Quick Work No. 5

Quick Work No. 5

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories. During July 2020, we present short takes on work and working.

The Boys Department

by Michele Wick

After Grandpa died, Grandma became a sales lady at Alexander’s Department Store. At 70 years old, she had her first job. Grandpa never let Grandma work outside the home, although he’d let her play poker for rent money.

At Alexander’s, they believed Grandma was 55, and offered her a buyer’s job. But my elegant, five-foot tall Polish grandmother preferred the boys department, where she worked for 25 years.

On my wedding day, Grandma told me that I had nice “bubbies.” She also said that I could accomplish anything.

Sometimes, I forget this, and her, until I remember and press on.

Managed Care

by Gerard Sarnat

I wanted to make a difference. As an MD-CEO, my idea was to run that new health plan so members would get value for their hard-earned bucks. But the Board did not distinguish between providing care and inventorying boxes of Kleenex.

When someone instructed staff on how to manage customer expectations, I wondered, weren’t they patients anymore?

I learned that appeals were shamelessly disappeared, never to be ruled upon. My naïve ideals were disappeared too.

Our worthiness had quickly deteriorated.

I quit and went back to being a physician.


Pine Ridge Reservation, 1999

by Wren Bellavance-Grace

“Give these to the needy,” the note demands.

Not this one, I think, discarding the coat with a gerrymandered-county-shaped stain. 

I expected Volunteer Vacation to be sweaty, grueling, heavy work. Instead: “Sort donations in the attic.” Sweaty? Definitely. Useful? We’ll see.

Scores of boxes—dog-eared books, chipped mugs, clueless INDIANS jerseys. And some useful things. I map out the newly organized attic, but nobody cares. It gets reorganized every volunteer vacation week. My work doesn’t matter. 

My pride stings through stages: hurt, frustration, confusion. 

Humility.  The heavy work was for me, I realize: to understand the burdens of receiving.

Not Eve
 

by Iris Reinbacher

“Hi, my name is Adam, and I’m such a lonely guy!”

I’d just introduced myself to the postdoc I was supposed to work with on the database part of my thesis project. I smile uncertainly—surely, he only wants to be funny, in his awkward, nerdy kind of way.

“How old are you?” he asks.

“Twenty-eight.”

“Aahh!” he points a finger at me. “Your biological clock is ticking!”

We’ll work together for the next two and a half years. We’ll become colleagues. But we’ll never talk about the day we met, or mention ticking clocks again.


That Time I Thought I Knew Better

by D.A. Stern

Bantam Books, 1983, New York City, most of the company away at a conference. A young editor, I was on duty to receive the foreword to Lonesome Gods, one of Bantam’s next big books. Written by Louis—100 published novels, 320 million copies in print—L’Amour.

The fax came in.

I decided it wasn’t proper English. I would clean it up.

It got worse. I worked harder. It got much worse. I called my boss, the legendary Irwyn Applebaum.

“Dave, what the f*** are you doing? Just leave it alone.”

And I did. I left it Louis L’Amour.


About the Writers

Michele Wick, PhD writes about the confluence of art, science, the humanities and climate change. She is a Lecturer in Psychology at Smith College. You can read her blog Anthropocene Mind at Psychology Today.

Gerard Sarnat, MD is a physician and award-winning poet who has published four collections. His work has appeared in Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Texas Review, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, and The New York Times.

Wren Bellavance-Grace is a writer based in western Massachusetts currently finding the non-working experience of sabbatical deeply disquieting. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bay Path University.

Iris Reinbacher is a writer and Austrian computer scientist turned entrepreneur. She has lived in six countries in Europe and Asia before settling down in Kyoto, Japan.

D.A. Stern is the author of more than two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, including The New York Times bestsellers Crosley and The Blair Witch Project Dossier, and the acclaimed epistolary novel Shadows In The Asylum.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work (100 words or fewer) are currently closed, but we welcome stories (up to 5,000 words) for the Fall issue of Multiplicity Magazine: At Work. Magazine submissions close on September 25, 2020. More details here.

Miss Eliza by Suraj Alva

Miss Eliza

Posted Posted in Blog

By Suraj Alva

Mumbai, India, 1998

All the boys in my class thought Miss Eliza beautiful and mysterious. Like an American film actress, she had pale skin and wore skirts or jeans. The other teachers wore saris or dresses more concealing than the nun headmistress’s black blankets. Miss Eliza was also kindhearted. Before going home, she gave everyone a hug.

Except me.

When David turned nine, she gave him a big kiss on the cheek. Luckily, he was my desk-mate. I kicked him to stop him from smiling so stupidly.  I was turning nine in two months and I wanted Miss Eliza to kiss me. I was in love.

But she never touched me or even smiled at me.

“You talk funny in English. Maybe that’s why.” David said.

