Category Archives: Postscript

8.1 | Postscript

Jonathan Green

The Abyss

For the first time, Robbie would be collecting the firewood, laying it on the pit, lighting the kindling, and sleeping in his tent alone. For years he made the trip up to Acadia with Elijah and Foster: hitting the archery range, kayaking, mountain biking, and talking about climbing The Abyss. Elijah had always reserved Site Thirteen for the last week of August; this year he had reserved an extra weekend in September to get one more shot at the peak before the end of the season.

Elijah drowned on the first Monday of senior year. The funeral was held the following morning, three weeks before the boys planned to leave for Acadia.

Robbie came into the clearing where rain streaked down under the pale yellow glow of the outdoor floodlights and the light gray gravel of the parking lot was freckled with dark splotches. Twenty feet beyond the illuminated cabin deck of camp headquarters, known as The Meeting Place, stood a small wooden shack with the letters “QM” carved into the portico. He continued to the Quartermaster’s shed but found it padlocked with a sign directing visitors back to The Meeting Place for firewood and supplies. He looked to the edge of the clearing where the old Blue Dot Trail began. He hoped he would be able to follow the reflective blue dots without his Maglite, which he’d left in his tent.

Beneath the canopy of the pines, the rain slowed then ceased. The soft distant applause of water droplets falling through the low brush faded. Robbie’s eyes swept the ground, and he lifted his knees with each step, careful to avoid tripping over protruding roots as he scanned the trees for the blue dots. He reached at a familiar fork in the path and veered right.

He arrived at the old site, walking between the lean-tos and tent platforms toward the high reeds. Above him loomed the hallowed boulder, riddled with the same crevices he used to climb through with Elijah and Foster while still only dreaming of The Abyss. Some gaps were narrow enough to fit only a foot in, others were wide enough to walk through. Centered on the slope of the house-sized boulder was the painted target, a blue outer ring around a red inner ring and a yellow center, which marked the head of the archery trail at the rock’s peak.

Robbie eyed the old beast. Before the face, five feet of vertical granite receded into the slope where the target was painted. He felt shaky and wondered if he could still make the jump, as he had last year. He crouched low and bolted, planting his left foot hard, pushing off the ground, and flinging his body into the air. His feet landed at the incline’s base, and his hands slapped hard against the granite. He turned his back to the rock face and slid on his butt up to the center of the target that overlooked the old Site.

The plot looked smaller without the tents, the picnic tables, the rangers’ trucks, and without the familiar voices. The crickets were loud, and the wind whistled through the reeds. Robbie could smell the salt carried in from Bar Harbor. It all felt louder, more concentrated than before. His pocket vibrated; it was Foster calling. He didn’t answer.

Robbie wondered if Foster would ever lie on the rock again, if he would sit and watch the red efts emerge on rainy nights, smell the pines in the salt-tinged air, and listen for the eponymous call of the whip-poor-wills. He wondered if Foster would ever come back to Acadia, and if they would make a run at The Abyss together without Elijah. Robbie decided to make the climb in the morning; he would have to summit by himself.

The Abyss had a reputation for overwhelming novice climbers. It seemed that every time the boys were prepared to test out the trail, it was closed for an emergency rescue. From the base, they could see the hundred-foot drop-offs along the exposed foot-wide path, overlooking the coastal ridge. The boys had understood that The Abyss was not to be underestimated, and that they intended to one day conquer it together.

Robbie slid down the rock and returned to the clearing. He bypassed the Quartermaster’s shed and entered The Meeting Place.

A woman in a red flannel shirt with a bronze Acadia pin stood behind the counter. Robbie inquired about the firewood. She asked for his site permit and he rummaged through his pocket, finding it stuck to the Eagle Scout insignia of his leather wallet. Foster and Elijah each had one just like it. Robbie held the permit in the palm of his outstretched hand for the woman to see. “Expiration Time” was written on the beige slip in large bold print. It would be valid for two more days.

The woman nodded and went out the door behind the counter, returning with a bundle of chopped logs tied together with red nylon. Robbie thanked her and his stomach grumbled. He knew he should eat if he planned on finishing the climb in the morning, so he bought a hot dog and some fries, took a bite, and circled the room.

The cabin’s walls were lined with framed newspaper clippings about the beauty of Acadia. “Acadia National Park Generates $186 Million For Maine Economy,” “Finding Serenity: Acadia National Park,” and “Hidden Gems in The National Parks Service!” Thumb-tacked into the back wall, unframed and un-laminated, was a yellowed paper which read, “Acadia Hiker Dies in Abyss Fall.”

Bar Harbor and its satellite neighborhoods were swept by the news of Sonya Larson’s death four years ago. Robbie, Foster, and Elijah had heard that a young girl lost her life to The Abyss, but the article contained details the vague murmurs about the tragedy lacked. He pulled the tack out of the stiff parchment.

Sonya Larson had been a seasonal visitor, an experienced climber, and president of the University of Maine Climber’s Club. She was completing a section of iron-rung climbing when she fell seventy feet onto a rock ledge protruding from the cliff face. Twenty minutes after she dialed 9-1-1, the park rangers arrived. Larson had sustained severe bone fractures and internal bleeding. They couldn’t rescue her until an elaborate pulley system was set up to lift her to the top of the trail. After a two-hour operation, she was airlifted via helicopter to a hospital in Bangor, where she was declared dead.

Robbie heard from the rangers that the view from the summit was spectacular. He also heard that some of the campers referred to the area below as Larson’s Landing.

Robbie took a second bite of the hot dog. It tasted dry and bitter. He tried a fry, but it was too salty, so he tossed them into the trash. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast nearly twelve hours ago, and only had a cup of orange juice since then. He carried the log bundle out of the cabin and placed it on the deck. Pulling some twine from his back pocket, he lashed the bundle around his shoulders and across his chest to distribute its weight. The rope dug into his skin, but he was relieved to be back outside and away from the stale indoor air.

The sound of rain in the distance returned, and Robbie felt its gentle trickle as he stepped down from the deck. He took a deep breath and tilted his head toward the sky, rinsing his face and massaging his forehead.

His phone buzzed again. Rain soothed his skin and itchy scalp as he stood at the base of the steps.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Hey man, how’s the site?”

“Fine, nothing special.”

Foster spoke softly, “How you feeling?” There was a pause, and Foster continued. “Making it okay up there?”

“I brought my bike—handles the mud—and the site’s good. Much closer to headquarters than Thirteen, latrine right near the lean-to, water pump, and plenty of hot dogs and chicken at The Meeting Place like always.”

“Cool, cool.” There was silence, like Foster was building the courage to ask a question. “You going up the trail?”

“Dunno, I’ll see.” The smell of wet garbage seeped across the gravel glade from the dumpsters opposite The Meeting Place. Robbie headed down the dark path between the high trees of the spruce-fir forest, back to Site Twenty-Four. His load felt heavy and his head hurt.

“Take a couple pictures okay? Especially if you make it to the top.”

“Sure thing.” Water began to drop from his nose onto his lips.

“Have you figured how long you’re staying? The whole weekend, or what?”

“Dunno. I haven’t really decided anything, but I’ll let you know once I figure it out. Maybe tomorrow, cool?”

“Yeah, gotcha. Your mom’s a little worried, so let me know whenever, as long as you’re good up there.”

“You can tell her I’ll be fine. I’ve been up here before.”

“Yeah, not alone though.”

“It’s not like you weren’t invited.”

“I know. I just didn’t really feel up for it.”


“I still don’t think you should be up there by yourself.”

