Tag Archives: Issue 12

Sam Cooke

By Benjamin Adair Murphy

He stepped in the water
He helped the fishes swim
When he left those fish were singing
So of course they killed him

The wrong kind of voice
The wrong kind of skin
His car was way too pretty
So of course they killed him

So of course they killed him
So of course they killed him

He was calm and patient
The stranger’s twin
He put his hands upon the sick
So of course they killed him

They didn’t know where to start
Or where to begin
They were scared and they were panicked
So of course they killed him

So of course they killed him
So of course they killed him

Well, some don’t get it
Some understand 
And some stand with the soldiers
Who cut off Victor Jara’s hands

So you can blame the timing 
You can blame the luck
But I swear a man can’t speak the truth 
Without his throat getting cut

So of course they killed him
So of course they killed him
So of course they killed him
So of course…

They killed him


Benjamin Adair Murphy writes blues and country songs. His last album, ‘Let’s Make a King,’ was named one of the best albums of 2020 by multiple publications. His poetry and lyrics have been published in Fevers of the Mind, Headline Poetry and Press, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Rabid Oak, Coven Poetry, and others. His plays have been performed in New York, Boston, and Chicago. He lives in Mexico City.

Hello August

By Sarah Robin

Hello August, 
My most productive month of the year
With lots of harvest and preserving to do.

The aroma of vinegar in the kitchen 
Signifies the start of pickling season
When gherkins are stuffed into jars

Then covered in ladel-fulls
Of homemade vinegar and infused
With fresh homegrown herbs and spices.

Weekly harvests of sun-kissed tomatoes
Need turning into sauces and salsa 
Before bottling up.

A summery palette of annual sunflowers 
And sweetpeas fill the plot with colour. 
Perennial flowers keep pollinators busy.

With such good harvests this month,
I know I’ll be grateful in the depths
Of winter when I can provide 

Splashes of summer from the packed 
Store cupboards and freezers,
Creating a sense of warmth and gratitude.


Sarah Robin is a new writer from Bolton, England, starting her writing journey during the coronavirus pandemic. Robin has had several pieces of work published in anthologies and online literary magazines, as well as being a competition winner for both short fiction and poetry. She is also a prose reader for Sepia Journal. Find her on Twitter.

Glass Wall

By Sarah Robin

A naked figure sits hunched over on the floor,
Their arms wrapped around their body.
Surrounded by a wall of thick glass;
Closed off from everyone and everything
But visible to all.

Muffled voices and banging fists
Attack the barrier, desperate to help
But unable to break through;
Unable to touch them or hold them close,
Or provide comfort and love.

Soft, calming voices of reason
Bounce off the glass, instantly rejected.
Ideas of solutions break down,
Unable to withstand the backlash,
Crumbling onto the floor.

The wall stands strong, unharmed,
No scratches, no cracks; unbreakable.
Those on the outside watch on helplessly
And the figure continues to suffer alone;
Willingly.

Outsiders sit by the glass
Unable to help but they stay.
Always there in good faith
That one day the figure may accept help
And take the wall away.


Sarah Robin is a new writer from Bolton, England, starting her writing journey during the coronavirus pandemic. Robin has had several pieces of work published in anthologies and online literary magazines, as well as being a competition winner for both short fiction and poetry. She is also a prose reader for Sepia Journal. Find her on Twitter.

October

By Sarah Robin

The crunch of leaves underfoot, 
Dew-damp grass in glowing light, 
A tang of woodsmoke and ripening compost
Tell us that the seasons have shifted.

This step into October 
Is every gardeners’ new year
As the natural cycle propels us forward.
Now is the time to turn dreams into reality.

The seasonal shift and dropping 
Temperatures herald a change of pace,
But our gardens remain hives of activity,
Though often underground and out of sight

As plants reset for the year ahead
And wildlife seeks out spaces for hibernation.
It’s a great excuse to get outside
And tune into the season unfurling before us.


Sarah Robin is a new writer from Bolton, England, starting her writing journey during the coronavirus pandemic. Robin has had several pieces of work published in anthologies and online literary magazines, as well as being a competition winner for both short fiction and poetry. She is also a prose reader for Sepia Journal. Find her on Twitter.

don’t eat the roses

By Jane Ayres

a curl of cloud
a curd
a turd

potency
(im) potency
this shadow pain

the start of the loop
the right truth?
the wrong truth?

don’t eat the roses
or lick the ice 
on the windscreen

a surge of neon peach
severing the vocal chords
your voice wraps me in silence


Jane Ayres is a UK-based neurodivergent writer who completed a Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent in 2019, aged 57. She is fascinated by hybrid poetry/prose experimental forms. She has work in Dissonance, Ink Drinkers Poetry, Lighthouse, Streetcake, The North, The Poetry Village, Door is a Jar, Kissing Dynamite and The Forge.

