Moved In

Her place is about 5,500 popsical sticks square,
a little bigger than my shotgun apartment.
She loves popsicles soaked in vodka
and saves all the spent sticks next to the forks.

She found one pirouetting in the garbage disposal.
I remembered one disappearing when I tried to toss it into the trash.
She held it up in front of my face and reminded me to save them all.

I’ve learned they make great little spatulas to spread
condiments, peanut butter and cheese on crackers.
She shreds some to make good toothpicks,
and always has some in her purse
to stir ginger tea on the bus.

They can light the stove, candles, lanterns and pipes.
Put out reefer and reach into cracks and pick up dead mice.
Put butter on bread and spread yummy jam.
Keep doors from locking by blocking the bolt to the jamb.

Popsicle sticks are perfect for ballet dancers
to train floppy fingers and keep arms under control.
I asked her how they’re attached and she didn’t give me an answer.
I’m trying not to worry so much and live with more mystery.

Popsicle sticks are perfect for scooping out karite body butter.
It’s my job to apply the green smelly shea nut salve onto her back in the bathroom.
I rub it together in my hands to heat it up and it soaks into her skin so softly.
The label says that the infused grape seed oil herbs are dramatically effective
at healing skin conditions and the essential oils are anti-inflammatory.

I fell asleep with a grape popsicle in my hand once
while lying in her bed, which is really ours now.
The stick lay in a big purple popsicle puddle,
thank God she wasn’t home.
I threw the sheets in the bath tub and tried to wash them clean.
It didn’t work, and I ran to the basement laundry with bleach
and put them back on the bed before she came back home.


first descent

long journey down to the river

through the wilderness

crossing to the other shore Hades offers her

a pomegranate cut open

six rays of shining seeds

she touches a few ruby drops to her lips

swallows them without hesitation

Hades takes her arm and leads her

toward a mountain ablaze with fire

she tries to pull away

gaze at it directly with clear intent

as she does the fire recedes into the mountainside

trees and shrubs in full leaf cover its face

then Hades takes her to a lake with islands of ice

step into the water

with less fear this time she moves forward

the ice melts into islands of green

a creature rises from the water

with large bat-like wings and scowling face

she lurches back and the creature says in Hades’ voice

do not hate or fear me Persephone

gaze fully at my face   she follows his command

the creature subsides into Hades

with gentle countenance and kindly eyes

now you know the secret 

you can bring into sunlight

the first tender cotyledons

from seeds long buried

in the heart’s winter

Fran Isaacs Gilmore is a retired industrial hygienist and teacher. She writes health and safety articles for a teachers union, teaches a class in emotional healing in a state prison, and teaches yoga and meditation to people in recovery. She volunteers as a docent in a local park, and is an avid birder. She lives near Philadelphia with her husband and two cats. Her poetry has been published in numero.

Almost Spring

White violets and woodsmoke,
Good dogs and bad boys
Fooling around down in the ravine,
Wet sneakers, reborn worms, raindrops on lilacs,
Cool, budding air you can drink like an aphrodisiac,
And all the things that April means.

Spring grass in horses’ teeth,
The joy of damp dirt and soft ground giving underfoot,
Starlight in mud-puddles,
New trails scratched out in front of den holes
And the scent of sweet decay.

Wild onions, fresh chives,
Last year’s nests falling out of trees,
Mist on the moon and bird fights in the morning,
Sap cracking pine bark, ice hissing under new waterfalls,
The sounds of war and peace.

Spring before it’s sprung,
Bright moss and broken branches,
Turtle eggs, torn fur, old cracked tennis balls,
Skunk cabbage and white-washed skeletons–
Bones so architecturally perfect they beg to be picked up.

This is the crack between the seasons
Nature’s lost and found
Where what once was meets what will be for awhile
Dark, tramped down feathers of an old broken wing
And the heavens full of singing.

Wendy Insinger is a professional writer who spent her high school years in East Falls, PA.  After completing a B.A., Anthropology (Barnard College)  and an M.A., English (Brown University, writing program), she was a Contributing Editor at “Town&Country” Magazine for 14 years.  She has written for  “Vanity Fair”, “Islands”, and numerous other publications, as well as being a monthly columnist for “Horse Show” and “County Life”.  She is the co-author of The Complete Book of Thoroughbred Horseracing (Doubleday, 1981).  Her poetry has appeared in such journals as, “Chronogram”, “DIRT”, and “River Poets Journal”. She lives in Warwick, NY.



someone else’s

chapbook lily


with black fire


with golden lightning threads


a green open field

surrounded by

silver slivers

of an opaque navy sky

pearly, unpolluted air


her blue vesper fire

K DeBevois has worked as a news reporter, publicist, medical journalist and trade journal editor. Her creative work has appeared in Essence Literary Magazine and the Schuylkill Valley Journal

Judging a Story by Its Title

I confess that I frequently judge books by their titles. In some cases, this kind of snap decision works every time. Like, if the paperback features a woman wearing a hoop skirt with a plunging neckline pressed up next to a man wearing a white blouse with a sword at his side, I know I’m going to love it! Just kidding. It means I know I will not be reading The Pirate’s Bride, because that book falls into the bodice-ripper genre and I haven’t read any romances since I stumbled on a collection of them as a kid during a vacation at my aunt’s house. Those paperbacks pretty much ruined my expectations for how sex would unfold, though they did improve my vocabulary so that I was able to spell and define the word “tumescence” should anyone ask. But that’s a tale for another day.

Similarly, I find that when I’m reading stories submitted for publication to Philadelphia Stories I often have a quick reaction based solely on the title of a story. This does not mean that I don’t read the whole thing, only that I am put on guard when the title is “The Day I Died.” (Side note: please do not kill off your main character in a short story, particularly if you’re telling a first-person narrative. Don’t make me ponder how the story got told by a dead guy.)

Good titles are difficult to create, but the title of your piece is the first thing an editor sees when she’s looking at your work, and therefore a bad title can set your story on the path toward rejection. Bad titles make the reader suspicious that the writer doesn’t know what he is doing. For example, any title that seems completely obvious, like “Returning Home,” or melodramatic, like “Feelings of Sadness,” or too weird, as in “Sebastian and the Ginkledork Cherry Blossom Pie Aliens,” has me on the defensive before I even read the first sentence, “Today was the day that Sebastian felt the saddest even though he was on his way back home.”

