Monday 31 October 2022


Red's Revenge

by Vincent J Calone

“Don't stray from the path, don't talk to strangers.
Take heed, beware, and try to spot dangers.
Words, echo around your red riding head.
True words ignored, your mother once said.
Alone in the wild, you met a strange wolf.
At first he seemed fun, cool and aloof.
But, you were lost in the forest, fleeing from mom's wrath,
did you miss a sign on the road, as you strayed from the path?

“Pick her some flowers!” he would howl as he'd exit.
You thought this was strange, wondered if you should text it.
Then off to your granny's without delay,
There upon arrival, much to your dismay.
Granny slumped in bed, she looked a little bit odd.
Her worn out false teeth, now sharp and too large.
In feral rage, he sprang up with tail like a flag.
Growling, “I'll eat you too, just like I ate the old hag.”

“Hold it now- there wolfie!” was your fiery retort.
How about some bread and butter and a nice glass of port?
Slow yourself down, we have plenty of time.
Let's make this night special, relax, I'll pour the wine.”
Befuddled, the wolf was thrown for a loop.
as Red buttered the bread and poured him a snoot.
Wolfie just laughed, “I'll take my time and just enjoy both.”
Drinking the wine and eating the loaf.

He gobbled and drank- he demanded some more.
Soon thereafter, the beast collapsed on the floor.
Red smiled and winked as she turned to the door.
“Don't you know dogs can't eat chocolate and onion?
Do you want some more? Are you having fun yet?
The focaccia was spiked, and the babka had coca.
And as for the wine, well, strychnine, to choke ya.”

The moral of the story, is to always choose the dare.
Go it alone and uncover your hair.
The night, it is black, the woods, dark and deep.
Always check the bed before you slip in to sleep.
Never talk to a stranger, never trust a creep.
Never stray from the path, look before you leap.
Wear your cape proud and leave them for dead.
Red's only a color, a stigma, made up in the head.

Release your covered locks for all the world to see.
Never let a monster tell you who you should be.

* * * * *

"Red's Revenge" is
dedicated to Vincent J Calone's wife Danyalle and daughter Jewelia. It was written from a prompt- Tell a children's story but change the ending. It is narrated by T.A. Niles at

Vincent J Calone, poet -
Chapbooks, include UNWOUND 40 poems and songs written during covid-19. He enjoys writing in form and writes and posts a new poem every day on Raven Wire Poetry Prompts on Facebook.
Recent publications include, Fresh Words An International Literary Magazine, selected anthologies- Cooch Behar, Nature and Everest- India, Wingless Dreamer, The 24 Hour Poetry Marathon Anthology. He's a regular reader live @ Spo-Fest on line, the MUSE @ Neir's, Jack Jack's and Flash Mob Poetry.
Vincent is proud to be part of the writing collective

Sunday 30 October 2022


This Is America

by Michelle Fulkerson

This is America,
the land of the free, 
the home of the brave.
This is America,
the land where on average our nation has one new
school shooting every week.

This is America,
where children in our own backyards starve,
hungry for food and thirsty for knowledge.

This is America,
where white people say the N word
the same way they drive their cars:
reckless, loud, and deliberate;
where one in five women will be raped in her lifetime,
where I am one of these women.

This is America,
where the political tension can be cut with a knife.
This is America,
home of the greedy and the land of the homeless,
with more than 
554,000 homeless people,
193,000 of those people 
live in tents or on park benches.

This is America,
where homophobia and racism run rampant.
Captured as prey in the mouth of a rabid dog,
we live in a society controlled by timetables and paychecks,
where increasing numbers of babies are born 
filled with cocaine instead of love,
where foster care traffics out young girls, 
with the help of a corrupt cop. 

The more we deny these realities,
the higher the numbers climb.
This is OUR America,
unedited and uncut.

* * * * *

"This Is America" is from Michelle Fulkerson's collection
I Am from Stargazing on Rooftops, edited posthumously by her mother, Julie Fulkerson (Cerasus Poetry, July 2022).

Michelle Fulkerson fought her way into the world at just 23 weeks gestation. Against the odds, she survived and thrived. Michelle loved reading, writing and music. She began writing poetry and short stories at age 12. Around that same time, Michelle began struggling with anorexia, anxiety, and depression. She kept a journal where she wrote with poignant honesty regarding her mental health struggles. Michelle wrote up until her suicide, just 4 months shy of her 18th birthday.

Saturday 29 October 2022


Texture of Hope

by Michelle Fulkerson

Hope is rough 
as the pages of a well-worn book
and heavy as blotting paper,
yet slips easily through a person's grasp.
Tan and flat,
hope is a page
with another’s words covering its surface.

Hope is not some shiny, far away thought
or a wishful dream state.
Hope is concrete and surreal,
all in the same moment.
Some say hope is like the stars: 
always there, yet just out of reach,
a light to guide the way. 

Hope to me is flexible,
found in a song, a book, or a phrase. 
It ignites a fire within the soul,
supplies the momentum to move forward
and allows those who possess it to take notice.
Hope slows us down to appreciate,
while it also fuels the opinions, 
thoughts, actions and emotions we hold.

Hope is an undulating river,
expansive and powerful,
that connects in order to serve a larger cause.
Fast paced and freeing, 
the flow of water 
carves out a purpose for those in need. 

Hope is found both in sorrow 
and great joy,
in the darkness of a movie theater
with the magic of the big screen that creates 
a shield from the life that awaits beyond the theater doors.

* * * * *

"Texture of Hope" is from Michelle Fulkerson's collection I Am from Stargazing on Rooftops, edited posthumously by her mother, Julie Fulkerson (Cerasus Poetry, July 2022).

Michelle Fulkerson fought her way into the world at just 23 weeks gestation. Against the odds, she survived and thrived. Michelle loved reading, writing and music. She began writing poetry and short stories at age 12. Around that same time, Michelle began struggling with anorexia, anxiety, and depression. She kept a journal where she wrote with poignant honesty regarding her mental health struggles. Michelle wrote up until her suicide, just 4 months shy of her 18th birthday.

Friday 28 October 2022


Love Beads and a Fog Horn

by Maryann Hurtt

in that once upon a time
bellbottoms and no bra delight
a faraway man sent letters
make love, not war
words that heated
her nights alone
in her first on her own
upstairs flat

two blocks east
Lake Michigan blew cold
the fog horn sounding wisdom
make your life count
wake up
get out of bed
dress then catch the # 5 bus
punch in
wash bottoms
slide old bodies side to side
no bedsores allowed

the man from faraway cities returned
placed love beads around her neck
till one day they broke
and shattered

they grew into seeds
planted in rich dirt
hoping to be daisies
or sunflowers
blooming all over again

but quite possibly even taller

* * * * *

Now retired after working thirty years as a hospice RN, Maryann Hurtt listened to a thousand stories of resiliency, pain, joy, and sorrow. Her poetry reflects many of the stories. Verse-Virtual, Gyroscope Review, Moss Piglet, and Anti-Heroin Chic recently published her work. Once Upon a Tar Creek Mining for Voices (Turning Plow Press) came out 2021. Tar Creek has been called “the worst environmental disaster no one has heard of.” Hurtt is determined its legacy is remembered and heeded.

Thursday 27 October 2022



by Maryann Hurtt

when she was old
and memories were more
than neighbors next door
and St Mary’s shadowed her window
where Father Joe
doled forgiveness
in calculated pieces
her mind wandered back
to a time
when kindness
was burying crimson sheets
and tiny remains
of creation
not meant for this world
but silenced from eyes
ready to smite
a woman certain
she must give back
to God
a life she knew
she could not hold
even as she bled
her own existence
almost away

* * * * *

"Unnamed" was originally published in Fox Cry.

Now retired after working thirty years as a hospice RN, Maryann Hurtt listened to a thousand stories of resiliency, pain, joy, and sorrow. Her poetry reflects many of the stories. Verse-Virtual, Gyroscope Review, Moss Piglet, and Anti-Heroin Chic recently published her work. Once Upon a Tar Creek Mining for Voices (Turning Plow Press) came out 2021. Tar Creek has been called “the worst environmental disaster no one has heard of.” Hurtt is determined its legacy is remembered and heeded.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

by Katie Manning

I fell in love with tulips in a book about Disneyland. Kids
clicked their wooden shoes while sitting on tulip seats. My
mom drew these flowers often: little bowls topped with three-
pointed crowns that smelled of crayons. When my spouse
first bought me a bouquet of tulips, I realized I’d never seen
real ones—firm stems and leaves, strong green scent. Now,
I have seen them spring back from a death droop with just
a drink of water. But the tulips cannot love me back, can’t hold
my weight while I sing and keep time with my feet, can’t cross
the chasm between what I learned as a child and what is real.

