank into his green-and-ochre floral armchair. I sat on his lap breathing in the oaky fragrance. Ice clinked against the sides of his cut-glass tumbler. He opened a hinged cedar flat-topped box, cut the tip off a Bolivar Cuban cigar, slid off the paper ring embossed with a picture of a man wearing a blue jacket with gold epaulets, and placed it on my thumb. Snuggling against his chest, I giggled under a cloud of cigar smoke. As a kid, these were the only times I spent alone with Dad. Now, on those evenings I miss him, I pour myself a tot of single malt, inhale the aroma, and imagine Dad’s arms around me.
In the kitchen, Mom allowed me to stand next to her on a stool with my own piece of dough to knead, smell, poke, and taste. I didn’t know then that I was absorbing the unspoken secrets of baking—how to crack the eggs cleanly, separate the yolks from the egg whites, sift the flour to eliminate lumps and tiny mites, and knead the mixture to the right podgy consistency—pushing and stretching, pushing and stretching, until my arms ached and the dough softened. I copied her every movement and measurement, learning exactly how thin to roll the dough; how much butter, sugar, and cinnamon to brush over the pale pastry; and how to twist it into a braid.
“Without the yeast, this would be like a brick,” Mom told me. Her upper arms quivered while she worked. “The secret is to make the mixture elastic.”
Mom would place the spongy lump of dough into a large bowl and wrap it in a blanket to keep it warm while the yeast fermented overnight. As if a magician cast a spell while I slept, the dough rose to a huge balloon, to be kneaded again. Mom showed me how to roll out the dough to exactly the right thinness, spread it with strawberry jam, and sprinkle cinnamon, raisins, and cocoa powder on top. We rolled it into a crescent shape, carefully lifted it onto a baking tray, brushed the top with beaten raw egg to brown the crust, and popped it into a four-hundred-degree oven. An hour later the aroma of a moist, sweet, brioche-like cake filled the house. We ate it warm with slivers of butter that melted on the pastry. The babka took hours to make and no time to vanish.
I had to eat all my breakfast before I went to school. Even though I showered teaspoons of brown sugar and dollops of butter on top of the oatmeal, the thick goo would stick to the roof of my mouth and refuse to slide down my throat. To Mom’s despair, it sometimes took me half an hour to clean my bowl. Eventually, she gave up nagging. I got my way—munching Rice Krispies while I read the cartoons on the Kellogg’s box. Snap, crackle, and pop tickled the inside of my mouth.
As a kid, my favorite birthday treat was to go to the Doll House Drive-in Restaurant in Johannesburg. When the waiter clipped a tray onto the top of Dad’s window, I breathed in the aroma of a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich on white bread. My teeth crunched the crusts and the gooey cheese stretched like spaghetti in long lines to my lips. Dessert was mixed canned fruit salad layered with Wall’s vanilla ice cream and decorated with swirls of whipped cream, chocolate gratings, and a maraschino cherry with a stem. Using a long-handled teaspoon and my lizard-like tongue, I licked the tall sundae glass clean. Even though we had an abundance of fresh papaya, bananas, grapes, mangoes, and passion fruit in South Africa, it was the sugary syrup coating soft chunks of pineapple, peaches, cherries, and grapes that made me ooh and aah. Now my stomach sours when I think of eating that soggy, greasy sandwich, flabby fruit, and synthetic-tasting ice cream. But I continue to celebrate my birthday with a grilled cheese and tomato panini on focaccia bread—and a scoop of rum and raisin Haagen-Dazs on warm apple pie.
When Mom baked a chocolate cake, she always left some raw batter on the beater and in the bowl for me to lick and scrape. It was as good as the cake itself. Sixty years later when I bake, I stick out my tongue to lick the batter at the end of the spatula. I close my eyes and can almost breathe in her fragrance: Chanel N° 5.
My mother’s babka recipe was famous in Johannesburg’s Jewish community—and that was saying something. There was fierce competition as to who made the best apple pie, cabbage salad, and cheesecake. But there was no arguing that Mom’s babka was the best. Now long gone, she is always beside me when I stretch and tuck the mixture, whispering her secrets.
“A little more water, just a drop . . . don’t knead so hard . . . gentle as you flip the dough.”
The dough sighs as I push it down. I hear Mom’s voice again.
“Now leave it to sit quietly. It needs peace, time, and a warm place for the yeast to do its job.”
I am the only one in the family who can bake babka as delicious as Mom. While I learned my mother’s feel for the perfect dough—springy and alive—everyone else only has her recipe.
When I married, my husband and I moved to Israel. The lemon tree in our backyard gave us an endless supply of fruit. I made lemonade, lemon cream pie, lemon meringue pie, lemon soufflé, whiskey sours, chicken marinated in lemon juice and garlic, and I gave handfuls of lemons to neighbors. Now in my Seattle home, I have three lemon houseplants that are full of blossoms and only one lemon. Just like the song, “Lemon Tree”—the fruit is very pretty but impossible to eat.
The onset of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, took the country by surprise. After twenty-four hours of not eating and drinking, family and friends gathered in my Tel Aviv home to break the fast at the end of this holy day. Guests whispered a little too loudly that the roast chicken tasted bitter and the turkey sweetish. While we complained about the mundane, the air raid siren shrieked. A few minutes later there was a loud knock at the front door. Without waiting for an answer, a soldier strode in and announced the names of army reservists. They were ordered to report for immediate duty. Husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers packed underwear, razors, shaving cream, and toothbrushes. We had no idea that Egyptian troops had already crossed the Suez Canal. Tanks advanced toward Jerusalem. Only four hundred miles away, we women laughed when we realized that my friend Abby had left the gall inside the chicken, and I’d sugared instead of salted the turkey.
Three days later, while children played hopscotch in a deserted street, we learned that one of our friends, Udi, had been burned alive in a tank near the Suez Canal while trying to block the Egyptian invasion. There was nothing left of his body to bury except for his identification necklace.
I baked a babka and took it with me as we sat shiva—a seven-day mourning period—with Udi’s family. The room was silent. The only sounds were chunks of babka being ripped off the loaf and mourners swallowing. Eyes closed as if to shut out the bad news that trickled our way. No one spoke until we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish,the prayer for the dead.
When my marriage dissolved, I moved to London where I met my second husband, John. I loved the smell of whiskey but only developed a taste for Scotch when John held a glass to my lips. I took a sip and my tongue tingled. Soon a glow filled my belly and I took another larger sip. We married soon after.
On vacation in Barcelona, John introduced me to Spain’s famous salt cod dish. In a side street, in the shade of Gaudi’s Crypt, he leaned in to smell the succulent fish resting on fragrant samfaina sauce, gleaming with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, courgettes, and aubergines. John took a mouthful of the delicacy, leaned back in his chair, kissed his fingertips, and chuckled.