When in doubt, keep the title simple. Lorrie Moore, in her latest collection of short fiction (Bark: Stories), has stories called “Bark,” “Foes,” and “The Juniper Tree.” Those are straightforward nouns that don’t confuse or give too much away. Stories in some of Moore’s other collections have titles such as “Thank You for Having Me,” “You’re Ugly, Too,” and “People Like That Are the Only People Here.” The common thread among these examples is that they turn out to have more than one interpretation. In this way, the best titles do the same thing that good stories do. They have both a surface meaning and a deeper one. For example, the title of Jhumpa Lahiri’s story “A Temporary Matter” refers to the fact that the electricity in a house will be cut off for a short time and also reflects the state of the marriage the story explores. Often, a reader will fully appreciate a story’s title only after reading the entire piece. And a really good title will connect with the ending in a way that feels justified but isn’t easily anticipated.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a title, try going back into the story and looking for key words or phrases that you like and see if they can hold the weight of the story. The title doesn’t have to do all of the work—it doesn’t have to explain the whole story, nor should it—but it does need to be well thought out. You have so few words in a short story—make the title count.

The Worm of the Heart

On a Saturday morning in late September, while waiting for her estranged husband Del to arrive with the payment for their daughter Natalie’s final semester of college tuition, Lily Manheim accidentally swallowed her giant Schnauzer’s heartworm pill.

In the Chestnut Hill house she had once shared with her husband and daughter, Lily worked on hacking it back up. But even without water, the beige bullet, taken in place of her daily vitamin tablet, had slipped down her esophagus into her digestive tract, bent on sending out evil dog worm killing enzymes.

Or whatever it was that a heartworm pill did.

Despite her 27-year marriage to a molecular biologist at Penn, Lily, with her masters in psychology and social work, had never been much for biology. The vitamins, which she often forgot to take at all, had been Del’s idea. Del, who spent his life studying zebra fish in the hopes of uncovering the cure for heart disease, embraced the many paths to post-twentieth-century immortality. Throughout their marriage, he had tried to stick to a diet of healthful greens and fruit and had encouraged Lily to join him on hikes, bikes, and mindfulness retreats

Despite his pleas, Lily often bowed out, content to watch Mother Nature’s plan for her thighs. Del told her she feared taking charge of her life.

“Your right hand never knows what your left is up to,” he said.

And here, in the swallowed heartworm pill, rested Del’s ultimate proof: Lily mistaking the multi-purpose vitamin in her left hand for the square, meat-colored dog lozenge in her right. Were these to be the final thoughts of her life? Clutching what might turn out to be her Final Vitamin, Lily located her cell phone on the downstairs table and punched up Poison Control.

“Heartworm pills? Aren’t those for dogs?”

“Hence my concern.”

Cell phone pressed to one ear, Lily unclenched her left fist to reveal the damp violet vitamin that clung to her lifeline. For a moment, she considered feeding the pill to Britney Spears, the Schnauzer, a karmic trade-inthat might stave off future bad luck, but then she dropped it into her own mouth and swallowed. Perhaps, she mused, the two might cancel one another out.

“Hmm,” Poison Control mused. Fingers clacked across computer keys. “A real stumper.”

“No one ever did this before?”

“I’m sure someone has. Can you hold?” A blast of Death Cab for Cutie, then the voice resurfaced. “You’re not one of those urban legends?” the voice asked.

“I swallowed it five minutes ago,” Lily said, trying not to panic. “Am I going to die?”

“Well,” said Poison Control. “Let’s not get dramatic. I’d anticipate a little nausea, maybe some itching, but I expect you’ll be with us for a while longer.”

“No licking in inappropriate spots?”


“We provide a very, very serious and important service to the community,” Poison Control lectured.

The flat sorrow of the dial tone filled Lily’s ear. Relief swamped her. She was not going to die, not today, maybe not ever. This was immediately followed by annoyance; In this new century, the entire country appeared to have lost its collective sense of humor. You couldn’t blame them, really. It had been a very long summer full of serious and important issues. People sitting in emergency rooms without insurance coverage, nut jobs carting automatic rifles at open air rallies, unemployment a persistent plague.  Her own job as a counselor at a clinic at Einstein Hospital was not exactly sound. And yet, here she was, toying with the idea of phoning back Poison Control to bark into the receiver.

The cell phone in her palm vibrated; perhaps it was Poison Control. She stared at it, determined that if she were given the chance, she’d take any proffered advice, elaborate on her specific symptoms, explain more carefully how recently she had been becoming more and more forgetful. Taking the heartworm pill was not an isolated case. Little things, like getting Britney Spears her heartworm pill on the first of the month (it was already the  15th, eating  regular meals, and arriving to work on time had become more optional than required. Not that she didn’t recognize in some back part of her brain that all of these activities were important, even vital. But,  since she had asked Del to leave the house three months ago, time had taken on a peculiar shape, shifting in a manner that left less and less space for what once passed as regular, normal, organized life. Hours slid by; but what filled them she could no longer precisely name.

It was not that she missed him, exactly.

Or maybe, it was. She punched in the numbers on the phone.

“Lily? Are you ill?”

Her mother Ruth. Lily swallowed, noting an oddly beefy taste in the back of her throat.

“Why would you think that?” Lily asked.

“Because you were supposed to drive me for my iron tests,” her mother said.

On the Art Museum calendar before her, Lily started at the boxes filled with scrawls beneath a very scary portrait of twin Frida Kahlo’s  holding onto a single bloody heart. What had possessed her to buy this calendar? Why not puppies? On the square marked for the fifteenth she read: Take M to tests. 8:15. Don’t forget. Important!

“I’m sorry,” she told her mother. “Del’s supposed to drop off Natalie’s tuition check this morning.” She shot a glance at the clock above the refrigerator. “He’s late.”

“In person?”

Lily imagined her mother’s face, her slightly Oriental looking eyes crinkling at the corners with unconcealed hope. Like everyone who met him, her mother had loved Del from first sight of his curly hair and dimpled chin. She knew what had transpired with Joy, but she had all her chips placed on an eventual reconciliation. Everyone deserves a second chance, she preached.

“Are you eating?” her mother asked.

“Britney Spears and I take excellent care of ourselves,” Lily said. She caught her reflection in the toaster oven; a little lipstick wouldn’t hurt.  She headed to dig it out of her purse. “We’re stocked up on kibble and fruit.”

“A dog is not a husband, Lily,” her mother said.

Lily hesitated. “But a husband can be a dog.” Immediately she was sorry, but it was too late.

“Lily, Lily, Lily,” her mother said. “Stop.” And then she clicked off the phone.

Lily stared at her cell. The second frustrated hang-up of the day, and it was not yet noon. How could she stop? She wanted to cry. Wasn’t she the injured party here? Who said that everyone deserved a second chance? She started to dial back her mother, ready to argue or apologize, but before she finished punching in her number the patter of footsteps sounded up the brick steps to the back door.

At once, Britney Spears’ ears perked up and her tail transformed into a giddy metronome.

“Is a doggy in there?” Del sang. “I come bearing doggy gifts.”

Lily swabbed on the lipstick and dropped it into a utensil drawer.

“Use your key.”

