Brick House Redux by Kim MacQueen

Emerald Blog: Brick Ranch Redux

Posted Posted in Blog
The Emerald Blog :: Writing Inspired by Ireland

Every summer, Bay Path University’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction writing offers a weeklong Writing Seminar based in Dingle, a town nestled on the Atlantic coast on the western shore of County Kerry, Ireland. Each day throughout the week, Seminar Facilitator Suzanne Strempek Shea gives participants a prompt to encourage writers to investigate new ideas and topics in their writing. During August 2020, we’ll publish our Emerald Blogs to showcase the diverse work developed from responses to Suzanne’s prompts.


From Suzanne Strempek Shea

Kim MacQueen MFA ’18 drafted “Brick Ranch Redux” during the 2017 Summer Writing Seminar on this prompt:

Your Backyard:
Is your backyard a refuge or unwanted work? Do you not have one and wish you did? If you don’t have one, imagine it. If you have one that’s lacking, remake it in your mind. Who’s on either side, and past it? Give a description or create a scene there. What awaits you there when you return home?


Brick Ranch Redux

by Kim MacQueen

When we first moved to Vermont from Florida in 2012, we left a house we’d bought at the height of the boom, one mortgaged to the hilt. The day after we closed on the house in 2007, something crazy happened with the markets in Europe and everything started to slide downhill in the financial world. Our house lost $60,000 worth of value in about a week.

It was a brick ranch on an acre of land surrounded by pine trees 50 feet tall. We were right downtown, only a mile from the state capitol. But I could go to a corner of my backyard, sneak around behind some cabbage palms, and be totally alone if I wanted to. Florida has palmetto bugs the size of small cats and it always seemed to be 100 degrees out, so I only did it once or twice, but I knew it was an always option. We owned the place. That land was ours.  

When we moved to Vermont, we rented our Florida house to another family. Buying one in Vermont was out of the question. We had no down payment. I had no job. We were in the rental market again in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

I didn’t work full-time anymore. We didn’t own land anymore. I hadn’t realized that was so important to me until then. My anxiety and depression shot up to Level 10 and stayed there for the next three years.

Finally, I got a job and found a house to buy. Another brick ranch. It was laid out a lot like the one in Florida. The first time I saw it, I stood at the front door looking through the living room and sunroom, out the sliding glass doors to the backyard, to the flower gardens and the lawn. In my mind’s eye, saw myself there, sitting cross-legged in the grass.

I told my Michaela, my real estate agent we’d take it.

“Don’t you want to see the rest of the inside?” she said.

I didn’t need to.

Now whenever I get anxious and depressed, I think about myself sitting cross-legged in the garden. Sometimes I even go out and sit there to remind myself that I’m home.


About the Writer

Kim MacQueen is a writer, editor, and publisher based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the author of the novels Out, Out: A Novel of Women and Apes and People Who Hate America. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Bay Path University in 2018.


Write with us in Dingle next year, July 31 to Aug. 8, 2021. Contact sshea@baypath.edu for full information.

We welcome submissions to Multiplicity Blog (nonfiction prose of 1,000 words or fewer, poetry, and photography) all year. We also accept submissions of longer nonfiction works (up to 5,000 words), poetry or photography for the Fall 2020 issue of Multiplicity Magazine: At Work. Magazine submissions close on September 25, 2020. More details here.

The Last Visit by Susan Davis Abello

Emerald Blog: The Last Visit

Posted Posted in Blog
The Emerald Blog :: Writing Inspired by Ireland

Every summer, Bay Path University’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction writing offers a weeklong Writing Seminar based in Dingle, a town nestled on the Atlantic coast on the western shore of County Kerry, Ireland. Each day throughout the week, Seminar Facilitator Suzanne Strempek Shea gives participants a prompt to encourage writers to investigate new ideas and topics in their writing. During August 2020, we’ll publish our Emerald Blogs to showcase the diverse work developed from responses to Suzanne’s prompts.


From Suzanne Strempek Shea

Susan Davis Abello MFA ’17 wrote “The Last Visit” during our very first Summer Writing Seminar in July 2015 on this prompt:

So Where Have You Been?
Even the moment you read this is a place you can’t revisit. Use all your senses to write about a place to which you can no longer return. *


The Last Visit

by Susan Davis Abello

The Last Visit by Susan Davis Abello
Illustration by Susan Davis Abello

Sometimes when you close a door, you say to yourself, I will never touch this knob again. Sometimes you just know. You know when cardboard boxes are packed with your belongings and your voice echoes through empty rooms of a house, that you won’t be back. You know when you take one last look around your dorm on your last day of senior year, you won’t be back. I might have known I would never see my sister or her house again when I pulled her front door shut behind me 10 years ago, but the thought was buried deep under my denial. The kind of denial you need to stay sane. The kind of denial that allows you to believe that you’ll be back.