Robbie bit his lip. “I’m just sticking to the plan.”

He arrived at the fence post for Site Twenty-Four and removed the bundle from his back. He placed the firewood at his feet and leaned against the outside of the open-air latrine beside him.

“Just don’t go doing anything stupid.”

“I can handle myself.”

“You wouldn’t be the first person to say that who got himself in deep shit.”

“I know. But I had to come up; I can’t be home right now.”

“Yeah, I get it. Just be careful.”

“I will. Later.”

“Later, man.”

He crumpled the site permit in his fist and flicked it off his palm. A breeze carried it to the edge of the trim grass, where it teetered on a fern and fell from its wide feathery fronds, rolling away into the dark woods. He cut the nylon with his pocketknife and tossed one log into the fire pit for the next day, then he went into his tent and let the fatigue do its work.

When Robbie woke up, his lips were sticky, and his mouth tasted like sour milk. An aluminum canteen, hanging from the polyester ceiling, glowed pink-orange from the sunlight shining through. He took a sip of water, seeing his arm tinted the same pink-orange. His head still hurt and the skin over his brow felt tight across his skull. He got up, changed into hiking clothes, washed his face, and started out for The Abyss. The early morning dew made the air damp with the smell of wet pinecones.

Robbie hiked the twenty-degree incline that set the trail off over the worn and slippery rock face. He sprinted up the forty-foot slope and reached the flats, then he hiked the next half-mile of forest under the cover of the spruce trees. The narrow path was littered with fall leaves, acorns, and the occasional heady raccoon dropping. He made his way over the bouldering section, running up and down the rises and falls of the trail and hopping the gaps between rocks as he ascended the cliff. He looked up. The sun was directly overhead. The trail hugged the cliff and opened beyond the trees so that the cool shades of green yielded to a hot red. It felt like navigating the desert, as he followed the curving trail into the unprotected clearing, his legs shook, and his head throbbed. He finished off what was left of the half-full canteen from the morning. He still hadn’t eaten since his two bites at The Meeting Place.

Robbie placed his right hand on the cliff wall for support. The tree line was just behind him now, and to his left was the open face looming over the trail’s base. There was a sign in the middle of the path that read, “WARNING: OPEN CLIFF FACE. BEWARE, NO RAILING AHEAD.” He remembered the sign from a picture in the article. This was where Sonya Larson had fallen. He removed his hand from the crusty rock face, his skin coated with a fresh layer of chalky, pale red dust. Curiosity drew him to the ledge. He took short steps—hands limp at his sides, shoulders sunken low—toward the edge of The Abyss Trail. The small sports bag on his back carrying his supplies pulled him downward and inward, toward the ground. He felt like it would pull him over the cliff, so he laid down and crawled to the end of the rock.

The town of Bar Harbor was set below him at the Atlantic’s rim, three miles beyond the base of the trail. He stared down at the hundred-foot drop to the trail’s start, and then at the spot where he used to gaze up in awe of the cliff with Elijah and Foster. He imagined the three of them, three twelve-year-olds with their brand-new pocketknives seeing the trail for the first time. Foster with his hands in his pockets, shuffling his feet and kicking up a cloud of dust. Himself, always a step closer to the cliff, staring with wild, blasphemous eyes at the towering slab of earth. And Elijah, nudging him forward, punching his shoulder, and slapping him excitedly across the back to psych him up for the climb.

With his chin resting on the hot sunbaked stone, Robbie searched for the protrusion that Sonya Larson had landed on. He spotted it off to his right, about two-thirds of the way to the cliff base. It looked to be ten-to-fifteen feet long and extended only five feet out from the rock, but it was hard to tell without proper perspective. Robbie wondered if Sonya had thought this ledge would break her fall; he wondered if she’d thought that it would save her life.

Robbie slid back; feet shaking, hands trembling, head pounding, heart racing. He pushed off the ground to stand up. His mouth was parched. He rose halfway upright and felt a soft breeze pass over his ears, whirring tenderly, and nudging him forwards to the ledge. He thought about Elijah, how his last moments could have felt just this way: soft breeze, quiet air, even the water below. Stillness.

The green spruce trees behind him, the gray and green stained rocks, the brown pinecones, the raccoon feces, the red, clay-dusted patches of cliff face, and the distant, dark blue Atlantic water fading into the light blue horizon on this hot fall day; all turned black. Robbie collapsed, knees hitting the ground and torso flopping flush against the flat rock of the trail several yards short of the highest point, on which Sonya Larson last stood.

Two hundred students were bussed from the high school to the funeral. Black was everywhere, dark coats and pants, shining black shoes. Elijah’s family stood beside the casket. Two brothers sung their favorite summer bonfire songs. They cried and choked, and Elijah’s cousin turned her head to vomit into the plastic ficus behind Elijah’s body.

Robbie woke up. He was lying flat on the ground and the first sight he glimpsed was the horizon beyond Larson’s Landing. The sun was still directly overhead. He was alone; nothing had changed. Reaching behind his back, he removed his second canteen and three granola bars. He sat up as slowly as he could and drank even slower. Halfway through his canteen, he started on his granola bar. Chocolate bits and brown crumbs rolled down his shirt, spilling over his pants and tumbling to the ground.

When he gathered enough strength to walk fifty feet to the nearest water pump marked on the trail map, Robbie refilled his canteens and soaked his hand towel with the cold water. He returned to his previous spot to sit down, drank another canteen-full of water, and wrapped the cool, soaked towel around his head.

Robbie rested for another hour, eating and drinking, eyes fixed on the horizon. Wispy clouds swirled in the sky, tinting the firmament assorted shades of blue. The drop was far, but the small masses of land off the Bar Harbor coast were lush and green, and the air was dotted with gulls and fishing osprey skimming the water’s surface. It was a sight teeming with life. In a week Robbie might forget about the new site, but he would remember the old days of hiking the Blue Dot Trail, the feel of the chalky boulders, the muffled sound of air brushing through the ferns, the smell of the North Atlantic, and how incredible the view was from the top of The Abyss.

He pulled his phone from his pack, pressed the call button, and waited to hear his friend’s voice on the other side.

Jonathan Green is a graduate of the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. He is an editor at The Baltimore Review, and was previously a research assistant in a Biomedical Engineering Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a Wilderness Explorer Troop Leader at Walt Disney World. He doesn’t know what mapping audio-spatial fields of marmosets and teaching children about environmental conservation has to do with writing, but he hopes it sounds interesting.

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Caroline Beltz-Hosek


First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 1988

Before the sermon begins, I puke
blood in a cramped hallway & leave without

cleaning up the mess.

What grace—

Am I Eve? Biblical pariah,

my girl body disturbs me: pink

collection plate. Sweat gathers

in hairless armpits, oocytes stir yet

their travel will, for another twenty years, produce

only cyclical absence.

Nascent breasts under loose tops,

I learn my empty slough is something

to hide in bathroom stalls, feminine

pad expel, expelled to a backpack or purse.

I learn to exaggerate the pain when I want to

skip gym class. Like all the Raggedy Anns.

What does my teacher—without knowing—conceal

& predict when he quickly averts his eyes?

He gives me sweaty permission

to read alone in the nurse’s office: thin membrane

curtain, foldaway clot, tart red

juice in a Styrofoam cup.

Mother of all my living, my living all

my mother, I was a chiasmus from the start

& go two months in utero until she’s onto

me. Her ovum is my ovum is my twin

daughters, delicate split moon,

who do not yet know their bodies are ritual gardens,

who do not yet know its clockwork catch & release,

who do not yet know God

is gone too soon from this place.

