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K

ALEIDOSCOPE

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Number 70
Winter/Spring Online 2015

Journeying To Acceptance
"A Different Direction" by Jenny Patton
"Mother's New Leg" by Jeffrey Boyer
"To Master Blindness" by Dr. Elishia Heiden

K

ALEIDOSCOPE

Winter/Spring 2015
Number 70

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Contents

Going with the Flow

47

Freight Train

 EDITORIAL NOTE
4

Kellie L. Thurman

Gail Willmott
53

Blue Rose
Ellen Dawn Wilder

 FEATURED ESSAY
6

A Different Direction

 PERSONAL ESSAY

Jenny Patton

12

Separate and Together
Marguerite Elisofon

 FEATURED ART
Slices of Life

32

Sandy Palmer

 POETRY
18

Dr. Elishia Heiden

Opening the Door

30

Deserét Baker

 FICTION
To Master Blindness

My Hands Are How I’m Heard

What is Your Definition
of Happiness?

11

Joan Mazza
24

Anne E. Johnson

Super Bowl

17

Sarah Key

Mother’s New Leg
Jeffrey Boyer

38

Talking the Talk

29

Hal Sirowitz

1

31

Clueless
Joanne Faries

The Love Affair of Two
Writers Writhed by MS

36

Anita Stienstra

37

Goodbye
Tony Gloeggler

44

Love Poem
Andy Roberts

Becki Melchione, Brazil, 2010, digital image, 20” diameter

45

Ode to Left Arm
Elizabeth Meade

Beginning All Over

46

Dr. E.P. Fisher

At the Corner of Fourth and
York Outside the Louisville
Free Public Library

50

Walking Aids

51

Alan L. Samry

Portrait of a Woman
Drinking Coffee

Shannon Connor Winward

 BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

2

52

63

Staff

PUBLISHER
Gary M. Knuth, President/CEO
United Disability Services
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Gail Willmott, M.Ed.
MANAGING EDITOR
Lisa Armstrong
ART COORDINATOR
Sandy Palmer
EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Lynne Came
Paul Gustely
Kathleen Sarver
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS
Darshan Perusek, Ph.D.
HONORARY EDITOR
Phyllis Boerner
ART CONSULTANT
Jennifer Wexler
Director of Visual Arts
VSA, Washington, D.C.

KALEIDOSCOPE (ISSN 2329-5775)
is published online semiannually.
Copyright © 2015 Kaleidoscope Press
United Disability Services,
701 S. Main St., Akron, OH 44311-1019
(330) 762-9755 Phone
(330) 762-0912 Fax
email: kaleidoscope@udsakron.org
http://www.kaleidoscopeonline.org
Kaleidoscope retains non-exclusive world
rights to published works for purposes of
reprinting and/or electronic distribution. All
other rights return to the writer/artist upon
publication.
We request credit for publication as
follows:
Previously published by
KALEIDOSCOPE: Exploring
the Experience of Disability through
Literature and the Fine Arts,
701 South Main St.,
Akron, OH 44311-1019

MANUSCRIPT REVIEW PANEL
Fiction Review
Mark Decker, Ph.D.
Bloomsburg University
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Indexed in Humanities International
Complete and the MLA International Bibliography non-Master List. Listed in International Directory of Little Magazines and
Small Presses, Magazines for Libraries, and
The Standard Periodical Directory.

Poetry Review
Sandra J. Lindow
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Menomonie, Wisconsin

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KALEIDOSCOPE, published since 1979, explores the experience
of disability through literature and the fine arts. Fiction, painting,
photography, pencil sketches, sculpture, poetry, nonfiction, book
reviews, and theater are all featured in various issues.
Unique to the field of disability studies, this award-winning publication expresses the diversity of the disability experience from
a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends,
caregivers, and healthcare professionals, among others. The material chosen for KALEIDOSCOPE challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability.

3

EDITORIAL NOTE

Going with the Flow
Gail Willmott

T

he majority of pieces in this issue of Kaleidoscope focus in
some way on acceptance of a
disability from the point of view of an
individual, parents, friends, spouses,
and significant others.
For myself, as a person with a congenital disability, I have grown up
with cerebral palsy. It has always been
a part of my normal. It seems to me
that people with congenital disabilities
may have an easier time in learning to
accept their situations, than do people
who experience illness or physical
trauma resulting in a disabling condition later in life. I don’t mean to say
that those of us who have congenital
disabilities never miss some aspect of
what we don’t have or are unable to
do. But I think beginning at the beginning is perhaps somewhat easier
than suddenly having one’s life turned
completely upside down and having to
begin again.
In any case, I believe that the degree to
which we are able to accept certain inherent limitations or challenges (choose

4

your word) depends on the degree of
overall self-acceptance we have been
able to develop. And self-acceptance
is to a degree dependent upon the acceptance mirrored for us by others early
on. Active encouragement is also vital.
Whether confronting disability early
or later in life, people need to know
first that they are “okay” just as they
are. Secondly, they need to know that
disability not withstanding, they are
capable of making choices and achieving goals.
If those who mentor and teach us have
negative feelings about a disabling
condition, if they are constantly overwhelmed and unable to cope, it is almost impossible not to internalize feelings of being incapable, a burden, and
unworthy of acceptance by others. And
how does any degree of self-acceptance
and confidence emerge from those
seeds? On the other hand, if those who
are charged with helping us develop
are too overprotective with little or no
expectations and constantly making
unwarranted assumptions about what is
or is not possible, that also is not fertile
ground for growth.

On my own journey, I have been extremely fortunate to have very strong
and positive influences from parents,
friends, teachers, and health care professionals who believed in me and
injected strong doses of tough love
or encouragement as the occasion demanded. Even though the parents who
built that strong foundation are now
gone, I have been consistently blessed
with the support of my sister, my stepmother, and close friends who have
been strong guides and true mirrors for
me all along the way.
Most people are not eager to embrace
change. We usually prefer that which
is familiar and comfortable. But the
fact is that for everyone, the process
of aging usually involves some loss of
ability, physical or cognitive. However,
for people with physical disabilities
some of these changes may occur much
earlier. For instance, when I applied to
the University of Illinois, the decision
was quickly and quite emphatically

made that in order to attend the university I would have to give up walking
on crutches in favor of using a manual
wheelchair (a transition that was not as
easy as one might think). In addition to
learning to push a manual chair, there
was for me, an internal debate. As a
young child there was major effort put
into achieving the one goal of walking on crutches and walking seemed to
represent a step toward greater “normalcy” and independence. Therefore,
was opting to use a wheelchair a major
regression, a significant surrender, a
movement in the “wrong” direction?
It quickly became apparent that if I
wanted to attend college, the crutches
would have to go, and I would have to
modify my self-perception. This change
represented a new definition of independence and forward motion.
In the last ten or twelve years, I have
experienced more physical losses. After
months of a serious illness, my ability
to stand and to transfer independently
disappeared, despite three months of rehabilitative therapy. I now use a Hoyer
lift with the assistance of an aide for all

transfers. I also depend on accessible
van transportation for all travel—no
more being able to “hop” in a car and
go somewhere on a whim. Travel must
be meticulously planned. Relying on
the assistance of others for much of my
personal care is also a part of my “new
normal.” Like it or not, I have become
used to these changes. It’s a good thing
that we humans are equipped with the
ability to adapt, though sometimes
changes that are perceived as negative
are accepted reluctantly and only when
all other options have been exhausted.
For me, fear of change is most strongly
connected to my fear of having to live
permanently in a nursing facility and
relinquishing much of my personal autonomy for the inherent regimentation
of such an institution.
Over the last few years, a phrase common in our contemporary lexicon has
become a kind of mantra for me—“It
is what it is.” Strange as it may seem,
these words have been helpful to me in
learning to accept certain aspects of my
changing physical condition that must
be dealt with and managed appropriately with the assistance of others, which
is sometimes difficult for me to accept.

Such changes are probably not going to
reverse or improve. Hence, “It is what
it is.” What I can do is monitor my responses to this new normal by cultivating a conscious sense of gratitude for
the caring assistance I receive which
enables me to continue living independently in my own home. I try to go with
the flow. Truth be told, some days I am
definitely more successful at this than
others. And on those days, I find myself
less frazzled and more content.t

Gail Willmott

5

FEATURED ESSAY

A Different Direction
Jenny Patton

I

babysat since I was twelve, studied
Piaget, Erikson, and Montessori’s
early childhood development theories, worked nine-hour shifts as a nanny
for three families over four years,
taught in elementary schools, read the
What to Expect books and mastered the
art of cooking macaroni and cheese.
Yet I was unprepared for motherhood.
What worked with my charges (Grace,
Rachel, Lauren, Evan, Sandy, Amanda,
and Alexandra) did not seem to apply
to my son Gabriel.
His arrival didn’t go as planned. I was
against suction during delivery, but
the doctor said he had to use vacuum
extraction since Gabriel’s cord was
pinched, blocking his supply of oxygen. The pink and blue striped ski hat
the nurse slapped on him didn’t hide
his temporarily cone-shaped skull. I
wanted to breastfeed him, but he didn’t
latch on. After two lactation specialists shoved the baby into my chest, my
nipples bled, and my infant vomited my
milk—as well as five types of dairyor soy-based formulas. He tolerated
Alimentum, a watery hypoallergenic
lactose-free formula comprised of
manufactured predigested proteins, but
not his mother’s natural predigested

6

proteins. Unable to stop crying, I experienced darkness when the lights were
on and heaviness though I’d lost twenty
pounds overnight.

to them. It seemed that being a mother
was easier than I’d expected, and my
husband and I decided to have another
baby to give Gabriel a playmate.

Within a few days, I fell in love with
Gabriel and with my husband all over
again when I saw how happy our baby
made him. Gabriel brought creativity to
milestones on or ahead of schedule—
crawling at eight months with his knees
up to avoid rubbing them on the carpet
and walking at nine months on tiptoes
to strengthen his legs and see more of
the world. I was pleased with his progress on the pediatrician’s growth chart
and credited his eightieth-percentilesized head to an abundance of intelligence. He flapped his arms when
he was excited and had the patience
to open and close a screen door forty
times. He showed equally intense focus
when rolling his Thomas the Tank Engine back and forth on the floor for almost an hour, eliminating prospects of
attention deficit disorder. His tendency
to turn on and off light switches indicated, I thought, an interest in electrical
engineering. His preference for certain
pairs of socks—those without seams
near the toes—showed me he knew
what he wanted and wouldn’t be a passive participant in life. He was mesmerized by the aquarium fish and flamingos
at the zoo but was too polite to point

When Gabriel was fifteen months old,
I signed us up for what my parenting
book called “age-appropriate socialization.” Once a week all the children sat
on the circle mat at Gymboree class,
shaking their purple plastic rectangleshaped “maracas” in tune with Miss
Debbie. But Gabriel was in the corner,
hiding in the hollow vinyl rainbow
barrel. When I lifted him out of it, he
screamed, kicked it over and hit my
pregnant belly. When I put him on the
circle mat on my lap, he arched his
back, threw the maracas and ran to the
barrel. I saw two no-win options: If I
left him in the barrel, I’d be giving in
to Gabriel, teaching him it was okay
not to do what was expected of him. If
I took him out, he’d scream and disrupt
the class. Mothers were supposed to
maintain control and be excellent disciplinarians. I leaned over the barrel and
turned his head to face mine, using the
monotone pause-between-words voice
I’d heard other moms use. “Gabriel,”
I said through gritted teeth. “This behavior is unacceptable. We are here
for Gymboree class. You need to come
play.”

He slapped my face and pushed me
away. Part of me wanted to scream at
him and spank him into submission.
Another part wanted to slide in beside
him. Inside the barrel he smiled and
hummed as he ran his finger up and
down the double-stitched seam between
colors. I was new to Columbus and had
hoped to befriend the other moms, but
I decided to hang out in the corner by
the barrel until my son was ready to
come out. I didn’t want to make more
of a scene.
From this vantage point, I noticed he
was different from the other children.
They did what Miss Debbie said,
played with each other, talked in full
sentences, and sang. My son only said
“Mama” and “no.” I leaned over the
barrel to persuade him to join the fun,
but he had a blank look on his face, and
his head moved in tiny circles. From
his fortress, he fixated on the ceiling
fan, watching its blades spin around
and around and around. The other
kids didn’t notice the fan, nor the light
switches or the ribbon of bells hanging
from the door handle like he did. They
focused on what they were supposed
to: going down the slide, rolling in the
ball pit, popping bubbles. When the
class sang the clean-up song, Gabriel
hunched over and covered his ears.
After several Gymboree classes in
which he continued this behavior, I told
myself he’d be normal if I could just
get rid of the barrel. I pictured driving
my car over it, tossing it into the Olentangy River, or at least shoving it into
the “Gymbo” clown-covered unisex
bathroom or Miss Debbie’s forbidden
break room.

I remembered reading that doing the
same thing over and over yet expecting
different results is a mark of insanity.
Yet I kept taking Gabriel to Gymboree class. The other children hugged
and kissed Gymbo the clown puppet
goodbye. During one class, Miss Debbie lowered the puppet into the barrel
to kiss Gabriel. My son screamed and
punched Gymbo.

I remembered reading
that doing the same
thing over and over yet
expecting different
results is a mark of
insanity.

“What’s wrong with that boy?” one
mom whispered to another.
My pulse vibrated in my neck, and my
eyes welled up with tears. “He’s having
a bad day,” I told Miss Debbie. “We’re
going to head out.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. I picked up my son,
left the class and buckled him into his
car seat. As soon as I turned the ignition key, I let out an unfamiliar scream
then burst into tears. I made a wrong
turn and drove through the campus of
Otterbein College. Gabriel said, “No
cry, Mama.” It was his first sentence.

College campuses have always brought
me a sense of peace. It’s more than the
architecture, trees, quads, and lack of
commerce. Perhaps it’s the togetherness in solitude—the people walking
with purpose, with direction. I wanted
purpose and direction. I’d had it most
my life, but now I didn’t know what to
do. I’d quit my job to take care of Gabriel, and I missed my office camaraderie with the writers, graphic designers,
and production team. I missed being in
control of my assignments.
With no barrel to crawl into at library
story hour readings, play dates and
birthday parties, Gabriel hid in corners,
under tables, under coats. The more
people present, the greater his need
to escape. I wanted out too. I envied
the mothers of the children I’d been
a nanny to years earlier. But back
then I thought they were nervous and
extreme, either charging out the door
as soon as I arrived or delaying their
departure to go over their children’s
schedule one more time. I was happier
when these mothers left—the reluctant
employee who wanted to quit her architecture firm job and have mine; the indulged wife who spent her days getting
mani-pedis and riding in a Mercedes
with real estate agents in search of another six-bedroom house with a pool;
the frantic fifty-year-old bank executive who adopted four children in three
years, including two infants whose
birth mother kept their triplet sister. I
adored their children, but I didn’t want
to be like these edgy women when I
became a mother. I wanted to be happy.
But now part of me wanted to be like
them, to leave Gabriel with a nanny.

7

When I took him to the mall playground, I fantasized about buying Ann
Taylor suits and heels instead of gym
clothes and Nikes. I thought about going back to my marketing department,
back to where I knew what to do.
At Gabriel’s annual check up, I confided my frustrations to his pediatrician.
I felt ill-equipped to handle him and
asked her for tips on how to be a better
mother. To my surprise, she set up a
session for him at the Nisonger Center,
a developmental disability facility, to
“rule out any issues.” I worried for
weeks, not knowing what to expect.
On a Thursday in October, Gabriel was
diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome,
which was on the autism spectrum, by
a team of four doctors and three therapists with whom my husband, son, and
I spent five hours. I learned that the
traits I admired were in fact signs I’d
missed—the crab crawl, arm flapping,
lack of pointing, sensitivity to clothing textures, oversized head, obsession
with train wheels, tendency to walk on
tiptoes, and fixation on light switches
and ceiling fans. I learned that all of
this—combined with his noncompliance, delayed speech, poor fine-motor
skills, noise sensitivity and social anxiety—helped the doctors confirm their
suspicions. I learned it wasn’t my fault.
I learned how to help him. I learned
new ways to measure his development.
I learned that the part-time summer job
in which I worked with special needs
children trumped all my other logged
childhood development training hours.
I learned how to be a better mother to
him. I learned I didn’t want to leave
him.

*

*

*

My husband Robert and I devoted ourselves to making sure Gabriel would
not be labeled as different. I wanted
him to fit in. We didn’t tell our neighbors that the people coming in and out
of our house twenty hours each week
were behavioral therapists to teach our
son to identify emotions depicted on
flashcards, to stop flapping his hands
8

and covering his ears, to follow instructions, to ease up on his fascination with
ceiling fans, to play with toys instead of
inspecting them, to be “normal.”

My husband Robert and
I devoted ourselves to
making sure Gabriel
would not be labeled as
different.
As Gabriel got older, he graduated from
therapies, having met his goals. Robert
and I enrolled him in school without
a diagnosis, having met our goal. At
each teacher’s conference, I feared
our secret would be known. I didn’t
want him to be identified as different.
I signed up as room mother every year
and volunteered often to keep an eye on
him. When his first grade teacher said
he was having trouble following directions, I told her he’s a visual learner
with weak auditory-processing skills—
all signs of high-functioning autism,
yet I wouldn’t let myself say the “A”
word. We worked together to create a
rewards-based plan to help him focus.
She tapped him on the shoulder each
time she gave directions to the class.
He wrote them down in an orange notebook beside small squares he checked
off as he completed tasks, earning a
small green plastic tile she put in his
desk after each success. At the end of
the day she tallied his tiles on a piece
of paper she put in his backpack, and at
home we rewarded him with superhero
action figures my husband bought on
e-Bay.
Not wanting Gabriel to miss out on opportunities, I enrolled him in the activities other children were doing in our
community: soccer, tee-ball, baseball,
acting class, football, track. He also
attended county-run social skills classes
to learn how to read facial cues, and
occupational therapy to develop his fine

motor skills, but I didn’t tell the other
mothers about those. At each event I
tried to ignore the knots in my stomach,
sensing my son’s confusion and discomfort. I’d explain to the coach that
Gabriel needed extra attention, citing
the auditory processing issues as the
reason. Each time a coach worked with
him individually, I fell in love with
that man. When Coach Jerry hoisted a
beaming Gabriel on his shoulders after
he made a tackle at a sixth grade football game, I wanted to run on the field
to wrap my arms not around my son but
around Jerry.
After years of therapies, I expected
things to be easier for Gabriel. For me.
He’s fifteen now, and in many ways
he’s like other kids his age—a good
student in high school, a boy who plays
videogames and who has read all the
Harry Potter books. But he’s also different. And he seems to recognize this.
When he interviewed to be a counselorin-training at a summer day camp, the
director asked about his weaknesses,
and he said he has trouble connecting with kids his own age but does
well with young children and adults.
I tend to think of my son’s Asperger’s
symptoms—social anxiety, obsessive
behavior, proficiency for math—as
having stemmed from my husband, a
software engineer who prefers being
with kids over adults. He reads twelve
newspapers a day and feels uncomfortable looking at people directly in the
eye. But I see some of these traits in
myself as well. My math GRE score far
exceeded my English component, and I
rarely feel comfortable around the other
mothers in my community, the women
with whom I feel I’m supposed to have
a lot in common.
I try to tell myself I’m pleased my son
is different from other children his age,
but the truth is that the part of me who
wants to fit in with my peers also wants
him to. I know what it feels like not to
know where to put your hands, not to
know how to approach a group of people, to have awkward eye glances come
when I say something odd. As a child, I
studied the outgoing girls, amazed that

they knew what to say and how to say
it—all so quickly. I labored over each
conversation contribution, often a beat
behind, returning to a topic that had
passed. As an adult, I find it easy to escape social situations by staying busy.
I’m unable to spend a lot of time with
my grad school classmates due to my
family responsibilities, and I’m unable
to socialize with the other mothers due
to my class schedule and coursework.
Before that, I was on the board of a
philanthropy but never stayed for social
hour, using my children or part-time
job as an excuse. My job as a reporter
taught me to be good at asking people
about their lives. As a result, few know
me.
As much as I want Gabriel to be able
to fit in with others, I understand his
desire to be alone. He is happiest, it
seems, when left alone to write, read,
draw, or develop code for one of the
two video games he has created,
Ultrageist and Pirate Penguin vs.
Ninja Chicken. I too love my projects
and find myself feeling resentful when
interrupted from writing, reading, grading, bill paying, or home organization.
I feel most relaxed when I’m at home
alone or with Robert and the children,
people with whom I can be myself.
At a track meet a year ago, Gabriel’s
coach asked him to stick around after
his events to help put away equipment.
From the bleachers I watched him
wander around the infield, not knowing
who to talk to or how to talk to them.
At home I’d never noticed awkward
body language, but here his arms were
like obstacles. I’d situated myself on
the top bench underneath a small green
canopy designed to protect scorekeepers, my laptop computer my barricade.
Groups of parents chatted and laughed
around me. Thirty minutes earlier, I
watched a special needs child run the
hundred-meter dash fifty meters behind
my son and his competitors. By the
time they crossed the finish line, this
boy jogged past the stands with his
head tilted toward us, his face showing
a wide smile, his hands waving. The
audience banged their feet on metal,

cheering him on. His eyes lit up, and I
couldn’t help but cry. A woman looked
back at me and smiled, the only connection I made with my peers.