“See you at Christmas!” is what I would have shouted over my shoulder on any normal summer visit to my sister’s house in far-away Chicago, but this was no normal visit.

I left without even saying goodbye to her beloved cat, Ricky, who must have searched everywhere for my sister after we took her to the hospital days before—searched the white kitchen with its rooster plates and collection of mismatched teacups, searched the bedroom with her medicine bottles spilling from the bedside table onto the carpeted floor, searched the bathroom where the wig and the walker and the bed pan were left abandoned. Abandoned just like Ricky, like my nieces and their father, like all of us. But maybe Ricky already knew what we didn’t know, or didn’t want to accept.

It was the last time I would ever step foot in my sister’s house, and I wish I had taken the time to look around, to take note of the home she had, with so much joy and love, created for her family. I forgot to ask her the name of the color of paint on her parlor walls or where she found that little rug in the powder room. I forgot to appreciate the way she organized her linen closet or to find out what she kept in those sweet hat boxes in the guest room, the ones with the lavender flowers that were tied shut with a wide grosgrain ribbon. I forgot to tell her how beautiful her garden was, with its deep blue hydrangea and fat orange roses that flanked the back-porch door. I didn’t mention that the bed I slept in was soft and the sheets were lovely and smooth, cool on my skin even in the heat of July nights.

Sleep didn’t come easy in her house that summer. It wasn’t because my sister hadn’t made her guest rooms welcoming. No, sleep eluded us because she cried out sometimes. Moans that carried with them the weight of loss. It was a sound that settled heavily into the air, making its way down the upstairs hall, slinking uninvited through open doors like the oppressive heat we tried to keep at bay. The night left us anxious and ashamed of how we couldn’t help her. The comfort of her rooms was eclipsed by the stabbing pain of our hearts breaking slowly as she struggled to stay with her family for one more day, one more night.

Beside her, in the dark, my brother-in-law must have propped her pillows and adjusted her morphine-soaked body on the memory-foam mattress that burned the skin off her back, buttocks, and calves. Around her was all the softness and beauty she had created, but none of us could feel it, see it, or smell it. She had become all there was in that house. Her pain, her every breath, her moans, the sight of her—so foreign except for her eyes, the lightest blue with a hint of green. In the kitchen, meals were reduced to whatever the neighbor left in the freezer. The table was a neglected space, devoid of fresh-picked flowers and the pointed elbows of family and friends.

When my stay was over, there were no farewells. There was only denial––the kind that let me have hope. Hope that the door I pulled shut might one day open again. The kind that let me convince myself if I didn’t say goodbye, maybe she wouldn’t go.

* This prompt was inspired by “Write From the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write” (Ten Speed Press, 2003) by Lesléa Newman.


About the Writer

Susan Davis Abello is an author, illustrator, and business owner who published her first children’s book, Pumpkin and Buster and The Right Thing to Do About a Bully (Tate Publishing) in December 2011. She particularly enjoys writing essays about family, life in New England, and her experiences working in South America (where she met her husband) after earning her undergraduate degree. Susan earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Bay Path University in 2016.


Write with us in Dingle next year, July 31 to Aug. 8, 2021. Contact sshea@baypath.edu for full information.

We welcome submissions to Multiplicity Blog (nonfiction prose of 1,000 words or fewer, poetry, and photography) all year. We also accept submissions of longer nonfiction works (up to 5,000 words), poetry or photography for the Fall 2020 issue of Multiplicity Magazine: At Work. Magazine submissions close on September 25, 2020. More details here.

Forgotten Desolation by Andy Castillo

Emerald Blog: Forgotten Desolation

Posted Posted in Blog
The Emerald Blog :: Writing Inspired by Ireland

Every summer, Bay Path University’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction writing offers a weeklong Writing Seminar based in Dingle, a town nestled on the Atlantic coast on the western shore of County Kerry, Ireland. Each day throughout the week, Seminar Facilitator Suzanne Strempek Shea gives participants a prompt to encourage writers to investigate new ideas and topics in their writing. During August 2020, we’ll publish our Emerald Blogs to showcase the diverse work developed from responses to Suzanne’s prompts.


