I regret that I am not going to be a student ever again. A real student I mean, with an assigned desk, a name tag, a government-issued pencil, composition books, wooden ruler.
Standing in line for my turn at the hand crank pencil sharpener mounted on the wall beside the globe we are not supposed to spin. Why not. Will we make the world too dizzy?
I regret that I am not going to be a real student again with hand-me-down, hard cover textbooks. All dog-eared and water-stained. Covers scuffed, ripped. Punctured by what, the dagger on the end of a silver compass? Names of the students before me listed inside the front cover where I add my name and erase it a hundred times because I can’t get my writing to look cool enough.
I regret that I won’t hear my name in attendance roles, that I can’t find my home room, my locker, the entrance to the gym, the cafeteria, the auditorium. Where is my bus, my lunch table, the idea that everything I did would lead me to some preordained and glorious destiny. To my unique place in this world, to my purpose in life. To what I will be when I grow up.
Here is what I regret the most. That day my best friend Lisa forgot how to make her fingers move inside the music room that reeked of motor oil. The only classroom in the basement. There were no windows. The door always closed to not disturb, whom exactly? Our voices walking to that classroom, past the boiler room and janitorial closets, like a cannon ball rolling around in huge metal tub, as if someone had melted the tuba to take a bath.
Lisa, her hands frozen in air over piano keys. A person in an oil painting, or rain clouds over a person in an oil painting. I, the page turner, seated beside her. We’d practiced, you see, at her house in her sunken living room with the white shag carpet and the baby blue velvet furniture.
I didn’t look at her. Her tears wetting the keys, the white ones, the black ones. I held my breathe.
The teacher folded herself at the waist like a playing card, brought drumsticks down hard and swift. Lisa’s fingers dipped and struck an awful music. She might have cried out. I’m not sure. Two more hearty whacks, and we were back in our seats, Lisa’s hands red in her lap. Why wasn’t she rubbing them. She needed ice, but the door was closed.
Now someone was playing notes so easily, so clearly. I’ve heard them ever since. Why didn’t I get to my feet and shove that monster. Why didn’t I rise up, take my friend by the forearm and drag her out of that room.
Yes, yes, the obvious reasons. Blah. Blah. Blah. Teacher, Student. Adult, Child. Authority Figure.
I don’t buy it.
What are you going to be when you grow up.
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, Burningword Literary Journal, The Moon City Review, Permafrost Magazine, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Sky Island Journal among others. Winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net Nonfiction 2019 and 2020, her poetry chapbooks “The Werewolves of Elk Creek” and “Shot Full of Holes” are upcoming for publication by The Moonstone Press. She has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize.
Not until his funeral did I begin to realize how much of Dad’s life I had misjudged. I was too busy rebelling, even at age 37, which is how old I was when he died on his 61st birthday.
But I got a glimpse of the man I couldn’t see when several members of a Japanese-American family unexpectedly attended his funeral. We had no idea who they were or why they were there.
One of us Euro-American mourners approached them after the service, and we learned the Japanese-American family had owned a grocery store in our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood. But it had been more than 25 years since we had moved away from the area and 34 years since the incident that prompted their attendance at his funeral.
During World War II, they had been forced to relocate from Portland to an internment camp. (Imprisoning families of other ethnicities is a measure of our chronic barbarism.) After their release in 1945, Dad was the first to welcome them home. It seems a simple act, yet it had great meaning for them, and their gratitude lasted his lifetime.
This was the man the Japanese-American family saw, and it is to them that I owe the prompt for a larger view of his life.
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in many U.S. and international journals, including Montreal Review, Redux, Compose, Concis, Lowestoft Chronicle, Trampset, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for “Best American Travel Writing” and “Best of the Net.”
When I was eight, a decision was made to send me on a train trip with my grandmother to visit “Mama Lizzie” my great-grandmother, who lived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She had visited up north, but this would be my first time down south. Grandma was perpetually good natured and laughed easily. And Mama Lizzie’s soft smiling eyes turned up at the corners whenever she spoke to me. She was the kindest, most generous, most loving, nonjudgmental person I’ve ever known. I had zero reservations about venturing on this vacation.
