Never of Love on Literary Orphans



Remember the day I wore that brown dress with the big concentric circles and you were wearing ratty jeans and a Marilyn Manson t-shirt swimming on your skinny body? I watched you watching me, unabashedly staring at my breasts, and I thought you might be good for a fuck, if nothing else. I described the ideal cock to you and you said, well, guess what? And we made out in my little white Ford Aspire. Who knew you were poet or a liar or how gentle you could be or how much you could hurt me? Who knew there would always be this question of veracity hanging between us, lying in the pit, pendulum swaying, with dissembling being your temperament?

The time that my daughter threw up at the Big Boy on the Parkway coming up from Down The Shore I thought for sure, for sure you wouldn’t want me, this damaged woman with a kid who can puke on command, and you turned green but you didn’t leave us. You held her little shaking body, righteous with ire, and told her she mustn’t throw up when she is angry and that she had made Mommy sad, and my daughter was stricken with this news. Then I knew you could be the right father, the right lover, the right choice even if you are a prevaricator by nature and even if you wounded me more than anyone ever could. And I knew that you could accept the lunatic that I am because not everyone – maybe not anyone – could. I am not faithful but I am honest and you are not honest or faithful and there is always the question of truth but never of love. Somehow we have made this mess work with piles of pills and a gigantic Yoruba psychiatrist who wears a gold diamond studded dollar sign ring and has a name with consonants that just don’t seem to mix in English but which I taught you how to pronounce.

Who knew there were things I could forgive, like all the late nights and the suspiciously broken-down trains, me waiting with the kids at the Walnut Street Station, them sitting on the roof, dangling their legs through the sun and moon window atop the iridescent green Camry while I sang lullabies and spelling words or practiced times tables with them? But did I call you on your trustworthiness? I wedded you, had a baby with you, I moved forward as if trust were written in stone, proud that I, myself, had invented the illusion of faith.

When I tried to leave you that beautiful summer evening, heavy with the scent of lilacs and sorrow and death, when I thought I could not live without trust, I wanted to wound you, to break you like your dishonesties had eviscerated me and you cried, swore you could change. I willed my heart a stone, into a hunk of black obsidian. You went to the basement and locked yourself in with the nail gun and I called the police; they heard you say you’d shoot them with the nail gun and I never saw so much navy blue in all my life. They came like locusts, swarming our house, grabbing our children from where they lay, crying, in the purple bedroom, and then hiding them behind the aqua green minivan while they took you to the bright, flashing ambulance in handcuffs and everyone was crying. Everyone.  The oldest stared at you in eleven year old wonder and distress, struggling to see you as the blue people pushed him away. Our toddler, in the arms of a stranger, cried out Sweetheart in his baby voice, lifted his chubby arms toward you. My daughter, who had become irrevocably our daughter, really your daughter, closed her nine year old eyes and pretended it wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be happening, this shouldn’t be happening – and she would never remember that night, never, not even on the precipice of adulthood could she remember almost anything from that whole summer. I watched it happen, stunned and I loved you so much, although you are a liar you are a good man, and the question of truth seemed so much smaller than the love the five of us had, love I couldn’t dismantle even with snapped lilac blossoms and silver handcuffs on your bruised wrists.

There is always the question of truth, but never of love. Never of love.

Now from Linguistic Erosion


The worst part? I know who I am but I don’t know when I am.

There I am. I am twelve years old, my calico hair cut short. I am hiding in the backyard, in what we call the Children’s Forest and there are birds singing lullabies and if I didn’t know that Daddy is hunting me and he’s more than just angry I would think it is beautiful. But beauty doesn’t enter here. Daddy’s more than furious. There is no word in my vocabulary for what Daddy is except Daddy. Not the good Daddy who is funny and plays pinochle. Not the Daddy who takes us to Sunrise Mall and buys us bandannas from Spencers’ and shakes from Orange Julius. This Daddy is too scary for words and I have made him angry – again – and I have escaped, the quivering but resolute prey, and am hiding in places so obvious he would never look.

I am under a wild cherry tree at the edge of the Children’s Forest. I am wearing a Pac-Man t-shirt and pink panties and it is cold so I cover myself in leaves and dirt and lie down, a death design, only I am listening for the sound of Daddy calming so I can come in again, to find him smiling and asking me to play pinochle or just ignoring me while watching a Mets game. It is the sound of naught or the soft cadence of the TV and running water. My sister pacifies him after I infuriate him. He has said cruel things to her – slut and whore and lazy and useless – that I can’t allow so I bait him and he comes after me, his fists like anvils and his reach so, so long and I run. Then, when he can’t find me to batter me, to pummel me anymore, then my sister says sweet, soothing words and fixes him a drink in a Big Green Glass and then sits looking at her feet until he calms down.

That’s what I imagine. I don’t know. Maybe she hides too. I never asked her. But he always has a Big Green Glass when I come back and she is always there.

I make up stories to pass the time in the Children’s Forest, named this by my sister and me in the time before time, before we can remember because now that’s the name of this quarter of the huge yard, almost an acre, and this part is all trees and furry animals and bugs. My favorite story is about Now.

Now I am a grown up.

Now I am married and I am the Mama but I am alive.

Now I live with my husband and kids in a house which is clean in that way where you know people live there and have fun; not so clean so you think no one ever does anything in this house but clean in the way you know people care and social workers never show up to yell at you for the house being a pigsty.

Now I have a car, a red car which is mine and which works and at any moment I can go to my car and get in it and go away if I want.

Now my husband loves me and would not hurt me or our children.

Now I am part of we and we are a normalish family with bed times and meal times and homework times.
My stories are so real in the Children’s Forest, so real I sense them. They feel like the fading of the scars on my arms from the cigarette burns and the soothing of the ache from my shoulder wrenched too often and hugs which are frank and not I’m sorry for you hugs. They smell like clean laundry and strawberries plucked off the vine in the sun and mown grass early Saturday morning through the open bedroom window. They taste like chocolate, milky and melty, and sweet Mama kisses and bubble gum before it loses its flavor. And I smile thinking of the Now that will someday come if I can wait and grow up and get away, if I can get away alive everything will be okay and no one will beat me and I will be safe when it is Now.

There I am. I think I am about forty. I have long hair the color of autumn. I have a fire-engine red car and a tender husband and children who have never known terror or deprivation or flight. Something happens – some thing which scares me and makes me need to escape. I want to run to the Children’s Forest but I can’t find it.

I’m not on Long Island.

I am on Long Island.

I’m not twelve.

I am twelve.

I check my arms and there are scars, but the scars are faded.

I see the red car. But I can’t tell if it’s real. Is that my red car?

And now I’m being hunted again. I’m (un)sure it’s real and I don’t know what to do or where to hide because this isn’t my house. This place is unfamiliar. It smells wrong, it tastes wrong, it feels like another world where I can’t be safe. It looks like my house but I know it can’t be my house; it is my house in another dimension with an alternate me. I look but I can’t find the Children’s Forest and my sister is missing and there is a monstrous game of hide but don’t seek and all I know is that I must try to save myself

and I never remember what happens next. 

