“Turkeys” by Barbara Lange

2014 Salveson Prize in Poetry

I saw five wild

turkeys in a frozen field,

scratching icy clods of dirt,

meandering through broken

stalks of last season’s corn. Unaware

of our passing, unperturbed

by the highway

or us, riding in silence.

The only sound between us

the rhythm of the tires on the road.

You, driving stiff and silent. Your face

hard as the unyielding ground

they just kept scratching. Me,

forehead against frigid window,

looking out, wishing I could join them,

trade our icy silence for

the warmth of winter sun

on frozen clods and broken stalks.

“Who Are We?” by Deion Diaz, Senior at Forest City High School

Who Are We?

By Deion Diaz
2014 High School Contest Winner in Poetry
 

They got me thinking it’s

the home of the brave,

But I’m sitting here feeling

just like a slave.

People seem to say Hey, that’s just society

I’m thinking Yo, that’s just propriety

They got me thinking that that’s

how it’s supposed to be.

I think that’s bull: Why can’t I be who I want to be?

We’re all living life like there’s only one chance but

you’re living life like you’re just like a cat.

You got nine lives? I doubt it.

So don’t complain to me about it.

“War Time” by Noah Johnson, Senior at Newman Catholic High School

War Time

By Noah Johnson
2014 High School Contest Winner in Prose
 

War is an evil thing. Sometimes what it does to a person can’t be reversed. In this original piece,

a soldier confronts his personal evils.

 

( sitting in the middle of the stage. Looking down, rubbing hands.) You think I’m psycho,

don’t you? You may be right. I wasn’t always this way, psycho that is. If I had to guess when it

started to be this way, I would say it was when I was in the war. Let’s go back to the first day of

battle, that I was in, over there.

 

(Move over get on knees hold a gun. Occasionally, act like shooting.) Take cover! They’ll

be the end of us. Sir, what are we going to do? (looks around) Sir, where are you?! (Spots him,

runs over to him. Picks him up) We got a man down over here! Come on live, come on!

(Goes back to the middle of stage.) That day we lost many. I was lucky, so they say. I met

a man by the name of John. We were close. He had given me a nickname. What was it? Oh, it

was Frankernstein. I forgot why he had given me that nickname. We were great together, that

was until that one day. We were going through the woods, with others, until we fell under attack.

Stand your ground men! Come on Johnny! (steps forward, grabs him on the shoulder.)

 

Come on men, we can take them. (Chuckles, shoots for a little bit. A few moments pass by.

Drops to the ground. Holds John, starts to cry.) Don’t you die on me. Come on John, you’re

stronger than this. No not you man.

 

(goes back to middle of stage) Some said I was the one that shot him. Did I shoot him? (

all of a sudden throw chair) I did kill him, I shot him. I remember now why I got the nickname

Frankenstein. During the war, I became a monster. I killed many people that had no part of the

war. Women, children, I see their faces now, the look of terror in their faces. They begged for

mercy, they had a life. One night, I started to see a face. A while later I started to see a man –

more of a demon than a man. He said to me, you’re mine now. I’ve been watching you, boy. The

next day I went into a small village.

 

(pounding on a door) Wakey wakey, time to die. Come on, are you scared of little ole me. I

just wanna play a game with you. It’s called, Frankenstein and the Village people. ( knock door

down, look of greed in the eyes) Your pretty, too bad you’re going to die. That doesn’t mean I

can’t have fun with you first. We can have a ton of fun. The wife doesn’t need to know about this

little thing.

 

I never got caught for it. I did more than just that, much worse things than that. That’s not

even the worst of it. I had wished my wife was dead. Then one day, out of the blue, my wife was

killed. It was the day that the monster inside me left.

 

(use chair as a stand) My wife was the kind of person that found the good in everyone,

even someone like me. I know, I wasn’t always there, or understanding. I never understood the

concept of love, until I met her. She may have been a lot of things to a lot of people. There’s one

thing she’ll only be to me – The love of my life. The pain of loosing her will haunt me until the end.

