Volume 4: Issue 4 1
Volume 4: Issue 4
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter. In fact, we release this issue on the shortest day of the year. At times like this, it is comforting to settle back with a cozy fire and something good to read. For our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, days are longer and warmer. Perhaps it is time to find something good to read at the beach or by the pool. Whether your days are hot or cold, long or short, we hope you will enjoy this issue of Shadows Express. Meanwhile, the staff of Shadows Express wish you the very best during this holiday season, and we hope your dreams come true in 2013
Our Mission Published four times a year, Shadows Express strives to bring new voices to discerning readers. We pride ourselves on being the stepping stone for new writers as they begin their published journey. We welcome quality work from all writers at any stage of their careers. Managing Editor: K. Wall firstname.lastname@example.org Fiction Editor: P. L. Scholl email@example.com Non-Fiction Editor: Winnie Kay Davis firstname.lastname@example.org Poetry Editor: Liam Oâ€™Haver email@example.com Editorial Assistant: Lisa Byus firstname.lastname@example.org
Columns Burning the Midnight Oil ~ Gratitude.….………….………………………….…….………………….……...4 Rhythmic Reflections ~ Let’s Dance…..……..………..…….…………………………………………………..5 Fireside Conversations ~ The Gift of Writing…………………………………..…………………..………...6 In the Spotlight ~ Write What You Know.……………………….….….…………….…………………………7
Fiction Girl with Flowers by William Leet…….….………….…………………………….……………………………..…16 Focused by Brad Hainsworth.……………......….……………..……....….…..…….……....….………………..33 You Never Know What Christmas Will Bring by Angelo Dalpiaz.…………………….……………..….40 The Test by Kat Hawthorne………….……………….....….……………….....….……..…..……………………..48
Poetry Warmth Emerging by C.K. Ledford…………………………………..……………..………………………………...8 What Giant Birds are Trees by Cathe Ferguson ………………………………….………………….…………15 Blocked by T. A. McCarthy.…….…………………………………………….….………………………….…….……29 Seasonal Friends by Audra L. Ralls……………………………….………………..………………………………..43 Ghost Train by Carla Ralston…..…………….………………….………………………….…………………..…….44 Hummingbird by John Grey..…………….……..……..……….………………………….…………………..…….47
Non-fiction The 1969 Christmas Play by Joel Spearman.………….…………......….……………………………..……..…9 Baptism by Fire by Wendy Van Camp………………..…………………………………………….……………….24 Christmas in a Child’s Eyes by Michael Hanvey……….………………………………….…………………….30 The Coat by Michael Hanvey……….…………………………………………………………………….…………….45
Volume 4: Issue 4
By K. Wall
It is hard to believe a full year has passed since I took up the reins of Shadows Express as managing editor. A lot has happened this year. We developed a new website, a stronger web presence, and a wonderful relationship with our writers. I have had the opportunity to work with talented individuals who inspire and challenge me. For this, I am thankful. Each issue poses its own challenges and its own rewards. Approaching these as learning opportunities and a chance to expand my horizons has allowed me to grow in ways I never thought possible. For this, I am thankful.
With a wonderful team of professionals dedicating their time, energy, and love to this project, I believe we have consistently produced a product to be proud of. They are more than co-workers. They are my support and my friends. For them, I am thankful. Finally, without you, our readers, this endeavour would be futile. We love to hear from you and get feedback on the work we are doing. For you, I am thankful. As we wrap up this year and face the challenges of the next, we hope to continue to grow. We look forward to discovering new talent and revisiting old favourites. We hope you continue to join us on this wonderful journey and the New Year brings you much to be thankful for.
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer 4
By Liam O’Haver
Writing is literally a creative art. The writer takes unborn thought and brings it to life for the inquisitive to view. Those touched are forever changed by the experience. If the writer is a poet, this creation is music to the ear of the reader. I’m certain this is true, because every time I read poetry—I dance. When I begin to read a poem, it is as if the poet has asked me, “Would you like to dance?” But there is all manner of dance, and just how we dance together is totally in the hands of the poet. After all, he or she is the one who has asked for the dance. I’ve had all different kinds of experiences because I enjoy reading poetry, but it seems to me that nearly all of these dances fall into one of three basic categories. So I will share them with you. The first kind of experience, I like to call the “free dance.” In this kind of dance, even though the music is commonly heard, the poet and I dance apart from each other. The poet does her dance and I do my dance, but
our movement is not common—and we may never even touch. The second kind of experience, I usually refer to as “line dancing.” In this dance form, we dance together, but apart from one another, and there is a more common connection with the music. Our movement is virtually identical; we make the same steps at the same time—and yet we rarely touch. The third kind of experience, I consider to be “dancing together.” In this dance, contact is close enough to put frowns on the face of a high school chaperone. The poet takes the lead and directs the movement. I just hold on and follow along as we glide effortlessly through the dance. Each of these experiences describes the level of interaction between the poet and the reader. While we may have different favorites, and our choices may vary from time to time, all are valid responses to the creations of the poet. Let’s dance.
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. Carl Sandburg 5
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By P.L.Scholl Every year, my family launches the Christmas season with a simple tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, we put up the Christmas tree while listening to our favorite carols. Afterward, we sit down to sip hot chocolate and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Of course, this movie always makes me think about the greatest gifts in my life, and somewhere in that list is always the gift of writing. As a writer, I get to experience a rich fantasy life. I can go anywhere and be anyone I want to be. As a little girl, I dreamed about the Old West. I became a Sioux Indian living on the plains. I hunted buffalo with my bow and arrow and painted my face before battle, ready to defend my tribe against the enemy— the fact that I was a girl was irrelevant. From the plains of the Wild West, I became a Knight of the Round Table, or I leaped into the future to serve as an officer on the Enterprise. Now, as an adult, I still get to live out those dreams. It’s just that now those fantasies are brought to life with words on paper. They are no less vivid and no less real to me. They are just as much of an escape as they once were. I can still become that Sioux Indian or Knight of the Round Table. That is the gift that writing gives me.
I have also discovered that writing is better and cheaper than psychotherapy. I once read “Writing is thinking in slow motion.” Nothing could be truer. Whenever I am facing a problem or working my way through intense emotions, I turn to writing. It clarifies my thinking. It vents those emotions before they smother me. Sometimes, I simply journal or I work out my angst in a short story. There, I am free to work through my anger or my grief or even express my joy. There’s no judgment there. There’s no fear of others seeing the naked truth because it is disguised as a story. Finally, it is better to give than to receive, and what better gift to the world than my writing? My fantasies? My dreams? I re-create those worlds in vivid detail, bringing them to life for everyone to experience. For my loved ones, I am the family historian—both past and present. I tell our stories so that precious memories are never lost. I also share pieces of myself that I might otherwise never have had the courage to share. In essence, by using my gift, I am giving to others. So whatever your faith may be, I hope you will take some time during this holiday season to reflect on your greatest gifts. I’m sure you will discover that writing is somewhere at the top of your list—both as a receiver and as a giver. 6
By Winnie Kay Davis “Write what you know.” These famous words by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, have been the mantra of many fiction writers for more than a century. The characters and the settings of Twain’s novels parallel his own experiences. Raised in Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the great Mississippi River, Clemens was no stranger to the harsh realities of living in a slave state. His father, John Marshall Clemens, was a Virginian slave owner. At the age of twenty-two, young Samuel was encouraged by steamboat pilot Horace E. Bixby to acquire his own pilot’s license. Thus began a two-year adventure studying the ever twisting, turning path of the mighty Mississippi. It was during these years that Clemens acquired his pen name: the nautical measurement, or depth-sounding, for two fathoms is referred to as the mark of twain. In 1859, he received his steamboat pilot license and earned an impressive monthly wage of $250. This bit of biographical information surrounding iconic humorist Mark Twain proves his point: “Write what you know.” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, would never have been written had Clemens never experienced life as a steamboat pilot along the Mississippi River in an era of slavery, Indian raids, railroad construction, and the emergence 7
of civil unrest with the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln. Neither Huck nor Jim the slave would have embarked on an epic adventure rafting down the river—one to escape an abusive father, the other to prevent being sold downriver where conditions for slaves were harsher than in the fictitious town of St. Petersburg. Twain’s advice doesn’t mean you are stuck with writing only non-fiction biographies and how-to books. Your exciting fiction about a psychopathic killer in a high-rise apartment building is still fiction, even though the villain closely resembles your Uncle Harry in appearance and characteristics. Writing what you know is about realistic exposition and characterization. It’s about natural voice and dialogue. The more knowledgeable you are about your characters and your settings, the more believable your story will be for your reader. Mark Twain could not have made Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer come to life if he hadn’t walked in their shoes.
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Warmth Emerging By C. K. Ledford
I stand … frozen as winter’s breath drifts ever softly toward beauty rising, bringing hope to trembling souls and solemn trees. I watch in awe, … dare not move for fear this glimpse of warmth emerging will not withstand an air so crisp, it fades forevermore. How long it’s been since I have felt calmness stirring in my being, a rope of silence to grasp freely when whispers circle 'round. Now here I am, a flicker burning, like dawn’s eruption from its darkness, needing strength to rekindle a life beyond the haze. So I remain … frozen like snow-laced branches begging mercy, waiting still for resurrection in the glory that is now.
By Joel Spearman I was the new kid in David Livingston Elementary School's third grade class. The year was 1969, and I was eight years old. Everything was going fine. First report card had been sent home. Every box on the report card was marked VG (very good). My teacher's written comment was Joel is easily distracted, as well as a distraction to others. It was early November when our teacher, a nice young lady—I don't recall her name, so I'll refer to her as Miss Teacher—read aloud to the class the poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. She read the entire long version of the poem. The reason she read this poem in early November was to announce to the class that we were going to be performing in our school's Christmas Concert, and we would be presenting the poem as a play. She went on to say that we were going to put on the best performance ever, better than any of the other classes. Better than the fourth and fifth graders and, yes, even the sixth graders. She talked on and on and on—blah blah blah this, blah blah blah that. The very next day, with about half an hour before final buzzer, Miss Teacher started into it again. This time she began listing all the things that had to be done such as sets to be built, props to be acquired, costumes to be made, characters to be assigned, a script to be written, painting, decorating, invitations, rehearsals, and on and on. Miss Teacher droned on and on—blah blah blah blah blah—as visions of sugar-plums danced in my head. The buzzer sounded, waking me from a deep daydream sequence and alerting me to the fact it was at last time to go home. 9
Every day after that, Miss Teacher would, at some point, halt our regular thirdgrade curriculum, and we would begin working on producing this Christmas play. One day, Miss Teacher assigned us all characters from the poem. She wrote the names of all the characters on the blackboard, and then, beside that character's name, she began writing the name of the student who would play that part. "Who wants to play the role of Santa Claus?" she queried. "Me! Me! Me!" all of the boys, including me, shouted out. We were going nuts, waving our arms in the air like lunatics. She picked the fat kid for Santa. The rest of us let out a collective groan of disappointment. Then she asked, "Who wants to be one of the eight reindeer?" I had my hand up, but wasn't chosen. "Who wants to be a sugar-plum fairy?" was next. "Don't you write my name down for that," I shouted out. Miss Teacher replied, "Don't worry, Joel, I already have a part in mind for you." My thoughts were consumed with wonder. What part could she possibly have in mind for me? Whatever it was, it has to be good. It was obvious to me that I had been hand-picked for this part due solely on the fact that Miss Teacher recognized my superior acting ability and wanted to maximize the quality of the production by tapping into my creative genius. I patiently waited as the characters in the play were assigned to the rest of my classmates. Then Miss Teacher revealed to me the part I would be performing. “You know the poem,
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right, Joel? ‘Not a creature was stirring, not even a MOUSE.’” And so it was determined that I was going to play the part of...THE MOUSE! Day after day Miss Teacher went on— instructions on this, schedules on that. "Costumes!" she announced loudly, once again disrupting my daydreaming. "Joel, can you get a mouse costume?" "No, but I can make one. I'm excellent at making costumes," I told her. "Can you get your mother to help with it?" "No, she's pretty busy. Besides, I'm really good at making costumes. You'll see. It'll be great." Miss Teacher suggested again that I should ask my mom for help with it. I got the impression she didn't believe that I was as good at making costumes as I had claimed to be. I should have told her that I had made my own clown costume for Halloween just a few weeks ago. I made it out of old clothes right out of our closets at home. I even did my own make-up, using a stick of my mom's lipstick. At each and every door that I trick or treated on, I was greeted with an excited remark, such as “Oh MY! Look at the funny clown!” I probably made the best costume of all Halloweens ever, but I never mentioned any of my costume design experience to her. I decided that Miss Teacher would be all the more impressed with my costume once she sees the finished product. Each day we spent a bit of time working on the production. When we were scripting our actions on stage to sync up with the poem, I asked, "What about me? What do I do?" "You're the mouse that doesn't stir. You don't do anything" was Miss Teacher's answer. It took a while for that to sink in, but when it did, I realized my part would not offer much opportunity for me to showcase my acting ability. At that point, I pretty much lost interest in the whole production. It seemed to me like November passed quickly. Miss Teacher kept reminding us that there wasn't very much time left before the
Christmas Concert, and there was still a lot of work to be done. We still had to build sets and props. We still had to get our costumes completed. Because I had pretty much lost interest in the whole project by this point, I had done nothing in the way of making a mouse costume. During the days of December, our class time spent on the production increased. Miss Teacher would go over her need-to-have-done list in class. We all had things we were responsible for, like props and costumes. One student arranged to have his uncle come to the school and cut out a plywood sleigh and a rooftop for the set. The kid who was playing Santa brought in a, store-bought Santa suit. It looked real good. What kind of kid has his own Santa suit? Other students were involved with painting the sets and sleigh as well as pulling on ropes back stage to move Santa, his sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer across the stage as he flew out of sight. There was a lot of activity that seemed to be happening around me, but I didn't take much interest in it other than to offer suggestions on how to make things better. My only responsibility was to have a mouse costume ready for the big day. "How's the mouse costume coming along, Joel?" Miss Teacher would ask. "Good. No problem," I would answer. With a week to go, we started having afternoon rehearsals on stage in the gym. Our teacher would pace across the stage with a copy of the poem in hand. As she read through it, we would all perform our scripted actions. Miss Teacher would read, “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring...” Then I'd walk on stage and take my spot, kind of curled up in a little ball to the front left side of the stage. Then the narration would continue, “not even a mouse...” "If I walk out onto the stage, wouldn't that be considered stirring?" I asked. "That's right," Miss Teacher agreed. "Okay, Joel will already be in his place when I start reading. Then when I say the line, ‘not a
creature was stirring,’ we'll spotlight Joel on the stage." When I heard that, I was instantly excited about the play again. Cool, I thought, I'm going to be spotlighted. Now, I was motivated to make the best mouse costume ever. My part in the play required that I lay on the stage, facing the audience and not stir. Every rehearsal started the same way with Miss Teacher announcing, "Joel, on your spot. Okay, let's start." I had no involvement at all from that point on. On the second rehearsal, I asked if it would be okay if I faced the opposite direction. That way, I could watch the rehearsal as I did not stir. Miss Teacher granted my request, reminding me, though, to remember to face the audience when we performed the live production. I had to lay on the stage from the beginning of the rehearsal through to the end without moving a muscle. I got to watch all the goingson: the choreography of the dance of the sugar-plum fairies, the logistics of getting Santa from out on the front lawn and up to the rooftop, and then for Santa, the sleigh, and the eight tiny reindeer to fly out of sight. In all honesty, I don't recall a lot of the details, and although there was a lot of activity, I'll admit to possibly dozing off during a rehearsal or two. So I remember thinking to myself, don't look like you had no idea it was today, when Miss Teacher said, "Today is the big day, dress rehearsal this morning and then the concert this afternoon. Everybody get into your costumes and let's go down to the gym… Joel, where is your mouse costume?” "I forgot it at home," I lied. "That's okay,” Miss Teacher said. “Make sure you bring it when you return this afternoon after lunch." During the dress rehearsal, Miss Teacher was all over everyone. "Dance! Dance, sugarplum fairies! You have to be jollier. Santa! Shake that belly like a bowl full of jelly. Do this, this way! Do that, that way!" This went on
