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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Last of the Flower Children

by Susan Lago

            My aunt is sixty-eight years old and lives in a two-room house in a picaresque Vermont town. From floor to ceiling and from wall to wall, Aunt Jenny’s art hangs on the walls, from the beams, balances on tiny tea tables. A squat black wood-burning stove provides her and her common-law husband, Herb, with all the heat they need, all the heat they have. She is scarves and patchouli and wood smoke. She is cassette tapes and gluten-free and long hair, gray now, but still curly and wild.
            In the morning, I wake in an unheated bedroom to Vermont in late November, but I am cocooned under three down comforters. Only the top of my head is cold. I jump out of bed, push aside the heavy damask curtain in the doorway, and emerge into the heated dimness of the main living area. It’s six in the morning and the air hangs heavy with marijuana smoke and the scent of fresh-brewed coffee. Jenny is there with Herb and her best friend Grace. “You’re up!” they say. “Coffee?” asks Grace. My sister and I are staying at her house, which is about twenty-five feet from my aunt’s. Grace has three bedrooms in addition to the main room. Grace has a door on her bathroom. They call the world formed by their two houses, “The Compound.” Now she offers me what’s left of the joint, but I decline with a shake of my head and make for the coffeepot.
            Time moves differently here. It’s not just the weed, it’s also the heavy curtains on the windows and the silvery northern sun. I shower in the claw foot tub and dry myself with a hotel quality towel. Later, Grace explains that she’s accumulated the down comforters, the towels, and most of her clothes from the odds and ends left at their local laundromat. “You wouldn’t believe what people leave behind,” she says, taking a hit off the joint. “More coffee?”
            Over rice-flour pancakes with berries and maple syrup (Vermont, of course), the conversation turns to the logistics of growing one’s own marijuana crop. Hydroponics. Special lights. Cross-fertilization. Grace sighs: “We just couldn’t make the cost-benefit work,” she says. The clock says seven-thirty. Grace takes out a baggie filled with green buds and rolls another joint.
            Here, then, are the last of the Flower Children.
            Or maybe they’re hippies, but Flower Children sounds prettier and seems a more apt description for the way Jenny, Herb, and Grace harmonize with the environment of The Compound. In between the two houses is a bower loosely enclosed with wrought iron fencing and decorated with a rug, a bistro table, and several mismatched chairs. The table is covered with a patterned cloth and both it and the rug are soaked with last night’s rain. There are gardens, both flower and vegetable. Wherever the eye rests, there’s something to see, something lovely and strange and filled with a kind of lambent light. Wind chimes make music in the breeze.

            My aunt was born in late November 1945 in a predominantly Jewish Boston neighborhood. She is the younger sister by eight years to the day. She, my mother, and their father—my grandfather—all share the same birthday. In fact, that’s why my sister and I have driven from New Jersey to Vermont. My mother passed away ten months ago. This is Aunt Jenny’s first birthday alone. We didn’t want her to be sad, and we didn’t want to be sad, on this first birthday without my mother.
            I sit on Aunt Jenny’s bed/sofa and flip through an old photo album. I come across a picture of a teenaged Jenny. How old is she here? Fifteen? Sixteen? She has a bouffant hairdo as carefully styled as a wig. Impossible to reconcile this image with my memories. Yet it’s her, despite the tweezed eyebrows, the teased hair shellacked into place. There’s her cleft chin, her smile. When did the transformation to hippie take place? Yes, I could ask her, but she’s prickly about her past, the same way she bristles when I take out my smartphone to check my email. In 1969, the Year of the Hippie, Jenny would have been twenty-four. She had already been to college, Mass Art, had already been married and divorced. She had lived through the assassinations of MLK and JFK, saw the Beatles morph from moppets to acid-heads. I have only the faintest memory of her from that year; I was only six-years-old. But at some point, the bouffant was replaced by long hair, and the young married woman went to live with her equally long-haired boyfriend.
            To the awkward kid I was, Jenny was my grimy glamorous aunt. She had long red hair and eschewed deodorant. She was a singer-songwriter who traveled around in a van with her boyfriend, their band, and a dog. The van had a bed! and Jenny’s artwork on the walls. It smelled like BO and canine, but I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, kind of like my Barbie Camper crossed with the Boxcar Children. The band made its way up and down the east coast, playing at coffeehouses and bars. The dog’s name was Home.
            She called herself a gypsy. They lived according to their own rules in the van that was their house as well as their transportation. From time to time, they stayed with friends they referred to as family. On the other hand, my family—my mom, stepfather, and me and my sister—lived in a ranch-style house on a lake in suburban New Jersey. We had things my aunt did not—an oven, a swing set in the backyard, mortgage payments. When she visited, these familiar things faded into olive green seventies-ness.
            In those days, my mother was different from the mothers of my schoolmates. A poet, feminist, and artist, she wore a hand-knit purple poncho and taught my sister and me that bras and make-up were societal constructs that objectified women. But born eight years before her sister, my mother’s life was somewhat more mainstream: married, she had two children, a house, and a job. She lived inside society’s conventions while my aunt whirled free in her own orbit. I believe my mother yearned for that life. As much as she loved us, my sister and me, she wanted to be the barefoot artist in the park. Instead she was a suburban mom who had to fit her art in the spaces not occupied by the demands of family.

            By the time Aunt Jenny turns up in my memory, it is the summer of 1972, and we are traveling across country to see Alan Ginsburg. This was my aspiring poet mother’s idea. So we take off in a borrowed station wagon: my mother and stepfather, me and my sister, and my aunt. We drive her crazy, my sister and I, with our constant bickering and attention-seeking neediness. For some reason, our journey to SoCal takes a northerly route through Massachusetts, where we stop to visit my grandparents, and then up to Vermont to see old friends.
            “This is where I get off,” my aunt says. She probably doesn’t actually say those words, but that’s what happens anyway. She falls in love with the Green Mountain state. She jumps off the merry-go-round of sticky-fingered children and games of I-Spy and License Plate. And so Vermont becomes the closest thing to home my gypsy aunt knows for the next forty years. Vermont is her base even in the years she travels with her band, and then later from craft show to craft show where she sells her handmade silk-screened wearable art. Somewhere along the way, the long-haired boyfriend is replaced by Herb.
            I remember visiting her in Vermont sometime in the late seventies. She and Herb lived in a log cabin on the side of a mountain. I remember being horrified that there was no bathroom. “What do I do when I have to go?” I may have whispered to my mother. “We’re in nature,” laughed my aunt (the cabin was very small; there was no place for the whisper to hide). She handed me a roll of toilet paper and pointed to the door. Why wasn’t there even an outhouse? I can’t remember. The cabin was heated by a wood-burning stove, and my aunt made me the most delicious cinnamon toast I had ever tasted with thick brown bread dripping with butter. The two-room house she lives in today is an echo of that cabin, only it has a real working bathroom even if its only barrier is a turquoise-colored beaded curtain instead of a door.