War Walked In

By Benjamin Adair Murphy

I was standing in the daytime
When the sun went out of sight
It looked like the whole world 
Had fallen into night
Something bad ‘bout to begin
That’s when war walked in

There were a bunch of young thugs
Looking scared and looking mean
All they wanted was a father
All they wanted was a scene
All they wanted was Berlin
That’s how war walked in

That’s when war walked in

There were bodies full of bullets
Blood dripping down from the trees
Good men and women
Forced to get down on their knees
And pray for their own skins
That’s when war walked in

There were breaks in the supply chain
People looking scared
All your good neighbors 
Going off somewhere
And they’re not coming back again
That’s when war walked in

That’s when war walked in

Some men don’t ever learn
They just fall down on the job
The world don’t ever turn
It just shakes like a dripping dog

We’re shot when we get captured
And pull the trigger when we win
We leave the door wide open
And war comes walking in

There was a man behind a desk
He was running through those numbers
It was a golden opportunity

For the weapons manufacturers
And all their friends
That’s when war walked in

There was a branch that looked like fingers
Hanging down into the mud
The kids all clung to it
And used a car as a makeshift bridge
And then they jumped into the flood
And everyone had to swim

That’s when war walked in
That’s when war walked in
That’s when war walked in


Benjamin Adair Murphy writes blues and country songs. His last album, ‘Let’s Make a King,’ was named one of the best albums of 2020 by multiple publications. His poetry and lyrics have been published in Fevers of the Mind, Headline Poetry and Press, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Rabid Oak, Coven Poetry, and others. His plays have been performed in New York, Boston, and Chicago. He lives in Mexico City.

The Hanged Men

By Owen Schalk

“The present conditions of the country are no more than the threshold of a profound…and most important examination of consciousness.

– Pasolini on the eve of the Italian Civil War (1943-1945)

They found a man with bricks in his pockets hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London. His name was Roberto Calvi. He was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, which was in the midst of a historic collapse following revelations of financial irregularities worth billions of lire. The main shareholder in Banco Ambrosiano was the Vatican Bank, which led many Italians to dub Calvi “God’s Banker.” Some joked upon his death that his main investor had finally lost patience with his management.

Calvi had been missing for seven days, and much like Michele Sindona, it seemed like everyone who mattered wanted him gone: the Holy See, the Sicilian Mafia, the political establishment, and associates of Banco Ambrosiano ranging from Polish anti-Soviet groups to Nicaraguan drug traffickers. There were so many suspects that it took people ages to notice the clue right under their noses. Calvi was hanged from Blackfriars Bridge. “Black friar” in Italian is frate nero.  Frati neri was the internal moniker of members of the Propaganda Due (P2) Masonic lodge, a subcutaneous organism within the Italian body politic that sought an extreme rightist restructuring of the country’s political and economic life based on the model of another hanged man, Benito Mussolini. Its members included prominent businessmen, media moguls, military officials, intelligence officers, representatives from Southern Cone dictatorships – and Roberto Calvi himself.

P2’s Venerable Master was Licio Gelli, a financier and card-carrying fascist since his youth who assisted in the failed Borghese coup of 1970 and subsequently fled to Condor-era Argentina, where he built close relationships with many high-level junta officials. According to the P2 theory, the complete exposure of Calvi’s financial indiscretions would lead to the unmasking of the lodge’s long list of crypto-fascists, some of whom had public profiles to maintain. The organization covertly murdered Calvi and dangled him from Blackfriars Bridge as a not-so-subtle “keep your mouth shut” to other P2 members who might be thinking of abandoning the sinking ship.

Everyone had someone to blame for Calvi’s murder, and every suspect was connected by one or two degrees of separation. Nobody was on trial, but in the minds of the public, the defendant was both multitudinous and singular: it was the arcane, cabalistic, Svengalian knot of deep power that pulsed and steamed and continuously expanded in the core of postwar Italian society.

Susanna Betti was unique. She blamed someone nobody had thought to accuse of Calvi’s murder. She blamed herself. She’d never met Calvi or Gelli or any of the other revenants of fascism burrowed in the country’s power centers – what use would they have for a Friulian professor of Marxist literary theory? – but within her was a latent premonitory gift that had revealed the place and manner of Calvi’s death two weeks before he’d fled Rome. She knew he was marked for death.

The first time she saw tarot cards was at a street market in Testaccio. She was thirteen. She made her parents stop so that the fortune-teller could reveal her future. She later learned that he used a rare pack – the Tarocco Siciliano – in which l’appeso, the hanged man, was depicted as hanging from the neck, not the ankle. Susanna remembered the card so clearly because it was the first one he flipped after she asked, “Do I have the Betti gift?” He gave her a five-card reading. She didn’t remember if the hanged man was upright or reversed, and she couldn’t recall the following cards, but she was pretty sure that the final one was the Fool.

