See the World

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

Lyme Regis, August 2010
Photo Credit: Sunchild57 Photography

Writing is seeing. It is paying attention. —Kate DiCamillo

Recently I watched the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was a nanny, mostly in Chicago. She was also an avid street photographer.

Shortly before her death, the contents of her storage locker were auctioned off after she failed to pay the fees. The contents included photographs, negatives, and rolls and rolls of undeveloped film. These were purchased by a couple of enterprising men who are now making their fortunes off Maier’s lifework. (The questionable ethics of that are a subject for a different piece.)

Naturally, the question everyone has been asking since the finders first started sharing the photographs (because, of course, they did) is: Why would anyone take so many photographs and not share them—in many cases, not even develop them? The ubiquity of social media amplifies the confusion over this contradiction, confusion that at times seems to rise to distress, but even people who aren’t social media users are perplexed. Isn’t that the purpose of a photograph? To be shared?

Why take so many photographs if not to share them? Why? It doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

When I initially heard about Vivian Maier a few years ago, my reaction was similar. Huh, strange. It seemed to be a uniquely individual story, one of an eccentric person, not something more universal. But then, details were sketchy. Watching the documentary, my thoughts shifted. While the documentary narrative attempts to paint Maier as a crazy person (she did seem to have some issues in her later years, but whether this was anything more than age-related cognitive decline is unclear) reading between the lines, a different picture begins to form.

Early on in the film, John Maloof, the buyer of the majority of Maier’s creative work and the person profiting from it—and the documentary about her—says straight into the camera: “Why would a nanny be taking all these photographs?”

Wait, what?

I love it when the answer is in the question. Hmm, maybe one reason she didn’t bother sharing her photographs was because of that attitude. Oh, you’re just a nanny. You couldn’t possibly be creating anything of value. In fact, all the people interviewed in the film remember that Maier was always taking photographs—the children (now grown) recall often being bored waiting for her to finish taking pictures; the parents remember thinking it was odd that she always had her camera with her—but I don’t think a single one of them mentions ever asking to see her photographs.

Maybe she was just waiting for someone (anyone) to ask. For someone to take an interest in what was so obviously her passion. Instead, it was dismissed as an odd quirk. After all, she wasn’t a real person; she was just the nanny.

In a review of the film at The New Yorker, Rose Lichter-Marck points out a better question for Maloof to have asked would be why someone who was such a good photographer—and knew it, because she did—chose to work as a nanny.

As Maier is no longer with us, we can only guess, but here are a few thoughts. Perhaps she did try to share her photographs when she was younger and met with rejection. Perhaps she didn’t know where to start to get a foot in the door. Perhaps, considering her options, nannying seemed the best career choice: it gave her a place to live; it wasn’t too exhausting (she had previously worked in a sweatshop); it gave her access to worlds she might not otherwise be able to enter and lots of opportunities to take photographs. Which was what she really wanted to do—but she had to eat, too.

Perhaps, as the years went on, the product became less important, the process more.

Perhaps she had qualms about becoming famous, considered that the accoutrements of that fame might diminish her ability to take the kinds of photographs she liked to take. She was a street photographer, after all. And in that, her great advantage was that she was “just a nanny”—invisible to those around her.

Here’s where I think people go wrong when they try to understand Vivian Maier. Photographs may be for sharing, but photography is a way of seeing. For a photographer, it’s never just about the final print; it’s about composing the shot, framing the image, deciding what to include and what to exclude, thinking about the light, focusing, knowing exactly when to press the shutter button. And all of this is a way of thinking about and understanding the world.

Vivian Maier didn’t spend all her life in the nanny room of a single house in Chicago. She worked for many different families, lived in different cities and on different continents, and traveled—including at least one around-the-world trip. And everywhere she went, she took photographs. Ultimately, she sounds like a private person who followed her own path and led an interesting life. That she chose to pursue her passion privately rather than chasing after fame and fortune (or giving it up to lead a more conventional life) does not make her crazy. It makes her brave.

At the end of the film, I was left thinking not just about Maier, but about all the writers who fill notebooks and journals with words that are rarely (if ever) re-read, who have stories they haven’t shared tucked in drawers and hidden on hard drives. Is not-sharing really so odd when you think about it? We all do it. Maybe not with everything, like Maier, but with some things.

In writing this, I remember a quote saved last year in my commonplace book:

You see, at my age, after the youth burns out, and the long sweet middle years lie ahead, what happens after the writing is done simply does not matter. The point is the chemical burn itself, the molecular exchange, not what is produced or left behind. The point is being, not having done. —Brian Vandyke

Writers are fond of saying “I write because I must (write)” but this is a tautology. We write because it’s how we see the world, how we attempt to understand it. It enriches our lives, even if we don’t share our work. Because writing—creating—is first, foremost, and always, about the process.

pencilEmail: beaver[at]

Train Shots by Vanessa Blakeslee

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Vanessa Blakeslee’s debut collection, Train Shots (Burrow Press, 2014), winner of the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction, is a collection of stories that are shots of life taken at various angles on Main Street. The stories are populated with average people who are stuck and struggle to rise. They are people who probably wouldn’t get a second look if one were to pass them by, yet certainly deserve the attention from Blakeslee’s telling.

Beginning with the first story, “Clock In,” the reader is immediately pulled into a one-sided conversation between a restaurant worker who addresses a silent new hire. The interesting part is that the story is told completely in monologue and in a second-person point-of-view narration. It is quite extraordinary because it is not easy for a writer to pull off as most stories are written in third-person or first-person narration. The coolest part is that the reader becomes a participant by default and has a more intimate experience as they might imagine themselves as a character in this thoughtful and finely-crafted flash story.

Story by story, character by character, Blakeslee’s range of emotional depth and voice tugs the reader from place to place. One tantalizing moment captured so elegantly was in “Welcome, Lost Dogs where the main character, an expatriate living in Costa Rica, experiences a deep catharsis as she grapples with her own humanity and finds meaning in loss:

There are three kinds of grief: the grief of the definite, for what once was and is now gone; the grief of the indefinite, where there are no answers and so the worst is suspected; and the grief of the inevitable, for what must be lost and whose future must be abandoned.

This beautiful theme resonates in all the stories.

The first two stories have a Steinbeckian feel and seem to point a bony finger at the setting as the reader glances beyond the characters at working class life, poverty, prejudice, and a vast loneliness that surpasses hunger. In other stories, characters appear to walk on the sunnier side of the street. They seem to have it all but are lost and broken from their sorrows and regrets like the widower in “Hospice of the Au Pair,” who self-medicates with sex and morphine and Blakeslee’s grownup child-singer-star in “The Princess of Pop who checks into an infamous hotel with dark thoughts on her mind. Darker still is the story, “Barbeque Rabbit”: a mother suspects something unsettling about her child and remains inert too long.

Another vantage point that Blakeslee captures with her lens is about couples—couples that struggle with the big questions in their relationships like the woman who is caught up in the downfall of her rich, sugar-daddy-like corporate fiancé in “Don’t Forget the Beignets.” She recalls the beignets; a simple pastry shared during happier times, and comes to a deeper realization of how important it is to live in the moment because the moment is all that matters. She states:

…even to walk around and eat beignets and watch the passersby was no longer a small thing, but rather the heartbeat of life itself.

Blakeslee’s close-up shots also reveal the afterimages and cracks in relationships not always visible to the naked eye such as in the May–September relationship of a new couple who are beginning to lose their luster in “The Sponge Diver.” In “The Lung,” a charming young man must choose between a part of himself and the love of his life. In “Uninvited Guests,” another character—a young mother—weighs a different set of choices. Most poignant of all is the engineer in the cover story, “Train Shots,” who suffers profoundly from the consequences of a tragedy that he unwillingly participates in.

Vanessa Blakeslee’s story collection is thoughtful and alluring and crafted with edgy elegance. Rich stories that chronicle everyday people and their hidden struggles as they travel along the avenues of hope, despair, and destiny.


Vanessa Blakeslee‘s writing has appeared in The Southern Review, Green Mountains Review, The Paris Review Daily, The Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Review Online, Toasted Cheese and many others. She is the winner of the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize and has been awarded grants and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Banff Centre, Ledig House, the Ragdale Foundation, and in 2013 received the Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Blakeslee earned her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, she is a longtime resident of Maitland, Florida.

pencilShelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: harpspeed[at]

The Case of the Dropped Case

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
D. Staats

Frame clutch
Photo Credit: ruby-jo

Being from Canada, I am used to snow, but I had no idea how much snow falls on Syracuse until I once spent a week in that not-too-cosmopolitan city. To be accurate, I should say that I stayed in a suite hotel in a suburb on the northern edge of the city. I was there to prepare for and testify in a case which I had investigated on behalf of a defendant who had sufficient funds to employ the—if I say it myself, it is only because it is a fact—rather well-known and well-regarded Hercules Leek.

The trial was to begin on Wednesday, and my flight from Quebec arrived Monday morning. I spent most of that first day in the office of the attorneys who were employing me, leaving them about four to go check into my motel. It was a mild April day, temperature in the forties, not a day when one would expect any substantial snowfall. The signs of impending spring were abundant, including the ubiquitous and unsightly snow detritus on the edges of roadways and around the borders of parking lots, where shrunken mounds of snow were dark and ugly with months of accumulated grit and dirt.

The attorneys were, of course, paying for my accommodations, and I was not entirely displeased with them. At five in the afternoon, the motel was quiet and peaceful. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I turned in a few minutes before ten, reading for a few minutes in a pocket edition of The Merchant of Venice to distract my mind before I turned out the light.

My next encounter with consciousness occurred when I was awakened by a tremendous roar followed by a loud thump. A few seconds’ pause, and then a repeat of the roar, followed by a screeching noise, and a metallic clunk. All of this noise was coming from the parking lot. I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

There, below, a rather superannuated and disreputable-looking red pick-up truck with a plow blade mounted on its front was clearing snow from the parking lot. The pestilent thing must either have had an enormous hole in its muffler, or no muffler at all. The driver, a man in his thirties with a full brown beard, had his window down and seemed to be enjoying himself. He would put the plow down and floor the gas pedal, making an ungodly roar as he picked up speed across the lot until, boom, he smashed into the remnant piles of snow at the edge of the parking lot. Then he would raise the plow blade, twist around in his seat, looking out the back window, and floor the gas pedal again, backing up to his starting point. A little correction, of course, so that he was plowing new snow, and he was off again. There were probably thirty centimeters of snow, or as the Americans would say—I had to get used to American measurements for my trial testimony—about a foot.

I went back to bed. I noted as I did so that it was 5:20. That plow had to have wakened every guest in the hotel. You really would think someone would know better.

After another day closeted with the attorneys, I got back to the motel about five o’clock. Being somewhat keyed up from my day’s work, I took a stroll around the outside of the motel. The temperature was now in the mid-50s. As I walked the perimeter of the parking lot, I noticed that the plowboy, as I resentfully referred to him, had pushed the snow with such force that he displaced the theretofore-existing snow piles, and pushed both new snow and old back further, thus exposing the bottom few inches of the old snow piles. These few inches were melting in the mild temperatures. This, of course, was no impediment to my progress, as I wore rubbers to protect my good leather shoes.

I saw in the dark, silt-laden, melting slush a small rectangular outline, which on being nudged with my toe, turned out to be a small, black purse. I picked this up, soggy though it was. It was a snap-frame purse which opened at the top. Inside, the sole object was a tiny pistol, which on my examination, proved to be a two-shot .22 caliber. On my further examination, I determined that one of the two cartridges had been fired, and the empty brass was still in the chamber. Whatever this might mean, it could not be ignored. I had to take this into custody, so to speak.