What wisdom is there in shedding?

Caroline Beltz-Hosek received her M.A. in Poetry from SUNY Brockport. A former assistant editor at Penguin Putnam, she has taught creative writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo since 2006. Her poems have been published in The Fourth River and Minetta Review. Additionally, she was awarded a 2018 Incentive Grant from the Geneseo Foundation for “The Long Diminishing Parade,” a poetry collection based in part on her maternal ancestors, which explores topics of motherhood, mental illness, alienation and the immigrant experience, and the role that place—real and imagined, personal and historical—plays in shaping identity and creative expression.

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Caroline Beltz-Hosek



“Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.” —Sylvia Plath

My daughter dreams of dogs, saliva like glossy tripwire. As the pack circles her bed,

showing teeth, she readies (red as the desire for red) her face for impact, menace

of a fiction that feels real. She wakes & screams, eyes glissando from darkness to

darkness, I come, I say: “In your house, in your bed, nothing can hurt you-

I have been avoiding this

poem. I don’t want to be

pulled under the wheels of—

I want to write

about my daughter, who I think could live forever :: unscathed, smiling

if I can just love her enough,

remind her of everything that is:

Look—the thick

kisses of sunrise, the hushed way

someone dresses

for work.

not death,

not you.

Jo, my daughter, is

not you but she is


Joah: a simple, obscure Biblical name,

masculine, yet suicide is women’s

work: trill of impact, your eyelet dress blooms rust

as the Amtrak “Cardinal” separates you & nothing &

can hurt you.

“What is the point of dreams, anyway?” Jo asks.

She holds me hard, arms soft hooks (as if clinging could save us), I kiss & kiss her

nightmare until it oxidizes clear:

red        pink        girl        this—

Hush—cadence of dissolving.

It’s all right, but (let’s be clear) you should have lived, you lived with cousins who kept

you: clean & confident, Peter Pan collars stiff as a board, light as a feather. Your older

sister, Thea, was sent to (this feels like fiction) Aunt Icy Leona who spoke to her as if

she was already dead, who put my grandmother in charge of the household laundry, left

alone as long as the washboard & soap flakes did their work. Red-eye :: stain, release.

Midwestern Cinderella. A songbird with teeth.

Jo: diminutive of Josephine, feminine of Joseph.

She will add/give/increase. I named my daughter

after that outspoken March daughter, a novel

I loved when I thought I couldn’t love anyone

more than my mother. We inherit this desire to take

life :: an affectionate mother, this—

the last

day of April. Red tulips rise

outside my window, the cling

of my :: death-breath, poem, (you & not you) girl

trills in the next room, softly

like feathers or fur, or lucid dreams,

or how you imagine

everything could have been.

Caroline Beltz-Hosek received her M.A. in Poetry from SUNY Brockport. A former assistant editor at Penguin Putnam, she has taught creative writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo since 2006. Her poems have been published in The Fourth River and Minetta Review. Additionally, she was awarded a 2018 Incentive Grant from the Geneseo Foundation for The Long Diminishing Parade,” a poetry collection based in part on her maternal ancestors, which explores topics of motherhood, mental illness, alienation and the immigrant experience, and the role that place—real and imagined, personal and historical—plays in shaping identity and creative expression.

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Volume 7 | Postcript



Caroline Beltz-Hosek


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Laurie J. Jackson


Every three months the Terminix guy, Eric, climbs out of his white truck, wearing his super utility belt and disposable polypropylene shoe covers, and sprays inside and out of the South Carolina house. Additionally, I’ll spray Raid: Ant and Roach Killer 17 along the edge of the garage, in hopes of keeping the spiders away. I stay low to the ground with the can, so the wind doesn’t pick up the insecticide and kill the plants on the side of the house. However, bug spray will only kill spiders if their bodies touch the spray. This means when Eric comes and sprays the entrances to the house and in the garage, the spiders must lay down in the area that has been sprayed. If the spider just walks over the spray, then the spider won’t be harmed. I guess that’s what it means when the can says, “Kills on contact.”

The bug spray I bought at the store will kill insects just like the company’s spray. However, there’s a but there.

Eric says, “The spray that you buy at the store will only last two to three weeks, while our spray lasts three months.”

So, in the beginning of November, Eric comes over and rings the doorbell, breaking the quiet early morning. I choose sleep over decent presence, waking up to the sound of the door, and grabbing a pair of shorts to throw on under my nightshirt. Hopefully he can’t tell I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. I walk around with him as he sprays between the blinds, in the cracks of the windows that are in the kitchen and sunroom, and at the base of the back door.

He asks, “How are things goin’?” in a southern drawl.

“Things are going pretty well. There have been a lot of those big-butted black spiders in the garage, but thankfully none inside the house.”

“Well, I’ll take a look in the garage for you and spray around the walls.”

“There have also been a lot of earwigs in the bathroom,” I explain. “After I kill one, another just takes his place.”

“I’ll be spraying in there, as well. They usually come up through the pipes.”

Eric is the only one who really comes over. Company is a rarity for me because graduate school consists of friends who want me to come there, rather than them come here, which results in no one going anywhere. I watch Eric spray, switching the can from each hand, doubling his speed.

The one floor, three bedroom, two bathroom house is big for one person. The radio plays throughout the house, so there’s some noise to fill up the space even when I’m not there. I don’t like being the one to break the silence when I get home from class.

My mom and dad are back home in Saratoga Springs, New York, and my sister lives in Florida now for her new job, while I’ve moved into the South Carolina beach house. The South Carolina house is my parents’ future retirement home, with no stairs and less obstacles. A place they can go when they don’t want to deal with snow, which now seems to come later and stay longer in the north. My parents bought the house back in 2005, when the development was still being built. The walls are still an off-white primer color, but it makes the house brighter. My parents got to choose the layout: the open sunroom, connected to the dining room and living room; the dining room next to an open kitchen, overlooked by a bar; and a double-sink master bathroom, with a guest bathroom. Having two bathrooms is a big deal, since the house in Saratoga only has one. I moved to South Carolina after graduating from my college in Oswego, New York, to pursue a master’s degree in writing at Coastal Carolina University. The house is convenient, so I can live off campus at a cheaper rate and explore on my own.

When I was little, growing up in Saratoga, I used to be able to pick up Daddy Longlegs and carry them away from the house. My older sister told me that they were actually quite poisonous, but they couldn’t penetrate through human skin, and that’s why they weren’t dangerous. I didn’t think they could be dangerous, with their thin, flat, brown bodies and long skinny legs. I was actually right too, since they lack venomous glands. I watched as a Daddy Longleg crawled along the house using its second pair of legs as feelers. I grabbed him by the back leg and he wiggled as he tried to use his other legs to push away from my two fingers.

When I watched the movie A Bug’s Life, the spider, Rosie, didn’t scare me at all. Rosie was part of a group of circus performers. The circus performers helped save the ants from the grasshoppers, who were planning on taking the ants’ food as winter got closer. Rosie’s character was sweet and delicate. She had two eyes, a thin body, and thin legs. My fear of spiders started to grow as I watched my sister cower from the hairy eight-legged arachnids. It’s as if I absorbed her fear. Rosie’s cartoony look, even though it was supposed to remind me of a spider, didn’t remind me of the fear I have for spiders. I’ve never been brave enough to get as close as you’d need to in order to see their eight gazing eyes. My fear started with the big spiders with big abdomens, and spanned all the way down to the tiny specks of a spider. It wasn’t long until I couldn’t even pick up the Daddy Longlegs anymore. I always called for Mom or Dad to save me. Later, I learned that Rosie was one of the most dangerous spiders. The red hourglass on her lower abdomen meant she was a Black Widow.

