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Every year there are rumors that Texas is going to pass prison reform bills.

In the
run up to September when the new laws are passed, the units are filled with stories of the
Texas Legislature passing prison reform bills. Taking into account both Work Time (time
spent at our prison jobs) and Good Time (good behavior time) both of which the state of ELIZABETH WEIR grew up in England and lives in Minnesota, USA.
Texas tracks but doesn't reward to inmates, I have completed over thirty-six years on a Her book of poetry, High on Table Mountain, was published by North Star
twenty-three year sentence. The Parole Board denied me parole twice even though I rarely Press and was nominated for the Midwest Poetry Book Award. Recent
get into trouble. I read. I write poems. I daydream about writing a Broadway musical with work has appeared in Evening Street Review, The Breakthrough
Lady Gaga.
Intercessor, Spotlight on Recovery, and Tyler County Booster.
A few months ago I sat in front of the Unit Parole Officer. In Texas an inmate,
doesn't the parole board on their behalf. If an inmate can afford a parole attorney
the attorney is allowed to speak to the parole board on the inmate’s behalf. I don't have JOHNNY L WOOTEN is currently serving three sentences totaling 165
that. What I have is a letter of sincere regret and heartbreak. After seventeen years of prison years without parole on the Wainwright Unit in Lovelady, Texas. He has
this is more than just empty words but how do you make.strangers understand that? written for Evening Street Review, The Breakthrough Intercessor,
I also have a bullet-point list of accomplishments. I explain each one; the Spotlight on Recovery, and Tyler County Booster. He is reporter for the
publications, the awards, the performance of my play ‘Freedom Feather” at the Brooklyn ECH0 newspaper, which is delivered to over 100,000 offenders in the state
Book Festival, the performance podcast of my play “What's Prison Like?” by Open-Door of Texas. He and co-author Richard Vasquez are students in the Therapon
Playhouse. Free-world accomplishments accomplished from a prison cell. Theological Bible College.
“These are great,” she tells me. “Where are your certificates?”
“These are free-world,” I tell her. “Not prison.” CAT WYATT, a self-described intuitive and eccentric free spirit, has
The Unit Parole Officer frowns. “You should really get some certificates.”
never turned down an adventure that involves sailing, boat racing, or
“Is there any way that you can tell the parole board about what l've done?”
“No. Sorry. l'm not allowed to do that.” shipboard living on the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay, Mexico, or
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is big on certificates. In TDCJ the units the Florida Keys. Published in several periodicals, she crafts slice-of-life
hand out certificates to document the completion of classes, job-training, and bible study. stories that explore relationships challenged by adversity. Having worked
They even hand out a certification for bingo night. The parole board already knows about in law enforcement and trauma intervention, she lives in Anchorage,
these accomplishments. Administration and the system-wide prison school district notifies Alaska, with her husband and adopted cats—and she can still see the
them on completion. As I walk back to my dorm, I think how neat it would be if the Unit water.
Parole Officer got a certificate for each one of us that goes home. I also realize that Texas
has the only professional sports team in the world named after a law enforcement agency. GERALD YELLE has published in numerous online and print journals.
I didn't make parole. It's funny to hear some of the men in here say that they don't His books include The Holyoke Diaries, Future Cycle Press (2014) and
care if they make parole. They are afraid of dashed hope. I'm not. If 1 can call myself a Mark My Word and the New World Order, Pedestrian Press (2016). He is
writer at all it is because I am regularly rejected. In my Job as a carsalesman, selling one
a member of the Florence (MA) Poets Society.
customer in ten is a great month. In professional baseball, if a batter gets on base three
times for every ten at bats, the player will go to the Hall of Fame. Parole is different. When
a magazine rejects a poem or a customer buys a Toyota instead of a Honda, my soul doesn't
separate from my body. My mom and dad don't weep with me. My friend Marci and me
don't stop talking for months at a time, thirty years of intimacy suddenly awkward and fragile.
I don't know how parole works. Going home is the only thing in prison that l've
never done. 1 do know this: since I've been locked up I've made my childhood dream of
having a play performed in New York City come true. Even if it doesn't mean anything to
the Honorable Parole Board, it means something to me.
Nothing changes for me. I read. I write poems. I'm hopeful.
Stay safe.
Que te vaya bien,

. . .all men and women are created equal in rights to life,

liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
—ElizabethCady Stanton, revision of the
American Declaration of Independence, 1848


Editor & Managing Editor: Barbara Bergmann
Associate Editors: Donna Spector, Kailen Nourse-Driscoll, Patti Sullivan,
Anthony Mohr, L D Zane, Stacia Levy, Jeffrey Davis, Clela Reed,
Matthew Mendoza, Matthew Spireng, Ace Boggess, Kristin Laurel, Jan
Bowman, Aaron Fischer

Founding Editor: Gordon Grigsby

Evening Street Review is published in the spring and fall of every year
(with additional issues as needed) by Evening Street Press. United States
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(individuals), and $34 for two issues and $54 for four issues (institutions).

Cover: “Snow on the Olentagy, 2010” Gordon Grigsby

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ISBN: 978-1-937347-69-7

Evening Street Review is centered on the belief that all men and women
are created equal, that they have a natural claim to certain inalienable
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Johnny L. Wooten and Richard Vasquez, in their article “What to

do with the Lost Boy of the Barrio,” page 76, argue that 16-year-olds
“don’t yet know what it even is to be a man.” While this might be true, the
better argument is they don’t know what it means to be an adult.
Cultures differ in what it means to be a man. Many cultures have
rites of passage when boys fulfill requirements to be ushered into
manhood. Other rites of passage in these same cultures have requirements
reserved for girls. In general, having passed the requirements, initiates are
considered adults.
In current US culture, there is no universal rite of passage unless
registering for the Selective Services for 18-year-old males can be
considered such. Including females in this registration might then make it
a means of ushering US citizens into adulthood with all its attendant
responsibilities and privileges (except, of course, drinking alcohol, buying
tobacco products, and some others).
The US justice system allows for persons to be exempted from
prosecution based on their mental status. Perhaps juveniles should be
given the same consideration due to the “unfinished” quality of the
juvenile brain.
It should be noted that Wooten and Vasquez were writing before
the Texas legislature, on a bi-partisan basis, approved the “Second Look
Bill,” which was then vetoed by the governor in June of 2021.






MIRANA COMSTOCK The Frailty of Beauty 23
On the Day the Pandemic
was Declared 31
JOHN LAMBREMONT, SR In the Breeze 35
THOMAS R MOORE Passing Through St. Petersburg 36
GERALD YELLE How I Identify 45
Boxes 50
Sacajawea Overheard Talking
To Herself 50
Child of Bones 53
DORIS FERLEGER I Hid It so You’ll Never Find It 54
ED WADE “Dancin’ with my Baby” 62
Will You 74
What May Not Be Discarded 75
Rainbow Body 82
LUCIA HAASE Wildflower Field 83
WILLIAM SWARTS Semper Fidelis 96
MITCHELL UNTCH Essential 105
SETH ROSENBLOOM Shooting Squad, 1941 Lithuania 113
Unto Our Renewal 114
Echocardiogram 118
Not Knowing 119
JBMULLIGAN some faith in man 120
CAROL GRASER The Adirondack Postcard 121
MARY ANN NOE Pressed Linen 125
Heat 125
The Day the Sky Froze 126
MARK SIMPSON Slide Hill 139
The O'Neill Dancers Are Dancing Today,
March 17 140
Toward a Practical Life 141
GEORGE J SEARLES Much Obliged, U.S. Gov’t Printing Office!
You Guys are the Best! 144
Workplace from Hell 145
ANNA CITRINO Sealed Up 158
Once, in the Basement 159
RUTH KAVANAGH Diagnosis Day & Tackling Cancer
“Head On”—Pun Intended 31
MARIE G COLEMAN What Kind Am I? 51
with the Lost Boy of the Barrio 76
JAN SHOEMAKER The Difference 122
GALINA CHERNAYA The Court of the People 160

CAT WYATT Aloha Girl 24
JAMES BRENNAN Can’t Say No to You 37
COREY LYNN FAYMAN Rambler Wagon 47
BOBBY COHEN Five Things 55
Before #metoo 64
RUSSELL THAYER Combustion 97
BETH ESCOTT NEWCOMER Can These Bones Live? 109
KIM FARLEIGH On Being Mad 115
KAREN FAYETH The Violin, the Lion, and the Truth 141

6 / Evening Street Review 32



I was 12 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April

4, 1968. I recall a cloud of sadness in my home, no crying, but words
spoken quietly between my mom and dad, in hushed tones, clearly
something terrible had happened. But more vividly, I remember my father
going to our neighbor’s home that night—the neighbor who was an avid
hunter—and asking to borrow a rifle. My father said he wanted to protect
our family in case anticipated riots spread north from Harlem to our
exclusive, mostly white suburb 20 miles north in Edgemont, a small
community adjacent to Scarsdale, in Westchester County, New York.
I recall watching my father leave the house and return with a large
gun. He leaned the rifle up against a wall in his closet and placed a box of
ammunition on his shelf. I have no idea if he knew how to fire the gun, but
he was determined to protect us if any Black rioters came near our home.
In the decades since, it was the rifle that stood out as the single,
enduring memory from that tragic day. My father was a businessman, my
mother an artist and homemaker, neither had a college degree and my
home growing up was not a place of deep thought, not a place to talk about
civil rights, activism of any kind or what was lost on the terribly sad day
King was murdered.
So the night of April 4 was, for the most part, a night to watch or
listen to the news and for dad to watch our backs, to protect our upper-
middle class white family of four in case Black rioters got out of hand.
Wide-scale rioting, for the most part, didn’t happen in greater New
York City following the assassination. Although there were some
disturbances in Westchester County, our immediate community in
Edgemont, which technically is part of the town of Greenburgh, was not
threatened and the rifle, apparently never loaded, was returned to our
neighbor. I never saw a gun in our house again until 2020 when,
metaphorically speaking, the gun, suddenly, finally, went off. It went off
in my mind, not in reality. It blew open and exposed a raw nerve that
forced me, compelled me, to reflect. The trigger was the murder of George
Floyd. I am a liberal-minded person, a life-long Democrat, a card-carrying
member of the ACLU. I had been repulsed and distressed, like any like-
minded person, by the years of police brutality against Black people, but
2021, Winter / 7

Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed pushed
me to do something. For a week or so, my family and I joined nightly
neighborhood protests near where we live, on Broadway in Morningside
Heights, in New York City. I wrote letters to congressional leaders urging
action, but my efforts soon faded. I was at a loss about what to do next,
but I felt an obligation to do something. I had lived a privileged life as a
white, upper-middle class person, well-educated, good jobs, loving family,
and financial security. I had been a longtime legal affairs journalist, then
a practicing attorney in New York City, and now I was writing again. I
decided I would write something about race, but I wasn’t sure what.
I began by reading. Over several months, I read books, fiction and
nonfiction, by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Jesmyn Ward, Toni
Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Isabel Wilkerson, Edward E. Baptist, Sven
Beckert, Ibram X. Kendi, Taylor Branch, Eric Foner, and Ida B. Wells,
among others, focusing on the Black people’s struggle and Black history
since 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were brought to America. I
was looking for ideas and a way to approach and delve into my thoughts.
Among the books I read were several slave narratives, which recounted
the personal stories of enslaved Black people.
“I don’t like to talk a’bout dem times ’cause my mother did suffer
….” Minnie Fulkes, 77, told an interviewer in 1937 of her days in slavery
as a young girl in Virginia. “... [A]n overseer used to tie mother up in de
barn with a rope aroun’ her arms up over her head, while she stood on a
block. Soon as dey got her tied, dis block was moved an’ her feet dangled,
yo’ know (she couldn’t) touch de flo’.
“Dis ol’ man, now, would start beatin’ her nekkid ’til the blood
run down her back to her heels ...
“I asked my mother what she done fer ’en to beat … her so. She
said nothin’, other than she refused to be wife to dis man.”
I kept reading, knowing full well that while my ancestors and I
lived and benefitted from the well-advertised home of the “free and the
brave,” from the “land of opportunity,” this land was, in fact, the exact
opposite for so many millions of people who were not white.
This made me think about my own family. How my ancestors
lived in a parallel universe, like millions of other white, immigrant
families, climbing steadily upward, through work success, home
ownership, educational opportunity, increasing wealth, through the
decades of the 20th century, in contrast to the mightier struggle for many
Black families, a continuous and chronic struggle for equal rights and
equal opportunity, a chronic struggle for upward mobility and a better
8 / Evening Street Review 32

life—two parallel, unequal, universes. This was not news, but I was
forcing myself to think longer and harder about it.
Kendi, in his important book “How to be an Antiracist,”
emphasized that we all need to work harder—much harder—to be an
antiracist. Just being a well-meaning liberal Democrat and voting for the
right people wasn’t nearly good enough.
“Like fighting an addiction, being antiracist requires persistent
self-awareness, constant self-criticism and regular self-examination,”
Kendi wrote.
So I decided to write a self-reflection, a self-examination, a
reckoning about what I had missed all these years, to make me more aware
of the racism that was and still is around me. (I also decided to write a
short story, a fictional account, but that’s a separate writing.) As I read, I
began making a list—a chronological list that got longer and longer over
the months, a list of events involving me or not, events that occurred before
or after I was born, events that occurred in my community or elsewhere,
that all shed a personal light on racism in America for me. I was looking
for coincidences in time, intersections with my life, or just occurrences
that now, in retrospect, compel me to reflect and wonder.
The most shocking revelation was learning that vestiges of slavery
and historical racism existed in Edgemont, in the greater Scarsdale area
and in Westchester County, while I was growing up. And I was oblivious
to it all. The truth was, there were historic signs of slavery and/or
contemporary signs of racism almost everywhere I was in my life. All I
needed to do was look—and think about it.
Unfortunately, my obliviousness began and became rooted when
I was a young child. Until starting to write this essay, I had never really
thought about the fact that I, like millions of other baby boomers, was born
smack in the middle of the civil rights movement. I was born in 1956 and
my childhood, through King’s assassination in 1968, coincided with many
of the tumultuous and momentous events of the civil rights era. I always
knew the chronology, but I had never focused on it. I don’t recall ever
having one conversation with family, friends, or teachers about race, racial
injustice, or civil rights, or any of the historic or tragic events that took
place hundreds of miles to the south, such as school integration, lunch
counter protests, civil rights marches, or the violence in Mississippi,
Alabama, and elsewhere.
I was young and I lived far away from the epicenter, but I don’t
think that’s an excuse. I was oblivious. My father was our family’s leader,
a dedicated and hardworking businessman, a successful breadwinner. We
2021, Winter / 9

had a loving, supportive relationship. But neither he, nor my mom, ever
mentioned what was going on down South or in Washington. I don’t think
they knew any better.
My father was a businessman selling men’s neckties to stores
around the country. I knew that he travelled down South during the civil
rights era, but I had never thought about what he might have observed in
the 1950s or 1960s. Even in my teens or later, I never asked, and he never
spoke about it.
But now I know that my father sold ties to at least one store with
a racist past, with a notable role in civil rights history.
Thalhimers Department Store in Richmond, Virginia, one of the
more prominent stores in the South at the time, was a customer of my
father’s, according to Harvey Mallis, who worked for my dad starting in
the 1970s and was familiar with my dad’s work history and with
Thalhimers. Up until 1960, following the Jim Crow laws of the South,
Thalhimers did not allow Black people to eat in its famous Richmond
Room restaurant, instead forcing Blacks to eat in the basement at a
separate lunch counter. A sit-in protest by 34 students from Virginia Union
University in February 1960 would change that.
Now I wonder if my father knew about the store’s racist history. I
wonder if he ate in the segregated Richmond Room restaurant. During his
sales trips to the South during the Jim Crow era, he would have walked
past those infamous signs mandating separate facilities for whites and
Blacks, separate restaurants, separate bathrooms, separate hotels, separate
water fountains. He would have used the separate whites only facilities at
some places, at some times. Yet my father never mentioned Thalhimers,
never mentioned the Jim Crow South, not one word at home. My father
died in 2010. I don’t know what he knew or thought, but now I do wonder.
“He would have resented it,” said Mallis, who worked for my dad
for many years, referring to the Jim Crow South. He based this on the fact
that my father was a fair man who treated people of all races equally, he
I observed the same thing in my father’s tie factory in New York
City, where my father employed a racial mix—Black people, Hispanic
people, and recent white immigrants. As a young boy in the 1960s, I
worked in his factory on Saturdays sweeping the floor. I recall his warm
relationship with several Black employees, Melvin, Queenie, and Connie,
their smiles, their sincere warmness towards my dad, and their friendly
banter with me.
But the fact that my father never talked about his travels to the
10 / Evening Street Review 32

South, never mentioned them to me or my sister, is meaningful to me

today. It helped breed and create my ignorant childhood.
As I prepared my list, I now realize that as a child and as a young
man, I was oblivious to the racial inequities around me.
In the early 1960s, we lived in a garden apartment in Hartsdale, in
Westchester County. In the summer, I walked up the road to the pool and
swam with my parents and sister. A few years later, as my father
progressed upward in the business world, we moved just south to
Edgemont, to the nice, split-level where my father would park that gun in
his closet. Within a decade, we had a pool in our backyard and also had
joined a country club, where I also sometimes swam.
I loved to swim on a hot summer day.
So apparently did Lawrence Otis Graham. He was a young boy in
1967 when family friends took him and his brother to a different
Westchester County country club for lunch and a swim. This was a club a
few miles from the club my family would join just a few years later. I
always swam whenever I wanted without any problem. Not so for young
“After a few minutes in the club pool, several of the children
quickly got out of the water, and those who did not get out voluntarily
were retrieved by their parents,” Graham recounted in his 2008 article in
Westchester Magazine, about growing up and living as a Black person in
Westchester. He and his brother “ran out of the pool because we thought
there was something threatening in the water. It wasn’t until we were
poolside that we discovered that we were the threat. I remember crying;
my brother was just stunned and hurt. This was probably my earliest and
most memorable experience in feeling like an outsider. It made me feel
that we Blacks were not only ‘different’ but also ‘menacing.’”
Graham’s story surprised and distressed me.
I kept writing my list, looking for signs of racism that had been
around me, but that I had never thought much about before.
In the early 1970s, I played basketball at Edgemont High School.
I lived and breathed basketball and didn’t think about much else. At the
time, I noticed that my varsity coach, sometimes, singled out and identified
star players on opposing teams by race—only if they were Black—as he
designed a game plan to defend them. He would note that such and such
star on Tuckahoe, Dobbs Ferry, or Alexander Hamilton High was Black,
or colored and was especially good, but he would never mention a star
player’s race if they were white. I was too ignorant, too unaware, and
certainly, too timid even if I was aware, to speak up.
2021, Winter / 11

I kept making my list.

In the summer of 1975, between my freshman and sophomore
years of college, friends and I back home decided to go for a joyride one
hot July night. Eight of us, including me—four guys, four girls—piled into
my parent’s cavernous blue Buick Electra. We drove north on Central
Avenue, the main drag in Edgemont. We stopped at a light. One of my
friends, who loved to goof around, pulled down his pants and stuck his
butt out the window at the woman driving the car next to us. All eight of
us, although cringing at our crazy friend, thought it was hysterical. The
woman did not. She found a police car and got us all arrested.
In my mugshot, the front facing shot with a placard POLICE
DEPT. GREENBURGH, N.Y., hanging from my neck, I have a somber
expression. But in the profile shot, I have a smile on my face because,
apparently, I found it awfully funny and didn’t feel I was in trouble. My
father hired a lawyer, the charge of disorderly conduct was dropped, I
didn’t spend a second in jail, didn’t have to go to court, and, most importantly
from my father’s perspective, this matter had no impact on my law school
application or my life. It became a funny story from my youth retold many
But as I prepared my list, I thought about what would have
happened if I, or my friend, were Black and had mooned a white woman?
In the South, at least as late as the 1950s or early 1960s, this could have
caused a white mob to lynch a Black man. And in Westchester County in
the ’70s, I doubt the charges would have been dropped against all eight of
us so quickly. And I am certain it would not have been a laughing matter.
I reached out to Cleve Clarke, a guy I knew from high school who
was one grade behind me, one of the few Black students in Edgemont. He
said if the kids arrested were Black, he’s pretty sure the result would have
been different.
“They would have reprimanded us more severely, just to make a
point.” Clarke, now 64 and a real estate executive in Georgia, said. “The
message to us would have been unambiguous. And if that wasn’t enough,
they would have made sure that we spent a night in jail so that our
indiscretion and their response to it would be etched into our conscience.
They would have pressed up against the line of what was legally
permissible, while occasionally stepping over it, to make it uncomfortable
for us.”
Graham recounted in his Westchester Magazine article that he had
specific instructions from his parents about driving, in case he was ever
stopped by a police officer: “... keep your hand[s] on top of the steering
12 / Evening Street Review 32

wheel and always travel with a battery-operated tape recorder under the
front seat.” Graham said his parents gave him a long list of do’s and don’ts,
to make sure he stayed out of harm’s way.
My parents never had to give me such a list. Both Graham and
Clarke reminded me that there was racism around me as a child and I didn’t
even realize it.
Clarke said he saw racism at Edgemont High, some subtle and not
so subtle. He said there was evidence of racism and bias embedded in the
school curriculum and in tests given to students, explaining that he
believed they catered to white students.
I began to think more about Edgemont, the town I grew up in. I
thought about the fact that it was a wealthy town in one of the wealthiest
counties in the country—then and now. And I thought about my high
school class of 152 kids, 145-plus were white, a few were Asian and only
one was Black, a girl I didn’t know.
Now, my wife, Emily, and I talk about diversity issues all the time
with our two teenage daughters. We talk about the inequities, the crimes
perpetrated by white police officers on Black people, the importance of
the Black Lives Matter movement. But in 1970s Edgemont, race was not
on my radar screen, nor was it on the radar screen of anyone I spent time
with. We didn’t talk about those issues. We lived in a privileged white
world, with little exposure to Black people, except for the few Black
students at Edgemont High, the Black housekeepers some of us had in our
homes, or the Black opponents we faced on the basketball court.
Douglas Sarnoff, one of my longtime friends from Edgemont,
said, “Since there were basically no Blacks in the Edgemont community,
it was as if all was fine, and we just went about our lives seeing nothing,
doing nothing, and caring about what mattered to us—and the racial
problems certainly didn’t matter to us.” He wrote those words with
sympathy and regret, a feeling I shared.
I thought more about my hometown and I went looking. I didn’t
know until recently that homeowners living in what is now Edgemont were
involved in a well-publicized court case in 1937 that involved a commonplace
suburban racial issue: Efforts by white homeowners to keep Blacks out. I
was unaware that 25 years before my family moved to Edgemont, a mile
or so across town from where I would grow up, on Fort Hill Road, in what
was then called Edgemont Hills, a white woman had sued a Black couple.
The white woman asked a New York state judge to force the Black couple
to move because the covenant on their property stated: “No part of said
parcels shall ever be leased, sold, rented, conveyed or given to Negroes or
2021, Winter / 13

any persons of the Negro race or blood, except that colored servants may
be maintained on the premises,” according to the court’s decision in
Ridgway v. Cockburn.
It didn’t matter that the Cockburns had bought their property
before their white nemesis moved in, and it didn’t matter that the
Cockburns had built their own dream house on the property they had
bought. Instead of throwing out the case, instead of ruling that the
restrictive covenant violated the Cockburns’ constitutional rights, Justice
Lee Parsons Davis ruled that the Cockburns were, in fact, Black, that they
had violated the restrictive covenant, and had to move. It turns out the
verdict was never enforced, but still … in my hometown.
There’s more. I didn’t know that as late as 1950, these restrictive
covenants were still used in the Scarsdale area, even though the U.S.
Supreme Court had ruled such covenants unconstitutional in 1948. A letter
to the editor in the Scarsdale Inquirer on March 3, 1950, quoted a covenant
that was even more racially restrictive than the one in the Cockburn case,
prohibiting all “Non-Caucasians” from owning or renting property.
Apparently, this was, or at least had been, common in much of Westchester
at least in the first half of the 20th century. A 1947 study published in The
Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics found that in the 1930s and
1940s, developers of large housing tracts in Queens, Nassau, and southern
Westchester county used racially restrictive covenants 83 percent of the
time to keep Black homebuyers out of the community. Some of these
covenants remained on the books into this century.
The New York Times reported that in 2005 a lawyer doing a title
search on a house in Chappaqua, a wealthy Westchester suburb home to
Hillary and Bill Clinton, found a restrictive covenant on the property. “No
persons of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any
buildings or lot,” the covenant said. It had been redacted, but it was still
visible on the document. In 2005.
I wanted to find out what else had happened in or near my
community. I broadened my research and realized that the city of Yonkers,
the much larger and more diverse community just to the south of
Edgemont, the border less than a mile from my house, had a controversial
racial history dating back decades. In the 1980s it became embroiled in a
decades-long federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice
and the NAACP. Plaintiffs claimed in a class-action case that the city had
for decades discriminated against its Black and Hispanic population by
illegally segregating their housing and schools, by concentrating public
housing in a minority section of town. The suit was so contentious that at
14 / Evening Street Review 32

one time Yonkers was facing fines of $1 million a day. HBO even made a
mini-series about the case. In 2007, Yonkers settled the case by agreeing
to build and maintain 800 units of public housing in a mostly white,
middle-class section of Yonkers.
Then I read about the suit against Westchester County, a lawsuit
filed in 2006 in which a federal judge found that the county had committed
fraud by failing to comply with federal fair-housing laws. The suit claimed
Westchester County, after cutting through the legal jargon, had, in essence,
used exclusionary zoning to maintain segregated housing in the county. In
2009, the case was settled through a consent decree, with the county
agreeing to pay $62.5 million, which included funds to build 750
affordable housing units in overwhelmingly white communities in
Westchester. But the case, with the federal government as one of the
plaintiffs, remained contentious for years, with both sides disagreeing
about whether the county was complying with the consent decree by
making serious efforts to create integrated housing. In 2017, as the country
transitioned from the Obama to the Trump administration, the latter
concluded that the county had complied. The legal organization that
originally started the case, the Anti-Discrimination Center, located in New
York City, disagreed. “The unvarnished truth is that the various institutional
players have been unwilling to rock the boat; unwilling, that is, to insist that
the structural change to ultra-white existing residential neighborhoods [in
Westchester County] actually be carried out as contemplated by the decree,”
the organization stated on its website.
My hometown of Edgemont is still virtually void of Black people.
According to the recent census, 1 percent of Edgemont’s population is
Black. In Scarsdale, it’s 1.3 percent.
I didn’t understand as a child what segregation meant; that
segregation and discrimination in housing and education go hand in hand.
I didn’t understand, didn’t think about, what having only one Black
classmate out of more than 150 kids meant. I didn’t understand as a child,
or as a teenager, that segregation, discrimination, and poverty often go
hand in hand—where there’s one, the others often follow. And I didn’t
understand, didn’t think about, that sometimes some things don’t change:
In 1964, according to an article in The New York Times, the poorest
communities in Westchester County were communities with some of the
highest non-white populations in the county. They included Mt. Vernon,
Peekskill, Yonkers, and Port Chester. They remain today among the
poorest communities in the county, according to census and economic
data, and still have among the highest non-white populations in the county.
2021, Winter / 15

I kept writing my list as I went chronologically through my life.

As I progressed, the incidents or coincidences kept coming, kept
reminding me of what I missed.
I attended Union College in Schenectady, New York. I never
knew until now that my alma mater had a racist past, that the most famous
past president of the school, Eliphalet Nott, for whom the school’s
centerpiece building, the Nott Memorial, is still named, owned enslaved
African Americans—three to be exact, including one during at least part
of the time when he was president of Union, from 1804-1866, according
to Andrew Cassarino’s senior honor’s thesis for Union in 2018.
Not only did Nott own enslaved laborers, but about a third of the
college’s founding board of trustees, in 1795, owned enslaved Blacks,
some of whom it’s likely helped build the original Union College campus,
Cassarino reported.
I kept writing my list.
I graduated from Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, on Fifth
Avenue and 13th Street, in Greenwich Village, and I practiced law in the
Empire State Building and also on lower Broadway, near Wall Street. I
didn’t realize until now that within walking distance of these three
locations, there were more than 20 homes, churches, or buildings that were
either focal points for abolitionist activity or locations of the underground
railroad, a hotbed of anti-slavery activity. I never knew before that the
locations where I studied and then practiced law were surrounded by
places where righteous people in history had lived, worked, and fought to
change some of the very laws and policies I would later learn were some
of the most insidious in our nation’s history.
I kept writing my list, seeing what I missed.
One evening while I was in law school in New York, in 1979 or
1980, I was mugged inside the vestibule of my apartment building in
Greenwich Village. A group of teenagers surrounded and trapped me. One
kid had a baseball bat. They took my bag and fled. All the muggers were
I thought about this incident as I wrote my list, because despite
being mugged by a group of white teens, I recall during those years, when
I often was out late at night, my biggest fear was being mugged by Black
men. I was mugged by white people, but more afraid of Black people.
This was my own personal racist contradiction, caused by my own
personal racial stereotype.
Within a few years, I was working as a newspaper reporter, having
earned a law degree, then a masters in journalism. One of my first jobs
16 / Evening Street Review 32

was as a reporter for the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. I

covered local government, cops, and courts. I had no idea at the time that
probably several times a week on my reporter’s beat, or going shopping, I
drove past perhaps the most notorious crime scene in Ft. Lauderdale
history—a place where a 37-year-old Black man was lynched by a white
mob on July 19, 1935—50 years before I lived there.
It happened at what is now the intersection of Davie Boulevard
and Southwest 31st Street, near where a Publix grocery store now stands,
according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, my old paper renamed, in a
recent article. Rubin Stacy, married with one young child, was accused of
threatening a white woman with a penknife. The charge was never proven.
He was arrested and on his way to jail, the police car was overtaken by a
white mob of 100 masked men. They took Stacy to a wooded area near the
accuser’s home, strung him up on a tree with her clothesline, handcuffed
his hands and shot him 17 times. His body was left hanging for eight hours,
so that locals could come by. Photographs from that time show adults and
small children staring at his dangling body, some almost smiling.
“Some cut off pieces of Stacy’s overalls for souvenirs. Others took
home pieces of the clothesline or tree,” Susannah Bryan wrote in the Sun
Sentinel article.
The more I worked on my list and the more research I did, the
more I realized how much I had missed. Not only were the remnants of
slavery often around me, but actual racism, or the byproduct of it, was
right in front of me, and I didn’t realize it.
By the late 1980s, I had moved to San Francisco to work for a
weekly legal affairs newspaper, The Recorder. I wrote a multipart series
on crack cocaine’s sweeping impact on San Francisco’s criminal justice
system, as the overwhelming number of cases overran the court system. I
won several awards for the series. But I failed to focus enough attention
on a key issue—the drug’s devastating impact on the Black community,
how it led to a sharp rise in the addiction, incarceration, and homicide rate
among Black teenagers. I missed that part of the story.
I realize now I missed a lot more.
In the 1990s, I was working at Court TV, covering the most
sensational trials around the country. I was a producer on the OJ Simpson
case and was working in the New York City newsroom when the not-
guilty verdict was broadcast live nationally. I remember clearly what
happened in our office. The white staffers were shocked into silence as the
few Black journalists in the newsroom erupted in apparent joy. I remember
thinking at the time that these individuals, colleagues and friends of mine,
2021, Winter / 17

must be out of their minds. The evidence, to me, was overwhelming that
Simpson had committed the murders. I never once thought why my Black
colleagues were happy, why they could have thought a white detective
might have planted evidence. I never looked at the case from their
perspective, never even took a glance at how and why they thought what
they did. And I never asked, either.
But I should have known better. After all, I covered, for Court TV,
the Rodney King-police beating trial in Simi Valley in 1992. I was at the
courthouse when the shocking verdict was returned, when the four Los
Angeles police officers accused of assaulting King, a black man, with their
batons as he lay on the ground were acquitted of assault.
Then came 2000. As an editor and reporter at The National Law
Journal, I covered Bush v. Gore in Florida. I spent three weeks writing
stories about the various court cases that would eventually help decide the
election, and then I wrote a long story about a Bush lawyer who played a
prominent role in the case, until he got pushed aside at the end by more
prominent lawyers.
But again, even more so than with my crack story, in retrospect, I
believe I missed the story: How thousands of Black voters in Florida were
illegally disenfranchised during the 2000 election.
The New York Times and other publications reported that the
disenfranchisement of black voters almost certainly cost Gore the election,
since he lost Florida by a mere 537 votes.
“We did think it was outcome determinative,” said Edward Hailes,
acting general counsel for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which
investigated the disenfranchisement claim, as quoted in The Nation.
That was the story, that racist, possibly illegal disenfranchisement
cost Gore the election. But I missed it.
Perhaps the most disturbing coincidence I came upon during this
time of self-reflection and list making occurred a few years earlier. The
victim was the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author Isabel
In 1993, as a producer for Court TV, I flew into Detroit’s airport
and rented a car on my way to cover a trial. All went smoothly for me. I
got to my assignment with no hassle. Approximately around the same
time, not so for Wilkerson. The reason is because she is Black and I am
white. When Wilkerson arrived in Detroit to cover a story for The New
York Times, DEA agents stopped and questioned her. Where was she from,
why was she there? they asked. She explained that she was a reporter for
The Times, in Detroit to cover a story.
18 / Evening Street Review 32

“What is this for?” Wilkerson, recounting her horror story, wrote

in her bestseller Caste.
“We’re DEA. We need to know where you live, how long you will
be in Detroit, and exactly what you’re doing here,” she recalled them
She answered their questions, but they continued to follow her as
she hopped a bus to get to the rental car. She was the only African
American person on the packed bus.
“I was in utter disbelief, too shocked even to register fear,”
Wilkerson wrote. “It was a psychic assault to sit there, accused and
condemned, not just by the agents but by everyone on the bus who looked
with contempt and disdain ... [at me].”
As I read her story in her book, I got this terrible feeling in the pit
of my stomach.
I kept writing my list and kept reflecting.
I was confronted with a dilemma: that New York City, my home
for most of my adult life, the place I told my daughters, repeatedly, was
the greatest, most important city in the world, had a terribly racist past.
As an adult, I knew all about the racist incidents that occurred
during my lifetime: race riots, racially-motivated crime, wrongful
convictions, police brutality, police racial profiling, gross income
inequality, disproportionate poverty rate, and discrimination and
inequality in housing, education, work, and healthcare. I knew this, aware
of my city’s abundant racist elements and tried to vote the right way to
help stop it. But then I learned more through my reading, realizing that
New York’s racist past went back centuries, and that it stood out among
northern cities for its racist history.
I was unaware that enslaved Black people had helped build what
would become New York City from its very beginning, starting in the
1620s with the Dutch colonists, then with their successors in power, the
British in 1664. From the first 11 enslaved Black individuals in 1626 to a
number that grew into the many hundreds in the late 1600s, enslaved Black
people played an important role in New York’s burgeoning community,
helping cut timber, clear land, and build roads and buildings, including
Fort Amsterdam in lower Manhattan. And, as the community grew, they
worked on the docks, in artisan shops and homes, and on small farms,
according to books by Eric Foner, Leslie M. Harris, and Thomas J. Scharf.
Into the 1700s, the population of enslaved Black people continued
to increase in New York City, reaching almost 2,900 by the 1790s. At the
same time, New York City’s growing business community became
2021, Winter / 19

inextricably linked with the South’s slave economy.

I was unaware that from the late 1700s until the Civil War,
enslaved Black laborers picking cotton in the South were helping
transform New York City and America into the wealthy business capital
it would become.
In reading Foner’s “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of
the Underground Railroad” and Jonathan Daniel Wells’ “The Kidnapping
Club: Wall Street, Slavery and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War,”
you get a clear picture of a proslavery business community in New York
City even after slavery was outlawed in the state in 1827. The police,
judges, politicians, lawyers, and businessmen worked in cahoots to
promote slavery in the South and keep it going at any cost, so the money
would continue to flow north.
On top of this, to maintain good relations with the South, New
York City worked hard to show its respect for slavery. The city became
infamous for its kidnapping clubs, whereby fugitive slaves and often free
Black people were apprehended on the streets, given perfunctory hearings,
and then quickly shipped South to return to slavery or to a slave auction.
“New York was the most patent proslavery and pro-South city
north of the Mason-Dixon Line, due in large part to the lucrative trade
between Manhattan banks and insurance companies and the slaveholders
of the cotton South,” Wells wrote.
Foner explained the economic connections between the South and
New York City: Cotton picked by enslaved laborers was shipped from the
South to New York’s harbor, then shipped to Europe; New York City
banks helped finance plantation crops, plantation land acquisition, and
purchase of enslaved laborers; New York City insurance companies
insured the lives of enslaved laborers for plantation owners; New York
City clothing manufacturers, including Brooks Brothers, manufactured
clothing for enslaved individuals; New York City printers provided
notices and images on flyers to aid in the recapture of fugitive slaves; and
thousands of southerners came to New York City to conduct business, and
banks and hotels catered to them.
This economic bond between New York City business and
Southern slavery reached its apex on January 6, 1861, on the eve of the
Civil War. New York City’s mayor, Fernando Wood, proposed that New
York City become an independent city, so as to maintain its economic
connections with the South, which was on the verge of seceding from the
He said to do otherwise could lead to New York’s economic ruin,
20 / Evening Street Review 32

while simultaneously lamenting the possible demise of the Confederacy.

“Why destroy the confederacy of which she [New York] was the
proud Empire City?” Mayor Wood said in a speech to the New York City
Common Council. “Amid the gloom which the present and prospective
condition of things must cast over the country, New York, as a Free City,
may shed the only light and hope of a future reconstruction of our once
blessed Confederacy.”
Here was a New York City mayor calling New York the Empire
City of the Confederacy and lamenting the demise of “our once blessed
This all made me think more about New York’s past.
That my office was walking distance from the African Burial
Ground in lower Manhattan, the largest known African American
gravesite in North America, where as many as 15,000 enslaved and free
African Americans were buried in the 1600s and 1700s. Their graves were
not discovered until the 1990s, during the planning for construction of an
office building. The human skeletons discovered showed the effects of
malnutrition, disease and of stress and fractures associated with heavy
Further uptown, I had known about Seneca Village for years, but
had never spent much time focusing on the fact that it was a mere 25 blocks
from where I have lived with my family for years. Seneca Village was
once a prosperous, mostly Black community on what is now the Upper
West Side. It thrived until the 1850s when New York’s powers that be,
which we now know had strong racist tendencies, decided to build Central
Park. The property was purchased through eminent domain, the
community was demolished, and the residents scattered to live elsewhere.
I love Central Park; it’s one of my favorite places in the city, but now after
a lot of thought, I wonder, should I still love it?
I have to apply this question to the entire city of New York. The
city was partially built with the labor of enslaved African Americans and
the city’s wealth and prosperity, which has helped me and my family live
a prosperous and happy life, can be traced to slavery and systemic racism.
I live in a tainted city. I live in a tainted country. Does that make
me tainted, too?
My research brought me full circle, back to my hometown of
Edgemont and the greater Scarsdale area. (For the record, I’ve always
considered Edgemont to be part of Scarsdale because they are adjacent
communities that share a ZIP code and both are similar socio-
economically. During my research, I saw that the greater Scarsdale area
2021, Winter / 21

appears in the historical record centuries before Edgemont.)