She thought of the hanged man once more, on the morning of May 28th, 1982, after a dream illuminated her hereditary clairvoyance. She was seated under an ebony bridge, watching the black water roll by. The glow of a streetlamp made faces in the ripples, an ever-shifting visage of light that occasionally rhymed with the features of a family member or friend but otherwise remained a stranger. She looked up and realized that the face was not actually a trick of the light but the reflection of the hanged man, who was dangling from the bridge. His face was turned down as though he was expecting Susanna to tell him something. “Well?” he asked, raising his hands inquisitively. There were bricks in his palms. “Am I upright or reversed?”

The upright hanged man represents reflection, growth, and the possibility of uncovering a new understanding of one’s place in the world, which is the ultimate goal of all fortune-telling, not just tarot. The reverse-hanged man embodies stubbornness, the intellectual blockage produced by over-analysis, the opposite of intuition. Susanna didn’t know what to tell him. To make him feel better, she joked, “You look pretty upright to me.” That only made him sadder. He stuffed the bricks into his pockets and closed his eyes. Then she woke up.

She didn’t realize that her dream was a premonition until it was too late. That was the Betti curse.

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Her family had long understood that one member of each generation would receive a preternatural awareness of the death of an epochal figure in Italian life. The recipient could either stop it or allow it to proceed – that is if they were able to figure out who the marked person was, which was a difficult task in and of itself. As far as she knew, no Betti had ever been able to stop the death. Her father, Luigi, claimed to have foreseen the shooting of Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti in 1948. According to him, he had waited at the rear entrance of Palazzo Montecitorio every day for three weeks until, one sweltering July afternoon, he spied Pallante creeping up behind the PCI chief as he walked to his car. He was holding a small, rusty revolver. Luigi dove into action, grasping Pallante’s wrist just as the would-be assassin put one bullet in the back of Togliatti’s skull. He wrestled his hand down, directing the next two shots at Togliatti’s torso and saving him from a fatal trio of headshots. Togliatti was rushed to a hospital and revived. Luigi ended up regretting his actions when Togliatti abandoned the factory workers who went on strike in his honour, urging them to stick to democratic means rather than wildcats and vandalism. “He’s a bureaucrat,” Luigi resolved. “He doesn’t want revolution. He cares more about getting invited to Stalin’s dacha than helping us proletarians.”

There were several problems with Luigi’s story. Firstly, Susanna’s mother Mira claimed that he wasn’t even in Rome at the time of the shooting but visiting his parents’ farm outside Tarvisio. By the time he hurried back to the capital, the strikes had already been broken. Secondly, Luigi was in his thirties at the time of the shooting. It was unheard of for Bettis to receive premonitions before their sixtieth birthday. And lastly, it had been accepted familial knowledge since the killing of Cola di Rienzo that only one member of each generation could experience a vision of an epochal death. His story was further undermined in 1978, two years after Luigi’s death from lung cancer, when his younger brother Pieri received a vivid forewarning of the kidnapping and murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Pieri chose not to intervene, of course: he was the family’s fascism nostalgist, and he hated Moro for supposedly compromising Italian democracy by negotiating with the communists.

Growing up, Luigi and Pieri lived in the Friuli countryside on their father Jacum’s poultry farm. Jacum was a pragmatist, an antifascist liberal who had foreseen Mussolini’s hanging a la l’appeso and allowed it to proceed “for the good of the nation.” He didn’t like Togliatti because the Americans didn’t like him, and in 1948 he voted Christian Democrat to secure US reconstruction aid, which Truman vowed to withhold if the PCI won the presidency. Luigi called his father a coward and cast his vote for Togliatti. He’d been a communist ever since stumbling upon an outdated issue of l’Unità, the PCI newspaper, in a Tarvisio alleyway while delivering his father’s chickens to the butcher. He flipped through it, read a disquisition on the plight of rural workers that resonated with the struggles of his youth, and registered with the party that week. He briefly convinced his younger brother that communism was the only equitable path for Italy. Still, when Pieri turned eighteen, he fell in love with a girl from a staunchly Catholic family who lived in the hills around Udine. Her father, one of the city’s largest landowners, liked to talk politics with his daughter’s suitors. He imparted to the impressionable teenager a worldview that valued law, order, and rigid hierarchy above all else and romanticized the era of strongarm fascism over the turbulent electoralism of the immediate postwar.

A few months later, Pieri married and moved his wife onto the farm. Luigi argued with the couple so viciously that eventually, he couldn’t stand it. He packed his bags and marched off to Rome. Jacum died five years later, baffled and heartbroken that politics had the power to tear his family apart.

For a rural migrant, Rome of the late 1940s wasn’t a miracle waiting to happen. It was the home of crime and poverty and the borgate romane, wherein lived those whom Pasolini called the sottoproletariato (for his part, Luigi thought Pasolini was a degenerate and an individualist, and once said that if he’d been lucky enough to foresee the writer’s death, he wouldn’t have changed a thing about it). Susanna’s earliest memories of her father were of a weary, heavy-lidded factory worker coming home late to their ramshackle hut on the urban fringes and smoking at least a half-pack of cigarettes before dinner. He rarely spoke except to lambast Togliatti and Berlinguer as “sellouts.”