and on and on and on—blah blah blah. I hurried straight home at the lunch break. As I came through the door, Mom called out, "What do you want for lunch?" In my family, that meant, what flavor of Campbell's soup do you want? "No time to eat today. I have to make my costume." "Costume?" Mom inquired. "Yeah… costume… Can I use this cereal box?” "What do you need a costume for?" Mom asked. "It's for the play. Where's the tin foil?” "Play! What play?" Mom asked. That was her thing, always with the questions. Mom was starting to get flustered, so I calmly explained to her, "It's the big Christmas Concert at school. It's this afternoon, and I have to make a costume to wear in the production.” “I didn't hear anything about a Christmas Concert,” my mom said. “Why wouldn't they have said something sooner?” "I know," I said, "I just found out about it this morning. That's why I have to get this costume together now. I need something to make a tail with." I went from room to room gathering all the things I needed to make my costume. I piled all the materials I had gathered on the kitchen table and began to work. I cut large circles out of the cereal box, then covered them entirely with tin foil, thus completing the ears. I used a pair of my sister's brown leotards to make my tail. By stuffing one leg with T-shirts and tying the other leg around my waist, my tail was then taken care of. For the nose, I attached rubber bands to a toilet paper roll which I covered in tin foil. Then I made whiskers by rolling ten-inch lengths of tin foil into rope. Everything was brought together by wearing a brown turtleneck sweater and brown pants. The only thing left for me to do in order to complete my mouse costume was to figure out how to attach the mouse ears to my head and the tinfoil-nose to my face. I stretched the rubber band around
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my head so that my toilet-roll/tinfoil-nose was firmly in place over my actual nose. I tucked a few whiskers under the toilet-roll. Two thick rubber bands were pretty much stretched around my head. It was a bit painful, and I'm sure I cut off the blood flow to my brain, but the show must go on. Next I tried to attach my tinfoil-ears by utilizing the rubber bands stretched across my cheeks. When I did this, my toilet-roll/tinfoil-nose failed. Good thing, too, because I was just about to pass out from the rubber bands stretched around my head, so I tossed the toilet-paper-roll-nose and fashioned one out of a large sheet of tin foil rolled into a cone. Time was running down. I went and changed into my brown shirt and pants. The rest of the costume would come together. I was pretty pleased with the whole thing. The tin foil would sparkle and shine in the spotlight. l'll probably be the star of the whole concert. Dazzling, I thought to myself. "Mom, I need some gum so I can attach my nose." "What the hell is that?" Mom asked. "It's my costume for the play." "What are you supposed to be?" "A mouse! See? Here's my tail; those are the ears, and this is the nose. I'm not sure how I'm going to attach the ears to my head, but I can just push the nose on like this…if I had some gum," I explained. "Well I don't have any gum. You kids go through my purse and take all my gum. Get your teacher to help you with it. You better get going or you'll be late for school. I wasted a can of soup, cooking for you. They have a concert and don't tell anybody until the day of the concert. I can't believe they would do that. What's the matter with people? Why would they have a concert in the afternoon? Doesn't anybody in this neighborhood work? Are they stupid? What's the matter with people? You didn't even have time to eat. Get going or you'll be late. You used all of my tin foil. Now I have to buy more tin foil. You kids think I'm made of money, and don't you forget to bring your
sister's leotards back..." Mom was still ranting while I was half way down the block. When I arrived back at school, the teacher had the costumed students lined up and was fussing with their costumes. She was fitting antlers on some poor kid's head when she spotted me. "Where's your costume," she snapped at me. "It's in the bag," I held it up triumphantly. "Go put it on. Hurry up," The classroom had a cloak room / coat room /coltrume—I was never quite sure what they called that area. The only time I heard the word said in a sentence was, "Joel, go sit in the cloak room / coat room /coltrume.” I knew what was meant. I just didn't know what word was said. It was usually spoken in a higher pitched voice and at an increased volume. I knew instinctively it wasn't a good time to ask, "How do you pronounce that name?” As luck would have it, I found a black head band in the C room. I'll use it to attach my ears somehow. I was already wearing the shirt and pants, so I just had to tie my tail in place and attach the ears to the head band. That being done, the last thing to do was to find a way for the nose and whiskers to stay in place. "Ask your teacher to help you,” Mom had said, so I walked out into the classroom to ask. "I need a little help with getting my nose and whiskers to stay in place." I almost had to shout to be heard. Miss Teacher was hollering, "No-No-NoNo-No." I quickly searched the room to see what it was that had disturbed her so. I didn’t see anything going on that would upset her. Everything checked out. I looked back at Miss Teacher, but she was already on top of me. "What is that?" she shrieked. "M-m-me? M-m-my mouse cost—" I started, but she just went back to hollering. "No-no-no-no! This isn't happening. We have less than five minutes. No-no-no-no-no!" I took a step back, and, with the ears in one hand and the nose in the other, I held them in place to demonstrate. "See! A mouse." I added
a little "eek eek" to sell the whole concept. Then as fast as she was upon me, she was gone. Miss Teacher was flying through the supply cupboard pulling out paper and tape; her hands were a blur. She called me over. When I got there, she started wrapping paper around my head; then she started into cutting paper. As she worked, she was muttering, "Whoever heard of a mouse with silver ears? We have to be on stage in less than five minutes. I can't believe this." In seven seconds she had the ears done and attached. Next, Miss Teacher asked me a question that made me think she had lost her mind. She asked, "Where is the rest of your costume?" "It's all here," I said calmly, the way you would respond to a suicidal bridge jumper. "No-no-no-no-no! Where is your mouse suit? You should be wearing a mouse suit." "I am," I answered, adding a self-displaying gesture to attract her eyes to my completely brown attire. "No-no-no-no-no! You should be wearing a mouse suit, gray, with a tail." "Well, I'm a brown mouse, and here's my tail." Then I proudly held up my T-shirt stuffed leotard tail. There was a knock at the door. The door popped open a crack and someone said, “We need you all on stage.” Seconds later, Miss Teacher had us all walk down the hallway towards the gym while making and dressing me in her mouse creation as we walked. She pressed tape onto my face trying to attach the nose she had remade. She wasn't even looking at me as she pressed tape into my eyes. She didn't seem to care that I couldn't see. Miss Teacher grabbed hold of my hand and half-guided, half-dragged me to my spot on stage where my nose promptly fell off. I picked up the nose and handed it up to Miss Teacher. “My nose fell off—ppppffft, ppppft," I spat, blowing dangling strips of tape which were now hanging down from my eye sockets. Miss Teacher yanked the tape from my face 13
and handed me back the nose and hissed, "Just hold it with your hand. We have to start." As she walked away, I heard her mutter, "I've never heard of a brown mouse." Just then the curtain began to open. Miss Teacher began. “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…” I was trying to adjust my vision to the low light. I held my eyes open as wide as I could and still couldn't see a thing. “Not creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” Just then, BAM! I was blinded by this brighter-than-the-surface-of-the-sun spot light. I held my eyes shut tightly and tried my best not to stir. Crap, I dropped my nose. I gathered it up quickly and held it back in place. There was a sound of muffled laughter. I lay there with my eyes closed, not stirring. Something funny must have happened, but I couldn't see what. I was a bit disappointed that my tin foil creation didn't make it to the stage. Oh how the light would have been reflected back into the audience for all to rejoice in its splendor. The show must go on, and so it did. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” During all the rehearsals I was able to watch all the action as Miss Teacher read through the poem, but today I was facing the audience with my eyes closed and all of the action went on behind me. Still I wanted to see what was going on. I attempted to open my eyes a couple of times, but the spotlight was blinding and painful, so I kept my eyes shut. I formulated a plan to enable me to see as I lay there not stirring. I would shade my eyes with my left hand, which was currently holding my nose on my face, then quickly employ my right hand to hold my nose in place. Okay, 12- 3—switch. Now, with my left hand acting as a sun shield, I was slowly able to open my eyes. There was another outburst of muffled laughter. Something must have gone on behind me again.
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Soon I was able to regain my vision and focus. I was shocked to find the gym was full of people—not just students, but actually real people. Was my mom right? Doesn't anybody in this neighborhood work? Miss Teacher plowed through the poem. “In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…” It was killing me not to see the action on stage. I stirred just a bit, just enough to turn my head to see behind me. The sugar-plum fairies were dancing their collective hearts out. That's when I noticed that my tail was lying behind me, out of sight of the audience. I would have to fix that. I moved quickly so that nobody would notice that I stirred. I reached back and pulled my tail up towards my face. I totally screwed the move up. I let my nose fall off again and whacked it a couple feet away with my tail which I pulled too hard. Another outburst of muffled laughter arose from the audience. After I shoved the nose back in front of my face, I glanced over at Miss Teacher. She was glaring right at me, but still reading through the poem. “When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter…” The show must go on. I stirred. I figured it was okay; there was still a lot of poem to go. I would be extra still from here on. Soon it occurred to me that Miss Teacher forgot to re-make my whiskers. I felt bad about that. It was as if the audience was being cheated. I was watching to see if Miss Teacher would look my way again. I was going to mouth the words, you forgot my whiskers. When she did finally look my way, it was only to flash me another angry glare. I decided it was best to just not stir. I closed my eyes again. Lying on stage motionless with my eyes closed, I listened to Miss Teacher read through the poem, and soon I drifted off to sleep. The next thing I knew, the audience was applauding, and we were being directed to line up on stage and take a bow. My nose was
laying on the stage next to a small puddle of drool. Our entire cast was supposed to yell the last two lines of the poem: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight. I missed that part. I picked up my nose as I stood up to take a bow, at the same time wiping the puddle of drool by spreading it with my foot. Our play was a success. A classmate and friend of mine named Joyce asked me as we walked home together that afternoon, "Were your mom and dad at the Christmas Concert?" "No, my dad works, and my mom didn't even know about it." Then Joyce asked, "Didn't you give her one of the invitations we made?" Instantly I recalled my uncompleted invitations. I had tucked them away inside my cluttered desk drawer a month or so ago and had forgotten all about them, until now. "Yes, Joyce... Yes, of course I did."
And Joyce smiled at me as she walked up To her house. “Merry Christmas, Joel. You were a real cute mouse”
By Cathe Ferguson
What giant birds are these called trees with feathers in their arms and knees that flap and flit and flip and flutter as to the wind they chirp and sputter? Although they stretch into the sky they will not, cannot, do not fly. What tall birds are these so green that into forest paths they lean upon one leg against ravines where a liquid ribbon intervenes? Although they sway and rant with ease they cannot move away these trees. What kind of birds are these with leaves that lift and spread with every breeze yet never lift a wing to flight but perch in one spot day and night? Although they reach above our heads, upon the ground they make their beds. What awesome birds these bottle trees and candlebarks and coral trees that flock in forests sparse or dense, far or near to path or fence. Although their feathers are called leaves, what giant birds are these called trees!
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By William Leet In her eighty-fourth year and the last of her life before the nursing home, Delia took twice weekly sessions of aromatherapy to cure what she called the metallic dyspepsia. She didn’t know much about the ailment except that it confused her words, stole parts of her memory, and caused a ringing in her ears much of the time. Before it got too bad, her son took her to the doctor, who diagnosed a condition called metal poisoning. That made no sense to Delia and didn’t sound like it made much sense to the doctor, either. He called it uncharted territory and recommended a series of long, expensive treatments. The truth was, since her husband Javier’s death at 9:30 Tuesday morning on July seventeenth, fourteen months earlier, Delia’s whole life had become uncharted territory. From the day he died, she forgot how to bake pies, and a week later got lost walking to her best friend Katherine’s house only three blocks away. She’d been walking to Katherine’s house for fourteen years. Now the streets all looked different. On that Friday, Delia set out for Katherine’s with clear purpose. Her thoughts bubbled with a recipe and the items on a grocery list, and if a coconut cake was a better choice for Katherine’s upcoming birthday party. They had talked earlier of a lemon cake, but thinking about it now, coconut sounded better. It wasn’t always easy to grate fresh coconut with the
arthritis in her fingers, but she could get the packaged kind and hope no one would notice. Turning the corner, she decided she would also make a surprise pecan pie. Walking along with a steady pace, Delia looked up to see an unfamiliar house. She stopped and examined the house before turning her attention to the one across the street. She wondered when they had painted it that unfamiliar blue. A strange woman worked on her hands and knees in the flowerbed by the front porch. Delia walked the half block back to the corner where she stopped and looked at each of the corner houses, searching for the one with a boat parked in the front yard. A half hour later, confused and worn out from walking up and down the same street three times, Delia sat crying on porch steps that she knew weren’t Katherine’s. Her friend had a sea grape tree in the yard. More than anything else, she was embarrassed to be teary-eyed and befuddled on a stranger’s front steps. It wasn’t long before a woman stepped out onto the porch, surprised at the sight of Delia. A younger woman, she was dressed in a well-worn blue kimono and had little silver bells dangling from her ears. She leaned over to get a better look at the woman sitting on her steps, and then slowly sat down beside Delia, putting an arm around her shoulders. Her name was Estelle and in time, she
became for Delia an angel sent from Javier. Whatever it was she gave to Delia, it could not be measured on charts, or clarified by explanations bounded in logic. Delia drew comfort from the woman’s quiet assurance. Later, after the start of Delia’s aromatherapy, Estelle would take no payment, more often than not sending the old woman off with a pot of soup or an armful of flowers from her backyard garden. Estelle was unmarried and lived alone, though to Delia’s eyes people were always coming and going, sometimes even husbands picking up a sweet-smelling potion for their housebound wives, or wives picking up bright bottles of extract to bring the bloom back to their cheeks. Delia didn’t think her “perfume doctor” ever had time to be lonely what with all the people coming by. From the day she ended up lost on Estelle’s steps, it became her custom to visit Estelle every Tuesday and Friday morning for an hour of aromatherapy treatment. These days soon became the best of her week. At those times, her confusion was less, her memory more resilient. Delia now had no thought of doctors in white coats with cold instruments and rooms decorated with college diplomas. She would tell anyone who asked that she had the finest doctor in town. The first Tuesday after meeting Estelle, Delia walked the two blocks to her house, arriving as Estelle was watering pots of geraniums that colored her porch in splashes of red, purple and pink. “Estelle? It’s Delia. Is this a good time for you?” She waited shyly halfway up the walk, unsure if the young woman was expecting her. Estelle paused with the watering can extended and spoke. “There you are, Delia. Of course, it’s a good time. Come on up on the porch and have a seat. I’ve made some tea…Come on up.” Delia stepped onto the porch and saw a small, green-painted wicker table. Two wicker
chairs, fluffy with big cushions patterned in bright cabbage roses sat on either side. On the table, a teapot steamed between two cups and a small plate of cookies. Estelle held both hands out in welcome, “Delia, you've got the most beautiful apple cheeks. Do you like herb tea? Let’s sit out in this wonderful fresh air and have some tea while we get to know each other. I’m happy you came.” “I like a cup of tea, but these days can’t ever get over to the store that has the one I like. I can’t drive the car, and it seems when Roger comes I always forget to ask him to drive me. Katherine takes me in her car sometimes.” “Well, I’ll tell you what, you write the name of the tea you like on a slip of paper and I’ll pick it up for you when I’m at the store.” “I’ll write it down if you’re sure that’s okay.”