There’s never a good time for someone to loose someone you care for. As I said, I was fighting in

the war when I lost her, but I am also fighting a war on the inside too. There’s nothing more to

have been here for and to be able to say that she is the first person that I was close to die. I told

you about John already. I served with him in the war, and I watched him die. The pain of

watching him die, changed me. However, I wasn’t there to see my wife die, and I am glad.

I still feel it. The anger, the lonliness, most of all the pain. What do you think, doc? Am I

insane? Is there any hope for me? Tell me doc. TELL ME!!!

“Some of the Reasons” by Dana Yost

Some of the Reasons

By Dana Yost
 

I am still alive.

Some days, this surprises me,

like when I pass a mirror

and see full flesh, dark hair

and spectacles upon my nose.

That’s me, I might say,

as if it could be someone else.

That’s not the point.

This is: maybe there wouldn’t have been anyone

in that mirror.

I could have been under dirt,

mortician’s clean-up job not perfectly

resolving the gashes up my arms,

the lipstick of my mother’s kiss

to the forehead

long faded to something like a stain

on a filthy found-on-a-café-floor napkin.

But here I am.

I wave to myself,

and it waves back.

No trick mirror,

no time machine.

But science, faith, sunshine, time.

Wife, son.

The chance of stirring a heron

from the fringes of Bear Lake.

Pumpkin pie, melting ice cream.

Neighbor’s little white dog, yapping like just-married tin cans

tied to someone’s bumper flapping down the road.

Then silence: it’s licking my nose.

A brown-haired singer on a Sunday morning

with her acoustic guitar,

voice true and longing,

hymns

so spare

there is beauty

in the silence

between the notes.

“Battle of the Pink Balloons” by Desiree Diaz

2014 Salveson Prize in Prose 

Emma leans back in the corner of the booth, tapping her manicured nails on the edge of the Formica table, gazing at her reflection in the tinted window to her left. A few minutes pass, and she turns her attention to the woman sitting across from her, who has recently turned sixty. The old woman has dull gray hair, green eyes framed in wrinkles, and lines around her mouth. But it isn’t the gray hair that bothers Emma─ neither the crow’s feet, nor the laugh lines─it’s the flat-chested figure.

Sitting to Emma’s right is her daughter. Emma turns to study the wavy locks of chestnut hair, framing a pretty round face set with bright green eyes. Stephanie looks so much like her that Emma thinks, It’s like gazing into a thirty-year-old mirror. Hovering just above her daughter’s head are two pink balloons filled with helium, tied together with pink ribbon, attached to a loop on Stephanie’s jeans.

Interrupting Emma’s thoughts, the waitress places a menu in front of her, fills the water glasses, recites the Tuesday specials, and says she will give them time to decide on their order. They thank her, and Emma watches her walk away.

“Well,” the old woman says, “what shall we have to eat, dear?”

“I’m not really that hungry,” Emma says.

“You need to eat something, to keep your strength up.”

Emma rolls her eyes. She leans forward, places her elbows on the table, and says, “Will you please stop talking to me like I’m five years old?”

“Momma, you can’t be five, ‘cause I’m six,” Stephanie says. Emma gives her daughter a stern look, and Stephanie slouches in her seat.

The old woman leans forward. “That’s not what I’m doing.”

“Isn’t it?” Emma clenches her fist so tight that her nails dig into the palm of her hand. “You don’t have to coddle me, Bernice.”

“I know that,” her mother says. “And stop calling me Bernice.”

“If you know, then why do you do it? Coddle me, I mean.”

Her mother closes her eyes, takes a deep breath in, and slowly exhales.

Breaking the silence, Emma says, “Stop it. Stop coddling me.”

Bernice shakes her head. “So damn stubborn, just like your father.”

“Nana, don’t swear,” Stephanie says, shaking her index finger.