            Why does she choose Vermont and not some other hippie enclave such as Haight Ashbury or Greenwich Village? Maybe because Vermont has a proud history of welcoming pioneers, artists, and outcasts. It’s no wonder that despite Vermont’s inhospitable winters, the state became a haven for my aunt and her friends when they wanted to get off the hamster wheel of the work-to-live ethos and live close to the land. And it’s no surprise that my aunt, an artist and musician who actively lived the counterculture, gravitated to Vermont in the early seventies. After all, the state offered the appeal of pristine mountains, fresh air, and the possibility of living the Flower Children’s ideals of peace and love in a communal environment set just outside the boundaries of The Establishment.
            There’s something else beneath the simple lifestyle, however. Another side. An economic one. Both Aunt Jenny and Grace rent, not own, their houses. Their clothes mostly come from hand-me-downs and scavenging. The economics of The Compound are based on share and share alike. The three adults share one car (Jenny’s) and one computer (Grace’s). They had also shared illegal cable until the day before our visit when the cable company upgraded their technology to digital and the signal disappeared. Grace is considering splurging for monthly access. After all, the winter nights are long. No one’s complaining, but maybe that explains the abundance of weed.

            “Remember Jefferson Airplane?” my sister asks. It’s Saturday night, our last night in Vermont. We’ve eaten dinner at Aunt Jenny’s: a quiche made with tomatoes that they grew in their garden and dried in the sun, salad, falafel, and white wine. Now we’re back at Grace’s, finishing off another bottle of wine and passing around a joint.
            Nods all around. My sister is younger than I am by three years. Lean from years of yoga and holistic juicing, she’s approaching fifty, but she’s not there yet. In Jefferson Airplane’s heyday, the “Summer of Love” 1967, she was one-year-old. She’s nostalgic for a past that she never experienced.
            Grace is sitting on a period sofa covered with a white linen cloth. She’s wearing an old-fashioned cotton nightgown and robe, white with lacey flounces and puffed sleeves. She has masses of gray-streaked hair and wire-framed glasses, and holds a roach clip that’s about a foot long, which she waves like a conductor’s baton while she talks. The rest of us sit on mismatched chairs in varying degrees of wobbliness. There are doilies. Like my aunt’s place, every available space has something on it: framed photographs on the wall, including one of a young Bette Davis, china figurines, lamps, a stack of wood next to the stove. The effect, though, is less chaotic than at my aunt’s where angels made from recycled materials hang from a rafter and her mixed media sculptures share space on her kitchen table with stacks of books and an altar. Grace’s place is more rustic bed-and-breakfast than bohemian artist.
            “I have a videotape of a George Harrison concert,” says Herb. More nods.
            “We could watch it,” says Jenny, but nobody makes a move to go get it.
            I take a couple of hits off the joint and feel my brain slow and softly stall.
            “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young,” says Grace. “They don’t make music like that anymore.”
            I am overwhelmed with missing the dark tropes of the gangsta rap my son listens to. The anger, the misogyny, the shameless worship of material wealth—everything the Flower Children reject---may seem as quaint one day as Simon and Garfunkel’s gentle warning to “slow down.”
            The talk circles round again to the logistics of growing your own marijuana. I can tell this is a conversation they have often. I don’t have much to contribute, but now I’m stoned so it doesn’t matter.
.
            Where are the Flower Children now? Some sold out. They’re CEOs of companies that exploit workers overseas. They worry about their retirement accounts and the effect of the recession on the equity of their homes. They take Xanax instead of smoking pot and dropping acid. They take Viagra and Lipitor. Some of the Flower Children live in Florida in gated retirement communities. They play tennis or golf. They’re members of book clubs. They shop at Wal-Mart. Some of the Flower Children are dead of drug overdoses or alcoholism. They never got to watch their grandchildren play videogames where they shoot villagers or kick prostitutes in the head. Some of the Flower Children still live by their beliefs in peace and love. They head up philanthropic organizations; they speak out against social injustice.
            And some of the Flower Children are right here in this small New England town, kicking it at The Compound, which, one could say, is a kind of retirement community for aging hippies—a mini-commune. They grow their own vegetables and wear clothes they buy in thrift shops or find discarded in laundromats. They may own computers and cell phones, but they are not a necessity. If they can’t afford to pay for access, they’re fine without. They make and sell art and music and homemade gluten-free pies; they eat, drink, and smoke with friends. They don’t have much, but what they have they share. Age doesn’t seem to matter. Jenny speaks fondly of a twenty-year-old woman with whom she works at their local health food store. “She’s an old soul,” Jenny says. “She’s one of us.” To me, accustomed as I am to various electronic alerts, traffic, the demands of a full teaching load, and two college tuitions to pay, life here feels stagnant, yet it’s filled with beauty. They live a humble existence, but I’m not sure if that’s because they dropped out of society one day and never wanted to drop back in, or if they surprised themselves by getting old. When you’re young, it’s hard to imagine yourself forty, fifty years into the future. Then suddenly, ironically even, there you are. Smoking weed or shopping at Wal-Mart.

            After the wine has been drunk and the weed has been smoked, I pull out the yahrzeit candle I brought from home to light in remembrance of my mother’s birthday. Tradition says you’re supposed to light the candle to commemorate the loved one’s death day, but my family has never been big on tradition. My aunt is a practicing Buddhist; my sister follows her own yoga-inspired path. We were all born Jewish, but I’m the closest thing this family’s got to a practicing Jew so I brought the candle. My aunt takes out some old photographs. There’s one of her and my mom when they were little girls, another of me and my aunt taken when I was about fourteen. We’re both young and lovely in the way of heedless youth. She spreads the photos out on the low table in front of the sofa. We light the candle. No one knows the prayer in Hebrew so we just wish my mom a happy birthday. We all join hands and cry a little.