Z But that was then. Delia now had a different doctor, an unsmiling, matter of fact man in thick-framed glasses, with little faith in unconventional notions of scented candles and other remedies that smacked of metaphysics, avant-garde diets, and holistic healing. He looked at Delia in a way that seemed to go beyond the reach of his probing fingers, his eyes magnified by the glasses, the press of his stethoscope against her heart a cold eye probing the secrets inside. Delia could never remember his name and felt uncomfortable under the cold and clinical inspection, never confident that his concern put her past the category of another specimen. After Javier’s death, her memory lapses and confusion became more frequent, and the simple actions of caring for herself each day grew more difficult, and then one day they banished Estelle and took Delia to a place where she didn’t know anyone. She didn’t
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know when it happened--couldn’t remember how long ago it was. The symptoms of that mysterious metal poisoning were finally overwhelmed by the more voracious symptoms of old age. In Delia’s memory, she lived in a small house in Edgewater with her husband Javier. Their three children were grown and living a thousand miles apart in different worlds. In the autumn of their life together, Javier and Delia had discovered the little cottage not too many miles from the sea, and lived a happy retirement there. Delia adored the feel of a sea wind against her hair, a thick, silvery white mane that caught the breeze, giving off a lemony fragrance that made Javier yearn to press his face into it. They moved north to live in the cottage a year before the youngest boy went off to school in California. Even from childhood Elián had been something of an odd boy, and after high school had settled on a music school out in California, one that taught the unusual art of artistic whistling. Choosing a college that boasted of a sixty-member chorus of artistic whistlers sounded strange, but mother and father were pleased enough that the boy had a gift that made him happy, and they wouldn’t dream of threatening that happiness with lectures about more practical fields of study. Elián had been out in California for years now, returning to Edgewater briefly once every year or two. The second boy, Esteban, was in everyone but Delia’s eyes a dropout, a son who moved and changed telephone numbers more frequently than an undercover agent. Esteban rarely came to Edgewater, failing even to appear for his father’s funeral and for much of the time no one knew how to reach him, or if he were keeping life and limb together. Delia heard things from the other boys but chose to label those stories rumors. Roger was three years older than
Esteban, and still lived in Miami. He was a good son, and a month never passed that he didn’t spend time with his mother and father at the cottage in Edgewater. It was the highlight of Delia’s month to shop and cook for Roger on those days he spent with them. Knowing his love for pork with papaya-mango salsa, she had Javier drive her in their widehipped old Buick to the Cuban market on Dixie Highway where she could get the ingredients she needed to cook for her son. A year after his father died, witnessing his mother’s quickening decline, and having to admit that she was unable to any longer look after herself, Roger made the decision to put his mother in a nearby facility. He described it to his mother and himself as a rest home. Its official name was Ocean View Nursing & Rehabilitation.
Z Before Ocean View, Delia relaxed, comfortable in the snug armchair in Estelle’s sunroom. The walls and floor flickered with light weaving a pathway through the leaves and branches of the mimosa tree which rustled against the window. The light itself became an ointment, an elixir for the mind. Through half-closed eyes Delia watched the sunlight dance on her lap and hummed remembered bits of song from before her marriage to Javier. Estelle stood behind her at a work counter with a hotplate, bottles of oil, and rows of tiny brown bottles holding scented essences. She heated a small amount of sweet almond oil, adding at the last moment two or three small drops of lavender essence. The fragrance was still faint and barely diffused into the room when Estelle put soft hands against Delia’s temples and with slight pressure moved them down to her jawline, then to her neck. Delia felt at once the oil’s warmth and caught the
stirring scent of lavender. A flicker of light, trembling and temporary ignited in exquisite clarity a spark of memory from a time years ago. “I was a young girl with flowers in her hair. My father was manager of the Hotel Inglaterra on the Paseo del Prado, and we lived on milk and honey in a house of yellow stone, built between two hills in the west of the city.” Wrinkles of sunlight in her lap flickered and resettled themselves across the rusty pattern of her dress. “At my father’s hotel there was a young man who worked on some days at the front desk. He was a good boy, an excellent worker and my father’s favorite. Many times Papá asked him to come and work at the hotel full time, but the young man always declined. He was taking classes at the university and dreaming of one day becoming a lawyer.” Words came slower now, a rationed flow as if anticipating a closing door. “…He was my father’s favorite, but what Papá did not know was that he was also my favorite.” Delia’s eyes focused on a wobbly sphere of sunlight near her shoe. “His name was Javier and I felt certain we were meant to fall in love. … Dónde puse las cartas?” Estelle’s hands had stopped moving, caught by surprise at the spill of words. Then fearful that the stillness of her fingers might silence Delia, she continued gently massaging lavender oil into Delia’s temples and forehead, waiting for the story to continue. A minute passed, but there was nothing more from Delia about the young girl with flowers in her hair. The shifting light reformed into other shapes; the memories faded. Estelle leaned over and spoke softly into Delia’s ear. “Please try to keep those thoughts for now. I’m going to raise your feet onto the cushions here and let you sit for a while in this room.” She arranged a mound of pillows at the front of Delia’s chair. “Can you lift your feet up and put them on these pillows? I’ll leave you to rest for a few minutes. Try to think
about the girl with flowers in her hair.” On a table near Delia’s chair, Estelle placed a small candle. It sat on a purple dish, the flame small and unwavering, and like the oil, carrying a faint fragrance of lavender. Left alone in the light-dappled room beside the mimosa tree, Delia struggled to remember the girl and the flowers, but things came and went, and scratching at her memory opened no windows. And so, she sat in the chair waiting for Estelle’s return, her mind bumping against a shuttered past. For the remainder of that Tuesday after leaving Estelle’s, Delia wandered around her house, moving from room to room, peering inside first one carved wooden box, then another, turning through the pages of books and looking up at closet shelves now out of reach. Her movements were fretful and at times agitated, and her mumbled words more and more punctuated by Spanish. She was looking for something, but if asked, would be unable to say what it was, only that when she saw it she would know. “Delia! You in there, honey?” Katherine knocked on the door, peering in through the screen. “It’s Katherine. I’m gonna come on in, okay? Where are you, out in the back?” She passed through the living room into a small hall leading to the kitchen, where she found Delia stirring a big bowl of what looked like cake mix. From the doorway she looked around a kitchen powdered and hazy with flour dust, at spills of milk and egg yolk, butter sizzling on a hot skillet, and at Delia, so intent upon her mixing bowl she had not noticed Katherine in the doorway. The sparkly grit under Katherine’s feet told a story of spilled sugar. “Delia?” Katherine took a few steps into the kitchen and reached over to turn off the flame under the burning butter. “Looks like you’re making a cake. Can I help? Nobody makes a better cake and I’ve been wanting to
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know your secret.” “I’m sorry, Katherine. I didn’t know you were here. Come on and sit down. I’ll make some coffee. I got all tangled up making this cake and my ears must’ve just turned off.” “No, no, I’ll make the coffee, honey.” Katherine picked up a cloth by the sink and wiped the flour and spills off the table. “Sit down here at the table and take a rest.” She wiped a smear of flour off Delia’s apple-red cheek and spooned coffee into the filter. “There’s some lemon pie in the refrigerator Estelle made. She brought it over yesterday. You ought to get her to show you how to make pies. I can’t make pies anymore.” “What kind of cake you making?” “I can’t remember now. I guess a coconut cake. That’s the one I make the best, the one Javier likes.” She opened the refrigerator and took out the lemon pie. “Just got it in my head to make a cake this morning.” “Cut me just a little sliver, Delia. I can’t eat much.” The two friends sat with their coffee and pie at the kitchen table, enjoying an hour of aimless talk and the simple comfort of being together. Katherine began cleaning up the interrupted mess of Delia’s cake making while Delia sat at the table talking about the day Javier came home with a 1955 Buick, proud as a peacock and talking about something he called Dynaflow.
Z Two days later, Delia sat on Estelle’s front porch looking out at an overcast sky, rain dripping from the overhanging limbs. Estelle stood behind Delia combing drops of lemon oil through her thick white hair. Delia balanced a cup of tea in her lap, the warmth of the cup slowly loosening the joints in her fingers. There were mornings now for the first few
hours after getting up when her hands were tightened by the ache of arthritis. Estelle had given her some valerian oil to rub into the joints, and sometimes she massaged Delia’s hands with another of her oils. She didn’t know the name of that one. She never said it out loud, but her favorite remedy was to sit with either Estelle or Katherine and hold onto a hot cup of tea.
“Javier wrote the most beautiful letters. Sometimes I thought he copied them out of books, maybe even some parts of Shakespeare plays. But he was a writer, you know, and words just came easy when he picked up his old Montblanc fountain pen.” Delia turned the cup in her hands, watching slight ripples in the pale, gold tea. “It was a gift from his grandfather when he graduated from Universidad de La Habana.” Delia half turned in her chair, taking hold of Estelle’s hand. “Did I give that fountain pen to Roger? …Remember to ask him when he comes on Sunday. When we came to this country in 1974 we were lucky and Javier was able to get a job writing for the newspaper. He was a smart man… people recognized that and wanted him to write for their newspaper or magazine.” Estelle, sitting beside her, asked, “Why did you leave Cuba, Delia? Were you not happy there?” “In those days who was happy? There was little money and Javier was in trouble so often
with the authorities because of his articles. Roger was…I forget how old, but smart like his father. He was attending a school that was dismissing its teachers, and this angered Javier. The government called them liberal… Esteban was just a boy… tuvo problemas con el gobierno Comunista. And Elián… only a bambino, a beautiful boy who sang to birds in the garden… Javier said we were threatened. We had the chance and so we left.” Still holding onto Estelle’s hand, Delia was quiet for a few moments before resuming her story. “I have never spoken to anyone of those last days in Havana. May God forgive me; it is a secret I kept all these years from my husband. But who can speak easily of such shameful things? Who can confess that shame to the love of her life, to the man who makes her heart beat with joy? This darkness inside shut tightly behind the love for my husband has been my private demon since the week of our departure from Cuba…I betrayed Javier…in order to obtain the exit visas for our family I betrayed my husband with another man. ” She released Estelle’s hand and pressed the cooling teacup against her face, then placed it on the table. Unable to meet her friend’s eyes, she focused on tracing the delicate pattern of the cup and continued in a small voice. “How do you talk about infidelity to a beloved husband? Many times I thought I would confess my sin to Javier and beg his forgiveness, but each time I was a coward.” Once again rain drummed hard on the roof and from across the street Estelle’s orange tom dashed up onto the porch, stopping at Delia’s feet to lick its rain-slicked fur. Delia stared at the cat for a while before continuing. “In those last weeks our lives were a nightmare of doubts and hopes…fear that some part of our application to leave the country might be questioned, chances crushed by a line left blank, a lie suspected. Javier was still writing
for the magazines and that was a risk. One day he was unable to meet the government official about the tarjeta blanca, so I went in his place to answer the next round of questions. I was shown into the office of a man we had never seen before. Right away he made me uncomfortable with roaming eyes…una sonrisa más lasciva que funcionario. For a time he looked at the file, sometimes frowning and mumbling about a problem, but then told me he could guarantee the approval under one condition. I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he wanted. How could I explain this to my husband?” Delia rose quickly from the chair and moved toward the steps. “I have to find those letters. I am sorry Estelle, I have to go home now.” “It’s raining, Delia. Wait just a minute and I’ll bring an umbrella and walk with you back to the house. Is that okay?” During the slow walk to Delia’s house, the warm drizzle made a dull patter on Estelle’s big golf umbrella, splashing on the sidewalk and onto their legs. Huddled together under the nylon bowl of green and white, Estelle listened to Delia’s recollection of a telephone conversation with her son the week before. “I thought I was seventy-four years old. I was talking on the telephone with Roger about my doctor’s appointment, I think. There was something else, too, maybe about my grocery list, but I think we talked for a long time. And then Roger asked me how old I was, and I said I was seventy-four. He said, ‘Mamá, I think you’re wrong about that. You’re eightyfour…’ I told Katherine the next day that was the longest phone call I ever had, that it lasted ten years. I was seventy-four when it started and eighty-four when I hung up.” Estelle lost her grip on the umbrella laughing at the story, and the two of them stood there, faces shiny with rain, laughing together. When they reached Delia’s house, Estelle
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went in behind her friend, saying she wanted to use the bathroom. It was merely an excuse to have a look around, to assure her that Delia was looking after things, that all was in a condition not to endanger the elderly woman. Delia seemed distracted and, pointing Estelle to the bathroom, went immediately into the back bedroom. Estelle looked around the living room. Nothing struck her as out of order, but she thought it odd that half the room seemed spotless, almost shining with polish, while corners and some surfaces were thick with dust. The wide-armed easy chair with its side table and lamp were pristine, the pipe resting on the magazine still shiny with the patina of longtime use. Slowly Estelle unzipped the leather pouch beside it, and, raising it to her face, felt the twinge of guilty surprise at a remembered scent of Javier’s fresh, moist tobacco rising from the burning twists and
strands in his pipe into the air of her bedroom. The floor around the chair was scrubbed and bright with wax, standing out as an amber glow of life in the wake of a husband’s death. The framed photograph of Delia and Javier caught her eye, another shiny refuge in the accumulated dust. A slice of sunlight fell across the dusty sofa, catching the mass of chrome on the bulky car behind the two. Estelle reached out to the picture and placed the tip of her finger on Javier’s face. Peering into the refrigerator and cupboards
in Delia’s less than tidy kitchen, Estelle saw little that could sustain a person for long—a large bag of sugar, a pound of white flour, butter, a few eggs, an unopened bag of grated coconut. The refrigerator’s vegetable bin held a half-eaten cheese sandwich on a yellow plate. On the floor, she found a cellophanewrapped caramel, one from a package she had given Delia the week before. Delia was on hands and knees at the door of her bedroom closet pulling an assortment of shoes and shoeboxes out into the room. She was speaking Spanish, something Estelle recognized as a familiar sign of Delia’s confusion. “Dónde puse las cartas?… Dónde puse las cartas? ” Estelle knelt beside Delia. “What are you looking for? Let me help you. Tell me what to look for.” “Ohhh, Estelle… I can’t find Javier’s letters. They are here, I know they are here, I put them here by the bed and now they have fallen away somewhere, I don’t know. I can’t find the letters.” Estelle helped the old woman onto the bed, whispering assurances that were uncertain at best, but worked to bring some calm to Delia’s turmoil. “Rest here for a while and then I’ll help you find those letters.” In a bare whisper she said, “Would you ask Javier to rub my feet?” Later that day, Estelle telephoned Delia’s friend Katherine, explaining what she found, what she saw, and wondering if somebody shouldn’t call her son Roger. Katherine said she had the number, would call him that night, and that she would meet Estelle at Delia’s house the next morning. Estelle thought she would go to the store for some groceries and later spend a couple of hours cleaning Delia’s house.