“Sorry, Sweet Pea.” Turning to face Emma, Bernice says, “So stubborn, just like your father.”

“I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“Emma Jean, you have to deal with it.”

“I’m dealing with it.”

“By not eating? That’s not how I dealt with it.” As she says this, Bernice points to herself, a habit that’s always irritated Emma.

“Fine, Mother. I’ll order something.”

The waitress returns, and the two women place their order. Emma looks at her daughter as if to ask whether or not she’s made up her mind.

“Tell the waitress what you want, Sweet Pea,” Bernice says.

Stephanie studies her kids’ menu. She glances at Emma, eyebrows arched, and places her order. “I want Mickey Mouse pancakes and a large Dr. Pepper.”

“We already had breakfast,” Emma says, “and lunch. It’s dinnertime. Order off the dinner menu, and have lemonade, not Dr. Pepper.”

“But I don’t want dinner and lemonade.” Stephanie sits back, arms folded over her chest. “I want Mickey Mouse pancakes and Dr. Pepper!”

The waitress offers to give them a few more minutes, but Bernice shakes her head. “No,” she says, “that won’t be necessary. Bring the child what she wants.”

The waitress looks up, admiring the balloons, and asks the girl where she got them. Stephanie’s face beams, her eyes lighting up. “Momma had a ‘pointment in the city, and then me and her and Nana went to the fair, and I got balloons and I got a teddy bear with a big pink bow─” She pauses, taking a breath. “─but Momma said I had to leave him in the car.”

“We had great fun,” Bernice says, “didn’t we, Sweet Pea?”

“We had sno-cones and cotton candy and I went on rides and everything!”

The waitress smiles and then tells the girl she’ll be back soon with the pancakes.

Emma lets out the frustrated sigh she’s been holding in─for so long, in fact, that she’d been thinking her cheeks would burst from the pressure of it. Her eyes are drawn to the pink balloons. So round. So full. She blinks to hold back tears as she studies the figure of the woman sitting across from her. Slowly, she moves her gaze upward until she meets the old woman’s eyes, anger building inside of her as she tries to give her mother the meanest look she can muster. “Why do you always have to do that?”

“Do what?”

“Let her have her way like that. You know I don’t want her filling up on junk food.”

“It’s just pancakes, not like it’s going to kill her.”

“Mother! She’s my daughter!”

“Stop bein’ mean to Nana.” Stephanie rolls her eyes. “Just ‘cause you’re sick, doesn’t mean I’m gonna be. I don’t hafta eat healthy all the time.”

Emma slams the palm of her hand on the table and glares at her mother. “See what you started?”

“Don’t sass your mother, Sweet Pea. Tell her you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry, Momma, but you’re not bein’ very nice, and Daddy says it’s a sin not to be nice.”

“Well, it’s not a sin when you’re sick,” Emma says. “When you’re sick, it’s okay not to be so nice sometimes.”

“But Momma, are you gonna turn into a boy?”

Emma gasps. “Where on Earth did you get that idea?”

“My friend Betty,” Stephanie says. “She told me that after you get ‘em, then if you lose ‘em, you turn into a boy.”

Bernice nearly chokes on her drink of water, struggles to get it down, and breaks into a fit of laughter.

Emma frowns. “Well, your friend Betty is wrong. I’m not turning into a boy.”

“Good, ‘cause I sure don’t want my momma to be a boy.”

Bernice, still trying to regain her composure, laughs so hard that tears run down her wrinkled cheeks.

Eyeing Bernice, Emma says, “It’s not funny.”

“Momma, I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Okay, honey. I’ll go with you.”

“But I’m six already,” Stephanie says, “I can go by myself now.”

“Are you sure?”

“For Heaven’s sake, let the girl go by herself,” Bernice says. “We can see the door from here. Go ahead, Sweet Pea.”

Stephanie heads for the bathroom, and the two women watch until the door closes behind her. “There you go again, Mother,” Emma says.