* * * * *

Katie Manning is the founding editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review and a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of Tasty Other, which won the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and her sixth chapbook is How to Play (Louisiana Literature Press, 2022). Her poems have appeared in American Journal of Nursing, december, The Lascaux Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, and many other venues, and her poem “What to Expect” was featured on the Poetry Unbound podcast from The On Being Project. Find her online at

Tuesday 25 October 2022

After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell
Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night

by Katie Manning

I wonder if my dream breasts were even close
to accurate: if he imagined the tiny mole like
a third eye between them, the stretch marks
raked across my skin. I wonder if the nude-
beach jokes he sent last week caused this
dream, or if the dream is just a lie he told
because he wants to talk about my breasts.
I wonder if he knows I once called him
handsome after a friend wondered aloud,
soon after his wife left, if he would remarry.
I wonder if I’ll forget this like I’ve forgotten
so many things men have said, or if I’ll think
of this each time I see myself in the mirror
before a shower, the way I often think
of the boy in seventh grade who asked why
my eyes are so close together. I’ve only
ever wondered how that boy could think
my eyes were too close. I don’t remember
his name. Maybe in another two decades,
I won’t remember this man’s name, and I
certainly won’t need him to tell me I look
good with my third eye perfectly placed.
I will see myself and know.

* * * * *

"After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night" was first published in Kahini Quarterly.

Katie Manning is the founding editor-in-chief of Whale Road Review and a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of Tasty Other, which won the 2016 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and her sixth chapbook is How to Play (Louisiana Literature Press, 2022). Her poems have appeared in American Journal of Nursing, december, The Lascaux Review, New Letters, Poet Lore, and many other venues, and her poem “What to Expect” was featured on the Poetry Unbound podcast from The On Being Project. Find her online at

Monday 24 October 2022


Repeat Visitor

by Rachel Wagner

My son knows his way around the county. He could practically do a visit himself, while first-timers are over at the lockers struggling to figure out which one is available or where to put the money. They do every single thing wrong, getting chastised by the COs talking about “come on a kid could do it.” That’s my kid who can do it. He knows to go to a locker with an orange key. He puts two quarters in before closing the door like you’re supposed to do. He goes through the metal detector alone. He knows which elevator to take. He tells me our joke about standing in lava when we’re on the orange tiles, waiting for it to come. Inside, he says we’re going up not down. He can’t open that first door on the fourth floor by himself, but, once I open it, he runs full speed down the hallway.

A group of COs are there waiting for people to come wait in the waiting room. They all peek over at him. Every time I think someone might say like, stop running, but by now I guess they’re used to it. I always sit in the last row, stage left. The one time I didn’t, my son kind of got frustrated, so I sit there even if I don’t really feel like it. He learned his father’s full name in that waiting room. He gets excited when he hears it get called and jumps up from his seat. He runs down the ramp towards the next elevator. He makes a sharp turn into the right room where we wait some more for this one CO to come let us upstairs. We both look down at our feet on the ride up there. Then we hand over the yellow slip of paper with everyone’s name, plus 1 child. The white copy is stacked up already with that group of COs. Not sure what the pink one is for. A souvenir? An alibi? Something to play with during the visit?

Anyway, in the little visitation room, my three-year-old looks through the big glass window and then through the windows on the door. Staring downstairs. We ask ourselves out loud: is that him? No. Is that him? No. Then it finally is him. He reminds us not to touch the black shit around the window. He mentions that his dad is stuck. He wants to hug him, but he knows he can’t. He talks about how the craters in the walls match his father’s bullet-scar-ridden stomach. Sometimes he wants his dad to stand up and lift his shirt to compare, but otherwise he barely even needs us there. He slides his metal chair in and out. He pretends to push the walls or lift the window between us up. He’s figured that space out, and there’s no way out. We all know two knocks on the door means it’s time to go. Time for a pound through the glass or a high five and an iloveyouseeyoulater.

After that, we just stand around waiting with everyone for that CO again. Back downstairs, my son runs up the ramp, through the waiting room, and down the hall again. He presses the elevator button before anyone else has a chance. He doesn’t get on the elevator to the right that’s always sitting there with its mouth wide. That one won’t take you anywhere without a key. Me and him stop back at the lockers again before we actually leave. He takes a quick drink from the water fountain, with some always getting on his shirt. Out the doors, he races down the hill away from the structure of that great green monster. He steps down its steps and gets ready to rescue the toys he left behind in the car.

* * * * *

A version of "Repeat Visitor" previously appeared in Jellyfish Review.

Rachel Wagner is a writer from New Jersey, currently living in Newark. She writes poems, essays, and scholarship about her life and the books she's reading. Rachel also teaches first year writing at Seton Hall University, runs an online bookstore called
Ten Dollar Books, and started a literacy program called Not School. More of her writing can be found at


Sunday 23 October 2022

 The painting you did

                                                by Ruth Chad

of the cobalt sea
just before you moved away

how you allowed the fence to fall
down gently around the dunes
bent it like the body

of an old woman
allowed the wood to splinter
where storms had frayed

the slats and the wire
between them    mangled
in the violet hues

reflected off the purple gazebo
tall grasses     pale    pliant
waving in salt breeze

you captured my longing
to stop
there at the edge

of the ocean
and not
take another step

leaving our long
late shadows
on the amber sand

-for Emma

* * * * *

Ruth Chad is a psychologist who lives and works in the Boston area.  Her poems have appeared in the Aurorean, Bagels with the Bards, Connection, Psychoanalytic Couple and Family Institute of New England, Constellations, Ibbetson Street, Montreal Poems, Muddy River Poetry Review, Lily Poetry Review, Amethyst Poetry Review and several others. Her chapbook The Sound of Angels was published by Červená Barva Press in 2017. Ruth was nominated for a Pushcart prize in 2021.

Saturday 22 October 2022


Names Changed to Protect the Guilty

by Susan Jensen Sweeting

Remember that time in college when you realized you were madly in love with your next-door neighbor Vinny? How you two met in art school, became best friends, and you never thought of him that way until he moved house? You didn’t know where he was, and not knowing where he was was so unbearable that you called everyone you both knew until you found him. And remember how this revelation happened on Valentine’s Day? You expressed your feelings by finding him in studio class, laying a single red carnation on the table before him with a note reading “Happy V-day V, love S,” then slipping away before he could say anything. You thought you were so smooth. Remember how it was thrilling and slightly dangerous because you were already married?

You told yourself that it was harmless because of course, you were married and you and Vinny were just dear friends. You could be dear friends with another man and still be married, right? It was the 80s. People did that. It wasn’t cheating if you weren’t sleeping together, right? You were just friends. You only ended up neighbors in an apartment complex that rented to art students because you went to the same art college. He had his roommate Mikey and you had your roommate Inez because you had to leave your husband back home in the Bahamas since he didn’t have his papers yet.

Remember how you thought he was a total geek when you first met him, a little round Italian with one eyebrow? How the very first time you all went to a school concert together he got drunk and tried to kiss you and you told him to back the fuck off? “I’m married,” you hissed, giving him a shove. But that was before.

After your revelation, you let that high school lovesick feeling simmer for months. You never came out and said anything to him but you got the blood rush whenever he walked into view and you found yourself making up reasons to seek him out. Oh my God, you would pine. You would daydream and pine like a fourteen year old girl.

Things were getting tense with your husband because you wanted to go have fun with your college friends, but, from the other end of a phone line in another country, he would insist you stay home. Remember how angry that made you, how your whole life you had been a trustworthy person? How having fun with your college friends meant being designated driver because you never drank, and the idea of screwing around never entered your mind since you had spent nearly four years apart in a long distance relationship never once cheating, and that was before you were even married? You had always been as solid as a rock.

