The Right Hand of the Father by Reverie Koniecki

The Right Hand of the Father

By Reverie Koniecki

When I was still young enough to believe I could become president someday, but old enough to watch my little brother occasionally, my family went to two different Baptist churches. On weekends when my mother didn’t have to work, we went to a church where the congregation looked like us. The preacher went in and out of song when he felt moved, and the choir responded to his lead the same way a baby mirrors its mother. Women in white dresses and gloves monitored the congregation for those who lost control of their bodies to the spirit. The spirit scared me. I didn’t want some other entity coming into my body. The women in white pulled seizing bodies into the aisle and made sure the invaded didn’t accidentally knock their heads into the pews or kick their skirts up for everyone to see their unmentionables. Church ended when the preacher finished preaching. If the spirit moved him, we’d let out at 2:30.

On the weekends when my mother did have to work, we went to another church where we sang quietly from hymnals to music played at a respectable volume. Most kids left their parents to go to the nursery. The ones who stayed said soft “Amens” that curved around their tongues at the right pauses in the monotone sermon. No one yelled. There were no ladies in white. The pastor stayed on schedule and the service ended promptly at noon.

When we couldn’t go to church, we prayed to Reverend David Paul on The Miracle Hour TV show.  We praised God when he stepped onto the stage. David Paul put his hands on heads. He took donations. You could call an 800 number or mail him a check. He went on tour and spread his miracles from city to city. Heads bowed for him when he asked people to believe. When he said to have faith, we had faith. I believed in the power of David Paul the way I believe that I sit at the right hand of my Father.

When my mother became a Mormon, she sicced the missionaries on me. I argued with them about the three tiers of heaven they tried to convince me existed. I can’t remember the requirements for the top two tiers, but I figured I could probably make it to the lowest one. I just wouldn’t be able to travel up to visit my better-behaved loved ones. I was suspicious about that sort of segregation. It seemed unjust to me, especially compared to more the cut-and-dried concepts of heaven and hell. How do you divide degrees of goodness? I thought if I could just be good, then good things would come my way.

We learned about confessing sin in Sunday School, yet my sins still have kinetic potential. And I can’t confess the sins of my father, whose parting silhouette is my childhood tragedy.

Growing up, my mother constantly reminded me she was the parent who stayed. I resented her because other kids with divorced parents got to choose one, but I was stuck with her. I gave her Father’s Day cards and told her she was a better father than the one I couldn’t remember. When my friends complained about getting grounded, I said, “At least you have a father.” I imagined running into him on the street. I searched the faces of strangers for my likeness.

People consoled me with accusations. “Your father’s a jerk.” “Your father’s an asshole.” “Your father up and left you.” I didn’t understand they were taking my side. All I knew was that this man, this myth, was part of me. When someone asked about my father, I’d say I didn’t have one. As I got older, I repeated phrases I had heard about him and knew too well. I grew to hate him. I denied him. I loved him.

David Paul came to Hartford. We went to see him because we were hungry for a miracle. He yelled on the pulpit. My skin grew into rugged terrain as each hair follicle stood to attention. He cured other people. People rose from wheelchairs. The blind could see. The sick became healthy. I tried to get David Paul’s attention. He never looked in my direction. I prayed because I believed. I believed because I prayed. David Paul didn’t put hands on me. He didn’t acknowledge my prayers.

After he left, my father and I didn’t speak again until I was 10. Then again at 24. And again at 32. Our conversations took the same arc each time we tried to have a relationship. First, we corralled the lost years between us and rediscovered that our memories were incompatible. He would go on and on about the past. About how he swindled my mother out of child support. About how he regretted his relationship with the woman he left my mother for, his sons’ mother. About the stupid canopy bed he bought me when I was four. Eventually we hit a wall where one of us offended the other and I dipped out.

He carries my fifth-grade picture in his wallet, the photograph preserved in yellowed plastic with specs of dirt lining the corners. To my father, the girl in his wallet is who I am.