            On the day we leave, I take pictures of us all with my iPhone. Herb asks to see the pictures so I hand him my phone and show him how to swipe through the images. Now seventy-six years old, he suffers from COPD. He quit smoking cigarettes years ago, but still smokes weed every day, all day. “Where does the picture come out?” he asks, turning the gadget over in his hand. I am in a place outside of time, or stuck in time, or timeless. When I step outdoors, the cold is like a slap in the face. I see the wisdom of burrowing. But time rushes back to me all at once and the effect is disorienting, yet heady.
            As we drive away, my sister and I wave and wave. Jenny, Herb and Grace, a tableau in front of The Compound, wave back. I don’t know then that this is the last time I will ever see my aunt. In less than three months, she will be diagnosed with end stage uterine cancer. Shortly after, she takes to her bed, barely able to put two words together. On March 20, 2014, my Aunt Jenny dies, barely more than a year after her sister. One less Flower Child, one last glimmer of light and love gone from this world.


Susan Lago teaches composition and literature at Bergen Community College. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Pank Magazine, Word Riot, Per Contra, Monkeybicycle and Prime Number. Her short story, “Songs from the River,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011 by Pank. She lives in New Jersey with her two children and a sweet little cat.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trouper

by Amanda Forbes Silva


        I stretch on tiptoes to inspect the choices behind the glass. Although I am only six years old, I already know my passion—chocolate chip. Besides, the Northville A&P doesn’t have as many choices as Custard Time, so there aren’t any new flavors to distract me from the tried and true combination of chocolate flakes folded into vanilla ice cream. Mom pulls a ticket from the deli counter while I wait for my cone. 
        I am the oldest child and the only one who can help Mom run errands. For that, she treats me to an ice cream cone before we scan the aisles for Similac, diapers, and dinner ingredients. A single scoop is a nickel and I can already feel the coin in my palm growing warm and sweaty.
        “Here y’are.” The man behind the counter extends the treat towards me, and I can tell the scoop is just barely balancing against the edges. I hand him the nickel, eager to cup the cone with both hands, determined to fix the wiggle with a quick push of my tongue. 
        “Say ‘thank you’,” Mom reminds me.
        “Thank you.” I repeat, turning toward the shopping cart. I’m ready to help Mom find everything on the list, which is long, and we have more errands to run after this.
        I take two steps away from the counter, trying to secure the scoop in place with my tongue. I fail, feeling the mound tilt. In an instant, a dripping chocolate chip flower blooms on the scratched linoleum by my toes. 
        Heat rushes up my neck and spreads across my face. Mom brought me along to help and I’m making a mess.
        “Oops! What happened?” Mom swipes a few napkins from the metal holder on the counter and scoots around me. She spreads one over the splatter, picking up the melting mound in her right hand, and zips another over the rest with her left. “There we go, honey,” she says, rubbing a few drips off the toes of my saddle shoes. She strides over to the trashcan and pushes the runny napkins into the barrel. I just stand there, empty cone in hand.
        “Let me see that.” She takes the cone from me and approaches the man behind the counter. “Excuse me? Can we please have another scoop of chocolate chip ice cream? The last one got away from her.” She tilts her head in my direction and smiles.
        The man bends, disappears to the sound of metal bouncing against metal as he lifts the lid against the cooler. Mom leaves another nickel on the counter and turns around to face me with a new cone. The ice cream is sitting on top like a figurine on a wedding cake. Mom notices, too. “Just be careful, I don’t think he pushed it down hard enough,” she whispers. 
        I nod, about to explain how that was the problem the first time, but I stay quiet. We have shopping to do. I take the cone and lift it to my lips. Mom wraps her hands around the cart handle and we maneuver our way around the displays and deals. The towering boxes of crackers and cookies and the rows of polished fruit distract me, and my second lick sends the ice cream into a free fall before it meets the floor.
        I am horrified. We are still in plain sight of the deli counter and haven’t even pulled one item from the shelves. Next time, Mom should just leave me home and bring the babies instead. Oblivious, she chooses tomatoes, sliding each one into a plastic bag. I don’t want to tell her. But I have no choice. I can’t reach the napkins on the counter, so I will never be able to clean this up on my own. Leaving it here isn’t an option either. I could never eat the sugar cone fast enough to distract anyone from the evidence on the floor.
“Uh, Mom?” 
        “Mm-hmm.” She still hasn’t noticed. I stand there, wordless, until she spies the hollow cone in my hand. Her brows furrow. “Again?” I look down, manage a quick nod before Mom brushes past me and I hear the snap snap snap of the napkin holder as Mom yanks out a bunch and cleans up my mess. 
I don’t even want ice cream anymore. I just want to get away from the deli and out of this store. My eyes cloud up and heat rushes the back of my neck. Crying will just prove that I am a baby, but the faster I try to blink and hold back the tears, the harder they push forward. 
        Mom leans her palm into my shoulder and guides me back to the counter. The same man stands there, hairy arms resting on each other over his chest. He reminds me of a muscled man I saw on a poster when the circus came to Northville last spring. He has seen the whole thing happen for the second time but doesn’t register any expression of surprise, aggravation, or even amusement. 
        “Me again!” Mom chuckles and pulls another nickel from her wallet. She takes the cone from me and hands it to him. He leans toward the vat, scoop in hand, silent. “Do you think you can really push it down into the cone so it doesn’t fall again?” He nods, but emerges with another precarious looking creation.
        Mom eyes it, one brow raised, but takes it and bends down to face me. I wait for the reminder to be more careful, but instead watch as Mom pushes her tongue onto the ice cream until I am sure the cone will crack. She moves her tongue around the top and edges, flattening the initial drips into a neat little mound before handing it to me. Her lipstick somehow remains intact after the process and she straightens up, beautiful, confident against any obstacle.
        “Everything takes practice, honey.” She winks at me, rises, and leaves the nickel on the counter. “Thank you very much,” she says to the man. Smiling, she takes my hand, and leads me back to our cart.
        I spend the rest of our shopping trip mimicking Mom’s control. I think I’ve done well, finishing the cone and depositing the napkin that once secured it into the trashcan on our way out to the parking lot. But, I’m disappointed when I climb into the car and catch my reflection in the passenger window. The smeared ice cream around my mouth reminds me of the circus clown who made balloon animals and I try not to think about how much practice I need.


