Sunday 31 May 2020

An Old Story

by Cynthia Anderson

There once was a lonely man
in a house on a shady street
who saw my grandmother,
five years old, and took a shine
to her, wanting a daughter,
someone to look after, someone
to raise—and soon, someone
to cook and clean and care
for him. He went to her father
and tried to buy her.
She was the ninth child
and her family was poor,
so the cash would have been
a windfall. This man knocked
on the door for weeks, brought
candy and begged. But her
father stood firm—I can’t
spare any of my children.
Not even one. How often
in her life did she pass him
in the street, the park,
the square—and what sigh
of relief did she breathe
when he died?

* * * * *

Cynthia Anderson lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she is the author of nine poetry collections. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She co-edited the anthology A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows &

Saturday 30 May 2020

No Mercy in the Garden

by Kathleen Murphey

Eve opened her eyes and gazed about herself in wonder.  A being like herself was staring at her intently, kneeling beside her.  She glanced down at herself, taking in her form for the first time.  Wavy brown hair trailed down her back and shoulders.  It tickled.  She had full rounded breasts and hips and long shapely legs, and there was different coarser hair over her vagina.  She glanced back at the being in front of her and realized that he was like her and yet not like her at the same time.  They must have been of the same species—their fair skin seemed the same, their limbs mirrored each other (arms, legs, torsos).  He had breasts too but they were not full like hers, and although he had pubic hair that was coarse like hers, from the midst of his was a penis and scrotum.  Where his chest was broad and his hips narrow, her hips were wide and her shoulders were more delicate.  His face was full of sharp lines, his nose and the edges of his jaw.  Her hand reached and felt her face.  It seemed softer somehow, but she wasn’t sure.  Was there any way for her to see herself, she wondered?   
“Eve?” the being said softly.  He held out his hand to her, and she shifted, taking his hand  and sitting up.  “I am Adam, and you are my wife.  God created you to be my companion and my helper,” he said excitedly.  He rose to his feet and brought her with him.
Eve looked at him in confusion.  Wife?  God?  Created for him?  For Adam?  Why not the other way around, him for me, or both together?  “Wife?” she managed to ask.
“Yes, wife,” and he reached up with his hand to stroke her face.  It felt nice.  As his fingers traced over her face, his thumb found her mouth.  It caressed her lips, and she parted them.  He had been standing close to her, but suddenly, he was shockingly close.  His face bent toward hers, and he moved so that their bodies were pressed together.  His lips met hers, and he wrapped his arms around her in an embrace.  The sensations were pleasing.  She kissed him back, their tongues exploring each other’s mouths, and her arms wrapping around him.  Their hands roamed over their bodies, and though they had just stood up, they sunk back to the ground, and their mouths traveled over other parts of their bodies.  Instinctively, they seemed to know what to do.  They seemed to know that moving his penis in and out of her vagina would be intensely pleasurable to him but that she needed to be sexually aroused differently.  He touched her breasts and her nipples.  Her sexual arousal was as exciting to him as it was for her, and his increasing erection made his penis throb.  They moaned with pleasure, and he touched her and found her clitoris and made her come.  It was fascinating and erotic.  She was ready.  Gently, he pushed his penis into her vagina, and it was heaven for him.  She was wet enough that it was easy for a rhythm to develop between them, and then it was his turn to come, and his orgasm mirrored hers, the ecstasy of it, the pleasure of it.  This was wonderful.  They lay in each other’s arms, happy and content.
“Wife?” she repeated, “and what are you?”
“Wife,” he said again.  “I am your husband.  A man and a woman are joined as one in marriage.  You are mine, and I am yours.”
Again, his explanation raised as many questions as answers.  Why one?  Why not two in a partnership?  Two as One implied a dominant one and a passive one; she didn’t like that implication.  It seemed dangerous.  She had been created for him.  Clearly, she didn’t seem to count as much as he did—why was that?  A companion and a helper was a partner, wasn’t she?  Yours?  Possessive.  Could one person belong to another?  Should one person belong to another?  Why couldn’t each person belong to him or herself?  “Marriage,” she repeated a little numbly.  He kissed her gently, soothingly.  He pulled away from her and rose to his feet.  Again, he held out his hand for her, and she let him pull her up.