“What you meaning?” I asked.

“You say yum not M, yes not S, yun not N….”

“Shut up.”

“I’m only helping.”

Instruction was in English at the private Christian school I attended. I had moved to Mumbai from Kuwait only six months before, and the Kuwaiti Indian community where I grew up came from the southern part of India, so I spoke English with a thick South Indian accent.

Maybe that was why Miss Eliza didn’t like me.

But where could I learn proper English? Except in school, everyone in Mumbai spoke Hindi or Marathi. I turned on the TV to the Cartoon Network, the only channel that used proper English. For a month, I imitated how the cartoons spoke, but Miss Eliza treated me the same.

Priya, one of the class’s slum-kids, said, “Miss Eliza thinks you’re hoity-toity.”

“Who says?” I asked.

“I’m not a tattletale,” she said.

“David? Michael? Joshua? Jessica? At least tell me what they are saying,” I begged.

“They say he acts big, coming from Foreign, his abu working in Foreign,” she replied.

None of the other kids or their parents had gone abroad. Growing up outside of India in the oil-rich Persian Gulf made me feel special. My daddy still worked there, sending money to Mummy so she could take care of our new home. It was why we had the only air conditioner and CD player in our building. But if Miss Eliza didn’t love me because I was a spoiled, selfish boy, I would show her I wasn’t one.

Mummy told me my teacher was a widow with two children, but Miss Eliza often brought food for the class’s two slum kids. I started giving the lunches Mummy made me to those kids, hoping Miss Eliza would notice. Now she didn’t have to give them food. She could save her money. Like in Hindi films, I was her hero. She would have to fall in love with me.

One day, Mummy came to school with my inhaler. I was sitting in the eating room with my back to the door. She saw me giving my food away.

Furious, she dragged me to the headmistress’s office. Miss Eliza was called in.

“Do you see what he is doing?” Mummy asked her.

“I am not sure,” Miss Eliza replied.

“How come? You are his teacher.”

“In class, he….”

“No. At lunch. Do you know he is not eating?”

“Why not?”

“You are making him give his food to the slum children. I pay for my children—and all the money I gave as a donation.”

“I didn’t know,” my teacher said.

The headmistress silenced Miss Eliza with her palm and said, “Madam, we are really sorry.”

“What did I tell you for my children?” Mummy asked.

“We are taking special care of them, like you asked,” said the headmistress.

“Maybe I will take them out.”

“No need, madam. We will all keep a special eye on him.”

I kept my head down, embarrassed, not saying a word. I was ashamed and avoided Miss Eliza’s eyes. I didn’t save her. I put her in trouble. I was no hero—only a stupid, silly boy. Gone was all hope for my first kiss. Now I knew Mummy’s bossiness was why Miss Eliza treated me like I belonged in a glass cage.

Three days before my birthday, after a week of heavy rains, the sun visited and all came out to see it—snails, earthworms, birds. Our class took a field trip to the sea. The water was too filthy for us to swim in, so I made a sand tower on the beach while my classmates threw rocks at seagulls.

I felt something slide on my leg. When I turned to look, it was a snake! It hissed at me and I screamed. I had grown used to how dogs, cows, goats, monkeys, buffalo, and elephants lived like humans in Mumbai, but I had never seen a snake.

I cried and called for my daddy. I wanted him to take me back to Kuwait—away from the animals, the stinking smell, the beggars, the dirtiness, the chaos of Mumbai.

Miss Eliza took me in her arms and held me. I could feel the warmth of her belly on my cheek and smell her flowery perfume. She told me not to be scared, that everything was okay. Sobbing, I turned to see my classmates circle the snake, throwing rocks to kill it. It was a game and they were having fun. I buried my face in Miss Eliza’s blouse and cried some more. She held me tighter and my fear gave way.

When my birthday came, Miss Eliza left the room during my birthday song. I kept looking at the door, waiting for her. I blew out the candles, wishing. When I looked up, she stood in the doorway. She came and gave me a big sloppy cheek-kiss, patted my head and left again.

In 2001, my family and I moved to the Persian Gulf again. By then I was hitting puberty hard, but I was in a place where gender segregation was law. I went four years without meeting a girl.

When I turned 16, I moved to California. I was shy and abashed around women. My first real kiss came two years later.

I still think of Miss Eliza now, at 30 and determined to get married, but not sure how to go about it.


About the Writer:
Suraj Alva
began freelance writing in 2017, and his work has appeared in GNU Journal, The Fiction Pool and elsewhere. His essay “Nothing More Human,” published in The Common in April 2020, convinced an agent he has what it takes to write a publishable novel. He is headed to Purdue University’s MFA program to start that novel this fall.

Quick Work No. 4

Quick Work No. 4

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories. During July 2020, we present short takes on work and working.