I’m riding my red tricycle in front of our apartment when he drives up. My mother, watching from the front stoop, rises as he gets out of the car. I climb her tree trunk legs into the branches of her arms. My chest is about to snap like a rubber band, but I remain silent. I have already learned to be quiet. My father screams, “I thought you said she wanted to see me!” My mother screams back. There are no hymnals. No quiet prayers. No hushed “Amens.” We speak in tongues. The spirit takes over us. I protect their heads as they writhe. I pull down the skirt my mother has kicked up to her thighs. I massage my father’s temples as he gnashes his teeth. They scream until their noise turns brown and becomes everything—and nothing at all.

About the Writer:
Reverie Koniecki
is an African American poet and educator living in Dallas, Texas. She is the co-founder of Meet Me With Curiosity, a poetry salon in Klyde Warren Park. She is the former Educational Arm Assistant for Asymptote and current poetry editor for the Henniker Review. Her poems and prose have appeared in Entropy, Thimble Magazine, Spiderweb Salon, White Rock Zine Machine, and Off the Margins. Reverie is currently working towards her MFA in Poetry at New England College.

Fresh Off the Boat by Linda Wisniewski

Fresh Off the Boat

By Linda Wisniewski

Imagine your feet in damp socks inside your sneakers. You jump over puddles on a busy Italian street. Rain drips off your glasses as you try to read the map your cruise line provided, searching for Mercato Centrale di Livorno—the Livorno Central Market. You’re nervous, but you think of your grandparents arriving in the U.S. 100 years ago. If they could navigate the streets of a foreign country, so can you. Your husband insists he knows the way, but you are skeptical. You just want to get inside, get warm, dry your feet.

It’s the first morning of your 30th-anniversary Mediterranean cruise, and you have arrived at your first stop. You duck into an information center, where a nice woman behind the counter shows you the way to the market.

“Go outside,” she says. “Turn left and there it will be.”

But the streets spread out like crooked wheel spokes. Which left? Your husband says he knows. You follow him and spy a brightly lit shop with an artful display of knit hats. You try on a soft purple one. Only six euros. In the mirror, you look stylish.

You walk on, your head dry and warm, but still no mercato. A pastry shop beckons. Don’t they always? You pull open the glass door and step inside. The man behind the counter shrugs when you ask directions. Frustration grips your forehead.

Imagine a male voice behind you. “Where do you want to go?” he asks. You show him on your map. “Why do you want to go there? It’s nothing to see.” He is dark-haired and handsome. A short pretty brunette at his side smiles at you.

You remember the next item on your list. Perhaps the Modigliani Museum?

“Ah, it is beautiful,” he says, then waves at the rain outside. “Mamma mia!”  He starts to give directions but the brunette interrupts. Clueless, you watch their hands wave left, right, up in the air, until laughing, they turn back to you.

“Come, I will take you there,” he says. “My car is just outside.” You and your husband exchange a glance, imagining the headline: “American Tourists Kidnapped in Italy.”

The man sees your silent exchange. “You can trust me,” he says. “I’m a lawyer.” Everybody laughs and you follow the couple outside to his car, which is indeed parked at the curb. He points at a child-safety seat in the back. “Per i bambini!”

His wife motions you into the back seat with her while your husband climbs in front. “It’s not far,” the Italian man says, putting the tiny car in gear. “Livorno is a very important port in the history of Italy….” His wife rolls her eyes and giggles. She points at your chest.

 “Il nave?”

Sorry, you say, you don’t understand. 

“Boat?” she asks, pointing toward the harbor.

“Si, si!” You both say “Il nave!” You laugh together.

Imagine you are off the boat in more ways than one. Your grandparents left Europe a century ago from a harbor farther north, bound for a better life in New York.     

Yesterday, you flew from New York to Rome in a third of a day, then stepped aboard a luxury liner for a vacation on a ship. Your grandparents’ ocean journey took weeks; they were probably seasick and traveled in steerage. There were no waiters, no violins at dinner. Nobody gave them a map.

But they gave you this: a life in which you sail into a European harbor. Like them, when you arrive at your destination, you seek help from people who barely understand you.

The young lawyer is right. The ride to the museum is short. He drops you off at the entrance and wishes you a nice day. “Grazie,”you say, and you part from the man and his wife using the universal language of nods and smiles.