“Come,” he said softly.  “Let me show you the Garden,” and he led her through the Garden, showing her the various plants and flowers, the fruits and herbs and vegetables.  He showed her the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air.  He told her all their names.  He explained that he had named them all, and she felt a rush of irritation.  God had given Adam the task of naming everything.  God had thought so little of her that she had no voice in the naming of the things and creatures in their world, and he, Adam, didn’t feel that this was wrong or an oversight.  What kind of man was she bound to?  Pulling her out of this train of thought, he showed her the trees in the Garden, and last of all, he showed her the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and he told her that God had forbidden them to eat of this specific tree because, if they did, they would surely die.  Questions flared in her mind again.  Why would God want to withhold knowledge from us?  What was good?  What was evil?  What was death?  What was this God like?
Calming her mind, she asked, “What is God like?”
“He is our all-powerful father.  He created everything, the earth and the stars, you and me, every living on thing on the earth and this Garden, the Garden of Eden, a paradise for us.”
“And he has no companion?  Is he not lonely?” she asked curiously.
“He has us,” Adam answered.
They picked fruits and berries and ate contentedly.    As the sun set, they huddled together and whispered to each other until they were tired, and then they fell asleep in each other’s arms.  The days passed pleasantly.  They continued to explore the Garden and each other.  Making love was exciting and fun.  They did it every day sometimes multiple times.  The more practiced they became, the more they realized that Eve could come frequently whereas Adam usually need to rest some before getting aroused again.
One day, Eve was by herself gathering nuts and berries when the serpent walked through the grass revealing himself to her.  “Woman,” he said, “why don’t you collect the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”
“Because God said that the fruit would kill us?” she answered.
“The fruit will not kill you.  It will make you like God.  You will know good and evil,” he said slyly.  He left her after that.  She stared after him and did not know what to make of this contradictory information.  Surely, they should have knowledge.  Surely, they should know about good and evil.  She pushed the thoughts from her mind. 
That night, cradled in Adam’s arms, she asked, “What is good?”
“Eve,” he said cautiously.  “Why do you want to know?”
“I just don’t understand what it is or what evil is?  What is our point here in the Garden?  We are alive for what purpose?” she answered.
He kissed her suggestively, and she laughed.  “Yes, yes, but seriously,” and she pulled away from him.
He looked at her, “I don’t know our purpose beyond tending and keeping the Garden and being together, but I am content.  We have everything we need, and we have each other.  Isn’t that enough?  Why are you asking?”
She told him what the serpent had said to her.  He frowned, “We cannot risk going against God.  He created all this.  He could take it away too.  Eve, please.  What you are suggesting scares me.”
“But we are all that God has?  Doesn’t he love us, like I love you and you love me?” she asked.  “I mean, we have argued and disagreed, but we have forgiven each other because that’s what people do who love each other.”
“But we are human, Eve.  I don’t know how God would react to disobedience.  Please stop this,” he implored.
She relented reluctantly and nuzzled into his chest.  Sleep came easily, and the next morning was spectacular.  The sun streamed through the Garden, making everything lush and exquisitely beautiful.  After they had made love, they searched together for food, but they found little—only a few berries and nuts.  They ate those quickly, but they were not enough to sate their hunger.  They split up to cover more ground, and Eve found herself before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The fruit looked so ripe and so good that she couldn’t resist.  She plucked one of the fruits and bit into it.  It was wonderful, and it sated her hunger in just the one bite.   Adam called out for her, and she brought him the fruit.  He had found nothing and looked curiously at the fruit in her hand. 
“Eve, what is that?” he asked carefully.
“You know,” she answered.
“We can’t,” he said automatically and stepped back from her outstretched hand holding the fruit.