Z Delia was unwilling to leave the little house in Edgewater after her husband’s death, wouldn’t agree to move away, to leave behind the reminders of Javier, the rooms still colored by lingering shades and smells of her husband. On a day that Roger had come to visit, she had shaken her head, lips compressed into a straight line, refusing to go and live with him in Miami. But living alone became increasingly difficult, and little by little, Delia lost her way—lost the will or desire to take care of herself. Time, despite the tick of clocks and calendar squares, was a forgotten concept— just another undefined confusion among the names and unnamed objects that swirled in the fog of her days and brought nighttime dreams she swore were real. She wasn’t sure when it was, but one day Roger brought her here, to this larger house with unfamiliar people, and now she couldn’t find the house in Edgewater, though she looked for it every day. Roger came from Miami to visit and took her in his car to see the house, but when she saw people she didn’t know through the windows it upset her. She sat in the car twisting a tissue into shreds, cried, and wouldn’t let go of Roger when he held her. So now, she roamed the hallways of the Ocean View nursing home in her wheelchair, her still-thick mane of white hair falling in tangles around her face and shoulders. More than once, she entered someone’s room and startled them, and asked that they comb her hair or rub her feet. It was usually Baby Clyde, the nurse’s aide, who came and collected her. Mention of his name was usually enough to stop Delia, he being the only one in the nursing home who had found some small clear window into her confusion. She responded to none of
the other aides. Last week she returned to the room with a bottle of medicine found on a table in another room. She was unscrewing the top when Jewel called out. “Don’t you drink that, Delia! That’s somebody’s medicine, not for you.” “I know, it’s my husband’s medicine, and he had to take it every day.” Jewel got herself over to Delia and put a hand over the bottle. “Delia, come on now and give me that medicine so Baby Clyde can take it back. It’s got somebody’s name on it, there.” “It’s probably my husband’s name.” “Stop now. You want some graham crackers and peanut butter?” Jewel knew that her roommate liked the crackers, because just last week she’d stolen a plate full of them off Jewel’s table. “Well, I might try one. They sound good. Would you rub my feet?” Jewel slipped the bottle of medicine out of Delia’s hand and said, “I’ll ask the nurse about that when she comes.” “Why?” “She’ll be coming to get this medicine after I push the button. Now you sit here while I go over there and get you one or two of my crackers and peanut butter.” She brought the crackers over to Delia on a paper towel. Putting it down in her lap, she said, “You ain’t seen my Bible, have you? I know I had it in that drawer by my bed last night.” Delia looked at Jewel with eyes that made no connection to Bible or peanut-butter crackers. She was quiet again, lost somewhere among the shifting bits of memory that held the house in Edgewater and her husband Javier, the man who rubbed her feet and combed her hair for all those years. She was sure it was all still there in her house if she could just find it.
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By Wendy Van Camp
Dreams sometimes happen at the most unexpected moments in life. When I was twelve years old, I saw the movie Star Wars at the local drive-in and found myself fascinated not only by the story and the special effects of the film but also by the fast-paced new editing style of the film’s director. From that day forward, I had a dream of being a director myself. It made me more attentive of my writing in high school, and when I went to college, I selected a university that had a reputable film school, much to my parents’ chagrin. During my second year of film school, I was given the opportunity to intern at a local cable station that produced programming for the community. I felt excited by the opportunity and wanted to immerse myself in their program to gain the hands-on experience I needed before seeking a career in the entertainment industry. The cable station ran on intern power. We provided free labor as grips, camera operators, chryon operators, and the technical directing of the live talk shows that were the staples of the studio while the few paid staffers oversaw the operation. There were two live talk shows produced by the studio: one shot on Monday night and the other on Wednesday night. The Wednesday night program was a fun entertainment show highlighted with interesting local guests and a loud boisterous director that kept everyone in stitches with his jokes. All of us interns wanted to work on this show because it was fun to be on the set, but because of this, there were limited
opportunities to find a crew position available and to gain the hands-on experience we were all there for. I would often be told by the director, “We just don’t have room for you this week, Wendy. Maybe next time.” I suffered disappointment when I was told that, but I was determined to continue to apply for crew. My reward was that once in a while I would find a position as a cable puller or a camera operator out on the floor. The control room seemed out of my reach Wednesday nights. The other program was a sleepy political talk show that often had problems gaining guests; the host would sometimes give historical or political lectures to fill the allotted half hour. The director of the political program had trouble finding crew since most of us had trouble staying awake during this program. I was approached personally by the director to join his crew. He played on my sympathy by telling me how shorthanded he was and asked me for my help. I agreed to become a regular crewmember on Monday nights.
Six months later, I had progressed from being on the camera, to working as a floor manager, and finally assigned to the control room. On this particular Monday, I was seated at the switcher as technical director, feeling like Mr. Sulu from Star Trek since the blinking lights and the whirl of sound from the equipment reminded me of the command bridge of the Enterprise. I looked into the triple monitors before me. Each monitor displayed a different camera view from the television studio just beyond the heavy insulated windows at the front of the control room. Although we were recording the talk show in color, all the seven inch monitors were black and white. The center monitor was a wide shot of the two people, the host and his guest, seated in chairs with a low table before them. This camera was locked on the tripod, unmoving once it had been set, and unmanned. We jokingly referred to the camera as Larry Lockdown. The other two monitors had closer shots, one of the host and one of the guest. Occasionally, the camera operator would be asked to switch to a tighter two-shot or to shoot a graphic card that would be placed on an easel by the floor manager. To my left in the control room was the chyron, a huge metal box of circuits and wires attached to a keyboard and television monitor. The electronic words that were superimposed on our program were created there, and a crew member needed to be available to bring the graphics in on the cue of the director. When we had enough crew, the chyron operator would input the information before the show and then update the graphics on the screen so that I could superimpose the name of the host or guest during the program or any information that the host or guest wished to put on the screen. We did
not have a remote control for the chyron, and the machine was four feet from my station, too far for me to reach. When we did not have enough crew, as was the case that day, I would input the information before the program went live, and the director would scroll to the proper graphic himself during the show and then cue me when to bring the graphic in at the switcher. To my right were the engineering panels where the final images got color mixed and white balanced. These were the largest machines in the studio, being three feet wide and going from floor to ceiling. I was fascinated by the science behind what they did, but the complexities of engineering took more technical knowledge than I possessed at the time. Behind these large machines was a bank of VTRs, huge cassette players that used three-quarter inch U-Matic tapes. UMatic was the analog standard for broadcast quality recording back then; although, tape newcomers such as High-8 or Beta SP were also becoming popular and starting to see integration into our systems. The top deck recorded the live program we were producing that night, and the others were player decks that we used to insert commercials and PSAs during the segment breaks. At the proper time, a tape would be inserted and cued up to three seconds before the start of the commercial block, and then the VTR operator would wait for the directorâ€™s cue to press the start button at the proper time. Digital technology was still a fanciful rumor on the horizon during the mid-eighties, and we were all quite comfortable working in analog format on equipment that by todayâ€™s standards would seem rather antique. The host and his guest were seated on the set, and the floor manager was clipping tiny lavaliere microphones to their shirts.
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The final sound checks were completed. I glanced up at the clock and noted that we had five minutes until the program went live to the city. My director had entered the control room and was making the final checks on the equipment: color and white balance—check, chyron loaded and correct for that day’s program—check, commercial reels lined up on the floor before the VTR bank—check, U-Matic tape labeled with its red record dot in place—check. He loaded the U-Matic tape into the upper VTR and recorded thirty seconds of color bars and five seconds of black. He paused the tape. We were the only two people in the control room since our other two crew members were on the floor as camera operator and floor manager. The clock moved to one minute before seven p.m. The director and I put our bulky earphone and mic headsets on, and I heard the orders both behind me and in the earphones. “Standby to cue talent. Standby to take fade up on camera two.” Our director was not in his chair in the center of the room, but stood beside the VTR rack. From there he would switch on the cablecast so that our program would go live. “Three.” The director started the recording VTR and stepped forward in front of the button that would cablecast the program live on the cable system to thousands of potential viewers in the city. “Two.” I heard the soft click of the button. On the machines to my right, lights came on to indicate that the program was now being cablecasted. My director continued forward and stood behind me at the center of the control room. I always felt nervous at this moment in the count-down. If something went wrong, it would be seen by the entire city.
“One. Fade up to camera two.” I pressed the camera-two button to let the switcher know where to go and used the bar to fade up from black into the image on my middle monitor. My movement was sure and steady, something that I had practiced so that my fades would have the proper timing. “Take graphic.” I pressed the proper button and the name of the program superimposed over the wide shot. “Lose graphic.” The graphic faded away at the press of another button. I heard the director go over to the chyron machine, and he advanced to the next page. The name of our host was displayed. “Standby to cue talent. Standby to dissolve to camera one.” I pressed the button that let the switcher know which camera to take at my command. On the other side of the window, our floor manager was giving hand-cues to the host. “Cue talent and dissolve to one.” I pulled the bar down in a smooth and steady motion, and the program dissolved between the two images. In the studio our host gave the usual scholarly greeting that he did at the start of every program. While we did have the program on in the control room, we kept the volume low so that it would not interfere with our work. I never listened to the program other than to make sure that there was audio being recorded. “Standby to show tag. Tag him.” I pressed the button to bring in the chyron, and the name of our host displayed on the lower third of the screen. “Lose tag.” I heard the chyron advance as the director pressed a few of the keys. “Standby to take three.” I waited for the verbal-cue, this time not bothering to set up the switcher’s board since it was not necessary for a cut between two shots. “Take three.”
The guest of the program was in a medium shot. “Tag him.” I once again pressed the chyron button, and the guest’s name appeared in the lower third of the screen. “Lose tag.” My director moved back to the center of the room, but this time he took his chair a foot or two behind mine. The busywork was completed. For the next eight minutes, things would be simple. We would do cuts between the host and guest, and the director would monitor the audio on the board to my right. Since there were only two people talking on the program, once we set the general levels, there was no additional work to be done. We got by without an engineer to handle the audio board on a regular basis. There would be three segments to the program, each one eight minutes long with two commercial breaks between them. The program had progressed to its middle segment when both the director and I noticed an odor. Since the program was live, I did not look away from the monitors, but I heard the director shift in his chair. “Is that smoke?” I sniffed. A faint smell like burning rubber was in the air. “I smell smoke too.” The director stood. “There is no one else in the building but us. I better check this out. Wendy, take over.” Those final three words echoed in my brain as I froze in my chair and stared at the three monitors before me in utter shock. I was now the director of this live television program with no preparation, other than the months I had spent as a technical director, and completely alone in the control room. It was a good thing that the air conditioning was on, because I’m sure that I would have broken into a sweat otherwise. Don’t panic, I told myself. You can do this.
I took a deep breath and concentrated on the program. When the host asked a question of his guest, I pressed the proper buttons, moved the transition bar, and kept the proper camera on the action. I forgot the voice protocols the first few times, but I recovered my senses within the first few switches on the board and started to give my camera operator and floor manager the cues they needed to do their job on the set. Within a few minutes—which seemed like hours—I began to breathe again. I was directing! And as far as the world outside was concerned, everything looked normal on the air. There was one problem. At the end of the program segment, I would need to fade to black and then take the commercial reel that was at the back of the control room. The VTR decks were too far away in the room for me to cue up the tapes and punch them in while still working the switcher. I started to go over scenarios as to how I was going to be able to throw to the reel, but nothing came to me. I continued to direct the television program, not knowing what I was going to do when the time came to end the segment. One minute to the end of the segment, I gave the one-minute cue to the floor manager. The host was flagged with a hand signal and a cue card on the set. I switched to the host’s camera as he began to do his segment wrap up. What was I going to do about the reel? All I did was stare at the monitors and work the switcher. My mind was a blank. “Commercial reel is cued. On your mark.” It was the voice of the director. I was surprised that he did not take over the program. Instead he stood by the VTR decks waiting for my command, as if he were simply the VTR operator. I had no idea when he had entered the control room or
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how long he had been standing behind me. I issued the commands to the crew as needed to wrap up the segment, cued the proper moment for the reel to play, and then faded the program to black before cutting in the reel. It was over. I had done it! I swiveled in my chair to look at the director, free for the three minutes of the reel before the next segment would begin. In television time, three minutes is close to an eternity. The director smiled at me. “You did a good job there, Wendy. Maybe next week I’ll have you direct another segment of the show?” “I’d like that.” My own face had an answering grin. “So what caused the smoke?” “Oh, someone had left the coffee pot burners on, and one of them had caught on fire.” My director grimaced. “We are all alone here at night. It could have burned the building down! I’ll have to talk to maintenance about it tomorrow.” The company coffee pot was just around the corner from the studio, tucked away in a passage between two empty corridors where it was easy to miss. The commercial break was nearing its end and we needed to get back to putting our live television program on the air. The director took over the program at that point and, to my relief, I was simply the technical director once more. True to his word, the next week I was allowed to direct a full segment of the political show, but under the director’s supervision. The week after that, the director of the popular Wednesday night entertainment show stopped me in the hall. “Why don’t we have you come and direct a segment on my show next week?” I was stunned. I remembered all the times when I was either turned
down to crew or only offered a simple position on that set. I tried not to stammer as I accepted the opportunity, but I suppose that I must have looked rather foolish, because the director just grinned at me. The following week I directed the entertainment program, again under the supervision of an experienced director. I was the envy of the rest of the interns. I did not consider myself a director at that point. I was merely an intern gaining my degree in Radio/Television/Film and still had plenty to learn. Eventually, the cable station would hire me, and this would become my first paid job in the industry. I was hired as a commercial insertion editor—not as a director. However, the title of Director would come to me years later through much hard work and patience. It is funny how this event has stuck in my mind the way that it has over the hundreds of other directing gigs that I performed over the next two decades. I was only the director of the talk show for six minutes, but, in my memory, it seems like it had been hours. It must be true that you don’t forget your first time. I will never forget my baptism by fire into the career of directing live television.