“Does Asperger’s
have a positive
connotation?” Gabriel
asked. It was his only
question that evening.

I loved how that boy didn’t seem to
mind that he was different, relishing the
attention. I’m not sure if he knew why
he was the way he was, but I do know
it reinforced my desire for Gabriel to
know. For years, when we had guests
over or relatives in town, I feared a
reenactment of the Seinfeld episode
where one of the characters—likely
George or Kramer—tells a kid he’s
adopted before his parents do. My
husband insisted that he would be the
one to tell Gabriel about his autismspectrum diagnosis when the time was
right. He wanted to wait until he felt
Gabriel, still a naïve boy despite his
age, was able to understand it and see
it as a strength the way he says he has
learned to. Many times I thought to
betray Robert and sit Gabriel down and
tell him myself, but I respected my husband’s wishes. Despite his discomfort
in social situations, Robert reads people
and circumstances in a way I don’t.
He’s accurately predicted which of our
friends’ relationships would succeed
and which would fail. He’s anticipated
problems with decisions made by our
loved ones that I never saw coming. It’s
not just that he was usually right but
also that he likely has Asperger’s and
understands Gabriel in a way I often

don’t. Well before Gabriel spoke, Robert was better at decoding our child’s
sounds, knowing what Gabriel was trying to tell us he wanted.
One summer night before Gabriel’s
sophomore year of high school, it was
time. Robert wanted to tell him while
driving, since eye contact makes both
of them uncomfortable. And he wanted
to avoid the word “disabled.” On the
way to Coldstone Creamery, Robert
referred to a movie in which a son
inherits time travel abilities from his
father. He told Gabriel he himself was
special, in a different way. “I talked
about how I am different from ordinary
people,” Robert told me afterwards.
“Then I pointed out that he has inherited my abilities.” He said their condition
is called Asperger’s syndrome, named
after Hans Asperger who noticed “all
these highly intelligent people with
similar quirks.” To explain it in terms
Gabriel could understand—superhero terms—Robert said, “Evolution
works in groups, like the X-Men and
X-Gene,” to let him know there are
others like them, other people who are
more sensitive to input. “Other people’s
minds block out lots of noises, textures,
smells and sights, but our minds take
in much more, sometimes causing us
to miss the obvious and other times
picking out the completely obscure.”
Gabriel nodded but stayed quiet. Robert
said the reason Gabriel worked with
therapists Lindsay and Laura for so
many years was to help him learn how
to manage the sensory overload. “You
used to be scared of the ocean and of
dark rooms,” Robert told him, something I’d forgotten.
“Does Asperger’s have a positive
connotation?” Gabriel asked. It was
his only question that evening. Robert enthusiastically responded, “Yes,
it’s associated with genius.” Gabriel
learned people like Albert Einstein,
Thomas Edison, Mozart, and Abraham
Lincoln are believed to have had Asperger’s. Robert then explained that
since Aspergers’s affects socialization,
“We tend to have fewer friends, but the
friendships we have are very intense.”
9

He felt having few very strong friendships outweighed having many surface
friendships. Gabriel has long known
Robert’s best friend Will, who was the
best man at our wedding as well as Gabriel’s godfather.
Robert addressed the question I imagine I would’ve asked, had I been in
Gabriel’s shoes: Why didn’t you tell me
before? He explained that we didn’t
want his teachers to know because we
didn’t want Asperger’s to be an excuse
for him not to have to learn to adapt to
rules and social conditions like everyone else. “It might have been harder
and less pleasant for you, but you did
it,” Robert said. Since Gabriel has
been in high school, it seems that he’d
benefit from more time to complete
tests—something built into Individualized Education Plans for many students
with Asperger’s. Not only did Robert
think Gabriel was old enough to understand Asperger’s, but that it was time
to speak to his counselor to request
more test-taking time, and he wanted
our son’s permission to do so. Gabriel
agreed that more time would be helpful.
A few days later, Gabriel and I walked
in the woods. Though I knew better, I’d
imagined he’d fire off questions about
Asperger’s when I brought up the topic.
This discovery must have been a lot for
him to take in, and I wanted to help him
process it. “I liked Dad’s idea of looking at people’s noses since I don’t like
looking at people’s eyes when we talk,”
he said. He was quiet after that.
Gabriel didn’t remember his five-hour
appointment at Ohio State University’s
Nisonger Center Autism Clinic where
he was evaluated by a pediatrician,
speech therapist, occupational therapist, and psychologist. But he knew, of
course, about the therapies he’d been
through, knew about his auditory-processing challenges, knew I made sixty
“Social Story” booklets for him with
drawings that show step-by-step behaviors for certain situations, construction

10

paper pamphlets with titles like How to
Get Your Hair Cut, How to Be a Ring
Bearer, How to Go to Kindergarten,
How to Make a Friend.
I wanted to get inside his head and find
out what he thought about all of this.
But he just walked. So I did too. We
looked at the tree leaves, some starting
to turn orange. A distant hammering
sound echoed through the forest. After
a while, I asked if he wanted to know
more about Asperger’s. He nodded. I
told him that one of the traits is intense
focus on certain activities or topics.
“Can you relate to that?” He tilted his
head toward me and smirked. “Don’t
you know?” he asked. I told him I
wanted to hear his thoughts. “Video
games, of course.” He smiled. “Playing
video games is all I ever want to do.” I
told him that was a perfect example and
commended him for understanding that
he can’t play all the time. He spoke a
bit more about Asperger’s, mostly sharing what Robert had told him. I chimed
in with a few more details to further
illustrate what he’d been told. Though
I suspect it will take many more
months—or even years or decades—to
wrap his mind around it, to learn more
about himself, he seemed at peace with
it, at peace with himself.
I wish I’d better recognized years ago
what Gabriel needed rather than trying
to will him to be someone he’s not. I
kept thinking that with enough secret
therapies, enough booklets, he’d be
like the other kids and make friends at
school and on his teams—that he’d become the person I always wanted to be.
The more time that goes by, the more
grateful I am that he’s not like them. I
don’t want him to emulate his lacrosseplaying classmates who flick a boy’s
ear during choir class—my son’s ear.
Just as I enjoyed spending time with
sewing projects, Gabriel loves playing
the piano and has mastered playing the
tunes to his favorite video games. He’s
written more than one hundred pages
of fan fiction about Calvin and Hobbes
and gets emails from his admirers from

around the world. His published poem
“A Stick Man” has been translated by a
teacher in Germany who asked to share
it with his class. He’s created forty issues about a comic character named
Kool Kid, and enjoys playing with his
little brother and young cousins on the
weekends.
On his first day of eighth grade, two
years ago, I found myself holding him
hostage in the kitchen while he ate an
apple after school. I bombarded him
with questions about his classes and his
interaction with other kids. He said he
loved his Latin teacher and reenacted
his demonstration of how, during college, Spanish and French students will
bow down to him for having taken Latin. In response to my social questions,
he said, “It’s just not important, Mom,”
and went to his room to listen to his
iPod. I cleaned the kitchen and eyed a
Celtic blessing I’d recently put on the
refrigerator door.
May this house shelter your life.
When you come home here, may
this be a safe place . . . full of
understanding and acceptance,
where you can be as you are.
By asking who he sat with at lunch,
knowing the answer would be “no one”
or “no one I know,” I wasn’t creating
the environment I wanted for him, I
wasn’t being the mother I wanted to be.
I envy my son in many ways, as he
seems to realize what makes him happy
and doesn’t try to be someone else like
I did, like I still find myself trying to
do. For Gabriel, being aware that he’s
different is not the same as wanting
to be like everyone else. Rather than
teaching him to be like the person I try
to be, I hope to learn to be more like
him.t

POETRY

Joan Mazza

What is Your Definition of Happiness?
After dreams about packing for a hurricane,
and looking for my dog so I can take her with me,
I wake with a start, and discover
I’m no longer in Florida. I rise into a cool August
in Virginia, and make coffee. Every window looks
onto tall oaks and beech trees. Squirrels wait for me,
and five species of birds come to my whistle.
The cardinal throws kisses. On the pond,
last of the lotus blooms. I don’t have to wonder
if I’ll have a home to return to; no need to evacuate.
No fear of floods. No need to go anywhere except
the vegetable garden to pick another bucket
of plum tomatoes for canning. On the screened porch,
my notebooks are ready. I read on an old sofa
or perched in the window seat. In cold weather,
in the rocker next to the wood stove where I can
watch the flames. Or in bed, drapes wide open,
where I can see trees, and no one can see me.
Barking, Michi hunts squirrels, confined
by an underground fence that lets in raccoons, opossums,
skunk, snapping turtles. I have no TV. No one snaps at me.

11

PERSONAL ESSAY

Separate and Together
Marguerite Elisofon

S

amantha entered the b’nai mitzvah party first, her
hazel eyes sparkling with glee as she rode, Cleopatrastyle, on a litter held high above our heads by four
muscular male dancers. Waiting in the wings to make his
own entrance was Matthew, her twin brother. Matt sported
his first suit—charcoal gray with a red tie—while Sam
wore a silky black dress with red roses and red patentleather pumps. Her dark hair was carefully woven into a
French braid, and a tiny butterfly pendant glittered at her
collarbone. From the front of the room, she smiled at her
twin, who was striding forward escorted on both sides by
bodacious blondes, who planted simultaneous kisses on his
cheeks. Matt was smiling too, but half embarrassed, not
quite believing his good fortune.
My husband, Howard, and I beamed as our children entered
the room. Like Samantha, I wore my hair in a French braid,
which to her delight made us the “hair twins.” I wore a
backless burgundy gown and satin shoes. Howard was in
the tuxedo he’d worn at our wedding fifteen years earlier,
proud that it still fit.
Was I crazy and deluded to think about pulling off a single
party for my very different twins? At thirteen, Samantha,
on the high end of the autistic spectrum, attended a special
school, where she had very few friends, all of whom faced
challenges similar to hers. In contrast, Matthew, tall and
athletic, with pale blue eyes and pouty lips, was already a
gifted comedian and storyteller, which made him extremely
popular with both boys and girls. They had almost nothing
in common to provide a theme for the party, except music.
12

Even in music, their tastes were completely different. Samantha loved Linda Ronstadt and Broadway show tunes,
while Matt listened to rap and rock and roll.
In order to bridge the gap in musical preferences, the adults’
tables featured pictures of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, the
Beach Boys, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. Matt’s tables sported Blink-182, G-Unit, Beyoncé, and Snoop Dogg;
Sam’s were Linda Ronstadt and Bette Midler.
What made our b’nai mitzvah so challenging was the extreme diversity of guests, who were so different from one
another, not just in age, but in their ability to enjoy a party.
Unlike Matt’s friends, Samantha’s guests could be overwhelmed by loud music, flashing lights and crowds. Most
of these vulnerable kids were not friends with each other
and tended to retreat to the sidelines. Those who danced,
danced alone. Others became fixated on one activity, to the
exclusion of everything else.
The party had barely started when Becky, a petite, freckled ten-year-old, ran out of the main room with her hands
pressed to her ears and her eyes squeezed shut, begging
me to go home. Skinny, dark-haired Jason, who had loved
watching movies with Samantha, sat glumly in a corner
tapping his foot. Even Aaron, a handsome, muscular boy,
whom my daughter loved, stayed close to his mother. Christy and Amanda, younger camp friends from out of town,
arrived late. Christy, who was slim and dark-skinned with
blinking frog-like eyes, had many food allergies, and so her
mother explained they’d stopped for dinner beforehand, just

in case. Gangly twelve-year-old Amanda smiled through
her braces. “I’m so excited to be here! Where’s Samantha?”
Even after Samantha had said hello, she kept repeating this
greeting.
Perhaps the strangest of Samantha’s friends was fifteenyear-old Isaac, a quadruplet born prematurely. He had spiky
black hair, and towered over most of the adults as he spent
the evening ricocheting around the room, hugging random
guests.

Being flexible and willing to change
isn’t easy, but for an autisticspectrum child, it’s like climbing
Mount Everest barefoot.

Meanwhile, Samantha danced with Oz, the party emcee.
Tall and charismatic, with a shaved head, goatee, and booming voice, he encouraged the kids to dance and “Give it up
for Matt and Samantha!”
“I’m having so much fun, Mommy,” Samantha told me, her
cheeks flushed pink and moist from jumping and shaking on
the dance floor.
“Really?” I was both skeptical and relieved.
“I’m having the time of my life. You know, like the song
from Dirty Dancing. Oz will play it later; right, Oz?” Her
smile at the DJ was unmistakably flirtatious.
“Don’t you worry, Princess. Oz has you covered.” He
winked.

I thought I would burst with joy. This was a new Samantha,
the determined party girl who had turned Oz into her date,
dancing and behaving like the belle of the ball. She wasn’t
jealous of Matt’s thirty or forty friends; she was totally in
the moment, floating from Oz into the arms of an old family
friend, who twirled and lifted her in the air to their mutual
delight.
Matt once said: “You know, Mom, Samantha would be the
most popular girl in her class if she were normal.”
Now there were two Samanthas: the joyful girl on the dance
floor and the withdrawn, robotic child who had been relegated to the “dungeon class” at school. There, Samantha
obsessed over getting a perfect behavior sheet and didn’t
interact with her classmates; she had meltdowns if she
couldn’t finish her homework before dinner, and grew belligerent when I suggested using flash cards before a test,
preferring to study “her way.”
For years I had been trying to turn even the smallest problem into a life lesson for my daughter. I wanted her to see
that there was often more than one solution to a problem.
Being flexible and willing to change isn’t easy, but for an
autistic-spectrum child, it’s like climbing Mount Everest
barefoot. Perhaps the b’nai mitzvah was another step up, or
maybe it was just one of those times I was able to pause and
look down the side of the mountain, realize how far we had
come, and how breathtakingly beautiful the scenery could
be, even though we were still miles from the summit.
“Time for the candle-lighting ceremony,” Oz announced.
As I returned to my seat, a tremendous chocolate cake with
a white chocolate Torah was wheeled to the front of the
dance floor. I had learned from my more religious friends
that the first twelve candles were ritually lit, and then one
more for luck, in honor of friends and family. Howard had
helped both kids write short poetic tributes, to accompany
the lighting of each candle. Samantha had insisted on going
first, because she wanted to light my dad’s candle. Although
he had died when the kids were young, she remembered
snuggling up with him on our couch. Picking up the microphone and her “candle sheet,” Sam began:

13

“You saw us every week till we were four.
You played with us on the floor.
You took us to California Pizza and the Central Park
Zoo.
You even told Mom to give us our own birthday cakes
too.
We will always miss you, but especially tonight.
Not having you here just doesn’t seem right.
You would have loved this party and had lots of fun.
So in your honor, Papa, we light candle number one.”

I saw my mother wipe her eyes and exit the room. As Matt
dedicated the second candle to Grandpa George and Grandma Sylvia, I stared at the doorway. My mother’s candle was
next.
Matt handed the microphone to Samantha and looked at me
helplessly across the dance floor. “Where’s Grandma?”
I ran across the dance floor to my twins. “The ladies’
room,” I whispered. “Papa’s candle was too much for her.”
“Where are you, Grandma?” Samantha’s voice caromed off
the walls; she held the mike too close to her lips. “Grandma,
it’s your turn. We need you here!”
An awkward silence followed as everyone waited. Then
I noticed my friend, Paula, leave the room to look for my
mom. In the meantime, my twins stood before the candles,
while our guests were growing restless.
“Samantha, why don’t you start? I’m sure Grandma will be
back soon.” I returned to my seat.
“Grandma is in the bathroom,” Sam announced over the microphone. “But Mom says she’ll be back, so I should start.”
The tension was broken and everyone laughed.
“Helluva time to powder her nose,” Howard grumbled as I
sat down.
“We love Grandma.
She’s really fine.
She laughs at our jokes and enjoys all our songs.
She listens to our stories, no matter how long…”
My mother entered the room just in time to light the third
candle as “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” played
through the speakers and filled the room.
Slowly, Samantha handed the microphone to her twin
brother. He looked at Howard with his earnest blue eyes and
called us up to the candles.

14

“You are the reason we’re here,
the reason we love life and hold it dear.
We love you more than words can explain.
We’ve felt it through happiness and also through pain.
You’ve been stuck with us for thirteen years
and helped us conquer all our fears.
Baseball, Beanie Babies, singing lessons, laughing and
talking galore.
Now help us one time more.
Mom and Dad, please light candle number four.”

Immediately, Howard’s favorite song, “Somewhere Over
the Rainbow,” began to play as we kissed our children and
lit the candle. Howard smiled at me with misty eyes, and I
felt like a bluebird in that Judy Garland song. We were doing okay, his eyes seemed to say. Better than okay, I smiled
back. But we both knew the night was young and Samantha
was unpredictable.
Returning to our seats, accompanied by applause, I felt
alive and electrified in the moment, like Samantha. It was
almost an out-of-body experience, a wonderful dream, terrifying in its unfamiliar sense of joy and contentment that I
knew would slip away.
Billy Joel sang “Uptown Girl,” and I realized we had
reached the last two candles. Matthew and Samantha were
dedicating these to each other. I saw Matt look at his sister
and manage to make eye contact. “We’re very different, you
and me,” he paused to smile at his understatement.




“And though we don’t often agree, tonight’s our night to
shine together.
Thank God we have some decent weather.
We love each other like opposite selves,
so Samantha, please put your fire on candle twelve.”

Sam kissed him and lit her candle. Then slowly, grinning,
she turned to her brother. The song switched to “Born to Be
Wild.”
“It’s fun to have a twin brother to share things with one
another:
summers in the Hamptons, falling off our bikes on
Peacock Road,
and sledding in Central Park when it snowed.
And keeping our light on when you wanted it dark.
So for being mostly wonderful and only a little bit mean,
Matthew, please light for good luck candle thirteen.”
Our twins hugged to laughter and applause; the camera
flashed, and for an instant my twins were surrounded by a
halo of light.

In my happy fog, I sipped a velvety red wine and nibbled
foods: random bits of shrimp cocktail, baby quiches and
crudités, mini pizzas, and pigs in a blanket. I missed the
entrée.

“Okay, listen up, everyone. We have a big treat for you
all. Samantha’s going to sing a special song for her family.
Let’s give her a big round of applause.” Oz handed her the
mike and started clapping.

“Are you having a good time?” Paula asked me more than
once. Petite even in 4-inch heels, she swished over to me
in a black lace dress. “It’s a great party,” she said. “The
parents are enjoying themselves and so are the kids. Look
how much fun Samantha’s having!” Paula was one of those
special people who was genuinely nice and always said the
right thing.

“I’m going to sing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’” Samantha
looked into our eyes. “It’s for my mom and dad.”

“Even though I’m having a great time, it’s hard for me to
stop worrying about Samantha.”
“It’s fine, trust me.” She pulled me by the hand. “Get your
husband and let’s dance.”
We joined our friends on the crowded dance floor. Howard
wrapped his arms around me as we slow-danced. “You did
a fabulous job,” he said.
“Really?”
He kissed me hard. “I have the most beautiful wife in the
room, and we have two great kids. Tonight I’m a lucky
man.”
“Keep talking and you might get even luckier.”
When the music changed to rap, we sat down. Shortly
afterward, I started to have trouble swallowing. I knew Samantha would be singing soon. At age ten, she had started
singing lessons at the Singers Forum with Phil, a wonderful teacher who particularly enjoyed working with talented
children who had disabilities.
Phil was a dark-haired, olive-skinned Italian in his forties,
with deep-set brown eyes and a beautiful baritone. He had
come to the b’nai mitzvah party to accompany Samantha on
an electric piano while she sang. “She’s a natural,” he’d told
us after her first lesson. “A true lyrical soprano with perfect
pitch.” Phil had taught Samantha to tolerate criticism by
helping her to laugh at herself. The singing teacher had also
nurtured Samantha’s love of Broadway show tunes, and had
encouraged her to perform in his student showcases.
Unlike many children, Samantha was fearless on stage.
While we might worry about her forgetting a line, missing
a note, or her voice cracking, Samantha never did. This was
the silver lining of not understanding embarrassment. While
Sam’s mistakes were rare, she was acutely aware of them
and would simply try again without apology. She loved the
attention, the applause, and the red roses we brought her.

My throat tightened. Would she skip a line? Hold a note too
long, just to show off? Would her voice crack? Did any of
that matter?
“It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that’s your way.
Y ou always walked a step behind.”
My eyes grew moist. All the years of speech and occupational therapy, applied behavioral analysis, eye exercises—
it had been a long, long road.
“So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength…
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.”
I tried to smile, but tears leaked out. Samantha pointed at
me and met my eyes for a millisecond.
“Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.”
I found myself sobbing. Every moment of eye contact was
a gift. I’d do it all over again just to have this precious
time and the promise of so much more to follow. Quickly,
I dabbed my eyes with a tissue and glanced at Howard. He
just smiled and squeezed my hand.
Samantha hit every note, and her voice rang clear and
sweet. The audience seemed spellbound. There was no
scraping of chairs, no clinking of ice cubes, not even the
soft din of whispers. Like a frame frozen in a movie, with
the soundtrack of my breathing and Samantha’s extraordinary voice.
Samantha’s eyes locked with mine again, and she pointed to
her chest.
“It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I’ve got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know, I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.”