Growing up, I had no idea that a small wooden structure in
Edgemont, behind 221 Old Army Road, less than a quarter mile from my
house, on a road I must have driven on hundreds of times, housed enslaved
African Americans in the 1700s. The second floor of the 9-foot by 12-foot
structure housed up to eight enslaved Black people, according to an article
“Slaves in New York and Scarsdale,” by Lesley Topping and Barbara
Shay MacDonald, posted on the Scarsdale Historical Society website.
Other streets I drove on often—Popham Road, Heathcote Road, Underhill
Road, and Hadden Road—were named after families that owned enslaved
African Americans.
During the 1700s, as the white population grew and the need for
labor increased, the market for enslaved Black workers in the Scarsdale
area and Westchester County went up dramatically: the 1712 census
showed 196 total enslaved Black people in Westchester and six in
Scarsdale, which back then was larger than the Scarsdale proper of today;
the 1755 census showed 349 enslaved Black people in Westchester and 48
in the combined towns of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck. During this period,
enslaved African Americans played an important role in developing
Scarsdale’s and Westchester County’s agrarian economy.
Although violence by Southern slave owners was more prevalent,
there is evidence of barbarity in the North, too.
“Offenses were usually punished by the stocks or the whip,”
according to “Westchester County and its People,” a 1946 book edited by
Ernest Freeland Griffins. “The stocks and whipping post stood near the
church in most villages, and a ‘public whipper’ was chosen and paid. The
post was sometimes a tree, like the one on the village green in Eastchester,
with an iron staple driven into it, to which culprits were attached.”
Eastchester was a few miles south of Edgemont.
One of the most prominent slave owners in the greater Scarsdale
area was Caleb Heathcote. Heathcote was the founder and Lord of the
Manor of Scarsdale and mayor of New York City from 1711 to 1713. He
would become a dominant early landowner in Scarsdale and the
surrounding areas. In 1712, he was reimbursed for firewood and other
materials used in the execution of enslaved African Americans after a
slave revolt in New York City, according to the article by Topping and
The Heathcote name remains prominent throughout Scarsdale.
I held my bar mitzvah party at a restaurant located at an
intersection with Heathcote Road, a major thoroughfare in town.
22 / Evening Street Review 32

There’s Heathcote Elementary School. If a family wanted their

young children to attend the school, there were two housing options this
spring on Heathcote Road: one home was priced at $8.76 million, the other
at $10.88 million. They both listed a bevy of luxury amenities, including
their own swimming pools.
So I can now say that I was raised in a community with a history
of slavery, with historic evidence of slavery, and systemic racism just
around the corner from the house where I grew up. And that Edgemont,
the larger Scarsdale community and much of Westchester County, in some
aspects of life, has a long history of racial discrimination, often not so
obvious if you didn’t look closely or didn’t pay attention.
I can now say, with a better understanding, that I was born smack
in the middle of the civil rights movement. As Black people were lynched,
as Martin Luther King Jr. marched and spoke to the world, and as Black
people fought for change, I lived my nice, safe life up north, oblivious. I
was a young kid, granted, but sometimes young kids are exposed to
important things going on in the world, even if they are not in the thick of
it. I certainly was not in the thick of it, but I was also out of it, literally and
I can now say that my dad did business with a store where a
significant civil rights event took place, where a color line was broken in
Richmond, and that my father, almost certainly, ate in restaurants and used
facilities that said whites only. I have seen those signs in old photographs
and movies, but before this reckoning, I never pictured my dad walking
past one. I take solace in the fact that my dad, who I loved very much and
think about often, would say today that Jim Crow laws were wrong—that
equality demanded equal access, and equal justice.
I can now say, with a better understanding, that as my ancestors,
like many immigrants around them, grew roots and became successful in
this so-called free country, this so-called land of opportunity, the exact
opposite was being experienced by millions of other people.
I can now say that I frequently drove past the scene of a white mob
lynching from decades past, a scene where young white girls had gawked
at a Black man hanging from a tree, a crime that should have been
memorialized and etched publicly in history long ago, but was not.
I can now say that I missed important stories as a journalist that
would have shed light on the systemic racism in our society, present then
and now.
I can now say that I better understand that I have lived most of my
adult life, and raised my children, in a city that has more ties to historic
2021, Winter / 23

racism and slavery than I, and perhaps the average New Yorker, would
ever think or want to imagine.
And that on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, my
clearest childhood memory is not of the American tragedy, but of my
father going to a neighbor’s house to get a gun, a gun to protect his family
in case rioting by angry Black people spread north.
And then there’s always the present, what’s around me now,
because my list continues, really, until I die. I wrote on my list: homeless
people and panhandlers in my neighborhood (Morningside Heights, near
Columbia University). The pandemic was in full swing, businesses were
closing, others partially shuttered, and the streets were getting dirtier and
filled with more and more desperate people. I always felt bad for people
living or begging on the street, an everyday scene in New York City even
in normal times. But now it was different. More people were desperate and
my thinking was changing. After George Floyd was murdered and the
Black Lives Matter protests, I began to pay more attention to the race of
these desperate people. A vast majority were Black. And I didn’t pass a
soul on the street without feeling bad and wondering: What had they been
through in their life? And what had their ancestors been through?
So this is my self-reflection about race, my personal reckoning. I
need to do better, I know that. I think we all do.



has the frailty of my beauty

finally caught up with me
in this osteoporosis diagnosis

is my refined mind the same

raised in arts and letters
ethics and aesthetics
24 / Evening Street Review 32

will it also bend and break

when I fall
when I fail

or is a sturdier girl
somewhere in there
ready to shoulder these burdens
my smaller and smaller arms
can’t handle


Grace approached the veranda, the sweet-scented jasmine, and the

salty soy aroma of the roasting pig reminders of the good times she’d
enjoyed in this spacious backyard. Intertwined in the jasmine, twinkling
lights dripped from the gazebo, focal point of an estate that also featured
a large oak tree with a rope swing attached and a tiered waterfall that
flowed into a kidney-shaped koi pond, where passion flowers floated
freely. On a patch of lawn where a dump truck had deposited a load of
white sand, local musicians played Hawaiian music.
Craning her neck, she searched for Kenny, spotting him near the
open doors of the barn. Lit with cargo lanterns, makeshift tables with white
butcher paper down the center—so guests could write thank you—sat
ready for the food. The buffet featured sweet potatoes, Hawaiian coleslaw,
white rice, salmon, mahi-mahi, even poi. Desserts were shaved-ice
pineapple whip and chocolate macadamia pie. Nearby, in a pit the shape
and size of a shallow grave, the pig was roasting, smothered with banana
leaves and covered by a large silver tarp. While they waited for the beast
to be pulled from the smoldering fire, guests sipped drinks served in
hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples.
Gene spotted her before Kenny did. He’d always been the eagle
eye of the group, with a nose for trouble. “Hey, look, it’s Grace,” he said,
as if she too needed reminding of who she was.
“We weren’t sure you’d make it this year,” said David. “Now that
you’re an old married lady and all.” Home on leave from the Naval
2021, Winter / 25

Academy, David came from a military family and had the manners to
prove it. He was a prankster, and Grace his special target, when he could
get away with fooling her.
Grace bumped her shoulder into Kenny’s ribs, the top of her head
fitting under his armpit. “Wow, that pig smells enticing.”
“Where’s Ted?” Gene asked.
Staring into the smoke rising from the pig pit, Grace pondered
which lie to tell about her husband’s whereabouts. Ten months they’d been
married. A whirlwind courtship—they’d met at the luau last year, Ted the
new guy in town. Six weeks later, they’d tied the knot.
Kenny jabbed her in the ribs, bruised from what Ted liked to call
“playing rough.” Later, he’d apologized. He always did.
“Earth to Grace,” Kenny said.
“Ted’s working,” she said. “Might swing by later,” she added,
though she knew he wouldn’t. “Where’s the girl?”
“Over there.” Gene nodded at the bar, where a woman stood alone,
a big tiki tankard in hand.
“Yours?” Grace asked.
“David’s,” said Gene.
As if viewing her for the first time, David squinted at the woman.
“Gotta admit, she’s a sturdy one.”
“A real porker,” said Gene.
“Pipe down, you oafs. She’ll hear you,” said Kenny.
The tradition had started innocently enough, when they were all
back in high school, the guys lamenting the fact that none of them had
dates for the luau. One of them—probably David—issued the challenge.
They’d drive to the city, fan out on Broadway, and see who could convince
the hottest girl to come eat pig with them. Somehow, perhaps due to their
age and general lack of prowess, the competition had morphed into who’d
bring the ugliest girl. Over the years, they’d streamlined the process,
drawing straws for which of them would make the trek down Broadway
to find a Pig Girl. It was all in good fun. The girl got a free meal and some
beer, and if they played their cards right, she was none the wiser.
David reached to touch Grace’s cheek, where she’d applied
coverup over a bruise. “You been un-Grace-ful again?”
She drew back, aware of Kenny’s gaze. “You know me. Clumsy.”
Gene slapped David on the back. “Better check on that pig.”
The pair drifted off toward the pit, leaving Grace alone with
Kenny. As soon as they were out of earshot, he asked, “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “Just fine.”
26 / Evening Street Review 32

“No, really,” he said.

“Really,” she said.
“You could—”
Her eyes burned with tears. “What do you care? You’re shipping
“It wasn’t my idea to deploy. Look, I don’t want to be worrying
about you.”
“Then don’t. I can take care of myself.”
Thoughts spinning, her breathing hyphenated, Grace headed for
the koi pond, confident Kenny would know better than to follow and yet
wishing he would. He’d go. She’d stay. She’d said it over and over to
herself, a thousand times. Go, stay. No sense dwelling on it. A last night
of fun, and now she’d gone and ruined it.
At the pond was a cement bench no one ever sat on, but Grace sat
there now. She stared at the bright colors of the koi, swirling to the ukuleles
and the crooning through the loudspeakers. Aloha, Oregon, was a far cry
from Hawaii. Or so Grace supposed—she’d never been.
Once upon a time there’d been a little girl with curly blonde
ringlets and an effervescent smile. She was kind to old people, animals,
neighbors, and friends, always worrying about their well-being rather than
her own. The Aloha Girl. All she wanted was to be loved in return.
“Pig’s ready. Get it while it’s hot.”
Without asking, the Pig Girl sidled onto the bench next to Grace.
A mishmash—that was how the girl came off. Harvest gold angora sweater
set, Ralph Lauren jeans tucked into Dan Post cowgirl boots, but smelling
of cheap perfume. Pouty lips, lightly applied lipstick, and long nails
painted a shade Grace had once considered and then rejected, Dragon
Breath Red.
“Me, I’m not hungry,” the girl said.
“Me neither,” said Grace.
The girl stuck out a hand. “Cheryl,” she said.
Grace preferred not to give her name, but there was no way around
it. She shook hands with Cheryl, whose grasp was firmer than she’d
“Minding its business, eating its slops, and next thing you know
you’re buried six feet under,” said Cheryl.
“The pig, you mean,” said Grace.
“I don’t eat meat,” said Cheryl. “Just here for the booze. How
’bout you?”
“I’ve been coming to these parties ever since I can remember.”
2021, Winter / 27

Stationed four years in Hawaii, Kenny’s grandfather George

began hosting the luaus in the sixties. The town had lost a lot of young
men, and George’s parties gave people hope. When he decided he was too
old to put on such elaborate affairs, George passed the torch to Kenny.
Cheryl nodded at the pig, being carved by Kenny and David and
Gene. “They your friends?”
Cheryl tilted her head, squinting at the poorly camouflaged bruise
on Grace’s cheek. “Friends don’t let friends get beat up.”
Grace stood, fury rising. “You might as well know, Cheryl”—she
emphasized the name, mocking the familiarity. “You’ve been played. It’s
a game for them, picking up a girl, getting her to the party. A Pig Girl,
that’s what they call you.”
Cheryl tossed back her hair. “You think I don’t know that? Fancy
car, fancy clothes, expensive booze. Dead giveaway. All’s I’m saying is,
whoever hit you, you’d better wise up and get away, pronto.”
The first time Ted cracked Grace’s skull was the night he threw
her from the car as it bumped along the gravel shoulder of a dark country
road. Leaving a friend’s kegger, Grace had tried to take the keys, saying
he’d had too much to drink. “Don’t you ever embarrass me in front of my
friends, ever again,” Ted said. Then he leaned across the seat, popped the
door, and shoved her out.
After that, she always wore a seat belt. But one day, she made the
mistake of buying the wrong brand of beer. Ted grabbed her French braid
and threw her against the wall. Falling to the floor, the paper sack ripped,
exposing a six-pack of green bottles, Heineken. Ted swung a bottle at her
When she came to, in the emergency room, she thought she saw
Kenny’s Size 14 cowboy boots. But then her eyes focused, and she looked
up to see the doctor, saying something about blunt force trauma and
stitches and benign positional vertigo, which he said she might suffer the
rest of her life. He also said he’d have to report the abuse.
When she got home, Grace stuffed a pillowcase with her
grandmother’s jewelry box, a childhood photo album, a bra, a pair of
underpants, and a pair of jeans. Wearing a Marine Corps jersey, she
grabbed a hooded sweatshirt as she went out the door. Goodbye, Aloha
28 / Evening Street Review 32

The day had turned unseasonably warm, a sunglasses kind of day.

This was fortunate, as Grace needed to hide her eyes from her
grandchildren as they spun around and around and rode up and down,
twirling and squealing. Teenagers now, they were no longer content with
her sedate suggestions for the fair, like the pumpkin patch.
At fifteen, Taylor was a cheerleader, a scholar-athlete. But she was
also mischievous, not so different from when she was three years old and
hid inside a clothes rounder at the big J.C. Penney’s store at Washington
Square. When Grace finally found her, she hugged Taylor and explained
that it was dangerous to run off—if anything bad ever happened to her,
Grandma would be very sad. No matter how old Taylor got, Grace never
intended to tell her why she’d felt so panicked—that Ted had once stolen
their daughter, Taylor’s mother, in a maniacal game of hide-and-seek that
lasted almost a week.
Quiet and artistic, fourteen-year-old Derek still loved outings with
his grandmother. He was attentive and helpful with his siblings, but he
mistrusted strangers, which Grace understood. VJ, who’d be thirteen on
Halloween, had a slight speech impediment and had been diagnosed with
attention deficit disorder. But Grace didn’t care about these deficiencies.
VJ was happy, inquisitive, and creative. Some thought he was aloof to all
that went on around him, but Grace knew he was taking it all in. He was
bright but bored with school, the kind of boy who’d rather build a model
airplane than shoot spitballs through straws at the girls like his friends did.
All three children had big chocolate-brown eyes, the kind that
Grace could see her reflection in, the kind that melted her heart. She loved
the children so much, but rarely saw them now that she lived a three-hour
plane flight away. The Lakeside County Fair was their standing date every
year. At these fairgrounds, Grace had taken dance lessons under the
Golden Canopy Pavilion and sampled her first deep-fried Twinkie.
Smells of fresh popcorn, sugary-sweet cotton candy, and deep-
fried elephant ears wafted their direction, mixing now and then with a
whiff of farm animals from the livestock barns. Sounds of a calliope, a
clanging train bell, and squealing children lent a circus-like atmosphere.
Neon strobe lights lured them deeper into the fairway. Grace’s
grandchildren wouldn’t be satisfied until they’d tried each and every ride.
And there were lots of rides.
She felt the dizzies coming on. “How about the Ferris wheel?” she
said, proposing a ride she could tolerate. “After that, we’ll get something
to eat. Foot-long hot dogs, curly fries, sno-cones—they’re calling my
2021, Winter / 29

“The Ferris wheel’s boring,” said Taylor. “Almost as boring as the

paddleboat races.”
Derek cocked his head. “What’s that noise?”
Grace heard it too—booming laughter, projected through a
loudspeaker onto the midway, followed by the eerie creaking of a door,
and then a howl.
“House of Horrors!” Taylor dashed to be first in line at the ticket
booth, adorned with red and white stripes and blue stars. The gatekeeper
swiped Taylor’s unlimited ride pass. As if she’d clicked her ruby-red heels,
the gate opened.
VJ tugged at Grace’s T-shirt hem. “Gram, you come too.”
“You go on ahead. I’ll wait here.”
Taking hold of her arm, Derek steered her toward the entrance.
“This one’s easy. You walk through it, that’s all.”
“Leave her be,” Taylor called back. “She’s too old for it.”
This Grace took as a challenge, allowing Derek to lead her inside.
“It looks like the whole thing is leaning,” said Derek as their eyes
adjusted to the darkness. “But that’s just a…what do you call it?”
“An illusion,” said Taylor, from somewhere in the dark.
“The floor wiggles, but it’s just to spook you,” said VJ.
Shrill shrieks echoed off the walls, and the floor rumbled like
thunder beneath Grace’s feet as she took one step, then another. The noises
got louder, the twanging of an out-of-tune electric guitar and a scraping
sound, like nails on a chalkboard. Lights strobed as puffs of cold air hit
her face. Fighting back nausea, she teetered, losing her balance.
“Hold on tight,” Derek said as he grabbed her hand and led her
across the slanting floor to the next room. When the lights flashed, she saw
her image, distorted in a wavy mirror. VJ squealed—at what, Grace didn’t
know. Mind over matter, she told herself. She wished she’d taken time to
pop a peppermint candy in her mouth, to soothe herself.
“Uh-oh,” said Taylor as they entered the final room. “The Magic
Carpet. Sorry, Gram. I forgot that’s how you get out.”
As Taylor launched herself down the slide, VJ handed Grace a
gunnysack. “You can do it, Gram.”
“It’s just a slide, like you used to take us down at the park,” said
Derek, though this was a stretch. From the tube that enclosed the slide
came Taylor’s whoops and screams.
Envisioning blind curves that would throw her side to side, Grace
silently cursed the gatekeeper for failing to warn that this would be the
only way out. “You go ahead,” she told the boys. “I’ll bring up the rear.”
30 / Evening Street Review 32

“You sure?” VJ asked.

Grinning, Derek took off, followed by VJ. Grace perched at the
top of the slide, paralyzed. She didn’t used to be like this. Didn’t always
have to know she was in control.
From the bottom of the slide, the three kids yelled encouragement.
Grace pushed off, concentrating to control the eye flutters, the sweat, the
nausea rising in her throat. Picking up speed, she closed her eyes, then
opened them to utter darkness.
When she reached the bottom, the children cheered. She sat a
moment on the gunnysack, letting the world right itself, hoping not to sway
like a drunk when she stood.
“Wow,” she said. “That was something.”
Hand extended to collect the gunnysack, the carney worker was
old, same as Grace, but there was no mistaking her.
“I’ll be,” she said. “The Aloha Girl. Still having Pig Parties?”
Abruptly, Grace stood.
“Aloha Girl?” asked Taylor.
“Pig Party?” asked VJ.
Derek slung an arm over Grace’s shoulder. “I’m starved, Gram.”
Avoiding Cheryl’s gaze, she ushered the children away. “Who
wants corn dogs?”
“Barbecued pork for me!” said VJ, the pig stuck in his head.
“Aloha,” Cheryl called after them. “Goodbye.”

A Bronze Sculpture by Bruno Catalano

From one angle, he seems whole:

a man trudges, his two legs, head and shoulders,
left arm, carrying a small suitcase are present,
right side, central core—missing.

To leave behind country and kin,

a way of life, is to live with an absence.
2021, Winter / 31


March 11, 2020

Beyond breakfast and my kitchen window

a red-tailed hawk lands, awkward, on the lawn.
It hesitates, springs upwards, legs extended
to strike something unsuspecting in the grass.
The bird rises with a garter snake writhing
in its talons, flies to a bare branch and tears
at the head. The flailing lash of tail stills
as the hawk gulps chunks of flesh—death
darted in while the snake basked in warm sun.


When I was first told I had brain cancer, I felt…well, numb. It was
like my heart actually stopped beating. I am an incredibly sensitive person.
I’m actually considered to have a “hyper-sensitive personality.” Hence, I
can cry at the drop of a hat. There is not one single Disney movie where I
haven’t at least shed a tear or two.
Hearing that word “cancer” I cried, but unlike ever before. The
tears came so slowly. It felt like time had paused and then set to “slow
motion.” I couldn’t breathe fully. I couldn’t look at my husband, who sat
there next to me. Frankly, I couldn’t feel anything.
Writers are supposed to be able to put their thoughts into words,
right? Well, this experience—there really are no words in the English
language to truly explain the gut-wrenching feeling of learning your body
has, in fact, turned against itself and that cancer has invaded your brain.
I only learned my tumor was actually malignant after I had already
undergone brain surgery. To be blunt, how else can you get a pathology
report unless you crack open the skull and remove the tumor and tissue for
testing? Thus, when I was first told that I had cancer, I was still recovering
32 / Evening Street Review 32

from my surgery. Ya know how people like to use the phrase, “It’s not
brain surgery!”? Well, for me, it was, and it was not a pleasant experience!
It was hard enough dealing with the massive seizure that alerted
us to the fact there was a tumor in my brain, adjusting to all the medications
I was forced to now take, and having survived the surgery. Yet now I was
faced with the fact that the tumor was indeed malignant. I had cancer.
I was diagnosed with a Grade III anaplastic ependymoma. Try
saying that ten times fast! All brain cancer is rare. However, mine was
extremely rare, aggressive, and had a high probability of recurring. It was
all so utterly surreal.
Thankfully, I had one of the top neurosurgeons in the country. We
immediately bonded through our dry wit. Since he was the chief of
neurosurgery at my hospital, he paired me with an oncologist and
epileptologist (seizure doctor) he knew would properly care for me, and as
always, he was right on-point. Now I had an entire team of top doctors!
Despite the initial numbness and shock, quickly following the
official diagnosis, I felt hopeful. As an attorney, I suppose I tackled brain
cancer like a legal issue at work. I had the facts. Now we needed to take
those facts and find a resolution to the problem. So, looking back, I reacted
in a very clinical way.
I was also determined to remain positive, recover from surgery,
and just get through treatment. I wanted to get strong again and return to
an active, healthy life. I was convinced that I would be able to just look
back on those months after surgery and treatment, and see them as just a
tough bump in the long road of life. I was very wrong, but that’s a story
for another day.
Surprisingly, I never became angry or questioned, “Why me?” Of
course I questioned what had caused this, and I was frustrated to hear that
I would possibly never know how or why this disease had so harshly
attacked my brain, most definitely the strongest part of my body, ironically
I was an attorney. I was a perfectionist. I always needed an answer
to everything!
Nevertheless, I decided very early on that I would not let
negativity control my life. Frankly, negativity had subsumed so much of
my time and energy in the past. They were mostly petty, ridiculous things
too. While I had always lived a happy, fulfilled life, I struggled with
finding the positive in things. I tended to constantly focus on the negative.
However, after hearing the word “cancer,” I vowed that would no longer
2021, Winter / 33

be the case.
After I had recovered from surgery, the next step was to undergo
six consecutive weeks of radiation treatment. I could probably write an
entire novel on radiation treatment alone.
In short, the entire summer of 2014 was dedicated to my radiation
schedule. Monday through Friday I took the bus and subway alone to my
hospital for treatment. People could not believe I had the strength, energy,
and resolve to go every day by myself, but what choice did I have?
Radiation treatment, especially for brain cancer, is like some sick
medieval torture. You must first get a mold made of your face so they can
create your rigid, plastic, mesh mask. I know survivors who kept theirs.
They are stronger-willed than I. I couldn’t even look at that thing! The
techs place you on the table, put the mask on your face, and just when you
think, “Okay, this is relatively comfortable,” they strap the mask down
onto the table, ensuring you cannot move even an inch. It is like something
out of a science-fiction horror movie.
Thankfully, the treatment itself is very short. Nonetheless, you
still have radiation being beamed into your brain while you lie there like
The Man in the Iron Mask.
I am a person who needs structure. So I didn’t think about the
treatment itself or that mask. I simply viewed it like a job. It was my
routine and I just needed to get through it to move on with life.
Now, this was back in 2014. I pray they’ve changed the
terminology by now, but after those six weeks of treatment, everyone at
the hospital referred to the next month as my “vacation period.” If that was
“vacation,” I’d have been writing the owner of the hotel/resort nasty
letters, posting on every social media channel available, and especially
TripAdvisor, how utterly miserable this “vacation” was and be demanding
a full refund!
Once treatment ended, I had absolutely nothing to do. I was just
left alone with my own thoughts and that is never good. Things became
very dark. My anxiety became overwhelming. Everyone says, “Life isn’t
easy.” Yet no one ever told me just how easy dying could be. I sat at home
in the weeks after treatment so frightened that the tumor would come back
(which, of course, did happen a year later). I feared that the next time, the
tumor would be inoperable and that it would slowly eat away at my mind
and body. I feared I would have to undergo multiple surgeries (which, of
course, also did happen). Yet what plagued my mind the most was having
34 / Evening Street Review 32

another seizure while home alone.

I thought constantly about what would happen to my husband and
my family, who loved me so dearly. How much would they suffer
watching me painfully and slowly die? I would do my best to push these
thoughts out of my head and get back to focusing on all the positive things
in my life. However, it was a constant struggle, and frankly, the anxiety
consumed me.
During that time I convinced myself that any little sign of
discomfort or something out of the ordinary meant the tumor was coming
back. In fact, a few weeks before my first round of follow-up scans, I
contacted my oncologist multiple times, convinced that a minor head cold
was a sign that the cancer had returned. Logically it didn’t make sense.
Yet by then, logic had not just gone but had been violently thrown out the
window, seemingly never to return again.
I agonized that any little sensation in my arms or legs was the
beginning of a seizure. Given the anti-seizure medications and my
prognosis at that time, the likelihood of a seizure would have been slim-
to-none. Yet wasn’t this whole entire brain tumor experience already so
out of the realm of possibilities?
Eventually the time for my next MRI came closer and closer.
There is a term “scanxiety.” It is real. It is awful. I’ve never met a cancer
patient who hasn’t experienced it. You are truly consumed with fear, and
many times you’re not even aware of it. It’s a true “fight or flight”
experience that takes over your mind and body. You lash out at loved ones.
You cry over what you think is nothing. You’re always feeling anxious.
Then you look at your calendar and have a “Eureka!” moment. You have
a scan coming up. No wonder you’ve been a total basket case.
I only learned this was a totally “normal” experience once I met
other cancer survivors months later in a young adult support group. They
still remain part of “my tribe”—fellow survivors I can turn to with
anything. No matter how crazy it seems, they just get it. As an aside, one
of many things I strongly encourage someone newly diagnosed with any
disease or disability is to “Find Your Tribe”!
Going back to the end of my horrific one-month “vacation
period,” I underwent the follow-up MRI. Once I learned that my scans
were clear, my oncologist sat down with me, extremely concerned for my
mental and emotional well-being. She is like a second mother, and I am so
fortunate to have always had supportive doctors.
I trusted her with my life, literally. Thus, with her care and
2021, Winter / 35

encouragement, I realized I had to focus on getting back to the person she

had first met, who told her, “I’m going to beat this.” I got professional help
to handle the anxiety, I returned to work part-time, and I began
appreciating all the good things in my life. Quickly the overwhelming
anxiety disappeared. The strong, positive person I had been when I first
learned of my diagnosis returned.
I still worry about what the future holds, but the worst imaginable
things did happen. My cancer recurred in 2015. As of July 2020 I’ve been
officially cancer-free for five years. Yet I’ve undergone seven brain
surgeries in total. I couldn’t begin to count how many times I’ve been
hospitalized. I’ve been stuck with so many needles and IVs, my poor veins
make me look like a heroin addict. I’ve learned to live with the fact a
seizure can occur anytime, anyplace. Sadly, I watched a dear friend
succumb to brain cancer in 2017. I will forever grieve that loss, but I know
she watches over me as one of my guardian angels.
None of us know what the future holds. After my diagnosis I will
never be the same again mentally, physically, or emotionally. I’ve come
to accept that, although admittedly I have my bad days. Life may not be
easy, and it may not be fair, but it’s the only life I’ve got, and I plan to
make the best of it.


The sheets smell like the breeze itself,

hanging off the line, softly wafting.
A run-through with mouth and nose
open allows a caressing of the face,
an inhalation and ingestion
of the familiar comfort of home.
Disapproval is fairly assumed;
no bothering of the wash is allowed.
36 / Evening Street Review 32

More clandestine runs through follow,

hands kept at sides, all contact made
with the face, chest, and belly.
The loose front tooth is forgotten until
it catches, pulls free, and falls into
thick green grass below, never to
be found, despite woeful searching.

There will be no tooth fairy tonight,

and there is a red dot on the white sheet.


Moscow to Leningrad express, after Brezhnev,

before Gorbachev. My Russian Lit students
are stunned: Zhivago’s birches in the snow!
Pretty Johanna flirts with a Russian where
Anna threw herself under the train.

The Leningrad streets are gray and lean. No swoosh

of taxis. Are we being followed?

Near Chernaya Rechka a babushka tosses a stick

for her shaggy dog. I wave as we approach, raise
my arm as if aiming a pistol, and yell Pushkin.
Her face brightens. She points to a marker
where the poet was shot in the duel.

Jeremy is hungover, silent. Most of the students

are hungover. Kathleen studies a butterfly
chalked on the wall of Nabokov’s childhood home.
He slept, she says, up there above the oriel
window. Nearby, Peter the Great restrains his
rearing horse in St. Isaac’s Square. My wife,
a rider, snaps pictures.
2021, Winter / 37

On the Neva‘s bank, Matt, Jim, and I bask shirtless

in the April sun with the Russian men. Ice
chunks slide past. Are we being watched?
A comely girl in coveralls uses a round brush
to paint the railing on the bridge.

Kuznechny Lane. In the room where Dostoyevsky

died the leather couch is dry and cracked. We
search for Raskolnikov’s flat at19 Grazhdanskaya
Ulitsa. I climb wooden stairs to the third floor
and knock on a door.

The students want to buy vodka. They want to meet

Russian kids. Ted and Amy play hacky-sack
on the sidewalk. I herd them back toward our hotel.

On Nevsky Prospect. Kathleen—now a professor

at Berkeley—poses next to a poster of Gogol’s
The Nose. I snap a picture and wonder if the KGB
is filming us.


The man I lived with and the man who gave me life had been at it
again. And I had to do something. Donny, pacing the kitchen with a beer,
talking over the radio, was giving me a blow-by-blow description. The call
to my dad to get more money out of him had not gone well. He stopped,
leaning against the counter where the radio was blaring the news. None of
it was good. He shook his finger at me, that way he did either to tell me
that something was all my fault or that he was about to give me what he
considered a profound thought.
“Do you know what I should’ve said to him?”
Most evenings he would feed me his latest plan to make it big for
38 / Evening Street Review 32

us while I gave our boys their dinner. When all was said and done, Donny
got a lot more said than he got done. I nodded while tapping Connor’s
shoulder so he’d sit back down. Macaroni with butter was the only thing
he’d eat, and he was throwing pieces of his dinner at his baby brother. I
picked a piece of macaroni off Jeremy’s tray and flicked it back at Connor.
It stuck to his head, making them both laugh.
“Well? Do you?” Donny was fiddling with the radio dial. All we
could get was loud or static, but I liked having it on when I fed the kids. I
needed to hear adult conversation. He kept fiddling away, like that was
going to change anything. Wasn’t that the definition of insanity?
“Do you know what I think the problem is?” Donny stood there,
his cue-stick calves—they looked funny because the rest of him was so
big—poking out of the cargo shorts he wore year-round, ready to play
amateur psychologist. “I said, do you know what I think the problem is.”
“The volume control?”
“I’m talking about your father. He thinks I’m beneath him.”
“I don’t think so.” My dad thought a lot less of Donny than that,
but there was no sense in letting that cat out.
I turned Jeremy’s spoon over and tapped it on his plate to dump
the carrots he wasn’t eating. I loved my little boys, but I had to get them
to bed. I needed to end this day. We’d been stuck inside again. Today it
was a freezing rain. I got up to make toast.
“You spoil them, you know,” Donny said.
“I’m going to make sure my kids eat one way or another.” I
plugged in the toaster.
“You know what I should’ve said to him?”
“What’s that?” This was more to let him know I was listening. I
really didn’t have a burning desire to know what he should’ve said that he
didn’t just say in the first place.
“I should’ve said, you might not respect me, but we should sit
down and have us a talk. A serious talk. You don’t want your grandkids
out on the street and starving, do you? That’s what I should’ve said.”
Donny had been a good provider before he got on what he called
a bad roll. He had all the work he could handle back then. When the slump
hit, he said this was temporary. But we got in pretty deep, and I think it
shook him.
When the economy started to come back, he still wasn’t getting
jobs. He told me not to panic, but my dad’s checks only went so far. When
he finally found work on other people’s crews—small jobs like scraping
off somebody’s old roof, hauling trash away—he said this was only until
2021, Winter / 39

he got his business up and running again.

He would be outside before the boys were awake, waiting for his
ride to the job. His van had died, and he let me have the Corolla for going
to the food pantry and bringing the boys to the emergency room. If it
wasn’t ear infections or strep throat, it was pink eye. Sometimes his ride
would forget him. I’d get up to heat a bottle for Jeremy, and Donny would
be sitting at the kitchen table with his coffee and a cigarette. He would just
look at me and shrug. The first time, I said that I would pack the boys in
the car and drive him to the job site. He told me not to bother.
Now, Donny had his hand on my hip, making me cringe. “Am I,
or am I not a good provider?” He reached around me to open the
refrigerator, then pulled out another beer. He somehow always had money
for that. We were behind in the rent again, and I couldn’t even afford to
buy a decent bra. Those little side jobs were getting fewer and farther
between. And I had no idea how much cash he brought home from them,
when he did get them. Donny wasn’t public enemy number one or
anything like that, but he said the IRS was after him due to some tax
problem that went back to when he had the business. So, we couldn’t have
a checking account let alone a credit card. He said he’d fix this once he got
a break.
Donny stared at the trash bag that was waiting to be tied and
brought out. He missed the hook shot he tried with his bottle cap. “You
have to call him,” he said.
Right. I knew how this story went. I sat back down to butter my
baby’s toast. Then I cut it into perfect little square pieces for him, hoping
that Donny and I were done with this conversation. His hands on the back
of my chair told me we weren’t. A squall of cigarettes and beer blew in
my ear. “Call him.”
Connor stood on his chair, tilted his head back, and made a noise
like he was howling at the moon. The boy got that nervous energy from
his father. Holding a piece of toast in each hand, Jeremy laughed.
Donny didn’t. “Can’t you get him to settle down?”
“He’s five.” I knew Donny was stressed, but I didn’t like anyone
talking that way about my boys.
I smiled at them to say everything was okay. Jeremy didn’t seem
convinced. “It’s okay, Mee Mee.” Connor used to call him that because he
couldn’t say, Jeremy. I still did because I thought it was adorable.
Donny took to pacing again. “For chrissakes, call him,” he said
“Tell him we’ve had some bad rolls and just need another chance.”
Another chance sounded good.
40 / Evening Street Review 32

Watching his father wear out the dull kitchen linoleum, Connor
said, “Daddy happy?”
“Let Daddy be,” I said.
“No. Daddy not happy.”
“Why?” Connor, so innocent and beautiful, looked at his father as
if there was a simple answer to all this.
“Because your Grampa is a—” Donny rubbed the back of his head
as if the word he was looking for was a genie in a lamp. “Never mind.”
Then, he got right in my face. “Are you going to do it or not?”
“Do what?”
“Come on. Will you please just call him and ask for some money?
Listen. I’m saying, please.”
“But he already told you no.”
“But he can’t say no to you. You’re Daddy’s little girl.” He walked
toward the den shaking his head that way he did like he was making sure
nothing had come loose. “Nope. He can’t say no to his little girl.”
I was sorry that I had ever told Donny what my mother used to say
to me after my dad had left. She would tell me not to worry about him
because he knew how to land on his feet. When I would still worry about
him—mostly about when I was going to see him—she would say, aren’t
you the little Daddy’s girl. Then, she would take the time to tell me all the
ways I was just like him. None of them nice. After getting all that out,
she’d go and grab her bottle of Smirnoff that she kept in the drawer with
the tablecloths we never used and shut herself in her bedroom. My brother
was already fending for himself, and when I moved out, it wasn’t soon
enough. For her or me. We don’t speak to one another still.
“Isn’t there some other way?” I said to Donny. “He’s had a lot of
people after him for money.” Besides paying my mother her alimony, he
was giving a little help to my brother. My dad had told me this, saying he
wasn’t complaining, just letting me know how things were.
Jeremy was getting fussy. I undid the towel that I use to tie him in
his high chair, then picked up my baby. “Come on,” I said to Connor.
“Let’s go in the den and watch some TV before bed.”
But Donny blocked my way out of the kitchen. “Just call him,” he
He’d never done that before. I went to the sink to wet a corner of
the dish towel with some warm water to clean Jeremy’s face. I hoped he
didn’t see my hand shaking. “I can’t—”
He came over and leaned against the sink. It was full of dishes, but
he didn’t say anything about that. “I suppose you could get a job,” he said.
2021, Winter / 41

“So could you.” I stepped back, resting Jeremy on my hip. Connor

was behind me. “I just mean there was that job in the paper. You know?
The one I told you about the other night?”
“Did you see what they were paying? That’s not the kind of money
I’m used to making. Besides, I have a head for business. How am I going
to get my business up and running if I’m stuck in their warehouse all day?”
Donny might’ve thought he had a head for business, but it was his
hands that earned a living for us. One day, as if it was what I’d been
waiting all my life to hear, he’d said that he paid a guy to buy into a fire
alarm business. How much? I had asked. Waving the list of so-called pre-
qualified buyers under my nose, he’d said, this is gold. I had tried to be
supportive and positive, like he had asked. But we would’ve had the same
results just calling people out of the phone book. That was three hundred
dollars of my dad’s money we’d never see again.
Jeremy was sucking on the dish towel. I just let him have it. “If I
got a job,” I said, moving him to my other hip, “would you watch the
“How do I get a business going while I’m chasing them around?”
“I don’t know what we do then.”
“I don’t either. Well, I do, but you seem to have a problem with
“How about this? You work second shift. That way, you can watch
Connor and Jeremy during the day and I’d watch them when you went to
work at night.”
“What would I do on second shift?” It was a good bet that he’d be
on the couch day and night drinking beer and watching his game shows.
Donny snapped his fingers and I knew a real good one was
coming. “Why don’t you do some dancing?” He pointed at me like he
wanted me to start right there in the kitchen. I knew the kind of dancing
he was talking about. It was the kind that I had told my dad I’d have to do,
after I’d worn out other stories, if we didn’t get some money coming in
Jeremy was getting heavy. “The thing is,” I said, adjusting him on
my hip and getting that dish towel back, “The thing is, after two babies,
you think anyone’s going to pay to see me prance around naked?”
“I wasn’t serious. I don’t want you dancing. Listen—”
Donny put his arms around me. Just for a second, I thought he was
going to tell me he loved me just the way I am.
42 / Evening Street Review 32

“How about you just ask for some money?” he said. “I think two
thousand should do it.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Come on. Last time, okay? I promise.
This wasn’t going to be the last time. “I need to think,” I said. “I’ll
think this through while I get the boys in the bath.”
“You do that. I’m going for a smoke.” It hadn’t been that long, but
Donny was sticking with his promise not to smoke in the apartment
anymore. I didn’t think it was good around the boys.
Jeremy was squirming. I slipped two fingers down the back of his
diaper and pulled it away from him to see if he had a little surprise for me.
But it was that trash bag that was stinking things up. “Could you please
bring that out? I mean since you’re going out anyway.”
Donny opened the cabinet over the fridge where he kept his
carton, then grabbed a pack of cigarettes. He looked at the bag. “Sure,” he
said, ripping open the pack.
After getting the boys down for the night and taking some aspirin,
I thought about that call to my dad. I sat at the kitchen table with a pen and
some paper so I could write down what I would say if I did call him.
Instead of writing, though, I picked through the pile of bills on the table.
Next to the pile were a couple of Donny’s gambling books. He said that
there’s a strategy to winning big. He was trying to find it in books like
Beat the Odds and You Have to Play Big to Win Big. There are no big wins.
Life is just little things lined up one after another. You keep doing the right
little things and maybe, after a while, you’ll get somewhere. That seemed
a stretch, but it was all I had.
With money you can do anything, Donny liked to say. What would
you do with a million dollars?
What would you do with a million dollars? I had said right back
to him one night when we were watching someone on one of his game
shows getting close to the jackpot.
He’d said he would buy one of those little sport cars, a sleek, black
convertible, and drive to Las Vegas where he would win big for us.
Now I was trying to figure out how much rent I could get away
with this month and which bills to pay. Quitting high school wasn’t the
smartest thing I ever did. But when we found out that I was pregnant for
Connor, and Donny said he’d make an honest woman of me. Well, how
could I say no? Jeremy came along after Donny had lost his business.
Dad’s money had been coming in like regular paychecks before we had to
start begging. Guess he was getting tired too.
2021, Winter / 43

Donny had said that we would use the money from my dad this
time to make just a little breathing room on these bills; most of the money
would go to fixing up the van so he could start the roofing business again.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I’d got up from the table
anyway. I hadn’t figured anything out and was frustrated. Donny was
already in bed. I pulled down the blanket and sheet on my side and lay
down without bothering to pull up the covers. I just had one of his old T-
shirts on, but felt like I was on fire. He had his back to me, and I hoped he
was asleep.
He rolled over, then put his hand on my leg. “Well? Did you call
“Not yet.”
“I can see where this is going.”
“I just need time.”
He moved up my leg. “Come on.”
“I’m exhausted,” I said.
“It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
“Do you really think?”
Donny bellied on top of me.
He couldn’t see the tear streaming down my face.