Remember how it crept up on you? How surprised you were to learn that you could not breathe until you knew where Vinny was? When you finally found him, you turned up on the doorstep of his new apartment with his two roommates Amy and Wendy and you were a little envious of them. You had a bag of frozen lobster under your arm and you swept inside and made them all lobster dinner, but you were really only cooking for him.

And those “not dates”, like that time the Art Museum was hosting an International Film Festival and the two of you went to see Bergman’s “The Magic Flute,” but you could not tolerate the opera so you left at intermission to get ice cream instead. And that time a bunch of you helped your friend Stephanie move from Miami to Pompano Beach and it was the best time you ever had. Exhausted at the end of the day, before you left you said to Vinny “give me a kiss,” which he did, in front of everyone. “What’s up with them?” Wendy asked Stephanie, she told you later. “Haven’t you just ever wanted to kiss someone you shouldn’t kiss?” she said.

And then that time you all went out for dinner to celebrate the end of term and you and Vinny went outside. You had a moment, a confession of love. You loved him and he loved you, and it was like that scene in the movies with the music and the circling wide shot and the kissing. And then you said that even though you loved him, you didn’t want to do anything about it because, well, you know.

Remember how even though it’s been over thirty years, you’re still married to the same husband who finally got his papers and you haven’t seen Vinny or spoken to him in twenty years, but just remembering the story still fills you with a kind of longing?

* * * * *

Cited work:
The Magic Flute. Directed by Ingmar Berman, Svensk Filmindustri/Svenska Filminstituet, 1975

Susan Jensen Sweeting is the author of countless short stories ranging from fanciful to thrilling and she’s currently working on her first novel – a ghost story but with real live people. She’s the wife of an aquaponic farmer and the mother of two bona fide adults, but she’s also a massage therapist, an artist, a teacher, a Scottish fiddler, an intrepid traveler and a community builder in Freeport, Bahamas. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. You can also find her on Instagram @sjensweet.

Friday 21 October 2022

True Nature

by Angela Hoffman

My focus is on the waves, white-capped 
folding in on themselves
relentless in moving forward
frantic, worried 
falling back, receding
doing it all over again.

But my gaze is pulled to a wider view 
where blue meets blue for as far as I can see
both the width and length of life
the entirety of the ocean offering tranquility
awakening a longing.
The shore still holds, each tiny grain of sand
kissed by eternity. 

* * * * *

Angela Hoffman lives in Wisconsin. Her poetry has appeared in Solitary Plover, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets’ Museletter and calendar, Agape Review, Verse-Virtual, Visual Verse, and Your Daily Her first chapbook (Resurrection Lily, Kelsay Books) is scheduled for release in 2022. She committed to writing a poem a day during the pandemic. Spirituality and nature often inspire her poetry. 

Thursday 20 October 2022

Apple Crumble with Love

by Rose Mary Boehm

I didn’t know about grown-up desperation
then. Had got used to carrots, potatoes and water.
Didn’t mind porridge made with wheat ground in Mum’s lap
with our old coffee grinder. Had no idea what coffee was.
I knew whey, not milk. Butter was a foreign word.
There was something nice in a slice of dark bread
with a layer of mashed potatoes. Sometimes
I brought home an egg, stolen, still warm,
from under one of Frau Keller’s hens.

For my birthday Mum made an apple crumble
with flour, water, and a few apples which
had overwintered in a drawer wrapped
in newspaper. At the time I didn’t understand
why Mum was crying when she tried to
prize the beautiful apple crumble from
the baking tray with a hammer and a chisel.

* * * * *

Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru, and author of two novels as well as six poetry collections. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Do Oceans Have Underwater Borders? (Kelsay Books, July 2022) and Whistling in the Dark (Taj Mahal Publishing House, July 2022), are also available on Amazon.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

He never forgot to bring her roses on Saturdays

by Rose Mary Boehm

They’d met in the Spring of 1921. He was
handsome and rich, she thought.
Seven years later they married.

She had expected a villa and silk.
He said he loved her anyway.
That wasn’t enough.

They settled in a small flat in the undesirable
part of town. The wallpaper rotted from rising damp.
Not enough coal in the cellar during their second winter
together. The thermometer fell below zero.
Her first-born blue from the cold.

And she was bored. She was bored with his smiles,
his cheer, his love, the flowers. So she nagged.
One day the earthenware plate flew
through the closed window into the street.
At least his hands were not at her throat.

Still, for fifty-one years she kept his wounds open.
Dug with unerring efficiency into the soft bits.

We talked about Father in the kitchen
just before they picked us up to attend the funeral.
Where would I have gone? She said into the void.
I felt how she breathed freely now.

* * * * *

Rose Mary Boehm is a German-born British national living and writing in Lima, Peru, and author of two novels as well as six poetry collections. Her poetry has been published widely in mostly US poetry reviews (online and print). She was twice nominated for a Pushcart. Do Oceans Have Underwater Borders? (Kelsay Books, July 2022) and Whistling in the Dark (Taj Mahal Publishing House, July 2022), are also available on Amazon.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

The Trouble With Happiness

by Laurie Kuntz

In Hawaii, on a family vacation,
on one of those days
we let you eat anything you wanted,
and then drove to “Mustard’s Last Stand”
serving 47 varieties of hot dogs.

On a day when

the waves were calm enough
and I wasn’t worried, and let you go
further out than I ever have,
and the sun block did not sting your eyes,
and the rented car had a radio station
that played 60’s songs without commercials,
and the DJ repeated the titles after each song,
and we ate french fries at three different rest stops,

knowing that this could be enough, forever—

but, for no reason, you started to cry,
then whispered, I’m just so happy.

At six, you knew
                                all this would become a shadowed memory
retold by three different people,

and I would argue with dad whether the hot dog stand
really had 47 varieties, and whether
the DJ played commercials between the rock and roll,

(which, too, we’d argue over).
                                                 Every detail now askew,

You knew then,

On one of those days,

these infinite moments of our lives,
held in the pockets of your tears,

would never last.

* * * * *

Laurie Kuntz is a widely published and an award winning poet. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net prize. She’s published two poetry collections (The Moon Over My Mother’s House, Finishing Line Press, Somewhere in the Telling, Mellen Press), and two chapbooks (Simple Gestures, Texas Review, Women at the Onsen, Blue Light Press). Her new chapbook, Talking Me off the Roof, is forthcoming from Kelsay Press in 2022. Recently retired, she lives in an endless summer state of mind. Visit her at:
 › home-1

Monday 17 October 2022


Distractions En Route        

by Nina Rubinstein Alonso

Noah’s yelling into the phone, throwing his big theatrical voice, because Dragon Bistro put Tien Tsin peppers in his Gao Gao Noodles though he told them NO hot peppers. Sofia hears him hollering as she zips her bag and leaves. The campus is a rippling anxiety caterpillar, the library afloat in moonlight, as she’s quitting law school too, figures she’ll be asked why she’s serving lattés at the Stella Café in a cutesy apron. Noah, theater director at Brandon Arts, wants what he wants, scolds, “See a therapist, analyze your emotional issues instead of running away.” He softens his resonant voice when it suits him, but she’s not letting him turn her around, not this time.

She calls Adrienne, “I’ve left Noah and law school.”

“Seriously? Come visit.”
On the train to New York, pale winter landscape rippling by, Sofia opens a journal page and sketches a dozing woman, purple-striped scarf, reddish hair, mouth half open.


Wiping narrow fingers on a napkin Adrienne asks, “You’re sure?”

Sofia’s poking chopsticks into her dim sum, “Only why I didn’t leave sooner, sick of him, sick of being a law student/waitress, need to support myself,” knows Adrienne works for her mother’s international non-profit and has a trust fund.

“My parents split up decades ago, remarried, don’t seem to hate each other lately, but my mother questions anything I do, my trip to India, now David, a sculptor/computer-programmer. But our legal advisor’s going on maternity leave, and you have the background,” and helps Sofia land the temp position dealing with immigrant housing and legal defense.

‘Keeps options open, though no clue what’s next.”

“Who in hell knows that? I review grant applications, chat up donors.  It’s about being in the ‘now,’ my yoga teacher says.”

“Okay, but I need to paint.” 

“Nothing wrong with it being a job.”