The next day was trial. I was supposed to go on the stand in the morning, but there was no surprise to me in the fact that proceedings were delayed with arguments of counsel. During one of these sessions, while lead counsel were wrangling, I asked the junior counsel if there had been any crimes in the recent past involving a .22 caliber bullet.

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then his eyebrows rose a full centimeter and he said, “Yes, yes there was a… quite, quite… quite a case.” He told me, in a low voice there in the courtroom, that it had involved a beautiful married woman accused of murdering a man who attended the same church as she. There was no time for more, as the attorneys were coming back from their sidebar conference with the judge.

After court ended that day, all the attorneys adjourned to a quiet restaurant and settled the case. The attorney who had hired me was kind enough to tell me that my testimony had been instrumental in leveraging a settlement favorable to his client. I felt I had earned my fee. And now unexpectedly I had two days free. I had been scheduled on this case for the whole week. As a matter of professional interest, and what might possibly become a legal duty to turn in evidence, I went in the next day to talk with the senior attorney and asked about the case which the junior attorney had mentioned to me.

To sum up what he told me, a thirty-three-year-old married man had been found dead in the parking lot of the motel where I was staying. It was a little more than a year ago and in the dead of winter. In the ensuing investigation, suspicion centered on a woman who attended the same church as the dead man. It turned out that the man had gone to the pastor and confessed to unwanted feelings for this woman, and as a married man not looking for romance, asked for help in dealing with them. The pastor then questioned the woman who said she had noticed the man staring at her and paying close attention to her. She said she had some reciprocal feelings, but neither of them had acted upon them, and in fact, they had avoided one another.

The pastor had decided that each of the two should be counseled by an elder in the church, and had set up appointments for them to go, separately, to confess to an elder and receive the elder’s counsel. This had upset both of the parties who feared the matter would become public and cause them excruciating embarrassment. The pastor also insisted that the man tell his wife, which, reluctantly, he did. To the man’s surprise, his wife supported him and was understanding about his struggle.

Before the date of the counseling sessions, the man and the woman decided to meet to see if they could not between themselves resolve their feelings and clear the air, so as to avoid the necessity for the counseling. They met at the restaurant of the motel in question. According to the woman, it was at first an awkward meeting, but as the two of them talked, they found that their impressions formed at a distance, each of the other, were unrealistic and inaccurate. These impressions gave way to a sense of the other as a real person with faults and a genuine desire to live out the gospel. They each decided that they could manage to maintain a non-threatening Christian relationship and that further intervention would be unnecessary.

They left separately, as they had come. The woman testified that she had driven away before the man and that she saw him leave the restaurant and walk to the parking lot by the motel, opposite from the restaurant parking lot where her car was. She said that on her way home, a giddy feeling came over her. She was very happy, and when she got home, perhaps did behave in a somewhat giddy manner, and was especially joyful that she would not have to tell her husband about the matter.

The next morning, the man was found under a car in the parking lot, frozen stiff and shot through the heart with a .22 caliber bullet. The murder weapon was never found.

At the trial, the principal evidence against the woman was this: she was the last person seen with the victim; she was distraught upon arriving at home that night after meeting the victim; her husband had a .22 rifle and she had access to his ammunition; she had a motive to avoid the disclosure of an illicit love affair.

The jury of five men and seven women deadlocked, seven to five in favor of conviction. The prosecution declined to re-try the case. Many in the community still think she did it, and she leads a difficult existence, employed as a bookkeeper for a small firm.

This cleared up one question. I would have to turn in the purse and the pistol to the police as potential material evidence in a criminal matter. Whether this would result in a re-trial of the matter was unknowable. After a year out of doors in the snow and rain, there were not likely any fingerprints other than my own, which probably covered the entire pistol, being that it was so tiny. Whether there would be any useful ballistic evidence was also uncertain.

Before I turned in this potential evidence, I thought I would see what I could do by way of clearing up the matter. I spent Thursday afternoon in the courthouse, reviewing the trial record. After dinner that evening, I went to see the woman, still uncertain about how I would get rid of her husband so that I could talk to her alone. The address I had for her was in a set of identical two-story apartment buildings. In the dark it took me some time to find the right building.

She answered the doorbell promptly. She was tallish, perhaps an inch taller than my below-average height. She was not so pretty as I had been led to expect. A certain world-weary sadness played about her eyes. Maybe her ordeal had aged her and robbed her of her looks, or maybe I was looking at the ravages of guilt—maybe she was a Dorian Gray without a portrait in her closet.

I introduced myself. I told her I was an investigator who perhaps had new information about the murder of Jason Martel. She let me in but was wary, as, fortunately for me, her husband was not home.

Without any preliminaries, before even either of us had sat down, I took out the small purse, held it in my palm outstretched towards her, and asked, “When did you lose this?”

She looked at the purse, knitting her forehead together, then looked at me with open, innocent eyes. “It’s not mine. I’ve never seen it before.”

“But you know what’s in it.”

“No… no, no, I don’t.”

All right. I put the purse back in my pocket. Despite this gambit of mine, she asked me to sit. I told her what I had learned about the case and asked her to correct any misunderstandings I might have and fill in any information she thought I might be missing. We talked for nearly an hour. She never once smiled. I sensed that if I showed her the pistol, she would start crying, so I didn’t.

I came away feeling sorry for her. Not that I necessarily thought she was innocent. However, if she were acting, she was very good; but then, she’d had a year to rehearse.

Whenever a married person is murdered, there is always a natural suspect ready to hand: the spouse. I had learned that Louise Martel had collected $250,000 in life insurance benefits upon her husband’s death. Whether this could be motive, would depend on what kind of person she was. I made plans to try to talk to her the next day, Friday.

Louise Martel lived in a very upscale neighborhood. Her house was by no means the largest in that neighborhood. However, it was distinctive in that it had been designed—or remodeled—to mimic a Mediterranean villa, with a red pantile roof, a stone wall with an un-doored opening, and a side patio surrounded by trellises. It looked out of place in snowy Syracuse.

I let several minutes pass before I rang the bell a second time. According to my research, she was a self-employed interior decorator, so it was likely that she was home. However, there were no lights visible through the windows, so I could not be sure.

After another long moment, the main door opened with a sound of rushing air as the opening created a vacuum behind the storm door, which clunked as the pressure of the outside air pushed it in tighter against the jamb.

“Yes?” said a woman with dark hair pulled back into a tight pony tail. She was shorter than I and oddly, the level of the foyer floor was a few inches lower than the porch on which I was standing. Consequently, she was staring up at me. She was not unpretty, but she had a peculiar nose, with a bulbous tip.

With age and experience, one does get a sense of people. Instantly I changed my planned approach. Speaking loudly so as to be heard through the storm door, I said, “I think I have found some property which may belong to you—if you are Mrs. Martel.”

She cocked her head and looked at me closely. “I used to be. I go by my maiden name now, Wilson. What is it?”

I took out the purse and holding it between my thumb and forefinger, waggled it as if it were a fish lure. From her reaction, I knew I had her. Getting an admissible confirmation was a matter of using established techniques. It was routine for me.

I flew back to Quebec quite satisfied with my week’s work in the States.

pencilD. Staats is a writer who does not want the reader’s perception of the work to be colored by any description of the author. Would the reader enjoy this story more if he or she knew that it had been written by Anton Chekhov or by Melvin Snodgrass from Podunk, Idaho? Email: d.staats100[at]

Wish I May, Wish I Might

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Carole Mertz

Lost: red bobble hat
Photo Credit: Rachel Beer

Bo sits by the window. He’s tired of looking out on snow, but notices the daylight is extending a bit past five-thirty in the evenings. He takes up his newspaper and, after a coughing spell, reads about the robbery that occurred two nights ago in nearby Schoffsburg. I suppose the sluggards have nothing else to do. Someone should put them to work.

He hears Mrs. Gelber shuffling about in the apartment next door and wonders if she will bring him some supper tonight, which she does occasionally. Once she gets started, she certainly causes a ruckus banging those pots and pans about. But she cooks up a fine stew.

At eighty, Bo, a retired coal miner, is not up to much physical activity, but he returns Mrs. Gelber the favor by carrying her daily garbage bags to the dumpster behind the building. Tonight, after her fine dinner, he collects his own garbage and the two bags she has set outside her door. By the dumpster he meets Estelle, little Maribelle’s mother, and wishes he’d collected the garbage minutes earlier or minutes later.

He nods to Estelle, but she doesn’t speak. Well, then, have it your way! A return greeting might not kill you, though. He smiles to himself.

The next morning, Saturday, March second, Bo sets out for the village at nine-thirty. Snow fell during the night, but Bo tests the sidewalk and with his old boots on, and reassures himself he won’t slip. He waits for his cough to subside, then, cane in hand, begins his slow trek to Bander’s Buffet. Not only does he relish his breakfast there, but he also enjoys reading his newspaper and observing the villagers as they drop in throughout the morning. He chooses the second booth past the cash register, near enough to the door, but not too far from the men’s room.

Bo is comfortable here, where he occasionally stops to talk with neighbors. He doesn’t know that within ten days many of the villagers will not feel as comfortable as they have heretofore. He lingers in his booth till a few minutes past noon. Neither the manager nor the waitresses ever complain about his lengthy visits. Not wanting to annoy other customers, he steps outside or into the bathroom if a too-persistent coughing spell overcomes him. His emphysema hasn’t improved since his retirement, but neither has it worsened, he tells himself.

Midway through his biscuit and creamed chipped beef, Bo watches as Maribelle enters with her schoolmate Azure. Maribelle reaches up and hands the clerk two dollars. “Mama wants the newspaper and she says I can have a chocolate bar, too.” The two girls, not sisters, are thought to be related, for they wear identical knitted caps (another of Mrs. Gelber’s neighborly gestures) and usually appear inseparable.

They’ve surely shared some secrets, Bo muses, wiping some cream off his chin.

“Your mama’s sleeping in, then.” The clerk fishes for a bit of information, the way of folk in small communities, but Maribelle only nods.

She’s as taciturn as her mother, then. But Bo realizes Estelle’s talk is more of the behind-your-back kind of talk. He recalls how she bad-mouthed his dear wife before she died, six years ago. And she’d had no kind words for him either, blaming him for his wife’s death.

“‘You could have at least gotten her into the hospital when she needed it.'” Mrs. Gelber reported Estelle’s gossip to him directly, a week after the funeral. Indeed, I hardly knew what my dear Chip needed then, but one thing the doctor had affirmed to me was keeping her quiet and rested at home would do her more good than a disturbing shuffle to Schoffsburg General. The doctor knew her for years, and I’m sure he knew what was right for her. Old Bo wipes a tear from his eye.

He watches Maribelle and Azure on the sidewalk as they huddle together to unwrap the chocolate. The two girls lean toward each other as Maribelle splits the chocolate wedge in two. The two knitted balls atop their caps bob a bit as the girls bend their heads together—Maribelle’s cap a bright red and Azure’s a mustard color.


A red fox hurries across the field, then turns left following the field’s edge. Yards ahead lies the wooded area the fox will enter. Its lair is almost invisible, though Jimmy, who frequently treads off the path that runs through the glade, is aware of its location. He knows to skirt the area giving a wide berth to the animal’s territory. Jimmy calls the fox Flare-Foot. He’s seen the black feet trotting. They make Jimmy think of charcoal, as if the fox has run through fire and the ashes have marked his feet.

Jimmy loves the fox, loves its independence and its know-it-all air. “You’re a loner, all right,” he tells the fox, as he spies the animal from a distance.

The teenager lives with his grandparents on a farm about a mile out from the village. He checks his traps in the stream and reassures himself all is in order, then heads back to the farmhouse. He whistles as he goes, watching his condensed breath rising.