Amanda Forbes Silva received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Her work has been published in bioStoriesEmpty SinkEmrys JournalThe Riding Light Review, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, later anthologized in The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2012. Amanda spends times away from her own pages working as an adjunct professor and freelance writer. Interested readers are invited to check out her website at: www.amandafsilva.com.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Trousseau

by Lisa Richter

My father has collected us from our scattered lives to huddle here with him. We are in the family home, in the basement, the den of my childhood. My older sister, Lori, stands to my right, my younger sister, Lynn, to my left. We fall into position unconsciously. This is the way it's always been. In countless family photos and events we stretch our smiles, eldest to youngest, me pressed between.
He sets a deep box before us. The aged thick cardboard is embossed with a bronze hue. Paper peels at its edges; dust stripes its lid. Hutzlers, the logo says, a once glitzy Baltimore department store now defunct.
A tabletop fan whirs on a steady swing. A dull, flat light falls from the ceiling bulbs and is sucked into the concrete. The floor is thickly painted to keep the dust down. Anchor straps on the storage shelves keep the danger at bay. Bars on the window keep the bad out.
Forty years ago, this room breathed open and free. I drew highways with chalk on the then raw, unpainted floor. I created magical kingdoms from shelves left mobile. I climbed through that window, always gaping wide.
Strapped to the ceiling beams is my grandfather’s handcrafted seesaw and jungle gym, squeals of laughter memoried deep in their aged wood. Laughter once owned this basement, now gutted. The drone of the fan swells in this strange emptiness where memory pulls. My father’s drying Levis dangle from a strung clothes line, swaying in the pushed air. The A/C runs. It's early autumn, but the air feels icy. A blast from the fan catches me. I shiver.
The box waits, centered within our huddle. Mom’s box. My father taps its lid. “It's time,” he says.
I gasp as the fan pushes another blast across my skin.
My mother died in my old bedroom, four springtimes ago, bathed in the same soft light that I had known as a child. When I arrived that evening, the hospital bed had been dismantled, the drugs and syringes packed, the boxes taped over and brought downstairs, the TV moved back to the kitchen. Only the IV drip remained as a reminder of her presence, the gangly apparatus standing where my Humpty Dumpty lamp once sat.
It's how my father processes life: tidy up and move on, stick fiercely with the positive. Anyone asks, the answer is an upbeat “Can’t complain.”
“Hey, girls,” he says. “Look through this.” He taps the box again. “The last of Mom’s things. And listen, whatever you don’t want, hand it over.” He yanks his thumb in the direction of the driveway as he strides outside to the gaping mouth of the dumpster. The largest one available, it smothers the bottom of the drive. It's filling too fast. In a couple of days, the seesaw and the gym will find their way into it.
This is it. The final weekend. Right now, right here. My sisters and I are to take what we can of what remains, the rest goes. There will be no discussion. The house is sold. The car donated. Truckloads dropped off at the Catholic charity in Baltimore. Taxes paid. Lawyer notified. Inheritance discussed. My father wields a ten page checklist, and he will settle it all, so that we will not be burdened.
He will take his bed, a dresser, his Lazyboy, the family photos, and a small suitcase of clothing and check himself into a senior facility near his church, where he is a beloved elder. Six months ago, my father looked ten years younger than his age. Now he is a withered man, though his smile is still bright. His doctor has said he has a couple months left, maybe six if God allows. He is dying, too.
The tape on the side of the box is yellowed and dried. The fibers barely grab the cardboard. Lori runs her finger under the band, and it releases with a dusty pop. She lifts it slowly, then looks at me and Lynn, offering. We don’t move. She wedges the lid off. Nylon fluff, satin embroidered flowers. A gust from the fan grabs the fabric, tosses its blossoms in a flutter.
The lid slides away. Tissue, brittle and gray, wraps the contents. A card rests on top, my mother’s handwriting.
There is no stopping it now, our descent over the edge. I'm already there, in the barren blue-black where orphaned bodies float, where impressions sink in padded silence, where lungs echo with the swell and shrink of fake breaths, where pulse drags and ticks like a metronome set low, where not a whimper is allowed, not one, because that tear, that first tear, will be the end.
My father slams another item into the dumpster. His will is his strength. When my mother was moved home to die, he selflessly tended to her medication, performing a ritual of injections every two hours day and night, to ease her pain and chemically nourish her. He pushed on relentlessly, unaware that a kiss, an embrace, might have healed so much more.
My sisters and I read the card silently. My wedding trousseau, 1957. Written for us to find. I lift out the fabric, a cloudlike fairytale of full, translucent white. It smells of tired cardboard, but it is exquisite. Two pieces unfold: a negligee gown and a light cover-up. The gown’s tight bodice of woven lace falls to generous yards of sheerness. Wide lace bands flow over the shoulders. The sleeves of the cover-up poof wide, trimmed in satin with a satin tie at the neck, the same airy nylon, the same fullness. The effect is at once both angelic and daring, a holiness awed by sensuality.
Her spirit flies from the box as I hold up the gown, its wrinkles already disappearing. I lay the trousseau garments on the table.
There is a second tissue-wrapped package. Two 1950’s crinoline half-slips unfold. Lori shakes them out, and they bounce open into wide stiff skirts. There is, too, a glamorous scarf hat, also white. Its satin label reads Christian Dior, New York.
A third package contains a silk communion dress, my mother’s from 1936. The veil is included, its delicate lace disintegrating, and a pair of small white gloves with a pearl button closure. We have a photo of my mother wearing this, kneeling in the cathedral receiving communion for the first time, her eyes glistening restless, shining dark like her hair.
 The box is now empty. We stand motionless, unable to close it, or move it, waiting for my father to return and take it away.
The fan swings, its current stirring the abundance of white before us. Lynn finds a loose rosary protruding from some tissue. It slips easily into her pocket. When her son lay critically ill with leukemia at age three, word spread until the entire archdiocese of Baltimore was praying for him. The moment the oncologist gave up, Nicholas regained strength and made an inexplicable, complete recovery.  
My mother was buried on Nicholas’s birthday; my father will be buried on mine. “That makes us special, Aunt Lisa,” he will whisper to me in the approaching spring as we share a seat in a cavernous sedan, his suited young body in black.     
Lynn folds the communion dress, the veil, the gloves. She lays them in a pile behind her. These will be hers. Being touched by grace gives her the right. Lori and I nod.
Lori looks at Lynn, then me. Lori has survived a divorce and stomached already one divide of shared goods. She has learned to be selective and cautious. She lifts the crinoline skirts. “Take them,” I say. “They are perfect for you.” She smiles, relieved. “I’d like the hat, too,” Lori says, looking at Lynn. “It would mean a lot to me.” Lynn grasps the Dior and strokes its sides. She inspects the weave, smells it briefly. After a time, she returns it to the table. Lori takes her pieces, puts them aside.
The trousseau remains. I lift the sheer gown, and it swings before me, flaunting the desires of a woman alive in her skin. I imagine my mother as she once was, the woman in the photos, the electric mind in fabulous clothes laughing with friends and dancing on the boardwalk. The woman she was a lifetime ago, before the silencing began.
I want to believe that it was beautiful for her, at least those initial days of the exuberant freeing from virginity. I want to connect with that spirit, its powerful innocence, its vibrant determination. I want to unfold in its embrace.
My sisters look solemnly at me. Though they will not give up their treasures, they are sorry, sorry for me, sorry that I must retain the trousseau of that first night. It makes them uneasy, this billowing enticer, a participant in our parents’ coupling.
I don’t explain, I don’t have to. This is my right as the one silenced in the middle. I don’t tell them how thrilled I am, that it isn't exactly the gown that I want, but the energy it contains. If I can touch my mother’s essence maybe I can once again find my own truth, and through this, offer my daughter a possibility to claim hers.

~~~
It's evening, and I soak in a rose mint tub. A bubble hovers on my skin. I blow it a gentle puff and it is carried off perilously on an air stream. I pull a toe through the foam at the surface. A fragrant mist rises.
I step from the bath and towel dry, tapping each water droplet until it pops on my skin. I wrap my hair up high and slide the negligee over my warm shoulders. The bodice’s soft lace presses against my breasts. The fabric is forgiving, light as a joyous thought. It's true: my mother was my size once.
I slip into the cover-up letting the satin tie dangle open. The aroma of rose is rich in the soft light. “Mom,” I whisper. “Are you here?”
I spin a pirouette. The fabric lifts, the flowers dance.
~~~


