poetry prose photography volume 1 issue 1
volume 1 issue 1 peninsula pulse special edition october 2, 2020
on the cover:
photography 1st Quiet Time by Glenn Meyers
This image has the trifecta of elements that make a winning photograph – a loving and genuine moment between a boy and his animal, soft lighting that is complementary to the mood, and a strong composition that fills the frame. The viewer’s eye is led in a loop from the cow’s eye, to the boy’s face, and around the frame counterclockwise, taking in the whole of the moment, and making you feel like you could curl up in the center of the photo too. I like how the photographer got down on the same level as the boy, really making the viewer feel as if they are with them in the hay.
The Hal Prize has seen many changes over the years, but none larger than the one planned for this year: the publication of a separate literary magazine, 8142 Review. Designed to add content during the coming years, 8142 Review will be an expansion of – not a replacement for – the Hal Prize. The name for the new review took some time, as members of the Pulse staff sat around throwing out ideas that ranged from geological formations to forest foliage, and plenty in between. Ultimately, we landed on 8142 Review: an homage to the address of the Peninsula Pulse office on Highway 57 on the shore of Lake Michigan in Baileys Harbor. We found ourselves drawn to the simplicity and rhythm of the name. And, in addition to it being easy to remember, the name evokes a sense of place for our staff: a place where creative people, each with special talents and gifts, gather to create publications and video productions, and a place where the Hal Prize grew from a contest into a new publication. As with most things this year, however, our plans for this inaugural review have been altered. Our grand plan for a separate publication has been scaled back in 2020 as this year’s Hal Prize is being presented in a streamlined form, but it still features the winners in our fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography categories as well as some honorable mentions. This year’s entrants once again submitted a wealth of diverse stories, poems and photos, covering topics from Midwestern life to fictional battles. We even have a writer who took first place in two categories, and writers who earned multiple honorable mentions. Because of limited space, not all honorable mentions appear in this publication. They will be available at thehalprize.com. The changes in this year’s contest are just the first step. In future Hal Prize contests and 8142 Review publications, we hope to continue gathering a wide variety of submissions and adding more content to engage writers, authors, photographers, contest winners and readers. The 2021 Hal Prize is open for submissions – the deadline is May 1, 2021. Details of the 2021 Hal Prize contest will be released later this year. Until then, visit thehalprize.com to learn more on how to submit and look at previous issues.
photography judge Coburn Dukehart
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About the Hal Prize The Hal Prize is presented by the Peninsula Pulse, a free, weekly newspaper; and Write On, Door County, a nonprofit writing center and writers’ residency program. The Hal Prize – originally called Hal Grutzmacher’s Writers Exposé and Photography Jubilee – was established in 1998 by David Eliot and Tom McKenzie, co-founders of the Peninsula Pulse. One day, McKenzie stopped in at Passtimes Books – a former Sister Bay bookstore – to ask owner Steve Grutzmacher whether they could name the literary contest after his father, Hal Grutzmacher. The contest was created to encourage and appreciate artistic expression through literature and photography, and it has since showcased works by individuals of all ages, from novice writers and photographers to professionals. The Hal Prize comprises four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and photography. Each year, judges who have differing areas of expertise are chosen to consider the entries and select a first, second and third place, along with honorable mentions.
Honoring Harold “Hal” Grutzmacher This annual issue honors a man whose passion for writing and teaching the craft of writing spanned his lifetime. Although his specialty was the English Romantic period – particularly William Wordsworth – he also loved reading (and rereading) James Bond novels and was a widely published poet. Grutzmacher was also a regular columnist for the Door County Advocate when it was privately owned. He even persuaded his editor to allow him to cover the Chicago Cubs, which afforded him several trips each season to Wrigley Field, where he became good friends with other sports writers from far larger newspapers. Grutzmacher’s greatest passion, however, was teaching writing. As an English professor at Carthage College (then in Carthage, Illinois), Knox College and Parson College, he influenced hundreds of undergraduate writers. Later, as vice president for academic affairs at the University of Tampa and dean of students at Beloit College, he continued to teach freshman English courses, even though they were not part of his job description. In Door County, Grutzmacher and his wife, Marge, opened Passtimes Books, where he enjoyed discussing literature with other avid readers. And he continued to teach writing, both at The Clearing and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Several of his students later shared manuscripts with him, which he helped to edit into finished books. Grutzmacher’s encouragement and gentle, though pointed criticism influenced so many students and community members. Through The Hal Prize, the Peninsula Pulse and Write On, Door County seek to continue in the same spirit by encouraging writers and photographers of all skill levels to pursue their passion and craft.
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Ed Bok Lee poetry “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” Ed Bok Lee – the 2020 Hal Prize poetry judge – uses this quote by Novalis to explain why he started to write poetry. Lee is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Mitochondrial Night. The son of North and South Korean emigrants – his mother originally a refugee from what is now North Korea; his father was raised during the Japanese colonial period and Korean War in what is now South Korea – Lee grew up in South Korea, North Dakota and Minnesota. He was educated there and later on both U.S. coasts, Russia, South Korea and Kazakhstan.
His honors include the American Book Award, Minnesota Book Award, Asian American Literary Award (Members’ Choice) and a PEN/Open Book Award. He teaches at Metropolitan State University, and for two decades, he’s taught in programs for youth and people who are incarcerated. Lee is the winner of an American Book Award and a PEN/Open Book Award. Publisher’s Weekly writes that he “strikes a dizzying balance between the organic and the cosmic, the intimate and mythological. In these poems, time collapses to address historic events that influence the now and the yet-to-come.”
Jane Hamilton fiction Best-selling author Jane Hamilton lives, works and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin. Her short stories have appeared in Harper’s magazine. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, earned the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel and was a selection of the Oprah Book Club. Her second novel, A Map of the World, was an international bestseller. The Atlantic Monthly called Hamilton “among the most graceful and thoughtful writers to work the fertile ground that is the Midwestern family.” Hamilton grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, as the youngest of five children. She earned prizes for poetry and short stories throughout high school and college, but she was always told that being a writer would not be a viable career. And because she wasn’t a good speller, she didn’t believe she could be a copy editor or editor. Hamilton graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1979 as an English major. She became an intern with Dell Publishing for
Children after college and set out for New York to become an editor. She stopped to visit a friend’s apple orchard in Rochester, Wisconsin, where she met her future husband, who was a partner in the orchard operation. Soon after, she moved to the orchard farmhouse, which allowed her the freedom to write during the off-season. Hamilton’s third novel, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998 and was shortlisted for the 1999 Orange Prize. In 2000, the Wisconsin Library Association named Hamilton a Notable Wisconsin Author. All of her books are set, at least in part, in Wisconsin. Of her writing, novelist Laura Moriarty says, “I like Jane Hamilton for her compassionate portrayals of characters most people would ridicule, and the way her books show the beauty of rural life without romanticizing it.”
David McGlynn nonfiction David McGlynn is the author of three books: One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood, A Door in the Ocean and a story collection, The End of the Straight and Narrow, which were all published by Counterpoint Press. A Door in the Ocean was reviewed on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, earned the Council for Wisconsin Writers’ Nonfiction Book Award in 2013 and was named an Outstanding Achievement by the Wisconsin Librarians’ Association. The End of the Straight and Narrow received the 2008 Utah Book Award, was a finalist for the 2009 Steven Turner Award for Best First Fiction by the Texas Institute of Letters and was named an Outstanding Achievement by the Wisconsin Librarians’ Association.
McGlynn’s writing has appeared in Men’s Health, Real Simple, Parents, the New York Times, Swimmer, Best American Sports Writing and numerous literary journals. Three of his essays have been named Distinguished Essays in the Best American Essays and Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies. He teaches at Lawrence University in Appleton, where he lives with his wife and sons. A lifelong swimmer, he captured a national championship in the 500-yard freestyle at the 2001 United States Masters National Championships and now competes most regularly in open-water races. On most mornings, he’s the first one in the pool.
Coburn Dukehart photography Unlike most of the recent Hal Prize judges, 2020 photography judge Coburn Dukehart has a history in Door County – a family history. One of her great-grandfathers began coming to Door County during the 1900s, and ever since, Ephraim has been her family’s spot – both as a place to vacation and to retire. Dukehart has worked as senior photo editor at National Geographic, picture and multimedia editor at NPR, and a photo editor and multimedia producer at USA Today and the Washington Post. She now lives in Madison, where she’s the digital and multimedia director for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. She made the move from Washington, D.C., to Wisconsin in part so that she and her family could be closer to her parents in Door County. 4 | 8142 review 2020
Dukehart holds a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of MissouriColumbia and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has earned multimedia awards from WHNPA, NPPA, POYi and the Milwaukee Press Club, along with Webbys and Edward R. Murrow awards. She has also been nominated for a national Emmy. Dukehart has coached at multimedia workshops, including Eddie Adams, the NPPA Flying Short Course, NPPA Immersion workshop, and Syracuse Fall Workshop. She was the December 2018 commencement speaker at the University of Missouri School of Journalism’s graduation ceremony. peninsula pulse
winners poetry 1st
“Daytona Beach at Dusk” by Kathryn Gahl
“The time to leave the room where I’ve been growing hair from my face” by Jose Oseguera
“Sanibel Island Haibun” by Jessica Dionne
The Peninsula Pulse offers hearty thanks to the generous businesses and individuals who donated prizes to this year’s Hal Prize. All of them deserve our salute for their support of the literary and photography communities!
“Between Earths” by Klara Kobylinski “Bonnie’s Sight” by Amy Phimster * “Moon” by Jocelyn Boor * “Opening Night at the Symphony” by Kathleen Serley * “Other People’s Stories” by Marguerite Packard “Screw Up” by Bryan Daniel * “Shadow Selves” by Joanne Nelson “The Winter Dad Turned Basement Archaeologist” by Sylvia Cavanaugh “When an Artist Drew an Owl’s Portrait” by Thomas Davis * “Your Call” by Kathleen Serley *
prizes The Hal Prize offers publication to a readership of more than 25,000, cash awards for winners and a writer’s residency at Write On, Door County. The Hal Prize is open to writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and to photographers throughout the United States.
“Yes, No, I Don’t Know” by Kathryn Gahl
“Silent Negotiations” by Victoria Smith
“Fortune Tent” by Michelle Kicherer
“Guilt by Association” by Margaret Hermes * “Aperture Control” by Elise Gregory * “Squirrel Hunting” by Gary Jones
“Horse Training, Toddlers and Tradeoffs” by Rebecca Zornow
“What We Talk about When We Talk about James Fenimore Cooper” by Meaghan Clohessy
1st fiction, nonfiction and poetry • $250 • Hal Prize mug made by Clay Bay Pottery • A week-long stay at Write On, Door County
photography • $250 • Hal Prize mug made by Clay Bay Pottery • A class at Peninsula School of Art
“Cove Life” by Jeanne Topic
“Finding Frances” by Megan Williams * “God’s Boot Camp” by Nove Meyers * “Let’s Speak of the Things We Don’t Tell Our Mothers” by Meghan O’Brien
3rd all categories • $50
“Quiet Time” by Glenn Meyers
“A State Fair Moment” by Karen Nordahl
Write On, Door County focuses on the importance of writing and reading and the ability of people to connect through stories. The nonprofit provides a beautiful, inspiring writers’ retreat on 39 acres in Juddville, and it conducts writing-related classes, programs and special events throughout the county for all ages and experience levels. To learn more, visit writeondoorcounty.org or call 920.868.1457. Peninsula School of Art provides enriching, educational experiences to participants of all ages and abilities through year-round art workshops, lectures, exhibits and family-friendly events. The first-place winner of The Hal Prize photography competition will take part in a class at this nationally recognized school. Visit peninsulaschoolofart.org or call 920.868.3455 to find out more about the school. David and Jeanne Aurelius, owners of Clay Bay Pottery, have generously donated their time and skill to The Hal Prize by producing customized pottery for competition winners. In past years, Clay Bay has donated both commemorative plates and mugs to first-place winners – much prettier and more functional than your average trophy! To contact Clay Bay Pottery, south of Ellison Bay on Highway 42, call 920.854.5027. Door County Living, the sister publication of the Peninsula Pulse, is a free magazine published five times a year. Paper Boy is Door County’s premier publication and promotional-material distribution service, serving more than 700 locations weekly. It, too, is a sister operation of the Peninsula Pulse.