Bottle of Mania from Rose Red Review

I give you my bottle, my friend, and request that you drink the sweet, heady draft, variegated in colors which are too changeable to name. You contemplate it, so I tip it to your lips and tell you to trust me, to try; and believing, you swallow.

We fly to the moon in a spaceship made of glass wearing gown of dark matter and descend on the surface, which, to our delight, is made of sponge, not cheese and we bounce, almost weightless, turning somersaults in midair, simply enjoying the sensuousness of body on sponge and weightless twisting. There is an atmosphere, light enough to spring and strong enough to breathe, which stays long enough to rebound around the surface of the moon – twice. Invigorated, we smash the spaceship made of glass and grind it into sand and build a beach where waves cast over our languid bodies, waves which carry us toward the earth but not of the earth.

We swim.

We realize we are part fish and need no air so we swim out into the ocean; we can breathe salt.

I see you have gills, you say to me.

And you have fins, I point out.

We lie on the ocean floor and watch whales cavort and dolphins caper until we grow jealous of their joy and decide to go dance. We swim ashore, collecting seaweed as we go, wrapping our bodies in fine eveningwear of green and black, plucking pearls for my ears and your tie pin.

Don’t think I whisper as we dance, because I can see you slipping back – back to reality and meetings and bills and concern. You struggle so I offer you the bottle.

You sit, in your tuxedo of seaweed, contemplating the bottle whose color and shape are unfixed, transforming in your very hands and you are thinking thoughts too heavy to be light and too weighty to float, so I blow helium in your ear and we take flight, stripped of seaweed and swathed in the vapors of the night.

Your thoughts, each one a choice that should have already been made, fall like boulders to the dance floor, shattering it and propelling us faster until we are swooping over the countryside. You show me the patterns of the lights on the Parkway, dizzying crimson and a flash of brilliant white and you whisper, follow the flash.

Listening, I’m off and following, forgetting to remind you not to think; I’m flying at incredible speeds and I’m aware of the brilliance of the blaze and I allow it to consume me. Just as I turn into an inferno, I see you sinking and throw you the bottle, which turns into a fiery paper airplane and pierces you in the center of your forehead.

I burn, effervescent from the swirling night and the flash of the light and I allow it to consume me. My thoughts are only of the sensation of burning delight.

As my flame fans out, I come to land in a meadow, dressed in grass and leaves and bits of bark; I search for you, hoping you caught the plane and stayed with me in this land of vibrancy and enchantment, this land you can’t attain fully on your own.

You are in the middle of the meadow, a meteor on your naked chest. Your hair is aflame and your eyes are distant, starry and full, but the boulder is weighing you down. I look for some leverage to push it away, knowing it is a mass you own, knowing it is a mass I own, knowing the weight of it will return, but hoping that you might, my friend, be fully free of it for one night. I find a sturdy stick, perhaps a sapling struck down in the meteor shower, and wedge it carefully between the slab and your slippery skin, and slowly, gently, roll it off. You sit up, your hair still ablaze, your eyes still bright, and I suggest we find horses and gallop through the remainder of the night.

You shake your head, sadly; magic is here, but so is the weight of your world. You cannot cast it off as I can and finally I begin to understand: you don’t want to. I sit on the floor of the meadow, my dress of grass and bark fall away. I am clothed in the steely armor I wear when I leave the land of allure; I too have a wedge of rock and it is love and fidelity and filled with meetings and paper and emails to answer and children to feed. I nod my head and wave goodbye and you leave, some enchantment following as you roll your boulder away. I wish I could explain – but I simply can’t – that I may not enter this land at will; it comes to me when it comes, it leaves me when it leaves. No trace remains, no bits of magic embroil my heart when I am encased in the steel of the day.


The Oaken Chair on Story Shack

Ilustrated by Deliah Buckle

And she was sure, absolutely sure, that he didn’t mean to really hurt her or even to scare her.

He said he didn’t mean it.

They went to marriage counseling and got the number of a psychiatrist he could see and they went home. They sat in the living room on the robin’s egg blue sofa that she got when her grandparents died and held hands and she even watched one of his movies, the kind she hated with aliens and fighting and explosions, and he even went out with her to that Indian place though he always said Indian food smells funny and so do Indian people — and that was the sort of thing that they fought about, when she reminded him not to be racist and he would get so mad and tell her not to tell him what to think or say — but things seemed okay. He wanted to have sex so she had sex with him even though she wasn’t in the mood but because she thought things would mend more quickly if she did.

She decided to forget about him breaking the chair, smashing it into the wall.

She wanted to forget the fear, the rise of acid into her mouth, the feeling like she was going to vomit, the frail feeling in her knees. She decided not to think about how the chair splintered and one of the splinters hit her arm and it was so sharp, like a blade, and cut the sleeve of her blue blouse, her favorite blouse. But she didn’t throw the chair out, even though she threw the blouse out.

She went, several times, picked up the pieces, meaning to bring them out to the curb but it seemed that something else always came to her mind and she’d put the pieces back where they were, next to the microwave cart, where they kept the separate bins, white for regular garbage and blue for recycling.

The chair had been oak, a gift from her favorite aunt, and stained in a lovely dark stain which showed the grain of the hard wood.

He had said he’d repair the chair but it was beyond fixing. One of the legs was simply a jagged dagger and the back was fractured in fragments. It was a jigsaw puzzle that couldn’t be put together.

And so life returned to normal for them and they both went to work and when he started to get mad she’d remind him of the things he said in counseling and he’d calm down and say sorry. But still, she didn’t throw out the remains of the chair. Sometimes she would stand in the kitchen, her back to the sink and look at the mass of wood and think about how she wasn’t going to think about it.

Then one night she ordered in because she was tired and didn’t feel like cooking. And he came home from work, already angry.

He said he wasn’t Donald Fucking Trump and they couldn’t order out just because they were lazy. She hadn’t been thinking about the chair so she simply said it had been a hard day and she was worn-out and she’d already ordered the Chinese food so they might as well eat it and enjoy it. And when he took the little white container filled with red General Tso’s Chicken, extra spicy like he liked it, and threw it against the wall and it splattered, smearing bright orange sauce down the eggshell white wall and then pieces of scarlet chicken were on the beige carpet, she remembered.

She remembered the dread and the feebleness she’d felt and she got up off the couch and walked backwards, through the dining room, which was missing one chair, towards the kitchen and the oaken chair that was broken, thinking that seeing the chair would make up her mind to really leave him, leave him for good. But he pursued her.

They said unforgivable things; he said she was fat and she said he was boring in bed. And she told him she was leaving and that he was a lunatic, a violent lunatic and he began crying so she let her guard down and she went to the phone to pick it up and call her mother. Why, he asked? And she said she needed her mother to come over and pick her up, because she was leaving, leaving for real this time and he needed to understand this. She’d leave him the car, she said, because she wanted to be kind. But this was the end; this was the time she was going and never coming back. He reminded her that he said he was repentant, that he had cried and it was real, he was so very sorry, couldn’t she see that? But she shook her head and turned around to dial the phone, so she wouldn’t see him crying and change her mind.