To celebrate our first wedding anniversary, I prepared salt cod, hoping it would remind him of our weekend in Barcelona—the weekend he proposed. I followed the recipe in the River Café Cookbook, written by the chef of the one-star Michelin restaurant. After soaking the fish for twenty-four hours, I grilled it and placed it on top of the simmering sauce. The cod was tough, skin burned to ash, and it tasted like old shoe leather. I tossed it in the bin. Instead, we ate vegetable omelets filled with the sauce, along with a toasted baguette and French butter. We drank a jug of sangria made from a bottle of Spanish rioja, sugar, Calvados, slices of lime and lemon, and chopped peaches and apples. John’s kiss tasted of tomatoes.
When John contracted mesothelioma, he took morphine to ease the pain. He lost his sense of taste. As asbestos fibers sucked and destroyed the pink linings of his lungs, it made no difference to him whether he was eating kedgeree, duck breast with cherry and port sauce, or day-old pizza.
John hardly ever complained. Not when he was in pain and not when the nurse bruised his arm, when she tried again, and again, to draw blood from his shriveled vein. But he did complain at his last supper.
The night before John died he asked me to prepare a special meal for him—grilled Dover sole with lemon butter, new season peas, and mashed potatoes with chives.
“The fish is dry,” he said after the first bite. “And the peas are soggy.”
He only ate a mouthful of his favorite dessert—mille-feuille from our local French patisserie—and pushed it away.
That night, I knew that he’d die soon. I died too.
For years I didn’t bake a babka, not even when the kids begged and badgered. When I finally did, I was still overwrought and the kneading overthought. I hadn’t realized I’d lost my sense of touch and smell.
A bruised Granny Smith apple, a moldy piece of cheddar, a can of Heinz ravioli, and a bottle of cheap Riesling became my evenings’ staple diet. It didn’t matter; it was hard to taste anything anyway. I struggled to search for a deeper meaning in my life, understand “what it was all for.”
Unexpectedly, I was offered and accepted a job to work with a team to set up supermarkets in India. The local cuisine—chickpeas in tomato sauce, creamy black lentils, chapatti, curried vegetables served with grated fresh coconut, tandoori chicken, Alphonso mangoes, sugar sweet bananas, and salted lassi seduced me back to the pleasures of eating.
When I lived in Mumbai, I was invited to join Rabbi Gabi and his wife Rivka for the sabbath dinner at their home. On a warm September evening, we sat in the front courtyard and feasted on hummus, falafel, pita, finely chopped vegetable salad, and barbequed chicken seasoned with familiar Middle Eastern flavors: zaatar, sumac, garlic, and onions. Their two-year-old son, Moshe, clapped his hands and giggled as he ran around in circles. I felt at home—the language, the culture, the food. Under the light of a full moon, Moshe finally flopped asleep on his mother’s lap.
The Mumbai Massacre began close to midnight on November 26, 2008. Earlier that evening I had dined at the Taj Mahal Palace hotelwith my boss. Over a feast of potato samosas, lentil soup, curried vegetables, garlic naan, chili crab, saffron rice, and fresh coconut, we discussed the structure of the leadership team. While we savored creamy kulfi ice cream and drank spicy chai, a group of Pakistani terrorists edged their way on a dinghy through fishermen’s boats and landed at a dock near Mumbai’s commercial center. A few hours after we left the restaurant, the hotel’s lush Persian carpets and ionic columns were burning. From my apartment, I could see yellow and crimson flames leaping up into the dark sky and a charred smell filled the air.
What a difference a few hours could make.
Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg, my new friends, were slaughtered by the terrorists. Moshe’s Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel, lifted the baby boy off his dead mother’s chest, ran down the stairs, and into the street. She saved his life. Moshe ate nothing for hours—no cookies, no ice cream, and even refused to sip chocolate milk through a straw.
Moshe’s grandparents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, came to Mumbai to collect their grandson and take his parents’ remains back to Israel. The city was in lockdown, and the Israeli consul’s apartment was filled with embassy folk sorting out visas, flights, and counseling support. I made cup after cup of Nescafé with UHT milk and an endless number of kosher canned tuna mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread. A fishy smell lingered in the hot, humid air.
Although I hated oatmeal as a child, I’ve learned to enjoy eating plain oatmeal for breakfast. To keep my glucose levels down, I add no sugar, no butter, nor honey. Yet I scrape and sometimes lick the bowl to get the last scrap. No one nags me to hurry up, or tells me I have to eat it all.
How my tastes have changed.
Intoxicated by its earthy scent, everyone loves the smell of my babka browning in the oven—the crust embracing the soft, sweet belly. Now three generations later, my kidsand grandchildren have fun kneading their own dough in my kitchen. When freshly baked babka appears on our brunch table, chatter ceases as cinnamon bursts on our tongues.
Hands, big and small, reach for second, and sometimes third, helpings. Mom is there with us in spirit. I imagine John’s lips on my cheek as he hovers, and when he thinks no one is looking, he snatches a slice.
Susan Bloch’s stories have won prizes in the Traveler’s Tales Solas Awards and received notable mention in Best American Essays 2017. She has been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals such as The Forward, Entropy, The Citron Review, STORGY, Pif Magazine, Tikkun, and HuffPost.
Leaving the Farm
Maggie’s house was the last building standing on a farm in Vermont that had not been worked since Calvin Coolidge was president, the barn taken down when she and Tom bought the property, the various outbuildings, afterthoughts to the barn, now gently collapsed onto their shallow foundations and covered with vines.
Across the road stood a small hay barn, open in the front and close to the road. For years, the barn had received no maintenance, its rough boards weathered gray, its tin roof streaked with rust, yet it had stood straight and sturdy all those years, keeping the hay dry through the winter. It was not until Tom’s death that Maggie noticed signs of deterioration, boards coming loose, the tin roof peeling back at the corners.
No one knew she was alone in the house, alone and a widow. Her niece did not know, her neighbors did not know. None of Tom’s family knew. Overnight, Maggie had become a different person, a person without Tom, a different person for the rest of her life and no one knew.
The coroner knew. He had come and taken Tom’s body away. One of the men who came with him had stripped the soiled bedding and taken it with him to be disposed of, opened the windows to air the room. The windows were open still, two hours later, the dank November chill now settled throughout the house.
Maggie herself did not know how long she had been alone. She and Tom had gone to bed together at ten as usual, talked for a bit, read for a bit, kissed goodnight. He had died in his sleep. Peacefully, so she would say when she finally roused herself enough to make the phone calls, having no way of knowing it had been otherwise. If it had been otherwise, she had not awakened, and he had died alone.
She wondered if the house looked any different, now that there was a widow living in it instead of a couple, just as it would have looked different if she and Tom had been a family, with children and a large mongrel dog. Was the yard suddenly unkempt, chokecherry bushes covering the downstairs windows, the driveway overgrown with weeds? Was the paint peeling, the wood rotting, the shingles on the roof tattered and useless against the rain? She herself must be different now, too, the unfathomable emptiness inside her manifesting itself in her face, her eyes, her legs, her hands. Would she recognize herself in the mirror now? Would she dare look in a mirror now?
She had to make the calls. There were so many people to call. It was not right to withhold Tom’s death from them. But she could not call them now. How could she call them without knowing how Tom’s funeral would be staged? They would ask about the arrangements, and if she had nothing to tell them, Tom would be disappointed.