“I am full from a single bite,” she answered.
Hunger won over caution, and Adam took the fruit from her hand and bit.  It was just as she had said, delicious and filling.  He looked at her, and she looked at him, and their eyes were opened.  They were naked, and somehow that was wrong; it was evil.  Their being sexual together, naked and exploratory, had been absolute bliss, sheer pleasure, ecstasy, heaven on earth, and now it was turned into something dirty and tawdry.   They found leaves to cover themselves, and they hid.
Eve’s mind rebelled against this shame she felt over her sexuality, because as she understood their nakedness, she also knew other things about good and evil.  Good was music, art, love, joy, compassion, creativity, poetry, literature, kindness, generosity, empathy, sympathy, tenderness.  Evil was murder, greed, violence, hate, slavery, cruelty, war, rape, division, superiority, intolerance.  That sexual knowledge, the ultimate connection between two human beings, could be considered knowledge of evil instead of the knowledge of good made no sense to her.  But this was a God who discounted her, discounted a woman, perhaps all women.  This was a God who had no companion, who did not share his life with an equal partner—who saw no one as equal to himself.  This was a God who did not truly love—but only commanded and punished.  Fear engulfed her.  They would be punished for their breach of the command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Paradise would be stripped away from them, and their relationship would become more antagonistic than ever.  She, the woman, would suffer the most, because this God had thought of her as the least worthy.
In knowing about good, she also realized that she was pregnant.  A life was growing in her womb.  She knew she would do anything for this life.  She hoped that Adam would feel the same way.  They would be parents, and they would love their child.  God had created this capacity.  What did that say?  Why didn’t he feel that way for them?  Unlike the other animals who reproduced in the Garden, Eve sensed that their human infant would need their care desperately and for a long time.  That’s why humans loved, so they could stay together as a family and do things that went far beyond what were convenient or in one’s self-interest.   Communal effort would be needed to raise human children—by both parents—perhaps even beyond a child’s mother and father—and Eve wondered about a world where there were more humans than just them.  Perhaps in such a world the women would help each other with childbirth, childcare, and in other things, the men and women would work together.  Her musings were broken when God entered the Garden.
God called for Adam.  He didn’t have a corporeal form but was a staggering presence.  Eve was afraid of him, and the contrast between what she felt for the child in her womb and what God seemed to feel for her was startling.  She would forgive her child nearly anything—and yet this God would not, she knew.
“Why are you hiding from me?” God asked.  “Come forward,” he demanded.
Adam obeyed, grasping Eve’s wrist and pulling her forward with him.
“You have disobeyed me, Adam.  You have eaten the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” God thundered at them.
Adam trembled before God and turned to blame Eve.  “She, the woman, Eve, ate of the fruit and gave me some,” he said lamely.
Eve thought of blaming the serpent, but she didn’t think it would help.  “We were hungry, God.  Please be merciful,” she begged, but she knew her pleas would be disregarded.
“No.  You will be removed from the Garden, and all that was provided here so easily will cause you toil and labor.  Adam will rule over Eve, and Eve will have difficulty in childbirth.  Your lives will be finite, so you will know death.  Though you do not mention the serpent, I know of his involvement.  His legs will be stripped away, and women and serpents will be enemies forever.”
Adam was too overcome to speak.  Eve gasped and said, “My God, isn’t being driven from the Garden enough of a punishment?  All these others—how will we bear them?  How will I bear them since most of them seemed aimed at me?  I thought you made me to be Adam’s partner not his servant.  Don’t you love us?”
“I am God.  I gave you life,” God answered angrily.
“But is that enough?  I am with child, but for it to survive and flourish, Adam and I will need to do much more than simply give birth to it—a birth now that will be difficult.  Please do not abandon us,” she implored.  “To error is human, and to forgive is divine, is it not?”
But God had turned away from them and was gone.  Fire flashed through the sky.  Cherubim with flaming swords appeared in the sky.  They landed around Adam and Eve and drove them from the Garden.

