Tricking Your Monkey Mind into Writing

When do you have time to write in your day? Is it at 6 a.m. when everyone but the dog is asleep? Or midnight, when the same rule applies? Lunch time? Or maybe it’s not really a matter of time (confess–you spend at least some of your free time skimming blog articles, or seeing if your ex has any new Facebook photo updates of his ugly baby); maybe it’s a matter of only thinking you want to be a writer, without, you know, actually writing anything.

I’m in a phase like that now, a kind of long one— years even. But I also know myself fairly well. When I decide on a project, I can be committed, though I need both a schedule, a daily practice, and a specific goal in mind, even if it’s just writing for a certain number of days in a row (note: this does not apply to National Novel Writing Month). I know that some people totally get into the challenge of writing five billion words a day for one of the longest months in the year, but I personally find it just a short cut to self-loathing (to offer an inspirational aside, I read recently that David Foster Wallace wrote the first draft of Infinite Jest during NaNo *).

I can’t seem to write unless I have a deadline pressing like a vulture on my back. I have found, however, that I respond to made up challenges and deadlines. You’ll have to find out what motivates you—praise from others, reaching a certain word count, jealousy that yet another story by Josh Ferris has been accepted in The New Yorker–but here are a few suggestions for making sure writing is part of your daily life:

1. Sign up for This is a free, private blog that counts your words for you (750 words a day being the goal), and gives you these badges when you reach certain goals. You can sign up for monthly challenges or just track your word count. You can sign up for daily email reminders and see your progress. The site also gives you a peek into your subconscious mind, showing what words you use the most, and what your themes seem to be given those words.

2. Enter a writing a contest with a deadline. Philadelphia Stories offers two: the Marguerite McGlinn National Prize for Fiction and The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Pick up a copy of Poet’s and Writers and you’ll  find plenty of other contests to spur you on.

3. Take a class. Temple’s Continuing Education program has night classes in various genres, and so do many other universities around the tri-state area. If you have a little extra money and are free in the evenings, a weekly class where you can talk to other writers, have specific writing assignments, and get feedback can be highly motivating. You can find a whole list on this very website here. Downside: some courses cost more than others and require you to be registered in a program. In that case, consider looking for a writing group that meets regularly in your area. Most of those are free, though  depending on the group, you may find that the participants tend to talk less about writing and more about their personal lives.

4. Sign up for Internet blocking apps
. If your main problem is a lack of focus and attention while trying to write–if you’re like me and will latch onto any excuse to stop writing and Google something (for example, “best fiction writing apps”), you might find it useful to try an online tool that will temporarily disallow you from tweeting a pithy line of text you’ve just written or checking your email to see if you have any more holiday coupons from Pottery Barn. Anti-Social, FocusWriter, and Think are three of the ones I found while distracting myself from writing this article by reading this article.
Those are my suggestions, but do whatever it takes. Butt in the chair, that’s the first rule. Then, go.

(*This is a made-up fact, i.e. fiction).

Aimee LaBrie received her MA in writing from DePaul University in 2000 and her MFA in fiction Penn State in 2003. Her collection of short stories, Wonderful Girl, won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction in 2007 and was published by the University of North Texas Press.Other stories of hers have been published in Minnesota Review, Pleiades, Quarter After Eight, Iron Horse Literary Review, and numerous other literary journals. Her short story, “Ducklings” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Pleiades.

A Still Pond Means Certain Suffocation

last frigid winter the koi pond was a sacrifice
each fish a gilded canvas of mottled
orange, flecked gold, and white blotches
slipping under an icy crust
then slower
the snow
brushed from the thick, ice plate
unveiled their decorative performance
suspended like ornament glass.


Phylinda has enjoyed living in Philadelphia for ten years. Visit her website for links to more poems.