Tom expected it of her, to stage his funeral for maximum impact, to stage it as he himself would have staged it, so that each person in attendance would take home only one image, the defining moment of the scene. The moment when all in attendance celebrate a life lived to its fullest and ended at a fitting time. The moment when the widow takes solace in the discovery of how many of his students’ lives her husband had changed for the better. The moment when the widow realizes that she never really knew her husband at all. The moment when the widow acknowledges for the first time that she is truly alone.
Would the scene be melancholy, tragic, suffused with irony? Would the weather be sunny, overcast, raining? Would the defining moment take place in the church or graveside? Would the mourners be dressed in black or in their ordinary clothes? Would the casket be ornate or plain, open or closed? Would there be flowers? Would a wind be blowing? Would the mourners be leaning on one another for solace or standing apart in their grief? Would their heads be covered or bare? Would the minister have a deep voice or a reedy voice? Would he wear vestments or a suit? For that matter, would the minister be a man or a woman? Would there be music, poetry, elegy, eulogy?
She did not know. Above all, the funeral could not be ordinary. Tom would be so hurt if his funeral were ordinary.
Betty Archambault guided her LTD slowly down Snyder Road, the tiny container of aspirin Norman had sent her out to buy at nine o’clock at night because his arthritis couldn’t wait until the drugstore opened in the morning tucked into her coat pocket. The car felt unsteady on the icy road, and Betty drove with both hands tight on the steering wheel, the radio turned down to an indecipherable rise and fall of background noise.
Two feet of snow had fallen since morning, and the village crew had given the road their customary lick and a promise. While they had cleared the worst of the accumulation by noon, they had not put in another appearance until nearly four o’clock, when Johnny Erno roared past Betty’s house in the village truck with his brother Jimmy standing in the back tossing out random sprays of dirt as he struggled to keep his balance.
The LTD skidded, and Betty sighed as she eased it back into the tracks left by the few cars which traveled the road. Even after living on Snyder Road for most of her life, driving it in the winter made her nervous. The snow leveled the landscape so that she could hardly tell what was road and what was ditch and what was her own front yard.
As Betty approached Maggie Sebastian’s house, she thought she saw a light in one of the upstairs rooms. She looked up at the house as she passed it, but the car skidded again, and she could not be sure. Her rearview mirror showed nothing but the faint red glow of her own tail lights. By the time she reached her house with Norman’s aspirin, she told herself it had been a trick of the light, headlights flashing against window glass. The Sebastian house was empty.
Maggie awoke with a feeling of anticipation so strong she had to open her eyes to ground herself in place and time. She was lying comfortably in her own bed, crystalline winter sunlight glittering through the bare windows of her bedroom, the house perfectly still. Her nose felt cold, and she took her hand from under the covers to touch it. As she slipped her hand back under the covers, its spotted skin and graceless shape quickly dispelled the sense she had had upon waking of being a young woman about to set off on an adventure—a young woman who, before the day was out, would have suddenly, inexplicably fallen in love.
Maggie was not one for summer romances. A summer romance was distracting for the participants, not to mention annoying for any unfortunate observers. Maggie had no time to be distracted when she played summer stock, not when there were lines to learn and props to obtain and, most of all, atmosphere to absorb.
Nevertheless, that summer, in the three short months before she was to begin a graduate program in drama in the fall, Maggie developed such a crush on the man who played George that she could not stand to be in the same room with him. Everything about him flustered her: his fine, handsome face, his soft, faded clothes, his lithe body, his sardonic humor. He had a beautiful speaking voice, an actor’s voice, deep and warm and charmingly disingenuous. When it was her turn to paint flats with him, she would work with her head down, never taking her eyes off the brush in her hand, dreading the moment he would speak to her, leaning back on his heels and smiling.
The first time he spoke to her, he asked the usual questions: Where are you from? What do you do? Where did you go to school? and when she answered with three rudimentary facts of her life, he appeared as satisfied with her answers as if he meant to make use of them some day in a context which had nothing at all to do with her, his smile making creases in his face, just below the eyes, the muscles of his arm undulating beneath the skin as he passed the paint brush back and forth across the canvas.
The next time he spoke to her, to comment upon their director’s infuriating lack of temperament during a rehearsal, she thought perhaps she had imagined it, pulling his wonderful voice from his throat herself, to linger warmly in her ear as she prepared for bed three hours later, wondering as she stood at her makeshift closet, three hooks and a clutter of wire hangers, if she dared wear her favorite outfit that summer, a peasant blouse, full skirt, and sandals, in front of him.
At the first cast party of the season, held at the pretentiously quaint cottage where the director was staying, Tom threw himself at her feet (she was sitting on a chaise lounge on the patio nursing a glass of rather bitter red wine and he plopped himself down on the foot of it) and announced, “I failed boilers.” Maggie gaped at him and drew her feet up.
Tom reached for her hand and took the wine glass from it. “That’s usually my best line. Piques their interest and all that.”
Maggie tried to think of a clever rejoinder. “I’m not much interested in boilers.”
“Neither am I. That’s why I failed the course.” Tom grimaced and handed the wine glass back to her.
“Oh.” Maggie clutched the glass by its stem. Tom had made no move to change his position on the chaise.
“I changed my major to English,” he said. “My father was terribly angry. He thought I would become a teacher. Those who can do, those who can’t . . . you know.”
Maggie inched her legs into a more comfortable position, a mere six inches from Tom’s hand. “I tried teaching for a year after I graduated from college. My mother told me no good would come of it.”
“No good would come of it,” Tom intoned, his voice dipping low on ‘good.’
“That’s right. No good came of it. The children told their parents they were frightened of me.”
“Why would children be frightened of you?”
“I’m not sure.” Maggie paused. “They were too frightened to say!”
Tom threw his head back and roared, reaching forward to grasp her ankle, where his smooth burning hand remained, for a mere moment or the rest of her life, Maggie could not say.
Maggie lay in bed a few minutes longer, waiting for the feeling of anticipation to return. Now that the furniture was gone, the room had taken on a different smell, which in her exhaustion the day before she had been unable to identify. For forty years, her bedroom had had its own distinct smell of winter: a musk of cedar, wool, and furniture polish. But now, the room had taken on the smell of the house itself, of wood and plaster, the way the air outside took on the smell of bare trees before it snowed.
Having movers in the house had tired her terribly, and she had spent most of the previous day in bed, reading and napping, relieved at last to be left alone, free of the movers’ questions and this? and this? and this too? and free of Betty’s hustling her out of the drafts that swirled into the house as the movers carried out a mattress, then a bureau, then a cardboard wardrobe filled with summer dresses.
Maggie reached for her bathrobe and shuddered as she got out of bed. The room was painfully cold. She turned on the warmer light in the bathroom and chose wool slacks, a turtleneck, and a thick sweater from the closet. As she waited for the bathroom to become warm enough for her to dress, she stood by the window looking out at the beguiling radiance of sunlight on new snow.