Inside the museum, you view the work of an artist born in Livorno who lived only 35 years. “Modigliani knew how to soak up influences from everyone,” the curator wrote. “As a sea-faring man, someone who lived in a city with a harbour, …he understood that you can’t live there without encountering people coming into the port from elsewhere….”

That night, you hang your socks to dry in your cruise ship cabin’s tiny bathroom. You imagine the smiling young couple you met today at their home, telling their bambini about the Americans they met in the bakery.

About the Writer:
Linda C. Wisniewski
lives in Bucks County, PA where she volunteers at the historic home of author Pearl S. Buck. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press. Linda’ debut novel, Where the Stork Flies, is forthcoming from Sand Hill Review Press. She blogs about life and connections at

Two Peas in a Pod by Alexandra Ronn

Two Peas in a Pod

By Alexandra Ronn

You save me
When I am a new kid in school
Shy, awkward, four-eyes, tinsel-teeth
Blushing all shades of pink and red
Eighth grade lab partner, note-passer, new best friend
You say we’re two peas in a pod
I smile
You lead, I follow

High school together, we laugh and laugh
No books for you
So I dumb down to stay
In your shadow
14 years old, 15, 16, 17
Drinking age 18, easy to get
You lead, I follow

First time off the path: senior year
Higher level English, my favorite class
All A’s
You frown and ask why

Commuting to junior college
You lead, I follow
We’re going to be travel agents, you say
Two peas in a pod

After one semester I switch my major
To English
Why? you ask, frowning

Still, the drinking, the bars
You lead, I follow
You drink so much
I can’t keep up

I date a guy because you’re going out with his friend
We marry them
He’s always liked you more than me

I have three kids, you have none
My second child is your godson
I no longer drink
I’m a mom

We go out to lunch, shopping, dinner with our husbands
You love your godson
You’re at every family event
Bearing gifts
Even when I’ve asked you not to

At long last I go back to college
You frown and ask why
My kids are nearly grown
I love being in school

You cheer loudly when my name is called
And I receive my diploma
You’re there if I ever need you
Forty years of friendship
You kiss my cheek, laughing
We always laugh
I’m not sure why

You say I’m foolish when I tell the cashier
She’s undercharged me
"What’s wrong with you?" you ask
Shake your head all the way home
You think I’ll be happy when you tell me
That you like Sarah Palin

Two peas in a pod
I flinch
I cringe
I hear how you talk about other people
More than you ever did before
People of color
Jewish, gay, autistic
Anyone "other"
You say you hate

You look at me when you say these things
Your liberal, hippie, women’s-libber friend
You laugh when I speak up

It took me so long
I’m stronger now
The phone rings
I don’t answer
You have a party
I don’t go

You’re angry
You say, "I forgave you for going back to school
But I can’t forgive you for not drinking with me"
You say you pity my husband

I try to pick up the pieces, but I can’t
I won’t
I don’t want to be in that pod

With you

After two years I see you at my son’s wedding
I approach you
We make small talk for a minute
It’s hot, yes it is
I walk away to sit with my family
You put down your empty glass and head to the bar.

About the Writer:
Alexandra Ronn
is a writer, book editor, Reiki master, and librarian. A lifelong New England resident, she loves reading, painting, and spending time amongst the trees.

Ophelia II by Jerome Berglund

Ophelia II

By Jerome Berglund

Artist Statement:

Richfield, Minnesota photographer Jerome Berglund has explored a variety of themes, figuratively following a principle of fatalistic discovery within the chaos of natural elements spiraling through his daily experience and environment to seek out and construct—via a scavenger hunt of sorts—a series of allegorical tableaux centered upon subjects of addiction, recovery, alcoholism, mental illness, depression, anxiety, alienation, loss, heartbreak, gentrification, corruption, hope, and acceptance. 