“You know, this pissy attitude of yours is getting quite tiresome.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I do too understand. I’ve been there, remember?”

“I said, I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Well, you damn well better do something, before you piss off everyone around you!”

The other customers in the café turn to stare at the two women. Emma looks down, her face heating up. As the other patrons lose interest and return to their own conversations, Emma begins to cry. Bernice looks at her daughter, her own eyes pooling with tears. “Emi, dear,” she says, “please don’t cry. I’m not trying to fight with you, only help you.”

“I know.” Once again, Emma stares at her mother’s flat chest. “I just don’t want to look like, like─ ”

Bernice reaches across the table, covering Emma’s hand with hers. With her other hand, she wipes the tears from Emma’s eyes, searching them with her own. “Like me?”

“Oh Mother, I’m sorry. I really don’t mean it that way.”

“Yes you do, and I don’t blame you. Do you really think I wanted to look like this?”

“Well, at least you were okay with it.”

“Oh no, I wasn’t, not even close. I was just like you. Didn’t even want your father to touch me.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“I never knew you felt that way.”

“How could you? You were just a little girl.”

Emma leans back, rubbing her temples. “So,” she says, “how did you get over it?”

“You think I’m over it?”

“Aren’t you?”

Bernice looks up, seeming to be searching for the right words. “You don’t get over it, not ever.”

“But you had Dad, and us kids.”

“And you have me. And a husband. And a daughter.”

“I know.”

“And you also have options I never had.”

Emma looks down─the dainty, wrinkled hand covers hers once again, tightening its grip. Their order arrives, just as Stephanie returns from the bathroom. Once the waitress has gone, Stephanie looks up at her mother with puffy, bloodshot eyes. “Momma, I popped a balloon.” She cries, her eyes puffing up even more, cheeks flushed.

Emma fixes her gaze on the balloons. One remains round and full, the other reduced to a shriveled rubber morsel. She turns her head, locking eyes with her mother. “Don’t cry, honey,” she says, wrapping an arm around her daughter’s shoulders, “losing a balloon is not the end of the world. We’ll get you another one.”

Bernice smiles and says, “Now, how about some Mickey Mouse pancakes?”

 

“Hidden Mickeys” by Andrea Slonecker

Hidden Mickeys

By Andrea Slonecker
 

Karen rolled the scent of new carpet around the back of her nose before she exhaled. She traced her hands along the pure white walls; freshly painted to hide greasy shoe marks. Over the past year Karen had started to hang pictures, covered with glass, on the walls. It thrilled her to set something fragile on the mantle, or on top of a carefully arranged stack of books. It was as if she was doing something illicit. When she dusted the rooms that had been bare for so many years, she would whisper, like a litany, where and when she purchased each item. She wiped the whorl of a crystal monkey’s tail and recited “Biltmore, last December, our trip to the mountains.”   She held a pair of champagne flutes etched with double hearts she said, “Macy’s, early May, to celebrate our 25th anniversary.” They reminded Karen of the ones, long broken, from their wedding. She lifted a heavy glass flute in each hand and tapped them together. They gave a dull clank. The originals were thin crystal and shuddered a chime even when empty. Still, these would work for toasting Glen at his retirement party tonight. The guests should start arriving in just over an hour.

Karen noticed a thin fiber that dulled her plaster Madonna. She wiped away the sticky web. She traced the ridge of the blue veil. She had passed a junk store, the kind of place she used to troll through with her old neighbor, Char Huber, when they were both newlyweds. The Madonna in the window had called out to her. Something in the statue’s gaze said that she knew what it meant to have a child that people whispered about. Karen wondered if, like Eileen, Jesus was Autistic. Was Mary left to gather the remnants of her social life, constantly damaged by her son’s odd actions? She saw the words in the tired plaster eyes: “No touching lepers honey, they have germs,” “stay close to mommy and daddy at the temple; I am not coming to look for you if you get lost this year.” “No, that isn’t a nice lady, they are throwing things at her for a reason.” She began speaking to the Madonna whenever they were alone. Silly things. Karen would ask the statue’s advice on the placement of a brooch, whether she should make tuna casserole or a roast that night.