Mira was a communist too and a dedicated PCI supporter even after Luigi grew disillusioned with the party. She didn’t work outside the home. Like the PCI leadership, she believed that the Catholic nuclear family was the heart of Italian society. She did her part in this regard, staying home each day to make meals and to keep the shack in pristine condition for her husband’s return.

Unlike her mother, Susanna saw the appeal in earning her own way. She graduated high school and worked a variety of dead-end jobs, earning enough money to pay her way through one year at the University of Rome (her father covered the subsequent costs). Her first year was 1968. Bloody, sweat-soaked ‘68. The sessantotto. It was a pivotal moment for Susanna’s political development. Not only was it her first year at university, her first year of lucent left-leaning history classes, which gave structure to the communist doctrine she’d been weaned on as a girl, but it was also the year that her father told her of the Betti gift.

It was family custom to inform each generation once the youngest sibling turned eighteen. As an only child, Susanna didn’t have to wait for anybody. The gift was on her mind during those months of protest. She saw death everywhere: in the news of peasant revolts across the countryside, in the Molotovs of agents provocateurs, and in the snarling barrels of the policemen whom Pasolini defended. At the time, she misunderstood her father’s explanation. Susanna thought that she and her friends were all epochal defenders of the Left, and every time one of them approached danger. She envisioned the worst; she took credit for their survival. She didn’t realize until years later that “epochal” didn’t mean those with potential, those who might one day achieve something: epochal meant power, and power meant the knot. It meant Calvi, Togliatti, Moro, Mussolini – it didn’t mean Susanna Betti and her boyfriends Silvio and Alessandro, whom she’d met at a student club for tarot enthusiasts. Those boys weren’t powerful, era-defining figures. They made it safely through the summer of ’68 and settled into cozy teaching jobs at the University of Rome, maintaining their friendship, if not their relationship with Susanna. She had long ago accused them of being sellouts of the petit-bourgeois.

Susanna aged into comfort too. She graduated with honours and took a job as a teaching assistant in Naples to avoid the awkwardness of working alongside Silvio and Alessandro. Eventually, she became the head of the literature department. Every year, she taught a seminar called “Pasolini and the Making of Italian Neo-capitalism.” Now that she had aged out of youthful dogmatism, she had a new appreciation for his work – although she still held a grudge against him for “The PCI to the Youth.”

She was thirty-seven when her premonition of Roberto Calvi’s death welcomed her into the upper echelon of chosen Bettis. She felt lucky. She had often thought that it was cruel for her family to receive visions when they were so old and had so little time to comprehend the death in its broader historical context. That was how she felt about Calvi, her hanged man. His death was distinguished, epochal, but without a historical distance, she didn’t know what it had meant or how Italian history would have changed if she’d been able to stop it. She looked forward to understanding the death in its proper context in the coming decades.

While thirty-seven was unusually young for a premonition, the giver of visions must have had a keener eye for the future than she did. On December 23rd, 1984, Susanna was on the 904 express train to the University of Milan, where she was scheduled to deliver a lecture on Pasolini’s final film, when a bomb in the ninth car detonated, killing her and fifteen others and injuring over two hundred passengers. The perpetrator of the 904 bombing, Giuseppe Calò, was arrested the next year for ordering the murder of Roberto Calvi.

At the moment before the bomb tore her to pieces, Susanna understood something. Maybe it was the Betti gift, or maybe a religious epiphany courtesy of the God she’d shunned her entire life, but in the instant before her particulate evisceration, she understood the nature of the knot. She understood that Calvi, Togliatti, Moro and Mussolini, Luigi and Mira, Pieri and Jacum, Silvio and Alessandro and Susanna herself were all the hanged man. Power was the knot on the noose around their necks, tied by the hands of an executioner whose name they all knew. She saw ahead to the arrest of Giuseppe Calò and Licio Gelli, their trial for the murder of Roberto Calvi, and their surprise acquittal due to what the court deemed “insufficient evidence.” She didn’t care. She understood who killed Calvi, and even if it wasn’t the same man who killed her, she knew that their nooses were tied by the same hands.


Owen Schalk is a writer from Winnipeg. He grew up in the countryside surrounded by rural emptiness, abandoned houses, and farm-loving German Canadians who tried and failed to instil their love of farming in him. He found his artistic curiosity while reading the usual canon. He found his voice while reading Pynchon, DeLillo, Bolaño, and other authors who write with a critical eye for dominant social and political doctrines.

DOORS AND WINDOWS

By Nancy Christie

“Get away from the window. And close those curtains!” Melanie’s words came out harsher than she had intended, and hurriedly she tried to soften her tone. “It’s cold outside, and this house is so drafty. At least the drapes block some of that wind. And I don’t want you to get sick,” she added belatedly.