* * * * *

Kathleen Murphey is an Associate Professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She had her first play performed as part the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, P Pan and Beyondland, with performances at the German Society of Pennsylvania on Saturday September 15th and Sunday September 16th, 2018. More information about her and the play can be found at her Website,

Friday 29 May 2020


by Tobi Alfier

I don’t remember much.
Arrivals and departures blur
like an outdoor square on market day
some place, some lovely place,
where the language is not mine.
It is finally warm after a winter
both wicked and perilous.
Hand-knit scarves the color of forests
and brambled berries now replaced
by headscarves in fruited hues.

Willows bend, applaud their reflections
in quiet rivers, still but for the splash
of dragonfly, the sound of graceful
herons landing among lilypads
and algae. They check the sun,
fly off again.

I know the calendar, welcome
new growth in the fields,
turn of the waterwheel, melody
of tractors and trains from miles
away. But I did not know how much,
how much the weight his final
departure would leave on the hearts
of all, no matter the memories,
each different and owned without
disgrace, like quicksilver mirages
widening in the unaccompanied sun.

* * * * *

"Elegy" was first published in Main Street Rag (2019/2020).

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was published by Cholla Needles Press. Symmetry: earth and sky is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (

Thursday 28 May 2020

High Tea
            For Amy

by Tobi Alfier

Shoulders and biceps tough,
shapely as a wrought iron
balustrade on a Bourbon Street
balcony, from thousands
of pushups in 5:00am PT,
flushed face a match for the rise
of dawn, always the count
inside her head—forty, fifty,
sixty, controlled face lowered
onto cool grass.

Now she is at tea,
a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” frock,
off the shoulder, over the knee,
I am a lovely woman she thinks,
her reflection poised in the many mirrors.
Legs crossed, patent-leather pumps,
tiny earrings peep through hair
delicately placed over her ears.
A pot of Earl Grey at her elbow,
sweets and sandwiches to the side.

No stripes, no boots, no salutes.
This is a day to remember the quiet
goodness of daily blessings, the definition
of friend. This man—this gentleman—
who doesn’t keep score, or harbor resentment
like a plague…She could get a PhD
in disappointment, but no fieldwork
will be done today. The only decisions—
wildflower honey or acacia, and which flowers
to bring home to grace both their houses.

* * * * *

"High Tea" was first published in Cholla Needles (Issue 33) and is part of Tobi Alfier's new collection Symmetry: earth and sky (forthcoming from Main Street Rag).

Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was published by Cholla Needles Press. Symmetry: earth and sky is forthcoming from Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (

Wednesday 27 May 2020


by Anita S Pulier

In this quarantine marathon
morning is evening.
Hours poorly punctuated,
like a run-on sentence,
suffer from adjective flooding.


Innocent verbs 
face the danger 
of domestic abuse


The family chatters
on a zoom-packed screen,
eyeglasses steam up over masks,
droplets and aerosols
swarm like summer’s no-see-ums.

April arrives,
cherry and apple trees bloom,
daffodils sparkle in exhaust free air,
mockingbirds imitate screaming sirens.

How small the difference
between noise and song.

My love, look up!
The sun rises and sets,
the moon reassures,
we’re okay.

* * * * *

After retiring from her law practice, Anita served as a U. S. representative for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom at the United Nations.

Her chapbooks Perfect Diet, The Lovely Mundane and Sounds Of Morning as well as her book The Butchers Diamond were published by Finishing Line Press. Anita’s poems have appeared both online and in print in many journals and several anthologies. Recently she has been the featured poet on The Writers Almanac.

Anita's website address is

Tuesday 26 May 2020


by Vera Kewes Salter

At fifteen she had no language to describe
her own body when the man lured her

into his cabin and caused unknown
sensations to radiate through her.

She tried to write about this in her green leather
diary with the gold lock. Her boyfriend made her

shred it and pitch it into the waste bin at the underground
station because she was not able to say

if she had real sex. She sobbed every evening
as he harangued her on the phone.

She is glad her three-year old granddaughters know 
to say they wash their vaginas each night in the tub.

* * * * *

Raised in England to parents who were refugees from Europe, Vera Kewes Salter moved to the United States in 1969 and married into an African American family. Together with a PhD in sociology these varied perspectives inform her work. She writes at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center. She has been published recently in Right Hand Pointing, Writers Circle 2, and Red Eft Review.