“Showered by Sunflowers” by Andrew Pirrung “Air Show Anticipation” by Phyllis Deicher-Ladwig “Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline” by John Koski “Chance Meeting” by Leena Meyers “Forest” by Phyllis Deicher-Ladwig “Here Comes the Sun” by Andrew Pirrung “John Purves in January” by Jon Klister “Our Choice” by Leena Meyers “Seagull, Skyline” by George Stein “Sorry Mom Tattoo” by Leena Meyers “Wander and Wonder” by Kelsey Layne
* Because of limited space, not all honorable mentions appear in this publication. They will be available at thehalprize.com. 8142 review 2020 | 5
Daytona Beach at Dusk by Kathryn Gahl Walking alone on the world’s most famous beach devoid of people and cars in January years after you and I fled here, young and lost, walked past Coppertone bodies bellies and biceps muscle cars bubbling with mufflers cascading waves we heard as only the young can not knowing then our dreams were destined to collide your bottle, my pen forever trying to write the sun squint to see unborn babies on the rim who would arrive a decade later to me without you and then in time immemorial, a grandson squeezes my finger. I am completely gone. There’s an irresistible force of heartsong daylong a blaze of noon until out of nowhere, the news— he is gone. Impossibly dead. A toddler forever tangled in my soul. I gulp air. My pulse thumps. Time goes granular. But then he returns, pure presence, when I am near water: fountains, rivers, lakes, the end of the ocean, forms on the move, shifting, shaping. Holy water. The wind blows cool today. Raw wind, raging wind, bone lonesome. I tighten my wool scarf and tremble, doused in an oceanic roar of grief knowing you, my beach walker of long ago, are dead too and I am left here with ancient waves brushing the sky baby-blanket-blue, smoky lemon, a smudge of lipstick pink loyal constellations on the edge of lavender, the uncertain purple curtain as Poe said heralding messengers of the gods. And, I listen, hearing tempo in the pendulum of time for I am alive, breathing between octaves of loss, echoes of melody and refrain, windsong nightlong a neverending vibration of longing—another name for love— pounding the shore
Kathryn Gahl’s multi-genre works appear in numerous journals, anthologies and ekphrastic shows. Her book The Velocity of Love will be released this fall by Water’s Edge Press. A former obstetric nurse and Writer-in-Residence at Lakeland University, Gahl loves dancing Tango, vintage clothing and red lipstick.
“Daytona Beach at Dusk” is a “bone lonesome” poem, full of “muscle cars bubbling with mufflers,” longing, love, loss, and the preeminent passage of time. Here, vulnerability achieves a sublime kind of power, as when the wind seems willing to listen. poetry judge Ed Bok Lee
photography honorable “Seagull, Skyline” by George Stein 6 | 8142 review 2020
The time to leave the room where I’ve been growing hair from my face by Jose Oseguera —after Forrest Gander’s “Loiter”; for Joe Gyomber The hair that shrubs under my nose and ivies under my jaw and down my neck is long enough to grab, scraggly yet too sparse to gather as wool. It is patchy like my father’s— archipelagos and peninsulas of crabgrass follicles— thicker at the chin than at the cheeks. Gently, my son submerges his 6-month-old fingers into the dark manes and grips suddenly and firm, a sharp whisper to my nerve endings: “Tell me when it hurts, and then, try to forget about it.” These vestigial whiskers are strong, dry and gnarled but never dead, stubborn weeds that line his way; he mouths and soaks the shag— Christ thirsty for the sponge on the hyssop— as if doing so for long enough will eucharise their sour wine into mother’s milk. On their coarseness, he usually falls asleep within minutes, but I hold him for minutes still: minutes that slip their microscopic bodies between ours, regardless of how close we hold one another; minutes that leave without saying goodbye; and though I’ve nailed down plenty of them in pictures, they’re minutes whose empty husks remind me, months later, that they’ll never return. The hair I’ve been growing on my face is all he knows, unaware that the comb over I wear from ear to ear is not what a beard is supposed to be, and I am not a man, or a parent who bathes and dresses him for bed as Mary Magdalene prepared her Lord’s body for resurrection:
photography honorable “Our Choice” by Leena Meyers
I am a pangea, a person whose gaps he’ll have to learn to ignore, a mass of everything he knows outside the womb, anamnesis of the time we were once one substance— he, the vinegar and I, the mother. Now, as he dreams in my arms, we are one again: a land in this world whose fragments are stable enough to keep him still while he grows— all for the moment when he comes alive on his own.
Jose Oseguera is an LA-based writer of poetry, short fiction and literary nonfiction. His writing has been featured in Emrys Journal, The Hiram Poetry Review, Inlandia and The Literarian. He was named one of the Sixty Four Best Poets of 2019 by the Black Mountain Press. His work has also been nominated for the Best of the Net award (2018, twice in 2019) as well as the Pushcart (2018 and 2019) and Forward (2020) Prizes. He is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection The Milk of Your Blood. In The time to leave the room where I’ve been growing hair on my face, “The hair that shrubs under my nose and ivies under my jaws”. . . forms “archipelagoes and peninsulas of crabgrass follicles” as we follow the trajectory of a new parent richly inward. poetry judge Ed Bok Lee
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Sanibel Island Haibun by Jessica Dionne When we find out I’m not fertile we drive to Florida. We each have two Big Gulps from one rest stop to the next. You play Trevor Hall and ask me if alligators can look up to the sky. We pass hours of morass and salt marsh, the air pickles. We look forward to motel ice buckets and A/C. I want to remember the heft of your hands on the steering wheel—the way they tap away the miles —how your fingers fever my thigh when you reach for me over empty cups. We read out billboards as they blink by: Family Fun… Jesus Provides… 88 Item Buffett… and I am reminded of my lack, how diffusive, radial. The key-card takes two tries but the Key Lime Inn is clean enough. One brochure on the nightstand tells of how Sanibel got its name—a map abbreviation —Santa Isybella, claimed in honor of the Queen after a Spanish explorer believed he discovered the Fountain of Youth. The woman in the mirror looks tired. You read another, Sanibel Island: World’s Best Shelling Beach. Under Top Tips for Shelling you find #10: The best shells are stirred up after a storm. Under the old pier indigo sea urchins thirst for a spring of youth.
Jessica Dionne is an MFA candidate at NC State and received her MA in Literature from UNCC. She was a finalist in Narrative’s 2019 30 Below contest, and her work has appeared in SWIMM, Rust + Moth, Banshee (IE), Mascara Literary Review (AU), and JMWW. She received a writing residency from the Weymouth Center of the Arts and Humanities and is a 2019 Best of The Net nominee.
In Sanibel Island Haibun, heartache and humor go on a necessary road trip to where “indigo sea urchin’s thirst.” poetry judge Ed Bok Lee
photography honorable “Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline” by John Koski
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Between Earths by Klara Kobylinski
Shadow Selves by Joanne Nelson
Tobacco quids pushed into soil in a corner pot watch Saint George’s sword grow tall now with leaves a strangely gutted purple, now patched with feral fruit. A ringing mycelium feeds the muted wash of undertones like the not-black darkness behind lids where blooming, aqueous saturations sharpen and wake. (Time)-by-(time) attention stirs networks reaching and alert— lambent are the ends—the beginnings—of roots. A tangled erosion bends terra-cotta around the earth in the way of a tempered instrument, cool. The crumbling is slow, shuddering, shattering without the violence of despoliation. Between —firma and —cotta, a limber pathway spreads two systems into one great drape of folds and it is the distracted mind that thinks only of the kneading push between hot fingers and burning chew and loam.
Loud and happy, Connie, Lisa and I chased each other through backyard lawn sprinklers. Then, costumed in our mothers’ oldest bath towels headed for the sun warmed front sidewalk. We rested. Cheeks on folded hands. Imprints of our hip bones, forearms, thighs visible each time we moved our towels to another, dryer spot.
The Winter Dad Turned Basement Archeologist
We traveled down the block this way stopping only at the corner. The curb the end of our freedom. Too soon our always busy mothers called us in to peel potatoes or change the baby or fold the laundry left waiting. We’d shake the fine grit from our towels, say our goodbyes, return to our mothers. Only our damp imprints remained. Those shadow selves, with their girlish whispers of desire, their plans to leave the block behind.
by Sylvia Cavanaugh Dad strips the ancient drop-leaf table splayed upside down. I’m ten and the long dark seeped into our narrow row house all afternoon like the way Dad never spoke much which frightened me but sometimes he sang Dad brushes a chemical slop across old paint the color of tuberculosis or maybe just sin. He sings It’s been a hard day’s night and Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play as he knifes the blistering goop aside. Once Dad proclaimed that sin is inevitable making that weekly Saturday drive to the church inescapable. Our lungs have become the atmosphere’s confessional booth. He and I lean over the table and strain to decipher the hieroglyphics of swirl and trail in the revealed scripture of walnut wood.
Other People’s Stories by Marguerite Packard Today I cried for another woman’s story not because I thought myself like her or because the story was sad she had written beauty ugly truth and stunning lies and all those letters squirmed on the pages like fish laying on beach pebbles that never die never stop flapping their gills for life or sticking like popped bubblegum to the corner creases of my mind
The air of Wisconsin’s spring feels thin and sharp like the fumes of solvent. On solitary walks I scrape back the layers.
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photography 2nd A State Fair Moment by Karen Nordahl
There is so much happening in this photo to love. The expression and stance of the girl, the coolness of the carnival worker, and the noise and color of the stuffed animals and balloons that make this frame pop. Itâ€™s the interplay between the stoic expressions of the people, and the boldness of the surroundings that make this photo so fun. The girlâ€™s toe overlapping her foot is such a perfect expression of childhood. It makes me smile, and I wonder how many more games she is going to play to add more stuffed animals to her arms. photography judge Coburn Dukehart
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Yes, No, I Don’t Know by Kathryn Gahl Rumors about Gabe and Sally began even before their rush job at the courthouse and reception at Hika Bay Tavern where Gabe did the toasting and Sal – nickname for Sally – did the eating, the menu being a quarter-barrel, broasted chicken, fries, and anemic beans. Afterward, they drove to their Southland Runabout, a rusting trailer slightly bigger than a dog kennel, parked at the old campground. A month later, night had not made it to dawn when Gabe rolled out of the stiff mattress, shuffled to the kitchen, and opened a frayed curtain. He heard the Schnell Implement sign across the road, metal clanking against a pole in the wind. He peered out. A half-moon lit up tall grasses in the ditch. The sky was a burnt lilac. One ferocious cloud resembled a lion. In a few hours, he’d be hobbling among Schnell’s rows of new and used John Deere tractors, tillers, and field mowers bigger than Kansas. When he wasn’t selling, he would weld, hammer, or order mowers for next season, including parts to repair them. He closed the curtain and poured a glass of milk. He was going to be a father. How would he do? What if it were twins? What if it had Downs syndrome? He wrinkled his brow and took a gulp, then sat down at the table bolted to the floor. Sal had covered the table with contact paper, a checkerboard pattern in black and white. Every time he looked at it, his eyes jiggled. He lifted the curtain again and considered the implement yard. A pile of used tractor tires loomed in the dim enclosure. For a buck or two, a side-lying tire could become a flowerbed or sandbox. A sandbox. Little Matchbox cars. A train set. He emptied the glass. From the trailer’s other end, he heard Sal. She was nearly three months, already signed up for prenatal class, eager to flex her muscles, push the kid out. Kids having kids, some would say, to which Gabe would reply, Heck yah and Sal, who played basketball, softball, and volleyball, would say with confidence, no pain, no gain, unaware as any nineteen-year-old would be that there are neither laps nor drills for giving birth. He heard her pad toward the bathroom, open the plywood door, and flick on the light. She screamed, a high-pitched shriek. He turned, thinking mouse, spider, plunger. She wailed again, louder, and he was there in five hops, arms against the doorjamb, eyes squinting against a naked desolate bulb. He saw her curled lips, her cheekbones mottled and splotched. What the hell, he thought. She was tilted on her axis, holding up the walls of the small cubicle. Soda crackers, he thought. And then he saw her thighs, a river of red running down them. “Jesus,” he said. She yowled like a puppy with its tail in a door. She found the toilet seat and sat down in a spread-eagled fashion. Blood trickled steadily, the bright red kind when a wound was new, not the monthly burgundy smear. Her chin quivered and panic packed the corners of her mouth. “Does it hurt?” he asked.
“No. Yes. I don’t know!” She writhed back and forth. Gabe momentarily retreated to his interior, flummoxed. The only time he had seen this much blood was when Skeeter’s Dad tied a rope around hooves sticking out of a laboring cow and pulled and pulled until a newborn calf and blood and more blood gushed into the box stall. Sal began to hyperventilate. In the gloom, the distance between them expanded and contracted. The air in the small space stifled, recycled. “This isn’t good,” he said, moving toward her. She was panting and he touched her arm, his contact nervous yet empathic. “Don’t,” she said. It was a flash point and with great restraint, he said, “Like this is my fault.” She daubed at the blood and caught a gelatinous glob, the shape of a clenched fist yielding, slipping away. Across the road, the implement sign sounded like a gong calling Buddhists to worship. “No-o,” she said, quieting now, the careful diffusion of emotion, piecemeal and slow. She ran every game strategy in her mind – lead a spade to his jack, time to bunt, go to a zone – and came up short, defeated. He, meanwhile, had a glimpse of the night he journeyed with his own plans, the detour he took, and how some simple thread kept him alive after he crashed the Harley, severing a leg, but still, alive. And now this, their tiny babe, had neither strategy nor a thread to call on. Before their eyes, this little one dripped into the toilet like sewage. He watched his bride. Her lips tremored and her eyes had gone gray, flat washers with holes in the middle. Sorrow as the deepest thing had come to him when his mother collapsed and died before him. It had come again as he lay in the ditch, holding his detached leg. This sorrow was her first. He watched her open her hand and spread her fingers wide. Slowly, she rubbed them to her soupy thigh. And then, her palm coated with blood, she pressed the firered-wet to her tummy. She marked the little belly with a handprint, then elevated both hands like a pagan in a ritual for the dead. “He didn’t want to be here,” she said, barely audible. “Weren’t we right for him?” Gabe asked, gazing at the blood print on her belly. He kissed the tips of his fingers, then released them, his breath and outspread fingers sending the kiss into the trailer redolent of dried hair spray and snuffed cigarettes. He moved closer. Their eyes met, two people in search of connection. Then he looked down. So did she, watching, as he lined up his thumb and fingers with her handprint on the smeary belly. She held very still, her cheeks laced with tears, snot blocking one nostril. He began to make a figure eight on the belly until there were no handprints, just a coating of crimson. “Maybe he didn’t want us,” he said, choking up, “but we wanted him.” She collapsed into Gabe and he braced her. In the half-light, there seemed no future, only the present, the sound of that implement sign clanging in the October wind.
