Her parents, for reasons she did not fully understand, didn’t attend church. Ever. Her father said nature was his church, but, on the other hand, so many millions believed otherwise, who was he to judge the merits of indoor, group-oriented worship? He drew the line at smoke bombs and hocus-pocus; he wouldn’t even read fiction because he only wanted to learn facts. Her mother saw no point without such evocative pageantry, but she didn’t want any trouble at home.
They didn’t want to deprive the girl, their only child, of wholesome church-going social normalcy, nor, certainly, any possibility, however remote, of everlasting life. So, at 11, she was left to the mercy of, briefly, the Pentecostals and later, more lastingly, the Nazarenes. (After all, moderate factions don’t recruit.) She was as good a Sunday school student as she was a student-student, the girl who grew up to earn a PhD and three master’s degrees, and her teacher, Mr. Meadows, offered her the unprecedented opportunity to prepare and teach a Sunday school lesson to her peers.
What was he thinking? They paid her elaborate, lavish inattention, doodling, passing notes and chatting with one another, sighing and fidgeting as if she weren’t there, until Mr. Meadows broke in and took over. She stayed, she had to, they carpooled rides home for orphans like herself.
She could not, however, muster the perspective to return. A month later Mr. Meadows, jilted lover, appeared at their door, to say that one day she’d be a wonderful teacher. As her father jumped up and stood, spread like an X in front of the card table littered with ashtrays and beer cans, she understood.
Julie Benesh’s fiction has been in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review (receiving an Illinois Arts Council Grant), Florida Review, Gulf Stream, and other places. Micro-memoirs are forthcoming from Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and Green Briar Review. She has an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College and lives in Chicago.
I press the button attached to the IV attached to my arm, and the sweet burn of morphine runs through my veins. The drip, drip, drip drowns the music of newborn cries, coming from down the hall. Obstetrics, gynecology. Same wing. Same floor. The baby nursery is right next door.
Maybe I should count sheep.
One little lamb. Two little lambs. Three …
“Don’t be greedy.” My surgeon’s words on speed-dial in my brain.
“You have three healthy children.”
This is what he tells me, when he tells me my cervix has to go.
Three little lambs. Four …
The lights on the ceiling, flush mounts they’re called, look like breasts, breasts heavy with milk.
Polished nickel nipples, ready to feed.
There’s an army of ants. Yes! An army of tiny black ants climbing the wall across from my bed. I laugh. The newborns across the hall wail. Time to press the button for more morphine.
Four little lambs. Five …
My father used to call me shefele. That’s little lamb in Yiddish.
And then there was Jay. Met him in July,1976. The summer of the Bicentennial—a good sign, if you believe in those things. I was just fifteen.
Married in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was President and Sally Ride, the first woman in space. “Every Breath You Take” had just highjacked the airwaves.
Why do I feel I can’t breathe?
Seven, eight little lambs …
“Even nuns get dysplasia,” that same surgeon tells me, after he tells me I have cancer, the unruly
child of a runaway STD.
“Even nuns have affairs,” the words of my Catholic-school friend …
Nine, ten little lambs. Eleven, twelve, thirteen …
Jay and I were each other’s firsts.
I thought I was his only.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen …
The nurse comes in. I pray she won’t notice my brave six-legged friends, climbing the hospital wall.
Seventeen, eighteen …
- Jay had just ended his second affair.
Bill and Monica’s story broke that January, amidst semen stains and cigars.
Arnold had fathered his housekeeper’s child.
The year prior, Kathy Lee—and the world—found out that Frank was fucking a flight attendant.
So many men wielding their fleshy swords …
I’m afraid I’ve lost count.
I look up at the tiny soldiers. They’re busy, those ants, driven to move in their stick straight line. I wonder how they do that, march so fearlessly, black against a cold white sea.
What would it be like to be so bold, to move forward, even at the risk of being seen?
Diane Gottlieb received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction and as a member of the interview and blog teams for Lunch Ticket. Her work has appeared in Panoply and Lunch Ticket. You can also find her weekly musings at https://dianegottlieb.com.
The stink of scorched feathers and the bumpy, scaly chicken feet bombarded my senses as Dad thrust the bird at me. The body was warm, too warm. I didn’t care that he said the carcass was that way from being dunked in the scalding water. Loosened the feathers, easier to pluck, whatever.