Eric works his way from the back door to the front door, going inside the two bedrooms and guest bathroom, while talking about his daughters. Then, he moves to the master bedroom and master bathroom, asking about how grad school has been at Coastal and how my parents are doing in New York. Of course, while Eric is in the master bathroom there are no earwigs at all.

“How are your parents doin’ with you all the way down here?” he asks. “I bet they wish they could stay too, with the cold weather headin’ their way.”

“Apparently, it’s already dropping down into the forties,” I reply. “Dad is fine, but Mom is nervous as always. I think she’s asked the whole neighborhood to look out for me.”

Eric’s can of spray has a long, skinny rubber tube at the nozzle. He hits the top button, and the spray comes out like water out of a showerhead. The air circulates enough in the house that there’s no smell, but I still wouldn’t want to be accidentally sprayed in the face—no matter how animal and child safe it claims to be.

It’s different being in the South Carolina house without my parents. I have to go to school, which changes the house completely from its original beachy, family vacation vibe. We used to come a lot when my sister and I were in high school, then less when we both went to college. The house felt like summertime, with the smell of banana boat suntan lotion and the sound of virgin strawberry daiquiris being made by my mom. Now, I come to an empty house after school and work with the radio on in the background.

The first night my mom, sister, and I stayed in the South Carolina house, there was no furniture, so all three of us slept on the floor in the master bedroom. Mom and I were fast asleep, but Lisa apparently couldn’t sleep because of the noises she heard, which she wouldn’t discover until the next morning were caused by the fridge. It sounded like someone was turning on the water and banging around in the kitchen all night. This is a sound I’ve grown accustomed to.

When my family was in the process of moving things into the South Carolina house, my mom noticed these really big, black spiders in the corner of the garage. She figured if they didn’t bother her, she wouldn’t bother them.

She got tired of leaving the house for months at a time and coming back to spider webs everywhere. My sister and I would refuse to sleep until the house was bug free. So, after our sixteen-hour drive from New York, we’d vacuum and clean, killing all of the bugs. Well, my mom would kill all the bugs.

My mom hired Terminix so she didn’t have to do as much work when she first arrived. Eric explained that if other houses got sprayed, and ours didn’t, all the bugs would come to our house. Now, that’s a pretty good salesman. He helped get rid of the spiders in the far corner, which were black widows—a painless initial bite, but extremely poisonous.

There’s an old children’s song that goes, “There was an old lady who swallowed a spider to catch the fly, that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, and I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.” It’s not the most comforting song.

When I was little, my sister told me that if I slept with my mouth open, spiders would crawl into my stomach, so I learned to breathe through my nose at night. We slept in the same room; I was on the bottom bunk, and she was on the top. One night before bed, we saw a black spider on the ceiling. We ran to wake up Mom, but by the time she got into our room, the spider had disappeared. We both refused to sleep in our beds until he was found. The idea of an unwanted late-night snack crept into my mind; at least the old lady in the song chose to swallow the spider. Mom helped us shake out our comforters and sheets. We were all about to give up hope and sleep in the living room, when I saw him on the wall by my pillow. Mom put the tissue aside, took a flip-flop from our closet and killed him. His body fell to the ground, under my bed. She told us we could sleep now; all the spiders were gone.

Eric sprays the entrance to the garage, behind Dad’s workbench, and all along the walls and behind the beach toys. “You’ll see winter here is usually just rain, with lows in the thirties.”

“It’s weird not seeing the leaves change,” I reply. “It still feels like summer.”

The smell of the spray in the garage is stronger than in the house, but it doesn’t necessarily smell bad. It’s not a good smell, like when there’s food in the oven, but it doesn’t smell strong like bleach.

He takes out the Terminix sheet and fills in the receipt. I sign at the bottom where my mom usually signs.

“I’m going to work around the outside of the house now. I’ll knock down those spider webs at the front entrance,” Eric says.

“Yeah, Halloween is over. Thank you,” I say. “Should I leave the garage open to air out the smell?”

“You can if it smells, but I wouldn’t for too long. You don’t want snakes to come in.”

I stutter, “Oh, oh yeah. Good point.” He takes off his shoe covers and heads outside to his truck.

I kick a few chips of mulch that have strayed out of the garden back into the dirt. The garden is no longer a fresh, dark brown color with green plants bursting through the soil. The dirt has dried out, and the plants are dying. Autumn is a slow process in the south, while the temperature gets cooler, the brown inches its way down the grass and leaves. Eric pulls a hose out of the back of his truck and starts spraying the lawn. I sweep away the leaves that have blown into the garage, along with the remains of spiders.

When I’m alone in the house, I can hear the emptiness. It isn’t silent. The noises are loud, but I can’t always place the cause of the noise. As I’m sitting on the couch doing homework, the TV will occasionally make a cracking noise as if the flat screen were falling off the wall. The air conditioner will groan, stutter, and then start up with a small boom, as if there was something living within the vents. In the kitchen, the fridge will vibrate and refill with water, making new ice. During the day, the windows in the sunroom will make a banging noise, like a wild golf ball went off course and into the window. Since the development is located around a golf course, and hole ten is basically in our backyard, I’ve checked occasionally. But there’s never been any evidence of a golf ball, and the windows still hold in one piece. I recently discovered the banging is from bumblebees as they fly into the window.

I ignore the sounds while I lay in bed, knowing the house will never be still. The house is alive, and there’s no one but me inside. Well, not just me. I also have the Robertos, the name I give the earwigs, which seems less creepy since their real name leads me to believe they like to crawl in my ears at night. I tell each new Roberto if any of them crawl low enough from the ceiling, they will die. The Roberto that lived on the unreachable kitchen ceiling was there for weeks, until I discovered him slammed on the bottom of the door in the microwave. I found another Roberto steamed in my coffee grinds, which kind of ruined the rest of the pot of coffee for me. It would have ruined my first cup of coffee if I’d noticed it beforehand. The Robertos in the bathtub die the quickest, since they get mushed and washed down the drain in the tub.

In the book Charlotte’s Web, I never had a problem with Charlotte, as she helped keep Wilbur alive. Charlotte took on a mothering role in the story. However, the movie was a different story. Charlotte brought herself down, from the darkness, and had eight hairy legs, and a huge abdomen that came to a point. She had millions of creepy, crawling babies, flying out on their own webs, making me realize one spider equals so many babies. I was supposed to feel sad when she died, but I didn’t.

One time, as I sat in the chair on the porch, my sister stared behind me. She told me not to move, which of course made me duck out of my seat, recoiling out of her view. I could see the fear in her eyes. Hanging from the ceiling on the porch, a spider was inches away from where my head was a moment ago. We yelled, but no one was home. It was either I kill the spider, or I’d have to think about it all day. So, I grabbed a napkin, which was thicker than a tissue, and wrapped it around the spider. I made a fist so hard that I could feel my nails dig into my palm. I don’t like the squish or crunch a bug makes. The feeling of the sound ran up my arm, and I became queasy.

From inside the house I see Eric in the back, scraping down the black egg sac that clings to the siding. He gets rid of the funnel orb web in the far-left corner by the patio furniture. I hate orb webs because they look like caves, and I know deep inside there’s a big spider hiding. Once Eric finishes in the garden, setting up what he calls, “Bug traps,” he puts his things away and leaves, never saying goodbye.