Later, sitting on the window seat in the study with her breakfast, Maggie wished she could fix herself a nice fire in the wood stove. She had not built a fire since Tom’s death, and the stove had remained cold, its stale smell of ashes fading as the weeks passed. Looking out the window to the end of her driveway, she noted without alarm that she was snowed in. Tommy LaRose would more than likely come to plow her out before the afternoon light faded. He generally did her driveway at the end of his regular rounds, after the others, the ones who had children to get to the bus stop and jobs to get to.
As she looked back into the room, the empty bookshelves gave her an unexpected jolt of sadness. She had not gone through Tom’s books after he died, keeping them on the shelves where he had left them, until she went through her own when she made the decision to leave the farm, a few passed on to relatives, some donated to the College, most to the public library. The only book of hers that she held back for the remainder of her time at the farmhouse was a thick anthology of women poets.
The travel mementoes that had been scattered among the books were gone, too, given to the Sebastians—the kylix from Greece to Tom’s brother, the bright wooden menagerie from Mexico to a grandnephew’s son, the dish of mismatched pewter buttons of forgotten origin to Tom’s sister. For a brief moment Maggie regretted having given them away. Their absence reminded her of all those summer trips abroad with Tom and her inability to stop herself from envisioning the forest reclaiming the farm because they weren’t there to stop it. They would be standing by a lake in Switzerland or watching a play in London or taking photographs in Rome, and suddenly she would see before her eyes the approach to the farm as though coming upon it from the road, and the pasture would be gone, the meadow gone, their driveway gone, maples and pines and brambles growing there instead, all access to their house blocked, the house itself unrecognizable, a lichen-covered mass under the trees.
Setting her breakfast tray on the floor, she leaned back and rested her head against the cold window glass as she looked out the opposite window, her vision unable to see past the for-sale sign hanging askew in her front yard, its painted yellow post having been barely driven into frozen ground.
The telephone rang, and she rose without hesitation to answer it. She was, she quickly assured herself, neither a misanthrope nor a dotard. If she could get to the phone without falling and risking broken bones, she would answer it. If not, whoever it was could call back.
“Mrs. Sebastian?” A female voice, ingratiating and overly familiar.
“Mrs. Sebastian, Maggie, this is Carol, Carol Rollins. I’ve been trying to call you all morning at Brookfield Commons, but there was no answer. I had no idea you were still at the house. We have a prospect.”
“A prospect for what?”
“For the house. A prospective buyer.”
“He’s already ridden by the house with me, and he seems interested, very interested. He’s eager to see the inside. I have every expectation that once he sees it, he will offer our asking price.”
Carol, a thin blonde in her forties, struck Maggie as somehow feline, her voice in particular. As she gave Maggie a synopsis of the prospect’s financial status, Maggie envisioned a cat with a dead bird in its mouth: carrying the bird into the house, laying it proudly on the carpet at her master’s feet, looking up expectantly for praise—but meeting only revulsion.
“I’d like to bring him by today, if possible,” Carol continued. “What time would be good for you? It’s best to do it while it’s still light; before three o’clock would be best.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do it today. I’m right in the middle of something, and I can’t be interrupted.”
“Oh, but you won’t be! You just make yourself scarce, and I’ll show the house.”
“Yes, of course, but today is simply not convenient. Why don’t I give you a ring tomorrow to set up a time? Good-bye now!” Maggie hung up before Carol had a chance to say anything else and, shaking her head at how much of the morning had passed, made her way through the empty living room to the spare room.
This room was now filled with cardboard boxes, the packing tape peeling off, brittle with storage and age. Jack Archambault had carried all of the boxes from their storage places—from the top shelves of closets, from the shed next to the kitchen and the loft over the garage—and arranged them so she could begin at the door and work her way to the back of the room, going through each box and disposing of its contents without having to lift anything heavy.
As she stood in the doorway, she recognized some of the boxes, easily visualizing their contents and the day she had packed them. The others she would stumble into unprepared. She wondered if she would find anything of Tom’s, throwing back the flaps of a box to reveal a jumble of wire, model train pieces, and chunks of quartz, the sort of junk a boy would keep in the bottom drawer of his bureau and a man would keep in a box in the garage so he would never forget what it had been like to be a boy.
The first box she opened contained fabric, some stained tablecloths she could throw out, and a picture her grandmother had painted. The fabric would go to her niece Gwen, even though Gwen hadn’t sewn in years. Maggie packaged the fabric securely in brown paper and enclosed a note: The rose print is from Austria, one-of-a-kind, according to the shopkeeper we bought it from, Tom haggling in German out of one side of his mouth and grumbling in English You don’t sew!out of the other. The red cotton is from Guatemala—it’s vegetable-dyed, so it will bleed. The green gingham my mother Mary bought before the First World War and never made up—it is only thirty-six inches wide, so watch your layout!
The painting, a vase of flowers on white velvet, would also go to Gwen. Maggie’s grandmother, Gwen’s great-grandmother, had done the painting the year before she married: it had hung in her bedroom all her life. Maggie wrapped the package and addressed it without telling Gwen that for the last thirty years, the painting had remained packed in a box in a closet because it was not very good. It was the sort of thing that young, well-to-do Victorian women did for lack of something better to do, and Tom in particular thought the top shelf of a closet was the appropriate place to keep it.
The telephone rang as Maggie was carrying the two wrapped packages into the kitchen. She hesitated only briefly before deciding not to answer it and returned to the spare room to break down the box she had just emptied before taking it to the shed.
When the telephone stopped ringing, Maggie thought she heard the sound of an engine straining. She looked out the kitchen window but couldn’t see anyone at first, the smooth expanse of white snow unbroken except for the for-sale sign. The engine sounded close. As she continued to look out the window, she saw a jeep at the end of the driveway, pushing at the hard bank of snow the village plow had left. That would be Tommy LaRose coming to plow her out now that the snow had stopped. He seemed to be having a hard time of it, and she wondered why. He didn’t usually have that much trouble, even after a big storm.
Looking more closely, she saw three people sitting in the jeep. She watched as it backed up and strained forward, making only small progress against the snow bank. As she continued to watch, the jeep finally broke through and quickly pushed the rest of the snow to the side. It backed up again and began inching its way up her driveway, clearing as it went. When it reached the study window, she saw who was driving: Jack Archambault. His parents were the two passengers, Norman in the front, Betty in the seat behind him, leaning forward with her hand on Norman’s shoulder.
It did not surprise Maggie to see them. One of them must have seen her light on last night. She sighed. She should have expected it. Well, at least they had not brought the sheriff. And since they had come, she could ask Jack to take the packages for Gwen to the post office.
The jeep stopped, and the three Archambaults came stomping through the snow to the ell by the kitchen. Maggie greeted them at the door. “Well, hello. What brings you out today? You didn’t have to plow my driveway. You know Tommy LaRose does it.”
Betty peered anxiously into the room. “Are you all right, Maggie? What happened? I didn’t mean to just up and leave you here.”
Maggie closed the kitchen door behind Norman, who had lagged behind his wife and son. “You didn’t. I have a few things left to finish before I move. It shouldn’t take me much longer.”