The live chickens huddled and clucked and jumped at the far end of the coop, but only a few would escape Dad’s reaching arm. Squawks from the chosen victim grew loud—until the strike of the ax. Running like a chicken with your head cut off is true, but there’s also obscene gymnastics with shooting blood that gets gummy on the gravel in the summer sun.
Instead, Dad nailed the bony chicken feet to the fence post after he chopped off the heads, and the things bled out shuddering against the post. Dad said, “At least the meat won’t get bruised.”
I know Mom was there—she came in the kitchen later and scolded me and my sister for arguing about who had to clean all the butt pieces floating in the cool tap water—but my memory can’t place her at the scene. Maybe she snuck off for a Winston, thinking, no cursing that the damn chicken coop was what had sold them on the property. Nobody in the family would have admitted this place was supposed to be the cure for his drinking.
“Good country living and hard work,” my dad said.
Dad was sober this day—family day. I wonder now if he was trying to convince himself or the rest of us.
No time to think. There were chickens to pluck. LeAnn and I stood side by side. I watched her lead—she was the big sister. But, God it still felt like I was plucking a live chicken.
I pulled feathers one by one. At this rate, I might have one plucked by Christmas. Dad looked over and headed my way.
“Jesus Christ! It’s not gonna hurt you.” He grabbed my hands and rubbed them all over the chicken.
I threw the chicken into the air. I heard the thud as I ran toward the house, “AHHHHHHH!”
Similar chicken thuds and screaming came from my sister.
These were the good times.
Melissa Fast is a nonfiction writer from the Midwest with an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. During the day, she spins words as a public relations professional. In her free time, she slugs French-press coffee and plays with words in hopes of making sense of her surroundings. She was selected as one of the winners of the 2017 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards from the South Carolina Writers Association, and her work has appeared in Minerva’s Rising, Bluestem Magazine, and Brevity blog. She is currently working on a memoir.
In response to the film: “Struggle, The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski”
He refused to draw from live models so they kicked him out of art school. He didn’t give a fuck cause he wanted to learn things his own way. Shortly after, his father, the person he loved the most, was killed by an automobile and the neighbors went to get him. He picked him up from the cobblestones, carried him through the bustle, policemen quietly behind him not knowing what to do. At the morgue, he asked to have his body, he wanted to take him home. And this is how, from the broken body of his father, he learned anatomy. In his sculptures, ever after, the unbearable pain flowing through each muscle, tendon, eyelid…
Viviane Vives is a filmmaker, actor, photographer, and writer. A Fulbright scholar for Artistic Studies, —Tisch School of the Arts, NYU—her translation work, poems, and short stories have been published internationally. Some of Viviane’s recent publications are poetry in the Southeast Missouri University Press, a short story, “Todo es de Color, Children of Catalunya” in Litro Magazine of London, and a ten page story in The Write Launch: “In the oblique and dreamlike style of Marguerite Duras, Viviane Vives weaves memories of her ancestors and place—Nice, Barcelona, Perth, New South Wales, Texas—in “Dialogues With Your Notebook,” a stunning literary achievement.” She is also a Finalist of the Philadelphia Stories’ Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry and Semifinalist of the American Short(er) Fiction Contest by American Short Fiction. Viviane is a nominee for Sundress Press’ Best of the Net Anthology 2018, for fiction, by Burningword Literary Journal, whose editor Erik Deerly also included her in their Best of 2018 anthology. Black Mountain Press also has included her work in their Best Sixty Four Poets of 2018.
As in, pick up your mud-crusted boots and move along. Forward, onward. Stopping to ponder one’s thoughts could lead to a frozen death, a swampy drowning.
As in, the January memory of one million bodies filling the DC green (not green at all), the wind cold and biting on our cheeks, my children separated from me. They were near the Metro station, not far from where I clung to a flag-post but we could not traverse the sea of protesters. We could not march, or even move. Our arms shook, holding up signs of anger, and love. Winter, then spring.
As in, rain for ten days, stop for two. The trees bloom briefly, confused. They drop the petals like wet mittens on the ground, ground down to a faded sidewalk tapestry.
Dickens noted, “When it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” But the light has eluded us this year, trapped in a box on Fox news. Blanketed with East Coast sleet, west coast floods. We watch a goat, standing along on the roof of a dairy farm, waiting to be rescued, cars floating by. Swollen rivers of doubt topple the last walls of credibility.