Noah calls, “I’m seeing Stephanie, but you were with Dan, so?”

“Reviewing statute law,” aware theater students will do anything to get cast in his plays.

“I miss you,” complaining of insomnia despite screwing Stephanie.

“Going to yoga,” click. “Unbelievable chutzpah, telling me who he’s fucking, trying to pull me backward.”

Indian sitar music, sun salutation. The teacher, Evan, notices Sofia’s tense, says, “Breathe, relax.”

Adrienne’s meeting David after class so Sofia joins the others at Karma Chai, a basement café with spangled curtains and firefly lights. Matt says, “Noticed you at yoga lately.”

“Doubtful as this is my first class.”

He smiles, “Touché,” but shows her photos of his geometric drawings. “Pewter with ochre, too blah, had to add red.”

Sofia doesn’t say she finds his designs dull, finishes her chai, gets up to leave.

Evan asks, “Where you headed?”

“West 16th. You?”


“Adrienne will be back soon, but I can make tea?” Sofia’s inviting him in because he walked her home, but lying as Adrienne’s staying with David. “Had to get off the treadmill with no one pressuring me,” the short version of leaving law school and Noah.

“Finished medical school,” he says, “but instead of an internship, went to India and found yoga, meditation, homeopathy, herbal remedies. Now I’m in a practice with a physical therapist and acupuncturist. Getting late,” and leaves.

Not attracted to him, nothing like meeting Noah at the Stella Café, hearing that this handsome guy wanted tomato but ‘no lettuce,’ on his Cubano. 

One evening he asks, “You’re not a waitress. Why are you here?”

“Something wrong with your café con leche?” How dare he say who she was or wasn’t?

“Educated, intelligent. I’m in theater, study people. Sounds bad?”

“Rude, as this is what I’m doing at the moment,” arrogant, labeling her. 

Never apologizes, but invites her out, and, despite ambivalence, she’s drawn to this sexy man, attends his Wizard of Oz production featuring munchkins from a local school. But after a few steamy months things slide negative as he’s loud, bossy, stubborn and quick to anger over anything not to his liking.

Saturday Adrienne announces, “My period’s late, could be pregnant, figure Mom will be difficult as David’s a sculptor working computer tech, also Chinese-American, not one of her ‘top drawer’ types.”

“What about his family?”

“He thinks they’ll be okay as they know me, and his cellist sister married an Italian violin teacher. I love him, but you know that?”

“Figured, as you’re always with him. What about this place?”

“Bought the condo last year, but his loft’s bigger, so we’re considering options, may keep it as an office or studio. His folks own Bright Happiness, the green awning down the block.”
“Where we get take-out?”

“Yes. Saw his stone sculptures at an exhibition, bought that gray piece by the window, met him and we clicked. Mom kept introducing me to investment bankers from the ‘right colleges,’ boring.”

Sofia’s mother calls, “I’ve been thinking.”

“About what, mom,” worried she’ll be offered a partnership to finish law school.

“My credit card has miles for free flights I’ll never use, and you only had that college trip to London, and travel gives perspective. Makes no sense to go into law if it feels wrong, as it’s challenging, even if you like it.”


“Also grandma set up a fund for you years ago, not large, but it’s grown, and you’re of age.”

She was thirteen when grandma died, recalls hearing about a fund, studied French but never visited Paris, went to college straight from high school, then law school, excited to get into top-ranked Epping. 

Noah calls offering “an antique diamond.”


“You don’t love me? Tell me before I make a bigger ass of myself than I already have.”

“I’m traveling.”

“And a ring would cramp your style? I’ve stopped seeing Stephanie.”

“I don’t care. All I feel from you is pressure and control.”

“So I’m mister bigmouth wanting things my way, and a diamond can’t fix that?”

He views her exit as a dramatic gesture, hears her say she’s not coming back, but doesn’t believe it. “That’s how you feel?”

“No means no.  I’ll be in New York until June, filling in for a woman on maternity leave, not sure where after that.”


Adrienne’s mid-crosswalk when a car skids around an icy corner, jumps out of the way, falls. David calls, “Stress-fractured metatarsal, under observation for possible concussion,” and at the hospital Sofia sees the bandages.

“Shit,” Sofia’s crying.

David’s near the bed, hands in his dark hair.  

Adrienne’s mother Cecile and sister Sabine arrive, two blue-eyed blonds like cats from the same littler, know Sofia from college visits, but their glance at David is cool, as if his card isn’t in their file. They ask, “How are you, dear?”

“Shaken up, hurt, still breathing.”

The visit’s brief, Adrienne refusing the offer to recuperate ‘at home.’

“I’m home with David, Mom,” mother and sister glancing at each other narrowly as they leave.

“Glad they’re gone, staring daggers,” he says. 

“I’m staining seriously, so looks like… ”

Sofia asks, “Need privacy?”

“Don’t go. I have no secrets from either of you, a relief as I grew up on secrets.”

He dozes in a chair by her bed.

Finally Adrienne’s out of the hospital, but still staining. They’ve moved her things from the condo to his loft, leaving only a futon and two rugs.

Sofia’s temp job’s ending, unsure what’s next. “Barcelona? Paris? Maybe mom hopes I’ll wear myself out like a kid running around, then go back to law school?”

David says, “You’ll figure it out.”

Late August their rehearsal dinner is at the Bright Happiness, the wedding at the orchid-filled solarium of the Kroeger Museum. Adrienne, newly pregnant, wears ivory silk, David a white tux. The spiritual ceremony draws from the Books of Moses, the Gospels and Buddhism, accompanied by two guitar-playing friends. 

“You’ll be an aunt before we meet again,” Adrienne says with a hug. Later Sofia spreads a map of Europe on the floor, tosses a quarter, and, though the coin falls into the Atlantic, flicks it toward Paris.

Noah meets her at the airport, again offering that diamond ring. “Pretty,” she says. “But some day you’ll realize it would be a huge mistake.” He watches her walk through security and disappear, unable to accept her unambiguous ‘no,’ considers traveling to Paris to turn her around, maybe see his friend Jean-Pierre, a film-maker.


At the Eiffel Tower soldiers and military police carry weapons, scan crowds for terrorists. Heading back to Bastille, Sofia passes a rumpled couple looking like they spent the night in the park, and on Rue de la Roquette an African group’s roasting corn over a barrel fire, men in bright robes, the women’s heads wrapped with green, yellow and orange scarves.

At a café she writes in her journal, “This is Paris now? This is it?” Then turns old pages, rough sketches, notes on lousy boyfriends, ‘Not what she hoped for, fumbling, sweaty animal confusion,’ and, that night, dreams about running through fields, wakes remembering scrambled images.

The hotel clerk tells her how to find Cyber-Café where the dark-bearded manager speaks a mix of French and Arabic. But the computers are old, some letters worn off the unfamiliar keyboards, so she’s guessing what goes where, correcting typos. When the computer freezes the manager gets it working again, apologetic about the state of the equipment.

A short blond woman says, “At least it’s cheap.” Honor’s from the UK, works for the Paris branch of a British tech company. “Not fluent, but I manage, take art classes where the teacher tells me “Essayons encore,” ‘try again,’ possibly not sure what else to say?”

“I paint, too,” and they chat while Sofia sends emails letting everyone know she’s okay. Noah’s trying to sell a script in Hollywood, “Slim chance, but worth a shot,” glad he doesn’t mention travel to Paris as he did in an earlier email.

Honor logs off, “How about falafel in the Marais, heavily policed Jewish area.” At the restaurant a man flirt-smiles, which they ignore.

“Not your type? Not mine either, though Dad’s Jewish, Mom lapsed Catholic.” About Noah’s diamond offer, “Doubt means no, about clothes or rings the principle’s the same, that hesitation, feeling it’s wrong for you,” Honor says.

“Handsome, but so much about him drove me crazy. I liked the challenge of law school at first, but it drained me, had to get out.”

“He sounds like a bossy bugger, but coming to Paris involves more than escaping him and law school.”

“You like your job?  Or do you need change, too?”

Honor’s smiling, a scatter of freckles on her milk-pale cheeks, fluffy blond hair bouncing when she nods her head. “Is it an American thing, that work’s supposed to be your joyful identity? Misleading, creates great expectations, as Dickens says. Work is just work, not who we are, and labels make me feel boxed in. Meditation helps. Ever try?”