Even after Eric’s visit, I find myself spraying the entrance of the garage at night after I get home from class. Once the sun sets, I don’t like to go outside. The spiders crawl out from wherever they were hiding during the day, and crawl all over the tan driveway, making it way too easy to see them. Sometimes they crawl into the garage when I get home from school, and I grab the Raid from Dad’s workbench. I kill them on sight, and spray along the edge of the garage. I have a rule that eases my guilt: if I see a spider in the house, which includes the garage and back patio, then it will be killed. Every morning I see dead spiders lying curled in front of the garage door. They must have rubbed their spider bodies through the spray, or their legs weren’t high enough to keep them safe. There are only a few spiders that make it into the house, and if they are bigger than the size of an ant, then they get sprayed or flip-flop squished.

There are lots of lizards in South Carolina that eat insects like flies and crickets, along with snails, caterpillars, and spiders. I have a lizard named Henry that comes in and out of the garage. I appreciate the lack of spiders in the garage since his arrival. However, as the temperature drops at night, so does his health. I pet him before I leave for school, to see if he is still alive. After school, I planned on getting a plastic container from the store, to bring him into the house to keep him warm, but it’s too late. When I come back home, he has disappeared. He was a small lizard—one of those green anoles. I watched as he went from a brown to a green, back to a brown. I don’t appreciate his bigger, brown lizard family members though—one of which I later discover in the kitchen.

I wake up at seven in the morning to get ready for school, and there he is just lying on the windowsill, under the blinds. At first glance, I scream, thinking his tail is a snake, and my scream never stirs him. I call my mom that morning and she tells me to capture him, or get him to run outside, which sounds easier said than done. It is up to me to get rid of him, so I take the rectangular-shaped Ziploc container that we use for leftovers and slide him from the windowsill onto the lid. It is actually quite easy. I accidentally set the container on his head, but he still isn’t moving or trying to run away. Possibly I have stunned him, or maybe he is pretending to be dead. I go through the garage and set him free on the driveway. He plops to the ground in front of me, so I poke him with the tip of my shoe. He’s had a traumatic morning, so I leave him alone. When I get home from school, I find him in the same spot in front of the garage. Maybe he ate a spider that had been poisoned. I sweep him into the garden, making sure he is right-side-up.

Children’s books always tried to make spiders seem so friendly and so misunderstood. In James and the Giant Peach, James let Miss Spider be, while she sat at his window. James even considered her a friend. Miss Spider was portrayed as a dark artist who preferred to be alone, friendless. I’ve tried to think of spiders as living creatures, something that helps us by eating pesky insects, but there are larger spiders out there that eat millipedes, wood lice, and even small lizards, frogs, and birds. I hope I never see a spider large enough to eat a bird.

I’m scared of the idea of having spiders on me or near me. I remember when I went to open the door on the back porch in Saratoga, and I felt a tickle, a simple itch at my arm. But, when I turned my forearm over to scratch it, I found a big spider, with a huge abdomen. I squealed and flung my arm, brushing my hand down, knocking her off, across the room. I had no idea where she went, and I ran my hands over my body, shaking. I still felt her, as if she’d crawled back on me. I could still feel the tickle at the hairs on my arms and then my legs. I ran outside, asking Dad to scan me over, to make sure there were no spiders on me.

After Eric leaves, the bugs stir and come out from where they’re hiding. There’s just me left to kill the spiders, and the other bugs who cross the line and come too far, inside the house. I’m temporarily brave killing spiders when I know I’m the least scared in the room, or the only one left in the house. Mom and Dad bought me the Terminix Ultimate Protection Crawling Insect Killer, which is specifically for ants, roaches, and spiders. It’s for indoor use, with active ingredients of geraniol, cinnamon oil, and other ingredients that make up the majority: white mineral oil, 2-propanol, vanillin, triethyl citrate, isoprophyl myristate, lactic acid, N-butyl ester, and carbon dioxide. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know what it means; I just know it does the job.

One morning, I wake up ready to leave for school, and I blindly reach in the dark to hit the garage button. The door slowly opens, letting light in, which is when I see her. The size of her butt is the size of my thumb, and that’s not including her long legs. Her big abdomen is like a False Black Widow’s, and her long legs are like those of a Brown Recluse. I bring my stuff to the car, and run to the workbench, pulling out the Raid, which says, “spray areas infected by these pests.” I spray her area, which is right next to the garage door button, where my arm had reached over just a few seconds ago. None of the others have compared to Charlotte’s size, who must have walked her way over the spray to the other side of the garage, too close to the entrance of the house. She clings to the wall as I continue to spray her, making direct contact with her giant body. When she finally falls to the cement, she lands in a puddle of Raid. She crawls her way out of the puddle towards me, twitching, as I continue to spray her. She stops and stares at me with her eight eyes. She refuses to die. I spray her again, and she falls over onto her side, as her legs finally retract and curl into her body.

I can’t tell if she is suffering because I can’t hear her screams. So, I set down the Raid and I take Dad’s iron shovel, with the wooden handle, and whack her. Charlotte is dead. I sweep her remains into the garden, streaking her yellow blood across the garage, which still remains there. The way she crawled towards me terrifies me still. The arachnophobia in me believes her spider friends witnessed my cruel actions and will want to take revenge. If I ever find a Charlotte in the house, Eric will be sadly mistaken for giving me his cellphone number for emergencies. I’m not sure what he believes is a bug emergency, but to me, a Charlotte is a “get-your-butt-over-here-now” call.

The next morning I walk into the garage and place myself in front of the garage button; I’m not taking the risk of reaching over again. I hit the button as fast as I can, trying not to think about Charlotte. To my relief, there is nothing on the wall, but as the garage opens, over by the garden, where I swept Charlotte’s body, there are baby spiders. They are everywhere. I don’t want them to crawl into the garage and they are too tiny to step on, so I grab the Raid. Raid: Ant and Roach Killer 17 has the active ingredients of imiprothrin, cypermethrin, with the majority of other ingredients that aren’t specifically listed out on the bottle. This red and black spray can of death has warning labels all over it, explaining how harmful it is to pests, plants, animals, and humans, yet it is promised to be “outdoor fresh.” I spray the baby spiders until the movement on the driveway stops, and then I do the entrance to the garage just in case.

It’s interesting how small the word killer is on the can.

Laurie J. Jackson has an MA in Writing from Coastal Carolina University. She’s a graduate of SUNY Oswego, with a BA in creative writing. Currently, she’s working on her first novel. She is published in Great Lake Review and The Oswegonian. She likes to combine her artwork with her writing.

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5.1 | Postscript

Maris Finn

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Dante Di Stefano

On Losing My Wedding Ring While Planting an Orchard

That this small band of white gold has been lost

among the roots of saplings, which will grow

and, perhaps, shoot a finger through the hoop

that will choke the bark coasting underground,

is no small consolation; that the hooves

of deer will silk the dirt above it now

and at the hour of my death, and of yours,

is a brittle thought that breaks like hills

whose trees cycle through a blaze of autumns.

That my friend, whose orchard this is, will let

his little daughters build imaginary

kingdoms between the rows where an empire

of apples will one day scud what once was

pasture, and that our initials will be

buried, unacknowledged, beneath their dreams

and beside their father’s hope, is a swan

that origamis the endless mountains.

I will buy a new ring and remember

how the original, encased in earth,

hooping worm and rock and root and desire,

remains unbroken, a trancing of loam,

subterranean, shining in the dark

that gallops and gallops still underfoot.