Kathryn Gahl’s poetry, fiction and nonfiction – appearing in anthologies and many journals – have won awards, including Glimmer Train, Margie, Wisconsin People & Ideas as well as the Lorine Niedecker Poetry Award. A former obstetric nurse, Gahl loves ballroom dance, vintage clothing and red lipstick In three and a half pages the writer sets the stage – the teenagers living in a trailer are going to have a baby – the father-to-be anticipating the great event, when the miscarriage occurs. The story is a distilled exploration of the tragedy, of sorrow, asking the important questions, coming up with answers that may or may not comfort. It’s more poem than story, beautiful, compelling and sad. fiction judge Jane Hamilton
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Silent Negotiations by Victoria Smith “I’m not going to Italy,” Harold said. He dipped his bread—toasted and buttered by Alice—into his sunny-sideup eggs and broke the membranes, which Alice had taken the utmost care to preserve. Yolk oozed across the plate. He moved his bacon to the side. “You don’t have to,” Alice said, “but I’m going.” She sprinkled sugar on strawberries she’d picked yesterday while kneeling in the sandy garden soil. She wanted to see their daughter without Harold. Their son-in-law was stationed in Italy with the Air Force. He was halfway through an eighteen-month training before shipping out to Vietnam. Alice was thirteen years younger than Harold. She’d once thought it romantic to marry an older man. Other women had gushed about his dancing skills, good looks, and charm. Alice pictured his wavy hair, sparkling eyes, and dazzling smile as if she were looking at the photograph taken of him on the night they met in 1932. He asked her to dance four times, including the last dance. Alice was flattered. Just twenty-two, she taught at a one-room schoolhouse. With a plump figure and looks some called pleasant, but most called ordinary, Alice had resigned herself to the fate of a spinster teacher. But Harold asked to see her again. The courtship of the thirty-five-year-old bachelor, who owned a business, and the young, plain, buxom school teacher caused tongues to wag among the women who’d expressed interest in Harold. Over the years, Alice had wished one of those women would’ve prevailed with him. “I’m not going to Italy,” Harold repeated, donning his fedora. “I’ll be back for lunch.” “You don’t have to,” Alice said, “but I’m going.” She wanted to stroll along the beaches of the Adriatic Sea without Harold. A dozen years ago an accident made walking difficult for him. ***** Alice spent the morning ticking through a list of chores before starting lunch. At noon Harold returned and took his seat at the head of the table. “You’re not going to Italy,” Harold said. His pale, foggyblue eyes crept above his black-rimmed glasses, which hung low on his nose. Alice dished up the noon-day meal. Fried potatoes spooned into a bowl decorated with red poppies. Panfried chicken placed on an oval platter, its porcelain finish cracked with fine, lop-sided lines. Garden-fresh asparagus laid on a cream-colored, rectangular dish. Alice set the food in front of Harold. He’d told her many years ago he liked to fill his own plate first. In 1933, after becoming engaged, they took a train to the World’s Fair in Chicago. Alice’s Aunt Fanny and Uncle Stanley chaperoned. Harold raved about the exhibits from all over the world, and Alice anticipated a life of adventure with a vacation every year or two. She felt lucky. In their small town, a handsome man with social connections and a thriving business guaranteed her status. Six months after their trip to Chicago, they married. Harold, now thirty-six, told her he wanted children as soon
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as possible. Their trip to the World’s Fair in Chicago would be the only part of the world he ever took her to see. Alice watched her previously fun-loving husband work long hours and put his money in the bank. She suffered two miscarriages before giving birth to a boy who grew up wild and headstrong. More miscarriages and another son who ran wild. Another miscarriage, then a daughter, obedient and calm, who grew up to be both a gifted scholar and musician. A daughter who wrote and tempted Alice with rapturous descriptions of the Adriatic Sea along the Italian coast. “I’m going to Italy,” Alice said, “to see our daughter.” I’m going to see the Adriatic. They ate in silence. After finishing his meal, Harold gripped his fedora. “I’ll be home for supper. You’re not going to Italy.” “I’m meeting the travel agent this afternoon.” At two o’clock, Harold glanced out of his office window and saw Alice in her blue station wagon heading toward the city. ***** At five-fifteen Harold arrived home. Alice was cooking supper. “I’m going to Italy with you,” Harold said. Alice almost screamed, No. But Harold didn’t like hysterics. She tightened her grip on a pair silver tongs, willing her disappointment down the utensil and into the browning pork chop she’d lifted from the cast iron frying pan in order to flip it. Alice knew Harold wanted a response. She flipped the sizzling pork chops and replaced the lid with a clang. He’s dull. Her hands whirred as she lifted lids and attended to each pot of gurgling food with clattering spoons. He’s tight-fisted. A symphony of percussion above the stove, she played at her domestic chores. He’s exacting about how his house is kept. Harold’s scuffling feet shifted her thoughts. She glimpsed his crooked backside and sloping shoulders as he wobbled out of the kitchen to wash up for supper. He won’t be able to walk along the Adriatic coast. Alice dished pork chops onto a platter trimmed in roses, which had belonged to a mother-in-law she’d never met. When Harold was eleven, his mother died, a scant month after his father’s death. Other than a picture, the platter was all he had left of her. He liked it to be used. Harold sold his family home to build Alice a big house after they’d married. She ladled hot homemade applesauce into a pink depression glass bowl. She never went without a new dress or a reliable car. She scooped green beans slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper into the cut glass bowl Aunt Fanny and Uncle Stanley gave her as a wedding present. He never strayed. A strawberry-rhubarb pie nested in a daisy-festooned pie caddy the Ladies’ Society gifted her on her fortieth wedding anniversary. Marriage to Harold had made her small-town royalty. “Ahem.” Harold cleared his throat to announce his return. She knew he wasn’t going to say it again, about going to Italy with her, but he still expected a response. “I’ll get another ticket tomorrow,” Alice said. Harold teetered as he took his seat at the head of the table.
Victoria Lynn Smith lives in Superior, Wisconsin. She writes short stories, essays and articles. Her work has appeared in blogs and on Wisconsin Public Radio. Her story “Tossed” won first place in the Lake Superior Writers 2019 Contest. She recently had four stories accepted by two regional literary publications.
The marriage in its entirety, or so it feels, is in these four pages. The refrain, I’m not going to Italy like a lyric in music, holding the story together. The pair of silver tongs, the platter trimmed in roses, the cut glass bowl, each item placed just so in the flow of the story, work to illuminate the wife’s sense of her marriage, the privilege of being small town royalty, the burdens of that role, and the fact that she is tethered to her husband. The poetic compression is impressive. fiction judge Jane Hamilton
Fortune Tent by Michelle Kicherer The next-door neighbors often set up bounce houses in their front yard. The multicolored castles would gyrate to the rhythm of screaming, jumping children inside. There was always a part were one kid was crying. Their dads would sit on the porch mildly supervising while they sipped Tecates and talked and laughed. One of those guys must have worked for a party company, or had a cousin who did or something because those things aren’t that cheap to rent and I knew my neighbors didn’t have money. None of us did. Their yard was like a lot of yards around: thin brown grass halfway covered in flattened cardboard boxes; a couple pieces of old furniture on the sidewalk out front; a pile of garbage stacked on one side of the house next to a rusting wheelbarrow, its tire deflated. Their recycling bins overflowed with beer cans that the neighborhood Vietnamese couple would come collect every morning.
They were both old and looked dehydrated; the man would wear a wide-brimmed nón lá hat, the woman would wear blue surgical gloves and they both carried a stick across their shoulders, a black plastic garbage bag bursting with flattened cans tied to each end. Seeing them reminded me I had it easy and I took no offense that they never returned my hello when I greeted them. I worked from home a lot of the time. I did nutrition consulting for a company based in Minneapolis. On the phone interview I’d told them quite confidently about the meal planning and consultations I used to do when I still worked at the school. It was wonderful, I exaggerated. I have a passion for helping people live their best lives, I lied. By the end of the call they offered me the job, which I accepted without negotiation. I knew that the company wasn’t paying me enough compared to how much they were raking in but I didn’t care, it was paying my bills and such. This was the type of person I’d become. I’d often roll mindlessly through my menu planning then take long pauses to stare out the window of my attic room, which I rented from a man with whom I’d started having a kissing affair. No sex, on his insistence. He just wanted kisses. His wife, Kim, was dying of colon cancer and he needed a sweet young release, I liked to joke. Our kissing affair started about four months after I moved in and I would have felt more terrible about the whole deal had it not been for Kim’s history. For years, apparently, she had been “getting” with at least four of her students, that we knew of. One day she brought home an undergrad named Jonah who was taking her ethnic studies course at the community college. I heard them discussing natives one afternoon when Tomás working
photography honorable “Here Comes the Sun” by Andrew Pirrung thehalprize.com
late. One time I asked Tomás if it ever bothered him that his wife was white and teaching ethnic studies. “I just feel like she’s not that ethnic,” I told him, assuming he knew what I meant. He just shook his head and leaned both hands on the kitchen sink, looking out the window with a lost-eyed expression. I wanted to ask if I’d offended him but I didn’t know if that’d make the moment more awkward so I said nothing. He said nothing. We watched a pregnant chihuahua hobble by on the sidewalk. Her engorged, drooping nipples made me feel sad. When I first moved in Tomás told me that he was a coal miner, and although there weren’t any coal mines around as far as I knew, I believed him because his hands were always stained dark black, his fingerprints swirled with soot. The first night we kissed we were at the taqueria down the street. We were supposed to bring tacos home for Kim. When he asked if I wanted to eat ours at the counter, get a beer before we walked back, I said sure. I asked him if he could make fingerprints with those dirty hands. “Let us see,” he said, taking my napkin. He pressed his fingers down and when he lifted there was a vague representation of his prints. “Those are like, when they only get half the prints off a crime scene,” I said. “Have you ever seen Unsolved Mysteries?” “No,” he said blankly. Tomás was from Columbia and though he’d lived in the states for many years by then, he missed a lot of my cultural references. I was also almost fifteen years younger than him. A millennial, he always called me, which I resented. Well, I was born early-eighties though, I’d argue. One time he asked me where I worked before I moved, where I lived, and I used my youth as an evador. You know us millennials can’t sit still, I said, which made him roll his eyes. But like most things, Tomás didn’t press for more information. I liked that about our situation. No one talked about anything. “Here, you do it like this,” I said, taking his thumb first. I pressed firmly from left to right. “I used to do fingerprints for the school,” I said, holding his thumb as if it were a lighter. We looked down at a light gray print. “Wow, your hands are dirty.” “They are,” he said. He leaned in, then, cool Tecate on his breath. A few weeks after that night we were at the same taqueria. Kim was in the hospital again. They had to keep her for treatment, testing. Tomás was lost in all the details and that evening he said, “Is it terrible that I feel--” I set my taco down because it felt strange to eat when he might say something important. I knew that Kim was not doing well. I also knew that several weeks before her hospitalization, Kim had been put on leave because she was accused of giving preferred treatment to some of her students. She’d been caught behind closed doors with a student named Tatiana and another student, Ray, who accused Kim of coercion. Soon after her suspension Kim told the dean she had cancer and that it was advanced but hopeful. You can function without part of your intestine, I’d offered Tomás as some sort of comfort, I hoped. I was 8142 review 2020 | 13
fiction curious what he felt terrible about but was also relieved when he didn’t keep talking. I waited long enough that I knew he wasn’t going to say anything and pulled his hand from his lap. It was dead-weight heavy but he allowed me to take it. I turned it over and proceeded to trace the lines on his palm. Head, heart. He leaned closer like, forget the comment, forget the wife. “What,” Tomás said low and close. His spicy breath warmed my face. “Do you see?” I wanted to look up and kiss him then, taste the tangy onion and cilantro in his mouth but it didn’t seem like the right moment. “Hmmm,” I hummed. I looked up at the donkey piñata hanging just behind his head, at the pin the tail on the donkey tacked to the wall. A lot of burros in here, I considered and said, “Give me a moment,” as I traced my finger over Tomás’ rough, sooty palm. I once read fortunes at a school carnival. The woman who was supposed to do it called in sick that day and the principal knocked on my door and said, do you mind? All you have to do is put this scarf on your head and sit in that tent. He went on as if I had no choice. Here’s a key for how to do the reading, he said, handing me a sheet of paper with a big red palm, arrows pointing to its different creases. He also gave me a stack of tarot cards, which I put in my back pocket. I looked at the hand key. Life line, heart line, health line. It seemed easy enough. The principal said, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but try to make these encouraging. The school I worked at was a nonprofit for emotionally disturbed kids. It was a K-12 grade school, which meant you’d see lanky teenagers slapping palms with their little first grade homies when they passed each other in the halls. I was one of the many white people who worked there with an almost entirely black population. We had a few Latino kids, too, and one Vietnamese student who rarely spoke to anyone but whom everyone bullied. They called him Ching-Chong. One day he was teased so bad that he let loose, screaming and flailing and saying, I’m not Chinese! I’m not Chinese! and a bunch of other things that were terrible. The teacher and his aids tried to hold him back but he still managed to bite Mr. Keffler on the cheek. Poor Keffler had to get shots and antibiotics to treat what became a terrible, scarring infection. After his sick leave ran out we never saw Keffler again. Each student that went to that school had had some sort of terrible abuse history: kids locked in dog crates for hours at a time; devastating sexual abuse; assault of all kinds. One kid had half her right hand blown off from her dad lighting a firecracker while she was still holding it. I went into the fortune tent that day not knowing a thing about tarot cards or fortunes or life lines or what to say to those kids but after the ninth grade teacher came in and drew thick black liner around my eyes and tied a red floral scarf to my head I felt legit. You look like a real gypsy woman, she said. I went into my little tent and sat on a short stool at a small round table. I smoothed the dark red tablecloth then called out in a soothing, almost witchy voice that I was ready. The first student to come in was a teenager who I knew had just become pregnant. I was mad at her at 14 | 8142 review 2020
photography honorable “Air Show Anticipation” by Phyllis Deicher-Ladwig first, because she’d attended my Health Club sessions for weeks. It was an all-girls club taught by myself and Tracy. I was the nutritionist, Tracy was the nurse. Together we thought that maybe we could connect with the girls in a way their teachers and therapists couldn’t. Apparently not, I thought to myself, rather bitterly, when I heard the pregnancy news. In several Health Club sessions we’d gone into extensive detail about contraception and STIs. Afterward I considered that maybe all of her questions were because she wanted to get pregnant. Your body your choice, I’d tell the girls. Okay, I said, taking her hand. She sat on the short stool across from me, her small round belly already apparent. Her hand was warm and soft and several shades darker than mine. Wow, your life line is very close to your fate line, I said. She nodded very seriously, saying nothing. I went on: this means that your life is more in your hands than you think. It is? She said. She frowned very seriously at the lines on her hand and nodded for me to go on. I wasn’t sure what else I could offer and felt surprised at my reading’s immediate effect. I moved aside my battery-operated candles and leaned forward. I also see, that your heart line here is deep and forked and gives plenty of room for a strong head line. You know what that means? I paused here, peering through my dark-lined eyes in a way I hoped looked serious and mystical. What? she whispered. It means that you have a huge heart, and so much love to give. And that even though you may have been hurt in the past – I paused, lowered her hand, leaned back and hovered my palm over a fake candle – your head is strong and will give you the power to forge a brand new future. I folded my hands on my lap to show that I was done.