“But I thought you was leaving the day the movers was here. You had it all planned out.”
Norman was looking uncomfortable, already making motions to his wife that he wanted to leave. “Is there anything we can do for you, Maggie?” he said. “Is there anything you need?”
She picked up the packages on the counter and held them out to him. “Why, yes, Norman, now that you mention it, there is.” Jack laughed at this, but Norman stood impassive, his farmer’s mouth set in a thin, firm line.
“What is it, Maggie?”
She opened a cupboard by the sink and took down her purse. “I just need these two packages mailed, if you wouldn’t mind.” She took a bill from her wallet. “Twenty dollars should be enough. Please insure the larger one for two hundred dollars.”
Norman made no move to take either the money or the two packages.
Betty took the twenty-dollar bill from Maggie’s hand and reached for the packages. “I’ll take them when I go to town.” She tucked the twenty-dollar bill into her purse. “Maybe you should stay with us while you finish your things, and I could help you.”
Maggie shook her head. “No, thank you, that’s lovely of you to offer, but I’ll be fine.”
Norman nodded once and cleared his throat. “We’ll be going then.” He opened the door, and Jack followed him out to the jeep. Betty stayed behind. “I didn’t mean to just leave you here. I thought somebody was coming for you. I had no idea there was nobody coming for you.”
“There are things I need to do,” Maggie said.
Betty nodded. She turned the collar of her coat up before reaching for the doorknob. “You shouldn’t be staying here alone.”
Maggie folded her arms across her chest as Betty opened the door and cold air scuttled across the room. “I know.”
Standing at the window watching the jeep back out of the driveway, Maggie marveled at how easily and naturally the truth had slipped out of her.
Over the next week, the weather stayed clear, and Maggie was interrupted by at least one telephone call each day, sometimes two: from Carol Rollins, from Brookfield Commons, and of course from Gwen, pleading with her not to stay in the empty house alone in a misguided attempt to organize the past for the future. After the second or third day, Maggie tried leaving the receiver off the hook, but late that afternoon the sheriff appeared at her kitchen door. She invited him in, assured him that she was all right, and sent him to the post office to mail a package. Betty Archambault stopped by twice with casseroles, which Maggie gratefully accepted. Her task was taking longer than she had originally anticipated: after she emptied each box, wrote an explanatory note, packaged its contents, and took the empty box to the shed, there was another box to go through, and another, and another, and another.
Now she had found a box of silver—chafing dishes and candlesticks and serving spoons, wedding gifts to an untold number of long-dead brides. She had to carry each piece to the kitchen, rub off the tarnish, decipher the monogram, and polish the piece to a shine before she could decide who should get it and begin writing the notes and wrapping the packages. She had just begun working on her great-grandmother’s serving spoon, the silver worn thin and fragile from years of use, when the telephone rang.
“Mrs. Sebastian, Maggie, I need an answer. We don’t have any other nibbles right now. It’s very difficult to sell during the winter.”
Wedging the phone between her ear and her shoulder, Maggie reached for a towel and wiped her hands, staining the towel pink and gray. “You’re calling about the prospect.”
“Yes! Are you ready for me to show the house?”
Maggie took the receiver down from her ear and wiped the towel over it. “When did he want to come?”
“Any time, Maggie! We’ve just been waiting for you.”
Maggie set the towel down on the counter. “I suppose you could come this afternoon. In fact, you probably should, before it snows again. We’re due for another storm.”
“That’s wonderful!” Carol said. “Mr. Webber will be so pleased. Will one-thirty be all right? How’s the road? I haven’t been out there in a couple of weeks.”
“The road is fine. You shouldn’t have any trouble with my driveway either. I shall expect you at one-thirty, then.”
“One-thirty it is!”
Maggie went back to the serving spoon and thoughtfully rubbed the bowl. The sale of the house was her biggest decision, and if she continued to put it off, someone else—Gwen, or more likely, Gwen’s lawyer—would make the decision for her. Even so, she didn’t know how she could bear another showing. The peering eyes, the mud tracked across the floors, the intense discussions of Williamsburg colors.
Maggie set the polished spoon on the counter. “Tom,” she said aloud, “it’s not our house anymore. Just remember that.”
It was after three o’clock before Carol and the prospect pulled into the driveway in Carol’s black Jaguar. Carol got out first, her scarlet coat bright against the snow. The prospect emerged from the car in a camel’s hair coat, with a paisley scarf tossed around his neck. His head was bare, his hair carefully blow-dried. His fingernails, when he graciously extended his hand to Maggie in greeting, would be manicured.
Maggie stood at the kitchen door watching Carol gingerly pick her way through the snow in leather boots with three-inch heels, her gloved hand grasping the prospect’s arm. When they reached the ell and stood stamping the snow from their feet, Maggie noticed that the prospect was wearing boots—rubber boots with leather tops from L.L. Bean.
“Maggie, this is Michael Webber from Hanover.”
His pants were right, gray wool with a sharp crease, but to go with his camel’s hair coat and fine wool scarf, he should have been wearing lawyer’s loafers or wingtips safely encased in black rubbers.
“How do you do, Mrs. Sebastian?” He extended his hand and shook hers before she had a chance to offer it. She looked up from his feet and withdrew her hand. “Fine, thank you, Mr. Webber. I’m glad you could come on such short notice.”
He smiled. “Not at all. Thank you for having me. I’ve been very eager to view the property.”
View the property? Who would call her house the property? Who would come to her house dressed like a lawyer with L.L. Bean boots on his feet? She flashed a look at Carol, the carrion real estate agent.
“Well, now!” said Carol. She took off her gloves, loosening each tight leather finger before pulling the glove over her knuckles. “Well, now! If you need to get back to what you were doing, Maggie, I’d be happy to show Mr. Webber the house.”
Maggie made no move to leave. She turned to Michael Webber. He had loosened his scarf, she noticed, but he had not unbuttoned his coat any further than the top button. “This is the kitchen,” she said. “The floor, the moldings, and the ceiling beams are original to the house. Everything else is not.
“All the appliances convey,” Maggie continued. “Tell me, Mr. Webber, are you married? Does your wife like to cook? My husband and I used to cook lovely meals in this room.” She took Michael Webber’s arm. “And right through this doorway is the dining room. It has a built-in china cabinet”—she pulled the doors open and closed—“and a delightfulview of the woods. You’ll notice the patio through the French doors here—or maybe you won’t—it’s buried in snow. But once summer comes, you and your wife can dine al fresco on the patio and barbeque for your friends and colleagues. Or, Mr. Webber, are you more of a family man? With children, Mr. Webber? And what you’re really looking for is a big eat-in kitchen and a den for the television and wall-to-wall carpet for the little ones to play on. Tell me, Mr. Webber, is that what you’re looking for?”
She abruptly stopped speaking and looked out the French doors at the yard. The mid-afternoon sun cast a cold pink light over the snow. She felt light-headed and strange, as if she were no longer in her own body. Carol’s voice buzzed behind her. I’m sorry . . . so sorry . . .