But when her mother answered all her mother heard was broken breathing, a slight gurgling sound and then the line went dead, as her daughter lay on the floor of the kitchen with the jagged leg of the chair thrust up, through her back, breaking her ribs, through her malleable left lung, through her supple diaphragm and into the unfastened chambers of her heart, scarlet blood forming an almost perfect sphere around her unmoving form.

Dry on Digging through The Fat

At night, my house slips noisily underwater.

Moonbeams pound through the cracks, clefts, and crevices of the house.

My memories are waterfalls, jagged with fears and guilt; the fear of having to escape Daddy; the guilt from the suicide of a friend who needed my love long ago and the fear for another who needs it still; fear of the light of day showing my scars – scars from Daddy which cross my body, scars from guilt which cross my soul, scars from my nightly transformation into the fish I become, swimming through this house tirelessly, as if I could escape. But my fate is to swim round this bowl, unable to turn the current or shut my eyes for to stop is to die and I am not ready to die, though I long for rest. I long for it.

I gaze at my children as I swim round them – they are unaware of my wanderings unless they wake and wonder where I’ve gone, their ever-tired mother, but their somnolence leads them back to their dry beds and dreams of adventure. I whisper safety into their ears.

I contemplate my lover, who never stirs. I am fascinated – those without fear and guilt may sleep – but his dreams are unfathomable to me. I long for him but we are a different species. I whisper love into his ear.

Then, just as it does for the itsy bitsy spider, the sun dries up all that remains. I wake from my sleepless night, woman again, and look toward the day. The dry, dry day.

Prepped from Fiction on the Web

Bug Out Bag

Jared lay on his bed, unable to see, but he could hear snatches of her conversation in the other room. She was on the phone. He tried to move but realized he couldn’t.

            He tried to remember what had happened. He’d come home with Melody after lunch. She wanted to see his packs again, to see how he’d managed to get so much into his BOB and to the EDC kit that he always had with him ever since Jennifer died.

            Jennifer… He could see her in his mind’s eye, lying on their bed, in the old Victorian that they were refinishing, rubbing her belly and talking about names. He imagined he could smell her perfume – Envy, by Gucci – although she’d never been in this bed in the city. Her black hair would fall like a halo of obsidian around her small head. She would smile that big smile with her magnificently white teeth. He had always said she should be in toothpaste commercials. That smile was the only thing big about her – and her belly! Eight months pregnant when Sarafina hit.

He had her hands, he had them and then he didn’t.

Still remembering made him shudder. He tried to turn his mind to the present, but it didn’t want to stay. He kept drifting back to Jennifer. He felt like he couldn’t concentrate. But he’d felt that way ever since Jennifer died, hadn’t he? It had felt just like this, so heavy he couldn’t move.

            In the two years since, Jared had moved on in some ways. His friends said he hadn’t, but they didn’t understand. They said he had become obsessed with the what-ifs – what if he’d had a boat, and they could’ve escaped? What if he’d had some way to see her in the darkness? What if he could have saved her? What if he had died instead? What if she was still alive – they’d never found her body? Maybe she’d come back, she’d have the baby… But this one he never said aloud to anyone. He knew no one would understand that one; they’d say he’d gone off the deep end.

            But he had moved on. He was just sure that this time he’d be ready. He would be able to save… somebody. Himself, at least – he had no one else to save just yet. But he went to the meetings and they really helped. That’s where he’d met Melody.

Melody was now.

            “Iodine?” she’d asked as people were talking about their BOBs at the Wednesday meeting in the basement of St. Aggripina’s. “Like, salt? I should pack salt?” No one seemed to be paying attention to her.

            Her eyes were big and serious and so very young. Jared smiled at her warmly. “No, not salt. If you pack iodine you can put a little in water or, if there’s nuclear fallout, it’ll reduce the radiation poisoning until you can get someplace safe.”

            “So it’s like… flavor? Like Crystal Light?”

            A lithe woman with an iron grey bob laughed, he thought, cruelly. “No! It’s to make sure your water is potable!”

            Melody had nodded slowly, confusion on her face. “Potable… like floatable? Water… water floats? I mean, things float in water…”

            Jared threw the older woman a harsh glare. Preppers weren’t supposed to judge one another. They were all here to support each other, to prepare for the worst. “No, she means the water might not be safe to drink, so you put a little iodine in and it makes the water safer.”

            She had turned her resplendent hazel eyes on him and smiled thankfully, nodding her head.

            “You can buy kits on the internet,” he’d added, not sure what to else to say, but mesmerized by her eyes. They spent the next hour talking about what comprised a BOB – a bug out bag, although his was more like a bug out back framer and an EDC kit – your everyday carry kit, just in case. He told her what the Red Cross recommended and how he’d modified it to his understanding of possible TEOTWAWKI (the-end-of –the-world-as-we-know-it) scenarios.

            After that she came and sat next to him at each meeting for the next few weeks. She asked him questions and wrote down what he said, her forehead wrinkled in concentration, making sure she was getting everything right.

            She told him that her parents had been down the shore when Sarafina hit too, just like he and Jennifer had been. Her parents were told to leave but they hadn’t and both died. An only child, Jennifer was now alone in the world. Just like him. Sort of. He still had his parents.

            Who was she on the phone with? He tried to move again, thinking maybe he was just so deeply asleep that he was sluggish. He tried to recall how he had come to fall asleep but couldn’t. He tried to push his hands down on the bed. He couldn’t even really feel his hands. He tried to turn his head. It wouldn’t turn. But he could see, he realized, it was just very dark. The curtains were drawn, he thought, and the lights all out, the computer off, the door to his room almost entirely closed. He turned his eyes, the only part of him that seemed to obey his mind, towards the door to the bedroom. His eyes were starting to adjust, but he couldn’t see Melody.

Then he heard her voice. She sounded annoyed but he couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. He was surprised. He’d never heard her get annoyed or upset about anything. Intense, yes; sad, certainly – but actually expressing annoyance at another person?

            He closed his eyes. He felt like he’d known her forever already but it really had only been three months. The Prepper meetings were just the start. They became good friends – not romantic – not yet. She was lovely – but young. Only twenty and he was thirty five.  He had grey in his beard – he was practically an old man. And her skin was so soft and supple she seemed to exude youthfulness. He was a fool, he thought. She just wanted help prepping.

She’d moved to New York City to pursue acting when she was eighteen, and her parents had been very supportive, emotionally and financially. But then Sarafina hit almost as soon as she had moved into her little East Village studio and sent her into the same whirlwind he was in. She was in bad shape financially – the money still hadn’t come from the insurance and the FEMA money ran out. She was a waitress at a small upscale Italian place on the Upper West Side, not far, in fact, from where he lived. She hadn’t gotten any acting jobs.

He’d taken his parent’s apartment. After losing Jennifer and the baby, they decided they’d had enough of New York and moved to Arizona. His parents bought this condo in the sixties and it was long since paid off. Then you could get a three bedroom condo for a decent price. Now the place was probably worth over a million, but they just signed it over to him. It was all coming to him in the end anyway, they said. They had their retirement money and they didn’t want him to use the life insurance from Jennifer on buying something overpriced. They hoped he’d meet someone and move on with his plan to have a baby. He was their only chance at getting a grandchild, although they’d never put it so bluntly.