15

She wasn’t just singing the words; she was sending them
out as a special thank-you to me, and tears streamed down
my cheeks. Howard gently brushed them away with his fingers and kept smiling.
Phil finished the last few notes on the piano, and Oz called
out to the audience, “Let’s hear it for Samantha and her
fabulous voice!”
A roar of applause followed. Glancing around, I noticed a
few people fumbling with tissues as Samantha left the stage.
Matt hugged her on the way over to our table as I tried to
compose myself. My last Kleenex was already soaked and
stained with mascara, so I must have looked like a raccoon
as I embraced Sam. “You were fabulous, sweetheart.” I
kissed her, and her face smelled like fresh caramel.
“I was fabulous? Why are you crying? Are those happy
tears?”
“Very happy tears.” Sam’s question showed she was finally
understanding deeper emotions. “Now, Mommy has to escape to the ladies room to fix my face, so I can look happy
again without the tears.”
“You were great, Sweet Pea.” Howard kissed her. “Daddy’s
very proud of you.”
“And Grandma too.” My mother hugged her, also tearyeyed. As Samantha scampered away smiling, Mom added,
“Sam was sensational. Really special. She’s going to be
fine, you’ll see.”
In the ladies room, I cleaned up my eyes and tried brushing on mascara the way the makeup artist had shown me.
Unable to restore my face to the way it had looked at the
beginning, I smiled at my makeshift reflection. I was glowing inside.

16

Matt stopped me on the way back, with a few of the girls
in his class. “I’ve been looking all over for you, Mom. My
friends want to talk to you about Samantha.”
“Why?” A moment of panic jolted through my body like
lightning. Did she do something embarrassing? I’d only
been gone a few minutes, and none of these girls had ever
met my daughter.
“They thought she rocked.”
“We wanted to tell you ourselves,” Nicole, the prettiest and
most popular girl, explained. “We think Samantha’s awesome. All the girls were crying. We love her.”
“Thanks. That means a lot to me.” I wondered if this was
the first time in my son’s life that he felt truly proud of his
twin sister.
My heart was full when Matt invited Sam up on stage to
join the popular girls, who were performing a silly songand-dance tribute to him.
“Come on,” the girls called out. “Yes, you, Samantha.”
Sam ran up to join the dance, stopping just long enough to
throw her arms around her brother and giggle. She tilted
her head up toward him, and Matt met her gaze. They
both beamed just long enough for the camera to catch the
moment.t

Previously published in: Existere Journal
of Arts and Literature, May 2013.

POETRY

Sarah Key

Super Bowl
We gals gather ’round the dip, chips, subs,
as the men crunch popcorn in front of the TV.
It sounds like the fifties, but it’s the aughts
in the Big Apple, and Richard the adman is here
with a thumbs up or down for each commercial,
his son Thomas front and center in his own chair.
The other boys race up and down the room,
pile six-deep when the Giants score.
Richard speaks to his boy in a low voice
I strain to hear. I am lured from snacks
to watch them pass words back and
forth without a sound,
heads bowed in huddle’s hush.
I scoot closer and closer, but can’t follow their flow,
invisibly quiet, it’s like electricity—
Richard lifts his son out of the
wheelchair after halftime. They lounge on the floor
beside me. What a tackle! The Maltepoo pounces on
Thomas helpless to push its paws off his chest,
or stop dog-tongue lapping cheeks, lips, nose.
What a catch! Thomas explodes in giggles.
The fathers jump and scream at the flat screen.
Richard rubs his son’s chest, back, arms,
fingertips whispering the plays.

17

FICTION

To Master Blindness
Dr. Elishia Heiden

T

o Clara Moore, the world outside of her bedroom
window looked like a watercolor painting. Each
year, as her vision weakened, the pencil pine trees
fanned out and slouched a bit more, the end of the backyard
fence melted into the edge of her brick red house more
smoothly, and the square garden rounded its corners and
filled itself with red and yellow dots rather than roses. Every morning, before putting her glasses on, eleven-year-old
Clara pressed her skin on the glass and squinted her eyes
trying to see if she could make the colors of the world stay
within their lines. She’d try to remember the way the shapes
looked the morning before and then determined if they had
expanded or oozed out at all—she needed to gauge how
much time she had left before she would go completely
blind, though she hadn’t figured out how to time something
so unpredictable. On occasion, black amoeba-like dots
floated in her field of vision, and she’d blink and blink to
make them go away, but they’d continue floating every
which way. She’d learned to ignore them as best she could.

“Degeneration?” Her mother’s voice sounded alarmed, and
her hand squeezed Clara’s. Clara had not yet been given her
glasses, and she could not see her mother’s expression to
know just how worried she was. But the scent of her mother’s lavender perfume multiplied—something that always
happened when she was nervous.

When Clara first began seeing the black dots and the vague
areas of filmy color, she told her mother who, in turn, called
the optometrist who referred Clara to a local ophthalmologist. “Don’t you worry,” said Clara’s mom as she patted
her leg in the car on the way to the appointment. “I’m sure
everything’s going to be fine. It’s probably just a short-term
thing that will clear itself up.”

Dr. Richardson handed her a notepad of white pages with a
black graph in the middle. “You need to look at this everyday, and if the lines start to wave, you need to come back
in immediately. If they change at all, tell your mom.” Clara
nodded her head.

But, somehow, Clara was not surprised when Dr. Richardson placed a globed magnifying glass on her eyes, one at a
time, shined a bright light into each eye, and announced that
Clara had “lattice degeneration.”

18

“Yes.” Dr. Richardson sat on the rolling stool.
“I thought you had to be elderly to get that. Clara is only
eleven.”
“This is different from macular degeneration. As you already know, Clara suffers from extreme near-sightedness.”
Her mother’s hand squeezed harder. “The shape of Clara’s
eyes is so large, that the inner matter of the eye has too
much room to move around. Because of this excess room,
it’s breaking apart. The little black dots that you’re seeing,
Clara, are bits of your eye floating around.”

“Is there any chance she may . . .” her mom lowered her
voice, “. . . lose her vision entirely?”
“There is a chance, yes.”

“Is there anything we can do to slow it down or stop it all
together?” The room was pungent with lavender.
“Not really. If it was a different form of degeneration, we
could try vitamins, but that’s not going to help Clara with
this diagnosis. These kinds of diseases generally take their
natural courses.” Dr. Richardson lingered a bit at the door
before leaving.
Her mother treated Clara to an ice cream cone with a chocolate shell and a trip to the bookstore. Clara made sure to
appear pleasant for her mother, and maybe even tried to
believe the best, but she kept wandering to an image of her
eye slipping out of her face and landing on the ground, like
Humpty Dumpy, and all its pieces, oozy, and broken, lying
strewn about her carpeted bedroom. No one will be able to
put me back together again, she thought to herself over and
over, her fear of the future intensifying with each repetition.

She kept a log inside of her notebook, hoping to fit in
10,000 hours of blind practice before her eyes completely
fell apart. In a matter of two weeks, Clara already had ten
hours of practice logged in her book. According to Clara’s
logic, she wouldn’t need anyone to put her back together
again if she could function perfectly without sight.

Right then and there, on Mrs.
Cook’s piano bench, Clara Moore
knew that if she could not stop her
eyes from going blind, then she
would practice being blind, as much
as possible.

Not until her piano lessons the next week did that incessant
phrase leave her.
“I can tell you’ve been practicing your piano, Clara.” Mrs.
Cook, Clara’s piano teacher, encouraged her from the
couch where she always sat when Clara played her pieces.
“Thank you. I do it every night.”
“The more time the better. You know what people say about
practice?”
“What?” Clara questioned out of politeness.
“It takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Practice one hour for 10,000 days, dear Clara, and you will be a
master of the piano.”
Clara’s mind was struck with brilliance, “That works with
anything?”
“I believe so. That’s what they say.”
Right then and there, on Mrs. Cook’s piano bench, Clara
Moore knew that if she could not stop her eyes from going
blind, then she would practice being blind, as much as possible. Her mission, she wrote inside of the front cover of a
notebook that night was to become a “Master of Blindness.”

In a very short time, she had almost every detail of the walk
to school memorized even though she had only stopped
riding the bus at the beginning of fifth grade a couple
months before. West Lane Elementary was rather close to
her house, only a few blocks away, otherwise, her mother
wouldn’t have given her permission to walk to school. On
especially cold days, or whenever Clara spent too much
time reading her books in the morning or staring out the
window, her mother drove her to school, but on most occasions, Clara walked to school and did not mind it at all because she was determined to learn to see without her eyes.
When walking to school, she’d close her eyes for a few
moments at a time and attempt to take normal steps, timing how long she could go. Initially, her steps shortened
involuntarily and her hands reached in front of her for fear
that she’d run into a stop sign or tree or fall into the road.
Memorizing the outside world seemed too difficult, but
soon enough she could tell whether she was walking on the
sidewalk, over driveways, or on the road. All of the surfaces
put unique pressures beneath the soles of her feet, depending on any slant or cracks in the pavement. She counted the

19

paces from one stop sign to the next and only occasionally
walked into the bushes that lined the sides of the sidewalk.
Each walk to or from school allowed Clara to record 15
minutes of practice in her notebook.
The outside world did prove to be more difficult to memorize than the inside world, but she encouraged herself
because at home she quickly trained herself to maneuver
everything with her eyes closed. She memorized the grain
of the hardwood banister beneath her palm and the scratchiness of the carpet on the stairs. It took her exactly six paces
to walk from her bedroom door to the top of the stairs.

Regardless of her fears of getting
in trouble, being an unpracticed
blind girl scared Clara more, so she
pressed on in her endeavors.

Clara didn’t want to upset her mother and figured that most
people wouldn’t understand her need to master blindness,
so she kept it to herself. But twice she got caught, once by
her mother and once by her teacher. Her mother found her
practicing being blind while Clara took her evening bath.
Clara began the habit of plugging her ears with her thumbs,
holding her nose, and closing her eyes all at the same time
and then immersing her entire body under the surface of
the water. She would’ve preferred to keep her nose and ears
open, but also didn’t want to chance water getting stuck in
her ears again. Her mom forced drops into her ears whenever this happened, and she couldn’t stand the echo of the
added liquid in her ears.
When her entire body was under the water, she’d concentrate on the tickle of liquid moving in currents around her
body until it settled again to a flat surface. The curls of her
hair softened and moved as tendrils around her face, lightly
brushing her cheeks. She imagined herself as a mermaid
at the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes she pretended to
be a sailor in a submarine. If she left the water running in
the faucet, the sounds echoed off the porcelain, making
such a whir that she could almost see the lobster or sailor
friends in her mind. One night, as she wiggled four fingers
on her hand to wave “hello” to them, her mother’s real arm
reached into her colorfully focused world and pulled her
body out of the water, forcing her back into reality.

20

“Are you okay?” Her mother’s panicked voice startled her,
and even with her glasses off, she could see the brown of
her mother’s brows knit downward and a red hue make her
cheeks flush. “I knocked and yelled your name. Didn’t you
hear me?”
“No. I’m sorry.” Clara feared that her mastery of blindness
might be compromised if her mother found out the truth.
“What were you doing? You terrified me. I thought something happened.”
“I was playing a game.” Clara found the excuse quickly.
“Playing a game? Clara, we don’t play games in water. It’s
too dangerous. I thought you knew that.”
Clara promised she’d never play a game under water again.
But Clara understood that going blind is no game. She recorded 20 minutes of practice.
Practicing at school was more problematic than practicing
at home. Mrs. Humphries, her fifth grade teacher, wrote
Clara’s name on the board for “sleeping during class,”
but Clara had been doing no such thing. She had merely
been practicing her homework with her eyes closed. Mrs.
Humphries had a habit of walking around the room while
lecturing to make sure none of the kids were doodling or
writing notes. During a science lesson on the three different states of matter, Clara closed her eyes and tried to
picture Mrs. Humphries in the back of the room standing
next to Jeremy, one of the troublemakers. His partner-incrime, Matt, sat on the other side of the classroom. Mrs.
Humphries strategically placed them this way and made a
path through the classroom by walking from Jeremy’s desk
to Matt’s and back again. Rarely did she come to the front
of the room while lecturing.
On this particular day, Clara guessed in retrospect, Mrs.
Humphries left her pen on the chalk shelf in the front of
the room. Mrs. Humphries stopped speaking for a few moments, and Clara anticipated her next few words. Instead,
she heard the soft yellow chalk leave its mark on the board.
She opened her eyes to see Mrs. Humphries writing “Clara
Moore” on the board.
“Falling asleep in class, Clara?”
“Sorry.” She apologized to Mrs. Humphries but dutifully
recorded 5 minutes of practice in her notebook later that
night. Regardless of her fears of getting in trouble, being an
unpracticed blind girl scared Clara more, so she pressed on
in her endeavors.

One particular morning, when memorizing the world
outside her bedroom window, Clara noticed a blobbed
orb steadily floating above the grass. Her plastic-rimmed
glasses sat atop her nightstand, and she placed them on her
head quickly enough to identify the orb as a blurry Wiggles,
her cat, high-stepping its paws across the side yard in hopes
of avoiding the morning dew. This reminded her of the
brand new kittens waiting for her in a box in the garage.
Hurriedly, she logged that morning’s practice: “Looking out
window: 5 minutes,” stuffed her notebook in her book bag
with her homework, tied her shoestrings with her eyes shut,
and yelled, “Mom, can I go pet the kittens?”

“Clara, you better head to school now.” Her mother called
from the back steps. “Come in and look at your chart first.”
“Okay.” She opened her eyes to see her favorite yellow
tabby in her hands. She placed him back in the box with his
brothers and sisters, then took a moment to pet each one of
them, the yellow tabby, one gray, and three solid black. Her
mother stood at the back door holding a piece of graph paper. Clara glanced at it hurriedly.
“The same?” Her mother questioned.
“Yup.”
“See, Clara, we’re doing just fine.”

Already, she had placed the
blindfold in her nightstand and a
long stick she had found outside
under her bed.

No reply. She grabbed her book bag and stomped down the
stairs, “Mom, can I—”
“Clara, you sound like a herd of buffalo.” Clara’s mother
stood at the bottom of the stairs with short bushy hair and a
pink ruffled housecoat.
“Can I play with the kittens before school?”
“This explains the panic,” her mother hinted at a smile.
“Yes, you may. But I expect to see my beautiful young lady
walking to school across the front of the house within five
minutes.”
All five of the kittens looked like fluffy balls on top of the
old bath towels in the computer monitor box. Clara sat on
her knees and closed her eyes. She craned her head over
the box and breathed in as deeply as she could. With her
eyes closed, she reached a hand into the box and gently
lifted one of the kittens, trying her best to memorize the
feeling of the soft fur and fragile ribs. She placed her cheek
against the kitten’s body and heard a tiny squeak. None of
her senses seemed to be more alert with her eyes closed, but
she knew that these amplifications would come with more
practice. In the meantime, she’d do her best to memorize
any sensation that she could so she could recognize it even
when she couldn’t see it. Later she’d pencil this time in her
log: “Playing with kittens: 5 minutes.”

“Yeah, we are. Okay, bye, love you.”
“Love you. Don’t forget that I have to work tomorrow, so
you’ll have to take care of yourself all day.”
Clara rushed around the front of the house, waving off her
mother’s reminder, but secretly running through the events
of the upcoming day in her mind. Her mother rarely left her
home alone, and Clara intended to use as many hours as
possible for practice. Already, she had placed the blindfold
in her nightstand and a long stick she had found outside
under her bed.
Her lists of tasks in her notebook for the unprecedented day
included: “Making/eating breakfast: 30 minutes”; “Take
bath/get dressed: 30 minutes”; “Homework: 1 hour”; “Practice piano: 1 hour”; “Watch TV: 1 hour”; “Play with cats:
30 minutes”; and “Go outside: 1 hour.” She figured the list
seemed kind of full, but hoped to get it all done since her
mother would be gone for at least eight hours. Even if tasks
ended up taking longer than she thought they would, she’d
still get them done.
As soon as she no longer heard her mother’s car on the
road the next morning, she took the paisley scarf out of her
nightstand drawer where she had stuffed it a couple days
before and grabbed her stick from under the bed. Except for
these two tools, her morning began just as any other—just
as she hoped and expected.
She stood by her bedroom window, and looked at the fence,
the garden, the back of her neighbors’ houses—but in her
mind’s eye. To her, everything looked just as it did the day
before. Satisfied that her plan would work out, she felt for
her bed as a reference point, then walked to the wall and
fumbled for the light switch to turn her light off. From the
edge of her bedroom, she counted six paces and walked to
the top of the stairs, grabbed the banister with one hand,
held her stick in the other, and slowly walked down, one
step at a time. She reached her foot out at the bottom of
21

the stairs and felt for the surface of the floor, found it, and
stepped completely onto it.
Success, she said to herself in jubilation.
With her feet firmly planted on the floor of the lower level,
Clara turned right into the living room, placing her hands on
the bumpy wall and over the wide trim of the arch. Her first
task of the day was to make herself breakfast; cereal and
milk. She flung her stick around from side to side, whapping this and that, until she could tell that she went through
the other door and into the kitchen. She turned right and
swung her arms around, trying to find the refrigerator door.
Her body turned in circles, arms flailing, feet stepping a
few steps right and left and back and forward, until finally
she bumped into the refrigerator. “Here you are. Just where
I thought,” she said, though the refrigerator could not be
fooled, having seen her entire dance.

In a moment of inspiration, she
decided to attempt the most
complicated feat yet: riding her
bike down the street.

She felt around the door for the handle, grasped it, and
pulled on the door—the suction giving much more resistance than she remembered. Cold, stale air met her face.
She held the door with the hand that held the stick and
felt the contents inside with the other: small bottles, large
bottles, glass bottles, plastic bottles, sticky, soft. What she
assumed to be the milk carton sat next to a bottle of the
same size.
Orange juice she thought. She let go of the door, it swung
back some, and she poked the bottles with the stick, to no
avail.
Soon enough, she realized that one option for deciphering
the difference between the two drinks was to taste them.
She unscrewed a cap, lifted the heavy carton, placed her lips
on the crusty top and delighted herself by having picked up
milk on the first try.
The rest of the breakfast was similar, much reaching and
poking. When all was said and done, she believed she could
write 45 minutes in the logbook. She was excited to have

22

more time in the book, but a bit upset that things weren’t as
natural to her as she had hoped they would be. Homework
and getting dressed were on the docket next, but she realized she would never do her homework right after breakfast
and decided to watch television instead.
Returning through the dining room into the living room
wasn’t much of a hassle, because she had already practiced
this route several times. She searched the couch and the loveseat for the remote. Once she found it, she felt around for
the power button on the remote, not too hard of a feat. The
television powered on and a dramatic male voice filled the
room—she recognized her mother’s soap opera. She flipped
the channel button up and up until she heard the voices of
her favorite sitcom. “How are you going to get out of class
to go to the concert?”
“Don’t worry. I have a plan,” replied a female voice.
Clara imagined the characters of the show standing in the
hallway of their television school. She’d seen this episode
and had a decent time imagining where they stood, and the
movements they made. “Watching television: 30 minutes.”
She guessed.
The smell of burning leaves filled the living room, distracting her from the television. She left it on, and slowly
walked through the dining room and kitchen to the back
door, moving her stick about and waving her arm slightly.
The heavy metal screen door’s hinges creaked, and the
smell of leaves became stronger. Once outside, the thought
of the kittens distracted her from the smell, and she fumbled
into the garage and shuffled until she ran into the box of
kittens.
She felt the kittens, trying to decide which one was her
favorite yellow tabby. She put her head into the box, trying
to remember which scent belonged to him. She picked each
of them up separately, tried to concentrate on the feel of the
fur and how their weight felt in her hand, but she could not
discern one from another. A small voice of panic entered her
mind, but she ignored it skillfully.
“Oh, here you are,” she said out loud to the cats, and to herself, trying to believe that she could indeed differentiate one
kitten from the other merely by touch.
She cuddled the kitten close to her cheek and sat with her
legs crossed, Indian style, on the ground, patting its head.
But, surely, she thought, little skill was necessary in order to
pet a cat. She estimated her time with the kittens as merely

5 minutes, and she decided she needed to do something else
with her cat. In a moment of inspiration, she decided to attempt the most complicated feat yet: riding her bike down
the street.

He seemed to be fine, but the vision of him falling out of
the basket would not leave her until eventually her mind
took her again to her Humpty Dumpty eyes and their inevitable, she had already decided, destruction.

Clara’s free hand easily identified the bike seat, handles,
and finally the basket in front. She rolled the bike outside
with one hand and placed the kitten in the basket. The autumn breeze felt crisp and cut through her pajamas, but she
pressed on, convinced that today she might master blindness well ahead of her logged practice hours.