I lay in bed with my knees up, rubbing my thighs. Donny snored

lightly. I got up. Patted cold water on my face in the bathroom. I went to
check on Connor and Jeremy. The bulb in their nightlight was out, but I
just stood in their room listening to my boys’ breathing until it didn’t seem
so dark. Connor moved a little, but didn’t wake up when I brushed my
fingers through his hair. Jeremy was sound asleep in his crib, with an arm
around his stuffed animal. The trunk was missing but I had pinned the
opening so the stuffing wouldn’t come out. He loved that thing to pieces.
A present from my dad. I listened to their breathing, and wondered what
they dreamt about.

Back in bed, I stared at the ceiling again. When I’d called Dad, the
first thing I did was apologize for calling so late. I said that we were in
trouble. He said he figured that. Then he said, how much are we talking
this time? I gave that a long, hard thought. Then I told him how much we
were talking. I said that I’d pay him back as soon as I could. He did that
little laugh he does, then said he didn’t know if he could do that much. I’ll
do what I can, he said. That’s the best I can do.
44 / Evening Street Review 32

I pictured the look on his face. Not the look he must’ve had at the
other end of the line, but the one he would have if he ever opened his front
door and saw the boys and me standing there. He’d always been at his best
from a distance.

Donny turned toward me. “Is the check in the mail?”

He seemed not quite asleep and not quite awake so I didn’t answer
When he smacked his pillow, it scared me. “He’s not giving us
any money. He is a….”
“He’s giving us money. He didn’t say how much. He’s going to
do what he can like he always does.” I rolled over, turning my back to
Donny, hoping this was the end of it.
In a waking dream, tomorrow played out in my head. All the
things I’d have to do when I got out of bed. Get those dishes done. Tidy
up the kitchen. Write a nice note for the landlord promising to get caught
up with the rent next month. Get Jeremy dressed. Put clothes out for
Connor. Give them their breakfast. Put the boys in the car. Meet Dad at
the Owl Diner, take his money, and decline the coffee he would say he’s
buying. Before we left, though, I would tell the boys to give Grampa a
hug. Then, after getting the boys in the car, I would sit behind the wheel
and look at what Dad gave me.
I had a plan for giving my boys a better life. Whatever Dad ended
up giving me, I would tell Donny something less. Every time. It would add
up. Be enough someday to leave.
Donny put his arm around me. It felt solid and warm.
Can I….
“I’ll bet I know what you want,” he said.
Keeping my back to him, I said, “Do you know what I want? I
want you to tell me a story.”
“You want a story?”
“What kind of story do you want, babe?”
“Tell me the one about that little convertible heading to Vegas.”
“You like that one, huh?”
“All right then.”
“Make it a red convertible.”
“Yeah? Red it is.”
“And the boys are snug in the back seat laughing like crazy.”
2021, Winter / 45

“Uh huh.”
“And the radio’s playing nice and loud.”
“No static.”
“And have the sun shining on us.”
“Mm. Hmm.”
“And have the wind blowing through my hair.”
“And we just keep going like we don’t have a care in the world.”
“Going and going.”
Donny had gone quiet. I sat up and looked at him. “And don’t tell
me how it ends.”


It was after five and my boss was at the fair

and we looked at displays until she said
we should go to her office. I noticed some books
on her shelf that looked like mine and as I looked
I waited for her to finish a call she was on.
It seemed she expected unpleasantness. “I just
realized,” I said: “This isn’t your office, it’s my
living room. And the dog....” I ran outside
just as animal control was about to drive off.
I grabbed the door handle and knocked on the window.
“You have my dog,” I said. “She’s been missing
12 years. She ran away when she was three.”
The officer opened the door since I wouldn’t give up.
And the dog was there–and it wasn’t the same.
I mean 12 years is a long time but this
was a short-haired lab: a pup, far younger
than the part fox part husky I remembered.
But she remembered, or acted as if—which was
enough, at the time, to spare me from
accusing my boss of stealing my identity.
46 / Evening Street Review 32


One faithful cluster of bluebells

wakes from long sleep at the corner

where the path up the south cove turns

from the road. On the other side,

spring beauties and waterleaf bloom,

with pale Dutchman’s breeches filling

gaps in the lush forest canvas.

I lean against a large white oak

watching a young deer sidle down

the path, her head up, ears twitching,

curious but alert, until

she snorts loudly and bounds back up

the hill, through the brush, the flashes

of white tail marking her progress.

At my feet, in the dirt between

the two raised roots of the white oak,

a red trillium lifts its leaves,

a triune blessing for this day.

I trudge on up the hill, feeling

the weight of years pulling at me,

pulling me toward the damp earth.

But not yet. Not before the whorled

green knobs of mayapple complete

their sunward thrust. Not before
2021, Winter / 47

lady’s slipper and trout lily

reappear, and the orange teacups

of the trumpet vine again float

on the still waters of the lake.

I am not finished with the world.

These woods, this path, each step I take

fills me with peace and thanksgiving.




The sun had not yet broken over the mountains when the man
trudged down the dirt path toward the drizzling sound of the creek,
carrying a blue-speckled coffee pot. The enamelware pot had once been a
wedding gift, but it was now as old and battered as his love for the woman
who slept in the back of the rust-covered Rambler station wagon parked
by the side of the road.
This had always been one of his favorite places to camp, a rough
patch of Nevada highway on the road from nowhere to nothing, a cracked
asphalt ribbon running through God’s unpromised land, its night sky
untouched by the electrical mayhem of modern civilization. On either side
of the road lay a sunburned carpet of broken rocks, creosote bush, beetles,
and toxic dust. No one drove the old highways anymore, not even truckers
or highway patrolmen. Everyone had moved to the cities, surrendering to
the bright gleam of that faithless communal embrace.
The man tried to remember what day of the week it was, what
month. Late October, he decided, but not yet time for the carnival of the
dead called Halloween, when children dressed up as demons and knocked
on the door begging for treats. Halloween wasn’t for kids anymore. Adults
had taken it for themselves, like they took everything. Adults who were
children now, who spent their time playing with toys, hypnotized by the
flashes and beeps of electronic gizmos, filling their heads with vulgar
amusements that siphoned their souls away, second by second. Time was
48 / Evening Street Review 32

a prison sentence when measured by the hands of a clock or the countdown

of numbers on a glowing screen. The man measured his days in the
movements of the sun and the moon, his years in the oppositions of
superior planets. He knew there were fewer earthly rotations ahead than
behind him and saw no virtue in finer distinctions.
Some days he felt like he’d learned nothing over the course of his
life—much less than his teachers had promised he would, anyway. And
after school, the Marines. They hadn’t made him any more of a man. After
the military, he’d made a career in the corporate world, but the vice
presidents and senior managers, massaging their forecasts and bullet
points, hadn’t made him any wiser or wealthier. They hadn’t told him the
truth about money or faith or desire. They were no better than politicians,
preying on people’s dreams.
They all took a piece of your rapture, your natural genius,
harvesting what they extracted and transforming it into a replicable,
commodified thing. He’d harnessed his soul to their stories of hidden
treasure and bright bottom lines. He’d trusted in fables and scattered his
energies among them as a king showers coins on the beggarly, leaving
behind tokens of his own ignorance. The truth he’d discovered, almost too
late, was that he did not have an endless supply of himself.
He stood by the edge of the creek and stared down at the shallow
brown riffles, searching for a usable pocket of water. The creek was
shallow at this time of year, not as clear as it was in the spring, when the
current ran fast and reborn. The water was warm. He retrieved a tin cup
from inside the coffee pot and squatted down by the bank, dipped his cup
in the stream, and transferred the water to the pot, repeating the process
six times. A cloud of muddy grit bloomed in the bottom of the coffee pot.
He’d boil the water first, add the coffee grounds afterward, and wait for it
all to settle. His wife would complain if her morning cup was too gritty.
He’d make a joke about getting her daily minerals.
He made his way back to the campsite amid the brightening vistas
and declining shadows of distant pinnacles. This land is your land, a
rambling poet had once said, the one who came before the one who warned
of hard rain, who came before the one who would probably die
anonymous. The man made a fire, put the water on, and went to check on
his wife.
She would be gone soon, suspended in life’s final sleep. As would
he. Without them, the sun would still rise on this sacred outpost in the great
western desert of the greatest country on earth. That country would be
gone someday too, if things continued this way. The planet was dying.
2021, Winter / 49

People didn’t take care of their world anymore, fearing the dark brilliance
in their souls. The world was run by computers and robots, on whispers of
inhuman magic fabricated by dull geniuses. This desert would be covered
in a great ocean one day.
He stared at his wife where she lay in the back of the station
wagon, silent and still. Sunlight broke through a gap in the flower-print
curtains that hung over the windows. He’d hung them there after his wife
had sewn them from a set of old sheets. A pale, yellow light fell across her
gray hair. The morning sun slid down her brow and onto her eyelids. She
groaned and turned onto her back. He could hear her bones creak. She
opened her eyes to the new day and smiled at him over yellowing teeth. It
was a fine morning, in spite of the darkness to come.


City trees, like street kids,

crack open pavement. With
nowhere else to go, their roots
break your pipeline. What do

you expect when you salt them,

drought them, exhaust them
with diesel, cuss them even
as your dog insults them with

ammonia, staining their skin?

And then you wonder why
they die without bestowing you
with blossoms, bright leaves,

welcoming shade. Why they

trip you and buckle your front
step even as you box them
into cages of iron and cement.
50 / Evening Street Review 32


In those days fireplaces were shallow,

lights dim, drapes thick, walls thin,
men in breeches, women in brooches
paraded Main Street to see each other

being seen. Circles were small and drew

everyone in. Or threw them out. Unmarried
by 30, women were done. Turned into
witches by frightened kin, they rattled

like leaves then settled alone in bordering

fields. Like driftwood when it beaches,
they were continuously kicked further
downstream. From the “flexure of the splinters”

one could tell on which side the woodsman

placed his ax. Or woodswoman. Cut off,
she cultivated her callused heels, the scab
that wouldn’t heal. No one in those days

talked about thinking outside the box;

they were too busy hammering the box
they were in. Flower box, letterbox, coffin.
Each with its sharp edges. Close fitting lid. Johnson


For James Tate

Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.

Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.
Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.
Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.
Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.
Then I’ll ditch these guys and get a decent espresso.
2021, Winter / 51


These are strange times. No one would argue that. My thirty-five-

year-old son might. He might also tell you that the bricks on the bridge
cause negativity. I’m afraid to be alone with him.
Yet, I desperately miss our time together.
Dan says, “PJ always wanted you to himself.”
Before Dan was my partner, there was three-year-old PJ. I
separated from PJ’s father when PJ was two. We divorced soon after.
These days my son lives close by. We’re not close. I wish we were.
At times, when he texts, how are you? It seems plausible we might be close
Then he’ll say during our July 4th picnic that he was kidnapped.
He stares directly at me with those big brown eyes. I am afraid he will
blame me for his extended stay at the hospital, for the two-year order to
take medication or return to the hospital.
Instead I say, “Who wants cheesecake?”
He doesn’t. That’s not like PJ. Yet, this man before me is my son,
the one who speaks of bricks on bridges.
Are there even bricks on bridges? In the past, before he was
hospitalized for the second, third, and fourth time I’d have asked questions
about bricks on the bridges.
Asking questions that seek a rationale are no longer in my
wheelhouse when it comes to what PJ says. I ask who wants potato chips,
another sandwich, or more iced tea. I play hostess, a surreal simpleton until
our family gathering ends. We are all still standing.
PJ and the woman he lives with say their goodbyes; there’s no
hugging because we’re living through a pandemic. Dan and I breathe a
sigh of relief and take a walk in the woods.
“That was like something out of the twilight zone,” says Dan. I
laugh because I was thinking the exact same thing.
That night PJ texts, “That was really nice, thanks.”
“It was good to see you,” I text back. I don’t say how hard it is to
see him medicated for his bipolar with schizoaffective disorder. It boggles
my mind what has become of him, because along with the medication, he
still smokes pot. His delusions are always there. He rambles even with
The next morning, he texts back, “Love you Mom.”
52 / Evening Street Review 32

I love him too. I want to hike with him, and have him come and
go from our house freely. Only that’s not possible. I know that. He doesn’t
have a car any longer. He’s had many and lost them all.
With Covid-19 no one gets into my car except for Dan. Years
before the pandemic, I decided if PJ was riding in my car, I needed an
escort. He loves me. Yet on any given day, he might hate me, and even
threaten to kill me. This hurts like a gnawing toothache. The longer I live
accepting PJ’s illness as a reality, the more tolerable his words become.
Three days after our July 4th picnic I drove down the street where
my son lives. I don’t know if I chose that street because I wanted to see
my son. He lives a few blocks from a friend of mine. I’d just left her house.
If it was anyone else, I knew I’d have honked the horn and said
hello. Instead, when I saw PJ and the woman he lives with crossing the
street, I swerved the car into a gas station. I was rattled for fear PJ might
think I was stalking him.
So, what kind of mother does that make me?


I come from a time

when grandmothers
baked cookies
and crocheted things
we never wore

and kept boxes

full of buttons
we could play with

a time when grandmothers

always had something
on the stove
by noon
and there was always
enough for extras
2021, Winter / 53

I come from a time

when grandmothers
had white hair and
sweet, plump, wrinkled faces
that always smiled
and kissed us
and told us
we were beautiful
even when we had acne

I come from a time

when grandmothers were like
a different race of beings
not just older versions
of our mothers

feminism has improved

so many things
and I wouldn’t
give up my freedom
or my iPhone
or my job
for a minute

but sometimes
I really wish my grandchildren
had a grandma


I dreamed of
a child of bones

shaking hands
dry, cracked skin
reaching out
staring up at his mother
54 / Evening Street Review 32

with lonely
beseeching eyes

she reaches her fingers

into her pocket
pulls out
and hands him
her phone


you said after burying it behind the house—

the custom-made neoplastic brain-dome—
a reverse night sky, tiny black stars
clustered on a white dome, black lines
drawn to connect constellations
of suspected tumor sites. Anyplace
inside that steel room made me weak
in the knees, doubled over at the waist,
even though you kept smiling at me,
safe under your dome of stars.

She needs to step out now, you told the nurses,

even from your lying-flat position
you could see I was about to
pass out. Radiation attacks
all possible enemy outposts—
one must not to think of the pink-
immune-cell innocents
that would surely go down too.

2021, Winter / 55

Radiation fries the brain, honey,

be ready for anything, a friend said.
I wasn't. Especially for your triumphant
smile when returning from your final
treatment you presented me with
the brain-dome the way our cat comes
home with his kill proudly between his teeth.

I am sorry for making you

need to bury the one thing you had
come to count on:
tiny stars
in a reverse heaven,
clustering together.


When I was a little girl, I always knew what my parents were

thinking. I didn’t have to make any special effort, or do anything weird—
I just knew. It was the same as if they were talking—to me, to each other,
or to anyone else. I actually heard the words. It took me quite some time,
as I recall, to be able to tell when they were really talking and when I just
heard them in my mind. Of course, when they spoke normally, their lips
would be moving, but as a child, I didn’t think about that. By the time I
started school, I began to realize the difference.
My first day at school was the most confusing day of my life. I
could hear what everyone was thinking—my classmates, the teacher, even
passersby in the hallway. The profusion of garbled words in my mind was
beyond frightening. I didn’t know what to do, having never told my
parents about this strange curse. I cried all the way home, but when I got
to our West Philadelphia row house, I made sure my mom, who worked at
56 / Evening Street Review 32

night, and my dad, who had a disability pension and stayed home to care
for me, never saw my tears. I was afraid they’d be disappointed with me.
By the end of the first week, I learned how to focus only on what
the teacher was saying, and could avoid the other voices. Doing that made
me a better student but also had the effect of isolating me from my
classmates. They said I was stuck-up and thought I was better than they
were. If they only knew how I really felt.
By the end of the school year, I had figured out how to hear some
voices while avoiding others. That control came too late for me to become
more popular with the other kids that year, but at least I could get a fresh
start the next school year.
Summer vacation made things much easier because I had fewer
voices to worry about—only my parents and two neighborhood girls that
I saw for short periods of time each day.
With each passing week, I learned more about my curse and how
to control it. By the time I was in junior high school, it was no longer a
curse, but a gift that I could put to my advantage. Knowing what people
were thinking, it turns out, made me not only a straight A student, but also
a very popular girl.
When I was twelve, my father died. Mom said he had a very sick
liver, and after many years of struggling, his body was too weak to fight it
anymore. I had spoken to him just before he passed, so I knew exactly
what she was talking about, but I never told her how that came to be,
although I suspected that, somewhere in her most hidden thoughts, she
already knew.
I had always been closer with Dad because Mom worked at night
and slept a lot during the day, while he was home all the time. I was able
to talk to him more, and eventually told him about my strange gift. He
accepted my story without comment, other than to say he loved me very
much and always would, but his thoughts told me that he knew exactly
how I felt and he couldn’t wait to share it with Mom. I was asleep when
she got home from work, but I knew later that she not only understood,
but somehow even expected me to be special. It was unsettling for me to
realize it was something that both of them thought about regularly, but
never spoke of to me.
I can never forget my last conversation with Dad, shared as he lay
on his death bed. He wanted to tell me about how he met Mom and the
source of my gift. As he rambled on, only half conscious from pain
medication, I could hear the whole story, the true course of events, from
what I heard in his memory, far more than from those last delirious words.
2021, Winter / 57

What follows is the real story of Joseph and Mary MacDougall,

my beloved parents. I tell it as if I were simply an observer, relating it as
objectively as I can.
Joe MacDougall brought five things home with him from World
War II. He got them all as a result of his fourteenth, and, as it turned out,
his last combat mission, in February, 1945.
Joe was a ball turret gunner on a B-17. A ball turret gunner sits in
a glass bubble which protrudes like an outie navel from the belly of the
Flying Fortress. His only protection, on the theory, he supposed, that a
good offense is the best defense, were the pistol grips of the two .50 caliber
machine guns, with which he was to shoot German aircraft from the sky.
On that particular day, Joe’s plane was carrying forty 500-pound
bombs to drop on the city of Dresden. The mission should have been a
milk run. Dresden is fewer than six-hundred miles from London, not far
from where the flight originated, and what was left of the Luftwaffe was
busy trying to stem the Allied invasion of the German homeland. To make
things interesting, the Nazis peppered the sky with anti-aircraft fire, a
rarely effective device.
Not being preoccupied with Messerschmitts, Joe watched through
his bubble as the bomb bay doors opened, just forward of his position. He
saw the dark finned Blockbusters fall, two by two, fluttering in the air like
cardboard toys. Through his headset, he heard the bombardier, Lieutenant
Gibson, yell, “Bombsawayletsgetthehellouttahere!” He felt the plane bank
sharply to starboard to come about to due west, the shortest route back to
Joe was still watching the bombs fall, now seemingly moving at
some crazy angle toward the tilted landscape, when he met hell.
The explosion was deafening, filling the fuselage above him.
Amidst the screams he heard the skipper, a Midwesterner named Braun,
yell, “MacDougall, can you hear me?”
“I hear you, Skipper,” he said.
“Then get your ass forward to the cockpit, now.”
When Joe got to the cockpit, he found a hole in the starboard
fuselage, aft of the glass. Stein, the co-pilot, lay dead in his seat, the right
side of his head gone. The turret gunner, Joe’s best friend, Matt Pocock,
hung like a rag doll from his bubble overhead, blood dripping from his
lifeless left arm onto the remaining half of Stein’s face. Gibson was
unconscious in the bombardier’s seat. Braun’s right arm, riddled with
shrapnel, lay useless at his side, his left hand on the yoke in a death grip.
58 / Evening Street Review 32

“Are you all right?” Braun said, his voice distorted by pain.
“I think so,” Joe said. He was preoccupied with grief and anger
over losing Matt, but barely had time to realize it.
“Good. Then get him out of there,” he chin-pointed at Stein, “and
climb in.”
Robotically obeying his skipper’s orders, Joe unbuckled Stein’s
seatbelt, pulled his body onto the deck, and dropped into his place. The
belt was shredded, the buckle torn half away from the strap, so he didn’t
take the time to try to re-buckle it.
“Is your head okay?” Braun said.
“I guess so. Why?”
“Because it’s bleeding. But never mind that. You’re going to fly
us home.”
Joe remembered hitting the left side of his forehead on one of his
pistol grips when the explosion came, but never felt the blood dripping
down onto his cheek.
The ship was way off course, never having completed its turn.
Through his headset, Joe got a quick flying lesson in a shaky voice from
Braun, and, his face blasted by the force of inrushing air from the hole next
to him, guided the plane out to the Channel, leaving the mainland north of
Le Havre. Joe looked through the glass and saw nothing but choppy green-
gray water. He turned to Braun only to see him passed out. If it weren’t
for the blood bubbling in and out of his nose, Joe would have thought him
dead. He’d never felt so alone, so filled with fear.
After an interminable length of time, during which he was sure
he’d strayed too far off course and would eventually crash into the
Atlantic, he saw coastline starboard-side. Praying that it was England and
not some hostile land, he ditched the plane as carefully as he knew how,
as it turned out, between Brighton and Southampton. When the plane hit
the sea, Joe, still beltless, smashed his left leg into the instrument panel
hard enough to shatter both bones below his knee. Somehow, the ship
stayed afloat long enough for Joe, Braun, Gibson, and the two tail gunners
to be rescued.
Two surgeries were needed to insert stainless steel pins in Joe’s
tibia and fibula, and to cut skin from his buttocks to be grafted onto his
shin. By the time he was able to get out of his hospital bed and move
around, the doctor told him he was lucky to be alive, let alone able to walk.
But walking was a painful process at best, despite his cane. It was a herky-
jerky motion by which he tried to relieve the pressure on his injuries, but
2021, Winter / 59

at the price of considerable lower back pain. That, in addition to the lower
leg pain, which was almost constant after the last of his morphine
prescriptions elapsed, would have confined a lesser man to a life without
physical activity. But Joe refused to become a “basket case,” as he would
say to anyone who cared to listen. His way of easing the pain was drinking
gin and taking aspirin, both of which were readily available without
As soon as it became possible to walk far enough to leave the base,
Joe began spending his time at a nearby pub, The Quarterdeck.
Southampton, on England’s southern coast, was a seafaring town, and Joe
became absorbed in the stories that salmon fishermen swapped over their
beers, not to mention the green-eyed, red-haired barmaid who worked
there. Mary O’Brien was a perky lass with a turned-up nose and a set to
her chin that spoke of stubbornness, and before long she took a liking to
the dark-haired yank who walked with his head held high and a defiant
glint in his deep blue eyes, despite his strange limp. Though she was only
twenty, she could tell by the way he held his liquor, and the stolid front he
put up, that he had character. It didn’t take long for the soldier and the
barmaid to fall in love.
Joe arrived at The Quarterdeck every evening and talked with
Mary whenever she wasn’t busy. Long past the time when the alcohol had
lost its power of intoxication, he sipped his gin for the gentle numbness it
brought, which was his only means of tolerating the cruel trick life had
played on him.
Every night, when Mary finished her work, he walked her down
to the modest cottage near the coast where she lived with her father, a
retired seaman, and her grandmother. What little lovemaking that took
place between them was accomplished awkwardly and incompletely in
Mary’s front yard, on a wooden bench shielded from the house by an
ancient privet. When it became apparent to them that they would marry,
she brought Joe inside to meet her family.
Sean O’Brien was a tall, spare man with large features, his
weathered face a series of broad, flat surfaces, upholstered in wrinkled
leather, framed in a Lincolnesque, salt and pepper beard, and punctuated
by sparkling, ice-blue eyes. He sat in a cushioned rocking chair, chewing
on the stem of a curved meerschaum pipe, smoothed and yellowed, with a
patina that bespoke years of fondling. His white knitted turtleneck sweater
and blue denim trousers hanging from his frame like scarecrow’s rags, he
eyed Joe critically, unaware of the pain he’d endured to walk to this first
60 / Evening Street Review 32

meeting. Joe stood proudly before Sean O’Brien, wearing two ribbons
above the left breast pocket of his olive-drab uniform blouse, representing
the Distinguished Flying Cross and, though he disdained it because he did
nothing positive to earn it, the Purple Heart. Mary stood beside Joe,
clutching his left arm and smiling inanely at her father and his mother-in-
law, who sat sipping tea at a nearby pine table.
Sean looked at the old woman, bald save for a few wisps of silky,
white hair, her face a lumpy mass of wrinkles protecting a pair of green
eyes clouded from age. He spoke to her in a language Joe could not
understand, after which she glared at the soldier, pulled her grey, woolen
shawl around her bony shoulders, and took another sip of tea. Then she
spoke to her son-in-law, talking at length in the same strange tongue he’d
Her father turned to Mary, removed the pipe from his mouth, and
said, “It can’t be done,” then clamped his jaw resolutely back onto the
“I will marry Joe,” she said, putting extra emphasis on the “will,”
her chin jutting defiantly.
“You heard your grandmother,” he replied, removing the pipe
from his mouth with an unsteady hand. “There’s the curse. You can’t
marry the Yank.”
“What curse?” Joe said, his first words since entering the house.
“It’s not fair to me,” Mary said, interrupting Joe’s question. Her
petulance drew his attention from Sean.
“It’s not fair to the Yank, girl,” her father said, ignoring Joe’s
“Excuse me, sir,” Joe said, his voice louder than he might have
wanted. “I’d like to know what you’re talking about. If something isn’t
fair to me, I think I should be the judge of it.”
Sean’s gaze flicked from his daughter’s defiant green eyes to Joe’s
determined blue ones, and back again. He sighed heavily, shrugged, struck
a match on the underside of the rocker, and held it to the bowl of his
meerschaum, sucking the stem and puffing smoke. All of these gestures
were performed slowly, deliberately, as if he were alone in his parlor. Once
he had the pipe going to his satisfaction, he returned to his daughter’s
impatient, but still respectful stare, which spoke of having endured similar
situations many times before, and said, “All right, then. Tell him.”
Mary grasped her lover’s hand and led him to a tweed covered
divan placed against the yellowed plaster wall. After a few seconds of
silence, her fingers fidgeting in her lap, she said, “There is supposed to be
2021, Winter / 61

a curse on my family that was put there hundreds and hundreds of years
ago by the Blue People.”
“Do you mean real blue people, like with blue skin?”
“I’m not really sure. I don’t know how it got started, but it had
something to do with Saint Augustine and the Druids, who were called the
Blue People.” She paused, reluctant to continue.
“And…?” Joe said.
Mary glanced at her father, who kept his icy eyes on her, pipe
clamped firmly between his teeth.
“They had magic men,” she continued, “who were supposed to
have somehow made themselves blue to frighten their enemies. They felt
it would make them more powerful. They were said to be able to use the
forces of nature and the change of seasons in their magic, and…and…it’s
all just superstitions and whatnot, you know, from so long ago.” She
stopped again, unsure of herself.
“Please go on,” Joe said.
“It has something to do with those converted by Saint Augustine
to Christianity. I’m not sure of all the details—don’t know if anyone is,
really, but the Blue People cursed those who became Christians. What it
means to us is that…that no sons are born into our family, only girls. You
see, no one to carry on the family name. I’m still not sure it has anything
to do with it, but my mother fell from a cliff into the sea many years ago.
She was eight months pregnant. It was ruled an accidental death.”
“I’m so sorry,” Joe said.
“It was long ago, but thank you.”
“So that’s it? No sons?”
“No, there’s more.” She looked back at Sean, who tapped his pipe
into the ashtray and refilled it, now avoiding her eyes.
“Any one of us born at the equinox, Spring or Fall, is cursed with
strange powers, witch’s powers. Those born at the solstices die by their
own hand. My mother was born on June twenty-first.”
Mary glanced at her father; his eyes squeezed shut as he puffed on
his pipe. Her grandmother, mumbling softly to herself, had also closed her
“The curse ends only when one of us dies childless.”
“How could you possibly know all these things?”
“From my grandmother, who heard it from hers, and so on, back
into time.”
“It’s only superstition, you know.” Joe spoke softly, as much to
calm Mary as to avoid being heard across the room. “Certainly, your
62 / Evening Street Review 32

mother’s death was a coincidence. Nobody can prove that it wasn’t. In

either case, I still want to marry you.”
“Let’s walk outside,” Mary said, her heart filled with joy, now that
Joe had confirmed his love for her.
Joe looked back to find Sean O’Brien and his mother-in-law still
sitting as they were before, their eyes closed. He never saw them again.
Mary O’Brien and Joe MacDougall were married by a United
States Army chaplain on what would have been her mother’s fifty-third
birthday, June twenty-first, 1945.
Two weeks later Joe brought five things home with him to
Philadelphia: his limp, his addiction, his Distinguished Flying Cross, and
his new bride.
The fifth thing was me, Barbara MacDougall, at that time barely
the size of a fingernail clipping while I grew in Mom’s womb. I was born
on March twenty-first, 1946.


I’m loosening my tie

as walk through
my front door

like a father
in a 50s sitcom
would after a hard
day’s work.

She pokes her head

out from behind
the coatrack,
runs to me,

and I toss my baby

in the air as she yells,
Papa, Papa!
2021, Winter / 63

But before I catch

her by the armpits,
I’m already scanning
the couch for the remote.
I need my CNN.

I need to know
about Kansas,

if the terrorist
was foreign
or homespun,
if targets were
cops or mosques

or if being human
was enough
of a mark.

But my baby,
she don’t care.
All she wants
is to be in my arms.
And for me
to spin a record,
one of them dusty
old numbers

about twistin’
or boogien’
or takin’ my baby
to the sock hop.

As long as it’s catchy

as long as it’s vapid.

I keep my baby
in my arms,
and situate her diaper
in my elbow
until my knees
find the beat, (cont)
64 / Evening Street Review 32

and I bounce a bit

while we listen to
“Dancin’ with my Baby”
for the eighth day
this week.

When we dance,
somehow I can believe
it’s all gonna be groovy.

Like me and her

gonna Mashed Potato
all the way
to the soda shop
and bop all the way
back home.

Home, where the needle

pops on a scratch,
and the muted TV’s
crawl updates
the death toll.

But my baby,
she don’t care.
All she wants
is to be in my arms.



“What my income or taxes are is my business,” Father yelled, “and

I’m not telling any college under the sun one GD thing about my money.”
He was so angry, his mouth foamed, and some spit landed on my string
beans, which I surreptitiously pushed to the side. “They’ll want to know
2021, Winter / 65

what I have in the bank, my salary, the value of the house, and other things
that are none of their friggin’ business. So you can get the idea of applying
for ‘student loans’ right out of your idiotic head, young lady.”
Why? It wasn’t like we had money. I’d definitely have qualified
for financial aid. Mother later fumed that his growing up in total poverty
compelled Father to hide the meager amount he’d managed to save. “Your
father’s ‘poor man’s mentality’ always holds him back. And now it’s your
turn to feel it. God knows he’s made me suffer enough.”
How would I get to college? As a good Catholic, I resorted to
praying to the Virgin Mary for a miracle, which she obligingly presented
in the form of an announcement by Sister Lucille, my advisor, of a college
scholarship contest for “Future Catholic Playwrights of America.” It
turned out thousands of Catholic high schoolers all over the country wrote
short plays about a different feast day each year. These pieces were read
by hundreds of judges who determined which of the thousands would
advance to do “dramatic readings” of their work in competitions all over
the US until every state had a winner. The favored fifty then competed
until only four national finalists were left. It was a huge event. Or so I
surmised from Sister Lucille’s excited pronouncements. When Sister
explained this year’s topic was The Annunciation and the national prize
was $10,000, I found myself in a state of near ecstasy imagining becoming
free of Father, since the scholarship could pay for all of my college
education. (It was the seventies, and college back then didn’t leave you in
debt for the rest of your life like it does today.) The Annunciation was my
favorite feast day—a humble but brave young woman taking on a nearly
impossible task.
While Father always made clear he’d have preferred me to be a
boy, I never imagined he wouldn’t help with college. My “intellect” was
all he’d ever been interested in, and he even sometimes bragged he had a
“smart daughter.” In grammar school when national tests said I was
clever—maybe even a genius—Father created nightly homework reviews
where I had to unobtrusively teach him subjects like the New Math and
Catholic Missionary History so he could then quiz me on them. At first, I
welcomed his attentiveness, given his usual indifference. But as the
sessions went on, he found me increasingly deficient, so our review hours
lengthened until I grew sick with exhaustion. As Father castigated me
about fractions or reexamined me on spelling words I’d not gotten wrong
for months, I learned how to evaporate to protect myself. I heard the right
answers I was giving, but as if from another room. Away from him. When
Mother explained the lengthy reviews to our family doctor, he said they
66 / Evening Street Review 32

were “unnatural,” and it was her job to stop them. Which took months.
Years later, my psychiatrist said Father’s behavior wasn’t meant to benefit
me but was a type of emotional incest. Glad I didn’t know that then. I told
no one about my evaporations.
So, to the play competition. When I started thinking seriously
about what I’d write, it occurred to me that Mary, with her appearances
throughout history and all over the world, had always reminded me of
Doctor Who. And just like that, I had my topic. Here’s what I thought.
Mary probably negotiated with Gabriel at The Annunciation before
agreeing to be the Mother of God. What if she’d directly asked Gabe for
infinite time-traveling power (her apparitions, of course) and a body to last
for all eternity (her Assumption) so people could see her when she time-
traveled around everywhere—like Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, and all
those thousands of other places. I realized these thoughts were sufficiently
weird that at least I’d definitely stand out from other contestants. While
they could shock Sister, they might, if presented with reverence, also catch
an audience’s (and the judges’) attention because they’d present Mary
from a feminist angle using references everyone would get. I opened my
notebook and wrote: “If Mary’s a divine version of Doctor Who, the status
of all women’ll rise dramatically.” Not to mention what this play could do
for my own status and financial independence. As I continued writing, I
envisioned Gabriel played by a Dalek, waving his telescopic manipulator
plunger at Mary and shouting, “You will obey!” Which of course she
wouldn’t. “Resistance is futile!” But it wouldn’t be. Mary wasn’t so
humble and obedient as the Church implies. Why did she have to be
submissive and milquetoast with Gabriel? “Mary is persistent and brave,”
I wrote, “and only as-pleasant-as-needed-given-the-particular-state-of-
affairs, which makes her a perfect role model for girls entering our new
feminist world.” The words were pouring out of me, and I decided to call
the play The Annunciation Zone with a nod to Rod Serling, because, really,
what could better describe Mary’s life than The Twilight Zone?
When I told my parents about the contest at dinner and joyfully
explained the ideas I’d been developing, they were elated I could
potentially win a scholarship. But Father was aghast at my interpretation
of Mary and the whole Annunciation story. “Your ideas about Our Lady’s
negotiating to become a time traveler are deranged!” he sneered.
“Dad, you can write about anything so long as it’s related to The
“Of course, that’s to let all the daft people write something stupid
so they’re eliminated quickly.”
2021, Winter / 67

Why did I continue to engage with him?