“That seems a bit formal.” A moment later she heard the scratch of the familiar key. She had consulted with a lawyer friend about Del’s refusal to give up the house key, but until the separation was formalized Del apparently had his rights. “Some people are easier than others,” instructed the lawyer. “This one not so much.”

“Britney!” called Del as he bumped the door closed with his hip, his traditional bag of peace offering onion bagels in one hand, a rubber chicken dog toy in the other.  Dr. Delmore Swann, the love of her life, sauntered into the kitchen.Britney Spears, who spent most of her time indoors inert, nose pressed to the tile, staring at the back of the self-same door, possibly praying continuously for this very celestial revelation, rushed forward at once, trampling over Lily’s bare feet and straight into her beloved’s embrace.

“Baby!” yelled Del. “Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

An unexpected pang rose in Lily’s chest, but it was Britney Spears who made the leap into Del’s tender embrace, Britney’s pink tongue that freely swiped Del’s freshly shaven face. Del dropped the bag of bagels and the dog immediately went for the warm circles of dough, nosing into the bag, splitting the paper and sending them spiraling. Del bent to grab them, but before he reached a single one, Britney Spears sprang to grab the bouncy rubber chicken and knocked Del to the floor.

“Jesus H. Christ!” Del swore. “Britney, calm  down. Calm the fuck down.” He waved  his arms to ward her off.  “What’s wrong with this animal?” Lily swallowed.

“She misses you?”

Del pushed to standing. As usual, he looked good—casual and rumpled.  That was Del—rumpled casual. A pale blue button-down shirt that matched his eyes, straight-legged jeans that advertised his 33-inch waist, bare feet in penny loafers that held their shine.  Britney followed him as he retrieved the bagels. Strictly speaking, Britney Spears belonged to Del. Del had rescued her from a suburban SPCA the tail end of their marriage, in part, Lily suspected, because his then-girl-pal Joy lived within dog-walking distance of their house and perambulating Britney Spears gave Del the perfect forty-five minute cover to escape from the house for a quickie with minimal suspicion. The dog, to put it bluntly, had served as Del’s beard. Del and the dog ran a mutual adoration society, but when Lily kicked him out—he had chosen a no pet/no kid apartment to share with Joy (who  had—oh, the delicious irony!—abandoned ship after six weeks) and unmanageable, half-trained Britney became de facto hers.

Bagels gathered and regrouped across the kitchen counter. Del knelt back on the floor.

“Britney, my darlink.” Del talked to the dog in the voice of Natasha from old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. “How do I live vithout you?”

Months ago, pre-Joy, Lily might have provided the companion voice for Britney Spears: “Darlink, do not vorry. You are my one and only lurve.” In those days, lured by Del’s love of the dog, and her love of Del, this dog and master act might have served as a kind of foreplay. Lily would lean over to rub Britney’s taut belly, her own sloping hip accidentally hitting Del’s roaming hand. At such a moment, the two hands stroking the dog might have found their way to somewhere decidedly more interesting, and Britney Spears, sent to follow a bouncy tennis ball cast by Del into a faraway room, would have been all but forgotten as the two of them dropped to the floor.

Now, elbows perched on the counter top, watching Del make goo-goo eyes at the dog he had so easily deserted, Lily’s eyes welled. She knew that as long as Del focused on Britney Spears he didn’t have to deal with anything else, such as their broken-heasrted daughter Natalie, who didn’t understand why he couldn’t come home. Or his infidelity. Or Lily.

She straightened.

“Tuition check?” she interrupted.

Outside, someone started a leaf blower. Lily remembered the punch line to one of Del’s favorite jokes: “Sorry, I must be leafing.”  But she could no longer recall the joke.  With a natural grace, Del delivered a final pat to Britney’s head and then jumped to his feet, pulling a green check from the back pocket of his jeans. But when Lily stretched over the counter to reach for it, he leaned back, keeping it from her reach.

“No games,” Lily said.

“But I like games.”

Lily made a second stretch for the check; Del again evaded her grasp. More than once she had asked him to mail the check rather than carry it over, but he refused.

“It’s more haimish this way,” he said. “Down to earth.”

“Idiot,” she said. But for some reason she smiled.

Del grinned back. For the first time since he had entered the room, Lily’s spine loosened. The truth was that no matter how much he had hurt her—and he had truly hurt her—she wasn’t totally sorry to see him. She  had her own job and her friends and her life, but in many ways Del had been her life’s work. As he waved the check in the air, she thought about all she knew about the man.  How he had held Natalie in the steamy shower when she had the croup, the surprise 40th birthday trip to Peru.   Where he bought his ironic argyle socks. The time that this doctor who regularly dissected miniscule zebra fish hearts had sliced open his own finger parting salty oysters in Cape May. The origin of the tiny white scar on his right temple where Natalie, two years old and perhaps alert to future betrayals, had pinched him.

“ Del.” Lily leaned towards him, her voice softening. “This morning I swallowed the dog’s heartworm pill.”

“Jesus.” The check dipped in his hand. “How pathetic can you get?”

Lily’s head snapped up. “You don’t mean that.”

“What would you call it?” he asked. “Reasonable behavior? Rational activity? The sign of a well-functioning, organized brain?”

“I don’t know what I’d call it,” she said. Everyone deserves a second chance. “Maybe it doesn’t have a name.”

“Sweetheart.” Del stepped towards her and set a hand on her shoulder. “Face it. You’re a wreck.” He smiled and massaged her upper arm. “You’re lucky I’m here.”

For the first time since Poison Control had suggested it, the tiniest rise of nausea clogged Lily’s throat. But before she could swallow, before Del had time to say another word, Lily leaned in. She drew in a deep lungful of his familiar smell: a blend of Crest mouthwash, spicy aftershave, and an indefinable medicinal odor that  he’d carried from the lab for all of their 27 years of marriage. Beyond her lips stretched his smooth collarbone, his pinkish nostrils, and his delicate earlobe, pale and juicy as a kumquat.

Closing her eyes, she considered her options. And then, with a quick snatch of breath, she parted her lips, bared her teeth and settled them into the curve of Dr. Del Swann’s neck.

“Fuck!” Del tried to jump back, but nothing budged. She held firm. Britney Spears stared, interested but strangely impassive.

“Lily!” Del cried.  “What the fuck!”

Teeth locked, she stilled, unwilling to give up her place. She didn’t release him until the check, dangling in his loosened fingers, dropped to the floor.

Del sprang away, his face contorted, one hand clamped over his neck to staunch the pain.

“You’re certifiable,” Del told her. “You should be committed.” A dark bruise had blossomed beneath his fingers. From the floor, Britney Spears whined for his attention, but Del paid her no mind.

“Don’t think you’re going to get away with this,” he said. He stumbled to the doorway.

“Drop the key.”