Ophelia II by Jerome Berglund

Ophelia II

About the Photographer:
Jerome Berglund 
graduated summa cum laude from the cinema-television production program at the University of Southern California, and has spent much of his career working in television and photography. He has had photographs published and awarded in local papers and recently staged an exhibition in the Twin Cities area that included a residency of several months at a local community center. A selection of his black and white fine art photographs was showcased at the Pause Gallery in New York over last Winter’s holiday season, and his fashion photography is currently on display at the BG Gallery in Santa Monica, California.

What Not to Forget by Kara Noble

What Not to Forget

By Kara Noble

“I’m going to break your arm!”

The old man slams her to the emergency room floor, wrenches her arm behind her, wedges his knee in her back. His fingernails gouge her wrist, then jerk up and away. She pinches her eyes shut and presses her cheek into the floor, bracing for the punch she knows must be coming.

A man shouts nearby. She gasps as the old man thrusts himself up off her back. Freed from his weight, she curls into a ball and covers her head with her hands.

The old man hurls his wiry body at the oncoming hospital security guards. He crumples the first one with a right cross, then flings a chair at two others rushing toward him. She can see that his energy is nearly spent. The burly guards engulf him, pin his arms, and wrestle him onto the hospital bed in the middle of the disarray in his ER examining room.

She rolls out of the way of the swarming emergency responders and finds a wall. Its smooth solidness feels reassuring. She sits, her back pressed against it, knees clutched to her chest, and watches. A nurse produces a syringe. After the injection, the old man’s thrashing slowly subsides. His eyes close. His breathing eases. Restraints are fastened.

Someone helps her up. Someone else closes the dull gray medical drapes around them, shutting out the rest of the ER. A nurse guides her into a chair.

“Are you all right?” the nurse asks.

Am I? she wonders.

She nods.

“Are you sure?”

She isn’t, but she says yes anyway. She wraps shaking hands around the plastic cup of tepid water the nurse offers her and gulps it down.

Around her, hospital staff right toppled furniture, reset equipment, monitor the old man. They check on the security guards.

“I’m fine,” the punched guard says, massaging his jaw with his palm.

“Flattened by an 80-year-old,” says a second guard. “You’ll never live this one down, Jim.”

The guards disappear out the drapes, laughing as they go. Doctors and nurses drift away until only she and the old man remain in the tiny, curtained space. She drags her chair to the side of his bed.

Lying there, strapped to the metal rails, he looks deflated. Drool dribbles into his graying beard, the bristly beard that used to prickle her cheeks when he kissed her goodnight. His dark eyes—eyes that twinkled when he laughed—are now shrouded in wrinkled, twitching lids.

His hands are clenched in medically managed terror. They were strong hands, hands that once bent and welded steel into high-rise towers. They were gentle hands, hands that comforted her and smoothed away her tears the day she fell off her bike when she was nine.

She lays her hand over his fist. He feels so cold. She tugs the thin hospital blanket over him.

Dementia stole his mind, his personality. Will it steal my memories of him too? Will I forget the good times? Will I remember what he was like before he got sick?

She twists in the hard, plastic chair beside his hospital bed trying to find a comfortable position, but there isn’t one.

I must remember what not to forget.

About the Writer:
Kara Noble
is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications ranging from textbooks and dictionaries to newspapers and magazines. She served as the editor for Merriam-Webster’s language question-and-answer column, “Take Our Word for It,” their public radio program “Word for the Wise” (WAMC, Albany, NY), and their online “Word of the Day” feature. She particularly enjoys writing about horses, and her equine-related stories have been published in Massachusetts Horse, Connecticut Horse, The Competitive Equine, Tölt News, and Quarterly, the official publication of the U.S. Icelandic Horse Congress. She holds a BA from Amherst College and an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University.

This Is Forty by Amy Jordan Cronin

This Is Forty

By Amy Jordan Cronin

My fortieth birthday is imminent. I tell myself that age is just a number and that 40 is a glorious age to reach, a milestone denied to many. 

Yet this birthday symbolizes so much more. 

While I exalt the virtues of a confident body image to my children, each time I stare at my own reflection my confidence droops. Things that once were perky are now saggy. Eyes that were clear and bright look dull in the mirror. Hair, once glossy, is dry from too many chemicals meant to mask grey hair. All of it reminds me I’m on the fast-track to the big Four-O.  