<< Brass Band Epithalamion

Dante Di Stefano earned his PhD in creative writing from SUNY at Binghamton. His poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer’s Chronicle, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Thayer Fellowship in the Arts, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, the Bea González Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize.

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Dante Di Stefano

Brass Band Epithalamion

While the sousaphones, walking the bass-line,

groove on a riff, and the crescent moon casts

crumbs of light like a screwdriver on

a cymbal attached to a bass drum played

by a kid in a varsity jacket

and camouflage pants, while the three trombonists

hurl salvos at the crowd on the corner

of Chartres and Frenchman, while twin trumpets

punch pins into the umbrella of our

hand-in-hand understanding of the dark,

while teenage boys, sag and swagger, waggle,

cakewalk, strut and bump, to the snare drum’s roll,

I am content to contemplate streetlights

with you and to wave the white handkerchief

in time with the wedding march that breaks down

across boarded up storefronts and holds us

in a levee of melody more true

and insistent than your pulse, my heartbeat,

our hemoglobin adjudicating

evening. In the small hours that follow, you

will whistle “I’ll Fly Away” on the banks

of the Mississippi and I’ll outlook

the strain a busking violin puts on

my memories of imagined futures,

but for now we listen on the dancing verge

and nothing can curb the sound of this band

as it plays “I Ate Up the Apple Tree,”

welcoming us to the Mardi Gras of

an Eden we’ll be forever leaving.

<< Paper Anniversary 
On Losing My Wedding Ring While Planting an Orchard >>

Dante Di Stefano earned his PhD in creative writing from SUNY at Binghamton. His poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer’s Chronicle, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Thayer Fellowship in the Arts, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, the Bea González Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize.

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Dante Di Stefano

Paper Anniversary

Marriage is a new way of telling time

against chronology. It is the end

of please rewritten in indigo ink

on the tip of our tongues. It is how thanks

will paint all of the hospital walls blue

in our newborn dreams of dying alone.

It is light that stags the doe in transit

through the underbrush and brings her to still

herself at the snapped twigs scrunched underfoot.

It is bunny hop and a pocket watch

that will travel through dresser drawers unused

until one day it finds itself become

heirloom and shining. It is a promise

that calls into question the visible

colors of the ultraviolet spectrum.

It cattails the breeze in marshland evenings

and smacks the warble out of the red-winged

blackbird’s beak that serenades our footsteps.

It is, in fact, done with all serenades,

all indigos, all vaults and vestibules

of autumns reimagined on leaf stems.

It’s as useful as knowing how to change

a car battery or a toilet’s chain.

It is the most unromantic knowledge

of the greening need at the heart of so

much aging ahead. It’s: “I no longer

mind cleaning the bathroom sink tonight.”

It’s you switching your toothpaste brand to mine

without hesitation. It’s the word help

become holy, memorized as a prayer.

It’s what most outwalks us when we walk out

the door together into days laddered,

like the fine blue lines on loose leaf paper,

with the things we are supposed to do now

that we are who we are supposed to be.

Brass Band Epithalamion >>

Dante Di Stefano earned his PhD in creative writing from SUNY at Binghamton. His poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer’s Chronicle, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Thayer Fellowship in the Arts, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, the Bea González Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize.

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Angela Workoff

The Escape Artist

Ryan knew his wife would kill him for messing around like that. Kate always said that curiosity made him do dumb caveman things, akin to poking bugs with sticks or playing with lighters. Ryan saw it differently. He was an engineer by disposition, education, and trade. He assessed, took things apart, then put them back together. Since it was the first snowfall of the year, he wanted to get outside for a closer look. Kate had left for work an hour before and he had the chance to try out something new.

The bedroom window opened so quickly that he was surprised. Windows would have to go on the repair list. While they’d gotten a deal on the Webster house, Ryan had been fixing things since they bought it that summer. Every time he turned around there was something new to fix or replace. Because it was their first home, he wanted to get it just right.

Ryan stuck his head out the window and looked over the edge.

After assessing the distance to the frozen ground, he thought about the risk of injury. At worst, if he fell, maybe a broken arm and some busted ribs. Tuck and roll, though, and he could make it out with bumps and bruises. Okay. He could swing that.

The window frame wobbled as he hung on, steadying himself. He sat on the sill, and swung his legs outside, one after the other. Thick snowflakes began to land on his blond crew cut. Wearing only plaid boxers and a white T-shirt, he shivered once, then shook off the thought of cold. His old man always said cold was a state of mind.

The street was empty, everyone already at work or school. Ryan sat on his bedroom windowsill and watched the snow fall over Bridal Lane.

For a few minutes, he was able to make time slow. Cold air filled his nose, invasive and odd, no smell. Winter didn’t have a smell. He closed his eyes and listened. The first snow even had a different sound. Crisp. Clean. Clear. Every year, he was surprised at how foreign it seemed, as though he’d forgotten what snow was like. The good feeling would dissipate though, Rochester hammering everyone with its endless winter. Ryan knew that every snowfall that followed would seem less new, less special. So he took a deep breath and drew in the bare, clean air. He felt private, present. Perfect.

He was happy for those few minutes. The snow fell, Ryan sat above Bridal Lane, and he was able to understand part of his world in a quiet way.

The calm in solitude never lasted long, because there was always somewhere to be. Kate would freak if she knew he was dragging his feet into work again. His eyes snapped open. He ducked back under the window and swung his legs indoors. Shut the window as though he’d never opened it. His regular pattern of thought had become interrupted lately, as he knew the conversation was coming any day. Once things were settled with the house, they would start trying for a baby.

He showered, shaved, and dressed. Grabbed his gym bag and slung it over his shoulder. Almost out the door, a Post-it stopped him in his tracks: “LUNCH!” Kate’s notes. He turned on his heel, grabbed the lunch, and left.

He took the back roads and pulled into the office parking lot at 10:15 a.m. Two cups of coffee fast forwarded the morning. A virtual server went down. He brought it back up. Then a printing issue. Ryan wrapped up before lunch with a clean slate and no pending items to fix.

As he walked to the break room with his packed lunch he passed a small group standing behind the receptionist’s desk. Three guys from the networks department stood with their arms folded across their button-down shirts, staring at the ground. The receptionist stood off to the side, looking in the same direction as the men. Ryan took a closer look. Amy from accounts was crouched at the bottom file cabinet trying to pick the lock with a little screwdriver. Probably one of those eyeglass screwdrivers from the checkout counter in the supermarket. That would never work.

“I lost the key,” the receptionist said, shrugging.

“Amy used to break into shit when she was a kid,” one of the guys said, smirking.

“Not really,” Amy said. “I wanted to see if I could figure this out.” She was dialed in, concentrating on the lock. Like an engineer, except pretty. In her late twenties, she had a flash of red hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was slight, small in the shoulders, wearing an Oxford shirt. She didn’t try to act cute for the guys, but they were all in love with her, secretly.

“Can I give it a try?” Ryan stepped forward and set his lunch on the desk.

She sighed, stood up from her crouch. “Go nuts.”

He pulled out his multi-tool and opened the needle nose pliers. Then he fashioned a pick and a small tension wrench from two paperclips he took off the reception desk. As a teenager he used to spend hours playing with dismantled locks. It had been a while though, and Amy stood over him as he worked. His hand fluttered to finesse the paperclips correctly. Come on. A minute passed as he rattled the lock, hoping the trick would work. The notch in the pick caught the cylinder. The drawer came free.