Once, Karen loved antiques. She’d invent a story for every chip on an enamel bowl. Then Eileen was born. As the girl grew, every thing she touched was ruined. Either she broke it in a tantrum, or drew Mickey Mouse ears on it. Karen became tired of worn things

Karen knew that she should hide the Madonna now, but the statue transformed the empty house into something warm and still. Without the Madonna, being alone was simply lonely. Some magazine, probably Martha Stewart, said that a hostess must plan well and finish all her preparations one hour before the guests arrive then she should sit down with a glass of wine to refresh herself. Ever since Eileen was born, Karen wished for that serenity, just for an hour, and now she had it. A glass of wine, not dumped in a plastic tumbler from Disney World, late at night, after Eileen had finally gone to sleep, but in a real glass, with a stem and yellow wine charm.

***

The Hubers, who used to live two doors down managed to have a child and a perfect, quiet life at the same time. The Huber’s baby had sat on a thick quilt and chewed a wooden train. If he attempted to move off his quilt, Char Huber picked up a yardstick and tapped the oak floor at the fringe. The baby returned to the center.

“It’s so much more humane than a play pen, we can interact more easily here,” Char had explained as she glanced at the baby. “In the beginning I had to rap his knuckles, but now he knows to stay as soon as I touch the floor.” The women drank tea while the baby listened to Mozart and played. Yes, Karen thought, perhaps it was time for a baby.

Both Char’s son and Karen’s daughter were grown, or at least trying to be. A year and a half ago Eileen had moved into a supported-living apartment. A nurse stopped by twice a day to distribute meds. Eileen attended a life skills support group with others from her apartment once a week. At this meeting, everyone worked on a meal plan and shopping list for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The apartment complex had a large dining room, and Eileen ate there every night.   She worked twenty hours a week at a nearby grocery store. She’d never gotten a driver’s license, but she rode the city bus to her job.

***

The doorbell rang, half an hour too soon. Two women stood on the porch with arms linked. Beth, Karen’s mother-in-law, tapped her powdered cheek, warm from the heated car, against Karen’s face and made a kissing sound with her red lips. Karen’s eyes itched from Beth’s perfume, Red Door.

“I know you won’t mind that we came early, dear, the traffic on I-40 was so much lighter than I planned for, and Eileen was ready to go when I got to her apartment.”

Karen nodded as she took the older woman’s coat.

“I brought you some pimento cheese; I know how much you like it.” Karen grew up in Vermont, the land of sturdy cheddar. The year she and Glen were engaged, Karen spent Christmas in Raleigh with her future in laws. She concealed her horror at the speckled blob that was presented at a cocktail party by dipping one Wheat Thin after another into it and chewing with her tongue tucked away in the upper corner of her mouth. Some of it she swallowed, but when no one was looking, she spat into a paper napkin. She spent the next twenty-seven years complementing her mother-in-law on her pimento cheese.

The younger woman wobbled into the room. The tight skirt on her red cocktail dress pinched her knees together. She wore black heels and short white gloves. Her hair, freshly dyed black, was arranged in two large masses on either side of her head. Karen walked over and embraced her.

“My goodness, Eileen, you look so dramatic. And beautiful. Dramatically beautiful.”

“Three circles, Mom.” Eileen pushed Karen away and curved the tips of her fingers as she tapped the top of her head. This had long been her sign for Mickey Mouse. Karen mimicked Eileen’s motion and tapped. So did Beth. Karen slipped her hands off her head, and crossed her arms as she turned around.

Beth walked into the kitchen; she pushed trays of Karen’s appetizers aside, and placed her pimento cheese next to the stack of plates.