The Chaplaincy

by Rich Giptar

I worked in a room with willow crosses and laminated mantras on the walls, comfy mismatched chairs and crumb-dotted rugs. Tea and coffee were always on tap, and a variety pack of biscuits was open on the purple camping table. It was a strange enclave in the otherwise streamlined university building.

I listened to students and staff unpack and pile up their problems like cairns. With my chair at an obtuse angle (this was important), I offered gentle affirmation. Sometimes the men would grow flirtatious and I would stiffen. I realized they confused the listening, the emotional honesty, for love.

Port-Starboard Cake

by Grace Giesbrecht

When the massive white sails were hauled tight against the wind, the tall ship tilted, and the kitchen I worked in tilted too. I learned to cook standing barefoot at a 45 degree angle, with one hip jammed into the cabinets and the opposite foot braced against the far wall.

Cakes made under these conditions were known by the wild-eyed and strong-minded cooks who came before me as port-starboard cakes: they baked on the ship’s tack and the wind’s rules, and tasted better for it.


Desayuno

by Dali Vera

Five minutes to fry eggs before I leave for the police station. I put the oil on high, take the eggs out of the fridge. They sizzle, start solidifying. I count each minute down to four. Now my sneakers are on, the eggs are over easy, and I am plating the sausage and pancakes, calling my daughter.

“Jade, te amo, made your favorites.”

Give her a hug, grab my keys, dial my partner from the social service agency. “What’s your ETA?”

“Just shoving breakfast down. What’s the allegation?”

“Sexual abuse.”

I think I hear him choking.

“I’ll be right there.”

Who’s the Boss?

by Tain Leonard-Peck

Machete, sledgehammer, brush-cutter, rake.

The summer sun sears the land, baking the soil dry and burning my skin like newspaper in a fireplace. Water for the equipment goes in the bed, along with a roll of fencing. Next come the mowers, awkwardly loaded, weight shifting constantly. I get scratched by a hot horn.

The tailgate shuts with a satisfying click. I look up, locking eyes with one of my workers. Curious and vibrant, always hungry.

Goatscaping.

In theory, the goats work for me.


Not Working

by Erika Rundle

I was three days out. The first two felt like breathing clean air into starved lungs. My head tilted higher by several degrees. Inexplicably, my peripheral vision had expanded—I could see clearly out of the corners of my eyes. I took a walk and felt that I could continue indefinitely.

The following day was rainy. I was caught off balance by a depth charge. The waves threw me against a rocky beach, abandoned and littered with garbage. I turned things over, confirming their absolute uselessness.

Don’t wait so long next time, I thought. Just quit at the first sign.


About the Writers

Rich Giptar is a writer from southern England who has held a variety of jobs. Their work has appeared in Perhappened, FlashFlood, Teen Belle and Versification. Tweet @richgiptar.

Grace Giesbrecht is a Media/Communications Major at Trinity Western University. She spent a summer as a cook on a tall ship on the Pacific Ocean, sailing along the coast of British Columbia.

Dali Vera writes about balancing her family life with her work in social services. She has taught English as second language and is a first-year student in the Bay Path MFA in Creative Nonfiction program.

Tain Leonard-Peck is a high school student and world traveler who currently lives on his family’s farm on Martha’s Vineyard. He writes, paints, and composes music, and is a competitive sailor, skier, and fencer.

Erika Rundle is an independent scholar and creative writer. Her essays and reviews have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. She also works as a teacher, translator, dramaturg, and performer for theater and film.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work (100 words or fewer) are currently closed, but we also welcome stories up to 5,000 words for the Fall issue of Multiplicity Magazine: Work/Working/Worker. More details here.

With Bells on My Boots: A Disabled Woman's Relationship with Style and Beauty by Dana Robbins

With Bells on My Boots

Posted Posted in Blog

With Bells on My Boots
A Disabled Woman’s Relationship with Style and Beauty

By Dana Robbins

I was 23 when I had the stroke. It paralyzed my left side and left me mourning the breezy, beautiful young woman I had been. Even after several years of intensive physical therapy, my left foot pronated and dragged. My left arm sometimes froze with a bend at the elbow. With the left side of my face paralyzed, my smile is still slightly askew.

As a young girl and throughout my early twenties, people commented on how pretty I was with my long dark hair, porcelain skin, large green eyes and petite hourglass figure. In my family, the women were expected to be beautiful. My grandmother, an old school Russian beauty, told us that a man only need be one step above a monkey but a woman must be beautiful. Beauty defined my self-worth. After the stroke, people looked at me with pity and shock. I felt deep shame seeing myself in a mirror.