Lisa Richter is a fiction writer and poet and a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Her work has appeared in The Santa Monica Review and is forthcoming in the Squaw Valley Review, Orange Coast Review, and Unbroken. She mentors at WriteGirl, cooks when she’s not writing, and lives hilltop in Laguna Beach, California. She has a daughter and a son.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Existential River

by Daniel W. Weinrich


“You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.”

The headlines today told of how somebody went missing in the Snake River. I’m not sure if there was alcohol involved, but there’s a damn good likelihood someone was stewed to the gills when they hit the water and sank to the bottom. The message gets repeated. “Don’t drink and boat, or don’t drink and swim, or don’t drink and drive and so on.” In spite of the warning, people still decide to take nasty risks.
A few years ago, a guy I knew, a drinker and a non-swimmer, climbed on a rubber raft to float the frigid water of the Snake River with four other people. Ready for the party, they also dragged along two ice chests full of beer. Oh, and no life vests.  
I can hear them now: “Life vests are for pussies.”
A beer fell off the raft and my friend dived in after it.
Fast forward twelve hours when search and rescue dragged the river for his body.
Here’s something: Instead of having to pull old dental records to identify his body, he owned one distinguishing mark. “Existentialist” was tattooed in big block letters on his back.
“Existentialists” are people who believe they are solely responsible for creating the meaning of their existence. This belief system suggests that personal essence is flexible up to the terminal point of death. No one can define what kind of person you are until all the votes are in and your potential is exhausted. If you have been a bad person for most of your life, at the last moment you can redeem yourself, repent or do something heroic. Up to our very last breath, we have the potential for determining our role in history.
 Anyway, two days after the existentialist drowned, they found his body wedged in a head gate several miles from where he’d dived in to save the beer.
“Is that him?” I imagine a searcher asking.
“Not sure,” another one says.
“Roll him over.”
“What’s does that say on his back?”
“Exist, Exist-ential-ist…something like that. That’s a big word to have tattooed on your back. I’ll bet that cost a pretty penny. Maybe he should’ve spent the money on a life vest.”
 Rather than the cost of his tattoo, I wonder about the horror of dying from the lack of oxygen. That’s got to be such a bad way to go, struggling like mad to find sustenance where there isn’t any. And really, that’s the heart of the existential concept, trying to find meaning where there might not be any at all.

When I was younger I went on a search for meaning in Asia and I discovered how to survive under water. I spent time in Phuket, Thailand learning to scuba dive. The dive shop was later demolished by the Tsunami of 04. Some of the people who taught me how to survive in the depths probably died from all that water. The thoughts of them drowning keep me up at night.
Looking back, I have a history with water running amuck and destroying property and killing folks. While I was in high school, the Teton Dam collapsed and flooded the Snake River Valley, ruining good stuff and killing lots of animals and a few people. After the devastation my friend, Boyd, and I volunteered to help clean up in Rexburg and Sugar City.
Boyd has a dry sense of humor. He makes hilarious observations and never cracks a smile. Recently I cruised to the old neighborhood where we grew up. We used to swim and float in the irrigation canals and were forever getting yelled at by farmers. They didn’t want us drowning in their ditches. “That’s what swimming pools are for,” they would shout.
I stopped over at Boyd’s house. While we were talking he picked up his son’s box turtle and dropped the softball-sized creature into the full wading pool. The turtle sank like a rock, settled on the plastic bottom and started walking as if oblivious to the change of environment. Little bubbles wandered to the surface.
“Do you know what he’s thinking?” Boyd said.
“Not a clue,” I said.
“He’s thinking, ‘where did all the air go?’”
I laughed. The turtle motored along under the water, looking side to side on a leisurely stroll and patiently searching for whatever was missing. I rescued the pet, put him back on the grass where he didn’t miss a beat and walked into a world full of air.
Boyd’s life is similar to the turtle’s experience. His world has changed. My deadpan friend has a serious medical condition. His career as a policeman and DARE officer is finished. Doctors suspected a stroke, but tests didn’t indicate that conclusion. The results of the medical and psychological examinations indicate a problem with his thinking since he occasionally makes wacky decisions. There appears to be a lack of oxygen or a lack of something that occasionally chokes out his rational thoughts.
Boyd’s supposed to stay home and collect disability checks. Some people might see that situation as a windfall. He doesn’t. I don’t either. We want more meaning. We’ve always talked about living a full and complete life where people remember us as being kind and generous. Being remembered for living off the system’s charity feels like the legacy of a parasite. He hates that idea.
Here’s a little good news for Boyd’s life change from police officer to retired citizen lacking oxygen: Instead of hanging with the criminal element and teaching students about the evils of drugs and alcohol he now gets to spend quality time with his kids and grandkids. That’s a nice thing he’s looking forward to.
We need that. Something to brighten our lives so we aren’t overwhelmed by the array of tests and challenges life can serve up. Boyd’s situation leaves me thinking about a quotation from Fredrick Nietzsche, who died from a brain problem, the advanced venereal disease called “tertiary syphilis.” I doubt he died with anything tattooed on his body, although “Existentialist” in capital letters would’ve been quite appropriate.