            He hadn’t thought about the life insurance for a long time but found he was happy he had it now. Although he was trying not to get his hopes up, he could see Melody moving in, maybe marrying him. When he and Jennifer decided to get pregnant, they’d each bought a million dollar life insurance policy. It seemed prudent. He always thought of Jennifer getting the money when he died. He was sure she’d out live him. She was in great shape – a runner – and she never held any stress in. She was a free spirit, a painter and graphic designer.

            Jared was all stress. He’d been the manager of a hotel/casino in Atlantic City that was totally decimated by the storm. They rebuilt but he couldn’t go back. He hadn’t worked since the storm, in fact, although lately he was looking around at the many hotels in the city and thinking about getting back into it. Until TEOTWAWKI, anyway.

            Being the manager of a large hotel and casino was what made him a great Prepper, in fact. He always thought ahead, always planned, always imagined contingencies. In the old days, he thought ahead about the rooms and the gaming floor and who was stealing and who was reliable and what deals they could offer to get the people in the door. It wasn’t the biggest place in AC by a long shot but he’d introduced a lot of creature comforts to draw in the middle aged crowd – free Wi-Fi, in room massages, a 24 hour gym and a conference room with wide leather chairs. He had the pool redone not long before the storm. People in their forties and fifties – they were the ones. They had the disposable income. He’d made a name for The Billinger Hotel and Casino and more than doubled profits in the ten years he’d worked there, right out of Cornell’s Hotel program.

            Now he thought ahead about disaster. His backpack could sustain him – well, forever, assuming he could get to a food and water source. He imagined every contingency from another hurricane to nuclear war to alien invasion. Nothing seemed outlandish to him. And it wasn’t just the BOB and his Every Day Carry kit (in case he couldn’t get to his backpack) – he trained. He’d lost fifty pounds since Jennifer died, walking all over the city, getting his body in shape.

He took swimming lessons at the Y and became a certified lifeguard along with a bunch of seventeen year olds.

He attended Prepper workshops on survival skills. He’d never thought of owning a gun before but now he had two and he practiced with both once a week. One was a small caliber hand gun, easy to handle, for self-defense, and the other was a small rifle, perfect for hunting. And he’d learned how to hunt, how to clean the meat and dress it and cook it. The rifle was broken down in his BOB in the case he’d purchased with it and the hand gun in his EDC pack. Self-defense always came first.

He bought a small cabin Wisconsin for his BOL – bug out location. It was big enough for several people and packed with supplies.

And in the parking spot downstairs was his BOV – a black Hummer. But he knew there was every chance he’d have to walk off this island to Wisconsin. All contingencies were prepared for.

            Melody came to the door and looked straight at him. He tried to speak, to tell her something was terribly wrong, but she must have thought he was still asleep because she just glanced at him and walked back out into the hallway.

            “…I thought this would knock him out. His eyes were open,” he heard as her voice was drifting down the hallway.

            He couldn’t make sense of the words. What would knock him out? Him? As in him, Jared Finkelstien? Or someone else? Her voice was muted again, like a radio station that is just tuned slightly too low in an irritatingly indecipherable way.

            He tried to replay the day in his head, trying to stave off terrible thoughts.

            Melody and he had lunch in the theater district. She’d had an audition. She seemed nervous and out of sorts when she showed up, so he didn’t ask how it had gone. She turned the conversation to him, as she always did. She didn’t like talking about herself. Today she wanted to know about the baby.

            “When was she due?” She picked at her salad. He wished she’d eat more. She was so thin.

            “October ninth. Of course the doctor prepared us that she could come late, being a first baby.”

            “What were you going to name her?”

            Jared looked out the window. He wondered why she was asking. Did she want to take over Jennifer’s role? He tried not to think about it. “Emma. It was Jennifer’s grandmother’s name. She had been very close with her grandmother.”

            “What a beautiful name. Why did she never take your last name?”

            He remembered being taken aback. He couldn’t remember having told her that Jennifer hadn’t changed her name. “She’d already established herself somewhat in the art world as Jennifer Carillo. Not that she was famous, but… well, you know about the gallery.” He had teared up and forgotten his surprise at her question.

            She put her hand on his and rubbed it, gently. Her hand was cold. He took it in his own two to warm her up. He’d always done that with Jennifer. She’d called him the human heat generator. At first it felt normal with Melody but then he thought maybe he’d overstepped the bounds. He raised his eyebrows at her, as if to ask if it was okay. She smiled and left her hand in his.

            Her bottom teeth were just the slightest bit crooked. Jared’s father had been an orthodontist and he had always talked about teeth, so Jared just always noticed. He liked it though – it made her different from Jennifer. He needed to stop thinking so much about Jennifer.

            She’d asked to see how he’d fit the rifle and the inflatable boat and everything into his BOB so they’d gone back to his place. He was hoping it was a pretense and this was the prelude to a new chapter in their relationship. He remembered entering the building and talking to the doorman for a moment about the Mets and upcoming spring training. He remembered the elevator and feeling nervous. But that was it. His memory was totally blank until he opened his eyes a few minutes before.

            He tried as hard as he could to move some part of his body. His thought his leg twitched and it made him feel exuberant but he couldn’t reproduce it.

            He didn’t want to think what he was thinking.

            He thought back to the first time she had come over. She’d been really impressed with his apartment. He had a bunch of Jennifer’s paintings up – the ones that had been in storage in Manhattan. The ones in the house were gone, along with everything in the house including Jennifer. She stood looking for a long time at a nude that he had in the hallway leading to the master bedroom.

            “Wow, so… won’t her paintings be worth a lot more now?”

            He’d been surprised by the question. “I don’t know. I haven’t tried to sell any.”

            “But… I thought she had a lot in a gallery and…” She’d stopped talking. He didn’t remember telling her about that. Her paintings had suddenly gone up in price after a small piece in the New York Times Magazine about her death and the gallery where many had already been placed had made a small fortune. He’d made a small fortune. He’d used it to buy his BOL in Wisconsin. But he didn’t realize he told Melody about that. He rarely discussed money with her – they often discussed her financial situation, but he never discussed his. He felt a little embarrassed to be so well off when she struggled so much. But he rationalized that it was because he was older, established, and she was young. Hadn’t he struggled when first out of college? He didn’t start as the manager of the Billinger.

            At the time it was disconcerting but now panic began to grip him. How had she known so much about him and about Jennifer? He tried frantically to think of why he might be lying on his bed but nothing made sense except that she’d somehow drugged him.

            He had a flash of the two of them drinking wine near the sink. He was laughing. Was that today?

            He rolled his eyes to the bedside table and could see just the corner of a wine glass.

            Melody came back in the room and he closed his eyes. It was his only defense.

            “Oh, good, it looks like it finally knocked him out. You sure he won’t remember anything?”

            The voice on the phone mumbled but he couldn’t make out what was being said.

            “Okay, I’m going to get onto his computer. Hold on, I’ll put you on speaker.” Jared heard a button press and a deep male voice came out, as though through a short tunnel.

            “Can you hear me, babe?”

            “Uh-huh. Okay, no password to get on.”

            “What a fucking dumbass.”

            “I told you, right?”

            Jared felt crushing pressure in his chest.