She wiped her eyes, which made me feel both guilty and empowered. I pulled a single stem of lavender from the small basket I had sitting next to me and said, here take this. It will give you calm energy. You smell it. Try it now, take a long, deep breath. She did. I told her to try doing it with her eyes closed and she did. When she opened them she wiped at the corners and said very quietly, thank you. Holding her lavender with both hands she stood up from her stool and left my little tent. The teacher outside was ready to usher in a new student but I said, hold on, I need a moment to clear the aura. Whatever that meant. I was a little flustered, like maybe I’d gone too far. I’d worked there for six years by that point and had never felt I’d done anything terribly useful for those kids. They weren’t really eating an apple a day, they were making two-pointers to the garbage bin with those apples then pulling Spicy Cheetos out of their backpacks. But who was I to take away such joy? Back in my tent I collected myself. Glanced at my cheat sheet. Life line, heart line, head line, sun line. Okay, I’m ready! I called. The next student to enter my tent was a tall boy who had to crouch low to not hit his head in the entrance. Before sitting he stood in the most peaked point of my tent, his short afro brushing against the striped canvas. Plastic, whatever it was. I raised a slow, pointing hand toward the stool across from me like, sit there. He sat and rubbed his knees. I waited until he was still. Dramatic effect. I recognized him from one of the high school classes but forgot his name. On another day I would have told him to pull his pants up. I can see your drawers! I’d tell the kids, to which they’d often say snarky back, why you lookin?
He was a very handsome boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen. I remembered a therapist once saying that it’s always the most beautiful ones who have the most trauma. Okay, I started, sure to speak in a low, mysterious voice. I tried not to sound like I had an accent, reminding myself that most of the students probably recognized me from around campus. Put your hand out like this, palm up, I told him. He reached his hand out palm down, flat as if he were balancing a bead of water between his knuckles. Slowly, he turned his hand over to reveal the pinkish warm skin of his palm. Ah yes, wow. I see, I said. I let him rest in my left hand while I used my right index finger to trace his lines. Life, heart, head, life, heart, head, I was repeating in my mind. I kept forgetting the other ones. I pressed gently into his life line and he twitched so I stopped. Palm reading was the only time I’d ever made physical contact with a student outside of restraining them. It was a place like that; we were all trained in how to safely hold back a child if they were being unsafe to themselves or others. It was a terrifying place to work, at times. What do you see? He asked. He seemed nervous, maybe. I couldn’t remember anything about this kid but couldn’t get it out of my head that he was beautiful. I thought of what that therapist said, then I remembered a day when another lovely boy managed to climb on top of a classroom roof to tell anyone within earshot about how many times he’d been given meth and raped. He raised his hands in the air while he cried out and everyone kept thinking he’d jump. We all watched for a long time, unsure what to say or do. Even the old pros were speechless. His therapist was crying. We had to have a campus-wide staff meeting about it the next day to process what had happened and how to better respond next time. But what are you supposed to say to that? I see that you have a thin fate line. What the hell is that supposed to mean? He pulled his hand away. No no, I said. Here, give it here. I felt sweaty and my jaw felt tight and clenched and for a minute I forgot how to make words. I remembered this kid, or it might have been a different one, slamming a teacher’s aid against a wall and pressing her throat with his thumb then later that day, crying when his uncle came to pick him up. I’d watched from my little nutritionist office as that kid cowered, as the uncle yelled in his face and punched his shoulders until the kid fell over sobbing and staff had to protect him until the police arrived. Who was I to work at that school, to tell those kids to eat their apples, to tell them to toss the Cheetos? I glanced at my palm reading cheat sheet on the floor next to my stool. Ah, I said. I took his hand again and ran my finger from fate to sun to head to heart. I had no idea what I was doing and started spitballin. I nodded to myself and said, Hm yes, I’ve never seen this. When your fate line is so thin like this, it means that it’s incredibly valuable, I started, and in case that sounded odd, I added, valuable as in, powerful. It means that you get to control your fate, from here on out. There’s still a higher power thehalprize.com
involved, the Fates and such, but you – I pointed, going for witchy again – you have so much power in your choices. He leaned back and took his hand away from me. What about the other lines? He asked. With a heart line like that? You have calm powers of love within you, but you must remember to never lose site of your life line. You know what that can mean for you? He shook his head. I’d really lured him in. I thought of the other beautiful students. The roof boy. It means that no matter what fate might give you, you have a special power to overcome. And to love and trust only the people you love and want to trust. He smiled at first, a big dimply smile that gave me a flush of admiration. Then a troubled look washed over him, something like guilt mixed with recognition. He teared up and pinched at the place between his eyes. I’m sorry, I said instinctively. I wasn’t sure what for. Maybe I went too far. He looked down at both his hands and held them out like he wanted me to give them one last read. I took both his hands in mine and rather than read his lines I just held them and squeezed. It was meant to be motherly, nurturing, but maybe I was too young to come off like that. He pulled his thumb out from my hold and gently rubbed the top of my hand. A quick flash of feeling rushed from hand to limbs to core and I felt ashamed and hot and sick. I wondered if he saw it, that flash of something briefly overcome me. I pulled my hands away and cursed my white skin for flushing and instead of handing him a lavender flower I reached for a tarot card, which I’d forgotten were still in my back pocket. Before you go, I said, hoping to change the subject, the moment, whatever it was. I will show you your cards. I laid out one card, face down. I didn’t know how many tarot cards people usually do. I didn’t have a key for that. I set down two more then flipped them all in a slow, deliberate way. One card depicted a jester-looking guy holding a cup, one was a prince with a sword, another was a naked woman crouching at a pond. Whose cards were these? I picked up the jester one and handed it to him. I said, this is the one you get to take with you. What do you think it means? He held the card sideways then upside down and smiled that beautiful, dimpled smile. It means I’m funny, don’t it? Yes! I said, feeling like I might cry. Yes that’s what it means. Back at the taqueria I pressed my hand flush with Tomás’ and rubbed our palms together until they were hot. I tried to look serious as I peeled our hands apart and flipped his palm facing up. I felt like a physician conducting an exam so I slowed, ran my finger along his various lines. Wrinkles. “Hm,” I started. “I see that your head line and your heart line do not intersect.” “What about my love line? Is that somewhere?” Tomás asked, which I thought was lame. “Your fate line almost reaches your head line,” I said, feeling serious then. As I ran my finger slowly across his palm and down, pressing lightly into the meaty part by his
thumb, I thought of another thing I’d heard about Kim. An affair, if that’s what you’d call it, with a beautiful boy. “You have a hard time making decisions, but your heart line is warm and thick.” “Thick?” I didn’t look up because it sounded like he was amused. Smirking, perhaps. I said, “Your heart has the power to overcome your head.” I didn’t know what that was supposed to mean, exactly, but I thought of Kim in the hospital, then. Of the nights I’d heard them fighting downstairs. I’d try to replace the noise of angry shouts in the room below by opening my window and letting in the sounds of the street: kids laughing and bouncing; men speaking in low Spanish; a woman calling Baby! Bay-bee! for her dog as it wandered down the street. Sometimes Kim would comment on all the garbage outside. Why can’t they just take that shit to the dump? I wanted to talk back to that, to tell her that maybe they couldn’t afford it. To tell her to go read an ethnic studies book. But who was I? I didn’t feel I belonged in that home, that neighborhood, nor the school I left months ago where the dimpled boy never said anything as far as I knew, but he’d look at me when he passed my office, when I came into his classroom to teach a health lesson. It was a look of recognition, of testing. I quit at the end of that school year saying that my time had come to move on in my career. I never wanted to work with kids again. I considered telling Tomás that he should go visit his wife. What if she died alone in the hospital? Or what if she didn’t die, if she came home with half an intestine and found Tomás and their young tennant with hot sauce and husband on her breath. I wanted to ask Tomás what he so felt terrible about but instead I asked, “Are you actually a coal miner?” He looked down at his hands, where I’d just read his fortune, where I told him how his fate almost reached his head. The skin around his nails was stained black and I imagined that it would never come off, like the tiny piece of lead that was still embedded in my thumb from third grade, when I pushed my cuticles back with the tip of my pencil. “Wait,” I said, closing his sooty palm. “Don’t tell me,” I said, because I didn’t want to know. Michelle Kicherer’s work has appeared in The Berkeley Fiction Review, 580 Split, Into the Void and others. Kicherer writes creative nonfiction and profile pieces regularly for several different music magazines. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and English, teaches fiction writing through Litquake and is currently at work on her second novel. The narrator moves through a world that seems strange and dark, she is isolated, everyone she encounters is wounded. When she has the task of reading her students’ palms, telling them their fortunes, the story becomes charged, her wish for happiness and goodness at odds with what she knows to be true. The story moves toward that revelation with a disquieting calm, the writer in full control. fiction judge Jane Hamilton
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Squirrel Hunting by Gary Jones
“Davy Crockett,” he said. “I feel like Davy Crockett. Davy,” he sang, “Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. That’s me.” “I never had a coonskin cap when I was a kid,” I said. “But my brother-in-law did.” He laughed. “If I’d had a coonskin cap, T. O. would would have chewed it into a little pile of ragged fur. It’d look like something that had been drug behind a car.” T. O. was my cousin’s family dog. When I was little, I had thought the dog’s name was Teo. Not until I was older did I learn the bowser had been given the initials of an air force buddy of Austin’s dad’s who had been lost in the war. “Davy killed a bear when he was only three,” I laughed. “How young do you suppose he was when he killed his first squirrel?” He assumed a mock look of concentration on his face, and then, raising his eyebrows, ventured, “Eighteen months?” We were squirrel hunting, my cousin Austin and I, technically violating the governor’s safer at home directive, not sheltering in place, he in Chicago and I in Door County, but meeting on my family farm in southwestern Wisconsin, at least the part of it that remained in my possession. When my dad had been ready to sell the farm, I bought 100 acres of woodland and cropland, an investment both financial and emotional, as farmland was relatively cheap at the time and I knew my parents would be pleased to keep some of the land in the family, even though I had no intention of making a career of “pulling tits and shoveling shit,” as dairy farmers characterized their occupation. Austin had been raised on a nearby valley farm and as teenagers, we had carried our dad’s twenty-twos into the woodlot on my family’s ridge farm, hunting squirrels. We were both piss-poor shots with rifles, but the point of our hunting expeditions was not to put food on the table, but rather to enjoy masculine camaraderie, scuffling through fallen oak leaves in the otherwise quiet of the woods, each ostensibly keeping one eye pointed skyward looking for tree-top squirrels. Whoever saw one would shoot in that direction, and then laugh when he missed. Rifle bullets were cheap, and the pop of rifle fire in the woods was music to our ears. From time to time we’d years later recall those hunting adventures, and invariably I’d retell the story of one time when I went by myself, and actually drew a studied
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bead on a squirrel, shot, and missed, while the squirrel continued to stare at me, incredulous at my poor aim, and then to teach him a lesson, I took a second shot, and to my amazement and his demise, actually hit him. I carried him home by his tail, and getting a butcher knife from the kitchen, field-dressed him beside the garage, feeding the innards to our cats. When I presented the trophy to my mother, she wrinkled her nose, handed me a plastic bread wrapper, and suggested that I put him in the freezer as she already had plans for supper. During one of our late in life recollections of adolescent hunting adventures, I proposed that for old time’s sake, we hit the woods again, as we each had inherited our father’s twenty-twos. Austin laughed and shook his head. I don’t think I could stand up to it, he said. While I was still the wiry guy I had been as a teenager, albeit a bit stoopshouldered, he was not as light on his feet as he had once been, and I had let the proposal drop. But COVID-19 changed our perspective. When a high school English teacher I had assigned readings from A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame. I had also assigned William Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality ode. Taken together, rather than a hunch about everlasting life, they served as a resounding reminder of the delicate nature of man’s mortality. This time when I asked if he would like to go hunting, Austin responded, “Would I? Would I? Is a bear Catholic? Does the pope shit in the woods?” And the trip was on. My land is north of Richland Center in a part of the state now made famous by the celebrated Driftless Area. Initially we had thought that we might camp in my woods, but Wisconsin springs can be cold, and we both admitted that while we didn’t sleep as well as we used to even on a quality mattress, we’d probably need an EMT with a log jack to get us up off an air mattress after sleeping on a forest floor in a tent. The Super-8 in town still rented rooms, and the fast-food joints that surrounded it on Highway 14 continued to offer drive-up service. We had a brief discussion about the fact that squirrel hunting is traditionally a fall sport, the bushy-tailed critters fattened up with an acorn diet. In spring they are scrawny, having survived a long and snowy winter, but we weren’t going to be eating the little suckers anyway, and with any luck, we’d avoid actually hitting one.