He huffed and paced around. “So you discover some way to pay
for college and then sabotage yourself? Huh? Huh? Huh?”
I said nothing. But within moments, Father’s derision turned into
a fixation with the competition. He forgot his promise to the doctor years
ago not to interfere with my homework again. He forgot that if he’d only
filled out those financial aid forms, I wouldn’t need the contest in the first
place. “C’mon, Bridey. Let’s sit at the dining room table, where we can
work this out.”
We? I felt sick. “Focusing on Mary’s apparitions is a great idea,
but only a fool’d call them ‘time travel.’” I looked pleadingly at Mother,
but he was already jotting down notes.
“I can see it now!” he shouted excitedly. “How’s this for a title?
Akita to Zeitoun: An A to Z Meditation on Our Lady’s Visitations.” Mother
looked at me. A tear ran down her face before she left us and started
washing the dishes.
I had to be strong. This wasn’t little girl homework review. I’d
never heard of Akita or Zeitoun, but no point in admitting that. “No, Dad,”
I said with a conviction I didn’t think I had. “Your topic doesn’t fit. The
play has to be about The Annunciation.”
“I’ve just done a rough sketch, but if you expand it, your play’ll
be perfect.” A few days later, he’d written a whole draft and tormented me
constantly to “read it and learn.”
Finally, I told him I’d use his play, but I secretly worked up my
own ideas and gave my play to Sister Lucille. When I told Mother what
I’d done, she was so proud of me that she bought some silk crepe in Virgin
Mary blue to make me a “winning dress.”
Another miracle: my play was accepted.
They gave a reception in Boston for all the chosen Massachusetts
students, and Mother also sewed me a special “reception dress” in winter
white from a Butterick pattern by Mary Quant, the cool new English
designer, even though she vomitrociously (in my opinion) called this dress
“Daddy’s Girl.”
As Sister Lucille and I walked around the function room, we
discovered most candidates were parts of school “teams” from well-off
Catholic boys’ prep schools, not just parish schools like ours. They were
accompanied by dapper teachers—who, from their loud familiarity with
each other, had clearly been coaching students for years. The few girls
were also trendy in colorful minidresses. They swished their pin-straight
hair with dramatic head tosses. My Mary Janes and frizzy long hair made
68 / Evening Street Review 32

me feel inferior. The boys looked at the girls with a mixture of longing and
superiority. No one seemed to look at me.
Eventually the priest in charge got us to join a group of
ostentatious boys and their flashy coach. “Haven’t seen you guys here
before,” said the coach in a crisp and buttoned blue blazer after he’d been
directed to pay attention to us.
“No, it’s our—well, my—first time.”
“St. Andrew’s Prep’s been here since the contest started in the
forties,” he boasted. And as if on cue, four boys simultaneously started
singing what sounded like the school fight song. “Keep it down,
gentlemen.” Blue Blazer laughed. Then looking at us, he whispered,
“Can’t wait to get out of the starting gate. One of them is destined for glory
this year. St. Andrew’s had three state winners over the years, and one
almost got to nationals.” I didn’t like Blazer Man. Three might have
sounded like a lot, but if they’d been doing this since the forties, those
numbers weren’t that great.
“Hey.” One of the gorgeous girls tapped my shoulder and breathed
into my ear, “Are you wearing a Mary Quant?”
“Yes” was all I could manage, but I tried to stand a little taller.
“I mean a real one…”
“…not like some homemade shit, right?”
“No,” I said, denying my mother, like St. Peter with Christ, hoping
I wasn’t going to be forced to do it three times.
“Well, my sister’s in London and sent pictures of her ‘Daddy’s
Girl’ dress, and it’s more creamy colored than yours. Mind if I look at the
label?” and she started to pull my long mop of hair aside to probe under
the back collar, where unfortunately she’d have found a “Made Lovingly
by Elda Flaherty” label. Years ago, Mother discover she could get mail
order “personalized labels” and bought about 100, which she stitched into
everything she sewed, knitted, or crocheted. I was evaporating with horror
as the girl started pulling on the neckline of the dress.
Sister wheeled around at Ms. Nosy Swish Hair, coming to my
rescue. “Hands off! You can’t just go around touching other people.”
“So-rry!” Swish Hair gasped in mock alarm and retreated tittering
to her cluster of other beautiful girls.
Sister pulled me aside. “Don’t fade away!” I was stunned she
understood what I was doing. My parents never noticed. “You can’t let
that hoity-toityness get to you. Remember, most of those overprivileged
kids won’t really care about the competition since they don’t need the
2021, Winter / 69

money. You, on the other hand, must really try to win that scholarship. So
stay focused. You won’t be judged on who you know, but on your play.”
And yet another miracle: I won the state competition. People
stopped not noticing me or Sister Lucille, who was always by my side.
Articles appeared in various local Catholic papers about the “dark horse
Massachusetts champion,” with a picture of Sister and me. I could swear
she started wearing a little makeup. As the national final approached, there
were more receptions and interviews. We met coaches, parents, fellow
contestants, newspaper reporters, and a whole lot of hangers-on who said
they attended the contest every year out of “personal interest.” One man,
unlikely though it seemed, suggested he was in the “production business,”
and gave me his card. “You know, sugar, I’m always on the lookout for
good playwrights and bright young ladies with talent.” I felt suspicious
and threw away his card immediately. Another said how impressed they
all were that “a longshot girl was coming up on the inside at the last turn.
All bets were off.”
The national contest was down South and I was the only girl.
When my parents, Sister Lucille, and I flew into Orlando, they gave us the
local paper, not a Catholic one, with the headline, “Upstart Massachusetts
Girl Tries to Win Catholic Playwright Contest.” The article could have
been written in the fifties. Boys need to go to college and become
successful, and girls must learn their place and grow up to support
husbands. It clearly implied that girls in the South understood this, unlike
“radical feminists from the Northeast.” Sister Lucille led my upset mother
in saying ten Hail Marys.
The competition occurred in an enormous hall they said held 1,000
people. On stage, the mayor introduced a bishop who introduced the
contestants before it all began. Everyone applauded politely when each of
the three boys shuffled nervously to their designated green X on the stage.
They looked petrified, just like Sister said they would. One of them even
had bleeding cuticles. When my name was called, I glided with well-
practiced poise to my X and smiled in an even more rehearsed “knowing
but not over-eager way.” Sister was right again. This walk and expression
made me feel more confident. But I startled when the audience erupted
into rowdy cheers. What did these people know about me besides what
they’d read in that embarrassing newspaper article?
The contest got under way. We couldn’t listen to one another, so
I had no idea how anyone else had done. I was more tense than I expected
and certainly didn’t give my best performance. But there were some
restrained laughs, and a few people guffawed at everything even remotely
70 / Evening Street Review 32

funny. When the boys and I were led onstage for the award presentation, I
told myself that coming in second—I didn’t even contemplate third—
would still give me a lot of money for college.
“And in fourth place is”—with a very long dramatic pause—
“Bridget Flaherty.” Last place? Stunned, I tried in vain to adopt Sister’s
“serene as a Saint” expression. Then, as if in slow motion, the audience
rose to its feet, clapping and booing simultaneously. They were chanting
something I finally recognized as “Dis-grace! Dis-grace! Dis-grace!” And
then, more stridently with some people stamping their feet, “She was
robbed! She was robbed!” How did they manage to be so coordinated?
The bishop motioned for me to come forward and collect my trophy, but I
just stared questioningly at the audience. “Bridget!” the bishop called.
“Get over here.” Before I moved, I gave the crowd my best smile and a
big over-the-head wave. Raising my chin, even though I felt like crying, I
walked to the bishop, accepted my diminutive trophy, and returned to my
place. The crowd was still chanting, and, probably to quiet them down, the
bishop said, “Doesn’t she have a winning smile?” which got them going
all the more. “Why didn’t she win?” called out one man in the back.
I was moved to have such support. Perhaps I’d done a good job
after all? Maybe those judges were influenced by the “upstart girl” article.
Or maybe they felt girls shouldn’t be in the competition. “Sexism at its
worst,” I could hear Sister Lucille saying. At least I’d won enough to pay
for my first year, and maybe, once in college, I’d discover how to get more
without Father’s help. I paid little attention to what was said or done with
the three boys, but the audience’s applause for them was short. There was
no chanting.
The bishop organized us to walk off the stage in the order of our
winning, so I had to go last. As I moved toward the steps, I could see a sort
of receiving line had formed. People were politely shaking hands with
each of the boys. I wiped my sweaty right hand on my dress. When it was
my turn, a group of men moved in tightly around me. They looked like
they all wanted to grab me. It was like I was being tossed from one to
another. There were whispers.
“We were robbed!”
“Demand a recount!”
“We all lost big-time today.”
One squeezed the back of my neck. A face was right in front of mine, bad
breath enveloping me. “You understand you aren’t the only one who was screwed
today, right, sweetheart?” I could feel my hair being mussed. A shout: “I lost ten big
ones on you. The same’s true for most of us who follow this contest every year.”
2021, Winter / 71

What was he saying? “Let me go!” I cried and dug my trophy into
his shoulder. The air was so close. I felt breathless and a little afraid.
“Don’t take it personal, baby.” Another took hold of me from
behind, his hands seeming to feel for my breasts. “We do it every year.
The contest is big money.”
“But this year,” a different one seized me, “was so much more
exciting because of you. A girl. I’ve got all your pictures pinned up in my
basement.” He rubbed himself against me, scrunching up my increasingly
wrinkled Virgin Mary dress.
“Yeah.” Another laughed. “Except those pictures are spoiled by
that stupid nun beside you.”
“Is that nun some kind of lezzie or something? She’s always got
her arm around you,” said a different one, putting his arm around me. My
hair had fallen half down. Some was in my mouth.
“But you’re no lezzie, are you? We saw you looking at each of us
from the stage with your ‘winning smile,’ showing us your true
appreciation. Here’s my appreciation,” and he rammed himself against me.
A man in a suit pulled me from him, held me at arm’s length, and
grinned. Was he going to get me away from them?
“Please… ” I cried.
But before I could say more, he clasped me with one hand,
fondling me with the other. “Don’t you remember me, sweetheart? You
seemed happy enough when we met before.”
I tried to twist out of his grip. “I’ve no idea who you are.” My
voice sounded odd because my mouth was dry. “Let me go. My parents’ll
be looking for me.”
But he squeezed me tighter. “You do too know me, darling.” He
laughed, rocking against me. He smelled of aftershave. “I gave you a card
saying I was in production and I wanted you to call me.”
I remembered that stupid card. “I threw it away,” I screamed in
his face.
“Now that’s a shame,” said another whom I was handed off to.
“We were waiting for that call.” He tried to kiss me. I flinched. “We’d
have loved to ‘interview you.’ So why didn’tcha call us? Huh? Huh?
Huh?” I wanted to slap him, but my arms felt like they were being held.
“You made the competition so much more exciting than usual,
being such a pretty girl and all.” Where were Mother and Sister Lucille?
Why weren’t they looking for me?
72 / Evening Street Review 32

Another one turned me around to face him. “They put all that BS
about you being greedy in the paper to put us off betting and influence the
judges so we’d all lose.”
They’d actually bet money on me? Tears filled my eyes as I tried
to shove through them.
I whirled in circles, holding out the trophy to hit anyone else who
approached me. These people never supported me. They booed and yelled
because they’d lost their money on me. Like I was a horse or a dog.
“Don’t feel bad, honey,” said another, trying to avoid the trophy.
“You’d have my vote if it was about something else.”
Who were these men?
Their faces blurred. Had they all bet money on me? I tried to
evaporate, to distance my mind from my body so I couldn’t hear them
anymore as they rattled on and on, grabbing and pressing and touching me
until finally Sister Lucille ran toward me and wrapped me in the infinite
layers of her long habit. I shook as she held me, and slowly came back.
“They bet money,” I sobbed.
“I know. We heard. Let’s get you out of here.” And she turned and
whisked me through the room to my parents, who were waiting at the back.
No one said anything. Mother was crying. Even Father looked hurt and
confused, his eyes so far back in his head.
We took a taxi to the airport. Father avoided discussing the betting
or the molesting that I’d just endured and focused on the contest itself.
“You should have heard those boys. They were so lousy. There was more
competition in the state finals.” It was like nothing had happened. They
kept talking about what a great accomplishment it was to make it to the
finals at all.
“You made up your mind, and you did it, and now your first year
of college is paid for,” Sister said.
Oh yes. Right. I felt nothing. Certainly not pride that I’d come this
far. Not even fear of the men now that I was away from them. I was just
empty. Distant. Outside, not only of my body, but of everything that was
going on. Their voices became faint. I had no thoughts. I didn’t exist. I just
evaporated more and more completely, turned into dark, night air. Into
I’d wanted to win the contest so much, to prove to Father I could
pay my own way with my own writing. Without his help. To convince
Sister I wouldn’t let the uppity people get me down. To show Mother, who
lived in such fear of Father and often it seemed of the world in general,
that when wearing the clothes she made me, I could conquer anything.
2021, Winter / 73

Sister kept reaching for my hand in the taxi and calling my name,
like she could keep me from slipping away. “Bridget! I know what you’re
doing. Stop it! Come back.” She didn’t understand that if I came back, I’d
only feel disgust.
“I’ve got a story for you. The story. And it’s all true. And you can
tell it and believe it and move forward,” she insisted. “Just listen to me.” I
turned away.
“You did an incredible job.” She kept looking at me until I faced
“You’re one of an elite group of four. The judges were sexist.
Even the audience was disappointed. But now you’re going to college.”
Such a simple, uncomplicated story.
“It’s not the truth,” I hissed at her and pulled my hand from hers.
“What about the ‘upstart girl’? The betting? Those awful men?”
“None of that was your doing.”
“But it happened. To me. I experienced all of it. You can’t just
erase it because it doesn’t fit your neat little fairy tale.”
Why couldn’t she see that when all the shame isn’t allowed to be
spoken, it’s just left to live inside me?
We stuck to Sister’s official account. The school had a party for
me, and everyone, at least for a while, forgot they usually felt I was nerdy
for being so smart. They congratulated me again and again. My best friend,
Agnes, was over the moon and expected “people from Hollywood or
Broadway” to knock on my door any day. But the world wasn’t really
interested in a girl’s theories about how it would be a better place if
everyone thought of the Virgin Mary the way they do Doctor Who. After
all, that was such a different time. About a million light-years before the
#MeToo movement. Not to mention how inconceivable it was back then
that Doctor Who could be a woman.
But I went to college and got away from home and mostly Father.
When I told a few of my Catholic college friends about the scholarship I
had from “Future Catholic Playwrights of America,” they said how lucky
I was. I smiled and nodded, never revealing how much I had to pay for
winning that money.
74 / Evening Street Review 32



There’s Mr. Rogers at a Harvard graduation

about to receive an honorary degree.
He comes to the stage, having removed,
we assume, his red cardigan.
The whole senior class stands, sings to him
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Sometimes we get it just right,
like New York City cheesecake
Van Gogh’s Starry Night
my not famous friend George who listens
like the tired mom in the grocery aisle
holding her weeping toddler who
just spilled a carton of milk, saying
It’s okay, honey. We all have accidents.
We can clean this up and go on.
Like the man who told the toll booth agent
I’m paying for the next ten cars coming through,
like the Parkland students who find
their collective voice to advocate a weapons ban,
like Greta Thurnberg calling on students
for a school walkout to protest
global warming profiteers,
like Mr. Rogers, that hot TV morning, sharing
his wading pool with a black postman
in the very days black and white bodies
could not swim in the same place—
the indelible image of their bare feet in the water.


As everything descends, belly, breasts, bottom,

when there is little space between age spots,
when I know someone’s name as well as my own
but it takes a while to surface,
when I say I want to take a hike,
but mean on level ground—
will you? (cont)
2021, Winter / 75

When you have to call my cellphone so I can find it,

help me locate my house keys three times a day,
when I am a barnacled been-around-the-ocean whale,
a visible reminder of time that herds us all
toward the dividing line, when ministering ones
say last rites, and doctors pull their masks down—
will you?


Long, forceps-like pinchers and garbage bag in hand,
I walk the perimeter of my block—sometimes I mutter,
shake my head, sometimes just keep going. Nothing
surprises me now: forlorn condoms wilted on the grass;
six pack containers, bottles in brown bags,
murky liquid lingering at the bottom;
peel-off ads for carpet cleaning; fruit rinds;
photos of a missing pet, offers of reward; Q-tips;
leaflets threatening the end of the world,
and the need for repentance; and always,
dog shit, humid-fresh or petrified grey.
Today I round the corner, see
six plastic bottle caps on the sidewalk—
coded red, yellow, green— awkward
to pick up. I pincher each one part-way
to the bag, drop some again. Nearby a man
in knee-worn pants and soiled shirt
holds six empty plastic bottles without caps.
He watches my grab-hold technique.
When I maneuver the last cap to the bag,
pleased with myself, he steps closer, looks at me,
says Gracias, places the bottles in my bag.
I say por nada, both of us formal.
He holds up his hand to stop
my departure, bends to the pavement,
gathers a sodden clump of newspaper, places it
in my bag, nods, smiles, so broad a smile
I must smile back. Gracias, I say.
Por nada, he replies. Thompson
76 / Evening Street Review 32



Is sending a 16-year-old to prison for the rest of his life the right
way to rehabilitate our youth? Science suggests that juveniles are more apt
to make bad decisions when surrounded by their peers. James Alan Fox
wrote in USA Today, “One of the distinguishing features to juvenile
murder is the dominant role of group dynamics. Based on an analysis of
FBI data for 2006-11, 35% of homicides implicating a juvenile offender
included multiple perpetrators, more than twice as high as the percentage
for adults.”
In May of 1993, Richard Vasquez was invited by his older brother
and two of his friends to go cruising around Oak Cliff, Texas. He was
unwittingly thrust into a carjacking which ended in Richard accidentally
shooting his older brother and the driver of the car they were carjacking.
Richard was certified as an adult at 16 years-old, charged with capital
murder and received a capital life sentence. Was Richard developed
enough mentally to discern what he was doing or was he just worried about
what his big brother and friends thought?
Richard’s story is all too common. The “Tough on Crime”
movement in the early ’90s led to a high rate of children being forced into
adult court. From gangs, drugs, fights and drinking, these juveniles are
taught the way of prison streets, trying to survive in a criminals’ world
when they don’t yet know what it even is to be a man. By the grace of
God, Richard was finally found in a cell on the Eastham Unit by the only
one that cared for him with a father’s love. This is a story of how that 16-
year-old child who was lost is now the 42-year-old man that has been
found. In a society where we are sending more and more of our children
to prison as adults, we should start looking at more compassionate
sentencing for our youth.

Richard’s Journey
“In May of 1993, I had decided to spend the day with Maria, a
beautiful Mexican girl I had fallen in love with. In my last day of freedom,
I cleaned my car while Maria got ready for our date. My brother showed
up with his two friends and, through my bedroom window, called my
name, waving me to come with him and his friends. At 16, my brother was
my hero and I couldn’t turn down the offer to go with these guys that I
2021, Winter / 77

looked up to at the time. I felt accepted and honored to be invited to ride

with the Boys of the Barrio.
“As we rode around Oak Cliff, the older guys spotted a great ride
parked at the corner record store. I was lost in the chase of this car, excited
to be included in their game. Today I can see I was curious to watch how
these guys would act as the gangsters I knew they could be. We found the
car, and as we rolled up beside it I could see the people inside. They
appeared to be lovers like Maria and me. They drove ahead where the lanes
began to merge and enter into a lengthy tunnel.
“The driver of the car I was in pulled in front of the target and
slammed on his brakes, in typical carjacking strategy. This forced our prey
to slam on their brakes too. Things moved rapidly as the guys thrust a gun
into my hands and told me to ‘Go, Go, Go!’ My brother converged on
them, pistol drawn, with me close behind, demanding they get out. The
girl jumped out and ran as we began to wrestle and fight to remove the
“My brother entered into the car by the passenger side while I was
on the driver’s side. I heard a gun go off. At that time, the driver grabbed
my gun and began kicking at my knees which made me fall. As we
continued to struggle, we fought for the gun and a couple of shots were
fired into the car, not at anyone in particular, just loosely, but unfortunately
both the driver [from our car] and my brother were hit.”

Intentional or Peer Pressure

Was Richard really trying to kill the driver or was it an accidental
shooting? Did Richard really understand what he was doing when he was
told to “Go, Go, Go”? More importantly, what are we to do with Richard
Vasquez and other juveniles that have been certified as adults when still
only a child? Justice Brent Appel wrote in a majority opinion, “We should
not ask our district judges to predict future prospects for maturation and
rehabilitation when highly trained professionals say such predictions are
impossible. The parole board will be better able to discern whether the
offender is irreparably corrupt after time has passed, after opportunities
for maturation and rehabilitation have been provided, and after a record of
success or failure in the rehabilitative process is available”.
So how much time needs to go by in order to have a proper
evaluation of someone’s rehabilitation? Judges and juries must consider
circumstances such as an offender’s family history and mental health
among other factors before they can determine whether someone can be
rehabilitated and have a second chance to be a productive member of
78 / Evening Street Review 32

society. A set timeline cannot and should not be put into place for everyone
because not everyone matures at the same rate.
Richard was incarcerated and will not have a chance at parole until
serving 35 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDEJ)
system. Allowing juveniles to be placed in a rehabilitative setting before
being placed in an adult prison would allow young offenders the chance
to be rehabilitated and possibly come up for parole in a lesser amount of
Studies have shown that teenagers fall to peer pressure because
their brains derive pleasure from social acceptance. So just as Richard was
falling into peer pressure because he wanted acceptance from his big
brother and the Boys of the Barrio, he was vulnerable to the influences of
adult prison that did not have the purest of motives. Adult predators in
maximum security prisons have been exploiting the children placed in
their midst because of this “Tough on Crime” campaign.
A report by the Council of State Governments found that youths
in Texas had better outcomes with rehabilitative efforts when kept closer
to their communities rather than facilities away from home. The study
found that teens kept closer to home were less likely to commit additional
crimes. There they can get educational opportunities and more appropriate
rehab programs while they are close to home and family. Communities
across the country would also benefit from protecting fragile youth by not
trying them as adults, but providing such locally run youth detention

What does 25 years do to a juvenile?

“After sentencing as an adult, I was transferred to TDEJ and thus
began my upbringing in the midst of ‘America’s Toughest Prisons’ for the
next 25+ years. As a 17-year-old my life fell deep into the depths of
debauchery and wickedness; whatever sanity I had was led into depravity.
One thing I can say for sure is that I continued a prayer life as a practicing
Catholic. I believed in God and that He would one day give me another
chance. Until that day I would repent of my sins every night and cite the
‘Our Father’ prayer.
“Fast forward to the year 2016 on the Eastham Unit in Lovelady,
Texas, where I was in medium custody. It was then that I began to attend
church and service started becoming personal to me.
No longer was I there to catch up with the homies or traffic and
trade; the words of the sermons became intimate, and I was actually
understanding what was being said. I would leave the service and continue
2021, Winter / 79

in immorality of all sorts, yet I found myself reading the Bible at odd
hours. I felt better and prayed more, believing that God was restoring my
family. Maria began to come visit although she was in a relationship at the
time. I was beginning to believe that all would be good as I moved to
minimum custody.
“It was in 2017 that things went from good to bad; so many
elements came crashing down on me that all I could do was get hit. My
cell was getting kicked in by the officers and at work all eyes were on my
activities. Looking back, the enemy was trying to get a very tight grasp on
my soul, and I was being destroyed. Maria fell off, no longer wanting to
communicate, and my parents moved to South Texas.
“During our annual lockdown in April of 2017, the breaking of
my heart and emptying of my wretched self crushed me. As my cellie had
gone to showers along with basically the whole block, I stayed back to
have some time to myself. I was tired of life, and how I was living
disgusted me. I sensed my life was a lie, a masquerade. It was at this time
that I sought something outside of myself. There had to be something more
to help me. I was wallowing in my own guilt and crumpled to the floor,
wanting to be set free. God granted me the grace of a Godly sorrow and
repentance that led to salvation.
“I beat the floor shedding tears of repentance for all the things I
had ever done. My whole life emptied out as I cried, moaned, and even
vomited on that cell floor. It was at this time that I heard, ‘Flesh or Spirit?’
“Whether from study or meditation, I knew what these words
meant and what I had to choose. No one had to twist my arm to choose the
Spirit and life. As I lay prostrated on that cold concrete floor, covered in
spit, tears and vomit, I found true peace.
“Though it seemed like eternity, it only lasted the length of time
for the block to go to showers and slowly trickle back in. As I got up,
glorifying God, the clouds and sunlight that morning were the first
glorious signs of my new life. Was it God’s sign to me or was I now seeing
the world with the eyes of a new heart? When the doors rolled, I ran out
into the arms of a friend and confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior,
praising God. As I knew him to be a Godly man, he knew me to be a
heathen. For him to hear praises come out of my mouth truly manifested
the work of the Holy Spirit. From that day to this writing, the fire has not
dwindled and my service to God has only multiplied. Being transformed
by the grace of God brought me freedom that surpasses understanding.
Even with a capital life sentence, I have a hope that will not diminish,
which grants me peace.”
80 / Evening Street Review 32

Compassionate Sentencing
In several Supreme Court cases (Roper and Graham) it was
established that children are Constitutionally different from adults for the
purposes of sentencing. Quoting Miller v. Alabama in 2011, “Their ‘lack
of maturity and underdeveloped sense of responsibility’ lead to
recklessness, impulsivity and heedless risk taking. (Roper) They are “more negative influences and outside pressures, including from
their family and peers”; they have “limited control over their own
environment” and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific,
crime-producing settings. Ibid Roper and Graham emphasized that “the
distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications for
imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders, even when they
commit terrible crimes.”
How do we determine a set of guidelines for when we sentence
juvenile offenders that have committed horrific crimes? Juveniles’
lessened culpability and capacity for change are among the many factors
that judges and juries must consider, along with their youth, lack of
maturity, as well as the child’s character. Punishment needs to be
graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.
We do not need science and studies to prove that teenagers are
immature, irresponsible, vulnerable to peer pressure, uncontrollable in
certain situations and have undeveloped character. Just ask any middle-
American parent and they will tell you how they want to pull their hair out
when dealing with teenagers. But this does not mean that every teenager
has developed deep-seated patterns of problem behaviors that exhibit
evidences of irretrievable depravity.
Admittedly, yes there are those adolescents that commit horrific
crimes that are irretrievably depraved, but that is “only a relatively small
portion of adolescents.” (quoting Steinberg and Scott in “Less Guilty by
Reason of Adolescence,” American Psychologist, 2003). But what do we
do with the juvenile that is not irretrievably depraved? How do we mete
out punishment that will rehabilitate and eventually restore that juvenile
so that they may become a responsible, productive member of society?
Sending a juvenile to prison for life, even with the possibility of
parole after 35 years, shows a juvenile that society believes they are
irrevocable and have no value. Without considering science or studies,
society tells that juvenile they have no capacity for change and then throws
them in with “big brothers” that raise them up in deviant ways. Exposure
to deviant peers leads to increased deviant behaviors. As the Scripture
says, “Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character.”
2021, Winter / 81

Sentencing laws that fail to take a juvenile’s youthfulness into

account can be nothing but flawed. Sending a child to prison and letting
them stay there for more than twice as long as they have lived in the free
world basically gives that child the death penalty.
Youth is more than immaturity, irresponsibility and recklessness;
it is a physiological fact. We are not young forever. We change, we evolve,
we mature. Along with immaturity, mental and emotional development,
family and societal background, chronological age must be factored into
sentencing. Compassionate sentencing needs to take into account all of
these conditions: the 17-year-old from the 14-year-old, the shooter from
the accomplice, the accidental or the intentional, the child from the stable
home and the child from the abusive one.
The characteristics that separate juveniles from adults put them at
a severe disadvantage in criminal sentencing. Compassionate sentencing
gives a juvenile the possibility of rehabilitation and restoration into society
so they can be a productive and responsible part of it. States are not
required to guarantee a person’s eventual freedom, but we should provide
opportunities for juveniles to be released based on demonstrated growth
and rehabilitation. Parole is not a right, but a privilege. We should allow
juveniles to at least be able to see that privilege in the future at a reasonable
amount of time. That is why compassionate sentencing guidelines are
critical. Please contact your state representatives and ask them to support
the Second Look Bill coming up in the Texas Legislature*. This bill would
help men like Richard Vasquez come up for parole and have a chance at
becoming a productive member of society.

*June 2021: the bipartisan legislation was passed, then vetoed by the governor.

for MM

After back surgery, he worked out,

getting into the best shape of his life –
as if prescient,
82 / Evening Street Review 32

building more muscle

soon to be eaten away by ALS.
Now, no more
golf course holes-in-one,
birdies and eagles. Instead,
he sits quiet and still,
a small smile on his lips, watching
goldfinch, mourning dove and
meadowlark from his back porch.
Unable to rise to his feet,
his big-handed wife
lifts and holds him up.
Too weak, his hands can’t
open jars, mix a martini,
button a shirt, zip his pants.
He laughs at himself – a laugh
with no trace of bitterness.
And despite the pain of atrophy,
says he prefers this disease
to dementia and hopes,
for a few years more,
to hold our hands,
close his eyes,
say, and be, grace.

Where the cornucopia spills,
there is heaven.
They say a rainbow arched above
the old monk’s hut as if beckoning
all colors back into itself.
2021, Winter / 83

His body disappearing within its shroud –

only a stray strand left on the pillow.
And in the picture taken the morning
our dog died, white chest fur appears
as prismed particles.
Call it the camera’s trick-of-the-eye,
played with sunrise, rain, snow
and sorrow.
Monk and dog, who love without condition,
caught in the act of breaking up into light.


A wildflower field offers no trail

except one beholden before one’s eyes,
each flower in a sea as though a sail—
each bloom a flag held by a mast. They rise
and reign, complementing Summer’s skies.
The wind wafts on untroubled. Vibrance drifts
reverberating deeper silent sighs
as time flows on. A beauty that uplifts
enters and laps the shore within. Such lovely gifts.


My mother loved coffee.
She drank several cups in the morning, and made a fresh pot mid-
afternoon. There were always three cans of Maxwell House on our kitchen
84 / Evening Street Review 32

shelves. Middle class choices were somewhat limited: Maxwell House,

Folgers, and Chock Full O’ Nuts. Of course there were other more
expensive coffees, but we did not have a lot of money. My father was a
postman and my mother worked from home designing greeting cards,
which she occasionally sold. The Maxwell House was bought “on special”
whenever possible.
“We have expenses,” my mother told me, “but don’t worry,
Lorraine. There will always be something for you.”
Every morning I awoke to the aroma of brewing coffee, and I
loved the smell. But I was not allowed to drink it.
“It’s not for children,” my mother explained. “It has caffeine,
which will make you hyperactive.” She paused. “You’ll have too much
energy and you’ll run around the house,” she elaborated, realizing
“hyperactive” was not yet in my vocabulary.
I pictured myself running up and down the stairs of our row house.
It didn’t sound too bad. We lived in New York City in a house like all the
other houses on our block: kitchen, living room and dining room on the
first floor and three bedrooms and bath upstairs. My parents slept in the
largest bedroom. The next largest was my room. The smallest was my
mother’s studio, furnished with a drawing table, chair, an easel and a stool.
Her art supplies were stored in a dresser. In addition to the greeting cards
she did oil paintings, and there were always a few finished pictures and
blank canvases stacked against a wall.
She considered herself an expert on decorating, including
decorating me. Her idea of clothing was not so much a fashion statement
as to make me look like an appetizing plate of food or a proper birthday
cake. Clothes shopping was a tug of war. She selected dresses with
matching vests or puffy-sleeved blouses. I wanted the same clothes as my
classmates: plain skirts and pants and striped or solid tops. I envied the
neighborhood kids who went to Catholic school and wore uniforms, which
avoided the entire clothes battle. Hair was another point of contention. My
hair was straight. When I began high school I was encouraged to “do
something” with it. She suggested putting it up in large plastic rollers
overnight. I tried this, but after two hours of discomfort and no sleep I gave
up and took the rollers out. I was taken for a “permanent wave” but the
smell made me nauseous. I returned to my ponytail.
At breakfast one Sunday morning, she paused after pouring coffee
for herself and my father.
“Lorraine, would you like a cup of coffee?” she asked. She was
standing at the table, pot in hand.
2021, Winter / 85

I was fifteen years old and about to demolish a pancake. My usual

glass of chocolate milk was at my place setting. I stopped chewing,
puzzled. Coffee? I thought for a moment.
“No, thanks,” I said.
“You can change your mind at any time,” she told me, returning
the pot to the stove and taking her seat. “Just let me know. You’re old
enough now.”
“Okay,” I said.
None of my friends drank coffee. We were soda girls: Coke, Tab,
and Pepsi. I drank chocolate milk at home, where soda was not served.
I wondered if my mother was offended at my declining her
favorite drink.
“Maybe I could have a little sip,” I said. “To try it out.”
My father gave me a wink.
My mother got up and brought me a mug with an inch of coffee
in it.
“Put in a few drops of milk and a pinch of sugar,” she suggested.
I sipped the mixture carefully.
“It’s okay,” I said, “but I’ll stick with the chocolate milk for now.”
I thought to ameliorate my stance by pointing out that if I began
to drink coffee there would be added expense to the household, not to
mention a heavier shopping cart to be lugged home from the supermarket.
But my parents were discussing our summer vacation, and I let the coffee
subject drop.
I became a coffee drinker in college. This was a social decision
rather than a gastronomic one. My roommates drank coffee. It was their
religion. They had to have it first thing on awakening and they assumed I
would chip in for the communal coffee maker and the supply of coffee.
One of their parents had donated a mini fridge for milk and they had an
enormous box of sugar packets.
“Do you drink Gevalia?” Barbara asked me.
I had never heard of Gevalia. It sounded like an exotic dance.
“Sure,” I said.
She sighed with relief.
“It’s a little more expensive,” she told me, “but definitely worth
The first morning we had coffee, I recalled my mother putting a
splash of milk and one sugar in hers, so I did the same.
“Do you like it?” Barbara asked.
86 / Evening Street Review 32

“It’s fine,” I said.

“What do you drink at home?” she asked.
“Mostly Maxwell House,” I said.
She made a face.
“My mother’s in charge at home,” I explained and shrugged. I felt
I drank my coffee and I liked it. I assumed that was genetic.
I called home at the end of my first week.
“So how do you like college?” my mother asked.
“I’m drinking coffee,” I said after checking that none of my
roommates were around.
There was a pause on the other end.
“Oh,” my mother finally said.
“It’s called Gevalia,” I told her.
Another pause.
“I don’t think I know it,” she said. “Sounds imported. So how’s
I was disappointed that she wasn’t more enthused about the coffee.
It was, in a way, her religion, and I had finally bought into it. I also wanted
to smooth over the arguments we had before I left for school. Clothes were
the major issue. What she wanted for me was too dressy, too fussy.
“Girls don’t wear that in college,” I said.
“But I want you to look nice,” she insisted.
At first I thought it was her usual artistic frame of mind. Then I
had a moment of clarity. I was being groomed to make me attractive to
college boys so I could find a husband, as that was the future I was meant
for. Until then, I hadn’t given any thought to my future. I hadn’t even
picked a major. College graduation was four years away.
“I’ve only been here a week,” I said, “so it’s too soon to know
how it is.”
“What about your roommates?” she asked.
“They’re nice,” I told her.
“Good,” my mother said. “We’ll talk next week.”
I came home for winter break a bona fide coffee drinker. I brought
a can of Gevalia, and with trepidation presented it to my mother.
“This is what my roommates and I drink,” I explained. “I thought
you might like to try it.”
She looked at the package for a few seconds and frowned.
2021, Winter / 87

“I don’t want to put it in my coffee maker,” she said. “It will change the
taste of the Maxwell House.”
I wondered if this was true, but I didn’t argue.
“So you’re the Gevalia Girls,” she commented.
It had a catchy sound but there was a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
And you’re the Maxwell House Mom, I thought but didn’t say.
At breakfast the next morning, she stood at the table, coffee pot in
“I guess you don’t want the Maxwell House?” she asked.
I hadn’t had any Maxwell House since that long ago sip.
“Yes, I’ll have some, please,” I said.
She raised her eyebrows but filled my mug three quarters. Milk
and sugar were on the table. I added my usual amounts. I sipped. I didn’t
look at my mother but sensed she was watching me. The coffee tasted
different from Gevalia. Not as strong, not as rich. But still coffee. I
couldn’t decide if I should make a positive comment so I just ate my eggs
and toast.
“You could buy a coffeemaker at the neighborhood housewares
store,” my mother suggested. “Then you could have your Gevalia while
you’re here. You could leave the pot and the coffee so when you come
home you can have your own coffee.”
I gave the idea a moment’s thought. If I bought a coffeemaker and
made the Gevalia, my mother could try it. But that could open up a further
line of contention. Or if I left the pot and coffee, my mother could try the
Gevalia when I went back to school. I pictured her sipping it. What if she
liked it better than Maxwell House? Would she admit it?
“The Maxwell House is fine,” I said. “Good breakfast.”
In the middle of sophomore year I decided to major in
architecture. I announced my decision over Sunday breakfast during
winter break. .
“Wow!” my father exclaimed. “I’m impressed.” He beamed at me.
“Isn’t architecture a difficult field? I thought you might go in for
teaching. With teaching you can take time off to have a family, and go
back to it later. Architecture could be very demanding,” my mother
pointed out.
“I’ll probably need to get a master’s degree,” I told them, ignoring
the teaching suggestion, “but I can get a part-time job and take out a
student loan to pay for that.”
My mother frowned.
88 / Evening Street Review 32

“What job?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “but lots of college kids work.”
“That’s not what we wanted for you,” my mother spoke
insistently. “We saved money so you wouldn’t have to work while you’re
at school.”
“Lorraine can try it out,” my father said, trying to keep the peace.
“If she doesn’t like it she can quit.”
My mother poured herself another cup of Maxwell House and
retreated into her coffee. We didn’t discuss my future any further.
I had not given much thought to a part-time job but when I
returned to school, I decided to look for something. There was a popular
café near campus and one day when I walked by, I saw a help-wanted sign
in the window. I went in and asked about the job, which was for a waitress.
I didn’t have any experience.
“But I’m a college student, and most of your customers are
students,” I pointed out. “I know how to talk to them.”
The owner agreed to let me try.
The café served non-alcoholic drinks, sandwiches and pastries.
They boasted freshly ground coffee and I learned to operate the coffee
machine. I felt I had come a long way from Maxwell House. I also came
to prefer the freshly ground coffee to the already ground Gevalia I shared
with my roommates. I didn’t tell my parents about the job. I opened a bank
account in town.
After I’d been working for six months, I suggested to the owner
that he look into serving more than one brand of coffee. Imported coffees
were becoming more popular and coffee drinking had become a status
symbol. I had my own coffee maker in my room and I’d found a French
roast that I preferred to Gevalia.
“I don’t know,” the boss sounded doubtful. “What if no one likes
the new coffee? It’s expensive.”
“I’ll promote the new coffee,” I said, and I recommended the
French roast I’d been drinking.
My boss agreed. I made a large sign and taped it to the front
window: Now Serving French Roast Coffee. Whenever a customer
ordered coffee, I plugged the new addition and it became popular. I got a
pay raise. Six months later my boss added a third coffee. He started calling
me Coffee Queen. I was tempted to tell my parents about my success. But
I knew this was not my mother’s idea of success. So I left my Coffee
Queen identity on campus when I went home for breaks.
2021, Winter / 89

My parents drove up for my college graduation and after the
ceremony we celebrated at a restaurant in town. The place was packed
with other grads and their families. A co-worker from the café walked by
and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hi, Coffee Queen,” she greeted me.
My cover was blown.
“Why did she call you that?” my mother asked.
I confessed that I’d been working in the café.
“I was their coffee expert,” I said, hoping this would put a positive
spin on the subject.
“Working at a café?” My mother frowned.
“It was just to make money for graduate school,” I explained. “It’s
not going to be my career.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” my mother demanded.
“Because I knew you wouldn’t like it,” I told her. “But I like it.”
“That’s not what we wanted for you,” my mother shook her head.
“You want! You want!” I spit out. “It’s my life.”
My father put his hand on my arm.
“Where’s our waiter?” my mother asked after a moment of
silence. “I need a cup of coffee.”
I came home after my master’s degree to clean out my room. I’d
taken a job in Boston and I’d already found an apartment in Back Bay.
“I thought you would find a job here in New York,” my mother
said. “That way you could stay with us. It’s cold in Boston.”
“It’s cold here too,” I pointed out, skirting the main issue.
“You could have your own coffee maker if you stayed here,” she
went on.
“This is not about coffee,” I said. “Anyway, I’ve already accepted
the job. And I’ve signed a lease on an apartment.”
“Why didn’t you tell us before you made these decisions?” she
“Lorraine is an adult, Mary,” my father said. “She’s able to make
her own decisions.”
“I know that,” my mother snapped. “But she could have asked us
for some input.”
“This is what I wanted,” I said emphatically.
Later, when my mother was working in her studio, my father took
me aside.
90 / Evening Street Review 32

“Your mother really loves you, you know,” he told me. “She’s not
a demonstrative woman. She’s always been very concerned about how
you’ll get on in the world.”
For a moment I didn’t know what to say.
“I guess so,” I finally managed. “But I’m sure I’ll get along just
“I’m sure you will,” my father agreed.
During my second year in Boston my father called.
“Your mother’s in the hospital,” he told me. “Emergency
appendectomy. They say she’ll be fine but I think you should come home
for a few days.”
I was established in Boston and no longer thought of the house I’d
grown up in as home. But I took several days off and went to New York.
I brought my French roast with me and the morning after I arrived, I
bought a grinder and a coffee maker.
“What I really need is a good cup of coffee,” my mother told me
when I reached her bedside at the hospital. “What they serve here is
“There’s a deli across the street. I could bring you a coffee,” I
“Could you make some Maxwell House at home and bring it in a
thermos?” she asked. “There’s a can on the kitchen counter. Don’t use the
ones up in the cabinet,” she added.
I stopped on my way back to the house and bought a thermos.
The next morning when my father came downstairs, I was in the
kitchen with two coffee makers brewing coffee.
“Looks like you’re back working at the café,” he commented.
I offered to make him breakfast, but he said he’d pick up
something on his way to work.
After I drank my French roast, I filled the thermos with Maxwell
House. I had a fleeting thought: what if I filled the thermos with French
roast instead of Maxwell House? Would my mother be able to tell the
difference? I decided to stick with the Maxwell House and not ask for
“You’re an angel,” my mother said when I brought her the coffee.
I pictured myself with a halo made of coffee beans.
By the time I was forty I was a full-fledged architect at a
commercial architecture and design firm. My specialty was coffee shops
2021, Winter / 91

and cafés. I’d worked part-time as a barista during graduate school and in
the interest of research I’d patronized numerous cafés. I’d married an
engineer whom I’d met—where else?—at a coffee bar. We’d married on
the spur of the moment. No wedding, no fanfare. We lived far from both
sets of parents and felt it was best to avoid the family skirmishes of where
we should have the wedding.
I was on a weekend visit alone to break the news. My husband
Greg had gone home to his parents for the same purpose. I’d waited until
Sunday breakfast to announce my new status due to a combination of what
I knew would be my mother’s reaction and a reluctance to deal with it.
My mother was furious.
“We’ve put away money for your wedding!” she said accusingly.
“Sorry you couldn’t pick my wedding dress,” I blurted out.
My father stopped eating, a piece of toast halfway to his mouth.
“Lorraine,” he said reproachfully.
“But it’s true. She’s always wanted to pick out my clothes and
pick out my life!” I exploded.
My mother didn’t deny this. As usual, she retreated into her
Maxwell House.
“Is that why you didn’t have a wedding?” my father asked.
“Because of what you were going to wear?”
“No,” I finally admitted. “We didn’t want everyone telling us what
to do. Trying to plan for us.”
“When your father and I got married, we were expected to get help
from our parents. Especially the bride,” my mother emphasized. “It was a
family project. Most women were not free to do what they wanted. Their
parents and future in-laws made up most of the guest list.”
“When you got married, times were different,” I retorted. “Most
women didn’t have good careers and their own money. They were
encouraged to be wives and mothers. It’s different now.”
I suddenly wondered if my mother was jealous of my freedom to
do what I wanted. She was an artist, still painted and still designed greeting
cards. Maybe she would have preferred a life as an artist. I didn’t want to
say this in front of my father.
“Next time I come home I’ll bring Greg,” I told them.
“Does he drink coffee?” my mother asked.
I wasn’t sure if she was serious or being sarcastic.
“Of course,” I said. “We buy coffee beans and grind them at
“It must make a lot of noise,” she commented.
92 / Evening Street Review 32

I decided to let her have the last word.