A Broken Arm, a Mended Heart

From the get-go I thought, “this guy is dangerous.” By day, Kris was the web geek at the first magazine I worked for. But in his free time, he was an adrenaline junkie. He climbed 14,000-foot-tall mountains, skateboarded in empty swimming pools and, on a fat-tired bicycle, careened down steep, rocky hillsides.  Each Monday, he arrived at work with a new bruise or glistening red wound from the weekend’s folly.

One winter, he took a six-week sabbatical from work so that he could bike across Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest lake in the world. Of course, in winter, it’s not really a lake at all, but a 400-mile-long swath of ice sandwiched between jagged rocks. On his list of gear to pack were studded bicycle tires, a sleeping bag rated to -40F, and a screwdriver in case the ice broke and he fell into the churning, subfreezing water (he’d use the screwdriver to claw his way out). Another time, he nearly plunged 1,500 vertical feet off the face of Oregon’s Mount Hood. By luck — or divine intervention — the tip of his mountaineer’s axe caught in a fissure of ice and stopped him mid-slide. He went on to summit the mountain, triumphant.

Kris was also dangerous in the sense that he was fiercely attractive. At the office, he fastened his long, wild, curly hair into a ponytail. He wore short-sleeved button-down shirts that complemented his broad shoulders and climber’s biceps. Behind his glasses shone ocean blue eyes that could slice through your soul.

Adventure was his lifeblood. He had grown up a free-range kid on 300 acres in central Wisconsin, where he’d learned to hunt, climb and ice fish. He loved the cold, and insisted he’d teach me – a timid girl from Atlanta – how to snowboard. One January night, after he hosted a happy hour for several coworkers, I lingered. He set me up with boots that were two sizes too big, strapped me to the waxed fiberglass board, gave me a few pointers, and nudged me down the hill behind his apartment building. I thought snowboarding was easy and fun…until we got to the real slope in Vermont a few days later. During my inaugural run on the bunny hill, I tumbled and broke my arm.

That was our first date.

I could have cut my losses and walked away right then. Bones heal, after all. I wasn’t so sure about my heart.

Avoiding pain had been my personal mission since I was five. My childhood home was dominated by brokenness and heartache, beginning in the early 1970s with my older brother, who was born severely developmentally disabled. He had seizures and threw violent fits and had to be monitored around the clock. My brother couldn’t help who he was, but that didn’t stop my parents from grieving. Back then, having a disabled child was a disease, and my parents didn’t have a cure. They had me, and later, a “normal” son. But we weren’t enough. Dashed hopes had already metastasized into resentment, lies and fury.

Dad eventually moved out.

After that, my mother was on a quest to fill the emptiness in her heart and beat back the depression that was engulfing her (and us). The men she pursued – some married, others womanizers – had no interest in the mother-of-three package deal, especially when it included a special needs kid. Even so young, I knew there was no way for these relationships to end well. My role was to keep the peace, to buffer her pain by shouldering some of the parenting load while she disappeared into the night. When she collapsed on the bathroom floor sobbing after yet another breakup, I was also her therapist. I told her what she wanted to hear, that everything would be all right, that her Prince Charming was still out there, somewhere. Meanwhile, I vowed never to follow in her footsteps. I resolved not to treat my heart so recklessly.

When it came time for me to date, I chose buttoned-up, glowing Southern boys who vowed to keep me chaste until our wedding day. What these conservative gents lacked in passion and adventure, they made up for in piety. I was allured by how steadfast they were as much as by their stable, two-parent upbringings. In so many ways, I was still five years old and pining for a whole and happy family.

When the relationships ended (never dramatically, but more with a cartoonish wah wah wah of unreturned phone calls or it’s not you, it’s me), I was sad, but not heartbroken. A heart can’t break when it’s shuttered away. I was so determined to live in opposition to my mother that I discounted the most important element of romance: attraction.