photography honorable “Forest” by Phyllis Deicher-Ladwig
The woods were not at their best. As a part of a forest management program that not only helps preserve the
long-term health of my trees but reduces my property taxes, every twenty years I am allowed to harvest timber for a substantial financial return. Two winters ago a lumber company took out logs and left a scattering of treetops that made my woods look like a set for the 1919 movie, the dead bodies carted out, but the foxholes and bomb craters remaining, along with shell-splintered trees. The post-apocalyptic setting seemed appropriate for the corona-virus pandemic, evidence of the pathetic fallacy that nature mourned the plague that had befallen mankind. Despite the emergence of woodland plants, swollen tree buds, and the optimistic chirping of song birds, the devastation contrasted sharply with my memory of adolescent squirrel hunts more decades ago than I chose to count. We strode briskly through the woods back then, our confident footsteps churning leaves, our rifles featherweight on our young shoulders, our laughter echoing off the stone-cropped hillsides. Now we sorted our footfalls carefully to avoid tripping on exposed roots, or slipping on mossy half-buried rocks, or stumbling in leaf-meal covered pockets in the earth. We carried our twenty-twos at our sides, like briefcases, and reserved the air in our lungs for breathing, rather than conversation. When we arrived at a relatively flat space adjacent to the gully that coursed down the valley, we paused for a breather, scanning the tops of trees for squirrels. “Is that one?” I asked, pointing to the top branches of a slender oak that grew halfway up the slope on the other side of the ravine. “I don’t think so,” Austin said, shading his eyes with one hand, “unless he’s hiding on the other side of the trunk. It’s hard to see.” Slowly I raised my rifle and sited along the barrel, just in case the little critter was playing peekaboo with me, but no sign of him, and as my arms grew tired, I lowered the gun. “This is my rifle,” I said, holding it aloft, “and this is my gun,” I continued, palming my groin with my other hand. “This is for fighting,” I added, elevating my rifle higher still, “and this is for fun,” I concluded, adjusting my business. “They wouldn’t let us call our rifles guns in basic training.” He nodded. “Heavy artillery.” “Yeah,” I said, “guns.” My cousin had borderline high blood pressure as a young man, and was awarded a deferment; he found that he could elevate the number simply by focusing on his
anxiety at the thought of being drafted. My only disability was red-green colorblindness, and that did not affect my eligibility, even though during testing on the rifle range I could not see the olive-drab soldier silhouettes backed by red Kentucky clay, and could do little more than fire my weapon in the general direction of the target. My scorer cheated for me, or I might still be plugging away, like the infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters with an infinite amount of time, eventually typing the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Officially I scored marksman, the lowest qualification, bestowed at the mercy of my sympathetic scorer. Ultimately, Uncle Sam had the wisdom to hand me a typewriter (infinite monkey that I was) and assign me to a personnel office, rather than to give me a rifle, (and sending me into an infinite jungle swamp.) Fort Bliss, the military base that became my home away from home, apparently was named by someone in the Army with an ironic sense of humor. In that same spirit I typed orders awarding myself minimal qualifications on both a 38 pistol, and a 45, although at the time I had never seen either, much less actually fired one of them. But be prepared, I had thought, usurping the Scout motto, although I had been a 4-H member. As a boy Austin had also belonged to the Buck Creek Buccaneers, part of a troop of rural 4-Hers who theoretically regarded themselves as pirates on the bank of a wading-depth creek. His father had survived World War II as pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, and throughout much of his life had attended Air Force unit reunions. After Austin’s retirement, he took flying lessons in memory of his father, and became a member of the Civil Air Patrol. After our rest, Austin and I continued down the valley, ostensibly keeping a wary watch for squirrels. We walked as if we were two old men strolling in a park, lacking an important destination. Both of us had retired from sedentary occupations, he as a research chemist, seated on a stool in a laboratory; I as a high school teacher, seated on a stool in a classroom. Like his late father, he had lost most of his hair, his forehead knowing no bounds; and I, like mine, had wild white locks that looked as if they had been washed with hand soap and dried in the wind. “We could turn around any time now,” Austin said, breathing heavily, even though we were walking down hill. “We’ve got a steep climb to negotiate on our way back,” he added.
And then, at the same time, we both heard a chattering and turned in that direction, farther down the valley but off to our left, high in a tree, a squirrel scolding us as if we were trespassers. “He’s yours,” I conceded my cousin, a guest in my woods. Slowly he raised and sited his twenty-two, drawing a bead on his victim, and carefully he squeezed the trigger – the resultant discharge a sound similar to that of a giant balloon pricked by a straight pin. He missed, and the still chattering squirrel took cover on the other side of the tree. We stood silent for a few moments, waiting to see if the varmint would reappear, providing Austin with a second shot opportunity. “If the pandemic results in food shortages, as some experts predict,” Austin said peering over the top of his glasses, a shit-eating grin on his face, “we had both better do some target practice.” I nodded in agreement. “Especially if I’m shooting at red squirrels in a green woods.” “That’s right,” he laughed. “You have red-green color blindness.” “How’s your blood pressure?” I asked, laughing. “Not too bad,” he shrugged. “I took my pill this morning. And squirrel hunting is not particularly anxiety inducing. If I had actually hit the little fucker, ethically I’d be required to clean, cook, and eat it. I know squirrels are vegetarians, but they’re rodents. First cousins to rats.” “We could always survive the pandemic by becoming vegetarians.” “Fighting squirrels for their acorns?” “Sounds like science fiction!” “We are living science fiction.” My cousin Austin and I surveyed my ravaged woods without comment, letting our eyes range over the rugged terrain as if we were military scouts sent on a reconnaissance mission to report on enemy progress, assess their numbers, calculate their strategy. “This has been fun,” I said. “It has,” Austin agreed. “We’ll have to do it again,” I suggested. “If we make it to the top of the hill,” he wheezed. “We will,” I assured him. But we both knew that we had book-ended our squirrelhunting days, forever closing a chapter of our lives where the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
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Showered by Sunflowers by Andrew Pirrung Andrew Pirrung is a Door County resident and small business owner of Wild Life Collective at the Settlement Shops in Fish Creek. He has spent the last few years learning and practicing photography, and looks forward to all that he still has to learn. He will be working at Gibraltar School District during the upcoming school year. Say hi if you see him walking around the many parks and preserves of the Door Peninsula!
This shot expertly uses foreground, middle-ground and background to set the scene, drawing the viewerâ€™s eye through the frame, and hinting at the vast field of sunflowers beyond. The warm sunlight on the flowers, the bees gathering pollen, and the quaintness of the barn all work together to produce a frame that is reminiscent of a painting. Van Gogh himself could take inspiration from this scene. I like how the photographer took a low angle in this frame, shooting up at the large flower on the left. Itâ€™s so crisp I can see each individual floret in the center of the flower and can almost hear the bees buzzing around. photography judge Coburn Dukehart
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Horse Training, Toddlers, and Tradeoffs by Rebecca Zornow My son asked, “When can I go ride Wyatt?” “You want to ride grandma’s horse?” I knew what he was asking, but I was stalling for time. His brow furrowed darkly in response to my reluctance. His pursed his lips – as if he couldn’t believe he had to justify his request – then described exactly why he should be allowed to ride my mother’s bay horse. Pierce was just two, his bouncy cheeks thinning, his cubby legs elongating, but he had the vocabulary of a fiveyear-old. I teased my husband, who’s a natural talker, that Pierce couldn’t help but absorb all the words flying around our house. This happy benefit was coming back to haunt me as my two-year-old described how a) he was a big boy and old enough to ride a horse, b) he would follow directions for sure, and c) his older sister already got to ride Wyatt so he should be able to as well. I let Pierce talk as I again put off answering. I’d ridden horses throughout most of my life, but I didn’t want him out at the barn too young or too often. “You can go out to the barn and ride Wyatt when you turn three,” I finally told Pierce. It was the same answer I gave his older sister when she was his age. His face lit up, a little too much to my liking. Was this going to be a regular request? His third birthday was months away, so it was a relief not to have to worry just then. Pierce took it upon himself to make sure plans were in motion for the big day in March of 2020. As a kid, I did the traditional pony rides at fairs and on the horse-loving island of Mackinac, but I didn’t start riding regularly until I was in fifth grade. It started through none of my own doing. It was my mom – owner of the famous Wyatt – who made friends with a boisterous woman from church. Diane lived on the outskirts of town with a dozen horses. Her country-style home wasn’t an especially idyllic place for horseback riding, it was muddy more often than not and the nearby highway hummed constantly, but my animal-loving mother took to it quickly. I soon did too. Despite the mud and horse poo, I fell in love with the way the summer sun hit the tall grass. I reveled in the satisfaction of watching dust fly up in the air as I brushed down a horse. The horses were huge and powerful, but once I got in the saddle, I felt huge and powerful too. I never asked for a horse, a rarity among American girls of my generation. Even more extraordinary, I was gifted one. My mom gave me Mike, a white pony who was the first of four horses I’d own. Mike acquired a purple halter and then a purple saddle blanket (it just so happened that my favorite color was purple too) and we became buddies. Working with horses is marked by routine. I’d walk out in the dry summer dirt or spring mud to catch Mike as he grazed. The older gelding was patient and easy to halter but his white coat was difficult to keep clean. I’d put the heavy saddle on, adjust it from my short vantage point, ask for help with the bridle, and go ride in the small fenced paddock or along the irrigation ditches. Mike’s shaggy white coat was more than hard to clean – it was also his downfall. Horses and ponies with white coats are susceptible to skin cancer just the way people
are. Mike grew critically ill and the vet came out to the barn to put him down. Just as he was about to depart life, a woman who boarded her horse at Diane’s slipped her arm around my shoulders and walked me away. I didn’t start crying until I had my back to Mike. I would have liked to have stayed with him in his last moments. As I got older, I graduated to riding properly sized horses; first Duchess, a black mare, then Katie, a bay. Katie was easygoing and seemed like the perfect horse for me to advance my technique with. I had simply sat on Mike and Duchess while they moved, but with Katie I began to learn how to give direction and listen to a horse’s response. My mom graduated too and now boarded our horses at another location with a full-size barn, an indoor arena, and a trainer. Over the years, I’ve ridden on trails and in competition circuits, along highways and in paddocks, but my favorite place to ride is a dusty indoor arena in the summertime. It’s hot outside; the still shade a relief. The sliding back door is open completely to watch the other horses meander about the pasture and listen to the wind blow through tall grasses. Sparrows zip in and out the open door while mourning doves coo in the rafters. Other riders might stop in to chat, but the overwhelming feeling is of utter peace. You don’t notice the smell then, but afterwards you find the gentle scent of horse, dirt, and leather sticks to your hair. One spring day, I went to tack up Katie and she inexplicably pulled back in the cross ties while I tightened the girth of the saddle. Katie lurched so hard backwards that she broke one of the improperly hung cross ties. A metal hook swung at my face, backed with the power of a horse. The hook hit underneath my left eye. I fell to the ground. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt hot blood spill across my face. Extraordinary pain broke over my head and neck. I was fading away, not dizzy, but like I was growing smaller and smaller in a pitch-black place. Slowly, I came back to myself. I sensed that the trainer caught Katie and my mom was on the ground alongside me. An ambulance was called and the trainer returned with a pack of frozen vegetables for my face. I said aloud, partly to my mom but mostly to myself, “I guess I’m not going to die.” That tragic afternoon spawned a medical saga that crossed my eighth and ninth grade years at school. My upper check bone had broken, and it had to be mended with a metal plate. Fortunately, my eyeball was unmarred, and my sight survived. But then, my face got badly infected. I had seven or eight surgeries between the reconstruction of my face and fighting the infection. That summer, a doctor put an IV in my arm to pump in antibiotics which finally beat the infection. Another doctor – I saw many that year, all men, all bemused by my youthful commentary – took cartilage from the roof of my mouth to help rebuild my lower eyelid. Now, over a decade and a half later, I still think of the incident every day. You see, my face is permanently scarred. My lower left eyelid does not move; my eye does not close all the way. My husband tells me no one sees it, but I see it in the mirror every day. My sister nudges me during a business meeting and gestures meaningfully – my tears have spilled 8142 review 2020 | 19