Monday 25 May 2020

Her Feet

by Tamara Madison

She wore mules with maribou poufs,
clear plastic high-heels to show off
toned calves, slim ankles, high arches.
Now she wears flat shoes in two sizes,
a brace on one foot, compression socks.
There are thick calluses on the braced foot.
I cut her nails, work the scissors under
the thick keratin to clip the bent-under tips.
I put lotion on her feet and legs; skin
flakes off, skin that hasn’t seen the sun
in tens of years. I help her dress for breakfast,
clean up when she doesn’t make it
to the toilet. She jokes about being dressed
like a baby by her daughter. How awful
to have lived too long! she says.
Before she goes to bed she lays out
tomorrow’s knit pants and top,
lines up the brace and two-sized shoes,
and says a prayer for everyone on her list
before falling asleep with the thought
that maybe this will be the night when He
comes to bear her away in his chariot of air.

* * * * *                     

Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook The Belly Remembers and two full-length volumes of poetry, Wild Domestic and Moraine, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, Your Daily Poem, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac, Sheila-Na-Gig, and many other publications. She has recently retired from teaching English and French in Los Angeles and is happy to finally get some sleep. More about Tamara can be found at

Sunday 24 May 2020

Homeless Shelter Lamentation 

by D.C. Buschmann

You come to me drunk,
expect me to pretend
I like your drunk self.
I don’t

know how to pretend
you aren’t drunk,
that you don’t remember
what I just told you
five minutes ago,

that you don’t repeat
what you just said
four or five times.

I don’t know how to
pretend I don’t notice
your alternate personality
IQ’s 80 points lower.

You say I’m to blame.
I tear into you 
when you’re the one

I don’t know how to 
pretend I don’t notice
you’ve gone into a rage
because I’m watching
a show you don’t like.
Why not just ask me
to turn it?

You expect me to pretend
I don’t have a threshold
and this isn’t beyond it.

You expect me to pretend
with you 
that you don’t drink.

You expect me to pretend
I like you drunk.
I don’t.

* * * * *

D.C. Buschmann is a retired editor and reading specialist. She was a finalist in the 2018 Poetry Society of Indiana’s Ogdon Award. Her poem, “Death Comes for a Friend,” was the Editor’s Choice in Poetry Quarterly, Winter 2018. In 2016, she was a finalist in the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize contest and the Pride in Poetry Prize contest. She has been published in literary magazines in the US, the UK, Australia, Iraq, and India. She lives in Carmel, Indiana, with husband Nick and miniature schnauzers Cupcake and Coco. Her first full collection of poetry will be published in 2020.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Mustard Flowers Falling

by Tanya Ko Hong


a yellow cab stops in the dark
dark clouds cover half the moon
water is boiling in the rusty kettle

she smells like peppermint
the cat's eyes like a neon sign
outside the rainy window

you are reading a line in a poem

petals of dried flowers
drop on your knees

a woman leaves 
after brushing her teeth
with your old tooth brush 


with your old toothbrush
after brushing her teeth
a woman leaves

drop on your knees
petals of dried flowers

you are reading a line in a poem

outside the rainy window
the cat's eyes like a neon sign
she smells like peppermint

water is boiling in the rusty kettle
dark clouds cover half the moon
a yellow cab stops in the dark 

* * * * *

"Mustard Flowers Falling" was first published by Berkeley Korean Literature Society (2016) and reprinted by the Los Angeles Poet Society (2018) and is part of Tanya Ko Hong's collection The WAR still within (KYSO Flash Press, 2019)

Tanya Ko Hong (Hyonhye) is a poet, translator, and cultural curator who champions bilingual poetry and poets. Born and raised in Suk Su Dong, South Korea, she immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eighteen. She is the author of five books: The War Still Within (KYSO Flash Press, 2019); Mother to Myself, a collection of poems in Korean (Prunsasang Press, 2015); Yellow Flowers on a Rainy Day (Oma Books of the Pacific, 2003); Mother’s Diary of Generation 1.5 (Qumran, 2002); and Generation 1.5 (Korea: Esprit Books, 1993).

Author’s website:

Friday 22 May 2020

The Way to Cross the Desert 

by Tanya Ko Hong

Do not think about
the oasis. 