“Damn, it’s cold!” A rhyme enters his mind. “‘The wind flapped loose, the wind was still.'” He lets the rhyme float through his being, trying to warm himself. “‘The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,’ how does it go? ‘…shaken out dead from tree and hill.’ ‘cept Grandma knows the whole thing, I’ve only got the first verse.” He lifts the latch at the gate, hurries along and enters the kitchen end of the old stone building.


At three o’clock Bo startles awake following a dream. He sits by the window and tries to peer out. His glasses have fallen into the newspaper in his lap. His dream lingers, something about a bright light flashing onto something black and shiny. Only a dream. He looks out and sees Azure and Maribelle. The two clap their hands together in some kind of ritual. Bo can’t hear them, but he sees their lips moving. They clap so rapidly he knows they’ve done this routine before. Clap—together, clap—across, clap—together, then diagonally across. Bo wishes he could hear them. His head droops and he snoozes again.

A knock wakes him. “Pa, I knocked four times. Are you OK?” Josie, his younger daughter, is at the door carrying two large paper sacks.

“You know my door’s always unlocked. Come in, sweetheart. How’s my gal? Have you seen Jennifer? How’s she doing? Here, set your bags down.” He attempts to stifle a cough but has to give in to its five-minute duration as Josie unwraps the kitchen items and stores the canned goods and frozen packages in their proper places. She and her sister visit their dad on alternate weekends.

“Jennifer’s good, Dad. She told me to remind you to call Dr. Bream to renew your prescription. Has your cough worsened?”

“Nah! ‘Bout the same. How was your shift this morning?”

Josie always drives directly from her early shift at the hospital on Saturdays, picking up Bo’s groceries along the way.

“Same as usual. No rest for the weary feet. How’s it going? Anything new in town?” She’d heard about the robbery that took place at the Schoffsburg Gas ‘n Take-Out a week ago. She waits to see if her dad has any news from the villagers. She doesn’t tell her father about the eight-year-old who was admitted that morning following a sexual molestation. Word about the case spread quickly through the hospital.

“I heard from Ned Nelson at the Mart that they’ve installed a camera scan at the rear door of their store. Since that robbery at the gas station, nobody’s taking any chances. Want chicken paprikash tonight or spaghetti and meatballs, Da’?”

“Oh, let’s have the—” Another coughing spell interrupts Bo, after which he flops into his recliner.

Josie begins the paprikash. “It would be nice if we’d get rid of the snow one of these days. And I think you should start locking your door at night.” She pounds the cutlets, flattens them, and cuts them into bite-sized pieces.

Her father sleeps.


A week later, March 18th

On Sunday afternoon, returning from Bander’s Buffet with his newspaper under his arm, Bo passes the two young girls. Maribelle and Azure are holding hands and skipping down the center of the street. As they skip, they shout loudly and in a merry sing-song: “Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” They yank their linked hands forward and back.

Wouldn’t their mothers be a wreck if they spied them in the middle of the street! Then again, when have their mothers ever been that watchful of their children? “Here! Step over here,” Bo calls to them. But they are giggling and don’t hear him.

“Wish I may, wish I might.”

Bo walks on down the street. Wonder what I’d wish tonight, if I were wishing. He smiles to himself. Wouldn’t mind having a new set of lungs. He hears a car beep behind him. But now, lost in thought, he shuffles on home, noticing the snow has become slush.


Meanwhile, Jimmy is seated at the kitchen table in the farmhouse. His stamp collection is spread before him. He reaches for the magnifying glass, trying to decide where to place the Sri Lankan stamp with its curlicue letters. I wonder what that says? I wonder if I’ll ever go to Sri Lanka?

His grandma places a cup of hot chocolate on the table. “Better set that way over there, Grandma. You know how clumsy I can be.”

“I wouldn’t call a lad who can collect over $3.25 a week on his muskrat skins clumsy.”

Jimmy smiles, pleased that his grandmother recognizes his trapping skills. “I’m lucky Mr. Peters pays me 25 cents each for the pelts.” He reaches for the cocoa. He knows not too many of his classmates would rise at four in the morning to check their traps, but he’s grown used to the chore.

“It’s been a good winter. It’s a wonder old Flare-Foot never wanders by the stream. But he’s too smart for that.”

“Who’s Flare-Foot?”

“He’s a fox I see now and then. I know where his lair is, but I’ve never seen another fox. Only him.”

Jimmy places the pink stamp on a square and considers gluing it fast.

His grandmother sighs. “You’re a good lad.”

“You think Gramps would let me show him the fox’s spot? He never goes into the woods, does he?”

“Your Grandpa knows every inch of this property, I expect.”


Maribelle is in the coal bin. She sobs and rubs her dripping nose on the sleeve of her coat.

Azure puts her arm around her. “Don’t cry, your mom doesn’t really want to hurt you.”

“She does, too. She yelled at me and said I could go to that place—she said ‘You can go to hell, all I care.’ Sometimes I wish I had a daddy. A real daddy at home. Then this wouldn’t happen. I bet he wouldn’t let Mommy beat me.”

Azure says, “Yeah.”

They sit quietly, shivering.

Azure jumps up. “Let’s go for a walk!”

The two girls walk to Featherstone Street and turn up Maple to the warehouse at the edge of the village. The afternoon light begins to weaken. They’re used to walking, but have no idea how far they’ve come. In the fields they look back toward the village. The warehouse is far behind them. When Azure realizes how distant it is, she shakes. “We should go back. Maybe it will be dark soon.”

“I don’t want to go back. I don’t ever want to see Mommy again!”

“I don’t like it here. C’mon. Let’s go back.”

Maribelle walks on. She kicks at stones and puts her hands in her pockets, looking steadily down.

“I’m cold, Maribelle. C’mon!” She begs, but Maribelle walks on. Azure sees the woods in the distance and knows she will never go there in the dark. She begins to cry. She looks at Maribelle, then turns to look at the warehouse, now only dimly visible. After a last look at her friend, she turns and runs home.


Bo reads the news of the missing child on Tuesday morning. He doesn’t need the paper to inform him, for the report has already spread throughout the village.

The waitress approaches his booth. “Your regular today, Bo?”

“No, I don’t feel much like eating. Just a black coffee, please.”

Bo reads that an investigator was at Mrs. Randolph’s house on Monday and that she had reported the child missing at eight that morning. Hah! She took her good old time. The newspaper reported: “Nothing from the child’s bedroom was missing or disturbed. Mrs. Randolph said she’d never known the child to stay out past dark.” Well, if she did, Estelle would never have known it, the careless bitch! I never saw the mother walk with the child. Always only Maribelle and Azure, Maribelle and Azure. Wish I may and wish I might. Wait a minute! I wonder if they’ve talked to Azure. Bo is deep in thought when the waitress comes to refill his cup. The reporter had titled the article “The Girl in the Red Snowcap.”

That night Bo calls Josie. By now he needs her advice. Should he talk to the police, or not? And if so, whom should he ask for? “I’m not used to this sort of thing, Josie. Suppose I make a fool of myself.”

“Dad, how about if I come over tomorrow, soon’s I get off work? We can go to the station together.”

The next day she’s at his door by two-thirty. “The newspaper said they’re talking to all the neighbors,” he tells her. “But there’s no mention of Azure and so far nobody’s rung my doorbell, either. Yes, let’s go to the station.”

It snows later that night, the day of the spring equinox. The next day dawns spring-like, with temperatures in the mid-forties.


Old Flare-Foot, what are you up to now? Jimmy asks of the darkness. The elements don’t feel so quiet in the woods this morning. Jimmy’s on edge. Before checking his traps, he spies something lying nearby. The snow has drifted toward a tree trunk and is nearly melted. Soggy leaves lie there from the prior season. Jimmy turns his flashlight toward the leaves. There on top lies the object. It’s red. Startled, Jimmy runs back to the house. He’s heard about the girl in the red snowcap.

Jimmy wakes his grandpa and together they drive to Schoffsburg. Officers piece together their various reports into one brief document, brutal in its clarity. Maribelle’s body is found on the same day Jimmy discovers the cap. Weeks later the villagers still talk about how Azure and her family have left town.

Bo sits in Bander’s Buffet, his newspaper spread open. “This is one sad story,” he tells the waitress. They shake their heads.

pencilA retired musician, Carole Mertz writes from Parma, Ohio. This is her first mystery, though she has published essays, short stories, and poetry in With Painted Words, The Conium Review, at Page and Spine, and in various anthologies. She won an honorable mention in the 4th Worldwide Intergenerational Storytelling Contest. Email: carolemertz[at]

Fixies Adrift

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Lou Nell Gerard

Photo Credit: Ian Hoar


The white pelican thought little about the two bodies slipping into the water and floating away through the canoe path between the sedge reeds. As long as they stayed clear of his school of rainbow trout he cared not about the activities of these wingless land creatures. He was working fast packing away fish before those double-crested cormorants showed up.


“I still say that is an odd shape for reeds, seems too solid somehow.”

“Well, feel free to head out on that ice to check it out… your snowshoes might help keep you from breaking through.”

“It might just be thick enough this year, but then so am I, thick this year… naaaww… we’ll see come spring.”

“Thank you.”


“Thick… you’re thick because of my irresistible cooking, right? Don’t tell me that wasn’t a compliment.”


The reeds had shed their winter snow hoar leaving shining wet and brilliant green against cerulean blue.

Lois and Lonny were enjoying their shore walk sans snowshoes. Soon they’d be bringing the canoe down to its fair-weather dock they shared with the summer folk.

“Look at that heron with pink feet!”

“Herons don’t have pink feet. Grey, kind of a yellow-orangey color I think, maybe black. No, no pink feet. You’ve got that pink-toed tarantula on your mind. It must be standing on something pink. What is it standing on?”

“What do you mean? I’m talking about that one there in the reeds.”

“No no no… look at it. I mean yes, I know you are talking about the one in the reeds. Look, that’s that spot, that odd shape we saw in the snow all winter long. There is something there in the reeds. That heron is standing on something pink.”

“Let’s go get the canoe.”


As they approached the reeds they squinted and strained to try to justify some of the odd angles and colors they were seeing in the reeds. Finally as they slipped through one of the old canoe channels they saw something pink, probably what the “pink-footed” heron was standing on. They nosed further in and there stood amongst the reeds two bicycles, one of them with a pink saddle. The bikes were aboard a rather substantial raft. Using their lines they fashioned a loop around a corner of the raft and given that there wasn’t much movement of the lake water in this little bay they felt secure stepping aboard the raft, after all, it had overwintered there. This, then, was the “odd shape for reeds” they’d debated about. They felt like children, the both of them, who’d found a great discovery. One bike was a black Bianchi fixed gear bike, the other, also a Bianchi “fixie,” sort of a turquoise bluish color—called “Celeste” they were to learn later. The latter was the one with the pink saddle. Wonder and excitement alight on their faces, they felt as though they were getting a tour of a stage set.

“Fixies on a raft… out here… and look at all the rest!”

All the rest included a picnic basket still propped open and lined with a blue, yellow, and white checked waffle fabric dish towel. There was a quarter-empty jar of pickled walnuts, shreds from a box of some sort—maybe crackers—and a red wax half-shell full of beak marks that very likely came off a cheese. There was a small ceramic knife and a bamboo five-inch by eight-inch oil-stained cutting board and an empty sardine can. Of course nothing edible remained. Whether it had been dined on by humans or devoured by lake dwellers was unclear, although the dish towel did have some distinctly beak-like marks and was in a bit of disarray. Perhaps cormorants and otters got together and dined on the raft. Was heron invited? Ducks?

Centered on the raft, the fixies, held by portable triangle stands, created an enclosure like that of a small sidewalk wrought-iron fence. This framed a light outdoor cafe table and two matching chairs. A floral muslin shawl draped over the back of one chair had slipped and was hanging as if placed “off-the-shoulder” of the chair. It was a delicate creation of pale greens and blues and yellows and pinks, flowers and vines on a cream background. Part of the shawl draped itself on the rough-hewn timber of the raft—the corner just dipped into the water as if taking a sip.