Greg and I toyed with the idea of opening a coffee bar.
“We’re both experts on coffee,” he pointed out, “and you can
design it.”
I thought it was a wild idea and I loved it. We decided that Greg
would quit his job and manage the café. I would keep working as an
architect and help out on weekends. We found a place close to where we
On my next visit to my parents I told them about the café. As
usual, my mother frowned.
“You’re going to work at a coffee shop?” she asked.
“It’s not a coffee shop,” I explained. “Now they’re called cafés or
coffee bars. Young people like to hang out in them. It could be a good
“I suppose you’re going to serve those fancy expensive coffees,”
she went on. “There’s nothing wrong with Maxwell House.”
“I never said there was anything wrong with Maxwell House,” I
pointed out. “But other people like to drink other coffees. Maxwell House
is what people drink at home, or maybe at a diner.”
“Restaurants are risky business,” my father said.
“I’m going to keep my architecture job,” I assured him. “Greg will
run the café.”
My mother shook her head.
“I know this isn’t what you wanted for me,” I said before she could
launch into her usual tirade. “But it’s what Greg and I want. We’re calling
it Lorraine’s Coffee.”
“Do you have enough money?” my father asked.
“We’ll take out a loan,” I explained.
“Well, I wish you the best of luck,” my father said.
Greg and I each invited our parents to the grand opening of
Lorraine’s Coffee. We arranged two nights at a hotel and explained we
would all have dinner after the opening. Our parents had never met so we
introduced them at drinks after they arrived. Then Greg and I hurried to
the café to make sure everything was perfect.
When we arrived at seven the next morning for the eight o’clock
opening a line of customers had already formed outside. As soon as we
saw our parents, we ushered them in and settled them at a table. I handed
them menus and told a server to get them whatever they wanted. Then we
2021, Winter / 93

began to let the customers in. We were giving free coffee until noon—
French Roast or Gevalia—and some people were there just for a take-out
coffee. Soon the tables were filled. I asked a server to keep my mother’s
coffee cup filled. And I wondered which coffee she was drinking but I was
too busy to check.
Suddenly a scream pierced the café’s hubbub.
“I’m burned!” a voice shouted, and I recognized the voice was my
I rushed to her table. Coffee had spilled onto the tabletop and
splashed onto my mother. My father was dabbing her hand with a napkin
and a server rushed over with more napkins. The customers were staring
in her direction.
“What happened?” I asked, although the answer was obvious.
“She accidentally knocked over her coffee,” my father explained.
“It’ll be fine.”
“I’m burned!” my mother insisted. “Look!” She pushed away the
napkin covering her hand. The hand was bright red.
“You need medical attention,” I immediately said. “I’ll call a taxi
to take you to the emergency room.”
We met both sets of parents for dinner as planned, my mother with
a bandaged hand. I’d spoken to my father earlier and he’d assured me that
the burn wasn’t serious.
“I’m sorry I spoiled your opening,” my mother told me as soon as
Greg and I were seated.
“The opening was fine,” I told her. “We did great. Anyone can
spill coffee.”
“It was an accident,” she continued. “And the coffee was so hot.”
Greg and I exchanged a look.
“Let’s order dinner,” I suggested.
Greg and I were finishing dinner at our favorite restaurant,
celebrating the one-year anniversary of Lorraine’s coffee when the call
came. My father was in the hospital: heart attack. The next day I flew to
New York and went immediately to the hospital. My mother was already
there, staring at my father, who was hooked up to several beeping devices.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We were eating breakfast. All of a sudden he clutched his chest
and fell over head first onto the table.” She paused. “I dropped the coffee
pot,” she continued. “There’s glass all over the floor. I called for an
ambulance. And here we are.”
94 / Evening Street Review 32

I made a mental note to buy a new coffee maker on the way back
from the hospital.
I leaned over and touched my father’s arm.
“Dad,” I said.
No response. His equipment beeped.
Back at the house, my old room was as I’d left it, except for several
finished canvasses stacked against one wall. In the kitchen there was the
usual can of Maxwell House on the counter. When I opened a cabinet to
take out mugs I saw two cans of the coffee on the shelf, as always. It was
comforting to know some things hadn’t changed.
Early the next morning the hospital called. My father had passed
away just after dawn.
My mother sat at the table, immobilized.
I called Greg. He said he would leave the café with the staff and
come immediately. Then I made arrangements for the funeral, and called
everyone in my mother’s address book: cousins, friends, neighbors. I was
surprised that so many of them said they would come. I ordered sandwich
trays from the local deli. In my discombobulated state I forgot to order
coffee and that there were the two extra cans of Maxwell House in the
“I’ll go to the store on the way back and get more coffee,” Greg
reassured me. “What should I buy?”
“Better stick with the Maxwell House,” I told him. “And pick up
a couple of coffee makers.”
When the crowd arrived, I put up one pot of coffee and unwrapped
the sandwiches. A cousin I hadn’t seen since my teens came to help me.
My mother sat on the couch, attended to by her next-door neighbor. Then
Greg arrived with supplies, including paper cups.
“You should be in the living room with your Mom,” he told me.
“I’ll take over this café.”
Someone I didn’t recognize gave me their seat, and people
expressed their condolences but I felt curiously alienated from what was
going on. I knew my father’s death hadn’t hit me yet, and I wondered what
would happen to my mother. Would she come and live with us? We would
have to get a separate coffee maker for her Maxwell House.
Greg went back to Boston. I stayed a few more days.
“What will you do now?” I asked my mother.
She looked surprised.
“Same as I’ve always done,” she said. “Stay home and paint.”
I was relieved and didn’t argue.
2021, Winter / 95

“There’s plenty of Maxwell House,” I told her. “We didn’t use up

what we bought.”
She smiled.
Two years later, in the middle of the night, Greg got a call. Our
café was on fire. We threw on clothes and rushed over. Fire trucks were
parked out front and smoke was billowing from a smashed window. The
air smelled like burning coffee. We stood there for an hour until the
firemen were sure the fire was out.
“What happened?” Greg asked.
“Not sure yet,” the fireman said. “Looks like something exploded.
“We’ll have to send in a team. Don’t go in until tomorrow.”
We arranged to have the broken window boarded up and went
I made a pot of coffee and we sat down to recover.
“I don’t understand it,” Greg shook his head. “We put in all new
equipment. I made sure everything was turned off last night.”
“Things happen,” I shrugged. “But it is kind of weird.”
We sat in silence, drinking our coffee.
“I’m not telling my mother,” I said.
Greg called our insurer. The damage was covered. But it would
take some time to get the place cleaned up and running. We still had to
pay the monthly expenses while we wouldn’t have any income from the
I’d been calling my mother three times each week and this was my
night to call. I didn’t want to pretend everything was fine but I was sure
she would be aware of a missed call and call me. But when I called that
evening, she didn’t answer. I thought it strange, but maybe she was visiting
a neighbor. I tried again the next morning. Still no answer. I told myself
she might have gone shopping. When she still didn’t answer at dinnertime
I called her next-door neighbor, who had a key to the house
“I’m worried,” I explained. “Pound on the door. If she doesn’t
come out, please go in and check.”
A few minutes later she called me.
“I’m so sorry, Lorraine,” the neighbor told me. “I called for an
ambulance but I think she’s gone.”
I got a standby flight to New York. My mother was gone. I went
to the morgue to identify her and came back to the house. Before I started
arranging for her funeral I decided to sit down with a cup of coffee. There
96 / Evening Street Review 32

was a can of Maxwell House on the counter but there was barely enough
for one pot. Then I remembered the two cans in the cabinet.
I took down one can. It felt too light for a full can of coffee. I
opened it. It was packed with money: twenty- and fifty-dollar bills. I took
down the second can: same contents. I brought both cans to the table. I
didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was this how my parents had saved
up for my college expenses? And was the money there now meant for the
wedding I never had?
I counted the money. This was going to tide us over while
Lorraine’s Café was redone. I put the money back in the cans, closed the
lids, and stared into space. Then I took the remaining Maxwell House and
made coffee.


A Last Salute for

Capt. Duncan MacRae, USMC

After the guts and glory of Guadalcanal, this?

No quick combat death, but battling all the same
against the slow invasion of belligerent cells.
The wars he fought were terrible parables
of self-defense. He was my hero, Duncan MacRae.

When Uncle Dunc came home from war

he gave me a pocketful of shiny pennies
and I stayed up late, long after bedtime,
to listen to his tales and was too young
to hear things he could or would not say.

Later, when we were older vets, he gave me

other currency, worn coins of love he never
thought to hoard in pockets. After my father died,
he spent them lavishly and showed me how
to keep riches in spendthrift circulation.
2021, Winter / 97

Semper Fi. On his longest sick call

in the final foxhole of his bed, he kept
alive the lessons learned from tutor Death.
"Each day gone by since our first landing
wave hit that Pacific beach has been a gift."

Forget funeral words, remember the ritual

as fog cover lifts and the sun shines
in blue skies on blue tunics, red chevrons,
a rose, a half-mast flag limp against a pole,
a folded triangle of stripes and stars, slow salutes.
The triple volley startles birds,
the ping of brass ejected loudly echoes,
Taps for Dunc is Reveille and Charge.


Something awakened Cal in the night. He could smell his mother

on the stale sheet, her center spot in the sagging bed damp with sweat, but
she wasn’t there beside him.
Voices came to him from the hallway outside the door to their
room. It was a dirty room in a sweltering, cheap city hotel for people who
didn’t have anywhere else to go. The boy sat up, pushed aside the mosquito
netting, and crept to the door. He could hear his father through the thin
“I won’t leave until we figure out what you and Cal are going to
“What can we do?” his mother said. “The mining office is closed.
We have no money. We have no friends here. You know what happened
in Nanking. You can’t just leave me alone with a child.”
“Honey, I’m an engineer. I’ve got plenty of construction
experience. The Army needs me out there.”
“Engineer? You’ll be digging holes, for Christ’s sake! Anyone can
do that. You’re going to get yourself killed.”
98 / Evening Street Review 32

“I can still dig holes,” his father said. “It’s just across the bay on
the Bataan Peninsula. That’s where we’ll make our stand. Most of the
American men in the hotel are going.”
“You’re not going.”
“Claire, please. Get close with some of the other women. Form a
tight group. Surround yourselves with children. It won’t be like Nanking.
They wouldn’t do that to white women.”
“You son-of-a-bitch.”
Cal was not used to hearing his mother talk like this. He was 15
now and liked to talk tough when he and some of the other boys in the
mining village played around the creek. His mother always tried to be
clean and calm in her conversation. The last two weeks had been a
nightmare since the Japanese bombings of Manila and Pearl Harbor, but it
would soon be over. Everyone said so. Cal wished his parents would stop
arguing and come back into the room.
“Do you realize, Bill, that the next man to have me will probably
be a Jap foot soldier? And then his friends. Are you picturing this in your
Cal’s mouth grew very dry as he waited for his father to slap her,
as men do in movies when a woman loses her head, but only silence
followed, slowly replaced by the growing wail of sirens on the unpaved
street outside.
His father burst through the door, charging to the bed.
“I’m here.”
“Where?” His father turned and could see that the boy had heard
everything. “Son, it’s an air raid. We have to go to the shelter.”
“I’m ready,” Cal said. He slept in his shorts now, the close
proximity of his drowsy mother in bed at night one of many horrors that
followed their arrival in Manila.
Sunken-eyed residents thundered into the hallway, rushing down
the stairs from the second floor and pushing against the dazed first-floor
inhabitants. No one seemed to know where to go. Cal entered the hall just
in time to be carried five feet in a stumbling rush of humanity, driven
toward a wall, where he found himself pressed face to face against a thin,
sweating girl in a tatty dress, her copper hair tied back in a loose ponytail.
The angry, desperate crowd surged from side to side, and the girl began to
slip to the floor. Without thinking, Cal took hold of her, one arm around
her back, as if they were dancing together. She looked at him with a
mixture of fear and gratitude, freckles high on her cheeks, blue eyes nearly
2021, Winter / 99

hidden in the shadow of his body. There was a sour odor about her as he
held her close, and he could feel her nipples through the thin dress, hard
against his naked chest. She turned her head away, closing her eyes, hot
breath on his shoulder.
Soon the crowd began to spill out of the building. Cal released the
girl when it seemed safe to do so. She disappeared without a word.
Cal and his father emerged from the makeshift cinder-block
shelter that had been hastily constructed as a crawlspace in the pungent
earth underneath the old hotel. Cal’s mother had chosen not to follow them
into the hole. No bombs had exploded nearby, and no breeze cooled their
dripping bodies.
It didn’t take long for Cal to notice the red-haired girl staring at
him from the second-floor balcony.
“Hey, boy!” she shouted down to him. Her accent was English.
“Come watch the fires with me.”
Cal looked up at his father, who nodded.
“Your mother’s angry. I’ve gotta find her,” he said. “You go keep
an eye on that one. Watch out. I’ve been told she’s a bit of a hellion.”
Not knowing what that could mean in a girl but happy for the
attention, Cal sprinted up a stairway to the balcony. The girl waited for
him against the railing, then took his hand and pulled him to a ladder
propped against the edge of the flat roof.
“I need you,” she said, climbing first.
“What for?” he asked, happy to help. She didn’t answer. He
noticed her bare feet and ankles as he climbed close behind her.
Fifteen or twenty young people had already gathered on the roof,
laughing, happy to be alive. Just like the girl, none of these people had
taken refuge in the shelter. Cal felt a little ashamed at having hidden there.
He suspected many of them were drunk.
The girl led Cal to some wooden beer crates that had been
arranged into a makeshift bench. He could feel the lingering heat from the
afternoon sun on the tar roof. Taking a seat, she patted the space next to
her. Cal sat down as she began to rub her foot.
“Some bloody fool in the hallway crushed my toes,” she said, her
face pulled tight in a frown.
Cal looked at her feet, bathed in the light from distant fires. They
were narrow and very dirty.
“I apologize if it was me,” he said.
“It wasn’t you.”
100 / Evening Street Review 32

Cal was glad of something for a change.

“Behold the fires,” she said. “It’s the only pleasure left to me.”
Cal glanced at the inferno. The wall of flames leapt and danced
into the sky. He imagined they came from the jaws of great fighting
dragons. Then he imagined a line of sultry belly dancers twirling burning
“I suspect those are the storage tanks at the Standard Oil refinery,”
the girl said, as if reading his mind and finding it lacking in rational
thought. “The Pasig River will be ablaze all night. I’ve wondered when
the bastards would hit those things and then why they’d hit them. I always
figured you Yanks would blow them up at the last second, holding out
hope for as long as you could, the last man out of the city setting a match
to the fuse so the Japs couldn’t get their dirty hands on the precious stuff.”
She sighed. “Destroying the fuel you need to move forward seems a daft
act. But it makes a pretty fire.”
“I didn’t even know the oil tanks existed,” said Cal.
“My father was editor of the South China Morning Post. I used to
make a nuisance of myself in the offices after school, and I’ve been to
dinner parties with loads of important people. I know a lot of things.”
“That’s interesting.”
“For instance, I know that the Japanese 14th Army, which is about
to swallow us up, contains, among other hordes, the 16th Division, which
perpetrated many of the atrocities at Nanking.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” he asked, feeling a bit stupid
sitting next to her, not knowing much at all.
“I stand around in the shadows, listening to men talk. It’s always
best to know a lot.”
“How long have you been at the hotel?” he asked.
“A couple of months. My mum and I. And the baby. We were
stuck here even before you Yanks got pulled into the war.”
“We’ve been here a week. My parents and I.”
“I’ve seen you around,” she said.
Cal had hardly noticed her before. She wasn’t pretty.
“Are you English?”
The girl cocked her head as she prepared her answer.
“One could say so, though I’ve never been to England.”
He gave her a puzzled look.
“I used to live in Hong Kong,” she said. “I was born there.”
She smiled and Cal suddenly felt they might be friends.
2021, Winter / 101

More people appeared at the top of the ladder and tumbled onto
the roof. Crates of rattling beer bottles followed them. Another explosion
resounded in the distance, sending sparks of metal and tongues of flame
seemingly into the stratosphere. Men shouted drunkenly. The girl slapped
at a mosquito.
A large man loomed suddenly in front of them, a beer in each
“Hey, ya little cockatiel. Let’s go for a walk.”
Cal looked at the girl, hoping she’d stay with him on the crates.
“Don’t come around me anymore,” she said to the man. “I’m not
a bitch in heat. This is my boyfriend, by the way. He’ll throw you off the
bloody roof if I ask him to.”
The Aussie laughed from deep in his belly. He was a strong,
handsome man. Cal’s father had told him that most of the Australian men
at the hotel worked as mechanics for Qantas Empire Airways. No planes
had come to take them home.
“Okay, you cheeky birds. Grab a little fun while you can.” He
handed them the two bottles he’d brought over. Once his hands were free,
he ran his fingers through his long hair, a calculated posturing. The girl
wouldn’t look at him. “I give us about a week before the Jap army comes
in force. Your boyfriend won’t be much use to you then.”
The girl did not seem to be affected by the ominous banter. She
drank from the bottle as the Aussie walked away. Cal decided she was
tough in her mind, if not her body. Then he studied her body in the thin
dress and judged that she was athletic, with strong calves and muscular
arms, like one of the lean Filipino miners who worked for his father. And
she frightened him a little bit, especially when she’d implied that he was
her boyfriend already. He took a sip of the beer.
She glanced sideways at him, then laughed at his reaction.
“It’s dreadful stuff, really,” she said. “Like swallowing your own
“I suppose,” Cal said. “Why do you drink it?”
“I’ve been drunk a couple of times these last few weeks, and I
quite like the feeling. Rum is certainly delicious. A charming addition to
a Coca-Cola, if you can find either of them anymore. There won’t be any
alcohol left in Manila by New Year’s morning. My mum says it will be
best for the women if we drink up all the liquor before the city is taken.”
“Is your mother scared?” asked Cal.
“Yes. And yours is too.”
102 / Evening Street Review 32

Cal remembered the conversation between his parents in the

hallway, and he was once again glad that he wasn’t a girl. As a young male
he didn’t know what to expect from the Japanese conquerors, but females
seemed to have a more settled fate.
“Are you frightened?” he asked.
“Of course I am. Please stop talking about it.”
She smiled at him again, and his heart felt as big as a coconut in
his chest. He took another sip of the beer while she watched, then another.
“You’re a handsome fellow,” she said.
“So I’ve been told. Mostly by my mother.”
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
Cal studied the girl in the darkness, her face set aglow by another
leap of towering flame. He noted how it flashed in her eyes.
“You’ll pass,” he said, surprised at his own bold talk.
“Thanks, but I know I smell awful. None of the woman are bathing
anymore. My mother won’t let me. I should be revolting at best when the
bastards get to me.”
“Please stop talking about it,” Cal said, thinking it was funny to
remind her of her line.
She took a long drink from her bottle, wiping her mouth on the
back of her hand. “Truth be told, I rather like this stuff. What’s your name,
“I’m Margaret Bates,” she said, “but you can call me Maggie.”
Stumbling over a crate, a young woman approached them out of
the shadows, her blond hair hanging loose over her shoulders. She held a
small box in one hand, a bottle in the other.
“Shit,” she said. “I almost spilled the rice cakes.” She offered the
box to Maggie, who took one. “Merry Christmas, Red,” said the woman.
She took a look at Cal, then offered the box to him.
“Thanks,” he said, taking two small cakes, wishing he had a
The woman stumbled away.
“I hope she doesn’t fall off the roof,” said Maggie.
“She’s very drunk,” said Cal.
“Indeed. Her name is Lorraine and my mother told me that she
and her husband arrived in Manila on December fifth. They’d just been
married in California. This was the honeymoon adventure, and they’d
intended to spend Christmas in the city after touring the islands. He was
2021, Winter / 103

killed in the bombing on the eighth. She’s a wreck and there’s no way
home for her.” Maggie leaned in close to whisper into Cal’s ear. “The
Aussies are taking advantage of her every night because she has no one
now. Rather sad, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” said Cal, his neck and ear tingling from proximity of her
lips. They were all very far from home.
“I’d like to visit California one day,” said Maggie, sitting up
straight again to stretch her arms above her head. “If I survive the week.”
“What would you do in California?”
“Oh, I expect I’d stroll on the beach by day, tanning my lovely
legs. If it’s cloudy you’d find me sitting in the dark, watching movies with
a bag of popcorn between my knees. In the evenings, of course, and for
good money, mind you, I’d play the piano in a fine symphony.” She
paused to finish the beer, then tossed the bottle into the darkness, where it
rolled for a time, then got quiet, then shattered on the gravel drive below.
“Are you from California?”
“No,” said Cal. “I’ve never been there.”
“Have you never been back home? Are you a colonialist like me?”
“I was born in the States. In Montana. But my dad got a job
managing a gold mine up north, in Suyoc. I’ve been living there since I
was two.”
“How old are you now, my American boyfriend?”
“I’m sixteen in two months. When’s your birthday?”
“So I’m older. Well. Well.” She lowered her voice, trying to sound
grown up. “Try to enjoy our time together, young man, because when I
outgrow you in two months, I plan to check my options. There are a lot of
handsome men around here.”
“Yeah, I know. But where are most of them gonna be in two
Maggie sighed, then stood up. Cal noticed the sparkle of glass on
the tar roof every time the flames billowed. She took a few steps forward,
and he wanted to grab her hand to pull her back from the danger.
“The Japs,” she bellowed in a theatrical voice, “will kill us all.
Each and every one of us bayoneted in the street, our blood melting into
the dust and gravel as our minds grow black and our souls evaporate into
the heavens.” She then hopped to the crate again, cursing and pulling at
something stuck into the bottom of her foot.
“Merry Christmas,” said Cal after helping her to sit.
104 / Evening Street Review 32

“Don’t remind me,” she said, licking her finger and rubbing a spot
on her heel.
“We still have to go on, don’t we?” he asked with a shrug. “Even
in these hard times. Christmas makes me think of home.”
Maggie took Cal’s head in her hands and turned it toward her. She
brought her face close to his.
“Last Christmas, early in the morning, while we were still
refugees in Melbourne, my mother’s boyfriend did me over after a night
of heavy celebration. She snored through the whole episode, my mother
did. Right next to me on the sofa while he hurt me. Horrible woman. Awful
mother. Then she brought me here to get me away from him, and now I’m
going to be killed because of it.” She let go of his head, pushing it away
roughly. “So you can have your Christmas. And you can stick it in your
bloody arse.”
“No, thanks,” said Cal, not sure what else to say and a little
worried that he’d made her dislike him.
They sat in silence for a while, sweating while they watched the
flames. Cal thought Maggie might be crying as she picked up his beer
bottle and finished it in a series of gulps, but when he sneaked a look at
her eyes, he could see they were dry.
“Don’t worry, young man,” she said. “I still want you.”
Cal’s heart bounced again. A few times. Then settled nervously.
“Where’s your father?” he asked.
“He was killed in Hong Kong after Mum and I were sent away.
Beheaded in the street. I loved him more than anything in the world, but
he had a newspaper to run.”
Cal touched Maggie on the cheek with the back of his hand.
Gently. It was a gesture his father used, and his mother always seemed to
like it. Maggie’s shoulder leaned into his.
“Has that guy bothered you much?” Cal asked. “The Aussie. The
one who brought us the beer.”
“He knows I’m not a virgin. Men can tell. But I won’t go with
him. He’ll probably drag Lorraine to his room tonight. Poor woman.”
The mosquitoes had become intolerable, and Cal thought he’d like
to find relief under the mosquito netting in his own room, but he liked
sitting on the roof with a girl his age and not a parent in sight. It was
Christmas morning and the humid air was filled with a pungent mixture of
smoke and uncertainty. The world had changed dramatically for everyone,
the small village where he’d lived a fading memory under the weight of
growing up all at once. This dramatic girl was feeling the same feelings,
2021, Winter / 105

he guessed, but whereas he wanted to stay quiet, invisible, observing the

details as they passed under his nose, she seemed to want to knock the
world around, stretch her legs and arms, and shout at the night. He would
sit with her as she digested the two beers. He’d sit and listen to her bold
talk and make sure she got down the ladder safely when it was time to go.


I am a grocery clerk,
an essential worker inside a pandemic
that will kill me if I return back
to the person
I was two months ago.
I circumvent crowded aisles,
estimate distances.
There are fewer and fewer spaces
for me to move into.
I wear masks and gloves that will keep me alive,
no longer recognize myself in the mirror.
No one knows who I am.

My co-workers and I gather around the timeclock

A fingerprint announces our arrival.
There are rules about tardiness.
Our shifts are long.
We are poured through an hourglass.
Hola chula. Hola guapo. Hola huero.
I learn that huero means white boy in Spanish.
Customers assume I am the store manager
though all of us wear masks.
You look like a store manager they say.
I don’t understand why they assume this
and I do understand why they assume this.
I am huero, the language they want to hear.
106 / Evening Street Review 32

Emilio is sixty-five, cleans toilets in our public restroom.

He picks up used syringes and needles
left by customers who park their mobile homes
and minivans in our parking lot.
He has worked for the grocery store for thirty years
and makes twelve dollars and seventy-five cents an hour.
During breaks, he takes his shoes off, rubs
the bottoms of his feet.
Shows me his callouses.
The other day I heard him crying.

I think about my mother.

She taught me that Hispanics were dirty and stupid,
that they were lazy.
My mother never worked a job in her life,
died in a trailer park with no money.
Her attributes were earned poverty
living the good life at no fault of her own.
Before she died, she mailed her crucifix to me.

I bring my own lunch, sit by myself.

The break room is filled with my silence.
I listen to the others,
pick up on words I learned in high school—
necessito, trabajando, malo.
I learn how to piece lives together.
They will never know mine.
My church taught me to hate myself early on.
I am a homosexual,
a world buried inside another inside another
for as long as I can remember,
good at what I do.
I keep myself to myself.
I can’t unlearn the language I was born into.
Language that no one spoke aloud.
In Muslim countries,
we are still tossed from the tops of buildings.
2021, Winter / 107

Laura works for sixteen-fifty an hour.

She is a manager and has twenty years with the company.
I just started, make seventeen dollars an hour,
one of three hueros
out of one hundred and thirty Hispanics.
Every day, she asks me how I am.
Every day, I say fine, okay.
In English, these words are effortless.
They have no meaning.

Angela in the Deli Department died two months ago.

She wasn’t feeling well one day and never came back to work.
Her picture is taped to the bulletin board by the timeclock
with the caption “sunrise and sunset.”
She smiles beatifically at the camera.
She is young, beautiful.
Six months have passed.
No one will take her picture down.
David, who worked with her for years,
tells me the doctors found a lump on his neck,
that he needs to see a doctor,
but keeps pushing back his appointment.
I can’t afford it, he says.
I have a wife and two kids.

Martha is sixty-five years old, bags groceries,

collects shopping carts in the parking lot
in one-hundred-degree weather.
She is invisible to the public.
Since the virus, I have not seen her.
Goodbyes seldom accompany disappearances.
Last year she took all the money she had and flew to
Paris with her family.
She brought me back a key chain.
It holds the keys that open every door I enter
and re-enter thousand-fold.
Her absence is everywhere.
108 / Evening Street Review 32

Imelda works in the floral department—

tulips, orchids, roses—
arranges and rearranges color,
measures the length of stems—
Get well. Sorry for your loss.
Bows becomes signatures to the dead.
Orchids gather at the front entrance,
float in sunlight like swans on a lake.
When do you need them by Imelda asks.
I’m sorry to hear that.
For her there are no hours.

Novo stocks the water aisle. He is fifty-five

and has massive arms and shoulders.
How are you honey, he says to me.
He is part Puerto Rican, part French.
He always smiles when I talk to him.
I know, I know, I know.
I can’t tell if he understands me
or if I understand him.
He works in the aisles,
keeps to himself, barely speaks,
his back, torn by long hours
and past surgeries.
Everywhere he goes a part
of his language goes missing.

Early morning, customers arrive

in Range Rovers and old Mercedes,
compete for limited parking.
Their hair is perfect.
They balance their steps.
I used to kiss the old women on the cheek,
I now nod my head,
stand as far away from them as possible.
They have less than they know,
that they can dream of.
Their hours are short.
Their language, dying.
2021, Winter / 109

Week after week we wait,

Mi familia, abuela, hermano, hermana
for accounting to complete payroll
so that we know what we
will have left of ourselves,
scheduled into the future
days and weeks that take our selves
out of out of ourselves.
I walk out to the parking lot.
Take off my mask so that we can breathe.
Every day they leave scars on our face,
cover our fear. Every day,
we touch something that will kill us.
Our language turns to silence.
Our conversations disappear.



Truman had planned to take the long way home from school. He
wanted to visit the swans at that lake in Prospect Park on his way to
Flatbush. He’d saved the crusts of his sandwich to feed them. But it was
getting dark, and it was best he head directly home on the No. 2 train
instead of strolling through the park, else Auntie-Jo would surely have his
It was warm on the train, and he dozed off in his seat. He dreamed
he was back on the island again, lying on the sand, the sound of surf and
gulls in his ears. The colorful fishing boats all lined up on the beach at the
end of the day. The sun slung low. His mother calling him home for
Was that really her?
No. It was not his name in his mother’s mouth, but instead the
screech of metal wheels on the subway tracks. In his nostrils, not the warm
Jamaican breeze, but a hot, dank wind that smelled of urine and burnt
brakes whooshing through the underground.
110 / Evening Street Review 32


It had lately been his habit to take the wide main stairs out of the
subway, leaping his way up into the city, taking two or three or even four
steps at a time, then stretching out his legs to see how long he could stride,
or slicing through the crowds like a hot knife just to show off how quick
he was.
But today he didn’t feel like crowds. Today he wanted to try out a
new move he’d been thinking about. A swaggerific move with dolly-dally
slant. Take three steps, turn and hop down one, spin around, and take three
steps. Repeat three times. A magic thing, as if by doing the stairs like this,
he was adding to the pile of luck he’d been collecting for as long as he
could remember, long before he’d come to Brooklyn from Manchioneal.
Even then, when he was only five or six and thought Flatbush was some
kind of plant, he was already cooking up ways to conjure up good fortune.
Auntie-Jo called this kind of thinking “an eediat ting.” She spit out
the words like she’d tasted something bitter. She was modern and had lived
in Brooklyn for most of her best years. Truman felt sorry for her, figured
she’d spent all the luck she’d brought here from the island. And now the
old luck had been gone a long time, and she hadn’t learned how to make
new. If only she would listen to him! Poor Auntie-Jo.
The trains had left the station, and the crowds were gone. Perfect
for the dolly-dally. Add some moves with his arms. It’s a dance. Add some
magic words and make a spell out of it.
“COO YOO BOO GOO YAGA.” He tried them out quiet at first, then
loud, so the words echoed off the tile walls of the stairwell like boulders
down a mountain.
The staircase went up seventeen steps, then they turned to the left.
He spun around the corner, elbows out, and up eleven more until he came
to a landing. And what did he see, mid-ziggy-zaggy, but a witch sitting
A witch!
No. He shouldn’t call her a witch. No such ting as witches up here
in Babylon, Auntie-Jo would say. She would say he should know better
and just walk on by. And maybe he did know better, but he stopped to take
a closer look, just in case there was something lucky in the encounter.
She was all scabby, wearing about ten coats with a black knit cap
pulled down onto her head, in spite of the fact it was steamy hot in there.
Was she Black or white? No way to tell—her face was so sunburnt and
dirty. There were old plastic bags all around her, full of who knows what.
2021, Winter / 111

Could be stuff for potions.

She looked up with crazy eyes, and she smiled at Truman. She
only had a couple of teeth. In his head, he heard Auntie-Jo say, Coo yah!
Mind your teeth. You only get one set.
At first, he jumped back a little, but the witch kept smiling and
crooked her finger at him, and he stepped a little closer. The witch stunk
so bad—oh, man, she was rank. She reached into her raggedy clothes and
pulled out a baby bird. Her fingers were black, but the bird was so new
and fresh and alive. He could see its head at the top of her loose fist. She
whispered something to it and kissed its head.
“Boy,” she said, “do you know what this is?”
“It’s a bird, ma’am,” said Truman, remembering his manners—
didn’t matter whether she was a witch or just an old homeless lady.
“Do you know what kind of bird?” she said, a strange look
crossing her face.
He wasn’t sure. “A magic bird?”
“You want to hold it?” She held it out to him. But just as he went
to take it from her, she snatched it back.
“You stupid fucking thing!” she shouted at the poor little bird. “If
you were magic, you would know what I’m thinking! You would give me
what I want! But you don’t know nothin’. If you had the grace God gave
you, you would care for me like I care for you. But you have no grace and
you have no God. You’re just an IT. IT, IT, IT! And I don’t need you
anymore.” Then she stood up and threw the bird with all her might against
the tile wall of the subway. “There’s your fucking magic!” she roared.
“NO-O-O!” Truman was stunned and for a moment did not realize
that the scream he heard was his own.
The poor little bird lay completely still on the floor, and the witch
was already on her way, muttering to herself and shambling down the steps
with all her ten coats and her bags and dirty packages.
Truman picked up the bird and held the creature to his cheek. It
was still warm. He wasn’t sure what to do—he had never held a bird
before, living or dead. It was so small, weighed next to nothing. Maybe it
was nothing but a wad of bones covered with soft feathers, but he loved it
completely. He knew all about it in a special way: how it missed its mother
and dreamed of flying home; how warm and safe it had felt nestled in the
old lady’s pocket; the stars and blackness when it hit the wall.
Truman hurried home, walk-running down the sidewalk, carrying
the little bird so gently—more gently than he had carried anything before.
Not wanting to risk dropping his precious cargo, he used his foot to open
112 / Evening Street Review 32

the door to the vestibule, carefully wiped his feet on the mat, and then
rushed into the kitchen.
He found Auntie-Jo sitting in her usual chair, back to the wall,
eyes on the door. He stood in front of her, unable to catch his breath, his
mind churning with questions.
“Auntie-Jo?” Truman held out the bird in a little nest he had made
with his cupped hands. “Can these bones live?” He fought tears but lost
the battle. He was supposed to be the man in this house of women and
children, and men don’t cry. But would it be okay now, maybe, alone with
Auntie-Jo? Could it be okay? Could it be safe to tell her the story, to ask
this kind of question?
Auntie-Jo peered over her glasses at the bird, then at Truman. She
spoke as if she hadn’t heard a word.
“Boy, you a vexing fool, not a wit of the sense God gave you,”
she said. Then she stubbed out her Newport, pushed her chair away from
the table, stood up, and walked to him.
“Give me that filty ting,” she said, and reached out to take the bird
from him. “We got ’nuff trouble round dis house without you bringin’ in
wild animals full of disease. Give it to me and go wash your hands this
instant! And mindya go back and wipe that city slime off dose feet before
you go upstairs!”
As if he had not wiped his feet!
The cleanliness of Auntie-Jo’s house was her one and only pride,
and in the four years he’d lived in her place, Truman had learned very well
the difference between clean and dirty, learned to make his bed, clean his
nails, say “please” and “thank you.” He loved his Auntie-Jo, but how was
it possible that all she saw when she looked at the little bird was a “filty
ting”?! He’d hoped for more from her. He must tell her the whole story.
He must ask her: What kind of world is this, really? Could it really be so
True dat up here in Babylon, true dat, said the Auntie-Jo in his
head, like she said about all the things in Flatbush that made no sense. But
the Auntie-Jo who stood before him in the kitchen twilight had empty eyes
and said nothing. Just stood there waiting for him to hand over his treasure
so she could throw it away.
For the first time, doubts came to him: Auntie-Jo may have taught
him well about order and manners and respecting his elders. But wasn’t
there more to goodness than these things? What if goodness was a lesson
wrapped up in dirty, filthy, messy life? What if there was magic in this
wad of bones, in his tears and outrage, in his knowing and his visions?
2021, Winter / 113

“C’mon, Tru,” Auntie-Jo said with a tired sigh. “Give me the

birdie and get washed up for supper.”
“No, Auntie-Jo,” said Truman, shaking his head, shocked to find
himself trying out his first real defiance. He kept his eyes on her and
backed slowly out of the kitchen, then turned and went out the vestibule
door. Truman took a seat on the front stoop. He nestled the dove in his
hands and blew warm air on the feathers, kissed its head, and whispered
some magic words over the little thing.
A moment later, when its tiny eye opened, Truman was not


Eggs cradled in a basket, one hundred and sixty in all, arrive with care.
Pillaged from the hen, requisitioned from a farm, trundled by caravan.
Each a step in a much larger plan.