* * * * *

"The Way to Cross the Desert" was first published in Yellow Flowers on a Rainy Day, Oma Books of the Pacific, 2003, and is part of Tanya Ko Hong's collection The WAR still within (KYSO Flash Press, 2019)

Tanya Ko Hong (Hyonhye) is a poet, translator, and cultural curator who champions bilingual poetry and poets. Born and raised in Suk Su Dong, South Korea, she immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eighteen. She is the author of five books: The War Still Within (KYSO Flash Press, 2019); Mother to Myself, a collection of poems in Korean (Prunsasang Press, 2015); Yellow Flowers on a Rainy Day (Oma Books of the Pacific, 2003); Mother’s Diary of Generation 1.5 (Qumran, 2002); and Generation 1.5 (Korea: Esprit Books, 1993).

Author’s website:

Thursday 21 May 2020


by Peggy Carter

boundaries all tucked up  around me
everything neatly surrounded safely guarded
my hands no longer visible
my eyes closed so I may not see

everything’s folded away not one hiding place is left
even my hair is tucked up no flying strands
lips sealed against you
like a granite wall you cannot find a crevice to catch me
not this time, not with me
I am safe here inside my
and here I will stay
no further entry permitted

even my heart has gone into hiding

* * * * *

Peggy Carter has been writing since 2006, and now takes workshops which she finds invigorating. Her mentors include Brendan Constantine, Tresha Haefner, Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) and Kelly Grace Thomas. Her style is free verse and her own life has provided plenty of inspiration. Her work has appeared in The Stray Branch, Fourth & Sycamore, Bellowing Ark and Decanto, among others. 

Wednesday 20 May 2020

The Love Song of Helen Delacroix

by Laura Saint Martin

There is room enough for romance in these bones, rationed as they are, all the screws and plates and breaks perfect places for love, or disease, to flourish. My only problem being, I’ve never learned the difference.

Room enough…

World enough and time…

Who said that?

As a single mother on the autism spectrum, I have world in abundance, in all its fierce, screaming-neon, knife-faceted fecundity.

Time? A noble gas.

I’m plastered like a diplomat’s passport with diagnoses, a regular walking DSM V, with just enough sense to feel like shit about it. If my bones are porous, my ego’s worse, gapped as a tweaker’s teeth and sucking twice as hard at every form of abuse known to humankind.

What is my savant? As though I am required to have one, the sole quantification of my existence. Lebensunwertes Leben. Life unworthy of life. Isn’t it enough to love life? Must it love you back? I am more alive, I think, than most, as though I can reach into the earth and feel all of humanity, all of life, and synchronize every beating heart. I am the watcher, purveyor of the bigger picture, apart, but part of. I’m more connected than all the social butterflies with their short attention spans, their constant search for a bigger flower, a brighter sun. I have world enough and time to feel all that life, to soothe it into one giant pulse.

* * * * *

Laura Saint Martin is an emerging writer, working on a mystery series set in the foothills of Southern California, featuring horses and their eccentric but brave owners. She also writes poetry about life on the autism spectrum, mental health, blue collar struggles, and animals and nature.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Care and Feeding

 by Lisa Finch

My fifteen year old son, Brennan, had barely nibbled at his cheeseburger. Now I watched him pick half-heartedly at his fries.
“Not hungry?”
A shrug. Barely audible words that might have been “not really.”
When Brennan’s dad, Jeff, had walked out on us six months ago, it had been a painful surprise, like stepping into a bear trap that had been set just for me. Except, of course, Brennan had been caught in it, too.
Over the months, Brennan silently raged against me. Somehow, it had all become my fault. Each day he inched further and further from me, the space between us growing exponentially. Counselling hadn’t helped. But then, everyone involved had to show up and Jeff hadn’t. Or wouldn’t.
            Now Brennan sat across from me; he might have well been on the other side of the world. I remembered the last big fight Jeff and I had. Brennan and I wanted a dog. I’d visited our local pet store who’d recently started re-homing rescue dogs. It would be perfect. But Jeff had refused and that was that. Even then, he’d been planning his escape.
Jeff left, and the dog project deflated.
Now here in the restaurant, the idea resurfaced. No sooner was it in my thoughts than it popped out of my mouth: an olive branch. A trip to the pet store.
Brennan’s eyes were bright as they met mine. “Really?”
A dog. What had I just done?
I swallowed hard and forced a smile. “Really.”