On the table, an empty bottle of 2009 RoxyAnn Viognier, two crystal wine glasses (one of them still bore pink lip prints overlapped as though the drinker rotated the glass to drink from a lipstick-free rim with each sip), and two bamboo fiber and melamine plates in a bright Mediterranean pattern. Lois thought immediately how odd to contrast the delicate breakable crystal wine flutes with the practical but still quite lovely plates. Tucked under the wine bottle was a piece of heavy paper. It looked as though it had a sketch of some kind on it but the melting snow had left simply a pattern of washed-out colors. Had that been a blue elephant? Letters of some kind?

Thirty-eight degrees, still cold even in the full blast of early spring sun. Everything about the scene sparkled. Even the rough-hewn timbers of the raft itself, still wet from snow melt, glistened. Under each chair a pair of shoes sat neatly as if on display. The shawl-draped chair guarded a pair of Jimmy Choo sandals with a spiked four-inch heel, pale green, size 8. No scuff marks, but worn enough that the ‘JIM’ part of the label on the footbed was slightly faded from friction. Later investigation revealed them to be from Jimmy Choo’s 2014 line. ‘Lance’ sandals in Peppermint retailing for around $775.00. These shoes had not been in contact with a bike pedal of any kind. Facing directly, as though in conversation with the sandals, were a well-worn pair of Converse Chuck Taylor “Year of the Dragon” men’s high tops, no laces, size 13. Probably retailed in 2012 for around $90.00. This particular pair did not have an ‘original owner’ look about them. Later close inspection revealed that the footbed was worn in two distinctly different pressure patterns. The bottoms, as well, were worn like they were worn by both a pronator and supinator, and they bore a look of having once been laced frequently.

The table was set with a pale yellow linen tablecloth. A lapis-blue linen napkin was wadded up to the left of the plate belonging to the high tops and the matching napkin was draped across the seat of the Jimmy Choo chair. A silver fork rested tines down at three o’clock on the empty dinner plate. Next to this plate was a tube of Laura Mercier ‘Spring Renaissance’ Crème Smooth Lip Color, in Palm Beach, still sitting upright as improbable as that may seem. Lois reached for the tube, then caught herself just as she was about to pick it up. Luckily, enthralled as they were, they had not yet handled anything.

On the raft itself in the corner opposite the picnic basket sat a Crosley Echo portable battery-operated turntable in a retro red-and-cream case. One vinyl had been playing: Billie Holiday’s All or Nothing at All, 1958 on Verve records. Still in their cardboard album sleeves sat: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, 1959 on Columbia Records and Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, 1958 on the Fontana label along with John Coltrane’s Ballads, 1961 on Impulse! Records. Tucked between the portable turntable and the albums, propped against the side of the lid, was a slim, folded cane. A white reflective cane used by someone who is blind. Magic and wonder gave way to gravity. Two bicycles, one cane. Lonny had been in a marathon once with a runner who was blind; she had a runner guide… could that work for a bike? He just couldn’t visualize it… well, of course, but…

This, the cane more than anything else—the bikes, the shoes, the emptiness of the picnic basket—sent a chill up Lois’s spine. Lois looked at Lonny and they both reached for their phones with grim faces. Adventure and discovery had given way to a feeling neither of them could describe. That feeling when there seems no ready explanation, when time slows and sounds of life like the lapping water against the raft, soft wind through the reeds, the quiet bark of the canoe against the raft, bird song, the occasional splash of a fish or a landing lake bird all disappear and are replaced by a tone of the imagination much like the deep, deep tonals of the throat-singing monks of Tibet. Seeing each other pulling their phones out they each started to demure—then they compared signal strength and his phone “won” or maybe “lost” so Lonny made the 911 call.

“Sir, please don’t touch anything else and get off the raft. Can you paddle to Harbinger’s landing and meet the sheriff to guide him and his team out?”


The sheriff’s department launch idled alongside trying not to overtake the canoe. Deputy June Wolmar was wishing she had her pole and line to string along behind… why not grab some trout on duty? She and the sheriff were both fit with winter-tan faces. Both wore Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, June’s with brown tint—what she called “happy glass”—Dan’s with a dark grey-green tint. She always found that tint depressing while her brown tint added a golden light.

Everyone was quiet, seeming to enjoy the sun, the quiet purr and sputter of the barely-idling outboard, the light splashes of the oars, the occasional knock of an oar against the canoe—winter had deconditioned both Lonny and Lois from paddling smoothly.

When they reached the raft, Deputy Wolmar dropped the bow anchor and took a few pictures with her phone, then nodding to the sheriff, she and Sheriff Dan Markham stepped aboard the raft. Markham called in the forensics team who had been on standby in case of hoax or false alarm. He asked them to arrange for divers too. The team would use GPS to locate and join them. Then he pulled out a pocket spiral notepad and mechanical pencil. Wolmar had grabbed her iPad out of a pack she had thrown on board the launch. They worked well together though their choice of tools was different. Almost back-to-back, they slow-waltzed around each other in silence taking a full three-hundred-sixty-degree view of the scene before starting to take notes. Wolmar periodically used her iPad to take pictures. Markham knew he didn’t have to direct her; she was methodical and thorough. Some people said she was “OCD” as though it were a precursor to the plague or something. Well, fine, he thought, all the better for my team.

Lois and Lonny weren’t sure if they were in the way, dismissed, or witnesses so they sat rather uncomfortably in the canoe and shrugged their shoulders at each other. It was getting cold now that they weren’t moving. After about fifteen minutes Lonny cleared his throat.

“Oh, sorry, can you give the deputy here your names and phone numbers, then you can go for now, we’ll be contacting you later… and please keep this to yourselves?”

“Well, they certainly didn’t come out here in the winter…” June was crouched down admiring the Jimmy Choo sandals without touching them. “When was our last good picnic weather?”

“You are assuming that these people buckled to the types of choices we make—maybe they came out when it was already cold… well… we’ve had no rainfall in a record period, so I’ll grant it was likely dry. Then snow, cold, snow, and now melt. How long? How long?”

“Look here, Dan, attached to the side here.” June had located two punting poles and a paddle snapped into place by a pair of sideways-mounted shovel-and-rake snap holders. “Where did they launch the raft? Did they stop here or drift here after, after whatever? It is a pretty spot.”

“OK, let’s do the list, not much more we can do until forensics and the divers arrive.”

“The bikes, fairly new, expensive-looking; they still have serial numbers. Purchased where, by whom, reported stolen?” June was a fast typist and easily frustrated by her voice capture tool so she madly tapped away in Pages using her onscreen keyboard as they talked.

“What depths do those punting poles work in? Lake depth, can we backtrack and map possible paths for the raft? Any kind of current here, it is a big lake?”

“There are big sections where it’d be nearly impossible to get a raft that size to the lake, we can eliminate those and let’s first focus here on Upper Lake. No candles or lantern, longer day? Oh! And the drawing.”

“No signs of violence, but it looks so awfully like a stage set… that could mean nothing.” Dan, in fact, was thinking about street art but wasn’t ready to say anything. This wasn’t a city building or sidewalk that had been painted, after all. This was remote, where was the audience… no, highly unlikely… it certainly would be an expensive temporary ‘installation’.

“Or everything, everything…” June, too, was thinking of a stage set, a stage set by a perpetrator to make everything look “copacetic.” That’s the word he or she or them would use.

“Where are the clothes? Well, shoes left behind, but no little pile of clothes neatly stacked… it would fit wouldn’t it?”

“Well, something unfortunate happened or someone had an expensive little celebration and walked away or swam or rowed or…”

“Or not.”

Summer’s End

Lois and Lonny walked and rowed almost every day through spring and summer. They often speculated about the raft. The Sheriff’s Department towed it away after a week’s worth of in-place investigation. No information was forthcoming to the folks who found it. A brief flurry of local talk and headlines, then the biggest rainbow trout catches regained their rightful place.

June and Dan, unbeknownst to each other, frequented the archive room, each looking for an overlooked clue, each haunted by questions and their own particular theories. Dan loved the idea of a stage manager or someone like that creating this set for whomever came across it to draw their own conclusions… sort of a three-dimensional Banksy for the great outdoors. In which case it was too bad the raft couldn’t have stayed out there in the reeds for as long as the weather, otters, cormorants, herons, pelicans, ducks, woodpeckers, flickers, and bugs let it stand. Of course, someone would have made off with the bikes and those Jimmy Choos. June was of a less-optimistic mind, but unclear as to details. Neither of them wanted this one to end up “Unsolved.”

pencilLou Nell Gerard is a freelance writer of poetry, essays and short stories. Her essay “Secret Dreams” was published in the Women’s Forum of Rider Magazine. Her enthusiasm for motorcycles, movies, music, plays, paintings, books and road trips are frequent topics of her blog. She lives in Kirkland, Washington with her husband, Klee, and their cat, ShuLien. Email: louge[at]

On Cellardyke Beach

Baker’s Pick
Pamela Scott

The Reaper at Anstruther
Photo Credit: Gordon Ednie

Every summer when I was a kid my parents took me to a little fishing village in Fife called Anstruther for two weeks. We stayed in a chalet at Anstruther Holiday Village.

My parents never had money for a holiday so the first year we went it was a treat. I was nine. Dad drove us there in the old red Volvo he was driving at the time.

The village was twelve miles outside St Andrew’s. We drove past hundreds of acres of corn and poppy fields when a massive road sign materialised out of nowhere. Welcome to the East Neuk of Fife. I thought the words ‘East Neuk’ were exciting and magical.

We almost missed the turn off for the village. The road sign was tiny. Faded white paint on a tiny pillar of stone. WELCOME TO ANSTRUTHER and a sign pointing to the right. Mum saw it at the last minute and yelled so hard Dad slammed on the brakes, thinking something was wrong. Dad reversed back along the road, turned right and followed the street.

The Holiday Village took ages to find. It was tucked behind several rows of houses. We drove along the same street dozens of times before Dad finally asked for directions. He weaved the car between the houses and drove through large wooden gates bearing a sign with the words ‘Anstruther Holiday Village’. He parked the car in front of a small building marked OFFICE. It didn’t take him long to get the keys and a map to our chalet.

It took ages to find the chalet. We drove around the place in frantic circles while Mum scrutinised the map and Dad yelled at her. He finally stopped next to a building we’d passed dozens of times, got out of the car and carried our luggage inside.

The chalet was a converted old one-storey, two-bedroom Army barrack. The amenities were basic. Electricity. Calor Gas fire instead of heating. A bath and toilet. A colour TV with four basic channels. Basic furniture including a couch, a couple of chairs and a large table. Self-catering of course.

As the years passed my friends went on holiday to Spain, Greece, the French Riviera, and Italy and we returned to Anstruther. It never occurred to me to be jealous of them. The weather was always scorching. Every year I got a tan. I was with my favourite people on earth. I got to take pets with me. Foreign climates held no interest for me.


Our first year in Anstruther was a year of discovery.

I took my budgie with me. Billy Boy. Dad had taught him to sing rude songs, swear creatively and make rude body noises. I couldn’t help laugh when Billy Boy whistled the sash, made belch or farting noises and sang Billy Boy’s a Protestant boy while Mum threatened to cook him for dinner and gave Dad one of her famous ‘looks’ designed to wither him.

On our first day in Anstruther I discovered the greatest secondhand bookshop in the world. It was at the end of a street that looked directly onto the harbour. We were walking to the village to have a look around when I noticed a sign on a lamppost that read ‘2ND HAND BOOKS’ with an arrow pointing along the street. I dragged my parents with me. The bookshop was in a building painted bright blue.