She lay on the concrete in her pajamas for a long while,
running the images through her mind. The rapid click of
the back tire hitting the spokes steadily slowed and eventually stopped altogether. The scent of leaves burning in the
autumn air dissipated, and the kitten calmed within her
palms, no worse for the wear. She rotated her time between
blindness practice and sight. With her glasses on, she could
see the neighborhood clearly, except for a few black spots
here and there. With her eyes closed, it was true that she
could not see the neighborhood, she told herself, but she
still heard the familiar noises. She still knew where she was.
And no matter whether her eyes were open or closed, the
kitten remained snuggled in her hands just the same. He
didn’t know the difference, she realized, and he loved her
regardless. Perhaps, she figured for the first time, blindness
didn’t have to be so bad after all, and she didn’t need to
practice it just now.

Once she found the sidewalk, she steadied the bike, pushed
up, and lifted her right leg over the bike. Initially, she biked
at a steady pace. The kitten squeaked in the basket, the air
still smelled of smoke, and she felt as though she might be
able to accomplish anything today and in the future. But
just as the steps of her walking soon slowed on the way to
school, so did her biking. She began pedaling slower and
slower and, after biking over a crack in the sidewalk, lost
her balance and crashed to one side. Her blindfold loosened
enough to see a black kitten, rather than a yellow tabby,
tumble out of the basket just as the bike landed on the sidewalk. Her elbows and knee on one side throbbed, but she
did not consider her own pain as she scooped up the kitten
and cuddled it in her hands.

Clara Moore placed the kitten in the basket and gave him
the blindfold as a blanket. She took off down the sidewalk,
eyes wide open and glasses perched on her nose, and tried
her best not to entertain visions of Humpty Dumpty again.t

Call for submissions
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K

ALEIDOSCOPE
Gail Willmott, Editor-in-Chief

KALEIDOSCOPE Magazine has a creative focus that examines the experience of
disability through literature and the fine arts. Unique to the field of disability studies,
this award-winning publication expresses the diversity of the disability experience
from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers,
educators and healthcare professionals, among others. The material chosen for KALEIDOSCOPE challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental
attitudes about disability through nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art. Although
the content focuses on aspects related to disability, writers with and without disabilities are welcome to submit their work.

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23

FICTION

Opening the Door
Anne E. Johnson

S

am, a shepherd mix, yawned and pressed the side of
his harness against Marjorie’s shin. Marjorie wiggled
her sandaled toes into her service dog’s warm belly
fur. “You like the library, don’t you, boy?” Sam whimpered
contentedly.

“If it’s too big or too fragile, we could photograph it,” she
suggested, trying to sound calm.

“Marjorie, my shift is almost over.” She recognized the
baritone voice of Vince, one of the college library volunteers. “And I won’t be back for two weeks. Vacation, finally. You need me to bring you anything else before I go?”

While Vince was gone, Marjorie made her phone read aloud
the other items in her bibliography. The book of letters
Vince had gone to fetch was the most important document
so far. Marjorie was writing a master’s thesis on how women participated in business in nineteenth-century London.
These letters were from various female merchants. It would
be a treasure trove for her research.

“Oh yeah, Vince. Hang on.” Marjorie spoke into her phone.
“Show latest citation.” She held up her phone toward Vince.
“How about this book?”
He took the phone and sighed.
“That sigh sounded ominous,” Marjorie grimaced. “The
catalog says it’s on the shelf. You think it’s lost, or what?”
“No it’s probably where it belongs.”
Marjorie could hear Vince tapping on her portable scanner.
“I just don’t think we can use your machine with this one.”
In frustration, Marjorie rapped her knuckles on the tabletop. Sam, lying across her feet, squirmed as he sensed her
tension. “Why can’t we scan the book, Vince? How am I
supposed to hear it if I can’t scan it into my text recognition
program?”
“I know, Marjorie, I know.” Vince patted her shoulder, and
Marjorie felt guilty for lashing out at him.

24

“Hard to tell from this entry. Let me go to the shelves and
get it.”

“Oh, Sam,” she said, “I really need to use this book.” The
due date for her thesis was coming up quickly, and Vince
was leaving for vacation. “I don’t have time to find somebody to read to me,” she said. Sam grunted, and Marjorie
longed to switch places with him. Writing a master’s thesis
was just too stressful. Not that she thought a service dog’s
work was easy, but at least he didn’t have a big, scary paper
due in six weeks.
She heard Vince’s familiar footfalls before he entered the
room. “Any luck?” she asked. “How does it look?”
Vince dropped a heavy tome onto the table and leafed
through the pages. “It’s a facsimile.”
“Noooo!” Marjorie groaned. “So, photographs of the original handwritten letters?”

“Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool.” Vince laughed. “Sorry.
Cool for me, not for you. I don’t suppose your text recognition software could handle a scan of handwriting.”
“In nineteenth-century script? Not likely.” Marjorie put her
head in her hands. “I really need to include these letters. I
thought somebody would have typed them out to publish
them.”
“I guess they thought it would be better to show how they
actually looked.” Vince paused. “Sorry, was that a rude
thing to say?”
“Of course not, Vince. You’re incapable of being rude.”
“Well I’ve got to be rude now and split. I need to get home
and pack.”
Marjorie put on her bravest smile. “I hope you have a terrific vacation. You deserve it. Thanks again for everything.”
“My pleasure,” said Vince. “See you in two weeks, Marjorie. Sorry about those letters.”
Listening to Vince leave, Marjorie suddenly felt very alone
in the private reading room she used for her library work.
She would miss Vince. But as she thought about how grateful she was to him, something caught her senses. She wasn’t
actually alone. Sam must have noticed it too, since he lifted
his head and snorted in a breath, which he normally did as a
warning.
“Is somebody there?” Marjorie asked in a clear, strong
voice, hoping she didn’t sound nervous. She hated people
sneaking up on her. “Please say something.”
There was some shuffling from the direction of the doorway. A woman’s voice said, “Um, hi.”
Relaxing, Marjorie decided that the visitor was simply shy.
“Hi. I’m Marjorie. I’ve reserved this room for my work until seven o’clock, okay?”
The woman took a few steps into the room. “Hi. I’m Della.”
She came closer to the table. “What’s that book?”

Marjorie was not in the mood to have her space invaded.
“Look, I’m kind of busy right now.”
“Yeah, sorry. It’s just . . .” Della stopped talking and moving, which seemed very odd to Marjorie.
“Della, can I help you with something?”
The women cleared her throat. “I was just wondering if you
need me to read something to you.”
Marjorie could not believe her ears. “Seriously? You’d do
that?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Well, it takes a lot of time. And I’m told that this book
contains photos of handwritten letters from the nineteenth
century. So it might not be easy to decipher.”
Scraping a chair out, Della said, “I’m gonna sit down,
okay?”
“Okay. Thanks.” Marjorie was self-conscious in front of the
stranger, but decided to take advantage of the situation. “I’ll
record you reading it, all right?”
At first, Della struggled over every sentence. But then she
started to get the hang of the old-fashioned cursive letter
shapes, and the stilted language. After an hour, Marjorie
noticed that Della’s voice was getting hoarse. She clicked
off her digital recorder.
“Hey, you’ve done enough. I can’t begin to thank you.”
“Oh, no problem. But we’re not done. You want me to come
back tomorrow?”
Marjorie got an uneasy feeling. What did this woman really
want? She decided it was time to find out. “Listen, Della. I
appreciate your help. But don’t you have your own work to
do? I mean, I assume you’re a student.” Guilt replaced suspicion as Marjorie realized that she hadn’t bothered to find
out anything about this generous person. “Please tell me
something about yourself.”

25

“I’m not very interesting,” said Della.
“Well of course you are!” Marjorie smiled.

“Isn’t it amazing what you’ll find in a library?” Marjorie
asked, basking in the glow of learning that had made her go
to grad school in the first place.

“Not like you, doing a master’s thesis when you can’t even
see the books.”

“You said it,” Della agreed. “But I was wondering something.”

Marjorie, flattered but embarrassed, felt the blood rise to her
cheeks. “So, what’s your story? I bet you’re very interesting.”

“Yeah?”

Della sighed and twisted in her chair, as if preparing to talk
about something difficult. “I just started college this semester.”
“That’s great!”
“I’m thirty-eight.” She lowered her voice. “I didn’t finish
high school. Just got my GED.”
“And you said you weren’t interesting. I think that’s incredibly courageous.”
“Really?”
“Absolutely.”
There was a silence for a minute, then Della spoke. “I don’t
know anybody around here. And you still need these letters
read. I can meet you here tomorrow if you want.”
“Thanks, Della. Around the same time would be perfect.”

*

*

*

For the next ten days, Della and Marjorie worked together
in the little room at the corner of the library. They learned
as much about each other as they did about female merchants in London.
“This is amazing,” said Della one day after reading aloud a
letter from a woman named Mary Heprin, who ran her own
silk dying enterprise in the 1840s. “I always pictured historical women just sitting at home, embroidering. I thought
that business activities started with feminism in the 1970s
or something.”
“A lot of people think that. But there are records of women
running businesses even in medieval times.”
“No way!”

“I’m only reading for you an hour a day. How do you
read most of the time? There can’t be that many books in
Braille.”
Marjorie laughed. “Fortunately, I live in a high-tech age.
Why don’t you grab a random book off a shelf, and I’ll
show you.” She heard Della get up and run out of the room.
A minute later she returned and placed a small book next to
Marjorie.
“I just grabbed the nearest thing.”
“Perfect. Now, observe the wonders of digital magic!” Marjorie opened her portable scanner. Feeling for the book, she
opened it to a page midway through and pressed it against
the scanner screen. “Scan,” she said. And it did.
“Oh, that’s so cool!” said Della.
“Wait, the circus act is only half finished.” Marjorie held up
her tablet, which was connected to the scanner. “Read current file,” she commanded.
In an awkward female voice, the tablet recited the words
from the page. “Bullfrog reproductive activities occurring
in the later summer months because of the changing factors
of humidity and air temperature . . .”
Della and Marjorie collapsed in laughter. “I sure know how
to pick a book,” said Della.
Marjorie let out a howl. “Sex lives of bullfrogs. That’s a
New York Times bestseller for sure!”

*

*

*

Not every meeting was so lively. A few days later, Marjorie
was in a foul mood. She was trying to catch Della on her
cell phone just as she walked in.
“Hi, hon!” Della sounded chipper, and Marjorie couldn’t
take it.
“Um, yeah, Della. I was trying to call you.”

26

She could hear Della come up close to her quickly. “Are
you sick or something, Marjie? ’Cause pardon me for saying so, but you don’t look so good.”

“Oh, Della, I’m so sorry.”

“You should maybe just go do your own work today.” Marjorie was aware that she sounded curt. Part of her was trying to chase Della away.

“What hospital is he in? Charity?”

“Hey, now. What’s this about?”
Della put her hand on Marjorie’s back, and the gesture of
affection released the floodgates of frustration. “Ugh, Della.
Don’t ever do a master’s degree. This is just a nightmare. I
will never, never, get this done.”
Della clapped her hands together once sharply, making
Marjorie jump. “Okay, lady. No more of this talk. You
are capable. You are so, so capable. And you will get this
done.” Marjorie heard the familiar sound of her digital recorder sliding across the table. Della sat down next to her.
“Turn this thing on and let’s read some letters. You have a
thesis to finish, friend. Today is not a day for giving up. Today is a day for winning.”
Reaching out both her arms to the side, Marjorie was glad
that Della returned the hug. “Della, you’re priceless. You really are. Someday I’m going to find a way to thank you for,
well, just for everything.”

*

*

*

Marjorie’s chance came sooner than she expected. At the
end of their second week together, she could tell that Della
was out of sorts. She was mumbling as she read, and kept
losing her place.
“You okay?” Marjorie asked. “Would you like to stop?
Vince will be back tomorrow, so he can read the little bit
that’s left.”
Della didn’t answer, and Della was not usually quiet. Even
her breathing was at a higher pitch than normal, which worried Marjorie. “What’s going on?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

There was another long silence. “My folks live in North
Carolina. Kinda far, you know?”
Marjorie felt her throat constrict. Her eyes stung. “I’m so
sorry.” She wanted to tell Della about the death of her own
mother only six months earlier, but she was afraid she’d
cry. She could hear Della sniffling, and Marjorie knew she
needed to be the steady one.
Della’s voice quivered. “I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you mean?” Marjorie asked. “You have to go to
him.” She stopped herself from adding, “while there’s still
time.”
“My momma sounds like she’s cracking up.”
“Well, yeah. Who can blame her?” Marjorie held out her
hand, palm up, in Della’s direction. When she felt Della’s
fingers against hers, she squeezed gently. “You should be at
your mom’s side right now. Why are you hesitating, if it’s
not too personal to ask?”
Instead of answering, Della just sniffled some more. So
Marjorie gathered the courage to ask another difficult question. “Can you not afford the plane ticket? Because maybe
I . . .”
“No!” Della pounded her fist on the tabletop. Then she was
quiet for a moment before answering in a mousy voice,
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m broke.”
Marjorie suddenly had a brilliant idea. “I have frequent
flyer miles.” She was just tickled with herself for thinking
of this.
“What?”

“Nothin’.”

“You can use my miles. It’s perfect!”

“Somethin’.” Marjorie insisted. She crossed her arms.
“Come on, tell me what’s up. Maybe I can help.”

“I can’t take your frequent flyer miles. Are you kidding?
They’re worth too much.”

Della didn’t answer right away, and when she finally spoke,
her voice cracked with emotion. “It’s my dad. He’s in the
hospital. Heart attack.”

Marjorie reached out and found the book of letters, patting
it gently. “You’ve earned it.”

27

“How can you say that?” Della did not sound grateful or
pleased. Her voice was pinched with anger. “What did I do
that’s worth a plane ticket?”
“Oh, please don’t be offended.” Marjorie was desperate
to smooth the turbulence. “We’re friends, right? You’re in
trouble, and I want to help you.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
Determined to make her point, Marjorie interrupted. “You
don’t seem to understand how important what you did for
me really was.”
“Ha!” The syllable sounded harsh and hollow. “I just read
some letters to you. I didn’t always know what I was reading, but it was no big deal to figure out the words and say
them. Anybody could have done that.”
Marjorie smiled, knowing what she needed to say. “First,
not anybody could have. And second, not everybody would
have. Believe me, what you did for me cannot be measured
in frequent flyer miles.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Imagine you have no arms. You need to get into a room,
but its door is closed. You stand there, frustrated, wondering if you could maybe turn the doorknob with your teeth.
Which you know you can’t. But you really, really have to
get into that room, so you’re going nuts.”
“That sounds awful.”
“Yeah, but then somebody comes along, Somebody nice,
who happens to have arms and hands. They turn the doorknob so you can go in. For them, it was nothing. For you,
it makes all the difference. That’s what you did for me. You
opened the door to that book.”
“Seriously, it was just . . .”
“Please believe me, you did me a huge favor. I’d like to do
this thing for you, to say thanks.”
“Giving me a free plane ticket is too huge a thank-you gift,
no matter how you slice it.”
“Actually, it’s as simple as turning a doorknob, I’ve got
these free miles. They’re going to expire soon, and I have
no time to travel because of my master’s thesis. You need to
travel somewhere right now. Please, Della, let me open this
door for you.”

28

As she spoke, Marjorie felt a lump grow in her throat. A hot
tear snaked down her check, tasting salty when it reached
the corner of her mouth. She felt and heard Della drag her
chair closer.
“Marjorie, honey, I’m starting to think this has nothing to
do with doorknobs or books or frequent flyer files. Why are
you doing this for me? Please tell me the truth.”
All Marjorie could do was sit with her toes stroking Sam’s
side and her palms open against the cool tabletop. Her tears
still flowing, she breathed through her mouth and tried to
keep her jaw relaxed so she wouldn’t lose control and start
sobbing.
Della’s fingertips touched down lightly on the back of her
wrist. “It’s okay, sweetie. You can tell me,” Della whispered.
Marjorie moved her hand to enclose Della’s. “My mother’s
dead.” Saying that was disorienting, like she was talking about someone else. “She died not long ago. And I
wasn’t—” Her voice caught. Sam whimpered and shifted,
giving her ankle a quick tongue flick. Sam always knew
just how to help. That little kiss was the strength Marjorie
needed. “I wasn’t with her. I didn’t make the time to go.”
Della gasped. Then she started to cry. “God, that’s so sad.”
Her arms were warm around Marjorie’s neck.
“Della, you’ve got to go to your dad. Don’t wait. It’s for
him, for your mom, for you. But it’s also for me. Please,
Della.”
“Okay.” They hugged again. “But promise me one thing.”
“Sure,” said Marjorie. “Anything I can do, I will.”
“Promise you won’t give up on this thesis while I’m gone,
girl. You are oh, so close! You promise me that?”
“It’s a deal, I swear.” No promise could have made Marjorie
happier.t

POETRY

Hal Sirowitz

Talking the Talk
I never use my Parkinson’s
as an excuse to stay home.
I’m always venturing outside,
if only to prove to myself
and others that I can be mobile.
Why be a recluse when it was
never a facet of my personality?
I love to talk. But now with my
Parkinson’s, talking on the phone
is a challenge. I need to be in front
of the person, so he can see my lips.
My wife refuses to be my translator.
That’s good. It’s not as if I’m
speaking a foreign language.

29

PERSONAL ESSAY

My Hands Are How I’m Heard
Deserét Baker

G

enerations ago, my great, great grandfather emigrated from Denmark to the United States. Upon
arrival, his last name was changed slightly—rather
than spelling it Jespersen, it became Jesperson.
In the course of time, my grandfather was born, and utterly
refused to spell his name according to the designation his
family had received on arriving in America. He steadfastly
rebelled, spelling his name with an “e.” My grandfather
rejected the idea that the new culture he encountered somehow trumped the one his forefathers left behind.
In the same way, on December 6, 2005, my daughter was
diagnosed with a significant hearing loss, which spirited my
family into yet another new culture. Just as differing opinions met my forebears at their port of entry, we encountered
the same.
Those who saw my daughter as needing to be “fixed” insisted that we not “throw her into the deaf world with both
hands.” Thankfully, we actually found safe refuge in the
Deaf world, where both hands would be used for something
better than wringing in angst. We were welcomed and offered support. We learned the stories of others who had
traveled that same road, meeting some that had accepted the
proverbial “spelling change to their last name” and others
who refused it. We encountered professionals who used fear
as a weapon against uninformed parents, and professionals
who gave information to help guide us in our options.

30

At twenty-two months of age, our daughter had learned all
of three words. Once we began to sign, she started acquiring about ten words a day. I still remember the wonder I
experienced as she stood in the middle of a stairway and
signed her first sign, “help me.” I am humbled at the simple
yet profound first prayer she offered, in which she signed
only, “Thank Thee, thank Thee, thank Thee.” And I marvel
at the remembrance of carrying her to her bedroom for a
nap, while she signed, for the first time, “I love you.”
Today, my daughter is in second grade. She reads at a fifth
grade level. She is pulled from class to do advanced math.
She teaches a class every Thursday afternoon in which her
second grade peers come to learn signs.
Is that to say that we have no difficult experiences? Hardly.
Weeks ago, a leader in my son’s local Cub Scout troop
asked if Katie and I would be willing to present some aspects of hearing loss and American Sign Language during a
pack meeting. We readily agreed.
After being given five minutes to explain American Sign
Language and hearing loss to the Cub Scouts, and having
taught an entire four signs, we were invited to sit. It then
became clear that the pack meeting was focused on the
topic of “disabilities.” As the leader stood and extolled the
virtues of his daughter for having befriended Katie, I felt
both sick and relieved. Sick that his misinformed and misguided opinion of my daughter would lead him to feel that
his daughter was performing a work of utter beneficence in
“taking on a disabled peer.” Relieved that my daughter was
too young to understand his implication that she is disabled,
and therefore a charity case.

POETRY

Don’t misunderstand me: I believe that pack leader’s heart
was in the right place, and that he meant no ill. Nevertheless, it reinforces our larger society’s idea that those with
hearing loss are broken, and inferior to those with hearing.
I stand with the Deaf when I say that she’s not broken, she’s
culturally distinctive.
A few years ago I wrote something of a poem about Katie.
It was true then, and it is true now:
I have a superpower: my hands “speak” a special language
called American Sign Language.
With my hands, I make the sun set, the moon rise,
and the stars shine.
My hands rain, snow, make autumn leaves fall,
and spring flowers bloom.
They celebrate birthdays, and holidays.
And they celebrate me, and you.
My mouth never has to say a word;
my hands are how I’m heard.t

Joanne Faries

Clueless
expectant weary father
rubs his left eye twitch
fatigued, stressed
he awaits the birth
any day now, and he ponders
this stretch of time and wife’s belly
impossible to fathom hauling
piles of lotions, diapers, bows,
and Cheerios to placate their
creation. Saying no to willful
tears. Reading Goodnight Moon
with a kiss
what of the five, ten, eighteen,
forever endless years of worry,
wonder, and responsibility
for his challenged child
no matter where or when
she’ll be his baby girl as
he answers to dad

31

FEATURED ART

Slices of Life
Sandy Palmer

Becki Melchione

“I didn’t truly become dedicated to expressing my creativity
until I got cancer and looked at my life and what I truly love
doing. That’s when I realized—creating is life to me.”