“No, but I’m curious.”

Honor takes Sofia to meet Jens, a tall, fair-haired Dane who owns a bookstore/publishing business on the Left Bank and shares his apartment with Honor’s friend Corinne and Laurent, a writer/waiter.

Jens says, “I started meditation in India,” then shows her a bowl of polished stones. 

“You meditate on stones?”

“No, just a way to show that thoughts have weight, each stone like a worry pressing the mind. When you meditate you let thoughts go, set ‘stones’ aside.  If they arise again, and they will, gently bring attention back to the idea of light in the heart.”

Sofia picks up a stone, “Noah,” then another, “law school.”

“Lighten the load,” he says.

Eyes closed, thoughts buzzing, but she tries to remember light in the heart, unsure what it means. 

After thirty minutes he says ‘that’s all,’ and asks “How was it?”

“Thoughts pouring, but quieted down.”

“Meditation can reduce emotional reaction.”

“I’ve been having intense dreams.” 

When they mentioned meditation, Laurent left the room, but he’s back, writing in a notebook, gazing through blue-lensed glasses.

“What’s with him?” Sofia asks Honor walking back to Bastille. 

“I’ve tapped his shell, no idea."

Next visit Sofia asks, “Tried meditation?”

“If I start being peaceful, my poetry may dry up and I’d be a boring lump of calmness.” 

Corinne says, “I told him meditation helps creativity, but he’s doesn’t believe it, thinks it would kill his muse, writes longhand with an old-fashioned ink pen, words so tiny they’re unreadable.” 

Sofia tries, “Use a computer?”

“I like to feel ink flowing onto paper, can’t do that clicking keys.” 


“Quite,” with a pompous tone, as if from another century.

Seeing his notebook, “Can I read a poem?”


Squinting, “Your writing’s so tiny I’d need a magnifying glass.”

“I’m exceedingly private, working on a chapbook titled “Grenouille d’Or,” Golden Frog,” and she gives up.   

“Who knows” says Honor, “whether he’s madly talented or some kind of daft phony trying to reinvent himself?”

On Bastille Day the transportation strike starts, Metro and bus service cut to emergency levels, mobs flinging rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails, reporters filming the chaos. Wanting to see Jens, Sofia dodges crowds, avoids a car in flames, reaches the bookstore where he’s covering windows with sheets of plywood.

He hugs her, “Glad you’re safe as things are a mess, no public transportation, rioting students, dissidents, immigrants, unions fighting government cutbacks, police with batons and tear gas, need to shut down. I’m driving to Denmark to visit my mother, hope you’ll come, Honor, too. Trains and buses might be running in a few days, but who knows?”

“Denmark?” Sofia asks Honor. 

“Paris isn’t charming at the moment, and I’m due for time off.”

Hours until they reach the Lubeck ferry, more hours driving to Copenhagen where Jen’s friends Berthe and Arne make room for their sleeping bags. She’s a potter, blond and pretty, and Jens says, “Lived together years ago, only friends,” then gently squeezes Sofia’s shoulder and strokes her dark hair, his flirting nothing like Noah’s.

They drive north to Vrads Sands where his mother Birgitte doesn’t seem surprised at her son arriving on short notice with two strange women. It’s a farm area, meals at a garden table, little to do except chat, meditate, take walks. Time drifts, their phones mostly silent, but after three days they decide to check e-mail at the next village’s internet-café.

Opening email Sofia feels like she’s arrived from the moon. Adrienne’s on bed rest, Noah’s in California trying to sell a film script, brunching with bigwigs, no mention of a possible Paris trip. Mom’s visiting friends in Vancouver while Dad paints the living room. She misses everyone, but has no desire to go back.  

That evening Corrine calls Jens, “Thugs threw bricks through Café Rosier’s window while Laurent’s poetry group was reading, accused them of mocking Islam, lots of fighting until police came. His arm’s in a splint.”

‘I need to go back, but you can stay,” Jens says.

“I’m coming, too,” says Honor. “Laurent needs help, and Corinne sounds overwhelmed.”

 Sofia says, “Me, too, though hard to picture him fighting.” 

“Who knows what anyone, even Laurent, will do when attacked,” says Jens. 

Paris buses are running on a reduced schedule, businesses still boarded up, police everywhere. The bookstore’s unharmed except for Arabic graffiti splattered across the plywood covering windows and doors.

“It’s been like this before but not so much,” Jens says.

Laurent’s favorite blue scarf wraps his arm. “Brutes,” he says, “and I question their so-called ideals, just out to bash and rage.”  

Jens invites Sofia to move in since Corinne’s gone to Barcelona with José, helps carry her suitcases. She settles into the apartment and, soon, his bed.

Days pass with fewer patches of violence, the government mediating between conflicting groups, the city quieter, but still tense. The Institute Des Beaux Arts reopens in the Quartier Latin and Honor brings Sofia to try a class and meet artist-director, Sun Li, a small woman with silver-streaked hair.

Holding pastels for the first time in months, Sofia’s still working when the model, a woman with low breasts and a scarred stomach, puts on her green robe. 

“Why in hell didn’t you tell me you were seriously into this?” Honor’s shaking her head,  hugging Sofia, “No wonder you were having nightmares. What were you doing in law school?”

“Being practical.”

“No parent would encourage you to devote yourself to art as they don’t want you poor.”

“Mom saved drawings and paintings, but when I got into Epping, an elite law program, I thought I was making the adult choice.”

“You could do law school, fine, but why continue if it makes you miserable?” 


“True, but compromises can be made, dammit!”

Sun Li looks at Sofia’s work and says, “For our next show?” The lavender nude’s curved in a fiery haze ringed by green symbols and graffiti.

“Yes, thanks,” says Sofia, her hands and t-shirt smeared with color.   

Noah emails that he’s sold a script to a friend’s film company, quit his east coast theater gig, regrets he’s too busy to fly to Paris to see her and his friend Jean-Pierre, and has ended it with Stephanie. Sofia’s glad for him, but doesn’t care who he’s sleeping with.

Adrienne and David’s baby arrives, Nicolas Xiang Lee, six pounds, seven ounces, and everyone’s well.  

When asked, Mom replies that art had to be her decision. Sofia asks why she didn’t encourage her more? “Worried how you’d manage financially.”

Laurent’s back to being a waiter and writing poetry notebooks. Corinne’s in Barcelona with José, and Honor’s moved into her old room.

Sofia tells Adrienne she’s setting up an art studio above the bookstore next to Jens’ office, also working part-time at the Paris branch of Adrienne’s non-profit, helping immigrants, urgently needed after the riots. Sometime they’ll visit India, but whatever’s next, they’re together.

* * * * *

Nina Rubinstein Alonso’s work appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker, Ibbetson Street, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Broadkill Review, Peacock Literary Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, etc. Her book This Body was published by David Godine Press, her chapbook Riot Wake by Cervena Barva Press, and a novel, stories and poetry are in the works.

Sunday 16 October 2022



by Alice Campbell Romano

I didn’t call the cops,
when you whipped the boys
with insults, when you parted the air

ahead of you like a bullet to charge
for me, your wife, the one person who
could hold your blame; when you

closed a door in cool deliberation
so you could, unseen, drive a fist
into my side and still advance

until I fell back on the floor, arms up

so as to keep your feet from my face—
but you would not have struck my face—

you never did, except by mistake,
because people would see and
suspect, but you kicked when I

was down: my hips, my back, my arms,
while I curled on the floor and you
cursed me for my failure. I didn’t

speak up, over and over and over and over
and again, shuttered in silence from public
shame. I accepted the tendered gold ring,

the string of pearls, the fine leather handbag,
the silk stole so thick it rolled from hand to
hand in waves. I took the presents for amends

I believed you couldn’t say in words.
There was always a next time when you
needed me to fault, until at last I had no self,

so when the littlest boy came down the hall,
jelly toast crumbs at the corner of his mouth,
ready for me to drive him to school

with his brother who stayed in the kitchen,
crunching toast to cover his daddy’s yelling,
I said, Everything’s fine, Sweetie. Just fine.

* * * * *

"St. Mommy of the Improper Response" is part of the author's chapbook in progress at Hudson Valley Writers' Center.