A few days before the stroke, I was in an Upper East Side boutique looking at a beautiful pair of green slingback shoes. They were costly, so I passed on them. Being only five foot two, I loved the lift and line a good pair of heels could give me. As a young professional, I felt more polished in heels. I remembered the slingbacks as I lay in my hospital bed. Life is short. I shouldn’t have denied myself. When I told my mother the story, she left my bedside and returned with the shoes. I rolled right out of the left shoe. I’d never wear high heels again.

Shoes are a complicated proposition. I need a built-up, wide-footbed shoe with strong support for my left ankle. I also wear orthotics. As a child in the sixties, I was forced to wear heavy shoes that were supposedly good for the development of my feet. I hated the heavy clomp-clomp when I walked. After the stroke, I felt like those dreaded shoes returned to torment me. I spent years in denial, buying heels and fancy shoes I couldn’t wear. Like Cinderella, I believed that finding the magic shoes would make me whole. After developing pain in my left knee from my gait in my fifties. I was forced to become more realistic.

After my stroke, I had to relearn getting dressed, how to ease my paralyzed arm into a sleeve first and putting on my bra over my head. Shirts and jackets slide down my left shoulder. Décolletage, or even a normal open neck, slips off and I look disheveled. Zippers on jackets are impossible with one hand. I can’t tie my shoes or buckle a belt. I need Velcro or buttons, but neither hold well.  I can’t get my left hand into a glove or mitten. During winter, I wear fingerless gloves. They’re easier to put on, but not warm.

Wearing pantyhose is another ordeal. Years ago, working as a lawyer, I wore skirted suits with stockings nearly every day, resulting in piles of ripped pantyhose. Struggling to pull them up, I’d pull too hard, and another pair would bite the dust. Now that I’m in my sixties and retired, nobody would blame me if I only wore sweatpants and sneakers. I’m just not ready to surrender beauty.

Long ago, I promised myself that if people are going to stare at me, I will be wearing the nicest clothing. Fortunately, designers are becoming aware of fashion needs for disabled women, featuring clothing easier to get into. The Cerebral Palsy Foundation even sponsors a design for a disability fashion show. “Shop until you drop” is a reality for me because trying on clothes is tiring and I break into a sweat inside the dressing room. If I don’t have anybody with me, I gravitate to small stores where the staff is helpful.

Grooming is taxing. Since I can’t cut or file my nails, I get regular manicures. If my left hand isn’t carefully positioned palm down, my thumb pulls inward and my hand involuntarily forms a fist, smudging the polish. Often, a manicurist who doesn’t understand grabs my hand off the table and says “relax.” My hand does the opposite, curling like a starfish poked with a stick, frustrating both of us.

I can’t do much to style my hair. Most hairdryers require two hands, one for the dryer, one for the brush. I keep my hair medium short and my excellent hairdresser cuts to my natural wave. All I do is shampoo it. My husband would love for my hair to be longer but I wouldn’t be able to put it up on a hot day.

In our society, disability is shameful and maintaining my appearance is important for my self-esteem. In this, my role model and inspiration is disabled artist, Frida Kahlo. Her iconic style, derived from traditional Mexican garb, was not only an expression of ethnic pride but a way of working around her disability. It wouldn’t be fair to say she “concealed” it. Many of her paintings depict her naked. To disguise the unevenness of her legs caused by childhood polio, Kahlo designed red suede boots with a built-up platform. After a bus accident damaged her spine and pelvis, she underwent multiple surgeries. She then had to wear steel corsets. Her long full skirts covered her withered leg. Loose blouses and ruanas flowed over the corsets. Her elaborate jewelry and coiffure drew attention upward to her striking face.

Many years after her death, Kahlo’s unique style is admired worldwide and is enshrined in the Frida Kahlo House Museum in Mexico City. There, I once stood before an embroidered red suede boot, which she once wore on her right foot. The most captivating details were the two small jingle bells fastened to the laces. Instead of the uneven clomp-clomp, there was the pleasing sound of bells.

Kahlo said, “Viva la Vida. Live Life.” Like Frida Kahlo, whatever my physical limitations, I will dress in beautiful outfits, and metaphorically, will have bells on my boots.


About the Writer:
After a long career as a lawyer, Dana Robbins earned an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. She is the author of two published books of poetry, The Left Side of My Life and After the Parade (both published by Moon Pie Press, Maine ). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications.

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Quick Work No. 3

Quick Work No. 3

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories. During July 2020, we present short takes on work and working.

Graveyard Shift

by Marlin Brezzi

Bing went to meet his maker before any of us were born, but those who came before us said he’d been laid to rest with a mouthful of silver fillings and more gold chains than a Mafia don. It would be so easy, we speculated, standing in the shed where we kept the excavators, mowers and shovels. Just unscrew the bronze plaque covering the mausoleum door, roll him out and open the casket. Ed swore that he’d do it one day.