I followed Brennan into the store, mentally calculating the price of dog food, vet bills and other expenses. A little late, I chastised myself silently.
Another thought dawned on me: what if Brennan didn’t find a dog he wanted here, tonight. I imagined his stony silence on the drive home.
“Hey wait, I said. “We just passed the dogs—”
I ran to keep up. He led me past the cats, hamsters, birds, and tropical fish.
Brennan ran over to the dimly lit terrariums. “Aren’t they cool?” He pointed at the sign on the glass enclosure. (Female) Brachypelma Smithi. The Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.
He was putting me on, right? Surely he remembered. Me, near hysterics whenever a spider of any size invaded our home. It’s hard to forget a shrieking woman, doing the Funky Chicken, levying a broom or sometimes a can of Raid. Once I’d used a glass and had left said glass for a week before I ventured near it.
            Iit’s a spider…”
“Yeah, but Mom, just look at her! My friend Jared has one. Did you know that the tarantula is actually a low-maintenance pet?”
Oh?” A full body shiver reminded me of that old saying. Someone had just walked over my grave.
“Yeah, you feed them like once a week,” Brennan said, faced pressed up to the glass.
I asked him what they ate, feeling vaguely queasy that somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, I already knew.
“They eat crickets, live ones.”
“Yeah, I think I read that somewhere.” I forced myself to look inside the terrarium. The spider moved its hairy orangey-red and black legs with exaggerated slowness, like something from a horror movie where things have gone terribly wrong.
Brennan looked at my horrified expression. “But you won’t let me get one, will you?” He shook his head and stormed away. “I should’ve known.”
He turned, his cheeks splotchy, the universe compressed into a choice: be a cool mom or watch Brennan move farther and farther away. Bridge the distance, right now. Or don’t.
Let’s talk about this,” I ventured.
He folded his arms across his chest. “So you can tell me all the reasons why I can’t have one.”
No.” I plucked a pamphlet out of the stand, The Care and Feeding of Your Tarantula, and stalled for time. “It means I have questions.”
“Ask away.” He gave me a tight smile. “I’ve researched.”
News to me.
“Okay, what’s this stuff?” I pointed at the sand at the bottom of the spider’s enclosure.
Substrate. It’s a mixture of sand and peat moss. You only have to remove the dead crickets—I mean I would have to—and change the sand a couple of times a year. Spiders are pretty clean.”
“Do you have to, uh, exercise her?” My arm bristled just thinking about her crawling on my son.
“No, and that’s the great thing, too. You can handle her, if you want to. This specific breed isn’t very aggressive and if you just relax, she’s won’t spook and throw her hairs at you or bite.”
Now I was in full body shiver mode. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop. “Yeah, the venom. Doesn’t that freak you out a little?”
He shook his head. “She’s got venom but only a limited supply so she’ll really only ever use it in a life-threatening situation. Mostly, she keeps to herself in her little hide.”
“Hide? Exactly how it sounds I guess…”
“Yeah, she needs a place to just hang out, you know, unseen.” He turned back to the glass. “She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
A place to hide out, unseen. Flashes of my ex showing up at the door unexpected, just when I was having a good day, or when I was having a very bad, weepy day. Imagine never having to see him. Ever. Just staying in my dark little hide, my needs all being taken care of.
I realized I’d just missed something Brennan had said.                                
“Sorry,” I prompted.
“I said I’ll take care of her. I’ll do everything. I promise.”   
So: payback for every spider I’d ever squished. This was it, a hundred fold. A kind of chill fell over me. I ran my hand through my hair, sure I felt something moving around in there.
“Okay, this next part is a deal breaker: you will make sure she never escapes. I mean never ever.
“I swear!”