By T. A. McCarthy
Pen ink stains the papers of my mind. Creativity beckons me. Images of perfection bind me, gag me. The soul struggles to be free. Released spirit inspired to create life.
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By Micheal Hanvey I’ll never forget the sleepless Christmas Eves I lay in bed trying to wait for Ole Saint Nick. I heard reindeer bells on every blow of the wind and would almost jump from under my warm quilt when a tree branch scraped the roof! Of course, here in Texas we never had snow, but I still believed in the Magic of Santa’s sled. I also believed he’d get down the chimney we didn’t have, too, because those gifts appeared every year, somehow. But Christmas Eve was not when the Magic began. Back in the fifties, Christmas Magic began the day after Thanksgiving on what we now call Black Friday. Most people stayed home and visited with family while all the big stores stayed closed and decorated for Christmas. Here in Fort Worth, there were Leonard Brothers, Monnigs, Striplings, Cox’s, Ellisons, Red Goose Shoes, and so many other stores downtown. They all had large window displays that had to be made up, and paper was taped over the glass so no one could see until Saturday. It would certainly be terrible if someone else stole your store's window idea. The competition was great, as was the entire town’s eager anticipation to shop. The City couldn’t be outdone either. Outside, there were silver, red, and green tinsel banners hung, and Christmas lights strung from corner to corner, welcoming everyone to the city. This was a time when insurance was real instead of HMOs (Human Misery Options) or PPOs (Pure Painful Options,), and our doctors were paid instead of discounted. Times were simpler then, and people cared
about one another. Anyway, after our relaxing day on Friday, we all would get on the bus and take a ride downtown... Saturday! We stepped off the bus onto tinsel streets and newly decorated windows. We would walk up and down the sidewalks before all the stores opened and window shop. Leonard Brothers had a giant window with the grandest animated Santa Claus and reindeer. He looked almost real, and his mouth moved as he talked to us on the street, inviting us to Toy Town in the basement of the store. At Ellisons, there was a Santa dressed in a man’s suit, tempting us with a waving arm and a winking eye. At Woolworth, a barking dog, dressed in a knitted sweater, looked up at a man and woman in holiday clothes. The windows were marvelous and alluring, and the best thing about them was we would be in each of the stores before the day was over. The first store we went in was Leonard Brothers. I’ll never forget this store and all the marvelous decorations they had throughout. There were aluminum Christmas trees everywhere, with spotlights and colored rotating lenses. And there were tinsel garlands and tree lights strung about between store displays. The store sections I remember most clearly were Toy Land, Sporting Goods, and Music. The Music department had its guitars draped in tinsel garlands, and the men working there would smile from ear to ear when you wanted to play one. In sporting goods, the men were real friendly with the long guns and
would help Granddaddy hold and feel the new weapons. But the department I remember best of all was Toy Land… Wow! When you walked into Toy Land, you were surrounded by a decorated Christmas Wonderland with a train that ran around the top of the twenty-foot walls. First, you would go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what you wanted for Christmas; then you would go ride the train around and around with Toy Land down below on one side and animated elves making toys on the other. Of course, we never looked down into Toy Land where parents were shopping. We were always interested in the small animated spelunkers singing and hammering while making toys. The angel-hair snow around their workshop was so real, and the special toys they made had us feeling like we were at the North Pole.
This Magic ran on and on throughout my younger years, especially when we placed our tree up and hung the lights at home. There was the blue and silver tin star Daddy always put on top of the tree that shone brightly across the living room, as did the tree lights. Our own angel-hair tree-skirt simulated snow under the tree, and I was the one who got to set up Santa’s sleigh and reindeer underneath. It was all so beautiful. There were children at school that tried to tell me that Santa wasn’t real, but I knew different because the Magic was always at our house. Mother and Daddy never let it die. You could see it in their eyes and feel it in their spirit each season, and you could feel it in our home. We knew the real Magic of Christmas was the baby Jesus, and we celebrated Him, but we didn’t let the other Magic fall from the family traditions. Then things changed… It happened the year I turned seventeen. We buried Granddaddy that October. Thanksgiving came around, and we all had our celebration, but we didn’t go downtown on Saturday. Granddaddy wasn’t with us, so it didn’t seem proper. It was 1969, and I was helping my mother put up the tree, and my little sister wanted to set up the Santa Claus and reindeer. Mom asked me to put the star on the tree because Daddy wasn’t feeling well. So I got into the Christmas box and began to look for it. I asked Mom where the tree-topper was. I couldn’t find it. She came in from the kitchen, looked in the box, and picked up the tin star. “It’s right here!” she said and shook her head, surprised that I hadn’t seen it. She handed it to me. I took the old star from her and looked at it, shocked. The blue and silver five-point star was made of thick and thin foils, some of it crushed and missing some plating with a couple of torn points. It was terribly ugly. Just last year, this had been the most
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beautiful tree-topper in the world. What happened to it? “Mom...? Is this the star we’ve always had?” “Yes. It’s the same star you’ve insisted on the last seventeen years.” “I can’t believe it. It has aged so much this year.” “No, it’s looked like that for a long time, son. I told you we needed a new one.” I gently bent and reshaped the star as best as possible, then reached up and gently placed it on the tree top. I worked a bulb inside of it so it would shine. It looked much better then. Diane, my eleven-year-old sister, came into the room with Santa and his sleigh, but something was wrong. The sleigh was tarnished gold with a broken runner. Santa was twice as large as the sleigh. Only two reindeer fit the harness, and two more reindeer were twice that size with broken antlers. The reindeer that stood in front with the red nose was smaller than any of the others, and it had no antlers at all. The last little reindeer had a silver harness and was covered gaudily with green glitter. I looked at the concoction as she placed the setup under the tree. They were hideous! Diane stood up with a smile from ear to ear. “Look, Santa’s coming!” She was so excited. Then she was off to her room. I walked into the kitchen. “Mom, where did that contraption come from?” She looked under the tree and said, "That’s your Santa and reindeer, honey. You should recognize it; you’ve put it under the tree every year.” I studied the setup, puzzled because I didn’t remember this Santa and reindeer. The one I remembered had an all-silver sleigh, with six tiny reindeer and a Santa that sat in the sleigh. This Santa couldn’t do anything but stand beside the sleigh. I voiced this to Mom.
She turned toward me and said, “Son, you’ve grown up… you’ve lost the Magic of a child’s eye. Don’t lose the Magic. Remember. Always remember!” I looked into her eyes and realized a child’s eyes were something easily lost. I hadn't been conscious mine had existed, and now they were gone. It has taken me years to re-attain those eyes, and sometimes they still must be coaxed by others. It’s not that I don’t yearn for them; it’s the troubles of the times—gas prices, food prices, lost jobs, war—they all come with their own set of problems. But I'm reminded that our parents had their problems in those years also, similar in nature and just as stressful. Daddy’s gone on now, too, but this Christmas was easier. I put lights in the Bradford Pear tree outside of our house and hung large outdoor ornaments down from it so our neighbor’s children could see some of the Magic. Tonight when I get home from work, the lights will remind me of my childhood, Santa’s sleigh under the tree, and our old blue and silver tin star that shone brightly for seventeen years in our home. It is a nice memory—and warm.
By Brad Hainsworth “Steven! Ben! Where are you? Why’s the hose running?” “Oh crap.” Steven popped up over the dirt-encrusted mound sitting on the diningroom table and scowled at his younger brother. “You didn’t turn it off?” Ben looked up and frowned. “Me? You’re the one who turned it on.” “I was carrying the volcano inside.” “And I was holding the door open, like you told me to.” The screen door rattled. Steven gave Ben a warning look and put his finger to his lips. He dropped back into his chair and assumed an innocent expression while focusing his attention on the volcano in front of him. The trailer door opened, and Steven stole a glance out of the corner of his eye. Their father walked in carrying a sack of groceries and a gallon of milk. “When are you two going to be responsible for once?” Their father dropped the groceries on the counter. “Water isn’t free, you know.” “Sorry,” Steven and Ben mumbled in unison. Steven shifted nervously in his chair, still not looking over at his father. “Sorry doesn’t cut it, Steven.” Steven could feel his father’s glare boring into the side of his head. “Do you need me to keep dragging you around wherever I go? Grow up. Why is that in here?” Steven looked up. “It’s my volcano.” He added, “Remember I asked if I could start
on it this morning? For my science project? You said it was fine.” “Why is it on the dining-room table and not outside?” Slumping down, Steven said, “I have to take it to school tomorrow morning, and I don’t want it to get ruined.” “Excuse me? And how do you think we’ll eat dinner with that thing on the table? Think, Steven!” He put the milk in the fridge. “It’ll be fine outside.” “But Carly’s dogs pee on everything out there.” “Then put some plastic over it. Duh!” Steven cringed when his father reached over and pinched the top of the crater. “What’s it made out of?” “Papier-mâché. And some flour, salt, and water.” His dad straightened up. “What paper did you use?” “Just some old homework.” “You better have cleaned it up. This stuff’s like cement when it dries,” he said, rapping his knuckles against the side of it, which knocked off some of the sticks. “We did.” They used the hose to dissolve the paste into the dirt, but Steven thought better of bringing that topic back up. “You better be telling the truth.” “I am.” Their dad grunted and walked back into the kitchen. Ben tapped Steven on the arm and nodded to the glue. Steven handed it to him and picked up a Phillips screwdriver. With
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some twisting and pushing, he managed to poke a hole through the base of the mountain, where he wedged a small stick. The only sound in the trailer was their father putting away the groceries and the ever-present whoosh of cars out on State Road 23. The other night, lying in bed and listening to the noise of the highway through the open window, Steven had bet Ben he could identify each type of vehicle solely by the sound of its motor. “There’s a pickup. That’s a diesel.” “I knew that one,” said Ben. “Hey, how do I know you’re getting them right?” “Quiet. That’s a motorcycle. There’s a sedan.” “What’s a sedan?” “Just a plain old car, like ours.” “Our car doesn’t sound like that.” “It would if it worked right.” “So why doesn’t Mom fix it?” “Because it costs a lot of money. What are you, stupid? Shut up and go to sleep.” Ben turned over and pulled up the covers. Steven kicked him and pulled them back. They slept in the same bed – on opposite sides of course – but that hadn’t kept Steven from living in perpetual fear his brother might mention it to someone at school. For the past two Christmases and birthdays, a bunk bed was the only thing he’d asked for. Mom said yes last year, but their dad overruled and said the room wasn’t tall enough. Steven had no hope for his approaching birthday, either. “Maybe we’ll hear another car crash tonight,” Ben said, flipping over again. “That would be cool.” “Cool? What if it’s mom who’s in the next crash? Did you ever think of that?” Last time, the sirens went on for hours. Their father raged and swore in the other room every fifteen minutes. He was still swearing about it when he woke up the next morning.
If Ben’s dumb enough to want to risk that again, he deserves whatever Dad does to him. See if I care. One of these days though, he better start thinking about Mom. “What are you doing?” His father’s sharp voice jolted him out of his daydreams, and Steven dropped the leaf he was holding, smeared with glue, onto the table. He looked up into his father’s menacing face. “Uh, my teacher said I can get extra points by making it look more realistic.” “No. Why haven’t you taken it outside like I told you to?” “It’s really hot outside. Can’t we finish it in here? We’ll take it out when we’re done. I promise.” His father stood there a moment. “It had better be out of here before dinner. And no messes! Look, you’re already getting dirt on the floor.” With a disgusted expression and a shake of his head, he wandered off to the living room. Steven got a wet paper towel and wiped up the dirt off the already dirty floor. I sure miss our old house. He hated this place just as much as on the day they moved in. His mom had told him he’d learn to like it. He knew she was lying; only he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Their old house was huge. The whole trailer could have fit in the living room. They had two big-screen TV’s; one had an Xbox, the other a Wii. The best thing about the house, though, was that keeping out of his father’s way was much easier. Ben was barely six when they moved. But despite that, Steven still liked playing Remember When with him during their endless afternoons outside. Besides, there wasn’t much else to do. Their father rarely let them watch TV. He said the noise bothered him, yet he watched it nearly all day long.