“They played by the sea, and a wave came and carried off their toy to the depths: now they are crying. But the same wave shall bring them new toys and shower new colorful shells before them. Thus they will be comforted; and like them you too, my friends, shall have your comfortings—and new colorful shells.”
  
I like the image of that rhythm Nietzsche describes, the waves moving in and moving out, taking and giving. Human beings can learn how to appreciate what is in front of them and not be resentful when predictably our toys are dragged off to the depths, which is pretty easy to preach and extremely difficult to implement.
How do you explain to the mother who lost her son to the river, or to the mother losing her son to some brain disease, not to have resentment or other negative feelings about the workings of the universe? This is the certainty of the past. The universe predictably removes things we value and replaces other things that aren’t always as attractive or functional. And people want to know why we lose good things. People want to know the punch line before the joke is over. What does this all mean? And the answer is? You can’t peek. You have to wait for the ending.

A college friend offered a novel answer to the existential question. We were hunting jackrabbits near Hamer when the topic of life’s meaning came up. A freak-of-nature explosion of the rabbit population caused millions of rabbits to eat everything edible in Hamer’s farming community. The frontage roads were covered in bloody gore from all the varmints attempting to cross the asphalt. My buddy Eric said, “Why do you think rabbits go to the road to die?”
We laughed with gallows humor. The question is pretty ironic if you think about it. All those dead rabbits on the frontage road either were victims of multiple accidents or, according to Eric, responding to an unconscious choice created through instinct.
“Like salmon swimming up river to spawn or birds flying south for the winter, maybe jack rabbits go to the road to die.”
Eric, the potato farmer, expanded on his theory of eternal life: “If all roads lead to death, then no roads would lead to immortality. Without roads to die on, the jackrabbits could live forever. Avoid those things that kill you and you might live longer. Tell people to avoid roads, go back to the woods and deserts and sea-sides and see what happens.”
That’s a silly notion with some profundity. We have the capacity to avoid things that might kill us. There is a ton of academic and medical research telling humans to stay away everything from food additives to iPhones. Our parents and our public service announcements tell us to be careful and not take unnecessary risks. Don’t eat paint chips, avoid exposure to radiation, wear sunblock, use a helmet, put on a damn life jacket, don’t use intoxicants and engage in dangerous activities. Even with that there’s no promise of living forever. From my experience, eventually time sneaks up on you and defines you.  
None of the jackrabbits we hunted in Hamer appeared to live forever. Statistically rabbits that didn’t get run over or shot or poisoned were allowed to starve to death over the long winter. Eric offered this summary. “Death is death, whether injected by lead poison or delivered via lack of nutrition.”
The end is the end. At least that’s how as college students we justified taking the lives of rabbits in the desert. “They were gonna die anyway.” In spite of Eric’s theory of immortality, all the evidence suggests we are all destined to die.
Shooting at a million jackrabbits spoke more to the thrill of camaraderie than some morbid fascination with death. Some of my college chums drank beer while handling firearms. One of them took shrapnel to the face that left a permanent scar under his eye. There’s another example of survival skills given to human beings lacking common sense. “Mindless Youth,” should have been tattooed on our backs. Whether you fall into the Snake River or get hit by a bullet intended for a jackrabbit, you end up completed. Defined for eternity in the local paper.

I spend time reading obituaries in the Post Register and often assume between the lines of those who died after combating a “life-long illness.” The life-long illness creating all this suffering is life, of course. Life is an illness for some people. Existentialists would say human beings “decide” to live in misery. They believe human beings enduring the most horrific conditions can develop positive meaning in their suffering. “It’s not the kind of disease the man has; it’s the kind of man that has the disease.”
That’s a quotation I like. I also like this one: “Life is terminal.” Or better yet: “I have one less thing to worry about. I know I’m not gonna die young.”
I’m at the point in my existence where death is happening more frequently and moving ever closer to me. My mom has failing health. Dad is gone. My buddy’s father is waiting for death. “He’s just tired of being in pain.” Pain without relief might encourage folks to give up. Morphine agitates him and makes him crazy. The pain puts him into a life of unbearable torture and no narcotic can knock out the agony. He just wants it over. He wants the process of aging arrested. He wants to pull a “Freud.”
Sigmund Freud killed himself in addicted approximations with cigars and cocaine. In his final moments he requested a lethal injection of morphine to complete his essence.
             Unlike Freud my current goal is to grow old well and die naturally, if that’s possible. I’ve lived with the delusion that I wouldn’t get old when that’s not the case. Time ticks by, my hair grows thin and gray and my offspring are young and vital as I once was. Look at my cohorts from Ammon. Look at the folks I went to high school with, or attended college with. They look old. Real old.  
Not surprisingly, certainly they are making the same judgment of me. In spite of my stout belief in personal agelessness, people from my past must see me rambling around a Home Depot looking for paint or weed killer and think, “Damn, he’s getting old.”
In the blink of an eye I’m no longer the boy running through the potato fields, climbing barbed wire fences into pastures, jumping over ditches, navigating a trail through the foothills to the succulent apples and plums in the Smith’s orchards. I’m the old man sitting on my back deck watching the kids trudging through the fields and thinking, “I’ll bet those kids are up to no good.” I inhibit myself not to yell at them or to warn them or somehow intrude on their day.
I want to shout: “Watch out climbing the fence that you don’t bust it down or get cut on the barbed wire. Be careful in the big ditch, there are some deep and swift spots.” Or maybe I could warn them: “Look out, you’re gonna get old just like me and that can be scary.” Even though I can argue either side of youth or age when it comes to scariness, I often prefer those summer days, those carefree goal-directed moments when a group of young boys searched for pop bottles to exchange for candy at Kelly’s market or hiked miles for a green apple or floated the ditch in old hot black inner tubes. We gulped water from garden hoses and rested in the shade of ancient trees in afternoons lasting forever.
So I could yell from my deck overlooking the Ammon fields irrigated with muddy canals, “Love these days! Love these beautiful meaningful days!”
The kids would probably remember the grumpy old guy who used to yell crazy things at them while they explored the wilderness around their homes. I hope they would remember me screaming about the love of life and the preciousness of each moment.
Mostly I hope they learn to appreciate the roaring of destiny, the giving and the taking waves that wash over us all.