nonfiction over again and are slowly tracking down my face. I meet someone new and see them double take but continue talking – emphasizing that it’s not a big deal, but they know about it nonetheless. I don’t know why Katie panicked that day. She wasn’t an aggressive horse and never showed any other bad behavior. Still, my mother and I made the decision to sell Katie at a horse auction. She was one of the last horses shown in the arena that day. I sat in the stands among bidders as they gestured at the auctioneer. The urgency of the bidding was fading, but the price was still shy of what we hoped for. My mom withdrew Katie and no sale was made. Eventually, I decided to keep riding Katie with the help of a new trainer, Stacie. I rode through high school and showed at 4-H and regional competitions. I perfected the basics like how to properly sit a jog under a western saddle and how to post while trotting hunt seat. Then, I advanced beyond simply riding horses in their natural gait. Jumping and disciplined rail tested my communication and leadership of a horse. I learned to ask a horse to pivot 360° on its front right foot, back through a series of cones, or perform a flying lead change. My ultimate challenge came when my mother gifted me a weanling, the last horse I would own. I was going to name the baby Darius or Dameon or some sort of real person name like that, but my trainer talked me out of it. I settled on the name Felix. Felix’s coloring was a rare grey called grulla. As he grew, he surprised us all with his height, but stayed slender and kept his gangly legs past his youth. During college, I pushed my limits as I tried to teach Felix all a horse should know. On top of those responsibilities, my trainer allowed me to work horses that needed a boost of confidence to try something new or required a practiced touch to break their bad habits. Just as I helped train these horses, Stacie elevated my self-
esteem. I spent a summer helping her with chores around the barn. I went on trail rides with dozens of other women. I made friendships with other young riders and I intently watched the professional riders at competitions. One tough training session while riding Felix, he reared, and I fell off. The middle finger of my dominant hand broke. This time, my mom drove me to the hospital herself. I repeatedly said, “I should have gone to the Christmas parade”, referring to the plans I canceled that evening to go riding. The broken finger was a much quicker fix than my cheek bone, but, still today, I cannot make a full fist with my right hand. It doesn’t impact my daily life too much but, every so often, a new friend notices my split nail and asks what happened to me. Both injuries hurt like the dickens, but the true grief didn’t come until after I healed. It was only then that I realized the long-term impact of the injuries. I had to accept that my physical body would be a little worse off for the rest of my life. I knew plenty of riders who had never gotten hurt over the years. I also knew plenty of great riders that got severely hurt at one time or another. It forced me to ask myself if a couple of injuries were a sacrifice an experienced rider had to make to keep growing and excelling in the sport. I also asked myself, if I had known what I would lose, would I still have chosen to ride? At the end of college, I prepared to move to another country for two years. It was impossible to keep Felix while I chased another dream. My mom and I sold Felix to a good family we knew would take care of him and keep him on the show circuit. I put my trophies in storage and my mom moved my saddles to her basement. When I returned to the States years later, I rode with Stacie a few times and felt myself fall into the rhythm of the horse world. I contemplated starting up again, but then I got pregnant.
There have been more than a few days that I looked in the mirror and wished I had never gotten on a horse. Yet, I feel grateful for my experiences. I wouldn’t say it was a fair tradeoff. I wouldn’t willingly sacrifice the functionality of two parts of my body for personal growth, but I do realize the benefits I acquired through years of horseback riding. It wasn’t just the friendships and the driving purpose I felt in my youth. I’m now cautiously fearless and optimistically bold. I’m persistent, practiced, and resolute to reach my goals. Because of all these tradeoffs, I’ve waivered on what exposure my own kids should have to the equestrian world. After a serious talk about following directions, my daughter rode Wyatt for the first time when she turned three. Her slender frame sat atop the horse, completely fearless. My mother led Wyatt by the bridle, and I walked at my daughter’s side to steady her. Pierce was delighted when I told him he could follow the same arrangement. Then, a week before Pierce’s third birthday, I told him we would have to change our plans. He eyed me suspiciously as I haltingly tried to explain what a virus was and why it would keep us home all the time, not just on his birthday. Trying to explain the COVID-19 pandemic and a Governor-mandated stay-at-home order to a toddler was tricky. I wanted Pierce to know I wasn’t purposefully reneging on my promise. I wanted him to understand how serious the situation was to justify unprecedented changes in our lifestyle, but also I didn’t want to scare him. Now, locked inside my house with a young boy that gallops around the kitchen table but has never met a horse in real life, I wonder if we should have gone when we had the chance. Maybe not to have ridden, but to watch his grandmother move about the barn, caring for horses as the barn cats look on. To smell the dusty air of the arena and let Pierce shyly offer carrots to a horsey mouth. As a parent, I ask myself continuously, what risks are worth it? How do I balance the beauty of our world with the danger that accompanies it? Though I fight it, I find myself coming back to the same answer I gave myself as an eighth grader with a ruined eye and a heart for horses. I wonder if I shouldn’t also extend that answer to my kids: that life is too short and the world too unpredictable to keep us from the good things. Rebecca Zornow is a Wisconsin native who writes nonfiction and science fiction. A voracious reader and writer all her life, she graduated from Lawrence University and is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. She is a past Editor in Chief of Appleton Monthly Magazine. Talk books with her at ConquerBooks.com.
photography honorable “John Purves in January” by Jon Klister
A lyrical, though harrowing, tale of a young mother’s lifelong love of horses and a fateful accident that would alter her relationship to both riding and the world around her. The story is ripe with the smell of hay and summer dust, and it sparkles with insight and joy. A pleasure to read. nonfiction judge David McGlynn
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What We Talk About When We Talk About James Fenimore Cooper by Meaghan Clohessy We talk about offices with hunter green walls. Splashes of excess paint on white ceilings. Newport smoke seeping into hardwood floors. Flimsy bookshelves bursting with water-logged paperbacks of Washington Irving. An oak door which always remains closed. My father hunches over his computer desk, pecking out a few words on his keyboard. With a groan, he hits backspace. He retrieves his cigarette, smoldering over a crystal ashtray, and takes a frustrated drag. His restlessness disappears into the glare of a desk lamp. He is writing The Ship and State, an analysis of how the work of James Fenimore Cooper symbolizes American national identity. At my house, it is known more colloquially as ‘dad’s dissertation.’ For a decade, the portrait of my father is that of tortured academic, spending nights sketching chapter outlines. The cross he bears is the leather binding that will soon sit atop that flimsy bookshelf, along with the doctoral robes that hang in his closet. My father is a teacher, preaching Johnathan Edwards to the sleepy students of whatever first-year literature courses schools will offer him. Sometimes, he will take me to class. Unlike most children, I will gladly sacrifice trips to the park or museum for even one hour of my father’s class. Anything for a chance to write on a chalkboard. Tiny hands coat with dust as I write imaginary lesson plans. I pace about the room, gesturing wildly, trying to recreate the presence in which my father comfortably commands his classroom. Later, attending classes means reading the assigned coursework. This does not stop me; in his classes, I prepare notes and ask questions, earning strange looks from my father’s actual students. Even then, I still make time to write on the chalkboard. *** “Are you Dr. Clohessy’s daughter?!” I am at the Pabst Best Place, waiting to perform a drunken production of Macbeth. I am finishing my second Abbey Ale when one of the audience members, the fiancée of a performer, bustles toward me with an outstretched hand.
“I was one of your dad’s students at UWM!” he exclaims. “I saw him by the speakers and I couldn’t believe it! It’s been – wow, I think it’s been ten years since I saw him!” “You mean he hasn’t scared you off yet?” I ask. “Oh no! I did think he was an asshole at first, but he quickly became one of my favorite professors. Didn’t realize he was a theatre guy!” “You should ask him about the time he played MacMurphy for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “No kidding! Does he ever talk about it?” “Nearly every moment he can.” *** We talk about timelines. Cooper carves his name onto my personal history. At seven, I know the faculty of UWM’s College of Letters and Sciences by first name. At ten, I watch my father adorned with the bonnet and hood at his graduation, wondering when I will wear the same gown. I meet Natty Bumpo before Daniel Day-Lewis, Hawkeye before Alan Alda. During a seminar in college, my English professor will ask his students if they have ever heard of Cooper. I will be the only one who raises their hand. Cooper once wrote that the United States was a nation without a yesterday. It was the duty of storytellers to create a past that captures our national sense of self. He has become a victim of his own proclamation. Clever and more charismatic voices incorporated his ideas into clever and more charismatic works. Cooper’s inevitability, it seems, is irrelevance. How narrow the analysis of scholars. Cooper captures the moments when my father’s voice soared with misdirected impatience, when criticism replaced all other forms of speech. Each interaction is graded on an ever-shifting rubric of expectations, his mood frequently switching from icy apathy to scorching anger. I am too young to understand the impossible expectations he set for himself, the frustration he bore onto others when they were unmet. Even when I developed a voice for these observations, it was always kidnapped into silence by his stinging tone.
One summer day, my father drafts me to uproot a tree he had pledged for months to complete. The roots were warped, making the task arduous. “Come on, move the damn wheelbarrow!” my father hollers. “It’s too heavy!” I cry, trying to pull the wheelbarrow toward my chest. It would not budge. Grunting, my father pushes me aside and grabs the wheelbarrow for himself. “Get out of here if you’re only going to do half-assed work,” he growls. Sobbing, I sprint to my room and do not leave until the next morning. Mom brings me dinner that night, a grilled cheese sandwich. I had never asked for this sandwich before and yet it is the only thing I wanted. It remains a comfort food for years afterward. My father always apologizes. He expresses quiet regret, coupled with a kiss on the head. The immediate sorrow subsides, but the depth of the pain creates a framework of inadequacy, a deep distrust of myself. It also creates a feverish embrace of anger. This festers until one evening while babysitting as I am screaming at my younger sister to pick up her toys. She looks at me with glassy eyes and in the reflection, I see my father. I monitor my emotions ever since. I turn to the authors for guidance. I read Orwell for knowledge and Eliot for empathy. I read Faulkner to understand how my father and I both gaze outward into open spaces, stranded in labyrinths spanning entire generations, but whose paths never seemed to cross. These authors inform my own writing, often dystopian adventures of robot apocalypses. Beneath those stories are tales of my father, failed translations of melancholy. He will never read these stories. And I will never read Cooper. *** “One of these days,” my father says from underneath the lawnmower. “You’ll write the novel about how your terrible father ruined your life.” He reaches out for a wrench. It is the third time our lawnmower broke this summer. He chooses to ignore the fact that Home Depot is less than two miles away and Mom is searching for a Father’s Day gift. My exasperation echoes throughout the garage. “I’ll give you an advance copy,” I quip. “And you’ll really let me have it at my funeral.” “Don’t be morbid.” “Now remember: it must be an Irish wake. Less crying, more Jameson.” “And silver dollars on your eyes?” “Absolutely. Gotta pay my passage for the River Styx.” The lawnmower clanks as a loose bolt drops to the floor. Dad whispers scheisse and scoots onto the garage floor. “Okay, I’m going to need you to hold the flashlight while I fix the blade,” he says, then grins. “I promise I won’t yell.” “It’s only been a half hour. There’s still time yet.” We chuckle. *** We talk about wanderlust.