As much as he hated living here, his mom hated it more. Before his dad lost his job, and before they lost their house, Steven’s mom stayed home and took care of Ben. She was even the room-mother in Steven’s first-grade class. Now she worked two jobs – one in the day and one in the evening. He still hadn’t figured out why his dad wouldn’t work anymore. He asked his mom once, but she only said some nonsense about how people sometimes go through different phases. If being a worthless, abusive bum was a phase, he could agree. With school almost out for the summer, he and Ben would be home all day long. Ben had been trying desperately to make more friends so he could go over to their houses and play during the summer. Unfortunately, the kids Steven’s age were old enough to know he lived in a dump. They avoided him for the most part. Steven slid off his chair and walked into the kitchen. “Where are you going?” asked Ben. “To get some baking soda.” “You’re going to do it now? Are you supposed to?” “Can’t you keep quiet?” Steven said, glancing toward the living room. “I need to know how it works before taking it to school. Anyway, I’m only going to do a little bit.” Steven searched a couple of cupboards, and then walked back to the table with a bottle of vinegar and a box of baking soda. “How does it work? I want to do it, too.” “Shhhhh.” Steven gave his brother a withering look. He set the soda down and unscrewed the cap on the vinegar. He smelled it and quickly pushed it away. Yuck. What do people use this for? He reached up and poured what he figured was a cup into the top of the volcano. He then picked up the small orange box of soda and said to Ben, “Are you ready?” “I don’t know. What’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know, either. I’ve never seen one erupt before. Anyway, here it goes. Three. Two. One.” He gave the box a gentle tap, but only a dusting of soda fell out. Pulling up the lid with his index finger, he gave it another tap. This time a quarter-sized chunk of soda dropped out. “Uh-oh.” He wanted to grab it back out, but the vinegar in the crater was bubbling too violently. “Cool!” said Ben. Milky vinegar rushed down the sides of the mountain and straight onto the table. Oh crap! I forgot the barrier! “Get some paper towels. Quick!” he whispered to Ben. Ben stood up, knocking his chair into the wall. Steven tried covering the crater with his hand, but the liquid sprayed through his fingers. He grabbed a book off the counter and set it on top. “You stupid idiots! What are you doing?” Steven cringed and Their dad rushed up to Steven and slapped him with the back of his hand, knocking him onto the floor. Ben dropped the paper towels and backed up against the counter, letting the vinegar spread over the edge of the table and splash onto the floor. “Is that a library book?” Steven’s stomach dropped when his father snatched up the school library’s copy of Harry Potter. “What were you thinking? Clean it off!” He threw the book at Steven’s face. Steven ducked and felt it skim the top of his head. He cringed at the crash behind him and felt the dirt from one of the potted plants land on his foot. “You’re going to clean that up, too,” he said, pointing at Steven. He grabbed Ben by the neck, and, nearly lifting him off the ground, pushed him toward the door. Slamming it open with his free hand, their dad roared, “Get out!” and threw Ben, tumbling, to the ground outside. Leaving the door open, his father came back to the table and worked to get his fingers
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under the wooden slab the volcano was sitting on. “You said you were just going to glue some leaves on this thing. Who said you could set it off?” He lifted it gently, trying to keep from spilling vinegar on himself, and carried it over to the door. With a sudden twist, he flung the whole thing out into the yard. Steven stood just in time to see it shatter on the ground, the force ripping off the support. Luckily, Ben had moved out of the way by then. His father came back over to Steven and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “Clean this up, then get out!” With a quivering jaw, Steven said, “You ruined my science project.” “You should have thought about that before you decided to ruin the kitchen,” he said, yanking him around. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you to think before you do anything.” “We’ve been working on it all day,” Steven said, managing to pull free. He wrapped his arms around himself. It was mine! I made it. Why can’t he leave us alone for once? He glared at his father. But he won’t. Ever. “I hate you.” Faster than he could duck his head, his dad whipped his hand around and grabbed Steven by the hair and threw him back onto the floor. “If you don’t want to end up like your little volcano, you better show some respect for your father.” He kicked Steven in the ribs and walked off toward the living room. Before going through the door, he turned around and pointed at him. “I’m warning you. This better be spotless when I come back in here.” Steven rested his head on the floor and rubbed his side. Hate overwhelmed him. Ignoring the pungent stench and sting of vinegar on his arms, he closed his eyes and slammed his fists against the faded linoleum. I wish I had a baseball bat right now. I’d smash him in the face with it.
Fifteen minutes later Ben poked his head in the door and looked around. “Are you okay?” he whispered. “Yeah, I’m almost done.” Steven gave the area one last inspection. Satisfied, he turned to leave. “Move it,” he said to Ben, and pushed him out. “Hold on.” Steven froze. See! Not once! He felt like bolting out the door and never stopping. Running and running until he collapsed. But he knew as soon as he passed by Ben, he’d stop. Why can’t Mom just leave? Take us away from here. Anywhere. We’d even be fine in a tent. He hung his head down, waiting. His dad walked into the dining room, running his hand along the bottom edge of the table and chairs. He examined the potted plant and stooped low to get a closer look at the floor. “See. You can be responsible when you try,” he said, straightening up and walking over to the sink. “You just need to try more often.” He washed his hands and shook the water off. “I’ll make a man out of you yet, Steven. Good job on the cleaning.” He rubbed his hand on the top of Steven’s head. Steven flinched at his father’s touch and walked out, letting the screen door slam behind him. After making sure his dad wasn’t coming out, he knelt to inspect the remains of his science project. All that work they did – gone in an instant. Without it, he’d probably get a ‘C-’ in science. He picked up a piece and turned it around in his hands. Tears welled up in his eyes. He turned so Ben wouldn’t see. After gathering everything up, he threw the pile into the garbage can. His whole body shook as another wave of fury coursed through him. He slammed his fist into the side of the plastic can, nearly tipping it over. Pain raced up his arm, and his anger subsided into resigned sadness. Why do I even try? The sun rode high above the two large oaks to the south. Neither of them wanted to go ask their father for permission to walk the few 36
hundred yards to shady Vernon Park, so that left wandering around the trailer, looking for something to do. With only sparse patches of weedy grass in their yard, a physical line of dirt and well-kept turf separated them from the neighbors; the Johnsons’ yard was to the south, with the towering oak trees on either side of their home; Crazy Carly with her annoying dogs was on the north; and to the west was a vacant trailer. The old couple moved out last month soon after putting it up for sale. Near the end of their third lap around the trailer, Ben kicked at a rock and sent it spinning over near the Johnson yard. Breaking off from their current course, he walked over to give it another kick, but before his foot came down, he stopped and squatted to look at something on the ground. “Hey, Steven! Come here!” Steven walked over and bent down to see what Ben was looking at. Hundreds of little red ants were pouring out of a hole in the ground. The boys watched for a while and noticed larger ants with wings periodically take off into the air. “Hey, Ben, go get the magnifying glass out of the junk drawer.” “Why don’t you?” “Because you’re quieter than I am.” Ben stood up. “No I’m not. It’s because you’re a big, fat ’fraidy-cat,” he said, but turned and walked off toward the trailer. A minute later, Ben ran back and handed the large, metal-ringed piece of glass to his brother. “What are you going to do?” “Burn ’em.” “How? What do you do?” “First, you move.” Ben stood there, looking down expectantly. “Move it! You’re blocking the light.” Ben scooted over and knelt in the dirt to watch. Steven lifted the magnifying glass above the ants. “You have to focus the light into as small a spot as possible,” he said. He 37
continually adjusted the distance and angle, while the beam of light on the ground wavered bigger and smaller until only a tiny brilliant dot slowly moved over the top of the swarm. “Now you hold it as steady as you can.” Steven rested his arm against his leg. The ants under the light twisted and shriveled. Within seconds, a tiny wisp of smoke rose from the withered ants, while more crawled over the dead ones and onto the pyre. “Die, die, die!” Steven said, laughing maniacally.
“Let me try!” said Ben. “Here.” Steven handed him the glass. He struggled to angle it properly until Steven grabbed his hand to guide him. Within half an hour, all that remained was a pile of blackened corpses amid a forest of oddly angled and still-twitching legs. “What are you kids doing now?” The screen door slammed shut behind their dad. Steven looked at Ben and saw the fear that he knew must be visible in his own face. He nodded to the magnifying glass, and Ben slid it under his leg. With his hands on his hips, their father walked up and asked, “What’s going on?”
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Looking around the ground, but unable to think up a lie, Steven finally mumbled, “Killing ants.” “Good. Kill them all so they stop coming into the house.” Steven felt the tension within him drain away. “Do you know how to burn ants, Dad?” asked Ben, looking up hopefully. “Why don’t you show me?” Ben grabbed the magnifying glass and held it above an ant that had managed to escape them. “See, the sun magnifies the ants and burns them. There’s smoke and everything!” “Is that right? The sun magnifies the ants. You sure about that?” “Hey!” Ben looked over at Steven, his eyes wide. “I wonder if we can catch a stick on fire.” Their father bent down and put his finger right in Ben’s face. “If I ever catch you doing anything like that, your butt’s going to catch on fire. What do you want to do, burn down somebody’s house?” With the palm of his hand, he smacked Ben hard on the forehead, knocking him over and onto his back. Ben looked up at his father in confusion and fear, tears streaming down his face. Steven tensed, watching his father’s every move, ready to jump to his brother’s defense, but knowing that would only make things worse. What can I do? What can I do? Throw a rock at him? I hate this! With a shudder, their father broke eye contact. He turned back to the trailer, but abruptly stopped and called back, “I don’t want to have to keep checking on you kids every five minutes. Stop doing stupid things! This is your last warning.” The boys waited until he went back inside. “You okay?” Steven asked. “I think so.” Steven stood and grabbed the magnifying glass out of Ben’s hand. “Let’s go.” He took off west along the Johnsons' yard, flipping over the rocks he’d seen Mr. Johnson kick over
into their yard when he thought nobody was looking. He glanced back. Ben was wiping his eyes as he stumbled up beside him. They were finding only small, uninteresting bugs that shriveled up into tiny, black balls, until Ben found a long, fat slug under a rock in the shade of a bush. Steven pretended the white-hot beam of sunlight was a laser and kept trying to cut the slug in half. They laughed at the loud popping sounds it made as its insides boiled. While walking by the sliding glass door at the back of the trailer, Steven noticed a fly trapped between the flattened curtains and the glass. They never used this door because of all the boxes stacked up against it. He watched the fly crawl around for a bit, then moved on. Not finding any more worthwhile bugs to burn, they sat in the cool grass next to the spigot. “What do you want to do now?” asked Ben. “Are we going to make another volcano?” “For what? So Dad can smash it again?” “What about your science project?” “I guess I’ll just get an ‘F’. If Dad doesn’t care, why should I?” Steven lay down on his back, crossed his legs, put his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. “In fact, why should I care about anything?” They listened to the sound of the cars out on the highway, and the birds high up in the trees. They watched an old man drag a large garbage bag over to the waste bin, and with considerable effort, manage to maneuver it up and in. Ben inspected his fingernails through the magnifying glass, but soon got bored. “Let’s go find some more bugs.” “Hold on, I’m thinking.” “About what?” “Nothing. Now shut up.” After a couple of minutes, Steven opened his eyes and found the sun in the sky. He stood and scanned the neighborhood. “Stay here. I’ll be back in a minute.” Ben looked at him quizzically.
Steven gently opened the door and tiptoed over to the entrance of the living room. The TV was on – a basketball game from the sound of it. Peeking in, he saw his father asleep on the old, dirty couch. What if he wakes up? Steven bit his lower lip. So what. What’s the worst that can happen? He kills me? No. No one will know. Not even Ben. We won’t even be here. I’m sure I can do it! If it fails, so what? I honestly don’t care anymore. What’s the point of living if it’s always going to be like this? Even she hates him. A Karpet King ad suddenly blared on the TV, startling him out of his thoughts. His eyes snapped to his father’s face, but he lay there, quiet. Steven frowned. Do it. Now’s the time. He stepped back into the dining room and gave it a last look around. His eye caught on the Harry Potter book and he wondered if he should grab it, but decided that might look too suspicious. He tiptoed back outside. Ben stood when the door opened and looked at Steven expectantly. “Well?” “Well, what?” “What are we going to do?” Steven stared at a bruise on Ben’s face. What if Dad hurts him bad one of these days? What would I do then? “What are you waiting for?” Just do it! No one will know it was me. And anyway, if he does it, I won’t be lying. “How ‘bout we walk around the trailer again,” Steven said in what he hoped was an innocent-sounding voice. When they reached the patio door, Steven scanned the curtains until he spotted it, then grabbed Ben’s sleeve and stopped him. “Look. See it?” he said, pointing at the fly. Ben walked over and brought the magnifying glass up to his eye for a closer look. “Do you think it’ll work through here?” he said, placing his hand on the window. “I don’t know.” Steven’s heart pounded wildly in his chest, and he thought he could hear the blood rushing through his ears. 39
Ben maneuvered his whole body into different positions while attempting to shine the light onto the fly. “Move the glass higher,” Steven finally suggested. “Between the fly and the sun.” It worked. However, the intense heat made the fly buzz around. Ben attempted to follow, but the fly kept moving as soon as the beam hit it. “Shine the light a little bit ahead of him,” Steven said. “Maybe it will walk into it.” Ben positioned the beam half-an-inch in front of the fly. “Now hold it there. I wonder if there’s any other bugs in here?” Steven said, inspecting other sections of the curtain. Ben joined in the hunt while still holding the magnifying glass in place. Steven glanced down and noticed a black spot on the curtain. “Is that one?” Steven said, pointing up and to the left. He looked closer. “Dang, it’s just a stain.” The flame started quicker than Steven expected. His heart jumped. Don’t let him see! “Hey, there’s a grasshopper!” he said, spinning around and leaping away. “Where?” Ben said excitedly. “It jumped over there,” said Steven, dashing farther away. “Come on! It’s a big one!” Ben took off after his brother. Glancing back, Steven saw the flames reaching halfway up the curtain. Don’t stop. Don’t think about it. It’s done. Just keep him from seeing. Keep him moving. Something’s definitely going to change now, for better or worse. Focus on a new life. Focus on Mom. She’s the only one who loves us, anyway. “It jumped over here!” Steven called out. He turned and took off again, laughing and bounding away toward Vernon Park.