            “Let me get into the banking stuff. He uses Federal Trust – I think he has all his money there.”

            “Really? Doesn’t he know the feds only cover a hundred grand if the bank collapses?”

            “I told you. He’s really trusting. Plus he thinks the stupid end of the world shit will happen and then money won’t matter.” Jared heard the clicking of keys on the keyboard.

            “Did you figure out the password?” he man asked.

            “I have a few guesses. I think Federal Trust gives you five tries before it shuts you down on the sixth wrong one. But they don’t have a very good encryption protocol – just letters and numbers and it only has to be six digits. Remember that guy four years ago? I couldn’t break that one. Remind me to never pick a mark that uses Finance Daily again.”

            “Never pick a mark that uses Finance Daily.”

            “You’re funny.”

            “That’s why you love me.”

            “Okay… first try.” Jared held his breath. Had she figured it out? “The baby. Emma10910… Nope.” Jared let out his breath softly.

            “Try Emma100910. Didn’t you say he is a detail guy? I’d bet he used the 0.”

            “Okay… Nope.”

            “The wife?”

            “That’s what I’m thinking. Let’s see… Jennifer071675. That’s her birthday. Ummm… nope. That’s three.”

            “What about the storm?”

            “I’m getting to that. Sarafina091810. Noooo… Jennifer091810? Wait… no. I just got a warning telling me that one more try and I’ll be shut out. Let me think…” Jared waited, terrified.

            “Did you get their wedding date?”

            “Yeah, it was in the public register in AC. Okay… Last shot. Jennifer070707 – hokey, right?” There was silence for a moment. “Fuck. I got locked out. Man I was so sure I had him.”

            “What do you wanna do babe? I mean, you could stick around, like that guy two years ago. Let him think you’re going to marry him, move in, get things in your name. That was our best score yet.”

            “I don’t know. It means I’d have to have sex with him. I mean, he’s not bad looking or gross or anything but… it’s this Prepper stuff. It’s so annoying. He’s going to want me go to the shooting range and all that…”

            “You are a good shot.”

            “Well, that’s the problem, right? I’d have to pretend not to be. Okay, well, let me set the scene before it wears off and I’ll call you later. Play it by ear.”

            Jared heard the computer shutting down and the blue light faded out of the room and Melody – if that was her name – saying goodbye. He could hear her footsteps coming over to the bed. She began to undress him, roughly, dragging his pants and his boxers down. He could hear his jeans hit the floor with the heavy thunk of his belt and wallet. He felt the cool air on his legs. As she was unbuttoning his shirt, he realized he could move his arm. He tried to stay limp, so she wouldn’t realize his newfound mobility.

            Fury built up inside him; fury and embarrassment. He was an easy mark.

            She leaned over him and he could feel her large breasts pressing on his chest and her lips kissing his forehead.

            His two years of training had made him strong and resilient despite whatever she’d used to drug him. In one movement, he had his left hand around her throat and he used his right to flip her over on the bed. He savored the look of fear and confusion on her face.


            “It was Melody. Melody041392.”

Tempo Blue from INfective INk

“Rakel, come to the dance with me! Please!”

Rakel rolled her eyes at her roommate. “I’m not here to go to dances and socialize. I’m here to get these stupid people in the Socialist Party to realize they live in the best place to have a workers’ revolution!” She turned over on her narrow bed in the bedroom they shared, trying to focus on her reading. She was trying to read in English, which was more difficult than reading Yiddish or Russian, but forced herself to. It seemed like anything written in English lacked force and conviction. It was a soft language and the grammar made no earthly sense. For every rule there were a hundred different exceptions. She knew she should really be practicing her spoken English more. She read and understood English fairly well by now, but knew her thick accent made people take her less seriously.

“Rakel, how can you convince anyone of anything if you don’t go to the social events? This is a chance for you to talk to the other Socialist Party members into seeing the Marxist-Leninist light. And maybe to meet some boys.”

Rakel watched her roommate twirl around the room in the dress she’d made for wearing to dances. The girl didn’t seem as interested in politics as she was in boys. Rakel didn’t have a dancing dress, but she did have some nice dresses. She was a seamstress now and fabric in America was fairly cheap. Back home she had only had a few articles of clothes. Here she had as much as she felt like making – after sewing for twelve hours a day, though, she didn’t often feel like sewing more.

She thought grudgingly that it might be nice to have sex, if nothing else. When she left Russia she thought she would never want to have sex again. But she met a boy on the ship from London to New York who made her see differently. He was a Gentile, but a good person. He was Irish, leaving to make his fortune in New York. He laughed at her politics, which infuriated her, but, if anything, their love making was more so for their differences. No, she thought, it wasn’t love making – it was just fucking – but it was wild and passionate. She knew nothing would come of it. She was too focused on the imminent revolution and he was too interested in becoming part of what she hoped to tear down. He told her his grand dreams of being a millionaire in New York and she told him about how the world would look when the workers owned the means of production and neither of them really heard the other because they were both only interested in their passion. But she did learn much of her English from him on that voyage.

Reluctantly, she dressed. She picked a blue dress – hardly festive, her roommate complained, but it was Rakel’s favorite dress and favorite color – and prepared to follow her roommate to the dance. It was for the youth sector of the Socialist Party. Most of the Left Wing she knew weren’t going to attend, but then maybe this would be a good chance to talk to some of the more moderate members and convince them to join. Her roommate even convinced her to put some color on her lips and kohl around her eyes. She rarely paid attention to her looks, but she knew men found her attractive. But she was surprised at the transformation of the color to her lips and eyes. The kohl brought out her eyes, which were very dark blue and often mistaken for brown unless one looked closely. Now the blue was clear and the darkness under her eyes seemed less pronounced. She had never been partial to the look of her lips – the smaller top lip and fuller bottom lip – but this color gave her a pouty expression she rather liked.

While she was admiring herself in the mirror she thought for the first time for a long time about Pieter. She had acted like nothing happened after he raped her back home in Belarus. She couldn’t upset him for their plan to work – he was using her as his little Jewish whore but she was using him to escape. He didn’t view it as rape but as a consummation of their exciting relationship. She had tried to say it was wonderful but could never quite bring herself to say it. She imagined what he must have thought when he got to Piccadilly Square, ready to take his little inamorata, only to not find her. She had, in fact, already been gone for two weeks, aboard the ship, shtupping a boy with a beautiful body. The plan had been that she’d go to a boarding house he named and stay for three weeks until he came. He had given her enough money for that. As it turned out, that was also a sufficient amount for a third class ticket to America. He couldn’t imagine her leaving, she was sure. He’d probably thought she got the day wrong and then came back, day after day, perhaps going, finally, despite the impropriety of it, to the boarding house only to find she’d never arrived. She wondered if he was only angry or also a bit sad. She always suspected that he did really care for her, a thought she tried not to dwell on as it made her feel a bit guilty. This thought put color in her cheeks, adding to the artificial color she already wore. She rather liked it.  After her roommate was done laughing at her vanity, she took her by the hand and pirouetted her down to the hall where the dance was being held.