Now here was Kris. I couldn’t get enough of him, and it terrified me. His voice was infused with passion and kindness and a yearning for life, and I just wanted to be around him and hear him speak more. In the beginning, that’s all we did. We talked, sometimes until three in the morning, sitting in the passenger seat of his Jeep with the heat cranked and my legs sweating. Or sprawled on the futon in my apartment after cooking elaborate, messy dinners together – me with my one good arm. We discussed books and travel and movies and music and all that we dreamed of doing, of being.

For all his risk taking, it was weeks before Kris ventured to kiss me. He waited until my arm had healed and we could properly embrace. The moment was like throwing gasoline on a smoldering coal.  

It wasn’t long before I started joining him on adventures. We flew to London on a whim one weekend because an airline was selling round-trip tickets for $199. He’d seen the advertisement and said, “I’ve never been. Wanna go?” His optimism and spontaneity were infectious. We went camping in three feet of snow just for the hell of it, and stayed up all night, cocooned in our down sleeping bags. The stars were so thick against the black winter sky, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I gazed up and saw for the first time a future that didn’t have to be defined by my past.

Eventually, we moved into a 150-year-old farmhouse in eastern Pennsylvania. The house sat on eight acres and was bordered by an organic farm on one side, a tree farm on another, and a Mennonite family farm across the road. Kris continued to chase his next adrenaline fix – scaling mountains, adventure racing, backpacking — but now he had a home base, with me. We loved to bicycle, and from our front door we could piece together 50-mile undulating loops that toured the patchwork quilt of Dutch Country and never once crossed a busy street. On Sunday mornings, we awoke to the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages, our neighbors heading off to church. We bought eggs, bread, and organic produce from the neighboring farms and cultivated our own salsa garden full of tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro.

Kris loved it because it reminded him of where he’d grown up. I loved it because it was the exact opposite of how I’d grown up. He begged me to sleep with the windows open. His body craved the smell of grass, trees, dirt. But I resisted. My childhood home had been burglarized several times, once in the middle of the night while we were home, cowering under our beds.

“Don’t you know I’ll protect you, city girl?” he asked me with a warm smile as he slid open the rickety old windows and let the cool breeze pour in. I looked into his face, so genuine and loving, and knew he’d do anything to keep me safe. It took a while, but I leaned into this man, and I began to see that risk does not equal recklessness. He took chances in life, but not with my heart.

Kris likened our relationship to a tandem mountain bike ride on a sinuous trail. A journey not without steep climbs and rocky patches. But the smooth parts? The white-knuckle downhill stretches of trail that make you giddy, that take your breath away? Pure bliss.

So it seemed fitting that one day just as I was descending the rockiest trail I’d ever dared to ride, feeling the panic-thrill that comes from suspending caution and reaping the reward, I found Kris at the bottom of the hill by a mountain stream, down on one knee. He was caked in dirt and grinning ear-to-ear. My knight on a silver bicycle.

“You’ve been my adventure partner, my best friend, my anchor,” he said. “I want you to be my wife.”

My heart pounded from exertion and the realization that he was sincere, that I could have it all – safety, adventure, and passion – for the rest of my life. I peeled the sweaty leather glove off my left hand and let him slip a ring onto my finger.

            We rode away and never looked back.


Gina DeMillo Wagner began her career as an editor for Rodale Inc. in Emmaus, Penn. She now writes for magazines including Forbes Travel Guide, Backpacker, Outside, Wired, and Experience Life. Her personal essays have appeared in Role/Reboot, Elephant Journal, Mama Moderne, and more. She is at work on a memoir and lives with her husband Kris and their two children in Arizona.


She was blonde. Blue eyes.  The kind of girl who I had only seen in Riga.  I could never get a girl from Riga.  I was a dark skinned Russian. A Kazak.  A Chornee.  With the American girl, I had a chance.  Americans do not want to be racist.  In Russia we do not care.   We are racist.

She was part of an American group who was going to learn Russian at Moscow State University.   We were assigned to pick them up.   There were two blonde girls.  One girl was a red head.  One girl had curly hair and glasses.  We were four Russian guys. We all had the same thing on our mind.  There was a chance that an American girl might think Russians were European.   There was a chance we would have sex with an American girl.  Having sex with an American girl was the ultimate sign of a successful revolution.