That was 22 years ago. I wonder if Bing has held on to his treasure.

Safe Space

by Jennifer Laurenza

The coffee-colored couch in my office can barely accommodate one average-sized human curled in a fetal position, but this is where I find myself after a taxing session. A psychotherapist and reluctant empath, I can neither un-know nor un-feel the intimate details of suffering, trauma, and loss that have infused my work for two decades. I absorb the darkness. It permeates my dreams, dampens my passion, and induces morning dread. Oh, there are the sessions that make me feel warm inside, like I’ve sipped a cup of hot tea. But today, the couch beckons, and I surrender to its comfort.


Mom, Dancing

by Karen Taub

One of my best days at work as full-time grilled-cheese-sandwich maker, homework tutor, boo-boo kisser, TV warden, and part-time Scheherazade in purple, red and gold sparkles, was when the little girl sitting cross-legged in the front row at the Girl Scout Jamboree stared googly-eyed at me on stage, dancing and playing finger cymbals, and announced “She’s beau-ti-ful.” She wasn’t seeing the wrinkles and the worries, the mini-van driving, mortgage-paying mortal, but the reflected possibilities of her future, a woman feeling good in her skin while kids, Dad and the dinner dishes wait at home.

Too Many Clinks

by Michael Ball

Until I stood for hours, suddenly skilled in snapping and twisting lids on gallon jugs. I never considered the malice of mayo jars. It was a college gig for me, working at John E. Cain’s atavistic factory, hidden off drab backstreets over by MIT. Only men worked the line, packing condiments, including of course, the mayonnaise named on the giant neon towering over the Charles River. And all the men were deaf. The old-timers went deaf from filling and sealing glass jars pushed along on jiggling tables, all careening toward filling machines. Clink. OK. Ten clinks. OK. Thousands. Eh, what?


A Quick Start Guide to Deferred Compensation

by Kate Gonzalez Long

A Quick Start Guide To Deferred Compensation by Kate Gonzalez Long

About the Writers

Marlin Bressi is the author of four nonfiction books, including Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits and Pennsylvania Oddities. His fiction has appeared in Suspense Magazine, Capsule Stories, 365 Tomorrows and other publications.

Jennifer Laurenza is a practicing psychotherapist who writes for self-preservation and creative expression. She specializes in LGBTQ mental health, and is an advocate for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations.

Karen Traub is currently writing a memoir about her local library. A student in the Newport MFA program, Karen has been published in Brevity, Straw Dog Writers Guild Pandemic Poetry and Prose Voices of the Valley.

Michael Ball scrambled from newspapers through business and technical publications and into creative writing. One of the Hyde Park Poets, he has published in Griffel, Gateway Review, Havik Anthology, SPLASH!, Peregrine Journal, and In Parentheses.

Kate Gonzalez Long is an elderly Abolitionist Feminist living and writing in Los Angeles.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work (100 words or fewer) will close on July 15. We also welcome stories up to 5,000 words for our work-themed Fall issue of Multiplicity Magazine. More details here.

Multitude of Array by Shiela Scott

Multitudes of Array

Posted Posted in Blog

By Shiela Scott

From the Photographer:

Multitudes of Array was taken in front of the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. It shows part of a steel trellis incorporated into an artistic landscape piece that invited me into the garden of beautiful flowers near the museum’s entrance. I wanted to accept and capture the garden’s invitation in a photograph.

I am inspired by many photographic styles; no one photographer keeps me in awe. My love of photographing in natural light made me gravitate to this piece. Amazed and captivated by so many directions of shine, I wanted to capture what my soul felt when I observed these folds and curves of metal. I hope this piece will glow and light the imagination and pleasure of all its viewers


Multitude of Array by Shiela Scott

Multitudes of Array


About the Photographer:
Shiela Scott
is a photographer, creative writer and business entrepreneur. She earned her BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University and her A.A.S in Digital Photography from Antonelli College. Her poetry  has appeared in Ponder Savant and multiple other venues. Follow her on Twitter @ShielaDenise.

Quick Work No. 2

Quick Work No. 2

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories. During July 2020, we present short takes on work and working.

Escape

by L’Tanya Durante

I stripped down to the swimsuit I wore underneath my protective gear, imagining my body under attack by asbestos fibers—and by the stares of the all-male abatement crew.

I’ve told myself I quit that job after only six months because I was afraid of a future that looked like the man who spoke to us at the training, with his raspy voice and oxygen tank. It’s more palatable than admitting that a body potentially ravaged by asbestos worried me less than a body invaded by self-doubt and hatred, a body that might be unpleasing to men.