She felt rather than heard Carolee’s almost inaudible sigh, felt rather than heard her daughter’s rejection of not just the words but of the message behind them: He’s not just late. He’s not coming—just like last week, and the week before that and the week before that. 

“Carolee?” she tried again, but when the nine-year-old didn’t respond, didn’t even turn around, she moved away from the doorway and headed down the stairs to the kitchen. She’d make her daughter’s favourite Sunday afternoon snack: hot cocoa and cinnamon toast. And then maybe they can play a board game or watch a movie or… 

Or just sit and stare at each other, with Carolee blaming her mother for her father’s absence and Melanie wondering if her daughter would ever understand, would ever forgive her, or, for that matter, if she had done the right thing in the first place.


Carolee heard her mother’s footsteps and, for a moment, thought to follow her. But her bedroom window was the only place where she had a good view of the road. From there, she could watch for her father’s pickup truck and have enough time to slip on her winter coat and hat and be ready to run out the door as he pulled in the driveway. Everything was laid out on the bed: her jacket, stocking cap, gloves and scarf, her backpack with her homework… Sometimes when they were sitting at Bill’s Burger Barn, her father would help her with her math. 

That’s why she hadn’t even opened her textbook. All her other assignments were completed, but she had saved math for last. In case they had time to do it. In case he came.

“And he will come,” she murmured, moving away from the window so she could rub her forehead. It was cold where she had leaned it against the glass. 

But she was only half-convinced. The court order defining the terms of the separation—the one she had found months ago when she was looking for a paperclip on her mother’s desk—had been clear: a visit each Sunday from noon to five and one weekend a month from Saturday at nine in the morning until Sunday night at eight. Each week she marked off the dates that she saw her father. If some months had fewer crossed-off blocks than others, she blamed it on the weather or her father’s work schedule or, if her parents had fought the weekend before, her mother.

But it was already half-past three, and she had been waiting since twelve. Her stomach was rumbling, and she was getting hungry, but she wouldn’t go downstairs and eat, even though she could now smell the aroma of the hot chocolate wafting up the stairs. Her mother made it the old-fashioned way with cocoa and milk and sugar, and since last Friday was payday, there might even be a tiny mountain of whipped cream swirled on top. And cinnamon toast, as many slices as she wanted. 

Carolee’s mouth watered, but she fought the urge to abandon her post. If she did, if she went downstairs and drank her cocoa and ate her toast, she would be admitting to a truth that she didn’t want to face: her father wasn’t coming. So she held firm, swallowed hard and kept watching the road, now coated with a thin sheen of ice.


It was the ice that was to blame, Rob said to himself. The ice and the truck’s more-than-slightly bald tires and the fact that he had to jump the battery just to get the vehicle started. Ever since the plant closed down and he lost his job, ever since the landlord finally kicked him out—not that he could blame him, since he was three month’s late with his rent—ever since he had moved into the shelter, he knew it was only a matter of time before the pickup would fail him.

Then he’d have to take a bus for the hour-long trip back to the town where he used to live, back to where the three of them once were a family. And when he got there, find some explanation for why he couldn’t take his daughter out for a three-dollar kid’s meal at the hamburger place, or why Carolee couldn’t come stay the weekend with him or why—this to Melanie—the check was late. Again.

The ice—that was the problem. As for the rest, he would have to tell Melanie the truth. He had run out of excuses, run out of reasons, run out of justifications for everything, even if not all of it was his fault.
But the closer he came to the highway exit, the more afraid he grew of what would happen next. What Melanie would say. What Carolee would think.

And so he had finally surrendered to the fear and pulled off onto the side of the road and sat there, shaking, wondering how everything had gone so wrong when all he had wanted was a job and a house and a wife and child. And love.

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It was quarter to four when Carolee heard, rather than saw, her father’s pickup: the sound of the exhaust escaping through the holes in the muffler, the grinding of the gears as he downshifted. She knew the sound of the truck as well as she knew her own heartbeat. Without waiting to see the vehicle, to hear the cab door creak open and then shut, Carolee pulled on her coat and hat, grabbed her belongings and headed downstairs.

But then she stopped on the last step, the anger emanating from the kitchen, an almost palpable force from her mother.

“You’re late! Again! Damn it, Rob! She’s been waiting for hours, and she wouldn’t even eat! Couldn’t you have called?” 

Carolee heard a low rumble of words and knew her father was trying to calm down her mother. It wouldn’t work. It never did. It didn’t work when they all lived together, and it wouldn’t work now. Best she go in so they would stop, and the visit—what was left of it anyway—could start.

“You’re right, Melanie, but wait. I need to explain. I need to tell you something—” Rob stopped when he saw his daughter in the doorway. He didn’t want to finish the conversation in front of her, didn’t want her to hear that her father was jobless, homeless, a failure as a man, a husband and a parent. 