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photography honorable “Wander and Wonder” by Kelsey Layne
My father is a traveler. As a child, I am captivated by his tales of staring down tornadoes in Savannah and nearly trapping himself on the Soviet side of Checkpoint Charlie. If his eyes were not in a book, they were on a map. Cooper describes this character as the frontier hero, a romantic conqueror whose prize converges along the borders of history and culture, offering something new from the frayed fabric of the past. My father is my first travel companion. In high school, he takes me to London for spring break, a belated celebration of accepting a full-time teaching position with MATC. For me, London is the dream that, in the waning weeks before the trip, becomes palpable in twitching fingers. “Are you going to be okay traveling with Daddy for a week?” Mom asks me one night while I pack my suitcase. “I’ll be fine,” I answer, biting my lip. Her hesitation is not unreasonable – the house still echoes from an argument over an improperly clipped bag of pretzels only a few days before. “Well, toss him in the Thames if you need to,” Mom sighs. Thankfully, it is not needed. Our week is spent eating fish and chips and searching for Jack the Ripper throughout the grimy snickets of Whitechapel. At Westminster, we listen as Big Ben silences bystanders with its thundering bellow. My father is the among the most reverent, displaying a calm I have never seen in him. Though we are four thousand miles away, he is very much at home. He brings me to a house in Kensington at the end of Logan Place, marked with a green door bearing the name Garden Lodge. Freddie Mercury once lived there, writing the songs that filled my car rides and sleepless nights. My father rarely listened to Queen, but seemed to understand how the band formed the soundtrack of perseverance in an era before Buzzfeed made retro cool again. My father stands across the street while I approach the house. The door and brick walls on either side serve as a shrine for Freddie, with messages and song lyrics scrawled with permanent marker. I write my own message, looking over my shoulder to find my father taking pictures and beaming. Even though he cannot connect to me through the band, he recognizes the moment when travel breaks open an imagination. It is a moment I carry with me on two more trips to London, two trips to Berlin and Brussels, and a smattering of European cities in between. Each time, I will remember the face of my father at Big Ben, his stare of solitude and longing. *** “So Cooper’s The Spy is having its bicentennial in a few years,” my father informs Mom one evening after dinner. “Oh?” she responds, voice disappearing in clattering dishes. “Yeah, The Spy, Mohicans – nearly his entire catalogue, meaning Cooper will become in vogue again. And since – where are you going?” “You’re going to have to follow me if you want to talk.” My parents walk to the linen closet by my room. Though my door is closed, I hear my father throughout the conversation. His is the only voice with its own noise ordinance violation.
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“As I was saying, since most people will write about Mohicans, this might be a good time to continue my research.” “Which means you’ll actually have to write,” Mom says. “Of course.” My father’s voice is indignant, but grows soft. “You know, if I had half the determination Meaghan did for writing, I would have had no problem finishing my dissertation,” he finally says. *** We talk about O’Hare in mid-December. Our family sits scattered around the departure gate, awaiting our flight to Milwaukee. We have just returned from my graduation ceremony in London. After eight hours traveling across the Atlantic, we are exhausted. Motion sickness drains the color from Mom’s face. My sister charges her phone in another aisle. My master’s degree rests in my backpack, pressed flat by my laptop and holiday gifts from classmates. The silken tones of Anderson Cooper consume our silence from multiple television screens. I scroll through Facebook on my phone, occasionally tossing glances toward my father. He has been shorttempered the whole trip. He barked directions on the Circle Line and stormed the intersection at Westminster. I think about the man who scampered around naval ships at the London Maritime Museum with untold glee nearly a decade before, his breath taken away by the untold vastness of the world before him. Tonight, his face is concealed by The New York Times and is not the same man. “So it looks like my undergrad’s hiring an event coordinator,” I read off my phone to Mom. “Not sure if I would actually want to work there, but that could be a nice starting point.” A scoff emanates from the international section. “Something to add?” I ask, narrowing my eyes. “Nothing,” my father says. “It seems like you really want to say something,” I counter. My father lowers his paper. “You really want to be a party planner?” “Event coordinator, and all I said was that I would be looking into it. Not making any commitments here.” “You really should be looking for jobs in your field.” “I have been. I was more noting this job for its administrative experience, which—” “Have you even tried looking at State Department opportunities?” I draw a breath. Slow, through gritted teeth. “They are currently in a hiring freeze,” I answer. “Meanwhile, I’ve been applying for dozens of non-profits and think tanks dedicated to international relations. If you recall, I just had that inter—” “What about the CIA? FBI? Research takes more than five minutes, you know.” “That’s not re—” “And you should really talk with your cousin about jobs with his finance firm. I bet you any money they would kill for someone with your degree.” “And I bet you any money that I would stab my eyes out at the thought of working there.” “Well, you’re really making a half-assed effort then.” peninsula pulse
“Ron, that’s enough,” Mom interjects. “I’m sorry, but I’m not having her be a party planner,” my father sneers. “That’s not all they do!” I exclaim, cheeks smoldering. “And I just said I’ve been applying non-stop, doing my research, so clearly I haven’t been dicking around. Why don’t you trust me?” My father returns to his paper. For him, the argument is done. My eyes blister with tears, mind unraveling as I try to rationalize his outburst. He’s tired, he just wants to go home… I see the progress of our relationship collapse into dust. I am twelve years old again, sobbing and radioactive with rage, while my father continues his day without second thought. Shoulders heavy, I open my backpack and take out my master’s degree. My eyes trace over the embossed lettering of the London School of Economics. I run a hand under my nose. “What are you doing?” Mom asks, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Reminding myself what I have done,” I answer. *** “You know Quinn doesn’t know anything about Cooper?” My father drives us home after seeing The Death of Stalin at the Downer Theatre. My mom and sister are not the type for black political comedies, so my father and I are each other’s movie partners. Movie nights are always a treat, both because we are busy with work and because it gives my father a chance to drive through his college neighborhood. His Hummer turns onto Lake Drive, where the waves of Lake Michigan emerge toward the sparkling Milwaukee skyline. “Oh yeah?” he responds. “Yeah, I was telling her about this story I’m writing – about you actually – and mentioned how I was connecting it to Cooper,” I explain, falling quiet for a moment. “She just sort of cocked her head and asked who it was. It was very strange.” “It makes sense. She was only a baby when I graduated. She will never know a time where I wasn’t, well, consumed with finishing the paper.” “Oh, I get it. It’s just interesting because Cooper was so ingrained in my growing up experience, at least by proxy.” “It is kind of weird,” he agrees. “But it’s just a different relationship.” The lake sweeps gently onto the shore, washing the sand within the darkness of yesterday. *** We talk about reflections. I meet my father one morning in West Allis for an endof-semester party hosted by MATC’s welding department. Now retired from the military, he pursues welding in what he calls ‘his second childhood.’ For Valentine’s Day, he welded a rose for my mother, which is now prominently displayed on our dining room table. Had he not already tormented his family with hour-long replays of class during dinner, he might have seen more enthusiasm toward his invitation. Then he promised pizza, so I went. I find my father standing outside the entrance of the workshop, talking to three students wearing helmets. He
introduces me to them when I arrive: they are not only classmates, but also students of his first year writing course. I notice how the three men stand just a little bit straighter as they are addressed by my father. I conceal a smirk as he leads me inside. “Basil!” my father shouts, calling to a portly man with a kind face. “I want you to meet my daughter. Meaghan, this is Basil, my welding teacher this past spring.” “Nice to meet you!” I exclaim, shaking Basil’s hand. “Wow,” he says. “You look just like your dad. I could recognize you from a mile away!” I give Basil a knowing smile. Others have made similar observations. For me, it is a token of pride, along with my cacophonous voice and sarcasm that cuts into others like jagged glass. My father is considerably more apologetic for these traits. I think he’s getting soft. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and study the features I recognize to be his. I see his bottle cap nose and broad shoulders, the things Mom recognized the moment I was born. I see his pensive brown eyes, nearsighted, yet staring far ahead toward a distance that few can see. When I step back, however, I see only myself. At one point, my reflection captured my shame in my father’s flaws that have somehow found life in a new generation. Those moments were in the days of Cooper, before my father and I could consider each other as our own people. The tenser memories have softened as we have accepted the components of our shared identities, both positive and negative. As I accept this for myself, so too can I accept this for my father. Perhaps my father will read this story. Perhaps he will not. Perhaps in the next story, Cooper will constitute a mere footnote in the respect I hold for my father. The respect that, I understand now, he also holds for me. Or perhaps we will not bother to talk about him at all.
Meaghan Clohessy’s creative work has appeared in both print and online formats, including The Minor Bird and Coldnoon. Additionally, Clohessy won second place for nonfiction at the 2013 Sigma Tau Delta Conference in Portland.
A fascinating exploration of life with a father who teaches, studies, and organizes his life around one of America’s earliest “great novelists.” The writing is sharp and witty, and the essay keeps the reader going from the opening line to the very last sentence. nonfiction judge David McGlynn
photography honorable “Chance Meeting” by Leena Meyers 8142 review 2020 | 23
Cove Life by Jeanne Topic
The phone rang in the children’s department of the bookstore at 4:45 pm, fifteen minutes before I was due to end my shift and head home on this late summer day. As a middle school language arts teacher, there could not be a better place to spend my Saturdays as I was surrounded by all of the latest in publishing and on most Saturdays at least a few students of mine would wander in after spending time across the street at the Apple Store or Sephora. I excused myself from the conversation with two mothers searching for appropriate beginning readers for their preschoolers and picked up the phone. “Jeanne.” I recognized my sister Mary’s voice immediately. “I think I found the painting.” I glanced over to the two mothers making their final book selections and for a moment could not register my sister’s words. “Jeanne. Jeanne, are you there?” Mary shrilled. “Did you hear me?” “Sorry, Mary. I’m here.” “You need to make a stop on your way home. A resale shop. Laura just called me that she was there today and saw a painting on an easel with mom’s signature bottom right-hand corner. She also said there’s a notation attached to the painting about Risky Business.” Laura was Mary’s best friend since earliest childhood and would have recognized my mother’s name and Mary’s and my maiden name. I struggled to take in the information. It had been several months since I had given the painting more than a brief thought. I glanced over one more time at the mothers who were now approaching the checkout counter with their book purchases. “Are you at the shop now?” I asked. “No. I can’t get there. I’m stuck in city traffic.” “Okay, give me the address. I’m leaving now.” After offering my good-byes to my co-workers and wishing the evening staff a heartfelt good evening, I made my way to my car. On the way to the resale shop, I brought back to mind the series of events that led to our pursuit of the painting of movie fame. Caroline began taking art classes at the local junior college after the youngest of her four children went off to school. She joined the community art league and resurrected a niche in our basement for her artistic pursuits. About four years into these endeavors she began entering art fairs and was particularly proud when her work was accepted by a juried panel in a rather elite Chicago suburb. What a coup for my mother as this show drew hundreds and hundreds of people. Among those 24 | 8142 review 2020
browsing that particular weekend was a buyer for the Standard Oil Company which was scheduled to open its new headquarters in downtown Chicago. This buyer was on the hunt for artwork for the first floor art gallery’s permanent collection in the skyscraper. The buyer purchased one of my mother’s works, an oil painting of a shoreline scene depicted from somewhere in Door County, Wisconsin. In an indeterminate time of day, the painting captured a few small boats, sails down, entering a cove along with several unobtrusive buildings with eyes toward the water beyond the cove. Caroline had titled the painting Cove Life. My parents spent time every year in Sister Bay, and my siblings and I with families of our own used the condominium for vacations. Shorelines and prairie barns were her overall favorite scenes and there was no lack of inspiration in Door County. Not long after the opening of the Standard Oil Company art gallery, my mother learned that a set director for the Tom Cruise movie Risky Business to be filmed in Chicago had visited the gallery and was negotiating to include artwork for the indoor scenes of the movie featuring young Cruise making the most of his time at home alone. Cove Life ended up on the living room wall in Cruise’s movie home. “How many times did we go to the movie to see mom’s painting?” I asked myself. I couldn’t truthfully answer but remembered fondly that several family members of appropriate age met at the local movie theater the night Risky Business opened. All eyes focused on the indoor house scenes – never mind Tom Cruise-we came for Cove Life. Caroline continued to paint and added quilting to her list of achievements. It all came to a somber end when she lost her fight with breast cancer. Several years later Standard Oil announced they were vacating the headquarters in Chicago and another company was moving in. I immediately contacted the public relations department and asked what was going to happen to the artwork in the gallery. “We have nothing to reveal regarding the artwork, ma’am. All contents are totally the property of the Standard Oil Company.” This bare bones bit of information came from a rather terse employee. And that was that. Until today. I hadn’t really given any thought to how to approach the proprietors of the resale shop. This had all happened so fast that I hadn’t had time to think of an approach or how I would deal with disappointment if this was not Cove Life. Because it was a resale shop, I did not expect that there would be a high price on the painting – if it WAS the painting. I felt certain that we would not be quibbling over price. I entered the pleasant and homey shop and turned immediately to the living room furnishings to the right. There, on the easel, just as Laura said, was the painting of so many years ago and a typewritten note to its right: “this painting is rumored to have been featured in the movie Risky Business.” While that might have been the reason for the prominence of the painting in the shop, the price listed was more than reasonable. The family would have paid much more for its return.