Daddy Was a Baker

by Karol Jackowski

Daddy was a baker because his Daddy was a baker, leaving him the Normal Bakery in East Chicago, Indiana. We lived above the bakery with donuts for breakfast, cupcakes for the whole class on my birthday. At age three, I was putting chocolate sprinkles on butter cookies. Truth is Daddy felt born to be a dentist, and the Normal Bakery drove him to drink.  Mom closed the bakery when Daddy went into the hospital, and we all swore off family businesses forever. Now, only the sweetest memories remain of being a baker’s daughter, and I still eat donuts for breakfast.


New Guy by John Sheirer

New Guy

by John Sheirer

When I started working at an ivy-covered New England college, I discovered how cold those ancient buildings are. One day, as I warmed my hands on the humming photocopier, the fire alarm blared. Assuming it was a drill, I strode to my little office and opened the door to find billowing smoke and my cheap, plastic space-heater melting into the shape of a defeated alien invader in a low-budget sci-fi movie. In the coming weeks, I discovered how long the stench of burned plastic lingers, how cozy an office sweater is, and how quickly good colleagues forgive the new guy.

Shell

by Anita Kestin

It fell to me to inform the 18-year-old-girlfriend of one of our patients that he had tested positive for HIV. He wanted her to know, but he did not want to tell her. When I broke the news, she reached into her handbag. Out came a bottle of nail polish. She carefully began to paint her nails with a shell-pink shade.

“Do you have any questions?”

She was quiet for a moment, then blew on her nails.

“No,” she said, picking up the polish and leaving the room.


Request from the Bandstand
[a Fibonacci poem]

by Jean Fineberg

It’s
my
calling
to play tunes
fondly remembered
from your wild and free salad days
bring on the requests, but please don’t ask for one more tune.
Sure, I’m digging playing rock star
but I gotta go
and take my
fifty
bucks
home.


About the Writers

L’Tanya Durante lives and writes in Durham, North Carolina. She loves reading and writing flash nonfiction and several of her “Tiny Truths” have been published in Creative Nonfiction Magazine. She is on Twitter @writeordiegirl.

Karol Jackowski is a member of the Sisters for Christian Community. Her books include Ten Fun Things to Do Before You Die, Forever and Ever, Amen, and Sister Karol’s Book of Spells, Blessings, and Folk Magic.

John Sheirer lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and teaches at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut. His most recent book is Fever Cabin, a fictionalized journal of a man isolating himself during the current pandemic. JohnSheirer.com.

Anita Kestin, MD, MPH, has worked in academic settings, nursing homes, hospices, and the locked ward of a psychiatric facility. She is a daughter (of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust), wife, mother, grandmother, and a progressive activist.

Jean Fineberg is an award-winning saxophonist who has studied poetry with Kim Addonizio. Her work has been published in Soliloquies, Vita Brevis, Uppagus, Literary Yard, Flagler Review, Riza Press, High Shelf Press, Shot Glass Journal and Fibonacci Review.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work (100 words or fewer) will close on July 15. We also welcome stories up to 5,000 words for our work-themed Fall issue of Multiplicity Magazine. More details here.

Wasp Questions by Benjamin Thomsett

Wasp Questions

Posted Posted in Blog

By Benjamin Thomsett

The decapitated wasp head still bit and chewed at anything in front of its face. Meanwhile, a little further away on the windowsill, the body arched and the tiny black-needle stinger jabbed and jabbed. I watched the two separate parts do this for 20 minutes, sometimes prodding and leaning in close for a better look. Was the wasp alive or were the spasms of post-death the angry feelings of a yellow and black soul? Was there a difference?

As an eight-year-old I couldn’t work it out. I still can’t, come to think of it. I guess I could look it up now, but I don’t think it’ll change the perspective I have of cruelty and death, or the historical religious ideology that grew with that warped little boy. Memories can’t remake themselves, and I don’t care what a Nobel prize-winner tells me after being locked in a laboratory for 10 years. Lab chemicals and a lack of natural light can do strange things to a mind. So can academic isolation.

As an eight-year-old I tested things for myself: “O Lord, receive this wasp…. Shit, is it dead yet? Send me a sign.” Nothing.

A poll on the UK news yesterday showed that a little less than three quarters of the Christians polled believed in the resurrection of Jesus following his crucifixion. Just over half of them said they believed in Heaven/Hell/some form of afterlife.  Is that important? I don’t know. And I doubt you do either.

There’s only one way of finding out and we’ll all get our answer to that particular sticky question in the end—heart attack, eaten by a bear, it doesn’t matter how you get there, just be assured you will eventually see the truth, even if it’s just the light fading and the voices getting distant. One thing is certain: you’ll never be able to share the answer with the rest of us back here scrabbling in the human filth of war, enforced poverty, and a vicious pandemic. It’s hard to hear spiritual whispers from beyond the grave when you’re choking.

Just as well. Questions are okay, but only if you are ready for the answers.