There was a band already playing in the meeting hall. She recognized some of the musicians as comrades, including one from the Left Wing, playing the saxophone. She smiled at him, but he was transfixed by his own playing, which she thought was rather good. She didn’t usually give much thought to music – especially jazz, which seemed so random and confused, but she could see that it could be fun to move one’s body to the mixed up tempo. At least for other people. She had no idea how these dances were done.

The hall was in a non-descript structure from the outside, but inside it seemed to sparkle. She had been here before to hear speeches, but now an enormous dance floor had been set and the wood had been smoothed to a starry shine. The lights on the dance floor gave off a sophisticated golden hue. The lights surrounding this stage were softened and shaded sapphire, a perpetual sunset in the wings. Circular tables had been set up off the stage with two or four seats at each. These seemed to be the same chairs used in the meetings, but here they seemed, somehow, to insinuate something more suggestive.

The gallery was perfect for music because it had been constructed to conduct sound – the sound of speeches – and the chaotic music seemed to fill up every space. The shape of it reminded her of a theater she had been to with some comrades to see The Cossack Whip the month before. She had been astonished to see her people treated so kindly in an American film. It gave her hope for Americans. It was one of the few times she could remember crying, seeing that film. Her comrades had been surprised. Now she stood in the back of the hall, not sitting at one of the tables which were clearly meant for couples or groups of friends, feeling entirely out of her element. A good debate she could have. A dance was something else.

“You don’t like to dance?” A young man asked her in English worse than her own. She recognized the accent at once.

“I don’t know how to,” she replied in Yiddish. He smiled widely. He was very short, but quite handsome. He was still an inch or so taller than she, but she was barely over five feet herself. But he had big kind eyes and wore round glasses which reminded her of her father’s.

“I would offer to teach you, but I fear it would be a case of the blind man leading another blind man – or woman in this case. I am Isadore Sarfmann. Are you also from Russia?”

“Belarus. A small shtetl near Vitbesk. And you?”

“Moscow. Well, until I was conscripted. Then all over.”

“Really? How old were you?”

“Eight. I suppose you could say that my mother sold me. I was middle child of nine sisters. No one wanted the girls for anything my parents would consider, but me they could sell. I won’t say they did it lightly. I believe they though it was a sort of apprenticeship and that they were ensuring a career for me. My mother could not read and did not speak Russian very well. My father could read, but not well. They were not educated people. I don’t remember them very clearly. After the revolution, I’ll go back and find them. I will try, anyway. I honestly don’t remember my father’s name.” He looked embarrassed. She was surprised by his frank honesty about his family, but it made her like the little man more.

“Well, you know your last name.” Her cheeks grew warm with indignation. How dare the Czar do this with impunity? She didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. “And do you remember your mother’s name?”

“It was Rebecca. I believe. I was so young. They were Mama and Papa. They called each other Mama and Papa. My sisters all called them Mama and Papa. If a neighbor came to call, he or she would say, where is your Mama or Papa?” He laughed, such an easy, open laugh, which made her think that he laughed often. “I just remember a few times, my mother had some friends who would come and call her Rebecca. They came to help her with the babies. The last two pregnancies were both twins, one right after another. There were four baby girls and four older girls and then me to look after. It isn’t surprising there wasn’t enough to go around.” By now they had moved back into a corner to sit at one of the small tables. “Oh, forgive my rudeness! I have told you half my life story and not asked your name or if you’d care for something to drink!”

“It’s Rakel Zicherman. And yes, I’d love some wine.”

He hurried off and she watched him retreat. He wasn’t conventionally handsome. She liked taller men, although this Isadore was well built – slender but she could see the sinewy muscle in his forearms and could imagine the rest. And she liked how easily he spoke about his life – she could never be as open, as clear, as quick to intimacy and laughter. And his eyes were mesmerizing. They were so large, almost preposterously large, and bright blue, even in this dim light. His hair was thick and dark, with the slightest hint of a wave. She fingered her own curls which she often dreamt of cutting off. They would get tangled and in the heat her hair would frizz out so that she looked as if she could be African. If it were not for her blue eyes and thick accent, one of her fellow seamstresses said, she thought Rakel could be a high yellow Negro woman. She laughed at the thought. Which would be worse in America in 1916? To be a Jew or a Negro?

Isadore returned with two cups of white wine and a huge smile. “How long have you been in the Socialist Party?” she asked after drinking some of the awful wine.

“Three weeks. Just since I got here. I’ve barely attended a meeting. They seem… a bit disorganized. I was a bit disappointed. I thought I’d find some serious Marxists here…”

“But there are!” She grabbed his hand. “You must come to the Left Wing meetings. We are a faction – small, but growing. Soon, I think, we will convince them all. With so many people angry about the war, our numbers get bigger every day.” They both became aware of her hand on his at the same moment. She blushed and pulled away. He took her hand again.

“I liked where it was,” he said softly, but loudly enough to be heard over the music. He took her hand in his, rubbing his thick thumb over her hand. He was small, but his hands were large and calloused and surprisingly gentle.

“Okay, Isadore Sarfmann,” she said to get over her embarrassment over holding hands with a man she’d just met, “tell me the rest of your life story. How did you come to America?”

“By boat.”

She laughed. “Yes, I didn’t think you swam. But what brought you here? Why not stay in Russia and fight the good fight with our comrades there?”

“Ah, well… I’m not exactly welcome there any longer. You see, I never planned on staying as a guest of the Czar for very long. As a gift to myself on my twenty first birthday, I escaped from the base. The problem was that I am much stronger than I look.”

She smiled again. “How is that?” She took her hand back to pick up her glass, wishing her own hand was more dainty and feminine.

“Well, another soldier was on guard duty. Half to keep people out, half to keep the other soldiers in. It was a man I didn’t like very much – Volkov was his name. He was a Gentile and an ass. Not all the Gentiles were so bad, but this one, he hated the Jews. Of course, we were supposed to forget we were Jewish, but I never did. I was a little rabbi in my group in the barracks when we were still children – we celebrated all the high holy days. Not necessarily when they were supposed to be, but we tried. So if we celebrated on Yom Kippur and fasted on Rosh Hashanah – what did we know? But he was always looking for signs that we were practicing our religion so he could run off and tell the commanding officer. By the time I was fifteen or so, I had ceased being the little rabbi and begun being the little communist, but we hid our pamphlets in the Torah and took punishment for being Jews rather than rebels. If they knew the true extent of our rebelliousness, they would have had us hanged. So, on my birthday, he happened to be on guard duty, so I thought knocking him out so I could make my escape might be a bit of fun. Unfortunately, although he seemed so thick skulled, he was not. He died.”

Rakel’s eyes glowed. “Really? What was it like? To kill one of them?” That was a recurrent fantasy of hers.

“Actually, it was terrible. I didn’t mean to kill him and I knew he was married and had a child. But there he was, dead, and I knew that would make my escape harder. I stowed away aboard a ship and I did not know where it was headed. I stole food and hid for weeks – it seemed like months – and when we finally docked we were in Italy. Can you imagine! So I got off the ship as if I belonged there, spoke Russian to everyone and hid who I was. Sarfmann can be a Jewish name but it does not have to be. I said my name was Josef. Who could contradict me? I got aboard a ship headed to America as a galley worker. As soon as we got to Ellis Island, I took my pay in dollars and here I am. I have gotten some work as an apprentice for a shoemaker. He is a refugee from Russia too, from a pogrom. They killed half his family, including his son. He says I remind him of his son so I work there and live there in a room above the shop. It seems like as good a trade as any – certainly better than being a soldier for an evil Czar!”