The doorbell rang again and Karen excused herself. Everyone was arriving before Glen. Buzz and Char Huber, their former neighbors, stood on the porch with arms outstretched. Karen leaned in to hug them. Their wool coats soaked up the contrary hot and cold smells of winter–wood smoke, frost, cinnamon, and scotch. It beaded into droplets that Karen shook off before she hung the coats. Even though Buzz and Char had moved to a gated community fifteen years ago, they still ran into each other occasionally, at Costco or the Olive Garden. They didn’t go out to dinner any longer, just the four of them, but they’d invite each other to parties, the kind of parties you throw to make up for the lack of intimate meetings with friends who drifted away. Karen hung the Huber’s Christmas photo on the fridge each year, and each year remarked to Glen how handsome their son was getting to be. Karen pointed the way to the dining area where she had shared many meals with the Hubers before their lives began to separate.

The bell rang again; Karen took the coats from the latest guests, offered hors d’oeurvres and drinks. Glen slipped in through the garage and pulled a seat next to Buzz and Char. Karen patted and smiled her way through clots of guests to join them. Buzz rose, pulled a chair out for Karen, and offered to fill empty glasses. Karen sighed from the relief of sitting. She scanned the room to see if the party was a success. With all the vanilla candles and butter-flavored shortening, it smelled like a meal created in a beaker, but everyone was smiling. Sharon, one of Glen’s former colleagues, leaned towards a man from Karen and Glen’s church and tapped his shoulder with her glass. She could hear Buzz near the bar, his voice filtered through party chatter, telling the story of his son’s quick rise up the corporate ladder at IBM. The sounds and smells layered and blurred as light ricocheted off the candles.

The new dinning room table and chairs shone in the candlelight. They were a splurge, part of the remodeling that happened after Eileen moved out. Sometimes, when Karen was alone, she would sit in one of the chairs and lay her face on the table, feeling its perfection on her cheek. Now she splayed out her fingers to gather the sleek surface. Holding the table felt like holding the life she wanted: poised and smooth. Karen sat in the large chair with armrests. When she was a girl, Karen called this type of seat the “daddy chair.” When Eileen was little she sat in the armed chair from the old dining set. Karen and Glen felt that the arms had given Eileen boundaries and Eileen became used to it. Last year, they threw away the old one, crusted with wood glue in every joint, but each Tuesday when Eileen came to dinner, she chose the new chair with armrests.

Eileen returned to stand in front of the Madonna. She rocked back and forth on her high heels; the bridge of her nose almost brushed the glaze with each forward movement. Karen jumped up and ran to her daughter. Her daughter must not break anything today. In the months since Eileen moved out, Karen restored her home, and the peace she felt from that was too great to lose. She twisted Eileen’s arm backward and caught her as they both almost fell to the floor.

“What do you think you are doing?”

“I was just looking.”

“You could have crashed into the shelf. You can’t keep your balance in heels when you stand still, much less if you rock like that.”

Eileen pulled her arm away, and both women looked at the silent crowd.

“I was just worried that you would fall and hurt yourself sweetie,” Karen said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Why don’t you come get some of those egg rolls you like and sit down next to your father? He’s been looking forward to seeing you.”

It was true; Glen was the one who pushed to include Eileen in the party. He always had more patience than Karen did.   Karen didn’t think that this was really her daughter’s type of event. Eileen didn’t like small talk.

Once she saw that Glen would keep an eye on their daughter, Karen checked the supplies in the kitchen. Her head ached from the noise that only a few minutes ago thrilled her. Why must people use such shrill voices at parties?

Only a few pale celery sticks were left on the veggie tray. The mini quiches had disappeared down to crumbs. Karen put the last greasy egg rolls on a plate, and brought them to Eileen’s chair. Karen opened the kitchen door that led to the garage to grab more appetizers from the extra freezer and escape the noise of the party.