From Suzanne Strempek Shea

Andy Castillo MFA ’19 wrote “Forgotten Desolation” during the 2017 Summer Writing Seminar on this prompt:

A Kindness:
The whirl of life frequently places us at the mercy of strangers. Write about the last time someone came from out of the blue to make a difference in your story, or that of a character’s.

I see in Andy’s piece the kindness of a stranger’s sharing of time and insight, and in the promise the writer makes to tell others what he learned that day—a promise Andy keeps here.


Forgotten Desolation

by Andy Castillo

Forgotten Desolation by Andy Castillo

Heavy is the ground that carries lost souls.

Heavier still, the voice of a man whose family is buried there.

I met him walking up Cairn Hill above Dingle in western Ireland. He’s smoking a cigarette and standing beside a small coupe on a dirt road lined with low-slung pastel houses with chipped paint and wildflowers growing in their front yards.

“Do you know where the famine graveyard is?” I ask.

“Just up the hill,” he grunts, his scratchy voice dripping Ireland. “Follow the road along about five minutes. Can’t miss it.”

I turn to go. “I’ll join you,” he says. “Heading that way myself.” He stamps out the cigarette.

We fall into step, boots crunching gravel, and talk about the weather and work. He’s a Dublin schoolteacher who grew up on the Dingle Peninsula. I don’t ask his name; he doesn’t offer it.

The road narrows, hemmed in by rough stone walls; grass runs down the middle. Green pasture sectioned with hedges and guarded by barking farm dogs rises into gathering dusk. Dingle lies behind us, a coastal city with a bar featuring live music and Guinness on every street corner.

Ahead, sheep graze as far as the eye can see. Crows squawk at us as black clouds roll in from the west.

“This has changed dramatically from when I was a young lad,” the man says, sweeping a hand back toward Dingle. “Town was incredibly quiet. No tourists. No restaurants.”

“Sounds idyllic,” I say.

Even now, despite the tourists, it’s a fairytale place. Red fuchsia wildflowers line Slea Head Drive, the narrow coastal road that winds around Dingle Peninsula. Towering cliffs drop sharply to the ocean far below. Quaint farmhouses and prehistoric ruins overlook endless blue sea, and sheep and cattle range across it all.

Modern Dingle is a picturesque snapshot of past rural life—but it doesn’t capture everything.

Famine ravaged Ireland between 1845 and 1852. One million people died in eight years; the country’s population dropped almost 25 percent. The cause of the tragedy: Phytophthora infestans, the microorganism responsible for the potato blight that destroyed the staple crop one-third of Ireland’s people depended on to survive.

“Desolation,” the man says, pausing in the road, his tone suddenly bitter. The gravel stops crunching.

“We had no control over our destiny. We were ruled from Britain and didn’t have any rights. The people who survived the famine went to America.”

Members of both our families were among those survivors. Mine sought a better life in South Boston, not far from where I grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. The emigrants from his settled in Hartford, Connecticut.

We lean into the wind, trudging up Cairn Hill. There are no tourists here.

At the top, an iron gate blocks our way into a small stonewall cemetery.

Far below, Dingle’s lights twinkle on. Boats drift at anchor in the bay. Night has come. The man points over the city to a tower barely visible on a distant hill. It’s a famine relief tower he says, built by starving people. Across the bay is another, Hussey’s Folly, a solid structure that looks like it’s from the middle ages.

“If you didn’t work, you didn’t get fed. A lot of people died working like that. They would crawl to those places.”

We enter the cemetery through the creaking gate.

Boney hands gripping dirt, crawling up the hill; mothers screaming, clutching dead children to their chest beside a square yellow building near the burial ground. Hundreds of people crammed inside, rotting.

In my mind, I see them as clearly as I see the white, wind-tossed barley surrounding the dozens of unmarked graves, the chipped black stones sticking up from the cemetery’s uneven ground, the lone white cross in its middle. My feet sink into the soil. If I stayed, I fear I’d become a stone.

“Leaders believed the famine was God’s fate,” the man says, his voice now thick with emotion. I can’t see his tears, but I know they’re there. I can feel them drop like stones into the bay. His ancestors lie here.

“About 3,000 people were buried here in four years,” he says. “There were a lot of open graves. There might have been 20 people buried in one.”

He turns toward Dingle. “You ask the youth of society—they don’t know anything about it. We’ve collectively forgotten. Dingle’s a tourist town. The people there aren’t locals. The locals are gone.”

We stand silent in the gloom. A mist floats across distant hills and black clouds suffocate the sky. Rain comes, watering the graves, a cistern emptied out of inky blackness.

I ask what I can do.