So he pasted a smile on his face and opened his arms wide, and when she ran into them, he hugged her close and just kept saying, “How’s my girl? How’s my sweetheart? I’ve missed you so much!”

Melanie stood there, and then for a moment, she was suddenly back in her hospital room, watching her husband hold their newborn daughter—the child they had created out of love and hope—with a look on his face that was a mix of awe and fierce protectiveness. The same look he had now, except there was a slash of pain underscoring it, the same pain she felt each time he left, and she saw her daughter’s anguish at his departure.

She turned away, swallowing hard, and put on a pot of coffee. While they were gone for what little time remained, she’d go through the stack of bills, measuring the total due against her pitifully small paycheck, and wonder what she would do if the rumours were true and Wayside Market would shut down the first of the year. Unemployment wouldn’t be all that much, and her weekend work at Sam’s Bar & Grille would hardly make up the difference. As for the child support… 

And with that, her anger returned, and she pushed the start button on the coffeemaker with more force than necessary.

“I’m ready to go, Daddy.” 

Melanie turned at her daughter’s words just in time to see Rob shake his head. 

“Not today, sweetie,” he said and led her to the table where her now cold cocoa and toast were waiting. “The roads are really slippery, and the wind is sharp,” knowing even as he spoke that the excuses he offered weren’t enough. But they’d have to be. All he had in his wallet was a ten-dollar bill, and he needed that for gas.

“Tell you what,” slipping her coat off her shoulders, “let’s sit here and work together on whatever homework you have to finish. Okay?”

Carolee nodded, although it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t what she wanted: the three of them in the kitchen. The room was too small to hold all the emotions: her mother’s anger, her father’s fear that she sensed even if she didn’t understand its cause, and her own disappointment.

But at least he was here, she told herself as she pulled out her math book and paper and pencil. He was here, and that was all that mattered.

And while the two of them struggled through the calculations—Rob patiently explaining how to understand the problem and arrive at a solution—Melanie made a fresh mug of cocoa and more toast for her daughter. And then, almost as an afterthought, poured a cup of coffee for Rob—black with two sugars—and set it next to his elbow.

His shirt was missing a button, and his hair was longer than he usually wore it, she noticed, and there was a slight whiff of sweat from him when he moved his arm to pull Carolee’s book closer. And his face—something about it the way his cheekbones caught the light, the shadow on his chin where he had missed shaving. 

Unkempt. That was the word she was searching for. You would think he would at least make himself presentable, especially since he hadn’t seen his daughter for nearly a month.

She sat down across from them, trying with limited success to calm her anger.

“I’ll never get it!” Carolee said in frustration, as once again her father looked at her answer, shook his head and then slid the paper back to her side of the table. “I hate math!”

“That’s okay, sweetie,” Rob said, trying to console her. “Think how good you are at art! You draw wonderful pictures. Besides, no one is good at everything. I’m a terrible speller, and your mom wasn’t any good at math either.” Then he quickly glanced up at Melanie with a smile, hoping she wouldn’t take offence and, caught off guard, she smiled back.

It was true, Melanie thought. Each month, Rob would be the one to balance their chequebook because, try as she might, the figures never came out the way they should. But he never blamed her, just sat there with his hot cocoa and cinnamon toast—and was that where the Sunday afternoon ritual had started: cinnamon toast and hot cocoa?—and when the numbers finally worked themselves out, he’d close the chequebook with a satisfied sigh. Then two of them would go into the living room, and she’d settle herself on his lap, and they’d watch whatever was on television, content just to be together.

Until being together became a bad thing, a time fraught with tension and anger and disappointment. Until Melanie told him, she’d had enough, and she wanted him to leave. Although sometimes late at night, she wondered what was the final straw and whether that straw had really been enough, after all, to break it all apart. 

Carolee pursed her lips, erased the last two sets of numbers, recalculated the rest of them and then handed the paper back to her father. She wanted it to be correct so they could put the book away, and the two of them could go into the other room and just be alone for the little time remaining. Just half an hour, but even that was better than nothing. And next weekend she could spend two whole days with him. 

“See, you did it!” Rob smiled at his daughter. “It just takes a little time. Sometimes you have to go back a few steps and start over, and then it all works out.”

His words echoed in his mind. “Go back a few steps”—but it would take more than a few steps for him and Melanie. Miles, maybe, before they could get back to the place where it was all good, and they had plans for their future and then when she was pregnant, plans for the three of them.

Miles back and lots of detours that this time they would ignore: side roads they had mistakenly taken like the fight over the truck he had bought with what was left of their savings. Wrong turns like the time Melanie said—well, screamed, really, so loudly that she woke the baby—that she was sick of being poor and having to make do and couldn’t he get a better job. They would both be on verbal roundabouts during the worst of their fights, circling and circling with neither willing to give in or give up or do anything, just get off that endless loop of anger.

“Yay!” and Carolee quickly shoved the paper into her book and her book into her backpack before glancing up at the clock. It was a quarter to five. There were only fifteen minutes before her father left. But that would be enough time to plan what they would do next weekend. 