I was in heaven. There were two large fold-down tables in front of the shop covered in books. Inside the shop was my version of Aladdin’s Cave—every wall covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves breaking under the strain of books they carried. There were even shelves in the middle of the room that you had to squeeze past.

We hadn’t been in the shop five minutes when I started weighing Mum and Dad down with books. There was sappy expression on my face. My eyes were wide as saucers. I’m sure I drooled a little. They almost had to drag me screaming from the shop in the end carrying eleven carrier bags filled with books. The whole lot cost less than £30.

I visited the bookshop every year. I always bought dozens of books. As I got older my tastes changed and I discovered the joys of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Shaun Hutson, and Richard Laymon.

I have so many memories of summer days sitting on a blanket on the beach huddled over one book or another completely lost in the world between the pages.

On our second day we discovered the neighbouring village of Cellardyke. It was a tiny village a mile-and-a-half away. We decided to check out the beach at Anstruther and were sorely disappointed. A few inches of sand and lots of rock. Dad clambered across the rocks to see where they led. Mum and I followed. I stumbled and fell a couple of times.

The rocks led to a proper beach and another harbour. Golden sand stretched for miles. The beach had donkey rides, stalls selling gifts, and a Mr Whippy ice cream van. Dad bought us a cone and found out the place was called Cellardyke, the smallest village in the East Neuk. There were a couple of rows of shops, a post office, and a café.

When we finished our cones we took the road way back. The road was called Coast Road. We walked past rows of caravans that stretched most of the way between the two villages. We found out later they were part of Cellardyke Holiday Park.

Over the years we spent a lot of time in Cellardyke. The walk was pleasant along the Coast Road. The breeze from the sea was lovely. We always bought a cone. Dad and I walked along the narrow harbour wall and watched fish in the sea and looked at all the fishing boats. Mum always sat at a small bench on a hill overlooking the harbour. The idea of walking the harbour wall made her feel queasy. We spent a lot of time on the beach. Dad would drag Mum into the water and wind her up by splashing her. I sunbathed and read.

On our third day we discovered the little shop at the bottom of the hill behind the holiday village. There was a very steep hill that led from the back gate right down to the beach. The hill was too steep for a car and you had to walk very carefully. My legs were killing me by the time we reached the bottom.

We were behind a lot of houses. There was a sandy path that led down to the only sandy area of the beach. Right next to the opening that led to the sandy path there was a little shop. It sold the usual newspapers and magazines as well as handcrafted gifts and homemade sweets.

Dad started to go down to the shop every morning to get a paper, bread, and milk. We bought all of our gifts there. We started our daily walk to Cellardyke from there. As the years passed the hill seemed to get steeper and steeper. Dad’s legs got bad with arthritis and we had to stop using the hill.

On our fourth day we discovered the Anstruther Fish Bar. It was one of many businesses that overlooked the harbour. We’d been shopping one day when Dad noticed a huge queue leading from the building down the street. Curious, we went over to investigate. The windows of the place were covered in signs proclaiming the fish bar to be award winning, the best in the East Neuk and world famous.

We had to queue for almost two hours before we finally got a table. We sat at a table at the back of the restaurant. The place was mobbed and cramped. There wasn’t a lot of room for people to move about.

The fish and chips were amazing. They were served on plates inside cardboard boxes that looked like rolled up newspaper. You had to eat with a wooden fork.

We ate there at least once every year.


I have so many memories of Anstruther that have never faded.

The smell of the sea. I’d never smelt it before and grew to love it. Even now I can’t smell the sea without thinking of those summers.

The sound of seagulls screaming as they flew overhead.

Hot sand squelching between my bare toes.

Rummaging inside various gift shops.

Sitting on the harbour wall and eating a Mr Whippy.

The hot sun in my face, making my skin sweat and my eyes water.

Walking along the pebbled streets that wound all over the village.

After we stopped going on holiday to Anstruther we returned for a day trip every year. We revisited all our haunts. We carefully made our way down the steep hill behind the holiday village. We walked across the rocks. We walked to Cellardyke and had a cone on the harbour. We paid a visit to the secondhand bookstore. We ate at the fish bar. We walked the pebbled streets.


It was during the first week of our second year in Anstruther that Dad had his accident.

It had been raining and miserable all day but it finally stopped. Dad wanted to explore the rocks with me and my dog Sheba. He wanted to show me how to fish in the shallow pools that sometimes formed in the rocks. Mum didn’t want to come.

The rocks were okay at first. A couple were damp buy nothing major. Dad walked carefully, stopping to wait for me to catch up. He lifted me over some parts I couldn’t manage myself. I had a net with me and Sheba was running around. He helped me catch tiny little fish. Sheba got bit on the nose by a crab and stayed much closer to us.

After a while we reached several large flat rocks that had green moss on them. They sloped upwards. At the bottom were a series of sharp rocks piled on top of each other. Dad tested the first moss-covered rock. It was fine. We crossed it. He was testing the second one when his legs went from under him. He gave a scream and he lost his footing and slid down the flat rocks towards the steep ones. He smashed both knees off the sharp rocks. There was blood everywhere. Sheba lay down at his feet and howled in pain.

He couldn’t stand up and told me to get Mum. I ran back towards the holiday village screaming my head off. I yelled and cried all the way to our chalet while everyone stared at me. Mum phoned an ambulance.

Dad had to get over thirty stitches in each knee. At the hospital they found out he had arthritis in both knees. The stitches didn’t come out for a month and his knees were left badly scarred.


Sheba came to Anstruther with us every year. She was my dog. My voice was the only authority she recognised. She never paid any attention to Mum and Dad. At home she used to escape from the back garden and run to the grass verge across from the house. She ran circles round Mum and Dad as they chased her. As soon as I appeared she ran to my side. I didn’t even need to say anything.

Summers in Anstruther were even better with Sheba. I’d play with her on the beach and in the water. I’d bury her in the sand. I built sandcastles that she took delight in demolishing. She had this big rubber bone that we used to play with. I would take a hold of both sides. She’d grab the middle and drag me around the water.

I came home from school one day and Dad told me Sheba was gone. I was thirteen. She’d bitten a kid at the end of the street on the hand and his parents made such a fuss she had to be put down. I went into hysterics. I locked myself in my room and trashed the place. I didn’t speak to my Dad for weeks and called him a murderer.

The summer after Sheba was put down we returned to Anstruther for the last time. It wasn’t the same without Sheba. I sat around the chalet moping with my head stuck in a book. I didn’t want the beach or the water or anything. Dad offered to get me a new dog that was trained but I only wanted Sheba. My best friend I’d shared so many happy memories with on Cellardyke beach.

pencilPamela Scott is thirty-two years old and lives in Glasgow in the UK with her partner of eight years. In her day job she works in a call centre. She has had her poems and short stories published in various UK magazines including The New Writer, Carillon, and Words with Jam. Her poems have been published in anthologies by Indigo Dreams Press. She has been shortlisted and won second place in various competitions including The Global Short Story Competition. Email: scootiepm26[at]


Beaver’s Pick
M.J. Walsh

Photo Credit: Doug Butchy

We’re going to the beach, finally. A few days ago we tried, too hot. Yesterday we tried, thunderstorms. Today things have cooled down considerably and we’ll have to wear clothes over our swimsuits but it’s sunny and clear and we’ve got lots of sunscreen and extra towels to cover our freezing bodies when we emerge from the frigid north Atlantic.

So we’re going to the beach, finally! If I can ever find my sunglasses and lip balm. The weight on my head is reassuring; now show yourself, lip balm—my longest-running addiction, and last obstacle. Pockets? No. Beach bag? No. Bathrobe! Wait, let me run upstairs and check the bathrobe pockets! Jackpot! All set, let’s go. We need to get there early to get a primo spot, a circle with a radius of at least ten feet.

Good god, it’s stifling in the car. Perhaps we should keep the windows rolled up and sweat it out all the way to the beach, dump our stuff at the center of our perfect beach circle, and dive straight in to the ocean, like Norwegians, just emerged from a sauna. We’ll blink the salt from our eyes and splash around until our fingers prune or our ankles get numb then wander up to deal with our accoutrements, dripping.

We’ll have to find some hefty rocks to hold down the corners of each blanket. We’ll have to dry off and put on sunblock. We’ll have to try not to fall asleep after our second beer in the sun. Are the bathhouse and lunch bar open this early in the season? It is June after all, and if they can charge for parking, they can at least provide sustenance for the people who are forking it out. They do a decent coffee, for a beach, if memory serves.

First we have to get there. Not many people on the road today. It looks like smooth sailing for us. The roads are cracked and bruised from the fourteen-year-long winter we’ve endured. Some of the side streets are riddled with veins of newly-caulked pavement sealant. The smell of the tar mixes with flowers and pollen and freshly-cut grass, soon to be replaced with the smell of salt and sunscreen, the grit of the sand in our hair and the glare of the seagull, lusting after our potato chips.

We’re going to the beach, finally.

pencilM.J. Walsh is from Boston, MA. She works at a university library by day and writes by night. Email: ivivivivi[at]

Cell Block

Eric E. Wallace

Rose Garden
Photo Credit: Devon D’Ewart

Here’s Mae’s problem: at age 78, though otherwise in vigorous good health, still slender and unstooped—after all, she’s from deep-rooted Idaho stock—her mind seems to be unraveling, bit by bit. She finds herself grasping at memories, agonizing over failures of recall, worrying that whatever afflicted her mother decades ago has now awakened and is slowly uncoiling in her brain.

Some memories are bold, oddly-fresh and vivid, while others are faded and blurred. It’s glum, chum. Dumb.

These days unasked-for rhymes dance around her, amusing and annoying. Cloying, toying.

The doctors have no easy answers. Perhaps a dementia. Maybe Alzheimer’s, Mrs. Tolliver. We can’t be sure. They fall back on that popular mantra, too-soon-to-tell. Tell, swell. Hell.

At least Mae and her husband can laugh about it. Sometimes. They heard the only way to confirm Alzheimer’s is postmortem, dissecting brain tissue. “I’m sorry,” Mae smiles with unwrinkled radiance, “but I need every cell. Especially now. No autopsy, no cutting, thank you.” Cutting, tut-tutting. Rutting. Where did that come from? she wonders.

Mae’s not been sleeping well either. And now there’s this wandering thing.

Many a summer morning, Henry still dozing, Mae stands at their small kitchen window and looks up at the tawny Boise foothills. The dawn sun paints the rimrock. The shadows move, the dark rough edges shift into astonishing shapes, impossible animals, jagged demons.

Below those sandstone ridges is the Old Idaho Penitentiary, the biggest puzzle in Mae’s slowly-reassembling life. This summer, for some reason, she is strongly drawn to the prison. She wanders over there, sometimes cognizant she’s doing it, other times finding herself in the cool confines of the women’s building, not recalling the journey.

It’s an easy walk. Mae can go out the back door of their red brick cottage, open the garden gate, step onto the trail, cut through Quarry Park and the adjoining fields and soon be at the massive outer sandstone wall of the Women’s Ward, which sits at right angles to the penitentiary proper. Not that the penitentiary was ever proper, she thinks—a hundred years of anguish, guilt, fear, toil and death. History tries to put a dusty haze on it all, but she can almost feel it. Haze, glaze, maze.

Why does she need to go there, she wonders? Why does she step through the fortified doorway—conveniently open for tourists—cross the scruffy garden with its forlorn rose bushes, and slip into the dim prison building with its seven barred cells, its poignant photographs and stories of women long lost? Bossed. Tossed. At what cost?

Henry sometimes finds Mae sitting on the long wooden bench under the thick-barred central skylight, or standing motionless in one of the small side rooms, or leaning on the coarse metal grating of a cell, staring in. She simply doesn’t know why she’s there.