There must have been 10 wasps on the windowsill that summer. They all died terribly, jabbing and twisting, little legs circling. Some of them took a long time to stop moving, the stinger last of all. Victims of me and a cheap copy of a Swiss Army penknife. No anger or revenge. Just cold concentration.

It felt good to be in charge for once.


About the Writer:
Benjamin Thomsett
is a parent, partner, and hot noodle hater. He lives in North Lincolnshire, UK, where the air is clear and the birds sing loudly. In his spare time, he worries about most things.

What It Takes to Survive by Christine Richardson

What It Takes to Survive

Posted Posted in Blog

By Christine Richardson

I stepped through the frigid northern Minnesota darkness toward my sleeping dog team, careful not to rouse the eight dogs tucked under warm piles of frost-coated arctic sleeping bags in front of the dogsled they had pulled 80 miles. We were at a rest stop in a 120-mile race on the north shore of Lake Superior. 

Bending over the alcohol stove, I heard shuffling. It was Dory, my seven-year-old lead dog. She stood up. Her sleeping bag slipped off.

“We’re not leaving for an hour,” I whispered.

She blinked and stood quietly, observing me.

“Please lay down,” I implored.

Dory had calm focus in her light brown eyes. If I was up, she was determined to be up too.

Switching off my headlamp, I knelt in the darkness and draped my arms around her neck. It was -20F—killing temperature—but Dory was warm under her arctic coat.

The moon was full and the wolves on the trail had stayed away from the racing dog teams. Neither the cold nor the wolves would be problematic as long as the lead dog kept a steady pace. Looking at Dory I knew all would be well. She loved racing. A few years ago, on a cold, starless night in northern Maine, she led our team and out-ran a lone wolf after the meat snacks in the dogsled. She was always all in, despite the danger.

“We’ve got this, wolves be damned,” I whispered to Dory, knowing I couldn’t do it without her.

Truthfully, I would never have had the confidence to participate in that race, less than a year after my battle with breast cancer had left me weak and bald, if Dory hadn’t been leading. From the minute the veterinarian delivered her by C-section and placed her soft newborn body into my arms, I knew we were important to each other.

At age two, she graduated from being a playful puppy, running in the back of the dog team where I could see her shenanigans, to a full-fledged lead dog.

“Wanna lead for a while?” I asked Dory only 30 miles into her first 250-mile race, when my old pro, Glock, lost interest in going forward.

Bouncing in her harness, Dory dragged me to the front of the team, where I clipped her into the top spot. She had been waiting for this. Dory led the remaining 220 miles to the finish line. From then on, she led every race we ran together until she retired a few months ago.

Upon returning home to New Hampshire from our last race this year, in early March, everything became eerily quiet. The whole world was still, hoping that the prolonged silence of lockdown was the only thing COVID would force us to endure.

By mid-April, I was jobless. My partner, Kip, would soon be too. My sister-in-law in New York City was just out of the hospital after major heart surgery, and my step-father was determined to continue working at a local senior home in spite of his and my mother’s ongoing health problems. I couldn’t visit anyone.

As my options disappeared, my fear heightened. This was an uncharted trail and I wasn’t sure where the wolves were hiding.

Keeping busy held my panic at bay. I found solace in making maple syrup from the trees on my land. The physical work of hauling sap was rewarded by long hours of staring into the fire under the boiling sap pans while contemplating life. I remembered that cold night in Minnesota vividly. Dory had led the dogsled team into the moonlight, over 55 miles through The Caribou Hills to the finish line with ease and confidence. The struggle to get there felt like a dream. I had been overwhelmed by cancer for so long, but that day, Dory had made anything seem possible again.

Suddenly, I was jarred from my thoughts.  Kip was shouting from the deck.

“Christine, come now!”

It was his there is a dog emergency voice. I ran.

Dory was bloating. Without immediate treatment, the air gathering in her stomach would kill her. I rushed her to the emergency vet where a masked and gloved tech took her from me and told me to stay in my truck. Sitting in the parking lot, looking through the vet’s huge glass window, I hoped to get a glimpse through an open door of busy technicians working furiously on Dory.

Fifteen anxious minutes later, the veterinarian called.  Dory needed surgery—now. I choked when I heard the estimated cost was between $7500 and $9000 and wailed that I did not have that much, even on my credit card.

“Let me call you back,” I begged.

“Ok, but hurry,” she replied. “In the meantime, we’ll put together a quote.”

Sobbing, I called Kip. “What do I do? It’s Dory!”

“I know.” He tried to calm me, but he was as shaken as I was.

“If we have to put her to sleep, I can’t even be with her!” I was hyperventilating, barely able to speak.  

Then my phone beeped, it was the vet again.

“If there are no complications, it will only cost $5000,” she said.