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By Angelo Dalpiaz The tiny wooden train fit nicely in the palm of her wrinkled hand. Each miniature car was painted a different pastel color, and small, gold sequins made up the train wheels. To suspend the ornament, one end of a piece of heavy thread attached itself to the front of the little red engine; the other end fastened to the rear of the blue caboose. Marge reached to a prominent spot on the end of a branch to hang the little train, and a memory ignited within her. The vision of the night so long ago when she and her husband had bought the tiny train flickered in her mind. Marge and Harold had been in Germany when Harold served in the army. They lived together in a small house in a little German village outside the base where Harold was assigned, and for two years, they traveled every chance they could. On a cold December night in Nuremburg, they visited an outdoor market where they bought the hand-carved ornament. Marge breathed in the scent of pine and sighed. “That little train was Harold’s favorite Christmas ornament,” she mumbled to the empty room. Then she stood back and admired the warm colors of the train perched on the end of the pine branch. Her shoulders sagged at the memory, so Marge tried to think of something else. Christmas had been Harold’s favorite holiday of the year. Even last year during his illness, he had still gotten excited about the decorations and gifts. Celebrating without him just didn’t feel like much fun, and it would
only make her sad. But her son had urged her to put up a few decorations. “Put up a small tree,” he had encouraged her. “It might help you to feel a little festive.” “I’ll put up the tree,” she had said to Frank, “but I’m not sure I can be very festive.” Her son smiled at her and said, “Remember what you used to tell me when I was young and Christmas was coming?” His eyes twinkled. “Remind me, sweetheart,” she said, “I’m getting old and my memory isn’t what it once was.” “When I would ask about Christmas and what presents I was going to get.” He smiled. “You’d always say, ‘You never know what Christmas will bring.’” “Yes, I do remember.” She had smiled and kissed her son’s cheek, and promised that she would put up a tree. Now Marge bent down next to the tree, and holding the plug snugly between her trembling fingers, she put the prongs into the wall socket. She turned and took a breath as the tree lights shimmered above her. She stood and took a step back and thought, Harold would have loved this tree. Her lips curled into a sad smile as she saw the little train softly lit between two branches. ... On Christmas morning, Marge woke early and put the kettle on to heat. Her friend Maryann planned to join her this morning, so she put out two holiday tea cups and saucers— the ones with the snowmen painted on them—
then went to the tree and plugged it in. The strings of lights twinkled brightly along the fragrant branches, and she remembered what Harold used to say: “The Christmas tree always looks so magical on Christmas morning.” Marge looked at the tree, and in a quiet voice she said, “Yes, Harold, it certainly is magical.” Through the frosted windows, she could see Maryann coming up the walkway. She opened the front door just as her friend arrived, and as she moved aside to let Maryann into the house, a large, brown truck pulled up to the curb. Before she could close the door, a young man bounded from the truck and walked briskly to her door. “Mrs. Ellington?” The young man looked at the packet he held in his hand. “Mrs. Marge Ellington?” “Yes, I’m Marge Ellington,” she replied. “How can I help you?” The young man handed the large, tan packet to her. “Merry Christmas,” he said and turned and walked away. “Merry Christmas,” she said softly as the man hurried along the walkway. She looked at the packet, read her name, and then looked out as the truck drove off. She shrugged and closed the door. “What’s that?” Maryann asked. “Some kind of envelope.” “I can see that!” Maryann said. “But what’s inside?” “I don’t know.” “Well get in here and open it up. It’s Christmas so it must be a surprise.” “Yes… I guess I should open it and see what it is.” Marge stepped into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Her shaking fingers found the edge of the flap, and she pried it open. Inside she found a long colorful Christmas card and pulled it out. Printed on the front in flowing script were the words Merry Christmas! She opened
the card and a folded sheet of paper fell onto her lap. Unfolding it, Marge could see that it was a typewritten letter; the letterhead announced it was from the Go Everywhere Travel Company. She tossed it aside and turned to Maryann. “It’s just an advertisement for a travel company.” “An advertisement… hand delivered on Christmas morning?” Maryann came around the table and sat next to her friend. “Are you sure?” “That does seem odd, doesn’t it?” Marge picked up the letter again. Her eyebrows moved up and furrowed her brow as she read, and then her eyes widened and tears began to fall. “What is it, Marge?” Maryann asked and moved closer to her friend. “It’s from… Harold!” “Harold? What are you talking about? That’s not possible.” Maryann peered over her friend’s shoulder and began to read along with her. When they finished reading, they both sat in silence, the hum of the refrigerator the only sound. Suddenly the whistling tea kettle brought Marge and Maryann back to the present. Marge stood and shuffled to the stove and turned it off. Then she brought the kettle to the table. The scent of oranges rose from the cups as they were filled with steaming water. The two friends sat in silence while they sipped hot tea from the delicate porcelain cups. ... “It came early this morning,” Marge said into the phone, when her son called to let her know he would be coming by to pick her up. She told him about the letter—and about the tickets—from Harold. “Yes, I’m sure,” she said. “It’s a gift from your father. Two plane tickets to Madrid, Spain…the place I’ve always wanted to visit—
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ever since I was a little girl.” She looked at the tickets again just to make sure they were real. “And you’re sure they’re from Dad?” Frank asked. And then with a voice filled with concern, “Are you okay, Mom?” “Yes, Frank, I’m fine.” She drew out the words. “There’s a note written in his handwriting, and it’s attached to the letter from the travel agency. He must have arranged for them before he…passed.” “Two tickets…?” Frank’s voice trailed off. “It’s not what you think, Frank.” Marge said. “The note says that one ticket is for me, a Christmas present, and one ticket is to share with a friend so I won’t have to go alone.” She paused. “We both knew he wasn’t going to live till Christmas, so he didn’t intend the second ticket to be for himself.” “I’m surprised he thought to do this when he was so ill.” “So am I. But there’s more.” She brought the letter up to her eyes and squinted. “He says that he wants me to be happy, and this is a first step toward me doing that.” There was silence on the phone. Then, in a voice just above a whisper she added, “He also says he’ll be waiting for me to join him when the time is right, but until then, he wants me to live life to the fullest.” “That’s very sweet, Mom.” Marge’s voice wavered as she spoke. “Yes, your father always was a sweet man.” Her gaze returned to the letter in her hands, her tears spotting the paper. “Yes, Mom, he was. But even so, I’m just so surprised by this. I guess you were right all those years.” “What do you mean?” “Remember? ‘You never know what Christmas will bring.’” Marge wiped away a tear and asked, “What time are you picking me up?”
After she hung up the phone, Marge walked to the tree and examined the little pastel train hanging from its perch on the end of a branch. She thought about that day so long ago when she and Harold had bought the little ornament as they strolled, hand in hand, drinking hot wine at the outdoor market. Only this time, she realized the memory brought her happiness, and it filled her heart with joy. She reached up and touched the miniature train with the tip of her finger and watched the golden wheels reflect the colored lights of the tree and thought, You never know what Christmas will bring. Then with a smile that reached into her eyes, she said, “Thank you, Harold.” ... That was three years ago, and since that first Christmas after Harold died, Marge and Maryann travelled not only to Madrid but also to Rome the next year and Paris last year. Each year at Christmas, Marge received a special packet containing airline tickets to an exotic destination. And each ticket was accompanied by a card signed by Harold, with this simple message: Enjoy Life. And enjoy life she did. Maryann’s brash sense of humor added a bit of personality to each trip. Marge had no idea how many trips Harold had scheduled, but it didn’t matter. She knew one day she would take that trip—the one that would reunite her with Harold, where she would thank him for making her years without him more livable.
Seasonal Friends By Audra L. Ralls
Fall passed; spring yet weeks away. Silently, a swing set stands, reminiscing of summer days. Slide slick with fallen snow, missing the feel of children and the sunâ€™s glorious glow. Monkey bars now poles of chill, aching for kidsâ€™ grimy hands and longing for screams of thrills. Swings sway idly in the wind, wishing for just one push, feeling little legs stretch and bend. Hibernating in winter days, a playground patiently waits for seasonal friends to play.
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Ghost Train By Carla Ralston
When the sun disappears, and the clouds are ablaze, And the moon is a sliver of white, With a rumble and roar, through curtains of mist A ghost train tears through the night. The wailing whistle echoes and moans, And black smoke pours from the stack. Showers of sparks fly up from the rails As the ghost train roars down the track. The steam engine wheezes, the warning bells clang, And night birds cry out in fright. At a dark, empty station, the brakes squeal and shriek As the ghost train stops in the night. Unseen hands throw open the doors. Silent riders embark, one by one. The engine breathes fire, and into the night The ghost train flies off and is gone. When the sun disappears, and the clouds are ablaze, And the moon is a sliver of white, Stay away from the tracks, lest you be called to ride On the ghost train that tears through the night.
By Michael Hanvey
A corduroy-collared, blue denim coat hung on his closet door, smelling of earth and Old Spice. I could never fully fit into the coat, just as I could never fill the shoes of their owner. But one man filled it properly until it was threadbare; then I wore it some. The memories surrounding it and its scratchy wool lining will go with me to my grave, though many times I can't remember to shave, take out the trash, or comb my hair. It must be near forty-five years old nowâ€”maybe closer to fifty, come to think of it. After all, I'm fiftyfour, and I don't ever remember my granddaddy without it. The first time I can remember him wearing it was when he and Mom took me bank fishing at Arlington Lake in Fort Worth, Texas. He carried the worm box in one of the large pockets, and I caught the first fish that night. There were many fishing trips. Worm dirt still stains its pockets. We sat quietly with cane poles at our sides, watched our bobbers in the light of our foil-lined Coleman lantern, and listened to Granddaddy as he murmured, calling fish. "Here, fishy-fishy. Here, fishyfishy." I went through plenty of worms and minnows in those years, and caught fish too, when he wore that coat and called them in. One time, after running a trot line, he came home with a catfish that seemed to fill the rear floorboard of his 1956 Chevrolet. We had a feast that night. I thought that coat was so lucky. He wore it again when I was eleven, and he took me on my first squirrel hunt in East Texas near his cabin. Shotgun shells were made of paper back then. He put a few 12-
gauge shells in one side pocket and some smaller ones in the other. Then we walked down the bank to a small Jon boat and pushed off into a body of water that I no longer remember the name of. From where we launched, it was thin, like a stream, with mossy Cypress tree branches overhanging the smooth surface. A thin fog stretched from shore to shore. The water seemed still, but its flow over rocks and downed trees could be heard off in the distance. After a slow five-minute trip downstream with our quiet 3-horsepower outboard motor, we beached on the opposite bank, disembarked, and tied up. Then Granddaddy tossed a blanket off two long gun cases, uncased one, and handed me a new bolt action single shot .410 along with one of the small shells from his pocket. I was so excited I could hardly keep my feet on the ground! I had been raised around long guns and taught firearm safety by Mom and Granddaddy, so nothing was said when he handed it to me. We walked safely away from the Cypress banks and up a small animal trail, stomping leaves and small branches like two bull elephants clearing a two-lane highway, and entered a section of Oak and Pine trees with our weapons pointing in opposite directions. His cataracts had been removed, but I'm sure those thick glasses were hard to see out of, and I didn't know the first thing about hunting. Of course, the bright new shotgun that glared in my eyes didn't help me see anything. We came home empty handed that day. I was so busy looking at the new gun I didn't see a single bird in that forest, much less a
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squirrel. And it was ideal squirrel country. When we got back to our cabin, Granddaddy said I should shoot the little shotgun to know how it kicked because I hadn't shot anything larger than a .22 rifle. He stood me over by a tree, handed me a 3-inch shell, and then had me point high across the water and pull the trigger. It almost knocked me down! He and Mom laughed at my reaction, and we watched as the number six pellets fell gently into the water. The week did not leave us empty handed. A few days later, we visited a relative in the same area of East Texas. I shot my first squirrel on her property, which went promptly into the same pocket the worm box would have been in had we been fishing, and I'm sure other squirrels had been in it before. I'll never forget the smile on his face or the stifled "tee-hee" laugh as he lifted the fox-furred rodent from the ground. We brought in three squirrels that morning and had squirrel dumplings for dinner, a real treat for us in those days! Granddaddy left us in 1969 to be with our Lord and Savior, and I miss him dearly. Although more than thirty-five years have passed, I know he has witnessed many fishing
and hunting trips throughout my life as I took all my firsts in different game and fish species. I have felt his presence, his patience, and his love throughout each adventure. It has been a comfort to know he was there with me, teaching life through the memory of his patience and understandingâ€”and, of course, while I experienced the wonders of God's outdoors. These memories of growing up with Granddaddy's love hold firm, and although many times I feel I've failed, I still struggle to be worthy of existing as a branch of his tree. Today, his threadbare coat, now barren of its wool lining, hangs on my closet door, embracing stains of past fishing and hunting triumphs, including faint odors of forest, lake, and earth. But if you were to look, if you were to look close, you too could see those banners of my youthâ€”the trophies of our memories, Granddaddy's and mine. You could also find some of the paper shot shells in its pockets. You might even sense some of the love left behind in what is normally viewed a useless garment, along with remnants of other lifememories and possessions passed on by Joseph "Willis" Day.
By John Grey
holy shrine hummingbird I study from side window tiny angel in the dusk glare, black wings sawing, body throbbing, feasting on another season of hollyhock and golden juice needle beak patiently precise by beak steadied, no drop missed kind of miniature life, beautyâ€™s most modest assignation reflected through bright glass, halved and quartered so rare, trapped easy by the fading light to only bear it up, this humming leaf, a grand assimilation,
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By Kat Hawthorne
The torque in the air wrenched so tight it was nearly impossible to breathe. Electricity pulled on the spirits of all who watched, drawing them in, tossing them out, scorching the nerves of those who remained to witness. Cazaâ€™s eyes remained closed, her body relaxed, not reflecting the dire situation. It was as if she were merely considering what colour pants to wear rather than formulating a plan to save her living hide. Only the slow, controlled, curling and uncurling of her fingers, a nervous habit since childhood, gave any indication that she was actually alive and not just a realistic statue. Her dark hair twisted in the air defying all laws of physicality because there was
absolutely no trace of a breeze. Not a natural one at least. Not one anyone else could detect other than Caza and her hidden opponent. Cazaâ€™s eyes slowly opened, as if waking from a deep, restful slumber. Her hair flopped suddenly down her back, limp, dead and wet with concentration-induced sweat. Her hands froze mid-clench, looking for all the world like the talons of a vulture rather than her small, feminine fingers. For a moment no one breathed. For a moment, it was as if nothing else on the entire planet lived. Time seemed to pause, the world off kilter, as if even the sun in the sky had shifted in its course, waiting to see what was about to happen below.