Shortly after the train got going, Grandma’s fried chicken and pound cake appeared. (Decades later, that remains one of my favorite comfort food combinations.) Napkins were arranged into placemats for our laps. Then we carefully removed the aluminum foil and wax paper from the fragrantly seasoned chicken and heavy moist cake. I was just starting to read Huckleberry Finn and as the train traversed the Mississippi River I looked out at the muddy, brown-green, meandering water highway, with willow trees hanging heavy over the river banks, convinced that at any moment Huck would appear on his raft just around the bend.
Arriving in Pine Bluff, it was obvious our impending visit had been widely publicized. Mama Lizzie was revered and a number of unrelated people had come with her to meet the train. Secretly loving all the attention, something told me this adulation was unlikely to follow me back home where my mother’s mission was making sure I didn’t get too full of myself.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it was as if the whole universe of unconditional love came spiraling down around me.
The first morning in my great-grandmother’s house, it was just me and her and Grandma. Grandma and I were sitting at the kitchen table when Mama Lizzie, standing at her stove, turned to me and asked “How many strips of bacon do you want, Honey?”
Now I don’t know how my mother’s imprinting failed at that instant, because she was a strong presence in my psyche no matter how near or far she was—but I didn’t skip a beat before replying “twelve.” Neither of my foremothers blinked an eye. And at every morning’s breakfast thereafter, for the whole two weeks of my stay, a plate was set before me heaped with twelve strips of thick country bacon, each strip bracketed by big curls of fat.
Not even Houdini could match the magic of two generations of matriarchs so intent on making a beloved heir happy.
What’s more, on our return home, when my mother complained about my weight gain, Grandma never said a word.
Renée Ozburn left a long legal career in Michigan to devote her time to creative writing. In addition to her flash nonfiction piece, Twelve Strips of Bacon, she recently completed a novel. Her essay, A Redbone’s Reality, won the 2019 Los Angeles Review’s Creative Nonfiction Literary Award. losangelesreview.org She has been a fellow of the Paris American Academy’s Creative Writing Program. As her blog To Paris and Beyond portrays, as often as possible, she spends time in various venues around France and the US connecting with other writers.
Hair coiling and swirling in the murky current, she claws at gnarled fingers of seaweed, struggles to rise toward the surface before she chokes on the sea sponge lodged in her throat. Bolt upright in bed, she gags. Full moon. Open window. The wad of phlegm lodged in her windpipe loosens. Box of tissues on the bedside table next to the novel she hasn’t started reading. She spits into a tissue and draws heat-thick air into her lone lung. Thinks of how a man she once knew said he’d coughed up a log of tar when he quit smoking. She pictures it, the same texture and colour as the sponge she inhaled in her dreams.
In her dream, she was her girl-self swimming in Lac Pelletier. She leans back against her pillows, wondering why she returned to those long-forgotten docks. Where she was afraid the seaweed in the stagnant lake would drag her down and drown her. In the dream, she clamped her bluing lips against the dead minnows that began trembling on the surface. Panic exploded in her lungs, and she struggled against the sudden undertow until her feet hit the slope of sand. Her leaden legs propelled her to the colourful towel abandoned on the beach where she collapsed. Firepit smoke was in the air. A wiener roast.
She squeezes her eyes against the memory. Inhales and traps air in her remaining lung. Last night, before she went for supper, when she’d glanced back into the full-length mirror, checked her reflection for panty lines, she’d glimpsed the faded scar protruding from under the dress, just above from her left shoulder blade. A reminder that all suffering fades. How, eventually, loss blends in with the mundane. Like the spattering of summer freckles mid-March. As she exhales, she recalls the smell of a bonfire lingering before she slept.
Last night, a fever had penetrated her in his bed and clung as she untangled herself from his legs, his sheets. The heat followed her home where the swelter was trapped. As she’d lifted open the window, the neighbour’s woodfire wafted in and she paused—torn between the desire to savour the smell of her lover lingering on her skin and to escape the heat. Not wanting to get sucked into the undertow of a love that will never be more, she left the window open and sank into her empty bed.
Rachel Laverdiere is a writer, course designer and instructor living on the Canadian prairies. Rachel’s essays are recently published in journals such as The Common, X-R-A-Y Literary and Pithead Chapel. Her flash CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s 2019 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, made The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2020 and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2020. For more of Rachel’s writing, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.