Del turned. From here, her handiwork resembled a love bite, a high school hickey. Her incisors tingled; her lips burned. The meaty taste had fled, replaced by the damp sweetness of her estranged husband’s flesh. The metal key hit the tile. For the first time in weeks, maybe months, as she watched Del ignore Britney Spears to push his way through the door and out of the house, she believed that for a second she had tasted the center of things, wormed her way into the very heart.

The slam of the door echoed. Britney ran to the door and started to bark.

Lily studied the back of the door, her thoughts in a whirling.  How could a man who studied molecules, who parsed strands of DNA, who published papers on the magical regeneration of the hearts of tiny fish that no one except those who published such papers might ever have a hope of understanding, be such a goddamn fool? Fool enough to throw away a good marriage, a solid marriage that she believed had been built on trust and love? All those songs about why fools fall in love had it backwards. The question was why do smart people fall in love?  Why don’t they know any better. Why do they refuse to see what inevitably comes next?  “He’s so not worth it,” she told the dog. For some reason she was crying. “He’s not,” she said again.

The dog didn’t pay her any mind. She kept barking and barking, bereft and alone.

Lily didn’t move. She went through everything she needed to do: catch up on her billing, give the dog a bath, and clean the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms. Think about her future. Get over Del. The dog howled and howled.

Ilene Raymond Rush’s fiction, nonfiction, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of national publications. Her short fiction has been awarded an O. Henry Prize and a James Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa. 

An excerpt from the novel Holy Day

“The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” There was a physical release in the crowd like a sigh, barely audible, as mothers tugged mittens and hats back onto their squirming children and opened purses to fish for keys. On Holy Days, men weren’t expected to attend the Mass. There were a few, of course—retired, white-haired businessmen still wearing suits and hats as they had every weekday for years—but most of the congregation was made up of the women and children of the parish, the understanding being that men had more pressing obligations than holy days.

Maxine followed the children to the door, hoping to get to the car before she’d have to talk to any of the other mothers. But Susan Duffy touched her on the shoulder. “Better late than never!” Susan laughed. “We just made it in time to get the last seat in a back pew.” The jeweled corners of Susan’s cat eye glasses caught the light as they stepped out through the door.

Maxine’s smile surfaced and disappeared. She never knew what to say to women like Susan. She imagined her as one of a type, a category of person that she’d internally dubbed “Good Housekeeping women.” They rolled through domestic life like they were born on roller skates: making cupcakes for bake sales, sewing new dresses for the dance, cleaning the bathroom grout with a toothbrush. Beside them she felt at a loss, always. When they talked about window treatments or teething babies or the relative merits of frozen over canned, she would smile and nod and stay quiet. Maxine looked down at Susan’s suede maroon pumps that matched her suede gloves.

“Cereal spilled. That’s why we were late. Fruit Loops.”

“Oh.” Susan laughed. “It was one of those mornings! Poor you! I know just what they’re like.”

The hell you do, Maxine thought, but she smiled and nodded.

Maxine’s daughter Jenny jogged down the marble stairs and Susan’s daughter, Betsy, followed her. The two moved toward a group of girls from their grade who were standing in a small knot, all pony tails and bent heads and secrets. One of the girls held out a pastel candy necklace that she had just pulled from her patent leather purse.

“Jenny,” Maxine called after her. “We can’t dawdle now. We have to go.”

“Just one minute, Mom,” Jenny pleaded. “Oneteensy tiny minute.”

Maxine felt the flask in her purse bump against her ribs as she reached down again for Petey’s hand.

“And so it begins,” Susan said, looking down at their daughters. “Pretty soon they’ll be pulling lipsticks out of their bags and giggling and whispering about boys just like we did.”

“Dear God, I hope not.” The bitterness that filled her voice surprised her and Maxine watched Susan spin around and stare with eyebrows raised. Maxine corrected herself. “I mean, I just hope it doesn’t come too soon, the whole teenage thing.”


As Maxine pulled in, Rita was walking down the long curved driveway to meet her. She carried two juice glasses with thick red tomato juice and Maxine focused on them and felt herself begin to relax. Bloody Marys. The only good way to observe The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. She imagined Rita saying it, letting the smoke curl out of her mouth and nose, before they clinked glasses and sipped. Maxine lifted two fingers from the steering wheel to wave. Rita raised one of the glasses in return as she picked her way down the drive like a thin-legged water bird on an asphalt stream. She wore red plaid pants with a wide leg and a beige turtleneck sweater with red beads that swung a little with her motion. Her hair, a blond pageboy with dark roots, lifted in the December air, and she lowered her pointed chin against the cold and kicked dead leaves into the grass with the inside edge of her foot. Maxine could see Rita’s breath. She must be freezing, she thought.

Maxine watched Rita move, envious of her hipbones. When she was six or seven, Maxine had found a deck of cards that her father had hidden in the drawer of his nightstand with pictures of naked women on them. One of them, a very tall blonde, was stretched out on a bed, her legs opened, her hipbones jutting out of the dark valley of her spread legs like dolphin fins, geometric, sculptural. Maxine had feared the softness of the breasts, the mossy hair at the crotch, but she’d thought this blond woman was beautiful because of those bones, imagined these long clean lines and the triangles jutting above a smooth flat belly.

Sometimes Rita and Maxine discussed their different bodies, both always self-deprecating, complaining—how hard it was to buy clothes, how much better life would be with bigger breasts or a smaller ass. Rita told her she was lucky to be so curvy.

“At least you’ve got a little something where it counts. Me, I’m the white cliffs of Dover. Flat in back, flat in front.”

But Maxine saw nothing admirable in her pale protruding belly, her round pink arms. She was always vowing to reduce and announcing her intention to eat nothing but cottage cheese for two months.

Inside the house, sitting at the kitchen table, Maxine watched Rita frowning at the clean laundry she folded into piles on the stained and crumb-covered tablecloth, curving her shoulders over her flat chest and jutting her hips out in front so that she looked almost S-shaped from the side. Maxine sat up straighter in her chair as she finished off the Bloody Mary that Rita had handed her in the driveway.

“That’s the problem with these damn Catholic schools,” Rita was saying. “They’re off every other day. St. Stanislaus Day and next it’s Our Lady Patron of Mothers Celebration or whatever. And do you think they’d give a mother a break to show they understood? No way. You’ve got the kids all day on a day that celebrates mothers. I mean, what the fuck?”

What the fuck? There it was. Just one of the many things Paul hated about Rita. “She doesn’t talk like a lady,” Paul had said after the first time they’d met. Maxine had talked him into going to a party at Rita’s on a sweltering night in July. On the drive home he’d given the post mortem as sweat rolled down Maxine’s sides—even with the window open. He’d hated the whole evening.