~ Becki Melchione

F

or as long as she can remember, Becki Melchione
has expressed herself artistically and through written
words. Creating feels innate to her. It is something
that she says, “has been ingrained in me since I was so
young that it just seems natural.” Crayons, paint, PlayDoh and books were at her disposal when she was young.
She and her sister would color, stroke, sculpt, and read for
hours. Growing up in suburbs of New Jersey, they spent
a lot of time at the neighborhood recreation center where
their grandmother, an artist, taught classes, and at the local library where they would read. She loved all sorts of
books—fiction, fantasy, classics, and history. As a reserved,
introspective child, she took refuge in creativity. Several
years later, during a period of darkness, it provided a safe
haven where she took solace in its healing comfort until she
felt strong enough to emerge again.
In high school she was nearly a straight A student and enrolled in as many art classes as possible. She kept journals,
wrote stories, and enjoyed taking photographs. In college,
at Rutgers University, she decided to pursue art and took
an art history course her first semester. It proved to be one
of the most challenging courses she’d ever taken. She received a C (she’d only received a C one other time in her
life—sixth grade typing) but she fell in love with art history

32

and was intrigued by several artists. “One of my favorites
was Cezanne because of his use of color and multiple perspectives. I also loved the Pre-Raphaelites because of their
romanticism and link with the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Carvaggio. Rothko. But those whose work I am most passionate about are mostly unknown—the craftsmen who created the stained glass windows and sculptures in Medieval
France.”
She completed her studies at Rutgers and went on to receive
an M.A. in art history from Tufts University and an M.P.S.
in arts and cultural management from Pratt Institute. In college, she was admitted to several honor societies including
Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key, and she graduated with
honors. Professionally, she worked in development at the
Museum of Arts and Design, Pratt Institute, and UrbanGlass, among others. At UrbanGlass she curated, designed
exhibitions, commissioned artists to create specific pieces,
and consulted with artists on developing and pricing their
work for the marketplace. While working there in 2009,
her boss was raving about how clearly she could see after
cataract surgery. Hearing her talk about her improved vision, Melchione realized that her own vision seemed blurry.
“Calling an ophthalmologist saying that you have sudden
blurred vision raises some alarms and they got me in immediately.” She was diagnosed with a detached retina in her
left eye but before they could perform emergency surgery to
repair the retina they determined the cause of the condition
was a tumor. She met with an ocular tumor specialist who
gave her a diagnosis of a rare type of cancer—chorodial
melanoma. Surgery was scheduled right away. Less than a
week passed from the time she noticed blurred vision to her
first surgery.

Radiation came next. Due to the location of the tumor, the
radiation destroyed the vision in her left eye. For an artist
and lover of art, this was devastating. She wrote about her
experience, titled the essay “Losing Cezanne’s Green,” and
says, “I think that was one of the most difficult parts for
me of losing part of my vision—I am so attuned to color’s
tone and hue, juxtapositions of one color next to another…”
However, she counters that by saying, “I’d rather lose some
of my vison than my life.”

. . .“I think that was one of the most
difficult parts for me of losing part
of my vision—I am so attuned to
color’s tone and hue, juxtapositions
of one color next to another . . .”

Her physician recommended she take six weeks off work to
recover. During that time she found a unique cancer support
group/photography class for young adults led by a photographer and social worker. With a keen eye for interesting
composition and design, Melchione has always favored
photography to other mediums. The demands of college had
caused her to set her creative pursuits aside. The therapy
group inspired her to dust off her camera and she began
capturing images once again. The camera became an extension of herself—she began taking it everywhere.
Reflecting on some personally significant, intriguing shots
she had taken, she began creating mandalas on her computer using slivers of photographs—literally selecting a slice
of the image, duplicating it, and lining it up to form a circle.
“I had also taken up meditation and the mandalas came out
of that practice. I wanted to create my own mandalas with
photos that meant something to me. Because they were
visual and time-intensive, and because I had to focus and
drown out the rest of the world when I worked on them, I
thought of them as a form of meditation.” Her mandalas

Becki Melchione, Majesty, 2010, digital image, 20” diameter

33

may have 9, 18, or even more individual slices. Once the
circle is complete she manipulates it further, duplicating it,
turning it, and experimenting until she achieves the desired
result. One mandala can take 8 to 10 hours to complete.
Majesty began as a photograph of a monarch butterfly. The
artist selected a slice of the butterfly’s wing and explains
why she felt compelled to create this mandala. “Part of my
recovery included daily walks where I would think about
everything.” On the weekends, she and her husband, Luciano, would get out of the busy city and go to various parks.

“. . . I was afraid that I’d never see it
the same again and that I was
losing something so important . . .
All I can say is that photography
helped me capture what I feared I
had lost forever.”

“One day, I saw this beautiful butterfly on the charred remains of a small fire. The burst of color against the destruction of the fire drew me in, perhaps reminding me of the
myth of a phoenix rising from the ashes. That’s what I felt I
needed to do, to rise up and create a new life from the one I
had planned that crumbled under the diagnosis.”

Becki Melchione, Remembrance, 2010, digital image, 20” diameter

34

After surgery and radiation she realized that color was affected, “even when looking with my ‘good’ eye because the
input from my ‘bad’ eye muted everything. I was distraught.
That’s why I started photographing so much and was drawn
to color. I was afraid that I’d never see it the same again and
that I was losing something so important . . . All I can say is
that photography helped me capture what I feared I had lost
forever.” While she was still receiving treatments, she and
her husband took a cruise to Alaska. “We just needed to get
away from New York City and from cancer, so we went as
far away as possible.” While walking around the ship, she
noticed the way the light played on the water and says, “I
wanted to capture this because I had noticed that color was
fading for me and I wanted to be able to remember it.” She

took a slice from a photograph taken on the ship and later
created Reflection.
The artist can only see areas of dark and light with her
left eye. Vision in her right eye actually seems stronger
now. “But what’s interesting is that my seeing of color has
changed so that certain colors don’t look as bright/tonal as
before. Of course, it’s really impossible for me to know the
difference now, but I noticed early on that certain colors
totally disappeared from my left eye—reds, oranges, yellows—and others are muted to gray tones. Somehow my
brain mixes the signals it receives from both of my eyes
and so I don’t know the difference between what I see and
what is there.” Regardless of what her eyes can actually
see, or not see, she views things differently having survived
this battle and she has decided to share her story. A memoir
about her diagnosis, overcoming cancer, and infertility is
in the works. Having cancer caused her and her husband to
reevaluate their priorities and their desire to have children.
After much deliberation, weighing the risks and considering their options, they decided to have a surrogate carry the
pregnancy and they were blessed with twin girls—Juliana
and Talia—who are already two and a half years old. “My
husband is amazingly supportive. He was my rock during
my diagnosis and treatment and during our unusual pregnancy. Now he is a fabulous dad. Life with twins is wonderful, exhausting, and fun.”
She is staying at home these days to raise her daughters
and expressing her creativity in new ways—making Halloween costumes for her daughters because, “handmade
is so much more fun.” This year they ventured into the
neighborhood to gather treats as black kitties, with tutus, of
course. She is busy writing her memoir (Practice Radical
Hope: Motherhood After Cancer), working on photography, and starting her own consulting company, Momentum
Consulting, to provide business planning strategies for artsoriented companies.
A few years ago Melchione wrote about losing Cezanne’s
green. Looking back, she has also gained a rededication to
creative pursuits and says, “They are what made me feel
more alive, helped me out of a depression . . . and are what I
spend much of my free time doing.” The devastating blows
of cancer and infertility may have caused her to crumble but
she’s picked up the pieces, much like individual slices of a
mandala, and she’s formed a new, different life than the one
she knew before. Like the mandala, it is whole and beautiful, filled with brilliant hues of hope, grace, and strength.
And if you look closely, I bet you’ll even see every shade of
Cezanne’s green.t

Losing Cezanne’s Green was the featured essay
in Issue 65 of Kaleidoscope, published in 2012.

Becki Melchione, Reflection, 2010, digital image, 20” diameter

35

POETRY

Anita Stienstra

The Love Affair of Two Writers Writhed by MS
His rises moan
Anymore
Where once there
Rose gentle verbiage
Like
Morning, Lover!
I flinch in
His displeasure
To face another day
Where all his nouns
Rely on how his verbs
Are responding.
Where even having
Every day off
Is work, and oddly,
Sleeping in
Means stiffness
And spasms.
He turns, tumbles
Into me,
And I am
Glad for the touch.
There are no words
That help
His struggle
Or ease my sadness
Or tell him how
Helpless I feel, or
How much I know
He aches with helplessness too.
We both have blocks
These days. He
Speaks adjectives and choice
Words when his hands
Will not work.
I wrestle with juxtaposed
Semantics, swimming
In thoughts
That make no sense
As I study his disease too much
Or his joints and expressions
Too long.

36

Our bodies refuse to
Move as they did once,
His legs on the carpet,
My hand upon the page
Or upon him. We are
Preoccupied most times
With this decomposition
Between us: the never ending
Scribbled scripts,
Labels with expiration dates,
Needles, exhaustion,
Universal one word questions.
And yet an arm snuggles
Around my body
And I dream
Of writing a piece
Of this pleasure. He
Cannot love me as long,
But his love
Is as great.
And I cannot leave
My hurt out
Of this poem, as it does not leave
Our lives. We try
To remember that our love,
Though it seems much less, is
Much greater. It grows
In his blue eyes
When I turn to tell him,
Good morning, Lover!

POETRY

Tony Gloeggler

Goodbye
Today, I picked Joshua up
from music group. He said
my name soon as I stepped
through the door, tried to run
to me. The therapist stood
in his way, forced him to stay
until he made eye contact,
said goodbye to her assistant,
the other kids. She slowly
walked him over to me,
assured me how much better
he was doing while he tugged
on my arm repeating “home”
louder and louder. I thanked her
while we headed out the door,
tried to keep him from jumping
into every puddle, steer him
from bumping into people
as we turned down subway stairs.
Joshua took a window seat,
got on his knees and traced
the outline of his face as we rode.
I finger counted the six stops
to Hamilton Parkway, promised
that his mom would be waiting
for him. When the train rose
out of the ground, climbed up
into the cloudless sky, he ran
to the front door. I stood behind
him, played with his hair as all
of Red Hook spread beneath us.
I glanced at the other riders,
curious whether they could tell
something was wrong with Joshua
then wondered what he was thinking,
if his brain could hold anything
other than shapes and colors
flying past, the feel of glass
against his fingertips, the thought
that his mommy would be waiting
three, now two, stations away.
I imagined what he would do
if we stayed on longer, rode out
to Coney Island. Would he stop
crying and fighting long enough
to see or hear, smell, the ocean?
Would he run across the sand
like the summer before, strip
down to his shorts? Jump
and play in the waves until
the last light left the sky?

The closets are empty
and piles of packed boxes
line the walls of his house,
but I’m not sure Joshua knows
that this means he’s moving
back to Vermont in the morning.
I don’t know if he can grasp
the concept of missing someone
or understand how hard
it is for me to keep from crying.
He has no idea that I met him
three years ago. I went
with Helen to pick him up
from school one afternoon.
The Sunday after, finished
with my bowl of oatmeal,
I was watching her lift
her teacup to her lips
when I realized I wanted
to spend my life with her
and it scared me to death.
I don’t know what Joshua
remembers about Vermont,
about moving to Brooklyn;
if he knows when things started
to fall apart or why me and his mom
couldn’t find a way to stay together;
if he remembers that I moved
down the block, kept visiting him
while everyone I know told me
to let go and move on,
that I didn’t owe him a thing,
and no one seemed to accept
or understand I love Joshua,
that the way he will never fit
in the world reminds me of me
and I wish he was my son,
my eight-year-old boy.
My, my, mine.

Previously published
in The Ledge No. 29, Fall 2006.

37

FICTION

Mother’s New Leg
Jeffrey Boyer

M

y mother hangs up the kitchen telephone. “That
was the oncologist. I told him I’m getting fat on
my daughter’s cooking.” For lunch, she ate a cup
of canned clam chowder and some of last night’s stir-fry, a
successful meal measured by quantity.

not toeing in.” My mother always answers her own questions. She keeps her back straight, her hip dipping at each
step, but as she transfers her weight I can see that the artificial leg gives only momentary support. “My PT man made
final adjustments. He said I’ll be dancing in no time.”

“Tuna glop for dinner,” I remind her. “That’ll plump you
up.” Dinner comes after her nap and an hour before I go
to work waitressing at a center city restaurant. As much as
the money, I need the time away. My boss enjoys watching
me carry two full trays of platters. He often remarks “Let
me know when I can put you on lunch, that’s our volume
meal.”

The new leg is made of fiberglass and wood. Its dark pink
paint is only a gesture at realism but better looking than her
old ball-and-socket steel training leg. I drop a tea bag in her
mug. “You were goose-stepping before.” When I pick up
the kettle, my bandaged forefinger twinges. Yesterday, she
sharpened our ever-dull knives and did not tell me. I pour
boiling water into her mug, take the kettle back to the stove,
and fetch a paper napkin.

At the mention of her favorite dish, my mother frowns.
“Are you making it the way I told you?” She wants her recipe of boiled egg noodles baked with cream of mushroom
soup, whole milk, water-packed tuna, and grated parmesan
cheese browned on top. I suggested adding peas or carrots
to the filling and crushed potato chips or panko crumbs to
the topping, but she rejected any deviations. “Nothing too
fancy or I’ll make it myself,” she said.
“I’m following directions,” I promise.
She promenades between the kitchen table and the counter,
her fuzzy head bobbing, jaws clenched, the aluminum cane
tight to her right hip, and the unbuttoned navy cotton jacket
swaying over her white canvas shorts. “I’m walking better,
don’t you think? I don’t swing my foot so much, and I’m

38

“The second casting made a better fit.” She pivots to demonstrate. “After the first casting, my stump got smaller, and
as the cup started slipping my foot turned out. This one’s
more snug.” She lifts her right foot in its scuffed black
loafer and extends her arms so that her cane points at the
window. “My PT man said that this exercise builds up my
stump.”
Her effort looks tremendous. “You look like you’re on the
high wire. You should have a parasol.” She should sit down.
“Okay, I’m convinced. Drink your tea.”
She grins. “Start selling tickets; I’ll put on a show. ‘Do the
hokey-pokey and turn yourself around . . .’”

Her mezzo-soprano has cleared in the months since the operation, though occasionally I still find cigarette butts in the
toilet. When she was young, before she went to college, met
my father and received a library science degree, she studied
to be an opera singer. Accompanying herself on a guitar, she
still sings folk songs like “Black is the Color” and “Donna,
Donna,” and tends to over-enunciate certain words. I keep
reminding myself to make a tape of her singing to remember.

“Can you wear spiked heels?” I
would not put it past her. Unlike me,
she enjoys dressing up.
“Be careful.” I move closer to catch her should she fall.
“You’ve been on the go since seven. Ease off, lead foot.”
She laughs and lowers her right leg, swings over to her
wheelchair, and grabs the push grips for support. “Did I
mention that my new leg has two feet? This one’s a flat, but
I have another foot with an adjustable heel in my closet.”
She hooks her cane over the armrest and turns the wheelchair toward her, leaning against the table as she locks
either wheel. She looks down, and I wonder whether she
shoehorned the left loafer onto her new foot or someone in
the prosthetics office did it for her.
“Can you wear spiked heels?” I would not put it past her.
Unlike me, she enjoys dressing up.
“Sure. Why not?” She straightens and pivots in quarterturns until her back is to the chair, then drops upon the egg
carton foam cushion as the new leg bends back smoothly
at the knee. “I just need a little more practice.” She toes
down the left footrest with her right foot, lifts the left leg
with both hands and props it up. “That’s better.” She flips
down the other footrest. “My therapist’s a nice man. Only
five years older than you. Married, though. If I give you the
money, could you buy him a bottle of wine? He told me he
keeps a cellar.”

“Red or white?”
“Red. He looks like a red wine man.” She tugs at the waistband of her shorts.
“I’ll go to Kreston’s and get him a French burgundy, but
it’ll cost you.” Something mid-range, I think. It is not as if
the therapist is doing any more than his job.
She unlocks the wheel rims and turns the chair to face the
table, which comes up high on her. “Whatever you think
best. A wine he can serve to friends: ‘One of my amputees
gave me this bottle. She’s a funny old bird . . . .’” She fishes
out her tea bag, winds the string and presses it dry against
the spoon, picks up the honey bear and squeezes a golden
loop into her mug. “We had a good session today.” She
reaches for the jar of last year’s mint, picks out a few leaves
and drops them in. “If I had a hydraulic leg, I could pogo
around, but I’m too decrepit for that. They don’t expect me
to go skiing or anything.” She stirs her tea and licks the
spoon.
That seems unfair. She deserves the best leg possible.
“The backyard’s too uneven for this one.” She raises the
mug and slurps, looking out the window. “The garden is
such a tangle.” She wipes her mouth on the napkin and
stuffs it in her jacket pocket where half a dozen tissues
bulge. “The pinks are almost done, but aren’t the evening
primroses beautiful?”
“They are.” Like fluted pats of butter, the yellow blooms are
a favorite. I like that they close at night. “It would be nice to
know what will flower and when. You could draw a map.”
She shrugs off the suggestion. “I know the flowers when I
see them.”
In fact, the garden has never been in such good shape. Before her surgery in December, she sent handwritten notes
to her many friends and her few clients announcing that
she was taking a leave of absence from real estate “to grow
flowers.” She sold her sedan and bought a cheap compact
with an automatic clutch and a low doorsill. Back home
after the surgery, she moved downstairs to my old bedroom
suite, and for a month a residential nurse slept on the pullout bed in the study. Slowly, my mother’s stump healed.
39

She started chemotherapy and learned to walk with crutches, then later with a poorly-fitting training leg. Once the
nurse left, I sublet my apartment and moved home. Now,
with her final leg, my mother can start learning more difficult maneuvers in her twice-weekly PT sessions.

In her dream, did she have one leg
or two? I imagine accompanying
her on the flight over, pushing her
wheelchair through the airport and
along the sidewalks of Paris as she
points out sights and lectures me
from the guidebook.

Friends bring plants for her garden. They never stay long,
but during their visits they often draw aside the daughter—who answers that new X-rays are scheduled on the
operation’s six month anniversary. The friends know what
that means, and they respond with the usual vague words,
prostheses of hope offered on the sly because my mother
refuses to discuss it. She is going to beat this disease, she
says. Unlike her daughter, she is not one to worry or regret.
She has forgiven the doctor who drained but did not test the
fluid from the swelling on her left knee, which at this time
last spring she believed she got from kneeling in the garden’s wet soil.
She prefers other people’s problems to her own, and for the
past few years it has been the Palestinian question. “When
you take people’s land, you take their dignity,” she says.
She types out letters to Congress, signs petitions. She trusts
in the United Nations but calls our president “a stubborn,
ignorant man.” As for the Israelis, they are militaristic and
high-handed. When I tried to argue that the Palestinians deserve blame, too, she responded, “What else do you expect
from people cooped up in refugee camps for forty years
since 1947?” I reserve judgment on whether my mother is
anti-Semitic, but she complained when I brought home a
loaf of Grossinger’s Seeded Jewish Rye.
She sets down her mug, locks her elbows, and half-rises to
gaze out. “Somebody should stake the bee balm, and the
azaleas downstairs need transplanted.”
“I guess that means me.”

40

She smiles and lowers herself. “I’m giving you a chance to
volunteer.” The three gift azaleas finished blooming weeks
ago, and once she decided that she did not want them in
the backyard (“Too showy,” she said, as though afraid they
would outshine her flowers) she nagged me to find a place
for them out front.
“Why don’t you ever ask me directly?” I grumble. “‘Somebody’ may as well be my name.”
She considers the notion. “That would be more convenient.”
She flips up the right footrest and rolls around the table. She
holds the mug in one hand with the teaspoon rattling inside and poles forward with her good leg to reach the sink,
where she locks her wheels, toes up the left footrest, stands
and turns on the hot water.
“I’d like some credit, that’s all,” I say.
“You’ve always known your own mind,” she concedes. She
washes her chowder bowl and the stir-fry plate. “Do you
remember when you were seven years old, and I was about
to spank you for stealing candy, but you caught me by the
wrist and wouldn’t let go? ‘Mother, I’m too old for a spanking,’ you said. ‘I’m sorry I ate the candy, but I won’t let you
hit me.’” She puts the bowl and plate in the drying rack.
I used to climb up on the counter and open the cabinet to
reach the metal box where she kept the chocolates and the
red licorice. I was an expert at picking the lock but always
left enough candy so that she might overlook what I stole.
One time, I was not so careful. A boy I liked and chased
about the playground to kiss called me an ugly fat cow. That
day, I came home and gorged until I felt sick. When my
mother confronted me, I did not deny what I had done.
I recall my hand on her wrist. “I deserved to be spanked.”
“You were a strong little girl. Yesterday, when I saw you
pick up that box of National Geographics in the basement,
I was reminded.” Grimacing, she puts the spoon and used
tea bag on the counter and passes her mug beneath the hot
water before turning it off. “After exercise, I usually have
some phantom leg pain.” She rinses out and fills a glass,
opens the Percodan container and swallows a pill. “I had an
interesting dream last night,” she says as she sets down the
glass. “I was packing for a trip to Paris, and I was deciding
which clothes to take.”
In her dream, did she have one leg or two? I imagine accompanying her on the flight over, pushing her wheelchair
through the airport and along the sidewalks of Paris as she
points out sights and lectures me from the guidebook. “Take
me with you.”