“DO IT!” I yelled.  I had no job but precisely $5000 in credit. I gave her my card number and then called Kip to tell him the “good news.”

I was tremendously relieved when Dory pulled through. The next day, I was allowed to bring her home. She healed well with only an eight-inch scar on her belly, a reminder of how close I came to losing her. My finances are even more limited now, but I have no regrets. Money doesn’t live, breathe, or outrun wolves.  Letting Dory go would have been unbearable.

Sometimes, when Dory is sprawled on the couch with her legs in the air, I run my finger gently along her scar. Before long, tears escape my eyes. Sensing my mood, Dory rolls over, licks my hand. I can’t predict the future, but I’m grateful that Dory and I will both be here to greet it.


About the Writer:
Christine Richardson
lives on a farm in Canaan, New Hampshire with her partner Kip and 16 sled dogs. She has an MS in Cell Biology, but left her 18-year career in science to pursue an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University and to work on her memoir and practice shamanism. She describes herself as an outdoor adventurer, retired scientist, dog musher, cancer survivor, wisdom keeper and writer. . .but most of all, a dog lover.

Quick Work No. 1

Quick Work No. 1

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories. During July 2020, we present short takes on work and working.

Summer 1980s
Roach Trap Line

by María Luisa Arroyo

I twisted orange earplugs in to muffle the cacophony of conveyor belts. One roaring belt pushed shampoo bottles down the line as nimble women’s hands like my mother’s picked them up, four at a time, to pack. Newbies like me started on the roach trap line, alcohol fumes pinching our noses. We dipped long-stemmed Q-tips (like the ones they’re now using up people’s noses to test for COVID-19) into alcohol. Then we pushed the peeping yellow poison back into black roach traps. Full-timers moved on to pack vitamins. Summertime workers like me, though, stayed here on tall stools, eyes burning.

Quickening
 

by Chelsea L. Smith

I push the body pillow aside and press my belly into my husband’s back while he sleeps. Already, he’s aware of the baby. He leans into me ever so slightly, a subconscious turn of affection, and moans.

 “Can you feel Loren moving?” I whisper into the rough hairline at the nape of his neck.

“No,” he mumbles, half-asleep, “but I like the idea that he’s there.”


Roberto

by Pamela Lear

The 14 boys prepared to leave after a creative writing lesson on Mark Twain. As the guard arrived to escort them to math class, they each stood in “safety position” with arms crossed as if shielding their chests, hands clasping the shoulders of matching prison-issue T-shirts. The young men shuffled through the open security door, looking down at the floor. A boy named Roberto, 15-years-old and a foot taller than me, surreptitiously glanced up and whispered, “Hey teacher, want to put me in your purse and take me home?” He winked at me, and then they were gone.

On Keyboard

by Clifton J. Noble

Practicing the piano as a five-year-old, I had no inkling that I was preparing for my life’s work.  I was doing something I loved—reading and speaking a language shared by musicians for centuries, opening doors to other worlds as surely as a reader of books travels via the printed word.  Five decades later, I perform and record using the same 88 keys, thankful and amazed that my employers’ checks are being deposited in my bank account. Doing what I love and getting paid for it? That ain’t workin’.


Wrong Team

by Maria Smith

He kept his graying hair slicked back, dressed in three-piece suits with expensive silk ties. He wore shiny, black leather shoes and overpowering cologne, which always arrived before he did. He was the boss at the satellite office of a national insurance company. An executive assistant in my early twenties, I was one of four women who reported to him. Sometimes during late afternoons, he would call us into his office, joking around, coaxing us to sit on his lap. While the others fawned over him, I refused. “You aren’t a team player,” he said, when he fired me.


About the Writers

Born in Manatí, Puerto Rico and raised in Springfield, MA, poet María Luisa Arroyo pays tribute to thirty-two women poets in her latest original collection, Destierro Means More than Exile.  She is an Assistant Professor at Bay Path University.

A recent graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, Chelsea Smith is working on a series of essays that celebrate the joys and difficulties of growing, delivering,  and protecting life during a time of isolation and physical distancing.

Pamela Lear lives with her husband in Miami, where she is thrilled to have grandchildren nearby. A first-year student in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University, she is following the Narrative Medicine track.

Clifton J. Noble is a composer, arranger, performing musician, and music critic who works in musical genres ranging from art music to rock n’ roll. He serves as the Staff Accompanist for the Smith College Music Department.

Maria Smith is a writer and multi-media artist living in Bluffton, South Carolina. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and a PsyD in Conflict Resolution & Mediation.  She served for 16 years as an officer in the Air Force Reserve.


The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work (100 words or fewer) will close on July 15. We also welcome stories up to 5,000 words for our work-themed Fall issue of Multiplicity Magazine. More details here.