“Who is she trying to impress, tossing around those words?” Paul never cursed, except when he was furious or drunk.

“And what was with the cigar? What did that prove? Why does she need to stand around with all of the men instead of in the kitchen with the women. And it’s her house! She’s supposed to be the hostess, not smoking cigars with the men, making everyone comfortable.”

Maxine hadn’t seen the cigar smoking, but she’d pictured it as she stood in the kitchen with her back against the counter, listening to Rita’s laughter in the other room when Henry Oppenheimer offered Rita the Cuban. Maxine had pictured the smoke wreathed around Rita’s head and the drink in her hand and all of the men circling her, admiring her, afraid of her. Maxine had heard it so clearly and imagined it so keenly that she kept losing the thread of her boring conversation with Tracy Knight about the problems Tracy was having with her son’s kindergarten teacher.

Paul had been quiet for awhile as he drove into the starless night, heat lightning ghosting the horizon, and Maxine watched the muscle in his jaw working. Finally he’d asked, “You don’t think she might be one of those lesbians, do you?”

Maxine had taken a weary breath and laughed. “She’s divorced. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like men; it just means she didn’t happen to like that one. She’s high-spirited. Good God, Paul, women have been smoking since the twenties. This is 1969.”


Maxine raised her glass and the last of the thick cold juice filled her mouth with a taste peppery and flat, almost metallic. On the television in the next room, a woman’s voice grew frantic, pleading, “What will you do? Where will you go?” A man answered, “What’s that to you now, now that you’ll be married to him?” Then a great swell of music erupted as they went to commercial. Maxine pictured the three children sitting in that dark den just the way she’d left them, slumped into the overstuffed furniture with the blank looks children reserve for conveying the most inexpressible kind of accusation or anger. Back in the car after church, she knew the children wanted to go home, to play, to have their day together, just the four of them. But then they never wanted to go to Rita’s house. There was nothing and no one to play with; they were bored and uncomfortable. Maxine had tried to cajole them.

“We’ll only be a few minutes. I have some things I need to talk to Mrs. Pyles about and then later we can go do something fun.”

“What, Mommy?” Petey said. “What can we do fun?”

But Jenny threw her head back against the seat and frowned out the window. “I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t want to go. Her house smells funny.”

“Jennifer,” Maxine snapped. “That’s unkind. I don’t want to hear any more of your nonsense and I never want to hear you say that again, especially in front of Mrs. Pyles. It’s a terribly rude thing to say and it would hurt her feelings.” Maxine thought it, too, so Jenny’s saying it made her angrier. The house had a strange, sharp smell, like Lysol and cigarettes and dust. The smell seemed to have cooked down over time, coalesced, as if no window in the house had been opened for years.

Maxine caught Jenny’s eye in the rearview and frowned. Jenny turned toward the window again and Petey slid headfirst into the front seat, the stuffed dog he’d named Buddy clutched in his hand. He moved close to her and looked up into her face until she focused again on the road and then he whispered, “Mommy, what can we do that’s fun?”

“It’ll be a surprise,” she said.

“But what surprise will it be, Mommy?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, would it?” Maxine laughed and cut her eyes to the rearview to see if Jenny had softened at all, but she was still staring resolutely out the window. Laura sat beside her, turning the pages of her favorite book, Pippi Longstocking, and keeping her own counsel. Her dark hair fell down around her face and Maxine watched the sunlight and shade stream over the curtains of her hair where it made a world for her alone, a world of peace removed from the tension of Jenny’s anger and Petey’s desire.

“Is it ice cream?” Petey asked.

“Mom, will you braid my hair like Pippi’s?” Laura said.

Maxine laughed again, trying to be light, trying to make it a good day. “We’ll see,” she said. “Maybe later tonight.” And to Petey, “Will you be a good boy while we visit Mrs. Pyles?”

Petey nodded solemnly.

“Can I have a horse, like Pippi?” Laura asked.


When they arrived, Rita had barely looked at the children. But once they were in the house, Rita offered them snacks and drinks as they’d settled in front of the television. They each said “No thank you” automatically. After several visits, they had learned to refuse her offers despite Maxine’s frowns. Rita’s kids were older, almost grown, and somehow she’d forgotten—or maybe she’d never known—that things like Brazil nuts or garlic-stuffed olives were not snacks that would please children ages six, eight, and nine. It never seemed to matter to Rita whether they ate the food she gave them or not, just as it didn’t seem to matter to her that the girls never smiled at her unless told to, never said a word to her unless prompted by Maxine.

Rita’s attitude toward children, all children, was another thing that Maxine found impressive. When she was trying to explain it to herself, though, she thought “impressive” might be the wrong word. Interesting? No, it was more than that. Rita didn’t act like any woman Maxine knew around children, and she certainly didn’t act like any mother she’d seen. She’d never exclaimed over Jenny’s hair or noticed anything they were wearing or commented on how they’d grown. She didn’t ask them about school or what grade they were in or if they liked their teachers. Nothing. Rita always seemed surprised whenever any of the kids spoke, mildly annoyed at their presence. She’d apologized one day after snapping at Petey for interrupting their conversation. “I’m just no good with kids,” she’d said. “You probably think I’m terrible.”

But Maxine didn’t find it terrible, somehow—just curious. To say, “I’m not good with children” out loud. It was the kind of thing she would never dare to admit—like saying she had a favorite child, or that she sometimes found them disgusting when they were sick—and it thrilled her somehow that Rita could just say it. Rita had had three sons of her own—big, sullen boys—and the oldest two lived with their father. The youngest son was a ghost in the house, passing through on his way to somewhere else—to lacrosse practice or to meet a friend—grabbing something from the refrigerator, saying as close to nothing as possible. Maxine wondered for a long time why the other boys lived with their father, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Rita had only mentioned it once, in an offhand way, when she began a sentence, “When the oldest two decided to give up on me altogether and move to ‘Man Island’…”

“I’m sure they didn’t give up on you!” Maxine protested.

Rita looked at her sidelong and grinned a little. “It’s okay, Maxine, you don’t have to fix it.” Maxine had no idea what to say then. Rita was the only divorced woman Maxine knew.

There were rumors in the neighborhood, of course. Her sons had left because she’d been bringing home other men, sometimes married men. People whispered about cars coming and going late at night. Though Maxine believed this might have been the case, she hated the sharp bright eyes of the people who gossiped about it. The same people said sometimes that the boys left because Rita neglected them, refused to feed them, finally put them out. Maxine knew this charge was false and thought it mean and unwarranted. When Mrs. Palmer, standing in the long line at the Acme Grocery, had suggested this, Maxine had called it “ludicrous.”

“You’re friends with her, then?” Mrs. Palmer’s pink lipsticked mouth settled to a small, pursed “o.”