“I wish I could.” She settles herself, unlocks the wheelchair,
turns and rolls through the kitchen doorway to the landing.
“I should pee before we go out.” She locks the wheels and
hitches down her shorts to reveal the gray lap belt. A leather
strap cinching it to the prosthesis disappears at an angle.
“I haven’t yet learned how to go down stairs with the leg,”
she says. “That comes next.” The webbed belt has a lever
mechanism like a seat belt’s. She opens it to release the belt
and slips her hand beneath the waistband of her shorts to
undo the buckle on the cinch-strap.
“If you fall, sue them,” I respond, thinking that she should
be suing that damn doctor.
“For every cent!” She brandishes her fist and the sleeve
of her navy jacket slips down her skinny arm; then she
goes back to removing her leg. “It’s tedious having to plan
ahead.”
I look away so as not to see her fiddle. “You’re more organized than I am.”
“That’s not saying much.” She extends the leg and braces it
with one hand under the thigh while her other hand plucks
at the attachments. “Come on, baby. The buckle is set on
the fifth hole, murder on my hip and crotch. Any tighter and
I wouldn’t be able to sit down, though my therapist says
that I could drop down to the fourth hole and use a thicker
sock.” Her hands feed the limb forward, the leg growing
longer as the black loafer swivels at an impossible angle.
“I use hand lotion—whoops!” She catches the leg in both
hands and hoists it by the web belt. “Careful, it’s heavy.”
She passes it over. “I have to take it off whenever I go to the
bathroom.”
“Sounds like a hell of a design flaw.” I heft the limb to disguise my uneasy curiosity and hold it by its foam rubber
thigh hollow, the damp Number Three sock inside. About
four kilos. The cup’s fiberglass skin crosshatches beneath
the pink paint. Also painted pink are the wooden calf and
foot. African-American amputees must get brown paint
instead. Connecting the leg’s two sections, hexagonal nuts
that can be tightened with an Allen wrench act as hinges
for the knee joint’s inlaid curved metal strip. “What kind of
wood do they use for the calf and foot?”
She smiles. “I knew you’d ask that. My therapist says that
most artificial limbs are carved from willow because it’s
soft and has a fine grain. I’ll have to be careful not to dent
it.” She locks her brakes and stands. Extending from the
white shorts, her right leg is a slender trunk offset from the
swaying torso. Her left leg is a puckered stump. A rolled,
tucked flap of skin covers the end. “Once we start practic-

ing on stairs, I’m afraid that I could fall face first and hit my
chin like you did that summer before you started kindergarten.” She holds onto the back of the chair. “They won’t let
us use a railing.”
I articulate the leg to work the knee. A butterfly of fleshcolored leather folds and unfolds across the knee’s hollow
back. Superfluous, it is the only thing delicate about the
limb.
“You yelled and fought,” she reminisces. “They had to hold
you down to swab the cut and inject Novocain before stitching it up. I apologized to the doctor and nurses.”

Extending from the white shorts,
her right leg is a slender trunk offset from the swaying torso. Her left
leg is a puckered stump.

I rub the scar under my chin. “I guess it’s good that I don’t
remember.”
She takes the crutch habitually left at the top of these stairs
and tucks it beneath her left arm. Her right hand on the
banister, she places the crutch’s rubber tip on the first stair
down. “One. . . Two. . . Three!” At the bottom, she pivots
to reach the second wheelchair, an old monster on loan
from the Lion’s Club with a tan vinyl seat much polished by
previous occupants.
Friends planned to install a chair lift, but when I sounded
her out she refused to consider the idea. “I’m not a cripple!
It’s enough that I moved down from the second floor. If I
can’t manage three little stairs standing, I’ll use my butt.”
She likes to repeat the story to show how independent she
is, and it is true that were I not here she could manage quite
well alone, with groceries delivered and weekly visits from
a maid and her outpatient nurse, not to mention her many
friends. With this new leg, she will soon be able to drive to
her physical therapy sessions or anywhere else she wishes
to go.
Back bent, craned forward, she rolls past the doors to the
basement and her study. As she passes from view down
the hall, her voice floats back. “Did I tell you? I called the
City, and they’re coming tomorrow for that special pickup.
Somebody should take the stuff we piled in the garage out

41

to the curb.” Cleaning out a basement full of outdated real
estate files, National Geographics and unwanted memorabilia is her latest project. She is clearing the decks.
I jump from the top step to the bottom for the pleasure of
doing so, catch up, and help her negotiate the doorway to
her suite, the jamb scarred by the Lion’s Club chair’s footrests and hub clips. “‘Somebody’ will be glad to do it after
she makes your tuna casserole.” I should have enough time
before I leave for work.

swims back more slowly—moments of oblivion that edge
toward betrayal—like the afternoon I forgot her in the
garden, until she dragged herself up to the patio door and
knocked to be let in.
I open it and the screen door, and set the stop on the screen
door’s hydraulic arm. Down in the garden, a green blip, a
hummingbird sips from the nodding bee balm. The bathroom door flies open and bangs against the wall, and the
hummingbird darts off.

She looks out the window to the patio. “I’ll be just a minute. Then we can go out to the garden.”
“That’s fine.” I turn the chair, line it up with the bathroom
doorway, and give it a push that sends her rolling backward.
I close the door after her, but her voice comes through.
“Wait, I forgot my leg.” A footrest bangs into porcelain.
“No, you didn’t,” I call back. “I have it here. It’s under my
arm.” I knock on the door with the shoe.
“Oh. That’s right.” Laughter echoes off the tiles. “Get rid of
the thing, will you?”
I carry the leg into the yew-shaded bedroom that used to be
mine and stand it in the closet next to the pile of left-footed
shoes she could not bear to throw out. “And a good thing,
too,” my mother said. “Now I can wear them with my new
leg.” A souvenir of her latest chemotherapy cycle, the harsh
metallic odor of night sweats lies so heavy upon the neatly
made bed that it smells as though her suffering has created
its own body to afflict. A body with pains and desires, and
pains like desires.
Stupid leg. Anyone can see that it is nothing like her blueveined and black-whiskered original, with its tiny-nailed,
hammer-toed foot and callused yellow heel. How can she
act as though this clumsy device were a part of her? Something she lost and has miraculously recovered?
She always said her legs were her best feature. Family
legend has it that when my father first saw her, she was
dancing with her roommate at her college freshman mixer,
he said, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” and in his
stubborn way set about making his prediction come true.
“That’s the girl I’m going to marry and divorce twenty
years later to marry my secretary,” he should have said.
The sunny backyard looks as it did yesterday, but time
moves on and with it approaches dread. So tired. Daily,
this need to remember and pretend sweeps out further and

42

I carry the leg into the yew-shaded
bedroom that used to be mine and
stand it in the closet next to the pile
of left-footed shoes she could not
bear to throw out.

My mother rolls out blowing her nose. “I want to finish
weeding the annuals before I take my nap.” She has traded
her jacket for a faded red corduroy shirt that used to belong
to my father, and she has changed her loafer for a filthy gardening sneaker.
“It’s hot today. Let’s not stay out too long.”
She tucks the tissue up her cuffed sleeve. “I’ll know when
I’ve had enough.”
Standing behind her, I take the push grips and tilt back the
chair. Its small front wheels flop to either side as they leave
the floor, and her face appears upside down. With a familiar
shock, I note the dark eyebrows and deep-set eyes, the sharp
nose with the little bulb on the end—the same as mine—the
pale lips and set mouth, and the bald skull beneath the graying frizz. She jokes that she always wanted curly hair until
radiation granted her wish.
I ease the rear wheels down from the sill to the patio and
lower the front. By the door, I pick up the rattan gardening stool and the long-necked asparagus knife. I hold the
stool in the crook of my arm and with my other hand guide
the chair stiff-wristed against the slope down to the garden
where she left off weeding yesterday.
She judges what needs to be done. “The middle’s full of
chickweed. I can’t get in there without trampling.”

“I already have two gardening chores.” Any sign of weakness, and she will have me weeding, besides. “I agreed to
stake the bee balm and transplant the azaleas, and that’s
what I’m going to do.”
She sniffs and folds her shirt cuffs higher. “All right. You
can help weed another time.”
I set down the stool and lock the wheel rims. She grasps my
arm, pulls herself standing, and I lower her to the stool. She
hikes her shorts and braces her stump upon her right thigh,
her sneakered foot providing leverage.
“I’m all set.” She holds out her hand for the asparagus
knife.
In the garage, I collect a hammer, stakes, and twine. On the
way back, the gentle slope funnels my view of her seated
before daylily spikes a month from flower, hunched over
and reaching into the garden fringe of alternating red and
white salvia. She loosens the soil about each wild onion,
crab grass or clover intruder, uproots and tosses it aside,
then hops the low stool forward. Her face has gained some
color.
I side step the bed of primrose and over a variegated hosta
to the rear of the garden by the fence, and hammer four
bamboo stakes to support the drooping bee balm. It has not
rained recently, or their hollow stalks could have broken.
Twine circled one stake to the next embraces and supports
the top-heavy blooms. I loop the twine about the first stake,
pull it tighter as the flowers stand up, and tie off the big
bouquet of nubby bronze heads and needle red blossoms
with their sweet-acrid scent, a relative to mint.
“What do you think?”
Perspiration has darkened the curls above her forehead to
their original brown. She nods her approval. “That’s much
better. Sometimes Monarda need support.” She returns to
weeding, and within a moment she has forgotten me.
Back inside, the three white azaleas sit on a table by the
patio window. I strip the foil wrappings and carry the pots
outside, where I pick off the spent blossoms that cling
tissue-dry to their calyxes amid the new lime-green leaves.
I take the pots along the house to the garage and place them
in the wheelbarrow with the shovel.
The front yard lies featureless but for yews about the
foundation and a young lightning-scored maple that needs
pruned at the far end. For now, passing cars have an unobstructed view, but a shelter belt of evergreens and flowering
shrubs could make a garden refuge, though it would take
years for them to grow tall enough for privacy. In the upper
right corner between the driveway and the neighbor’s chain-

link fence, I step-spade an oval. As though reaching under
a tacked carpet, the shovel peels back green sods that I fold
into the barrow. Once the bed is clear, I spade and turn the
brown hard pack. Happy-handed, wholehearted, the effort
relaxes. I have always been a big girl who likes to sweat.
I played volleyball in high school. My mother was disappointed when I dropped out of college, though waitressing
is a good fit for now. I need a plan, she says, a destination.
But consequences scare me.
I wheel along the drive past the garage and down the slope
to the backyard’s near corner. A snowball bush hides the
compost heap by the fence. I run and push the barrow so
that it dumps over back to front, spilling turf.
“How’s it going?” I call.
She looks up to smile. “It’s going well.”

My mother was disappointed
when I dropped out of college,
though waitressing is a good fit
for now. I need a plan, she says,
a destination. But consequences
scare me.
“Are you about ready to quit?” From the distance the stool
has traveled and the weeds littering the grass, it looks like
she has made good progress.
“Soon!” she calls back.
Back at the new bed, I mark the points of a triangle and dig
three holes twice as wide and half again as deep as needed.
She taught me this. When pulled from their black plastic
pots, the azaleas remain root bound by the shape that confined them, so I tear off handfuls to encourage new growth.
I prime the holes with compost, bed the shrubs in topsoil,
and tamp to prevent air pockets. After mulching and watering the transplants, I return the barrow, the watering can,
and the shovel to the garage.
When I come out, she waves the asparagus knife. “Are you
finished?”
I open my hands to show them empty.

43

“Me, too!”
I walk down and hoist her onto the chair, take the asparagus
knife she holds out to me and put it in the carryall pocket on
the chair’s seatback. Once she is inside, I will return for the
stool. “The annuals look happy,” I observe.
She glances around. “Half the garden’s a mess, but at least
the front is weeded.” She sounds satisfied with her work.
She takes the tissue from her cuff and wipes her face.
“The bee balm looks good, too.”
“It does.”
“Well, let’s hear you say so.”

Andy Roberts

“They’re lovely, dear.”
“I saw a hummingbird earlier.”

Love Poem

“Really?” She looks about the yard. “I haven’t seen it yet.”

I want poetry that’s fresh, like bread or fish,
like waking up in the morning
hungry for eggs and bacon and hot black coffee,
with important work to do.
That it comes easily
but not very often
like love.

“We’ll keep an eye out. How about a reconnoiter before
your protein milkshake and nap?”
“Yes. I want to see what you’ve done out front.”
Slowly, I push the wheelchair along the periphery. I hope
that none of the neighbors are out because my mother is
sure to start a conversation, and we have a schedule to keep.
Perhaps with luck we will see the hummingbird or even
find its tiny nest of moss and spider webs. So life, circumscribed, seeks smaller joys. If you look closely enough,
nothing is beneath notice. The azaleas await her inspection. Finches people the ivy under the eaves, a Jenny wren
has claimed one of the yews, and starlings defend the fuse
box on a telephone pole street-side. I want to show her
everything.t

44

POETRY

Elizabeth Meade

Ode to Left Arm
You are never the “bad” one, just misunderstood: often
Rebelling against the tame stillness of a body beholden,
Conducting a symphony to my vibrant energy, or
Bouncing on invisible trampolines.
You are a wing against my side,
Flapping free of regret, while
My fist bangs my hip, searching for the beat of a drum, or
Jingle of tambourine: you’ve always known
There’s music in me, even when I’m in pain.
You always have such passionate joy in movement!
I’m sorry for demeaning, criticizing, disliking you,
Especially for all the times I wished you were gone.
How could I not have marveled at your beautiful wildness?!
Closed hand, a sleeping flower,
Elegant fingers peaked, gently curled, and crossing one another.
On full display, palm holds hundreds of pearls of sweat,
Fingers delight in their arch, beckoning for the perfect fit.
Thank you for caressing me often,
For reminding me that spontaneity can be joyously freeing, and
For daring to love life passionately, even when it didn’t love you back.

Previously published in Wordgathering, September 2012.

45

POETRY

Dr. E.P. Fisher

Beginning All Over
He is simply beginning all over,
Rushing headlong towards the world;
Becoming what he always was
And will always be,
Only this time the search will be richer.
His joy will make a difference now because
He had the privilege and the courage
To return to his own sources
Under new and hopeful voices
And helping hands.
And he will be remade in a way that he always is
Every minute,
Only this time under subtle tutelage
And with simpler graces,
The image of himself in freer form
Kicking his way into light and laughter!
He is simply beginning all over,
Slipping again from this world of our arms
And into the next,
As we try to hold him back.

46

FICTION

Freight Train
Kellie L. Thurman

A

s I stood there cooking, she came rushing and
screeching into the kitchen, like a freight train
throwing sparks, brakes hissing, trying to come to

It was as if the kid were on the verge of going into the DTs.

Hair a fly, eyes wide, and then the sudden intake of air . . .
fuel for the rant.

I turned back to the cutting board, now slicing the peppers.

a halt.

Here it comes, I thought.
I braced for impact, calmly slicing matchstick carrots for
the stir-fry.
“Mom, where is my cell phone?! You KNOW I hate it when
I lose my cell phone! It’s my biggest pet peeve on the planet! Where is IT? Can you hear it? I can hear it!”
The cell phone, always the cell phone. Like a lung ripped
from your chest, you have trouble breathing without it, I
thought, but didn’t say.
On the verge of slicing, I put down the paring knife and turn
to the sudden kaboom of her entrance.
“Nat, relax honey. It’s not MY cell phone to keep track of
. . . but its here in the kitchen somewhere. I can hear it. I
thought there was a dying cow in here, the way it’s been
vibrating, sounds like it’s mooing . . .”

“Look on the table; it’s bound to be buried there somewhere.”

“I HATE this. I HATE this!”
I could hear her rummaging around on the catch-all, ranting
and rumbling, as she pushed coupons, notebooks, and the
fruit bowl aside.
Of course she hated it. My daughter “hated” a lot of things
that weren’t “quite right” with her. The doctors called it
OCD, along with her diagnosed mood disorder, along with
teenage hormones, along with her monthly gift; it all made
for a smashing good time.
Slice. Slice. Slice—as my mind went wandering—thinking
about all of the mental tools I had been given to build a better understanding of her. How all of the therapy had finely
honed me into being able to remain calm, when she wasn’t.
How I had learned to not get sucked in, mixed up, and
tumbled around inside her twister-like moods. It worked.
But I was always having other conversations in my head,
besides the ones I was having with her. It worked too. For
me, it worked.

Her eyes darted about, impending doom stirring inside her.
Agitated.
47

You HATE red grapes too, Natalie. You can ONLY eat green
grapes, never red. You also HATE square pizza. You can
ONLY eat pizza sliced in triangles. But the cell phone—
oooh, the cell phone—our hot pink, horse pill of a narcotic—that is your true love—never without it. And if you are,
it’s never for too long. God help us all, if it’s for too long.
As if it were a heifer lost out in the back forty, I could hear
the phone lulling again—milk me, feed me—find me. I
could tell by the vibrations that she was receiving numerous
text messages, not real phone calls. Teenagers these days
don’t really talk on the phone—bedroom dark, records spinning, laying back on the bed, one ankle resting on the other
knee, phone cord twisted around the wrist, gum popping,
mouth flopping—talking about nothing and everything to
your best friend. Nope, it’s all so word tapping, impersonal
now.
“You were just in here, Nat. You left it on the table. Don’t
you hear it?”
“I KNOW, God dang. I found it!” She spat, as she plucked
it from under a dishtowel. I could see instant relief flood
across her face, as she held what appeared to be the secret
of creation in her hands.
Her thumbs started to fly at record breaking speeds.
“Language, please,” I calmly reminded.
“When’s dinner gonna be ready?” She asked, absently,
never taking her eyes from the phone.
“About 15 minutes.”
No answer, but it must have satisfied, because the train
pulled out of the kitchen, softly chugging to her room.
Mood different, always different.
I scraped the veggies into the hot skillet and thought about
my daughter, back in her world now, texting the latest,
breaking news to the latest, breaking crush.
When did all this OCD business begin? I wondered.
As dinner sizzled in the pan, filling the air with the aroma of
garlic and olive oil, I thought back to her being two and in
the back seat of the car—strapped into her big girl booster
seat, chubby cheeks scarlet red, wailing her head off.

48

“What in the world is wrong, Nattie?” Weaving in and out
of traffic, I eyed her through the rearview, my brows in a
furrow, thinking a bee could have gotten in, or the belt was
pinching her.
She sat there, mouth in a perfect O, tears falling, tiny finger
pointing to her shoes, feet held straight out for her inspection.
“NOT the same! NOT the same!” She shrieked.
It wasn’t until I pulled into the Jiffy-Mart, that I realized I
hadn’t tied each of her shoe laces the same. The bows were
made different. I knew then, that mother voice in the back
of my mind nudged at me and said, Uh…hey Mom, she’s
gonna be different.
And she was, and she is.
The cell phone was like the bows on her shoes or when she
was five and would play “organize” for hours, stacking all
like items neatly, but it was the cell phone that she obsessed
over the most. It must be with her at all times. Either in
her hand, her back pocket, or tucked inside the left corner
pouch of her bag, NEVER inside the right corner pouch.
That wouldn’t be quite right with her. That would make her
feel nervous.
If she were doing homework (straight As, of course, because anything else wasn’t quite right with her), there
would be a routine, a multi-tasking phenomenon. Facebook
would be open, Pandora playing on another tab, and her cell
phone vibrating beside her, as she toiled away on physics or
geometry.
If she were in bed, awake, or asleep, the phone must be with
her. If it were lost in the covers, see paragraphs number one
and two; it was the same. Rinse, lather, and repeat.
My beautiful, brilliant, moody, obsessive, dramatic daughter.
I stirred the veggies and added the diced chicken. We would
eat this with white rice, NEVER flavored rice. Natalie
would only eat white rice; she HATED flavored rice.

From my purse my cell phone chirped, probably just thrown
in there underneath all the junk, NOT in any particular
place because my normal was having little private doses
of clutter next to all of her rules and order. I dug it out, and
opened the text. From Natalie, of course, sent from her
room not 30 feet away: Dinner almost done? I’m DIEING
from STARVATION!! L
I sighed and texted back: Yes, 10 minutes
I tossed the phone back in my purse.
As I pulled plates from the cabinet, grabbing her purple
plate, because Natalie ONLY ate dinner from the purple
plate, I thought of that old Ozzy Osbourne song, “Crazy
Train.”
All aboard the Crazy Train! . . . the hard driving beat
thumping in my head.
At the dinner table, I would make sure I put her daily dose
of meds by her purple plate.
My cell phone chirped again. I knew it would be a reply
from her. In her own way, a product of her own era, but just
a little different . . . I knew there would be a smiley emoticon followed by ILY.
Different or not, I loved her too.t

Previously published in Spotlight
on Recovery Magazine, October 2012.