Alice Campbell Romano has worked in film and TV in Italy, her native New York, and Los Angeles. Her first chapbook of poetry trembles on the brink of completion while she polishes a novel begun at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. Alice’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Atlantic Review (finalist in International Competition), Antiphon, Mudfish Review, Front Porch Review, Thema, among other online and print journals.

Saturday 15 October 2022



by Alice Campbell Romano

Some men have at their core a magnet of desire
charged by a constant current of electric need.

Heat smolders outward, as from a night-banked fire
through skin, drawing women to them. 

And men. I feel the pull in the easy way they stand,
before they turn and catch my gaze. Such men

use the power behind their eyes to start a blaze.
I am wary. I look away, deny the draw,

but weak as crumbled leaves,
I burn.

* * * * *

"The Armature on Which Their Flesh Is Formed" is part of the author's chapbook in progress at Hudson Valley Writers' Center.

Alice Campbell Romano has worked in film and TV in Italy, her native New York, and Los Angeles. Her first chapbook of poetry trembles on the brink of completion while she polishes a novel begun at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute. Alice’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Atlantic Review (finalist in International Competition), Antiphon, Mudfish Review, Front Porch Review, Thema, among other online and print journals.  

Friday 14 October 2022



by Kathleen Chamberlin

     She didn't know why she was nervous as she approached the placard reading Class of 66 Reunion, straight ahead, through the open doors. She gazed into the dimly lit room, taking in the joyful group of people hugging and squealing in delight at being reunited after 25 years. She had been reluctant to attend. But here I am, she thought, for better or worse. She shivered slightly, feeling exposed and vulnerable. A quick glance in the mirror to check her appearance. Satisfied, she took a deep breath and went in.

      Her eyes darted quickly around the room, searching. They stopped on a dark-haired, tall man laughing. Like every cliché in every romance novel, she found the room around him blurred, his the only face she could see. Pulse quickened and blood pounding in her ears, she threaded her way across the room toward Michael, drawn by an irresistible force. Placing her palm on his chest, her lips lightly brushed his cheek.

    “Hey, you.”

     He looked into her eyes and they stood there a moment locked in a sphere of intimacy that belied the passage of time.

    “Hey, you,” he replied.

     A slow song was just beginning and without a word, he led her onto the dance floor. Swaying gently together as Barbra Streisand plaintively sang of the way we were, they were transported to a time when their teenage bodies, innocent but ripe for the passion that would soon overtake them, clung together hungrily, pressed as tightly to one another as possible, trembling with desire and anticipation. Now, in the dimly lit ballroom, they danced with the decorum approved for their ages, remembering the sublime closeness of lovers, though their current lovers weren't one another.   

     As the song reached its crescendo, he drew her closer and whispered, “Takes you back, doesn't it?” It was less a question than a statement of fact, a recognition that their bodies and minds moved to a rhythm established long ago, at school dances or parties in friends' basements, moving to the 45s that dropped one by one onto the turntable. She sighed, allowing her head to briefly rest on his shoulder as Barbra sang out the last mournful notes. “Yes” was all she said. They stepped slightly away from one another drinking in the pleasure of this dance, at this time, in this place.

     Life had given them a plan very different from the one they had dreamed of over long conversations on the phone. Their parents had worried that these children, embryonic adults though they were, needed to be closely monitored.

     All their best efforts had been in vain, as the pair found secret places, hidden from prying eyes, to stoke the smoldering fires growing within them. Tentatively taking a step further each time they came together, their passion grew until it could no longer be contained. They left the supervision of the high school library, and climbed through the window of the auxiliary gym. Once inside, they were heedless of everything but one another, deleriosly freed from constraints.

     “Hey you,” he'd said, “are you okay?”

     “Oh, yes,” she breathed, and reached up to kiss him.

     She had embraced their intimacy because she loved him, believed that he loved her, and that they would spend their lives together. From that time forward, they took every opportunity to bask in the afterglow of sex. And the inevitable happened near the end of senior year.

     She broke the news to her best friend, trembling as she told her that she was “late.” They both knew what that meant. Amid tears and fear and guilt, she had reached a decision. The path forward was perilous, but she would terminate the pregnancy, she told him. In anguish, she explained how difficult the decision was, but that she was determined not to shame her family or force him into a shotgun wedding.

     “We'd grow to hate each other and resent the child and I couldn't bear that, I just couldn't.” Her tears were uncontrollable as she held his hand.

     “Say something, please.”

       He looked at the ground as if he could find the words to say that were right and true. He finally swallowed and faced her.

     “Okay, if that's what you want.”

     “I don't want it. I don't know what else to do! I wish it never happened,” she wailed.

     “Are you blaming me?” he asked, determined to absolve himself of the source of her pain.

     “I blame us both,” she whispered hoarsely, dropping his hand, vulnerable and broken.

     He swallowed hard. “Okay. Do you need money for know?” He squirmed at how cold it sounded. 

     Without looking up she shook her head. “No, I've got enough. I can call you, you know, afterwards, if you want.”

     “Yeah, sure, I guess, yeah, call me.”

     She didn't have to. Two days before her arranged meeting, the cramps began. She waited a few days and then called him. Once the crisis had passed, he acted as if it had never happened. If he didn't want to talk about it, she wouldn't. For the rest of the summer, it remained unacknowledged but lurking just out of sight: the dark secret of what she had been prepared to do.

     When fall approached, the fall that would separate them by hundreds of miles, she grew more melancholy. 

     “Hey, you, what's wrong?” he asked, uncertain if he wanted to hear the answer. She turned to him, eyes glistening with tears threatening to unleash a flood of emotion. He watched apprehensively, but she was able to gain control, offering a weak smile.

     “It's all coming so fast, isn't it? I guess I'm just not ready to,” she shrugged her shoulders and pointed around, “leave. Here. This life. You.” She shifted her weight from her right hip to her left. Shaking her head, she looked up at him. “Silly, isn't it?”

     He drew her in quickly, resting his chin on her head and stroking her hair. “No. Not at all.”

     They'd left for school right after Labor Day, promising to write and call and they did for the first two months. Then the letter came that broke her heart.

     “Hey, you,” it began, as all their letters did. Then it launched into a litany of his classes and dorm life and his decision to pledge a fraternity, but not ending not with “Yours, you know.” Instead, she read the deadening “I think we should go out with other people, to know for sure, if we belong together.”

     There was no misunderstanding his intentions and she clutched the crumpled letter to her chest, aware of what she had to do. That Sunday night, she called him, bravely agreeing how sensible a decision it was and that she wholeheartedly agreed. By mid-term break, they were no longer together.

     That had been twenty-five years ago and though they'd heard about each other's comings and goings over the years, tonight was the first time they were together again. Strange, she thought, as they walked over to the bar, it feels so natural to be here with him. So comfortable, as if the intervening years had never happened. But they had, she reminded herself. They had.

     As they waited for the bar tender to get their drinks, they looked out at their former classmates. The quarterback she had briefly dated had gained a few pounds but was certainly recognizable as he stood together with the other sports team veterans. The class choice for “Most Athletic” still looked it, his 6'5" frame resting easily in a chair. She noticed the Homecoming Queen still held court over a dozen suitors jockeying for her attention, bringing to mind Scarlett O'Hara at Twelve Oaks. The years had been kind to her, at least superficially.

     “A penny for your thoughts,” he said handing her a glass of white wine. 

     “I was just wondering how Sondra always manages to attract men. Do you think she casts spells like Circe? Is there some Siren Song she sings? What do you think it is?”

     He answered without hesitation “There's an unspoken promise in her eyes. An invitation in her smile. Unlimited passion for the right man.”

     She laughed. “Speaking from experience?” she teased. Shaking his head, he pointed to Kevin. “Victim 19 told me. I was immune. You were the one who turned me on.”

     His overt reference to their love affair unbalanced her, caught between a ‘there and then’ when, as a fourteen year old, she'd fallen head over heels for him on the first day of classes sophomore year, and the ‘here and now,’ when as a 41 year old, she was no longer the dewy-eyed innocent she once was.