 

***

Neither Glen nor she were good at fixing things or building things, but they’d both been given a small Craftsman tool set as a high school graduation present, and another when they married. The three identical hammers lay in a drawer next to a larger, worn hammer that had belonged to Glen’s father. Karen picked up the old hammer and smelled it. She looked at the heavy head, black with age and full of nicks. She touched the tip of her tongue to its grime, tasted its tang and shivered. Their own hammers had never been used to build anything. They had tapped a few nails into drywall, but never found a stud.

Glen’s dad had been a busy small town doctor, but, unlike Glen, he always found the time to build things. The kind of things that lasted. He built the home that Glen grew up in, and bookshelves for this house. He built a rocking horse for Eileen. She rocked on that horse for hours, wearing out the carpet. It was the only thing that calmed her some days. She’d rock for so long that she’d throw up, then climb back on again. Karen’s own father had cut and sanded a set of wooden blocks for Eileen. Like everything else she loved and claimed as her own, Eileen branded both these toys with an outline of Mickey Mouse’s face. Unlike most of the defaced toys and furniture, Karen kept the blocks and the rocking horse. At the time, Karen was horrified when Eileen marked these toys. She threatened to put them away. But now, it seemed as if Eileen’s marks were a partnership with her grandfathers. The blocks and rocking horse were incomplete without the girl’s decorations.

Karen squeezed her short brown hair in her hands as if that would remove the idea from her mind. She remembered that she was irritated with Eileen; she didn’t want to leave space for sentimentality. She set the box of frozen appetizers down on the hood of the car while she opened the kitchen door. She re-entered the party, refreshed from her brief escape.

The crowd had gathered around Buzz and was laughing at a story about his secretary. The girl usually wore out of date glasses, stained rayon skirts, and had stringy hair, but last week she’d had a makeover, and the results were more disastrous than her original dowdiness. Buzz puckered his lips and rubbed his upper teeth, showing where her garish lipstick landed. He pinched his knees together and splayed his loafers to demonstrate her new hobble, caused by a miniskirt and high heels. He waved his arms to steady himself. Amber beads flew from the glass in his hand; they sparkled in the air, landing on the carpet and his shirt. Karen looked at Eileen and bit her lip to staunch the idea that that Buzz’s description of the awkward secretary dressing up reminded her of her daughter.

She looked at her guests staring and smiling at Buzz. He warmed the crowd, made them love him. Karen remembered how, when she first met Buzz, being admitted into his circle filled her. She could see the expansion in each of her guests. Watching Buzz, each one of them smiled a little bigger, or stood a little straighter than she had ever seen before. Buzz was always full of praise; he must have complimented the young secretary on her new hairstyle, just as he had to Elaine tonight, to every woman in the room.

Suddenly, Karen was tired of Buzz’s endless humor and charm. Looking back on all the dinners they had shared, Karen realized their laughter always followed mockery. She wondered if she and Glen, or even more likely, Eileen, were ever the objects of the Huber’s ridicule. Karen wanted to run to her guests, shake each one of them, and say, “It’s not real, this warmth, this confidence you feel. You think because you are laughing at someone else, you are protected. It could be you next time.”

Through the haze of guests, Karen could no longer hear Buzz’s flattery or even see him, until he rose above the crowd. He pulled one of the dining room chairs, the one with the arm rests, in front of the bookshelf and was dancing on it. One guest thumped a beat on the side of the couch, and another hummed a tune. Buzz turned away from his audience and faltered. At first, Karen thought the stumble was apart of the act, but then she heard the brittle collapse of porcelain and a man’s voice cursing. The guests dispersed, averting their eyes, muttering about approaching weather, forgotten until now.

“We must be going now before it hits; could be icy soon you know,” guest after guest murmured into Karen’s ear. “Don’t worry about me, dear, I can show myself out.”

She caught Glen’s look, and knew that he was headed to the bathroom to get the first aid kit. Although, first she watched Karen pulled the dustpan out from under the kitchen sink. They had followed this routine before. Glen returned with band-aids and a glass of water, he nodded his head, smiling to calm Buzz down.