49

POETRY

Alan L. Samry

At the Corner of Fourth and York
Outside the Louisville Free Public Library
Lincoln, two of me tall, is bronze
Except the tops of his shoes have been
buff-rubbed gold by luck seekers.
His arms cradle burnt red, pale yellow leaves
The trees, naturally, and the man-made Lincoln, majestic
Two sentinels stand on either side of Abraham Lincoln
With fiery orange leaves soaking wet from last night’s rain.
Their crowns are naked, branch veins have blackened
In the trunks of the trees, inverted octopus legs stretching for sky
Ivy, jealous-green, crawls around the ground and creeps up the base of the trunk
The prosthetic leg I walk on is carbon fiber, titanium and acrylic
It’s my walking aid.
When I remove in it private, it’s my tree stump
Then I am stilled, like the trees.
Most of me lies buried, but my human roots
Run deep beneath the visible scars and boniness.

50

Alan L. Samry

Walking Aids
They lean against the wall next to the bed.
No laminate, press, or particle board.
Real pine, circa 1989.
Galvanized, not stainless steel, screws and wing nuts
Hold my sticks together.
Frames with adjustable pegs for height and hand holders.
Underarm and hand grip pads are original software
Still smelling better than my stump after a day
In a carbon fiber socket in the Lower Alabama humidity.
The empty leg leans against grandma’s rocker
Titanium hardware clamps carbon fiber
foot, post, and socket together.
Allen wrench screws tightened after a
Dip in Locitite 242 Blue.
A new rechargeable vacuum,
with Bluetooth capability,
strapped to the post with zip ties,
keeps my gel-lined stump sucked
securely into a diamond-planted socket.

51

POETRY

Shannon Connor Winward

Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee
The difference is, it doesn’t own me.
But sitting in the corner
of this busy café
unable to stay or go, for lack of strength to move
I wonder if it makes any difference at all.
The buzz of café life goes on around me
the chatter, the color, the frills
but I am motionless, quiet
like an antithetical storm’s eye
what is calm at the core
is the part that can kill.
It takes more courage
to get up and walk across the floor
to the bathroom, to hide
than I ever knew I had
in the days when fear had me.
It takes more pride
to face the mirror
and like what I see
than the child-me ever dreamed of
when crowds were a cruel
and dangerous thing.
The truth is, I don’t believe them,
but I hear the derisions anyway.
They are more prolific than serotonin
and more reliable.
Negative things always
hit closer to home.
I can fit a butter knife between
realism and neurotic thinking
but the truth as we understand it
depends on which side the affect is on.
I go back to my corner
I take a deep breath
ask the demon to sit down.
I pick up my pen
apply it to paper
I grip the word with such determination
my ink bleeds.

52

-UnipolarI close my eyes.
Once upon a time, it was a well
that I spent my cycles inside of
now it is a staircase, going down.
The difference is, where once
I used to slip and fall there
now I climb.
Having named the nature of my disorder
having memorized the pattern
spiraling down
each step inside now is an act of cognition
each descent a conscious ride.
I open my eyes.
Once I would have tumbled into this emotion
a storm’s eye sitting
in a broken coffeehouse chair
once I would have seen it as poles colliding
closing in on every last spark of joy
but now I see it as an old
familiar friend;
the kind that puts out a cigarette in your coffee
and reminds you
of everything you try to ignore.
The difference is, it doesn’t own me.
The difference is, it is all mine
and I am not alone in the corner
of this busy café
because this friend is with me
all the time
it feeds off of knowing
sooner or later, I will fail
and makes me stronger by living
for the day I’ll prove it wrong.

FICTION

Blue Rose
Ellen Dawn Wilder

L

aura rolled and unrolled the course catalog, then
clutched it in her hand until her knuckles turned
bone white. After a few seconds she opened it, turning once more to the picture of a young Asian man, laughing, pretending to pour champagne over the head of a tousled-hair blond. Acting for the Fun of It, the caption read.

When she dared to step up to the counter, to say that she
wanted to take acting lessons, she was sure she would be
laughed off campus. But in five minutes it was all over—
she was registered—class schedule and campus map in
hand.

When she wandered into the School of Continuing Education at Scarborough College for the third time that afternoon, she didn’t think she’d go through with it, jumping in,
signing up for class. And an acting class, no less. But when
she heard the lady behind the registration desk say something about there being only one spot left, impulse took
over.

Laura stuffed the papers into the pocket of her white “Michelin Man” parka before venturing out into the frigid January air. When she stepped outside, it felt like someone was
stabbing thousands of tiny needles into her chin. Holding
her dad’s Minnesota Timberwolves scarf close to her face,
she walked briskly to the arts and science building. The
only thing that mattered to her now was getting someplace
warm.

Her mother had been nagging her to take acting lessons
ever since last spring, when she moved back home after
graduating from college. “The meek shall not inherit the
earth,” she preached one morning, throwing the penny saver
on the kitchen table, almost knocking the empty milk container on its side. Laura bit into her bagel, her eyes fixed on
the same catalog picture she was looking at now, waiting
for the woman from Continuing Education to give her the
room number.

Sutton 108. It wasn’t hard to find. Convincing herself to put
her foot in the door was another story. Her eyes darted from
one wall to the next, taking in the vast dance studio with a
gleaming baby grand in the corner, as if to suggest they’d
all be tap dancing before long. There was no stage, no
friendly faces. Just a bunch of fold-up metal chairs splayed
across the wooden floor. When she finally stepped into the
room, she looked at the flyer again and checked the room
number.

Eight months had gone by since leaving Tulane, but it felt
like two years to Laura, enduring one miserable job interview after the next. Her dream of breaking into publishing
dashed; unsteady nerves playing tricks on her like the devil,
filtering through her tortured, quavering voice.

Unbundling herself, Laura sat near the door, waiting and
watching as the other students eventually poured in with
their messenger bags hanging crossways over their bodies.
Their inside jokes and easy laughter reminded Laura of the
banter of giddy teenagers sitting in the back of a bus.

53

It was strange how relaxed they all seemed. But why
wouldn’t they be? She wondered how they’d react once she
opened her mouth.
The time on her watch said a quarter past seven. The instructor was already fifteen minutes late. She looked around
the room, noticing a tall, red-headed guy sitting nearby with
his legs crossed, his right foot jerking back and forth like a
windshield wiper set at high speed. He took a swig from his
Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, gripping it in his pale, enormous
hands.
As a child, Laura’s hands would tremble whenever she’d
hold a cup, and her drink would spill all over the place. The
kids would howl with laughter and call her “shaky.” When
she told them to shut up, they would parrot back her words,
mimicking the vibration in her voice.
She threw her parka over her shoulders and gathered her
belongings. Just as she stood up to leave, an attractive man
with long, blond hair tied back in a ponytail walked into the
room. He was carrying a briefcase.
Laura’s mouth turned dry. If she left now, she’d have to explain to everyone why she was leaving. She sat down again,
checking out the instructor. He looked like he had walked
off a hippie commune. A hippie commune with a fitness
center.
His T-shirt fit like a second skin over his broad shoulders.
His tight jeans accentuated a runner’s build, Herculean
thighs bulging under his faded 501s. He apologized for being late and introduced himself to the class as James Alexander. “But you can call me Jim,” he said, opening up his
briefcase and taking out a tennis ball.
“Mesdames et Messieurs. Tonight, you’re in for a treat. I’m
going to take you back to third grade for a game of Word
Ball. Big circle. Everyone.”
Before Laura could slink away, she found herself nestled
between the red-headed guy and a middle-aged, bald man
who wore Birkenstocks, even though it was ten below zero
outside.
Jim brought his shoulder back like a javelin thrower and
burst out, “Liverwurst,” before throwing the ball to the
Scottish-looking giant. Thok! Laura flinched as the ball
smashed against his palm, and waited for something to happen.
“Um . . . um . . .”
“Zack! Don’t take so long. You know the drill. Just get rid
of it,” Jim urged, his voice hoarse and strained.
54

“Meat Market!” Zack shouted, throwing the ball to a fleshy
brunette flashing a silver smile.
Laura’s heart thumped as she watched the ball go back and
forth across the circle. Sex-life; warm-beer; bad-breath, and
on it went. She almost lost her balance when the instructor
threw the ball to her. The word was my, but she didn’t know
what to say when she caught it.
“Just say anything,” he said. “Quickly, don’t think about it.”
“Voice,” Laura said and threw the ball, over-shooting it beyond the circle.

Jim brought his shoulder back like
a javelin thrower and burst out,
“Liverwurst,” before throwing the
ball to the Scottish-looking giant.
Thok!

Jim scooped up the ball and had everyone sit on the floor.
Starting with the busty, thirtyish woman to his left, wearing a Springsteen T-shirt, he went around the circle asking
everyone’s names and what he or she expected to get out of
the class.
Emily West… Those were about the only words Laura
heard, coming from the dark-haired beauty on the other side
of the Springsteen fan. She tried to listen but became too
distracted by the thoughts swirling around her head, wondering what she’d say when it came time for her to speak.
Just as she felt dampness creep underneath her arms, the
room exploded with laughter.
“. . . I’m excited to be here,” Emily gushed, leaning forward to make eye contact with Jim.
“Enchanté, Mademoiselle,” Jim responded, standing up
suddenly, walking slowly around the circle, before returning
to his original spot.
When Laura’s turn came, it felt like someone twisted a
rope around her vocal chords. She said her name was Laura
Blume and that her mother had been encouraging her to
take the course for months—to deal with her fear of talking
to people, she quickly added, regretting her words as soon
as she said them. She could tell by the way the students
stared down at the floor, they thought this was strange.

Jim asked her to repeat her name.
“Laura,” she said, but what came out of her mouth sounded
different.
“Lola?” he repeated.
“Laura,” she said, irritated, but it did sound more like Loa.
She spelled it out for him.
“L-a-u-r-a.”
Laura watched Jim write something in his notebook, then
felt her face flame up with embarrassment. She looked
around the room. There were no windows anywhere. Just
a ballet barre hugging the perimeter, mirrored walls all
around. She tugged at her sweater and stole a glance at her
reflection, at her 95-pound, five-foot frame. Did her shoulders always bunch up to her ears like that? She blushed
again when she noticed Jim staring at her.
“Glad you’re here, Laura.”
She looked away, wondering what the deal was with his
ponytail. Probably just another phony, she told herself.
During break Laura approached Jim to tell him the class
wasn’t for her. He opened his briefcase, digging through a
pile of papers, finally producing a photocopy with handwritten notes on the bottom. He handed it to her.
“Ever see Lost in Yonkers?”
Laura nodded.
“I think this would be good for you—the role of Bella—it’s
no big deal. Just a read-through.”
“I don’t know if I can . . .”
“You see that big hairy monster over there?” He pointed
to the red-headed guy. “That’s Zack, and just between you
and me, the first time he got up there, last semester, I wasn’t
sure what I was going to do with him. I don’t know what
he was going through at the time, but . . . you know what,
I probably shouldn’t be telling you all this. The problem is,
now we can’t shut him up. He stands on chairs and reads
poetry and all kinds of crazy shit.”
“I don’t think I . . . want to stand on chairs.”
“Thank God for that.” He brushed back a strand of hair that
was covering her eye. Laura stepped back, looking down at
her untied shoelaces, listening to the hollow sound of the
tennis ball as Jim bounced it against the floor.

“I don’t want to pressure you. If you really don’t want to do
it, I can find someone else.”
She looked up again, this time at Jim’s blue eyes, and then
glanced down at the script. “No . . . I mean yes, OK. I’ll do
it.”
Still looking at the script, she walked to the back of the
room, nearly bumping into the Springsteen fan, who was
running through lines from a Shakespearean comedy with a
beefed-up guy with a pompadour.

Did her shoulders always bunch up
to her ears like that? She blushed
again when she noticed Jim staring
at her.
“Excuse me,” Laura apologized, nearly tripping over her
shoelaces as she stepped out of the way. She bent down and
tied a double knot, her hands trembling just like her grandmother’s would when she’d try to thread a needle.
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear
he loves me . . .”
Laura stationed herself near the ballet barre, holding her
breath as she watched the actors exchange barbs. She examined her own script, trying to memorize the first few lines,
when she heard something crash.
Pompadour guy. Splayed out on the floor with his knees up,
a metal chair lying on its side next to him. He got up slowly,
making a show of wiping dirt off his butt. The Springsteen
fan’s bosom rising and falling as she tried to contain her
laughter.
“What’s going on over there?” Jim yelled from his perch
behind the piano. “This isn’t the NFL. Let’s try to stay off
the D.L.”
Laura edged away from the commotion and headed toward
Jim, her shoulders saluting the air while she waited for him
to finish writing something down in his notebook. When he
looked up, he didn’t acknowledge her. He pressed down on
the middle C key, holding it for a few seconds, then stuck
three fingers in his mouth, letting out a shrill whistle.

55

“OK folks, party time’s over. Let’s all gather around for
some Neil Simon theater. Laura, are you ready?”
Laura stared at Jim, the saliva drying up in her mouth, unable to tell him she was too scared shitless to do this. The
air in the room was heavy and silent, except for the sound
of the script rustling in her hand. Not daring to look at anyone, she moved slowly toward the front of the studio like
she was headed toward slaughter. Why had Jim called on
her first?

A dark-haired young man with his sleeves rolled up James
Dean-style raised his hand. “I’ve heard Zack has trouble
performing. Isn’t that why he takes Viagra every day?”
“Nick,” Jim warned. “The door’s that way if you can’t
manage to act like an adult for five minutes.” Jim raised his
hand. “I know I’ve gotten nervous plenty of times. Anyone
else?”

“Zack, how ’bout getting her a chair.”
Zack ran across the room, his back bent like Quasimodo,
and grabbed an empty chair.
“I hope this doesn’t mean she’s going to steal my thunder or
anything, by standing on chairs.”

Laura pushed herself to get through
the first few lines, but every word
was like a prickly rose sticking
inside her throat.

“The day someone outdoes you, Zack, I’ll buy everyone a
drink.”
“You’ll hear plenty from me later.”
“No doubt.”
Laura collapsed into the chair, her hands still shaking as she
placed the page on her lap. Slipping her hands beneath her
legs, she cleared her throat, making a dry, brittle sound like
she was choking on a Triscuit. She looked up at the ceiling
for far too long, then down at the script again.
“You think I can’t have healthy babies, Momma. Well I can.
I’m strong as an ox . . .”
Laura pushed herself to get through the first few lines,
but every word was like a prickly rose sticking inside her
throat. She looked at Jim with pleading eyes and asked to
start the scene over.
She tried again, but this time her voice shook so badly, she
could barely understand herself. She bowed her head, feeling her bottom lip beginning to quiver, and tried not to cry.
“I can’t do this.”
“I was wondering when you’d say that,” Jim said to her.
“I can’t,” she said again.
“Maybe not,” he said. “But first I’d like to ask everyone in
the room to raise their hands if they’ve ever been nervous
performing, or asking someone out on a date, or . . .”

Zack raised his hand. Then Nick, reluctantly. Eventually
everyone.
“You’re not alone. It just feels like it,” Jim said. “You just
have a little more adrenaline then you know what do with,
but you can redirect that energy to your advantage. I can
talk to you more about that later after class, if you’d like.”
He walked over to her and put his hand on her belly. She
felt the warmth of his touch through her angora sweater. “I
want you to take a few deep breaths,” he said. “Don’t concern yourself with what other people in here are thinking.
I can read your mind. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in.
Breathe out.” He took his hand away from her stomach.
“Good. More relaxed now?”
Laura nodded, but she wasn’t sure.
“Do you want to give it another try, or call it a day? It’s up
to you.”
Laura nodded. Her belly sagged and relaxed.
“Give it another try?”
“Yes,” she said.
“OK. Don’t worry about being nervous. We’re all adults.
It’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Laura inhaled and then held her breath for a few seconds

56

before parting her parched lips. When she tried to speak,
she stumbled over her words. Extending his hand like a traffic cop, Jim signaled her to stop and came over to her.
“I have an idea. Would it help if you sat down and just read
to someone?” he asked, not waiting for Laura to respond.
He looked at Zack, watching him cross and uncross his long
legs.
“Cynthia, tag, you’re it. I want you to sit down in this chair
across from Laura. Laura, your job is to forget the rest of
us are here. Your only concern is to talk to Cynthia. Do you
think you can do that?”
Laura nodded, but she just wanted to leave the room and
stand in the cold winter air. Maybe there she could breathe
normally again.
A lean woman in her seventies with upswept gray hair sat
across from Laura, touching her gently on the leg.
“OK, try again. Don’t worry if you get a little nervous. Everything’s cool. We’re all with you. Scratch that. We’re not
with you. Remember, you’re only talking to Cynthia.”

“If you start your performance off as woe is me, then I already know the ending. Bella’s having a tough time. What a
bummer. I think I better do my laundry when I get home. I
don’t think I have any clean underwear to wear tomorrow.”
Everyone laughed.
“Get the picture? I’d like to see you put up more of a fight.
Do you think you can do that?”

That was the side she wanted to
present to people—a smooth and
polished side, not one with cracks
in it. She was tired of people
calling her “sweetie” like she was
damaged goods.

Laura tried again. Her voice still wavered, but this time it
felt a little better.

“I think so,” Laura said, covering her mouth with her hand.

“You think I can’t have babies, Momma. Well I can. I’m
strong as an ox. I’ve worked in the store and taken care of
myself since I’m twelve years old. That’s how strong I am.
Like steel, Momma . . .”

When Laura rehearsed at home, after her mother left to go
to a cocktail party that night, her voice hardly shook. That
was the side she wanted to present to people—a smooth and
polished side, not one with cracks in it. She was tired of
people calling her “sweetie” like she was damaged goods.

“Time out,” Jim interrupted, making a T with his hands.
“What’s the problem?”
Laura looked at him, confused.
“That was a performance Sarah Bernhardt would be proud
of, but what I want to know is, why so sad?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Because it is sad. Bella just
wants to have her babies and be normal like everyone else.”
“Right, but she needs to convince her mother. So how is
she going to do that if she acts defeated right from the very
beginning?”
“But she doesn’t convince her.”
“That doesn’t matter. Audiences like to see characters in a
pile of shit.”
“But . . .”

“Everyone’s going to think something’s not right in there,”
her mother had said to her that morning, pointing to her
right temple. She had been standing in the foyer, listening
to Laura struggle through another phone interview for an
editorial assistant position.
Laura looked at her mother, her mouth agape, before bolting
out of the kitchen and running upstairs to her bedroom. Her
biggest regret now was that she didn’t just stay in New Orleans after graduating. She’d roam the streets of the Quarter
alone most weekends, but she liked being invisible
. . . . And housing was more affordable. But with no job
lined up and her parents’ divorce final, her options were as
scarce as the hair on her father’s head. Neither her mother
nor her father was willing to subsidize her rent.
Her dad, a rock star sales exec at Verizon, was too hung up
with other things to bother calling more than once or twice
a month, even though he never seemed to have trouble talking to people. Just his daughter.
The following week, when Laura returned to class, she sat
57

in front of the room, hoping Jim would call on her first. But
her thoughts began to wander, remembering her mother’s
cold, bony hand on her shoulder as she lay in bed, facing
the wall. “I’m just trying to save you from heartache. Bad
impressions, they can last a lifetime. Take it from someone
who knows.”

want you to try the scene you did last week, keeping in
mind that your character wants something and is willing to
fight for it, otherwise why bother.”

Laura took a deep breath, making a forced and labored
sound. By the time Jim called on her, she was ready to tell
him to move on to someone else. But before she could get
the words out, he jumped in.

“The stakes in here aren’t high,” Jim said to her, “but they
are for Bella. Try redirecting all that energy away from
yourself and back to where it belongs, on your character.”

On the second go-around, her vocal
chords were still plucked tight.
Every muscle in her body ached.
She felt drained.

“You’re trying too hard, Laura. Breathe.”

“Let’s start with some warmup exercises,” he said to her.
“Just a few head rolls. Like this,” he showed her. “Shoulders down. Nice and slow.”
Laura watched Jim’s head make a smooth arc, his long,
golden strands capturing light. Rolling her head clockwise,
then counterclockwise, she heard a strange sound. Like
sand grinding in back of her neck.
“Now let’s try some jumping jacks.”
Laura winced, her lips disappearing into her face.
“Is something wrong?”
“No . . . it’s just that . . . it’s just that I feel silly.”
“I can do them with you if you’d like, but we’re all going
to look foolish sooner or later, so you might as well do it in
here where it’s safe. Out there, it’s something else.”
Laura could feel the queasiness rising inside. She was sure
she was going to throw up. She was about to tell him she
wasn’t feeling well, that she wanted to go home, but then
she noticed he looked frustrated with her.
“I know these exercises may seem silly, but it’s important
for an actor to stay loose.” He turned his back to her. “I

58

Laura’s voice cracked as soon as she started. She stopped
herself mid-sentence and asked to start the scene over.

On the second go-around, her vocal chords were still
plucked tight. Every muscle in her body ached. She felt
drained.

She thought she saw him roll his eyes. “I am breathing,”
Laura snapped at him.
“You’re like a race horse trying to leave the gate too soon.
Cynthia, would you mind showing Laura the breathing exercises we did last semester?”
Laura watched Cynthia, wondering what she said to piss
Jim off. He was nice to her one minute, but then next it was
something else, as if all his overtures of kindness were just
for show.
“OK, we have a few more scenes to get through. Very nice,
Cynthia. Laura, come speak to me after class.”
Laura ignored the other students’ performances. What was
the point? Nothing ever changed. She looked at the piano,
remembering her first concert recital, the day before she
turned ten. From the moment she touched the ivory keys,
her hands started to shake. The harder she tried to compose
herself, the more she felt the weight of people’s stares.
On the car ride home, Laura tried apologizing to her
mother, her splintered voice wobbling like they were driving over stones. Her mother just glanced back at her in the
rearview mirror, never saying a word.