That had been three month ago. I’d gained some grudging respect that I’d allowed the spider in, but not much. Certainly not as much as I’d hoped for.
Lately I’d taken to avoiding this room, and its sinister posters, its darkness. More and more I couldn’t help compare the choice of a spider with Brennan’s rebellion, his constant testing of me.
I didn’t expect to actually care whether the spider lived or died. But it mattered to Brennan and somehow keeping her alive meant maybe I hadn’t completely failed as a parent.    
Brennan had worried about the spider when she remained motionless for days, without eating, and then one day she shed her old skin. Like Lazarus, she had emerged. Her body was soft and she was vulnerable at first, so she’d stay put until her new skin hardened and she had protection. Huh. A kind of inertia until she was ready to face the world again.
Now I stared at the terrarium; something was different. New light? No, it was the same red light. The water looked recently changed, there were no cricket bodies. Brennan had kept his word.                                                                                    
Then I noticed it. The lid, it was askew.
And the spider was nowhere to be found.


I picturing myself giving into my old pattern: I’d run out of the house, call Brennan out of class, get him to come home and take care of this.
No. I was stronger now: I put my hair up in a ponytail, rolled up my sleeves, slipped on a pair of high latex gloves, and got down on my hands and knees to find her. After all, I was Mom, Finder of All Lost Things. I could do this.


Three hours after Brennan had stepped off the school bus, with both of us now on the hunt, I had to admit it. Even I couldn’t locate her.
“She’s lost, isn’t she, Mom?”
Yes, she’s lost. And now maybe she’ll die.
I hated myself for doing it, but I sat down on the step and put my head in my hands. Hot salty tears sprang to my eyes.
I couldn’t even keep a damned spider alive let alone maintain a relationship with my only son.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said.
This only made me cry harder.
“It’s not that.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “I feel like I’ve lost you.” My words came out in a whisper. “We used to be so close.”
We’re still close.” As he said it, his mouth turned down; even he didn’t believe it.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally he said, “It’s just that things are all messed up now.”                                       
I nodded.
I reached for a crumpled tissue in my pocket. “Yeah.”
“It’s not your fault.” He turned his face away. This is something he used to do when he was little and he didn’t want me to see him cry. “I mean what happened with Dad.”
I took in a long shaky breath. “What if it is? What if it’s all my fault?”
I imagined Dr. Phil admonishing me that grown up issues shouldn’t be discussed in front of the children. Now I’d probably make Brennan feel all sorts of emotions he couldn’t sort out. Another failure on the pile.
How many ways could one mom fail?
“If I’ve been a shit, I’m sorry,” he said.
I sighed and let the language slide.
“I have, haven’t I?
“Well, maybe a little,” I said.
We both laughed. When I put my arm on his shoulder, he didn’t slip out of it.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s put on Netflix and watch a really bad horror movie. She’ll come out eventually.”
Just this morning, that statement would’ve sent me into the full on heebie jeebies. I’d grown my own hard shell.
Let’s just hope I find her first or you’ll have a heart attack.” But I could see he didn’t mean it. He saw the changes, too.
Later, watching a really campy zombie flick, out of the shadows, something moved in the glow of the TV with exaggerated slowness.
“Mom! Look! She’s back!”
Back. Back was good.
I could relate. My own inertia after Jeff’s exit, had made me want to curl up into myself, away from the world and its light.
After months of staying in my hide, now I emerged, ready.
Brennan picked up the spider. “Want to hold her?” He grinned wickedly at me.
“Well.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck. “Maybe later. After all, the female Mexican Red Knee can live up to 25 years, so I’ve got some time to work up to it.”
Brennan’s mouth dropped open. So, his mom knew a thing or two about spiders.
Impressive,” he said, watching the spider crawl along his arm, with exaggerated slowness.

* * * * *

“Care and Feeding” was originally published in Wild Musette Journal #1901: Frog Porridge (November 2019). 

Lisa Finch lives and writes in Forest, Ontario. Her work has appeared in over 25 publications. You can dig deeper here: and here: She is blessed with a wonderful family, friends, a full calendar, various pets, and many books.