Maybe Saturday we could go to a movie, she thought. A movie, then back to his apartment where they could eat toasted cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Then, on Sunday…

But before she could speak, before she could take him by the hand and go into the other room and talk about what they would do the next time they were together, her father stood up.

“Sweetie, it’s getting late, and I need to talk to your mother before I leave. So give me a hug and kiss, and then why don’t you go watch television or something.”

Carolee knew what that meant. He wanted to be alone with her mother. He had something bad to say, something that would make her mother angry, and for just a minute, she was angry, too. Couldn’t he just once not make trouble? If he made her mother angry, it would spill over to Carolee. And then, late at night, she’d wake up and hear her mother crying and bury her head under the pillow because she didn’t know what to do and only wanted it all to stop. 

But she couldn’t change anything, couldn’t stop the two of them from talking or fighting. So she gave him a hug and kiss and then went up to her room, pausing on the bottom step in the hope that he would change his mind and call her back. But it didn’t happen, so she continued on her way.


Rob heard her and knew by the way her footsteps sounded on the staircase that she was hurt and sad. But it had to be done, and squaring his shoulders, he turned to face Melanie.

“The plant closed down.” The words came out harsher than he had intended and struck Melanie’s face almost like a blow. “I didn’t want to tell you—that’s why I missed the last few visits. Plus I’ve been looking for another job. But you know how it is. No one is hiring at the end of the year.”

Melanie took a deep breath. Her first thought was the bills. How would she manage without what little money he sent her? And if he was out of work, then Carolee didn’t have health insurance. What if she got sick?

She sat down heavily in the chair and buried her head in her hands, too upset and frightened to cry.

“That’s why I haven’t been around and because,” here he swallowed hard but decided to go ahead and tell her everything, “well, my landlord kicked me out, and I had to move into a shelter. So I can’t take Carolee next weekend. As a matter of fact, I may have to miss the next couple of visits. I need to save gas to go look for work. But it’s not all bad news. One of the guys I work with—worked with,” he corrected himself, “said that a plant in Braden is hiring, but that’s two hours away. I’m going there on Monday. If I get it, I’ll let you know.”

He took a deep breath. “I’ll get something, Melanie. I promise,” and he reached over to put a hand on her shoulder. “And it will all be okay.” 

She heard the note in his voice, the mix of hope and comfort, and for just a moment, let herself believe him. But just for a moment, and then it all came back: the disappointment, fear, anger, pain, regret—but regret for what? For ending their marriage or for marrying him in the first place? For encouraging him all the times when things didn’t work out or for telling him it was all his fault: the lost jobs, the economic downturn, the reality that their life together didn’t at all match the fantasy she had held onto?

She stood up, faced him and took a deep breath, not knowing what she should say. And, with no words to express all that she felt, she reached out, picked up his empty coffee cup and threw it against the kitchen door, where it shattered into pieces, a physical representation of what her marriage and life had become.

“Just go.”

Only two words, but behind them, Rob heard all that she didn’t say and knew that the distance between them was now even greater.

“I’m sorry”—a futile response but all he could manage through a throat constricted by emotion. He pulled on his coat and then opened the kitchen door, letting in a rush of frigid air. “Melanie?” One last word, a question really, but when no answer came, he left, closing the door behind him.

Melanie stood there, heart pounding, tears forming, and swallowed hard. She knew it wasn’t all Rob’s fault. She knew that other families faced the same situation. But it was easier to be angry with him than to admit to the fear that overwhelmed her. She walked over to pick up the shards of china. When she reached the door, she could only lean her head against it, listening for the sound of the truck’s engine, hoping that he might come back and hold her and tell her it would all be okay and that she didn’t have to deal with it all by herself.

But all she heard was silence.

He stepped off the porch and then paused to light a cigarette, one of two he allowed himself each day. He wasn’t angry at Melanie, not really. He saw behind her reaction the fear and loneliness that clutched at her, the same emotions he faced each day, the same emotions that dogged his restless sleep.

He inhaled, held the smoke in his lungs, then released it, watching it drift upward through the falling snow. 

Things will get better, and he wasn’t sure if he was telling himself that or sending the thought to Melanie. 

The sound of the cup crashing against the wall was so loud that Carolee heard it from the top of the staircase where she had been sitting, hoping until the last minute that her father might call her down. They could have just a little more time. Ten minutes, five even—that would have been enough.

But then she heard the crash, followed by a silence that seemed to stretch forever, then finally the sound of the kitchen door shutting, she knew that he had left the house. She left her post and went into her room, pulling back the curtains to watch and hope. Maybe he had forgotten something in his truck and had just gone out to get it and then come back into the house. 

Maybe… But no. She saw his figure, shrouded in the darkness, pause on the walkway and then the brief flare of the match as he lit his cigarette. He wouldn’t be coming back. Not tonight. Maybe not ever again, but she pushed that thought back into the dark corners of her mind. 