I consider my options. Among my girlfriends (can we still be considered girls?), age is the new topic of conversation over coffee or drinks. One friend advocates for the easiest way to feel younger: just look younger. Restore, revive, renew. I nod in agreement. Should I buy a pair of the leather leggings all the twentysomethings seem to be wearing, squeezing my love handles into sweaty oblivion? Should anyone ever?

My best friend’s response to the aging process has been to dabble in body piercings. She pierced her nipples, much to her husband’s delight and my absolute horror. My nipples and I have been through a lot together. From peeping seductively through sheer tops in my twenties to feeding my babies in my thirties, they’ve been good to me. I don’t feel justified in assaulting them with a sharp implement in the hope of reclaiming youth and frivolity. 

Should I follow my cousin’s example and make the ever-popular trip down Botox Lane? While my fear of needles was rapidly overcome the day I needed an epidural during excruciating labor, I’m not sure I want one brandished near my eyes and lips. Same goes for my nipples.

Still, when my husband moves towards me I wonder if he misses my pre-baby body, unmarked by the trials of childbirth. Does he miss the unlined face, my brow less furrowed, from the time when responsibilities were so much lighter to carry?

I wear my impending entry into the next decade as I would a scarf around my neck on a cold day. I’m grateful for it, and that gratitude warms me, yet sometimes it feels a little too tight and it takes my breath away. 

So, last week, with bated breath, I went to one of those hip boutiques and tried on leather leggings. The lighting was harsh and unfamiliar music blared from hidden speakers. The assistant was plumped and preened into terrifying Kardashian-esque perfection. The dressing room felt tighter than the leather pants, and after what felt like an hour of panting and contorting trying to get into the things, I was ready to give up. Just as I managed to pull them slightly past my knees, the curtain whipped back, and the shop assistant inquired how it was all going. 

“Well, I’m nearly 40 years old and I’m trying to squeeze into a child’s pair of pants, so not great,” I joked, desperate to keep my tears away. 

The copious amount of filler in her lips kept her from smiling, but her eyes were sympathetic. I grimaced, knowing she could read the sheer discontent of being my age. Almost 40. Middle-aged. She sensed the full extent of my doubt that I could even shop in a young person’s clothing store anymore. 

Her words of comfort reached my soul as if they had fallen from the lips of the Dalai Lama. They have stayed with me, offering me consolation in dark moments, guiding my hand as I pluck out stray grey hairs, wrapping around me as I wriggle into Bridget Jones-style knickers. 

“Honey, be kind to yourself.”

Gears inside my heart clicked into place. Surely it would be easier to embrace the changes life brings to body and soul, to offer myself the love I give to others? My attraction to my husband has never wavered, although he, too, is getting older, yet I reserve my loathing of aging exclusively for myself. Why?  

If we have gratitude for life, we must accept aging too. Fighting what naturally occurs is the epitome of wasting time. Just as time ticks ever forward, our bodies move steadfastly toward old age.

Aging isn’t to be feared. Self-criticism is. The challenge is to still the inner voice that bemoans every wrinkle. I have read the self-help books, watched the TED Talks, and experimented with therapy to help silence that voice when it shouts, “You’re too old, not pretty enough, not good enough.” All my efforts pale in comparison to the startling, simple wisdom of that shop assistant. 

I will be kind to myself.

I bought the leather leggings.

About the Writer:
Amy Jordan Cronin
is a mum, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and a writer. A graduate of business management, she has taken time out to focus on being a mum. An avid diary-keeper since she was young, Amy writes to meditate and she adores the sense of wellbeing that comes from both reading and writing. Amy is a fan of thrillers and crime novels, and a huge fan of authors Ian Rankin and Lee Child. She will soon have a short story published in Woman’s Way and is working on the final draft of her first novel, a thriller.

A Recipe for Revision Pot Pie by Catherine Palmer

A Recipe for Revision Pot Pie

By Catherine Palmer

You might think your personal essay is complete, but wait until you try this twist! I’m going to show (not tell) you how to deconstruct, reduce, remix, and shape your essay so that it feels like you’re writing a new one from scratch. Sure, that’s a lot of work, but think of it like this: roast chicken is perfectly fine, but revision pot pie is submittable!