I dressed up in clothes that I had bought in America.  Before the promises of democratic revolution from Gorbachev, my father was friends with the Eisenhower family.  He was a Soviet official.  They invited us to their summer home.  I bought American jeans and an American coat.  I had outgrown the American shoes.  I could still wear the pants because I had bought them big.  I had my mother hem them. 

 We met them at the airport. One of the blonde American girls smiled at me.  Both of the blondes were attractive. But one had an eye that crossed when she smiled.  I chose the other one. 

I stuck out my hand. “Privet.”

She tried to speak to me in Russian.   The Americans can never speak Russian.   They come to the Russian Universities to learn, but all they do is drink Stolichnaya vodka and help the Russians practice English.  Americans are a generous people. “Privet.”

I started speaking to her in English.  I told her I had been to America before.  I told her I had been to the Eisenhower’s. I told her that Henry Kissinger had sat in our living room. I could tell that she thought I was lying. 

She smiled.  “Henry Kissinger? The Henry Kissinger?”

I said, “Yes, my father was an official in the Soviet government. Very high up.”

With a Russian girl, this would have been the charm, at least before the Soviet Union fell.  For an American girl, the Soviet government was Lenin and Stalin. Americans wanted to believe in Marx.   I was not sure there was a difference.

She asked, “He worked in the Soviet government? How does he feel about democracy?”

I told her the truth.  “He’s afraid of what’s going to happen.”

She was like all the other Americans.  “Won’t things be better with freedom?”

Americans did not understand how easily freedom could be destroyed.  “We have a different history.   Peter the Great tried to turn us toward the West.  It didn’t work for Russia. It’s how we got Lenin. I’m not sure we’re ready for democracy.”

She didn’t understand Russians.  I didn’t really understand Americans.  Especially when it comes to blow jobs.  American girls will give blow jobs before they will sleep with you.  I never slept with an American girl when I was in America.  I had several blow jobs.  But no American girl ever loved me.  This time it would be different.  A  democratic revolution.

We took the metro from the airport to the university.  The metro was a Soviet accomplishment.  Efficient transportation for the masses.  Beautiful art commissioned for each metro station.  Kaganovich took credit.  Krushchev expelled him from the Party.  There were prostitutes and graffiti in the metro stations now.  No one took credit for that.    

She had one big bag. I carried it for her.  Her bag was very heavy.  She would be here for three months.  She told me that she packed plenty of toilet paper.  She thought we didn’t have any toilet paper.  She was right, but I told her my father had worked for the government.  We still had toilet paper if she needed some. There were some things that the communists still had.

She was afraid in the metro.  My friend Peter carried a gun in case the gypsies attacked.   The gypsies spotted that she was American.  The Americans carry dollars.  A girl and a boy tried to surround her and beg.  It was always the children of the gypsies who begged until the revolution. Russians used to be too proud. I swore at them in Russian.  She smiled at me.  She had nice teeth. Russian girls don’t always have nice teeth. 

We took a car from the metro stop.  All the Russian guys had chosen the girls that we wanted. My friend Peter chose the wandering eyed blonde.  He had a twitch that made him blink one eye too fast.  She didn’t seem to care.  We each took separate cars.  My driver was a former engineer at the University.  He wasn’t being paid anymore by the government.  Sometimes Soviets made money by driving other people in their car.  It was still a way they made money in the new Russia.   He could see that the girl I was with was American.  He offered to drive us.  The power of an American girl.

“Kyda Bbl?” He asked.


 I sat close to her in the back seat.  I pressed my leg against hers.  She noticed.  She liked it too.