By now they had finished their drinks and Isadore got up to refresh their cups. The small bit wine had made her lightheaded. She rarely had had alcohol. Usually it wasn’t around party functions, although she’d never been to a dance. Many people in the Socialist Party were opposed to the use of alcohol and said it kept the working man down, so drunk he would never know he was being used. She knew he’d want to know her story when he returned. She didn’t want to tell it. She wasn’t ready yet.

“I got the red this time. Maybe it isn’t quite as disgusting.” He smiled again, his twitching lips betraying his anxiety.

“Do you want to leave? I have a small flat and my roommate – I don’t think she’ll be back for a while. It will be quiet. Easier to talk. It’s just a few blocks from here.”

So they left, holding hands, and she had no intention of talking just yet.


Type, Delete from The Blueshift Journal

You’ve been IM’ing with the wrong guy for three dizzying hours – about everything, nothing.

It’s innocent, you think as you type… as innocent as driving without your seatbelt fastened, going just a tad too fast on the parkway, a fine drizzle starting.

He’s sent a picture of a painting he’s working on, an abstract painting filled with curved, feminine shapes and almost faces.

I like the composition but why are the colors so muted? I think you should use some bold colors.

Hmmm… he types. Cobalt blue! Like Kandinsky! You’re right. You’re amazing! That’s what this needs. But I already put my brushes away.

You know the wrong guy wants to just keep talking to you, because you connect in this visceral way which makes no sense to anyone outside the two of you. To the rest of the world you two make an ugly rock but inside, you are filled with bright crystals; no one is allowed to break the rock and find out. It is secret, just between the two of you.

Your boyfriend is watching the baseball game as you type on your laptop, your feet on his lap. He pets you absentmindedly, like a puppy he wants around as long as it behaves, while talks to the players. You sometimes wonder if he thinks they can hear him. The boyfriend is never as passionate about anything with you as he is about the Mets.

You think about the way the wrong guy’s lower teeth overlap each other and how the birthmarks on his left ear make some sort of elegant design and you wish you could take a thin tipped Sharpie marker and connect them to figure out what the design means, if it means anything. There is something about the wrong guy, some mystery, which you want to unlock, even though your boyfriend is a good guy who loves you. That’s what everyone says. What a good guy! As if that is all you should look for. Goodness. And you do love your boyfriend even if your mind is on the image of the wrong guy stretching in the office earlier today while you two talked, his maroon shirt lifting over his taut belly, dark hair trailing down under his belt. Your mind wanders there, under his belt, after the boyfriend is asleep and your hand is between your thighs in the darkness of your bedroom. You are not good.

The wrong guy’s not interested anyway.

Even if you didn’t have the boyfriend and the wrong guy didn’t have a live-in girlfriend who he’s sort of broken up with, but not entirely and a Girl he’s cheating on the girlfriend with, you are in friendzone, even when you dance together, even when he puts his hand in your hair and sings softly and slightly off key, songs the two of you have talked about, analyzed, sung together in the car or while drinking red wine after work in dim bars, even then. He points out beautiful women at restaurants and bars. Like the illicit Girl, they are skinny and very young with long straight hair and brown eyes. You are what is kindly called voluptuous and your hair is long and curly and you were young once but that time has passed and instead of brown, blue eyes, blue like the color missing from the wrong guy’s painting or grey like the sky in a storm and sometimes even green, green as envy and ivy in the fullness of summer.

I could never talk to anyone like this, he types.

Me either, you message back.

We really click. We should get married. Hahahaha, and he adds a crazy looking smiley face with uneven eyes. The impossibly young Girl has taught him a plethora of emoticons which neither of you quite get because it is a language of hieroglyphs for a different generation and you are just explorers, decoding.

You read and reread what the wrong guy has written and experience an aching pain; it is the ache of children you won’t have with his intensity and artistry and beautiful ears. It is the ache of futility. The boyfriend is watching baseball as your heart contracts painfully, like the birth pangs you won’t experience, the wrong guy holding your hand.

In three hours of not watching baseball, you’ve messaged the wrong guy about the unusual number of rabbits in his backyard and his fear that the Girl is not in love with him although he’s convinced he’s entirely in love with her, despite their age difference and that she only reads romance novels – at least two a year – and the way that she plays with him. You point out that she is feline, sweet and wanting undivided attention until she ignores you entirely, walks away, sits in someone else’s lap. You say that he is in love with the Girl but loves the girlfriend, on whom he is entirely emotionally dependent (except for, you don’t say, his growing dependency on you), although he’s no longer attracted to her. He says you don’t understand but you think you understand more clearly than he’d like. You’ve debated if the term “in love” has any meaning. He says no, it is love or not love. You say “in love” is the time at the start of a relationship when you are actually insane, not really experiencing love. You imply that this is what is happening with the Girl, but skirt away from the issue because he is so sensitive, proving what you say, that this is insanity and not love.

You’ve quoted from The Flame Throwers, the book that you’ve both been reading, sending lines back and forth. “That he simply found a girl he liked and incorporated her,” he types. Incorporated. I want to incorporate someone. You type back, “Enchantment means to want something and also to know, somewhere inside yourself, not an obvious place, that you aren’t going to get it.” You’d highlighted this as you read it, like a textbook, knowing that it was some sort of private missive, meant for both of you. Do you think Rachel Kushner has been reading our messages? he types. She must be, you type back. You know he is thinking about the Girl and not about how you are thinking about him.

You’ve made fun of baseball – it’s so slow, how can people get so excited? – and he’s laughed at the idea of watching sports – he doesn’t have a television, can’t be bothered with such mundane things – but told you about a time he went to a soccer game during the World Cup in France and how exciting it was, then, in person, like watching people have sex, not porn but real people having sex, almost as though they didn’t know they’d left their curtains open to the street.

You’ve gossiped about a woman you both know at work that he’s attracted to, who is predictably skinny and much too young. You’ve heard that she’s dating someone from a different department. He says that whoever it is, he can get past that. You know his bravado is a joke, a way to feel better about the Girl. The young coworker is forgotten because he never meant it anyway; he really only wants the Girl whom he cannot really ever have – just as Kushner knows.

Speaking of Kushner, you’ve told him how the boyfriend likes motorcycles, explaining why it’s so exciting to ride on the back of one – imagine a huge vibrator, between your thighs and going sixty miles an hour? – and he says he’s going to get one too, to win the love or at least the lust of the Girl.

And then you write I love you, even though he’s the wrong guy, and the illicit Girl and the live-in girlfriend and the boyfriend – they are all just wrong, but you stare at it on the screen and you erase it before you hit send.

I see what you did there, the wrong guy types.

What? You flush, as though he could read what you didn’t send.

You typed and then deleted.

The flush deepens and expands while looking up at the boyfriend who doesn’t see at all. So?

No big deal. Type, delete. We can’t always say everything.

Why not? You are only musing. You know why not.