The family has started discussions. The most worried is Samantha, their daughter, who theorizes a long maternal line of dementia. Sam’s grandmother, her great aunt and her mother’s sister all had mental issues of one sort of another. Nuts, she thinks, but never voices that word. She fears she’s the heir apparent.

Sam tries to focus on Mae’s wandering. “Maybe it’s that damn Lady Bluebeard,” she says, twisting strands of her long black hair.

“You think Mom identifies with a serial killer?” scoffs their son Frank. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly.” He doesn’t say this with any admiration.

“What about those coincidences?” Sam persists.

Years ago, taking a tour of the Women’s Ward, Mae and Henry discovered that Prisoner 3052, Lyda Southard, the infamous husband-poisoner, shared Mae’s birth names, Anna Mae. And 3052 was the phone number of the farm where Mae grew up.

“How bizarre is that?” said Mae, scrutinizing Southard’s face, hunting for—what, she wasn’t sure. The prisoner stared bemusedly into the camera, looking almost pretty, not very penal.

The family is still discussing Mae’s wandering. Sam’s husband suggests that Mae is attracted by the huge lighted cross hovering on Table Rock above the penitentiary. He proposes the cross is a steeple, the Women’s Ward a cathedral.

“Moth to the holy flame,” he says. “So what if Mae’s never been religious? She’s at the age when people turn to God.”

“If that’s true, I sure hope she’s not required to go to prison to meet Him,” says Henry, mildly.

Mae’s condition concerns the family, but apart from her wandering, oddities of speech and memory quirks, she functions fairly normally. Everyone’s happy she’s spending much of this summer in her garden, nursing vegetables, tending roses.

One rose in particular, a hybrid with complex, fiery blooms, draws Mae’s attention. She loves touching the supple petals, relishes smelling the buttery musk, contemplating the intricate layers, orange and red.

Red was her mother’s favorite color. Belle always wore something red. A cherry dress, a scarlet sash, a ruby hat, a pair of crimson gloves. You could spot Belle far out in the pasture, brilliantly aflame amid the dusty greens and browns.

In contrast, Mae’s Dad, Charlie, a quiet man always quietly attired, was a genius at blending into the landscape, right up to the day the tractor accident made him part of that landscape forever.

Even as Belle lost more and more of her always-frail grip on reality—and Charlie’s death sped that along—she constantly wore red, clinging to her defiant signature.

Mae thinks of Aunt Ada, Belle’s sister, always in black, her long dark hair in a very tight bun. Belle and Ada. Rouge et noir. They’ll go far. Har har. Mae frowns at the rhyming.

After Ada married Uncle Snapper, Ada supposedly panicked on their wedding night—did he snap at her? They didn’t stay married long. Ada soon holed up in the Idanha Hotel, living under one of the curious turrets. She rarely came out. Dear Aunt Ada, trailing a whispery aroma of cinnamon and the past.

Uncle Snapper surely earned his nickname, Mae thought, from his protruding jaw. It thrust absurdly forward, the prow of a dugout canoe. What was his real name? Arlon, Arlie, Arlington, yes. Arlington Davis. After Charlie’s death, because of Belle’s diminishing capacities, Arlington leased and ran the farm. He was good at it, keeping things going until he retired and the first of their land selloffs began.

Thinking of the farm tugs Mae back into the hayloft, the summer Dad died, where she lost her virginity to a young man—no, a boy, really—about to be shipped off to the police action in Korea. She can’t recall his name. But she remembers the soft scratchiness tickling her back, the low laughter, the swell of desire, the peculiar mingling of pleasure and pain. She remembers rolling to the side and seeing a wide-eyed mouse staring at her, a complicit sister. Gorgeous eyes, that mouse.

And Wayne—yes, that was his name, Wayne! Pain, slain—Wayne donned a splendid uniform, proudly departed for Korea and promptly got himself killed. Then there was…

A breeze blows the rose sideways. Mae blinks, her reverie disturbed.

Henry is doing volunteer work at the food bank. Mae freshens up, decides to eat a half sandwich and a candy bar. My last meal, she muses, then wonders why she would think that.

Nibbling her food, she glances out the window. The foothills are sere and golden.

She steps into the back garden, filled with thriving vegetables. Each bed has signs identifying the plants. A carryover from her library career. Always lining things up, everything in its place. The system, what was it called? Duty? Dewey. Yes, Dewey decimal system, Admiral Dewey, Huey, Dewy, and Louie. She giggles. I’m so screwy.

She notices the spreading broccoli. “Hey! You’re crowding out the baby squash. Read the sign: B-A-B-Y!” She turns to find her gardening gloves. But suddenly there’s something else to do. She has to go. Immediately.

She unlocks the garden gate and walks toward the penitentiary, her fine white hair aglow, ruffling in the afternoon breeze.

Grasshoppers leap ahead of her. Mae thinks of the Mormon crickets her Dad would take her to watch, the creatures swarming across the country lanes, jiggling rivers of oily black, peppered with reds, purples, greens. Something fun to share if I have ever have kids.

If I ever have kids. God, she clearly remembers thinking that so many decades ago. What else? But other memories bolt. Even my own brain denies me, she thinks, my own mind keeps secrets from me. Secrets. Regrets. Egrets.

Two white dogs scampering through the grass in front of her have transformed into lovely white birds. Mae is filled with delight, but a burst of barking brings her back. In moments she’s by the high, worn stone prison walls.

The place seems almost welcoming. Mae stops at the outer gate and touches the dirty tan surface of the wall. It’s rough, gritty, yet improbably soft.

Tourists burst out, waving camera phones, making jokes. As Mae walks through the small garden, she feels depressed at the irreverence of such people. This isn’t a shrine—no, not a shrine, fine, mine—but it deserves something, maybe respect. It has meaning. Meaning. Greening. Oh, these roses need attention.

Mae is fairly tall, but several of the rose bushes dwarf her, reach long straggly arms down toward her. Could Lyda Mae have planted these? Lyda Mae, Lida Rose. So long ago, who’s to know? Go, now go. Lida Rose, I’m home again.

Mae enters the squat, cheerless building. Once more she feels as though she should be here to… Her mind rebels. She walks to the first barred cell, puts her hand on flat grimy steel and peers through the gray slats into the shadowy recesses. A tiny space, sagging bunkbed, miserable toilet, small grilled window, yellow glare beyond.

Escape. You want to escape, don’t you ladies? Lyda Anna Mae, you escaped, didn’t you? I needed to escape.

Mae was smart, and college and a professional career were her way off the farm, though many years later, with Belle dead, Uncle Snapper retired and the property much smaller, Mae convinced Henry they should return to live in the farmhouse.

Her mind takes her there now, and, oh, there’s the barn, and the hayloft and Wayne breathing softly in Mae’s ear, promising wild huckleberries for breakfast, and they lived happily ever after, and Grace Rose was with them. And. And.

Mae Day. Mae Day.

Her memories buck violently and throw her back into a puzzled present. She drops her hand from the grating, and turns to look for Henry, who at this moment is crossing into the stale shade of the prison.

“You OK?” he asks.

“I had a thought,” she tells him. “But it’s gone.” Mae Day.

After supper, Mae is her old self. They sit on the back patio and savor the warm, sweet grassiness of a slow summer evening, drink tart lemonade, and watch ravens lazily hunt for thermals.

“It fascinates me how the inmates quarried sandstone and built much of the penitentiary themselves.” Mae said. “I wonder if my mind has done that, built my own prison, locked secrets inside.”

“Hm. That’s possible,” says Henry, scratching at mosquito bite. “But what secrets could you have, Mae? They’d need to be pretty serious for your brain to do this.”

“Let’s face it, these days my brain is highly suspect.”

“You’re doing great, Babe.”

“But one minute I’m me, here, and the next my memory’s off on a wild goose chase. It’s frustrating. Scary, hairy. And those stupid rhymes haunt me. Haunt, taunt. Whoops! It’s become a habit, rabbit. See what I mean?” The trademark Mae Tolliver giggle floats into the air.

Henry lights his pipe. “Can I suggest something?” A puff. “Just a small theory.”

“Sure.” A whiff of cherry tobacco draws Mae back to the early years of their marriage, when she’d moved eons away from the traumas of her teens.

Henry takes another puff. “I wonder if you’re beating up on yourself because we sold the farm. Could your subconscious feel guilt, think you need to be punished?”

Mae smiles. She loves it when Henry’s usual linear thinking gives way to insight.

She muses, half to herself. “That’s possible. But I don’t think it’s the land, even though I do feel guilty about all the development. It could be something else that my mind’s locked up in the slammer, in solitary.”

Henry chuckles. “Well, not to worry,” he says. “Just feed it bread and water and leave it there.”

They sit contentedly, take pleasure in the rising of the ghostly summer moon, the crickets singing.

The next day Mae decides to bake a surprise for Henry. Sticky buns, she thinks. She bustles about the kitchen, pulling out bowls, spoons, flour, sugar. She opens the spice drawer. Everything’s carefully labeled, stored alphabetically. “Once a librarian, always a librarian,” she tells the fragrant yellow roses joyous in a heavy green vase. “Librarian… Marion… Carry on!”

Humming, she selects a new jar of cinnamon, rests it on the counter, crackles the plastic ring, opens the lid, shakes out a spoonful.

The synaptic leap is palpable. Aunt Ada is comforting, counseling, sure of herself, no hint of old maid except her feathery aura of cinnamon and must, Aunt Ada is taking care of things with such efficiency and grace. Oh, Grace, my dear little Grace Rose.

And the bars swing open, Mae remembers the baby she gave up, Wayne’s child, rosebud pink, barely seen but instantly named, and crazy ancient Aunt Ada, Rapunzel come down from her tower, kind, understanding, arranging.

Spilling the cinnamon, Mae weeps for Ada, loving, sobs for Daddy, crushed, Belle, drifting, Wayne, killed, for the impossible decision, for Grace Rose, gone, gone. Done, done. Spilt, quilt. Guilt. No wonder I seek a place of shame. Shame, blame.

She’s ashamed, too, that she’s never told Henry. She meant to tell him, then life moved away from those difficult years, and her secret slid into an old chest of memories, locked and hidden away.

Could she tell Henry now? Perhaps he needs to know, she thinks, before my flippery slippery mind disintegrates more, before it slips into a fragmented world and I can’t come back.

Mae slowly collects the spilled cinnamon, stands there, inhaling the velvety scent of roses, citrus and fern, love and loss.

That afternoon, she walks through the fields, stands for a moment outside the lumpy sandstone wall, enters the modest garden before the Women’s Ward.

She crosses to a stubborn old rosebush with smoky purple blooms. The largest blossom greets her with a warm fragrance, honey and anise. Mae puts on her well-worn red gloves, pulls out her favorite clippers, and begins to prune the plant, carefully, lovingly.

Grace Rose, I hope you are alive, and happy. And free. Free. Be. Me.

Mae pauses, looks up from her pruning, surveys the prison garden.

There is much to be done.

pencilEric E. Wallace writes fiction, plays, poetry and humor. His work has been published in Alaska Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rosebud, Writer’s Digest and many other periodicals, in five anthologies, and online at, where he has won several short story competitions. Eric lives in Eagle, Idaho. Email: ericewallace[at]


Sara Siegel

a light in the attic
Photo Credit: Kevin Torigoe

My hair stuck to the back of my neck in thick, dark curls. The dust from the attic, floating in the beams of light slanting in through the windows, attached itself to my damp skin. We had barely moved in and already the attic was cluttered with half-empty boxes, old suitcases, ratty dolls and hopelessly-out-of-date clothes. Stuff my parents didn’t use or even need anymore, but couldn’t bear to part with.