“Best thing you can do is come back here tomorrow. Bring someone. Sit down here,” he says, pointing to a bench. Then he walks away, hitting black stones with a strand of barley as he goes.

“I’ll write about it,” I call after him.

“You do that,” he says without looking back. His gait is weary. I sit on the bench, watching him go until he’s just a speck moving down Cairn Hill toward Dingle’s blinking lights.


About the Writer

Andy Castillo is the features editor of the Greenfield Recorder newspaper (Greenfield, MA). He is an experienced editor who has worked for several publications in western Massachusetts and as a staff writer for GoNOMAD.com Travel. He holds a Master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University and can be reached at andychristianart@gmail.com.


Write with us in Dingle next year, July 31 to Aug. 8, 2021. Contact sshea@baypath.edu for full information.

We welcome submissions to Multiplicity Blog (nonfiction prose of 1,000 words or fewer, poetry, and photography) all year. We also accept submissions of longer nonfiction works (up to 5,000 words), poetry or photography for the Fall 2020 issue of Multiplicity Magazine: At Work. Magazine submissions close on September 25, 2020. More details here.

Down Brandon by Clifton "Jerry" Noble

Emerald Blog: Down Brandon

Posted Posted in Blog
The Emerald Blog :: Writing Inspired by Ireland

Every summer, Bay Path University’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction writing offers a weeklong Writing Seminar based in Dingle, a town nestled on the Atlantic coast on the western shore of County Kerry, Ireland.

Each day throughout the week, Seminar Facilitator Suzanne Strempek Shea gives participants a prompt to encourage writers to investigate new ideas and topics in their writing. During August 2020, we’ll publish our Emerald Blogs to showcase the diverse work developed from responses to Suzanne’s prompts.


Down Brandon

Words & Music by Clifton “Jerry” Noble

Down Brandon was begun on the first night of our first Ireland writing seminar in July 2017.  The town of Dingle was shrouded in gray clouds and sheets of rain. The turbulence of the storm sweeping down the slope of Mount Brandon (seen from the safety of our guest-house window) slipped easily into words and music. As the week went on, new experiences and memories made in Brandon’s shadow added themselves to the ballad.

The finished song was performed for the first time at the seminar’s final group reading session at An Díseart Centre of Irish Spirituality and Culture—thanks in large part to the generosity of Mazz O’Flaherty, proprietor of the Dingle Record Shop, smallest record store in Ireland, who let me borrow her guitar for the evening.



Down Brandon Lyrics:

The wind blows cold down Brandon
The trees bow their heads to the mountain’s shoulder.
The rain slips in like a thief in the night
And the mist folds ‘round ev’ry byre and boulder.

My dear and I lie safe and warm
Though the wrath of the Gods howl o’er us.
We’re sheltered safe in Dingle Bay
With the best of life before us.

The wind blows sharp down Brandon
The calves and the lambs turn their tails in defiance.
The fishermen pray for a calmer day
And the home-fires smoke in leeward silence.

My dear and I watch the lowering sky
And remember the trials we’ve lived through.
For now we’ll stay here in Dingle Bay
And draw warmth from the words, “I love you.”

The wind blows soft down Brandon
It ruffles the fuchsia the hedge encloses.
The clouds have lifted, a holy gift,
And the sun caresses the pale beach roses.

My dear and I take it all in stride
As we stroll toward the distant islands.
With Dingle Bay sparkling on our way,
Wishing Ireland could be our land.

The wind is calm down Brandon
The mist of mem’ry falls fast upon us.
We hold on tight to each precious sight;
Though dimmed by time, they will ever haunt us.

My dear and I heave a mournful sigh
For our time in Dingle is nearly o’er.
We’ll find a way to return, some day
To our paradise on the Kerry shore
Where the wind blows sweet down Brandon.


About the Composer

Clifton “Jerry” Noble, is a composer, arranger, performing musician, and music critic who works in musical genres ranging from art music to rock n’ roll. His work has been performed throughout the United States and in international venues from London to Jerusalem to Kolkata. He serves as the Staff Accompanist for the Smith College Music Department.


Write with us in Dingle next year, July 31 to Aug. 8, 2021. Contact sshea@baypath.edu for full information.

We welcome submissions to Multiplicity Blog (nonfiction prose of 1,000 words or fewer, poetry, and photography) all year. We also accept submissions of longer nonfiction works (up to 5,000 words), poetry or photography for the Fall 2020 issue of Multiplicity Magazine: At Work. Magazine submissions close on September 25, 2020. More details here.

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.