Maxine felt like the grocery store hushed around her. She lowered her voice and began to dig for her wallet in her purse, but she tried to keep her tone matter-of-fact. “Yes,” she said. “Yes. We talk, that is.”

“Well, I guess you would know, then,” Mrs. Palmer said, and she turned on her heel, putting her groceries on the belt in silence. She didn’t even wave at Maxine when she paid and left.


Rita gathered all the laundry off the kitchen table and into a white plastic laundry basket. The cold sun came slanting through the big picture window behind them and Maxine looked at her shadow, a strange rounded triangle on the checkered tablecloth.

“What’ll you do with them all day?”

Maxine felt the weight of it again. The day stretched in front of her, so many hours until Paul came home and dinner and then the relief of putting them in bed. At bedtime she knew what to do. She had a routine: jammies, brush teeth, one song, two stories, lights out. Peace. In the summer, there was camp, and the swim club, the playground, places to take them. But now, in December, the day seemed so long and she had no idea how she would fill it. She fished the cigarettes out of her purse and pulled the half-full ashtray toward her.

“I think I’ll take them for ice cream.” She inhaled deep and blew a white breath toward the ceiling. “It’s a secret; I promised Petey a surprise for being good. And then I guess I could take them over to the mall with me. I need to do some more Christmas shopping and they could run off and look around.”

Rita topped up her Bloody Mary from the big pitcher on the counter and Maxine began to calm down as she felt the drink softening the hard edge of her fear. It was a good plan. They could go to the King of Prussia Mall and look at all the Christmas decorations, at the big tree in the middle of the plaza. They could walk around the enclosed part and stay warm. Maxine would try to find something to give Paul, maybe even browse through the jewelry and purses while the kids went off to look in the toy store. Maybe she’d even pick up a little car for Petey and some small things for the girls, headbands with flowers or little barrettes. She thought of their faces in the car, their silent accusations. She thought that maybe little gifts could make up for it, could turn the day around. Another swell of music spilled in from the next room. “Like sands through the hourglass,” the voice-over announcer said.

“You watch this one, don’t you? Days of Our Lives?” Maxine said. “Do you want to go in? We can shoo the kids to the living room.”

“Never mind. I can miss a day, God knows. Nothing ever happens on those things. Besides, what’ll they do in the living room? They’ll just break something.” Rita laughed, but Maxine knew she meant it and it made her bristle. They were good kids, after all.

“They don’t mean any harm,” Maxine said, getting up and going to the door to look in on them. A heavy red curtain always drawn over the only window darkened the den, and the children’s faces shifted blue and green with the changing color on the TV, a laundry detergent commercial. None of them looked at her; all seemed transfixed and absent, as a smiling woman holding an iron announced, “Your family counts on you for the whitest whites.”

“I guess I better finish this drink and go,” Maxine said, turning around just in time to see Rita drain hers in two big gulps.

“No,” Rita protested. “Come on, stay a little and chat. Have one more after this. You’re the best part of my day, you know?”


Rita had been Maxine’s best friend since their first real conversation three summers before. It happened on Rita’s back porch, sitting across the picnic table from each other as their cold gin and tonics sweated into the wood and they sweated into the summer night. They’d met just that afternoon at a neighborhood Tupperware party. Those things always made Maxine so sad and nervous. She’d tried to tell Paul what they were like. “You do nothing,” she’d said. “You sit around someone’s kitchen table ooohing and aaaahing and it’s just nothing . . . different sized plastic bowls . . . and it’s all very modern and maybe the astronauts use them or something. Tupperware calls them ‘the bowls that burp‘ because you press out the air and food stays fresh and . . .” Maxine had rubbed her fingers into the corners of her dry eyes. Just talking about it made her feel exhausted. “After awhile it’s just a bunch of plastic bowls.”

“Other women seem to enjoy it,” Paul had said.


But Maxine knew right away that Rita was different. When the first of the cake holders came out, and the other women caught their breath, Rita caught Maxine’s eye and held it, then did a long slow blink that had Maxine stifling a laugh and poking around her purse for a Kleenex. They spent most of the next hours in mute conversation—barely lifted eyebrows, nearly suppressed smiles—sharing the insanity of this ritual, the absurdity of their plight. At the finale, when Denise took out the condiment caddy and everyone broke into applause, Maxine looked at Rita and nearly collapsed with glee at having found another soul who seemed to understand.

When they left, each holding their obligatory purchase, a mustard and catsup set, Rita said, “I’m two blocks away and no one’s home. Come have a drink.”

Two hours later, sitting in Rita’s yard, Maxine felt grateful and oddly comfortable with a relative stranger. The last time she’d talked with another woman like this was the night before she got married when, for the last time, she and Barbara sat up late on the old screened-in porch of her mother’s house. It was a soft June night and the fireflies rose and fell in the tiny row house yard as they talked the way they always had, and never would again—about the boys at the factory they used to date, her wedding the next day, their parents and what they wanted for their own futures. How much better it could be for them than it had been for their mothers. Barbara had been her best friend. How could she have lost touch with someone who had been that close?

Maxine told all this to Rita that night. Another June night, but hotter, closer. The fireflies still rose and fell in the dark yard, but the other houses around them were distant points of light behind manicured hedges, not neighbors she knew whose shapes she watched behind their curtained yellow windows. Maxine told Rita that she sometimes wished she still lived in the city, still had a job. “I miss . . .” but Maxine couldn’t finish the sentence because all of the things she missed came pouring in. They became a kaleidoscope, colored blocks of memory shifting—the house she’d grown up in with the creaky stairs and the blue door, her mother’s striped aprons, Barbara’s upturned freckled nose, being young on a summer night and sitting on the front stoop with bare toes curled around the concrete step and the whole world stretching out from that one cool inch of stone.


Telling Rita her stories, Maxine felt like the world she’d known growing up was right there beyond the manicured hedges and the suburban summer hum—1949 was out there in the dark, and with it the streets and the houses and the people she’d known—the girl she’d been, Clearfield Street and her Aunt Helen’s three-story corner house, the sound of the old Ford delivery wagons. She could see Barbara walking beside her, the lights from the windows of the butcher’s and the five and dime shifting behind her, shadowing her face and lighting up her dark red hair. She remembered faces of boys—they rose from the dark pools of 1949 like strange pale fish—not the ones from their high school, St. Theresa’s, but older boys who’d never gone to college or who left school when they hit sixteen to work at the National Biscuit factory, at the corner of Kensington and Alleghany, where her mother worked. These were the boys she and Barbara sought, the ones they dressed for and talked about.

That was when Maxine had first felt like a real person, like she had a real life of her own, with lipstick and cigarettes hidden in her purse, a flask tucked in the inside pocket of her jacket. Maxine and Barbara would make up some story about prom committee meetings or decorating the gym for a pep rally and then meet the boys behind the factory or in back of the pool hall when the boys got off their shift. She thought again about the hidden bottles, the ever-present rot-gut booze the boys drank.