After class ended, she waited for everyone to clear out so
she could talk to Jim alone, but the room was alive with
laughter and students shouting to be heard over one another. She watched the high-energy flirting and mingling.
Jim touching shoulders with Emily, looked over the head
shots she was about to send to the William Morris agency.
Laura’s throat burned, wondering if they were an item.

Looking away, she tried to read her script but couldn’t absorb any of it. The room suddenly grew quieter. She closed
the book, noticing that the only ones left were Jim, Nick,
and a strawberry blond named Cassie. Nick and Cassie
were exchanging phone numbers.

Not even a minute after Laura took off her coat, Jim raced
up to her, his barely contained excitement bursting through
the flecks of his blue eyes.

When she saw Jim approach, she dropped her script on the
floor.

Laura crossed her arms over her chest, shaking her head.

“Fumble at the 40-yard line!” Jim said, recovering the book
and handing it to her. He sat across from her with the front
of the chair facing toward him.

She wasn’t sure what it was, but
wearing something that belonged to
him felt intimate.

“I’m sorry if I was rough on you,” he said, tapping the back
of the chair. “It’s just if I don’t push you . . . I guess the
point I’m trying to make is success is built on failure.”
“I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
Jim waved his hand, dismissing her apology.
“I’d like to see you try a scene with a few of your fellow
thespians. It’s easier than doing a monologue—trust me. It
forces you to pay attention to what’s going on around you,
taking the focus off yourself.”
Laura breathed in, her stomach slowly rising. “I don’t belong here. I slow the class down.”
He looked at her, a strange smile on his face. “Do you realize your voice didn’t shake when you just said that?”

*

*

*

Before Laura returned to class the following week, she
checked out the bulletin board in the student union. A piece
of yellow construction paper hung lopsided, only one thumb
tack securing it on the otherwise empty board. Female Student looking for responsible roommate, two bedroom, off
campus apartment, $800 a month.
She tore off one of the tabs at the bottom with a phone number on it. Her mother was right. It was time to shit or get off
the pot.

“Ever read The Glass Menagerie?”

“Are you cold?” He pulled his sweater over his head and
handed it to her. “Go on.”
Laura noticed a faint scar just above the opening of his
button-down shirt. She threw the burgundy pullover over
her head, taking in Jim’s scent. Sweat? Salt? She wasn’t
sure what it was, but wearing something that belonged to
him felt intimate.
When she saw Jim’s face, she wondered whether she had
the sweater on backward. She reached back, feeling for a
tag.
“It looks better on you than it does on me,” he said, holding
her gaze. Laura felt her body tense with excitement, and she
quickly looked away.
“Do you have something to write with?”
Laura handed him a pen, trying in vain to steady her uncooperative hands. She watched him thumb through the pages,
making notes.
“I want you to read the entire play, paying close attention to
the gentleman caller scene. There are two female characters.
I want you to take a look at Laura. Take it home and let me
know what you think.”
After class, Laura came home so wound up, she couldn’t
sleep. She stayed in bed tossing and turning, thinking about
Jim, about the scar on his chest, neat and tidy like a railroad
track, almost one-inch long. She wondered why sometimes
his voice grew raspy, like he was gasping for air. When she
finally stared at the clock, it was 1:16 a.m. Turning on the
lamp, she picked up her copy of The Glass Menagerie from
the nightstand and started to read, resigned to a sleepless
night.

*

*

*

“I can’t do this,” Laura said to Jim the following week,
handing him the script.
“I thought you’d . . .”
“I’m not a basket case . . .”
“I wasn’t trying to suggest you’re like this character. Laura
59

Wingfield would never take an acting class.”
“This gentleman caller, Jim, he pities her.”
“He has feelings for her because—maybe Mr. O’Connor
has faced his own share of disappointments—Laura brings
something out in him, and . . . look, I can’t force you to
do this, but it would really make me happy if you read the
script again. If you can’t find one thing to love about this
character, then we’ll talk.”
When Laura went home, she decided not to read the script
again. Instead she borrowed the DVD from the library and
watched it twice.

“Is this guy for real?” Mike whispered after Jim moved on
to another student. “The real deal. What’s that supposed to
mean? What a windbag.”
“I like him,” Laura said, exhaling deeply into Mike’s face.
“You and every other girl,” he said as he walked away.
Laura tightened her grip on the glass figurine she’d been
holding, as if the piece might slip through her trembling
hands and shatter into a million pieces.
“So how’s The Glass Menagerie coming along?”
Laura jumped when she heard Jim’s voice.
“Did I startle you?”

Laura froze, feeling the sharp edge
of the glass unicorn cutting into the
flesh of her palm.

The next week Laura showed up ten minutes early, examining her script again before her scene partner, Mike, arrived.
She underlined a passage, remembering what Jim said to
her about paying attention to what happened earlier in the
play.
When Mike finally showed, he took the book from Laura’s
hands.
“The important thing is to stay in the moment,” he said to
her when Jim was out of hearing range. “When I was a thespian, I worked with Glenn Close and Vanessa Redgrave, but
I never let that throw me off course. I’d just take in a deep
breath and blow my hot air out all over them.”
It wasn’t the first time Laura heard Mike make fun of Jim.
She laughed but felt a twinge in her stomach, as if everything inside her were sinking right down to her gut. She
tried to snap out of it but couldn’t make the feeling go
away, especially when they rehearsed the scene in which
Mike had to kiss her.
“This is no charity kiss,” Jim said, putting his hands on
Mike’s shoulders. “Jim may have a girl back home, but
he’s not thinking about her. This is the real deal. Play it that
way.”

60

“No . . . I mean . . . I’m just a little tired.”
“Get some rest. You’ll need it for next week. The important
thing to know about The Glass Menagerie is it was a labor
of love. Tennessee Williams’ mother had his sister lobotomized, and he never got over it.”
“Dude, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal
lobotomy, any day.” Zack barged in, giving Jim a high-five.
“So are we going for a drink tonight, or what?”
“Not tonight, bro. Meredith’s home, waiting for me.”
“Ah, the ol’ ball and chain,” Zack groaned, pretending to
strangle himself by putting his hands around his neck.
Jim laughed. “Next week. I promise.”
Laura froze, feeling the sharp edge of the glass unicorn cutting into the flesh of her palm. She left the room without
saying goodbye to anyone.
Laura went over every detail in her mind. The way Jim
looked at her. The way he talked to her. All along, she
thought something was there, but it was just her loneliness
speaking, telling her Jim wanted her.
These days all she wanted to do was sleep a good, long
sleep. She couldn’t face the class again. It was too draining.
She buried her head in the pillow and felt something underneath. The spine of a book. Her copy of The Glass Menagerie. She threw it on the floor and rolled over on her back,
draping her arm over her eyes.
It might have been an hour, or it might have been fifteen
minutes later when she heard a knock. She waited a moment before dragging herself out of bed, her head swollen

with exhaustion.
“It’s two in the afternoon!”
Laura stepped aside, watching her mother make a beeline

“A thought is just a thought,” Jim
had told her. All she needed to do
was take a deep breath and release
it into the atmosphere.
for the window next to her bed, opening up the blinds. She
held her hand up in front of her eyes, trying to defend herself against the sun and her mother’s stare.
“Have you been crying?”
Laura fixed her eyes on the copy of The Glass Menagerie
fanned out on the floor.
“Look at me. You’ve been crying. I can tell.”
“I miss Dad,” Laura blurted, squeezing her eyes shut,
knowing it was too late to take back her words.
“So do I,” her mother whispered, her voice thick and
phlegmy, like she had a cold.
Laura stood still, not opening her eyes until she heard the
door close. After she heard her mother pad down the hallway, she bent down and picked up the book, wondering if
it was true what Jim said about Tennessee Williams’ sister.
There was a page still dog-eared. She unfolded the corner.
“Yep—that’s what I judge to be your principal
trouble. A lack of confidence in yourself as a person. You don’t have the proper amount of faith in
yourself. I’m basing that fact on a number of your
remarks and also on some observations I’ve made.
For instance that clumping you thought was so
awful in high school. You say that you even dreaded to walk into class. You see what you did? You
dropped out of school, you gave up an education
because of a clump, which as far as I know was
practically non-existent! A little physical defect is
what you have. Hardly noticeable even! Magnified thousands of times by your imagination! You
know what my strong advice to you is? Think of

yourself as superior in some way.”
Laura put the book down and walked over to the mirror.
She gazed at her reflection. Her eyes were red, her skin
pale. She didn’t see anything superior staring back at her.
“So, what, you’re just going to go AWOL?” Mike said to
her the next week. “You might not be able to get in a word
edgewise, but don’t you think you should talk to Jim? He
did sort of spend a lot of time on you, and you’re my scene
partner. Great—now I guess I’ll have to find someone else.”
Laura shut off her cell phone and walked across the snowblanketed campus. Mike was right. She owed Jim some sort
of explanation why she wasn’t coming back to class. But
at this point, what could she say? She wondered if he knew
that she had feelings for him.
What a stupid question. Of course he knew.
By the time she reached Jim’s office, she was out of breath.
There was a note on the door saying he’d be back in five.
She turned away, deciding that the best thing to do at this
point was just leave him a note. She didn’t feel equipped to
deal with his kindness. She thought about the day he swept
the strand of hair away from her eyes and wondered if she
had imagined the whole thing. “Fuck him,” Laura muttered
underneath her breath.
Maybe Mike was right. Maybe he was just a windbag.
She wandered toward the west side of the building and
slumped down in the window seat. It wasn’t even five, but
the sun was already setting. She fumbled through her purse
for a pen, thinking about how winter would drag. Now is the
winter of our discontent, she scribbled. Outside the window,
the arthritic-looking limbs of a giant oak tree stretched toward Sutton, as if desperate for something.
She started to write something in her notebook when she
heard a woman’s voice. It was a strange voice—the rhythm,
the inflection somehow off. Laura looked up, annoyed.
A well-dressed, petite blond, around her age, was walking
with her boyfriend. He signed something to her and said, “I
love you.”

*

*

*

“A thought is just a thought,” Jim had told her. All she
needed to do was take a deep breath and release it into the
atmosphere. Laura remembered this when it came time for
the kiss with Mike. So that’s what she did, and when Mike

61

kissed her, she lost herself in the moment completely.
. . . I could put on an act for you, Laura, and
say lots of things without being very sincere.
But this time I am. I’m talking to you sincerely.
I happened to notice that you had this inferiority complex that keeps you from feeling comfortable with people. Somebody needs to build
your confidence up and make you proud instead of shy and turning away and—blushing.
Somebody—ought to—kiss you, Laura.

like for her out there, as Jim would say?
Circling the block for the second time, she looked for
a place to park. “Good men are like parking spots,” her
mother once said to her. “They’re never easy to find.” Laura
squeezed into a spot between two SUVs, trying to remember the last time she saw her mom smile.
When she arrived at the restaurant, she wondered if she was
in the right place. She didn’t recognize anyone and felt her
breathing become tight. Breathe, Laura! I am breathing!

It was a tender kiss, and when she heard the applause, she
blushed.

Like Jim taught her, she exhaled slowly before approaching
the hostess dressed in black.

Jim gently tugged Laura’s blouse as she made her way back
to her seat. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered to her, kissing
her on the cheek. From behind his back, he reached around,
producing a single-stemmed blue rose. Laura looked at it,
her pupils dilating. In her twenty-three years, no one had
ever given her a flower before. She thanked Jim, her eyes
scouring the room for an empty seat, afraid if she said anything more, she might cry.

“Excuse me,” she said, her voice now strong and steady.

Zack crashed down into the seat next to her.
“I was thinking of dyeing my hair this color,” he said, taking the flower from her. “So what’s the deal, are you coming out tonight, or what?”
“I don’t know . . .”
“It’s right down the road. Playwright Tavern. Everyone will
be there. I’ll save a spot for you.” He walked away, waving
the flower over his head.
When Laura turned the key in her ignition, she wondered
how long this feeling would last. She was glad she came
back to class; glad she didn’t cut off Jim, but the anxiety
would always be there, stealing her breath.
She followed the taillights, thinking about what was in store
for her. Her voice shook during the performance, just like
always. Still, everything worked out. But what would it be

62

“Oh, you must be with that acting class. They’re all in the
back.”
On the way, Laura slipped into the ladies room. She
checked herself out in the mirror. Her skin looked good.
Maybe it was the lighting. She combed her hair, reflecting
on the night’s performance. She felt like she really got inside Laura, maybe not completely disappearing, but giving
her all she had.
She tucked in her blouse. Cynthia had said something
once about it bringing out the color of her eyes. The liquid
warmth of her brown eyes seemed to open up her face, inviting a connection.
Mike had botched a line up there, back when they were on
stage together. “Because other people are not such wonderful people,” he was supposed to say. She wasn’t sure she
liked that line, anyway. People disappointed, but once in a
while, if you were lucky, you ended up with some small,
thorny act of kindness.t

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Deserét Baker is a freelance journalist living in Boise,
Idaho. She has had two pieces, one essay and one humorous
piece published in Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013,
respectively. Baker has bipolar II disorder which she says
“tends to cause emotional responses to events in life to be
both long lived and intense.” She has always relied on
writing as a necessary means of catharsis. When her daughter lost her hearing, she learned American Sign language
and taught it as an adjunct professor at Boise State
University.
Jeffrey Boyer lives in Rising Sun, Maryland. He was
named Emerging Professional in Fiction by the Delaware
State Arts Council. His stories have been published in such
literary journals as Hunger Mountain and the new renaissance. “Mother’s New Leg” is a semi-autobiographical
story about his mother who lost her leg, and then her life, to
cancer. Boyer says, “No matter our disabilities, physical or
spiritual, we find wholeness when we forget ourselves and
help others.”
Marguerite Elisofon lives in New York City where she
writes and also blogs (The Never Empty Nest). Her work
has appeared in Hobo Pancakes (March 2014) and Existere
Journal of Arts and Literature (Spring/Summer 2013). She
has also contributed to the anthology Write for Light (2013).
Elisofon, whose adult daughter is on the autistic spectrum,
says, “I’m passionate about seeing my daughter become an
independent and productive member of society.”
Joanne Faries, originally from the Philadelphia area, lives
in Texas where she works as a documentation specialist in
the aerospace industry. She has been published in Doorknobs & Bodypaint, a flash fiction journal. She also has six
poems in Silver Boomer Anthologies and is the film critic
for the Little Paper of San Sabra. She has a humorous
memoir entitled My Zoo World: If All Dogs Go to Heaven,
Then I’m in Trouble, as well as a flash fiction collection,
Wordsplash Flash and three poetry books Wordsplash Poetry Puddle: Nature; Hazy Memory; and Tread Water.
Dr. E. P. Fisher is a retired psychologist living in Pine
Bush, New York. His 163 poems have been published in
The Writer and numerous literary journals such as Avocet,
Crucible, Griffin, and Wisconsin Review. He has won several New York Poetry Forum Awards and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. Dr. Fisher taught high school English in
Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked for 30 years
as a play therapist and adventure-based counselor with special needs children. He has an immune deficiency disorder
which he says provides him with the solitude necessary for
self-reflection.

Tony Gloeggler has managed group homes for people with
developmental disabilities for more than 30 years. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.
One Wish Left, his first full-length poetry collection, was
published in 2000. The Last Lie was published in 2010. His
latest collection, Until the Last Light Leaves, was published
in 2014.
Dr. Elishia Heiden earned her Ph.D. in English from the
University of North Texas in 2014. She lives in Arkansas
where she works as an assistant dean. Her fiction has been
published in Penduline Press (2013), Litro Magazine (2013)
and Journey (2008). Heiden says, “I am a full-time learner.
I like to try on new hobbies and ideas.”
Anne E. Johnson is a writer and editor from Brooklyn,
New York. Her novel, Green Light Delivery, was published
in 2012. Her short stories have appeared in Rainbow Rumpus (October 2014), and in the Young Adult anthology,
Resilience (January 2012). She has also contributed to the
Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide to be published in 2015.
Johnson has won the SpeckFic Reader’s Choice Award
(2014), the Kazka Press 713-word Flash Fiction Contest
(January 2012), and the Children’s Writer Historical Fiction
Contest (February 2011).
Sarah Key lives in New York City where she works as a
writer and editor. Her poems have appeared in Enizagam
(September 2014), Naugatuck River Review (June 2013),
and Poet Lore (September 2003). In addition, she has had
four essays published in The Huffington Post (2014).
Key says, “I love to read, and writing is the other side of
reading.”
Joan Mazza is a poet and writer from Mineral, Virginia.
She has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and has been a Pushcart nominee.
Author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self
(Penguin/Putnam), her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Off
the Coast, Kestrel, Slipstream, American Journal of Nursing, The MacGuffin, Mezzo Cammin, and The Nation.
Elizabeth Meade has had poetry published in Wordgathering (September 2012), and Pank Magazine (October 2012)
which publishes emerging and experimental poetry and
prose. Meade says, “I love to play with words.” Her disability is cerebral palsy and of “Ode to Left Arm” she says, “I
let the unique movements and posture of my body inspire
. . . metaphor for this poem.”

63

Sandy Palmer studied graphic design at The University of
Akron and is a freelance artist working in colored pencil,
marker, and pen and ink. She contributes to Kaleidoscope
as a writer of visual artist profiles and an illustrator, having
joined the staff as art coordinator in 2002. Palmer is a fulltime graphic design specialist at United Disability Services.
Jenny Patton is a writer and senior lecturer at The Ohio
State University. Her work has been published in Brevity,
Prism Review, 751 Magazine, Natural Awakenings, River
Teeth online and Ohio Writer, for which her entry earned
first place in the Best of Ohio Writers Contest sponsored
by Poets’ & Writers’ League. She was a 2011 Peter Taylor
Nonfiction Fellow at Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and
a 2012 scholarship student at New York Summer Writers
Institute at Skidmore College.
Andy Roberts lives in Columbus, Ohio where he handles
finances for veterans with disabilities. Roberts’ work has
been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. He has
been published in Atlanta Review, Fulcrum, and Slipstream. His latest chapbook, The Green World, was published by Night Ballet Press (March 2014).
Alan L. Samry is a public librarian in Fairhope, Alabama.
His personal and literary essays have been published in
Obsession, an online literary journal (Fall 2012), Disability Studies Quarterly (September 2008), Birmingham
Arts Journal (Spring 2013), and The Dead Mule School of
Southern Literature (Fall 2013). Samry is an avid blogger
whose thoughts and ideas about being a congenital amputee
and library culture meld at Stump: the Librarian. Samry’s
disability is congenital—below the knee amputation.
Hal Sirowitz is a retired school teacher and writer living in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His poetry has been published
in Hanging Loose 103 (2014), Bellevue Literary Review
(Fall 2014), Apalachee Review 64 (2014), and The Cape
Rock (Spring 2014). He is the author of six books of
poetry of which Stray Cat Blues (Backwaters Press) was
awarded the 2013 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry. He
received fellowships from the National Endowment for the
Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Garrison
Keillor has read Sirowitz’s work on NPR’s The Writer’s
Almanac and included Sirowitz’s poems in his anthologies,
Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times. After almost
twenty years with Parkinson’s Disease, Sirowitz says,
“. . . instead of being angry at the disease, I use it as subject
matter.”

64

Anita Stienstra resides in Phoenix, Arizona where she
works as an editor. She has published four chapbooks of
poetry: Capturing Apparitions (1999), Men Were Never
Mourned As You (1997), Shifting Focus (1997), and Whispering English Trees (1996). Her awards include the John
Knoepfle Creative Writing Award for Poetry, University
of Illinois Springfield Alumni, 2013. Stienstra’s husband
struggled with progressive MS for the sixteen years they
were together and died in 2013. Those disability issues are
reflected in her work.
Kellie L. Thurman makes her home in East Central,
Indiana. Her poems have been published in four poetry
anthologies. Recently, she has been published in Spotlight
on Recovery Magazine, The Christian Journal, and three
online fiction magazine sites: Bio-Stories, On the Premise,
and Micro-Horror.
Ellen Dawn Wilder is from Stanford, Connecticut where
she works as a payroll administrator. She earned her MFA
in creative writing from Manhattanville College in 2014.
Wilder has published theater reviews and feature stories in
The Stanford Advocate and Greenwich Time from 2000 to
2006. When she’s not crunching numbers, Wilder is working on her first novel.
Gail Willmott received a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in
education, both from the University of Illinois. A Kaleidoscope staff member since 1982, Willmott became editor-inchief in July 2003. She says, “I am passionate, some would
say obsessive, about my work with Kaleidoscope.”
Shannon Connor Winward lives in Newark, Delaware
where she is an author of literary and speculative fiction and
poetry. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Winward’s chapbook
of poetry titled Undoing Winter was published by Finishing
Line Press in July 2014. She was chosen as Poetry Fellow
for the Cape Henlopen Poet and Prose Writers Retreat,
sponsored by the Delaware State Arts Council.

Becki Melchione, Toronto, 2010, digital image, 20” diameter