Delicate fingers wipe each egg with a cloth before boiling in a dented
pot. They cool on beds of straw and harden before transport to their final

The eggs rest in wooden crates atop the ageless fallings of the forest.
They smell the ripe earth opened from the gaping trench nearby, they
listen as soldiers from the battalion take their places.

The operation begins. Lorries rumble, rifles point, dogs bark. The day’s
prisoners are unloaded in batches of ten. First the men, then the women
and their children.

Along a rough conveyance running through the trees, clothes are shed,
and valuables ripped from hems. Curious villagers come to the edge of
the woods and watch.

The now tired soldiers have grown sloppy in their task, firing their rifles
into row after row. Pale bodies pile into the pit. The ground heaves and
114 / Evening Street Review 32

Swollen from the morning’s work. Sun seeps through the pines and it is
time for lunch, which the soldiers take in a manner that is overdue.

Eggs crack in fists, against kneecaps and on felled trunks. The yellow
yolk is dry in the mouth and mealy to the tongue.

Unlike the whites, which glide whole from the lips to the back of the throat.


Blessed be the calloused hands

that push the jackhammer
and guide the bit

Blessed be the swing of the boom

the shovel’s claws
the arms over high

Hear the pounding

that digs out the sagging stoop
sunk too low for all to reach from

See the resolve

to raze graven statues that blight the way
to root out rot, to sift the soil clean, to plumb sturdy rock for a new foundation

Anoint fresh pourings

so great beams rise
so broad pipes draw water to every thirst

Give thanks
for the hot asphalt
healing holes in the road

Blessed be the work

under the lights that strobe
against the night
2021, Winter / 115

Blessed be the orange cones

as they lead us single file
towards grace


Rock-holding boys were huddled under an awning’s shade at the

bottom of a hill. A shop’s iron doors under the awning were bolted shut.
Rotting posters of long-gone politicians on the iron doors had faded, like
those politicians’ dreams.
A blood trail reached a dark-red pool near the awning. The black
road the blood reddened climbed past white-painted trees. A red
ambulance light flashed against green, black and white.
The awning boys, like a prehistoric tribe with prehistoric weapons,
studied the armoured vehicles that prehistoric ideas had created. The
vehicles resembled steel spiders on black webs. The white, comet-like
streaks on black caused by rocks thrown at the steel mirrored the early
universe, the arachnids regressing ethics back that far.
A kid raced from the shade, left arm straight out. His rock rose,
rising...peaking...dropping...descending...kerrrrlangggg, bouncing over an
armoured bonnet, smacking a wire-covered windscreen, adolescents
launching rocks so far and so accurately on arching paths so captivating
that the rocks altered perception of time.
My shot showed the kid’s right arm releasing the rock, arachnids
ahead, the next shot showing the rock above a bonnet and the marble-
white-eyed kid sprinting back.
SWACKKK. Pink, spidery smoke exploded above the kid, sound-
bomb fairy-floss arachnid upon web air: a warning: bullets probably next.
The kid dashed into the awning’s shade. My buzzing eardrums felt
jabbed by sound-bomb needles.
A teenager sprinted from a side street. My temples hovered on
thermal astonishment as the rock he hurled clobbered a painted red eagle
on a vehicle's sloping exterior, kerlanggg, targeted eagle hit.
Courage made my temples float, my mind flying on erupting
A whacking crack swatted, pitch-free, red spray shooting from the
116 / Evening Street Review 32

eagle kid’s chest. Shhhhhhhshhing bullet kerrackt. The kid tried speaking,
jaws struggling, right hand reaching up. I captured his last second. He
knew his death could open eyes.
A kid whimpering: “Mahmoud, Mahmoud....,” fell to his knees,
mouth twisted, teardrops glistening on his cheeks. Photographing grief
was disturbing, but the people wanted Zionist be revealed.
I stomped up the hill. Gun barrels emerged through rubber-ringed
holes in an arachnid’s hide. Fury evicted fear from my mind.
I screamed: “Open the doors!”
SS-style boots kicked open the back doors. Kicker’s peeved
righteousness bleached his eyes’ whites into outraged marble.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“What am I doing here? What the fuck are you doing here!?”
The soldiers, occupying boiling semi-darkness, were younger than
“What do you care what happens to these people?” Kicker yelped.
“When this happens to you lot,” I replied, “I won’t give a fuck.
You’ll fucking well deserve it!”
“We could shoot you as well,” another one said.
He was short with broad cheeks. His black hair emphasised his
skin’s paleness. Smugness smeared his voice with assurance.
“Well, shoot then,” I said. “Then say you shot an anti-Semitic Jew.
Most Israelis’ll believe you. You idiots believe anything.”
“Look,” a third one said, “we’ve got a right to be here. This is our
A blond, blue-eyed American.
“So blond hair, pale skin, blue eyes and American accents come
from the Middle East?” I asked.
The dead kid had had olive skin, dark eyes, and black hair.
Another vehicle approached. Out stepped the company’s
commander; over six feet tall, black, curly hair, eyes oozing
“Why,” I quipped, “it’s Captain Kid Killer.”
A gunshot shattered the silence my comment created, kids
scurrying back down the hill, legs flashing like fiddlestick pendulums, an
ambulance’s siren wailing.
“Reinforcements required?” I asked. “Because I outnumber them
one to six? (Someone was beside the driver.) The Israeli Damaging Farce
won’t act without a twenty-to-one advantage. Always use automatic
weapons against teenagers launching granite with their bare hands.”
2021, Winter / 117

Political views got me expelled from a “democracy.”

Going to the airport in a police van, I felt like a black South
African during Apartheid, the police blond and burly. Maybe they had
gruff Afrikaans accents?
I said: “Thanks for stopping me from spending seven hours
travelling sixty kilometres through checkpoints to get here. Most
Palestinians don’t get that lucky. I’ll be recommending sarcasm to get the
fast route out.”
One said: “Shut up!”
“You hate free speech?” I asked. “Why! This is a democracy.”
The driver’s forehead lines resembled wintery twigs, his cemented
lips creating a thin, dark, crooked line above a square chin. Seriousness
shoved his eyebrows towards wavy, blond hair. They couldn’t call me anti-
Semitic, so I was a “Jewish radical, a bad Jew,” ironic that two days later
while trying to get off a London bus, a blond, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed guy
blocked my way, screaming: “I’m mad.”
I felt fascinated. That wasn’t courage, but love of the exotic, of
feeling the glamour I felt life had. Courage means performing where you
don’t want to be. I wanted to be there.
“I’m fucking nuts!” he yelled.
His flying hands emphasised his self-assessment’s accuracy,
unusual given that accurate self-awareness isn’t associated with madness.
“I’m bonkers!” he shouted.
My phone rang. I answered: “I’ll ring you in a minute. I’m busy
right now. Something funny, actually.”
I hung up and said: “Sorry, you were saying?”
Perplexity glossed his irises. The lines bitterness had chiselled into
his forehead disappeared.
“I’m going to kill someone,” he howled, fighting to regain his
treasured anger.
“Make it a Zionist,” I replied. “You’ll be loved forever.”
He stared, wide-eyed. Failure to cause fear made him flee.
I was a bad audience; and he had been so proud of his self-
Later, he killed someone at that bus stop. They didn’t call him a
terrorist. He wasn’t Arabic. Just insane.
118 / Evening Street Review 32


My husband walks to the front garden, leans on the shovel.

It occurs to me
that a shovel is not a wishbone.
I turn from the window that looks out on the road to take
the measure of our field. Why can’t I
be in two places at once? See
my husband and Queen Anne’s lace.
What’s the difference between
disappearing and vanishing?
Think of leaves. They’re there. They leave. They return.
I hear my mother’s voice
telling me there’s no replacement for a parent.
Edging protects flowers from grass.
I used to weed
until I visited Mount St. Helen’s ten years after it erupted.
Weeds. The only growing things.


My heart. I watch it
during my first
echo. I love how
it never

This time, I know something
is wrong when the tech
says she needs to consult
the doctor. Don’t leave,
she says. I don’t.
Heart beating fast,

I wait.
2021, Winter / 119

A stiff heart,
aortic stenosis
in medical jargon.
Younger, my body
was so flexible,
a backbend easy as pie.
And now it’s my mind
that turns over and over
in a series of cartwheels.

after Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death”

In Merwin’s poem, the rain ends and he is bowing

not knowing to what.

“Every year without knowing,” he tells us

he eats, drinks, and sleeps on the day of his death
and I wonder in which month, in which season,
I’ll cease to be.

My sister-in-law makes a fuss on the days

her parents died, drinks martinis along with
her mother’s mushroom turnovers.

I know the months of my parents deaths but celebrate

the day they were born with my daughter and sister.
How my mother would burst into song like Mary Martin
in South Pacific . How my father’s laughter delayed
the punch line of any joke he told.

Merwin calls life “a strange garment” and I see

Joseph’s coat of many colors which brings jealousy
and anger into this poem. The coat—a gift
from his father Jacob. Life—a gift
we wrap and unwrap.
120 / Evening Street Review 32

June 2020, sheltered in place by the pandemic, I take

stock of what’s around me: water rippling to shore,
a large ant carrying a crumb and a tree felled by the last storm,
cracked and splintered.

some faith in man

I’ll see your god and raise you a neighbor

whose god (or lack thereof)
impelled him to come over today
and chainsaw the willow tree

that, in a storm some months ago,

fell across our driveway.
I wouldn’t know which god is his,
if any earns his prayers,

but it is pretty clear to me

his faith has served him well
(or lack thereof) – at any rate,
his kindness is a candle

to light a path that many mock

and many claim to walk
who, if a neighbor’s ass was on fire,
wouldn’t piss on him.

I’ve seen, in those who pray and don’t,

people who act like this.
They aren’t mythological.
I’ve seen them. No, I have.

or live in a mass denial of what we feel.

2021, Winter / 121


The Postcard is the rain

dimpling her mountain lake
She’s the two blond oars
embracing lightly on the dock
She’s the cluster of red chairs
turned to a private center
damp knees almost touching
She’s the thin tap of water
breaking its own tension

The Postcard knows that the boat

is gone, that somewhere
it rests easily against another
dock. She’s waiting
the whole picture of it
If she leaves the scene now
only the chickadees would care
shaking drizzle from their black heads

She had intended her arms for the sun

had carved out a wide bowl for cradling
that warmth, but in this picture
it’s clouds that inhabit her sky

She sighs and lies down along the bracken

and drench, grows long seaweed hair
She sinks in with the root and rock
the black alchemic soil and
listens to the boulder’s long stories
those glacial epics, the thrilling melt
122 / Evening Street Review 32


The difference between flotsam and jetsam, according to the

National Ocean Institute, is one of genesis. Both are types of marine
debris. Flotsam refers to stuff in the water that was not deliberately thrown
from a ship—your reading glasses, say, or the wine fridge in your
upgraded cabin, or the Berber rug you’re hauling home from Morocco.
These things go tragically into the sea as a result of an accident or an
outright shipwreck. Jetsam, on the other hand, refers to items deliberately
thrown overboard, like your mother-of-the-bride dress or your stationary
bike in the on-board gym, or your Spanx. In most cases, jetsam is the heavy
bits the crew throws over to lighten a foundering ship. In an America
taking on water, voting rights are flotsam; Trump (one dares to hope) will
soon be jetsam.
What is the difference between beer and ale? The question, it turns
out, “is not rightly put.” This was the protest of an ascetic who famously
asked the Buddha what happened to the soul of an enlightened person at
“If you were asked in what direction a fire had gone out,” the
Buddha replied, “whether to the east, west, north, or south, could you give
an answer?”
“The question is not rightly put,” the monk replied.
“In just the same way,” the Buddha explained, “reborn does not
apply to him, nor not reborn, nor any combination of such terms.”
Beer, bless its heart, is easier. Ale, it turns out, is a type of beer.
Who knew? My son-in-law Jon Wagner knew, for one. He is a
professional brewer. In a nutshell, beer can be an ale or a lager. The
difference between ale and lager—and here we are getting into that vast
acreage of more than I want to know—has to do with the fermenting
process. Ales are made with top-fermenting yeasts and lagers with bottom-
fermenting yeasts. That I am writing this during a pandemic in which none
of us have any yeast might make the whole thing sound more glamorous
than it could possibly be, but there it is: the difference is yeast. In an
America devoid of anything resembling federal leadership, that has not
been able to rise to meet the Covid-challenge—an America so flat and
limp that souffle and brioche-happy Europeans refuse to even let us in—
Trump is the missing yeast.
Democracy or republic? The United States of America, we are
repeatedly told by pedantic bores, is not a democracy, but a republic. The
2021, Winter / 123

difference, you will learn, if you can bear scrolling through the
commentary online, is so much Potato-Potahto. What we enjoy (and
uneasily hope to keep enjoying) is a representative democracy, which is
exactly the same thing as a republic. Both are systems, Eugene Volokh of
The Washington Post explains, in which, rather than voting directly on the
creation of every law and policy, people elect representatives to provide
this service. “Representative democracy,” Volokh insists, “is the only
democracy that’s around at any state or national level.” Which is not to
suggest that all democracies operate with an electoral college, which runs
such caustic interference with the popular will and vote. This “college” is
not our defining speciality: we share it with Burundi, Kazakhstan,
Myanmar, and Pakistan. So there’s that. Donald Trump, the greatest threat
to American democracy in the entire history of our sovereignty, was
elected by the electoral college, but not—and though we’ve all heard it a
million times, it bears repeating—by the popular vote. Trump lost the
popular vote by almost 3 million votes.
The difference between flammable and inflammable is—never
Butterfly or moth? These differences are rather easy to overlook,
like those between the two tribes in that old Star Trek episode who were
both black and white, but on different sides of their bodies. My, how they
hated each other for that. Butterflies and moths both belong to the order
Lepidoptera, so they are kin, but with some different habits, rather like my
sister-in-law Liz and me. Liz was raised in the American South, a
generation ahead of my own, and I’m from northern stock and terrain. She
was brought up to attend to the vanities of men; let’s say I was not. We
made a functionable pair when, for a number of years, our families shared
a cottage for a week in the summer, which always involved a lot of visitors
and a lot of big meals. Whenever our company included a man (and there
was one man in particular) who required a rapt and devoted audience, I’d
shoot Liz out of the kitchen and into the living room. She never failed to
nail it. She was the glittering social butterfly to my dusty indifferent moth.
According to the people at, Lepidoptera differences
include the following: butterflies are diurnal—busy during the day, while
nocturnal moths are mostly out and about at night. A butterfly resting on
a flower will fold her wings discreetly over her back, her gentle manners
in line with crossing one’s human legs at the ankle, like Kate Middleton
has learned to do (but maybe not Meghan Markle). A moth has more early
Eliza Doolittle in her. She takes to her blossom with her wings opened as
wide as the knees as those infamous manspreaders everyone was
124 / Evening Street Review 32

complaining about several years ago, before so many more alarming things
presented themselves, almost daily, for our outrage. In another divergence,
moth caterpillars weave themselves silk cocoons while the pupa
of butterflies make their transformations inside chrysalises as smooth and
hard as patent leather shoes. Butterflies are as slim and hairless as models;
moths are furry and stout. Butterflies tend to be more colorful, which is
not to say more beautiful, as I think anyone who’s ever seen a Luna moth
would agree. Trump, a well-documented knee-spreader, is famously
diurnal and nocturnal, furiously tweeting lies all day and gorging on Fox
News all night. Cocooned among ambitious sycophants willing to degrade
themselves and dismantle our democracy for his odious approval, he
transforms in no way at all, but remains the nearly blind and flightless
creature he began. He has no place among the magnificent and malleable
Lepidoptera; they are entirely out of his league.
The difference between a novel and a book—and yes, we get this
at the bookstore where I moonlight—is that a novel is a piece of fiction
long enough to be more than a short story. The End. As ale is a type of
beer, a novel is a type of book.
Few people may care about distinguishing a cappuccino from a
latte since they are both delicious (I don’t care about the difference
between Extra-Fudge-Brownie ice cream and Deluxe-Fudge-Brownie ice
cream) but for the curious who do: a latte is a simpler creature, with more
milk in it. Both start with espresso. From there, a proper (which may not
be what we get from a 16-year-old barista with homework and a boyfriend)
cappuccino is a tiered affair with the coffee on the bottom, steamed milk
in the middle, and a luxurious foam on top. A latte is a glorious mix of
coffee and milk concluding with a military buzz cut of foam—though a
grown-out buzz cut, if you’re lucky. Even ignoring issues of taste and
character, Trump lacks the complexity of any decent coffee.
The difference between Donald Trump’s Lies and the
Misrepresentations of Every Former President is the difference between
Jeffrey Dahmer and people who eat things they shouldn’t at the holidays.
Appalling: his airtight narcissism. Mortifying: his absolute lack of
empathy and conscience. Insidious: his tyrannical ambitions. The
difference between a Biden presidency and a Trump second term is the
difference between freedom and totalitarianism. It is what we do in
November will make all the difference.
2021, Winter / 125


“Cloth napkins?” she says, laughing.
“Why go to all the trouble?”
Then, she lifts one to her nose and inhales.
My child-self stands over the ironing board,
Waiting for Mother to bring me the bundle of linen napkins,
Damp and wrapped tightly, cocooned in dish towel and plastic bag.
I pluck out one and spread it like an altar cloth,
Smoothing it with small hands.
The iron hisses like an aggravated dragon
As I set it on the hem and lean heavily on the handle.
Over the ripples and bubbles it goes,
Leaving a trail, smooth and hot like white asphalt,
Rolled to perfection with my steamroller arms.
The hot haze rising off drying linen comes fragrant to my nose,
An aroma of spring breezes and sun, cut grass and rainstorms.
“Cloth napkins? No trouble,” I answer my teasing friend,
A vision of my mother rising in my mind.

The corn, their needy children clustered around them,
Curl narrow hands into calla lilies of prayer,
Raise arms in supplication, soft susurrations of sound
Murmuring along the rows.
The grove, hunkering on the far side of the field,
Dons dusty velvet, faded and out of focus from the sun.
Trees, aging dowagers, lean and whisper to one another,
Brittle voices crackling with speculation
And dreams of imminent relief.
But their suitor, their benefactor, the sky,
Remains indifferent, or at best, distant.
The scintillating light, like a migraine’s aura,
Forces the common blue into mere watercolor wash,
Pulling the sky to hover high beyond her offspring,
Cloudless, veiled in shimmers of heat. Noe
126 / Evening Street Review 32


I crouch on mitten hands and snowpants knees.

Three days of Arctic cold,
Still and snowless,
Froze the little lake down to its bones, clear as window glass.
Twelve feet below me,
A shadow—two, three—pass.
Flattening myself into a dead man’s float,
I peer deep, holding my breath,
As if the ice will shift to fluid.
I lever over to a back float.
A summer-blue dome curves over me,
The solicitous Mother.
Lazy white lozenges fin across the sky expanse.
I turn back to the lake below me.
The shadows form themselves into fish,
Finning across the sandy bottom below the ice.
Two lake worlds: summerwinter,
A spinning coin, showing first one face,
Then the other,
Rotating in perpetual motion.
For just a moment, I am privy to the dance,
There floating on the solid lake,
Breathing in unison with the turning world.


Dottie never had ramen noodle soup until after her husband died.
She was sixty-three years old, and while she was a college graduate, the
student staple of brightly colored soup packages never caught her eye
during that particular four years, or for all the years after. In college, she
stayed in the dorms and the only time she didn’t eat in the cafeteria was
2021, Winter / 127

on the weekends, when she went out with friends, and then with the man
who would become her partner in all things for forty-two years. They ate
at campus pizza places or Denny’s. When they married one month past
graduation, he promised to give her everything wonderful. He did his best.
While there were weeks early on where supper was Campbell’s soups
purchased three cans at a time with the use of a coupon, and bolstered with
slices of white bread slathered with margarine, she never even noticed the
ramen packages when she searched for grocery store bargains. She
wouldn’t have thought to look for soup encased in plastic wrap.
Over the years, Gavin’s best indeed proved to be wonderful. Pizza
places and Denny’s dropped away to make room for fine restaurants every
Saturday night and every holiday, birthday and anniversary. But then
Gavin died. Not entirely unexpected at sixty-three. A month past his death,
Dottie came across a bin of ramen noodle soup on an endcap, just between
aisles six and seven in the Pick’N’Save.
Ten for a dollar! It was hard to walk away from what seemed to
be a bargain, though Gavin didn’t leave her poor, just as he promised.
Dottie swirled through the packages and noted the flavors.
Creamy chicken. Lime shrimp. Beef. Pork. Chili. Oriental.
At ten for a dollar, Dottie figured she didn’t have much to lose. If
it tasted horrible, she’d only be out a buck and she could donate the unused
packages to the food pantry. So she bought three of the creamy chicken,
two of the oriental, one beef, one pork, one chili, and two mushroom. She
wasn’t crazy about shrimp, and lime shrimp with noodles didn’t sound like
it would make her a convert.
Ten days later, Dottie came back for more. She was delighted to
find out that the ten for a dollar wasn’t a sale, but a regular price. The
ramen was good! She took to slicing and adding things to it – canned
chicken, hot dogs, ham, sausage – and it made for a high spot in her day.
She sat at her kitchen table, alone, but with a book open to her left, a glass
of water on her right, and a glass of wine waiting for the meal to be over,
signaling the official start of afternoon. She kept a placemat out in Gavin’s
spot and she glanced at it, from time to time set her hand upon it. The soup
steamed her face in heat and salt, reminding Dottie of a flavorful ocean,
and the book, whatever it was, kept her company. She took to speaking
out loud to the characters, and sometimes, to the writer.
And then she had her wine.
Dottie missed her husband. Without a doubt. But with the ramen
on her table every day at noon, Dottie felt her mind, and her grief, ease just
128 / Evening Street Review 32

a bit. She worried about that, it seemed like maybe too soon, but the
ramen…well, the ramen was good. She still cooked well for supper, and
still cooked the meal for two; she just saved the second portion for the next
day. On Saturday nights, she still went out to very nice restaurants,
sometimes with a friend, sometimes with her younger sister, and
sometimes with her daughter. She never went alone. If no one was
available, she stayed at home, cooking a recipe that took a little more time
and that required higher quality ingredients, a better cut of meat.
“I can’t believe I never had ramen before!” Dottie said to her
daughter. “I’m having it at lunch every day.”
Her daughter looked alarmed. “Mom, the sodium! That’s just not
healthy for you!”
Dottie cut carefully into her prime rib. Queen cut. Rare. “Really?
Isn’t it an Asian staple? And don’t they live forever?”
Her daughter stared. Then she changed the subject.
After dinner, Dottie went home alone. She poured a glass of wine
and set out for Googleland. Dottie was no stranger to the internet; as soon
as everyone merged onto the information superhighway, as they used to
call it, she joined the drive too. Gavin told her it was fine, as long as they
went to approved sites and they stayed safe. She wasn’t clear on what was
safe and what wasn’t, but there sure was a lot to see. “Recipes With
Ramen,” she typed in.
Then she sat back and began to click with abandon.
SUNDAY BREAKFAST: In a medium saucepan, bring a cup of
water to a boil. Add a block of ramen (water should cover it) and then add
a layer of onion and tomato slices. Top with a whole raw egg. Put the
cover on the saucepan and cook until the egg reaches desired doneness.
Salt and pepper to taste.

There was something so decadent about having onion at breakfast.

As soon as Dottie started dating Gavin, she gave up on onions, wanting to
always have her breath fresh for him, just in case he’d want to kiss her. As
the years went by, onions slipped in here and there, mostly when she
couldn’t avoid them, such as at friends’ houses for dinner, or in restaurants.
Dottie took care of this by always having a travel size tube of toothpaste
in her purse, along with a folding toothbrush. Never once in her entire
relationship with Gavin did she turn away from his kiss. Never once did
he find that kiss not sweet, laced with peppermint and the bubblegum wax
of Dottie’s lipstick.
2021, Winter / 129

And now, onions for breakfast. And tomato, and an egg, and
ramen noodles. A cup of strong coffee completed the meal. For her
daughter, Dottie added a glass of grapefruit juice.
Breakfast with Gavin changed over the years. When they were
first married, it was toast and thermosed coffee on the run, as they danced
around each after waiting until the last possible minute to climb out of bed.
It was a good dance, though, with plenty of trailing fingers and loud
smacking kisses. Slaps across the rumps. Promises for later. On weekends,
there were afternoon breakfasts in bed, and Dottie cooked omelets and
pancakes and waffles. When the children arrived, breakfasts transitioned
to mostly cold cereals, with hot meals reserved for special mornings out,
especially after church on Sundays.
Toward the end, past kids, past work, it was oatmeal for their
cholesterol. Now, Dottie looked at Gavin’s placemat and tried to
remember what oatmeal tasted like. Bland was what she remembered. But
the sounds weren’t bland. Gavin’s voice. The clinks of their spoons against
the bowls. And until the morning Gavin died, there were still the slaps
across the rumps, the slowly trailing fingers.
Now there was this ramen mixture. A ramen breakfast. With
Dottie scooped up another forkful. She brought her teeth together.
Oh, the onion bit. It flooded her mouth with the sharpness of
morning. The moment of opening the eyes and being stabbed, but infused
with sunlight. Bending the joints and hearing the snap of being drawn
upright again. The flame of awakening tendons.
That kind of sharp. Dottie chewed and she swallowed. She looked
at Gavin’s placemat, trailed her fingers across it. Then she scooped up
another mouthful.
She would brush her teeth, of course. But for now, she was
saturated in onion.
And tomato. Egg. And ramen.
She wished Gavin was there to taste it. She wished she’d eaten
onions with him and had the sharp of it on their tongues when they kissed
after a decadent breakfast. But even as she wished, she enjoyed her
breakfast without him.
She wondered if it was too soon.
MONDAY LUNCH: Boil a ramen noodle block for three minutes.
Drain and place in a salad bowl. Over the boiled noodles, place one cup
chopped red bell pepper, one cup crumbled feta cheese, and one cup each
130 / Evening Street Review 32

of chopped onions, tomatoes, green olives and black olives. Mix one cup
canola oil and one cup lemon juice to pour over your ramen Greek salad.
Dottie couldn’t remember ever in her life eating cold noodles.
Gavin eschewed summery pasta salads, claiming noodles were meant to
be hot, and bathed hotter in soup stock or extravagant sauces. As she
chopped the vegetables, Dottie felt a tad unfaithful. She glanced sideways
at the noodles, now drained and placed in a bowl. They weren’t soldered
in the ramen brick anymore, but sprawled in the most unruly way. Spiral
directions. Rebellious.
On the table, her book already waited, face down, open to the last
page she read. Her glass of water was ready too, and the wine was just out
of reach. It was a pinot grigio today, as a trip to Googleland told Dottie
that was an excellent match for a Greek salad. Dottie thought she might
miss the steam of the soup during her meal. She wondered if Gavin would
be proven right.
Greek salad with ramen soup noodles without the soup. What did
that make this meal? A mutt? Greek-Asian? Grasian?
Dottie laughed out loud alone in her kitchen. She listened for
Gavin’s appreciative rumble and then his laughter. Their humor almost
always dovetailed. But this time, the sound of her laughter had no
Still, the tingle in her ribcage was there, the tingle that always
came after a good laugh.
When she finally sat down, she orchestrated the meal. The salad
was situated in the center of her placemat, and she set a piece of oven-
warmed Italian bread, thick with butter and sprinkled with garlic, just to
her upper left. She figured she was already eating multinational, so adding
in Italian wouldn’t hurt. She opened her book and tilted it against a stack
of books she still had to read. Books upon books made the nicest book-
holder, and it brought the page to a readable level.
When Gavin still worked and the children were still in school,
Dottie read at lunchtime. The other two meals, breakfast and supper, were
filled with family conversation, but lunch was Dottie’s alone. She
preferred to spend that time in mindful discussions with fictional others.
When the children grew up and Gavin retired, she set her books away from
the kitchen, leaving them instead in stacks on the end table next to her
recliner and on her bedside table. Now, with Gavin gone, lunchtime
reading returned. But she also kept the stacks in the family room and
bedroom. And she added one in the bathroom. She read short stories and
essays there. Sometimes poetry.
2021, Winter / 131

She enjoyed her lunchtime reading. But she missed Gavin.

Now, Dottie found where she left off in the book yesterday, then
raised her fork like a conductor’s wand and dug in to her meal.
In the sunshine of her kitchen, Dottie felt the bite of the onion
again, but this time, its teeth were gnashed with the bell pepper. The
tomato coursed sweet and Dottie felt the sharp softened in juices, then
blended with the salt and brine of the olives, the grit of feta. Through it all,
there were the noodles, which twirled cool and slim over her palate. They
were a surprise, Asian upstarts with attitude among the Greeks. Rebellious.
Dottie’s international conversants chattered in the sunlight and she
ingested it all. She spoke to them all and she listened to the characters in
her book and she discussed possible plot twists with the author. The world
spun through her kitchen.
Everyone fell silent for a moment, when she glanced at Gavin’s
placemat. She stopped chewing and her fingers rested at the corner of her
page, just about to turn. “You would have loved this,” she said out loud.
“Even the cold noodles.” And she knew him well. She knew he would.
She missed him. They shared so much, but not red bell peppers,
onions, tomatoes, black and green olives, feta cheese, and ramen. The
ramen was so good.
By the end of her meal, she was ready for the interplay with wine.
She raised her glass and toasted her book. She toasted her empty bowl.
Dottie wondered if it was too soon.
She toasted Gavin’s placemat.
TUESDAY DINNER: Saute one diced chicken breast in two
tablespoons butter. When chicken is done, stir in one cup chopped onion
and two tablespoons flour. Cook until deep brown. Add one cup water, one
tablespoon vinegar, one tablespoon snipped parsley and one teaspoon
each tarragon and thyme. Bring to a boil, simmer for one minute and serve
over hot boiled ramen noodles.

Dottie turned on the new television in the kitchen as she cooked.

She’d gone out today special just to buy it. In the house she shared with
Gavin, the house where they raised their children, there was always only
one television. That was kept in the family room. Dottie always wanted a
television in the kitchen. She wanted the company of voices and faces,
even faces she didn’t know, as she prepared meals. Gavin worried that if
there was a television in the kitchen, they would start to watch it during
mealtimes, and conversation would stop. So for years, she made do with
132 / Evening Street Review 32

the radio, snapping it off when her family congregated for the meal.
Her children used to complain that there wasn’t a small television
upstairs that could be wheeled into their bedrooms on days they were home
sick from school. Instead, once they were feeling well enough to crack
their eyes open through the swamp of a cold or the puffiness of the stomach
flu, they had to trek downstairs to the family room couch, where Dottie
bolstered them with pillows and blankets and stacks of Kleenex and
saltines, bowls of soup and plastic cups of white soda. Gavin again worried
that a television available to the bedrooms might encourage the kids, or
even Gavin and Dottie, into holing up behind closed doors.
Gavin was a family man. Dottie loved him for it. Now the kids
were scattered and he was gone. She missed him.
But Dottie had her new kitchen TV, a small set that fit snugly on
her counter. Tomorrow, Dottie was considering going back and getting a
second set for their bedroom. Her bedroom. Maybe. She read before
sleeping, of course. But it would be nice to have the company of the
television as she took her shower in the morning, as she made the bed, or
unmade it at night.
Now, a blond woman softly murmured the news as Dottie sauteed
her chicken. She only paid half attention to the television, but it provided
her with a voice and a face besides her own, just as Dottie always wanted.
Even after retirement, Gavin stayed out of the kitchen until the meal was
served. It was her domain, he said. She hummed as she stirred in the onion
(again!) and flour. Onion was a new persistent presence in her usually
lemon-cleaned kitchen. The air felt rich, foreign and familiar at the same
Tonight’s recipe was called Chicken Diablo. Dottie Googled the
word and laughed when she saw it translated into devil. She was making
a chicken devil dinner in her kitchen. Complete with ramen noodles.
After browning the chicken and bringing the pan to a boil, Dottie
turned when she heard the newscaster’s voice raise a pitch. Dottie crossed
over to the television and turned up the volume.
Beheading. A beheading performed by a man with a draped black scarf
over his face. The scarf, which fell from his lower eyelids to his neck, didn’t
manage to hide the self-satisfied smile raising his cheekbones. Dottie
remembered that smile from her children, when they passed spelling exams,
captured the lead in the school play, convinced Dottie that their curfew was too
early. Gavin had that smile too, sometimes, when he landed a promotion at
work, or after a particularly satisfying round of love-making. “Quit looking so
smug,” she would tease him.
2021, Winter / 133

That smile on the masked man was incongruent and shocking.

Now a new face filled the screen, the man who was beheaded, but
here, still intact, his eyes so full of despair, so free of hope, Dottie pulled
up her hands to her mouth to keep her scream in. To keep the children who
no longer lived there from hearing, to hold all the emotion in until she
could tell her husband, spill it to him, have him tell her that she was safe.
Until they could talk about it in whispers in bed that night, their heads
nestled on pillows, their faces inches from each other, the news pushed by
their words firmly back to the other side of the globe. Whole oceans away.
Dottie’s breath when Gavin kissed her goodnight sweet with toothpaste
peppermint. Her lips warm, naked, not waxy.
But on this night, he wouldn’t be there to tell. Dottie clamped her
lips closed, holding in not only the scream, but the newly onioned breath
that must surely be keeping her husband away. Which surely left her all
alone. Despite the television voices and faces in her kitchen, providing her
with company in her domain.
The newscaster was becoming a siren.
Dottie turned off the television. She unplugged it. Then she
returned to the stove, where her Chicken Diablo boiled for over the
required minute. She pulled it from the burner.
There was a devil in her kitchen that night.
Dottie told herself to focus on the matter at hand, to stay in the
approved site, her own kitchen, and not oceans away. She carefully
presented the meal on her plate. The noodles first, scattered evenly in a
perfect circle. Then the chicken mixture, spread on top. By the time she
sat down, Dottie wasn’t shaking quite so badly. She would, she decided,
call her daughter after dinner. They could talk of their days. Dottie would
offer her the little television, laughing at her own folly for buying it. “What
was I thinking?” she would say. “A kitchen doesn’t need a television.”
She poured herself a chardonnay. Unlike lunch, the wine didn’t
have to wait. There was no water to her right. Just a long-stemmed wine
glass. It was hand-painted, a red and orange and gold autumn tree ablaze,
sending sparks of leaves to the ground. In the cabinet, there was a twin.
Gavin and she bought the glasses on a trip to Door County a year before
Gavin died.
Dottie glanced at Gavin’s placemat, then retrieved the twin glass
from the cabinet. She filled it, clinked her glass to it, took a sip, then
propped her book on the book pile. She knew she would drink Gavin’s
glass later, after dinner. But for now, it stood sentinel.
He led her to safe places. He told her what was safe.
134 / Evening Street Review 32

She was safe.