Maggie spoke as Carol continued her apologies. “If you will excuse me, I have work to do. I’m sure Mrs. Rollins can answer any questions you have about the house.” She left the room as quickly as she could, gathering up her silver polish and rags and taking them into the spare room, where she shut the door firmly behind her.
As she lifted another newspaper-swathed bundle from the box of silver and set it in her lap, she could hear Carol and the prospect leave the dining room and go back into the kitchen. A door creaked open and closed; Maggie had neglected to show him the pantry. Then Carol’s heels sounded across the living room, each step leaving a tiny indentation in the hundred-and-fifty-year-old floor. The heels paused by the fireplace—fieldstone hearth, original mantle—and again by one of the windows—original muntins, original glass. They continued out into the hall, paused again by the closed door of the spare room, and resumed past the bathroom, up the stairs, and into the study. Maggie wondered why Carol was bothering to go through with it. She knew as well as Maggie did what Michael Webber was after, and it wasn’t pine floors, built-ins, or fireplaces.
After she heard their footsteps creak up the stairs to the old wing, where the bedrooms were, Maggie continued to hear their voices, but no more footsteps. They must be discussing price. She reached for a clean rag.
Tom had found the house one hot summer night in mid-July. They had just gotten back from a trip to Scotland, and even with all the windows open, the air in their Hanover house was unbearably close. After changing their clothes and unpacking their bags, they ate a late supper and left town.
Tom drove with no particular destination in mind, crossing the river into Vermont. Coming on an unpaved road, which looked the same as the other unpaved roads he had already passed by, he said, “This looks good,” and turned.
Woods lined both sides of the road, and the air felt cooler than it had in town. There was a smell of water beyond the trees, and they passed a sign for a summer camp. Cabin lights glimmered through the trees, and they could hear the distant sound of girls singing. Tom slowed the car, pulled as far off the narrow road as he could, and turned off the engine. The girls’ voices sounded young and clear carried on the night air with the smell of trees and water.
“‘Simple Gifts’,” Maggie said.
“‘Simple Gifts’. The song they’re singing.”
“Oh.” Tom leaned his head back on the seat, his angled profile sharp. “Yes, you’re right. You must have gone to summer camp when you were a kid.” He fingered his chin. “We all did, I suppose.”
“Yes, we did.” But not like he thought, not like that at all. Not the rented cabin in the Adirondacks, middle class cousins spending two weeks tanned and disheveled, wrestling on the grass, swimming at will, while their mothers fretted over lunch and their fathers sat on the porch with their shirt collars off and books turned over their knees, on vacation. “I went to Girl Scout camp.”
“Girl Scout camp?” Tom’s hand came down from his chin. “You were a Girl Scout? How Fascist of you.”
“I know. I loved it.” The uniform, the salutes, the songs, the pledges. “I loved every bit of it. I was an avid Girl Scout, a fanatic Girl Scout. I even won an award from the President.”
“Of the United States?”
“Yes. I went to Washington, and he presented it to me. I have a picture of it, of Calvin Coolidge shaking my hand. Haven’t I shown it to you? I was very impressed with myself.”
Tom shook his head. “Uh uh. How about Calvin Coolidge?”
“Oh, he was impressed with me, too.”
“I’m sure. I meant were you impressed with him?”
“No, not really. I think I made him nervous. I was bigger than he.”
Tom smiled at that, and his hand went back to his chin. Even after twenty years of marriage, Maggie felt a quiver of insecurity pass through her. In middle age, Tom’s body had turned tough and sinewy, while hers had softened, broadened. She had never been slender; even as a young woman she had had a healthy, sturdy body, with large breasts and thick ankles. Sometimes, in the summer, when Tom sat on the edge of the bed in his pajama bottoms before turning out the light, she would look at his belly for signs of thickening or sagging and feel a twinge of betrayal.
The girls were singing a different song now, one she didn’t recognize. Tom said, “I wish I’d met you sooner, when you were still a girl.”
“Why? Don’t you know enough about me already?” The girls’ song continued, high and sweet and out of reach. “I was very self-righteous. And athletic. It’s a bad combination in a girl.”
Headlights flashed in the rearview mirror just then, and Tom pulled back onto the road. After a few miles, the trees cleared, and Maggie smelled hay. It smelled good, strong and musty. Crickets chittered in the tall grass on both sides of the road. An owl hooted from an unseen tree or fencepost. There were no human sounds anywhere, no houses, no lights, just their car, the engine loud and steady, the tires crunching gravel, the heavy chrome bumper deflecting stones, the headlights cutting two small swaths through the immense summer darkness.
“There’s a house over there,” Tom said, slowing the car and pointing through the windshield. “Do you see it?” He eased the car to a stop. “Let’s go look at it.”
“How do you know no one lives there?” Maggie said. “You don’t want to go nosing around some farmer’s house in the middle of the night. You could get shot.”
“No one lives there. No one’s lived there for years.” He opened his door.
Maggie got out of the car and slammed her door, loud enough, she hoped, to wake whoever was in the house so that he would not be taken by surprise. As soon as they had stepped away from the car and started toward the house, she knew Tom was right. There was no driveway, just grass and weeds. Her canvas espadrilles were soon filled with stones, her skirt wet with dew. When they were about halfway there, close enough to see broken windows—not all of the glass Carol had pointed to was original—and a collapsing front porch, Tom turned back. “I’m going to get a flashlight. So we can see inside.”
Even in the dark, Maggie could tell the house had not been lived in for years. Tom returned and played the flashlight over mottled wallpaper, crumbling plaster, and a crust of bird droppings on the floor. When they had looked through as many windows as they could reach from the ground, Tom clicked off the flashlight, and they headed back to the car. “Let’s live here,” he said. “We can come out tomorrow in the daylight and find out what town we’re in; then we’ll check the records to see if anyone owns the place. I’ll bet we can get it for back taxes.”
Maggie had agreed without hesitation. They had lived in the same house in Hanover for fifteen years, within walking distance of the College and the shops, the same house the other faculty lived in: three bedrooms, oak floors, kitchen updated every ten years, wallpaper and paint done every five. A box hedge in front and a clothesline in back, where the neighbors couldn’t see it.
Maggie heard footsteps above her head; the stairs creaked. The footsteps came closer, followed by a rap on her closed door. She rose stiffly and opened the door on Carol’s thin, satisfied face, Michael Webber standing several paces behind her, buttoning his top button and arranging his fine paisley scarf around his neck. “Did Mr. Webber see everything he wanted to see?” Maggie asked her.
Carol was drawing on her gloves. “Yes, thank you, we’ll be on our way now.” She drew Maggie aside and said in a stage whisper, “I should have an offer for you in a couple of hours.”
Maggie whispered back, “Don’t bother. I’m not selling.”
“I’m ready to see the rest of the property now,” Michael Webber announced.
Maggie frowned and said to Carol, “I thought you showed him the entire house.”
Michael Webber interjected before Carol had a chance to respond, “Yes, she did, it’s very nice, but I came to see the property.”
Maggie gestured toward the nearest window. “There it is.”