“Sometimes,” she told Rita, “I imagine talking with Jenny about dating when she gets older and telling her my dating stories and I realize that I’m going to have to edit, erase the whiskey and the lies.”

Coming home after nights out with the boys, she and Barbara would suck a striped peppermint and rehearse cover stories about what had kept them so late. The taste of peppermint still made her think of those nights; every corner felt like an opportunity to see someone new. They marveled at how easy it was to get by their parents and talked about what Barbara’s father would do, especially if he knew about the dark boys in the dark corners of the pool hall parking lot.

Maxine remembered all of it. The sweaty wrestling in the back seats of cars, the furious whispers in her ear, the hands that pushed and pushed—she learned to go absolutely still, to fold in on herself, cross her legs and arms, duck her head, and then they would stop and apologize and she would rehook her bra and kiss them again. “Nothing below the waist,” she’d say lightly, and then she’d turn away before she could see their eyes.

Sometimes, though, when Maxine came home late, her mother would look up from her magazine with eyes so flat and full of defeat that Maxine understood that her mother knew it all and was terrified that Maxine would end up pregnant by some neighborhood boy, end up staying there the rest of her life.

“That was the only thing I ever saw my mother afraid of,” she told Rita. “Me staying there and becoming her.”

That she’d graduated from secretarial school, married Paul, had a house in the suburbs—this was everything her mother had ever dreamed for Maxine. Everything she’d taught Maxine to dream for herself. Just before she and Paul bought the house, Maxine drove her mother out to Bridgewater to see it. The house was on the top of a hill, with a two-car garage and blue shutters and two stone posts at the entrance to the drive. Maxine could feel her mother’s emotion as she turned the car at the pillars and they neared the house; it felt like the air around her was suddenly electrified. When Maxine opened the front door, her mother turned tear-filled eyes up to the high ceilings in the entranceway. “You’ve got the perfect life now,” she said. “Oh Maxine. You did it.”



“The perfect life,” Rita said, dragging her finger through the wet ring her glass made on the wood. “Is that what this is?

Out in the dark yard, cicadas had begun their furious metallic chirring and the crickets’ voices opened and closed like rusty hinges. “What did you really want?” Rita met her gaze then and held it. “Did you have any idea what you wanted back then?”

“I . . . .” Maxine tried to think of a word to describe how she’d thought about her own life, if she ever  did think about her life.. “No one ever told me I should wonder what I wanted. I don’t think I even knew how to ask myself the question.”

“Do you ask yourself now?”

Maxine shifted on the wooden bench and laughed a little. “Do you?”

“Nope, my gin, my question. You first. When it’s your gin, you can turn the tables.”

Maxine lit another cigarette and watched the flame bow low as she drew in a long drag. She looked out across the dark lawn and watched the yellow porch light come on in the house next door. Then she did something that she hadn’t done in a very long time. She told the truth.

“Some mornings,” she said, “the bars of sunlight slanting through the blinds look like knives. I open my eyes and I think the day will slice me open, cut me right down to the bone. Some nights, especially if Paul is working late, I wander through the house after I put the kids to bed and I pick up the knickknacks, the books, all the stuff I’m always dusting and arranging, and I wonder who could possibly want this, care about it. I wonder what the hell happened to me that I have a collection of Royal Doulton figurines and a husband who buys me a new one for every birthday.”


The soap opera ended and Maxine heard the music again, the segue into a commercial, and the children shifting and whispering in the den. Just as Maxine poured another Bloody Mary, Laura came and stood in the kitchen doorway. In the smallest voice she could manage, avoiding Rita’s pointed gaze, Laura whispered, “Are we going to go soon?”

Anne Colwell is a fiction writer and poet and this excerpt comes from Holy Day, a novel in progress. She has published two books of poems: Believing Their Shadows (Word Poetry, 2010) and Mother’s Maiden Name (Word Poetry, 2013). She won the 2013 Experienced Artist in Fiction Award for her novel, Holy Day through the Delaware State Arts Council and has been a Work-Study Fellow at Bread Loaf and a MidAtlantic Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Waiting Room Fairies

Daddy used to say it before he moved away to live with Vanessa.

“Your mother is a party and a half,” he would say. “But I’m not much of a partying man.”

My sister Anna and I knew how to party, too. We knew which shoes were party shoes and which were meant for rainstorms or school.

Daddy said we did a different kind of partying, but we believed what Mommy told us.

“If I can see your toenails, I’d better see that sparkle polish we bought last week,” Mom would say. “When we dance, we’ll see those tootsies twinkle!”

She taught us how to light up the floor and wag our fingers at spectators. She said we should have so much fun dancing, we should encourage others to join in the fun. Mom could get people off their feet with a wink and a twirl. She told us we could learn to do that, too, if we had enough fun and spark in us, which she knew we did. Most days were practice days—so we could learn how to share our spark.

“Where does the spark come from?” Anna asked once.

The answer was simple. It had to do with the fairies.

One morning just before Anna’s birthday, Mom told us to get dressed in our best church outfits. Matching hats and gloves, our pretty puffer coats, and closed-toe shoes. The black patent leather ones with the straps and bows we’d learned to fasten ourselves when we became “big girls.”

Anna wanted to know why we were dressing for church if we weren’t going to church.

“God sees you wherever you go. So, he’ll know that you did your best to look nice,” Mom said.

Anna whined. She wanted to wear red glitter shoes and pink tights.

“God knows if you’re trying to ignore him for a party outfit,” Mom said.

Anna didn’t argue. I knew she was still upset, but she changed and I helped her with her black shoes. She wore sparkle underpants with The Little Mermaid on them and figured since no one could see, that was OK.

Mom took us to a building we’d never been to before.

“Do we get to dance when we’re inside?” I asked.

“Do you dance in church?”

I smiled because I knew the answer. It was an easy one.

“I can dance inside my heart at church.”

Mom nodded and took Anna by the hand when we walked through the parking lot.

“These fuckers’ll run over anyone,” she said. Then she added, “Don’t repeat that.”

Anna looked at me and mouthed the words “run over” and tucked her chin to her chest for a muzzled giggle. I smiled at her and followed Mom’s footsteps. Her clicks and clacks were tighter than usual, closer together. But I kept up. I knew how to keep up with Mom.

Inside the building was an elevator, which was our favorite game to play. We’d race in one elevator and Mom would guess which floor we picked. If Anna was choosing, she’d always pick the fifth floor because she was five and said it was her favorite number. Mom told me it’s polite to let your little sister have the pick of things sometimes, because I’d usually do things first in life. Mom would race in another elevator and would always be sitting, waiting, on the floor we’d chosen. She was really good at the game.