During my third May in the house I built, a sog of mist dripped from one day into the next. One afternoon, when no doors were closed, a drizzly fog drifted up the valley and entered my front door and trailed—like the ghost of a snake—through the house and out the back door. It passed by me, a strand of vapors, and merged with the mother cloud on the other side of the house.
A fog in the old cantos forebodes reckless actions caused by short-sightedness. Or else its drift is a symbol of memories lost. It mutes nature and makes implicit the forms it contains. As such, fog is elegiac—an encrypting ether that spirits the imagination to the horizon’s absence, the erasure of trees. It settles on the world a crown of longing.
Hemmed in by a dense fog, I walk the slim margins of visibility without orientation. This kind of fog is a labyrinth without hedgerow corridors to follow and right-angled choices. In the place of spatial acclimation is the visual cancellation of depth. Dense fog is a self-referential experience, a targeting of consciousness as a center without circumference.
Or—in the near distance—the fog fills the woods: the air permeable, a murky waft that silhouettes and desaturates the trees. Forms appear more like a dream of forms, emerging and disappearing as the fog settles and unsettles. I see outlines and contours—what I might call the forest’s presentness—as vague references. The wooded horizon dissolves into a play of restless tonalities.
Acting as the cloud it is, fog is ephemeral. It persists without anchor—drifting away or lifting—vaporous droplets incubating rain. In late summer, a wisp of fog often settles over the valley in late evening. Although a common scene during mornings, it is hard to pass by and not take notice: ridges and mountaintops poke above a sea of white—an archipelago of the high Appalachian Mountains.
In this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina it is lore that for every morning fog in August there will be a day of snow in winter. In my county where students miss an average of 15 days of school due to winter weather, this form of forecasting is practiced more than you might expect. The tradition is to put a large bean in a jar for a heavy fog and a small bean in for a light fog. Each large bean represents a heavy snow day in winter, and a light snow day, determined by the ability to track a rabbit in it, for each small bean.
After the sun rises above the eastern ridge the valley fog burns off. Slowly, increments of color clarify. Forms—still ambient in the last of the mist—tighten their lines of contrast and depth. Remnant moisture rises back into the sky. The fog is gone in a breath.
Philip Arnold’s essays have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Gulf Stream, Fugue, and apt, where his piece, “Stereoscopic Paris,” was a notable selection in the 2017 Best American Essays anthology. He is the author of the poetry collection The Natural History of a Blade (Dos Madres Press 2019), and has had work appear in Arts & Letters, Iowa Review, Atticus Review, Midwest Quarterly and Southern Poetry Review.
My ruminations don’t come preformed in neat complete sentences with subjects, verbs and objects, beginning with capital letters and ending with periods (what the British call full stops, hexagonal red symbols of written language); rather my contemplations appear in my mind as fragments that start and pause and pick up again, that change direction and double back on themselves, that sometimes s-l-o-w w-a-y d-o-w-n and come to a near halt—as you may be tempted to do at a stop sign when no cars are in sight—and then plunge ahead; but they’re always connected in an erratic and inexplicably continuous narrative that switches on with my pre-dawn awakening and runs all day (like our ceiling fans in August), punctuated by comma and semicolon pauses, by parentheses for explication and dashes for enhancement, by asterisks that act as mental notes in the margin, by question marks and exclamation points, not to close off the dialogue but rather to ask or assert … and even when my thoughts start to evaporate, before they dissolve completely around ten p.m., there’s an ebb, a gradual subsiding, and I can almost hear the dot-dot-dot, the slow, even syncopation of ellipses, those three-dot placeholders, the last ticks of consciousness that lull my brain to temporary cessation, and while the last of these may finish with a fourth dot—the finale, the inevitable full stop—I don’t see the sign, hear its clang, or feel that definitive plop: I’m switched off for the night….
Alice Lowe’s flash fiction and nonfiction have been or will be published this year in Hobart, JMWW, Door Is a Jar, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Burningword Literary Journal. Her essays have been cited in the Best American Essays and nominated for Pushcart Prizes and Best of the Net. She writes about life and literature, food and family in San Diego, California, and posts her work at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.