Daniel W. Weinrich received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Experimental Psychology from Idaho State University many moons ago. He spent a few years in Japan studying the marital arts and seeking enlightenment. Later he did a stint at the University of Utah in Counseling Psychology while working in Salt Lake County for the Substance Abuse Division. While living in Idaho Falls, he’s worked in the public and private sectors dealing with issues related to addiction and mental illness. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Idaho in Adult and Organization Learning, doing his research on addiction. He currently works for the Idaho National Labs as an employee assistance counselor. He has been the Clinical Supervisor at the Addiction Rehabilitation Association for ten years and is involved in the Drug Courts. He has several writing awards for his novels, short stories and poetry. Dan enjoys being with his family, writing, snowboarding, testing prototype parkboards and collecting Godzilla toys. His family enjoys avoiding him.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Night Watch

by Paul Pekin

        I'm no good at political arguments, one side always right, the other always wrong. The current uproar over police shootings finds me outside my comfort zone, finds me disagreeing with very good friends. "I'd like to see," I told someone I very much like and hardly want to quarrel with, "I'd like to see Jon Stewart make a traffic stop on a dark lonely road, walk up to the driver's window, and make that arrest."
        "That's not what we’re saying," she replied, with some heat. Of course there were good police officers, and no one was blaming them, she acknowledged. It was just that …
        My side of the argument was lost before I could find words for it. Could this be because, after many years and many jobs, I finished my working life as police officer? Not something I ever planned on doing, but a man needs work, health insurance, a shot at a pension, and sometimes you take what is out there. Life, you know, happens.
        So I stay out of these arguments. They bring me back to the days when I drove a beat, wore a uniform, carried a weapon, and was expected to routinely do things I never, in all my life, planned on doing. Such arguments feel personal to me.
        Instead of making an argument, let me tell you a little story. Imagine me, a man in his fifties, finding himself working for the county forest preserve police, a small department, but police all the same. Guns, squad cars, uniforms, radios, all the stuff that sets you apart from the rest of the citizenry. Walk into a Burger King on River Road at nine pm and you will be seen not as a person, but as a cop. And, as a cop you will, almost certainly, take a seat facing the door, because you never know who might come walking through it.
        When I drove these late shifts, I was always alone. It was my job to lock up the forest preserve gates and see that no one came into the woods after hours. If it had been up to me, this sunset to sunrise rule might have been a bit different, but it wasn't up to me, just as it wasn't up to me to decide how fast people could drive, or where they could park. I locked up the gates, I chased people out, and I arrested those who were up to mischief, mischief mostly being large bonfire parties involving teenagers and alcohol, parties I would have gone to myself when I was a teenager.
        The night I almost shot the kid happened in this context. I'd already closed all my gates. It took hours to do that. And now I was just driving from one grove to another, looking for a little action. Yes, I did look for people to arrest. The nights were long and tedious, and time passed so much faster when I was processing a drunk driver or, more likely, chasing a gang of kids out of a picnic shelter.
        That night there was someone in the shelter at Davis Woods. When I pulled into the parking turnaround, planning on killing a few minutes going over my reports, I heard what sounded like firewood being broken in the shelter. It seemed odd because I could see no fire, nor could I smell smoke. But this particular shelter, a stone structure built back in the WPA days, was distant from the road and surrounded by trees, which made it popular with certain people. It was a place I kept a watch on.
        But the last place on earth where I thought someone would point a gun at me.
        I got out of my squad-car, locked it, and started down the path, flashlight in one hand, baton in the other. The moon was out, I could see pretty well, and my flashlight was turned off. If it turned out someone worth arresting was waiting for me to arrest him, well, I didn't want to scare him off.
        What seemed odd was there was no sign of a fire in the fireplace. So what was that cracking sound I had heard? As soon as I stepped off the path and onto the concrete walk, I switched on my light, one of those long black police flashlights with about eight batteries, very bright, and also very heavy in case of a fight.
        Instantly I caught a figure in the beam, a male who spun around before I could identify myself and, using a two hand grip, aimed a pistol directly at my face. I'm dead, I thought. My own weapon was safe in its leather and no way to get it since my hands were already full, one with my flashlight, the other with my baton, "Police," I shouted, pointing that metal baton at him, exactly as if it were a gun. "Put that down or I will blow your head off!" I may have used the f-word as an intensifier. In certain situations, a wise cop will try to sound a little fiercer than he actually is.
        This is a story I have told many times, and the next line always is, "It took me and that kid almost fifteen minutes to find his gun, that's how far he threw it." Then I explain it wasn't a real firearm, just a pellet gun, not quite a toy, for no one in his right mind would want to take a pellet to the forehead, but still, not a real firearm, nor did it even look all that real once we had found it.
        The kid, and now I saw he was only sixteen at the most, had been playing "war" with his buddy (who, I suppose, was still running). They had been shooting at each other with these pellet guns and when I arrived with my flashlight, quite naturally he had mistaken me for his antagonist.
        "Don't you know you can put an eye out with one of those things," I said. I couldn't resist a little joke. Meanwhile, I was thanking all the gods that protect the police that I had been reckless enough to approach that shelter with my baton in my right hand, and not my loaded Smith and Wesson.
        I wrote the kid a ticket and confiscated his pellet gun. We met again about a month later in court. I never expected to see him there because these personal recognizance tickets we gave out were little more than invitations. But there he was, and my favorite judge, the one who tossed out so many of my tickets, was in charge. This isn't going to go well, I thought. This judge had never looked favorably upon me or my fellow officers. He seemed to think cops wrote tickets just for the fun of it and routinely lied in court. But this time, fingering the kid's pellet gun (offered in evidence) he got it. And delivered a very well put lecture to that kid. "You can thank this officer for your life," he said. And the kid did. No further penalty was necessary.
        I suppose the point of this story should be obvious. When the talk turns to "police shootings," I think first of myself, and there is no way this cannot be. So I back away. I say, yeah, that cop shouldn't have used the choke hold, shouldn't have fired the extra shot, shouldn't have done whatever they say he did. I leave unsaid the way it feels to get out of a squad car and walk toward the unknown, and why a person would do it.
        I could have killed that kid. I think that.
        And if he had been something more serious than a kid with a pellet gun, who knows what he might have done with me.