That day, Mom walked through the heavy gray doors and pushed a button. Anna wanted to say something—I could tell. But I stared at her with eyes of ice, certain that almost anything might upset Mom today.

When the elevator doors slid open on our floor, two glass doors stood in front of us, covered with writing, like a grocery list.

“Mommy, what does it say?” Anna said.

Mom stared at the door for a long time before looking down at us. I wondered if she was translating the writing. Maybe it was in another language.

“It says, ‘Danger ahead! Only the brave shall pass!’” Mom said. “And how do the brave prepare for danger?”

Anna rubbed her hands together and spread her stance. Then she said, “Elika zelika belika zoo!”

I needed to think on my feet, like Anna. So I rubbed static electricity between my hands and hair and stretched my fingers wide in front of us.

“I’m passing electricity through the glass door,” I told Mom.

She smiled and told me that was a good idea.

She closed her eyes and told us she felt the fairies in her stomach. Fairies make you brave because they eat your fear. I’d forgotten about that, but Anna said she’d already thought about the fairies. They reminded her of the words to her spell.

We walked through the door, which opened to a room lined with chairs and tables stacked with magazines. The glossy covers had big writing and pregnant ladies on them.

That’s when I knew we were in a doctor’s office, but I didn’t know what for. I told Anna not to ask any questions because “all would reveal itself in time.” That was the creed of the fairies.

We waited in chairs, sitting like perfect princesses on thrones while Mom spoke with a woman behind a desk and wrote things down on papers we couldn’t see.

We waited all together some more. I wasn’t sure why, but everyone in the room was quiet.

That’s when Anna figured it out. Our job was to be the special people in the room. The people who could make a difference—turn some frowns upside down.

She stood in the middle of the room and got up on her tiptoes. She started to twirl very softly at first, waving her hands gently through the air, and I hummed the music from Swan Lake. She pretended to be the swan and glided over the floor in soft sweeps, lifting her toes at the right moments for the perfect arabesque, the pique turns, and all of the pirouettes we’d practiced at home.

“You’re perfect,” Mom said. “I can see your feathers!”

“They’re in your butt!” I said, seeing the sprouting tail myself.

Anna spun with bigger swooping hand motions, and Mom started to laugh. She knew the fairies were helping Anna, and I knew that, before long, others would join in the dance.

But they didn’t.

A woman walked over to the lady sitting behind the desk and whispered some things. Another joined her not long after that.

Then the woman from behind the desk walked over to Mom and told her that her daughter’s behavior was inappropriate, given the sensitive nature of their office.

“Well, it’s very dangerous here,” I told the woman. “Anna is coaxing out the danger.”

The woman raised an eyebrow, and a young woman sitting in a chair in the corner rubbed her stomach and shuddered.

I didn’t understand. Anna’s dance was perfect. It was sure to develop our bravery and make other people want to dance.

But Mom motioned for us to come close.

“The ladies in this room are delicate. Not anything like us. Your dancing reminds them of their own fear. They’re scared,” Mom said.

“What should we do?” I said.

“Well, I need to go into that room back there in a few minutes. It will take a little while. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30. I need you girls to be good and sit here quietly. You can say your spells and talk to each other, but no dancing, no playing on the floor, OK?”

“But what about the fairies?” Anna said.

“I need you to tell the fairies to go to Mommy’s stomach. I need them there. Can you do that?”

When Anna didn’t answer right away, I gave her a shove and told her I’d pick her nose later if she didn’t agree.

“I’ll put the boogers in your ears,” I said.

We nodded our heads, and a few minutes later the woman behind the desk called Mom’s name. She walked through a door, and we waited for a long time.

When Mom came back out, she looked white and tired. Her eyes were puffy and she didn’t look like she had any fairies in her at all. She picked up her coat and wound her scarf around her neck a few times before telling us it was time to go.

When we got into the elevator, we were all quiet.

“Are you OK?” I said to Mom.

She looked down at me, and I thought she might cry. I wondered if Anna’s dance had failed. If we’d lost our ability to make others want to dance. Anna looked scared, and I thought she might cry, too.

Mom slid her index finger up and down the button board in the elevator, lighting up each number.

“Come on,” she said. “We’re fairy hunting today. Let’s check every floor. They could be anywhere by now!”

Anna jumped up and down and so I did, too, and the elevator shook just enough to tell us the fairies were close.

“There they are!” Mom said. “They’re following us to every floor! I feel them in my toes!” And she started to tap her foot just slightly.

“If I dance too hard the fairies will fall out!” she said, and she asked Anna and me to dance for her, to conjure the fairies from each of the floors and into the elevator with us.

So Anna and I danced until we could hardly catch our breaths. And Mom told us if the dancing made our feet hurt, we could take off our shoes.

Kimberly Emilia has been previously published by Weave Magazine, Defenestration Moderator, Spirit Magazine, and Blue Lake Review. She holds an MFA from Arcadia University in Creative Writing and presently teaches writing and cultural studies for Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. She resides in Chester County with her supportive husband.

the old dogs of Karma

with their past glories

sheared off

the old dogs of Karma

come sniffing around

I had left them

in the backyard

laying around

I was spending my

sotted nights trying

to remember a song

I had no melody, no radio

time was pecking away at my bones

&wisdom’s sand

was wearing away the bulwark of decades

with gentle

annihilating breath

the old dogs of Karma

come in

like it’s

New Year’s Eve

like maybe we should settle

they want more


the meat of my youth.

with sad, oil-black eyes

and tongues dry&white

the old dogs of Karma

come sniffing around

for what’s left.

Farewell to Armor, Jim Trainer’s full-length collection of poetry, is out now through WragsInk Press and available on Trainer is the founder of Yellow Lark Press. He currently lives in Austin, Texas where he serves as contributor, curator and editor of Going For The Throat-a twice-weekly publication of cynicism, outrage, correspondence and romance. To read and find out more about Jim, please visit


This poem is my clean porch.

That painting is my sparkling oven.

The sail to Bora Bora is matching chairs

that don’t creak their age.


You cruise the linear life.

You straighten your curtains,

plant flowers in rows,

imagine your life all in order.


I splash through colors

and throw words all around the room.

You can’t imagine

what sails outside the lines.

Raised in Sharon Hill, PA, Helen Ohlson pursued several careers, and finally chose teaching. She taught Middle School English and a Gifted Seminar until retiring after 29 years. She has been writing and publishing since 1995. In 2013 her poem “Peyote Sunrise” was chosen for Times They Were Achanging – Women Remember the 60’s and 70’s, and in 2014 she and her writing group, the TransCanal Writers, won a Delaware Press Association award for their anthology Five Bridges. Helen resides in the Utopian village of Arden, Delaware, where Utopia might be up for debate, but artists and writers enjoy unabashed community support.