      The quarterback caught her eye and smiled as she raised her glass in acknowledgment. He edged around the dancers and wrapped himself around her in a growling bear hug, lifting her off her feet. In his unmistakable booming voice, he declared “Katie, Katie, Katie-girl! You look good enough to eat” and pretended to nibble at her neck, lips smacking. Trying not to spill her drink, but caught up in his antics, she couldn't help but laugh, struggling half-heartedly to escape.

     “Billy, stop,” she giggled, drawing her head back in mock resistance before returning his hug. He released her, stepped back and eyed her companion. “My, my, my! What have we here? Don't tell me.” Glass waving, eyes closed briefly, right hand to his brow in imitation of deep thought, he thrummed his fingers. Opening his eyes and smiling, certain he had the solution to the questions that had baffled humanity for ages, he narrowed his gaze, looking from one of them to the other. “I have somehow found a wormhole and been transported to 1966, right? Either that or the single malt is making me hallucinate the same shit head who was always my rival for your affection.”

     It was said with Billy's boisterous, over the top laughter as he thrust out his hand to Michael. “Peace, brother. Good to see you.” Then he turned to Katie, lifting her hand to his lips in mock reverence, bowing slightly. “My lady, you owe me a dance for old time's sake and I shall return to collect it.” Then, he turned, crouching and growling like a lion stalking his prey. Sneaking behind an unsuspecting classmate, he buried his face in her ribs. She turned laughing with pleasure. “Oh Billy! Stop it you animal!” and hurled herself into his outstretched arms.

     Some things remain unchanged, Katie thought, casting her eyes around the room populated by former classmates who had traveled many miles from places as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. The girl who had been voted Best Looking still was, elegantly dressed and coiffed but her male counterpart hadn't aged as well, his receding hairline and spreading waistline eroding his former glory. The Class President had continued his interest in politics by running for office on the state level and making a name for himself as a civil rights advocate. The class songstress had had a brief run in an off-Broadway play that received mixed reviews but the class actor had been luckier, catapulting to stardom after his role in The Deer Hunter had received Oscar buzz. She noticed him casually leaning against a balcony, smiling and laughing. To her he was still the Johnny who had suffered stage fright before their 8th grade play, not the Sebastian Summers whose face was plastered on movie billboards. He had kept in touch with her over the years, telling her he needed to remember his roots and stay grounded. She waved at him and mouthed the word “Later.” He gave her a thumbs up and nodded before she felt herself being spun around and crushed in an awkward embrace.

     Pulling back, she found herself looking into the eyes of Richard Torrance, voted Most Likely to Succeed. And, she knew, he had, earning millions as a hedge fund czar. She tried to extricate herself but he wasn't having it and she decided if he didn't let her go, a well-placed knee to the groin might be necessary. It wasn't. At that moment, as if reading her mind, he let go.

     “Katie McCoy, the real McCoy, where have you been hiding yourself these past 25 years?”

     His voice still remained vigorous with a seductive edge. Katie found it repellent, nonetheless. She remembered the day near the end of senior year when he had suggested that what she needed most was a good tumble in the grass beyond the football field and that he would provide her with an unforgettable memory to take away to college. She had stared at him then, wrinkled her nose in disgust and said, “Not in this lifetime,” as she stormed off. Now, here he was, boorish as ever, flaunting his wealth and success, dropping names of his associates and friends as if they could disguise who he was at his core: a cold, ruthless ladder climber, a scoundrel and a cad.

     “Richard, you haven't changed one bit in 25 years, have you?”

     He grinned sheepishly but met the challenge head on. “Yes and no. I'm extraordinarily successful in the business world but still yearning for the one that got away. There really is only one real McCoy, Katie, and it's always been you.”          

     She stared him down, took a sip of wine. “Am I supposed to swoon now and fall into your arms? Seriously, Rich, that's just not happening. I will give you this, though. This gambit is definitely a step above your contemptible proposition senior year when...”

     He groaned in agony, stopping her in mid-sentence.

     “SHIT! I hoped you had forgotten that.” He hung his head in an approximation of sincerity. “I made a fool of myself. And of all the things you could remember about me, I thought you couldn't possibly remember that. I mean, why would you?”

     She didn't hesitate to provide him with the answer. “You did me a favor. You showed me that men can be crude. That sex is just another appetite to be fed and anyone willing to participate is acceptable. Your line is smoother now, I'll give you that. And it seems to have worked. What wife are you on? I forget. Three, four? Not sure about the mistresses but I'm certain they exist. You just can't help yourself, Rich, let's face it. But rest assured,” she said patting him on the arm, “my name will never be added to your list of the conquered and abandoned. Now, excuse me, I see Eleanor.”

     Eleanor, her best friend then and now, had already been heading in her direction and they met half way. “What load of crap was Torrance shoveling your way?” Eleanor asked,  assuming that with Richard Torrance, it was always crap.       

     “Well,” she said after giving Eleanor a quick hug, “he invoked my high school nickname and, after attempting to paw me, told me I was the one that got away.”

     Eleanor laughed. “That's his 5th attempt tonight. He even tried it out on me. There must be a dearth in eligible naive young things impressed by his wallet this time of year.”

     As they continued their conversation, joined every so often by another classmate or two, Katie was reminded of a constantly shifting kaleidoscope, with the sparkling jewelry and various colors worn to show off the best attributes that remained from the glory days of adolescence.

     As the dinner buffet was about to open, she and Eleanor chose their seats at a table just off the dance floor, near the door. They were staying overnight at the hotel, sharing a room across the hall from two other high school friends. The rooms were stocked with late night snacks and a bottle of Jack Daniels. The foursome was planning a post-reunion pajama party, where Eleanor declared they were allowed to be as catty as their alcohol loosened tongues could manage. Katie knew that Eleanor looked forward to Katie casting aside her cautious and circumspect demeanor to let her claws emerge, as Eleanor was accustomed to do without the crutch of alcohol.

     The table for 8 soon squeezed in 10 and Katie McCoy was once again among the people who 25 years ago made her smile and laugh. Being with them was like slipping into a favorite pair of well-worn jeans. They fit so well and were as comfortable as a second skin.

     Michael was seated nearby, joking with the circle of guys who used to be his constant companions but who had faded from his life over the years. But here they all were again, shedding the lives they'd lived, taking their places in the pecking order high school had rigidly demanded. She smiled. Well, hadn't she? Other than Eleanor, most of her friends were one or two phone calls a year along with Christmas and birthday greetings. Yet, here she was, enjoying the banter with friends as if they'd seen each other yesterday.

     “So, El, which one are you tonight, Horatio or Hamlet?”

     It had been during their junior English class when no one would volunteer to read the parts of Hamlet or Horatio that the best friends became linked to the two characters. In exasperation, Mr. Andrews had pointed first at Katie and then at Eleanor, declaring, “You two. Pick a part and I don't care who's Hamlet and who's Horatio.” It had stuck. Throughout their lives, whichever of them was experiencing emotional upheaval would call the other with the greeting, “Horatio? Hamlet here. I seek your counsel.”

     “That remains to be seen,” Eleanor laughed, but as she watched Michael beckon Katie to the dance floor as The Association sang “Cherish,” she had a feeling that she'd be donning the garb of Horatio, the trusted friend to whom Katie's Hamlet would unburden her soul. “The play's the thing,” she thought before being swept onto the dance floor herself.

     Were all eyes on them, Katie wondered, waiting to see if they would seek out the privacy of the garden patio despite the evening's chill? Was she somehow hoping he'd whisper that very thing into her ear as he pulled her into an even closer embrace? Michael softly sang the lyrics, humming when his memory failed to retrieve them, and if Katie closed her eyes, it would be easy to step through the curtain of time and erase the years that separated her from her younger self.

     All too soon, the song ended, leaving couples to untangle from each other as a louder, more animated "Do you Love Me?" blasted out over the sound system and classmates, singing along with enthusiasm, crowded the dance floor. Billy spun her around and, tie loosened and off-center, sport coat abandoned on some table, began to dance with drunken abandon, bellowing at Katie, “do you love me” while twirling her round and round under his arm. She looked at him with real affection, knowing that their friendship would endure. As the song ended, he put both hands around her neck, pressed his forehead against hers and said, “I love you, Katie-girl. I always will.”

     “Back at you, Billy. You're one in a million.”