Born in 1928, Paul Pekin currently draws a pension from the Cook Count Forest Preserve Police, the last of a succession of jobs that included teaching Fiction Writing at Columbia College of Chicago, English Composition at the School of the Arts Institute, owning a little mom and pop store on Diversey Avenue, and working as a letterpress printer back in the days when there was such a thing.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Kitchen Elegy

by Jean Ryan

I need to write a cook book, a friend has told me. By this she does not mean recipes, she means secrets. The kind only cooks know.

We worked for the same catering company, this woman and I, and she wants me to tell our story, to tell the story of all cooks. She wants me to lay bare the work we did so that someone might acknowledge it.

I understand this. I spent sixteen years as a line cook and four years as a caterer, and when I finally left the cooking profession, scarred and exhausted, no one noticed. After two decades of hard labor, I wanted to see some mention of it: a note in the local paper, a plaque with my name newly etched. All those thousands of mouths I fed—didn’t they add up to anything? They did not. Like a plate of food, I was there and gone.

Line cooking is a sort of magic act. Before you are eight sauté pans, smoking and bubbling, and a grill loaded with meat and fish in various stages of readiness, and somehow, amid the firing of orders, you are delivering every one of these dishes in the right combination at the right time. You have no idea how you’re doing this; you’re moving too fast for thought. Suddenly a cowering server appears. He has dropped a plate and needs a re-fire. For a second you look at him without comprehension, and then a murderous rage floods your body. Your tickets have turned into a blizzard. You will not find your way back.

I still have cooking nightmares, endless dreams in which I can’t get my food from the stove to the warming lamps. There is a white scar across my knuckles, a wound from the blade of a food processor. My forearms are blemished with old burns, most of them from oven racks. I can point to each one and tell you which kitchen it came from.

And then there were the other accidents. Walk-ins gone warm. Hours lost replacing a ruined soup or looking for Band-Aids swallowed in bread dough. Never a lax moment in the cooking arena. I recall the day I pulled on one of those giant oven mitts and felt something fast and urgent streak down my arm. I screamed and flung the mitt across the kitchen, and the mouse it had harbored scurried under the sink. I couldn’t blame the little guy—it had been a cold night.

While restaurants are riddled with trouble, catering can be even more dicey: the terrain is unfamiliar and access can be difficult. Once inside these grand homes, you have to figure out how all the high-tech kitchen gadgets work; it’s no good asking the trophy wife—she’s never spent time in that room. The most dreaded disaster is food shortage: one of your ten fruit tarts gets crushed on the journey, or a waiter breaks a wine glass near your mashed potatoes and destroys the entire dish. I don’t think people appreciate the scope of catering: how you have to prepare the food, then load it into a van, then unload and cook it and serve it, and then wash all the dishes, all the pots and pans, all the forks and plates, every water goblet, wine glass, coffee cup and brandy snifter. And god forbid you should break anything.

While I was still working in restaurants, I often escaped into the walk-in, the only place a cook can scream. Sometimes I went outside, sat on an overturned bucket and just let my body tremble. One evening a rat emerged from a dumpster a few feet away and paused to study me, his black eyes bright and questioning. Comrade, I thought, looking back at him with tenderness.

Oh, there were high times, too—I wouldn’t have lasted without them. Magnificent victories. Indulgence. Hilarity. Cooks play as hard as they work. This is the bargain, the immutable law.
In the end, it wasn’t the cuts and burns that made me hang up my apron. Nor was it the work—I figure my body could have lasted another ten years at least. It was the incidentals that finally undid me, the avocado under my fingernails, the veal stock that wafted from my clothes and hair. I was sick of the whole soggy mess: the bloody bar towels, the greasy stove vents, the mountains of innocent carcasses. That’s what began to bother me most, the doomed innocent.

Very early one morning I was in a kitchen fileting salmon when I heard the unmistakable cheeping of a mouse in distress. My heart sinking, I went on a search and found the poor thing under the stove, stuck to one of those horrible glue traps. I tried to pull him off, but it was no use. Drowning, I thought, would be the least violent way to go, so I filled a bucket with warm water—it seemed kinder than cold—and slid the creature in. I turned away, unable to watch, and when I looked back a few seconds later, he was freed of the trap and swimming circles at the surface—the warm water had dissolved the glue! I cupped him in my hands and carried him out to the garden. Not long after that, I freed myself.

I’m employed at a plant nursery now, a gentle job that leaves no blood on my hands. Having traded my chef’s knife for a pair of bypass pruners, I’m happy trimming shrubs instead of meat, deadheading flowers as opposed to fish. Even if I wanted to return to those trenches, I no longer have what it takes.

Before enlisting in a cooking career, one might first consider the lexicon. Cooks work at stations “on the line” and orders are “fired.” Microwaved foods are “nuked,” well-done dishes are “killed,” food picked up late is “dead.” “Buried” is probably the most evocative term. This is what happens when a cook loses track of her orders, when the long row of tickets in front of her face no longer makes any sense. This affliction can strike at any time and there is nothing a cook fears more. Response is swift. The stunned soldier is shoved off the line and someone more fit for duty takes over.

Last week I dined at a posh Napa valley restaurant with an exhibition kitchen. I eyed the cooks with sympathy, remembering when this trend began, how much we resented being on display. Watching my kin in their natural habitat, their heads down, their arms in constant motion, I felt a surge of solidarity. I wanted to make eye contact, to show my support, but I knew they couldn’t risk it.
~~~

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Other Voices, Pleiades, The Summerset Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Blue Lake Review. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she has also published a novel, Lost Sister. Her debut collection of short stories, Survival Skills, was published in April 2013 by Ashland Creek Press. Please visit her website at: http://jean-ryan.com.