I slowly sat down on the secondhand sofa immediately in front of the painting and simply stared at it. I could smell the oil paint Caroline had used – I could see her cleaning her brushes-I watched her lovingly wrap the painting in the flannel she utilized to transport her artwork to shows. A salesperson approached me, interrupting my fleeting thoughts, and asked, “Are you interested in the painting or the sofa or maybe both?” I smiled at her and tentatively answered, “The painting. How did you acquire it?” She returned with a smile of her own, “This painting was part of an estate sale which we handled about two weeks ago. I’m not sure if the story about the movie is true, but the note came with the painting.” “I’ll take it,” I said without hesitation. The salesperson gently removed Cove Life from the easel and walked with me to the counter. “Do you want this note regarding Risky Business?” “Yes, please include that in the wrapping.” We concluded the transaction, and as I reached for my purchase the salesperson looked at me a little more carefully. “You came right in and went to the painting as though you were looking for it specifically. Is there a story here?” “I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want you to feel you had to cut me a deal, but my mother is the artist. She passed away several years ago and the family had been hoping to get Cove Life back one day. Here it is, no more than fifteen minutes from where I live and discovered by a family friend who just happened to stop in here this morning.” I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye. “How fortunate for you and for your family. I might suggest that you have it examined by a professional and see to new framing. You are going to want this as an heirloom for years and years to come. And I am going to watch the movie the next chance I get!” Driving home with the precious cargo in the trunk of my car, I thought of the narratives shared with students in my classrooms of victims of aggression losing their beloved possessions and the reactions of these same people when an item or items were miraculously returned. While Cove Life was not stolen but sold, it must be a similar feeling – the little space between one’s heart and one’s soul that now feels whole again. Jeanne Topic grew up in Illinois but spent many summer vacations in Door County. Topic was a teacher for 31 years and considers herself a life-long learner. She entered kindergarten knowing how to read and the passion for reading and writing has remained a daily gift. By a combination of chance and good fortune, a woman’s painting – of Door County – ends up gracing the walls of a major corporation and then, if that weren’t enough, appearing in a major motion picture. Years later, the artists’ daughters find the painting in a resale shop, prompting a mad scramble to reacquire the work and a loving memory of the artist who first put her brush to the canvas. A compelling, swift read. nonfiction judge David McGlynn peninsula pulse
Let’s Speak of The Things We Don’t Tell Our Mothers by Meghan O’Brien
There were four of us, and we met at the end of a bright and brutal summer. It was the time of year when the golden tint of August began to fade towards fall, when humidity lost its luster and the seasons readied themselves towards their natural shifting. We were in Nashville, Tennessee, a place poised on the edge of potential, a small town ready to burst forth into a grand city. We were there before the world rebuilt itself. The roads were still empty and quiet, the soon-to-be-hip eastside was speckled with empty lots, the grass grown long and damp with dew. We were a small group, a handful of women that met when we were young and shared a place where none of us grew up or grew old. There was nothing special about us, really. Our lives were jagged, pitted by bad jobs and the heartache of family, mothers who spoke too little and fathers who spoke too much. Just a few young women with forgettable names. We married young, and met at a church we eventually left. Nashville caught us at just the right time. The book club was Laura’s idea. “What do you think about a book club,” she asked. “We could do it once a week.” She asked me on the phone or maybe in a coffee shop, perhaps in passing.
“That sounds perfect,” I might have said. I don’t remember how it started, just that it began. Laura and I shared a friendship that was the oldest of us all. We met at twenty-two, and I could count her ex-boyfriends on my fingers, she remembered mine. We bore an unintentional log of each other’s heartaches and highest moments, simply because we were present when no one else was. Even in her early twenties, Laura carried herself with a sense of world-worn wisdom. It was as if she’d plumbed the depths of a place none of us would ever be privy to. She worked as a therapist, and her insight came honestly. Brilliant and blonde and funny, I trusted her inherently. Laura invited Sarah. “Of course!” Sarah answered. Sarah, bright, open, insatiable in her hunger for the broad potential of the world. She subsisted on spurts of spontaneity. There was no heartache grand enough to bind her to emotion. She was skinny and tall, and wore her dark hair long, straight, and almost to her waist. She was born with the odd ability to take the world for what it was worth, while never quite allowing it to touch her. She could withstand any heartache, and she fought long and hard for those she loved. Sarah was a protector. She gave us everything.
photography honorable “Sorry Mom Tattoo” by Leena Meyers
I didn’t know Claire, but Sarah did. “She’s great,” she said, “You’ll like her. She’s young, but great.” “How young?” Claire was twenty-years-old, and the third-born of seven children. She was haphazardly homeschooled by her religious parents and encouraged to marry young, which she did. She was an observer and carried herself with an ephemeral dreaminess. When we met Claire worked as a nanny, but I remember her as a nurturer. Her home was green and lush with houseplants, each of which she grew from their tender beginnings. Claire could coax blooms from the most shriveled leaves, and she nursed dead things back to health with quiet, consistent attention. I was twenty-four when we began our book club. I was newly married, and worked two jobs to put my husband through night school. I was quiet and determined and violently insecure. I was at once a dedicated new wife and a hard-headed marketing associate and a daughter who couldn’t bear to spend time with her family. They broke my heart more assuredly than anyone else. That’s the thing with youth: there is nothing balanced about it. Everything is volatile, and there’s a grand spectrum to swing. In that way we were complete. There were four of us then, and there are none of us now. ** We began to meet every Thursday night, late enough that the traffic had waned, but the sun was still strong. We picked up Oreos on our way home from work, our hair frazzled and faces hot, and set out grapes and crackers on our Goodwill coffee tables. $3 blocks of cheddar grew warm on just-scrubbed plates. Someone brought wine. We sat on each other’s porches or in dark living rooms, we spoke low when our young husbands came home, and exploded with laughter when the house was empty. We bonded over the things we didn’t tell our mothers, and all that we couldn’t. It’s a strange thing, to lack a mother. Especially so when they’re still alive and kicking a half hour down the road. The year we began our book club, my own mother cut me out of the family through a text message. I was in a roadside restroom in Kentucky, haphazardly navigating puddles of urine and clumped toilet paper when I got her text message. “I need a break from you,” it said in essence, but it might as well have read, “I don’t want you.” I laughed at first at the ridiculousness of it. Can you imagine, I told my husband, I told Laura on the phone. A mother that doesn’t want their daughter? Their first born? It can’t be true. Later, it made me cry. Still later, I learned to live without. There is something dreadfully dark about a parent that chooses to leave their own child. 8142 review 2020 | 25
nonfiction Laura’s mother was kind, but could be overbearing in her dogged need to provide for her children. Their relationship was lopsided but generous, and Laura complained with a half-smile about their honest complications. They bickered over home renovations and wedding plans but they loved each other incessantly. I was, and remain, largely envious of their relationship. Sarah’s mother had been in and out of therapy for years. The survivor of traumatic abuse and injustice in her youth, she carried the heartache of the past into her parenting. Their relationship ran hot and cold, but when Sarah left her husband a few years later, it was her mother who gave the greatest comfort. They remain a testament to the willful ebb and flow of family relationship, and their healing has a flair for the cinematic. Claire’s parents were religious, and largely so. They did not believe in formal education, and Claire bore a deep bitterness and insecurity from her early lack of schooling. Her family’s fundamentalist beliefs drove a deep wedge between her parents and Claire’s anxiously liberal husband, but holidays were spent together and the correct phone calls were made throughout the year. They tried and failed, as most families should. Where the families of our youth were no comfort, we built a kinfolk of our own. Every young woman needs a confidant, and somehow we were lucky enough to have three. Youth is heavy. It’s thick with mistakes, and most of the time those ragged early years simply require a foundational element of safety. Each of us broken were broken in our own way, and we trusted each other with our pasts and that trembling mirage of our future. We spoke of the things we could not tell our mothers, and somehow, that was all we needed. We could not tell our mothers about the hearts crushed underfoot after old breakups, the stray twigs caught in our hair when we stayed out too late, glitter stuck to the wet corners of our mouths. We didn’t tell our mothers about the late nights with strangers, the ones from our teenage years, before we met our husbands. The men with their cheek-cracking smiles, the women who whispered beautiful things when the night grew old. There were no calls home when our mouths were bruised, nothing said to about the hickeys speckled across a much-used chest, the sour smell of gin on the breath, mosquito bites that sat in the hollows of dirty ankles. The husbands that came home late or the ones that didn’t touch us enough. The terror we harbored when we thought about splitting our bodies with children. The fear we had about losing ourselves to the wonder and mystery of the world, only to find that it’s lacking. We didn’t tell our mothers, but we told each other. Tongues loosened by wine and the comfort of one another, we told each other. With these women, these absorbing, fragile, dreadfully wonderful women, I lost my anonymity in the world. It was a welcome loss. How many of us wander the earth, unmoored by the simple reality of never being truly known? How lucky are those of us who have found the ones who want to know us? Laura, Sarah, Claire, and Meghan. Four culturally normative names, easy to spell, unremarkable on their own. Our names are paper thin 26 | 8142 review 2020
titles, and they hide the history we’ve made of our lives. Behind them, we were teeming with heart, with tenuous ambition and desire. Perhaps words, like the shallow advice of youth, are simply too paltry to carry the weight of their requirement. ** We met on Thursdays for two years. We read a few books, but we left them on counters and coffee tables and entryway racks. The words of another are shockingly easy to forget. It wasn’t the stories we read, but the people we were, that kept the date on the calendar. When Laura got a promotion, we gathered with wine under old Christmas lights on the back deck. The air was dense with summertime humidity. Sarah worked at a popular wedding venue in town, and a handful of us, husbands included, helped her set-up for events in the cooling air of springtime. We ushered in Claire’s twentyfirst birthday with too many margaritas at a kitschy restaurant on the East side of the city. We held sweating glasses and ate too many chips as she told us they just might move out of state, and it seemed far enough away that it simply couldn’t happen. We did not focus on our books, they were unimportant in the end. We did not want to be our mothers, but no one wants to be their mothers. Our mothers made us cry because they were broken and shallow and human, but what a gift their imperfections gave us. These women that bore us, they bound us together. There’s nothing that binds people closer than shared heartache, than the sweetness of the words, “I’ve been there, too.” It’s the gift the four of us gave each other. These women have highlighted that fact that friendships forged in adulthood tend to be highly underrated. Instead, we’re told to seek lifelong companionship in childhood, as if the scraped knees of a playground or perhaps the sweaty embrace after a Little League game is meant to overshadow the plod of adulthood. I do not carry many relationships from youth. My loose teeth and the scar that judders up my stomach mark the tired wounds of my early years, but they don’t compare to the loose change I gathered in my palm when bills were tight, the scars I drilled into my wrists and ankles. My parents divorce, the anger of my step-father, my first car accident. The death of so many family members, too many family members, a best friend. They’re the wounds of my beginnings, but they aren’t the experiences that required a witness. The friendships of adulthood are not compulsory. No, they are beautifully unrequired, which makes them easy to miss. It is an incredible privilege to share the world with women who make it safe. There is an obscure beauty to the humans who choose to bear witness to the life of another, because they want to and not because they should. It is a rare gift. These friends of adulthood, the ones who find their way to your front door by way of a life that’s split at the seams, these are the people who will follow you down dark roads just to lead you back towards the light. These are the friends to which you should crawl to when life becomes its most wretched self, these are the ones who will applaud the sparkle of your swift moment on the mountaintop.
We do not meet in our living rooms anymore. Our houses have been sold, rented, burned. Time takes pleasure in the demolition of the past, but the memories of women are strong and sacred. Laura is in Georgia. She is kind and stable. She’s irrevocably in love with the spontaneity of her husband. Progressive yet steadied by its own history, Atlanta matches her tireless fight for transparency and heart. Her new city fits her. Sarah lives in Los Angeles, in a small house off of Santa Monica Boulevard. She’s a planner, a networker, a force. She’s hungry for the world and she fights for it. Her life is borne by the bright lights of Hollywood, and she matches them the incredible brunt of determination. Claire is a schoolteacher in Kansas City. Born and raised in the south, she’s left it for the Midwest, and I can only imagine the beauty she leaves in her wake. Claire is an aesthetic, beautiful in heart and mind, a human that exists in her own time and place. Missouri has been given a great gift. I, of course, have found myself in New Orleans, writing about the women who’ve taught me how to live in the world. I still don’t speak with my mother. We’ve somehow missed the mark, and I’ve made peace with the woman who cannot fill the hole I’ve wrought in myself. Over time, I’ve come to accept that not every duo of women is meant to co-exist, and some relationships are only required for a season. There are some people who care more for the devastation they wreak than the beauty they bring. At first, the four of us tried to preserve the magic of who we once were. We scheduled video calls, and our faces flickered across our computer screens. We became a series of pixels in place of flesh and blood. Instead of living life together and alongside one another, we tried to check-in. We shared about the parties we hosted and the coffee we savored, but there were no invites. Our friendship was on a slight delay. Everything we spoke of was now in the past, instead of the present. We owe Nashville a great debt. It was a place lush enough to foster our beginnings, and empty enough to afford the loneliness required to need one another. We do not call each other anymore. Time, you see, is quite the villain. It gives us beautiful seasons just as surely as it will take them away. Our phone lines stay silent, and our heartaches are quelled by new people. We have drifted in and out of each other’s lives as surely as anything else. Is it not the way of the world, for something to simply and suddenly end? I suppose if we still spoke, if we still met over coffee and laughed in our living rooms, we would laugh. Maybe we would poke fun at one another, maybe we would wax poetic about the people we used to be. Remember how young we were, we would say, our voices gone thin across the phone line? Remember that hell hot day you moved, that boy you loved, the job you hated? Remember the house that split at the ceiling, the rainwater that gathered in the corners of the living room? Remember when we stayed up late, talking about things that we don’t tell our mothers? We remember, we’d say. We do. peninsula pulse
Every year the Peninsula Pulse invites people of all ages, backgrounds and artistic abilities to submit stories, photographs and poems for a...
Published on Oct 9, 2020
Every year the Peninsula Pulse invites people of all ages, backgrounds and artistic abilities to submit stories, photographs and poems for a...