Why leave well enough alone when you can do better? Tighter sentences, a more logical flow, and a pithier epiphany can only enhance the flavor of your story. If you’re tired of leftover clichés, revision pot pie is for you! I make a lot of this pot pie, so I should know.

To begin, I hole myself up, not bothering to shower or dress for several heart-wrenching days while I slice and dice what I thought was a perfectly fine essay. It’s so satisfying to take the meat off the bones, shred sentences, toss entire paragraphs, and turn my hard work into something unrecognizable on its way to being fantastic—or at least finished.

My family loves my revision pot pie, but honestly, I find the effort even more gratifying when I can share it with strangers. Here are some of my favorite revision pot pie tips:

  1. If you don’t have a solid draft on hand, start with a previously finished piece. My friend Joan likes to take an essay she’s already published and rip it to shreds.
  2. To make a crust of confessions especially flaky, open a bottle of wine, sit on the kitchen floor, and remember your childhood. This trick never fails to produce layer upon layer of trauma.
  3. Revision pot pie is best when it has had time to rest. Start long before your deadline so you can go back to it again and again. . .and again.


PREP TIME:         Your life up until this moment.

COOK TIME:       Usually several days. Could be weeks. Or you might never finish

CUISINE:             Personal essay

SERVES:              Everyone who takes a bite


For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups self-doubt
  • 1 tablespoon therapy
  • 1 teaspoon tears
  • 1 cup cold hard truth, cut into bite sized pieces (makes them easier to swallow)
  • A splash of cold water
  • 1/2 cup regret (see recipe for substitute if GF*)
  • 1 painful memory, lightly beaten

For the filling:

  • 1 perfectly fine essay
  • comments from 2 medium workshops
  • 3 scenes, minced
  • 3 cups (or more) new writing
  • 1 heaping cup characterization
  • 1/2 cup diced dialogue
  • 4 heaping tablespoons of detail
  • reflection to taste

(*Guilt Free)


  1. To make the crust, pour tears, self-doubt, and years of therapy onto a blank page. Splash your face with cold water before folding in regret. You may substitute fear for regret if you are GF. Add cold hard truth and use a sharp red pencil to cut, cut, cut until the truth is all that remains. Form into a ball and chill.
  2. For the filling, pick through workshop comments thoughtfully, discarding duplicates and suggestions that make no sense. Toss the essay into your emotional blender and use the Track Changes attachment to blend comments until all scenes are totally minced. Pour off any defensiveness that may have surfaced.
  3. Place the minced scenes on the back burner, allowing the comments to simmer with your essay until the meat separates from the bones. Set the bones aside (you’ll need those later) and hack what remains to bits to create a meaty essay stew. Cool off, then skim the fat from the top.  
  4. Over three cups of coffee, pull 2,000 additional words out of thin air. Add generous amounts of characterization, dialogue, and detail, and season with plenty of reflection. Don’t skimp on the reflection! Fold new writing into the essay stew and bring it to a simmer, stirring continuously to release the full flavor of each ingredient. This might take some time.

    A quick note of caution: Making a revision pot pie is tedious, and you may grow impatient with the process. If it feels like it is becoming too difficult, resist the temptation to throw in the towel, wash a load of towels, shop on-line for new towels, or attempt towel origami. A short break to stretch or rehydrate can be helpful, but too much procrastination is the enemy of a successful (i.e., finished) revision pot pie. Stick to it! I promise it will be worth the effort.

  5. When the filling is ready, it’s time to give your essay stew some structure. Adjust the bones you saved in Step 3 on a lightly floured surface and place the ball of truth you made in Step 1 at the center. Use a rolling pen to connect the two, shaping into a smooth narrative arc. Gently place the result into a 12-point, Times New Roman template.
  6. Trim any overhanging words, then pour the essay stew gently into the template, discarding any fatty bits. Some writers grow attached to these extra bits, but cut them out. You can save them—they might be just right for a quick and easy weeknight poem!  
  7. Brush with a wash of painful memories and then let your revision pot pie bake for a few days.
  8. Repeat steps 4 to 8 as necessary.