Michael Webber’s smooth brow creased slightly as he turned to Carol. “You said this property includes fifty acres in addition to the three around the house.”
“Oh, yes,” Carol said, “it does. Wooded.”
“I’ll need to see the acreage before I can make an offer.”
“Indeed,” Maggie said. “And how do you propose to do that?”
He looked down at his rubber L.L. Bean boots with the leather tops. “Don’t you have—?”
She shook her head. “Not in the winter. There’s no way to get back there. You’ll have to wait until spring.”
Both Carol’s and Michael Webber’s eyes widened at the thought of their profit melting away in the spring runoff. “Don’t you have—?” they cried in unison.
“There was an old pair of snowshoes in the shed,” Maggie said, “but the movers should have taken them.”
The three of them marched single-file into the shed. The snowshoes, simple bear paws, were still there, hanging on a nail on a stud. Michael Webber looked dubious. “Where are the bindings?”
Maggie pointed to two crumbling rawhide laces draped over the nail. “It was nice to have met you, Mr. Webber.”
She went back into the kitchen, locking the door behind her. Standing at the kitchen window, she watched the shed door open onto the ell as Michael Webber tried to exit the shed with the snowshoes laced to his feet. When he had gotten himself to the driveway, he straightened his back, tucked his scarf inside his coat, and set off for the woods, blond hair whipping around his head, camel’s hair coat flapping, arms and snowshoes flailing. Carol Rollins stood forlornly in the driveway next to her Jaguar waiting for him to return, his hands cold but still limber enough to prepare a purchase offer.
The following day, Maggie awoke at first light and could not go back to sleep. She tried closing her eyes and breathing deeply, but her irritating wakefulness did not pass. She could tell by the muted quality of the light in the room that it had snowed the night before. Waking to the dull light of snow had always given her an odd feeling, a kind of restlessness that brought with it the sense that something was about to happen if only she could articulate it in time.
She got out of bed and went to the window. An expanse of new snow stretched from her house to the edge of the woods. There had been another storm. The room was unimaginably quiet, as if the snow that encased the house were muffling its customary creaks and groans. She was snowed in.
Looking down from her window, Maggie felt her throat constrict, and she had the anxious feeling that she could not remember where anything was under the snow. Tom used to have a garden—a big one covering nearly half an acre with corn and tomatoes and zucchini and rows of herbs for cooking. The garden had gone to seed after his death, but, still, she should know where it was. She should be able to trace the outline of dried stalks and withered vines and crumpled weeds which marked its place. Yesterday she had been so confident as she pointed out the patio to the prospect, Michael Webber, but now she could see nothing but the smooth snow, obliterating everything.
Beyond the patio was a swimming pool, its protective cover also buried in snow, its location evident only by the mound made by the pump house. She and Tom had installed the pool for swimming laps when they both developed arthritis. As she stood at the window looking at the pump house, remembering the sun sparkling off the clean blue water and the feel of the water under her and over her and against her skin, she knew she would never swim in the pool again; her body would never feel that way again.
She did not want to go. She spoke aloud in the empty bedroom. “I do not want to go.” There, she had said it, and, she supposed, Tom had heard it. “I do not want to go.”
It had been the sensible decision, to sell her house and move to Brookfield Commons. She was old, damn it, and there was no denying it. She was eighty-five years old, and although she did not feel as though her body were falling apart, it had lost its strength; there was a fragility in the core of her bones that she could sense with every move she made, whether walking across a room, or getting up from a chair, or turning over in bed.
Leaving the farm was the sensible thing to do, but she did not want to go. She would be living in town. She would never again have an unobstructed view from her window. There would always be something in the way: a telephone pole, a building, a parked car. There would be no fields, no woods; the air would be filled with noise, traffic and plumbing and querulous voices, and once she left her house, she could never go back.
She would have to take her evening meal in the common dining area. She would have an assigned seat. There would be planned activities: crafts and greenhouse gardening, poetry classes taught by some woman from the DAR. The thought was too much to bear. She turned away from the silence of her window to the silence of her bedroom. “How am I going to get out of this one, Tom? Can you tell me that, Tom?”
Tom gave her no reply, so she dressed and ate a little breakfast, still waiting to hear his voice, perfectly modulated and a little sardonic. I’m afraid not. You’ve caught me fresh out of ideas, baby. After a second cup of coffee, which she knew she shouldn’t have, she went into the spare room to work, the absence of Tom’s voice reverberating softly inside her head.
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Elizabeth Gauffreau is the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Champlain College Online in Burlington, Vermont. Recent fiction publications include Dash, Pinyon, Aji, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and Evening Street Review. Recent poetry publications include One Sentence Poems, Smoky Quartz, Medical Literary Messenger, The Ekphrastic Review, and Pinyon. Her debut novel, Telling Sonny, was published by Adelaide Books in 2018. Learn more about her work at http://lizgauffreau.com.
Jack Bordnick’s sculptures incorporate surrealistic, mythological and magical imagery—often with whimsical overtones—aimed at provoking experiences and self-reflections. He seeks to unbalance rational minds, and the predominant imagery deals mostly with facial expressions of both living and “non-living” beings, and things that speak in their own languages. The result is textural, metallic and mixed-media assemblages that have been assembled, disassembled and reassembled, becoming abstractions unto themselves. Bordnick invites you to come and enjoy their stories.
Lara Chapman is a fine art nature photographer, writer and university professor based out of West Palm Beach, Florida. Lara’s photographs earned several awards and distinctions and can be found on the walls of galleries and museums throughout the East Coast of the United States as well as Florida’s west coast. She has published three photography and poetry books to date. When she is not teaching or photographing nature, she loves to spend time with her husband, Patrick, and two children, Nathan and Benjamin.
Kimberly Diaz studied Creative Writing at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her work has appeared in the Montana Mouthful, Eckerd Review, Fleas on the Dog, and is forthcoming in a couple of anthologies. She is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction and maybe a novel.
Devon Fulford is a writer and English instructor at Colorado State University. While most of her prior publication history has been in educational writing, she has been honored with poetry, nonfiction, and fictional publication credits in Aurora: The Allegory Ridge Poetry Anthology, Inklette Magazine, the Same literary journal, Handbasket Zine, Foundpolaroids.com, and others. Fulford resides on the front range of the Rocky Mountains with her partner Levi and their chocolate Labrador, The Walrus. In pockets of spare time, she can be found hiking with her family and riding her Triumph Street Twin motorbike.
Valyntina Grenier is a multi-genre artist living in Tucson, Arizona. Her visual art and poetry have appeared in Lana Turner, High Shelf Press, JuxtaProse, Sunspot Lit, and Bat City Review. She has poems forthcoming in The Impossible Beast: Poems of Queer Eroticism (Damaged Goods Press). Her double debut poetry chapbook, Fever Dream / Take Heart (Cathexis Northwest Press, 2020), features paintings from her LGBTQIA+ series Cloudshow | Utopia. You can find Grenier at valyntinagrenier.com or on Instagram @valyntinagrenier.