Scooping up a forkful of hot ramen noodles, sautéed chicken,
onion, vinegar, parsley, thyme, tarragon and flour, Dottie thrust it all in
her mouth. And then she chewed on the devil. She chewed until she could
swallow and then she washed the devil away with a swig of good wine.
It was warm in her kitchen, though the sun no longer shone. The
utilitarian round light on her ceiling did. The air was heady with onion and
chicken, vinegar and spices, and her mouth, if Gavin kissed it, would taste
of chardonnay. Dottie turned to the next page in her book.
She missed her husband. But she was safe. Still, she glanced at the
dark outside the window. She wondered if it was too soon.
WEDNESDAY DESSERT: Place three sponge cake dessert cups
on a plate. Top each with a sliced banana, one-third cup maraschino
cherries, a third of a package of fried ramen noodles and a cup each of
hot fudge sauce.
On Wednesday, Dottie invited her sister over for dessert. She
needed to divide and share the ramen dessert recipe she found. With three
sponge cake dessert cups, she and Margaret could have one and a half
each, and not feel too piggish. Dottie never could have eaten all three by
herself. Well, she could, but she wouldn’t.
Having her sister there surrounded Dottie with familiarity, with
the comfort of home, but a home well before this one. When she and
Margaret were growing up, their parents often had friends over for dessert.
They met in the living room and Dottie’s mother served coffee in a special
silver urn that sat on a silver tray, and the coffee cups were made of special
Italian glass. Dottie used to look at them through the window of the dining
room china cabinet. She used to dream of a time when she would serve
coffee and cake to her own friends, in that urn, in those cups, with her
husband sitting in a leather chair, holding forth. Maybe even smoking a
Gavin never smoked. Dottie, as an adult, was glad of it.
Now, she served her sister. Her coffee pot wasn’t a silver urn, but
a nice decanter. The cups, however, were their mother’s. When their
mother died, Dottie kept the cups. Margaret kept the silver urn. The sisters
sat on the couch together, each grayed head turned to the other. In the
corner, the leather chair was empty, but Dottie turned on the reading lamp
every night. Even though she never sat there.
“This…is weird,” Margaret said as Dottie plated a dessert and a
half and gave it to her. “There’s ramen in this?”
2021, Winter / 135

“Yes.” Dottie went on to describe how she fried the ramen noodle
brick in a skillet. How the noodles turned brown and crispy, like those odd
chow mein noodles their mother used to serve with canned chop suey.
How Dottie ate one, and it was like a spaghetti-shaped potato chip.
As girls, Dottie and Margaret loved the canned chop suey. Their
father hated it, and so their mother always made it as a special treat when
he was away on business. For dessert, her mother slid a frozen banana
cream pie out of a box, then sliced it. Her father hated the pie too. Dottie
hadn’t had these in years. She made a mental note to look for each item on
her next trip to the grocery store.
After pouring coffee in the special Italian mugs, they each
gathered a forkful of dessert into their mouths. They crunched together.
Margaret delicately dabbed a bit of hot fudge sauce from the corner of her
“It’s weird, but good!” she said.
Dottie agreed.
They alternated bites with sips of coffee and with memories of
home pulled up by the flavors. Mom and Dad and several of their
neighbors dancing to music on the new console, delivered that day and the
first in their subdivision. The record player had a special arm that held
multiple records up, dropping them one by one onto the rotating platter.
The music that came out of the speakers was lovely, but more fascinating
was watching the needle’s steady ride inward over the grooves, the arm
pulling up, a new record plunking down, and then it all started again. Their
parents didn’t even stop dancing. They just kept going, having faith that
the music would last forever.
Through each scene remembered, Dottie and Margaret smacked
their lips over the chemical sweetness of maraschino cherries, their teeth
turning pink. The tender squash of bananas and the rubbery solidity of hot
fudge. And there was the delicate snap of the fried ramen noodles between
their teeth. Their voices alternately clogged and cleared as they chewed
and swallowed, and their laughter at times made them choke. Margaret,
totally undone, lifted her plate and licked it clean. Dottie, first aghast, tried
swiping up the remains with a finger, but then gave in and licked her plate
too. Their girlhood reflected in their tongued clean plates.
After carrying their dishes into the kitchen, Margaret and Dottie
hugged at the front door. “So,” Margaret said. “You seem okay. Are you
Dottie shrugged. “Most of the time, I am.” But her eyes filled.
They hugged again.
136 / Evening Street Review 32

Dottie locked the door behind Margaret. She left Gavin’s reading
light on. The others, she switched off. She darkened the kitchen as well
after starting the dishwasher. It took four days now to earn enough dishes
to run it. For a moment, she appreciated the steady rhythm of the jets,
filling her kitchen with ocean sounds and lemon scent.
As she left the kitchen, she slowly trailed her fingers over Gavin’s
placemat. Then she took a glass of wine with her to the family room, where
she settled down in her recliner with her book. Here, she didn’t need the
stack to prop the book at reading height. Her raised knees did it for her.
She found herself content in this quiet, with the ocean a kitchen
away. She felt she could hear the echo of her laughter with her sister,
wisping in from the living room. She could still smell the frying ramen,
and the new sharp of onion. Beneath that, still detectable, there was the
sound of the family room television and Gavin’s steady commentary, even
though the television was turned off and his recliner’s footrest was neatly
tucked in.
But she was content, despite the tears that swelled earlier. And
swelled again now.
She wondered if it was too soon.
THURSDAY SNACK: Mix together two packages of uncooked
broken ramen noodles, two cups Chex cereal, and one cup each pretzels
and peanuts. Melt a cup of butter and stir in one teaspoon season salt and
one tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. Pour over the noodles and cereal
mixture, stirring well. Bake in 250 degree oven for one hour, stirring every
fifteen minutes. Cool and serve.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, Dottie took a bowl of her new
ramen noodle snack out onto the back stoop. She also carried a glass of
iced tea, fresh-brewed, complete with a few squirts of juice from a plastic
lemon and a generous helping of sugar.
For her snacktime, Dottie didn’t require a book. She liked the back
stoop, the view of her yard, the trees in their varying styles of dress. Only
the coldest days kept Dottie indoors, and then she sat at a table by a
window, so she could still see the yard. During that frigid season, the trees
were draped in white and sparkled with ice, but the green always shining
through promised spring. Dottie liked to think that’s why the trees were
called evergreens; they embodied hope.
It wasn’t snowy now, though, but just the beginning of the
lackluster heat of summer. Dottie kicked off her sandals and wiggled her
toes against the coolness of the concrete steps.
2021, Winter / 137

During weekends and school breaks, her children sometimes

joined her here. After retirement, Gavin did as well. But Dottie thought of
it as a solitary place and so to be alone here felt routine and familiar.
Not all that was familiar was routine anymore. Normalcy, she
knew, was seeping into the rest of her new life as well. A new normal that
was not hoped for, not dreamed of, and certainly not welcomed. But it
came along anyway.
Dottie used her finger to stir the snack in the bowl. She filled her
fist full, trying to get an even assortment of noodles, cereal, peanuts and
pretzels, and she siphoned it into her mouth.
As everything snapped and popped between her teeth, giving off
random bursts of flavor and salt and Worcestershire, she let her eyes rove
the yard. In the center, there used to be a swingset. There were still two
bare oblong spots where the kids spiked their toes to gain momentum and
height, where they dragged their heels to stop. In the back left corner was
her vegetable garden. Gavin tilled it at the start of spring, then died several
weeks later. She hadn’t planted. She wasn’t sure then that she was strong
enough to handle a garden on her own. The separating of dirt, the
placement of plants and seeds. The constant weeding and watering. The
harvest and the putting up. Now, in this new familiar, she knew she was
okay. Even when her eyes filled. But it was too late, and she would have
to wait until next spring, when she would look at that plot of ground and
see a new sort of anniversary. She wondered if there were anniversaries
around death dates. She thought she would take herself, alone, out to
dinner at a fine restaurant on that night. Just as she and Gavin did for years,
for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and every Saturday.
In the other corner of the yard and along the sides of the fence
were her flowers. Many of them were perennials and so they grew and
bloomed without her, though she started offering up some care again. But
the annuals, the marigolds, the pansies, the begonias, were missing. She
never made it to the garden center. Now they were all sold out. Like the
vegetables, they would wait until next year.
Dottie took a sip of tea, another handful of her mix.
The trees were a riot of summertime green. From some, pine cones
drooped. Dottie thought they looked like her breasts when she took off her
bra at night. The thought made her laugh. She wished she could share the
thought and the laugh with Gavin. She and he would dovetail.
She wished he was there.
But he wasn’t. He hadn’t been since spring. And Dottie was
moving into a new season.
138 / Evening Street Review 32

She made a mental note to tell her sister about the pine cones and
then she stirred through her bowl again. This time, she tried to get only the
ramen noodles. She pushed aside the squares of cereal, the pretzel twists
and the peanuts. A pile of curlicues, browned by heat and Worcestershire
sauce, mounded in the belly of her bowl. Dottie scooped up the noodles,
and bit into them, enjoying the percussion. Then she swirled the mix all
together again, and finished it off, alternating with sips of her sweet iced
Pushing herself up, Dottie gathered this new familiarity around
her and prepared to go back inside. She would call her sister, and maybe
her daughter too. They could laugh over the pine cones and her daughter
just might gasp at the ramen snack digesting in her mother’s ample belly.
Dottie would assure her she had orange juice at breakfast. And that she
was preparing one of Gavin’s favorite meals for supper.
A braised pork chop. A leafy salad, topped with cucumber, the
flirt of cherry tomatoes, and the special croutons that Dottie made herself.
The dressing too, parmesan ranch. A side of green beans, laced with sliced
almonds. Italian bread, warm, thick with butter.
But Dottie decided she wouldn’t tell her daughter that she replaced
the sliced almonds in the green beans with the crunch of fried ramen. She
wouldn’t tell her daughter that she planned on having chili ramen soup
tomorrow for lunch, complete with two sliced-up hot dogs popping up like
porky life preservers in a red and noodly sea.
She would tell her sister. She’d also tell her that there was canned
chop suey in the cupboard, along with chow mein noodles, and a boxed
banana cream pie in the freezer. She might even invite her sister over for
dinner. Dottie could put on the radio, they could find an oldies station, and
they could dance to the songs their parents danced to. They could giggle.
Dottie missed her husband. Even as she let the screen door squeak
closed behind her, she wished she heard his voice, asking if that was her,
even though he knew very well it was. She wished she could go in and
find him in his reading chair, and she wished she could plaster a waxy
lipstick kiss on the top of his head.
But it was all right. She could still hear him as this new silence
enveloped her and became the familiar of years. His echo blended in with
those who were still here, their daughter’s voice on the phone expressing
alarm over sodium, her sister’s voice on the couch as they laughed over
memories. Dottie was safe. There was a good book to read. Dinner to
prepare. A glass of wine to savor.
2021, Winter / 139

She missed him. She was content. She was safe and okay, even
when her eyes filled.
It wasn’t too soon at all.


No light in this mud:

agent of slippage and creep,
pore pressure and water flux
brings out the big gun, lets go.

As when Donald McAlister’s house

is moved a thousand feet in seconds,
and he and Florence in it.

His last words goddamn it,

but Florence didn’t hear because
it’s coming in the windows now—
no trickle under sill this time.

How much can fit

through an ordinary double-hung,
a gallon weighing seven pounds plus?

It’s over for Florence, Donald two rooms away

choking on his goddamn.

In Seattle, the governor

holds a news conference at noon while oil-
slicked water flows in the gutters,
the blue-black iridescence a “sheen”
swallowed by sewer grates
on which you could bake salmon
if water were fire.
140 / Evening Street Review 32

But like the lick of flames, water

has its own impossible murmur,
and the complexity of rain our undoing.

The O’Neill Dancers Are Dancing Today, March 17

Mrs. Molina’s dancers are dancing at noon.
Beneath the one stoplight, on the intersection—
wide shamrock traced by O’Neill city
workers upon last year’s shamrock, traffic worn,
this year with a new flourish here and there.
And Mrs. Molina’s dancers dancing there,
the K-2 group, the 3-5 group, the middle
schoolers and then, trained under her expert
tutelage for who knows how many years,
the high school dancers, dressed to show
a little leg, etc., and they’re good, very
good, and god the crowd loves them,
the green-faced-painted crowd in this
town of green beer and green whisky,
the Mexican and Asian immigrants staying
home because they don’t know what
to make of it, the parade, the green pie-baking
contest, the green auction and the Don’t
Pinch Me I’m Wearing Green buttons and
the Pinch Me Please! I’m Irish buttons and
who the hell was St, Patrick anyway
a well-imbibed protestant asks in all
sincerity and a Catholic neighbor,
similarly imbibed, says from down the
bar, Erin Go Bragh, and the other says
OK OK I get it and they all do,
the parade over, the dancing over, Mass said,
traffic flowing again through the stop-lighted
intersection, the odd traveler wondering who
the hell spilled green paint on the street,
the only shamrock in America emblazoned
on US 20 the town claims. (cont)
2021, Winter / 141

Who the hell the traveler thinks as 20 winds

its rural and desolate way lucklessly
into America’s heartland, while back in
O’Neill everyone knows that the shamrock’s
impressive vitality is a sign of sacredness,
that it’s high in protein and quite digestible
if boiled for five to ten minutes.

Toward a Practical Life

Now that I’ve learned to make a fire by rubbing
two sticks together, what else is there?
The smoke, that small flame jumping from
the tinder a delicate yellow, its base clear, curved
like a quarter moon, and then the twig pile catching.
I cupped my hands over the growing
flame to feel the heat, to assure
myself that I’d done this and could again.
When the cops arrived to give me a ticket for
burning without a permit, neither seemed
impressed that I’d learned the skill.
While one wrote the ticket, the other
leaned against their cruiser, smoking a cigarette.
I scattered the embers of my fire, which flared
for a moment before going out.


The Violin
Gina waited backstage, bouncing from foot to foot in the way that
adrenaline-fueled boxers often do before a fight. Pacing footwork was now
142 / Evening Street Review 32

cellular memory from so much training. She wasn’t even aware she was
doing it. Fast feet, her trainer called it. “Hands up, fast feet, cover your
Athletic from birth, there were few sports she hadn’t mastered, but
boxing was grueling work. She liked the odds against her opponent and
wanted to win. Okay, the fight wasn’t the main reason she was here, but
after all of the planning and hard training, she really did want to win this
thing. Both the fight and the investigation.
Gina was pure FBI, just like her dad. She had trained at Quantico,
one of the few women in her to class to graduate. Her cohort of all guys
had given her the nickname “The Violin” because, well, she was the only
member of the team with curves. She took it all in stride, and now her team
was on the hunt for gambling manipulation in undercard boxing matches.
She had every reason to believe her opponent was in on it. An embroidered
violin in the wrist of her glove held a tiny microphone, and her team was
situated around the room.

The Lion
Lisa waited backstage and was far calmer than her opponent. Both
more experienced and older, she knew about energy conservation before a
match. Instead of doing the amped-up boxer shuffle, she leaned against a
training table while her manager tightened the laces on her gloves. Her dad
had been a welterweight champion, and Lisa had grown up in the ring. He
gave her the nickname “The Lion” for how fearless she was, even as a little
kid. “You ever see a girl take a hit like that?” he would say to his buddies
when the little Lion sparred with (and beat) boys her age at the gym.
She wasn’t nervous about heading into the ring; she was nervous
about the other reason she was here. The Boxing League, along with the
FDA, had convinced her to help with surveillance. They were looking for
boxers who were using a new and highly undetectable form of steroid, and
her opponent was a prime suspect. No one was built like Gina without
Her headband with a screen-printed roaring lion had hidden wires
tucked inside, and her support team was stationed nearby.

The Announcer
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Obsidian Winds Casino and
Resort, home of silver dollar madness Thursdays! Folks, you are in for a
treat. We have two undercard fights tonight leading up to the big match.
Our first bout is between these two fierce lady fighters.
2021, Winter / 143

“In this corner, weighing in at one hundred and fifty-six pounds,

the challenger and newcomer, Gina ‘The Violin’ LoCoco. And in this
corner, weighing in at one hundred and forty pounds, the defending
champion, Lisa ‘The Lion’ MacAvoy.
“Tonight’s referee is Jimmy Roberts. You know, folks, there isn’t
a rule in the book that Jimmy doesn’t know. He’s a legend! And now, from
Obsidian Winds Casino, Antler Clash Auditorium, let’s lock horns!”

The Bout
“Your footwork is good. Your upper body is moving well, but
you’re leaving holes. Keep that block moving.”
Gina nodded, listening to her trainer. The first two rounds had
gone well, and she was holding her own in the match. Now that she was
more comfortable in the ring, it was time to do the real work on this so-
called Lion.
At the bell, both women jumped up, met in the center of the ring,
and resumed dancing, moving, jabbing, dodging. As if on cue, they both
saw a moment and lunged into a clinch.
Gina held her glove with the violin microphone as close to Lisa’s
mouth as possible and said, “Is the fix in on this fight? What about the next
Lisa tilted her screen-printed lion headband toward Gina and said,
“You don’t have to do this. You are a genuine fighter. Tell me
what you know.”
“What I know is that you are awfully well-connected with Robust
Pharma. I must say, it’s working for you, but it’s illegal. Tell me the source
for your stuff, and we’ll cut you a deal.”
Gina pushed her glove closer, “Wait, what?”
“Okay, ladies, break it up. The audience came to see a fight, not a
waltz,” Jimmy said, wedging himself between the two spies, both chasing
the wrong lead.
Gina and Lisa stepped back and sized each other up, confused
about what to do next.
Right on time, the bell rang and round three was over.

The Truth
“Hey, hey, Jimmy! There you are. Beautiful job on that undercard
fight tonight. Subtle but effective,” Hal Brady said, slapping a bulging
envelope into the veteran referee’s hand.
144 / Evening Street Review 32

“Glad you’re pleased, Mr. Brady. Do you have next week’s list?”
“Not yet, but I like your enthusiasm. The Boss made a killing
today on that girl fight. That one looked real good. You kept it nice and
close to the end. That big Violin really has something, huh?”
“Yeah, she’s green, but she’s strong.”
“I’ll talk to the Boss. Maybe we let that Violin play a little
on the next one, huh?”
“You tell me, Mr. Brady.”
“Heeeey, what? I love a guy that follows orders. Okay,
gotta run. We’ll be in touch.”
“Sure, yeah, have a good evening.”
Jimmy slipped the thick envelope into his jacket pocket and heard
someone approaching from the other direction. His sideline was a hustle
every fight night.
“Hey, Jim. Hey, man, you got some for me?”
It was Lucas Landers, a fireplug of a kid with a brutal left hook
and a promising future.
“You got the cash?”
“Yeah, man, here,” Lucas said, handing him a wadded
McDonald’s bag filled with bills.
Jimmy reached into his duffel bag and withdrew a box of vials.
Handing it to the young man, he said, “Here’s the stuff, Landers. Go easy
on it, huh?”
“Yeah, man, cool.”
Jimmy watched the kid walk away and waited for his next
Another lucrative day of undetected grift.

No doubt about it: I’m one lucky customer,
with my brand-new consumer information catalog,
free of charge, courtesy of the Federal Citizen Information Center
in Pueblo, Colorado. Now I’ll find out how to keep my heart healthy,
2021, Winter / 145

discover twelve ways to lower my auto insurance costs,

learn how to get an updated National Park System guide,

choose a cellular service, build a better credit record,

prevent food-borne illness, bone up on osteoporosis,

avoid foreclosure, select a new water heater, buy cheese,

prepare for retirement, plan my estate, and arrange my funeral.

Thanks to all the excellent booklets I’ll order from my catalog,

I’ll never have to worry about anything at all, ever again.


Taken verbatim from Treacy & Wiersema’s The

Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers,
Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market (Perseus
Books, 1995), pg. 50.

Excellent companies run themselves

like the Marine Corps: The team is what counts,

not the individual….

The heroes…are the people who fit in….

These companies aren’t looking for free spirits.

They want people who are trainable….

What’s important is not who you are

but what the company will make out of you….

The best team player…will get his or her name

added to the plaque in the employee lunchroom….

The plaque itself—inexpensive…public—symbolizes much

about the company’s culture….

Excellent companies can reward…employees

with an instant photo glued to that cheap plaque.
146 / Evening Street Review 32


Paul is sitting in the bedroom of his small apartment on the lower

east side of New York City, trying his best to keep the twelve students in
his Zoom English class engaged in a discussion of Frankenstein by Mary
Shelley. The antique language of the book is difficult for his community
college students but they’re all gamely plowing through. At least the genre
of the book must be familiar to them: Netflix and Hulu and all the other
streaming services they are likely wired into are swollen with horror movie
The school requires that he teach this book and help his students
analyze its meaning and discuss what life lessons they have learned from
the story. Paul was told that the point of this exercise is to help his students
develop a relationship with great literature, but he suspects there is another
motive at play here: the people in his class, most of them adults and some
still not completely fluent in English, are being groomed to enter the
American workforce, or perhaps rise a little further in the ranks than where
they now find themselves. This particular community college is not a
feeder school for the nation’s fine universities: it is a factory, designed to
pump out copy after copy of low-to-mid-level customer service
representatives, bank tellers, sales managers, and the like. These future
employees are reading classic literature as a way to help them understand
and evaluate text so that, in the future, when they are studying technical
manuals and memos from their bosses, they will be able to comprehend
the information being conveyed to them and act on in it in a manner that
will reflect well on them personally, on their work ethic, and most
importantly, on their company’s bottom line.
That is, of course, given that business and industry—along with
the economy’s public service sector—survive the coronavirus. The
nonprofit foundation where Paul worked for nearly two decades has not:
its shoestring budget, dedicated to finding safe housing for the indigent
and homeless, could not stretch past the spring. Now, in the fall, with
schools opening up again, some in person but many online, Paul has made
use of his forty-year-old master’s degree in English (Not quite as antique
as Mary Shelly, Paul has thought more than once, but in the running), and
found work at the community college based in New Jersey where he is
now an adjunct professor. Paul has never actually set foot in the place. The
school was desperate for teachers and Paul was desperate for work.
Seventy minutes after the class began, Paul says good-bye to the
2021, Winter / 147

faces in the boxes onscreen—his virtual students, beaming into his

bedroom from beyond the Hudson River, across the towering cliff of the
Palisades that guard the Jersey shore. He makes some notes, sends an
email to one of the students who needs some extra encouragement. You’re
doing really well, Paul writes. Please let me know if you have any
questions about the book that I can help you with.
It’s late in the afternoon when he finally turns off his computer.
Then he clicks on the tv and switches around the channels to see what the
news is. Every channel seems to be running breaking news banners no
matter what time of day or night it is because everything seems a hundred
times worse than it ever was and one thing happens after another after
another: crazy politics, crazy weather, crazy people screaming in each
other’s faces, with or without masks.
He eats dinner, watches Jeopardy to assure himself that even at
the age of sixty-four, his mind is still able to range across a wide array of
subject matter (he knows the answer to a good number of the questions)
and then grabs his jacket and a six-pack of beer from the fridge and heads
up to the roof of his building. It’s a cool night but still mild enough to sit
Soon, the door at the end of the interior staircase that leads to the
roof creaks open and Paul’s friend Nat steps out. The two men wave at
each other, a half-welcoming, half-ironic gesture, because, after all, they
are adults, not playmates escaping from their family group to meet up on
the roof of an old tenement in an old part of the city.
In fact, this has become a regular routine for the two men who
were not close friends before the pandemic but probably are, now. In the
world of before, these two were mostly drinking buddies who knew each
other from hanging out a bar near St. Mark’s Place where, over the years,
they felt comfortable having a few beers now and then. But the bar has
been closed for months and rumor has it that it will never open up again.
Since they both live in the same neighborhood, getting together on the roof
of this building has become an easy fix, for Nat, for the tedium of only
seeing the other repairmen on the Con Edison street crews he works with
and a welcome relief for Paul from being alone most of the time, except
for online classes and Zoom chats with distant friends. (The roof of Nat’s
building is inaccessible due to a double-locked door, which is probably
illegal but who is going to do anything about that?)
Paul is sitting in one of the pair of beach chairs he keeps hidden
up here, stashed behind a pile of metal struts left over from some long-ago
repairs to the water tower. Nat, a big, beefy fellow with several corny
148 / Evening Street Review 32

tattoos (an anchor, a hula girl) from a long-ago tour of duty in the Navy,
lowers himself into the other chair and Paul hands him a bottle of Sam
“Thanks,” Nat says, as the two men click their beer bottles
together. After that, good citizens that they are, they move their chairs a
distance apart, sitting separately but still feeling connected. Paul and Nat
know each other’s stories: Paul is long divorced, and though there have
been women in his life since that time, there is no one now. Nat is a
widower: his wife died of pancreatic cancer five years ago and though he
would like to move out of the apartment they shared for decades because
he still thinks he will see her walking out of the bedroom or the kitchen,
smiling at him, he is trapped by rent stabilization. He could never afford a
different apartment in the city, and neither could Paul, who has lived in his
small place for what feels like forever.
“It still looks the same, doesn’t it?” Nat says, gesturing towards
the cityscape spread out before them. From where they’re sitting, they can
see much of the East Village, with its mix of old tenements and new
construction—fabulously modern co-ops and condos with equally
fabulous price tags—as well as the East River, with Queens and Brooklyn
on the far shore.
“It does and it doesn’t,” Paul says, sipping his beer. “Or maybe I
just mean that it feels different. Emptier. And all those sirens—they wake
me up almost every night.”
“Yeah, right,” Nat says. “Last spring it was the ambulances, now
it’s the cops. Bang, bang, bang, every night. And there are so many gang
killings—gangs,” Nat repeats, for emphasis. “When did Manhattan
become major gang territory?” He really doesn’t expect Paul to offer an
answer that question, so he supplies his own commentary. “Everything’s
all screwed up.”
Paul nods yes, but wishes he didn’t really agree. Maybe he
doesn’t, entirely, because Nat left one thing out: the protests that managed,
for a while, to turn the city’s attention from the virus to the cause of racial
injustice. Paul joined in a few times because he’s an old hippie—at least,
he kind of thinks of himself that way—and he marched in a number of
Vietnam protests back in the day, stomping through the streets of
Manhattan with thousands of other young men and women fired up with
their patriotic ideals of what they wanted America to be and what they
wanted their future to offer: a recognition of the basic humanity, and thus
the equality of all men and women everywhere. Well, that certainly was a
hope that didn’t even come near to being recognized, so Paul felt an
2021, Winter / 149

obligation to join the new protests against the systemic injustice baked into
the American way of life. But to his great surprise, after stepping off into
the river of people chanting slogans and waving banners—thousands of
people; righteous, serious people committed to their cause—Paul felt
completely out of place. Though there were certainly other men and
women his age mixed in with the younger marchers—not many,
admittedly, but some—Paul felt too old to be in there, among the new
troops of the progressive left. He had tried to reason with himself, to tell
himself that he was being ridiculous, but he couldn’t change how he felt,
which was that his time for that kind of thing had passed. Once, he even
stared at himself in the bathroom mirror for a good long while to try to
convince himself that he didn’t look his age, and what he saw was a once-
handsome-and-still-not-bad-looking guy with graying hair, his second-
generation Irish mother’s blue eyes, and what he thought was a generally
thoughtful but still genial expression on his face. Not bad, but even that
didn’t help. The protests went on without Paul, who stopped sending
himself into the streets.
“On a lighter note,” Nat says, tipping his Sam Adams forward so
that the brown bottle seems to be acting like a pointer aimed at something
important, “you know what sitting up here reminds me of? That old
Drifters song.”
“Up on the Roof,” Paul says, and immediately hears the lyrics
begin to play in his head. It’s the kind of song, he thinks, that you never
“Right,” Nat says. “It’s like the sixties are back.”
“Well,” Paul responds, “that might not be such a bad thing.”
They hang out on the roof for another hour or so and then Nat says
he’d better be going—he has to get up early for work tomorrow. Nat is one
of the more fortunate people in New York who has remained employed
throughout the pandemic: no matter what, the city’s electrical utility has
to keep the power keep flowing through its high-tension veins and Nat,
who is a good ten years younger than Paul, has been out working on the
crews that are digging up streets and crawling through manholes to wrestle
with the billion intricate parts of the municipal power grid.
Paul lingers a while after Nat has gone. The moon has risen over
the city, a big, round, glowing happy face of white light that almost makes
things below seem normal. Soon it will be October; Halloween is in the
offing, though Paul assumes the little kiddos dressed like ghosts and
superheroes won’t be coming around for candy this year because the moon
can go on smiling all it wants: things aren’t normal this autumn and likely
150 / Evening Street Review 32

won’t be for a long time. He was feeling better when he was singing Up
on the Roof to himself but now, that good feeling is beginning to fade
He goes back down to his apartment and turns on the tv again, but
soon turns it off. There’s nothing he wants to watch and besides, he’s
feeling restless. He’s been staring at screens all day, people on screens,
screens winking on, winking off. He just can’t look anymore. He wants to
do something else.
Wandering into his bedroom, Paul finds his attention drawn to the
radio sitting on shelf next to his computer desk. This isn’t an ordinary
radio: it’s a ham set that belonged to his older brother, Adam, who died
around the same time Nat’s wife did. Also cancer; also a cause for
incurable sadness. The brothers, who lived in different states, still
managed to be good friends. They visited each other, often talked on the
phone. It fell to Paul and an older sister that the brothers were fond of but
not particularly close to, to clean out Adam’s small apartment. Adam
worked in a shop in Philadelphia where he repaired antique lamps and
chandeliers; it was skilled and complicated work that he loved doing. Paul
is sure that this is so: his memory of his brother is filled with images of
Adam tinkering with all kinds of small appliances and electronics—he was
a natural with things like that. Paul thought that Adam’s affinity for fixing
broken wiring and handling delicate, expensive art deco glass and
eighteenth-century lights and lamps was akin to magic.
The ham radio, however, was his real love in the world. He, too,
had been divorced long in the past, but he never seemed lonely—after all,
as he said, he talked to people all over the world, all night long. Adam had
built his first radio when he was a teenager, using parts he scrounged at
the local dump or purchased, cheap, from the kind of electronics repair
shop that hardly exists anymore. In his later years, he was able to buy
whatever he needed online and the radio that he owned when he died, built
and rebuilt over and over again on the bones of the original, was a complex
device connected to a compact but powerful antenna that he had installed
on his balcony. These were among the only items Paul took home with
him from Adam’s apartment, along with a few photographs and a faded
denim jacket with a Grateful Dead patch on the back that Paul remembered
his brother wearing. He didn’t intend to wear it himself: he just knew he
would like to see it hanging in his coat closet whenever he opened the
door, and he was right. He did.
Along with the radio, Paul also had Adam’s ham license, which
he had received at the age of sixteen after passing several arduous tests
2021, Winter / 151

and achieving the highest level of licensing available. He also had a

wooden plaque on which he had etched his call signal, KA6BLJ, with a
woodburning tool.
Paul had installed the radio on his bookshelf along with the
wooden plaque, but he packed away the antenna because he wasn’t sure
how to set it up and filed the license in with his other important papers. He
kept the microphone that was attached to the radio turned off because he
was only vaguely familiar with how to use the device to actually call other
ham operators and talk to them (what Paul knew was only what he
remembered from watching his brother when he was a kid), and besides,
his brother had once explained to him when he had asked if he could speak
into the mic, that only licensed radio operators were allowed to make
contact on the amateur radio bands, which reached across the globe.
Now, however, somewhat to his surprise, Paul has found that he
enjoys using the radio as a kind of scanner: he had gone online and looked
up the public service frequencies employed by the police and fire
department along with the air traffic overhead and the marine bands that
let him listen in to what men and women were talking about on the tug
boats and other working vessels sailing up and down the Hudson and East
Rivers. He likes listening to all this chatter and finds that it helps ease him
into the later hours of the night.
Pulling his desk chair nearer to the bookcase, Paul sits down and
turns on the radio. For half an hour or so, he listens to pilots of commercial
airliners talking to the control tower as they make their approach to
Kennedy Airport; their cool, measured voices fly down from the sky to be
captured by the radio. Paul closes his eyes and begins to relax.
Suddenly, the pilots’ voices fade away and all Paul hears on the
radio is a lot of static. Then there are some sharp clicks and an odd buzzing
sound; Paul leans forward to reach for the dial to try and tune in the
channel he was listening to, but just as he does, he sees the numbers of an
unfamiliar frequency appear on the radio’s screen. In glowing green, he
reads 145.7750 megahertz. He has no idea what that means.
He has his phone in his pocket, so he types in the numbers and the
question, Ham radio frequency? When the answer pops up in Google, he
is astonished to find that he has somehow tuned into an amateur radio
repeater in the north of Russia. He can’t imagine how that’s possible since,
without Adam’s long-range antenna set up, all the radio is using is its own
internal antenna, which can’t possibly be pulling in an international ham
frequency and yet, there it is, on his screen: Russia.
152 / Evening Street Review 32

Then, suddenly, he hears a human voice coming out of the radio.

A man’s voice. Faint at first but quickly, becoming stronger and more
“CQ?” the voice says. “CQ?”
Paul remembers what that means, because he remembers his
brother dialing around the ham bands and sending out a CQ call, meaning,
he was asking who might be listening on the same frequencies and want
to talk. Paul knows he’s not supposed to answer the call. He’s not a
licensed operator and absolutely should not be broadcasting. But he feels
like he can’t help himself. So, he turns on the mic, but before he can say
anything, he hears the voice again.
“CQ?” the voice repeats, and then gives his call sign. “R1YHBX,”
the voice says, and adds, “calling from Murmansk.”
Murmansk? How unbelievable is that? Paul feels like the mystery
of the moment has made a decision for him. He pushes the button on the
mic and, although he can’t remember the exact proper protocol for
responding, he says, “CQ,” speaking firmly, hoping that means he’s
answering the call he’s hearing, and then offers his brother’s call sign,
reading it off the plaque. “Calling from New York City,” he adds.
“Whoa-ho,” the voice says, sounding cheerful. “Hello, New York
“Hello, Murmansk,” Paul says. Then he says his name and the
man he’s hearing on the radio says that his name is Alexei.
Trying to orient himself, to understand where the man he is talking
to is actually sitting in a chair by radio (which Paul imagines he must be),
in a distant part of the globe, Paul asks, “Are you somewhere near
Moscow?” Not that Paul could actually place Moscow in the vastness of
Russia, which he has only seen on maps a few times, but it’s something to
try to grab onto.
However, the man’s answer starts with a hearty laugh. “No, no,”
he says. “Murmansk is almost a thousand miles away. Two degrees north
of the Arctic Circle,” he adds. “Very cold this morning.”
From that last bit of information, Paul realizes that there is quite a
time difference between himself and his radio contact, who speaks with a
heavy accent but in perfectly understandable English.
“Well, good morning,” Paul says. “It’s not too cold here yet. Nice
fall weather. And for me, it’s still nighttime,” he adds.
After this exchange of pleasantries, Paul, who is still somewhat
dazed by the fact that he’s talking to a man who lives in what sounds like
a frozen city in the far north of Mother Russia, says, “Listen, Alexi. I’m
2021, Winter / 153

glad to be talking to you but I don’t know how we’re doing this. I don’t
have any kind of antenna installed outside my place and when I heard your
CQ, I was actually just tuning around my local public service channels. I
was listening to air traffic going into Kennedy Airport.”
Does Alexi know where Kennedy Airport is? Maybe it doesn’t
matter, because he doesn’t ask. “I have an idea about that,” Alexi says.
“We’re in a solar maximum period. In this time, we have high sunspot
activity, which is great for signal propagation. Some bands that are hard
to access are suddenly open all day and night. Sometimes, in these cycles,
communications are screwed up but right now, we are good.”
“Signal propagation?” Paul says, and thinks he can figure out what
that means. “You’re telling me that because of sunspot activity, somehow,
my radio was able to capture a very distant signal even without any kind
of antenna?
“I guess so,” Alexi says. “Perhaps we both just hit some sweet
spot in the ionosphere. All the ions dancing around up there are being
supercharged by sunspots so normal refraction is causing radio waves to
travel at an angle in the sky that transmits them much farther than normal.
They can go great distances, even transcontinental distances. That’s called
skywave propagation. Or else it’s just magic,” Alexi says, and laughs
After receiving this information, only some of which Paul
understands, he isn’t sure what they should talk about next. He’s hoping
that Alexi will open a new line of conversation, but in far-away
Murmansk, the Russian radio operator has fallen silent, as if he’s waiting
for Paul to say something first. So, Paul begins with what’s always on his
mind these days.
“So, Alexi,” Paul says, “do you have Covid in Murmansk?”
“Yes, unfortunately,” Alexi responds. This is a port city. Not such
a big population—maybe 300,000 people—but the Russian Northern Fleet
is based here, so there is a great deal of back and forth between Murmansk
and other regions. It was inevitable that someone would bring it to us. The
outbreak is pretty bad.”
“Still?” Paul asks.
“Yes,” Alexi says. “Still.”
The radio suddenly emits a burst of static, and in the buzz and
crackles, Paul thinks he can hear the sun sizzling in the darkness of space.
But then Alexi’s voice comes through again, smooth and clear.
“Coronavirus,” he says. “We just have to live through it here, like
you. But it won’t dominate our lives forever. Worldwide, enough people
154 / Evening Street Review 32

will get infected and eventually, there will be a vaccination, so it won’t be

able to propagate as well as radio signals in solar max.” Again, the laugh.
Alexi’s cheerfulness is holding steady.
“I hope you’re right,” Paul says.
“I think so,” Alexi responds. Eventually, it will just be like the flu.
We live with the flu in the fall and winter and just don’t think about it too
much. It stays in the background. But then, eventually, we will be in the
background, too.”
Puzzled by those last few words, Paul asks, “What do you mean?”
“Like the people who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic. They
are in the background for us now, aren’t they? They’re important to us
because we compare ourselves to them, to what they went through in their
time but still, they are long gone. Part of history,” Alexi says, and then
repeats, “In the background,” perhaps trying to make sure that what he
must be thinking in Russian is being expressed clearly in the language that
Paul understands.
But Paul does indeed understand. However, the only person in the
background for him right now—at least, the way Alexi seems to mean it—
is his brother. Long gone but still, important. Very important. And now,
without realizing what happens, it is Paul’s turn to fall silent. Adam is very
much on his mind.
But apparently, Alexi wants to keep their contact going. “Paul,”
he says, “would you like to hear some music?”
“Sure,” Paul says. A kind of blue mood has taken hold of him, but
it’s the kind of mood that’s open to hearing music. He expects that Alexi
is going to turn on his phone and play him some downloaded tune—a pop
song, maybe. Or maybe something classical. Rimsky-Korsakov, Paul
thinks, as the only Russian composer whose name he can conjure up comes
floating into his mind, though why he should assume that Alexi would play
him specifically Russian music….
Paul’s meandering thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a bizarre
crescendo of what sounds like horror movie music: strange vibratos and
swooping glissandos that seem to come screaming and trembling out of
some crazed violin. But the sounds coming out of the radio are too weird
and frightening to be produced by any real musical instrument that Paul
can imagine.
“What is that?” Paul asks when the sounds—the music?—finally
“It’s a Theremin,” Alexi says. “I built it myself. I got a little bored
with just working on my radio.”
2021, Winter / 155

Paul knows what a Theremin is, and even what it looks like: a box
with dials and a tall antenna. Sort of like a radio, he realizes. “I haven’t
heard one of those since back in the ’60s,” Paul says. “Rock bands used to
use them.”
“Yes,” Alexi agrees. “The Rolling Stones. Led Zepplin.”
He produces a few more eerie sounds on the Theremin and Paul
can picture what he’s doing: moving his hands back and forth in the air
between the tall antenna and another attached to the side of the box,
disrupting the electromagnetic field between the two antennas. The
controlled movement of the person “playing” the Theremin creates the
sounds it produces. Or something like that, Paul thinks, because what he
thinks he knows probably comes from the liner notes he once read on the
back of an old album cover.
“That was really something,” Paul says.
Again, that laugh bounces off the dancing ions and lands in Paul’s
brother’s radio, on Paul’s bookshelf, far away from where it originated.
“You didn’t like it,” Alexi says.
“I did,” Paul said. “Thanks.”
“You are very welcome,” Alexi says. “But now I have to sign off.
I have to go to work. Very nice talking to you Paul. And I hope things
improve soon—in New York City and here, as well.”
Paul remembers what Alexi told him earlier—that it’s morning
where he is, in Arctic Russia. He wants to ask Alexi what he does for a
living, wondering if it is something related to what this man—clearly a
master tinkerer—does in his spare time, but before he can, Alexi repeats
the call sign he gave earlier and then says, “Seventy-three.” After that, he
is gone.
The radio, now, is emitting only static, so Paul turns it off. Then,
on his phone, he looks up what “Seventy-three” means in amateur radio
lingo and finds out that Alexi has wished him best regards, a term that
originated in old telegraph code. Paul wishes he’d had the chance to say
the same.
The next night, after another Zoom class, Paul watches a little
television but then, urged on by an impulse that he doesn’t try too hard to
contain, he goes back to his bedroom, pulls his desk chair close to his
bookshelf and turns on the radio. He remembers the frequency of the
Russian radio repeater that connected him to Alexi in Murmansk, but when
he tries to tune it in, all he hears is static. As Alexi had explained, their
connection might have been an anomaly, an ephemeral, one-time event
caused by unusual atmospheric conditions that cannot be replicated.
156 / Evening Street Review 32