I hope this recipe helps you rediscover the joy of slow editing like it has for me. I used to be a fast-edit junkie. It was easier to drive through the work of revising. But a diet of fast essays left me feeling bloated…yet still hungry an hour later. Now that I’m losing that stubborn first-draft weight, I feel more satisfied without the bulk.

Just imagine enjoying juicy details, crisp dialogue, and tender scene-setting all wrapped in a crust of flaky confessions, in the comfort of your own home. In fact, with this recipe for revision, you may never leave the house again!

About the Writer:
Catherine Palmer
has been a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, and a single mom. She was a college drop-out, then in her 30s an adult night-school student who earned a BA in English and an MA in Marketing Communications, both with high honors. She spent three decades in corporate marketing before reinventing herself as a writer and a graduate student at Stonecoast MFA at the University of Southern Maine. She blogs about her midlife reinvention, becoming re-inspired, and life in Vermont at

Losses, Internal and External by Allison Landa

Losses, Internal and External

By Allison Landa

You wanted it to be a miscarriage and so it was.

It was just some blood. You’d seen worse. It was a little bit of cramping. Nothing you couldn’t handle. An interruption in an otherwise stultifying and ordinary day. Under most circumstances that might be welcome.

You walked out of the bathroom and made the pronouncement. Your husband looked up from the work-issued laptop he carried home weeks ago. Your senses were on red alert, expecting something, unsure what. The air tasted of dust; the few passersby were glacial in their movements, hesitant and jerky as a puppet worked by a nervous handler.

You wanted it to be a miscarriage because you wanted to believe your body worked the way others did, that it didn’t have The Condition. Sometimes pregnancies were viable. Other times they meant the body flushed away tissue and promise. Life rolled on, just like the ball your son threw tumbled around the street.

“It could be anything,” my husband said. “Don’t immediately go to the negative.”

What he didn’t realize was for you it wasn’t necessarily a negative. If that was what happened—if you were pregnant—you hadn’t even realized it. There were none of the signs you’d seen in the past: the loss of appetite, the all-day nausea requiring lots and lots of ginger chews from Trader Joe’s. You used to love grocery shopping, the hunt and peck, the comparison of list to haul, what you wanted versus what you could get. Now COVID had wrought lines, determined and forced normalcy. When someone greeted you, it was as if the social contract had broken and shattered atop your head. You mumbled something and moved on.

Did you want to bring a child into this uncertain world? By the time your last and only pregnancy wrapped up, you were at the doctor’s five out of seven days per week. It wouldn’t be different this time. There would be testing, ultrasounds, perinatal appointments. There would be concerns and hesitations. And the outside world.

You sat down on your chair. Your husband called it the Good Chair and compared to the rest of the secondhand furniture in your apartment, it was—an easy chair whose massage function had mercifully died just as it grew less relaxing and more seizure-inducing. For once, you missed that feature. You’d have given it a try again. It might have helped with your cranky lower back, which had been achy since you woke up. Even if it didn’t budge the pain, it might have made you forget about it, which would be almost just as good.

“I looked it up,” you said. Your voice sounded brassier than normal, defensive. There were signs, right? The bleeding, the pain. You wanted to suffer, you needed the distraction. Maybe if you felt as though something unjust had happened to you, something unprecedented and unwanted, you could come to terms with what was happening in the world outside.

“It’s the Internet,” he said. “You can’t trust anything there. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying you’re right. I’m saying you need to find someone who knows what they’re talking about, not some wing nut on Reddit.”

You called the advice nurse at Kaiser Health. She was brisk but friendly, tired but professional. “At 45,” she said, “it’s highly unlikely it was a miscarriage. It could be a slipped IUD. It could be breakthrough bleeding, which is a sign of menopause.”

Menopause? Now? You would still surreptitiously play with Barbies given the chance. When did you get old enough for menopause?