Doley Henderson is a Toronto writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work is featured in The Gaspereau Review, The Sunlight Press, The New Guard online journal BANG!, Blank Spaces, Prometheus Dreaming, and The Write Launch. Her novel Sea Change has been accepted in The Writer’s Hotel fiction conference in NYC, June 2020. Henderson enjoys telling a story with rhythm, texture, a strong voice, wit and grit.
Anton Franz Hoeger was born 1956 in Munich, Germany. Although mainly self-taught, his artistic roots go back to the Wiener Malschule, where he was taught by a master student of Professor Ernst Fuchs.
Candice Kelsey’s debut book of poetry, Still I am Pushing, releases March 6th with Finishing Line Press. Her first nonfiction book explored adolescent identity in the age of social media and was recognized as an Amazon.com Top Ten Parenting Book in 2007. Her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and many other journals. A finalist for Poetry Quarterly’s Rebecca Lard Award, Kelsey’s creative nonfiction was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. She is an educator of twenty years’ standing, and is devoted to working with young writers. An Ohio native, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Neal Lipschutz’s book reviews have appeared in a number of publications. He has also published short fiction in several digital and print publications.
Roeethyll Lunn is a lifetime learner and educator. She has a BFA in Broadcast Media from Morris College, Sumter, South Carolina, and an MFA in English and Writing from Long Island University, Southampton, New York.
Alan Lyons is an artist from Scotland specializing in drawing and painting. Landscape, nature, and human involvement in it are of ongoing concern to his practice. The color and material of oil paints or acrylics allow him to explore their organic or inorganic makeup.
Ryota Matsumoto is an artist, designer, and urban planner. Born in Tokyo, he was raised in Hong Kong and Japan. He received a Master of Architecture from University of Pennsylvania in 2007 after studying at Architectural Association in London and Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art in the early 90’s. His art and built work are featured in numerous publications and exhibitions internationally.
Nam Nguyen is a multimedia artist who explores the unexplored.
Robert Oehl’s art is very personal. He’s tried to put aside vanity and intent, and let the photographs create their own subject and narrative. His diaristic self-portraits are self-deprecating, vulnerable, raw, humorous, and histrionic; they are, for him, self-examinations of identity, as well as raw material for a personal mythology. Oehl is a process-oriented photographer using a variety of rudimentary tools. He uses simple pinhole and zone plate cameras requiring long exposures. Images produced with these cameras are characteristically dreamlike, dark, softly focused (grainy), and seem better suited to a past era. In a predominantly digital world, Oehl’s process is totally analog, employing film, paper, and chemical manipulation.
A confessed outsider, Chicago’s J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as an experiMENTAL writer and street photographer. His work has appeared in dozens of publications online and in print. Equipped with cRaZy quilt graduate degrees in both Business Administration and Philosophy, he labors to fill temporal-spatial, psycho-social holes and, on good days, to enjoy the flow. All of his work is dedicated to his true love, sweet muse and bodyguard, Suzi Skoski Wosker Doski.
Ernst Perdriel was Born in Montreal (Quebec, Canada) in 1974 and lives in Eastern Townships region, Quebec, Canada. Focusing on recycled art, designer and horticulture, Perdriel’s mission of life is to transmit the passion of the cultural and environmental heritage through arts, lifestyle, and sharing of knowledge. The artist has created with the waste of human civilization since 1995. The scale of the creations goes from the 2D format to interior design and landscaping.
At age twelve, Silas Plum won the East Coast POG tournament. The prize was five hundred POGs, small collectible cardboard circles, each with an identical red and blue design on the front. From that moment on, he became obsessed with the question of value. Why were these important? How could anything not necessary for survival be worth more than anything that was? Does artistic sentiment have value? The POG’s are gone, but the questions remain. Through assemblages of defunct currency, discarded photographs, and long-forgotten illustrations, Silas Plum challenges the idea of objective vs subjective value. He believes strongly in the tired old maxim that the true value of an object is more than the sum of its parts, that the gut is a truth-teller, and that the Aristotelian notion of learning-by-doing is the best teacher around. Judge his worth at silasplum.com.
Diana Raab, PhD, is an award-winning memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and author of ten books and over one thousand articles and poems. She’s also editor of two anthologies, Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency, and Writers and Their Notebooks. Raab’s two memoirs are Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. She blogs for Psychology Today, Thrive Global, Sixty and Me, and PsychCentral and is frequently a guest blogger for various other sites. Her two latest books are, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal. Visit: www.dianaraab.com.
Debbie Robson has been writing poetry since the 1990s and has performed some of her poems on radio, at Sydney poetry events, in the Blue Mountains, and more recently as part of the Women of Words project in Newcastle.
Esther Sadoff currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she teaches English to gifted and talented middle school students. She has a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College where she studied literature as well as a Master of Education from The Ohio State University. Her poems have been featured or are forthcoming in The 2River View,The Bookends Review, River River, SWIMM, and Marathon Literary Review.
Zach Sheneman obtained his BA in Writing from Grand Valley State University. He resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and two sons. His work has been published in The Pinch Journal, Glass Mountain, and Hippocampus.
Lenora Steele’s short prose and poetry have been published in periodicals in Canada and Ireland such as Event, Cranog Magazine, The Fiddlehead, Room, Wow, The New Quarterly, and The Antigonish Review. Other works have been reprinted in Monitor Books’ An Anthology of Magazine Verse and Harcourt Canada’s Elements of English 11. She lives where the tidal bore brings the sea upriver twice a day in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Pasquale Trozzolo is an entrepreneur and founder of Trozzolo Communications Group, one of the leading advertising and public relations firms in the Midwest. In addition to building his business, he also spent time as a racecar driver, grad school professor, and magazine publisher. Now with too much time on his hands, he continues to complicate his life by living out as many retirement clichés as possible. He’s up to the Ps.
Ping Wang is a fashion photographer and art director based in New York. He graduated from School of Visual Arts with a Master’s Degree in Digital Photography. Ping specialized in combining fashion and fine art with his unique aesthetics. His love for surreal and metaphysical art has inspired him to do special works. Ping’s artwork has exhibited in the US, France, China, Japan and Australia, among other places. In 2016, Ping was awarded the Emerging Photographer of the Year by Photo District News after competing against tens of thousands of photographers worldwide. In 2018, his work was been awarded a Gold Winner of Fine Art Portfolio by the Tokyo International Foto Award.
Walter Weinschenk is an attorney by day but spends as much time as possible as a writer, photographer and musician. Until a few years ago, he wrote short stories exclusively. Now he divides his time equally between poetry and prose. His writing has appeared in the Carolina Quarterly and The Esthetic Apostle. He lives in a suburb just outside Washington, DC.
Nina Wilson is a graduate of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She lives in Indianola, Iowa with her family. She loves history, especially early English history, photography, traveling, fishing, and camping.
Haolun Xu is twenty-four years old and was born in Nanning, China. He immigrated to the United States in 1999. He was raised in central New Jersey and is currently studying Political Science and English at Rutgers University. Transitioning from a background in journalism and activism, he spends his time between writing poetry and the local seashore.
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