     He kissed her cheek, stepped back and made an elegant sweeping bow before reacting to Cora Newman who had grabbed him by his loosened tie and dragged him off to the raucous laughter of their friends as he exclaimed, “Sadie Hawkins is alive and well!”

     Looking to replenish her drink, Katie walked over to the nearest bar. Eleanor joined her. “Whew! I just can't dance the way I used to. I'm going to have the worst aching calves tomorrow.”

     Katie nodded. “Tell me about it. But poor Billy!” she said gesturing in his direction. “He's not only not going to be able to move, but his head will most likely not stop pounding for the next three days.”

     “Soooo,” Eleanor asked and although Katie knew exactly what Eleanor was asking, but played dumb.

     “Sooo, what?”

     Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Michael.”

     “Oh, that.”

     “Yes, that.”

     Katie shrugged. “Nothing to tell.”

     That was the truth, wasn't it? They had shared a dance or two, had felt the magic of rapture remembered, ignoring their present reality. That's what reunions were all about, weren't they? A chance to step through time, remembering who they once had been as well as showing off who they were now. Some had shed their former selves, no longer caterpillars, but emerging from the chrysalis as magnificent butterflies anxious to be admired. Others held on to their privileged places in the social hierarchy, climbing still higher in the passing years. Everyone else had simply stayed away.

     “Really, El, nothing to tell.”

     Eleanor let it drop. Now wasn't the time.

     On the evening went, people discarded their shoes and jackets, ties and cameras, in an attempt at comfort. Almost as if they had been locked inside their adult selves, once they had shed those trappings, they were free to just BE. That's how Katie felt, at least. She was enjoying the moment, not thinking about her life beyond these walls, nor of the myriad things that would await her tomorrow and the day after. There was only tonight and she drank it in hungrily.

     As if on cue, the dj selected The Mello-Kings' "Tonight, Tonight" and with the opening chords, the room echoed with the nostalgic sighs of grown women remembering the aching adolescent passions that had accompanied this song. Immediately, she was in Michael's arms again, helpless against the surging emotions she no longer wanted to resist, abandoning herself to the moment.

     They clung to one another, reaching back through all the years, in secret acknowledgment of the intensity they had once shared, resurrected by this song, on this night, in this place, hoping that the night would never reach an end. But both the song and the evening would.

     Later, as she and Eleanor walked to their room, Eleanor observed her friend carefully but Katie wasn't revealing anything. She remained quiet among their friends and their snacks as the others reviewed their evening, even when one of them asked, “Sooo, who got chills dancing with their old flame?” The conversation lasted until everyone's yawns signaled the evening was over.

     “See you at breakfast, ladies,” Eleanor sang out, crossing the hallway to their door, only to hear groaning at the prospect of an early wake up call. Katie hesitated in the doorway. “El,” she said quietly, “I'm not coming in yet. I've got my key so, I'll be back in a bit.” Eleanor didn't have to ask where Katie was going as she watched her friend enter the elevator.

     Some time later, she woke to Katie entering the room, shoes in hand, trying not to wake her friend as she undressed in the dark.

     “Katie?” She probed.

     “Sorry, El. I didn't mean to wake you.”



     “Wanna talk?”

     “Tomorrow. Tonight's not the time.”

     “Okay. Tomorrow.”

     Eleanor rolled over and fell back to sleep while Katie remained awake in the dark, holding the night tightly until she, too, fell asleep.

     Breakfast came and went as did the members of her class, each hug goodbye accompanied by a promise to keep in touch, well-intentioned promises, but promises that would go unfulfilled. She spotted Michael across the room and exchanged smiles with him. They had said their goodbye last night. He waved, then put his hand on his heart before turning and once more walking out of her life.

     “Oh, Horatio,” Katie nodded in his direction but kept a brave face, “what a sad tale I have to tell.” And she did, later, when nearly everyone was gone and she and Eleanor were holding on to their dwindling time together before they caught their rides to the airport. They would return to their present lives, in distant cities, last night becoming one more memory that would fade, despite the prominence it now held. And then it was time to go.

     Eleanor heard the news about Billy first. She dialed Katie. Once Katie answered, Eleanor delivered her message calmly. Billy had been in a serious car accident and had not survived.

     After that, Katie didn't attend the reunions that occurred every five years. When asked why, she said “Because the memory of Billy will be there and another one or more of us will be gone and that will just make me sad. Better to leave the past where it belongs. That's where we're all alive and anticipating our futures.”

     Eleanor did attend and would update Katie on those others who returned like the sparrows of Capistrano. Years passed, lives changed, classmates vanished from their lives. Michael's name came up in their conversations, but Katie wasn't inclined to indulge in self-pity and Eleanor would not pressure her friend to reopen a healed wound.

     Going through her mail one April afternoon while on the phone with Eleanor, Katie came across an envelope with an unfamiliar return address but written in a clear, bold handwriting, addressed to her. Sliding her finger under the flap while balancing the phone on her shoulder, she scanned the contents and cut Eleanor off in mid-sentence. “I'll call you back. I gotta go.” The click signaling she was gone surprised Eleanor. That wasn't like Katie.

     Katie sank onto a kitchen chair, holding the letter in shaking hands and read the letter over again, from the beginning.

     “Dear Ms. McCoy, I am writing to let you know that my father, Michael McCain, passed away last week after a long illness. As his daughter and executrix, I was responsible for settling his estate. In his safety deposit box was the enclosed envelope with your name on it and instructions to deliver it to you upon his death. It has remained sealed as its contents are meant only for you. I found your address and on Dad's behalf, I am sending it to you. Sincerely, Erica Sullivan.”

       Katie could barely breathe. Tears stung her eyes. Michael was dead? Michael was dead? How could that be true?  Her breathing became more erratic as the sobs rose in her chest, bursting forth and shaking her to the core. "Oh, Michael, Michael!  I am so sorry, so, so sorry you're gone.” She whispered the words to the air, overcome by emotion. How could he have left the world and she not known it? Not felt a cosmic shift? Not felt the light in her life flicker and dim, everything forever changed?

     She held the unopened envelope, recognizing Michael's distinctive block printing. Wiping her tears, she struggled to open it, not knowing what she'd find inside, but knowing that this remnant of him was a precious artifact and must be handled with care. She put it down, wrapping her arms around her shoulders, hugging herself tightly. When she felt sufficiently calmed, she picked up the letter again, more carefully this time, managing to open it with only one jagged corner. She took the paper out and read.

     “Hey you,” it began. “I'm writing this to you on the plane while everything about last night is still fresh in my mind and I find myself recalling every minute and smiling. If you're reading this, though, it means I've “shuffled off this mortal coil,” from what I remember of that soliloquy we had to memorize. I try not to dwell on the death part, but I guess it will come to all of us sooner or later. Anyway, here's what I want you to know. I think you and I met too soon. I wasn't ready to be the man you needed. And I regret that. But when I saw you again at this weekend's reunion, I saw a chance of, I guess, redemption, like that movie you made me watch with Humphrey Bogart telling the woman in the big hat--you know who I mean--that they'll always have Paris, that they'd lost it, but got it back again. You cried when he said that, and as she got on the plane. 'They know they love each other,' you said, 'but fate, or time, or whatever keeps them apart.' Like us, I guess, though I didn't know it then. We didn't have Paris, just a glorious night in a modest hotel room on Long Island. And in case I didn't tell you this last night, I want you to know that I love you. And since I am already gone, I am so sorry for not telling you sooner. Maybe our lives would have been different. Anyway, now I've told you. Be happy. Yours, you know, Michael.”

     Katie read the letter over and over, through a veil of tears until she was sure she'd remember every word. She folded it and slowly walked to her bedroom. She opened her jewelry box, removing the top tray to reveal a charm bracelet and an ankle bracelet, both unworn for decades and both from Michael. She placed his letter alongside them, a final gift to be cherished. She replaced the tray and shut the lid. She walked to the kitchen, picked up the phone and dialed. She heard the hello on the other end and with her voice breaking, all she could get out was a tremulous “Horatio?”

     “Katie, what happened?”

     Through her tears, Katie said, “Oh, El...”

* * * * *

Kathleen Chamberlin is a retired educator living in Albany, New York. Her writing has appeared in both print and electronic journals and in several anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Attitude of Gratitude. She enjoys gardening, genealogy, and grandchildren.