Like that song – that guy who sings Your Body is a Wonderland?

John Mayer?

Yeah. Say what you need to say. You hear the wrong guy, not John Mayer, sing it in your head, noting how he’s emphasized the word need. What do you need?

I don’t think I should.

If you need to say it, say it. Why not?


You sit and look at the screen on your laptop and over at the good boyfriend, lamenting the Mets losing in the gentle late summer rain. Type, delete. That’s why not. 

Canary Pink from Ekleberg Review

This was the first time in the nine years since my Dad passed that I was glad he was gone. Glad. And I hoped that there were no afterlife, or if there were, it wasn’t one where the dead spent their time looking at the living. If my Dad knew that I was crossing the picket lines – and for Pittston, those bastards, he would lose his mind, he would. Lose it. He would be screaming about Buffalo Creek in ‘72 from back when I was just a kid and how he’d survived that only to see his daughter become a scab. A filthy scab.

            I left home when it was still dark and made my way the back way to the mine entrance. I wore a big old coat of Robin’s; it fit him before he got sick. My man was a big man back in the day, as big as any miner. Muscled. Not that tall but that’s a good thing. Don’t want men too tall in the mines when you’re cramped as it is. But he was more susceptible than most to black lung and he’d been out of work for two years. Disability wasn’t paying the bills. But because of the disability we weren’t eligible for welfare. And now I got laid off at Hank’s because none of the miners could afford to go out and drink what with the strike. Not that I ever made much waitressing. But when Robin was working in the mine and I was waiting tables, our lives were pretty good. The girls were sweet and easy babies and they were becoming sweet and easy kids. But they both needed new sneakers and I thought Robin was going to have a heart attack when I said maybe we could put duct tape around their shoes, just til the November check came. He was coughing so bad I thought we’d end up back in the hospital.

            I saw the strikers near the pit entrance so I walked along the tree line, hiding, sort of. I still had half an hour. My shift started at six am. The time doesn’t matter much in the mines. As long as the air is good, we work.

            I’d worked in the mines summers when I was in High School, like most kids. Most boys. Most girls weren’t allowed to or were too scared to, but I loved going with my Dad. It was nice making money, too. Paid for two years at West Virginia U, before I met Robin and got pregnant. Dad wasn’t too happy with that, what with Robin being ten years older and me saying I’d finish school later. Later when? he wanted to know. He had a point. By now, if I had done what Dad wanted, I’d be done with school and in NY, about to celebrate the coming of the 90s with everyone else.

Dad wanted me to leave West Virginia, have an office job somewhere like New York City. One of the owners of Pittston, he had a house on Long Island. Dad showed me on a map back then, before I left for college. Said it was where rich people went on vacation. New York City was just next to it and there you could get almost any job imaginable – but not coal mining. But I was pregnant with twins and Robin had a good job in the mines, just like Dad, and it seemed like I was married for about five minutes when Dad died. Accident in the mines. Ma took the insurance money and asked us to leave with her. She was going to go live in Arizona, of all places. Robin said he was born in West Virginia and he’d die here. Sure looked like it now. And here I was, not even quite thirty and I was married to a half dead man in a double wide trailer where my girls tried to hide that I did duct tape their shoes and then went and signed up to be a dirty, filthy scab. The scourge of my family. The shame of my father. But we would have nice food again and new shoes and sweet dresses that weren’t handed down from six other kids.

Finally, Charlie saw me as I sidled my way toward the entrance. “Jill? Jill, you can’t go in the entrance. They arrested folks yesterday.”

Charlie, of course, assumed that I was coming to picket. Joe Phillips daughter? Robin Gray’s wife? ‘Course I was coming to picket. What the hell else would I be doing there?

“Jill!” a few other guys called out. “You bring us some coffee?”

I shook my head, my braids waving around my face like ropes, lashing me. Charlie walked over. “It’s great that you’re coming to…” Then he saw my bag. With my gear. Some of it was Robin’s, some of it was Dad’s, some of it was mine from those summers spent in the dark – all of it spoke to my betrayal. Charlie backed away as if I’d hit him.

“Jill… are you going down?” He looked at the pit entrance.

All I could do was nod.

“And Robin is okay with that?”

Anger flared up in me. “Robin doesn’t get to say what I do or don’t do to feed my kids. And neither do you. So, yes. Yes, Charlie. I am going into that pit and I am going to dig some coal and I’m sorry, I really am. When the strike is over I’ll go back to Hanks…”

“I won’t be eatin’ at Hanks, then, that’s for sure.” Charlie’s voice got cold. “Scab!” he yelled out, as if we hadn’t dated in 9th grade. “We got us a scab here!” he said as if he hadn’t gotten drunk at my wedding.

I walked forward with my head down, gripping my bag. Someone threw a small piece of coal at me. I took it. Taunts of “Scab, go home,” along with, “Jill Gray? Whatcha doing Jill?” and the one that got me the hardest, “Good thing your Dad is already dead. This’d kill him for sure.”

I stood before the entrance, past where the striking miners were allowed to go and the security pigs were waving me in for my first shift and I turned back. “How am I supposed to feed my kids?” I screamed. “How am I supposed to feed Robin? Hank laid me off. Ain’t no union fund for me. For Robin! Robin is half dead – which you’d know if you ever visited him. Don’t want to know what it looks like when a man gets sick young, right? It’s one thing if your Dad has black lung and another if a man gets it fore he’s forty! What do you expect me to do?”

They all looked at me in silence, their eyes still accusing. They were striking for the reasons I was going in. I looked down at the bag in my hand and imagined going down into that pit… and coming back up and seeing their faces again.

I dropped the bag and ran for the trees. They were all yelling after me but I couldn’t hear what they said. I ran and ran until I was sure I’d ruined my only good boots and my chance to work and spent the day under a tree until I knew it was time for the girls to be getting home. Robin could take care of them to a degree but I knew they’d spend the day watching reruns of Full House and The Facts of Life and not doing homework or their chores. I wrote a letter to Ma in my head, begging her for money – again. Maybe we should just move out to Arizona. If Robin wouldn’t come – well, how long did Robin really have anyway? He wouldn’t see the mid-nineties, much less the year 2000. When we were kids, we’d always figure out how old we’d be in 2000. I’d be 39. The doctors said Robin a horrible case of black lung. He would be dust in 2000.

I could leave him. I could wait for him to die. But I couldn’t go back in the mines. And it wasn’t like when the strike was over I’d get hired. Besides being a woman and there being only three percent of women miners, I’d be scab to my co-workers and the worker who refused to scab to Pittston, my erstwhile employer.


I walked home, aware of how much my feet hurt. Steel toed boots are not running shoes. I opened the door and called out, surprised to hear voices in my dining room. I made the way through the mud room and the kitchen and found Robin surrounded by miner’s wives and even a few miners. Our table was heavy with containers of food. Charlie’s wife, Darla, walked up and hugged me tight. “Girl, you got to let folks know when things are too tight,” she whispered. She shoved some money into the pocket of Robin’s huge jacket. “Go buy those girls some shoes and come on down to the Strike Center tonight. We’re having a dance and I want to see some new shoes.” She kissed me hard on my cheeks, leaving behind a healthy pink glow.