My mother begged me to play outside, to explore the new town and ride around on my bike, but I didn’t want to. Where would I go? The ice-cream shop? The town pool, crowded with kids half my age and their hyper-attentive mothers? I wondered about my friends, about Kate and Amy and Isabelle, what they were doing now. I wouldn’t mind going to the ice-cream shop or the pool if I were with them. But they were far away now. Too far to ride my bike. Thinking about starting ninth grade without them made my stomach hurt and, hot as it was, I preferred rummaging through the attic instead. Looking through artifacts from my parents’ pasts.

Most of the boxes in the attic had been kept in the basement of our last home, a thirty-minute car ride away from here. We were in Putnam County now, not even Westchester, “upstate” now with bigger houses that were fewer and far between and yards so big you could easily fit my old house on them. But not as showy as the houses back home. “Classic,” my mother would say. “Understated.”

I assumed when we moved to this new house my parents would finally get rid of these decrepit boxes. They didn’t, though, and now I was glad, both for the boxes and the free time the summer days afforded me. There was time to sort through it all.

I had hoped I would find old photographs or toys from my father’s family, something I could touch up and send to him, all the way in California with my grandmother who needed help doing the simplest chores since she had a stroke. Most of the interesting things I found were from my mother’s side, though, from when she had lived in the country as a child, in the South.

She didn’t usually tell me stories about growing up in the country, but when she did I could tell that she had loved her childhood, since her eyes sort of glazed over and her voice became almost dreamy. It felt as if in a way she stopped speaking to me, Sophie, and instead spoke to her younger self, so far away in those vast fields I had never been to or seen any pictures of.

My mother teased me for marveling at the two-and-a-half acres of backyard that came along with this new house. “This,” she would tell me, motioning to the land outside the playroom, “is nothing. Back home we had acres and acres of land, filled with wheat or corn. Flowers grew without our even planting gardens.”

Even the heat didn’t seem to bother her. While I went through two shirts a day, sweat seemed to evaporate off her, with her pale, freckled skin and straight wheat-colored hair. People constantly told us we looked alike and my mother would smile, but I didn’t see it at all. Everything about her was slight—her green eyes and small frame—while I was all dark and already almost-curvy.

The first time my mother had mentioned anything about the heat, infused with a sticky sweetness, or the big open sky from her home, I had been taken aback. I had assumed that she had come from here, from New York, like my father did. From the city, even, where my parents lived before I was born. But she explained to me that she had grown up in farm country, that she hadn’t moved to New York until she married my father, who she had met at the state university, after which she begged him to move to the suburbs, so she could feel a little more at home.

My father preferred the city, I knew, and seemed glad almost that he would have the entire summer away from us, so he could live among the crowded streets and tall buildings I imagined littered the city of San Francisco the way they did New York. While my mother and I labeled boxes for rooms in our new house and picked out carpeting and wallpaper without his input, he hummed to himself, packed a few small suitcases, and made his plans out west. I had asked what he would do about work, and he assured me it was just as easy to be a lawyer in San Francisco as it was in New York. The one time I had wondered aloud how he would have time to work on any cases in such a short period, my parents had shot each other a Look, then brushed past the question, and since then, I was too nervous to bring it up again.

Instead I spent my days in the attic. At the bottom of a particularly beaten up box, a bunch of yellowing papers caught my eye. They were held together loosely by a piece of string. Love letters, I hoped, from my father to my mother before they had gotten married. The handwriting didn’t look familiar, though. It definitely wasn’t my father’s or mother’s. The letters could have been from an aunt or an uncle, I supposed, maybe a friend from college.

I glanced over the words quickly, and I was about to toss the whole pack aside, when the word ‘turtles’ caught my eye. My mother had sort of a thing for turtles. Or at least, one turtle in particular. It was a tiny black obsidian piece, its shell and eyes etched in grayish lines. Whenever I picked it up it felt warm, as if my mother had just been cradling it between her hands. She kept it on her bedside table and had yelled at me when I was little and had taken it to place among my own animals.

The letter about turtles was very short. I couldn’t tell when it had been written, but the stiffness of the paper and the fading of the ink made me think it was very old. I knew it was a letter to my mother, as it was addressed to S, for Susannah. It could have just as easily been to me. It was signed with a B, and the writer had only said:

I feel very out of place here up North, in Illinois with family I don’t even know that well. But aside from you, home doesn’t feel right, either. When I came back for the funeral, Rosaline had packed all my things, and the farm was empty without my father. Nothing seems to fit. Before I left I meant to tell you about a turtle I read about after our trip to the beach. I don’t remember their breed now, but they lay their eggs on the beach, and after the eggs are hatched, the turtles have to get to the sea as quickly as possible. The book said that most of the turtles died before they turned twenty, but those that didn’t would do as their mothers had, and return to the beach to breed. It’s still a mystery, even to the people that wrote the book, how they manage to find their way through miles and miles of ocean. Those turtles make me sad, mostly because I envy them. I can’t help but wish for a place like that. A home so ingrained in me that I can find my way, no matter what.

I don’t know whether it was that long ago loneliness or the dust right now, but my throat started to close. I wondered who in her life my mother had known that wished so badly to fit in, to feel a part of something. I wanted to read on. I hoped that whoever had written the letters had found their happiness at some point.

I read a few more letters, and it became clear to me that whoever he was had been in love with my mother. It looked as if she had kept the letters in order, and that the string was wrapped around them as an afterthought, after many years with no word from him. The letters weren’t dated or signed, only meant for S and from B, but I could tell that for the later letters a bunch of time had passed between them, before they stopped coming altogether. I wondered just how much my father knew about this mysterious B whose letters my mother still held on to.

Stuck to the bottom of the box where I had found the letters was a curled black and white picture. I gently unstuck it and peered at it closely, scanning the faces for my mother. She looked to be about fifteen in the picture and surprisingly, except for her hair, looked more like me than herself. Her hair was lighter than it was now, and long, all the way down to her waist. The picture was taken in front of a building of some sort, I couldn’t tell what, with wide fields in the background. Oh. So that’s what a lot of land looked like. From the limited view the picture allowed me, I could tell she was right. This, I thought, glancing through the window, was nothing.

There were a bunch of boys and girls in the picture, and they didn’t seem like country bumpkin hicks like I would have thought. Some of them wore overalls and had that slightly stupid look, but for the most part they looked like normal kids, just completely out of fashion. They were all white, and looked somewhat similar. Like they were all-American, meat-and-potatoes, bred-of-the-earth type kids. I flipped the picture over and recognized my mother’s handwriting on the back. All of their names. MaryAnn Ford. Bobby Ford. Luanne Johnson. Michael Thompson. The list went on. One of the names stuck out. It just said Ben. Was he B from the letters? I flipped the picture back over. He and my mother were standing next to each other, looking slightly away from the camera, at something just outside the frame. Like they shared a secret that none of the others were in on. Fuzzy as the picture was, this Ben looked kind of cute. Safe. Like the kind of boy any parent would be happy their daughter was dating. His hair was dark and curly, like mine.

I brought the picture and the letters downstairs to the family room. My mother was sitting cross-legged on the floor with her old lady glasses on, surrounded by wires and stray pieces of paper. An unassembled computer sat in front of her. She heard me come down the stairs and into the room, but she didn’t turn around.

“Do you know what we had in my day? Before the internet? We had libraries. And do you know what we did instead of surf the internet? We went on walks. We looked at the stars,” she said. Then she added, “Fed the hens,” more to herself than me.

“Who’s Ben?” I asked, and immediately my heart started to pound. I didn’t know I was so nervous until the words were out of my mouth.

“Who?” she asked absently, still reading one of the pamphlets. “Can you help me find piece C, honey?”

“Ben,” I said again, shoving the picture in front of her face. She stopped what she was doing and looked up, taking the picture from my hands. I could feel her fall away from me now, back into herself. Like when she was back there, on the farm, without my father or me. But I was standing right in front of her. I grabbed the picture back from her hand.

“Who is he?” I almost didn’t want to know what she’d say, but my voice seemed to move faster than my brain.

“He’s a boy I used to know,” she answered, vaguely enough. She didn’t say anything more, but she didn’t meet my eyes.

“Was he your boyfriend?” I blurted out.

“I suppose so,” she mused. “We didn’t really use those terms, though.” She fidgeted with the wires in front of her, and I could tell she wasn’t here, now, but it was different from when she used to talk about her childhood with me.

“Did you love him?” my throat started to close again, making it hard for me to breathe. “He’s the reason you have that turtle? The one you yelled at me about?”

“When did I yell at you?” She finally looked at me, her eyes returning to now.

“When I was six. I took it to put with my other animals.”

“Oh,” she said. “Yes. He is.” She put the wires down, but stared at her hands. She looked back up at me and smiled, sort of sadly, it seemed, like she wanted me to understand something that I just couldn’t. Then she looked back at the wires.

“Am I his daughter?” I asked it before I even finished thinking it.

“Sophie!” Her head jerked up involuntarily. She seemed shocked by the question.


“How could you say something like that!” She sounded more amused than offended.

“I’m fourteen,” I said. “I’m not a nun.”

“Of course you’re not his daughter!” she said. “You’re your father’s daughter.”

“Our hair looks the same,” I pointed out.

She pulled me down to sit next to her on the carpet and ran her hand along my hair.

“It looks the same as your father’s, too, you know,” she said. “My God, you see a picture of a boy with dark and curly hair and you think… I haven’t seen Ben in… over twenty years now.” She sighed.

“He gave you that turtle, though?” I asked.

“No, actually,” she said. She took off her glasses and rubbed her hand along her forehead, closing her eyes for a few seconds, like she had a headache.

This surprised me. If he didn’t give it to her, why didn’t she want me to have it?

“Where’d you get it, then?”

She shrugged. “Somewhere in Chinatown, I think. Ages ago.”

“Did you get it because of him?” I asked, meaning ‘Did you get it before or after you knew me?’

“Where are you coming up with all this stuff, anyway?” she asked, turning away from me. “From a lousy picture?”

I threw the bunch of letters on the floor.

“Are you mad I read them?” I asked her, even though I didn’t care if she was.

“No,” she said. She reached for them but then stopped. “I didn’t have them hidden away anywhere.”

“So what happened?” I asked. “Why did you break up?”

“We didn’t, really,” she said slowly. “Circumstances, I guess. His father died. Well,” she scrunched up her face, in memory. “His grandfather died, actually.”

“Which is it?” I asked. When I asked my mom about stories from the past, too often she told them disjointed, pieces here and there, so I had no idea of knowing what order anything had happened in, how it all went together. But now I needed to know. Now it was my life, too.

“Both,” she said. “His grandfather died and his father sent him up to Illinois to help out his grandmother. He was supposed to be gone for just the summer, but then the week before he was supposed to come home his father died. His family decided—”

“How did his father die?” I interrupted.

“He was killed by a drunk driver, actually,” she said.

“Oh.” I felt uncomfortable. Sorry I asked. I wanted her to finish, though. “So what happened?”

“Well, his father was pretty much the only family he had back home, and his family up North decided he would stay in Illinois, with his grandmother and some other family, so they sold his farm and saved the money for him for college.”

“So you never saw him again?” I asked.

“He came home for the funeral,” she said.

Right. He had mentioned that in the letter. He had said that except for my mother, home felt empty. I tried to imagine the boy and girl from the picture in all black, holding hands in front of his father’s coffin. I could only see my mother from now, though, not then, and the boy I saw was tall with dark and curly hair but a blurry face.

“And then?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Life went on. He went to school up there, I went to school back home. I met your father. I assume he met other people, too.”

This was supposed to be reassuring. If my mother hadn’t met my father, then I would never have been born. They wouldn’t have moved to the city, then from the city to the suburbs, and then had me. I wouldn’t be sitting in our new house right at this very minute, talking to my mother about her life before us.

It was sad, though. If his grandfather hadn’t died, I thought, if his father hadn’t died, maybe he and my mother would still have been together. Maybe they would have gotten married and had children, and maybe I would have been here, anyway, just in a different form.