The beast's continued victory in the Arena would mean its redemption, its wager fulfilled, its potential release. Legions of the king’s most dangerous had faced it seeking historical valour, but all had failed. Besting the monster would keep a warrior's name vibrant throughout the thick cataracts of history, and they all craved that fame. For a warrior to die in the Arena was to die with honour, but victory would mean immortality long after their physical return to the mud. Often, old men, leathered and bent, crippled by age and insignificance, were driven mad, lusting with desire to complete their Test. Everyone wanted to die with the envy of the population, not simply of old age, and the fact that a girl of only seventeen years had been selected was, to many, something of an outrage. With no obvious preparation or movement, something radiated out from around Caza that made the air visibly waver. It lifted the dirt at her feet, hurling the world’s natural refuse up and into the stands where the stunned audience sat, mouths agape, coating them in a thick layer of dirt and decaying foliage. The one Caza fought was impossible to see—literally. It had been captured twenty years before and charged with an act so heinous the details had never been publically revealed. The beast was sentenced to death, but on the day set for the punishment, the king agreed to a deal. He was forever looking for new and entertaining ways to occupy himself and his subjects. The creature was so powerful, the king agreed that if the monster could defeat the king's ten best warriors, he would set it free. But when the monster proved the task too easy, the king reneged on the bargain, and began randomly throwing his trained fighters into the arena, the fulfillment of bloodlust in a time of peace too appealing. The beast was simply far too entertaining to release. The monster had a distinctive diametric sweeping force that furled out from around it like a cape trimmed with hundreds of deadly
reaper’s scythes. The victim’s demise was always instantaneous. Before the challenger even knew to be afraid, they were nothing more than a pile of finely butchered meat stacked at the feet of the fiend. No one ever saw it coming, or at least, no one ever lived to tell the tale if they did. *~*~* The monster screamed, harsh and voluminous, and the sound ripped through the air with the gravelly tone of a metal shovelhead scraping earth, the sound of a gravedigger hard at work. No one had ever heard the beast speak; no one knew it could, its silence a solidifying part of its disguise. But this time, due to the hazy silt Caza had sent swirling, the fiend's body was fully visible. It had lost the ability to hide, so, stripped of that defense, it spoke for the first time. “You are the king’s niece,” it spat, stating the obvious. “I have waited a long time to meet you. Though I must admit, I am a little disappointed. I thought the king’s strongest would be a little more… Well, I thought you’d be a little more.” Once again, thick coils of Caza's hair whipped in a maddening frenzy, caught in a sudden nonexistent wind and doing a fairly convincing impression of angry serpents not yet placated by the charmer’s mesmerizing song. The beast began to move too, weaving a track in the dirt, stepping to the side and back again as if considering something very complicated. Its lips rolled back revealing a mouthful of discoloured fangs. "I know who you are," it said. "I know who you really are." Caza made no effort to move, her body as still as a hunted animal frozen with fear and denial. The monster continued. "Your mother," it said in a soothing tone, "did you know her?" Caza's voice was controlled and calm when she answered, "My mother died of a fever when I was an infant." The fiend nodded, "Of course, of course,
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very common. And your father?" "Was killed in this Arena fighting you." The fiend stopped its motion and fixed its glare on the girl. "An orphan," it hissed, great strings of saliva dampening the ground. "How sad. Nothing to lose then. But tell me, if you never knew your parents, how sure are you of your heritage?" "What reason would there be to lie?" Caza growled as a fresh gust of silt flew up in the beast's face, angering it. She was incensed, and the very ground beneath her feet seemed to respond to her emotion. "I am not here to talk," she added, and, flinging her wrist at a pace beyond that of even the most skilled weapons master, she let her blade fly. It flipped through the air, cutting a glinting path in the inexplicable chaos. Caza’s aim was deadly accurate, her force bone-splittingly hard, but rather than the satisfying sound of metal ripping flesh, the knife froze mid-twist, mid-air, its tip mere inches from slicing the monster's face, as if it had come against a vat of congealing mud. The beast laughed, a sound so repulsive several of the viewers covered their ears, nausea sweeping over them. Then, with a gentle puff of the monster’s breath, the blade fell harmlessly to the ground. The audience gasped, confusion warping their ability to accept what they were seeing. The king, who until that point had been in and out of an alcohol-induced slumber, suddenly stood up, sprayed an impressive amount of wine-tinged spittle on everyone nearby, and hollered, "Good show! Splendid!" before he fell back into his seat, snoring at an ear-splitting decibel. The fiend took advantage of the distraction and spoke again, "The king has been manipulating you all these years. He does not want the shame of your creation on his hands." Caza froze, her bravado faltering slightly. "What do you mean?" she asked, her voice a monotone rumble. "The man you thought was your father, the
one who raised you, loved you, cared for you. That man you are here to avenge was not your father." Uncharacteristically, Caza broke her intense stare-down and looked at the king, still sleeping soundly in his plush chair, his piggish head doing nothing to keep his overlydecorated crown in place. The fiend continued, "Have you never wondered why you are capable of controlling the elements, girl? Did you not think it odd that, even though you are by far physically the weakest member of the king’s troop and not yet finished with your training, you were selected to face me? A girl of your size and experience would be no challenge for me, if not for your heritage." Caza took a moment to consider her opponent's words. Then, she cleared her throat and shook her head, causing her airborne tresses to writhe wildly. "I'm listening," she said. The monster continued, "Do you know why I was charged, child? Do you know the details of my sentence?" "Treason." Caza spat, hunkering down defensively at the reminder. The beast laughed again and grinned threateningly, offering the disgusting display of animalistic weaponry that lined its mouth. "Yes! That is so, I suppose. After all, I am responsible for the queen's death. That could be considered treasonous behavior if you choose to see it that way." "The queen died in childbirth as did her infant," Caza said, the dust beginning to stir once again. "What's your point?" "My point is that I am not guilty of the charges given me. The stories you have been lead to believe are false. Your gelatinous king is the one who decided the queen’s fate, not I. I was merely a symptom of her death." Caza's lips peeled back in an unattractive grimace, her displeasure apparent. She glanced at the king again who was now suffering blatant jostling at the hands of his subjects who
were trying, unsuccessfully, to rouse him. She took another knife from her belt and hefted it once in the air, catching it by the blade, ready to fling. "I don't care about you. You have killed courageous men in this arena, my father among them, and for that you must die." The beast splayed its hands, a fine array of earth now swirling at its feet. "Fine, we will end this, but know highness, I did not kill your father or the queen, you did." ~*~*~ It was difficult to see exactly what was happening. The earth physically responded to the actions of both fighters, skewing the details, making the viewing murky. Without any contact whatsoever, rocks and sticks lifted, flinging themselves of their own volition, and landed on the bodies of each fighter in equal parts. The carnage sprayed in grisly patterns on the ground and arena walls. The sound of collapsing bones and ripping flesh echoed through the nerves of all who watched. No one had any question that death was soon to come. All at once the action stopped, and the dust began to melt away, revealing two writhing bodies through the thick curtain of filth. Caza was on top of the beast, although it did not look like a position she had gotten into on her own. On closer inspection, it became obvious that she was levitating, an invisible force holding her suspended in the air, unable to defend herself. "Let me go!" she screeched in jagged bursts, raw anger distorting her voice. Slowly the creature began to rise, contorting in unnatural ways as its limbs struggled to find their rightful place on its body. When it spoke, its voice was slurred with exertion and physical wreckage. "I do not wish to kill you, child. I only want to explain and then be free. But I will end this if that is what it will take. I will kill my own kin." The creature moved toward Caza's suspended form in a gait that could only be described as broken. It reached out a gnarled 51
hand, blood trickling through the thick webbing of its fingers, and harshly gripped a handful of her hair, turning her head sharply so she would have no choice but to look at its face. "Listen to me now," it growled, "and then I will be free. It is not me you should hate, but your own selfish king. When I was captured, it was not coincidence. I was summoned under false pretenses. My species is dwindling quickly. We have only one female left of breeding age, and she can only reproduce once every fifty years. Your king offered his queen to us as an experiment, wanting to create for himself a bloodline of royals so powerful they would never be defeated. And if the reproduction was successful, he promised us females of your kind to help us regenerate our population, if only of halflings. We were desperate. We are desperate. I accepted the deal." Cazaâ€™s voice was a groan. "What does this have to do with me?" The monster paused before it responded, allowing the gravity of what it was about to say to be framed in clarity. "Everything, my daughter. It has everything to do with you." ~*~*~ The king, who was now awake enough to sputter out a few unintelligible words, gawked stupidly at the scene before him. Suddenly the monster coiled itself and sprung into the stands, tottering over its own busted limbs. It spun in the air, performing some feat of acrobatics the likes of which had never been seen by human eyes. It raised its arms above its head, and as it did, a drape of loose flesh dropped and skirted out, bellowing a wide diameter. As it got closer, the monster whipped around so blindingly fast its features became nothing but a blur. And as the beast disappeared over the wall of the Arena, the king, who had just begun to register his grave predicament, fell in great chunks of gory meat to the floor of the stands. ~*~*~
Volume 4: Issue 4
Angelo Dalpaiz (You Never Know What Christmas Will Bring) Angelo Dalpiaz is a retired police detective. After 25 years in law enforcement he now lives in central Florida with his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years. Angelo has had two short stories published in an anthology released in August 2011 for the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of September 11th. He writes fiction, non-fiction, romance, and historical fiction short stories. He is working on a novel about the interesting last years of his grandmother's life in Italy before and after World War II, a story of poverty, improper incarceration, and unrequited love. Cathe Ferguson (What Giant Birds Are Trees) Cathe Ferguson began writing as soon as she started reading; stories and poetry just naturally blossomed in her imagination, writing themselves as she gained greater skills as a reader. She composed her first short story in the fourth grade and derived such pleasure in the endeavor that she became hooked, developing a life-long joy in writing from that day forward. She grew up loving horses as well as writing, so many of her stories and poetry reflect that passion. Many of her poems have appeared in the monthly newsletter, The Stampede. She has received various awards for her poetry including one from the "Iron Chef" poetry contest. Her short story, The Fever Tree, will be featured in The Rusty Nail magazine later this year. John Grey (Hummingbird) John Grey is an Australian born poet and works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Bryant Poetry Review, Tribeca Poetry Review and the horror anthology, What Fears Become with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Osiris. Brad Hainsworth (Focused) Brad is a happily married computer programmer. His interests are reading, writing, photography, cooking, and listening to high-quality music. He decided to take up writing as an outlet for some pent-up creativity that’s been building up his whole life, and he finds it a blast so far. Michael Hanvey (Christmas in a Child’s Eyes; The Coat) Michael Hanvey is an avid reader. He is a retired Police Sergeant from the Fort Worth Police Department. He is now working as a sergeant at Texas Christian University. Michael’s interest in memoirs sprang from the old family stories told by his grandfathers. When they died, the stories died with them, and Michael was moved to write their tales—some in the form of fiction, some fact—so that his children would have permanent access to their history.
Kat Hawthorne (The Test) Kat Hawthorne likes to be mysterious. She tends to lurk (somewhat menacingly) in the darkest folds of lesser-travelled corners. Or at least, that is the image she portrays. In reality, Kat is a friendly person who only eats human flesh once per week – if that. Most of her writing is dark, although the genre shifts between young adult, dark fantasy, and occasionally poetry. Kat’s other published works include the poems “Nonconformity,” “For Me, Not You,” and “Sleeping Sickness.” She also has a short story published entitled “The Pain Merchant.” Although relatively new to the publishing aspect of writing, she has spent much of her life sifting through her creepy little thoughts and writing them down, then snobbishly not sharing them with anyone. Obviously, that is about to change. How lucky for the whole of humanity. C.K. Ledford (Warmth Emerging) C.K. Ledford lives in Ohio with her husband, three children, five cats and a dog. She is the author of Tears in Bloom, a collection of emotional poetry, and is currently writing her first novel. William Leet (Girl with Flowers) William Leet recently returned to the U.S. after almost thirty years in Japan and is now living in Florida. The experiences, travel and journal notes of the years living as an expatriate in Tokyo have become fodder for a book he is currently writing. He has written and translated for the UCLA Journal of Asian Studies, with other work appearing in American Athenaeum, The Rusty Nail and Literary Orphans. T. A. McCarthy (Blocked) T. A. McCarthy is an emerging poet. Although she loves to play with words, photography and drawing are her passions. Audra L. Ralls (Seasonal Friends) Audra teaches English, Current Events, and Speech/Drama at Jones Middle School. She has a wonderful son, Reese. Most of her activities revolve around work, family, and creative expression. Carla Ralston (Ghost Train) Carla Ralston is a wife, mother, grandmother, biologist, teacher, writer, and editor living in Grand Forks, ND. She loves stories with a twist and poems that rhyme. On Writing.com, she is known as Arakun, an Algonquian name for raccoon, her favorite animal. Joel Spearman (The 1969 Christmas Play) Joel Spearman is a proud Canadian who calls the city of Winnipeg home. He currently lives outside of the city in the woods alongside a lake in Sunset Bay with his two amazing and talented children. Because of his love of nature, he began a successful landscaping business in 1999. At fifty-one, Joel maintains his boyhood curiosity and his joy of discovering the lighter side of life which he shares through his many humorous short stories and poems. He is a talented author with a rare ability to capture the hearts of his readers with his animated characters. You can read more of his work at Brother’s Blog
Volume 4: Issue 4
Wendy Van Camp (Baptism by Fire) Wendy Van Camp began as a municipal television director of city council meetings, parades and local church services. Later, she developed two television performance series, one for musicians and the other for poets. Wendy currently writes articles and short stories for magazines and is at work on a trilogy of fantasy novels while continuing her work as an artisan jeweler and gemologist. She is married and has one furbaby.
Graphics Cover: Image courtesy of Brian McNulty, morguefile.com Write What You Know: Image is in the public domain. Huckleberry and Jim. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By Samuel L. Clemens, Published 1884. Original from Oxford University. Digitized June 12, 2007 Warmth Emerging: Image courtesy of Iván Melenchón Serrano, morguefile.com What Giant Birds are Trees: Image courtesy of Daniel Hatch Dorantes, morguefile.com Girl with Flowers: Teacup image courtesy of mconnors morguefile.com Pipe image courtesy of mnp, morguefile.com Baptism by Fire: ‘IN USE’ sign courtesy of jdarwin, morguefile.com Reel image courtesy of mconnors, morguefile.com Blocked: Image courtesy of xandert, morguefile.com Christmas in a Child’s Eyes: Vintage Santa image courtesy of phaewilk, morguefile.com Child’s eye image courtesy of Carmem L. Vilanova Focused: Image courtesy irkingerdib, morguefile.com Seasonal Friends: Image courtesy of Brian McNulty, morguefile.com The Coat: Image courtesy of Michael Hanvey, personal collection Hummingbird: Image courtesy of Rodney Campbell, morguefile.com
We thank the wonderful people at morguefile.com who allowed their creative endeavours to grace our pages. It just would not be the same without your contributions.
Publisher S. Randez enjoys taking new writers under her wing, encouraging them to work hard toward achieving their writing aspirations. She is an avid novice poetess and also enjoys writing flash-fiction and short stories in many genres. Managing Editor K. Wall returns to editing and mentoring after a ten-year hiatus. She is excited to lead an incredible team of professionals assisting new writers as they grow, soar to new heights, and achieve their dreams. In her spare time, she writes fiction delving into relationship dynamics and the human condition. Fiction Editor PL Scholl is a professional writer and educator. A member of WDC since 2009, she has won numerous awards for both her writing and her reviews. She holds a BA in English, a BS in Education, and a MS in Literacy. Currently, she is an adjunct professor for Sinclair Community College. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys spending time with her two children and husband of 22 years. Non-fiction Editor Winnie has been on the Staff of Shadows Express for a two years. She is an instructor for New Horizons Academy, an on-line writing school associated with the global writing community Writing.Com and has taught the fundamentals of proper comma placement and sentence structure for over two years. Winnie enjoys writing traditional poetry and short-stories designed to stir the emotions of her readers. But her greatest delight is polishing and editing promising works for new writers in preparation for possible publication. She established Walrus Editing and Proofreading in 2010. In addition, she is a member of the editing staff of Wynwidyn Press Poetry Editor In his youth, Liam O'Haver was taught that with diligence you could reach any dream. This has generally proven true. In his life, he has been a student, paperboy, soldier, private detective, printer, technical consultant, and teacher. As a husband and father, along with his wife, he has raised four children, enjoyed seven grandchildren so far, and has looked into the eyes of one great-granddaughter. Despite being an accomplished poet, even in his wildest dreams, he never anticipated being a poetry editor. Editorial Assistant L. Byus, a dedicated advocate for quality in literature, believes in nurturing new authors. She joined the staff of Shadows Express in September 2012. Her freelance editorial business, Cicero Grade, was established in January 2012.
From our family here at Shadows Express to yours, we hope 2013 brings you all the blessings you deserve. We look forward to being part of your literary journey next year.
Volume 4: Issue 4
Published on Dec 21, 2012