Perhaps if Paul knew how to set up Adam’s long-range antenna he would

have better luck—but that complex piece of equipment is currently packed
away in the closet, behind the Grateful Dead jacket. And besides, without
an amateur radio license, Paul shouldn’t be calling CQ anyway; he can’t
be broadcasting across the international amateur radio bands, trying to
reach a fellow in Murmansk who plays a Theremin—or anyone else, for
that matter.
So, as usual, he spends a little time listening to the public service
frequencies, hearing ambulance calls and half-empty airplanes circling
overhead and cops talking to each other in their flat, nasal New York
voices—always as calm as the pilots, always seeming to approach
everything from a minor fender bender to attempted murder by a crazed
man wielding a machete with the same level-headed attitude of stoic
Bored by all this, he begins to tune around the local VHF amateur
radio bands and he does pick up some chatter, but the ham operators are
talking about nothing that he finds interesting: a man in New Jersey is
asking another fellow in Connecticut about the best way to repair some
damaged tiles on his roof; two other voices in the distant suburbs of more
distant states are discussing the odd shortages that have been appearing in
their supermarkets: there is plenty of toilet paper now but they still can’t
find various cleaning products or—who knows why?—a certain kind of
instant rice.
Again, Paul tries the international frequencies but he hears nothing
other than the static that is beginning to sound to him like the hum of time
and space. That’s an alarming idea, he thinks, but deep down, he feels that
it is equally alluring. Or maybe not so deep down, a possibility that he
allows himself to consider.
He turns off the radio, goes to sleep, gets up in the morning and
teaches his class again. But during a short period of time when all the faces
in the electronic boxes on his screen are looking at their books or their
Kindles as they silently read a passage in Frankenstein that Paul will
shortly question them about, he begins to think about something else. And
what he is thinking about focuses on the radio that is sitting nearby, on the
bookshelf: he’d like to learn how to use it better. More expertly. He’d like
to figure out how to set up the antenna—which, perhaps, he could do on
his fire escape—and develop a better understanding of how the complex
radio equipment he’s using actually works, an area that he has zero
knowledge about. He also finds himself worrying that if anything goes
wrong with the radio, he will have no idea of how to fix it. The skills that
2021, Winter / 157

came naturally to Adam do not dwell in Paul: he is more of a dreamer, he

thinks, maybe more of an idealist and a lover of literature, which was not
an interest of his brother’s. And yet, these two men—two grown boys—
loved each other. Perhaps, Paul thinks, he has simply not yet discovered
what parts of his brother must be alive in him—asleep, in a way, but still
there, still available to be awakened. And maybe that’s what’s happening
to him, at least a little, because he feels a tug, a pull, a growing desire to
turn on the radio and make contact with people, to hear human voices
sailing towards him through the ionosphere, across the invisible radio
bands. He’d like to send his own voice up into the atmosphere, the circling
clouds, and be able to say Hello, hello, what’s it like where you live?
As the days go on, as fall grows colder, he and Nat continue to
meet on the roof now and then, bundled up in their jackets, still keeping a
distance because Nat is out all day, mingling with other Con Edison
workers who sometimes wear their masks and sometimes not, so there is
a chance that he will be exposed to the virus though so far—fingers
crossed—he feels fine. Paul has told Nat about talking to Alexi and one
night, he finds himself discussing the idea of getting his own amateur radio
“Really?” Nat says. “Is it hard to do?”
“Maybe for me,” Paul says. “You have to take a test—well,
several of them for different license classes. I’m not the most technically
oriented guy in the world, but I think I can puzzle out the basics.”
“You know, I can probably help you,” Nat says. “After all, what
do you think I’m doing at work? Remember, Electricity is Us,” he says,
with a smile. “I’m sure I’d be able to help translate the radio jargon. Ohms,
megahertz, kilohertz—just ask me.”
“Thanks,” Paul says. “I might take you up on that.”
But will he be able to? Eventually—unless climate change really
sets in this year and decides to eliminate winter altogether—it will get too
cold to meet on the roof, where the open air provides a measure of safety
from virus transmission. If Paul and Nat get together in Paul’s apartment,
or Nat’s, they’ll both have to wear masks and how long could they both
bear that? When he goes outside to do errands or shop at the supermarket,
Paul does his best to keep his mask on, pulling a new one every day from
boxes of surgical-type masks he buys online, but they’re not the most
comfortable thing in the world.
So there’s a push-and-pull in his view of his life, now. Paul
doesn’t want to live behind screens forever; if he is going to go on
teaching, which he probably has to because he needs the money—and
158 / Evening Street Review 32

besides, he’s finding that he likes it—he really wants to try doing it in
person. And he’d like to go back to hanging out with friends in bar, even
if he has to find a new place and drag Nat with him. And more: he wants
to be able to just walk around the city without feeling that he is trapped
inside some violent video game with empty streets and gangs gathering
in the corners of the night. The Theremin would be the perfect background
music for all this.
So, as he and Nat say goodnight, Paul realizes that he’s pretty
much settled on the idea of pursuing an amateur radio license and getting
his own call sign. It can’t become the kind of obsession that he thinks it
was for Adam—Paul’s not that kind of guy anyway, so he won’t let that
happen—but in the here and now, the possibility of reaching out across
oceans and borders and boundaries, seems freeing. Like it’s a way to
overcome history, as Alexi defined it. To call CQ, CQ in the unbreakable,
indissoluble, and endlessly humming radio frequencies encircling the
earth, and hear who responds. At least it’s something. It’s something more
than he’s doing now. It’s interesting, a bit mysterious. It’s life.

New Delhi, India

We were determined to not get ill. Memory of dengue fever—

aching joints, muscles too weak to stand, and hair

falling out in clumps made us ask for weather stripping

to close the gaps between the windows and walls

that might let mosquitos in. Days later, workers had applied
the solution, placing a sticky foam over every window—

fixing each one to the outside wall. Not one window could
open. Insects, weather, geography, and human cultures—

the world hums in multitudes, myriad minds weaving

immense and elaborate patterns, complex histories and realities
2021, Winter / 159

larger than the resolutions and visions of any particular people.

We might seal ourselves off from mosquitos, disease or other

possible disaster, but over time, it becomes clear: determination

isn’t enough to protect us. We can lock our doors, our house,

stay inside and take our medicine, but at some point we need
to go outside, open our eyes, and learn from what makes us afraid.


We lived in a basement apartment that year,

our windows looking out at ground level,
leaves or snow piling up.

Grass had returned, at last, to hillsides,

and a moon’s total eclipse occurred, its pale
light slowly removed by shadow.

I’d locked the door, leaned in, making sure

the deadbolt caught, remembering an earlier
thought of an unknown someone secretly

entering. Next morning I lay unconscious,

my pillow soaked through with blood, my skull
cracked with fractures. Forty-eight stitches later,

the room whirled when I turned my head.

“Who might have something to hold against you?”
asked the investigation officer days later.

I could think of no one, could invent no reason why.

Though the moon shines with a gentle light
throughout the world, and spring may be opening

into brilliant greens, still, though they’ve harmed

no one, people cause others to lose their homes,
their lives, the ones they love. Economic hardship,
160 / Evening Street Review 32

deception, ego inflation, need for power—

there are many possible causes for the social fabric
to rip, for scapegoat excuses and violence to rise.

There’s a weight deeds hold—a wounding

of the soul they initiate or their ability to restore.
Why should an institution or anyone purposefully

make innocents suffer? I do not know. I listen in

on conversations, wander the woods, poke under logs
and climb hills, search around, hoping for a better view.


Part 1 of a 3-part series

The SYSTEM always wins.

—Universal adage

In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.”

All issues are political issues.
George Orwell, All Art Is Propaganda: Critical essays

The 1986 winter came early to Abramtsevo. It began snowing in

October, making my husband’s gruesome, five-hour round-trip commute
to Moscow increasingly difficult. By November, when we finally decided
to move back to the city until spring, winter was in full swing. Although
the dacha, my father’s vacation house, was winterized and comfortable,
we were all alone in the isolated community, or poselok, 60 kilometers
north of Moscow. Everyone else had returned to the city in September, and
very few came for weekend visits. Moreover, we had no phone service,
and I was very uneasy staying alone with our children, five-year-old Katya
and baby Gora, waiting all day long for Lonya’s return late at night. The
nearest phone was in the village, over a mile away. What would we do in
an emergency? How would we know if something happened to Lonya?
2021, Winter / 161

We had no transportation of our own, and the closest train stop, a two-mile
tromp down a half-plowed country lane, was barely passable after a
So it was in late November, on a frosty Saturday bright with fresh
snow, a taxi arrived in Abramtsevo to take us to Moscow, a drive of an
hour and a half. Lonya and I piled in with the kids and we headed off to a
new residence, a kommunalka that would become our family’s first
experience of sharing a communal apartment with a stranger.
The car stopped in front of an ugly, gray, nine-story apartment
building in Pechatniki, an industrial district to the southeast, far from the
center of the city. Seven factories, including two chemical plants, situated
in the district plagued it with the worst air pollution in Moscow. As we
soon discovered, the quality of the air was reliably deplorable, but the
dominating smell varied with the wind. One day our eyes would water and
itch from the acrid fumes of the chemical factory; the next, we’d be
overcome by the revolting stench of the bone-processing plant. And so it
went, one reek after another, a new affront to our health and senses for
every day of the week. The one “good” thing about the move was that
Lonya’s five-hour commute was now cut down to “only” an hour and a
No such thing as a “privately-owned” apartment existed—all
housing belonged to the State and was allotted to residents through their
employers or local municipalities. Not surprisingly therefore, most
Pechatniki residents were blue-collar workers from the surrounding
factories, each of which had an “official” list of housing under its control.
As well-educated professionals, Lonya and I were intruders who
had landed in the district as a last resort. By Soviet custom, married sons
moved out of their parents’homes and in with their in-laws. My father had
made it abundantly clear that we were not welcome to move in with him
and the new wife he had married within a month of my mother’s recent
death. There was no place for us or our children in his new life, and so we
were exiled to Abramtsevo to live year around in his summer house.
Yet in a society where “everyone is equal, but some are more
equal than others,” it was also clear that my “more equal” father, a member
of the highly prestigious Academy of Sciences, and the director of a large
research institute, could have easily obtained an apartment for his daughter
and her family. It would have cost him nothing but a few phone calls to
the Academy of Sciences Housing Committee and perhaps a commitment
to return the favor by positively reviewing someone’s dissertation. All the
academicians I knew had provided apartments for their children. The son
162 / Evening Street Review 32

of one of the Housing Committee members even received a new apartment

every time he married and divorced, and had so far left an apartment to
each of his three ex-wives!
Every time I broached the question, my father changed the subject,
and my mother was no longer there to pressure him. Even today, I remain
puzzled by his unwillingness. Was he teaching me a lesson? Did he think
that permitting us to live year-round in his dacha was more than adequate
In desperation, we turned to Lonya’s parents, who despite strong
resistance, finally agreed to help us with our sole remaining option: if our
two households wanted to live separately, they would have to exchange
their four-room apartment for two smaller apartments, using an alternate
system that allowed people to bypass official State lists and make their
own arrangements. For Lonya’s parents, this deal resulted in a two-room
apartment on the fourth floor of a five-story walk-up; for us, two rooms in
a kommunalka. I didn’t even bother to see the place before we signed the
papers. We had to take it, however bad it might be.

As I entered the building for the first time, I was assailed by the
strong stench of urine. My heart sank and my stomach rose up—there were
gaping holes in the foyer walls, missing tiles, broken mailboxes, floors that
literally had not been washed in years. I was hardly anticipating the marble
floors and grand stained glass that graced the entrance to the Stalin-built
high-rise where I’d grown up, but nothing could have prepared me for such
neglect and filth. “At least the elevator is functioning,” I thought, as we
grimly rode up to our eighth-floor apartment.
Lonya opened the door, revealing our first glimpse of the three-
room apartment our family of four would now be sharing with a stranger.
The layout was typical of Soviet-built communal apartments called
raspashonka, which took their name from the similarly shaped T-shirts
worn by infants. We walked into a small rectangular entrance, which
formed the trunk or “body” of the baby shirt. Directly to the left, a narrow
hallway led to a tiny kitchen, passing by two closet-sized rooms. One had
a single sink and a bathtub without a shower; the other, extremely narrow,
was just big enough for a toilet. A few steps further into the entrance, again
to the left, was the door to a room measuring 11m2 (about 8' x 15'), the
domain of our as yet unknown co-tenant.
Straight ahead, at the end of the entrance, another door opened
into our family’s living quarters: two rectangular rooms, back-to-back, one
to the right for the children, one to the left for Lonya and me. These were the
2021, Winter / 163

“sleeves” of the T-shirt. The size of both rooms combined was roughly
32m2 (10’ x 20' for us and 9' x 16' for the children). We’d be sharing the
kitchen and bathroom with a stranger whose door we would have to pass
every time we wanted to use the kitchen or go to the toilet.

Antonina Dmitrievna

God sees everything, but the neighbors see even more.

—Popular Russian saying

As soon as we set foot in the apartment, a short, heavy woman

with tightly permed hair stepped out of the room off the entrance. This was
not to welcome us but to protect her interests. We had brought along a
small refrigerator, and Lonya was under the illusion that he could fit it into
the kitchen. “What’s this?” she immediately intervened. “You can’t git
that there thing in here.” So it was that I had my first real-life introduction
to the “foreign language” of the industrial working-class, whose grammar
was akin to a foreign tongue in the circles where I’d grown up. Moreover,
Antonina Dmitrievna—for this, we learned, was our co-tenant’s name—
164 / Evening Street Review 32

was correct. There was no room for a fridge in the kitchen. It was tiny, less
than 6m2 (roughly 8' x 8'), into which were squeezed a sink, a four-burner
stove (two burners hers, two ours), and two tiny tables (one hers, one ours).
Of uncertain age between forty and sixty, Antonina Dmitrievna
was of an older generation, which required us, her juniors, to address her
respectfully by using her full name. She was not happy to see a family with
two young kids moving in, which posed a definite threat to the quiet life
she had shared with the elderly couple who preceded us. Standing there in
the hallway, still wearing our coats, we immediately went over the
logistics of communal living, including taking turns cleaning the common
areas, and the rules for scrubbing the bathtub and toilet. Tenants of a
kommunalka were expected to share not just living space, but the same
phone line with a single number, and even a single telephone, which was
usually placed in the entrance. Although this was the rule, Antonina
Dmitrievna and the previous tenants had agreed to have their own
telephones, although they share the same line. We, too, readily agreed to
this deviation from the rule, and confirmed that we would get our own
phone and place it in our room.
With this, our “meet and greet” came to an end and Antonina
Dmitrievna returned to her room, shutting the door behind her. I could hear
her turning on the television. I, too, went to our room. Looking out of the
window for the first time, all I could see were dismal rows of identical
gray buildings and piles of dirty snow. A common saying came to mind:
“Love makes a cottage a castle.” Ha! I thought. We never should have left
the dacha.
2021, Winter / 165

View from our Pechatniki apartment

Nevertheless, we had to settle in. Somehow, I had to make this

place feel like home, and establishing a relationship with Antonina
Dmitrievna was critical to doing so. With time, I learned the outlines of
her hard, narrowly restricted life. On the younger side of what I had
imagined, she was now in her late forties, the daughter of Belorussian
partisans who had both been killed during World War II, in the Great
Patriotic War. After spending part of her childhood in an orphanage, she
was taken in and raised by distant relatives. She never married and had no
family besides a few relatives in Belorussia.
Antonina Dmitrievna belonged to a class of workers that
Muscovites contemptuously referred to as limita, or “limiters,” a term
referring to the quota of migrant workers allowed into the capital
“according to limit.” Like tens of thousands of other young people from
all over the Soviet Union, she had come to Moscow during Khrushchev’s
time to work at a factory. As a rule, people like Antonina Dmitrievna were
unskilled workers slotted for low-paying jobs that Muscovites themselves
did not want to do. Housed in dormitories on temporary residence permits,
such workers could, with time, receive permanent housing—usually a
room in a kommunalka—a wait that “normally” took about ten years. Any
limiter who quit a job before meeting this deadline was forced to leave the
166 / Evening Street Review 32

In the mid-seventies, after working for the same factory for over
fifteen years, Antonina Dmitrievna was finally granted permanent
residency status and moved into her room in Pechatniki. As the child of
murdered partisans and a victim of the Fascist occupation, she received
additional benefits, including early retirement at age forty-five. This
“perk” gave her the right to retire and a pension sufficient to do so, as well
as the right to remain in Moscow and continue living in her room. This,
however, Antonina Dmitrievna did not wish to do—her dream had always
been to live in “her own” apartment. She thus continued to trudge off to
the factory in order to maintain her place on the list of studio apartments
distributed through her employer.
By the time we met her, Antonina Dmitrievna had already been
“on the housing list” for over twelve years. She still didn’t know how close
she was to actually getting an apartment, but she was damned if she was
about to lose her place after all that time and kiss her sole chance to live
by herself goodbye. The opportunity actually to see a housing list was a
rare privilege—lists were kept “somewhere,” but no one could request
access. It was no secret that they were manipulated through corruption and
bribery, and that nobodies like Antonina Dmitrievna were continually
pushed down by people with money and connections.
Since we were forcibly living on top of one another, learning
Antonina Dmitrievna’s habits and schedule was unavoidable. Every
workday she left before 7:00 a.m. and returned exhausted around 5:00. She
cooked a simple meal of millet or buckwheat kasha and meat, took it to
her room, and stayed there watching TV until turning off the lights around
9:00. On Fridays, she brought her work clothes home to wash. I never
knew exactly what her job entailed, but her clothes were all stained with
paint and smelled horrible. She soaked them in the bathtub, then washed
them by hand and hung them in the kitchen to dry. Then she took a bath
herself. Normally, bathroom time was shared fifty-fifty by a two-
household apartment. But seeing that we had children, Antonina
Dmitrievna was kind, and Friday was the single day of the week that our
family had no access to the bathtub.
Antonina Dmitrievna devoted her weekends to TV. She was a
passionate fan of Soviet hockey, and springtime always found her eagerly
anticipating the World Hockey Championship. I never knew her to miss a
single game, and she vigorously rooted for the Soviet team through every
one of them, screaming at the top of her lungs in front of the television
whenever anyone scored a goal. As excellent as it was, the Soviet hockey
team of 1987 was not the legendary squad that was inexplicably defeated
2021, Winter / 167

by American college boys at the 1980 Olympics. When the Soviets lost
the 1988 World Championship title game to Sweden, Antonina
Dmitrievna was so devastated that she cried inconsolably all night long.
Aside from watching TV, Antonina Dmitrievna’s sole
entertainment was eavesdropping. Most nights we could hear her labored
breathing as she pressed her ear against our closed door. Her breathing
became heavier yet whenever she heard us making love. We even joked
between ourselves that we should wait to hear her breathing out there
before we engaged in lovemaking.
Such was the brilliance of the Soviet system that created
communal living. You lived with an observer watching your every step,
listening to every word you said, and ready to report you for any reason or
no reason at all. It is said that forty million denunciations were submitted
to the authorities during Stalin’s era. Reporting on neighbors was less
popular in our time, but the pressure of knowing you could be readily
reported was enough to keep the possibility constantly nagging at your
Although she was only in her forties, Antonina Dmitrievna, like
many other women who worked in the factories, was very heavy. In fact,
she was so corpulent that she could barely squeeze into the tiny, closet-
like compartment where the toilet was located. Whenever she needed to
answer the call of nature, she would loudly announce it, turn her back to
the open toilet door, pull down her pants and start backing up, shuffling
into the little space until she could plop down on the toilet. When she was
finished, she repeated the whole thing in reverse.
It was no wonder that Antonina Dmitrievna was overweight. Her
diet, typical for a working-class Russian, consisted of lots of bread and
butter, potatoes, grains, low quality ground beef, and excessive amounts
of beet sugar. One day, when I brought home some lettuce, she refused to
believe that it was even edible. “You’re not actually going to eat that cow
chow, are you?” she asked with disgust. Overall, though, she was a good
person. We managed to get along just fine, and even gave each other a hug
when we finally parted ways.
Our interaction with neighbors from other apartments was limited
to saying hello in the elevator. There was, however, one outstanding
exception. Early one snowy evening I was sitting on the bed rocking our
baby son to sleep. It was dark and brutally cold outside, -20ºC at least. All
of a sudden, I heard knocking on our balcony door. The knocking was
from the outside, and we were eight floors up. Still holding Gora, I went
over to the glass door and discovered a man in nothing but his boxer shorts.
168 / Evening Street Review 32

His arms and chest were covered with thick red hair, and big, puffy clouds
issued from his mouth as he urgently tried to communicate through the
Thinking there was an emergency, I opened the door and was
greeted with blast of icy air. “Do you have any vodka?” he asked in a cloud
of freezing breath. “No,” I said. Actually, I did have a bottle, but I wasn’t
inclined to give it to a stranger. “But we drank all of ours, and the stores
are already closed!” he continued, as if rationally explaining his plight. I
remained firm. “Please,” he begged. “I’m your neighbor from over there.”
He pointed to the balcony to our right, from where I could hear a raucous
chorus of drunks singing “Cheri Cheri Lady,” by Modern Talking, the
German Europop duo. When I shook my head, he was visibly
disappointed, but let me close the door. Before I had time to turn away, he
was climbing over our balcony railing. But he wasn’t going back to his
apartment—he was going to try his luck with our neighbor to the left!

To be continued.


PETER ARONSON (he/him) is a former award-winning journalist, a

former attorney in New York City, and now a full-time writer of essays,
short stories and children’s books. His two middle-grade biographies are
about Bronislaw Huberman, a world-class violinist who saved Jews from
the Holocaust, and Jeannette Rankin, America’s first congresswoman. His
middle-grade novel Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States of
Anthropocene, is about young teens fighting global warming (Double M
Books). (

JAMES BRENNAN is an associate professor of English at

Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA, where he is faculty
adviser to the college’s creative writing club. He earned an MFA from the
Bennington Writing Seminars. His stories and essays have appeared in
Colere, Charles River Review, Slab, Edge, The First Line and other
2021, Winter / 169

GALINA CHERNAYA, the daughter of an eminent scientist, was raised

in the upper echelons of the Soviet intellectual elite during the Brezhnev
era. She received a PhD from Moscow State University and was engaged
in a promising research career when she fell afoul of the Soviet authorities.
Threatened with imprisonment, she emigrated with her husband and two
young children to the U.S., where they were admitted as refugees in 1991,
settling in Princeton, NJ. She now lives in Vermont with her husband and boxer,

ANNA CITRINO (she/her) taught abroad in Turkey, Kuwait, Singapore,

Saudi Arabia, India, and the UK. She is the author of A Space Between,
and two chapbooks, Saudade, and To Find a River. Her second book,
Buoyant, is forthcoming with Bellowing Ark Press. Read more of her writing

BOBBY COHEN has taught at Temple University, Peirce College, and

Holy Family University. He lives in Richboro, PA, and is a longstanding
member of the Bucks County Writing Workshop. He is the author of three
novels, and numerous short stories, eight of which have been published.
He is known primarily for his dogged persistence.

MARIE G COLEMAN is a native New Yorker living in New Hampshire. She

teaches English at Nashua High School North. She holds an MFA from Lesley
University. Her work has appeared in Pangyrus, Every Day Fiction,
Hippocampus and Gemini. She is currently working on a nonfiction manuscript.

MIRANA COMSTOCK is an award-winning writer, photographer and

musician, as well as a published poet in: Main Street Rag, Visitant,
Alexandria Quarterly, Door is a Jar, Euphony Journal, Nebo Literary
Journal, Pudding Magazine, Magnolia Journal, Sanskrit Literary-Arts
Journal, and Poetry Quarterly. She has won multiple Best of Fest
screenwriting awards from international festivals. Her photographs are in
the collection of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and she has exhibited in NY
and Boston. A Juilliard-trained musician, she is singer/song-
writer/keyboardist for alternative rock group Theory of Tides.

KIM FARLEIGH has worked for NGO's in Greece, Kosovo, Iraq,

Palestine and Macedonia. He likes painting, art, bullfighting, photography
and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid,
although he wouldn't say no to living in a French chateau or a Swiss ski
resort. 181 of his stories have been accepted by 106 different magazines.
170 / Evening Street Review 32

COREY LYNN FAYMAN has done hard time as a musician, songwriter, and
theatrical sound designer, but still refuses to apologize for it. His hometown of
San Diego, CA, provides the backdrop for his mystery series featuring the guitar-
slinging private detective Rolly Waters, including the award-winning Border
Field Blues and Desert City Diva. His short stories have appeared in Forge, The
MacGuffin and Mount Hope Magazine. “A powerful new voice on the crime-
fiction scene” (ForeWord Reviews).

DORIS FERLEGER, award-winning poet and author of Big Silences in

a Year of Rain, As the Moon Has Breath, and Leavened, holds an MFA in
poetry and a PhD in psychology, and maintains a mindfulness-based
therapy practice in Pennsylvania. Aliki Barnestone writes: “Ferleger’s
memorable poems keep singing with their insistent beauty.”

KAREN FAYETH was born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-
teller. From her roots in rural New Mexico she is constantly evolving through
global experience. She has won awards for her writing, photography, and art.
Currently, she is working on a collection of her many short stories. Now living
in the San Francisco Bay area, she can be found online at

ESTA FISCHER received her MA in creative writing from Boston

University. Her short stories have been published in print journals and e-
zines including Imitation Fruit, Coe Review, and Front Range Review. Her
a la Russe murder mystery series is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble
and other online booksellers. She is currently working on a literary novel.

ELLEN GOLDSMITH’s chapbooks are Left Foot, Right Foot, Where to

Look, Such Distances, and No Pine Tree in This Forest Is Perfect which
won the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center 1997 chapbook contest. Her
poems have appeared in Antiphon, Connecticut River Review, Dash,
Earth’s Daughters, The Healing Muse, Mount Hope, Off the Coast, Rhino,
and Third Wednesday as well as in anthologies. A resident of Cushing,
MN, she is a professor emeritus of The City University of New York.

KATHIE GIORGIO is the author of five novels, two story collections, a

collection of essays, and three poetry books. In late 2021, her sixth novel,
All Told, will be released. She’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in
fiction and poetry and awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from
the Wisconsin Library Association, the Silver Pen Award for Literary
Excellence, the Pencraft Award for Literary Excellence, and the Eric
Hoffer Award In Fiction.
2021, Winter / 171

CAROL GRASER hosts a monthly poetry series at Saratoga Spring’s

legendary Caffe Lena that she initiated in 2003. She has taught poetry
workshops to teens and at-risk youth. Her work has been published in
many literary journals, recently in Devilfish Review, Apricity, Trailer Park
Quarterly and BigCityLit. She is the author of the poetry collection, The
Wild Twist of Their Stems (Foothills Publishing 2007).

LUCIA HAASE has been writing formal and free verse poetry for 20
years as the direct result of a spiritual experience. Most of her work deals
with nature, human nature and spirituality. She has been recently
published in several small press publications and was recently named a
featured writer at

SUSAN JOHNSON received her MFA and PhD from the University of
Massachusetts Amherst where she currently teaches writing. Poems of
hers have recently appeared in North American Review, San Pedro River
Review, Trampoline, Steam Ticket, Front Range, and SLAB. She lives in
South Hadley, MA, and her commentaries can be heard on NEPM.

RUTH KAVANAGH was born in N. Ireland. Although raised in the

States, that “fighting Irish” mentality truly defines her. She is a former
litigation attorney, but had to leave her career behind after her diagnosis.
Yet, her motto is “turn your pain into purpose.” Thus, she is writing a book
about her cancer journey to help and inspire others facing seemingly
insurmountable life challenges. Every day may not bring you roses, but
just getting another day is even better than roses!

JOHN LAMBREMONT, SR, is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and

writer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. John holds a BA in creative writing
and a JD from Louisiana State University. His poems have been published
in reviews such as Pacific Review, The Minetta Review, and Flint Hills
Review. His poetry collections include The Moment Of Capture (Lit Fest
Press 2017), Old Blues, New Blues (Pski's Porch Publishing 2018), and
The Book Of Acrostics (Truth Serum Press 2018).

ELEANOR LERMAN, the author of numerous award-winning

collections of poetry, short stories and novels, is a National Book Award
finalist, has received both NEA and Guggenheim fellowships, and was
awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize for Poetry from the Academy of
American Poets. Her most recent novel, Watkins Glen (Mayapple Press),
was published in June 2021.
172 / Evening Street Review 32

KIMBERLY LINDEMANN is a native of Colorado. She grew up on the

plains of the eastern slope of Colorado, and has spent most of her adult life in
Grand Junction near the sandstone beauty of the Colorado National Monument.
She writes under the pen name klily. Her poetry is inspired by nature,
philosophy, mystery and everyday life. Visit her website at

BETH ESCOTT NEWCOMER's stories have been published in many

quality literary journals. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart
Prize, and for Best of the Web. She lives on a cactus and succulent farm
in rural San Diego County with her husband and a friendly pack of dogs.
Find out more at

VICKI MANDELL-KING has written poetry most of her life, even

during a thirty-year career practicing criminal defense. She has three
collections, titled: Tenacity of Lace, Shrinking into Infinite Sky, Open the
Gates. Her fourth collection is Singing My Pockets Empty, Main Street
Rag (2021). She and her longtime husband live near their son, his wife,
and their three lovely children.


is Professor of Literature & Writing at Purchase College, SUNY. Her work
has appeared in Sweet Tree Review, armarolla, Green Hills Literary
Lantern, Witness, Good Works Review, and many others. Her novel,
Dodging Satan: My Irish/Italian Sometimes Awesome but Mostly Creepy
Childhood (Sand Hill Review Press, 2016) won the 2017 Foreword
Reviews Gold Medal in Humor and the 2017 Illumination Bronze Medal
for Catholic Books (Pope Francis won the Gold!), and other awards in
humor and religion.

THOMAS R MOORE’s fourth book, Red Stone Fragments, was

published in 2019. He is a four-time Pushcart nominee, and his poem
“How We Built Our House” won a 2018 Pushcart Prize. His work has been
broadcast on Writer's Almanac and American Life in Poetry. He is former
Poet Laureate of Belfast, MA. Visit his website at

JBMULLIGAN has published more than 1,100 poems and stories in

various magazines over the past 45 years, and two chapbooks: The Stations
of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as two e-books:
The City of Now and Then and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation). He
has appeared in more than a dozen anthologies.
2021, Winter / 173

MARY ANN NOE has been writing since she picked up a pencil, though
that early poetry should line birdcages. Subsequently, she published
poetry, short stories, non-fiction, and a novel. Her work appears in
Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets 2021 Calendar; in Fleas on the Dog; in
Green Prints: The Weeder’s Digest; and in Dumped: Stories of Women
Unfriending Women. She taught high school English and psychology for
many years. Now retired, she’s free to write more.

KEVIN D NORWOOD is the winner of The Porch Poetry Prize 2020 and
has poetry published or pending in Broken Plate, District Lit, Iowa
Review, Nashville Review, Natural Bridge, Tulane Review, Visitant, and
elsewhere. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in English from
the University of Virginia, where he studied creative writing with Peter
Taylor and John Casey. A corporate attorney, he lives in Brentwood, TN,
with wife Vicki and rescue pup Lily.

GEORGE J SEARLES teaches English and Latin at Mohawk Valley

Community College, and has also taught creative writing for Pratt Institute
and graduate courses for New School University. He has published 100+
poems, along with three volumes of literary criticism from university
presses and eight editions of a widely-used writing textbook. He is a
former Carnegie Foundation New York State “Professor of the Year” and is
currently the editor of Glimpse, a poetry magazine.

SETH ROSENBLOOM (he/him) holds a BA in drama from the

University of Washington. He has written and acted in solo performances,
mediated child custody disputes, and built a management consulting
practice. His theatrical work has appeared at On the Boards, Bumbershoot
and on the Seattle Channel. His poetry will appear in a forthcoming issue
of The Main Street Rag. He lives in Seattle with his wife and son.

JAN SHOEMAKER is the author of the essay collection, Flesh and

Stones: Field Notes from a Finite World, and the poetry collection, The
Reliquary Earth. Her work has been anthologized, featured on public
radio, and published in many magazines and journals.

MARK SIMPSON is the author of Fat Chance (Finishing Line Press).

Recent work has appeared in Columbia Journal (Online), Third
Wednesday, and Apeiron Review. He lives on Whidbey Island, WA.
174 / Evening Street Review 32

WILLIAM SWARTS is the author of Harmonies Unheard, Strickland

Plains and Other Poems and Treehouse of the Mind. He won first prize in
Litchfield Review's annual poetry contest. He received his BA in English
literature from Brown University, his JD from University of Pennsylvania
and practiced law in New York City and Paris, France. He studied with
Bolligen Prize-winner David Ignatow at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA
Poetry Center in New York City. A native of Connecticut, he now lives in
western North Carolina.

RUSSELL THAYER’s (he/him) work has appeared in Hawaii Pacific

Review, Tough, Pulp Modern, and Potato Soup Journal. He received his
BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for years at
large printing companies. He has cooked a lot of meals, painted a lot of
blank walls, watched a lot of French films, and currently lives in Missoula,
MT, with his wife of thirty-five years.

PENELOPE BARNES THOMPSON (she/her) is a retired clinical

psychologist and former Buddhist hospice chaplain, living in Oakland,
CA. She sings in a threshold choir at hospice bedsides, and has taught
meditation to prison populations. She knows that poetry and laughter are
the best medicine. Her first poetry collection, Deconstructing the Nest and
Other Poems, was published in 2006. See a list of her work at

MITCHELL UNTCH is an emerging writer. Partial publications include

Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, North American Review, Confrontation,
Nimrod Intl, Natural Bridge, Owen Wister, Solo Novo, Knockout,
Baltimore Review, Lake Effect, The Catamaran Reader, Grey Sparrow,
Illuminations, Paris American, The American Journal of Poetry, Moth,
Fjords, among others.

RICHARD VASQUEZ is located on the Wainwright Unit serving a

capital life sentence. He is on the ministry development team and a
facilitator in the Faith-Based Program. He and co-author Johnny L Wooten
are students in the Therapon Theological Bible College.

ED WADE is an American expatriate who has lived in Hanoi, Vietnam,

since 2012. There he writes, edits, and lectures for the School of
Communication and Design at RMIT University. His first collection of
poems, The Mise en Abyme Jokebook was published by UnCollected
Press in 2019.
Every year there are rumors that Texas is going to pass prison reform bills. In the
run up to September when the new laws are passed, the units are filled with stories of the
Texas Legislature passing prison reform bills. Taking into account both Work Time (time
spent at our prison jobs) and Good Time (good behavior time) both of which the state of ELIZABETH WEIR grew up in England and lives in Minnesota, USA.
Texas tracks but doesn't reward to inmates, I have completed over thirty-six years on a Her book of poetry, High on Table Mountain, was published by North Star
twenty-three year sentence. The Parole Board denied me parole twice even though I rarely Press and was nominated for the Midwest Poetry Book Award. Recent
get into trouble. I read. I write poems. I daydream about writing a Broadway musical with work has appeared in Evening Street Review, The Breakthrough
Lady Gaga.
Intercessor, Spotlight on Recovery, and Tyler County Booster.
A few months ago I sat in front of the Unit Parole Officer. In Texas an inmate,
doesn't the parole board on their behalf. If an inmate can afford a parole attorney
the attorney is allowed to speak to the parole board on the inmate’s behalf. I don't have JOHNNY L WOOTEN is currently serving three sentences totaling 165
that. What I have is a letter of sincere regret and heartbreak. After seventeen years of prison years without parole on the Wainwright Unit in Lovelady, Texas. He has
this is more than just empty words but how do you make.strangers understand that? written for Evening Street Review, The Breakthrough Intercessor,
I also have a bullet-point list of accomplishments. I explain each one; the Spotlight on Recovery, and Tyler County Booster. He is reporter for the
publications, the awards, the performance of my play ‘Freedom Feather” at the Brooklyn ECH0 newspaper, which is delivered to over 100,000 offenders in the state
Book Festival, the performance podcast of my play “What's Prison Like?” by Open-Door of Texas. He and co-author Richard Vasquez are students in the Therapon
Playhouse. Free-world accomplishments accomplished from a prison cell. Theological Bible College.
“These are great,” she tells me. “Where are your certificates?”
“These are free-world,” I tell her. “Not prison.” CAT WYATT, a self-described intuitive and eccentric free spirit, has
The Unit Parole Officer frowns. “You should really get some certificates.”
never turned down an adventure that involves sailing, boat racing, or
“Is there any way that you can tell the parole board about what l've done?”
“No. Sorry. l'm not allowed to do that.” shipboard living on the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay, Mexico, or
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is big on certificates. In TDCJ the units the Florida Keys. Published in several periodicals, she crafts slice-of-life
hand out certificates to document the completion of classes, job-training, and bible study. stories that explore relationships challenged by adversity. Having worked
They even hand out a certification for bingo night. The parole board already knows about in law enforcement and trauma intervention, she lives in Anchorage,
these accomplishments. Administration and the system-wide prison school district notifies Alaska, with her husband and adopted cats—and she can still see the
them on completion. As I walk back to my dorm, I think how neat it would be if the Unit water.
Parole Officer got a certificate for each one of us that goes home. I also realize that Texas
has the only professional sports team in the world named after a law enforcement agency. GERALD YELLE has published in numerous online and print journals.
I didn't make parole. It's funny to hear some of the men in here say that they don't His books include The Holyoke Diaries, Future Cycle Press (2014) and
care if they make parole. They are afraid of dashed hope. I'm not. If 1 can call myself a Mark My Word and the New World Order, Pedestrian Press (2016). He is
writer at all it is because I am regularly rejected. In my Job as a carsalesman, selling one
a member of the Florence (MA) Poets Society.
customer in ten is a great month. In professional baseball, if a batter gets on base three
times for every ten at bats, the player will go to the Hall of Fame. Parole is different. When
a magazine rejects a poem or a customer buys a Toyota instead of a Honda, my soul doesn't
separate from my body. My mom and dad don't weep with me. My friend Marci and me
don't stop talking for months at a time, thirty years of intimacy suddenly awkward and fragile.
I don't know how parole works. Going home is the only thing in prison that l've
never done. 1 do know this: since I've been locked up I've made my childhood dream of
having a play performed in New York City come true. Even if it doesn't mean anything to
the Honorable Parole Board, it means something to me.
Nothing changes for me. I read. I write poems. I'm hopeful.
Stay safe.
Que te vaya bien,

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