“We are sunk,” we say, turning off the television. “We’ve gone to the dogs.”
Simultaneously, our soaked Shepherds press muddy paws on the glass door. The mother dog’s eyes brim with anxiety. She is ombrophobic — March is not her month.
The invasion of mold in the carpet, water in the cellar, and ants. The ants erupt from a crack under the dripping window sill. Highly organized, they move four abreast across the counter, boldly. They resemble one million women in the streets of Washington, from an aerial view. The ant parade takes a sudden turn at the liquor cabinet. Drunken ants pile around the simple syrup. I understand. We drank too at the end of our long march.
As in, thousands of refugees who approach the border. The king of fools calls upon his reluctant troops to raise arms against them. He labels them The Caravan. As if they come with wagons and horses — settlers to the wild west. Could we offer a homestead, or a land title? No. To share even a jug of water risks arrest.
Emily Dickenson welcomed it like a secret lover, locking the door against April. My faith in the poet falters. To prefer March to April — strong evidence of insanity. I beckon April to visit me instead. I promise spring cleaning, fresh bulbs, and tea in the solarium.
My dry skin flakes away, words sit rough in my dry throat, and my winter belly creates a mantle over my jeans. The shadows under my eyes deepen to small tar pits. I awake with no spring in my step and my hips protest.
“Still cold and damp,” my joints moan.
“Hush,” I self-chide. “Lift your feet. Onward. We cross the border today. March.”
Joanell Serra lives and writes in Northern California. Her first novel, The Vines We Planted, was published by Wido in 2018. An award-winning playwright, novelist and short story writer, she has published stories in Eclectica, Blue Lake Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Poydras Review and elsewhere. In 2015, she won a full scholarship to Santa Barbara’s Writer’s Conference and also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.
She sensed when he’d show up. She’d turn her head and look out the window. There he’d be 3 floors down in the parking lot. The man in the hat.
Tall, almost lanky. Black hat – she wasn’t sure the term – Boiler? Brimmed? Felt? Always. Sometimes with a vest. Sometimes a leather jacket. White guy. Indiscriminate age, maybe 28 or 43. Not as old as she was. Not young enough to be self-conscious.
On him the hat worked. For her. There was something about his gait. Self-assured. Never in a rush. Going somewhere. He looked like he could time travel, be comfortable anywhere. The kind of guy who could wear an “I heart my cat” shirt without an ounce of irony or stroll to a piano bar in a dusty western town. He’d need a wider brimmed hat for that.
She wondered where he worked. She realized she was unaware of what the other companies in the building were or did.
She never saw him at the food trucks. She hated the elevator; he struck her as a take-the-stairs guy. She liked the familiarity of the mystery of him a few times a week. Possibility in the guise of routine.
One day she was walking down the stairwell. There he was – she had been right. Up close, she still liked his face. Light eyes. Pale. Maybe intelligent. Short dark hair, at least what she could see around the hat. Could be a banker if he swapped jeans for a suit.
“I like your hat.”
Nice smile, “thanks.”
“Goes with anything; in this climate, you could wear it in any season.”
He agreed then described his summer hat. Made eye contact. Then held the door.
She paused. Almost held out her hand. Introduced herself.
Maybe it would have been what her former father‑in‑law used to call “the Greatest Love Story of All Time.”
Maybe she would have made a new friend.
Maybe they would have grabbed a cup of coffee or a beer.
Maybe they would have talked about cats.
Or ended up naked and sweaty tangled in bed sheets.
Maybe, naked, he would’ve let her try on that hat.
Most likely none of that would happen.
She had good American life by any standard; in her routine she didn’t have was much that was interesting.
And the man in the hat, he was something to ponder.
What if under that hat was a wispy, greying, middle-aged comb-over? What if the intelligence in his eyes was anxiety? What if he was just another IT cog who played golf, drank too much on the weekends, and watched sitcoms after work?
She liked speculating about the man in the hat.
She did not hold out her hand or ask his name.
Instead, she walked through the open door, cold reality making way for fantasy: “thank you. Good night.”
She did not wait for his response, for him to catch up, share details about his life, and maybe walk with her to her car.
Tara Hun-Dorris, a West Virginia native, lives in Raleigh, NC.