“Sorry Buzz, old buddy, we’re out of bourbon,” Glen said, “how about some water instead?”

As Karen swept up the remnants of her broken statue next to Buzz, she noticed the faint, warm scent of good whisky that he had carried in the door with him had morphed into something sour and garish on his breath. She turned her head away to try to find fresh air and saw Char slumped on the sofa, squeezing the arm-rests, eyes closed. Karen could see her lips moving, muttering something too low to be heard. Karen picked up the chair the Buzz knocked over, and felt a roughness under her fingertips. She didn’t need see it to know what caused the cuts in the silky wood. The three circles were familiar to her fingers. Hidden Mickeys.

 

***

Karen returned to the garage with the dustpan and opened a box labeled “off-season clothes.” She lifted a single sweater off the top. Underneath the sweater, the box was filled with shattered colors. She dumped the remains of the Madonna with the rest, and sifted her right hand through the shards she had been collecting for twenty years. The splinters of glass scratched and stuck in Karen’s winter dry hands. She pulled one of the larger Madonna pieces out again, two thin layers of blue sandwiched the pasty interior that no one was supposed to see but now revealed its nakedness.

In the beginning, the box was proof. She never showed it to anyone, not even Glen, but she always thought about it when other parents pretended to complain, but were, in truth, amused by their child’s antics. The daughter of one mother Karen met at the playground had written the entire alphabet! In upper and lowercase! At the age of two! On the wall! The only brilliance her own child displayed at two, and at twenty-two, was that of destruction.

The box was an accumulation of individual moments of Karen and Eileen’s shared anguish–shattered, dumped, and mixed together–increasing in volume as the years went on.

When Eileen was six, she thought she might log all the remnants in a journal, but by the time it had occurred to her, the box was already established; she couldn’t remember what all the earlier items were, even though each destruction seemed horrid at the time.

And, perhaps, the reminder of this forgetting was why she still continued to add to the box. Perhaps the box was also a monument to her early vision of the perfect child, the ideal family. During Eileen’s early teens, Karen thought if she could collect, and then forget the exact moment of these pieces of her family’s brokenness, they would be that much closer to perfection themselves. Tonight, she realized that despite the Mozart, despite the shiny floors this other dream family never existed. She reached both hands into the bin and pushed with eyes closed, searching for the bottom. The first aid kit would be waiting when she went inside.

 

 

“Murder on the Highway” by David Rask Behling

Murder on the Highway

By David Rask Behling
 

Crows crouch, squabble, work

at a furry meal on the road,

wings outstretched, flapping,

as they dine. Driving

too fast, thinking about work,

I hit one…

black feathers, skin and bone

smack, skitter, scratch across

the metal skin. Then silence resonates

as the lifeless thing falls.

The rest of the mob sails

over ditches and fields, except

one glides low across the barren fields,

circles, circles, circles,

then lightly alights with a twist

by the rumpled heap. She skips

from side to side―the wife, the lover…

I see this truth immediately―her eye bent

and bright, her beak open. She calls

out to the feathered heap, flapping

wings outstretching, an old woman

garbed in black, fluttering, feathery fingers

reaching for one who is no longer there.

Disappearing in the mirror behind me:

a motionless silhouette.

“Chasing Me” by La Wanda Garrett

Chasing Me

By La Wanda Garrett
 

I walk the streets alone at night

emptiness closely following behind

searching shadows for any sign of light

chasing after the distant hum of laughter,

the laughter of a little girl

smiling, showing off missing teeth,

pigtails taming her wild mane

pink flowery dress draping her body

white stockings lining her chunky legs

shiny black dress shoes protecting her feet.

Instead, I catch a glimpse in a store front window

of another girl, older, frowning,

her eyes as dark as the night

face hidden in the shadows

cast by her navy hoodie

and baggy sweats,

her feet housed by tattered boots.