Next week, she thought. He’ll be back next week. And the week after that, and maybe someday he won’t ever leave.

Standing there in the frigid air, Rob finished his cigarette and then headed over to his truck. Would the engine start, allowing him to return to the life he had now? Or would the battery finally be so dead that the motor wouldn’t turn over and he couldn’t leave but would have to stay—go back through the door and into the kitchen, go back in time and into the life they once shared?

But when it did start, he gave one final glance at the house, at the kitchen door still shut, then up to the window where he thought he saw his daughter’s outline. 

Maybe someday things will change, he thought as he shifted the truck into gear and backed down the driveway. If I could get the job and make enough money, Melanie wouldn’t have to work so hard… If I can just make it all turn out right…

Melanie heard the truck engine catch, then the sound of the wheels crunching the ice and snow as Rob’s truck made its way down the blacktopped driveway. He was leaving, and she wasn’t sure if she was glad that the fight was over or sorry that it had turned out that way again.

I don’t understand, she thought wearily as she bent down to pick up the fragments of the cup. Where did we go wrong? Why did it have to turn out this way?

Carolee watched the truck slowly back down the driveway. Then the headlights flashed across the front of the house as he turned onto the street, the snowflakes glittering in their beam. She watched until he reached the corner and then turned again, watched until she couldn’t see the truck anymore.

Then she slid open the window, heedless of the cold, listening for the sound of the engine. But all that came in on the wind was silence and the faint smell of burning tobacco, wending its way up to where she waited.

She breathed it in deeply, holding her father in her lungs, in her heart, never wanting to exhale again.


Nancy Christie is the author of two award-winning short story collections: Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories (runner-up in the 2016 Best Indie Book by Shelf Unbound) and Peripheral Visions and Other Stories (Bronze award winner in the 2020 Foreword INDIES competition and finalist in the 2021 Eric Hoffer Award competition)—both published by Unsolicited Press, as well as three nonfiction books. Her short stories have appeared in numerous literary publications, with several earning contest placements. She’s also the host of the Living the Writing Life podcast and founder of the annual “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day.

TEA

By Mary Everitt

Pale yellow jasmine
Cracked white porcelain pot
With an oily dark stain around the rubber covered spout
Om, my elderly landlord offers his wordless morning welcome.
Endless cups of weak, bitter, floral water.
Orange, sweet, earthy and sour
Iced with sugar and lime
Sucked down with morning noodles
Assam, steeped dark with half and half
Forgotten in corners, on books, tabletops
Reheated endlessly
Housemate who taught me through his reverent waiting
For the first morning cup
Where matcha ceremony held beloved memory
Of a distant childhood, years and oceans away.
Chasen and bowl adorning the designated counter
Ritual, pleasure, hospitality
connecting past and present

an apartment
full of mismatched love-attached mugs
individual tea bags
in this individualist land
of single servings

hands spoon convex warmth
steam curls over closed eyelids
lulling the senses into quiet attention
soothing the spirit into expectant adoration
stirring the mind into thoughts that swirl into mist and focus on
pictures, questions, places
why is this the first question across language and culture?
often just a wordless pour.
Why is this the instinctual comfort?
In waiting
In between
As a stranger
In beginning
As the night grows late
Maybe
Its what you can control
Its love
Its hospitality
Its medicine
Its tradition
Its tea.


Mary Everitt writes from the intersections of what she feels, believes, and sees. She writes about beauty and brokenness, the insides and the outsides of the spaces she exists in. Find her on Instagram or on her website.

TRANSITIONS

By Mary Everitt

seasons don’t change all at once
but you can feel the start of them.
the distinct shift in the air.
the leaves against your window dappled with color
vibrant, painted
others spotted so slightly they look diseased.
we obsess over the romance of autumn –
it is ever so
ambient, cozy.

but do we speak of the beauty of decay?
that last leaf 
clinging, quivering
on the tallest branch where the wind is strongest
its edges curled
its color rusty like a forgotten truck with sunken wheels.
it’s easy to distinguish up there
against this crisp October sky.
at some unknown moment, it will drop
floating, soundless
to get tangled in the bushes below
or merge with the rest of its former companions
brown, undistinguishable
mulching the earth for frosts to come.

my guess is tomorrow
that branch will be bare,
a finger reaching up into the clouds beckoning rain.
that leaf was the first of many signs
that what absorbs light and nourishes life
may change, must change
to continue the cycle
to let the roots go deep
to weather the snow and the sleet
with the promise of spring’s new life.
dogwood blossoms that crown the clouds in perfume
and shade the growing grasses of spring.
for now. little leaf, that fluttered
high, free
i see you. 
thank you. 
goodnight.


Mary Everitt writes from the intersections of what she feels, believes, and sees. She writes about beauty and brokenness, the insides and the outsides of the spaces she exists in. Find her on Instagram or on her website.