“I bet you almost had it,” he said, as he turned to her before walking away.

Amy followed him into the crowded lunch room. Sound bites clipped inside his ears: men indignant after another Bills’ loss, women chatting about reality TV. Their conversations floated by as he walked to the sole empty table in the back corner of the room. She was on his heels.

“You knew I couldn’t pick that lock.” Amy stood in front of his table with her arms folded as he took a seat.

He shrugged. “You were getting there.”

“Come on. Treat me like I have a brain.”

He blinked at her, unsure of what to say. Then he talked about locks, explaining how pins work inside of a cylinder. Amy sat down and listened, asking questions along the way. Smart questions. She followed him through the explanation, and asked how long he’d been picking locks.

“I used to break into shit when I was a teenager.” He lied, but it was more interesting than telling her he spent a lot of time in his parents’ basement, taking things apart.

“I didn’t take you for an escape artist.”

“More just to see if I could do it. Experiment with different locks.”

“The Oak Tree is a scientist.”



He hoped she didn’t see him blush. “I just like to take things apart and put them back together.”

“I was pretty good at Legos when I was a kid. That’s as far as I got.” She shrugged, and stood over the table tapping her fingers on the surface. She rapped the table twice with her left hand and pivoted to leave.

“Did you call me the Oak Tree?” he asked.

Amy looked down a little and smiled. “That’s kind of your deal. Solitary. Solid. Like a block of wood.”

He smiled, then covered his mouth with his hand. “I don’t have a nickname for you.” He hadn’t flirted with anyone in years. Girls in college, before Kate.

“I didn’t expect you to, but I’m glad you’re more interesting than you look.”

Wow. He chewed around the inside of his mouth. She walked away. He held his knuckle lightly in his teeth for a minute, rolling the interaction over in his mind.

As he unpacked his lunch, a Post-it fell to the floor. He picked up the little blue square: “CAR PAYMENT!” After letting bills pile into a stack, he’d almost gotten his truck repossessed the summer before. Kate was right, but lately her tone had become more urgent. He knew she was gearing up for the kid conversation. Muttering, he crumpled up the note and pitched it at the trash cans across the room. Missed.

Someone at work, who was actually interesting. And interested. Huh. That was a new thought for the day.

Months passed, spring finally arrived. By April, he and Amy began sending each other instant messages, cracking jokes about coworkers. In June, they were eating together in the break room every day. He didn’t much like to speak about his private life. She knew he was married, and always asked how Kate was doing, but he drifted the conversations away from his home life as often as he could.

On Bridal Lane, he continued his home repairs. Even after replacing the windows, the downstairs toilet, and all of the kitchen cabinets, there was still work to be done. The loose bannister bothered him every trip downstairs. The chipped linoleum tiles in the kitchen would be next. Through July, the list continued to grow, but Kate sat him down and said the place would never be perfect. They had the talk and decided to start trying for a baby.

In August, Amy invited him out to meet her friends. He told Kate he was grabbing drinks with guys from work. A team-building exercise on a Thursday night. As he pulled out of the driveway, he disappeared inside of his mind, getting farther from Kate and the house. He pictured a life with Amy. It happened more often now, testing the idea out to see what they would look like together. A few weeks before, he dreamt of her. She was in a field, running. He couldn’t see himself, just Amy in front of him, turning back and laughing. The light in the dream felt like the sweet light right before a summer sunset. When he was alone and didn’t have anything else to think of, he would go back to the dream and the warmth of the image it cast in his mind.

The bar was set deep in a parking lot, across the street from a Wegmans. The inside smelled like a hardware store. Fresh sawdust blanketed the ground, kicked around a little, kids playing in the snow. The large wooden bar seemed to grow out of the ground, a huge, honey-brown counter with a brass rail and ornate shelving to hold the liquor. The rest of the place was a mismatch, dark with old, crappy Budweiser signs. A row of red-faced barflies claimed territory at the barstools. The young people, the kids, hunkered across booths in the back. One stood up from their ranks.

Amy waved, and walked out to greet him. She looked like a farmer chick, dressed in a plaid shirt, sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She gave him a hug. His hug was light, hands gracing her back for a second before retreating away.

Her friends all looked the same. Tattoos, beards, nothing you needed for a real job. A bearded kid started a conversation with him. They waded through small talk, finding little in common. Ryan talked about his job. The bearded kid probably had a cool job and his parents paid his rent. The kid had a habit of saying, “Hmmm,” when he listened, like a professor or a shrink, which set Ryan on edge. When the kid said, “You’ve never been to Europe?” and tacked on a Wow, afterwards, Ryan looked at him, dead-eyed, then turned away, pretending to check something on his phone.

Ryan felt the world stretch out around him, dead center among some laughing, happy hipsters. What was he even doing there? Playing at what? Friendship, you need a friend? He excused himself to step outside for a cigarette. Muttered his way out the door. Kicked himself over and over inside his head.

A set of jogging footsteps sidled up to him.

“Can I bum one?” The farmer chick. The plaid burnt-brown shirt, unbuttoned, and revealing her small figure in a tank top.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” he said. Half-flirting.

“Neither should you.” She held her hand out.

He nudged a cigarette out of the pack and was about to light it for her when she stole the lighter away. Lit the cigarette herself.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Swell.” He spoke with the cigarette in his mouth, lips a firm line.

“Ben sounds like an asshole, but he’s actually pretty funny.” She’d been playing with the paper wrapper from a drinking straw, folding the thin strip over and over.

“I gotta be honest with you. This isn’t my thing.”

The straw wrapper unraveled and she folded it up again. “You do this a lot, huh? The shy kid bail?”

He was afraid she’d make a joke about him being antisocial. Never getting out. Hanging out in his loser suburban house.

“Sometimes. I don’t know.”

“It’s okay. I get it.” This made her smile through her cigarette drag. Ryan felt as though she had a box of his secrets and she was letting each one out slowly.

She continued. “I don’t know you all that well. I know you a little bit. I think you might like everyone if you gave them a chance.”

Kindness. Her eyes said kindness.

“I’m going to take a couple minutes out here.”

After letting the straw wrapper unravel one last time, she tore it in half, in quarters, then shred the rest into small pieces which fluttered to the ground as she began to walk away. She paused and turned to face him. “One thing, shy dude. If you keep everything to yourself, people will leave you alone. They’ll think that’s what you want.” She stubbed out her cigarette and disappeared into the bar. He didn’t want her to leave him alone.

When he got back inside, he tried. Her friends bullshitted around, talking about movies, music. They knew a lot more about music than he did. They laughed at one of his jokes and he found himself fiercely happy in that moment. He caught Amy’s eye, saw her looking at him. She looked like she was proud. Her admiration, if that’s what it was, filled him up.

A few hours later, they were the only ones left. Amy inched the label off her beer bottle with a naked fingernail, no nail polish, trimmed short. They hadn’t spoken for a few minutes, but he was content to dwell in the afterglow of the night, knowing it would be over soon.

Amy set the bottle down and looked up, eyes wide, as though she’d suddenly realized something.

“I have to call my roommate for a ride. I’m right at the point where I might stop making smart decisions.”

“Okay. I’ll wait with you outside.”

She climbed out of the booth and grabbed her phone from her purse. As she walked away, he snuck his eyes to the right without moving his head so that he could watch her go. Just never let her know, never let her know that you know she has a perfect ass. Shit. He caught his reflection in the window next to him. You. Drunk. Drink water.

Amy came back and said okay. He steadied his hands on the table. They left a tip, then walked out together.