“In maybe eight or ten years,” the nurse said, and you relaxed a little. What you wanted to tell her was you needed proof that you were normal. After all these years, all these diagnoses, all the times the doctors talked about elevated testosterone or infertility, after taking prescription after prescription, even after conceiving seemingly out of the blue, you still needed reassurance you were normal, subject to fate and foment, capable of conception, even if you couldn’t always carry it to completion.

The power lay in the negative, your reason for everything. The moments when you welcomed the marital spat, the twisted ankle, the child who didn’t quite make it to the potty—they all offered proof that life was real, not perfect, the way you wanted it. Outside showed just how much life had changed, didn’t it? The boarded-up storefronts where you once ate, drank, played. The few remaining businesses plying their wares, practically begging: WE’RE STILL OPEN! Don’t forget about us. Don’t let us sink into the swamp.

The doctor called.

You hung up and buried your face in a pillow. It wasn’t even one of your good pillows. It was limp and flat, paltry. Your husband stood over you, mentally wringing his hands. You didn’t blame him. You should be happy. You should be relieved. You should feel this weight lifted, that you didn’t lose more than the world was already collectively losing.

“I wanted,” you said, then paused. How to say what you felt? How to express the inexpressible, the outright foolish? How to make yourself understood when even you yourself didn’t get it?

“Don’t,” he said and pulled you to him. In that moment you realized that understanding transcended specifics. It went straight to the heart of the universal, the human. He didn’t have to know the ins and outs of what you were thinking. It was enough for him to grasp that you felt some element of loss.

Somewhere in the universe there is a child. He or she may have even been yours, in your mind, in your imagination. Somehow their life was prevented, cut short. In some way they gave you the loss you needed. In some sense their absence was the presence you craved.

About the Writer:
Allison Landa
is a Berkeley, California-based writer of fiction and memoir whose work has been featured in Business Insider, Parents Magazine, The Guardian US, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among others. She holds an MFA in creative writing from St. Mary’s College of California and runs the On the Cusp reading series in San Francisco. She is a member of the San Francisco Writers Grotto, and she teaches at The Writing Salon in Berkeley.

The Fall by Erin Binney

The Fall

By Erin Binney

Swatches of sand, nuggets of gravel, and shreds of skin cling to my right forearm, held in place by fresh blood. This is what happens when you’re nearing the end of your run on the bike path, can barely lift your feet, and get felled by a tree root that has cracked and lifted a section of the asphalt: You wind up sprawled out on the shoulder with a not-yet-dried mixed-media collage on your arm.

A woman riding the other way on her bike slows to a stop and asks if I am okay.

“I’m alright,” I grumble as I sit up, embarrassed and in pain. “Thank you.”

When I get home, my husband asks how my run was. I respond by showing him my arm. Although he cringes in sympathy, his first and most pressing concern is “Did anyone see?”

The next time I run, a few days later, I abandon the bike path in favor of my other training ground—the high school track. There, I run into Stella, a woman whose last name I do not know but who I see walking in lane seven from time to time.

“It’s been a while,” she says. “How have you been?”

I tell her I’ve been using the bike path lately, recount my fall, and show her my wound. It’s starting to scab over now, and there’s a bruise the color of an overripe banana connecting it to the tip of my elbow.

“That looks like it hurts,” she says.

“It does,” I answer.

A few days later, I tell my dad about my fall. “Are you sure you should still be running at your age?” he asks from the other end of the phone. (I am 44.)

The next time I see Stella at the track, about a week after my tumble, she reaches into her coat pocket and produces a leaf from the aloe plant in her kitchen, which she has carefully protected in plastic wrap.

“I was hoping I would see you today. This will be good for your skin,” she explains as she rubs the juice on my arm. As a 21st-century woman, I know I should be more enlightened. I know I should be cheering for the female CEOs and astronauts. But some days, I’m grateful for all the female caregivers.

About the Writer:
Erin Binney is a former business reporter, a current copyeditor, and an Olympic hopeful in home organization. She has a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from James Madison University and expects to earn her MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University in 2021. Her piece “Love Takes a Recess” recently won first place in its category in the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors “Excellence in Writing” Competition.