“Do you still think about him?” I asked.

“Sometimes,” she said.

“And you never spoke to him again?”


“Doesn’t that make you sad?”

“A little,” she said. For the first time since I had come downstairs she looked directly at me. “But if he hadn’t moved away then I wouldn’t have met your father and we wouldn’t have had you,” she said, poking me in the stomach. I pushed her hand away.

“So the turtle reminds you of your home?”

“Oh, Soph. Home is in your head, it’s not a real place. Listen, if we moved to… Alaska, let’s say, but Daddy and I were still there, and Kate and Amy, and all your other friends, you’d still be happy, wouldn’t you?” she asked.

I thought about it.

“I guess so.”

“Well, that’s what home is. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, as long as you’re with the people you love. The ones that make you happy.”

She hugged me and I looked away, because I didn’t want her to see that I was crying a little. Didn’t Ben make her happy, though? Wasn’t he her home, in a way?

I looked at the picture and the letters, in a heap on the floor. And I thought about her turtle, how much it meant to her and how it always felt warm when I picked it up. Maybe it was always warm because she really had just been holding it and thinking about Ben. Not Ben now, I guess, because neither of us knew where he was or what he was doing. If he was married or had children, or what he even looked like anymore. But Ben from back then, from her childhood, when she was happy in the country.

So maybe home wasn’t a place. I thought about Kate and Amy and Isabelle, all my friends from my old town, and about Daddy, so far away in San Francisco with his own mother.

Then I thought about the turtles. Home wasn’t just people. Home was memory, too.

pencilSara Siegel is a writer currently based in Boston. She has had her work published in Vantage Point and Wild Violet, including the short story “Young”, a companion piece to “Home”. Her film work has been screened at the cell theatre company in NYC, and can be found at Email: the.gull.22[at]

Too Much Soda

Simone Davy

Photo courtesy Simone Davy

Marilyn was all done up. Her mam said her hair was pinned so high a bird could have landed and she wouldn’t have noticed. Her father didn’t approve of the length of her skirt, but that didn’t bother her; she just hiked it up once she was out of the house.

‘I hate the way we step out of our door straight onto the street. It don’t seem right,’ said Marilyn to her mam.

Marilyn went red looking at that pram her mam was pushing. Everyone could see everything you’d got and everything you hadn’t. Her mam always put their undies in a brown paper bag underneath the towels. Marilyn wished they had enough money to go to the laundrette, but that was three shillings and the wash house was only one. Still, Marilyn could think of one good reason for going, and it had nothing to do with getting your hands wet.

‘Hurry up! Stop dreaming, and look where yer walking! Those heels will get stuck in the cobbles.’


There were no men, just a queue of women with prams of washing. They were making a right old ding-dong. Some of the prams had babies and toddlers all mixed up with the washing. The babies sucked black treacle off dummies as though they were greedy sparrows with open mouths. The older women’s backs formed hills as they bent over their loads.

At last the wash house opened up. There he stood with a bunch of keys in his hand, and his tie as wide as the door. He was called Mr Hobbs, and quite a few of the women knew his first name. They flirted with him as they went inside.

‘Mornin’ girls, bit fresh out there, you’ll soon be warm as toast.’

His hair was slightly too long—clean though, and he smelt of soap and soda. Marilyn liked that he wasn’t as dirty and rough as the men who worked in the factories. The lilac colour of his shirt reminded her of the lavender sweets you could buy in the corner shop. He was a salmon, a good catch, and he’d not been hooked yet.

Marilyn didn’t look at him as her mam bought their ticket, but she brushed her arm across the suede of his coat and felt his hand slide beneath the hem of her skirt. That would have to last her until tonight.

It was steaming in there before they’d even started. The women lined up the prams, and then took turns pushing the washing through a hole in the wall. Her mam said it had looked the same for years: rows of big square tubs so deep you could lose your arms in them. The ceiling was a spider’s web of pipes and pumps. Marilyn imagined she was inside a large machine that was just about to collapse and soak her with water.

She put a scarf round her head not wanting her pins coming loose while she was doing the washing. Her mam didn’t wear make-up or do anything special with her hair. It didn’t matter because it was the colour of the sun as it set—everyone admired it. If you didn’t look at her hands you’d say she was beautiful. Her dad was lucky.

‘Here’s yer soap. Careful yer don’t spill it, otherwise we’ll have nowt left for next week.’

The women sang along to the wireless while they worked. It was Marilyn’s favourite in the hit parade, “The Sounds of Silence.” She knew all the words off by heart. She wondered if Mr Hobbs was listening to her; she knew she had a good voice.

‘Look at Arthur’s legs,’ said Iris, holding up her husband’s wide trousers. ‘You could stand ’em up, the mud on ’em. He’ll not be happy if they’re not clean.’

Marilyn laughed. Her mam never showed theirs off and scolded her if she did. She liked everyone to think their sheets were clean.

Marilyn’s best mate, Jo, came and joined them. They were lined up in a row, scrubbing, wringing, and singing.

‘You all right then, bet yer glad it’s Saturday.’ Jo nudged Marilyn’s arm as she raised her eyebrows at Mr Hobbs. ‘Seeing him tonight then? Bet your mam doesn’t know nowt about that.’

‘We’re meeting at The Cock and Crow down Maple Street. He’s tekin’ me to see Alfie.’

‘That’ll be a gud ‘un. Yer be careful, mind. It’s not like when you were seeing that Bob from down the road. He didn’t know his trousers from his shirt. This one will… God, I’m dying for a ciggie. Do you think these socks are white enough?’

‘Mam thinks I’m going to the dance wi’ yer.’

‘Oh, Marilyn, not again… Blimey, this water’s too hot. Look at me arms, they’re red raw like beetroot. I’ll ‘ave to put cream on ’em when I get home, otherwise I’ll have blisters.’

The women carried on washing—bubbles frothing over the edge. It was loud inside just like a proper factory. They had to shout to hear one another. Marilyn kept her eye on Mr Hobbs.

‘I’ll tek’ me lunch then, duck.’ Her mam always went first while Marilyn put the clothes onto the wringers to dry. ‘Best keep an eye on the washing. I don’t want to be seeing Mrs Brown in my best top next week.’

Her mam went off to get her lunch from the pram: cold meat sandwiches and a flask of tea.

‘All right, girls,’ said Mr Hobbs, as he flounced between the rows. ‘Gonna have my lunch for a bit and leave Marilyn in charge.’

The other women looked over at her.

‘Be your turn next week, Jo. You’ll be right in there with Mr Hobbs,’ said Eileen. She raised her skirt as she said it—she liked to stir things up.

‘Well, it won’t be your turn with veins on your legs like that.’

The women roared and whistled.

‘I’m gonna pop out for a bit first,’ whispered Marilyn to Jo.

‘I thought yer were supposed to be in charge not larkin’ about out back.’

‘I’ll think of an excuse, say one of the steamers stopped working. I want to check we’re still on for tonight.’

‘Go on then, if you have to.’

First she went in the lavs, red bag swinging from her shoulder. She put on a bit of lipstick and powder. In the mirror she was surprised at how grown-up she looked; since she’d started working she seemed to have got taller and filled out a bit. She had a quick wee and made sure her skirt was looking nice. She was about to pull the chain when she heard voices out the back. She climbed onto the seat and tried to peer out the window.

Mr Hobbs, Paul, was talking and laughing. It was a dry laugh that sounded as though he’d smoked too much baccy. She almost fell off when she heard her mam’s laugh too. She didn’t laugh much, but there was a ring to it now, like when it was Christmas and she got a new bar of soap the shape of a bird.

Marilyn’s stomach spun and she jumped down quick. Her ankle twisted as she fell and she cried out with the pain of it. It was like that day she’d spotted her brother Reg at it with his girlfriend Brenda. She’d felt sick and had to miss her tea.

Hobbling, she went round the back. Her mam was sitting on the grey stone wall near a patch of cowslip that was growing wild. Her skirt was long, but you could see her legs. Mr Hobbs had pulled her mam’s slip up and was carelessly smoothing the skin like a piece of linen that needed a press. He stood as close to her as he could. Her mam had her face up towards the sky and his lips were all over her neck. It looked like bliss, not like the quick snog Marilyn got in the back of his car on a Saturday night. He was always disappointed that she wouldn’t go any further—she could see why.

It took ages for them to finish. She couldn’t help but stand still and watch until it was over. Her mam had spoilt everything, and her stockings were laddered too. She wanted to go home, take her hair down, pull off her stockings and have a right old sob. But she knew she had to go back to the sodding ironing. She turned away, wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand—snot and tears smeared together.


‘What’s up with you?’ said Jo.

‘I’ve just seen my mam snogging Mr Hobbs out back.’

‘Blimey, I wouldn’t have reckoned on that. I bet it took him a bit to persuade her.’

‘It was disgusting seeing Mam doing stuff like that.’

Marilyn pulled the washing off the wringers as if she was pulling the hairs out of Mr Hobbs’s head.

‘All right, love?’ said her mam, coming up behind them. ‘I’ll do the ironing and you can do the folding.’

Marilyn said nothing.

They stood together—Marilyn, Jo and her mam—ironing and folding the sheets, shirts, and blouses. Marilyn’s hands were shaking as she did up the buttons and fluffed the skirts. She kept herself busy with her eyes on her work. She wished they’d turn off the bloody radio.

She spotted a glint of gold on her mam’s wrist.

‘What’s that you got there?’ she asked, without looking up.

‘Never you mind that. Here, help me with these creases…’

He’d not given her anything. Annie had got some plastic clip-ons. She’d shown them off to everyone, but no one had got a gold bangle. It couldn’t be real but it looked as good as.

‘Did you hear the council are thinking of closing down our wash house?’ said her mam.

‘Who told you that then?’ asked Marilyn, fidgeting with the buttons on her dad’s shirt.

‘Mr Hobbs. He said they want to build a leisure centre.’

‘Well, I’m glad, then. It needs shutting down.’

Marilyn bet she’d have to take that bangle off, and keep it somewhere safe.

‘I don’t know what we’ll do without it. It’s been here all my life. I reckon we should mek a fuss. Go and dump our washing outside town hall. See what they mek of that.’

‘If men had to do the washing they’d not be closing it down. They’d be building another one with a bar in the middle, so they could sup their ten pints while doing the ironing,’ said Jo.

‘Fancy ham and eggs tonight, duck? Before you go out? Dad got us a nice slice of ham from the butcher yesterday.’

‘No, I’ve gone off ham and eggs.’ She felt sick.

‘Do you want to push the washing home?’

‘Give it ‘ere then. You’ll be tired I shouldn’t wonder after all that washing and stuff.’

‘I’m not past it yet, duck.’

‘I know you’re not,’ Marilyn muttered under her breath.

Mr Hobbs watched the women leave with his hands in his pockets. Marilyn wanted to knock the smirk off his face. She wondered why she’d ever dreamed of ironing his shirts and making his lunch every morning. She slung her red patent bag on top of the clean washing and started pushing it back down the street.

‘What’s up, yer like a whippet on the tracks? Eyes are red too,’ said her mam, catching her up.

‘Tripped and laddered me stockings when I was looking for Mr H out back—if you must know.’

‘Marilyn…’ Her mam’s face turned the same colour as her hair.

Marilyn was glad. ‘Leave it, Mam.’

Her mam was behind her now—not so quick in her step. Marilyn thought about Mr Hobbs waiting for her outside the The Cock and Crow. How good it would be to see him all done up looking at his flash watch and wondering where she was.


Simone creates imaginative fiction that explores ordinary life events. Her stories have been published in various literary magazines. She is currently working on a novel set in North London suburbia. As well as writing, she also works as a Social Science tutor with the Open University. She blogs at Email: simonedavy00[at]