In the parking lot, the cars were scattered in the spaces. They passed underneath circles of light from the streetlamps. A small breeze cut through the humid air and Ryan got a little sad, feeling summer disappear with that almost chill. Happened every year at the end of August. The lot felt like every summer parking lot he knew, growing up in Rochester. In high school, they all hung out at the custard shacks to talk smack and pick up girls. Ryan usually watched the other guys do their thing while he leaned against a car, eating his ice cream. His buzz was dipping. He leaned against a lamp post and lit a cigarette. Amy sat on the ground.

“Why do you talk to me?” he asked.

“I think you’ve got some stuff going on behind that Oak Tree thing. You just keep it to yourself.” Her words rolled. Not slurring, but tumbled out of her mouth sooner than the kind of calculation he was used to with her. “Why do you talk to me?”

“Because you listen,” he said.

“I’m sure everyone else would listen, if you gave them a chance.”

Stooping down to steady himself, he sat on the ground, just a few inches away from her. He leaned back with his palms behind him on the asphalt.

“At the very least, you found the person you love. That’s most of the battle.”

Her words struck him, as she sunk into herself and the usual excitement in her eyes disappeared.

He chewed his cheeks. Not her. You. I found you. His sense of protection got confused, and he wanted to tell her she shouldn’t worry. That she would meet someone and turn out fine. Someone though, someone else. Not him. She would wind up with someone else. The thought of her with someone else made him hollow. He wanted to tell her a secret so she would care about him.

“Kate doesn’t love me anymore. She married me to have kids.” They sat next to each other, not saying anything. He felt the space, the silence, that time.

“I’m sure that isn’t true,” she said, casting her words in front of her, over the ocean of the parking lot. She looked even lonelier than he felt.

So he kissed her.

At first she received him, tensed. After a breath, she kissed him back. They separated and he saw her face lulled from its usual intensity. Peaceful, for a moment.

“I’m so glad I found you,” he whispered. Only those few words, and he half hoped they got lost in his throat so that she wouldn’t hear. Life was a lie. She needed to know the truth, that of all of the billions of people on earth, he found her.

She held his hand and nestled her head against his shoulder.

A small blue hatchback rolled past the patches of cars and cruised up to Amy and Ryan.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. After brushing herself off, she left her hand on his shoulder for a moment and he gave it a squeeze.

After she left, he sat on one of the cement parking bumpers and pulled out his phone. A text from Kate had come in about forty-five minutes ago.

Where are you?” Shit.

Home soon.” Ryan sat in the parking lot for another hour, chain smoking until he felt sober enough to drive.

The next morning, he woke after eight to find an empty bed. The running dream afterglow was back. As reality began to assert itself, he realized what had happened. He’d kissed her. The moment replayed in his mind, and he tried to watch it over and over again, like a movie. He could recall how the parking lot felt, how her face fit inside of his hand. What her lips felt like. The reel rolled and he held her image inside of his mind, inside of his chest. That’s what one of those moments feels like. That’s what life could be like.

A spurt of coughing made him sit up, and his stomach rose to his chest. He counted each beer and each cigarette, culminating in a groaning, empty-tin-can kind of hangover, with all the associated shame. It hurt, hard. Horrible, that it felt private and tremendous as he replayed it inside of his head. Every day was another day on top of another day. Life usually played out like that, he’d come to realize, like a flat line. But last night had been different. For once he felt love or hurt, or a confused combination of the two. He felt sick.

As he moved through the house, his brain sloshed around inside of his head, feeling as though it had broken from its tethers. They kept a case of Gatorade in the garage, but he checked the fridge first. A Post-it note curled around the cap of the blue kind, his favorite flavor. “Three Advil! I missed you!” The hurt came back, and her penmanship sent a wave of nausea and almost-tears to his throat, his eyes.

He grabbed the Gatorade, pounded the drink, and threw the bottle in the trash.

An hour late. He kept his head down as he walked the aisle of cubicles to get to his desk. No one looked up. The tops of heads were fixed forward. All eyes at the screens. Amy didn’t have anyone else she spoke to besides him, really. No one would know. They had no idea what was really happening to him. His coworkers didn’t know him and he didn’t know any of them, for that matter. Everyone put a half version of their life on display at work, covering up whatever was really going on.

No sign of her.

The morning dragged; he didn’t have the stomach for coffee. His hangover made him aware of every beat-up part of his body. Normally he could think, or at least just glaze over and process tasks. Today, each organ declared itself at odd intervals. He couldn’t focus on the mindless work sharply enough to accomplish anything. He sweat through the calls and emails, wiped his face with his gym towel, and looked behind his shoulder every once in a while to make sure no one was coming.

By lunch, when he usually met Amy, he convinced himself he didn’t have the stomach for food. Better off that he stay busy and keep working.

At two in the afternoon, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Do you feel as awful as I do?”

A deep sigh rose from the depths of his hunched over body. “Worse.”

She wore a white dress with little sleeves. Large orange and pink flowers, Hawaiian ones maybe, splashed over the white. She held her hands, twisting one in the other. The image of her so beautiful and nervous broke his heart. He kept his face flat and bored.

“Did you get lunch yet?” she asked.

“Can’t eat.”

“Would you get a soda and step away from your desk for a few minutes?”

“I don’t know, there’s a lot to do.”

“Five minutes,” she said, and was no longer asking. She softened her face and tone. “The fresh air might do us good.”

“I’ll get a pop. Sure.”

They walked together, down the row of half-height cubicles. They passed the reception desk and went through the front doors. The sun was bright and loud. Ryan spent such little time outdoors during the week that he almost forgot what weekday afternoons looked like. Everything about the weather and the feel of the day, how beautiful she looked in her dress, stood at odds with how his insides felt. The ten-thousand-foot view of his life, with his wife, and his house, and sometime soon his kids, stood at odds with how his insides felt.

Amy walked over to a nook beneath an overhang, some distance away from the front doors. He stood three feet away, arms folded. Neither of them spoke for a full minute. She turned to him.

“The kiss last night? That’s kind of a big deal.”

He didn’t speak.

“It was a big deal to me. I didn’t think that was on the table.”

“Oh,” he said. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw her chewing on a thumbnail, shaking her head, slow at first. In a quick movement, she stood in front of him. Her eyes asked. He absorbed that deep look from her eyes. As long as she didn’t freak out, everything would be fine. Her worry, her agitated state, made him want to wrap her up and hold her forever.

“I thought—”

“Look, I just wanted to have sex with you,” he said. The lie exploded out of him, rupturing the air between them. “Okay?” He saw her free fall as it happened. The care, the concern, disappeared. Amy’s face became empty. She walked past him, back though the office doors.

Ryan looked around to see if anyone would notice him, then walked to his car. He drove home.

Kate would be home in an hour or so. After drinking a glass of water and taking three more Advil, he went up to the bedroom. Took off his pants and polo shirt. Lay on his belly in his undershirt and boxer shorts. Looked out the window from the quiet bedroom in his empty house.

He would have to figure out a way to get rid of his smallness once the kid arrived. Everything would change. He would leave behind the things that scared him, and find a way to keep them to himself. Kate wouldn’t know that. It might come to be that she might not know him anymore, because he had to be strong for her.

At seven a.m. the next morning, he woke up and got out of bed. She was gone already. He went in to work.


Angela Workoff grew up in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2006. For nearly ten years, she worked at a technology firm in Midtown Manhattan. She is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Rutgers University-Newark. Her stories are typically set in New York City or Rochester. She is working on a short story collection exploring the two regions.

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