We arrived to the university when it was dark.  Moscow State University was beautiful when it was pitch black. In the daylight it looked like shit.  Lev Vladimirovich Rudnev had been the architect.  He was a leader in Stalinist architecture.  Now the building was falling apart just like Stalinist Russia.  I escorted her inside.  I let her walk in first.  My mother told me that chivalry is not dead in communism or in democracy either. I took her inside.  The guards were sleeping. The babushka that was washing the dirty floor with a filthy rag waved me on when I addressed her in Russian.

We could not take the elevators.  The elevators couldn’t be trusted to go to the correct floor.  The elevators might stop in between floors and if you stepped out accidentally you would fall down the elevator shaft. Someone died that way.   I didn’t know him.  Some people said it was suicide, but most of the suicides were committed from the top of the building.

We took the stairs.  Dogs and cats lived in the staircase.  Pets had been abandoned in democracy.  No one could afford to feed them anymore.  There was shit and garbage there too that the cats and dogs ate.  Broken windows made the place stink less, but it was cold.  The drug dealers lived on the ninth floor.  She would be staying on the sixth.  She was rooming with the wandering eye blonde.  

I opened up the door and turned on the light. She screamed when she saw cockroaches scatter everywhere.  I told her to sleep with the lights on. 

The radio was blaring in the dorm room.  The radio was always blaring.  There had always been a communist message before the revolution.  The radio station didn’t know what to broadcast now that communism was dead. It kept playing the same messages.

I told her, “We’ll have different stations soon.  When communism ends.  We’ll have Rock and Roll.”

She shrugged, “I don’t mind.”

She looked in the bathroom.  “There’s no toilet paper.  It’s good that I brought some.”

She unpacked her toilet paper.  I told her to keep in hidden because the babushkas who cleaned around the University might steal it.

 “Why doesn’t anyone have toilet paper?”

I told her the truth.  “I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll have more toilet paper when we have democracy. “

She nodded her head yes like she understood, but I’m not sure there is any relationship between toilet paper and democracy.

“Do you want to go and see Moscow tomorrow?”  I asked. 

“Sure. “ She answered. 

This is the way the love affair started. 

I hired a driver in the morning.   I flagged him down outside my flat.  He knew I probably had enough rubles. We lived in the best apartments in the city.  He had some time because he had lost his job in the factory.  He said he could drive us around all day.   

We picked her up outside the gates.  She was hard to miss.  She was wearing a Columbia jacket and Jordache jeans. She had real Nike running shoes too. She told me she had taken a jog in the morning.   There had been a man jerking off outside the entrance.  He was wearing blue pajamas.  She reported him to the guards, but they didn’t care.  They told her that he did it every morning.  Jerking off was not against the law.   She said it still scared her. 

She asked why there was no hot water when she showered.  I told her that the government cleans the pipes in the summer.  My mother said such nonsense isn’t true. She said that the Soviet government was too cheap to pay for hot water.  After the democratic revolution it was still true. No hot water.  I told her she could wash her hair at my house.  She said she would.  She asked why they didn’t clean the pipes in the city near Red Square.  American girls are gullible.

We visited Red Square. At least Red Square was still beautiful.  Stalin hadn’t torn down the Kremlin and built a swimming pool like he had with the Cathedral of the Christ.    She wanted to see Lenin.  Some people want to see Lenin removed.  Some want him to stay. My mother said he was a terrible man.  My father would not say.

There was always a line to see Lenin.  There were visitors and babushkas there. The old babushkas missed Lenin.  They missed the Soviet Union too.  They had lost their pensions when Gorbachev came to power.  They were starving.  They wanted Lenin back.   She just wanted to see Lenin because she had studied the Bolshevik Revolution. 

I had seen Lenin in the mausoleum when I was a boy.  I begged my father to take me there. My friends told me that they thought Lenin had moved under the glass case. 

My father said that Lenin made the Soviet Union what it was.  I didn’t know what he meant.  He was not a man who liked to explain. 

Lenin was still in a glass box.  Some people say he is really plastic.  The guards don’t let you stay long enough to really take a good look.  I don’t care if he is plastic or not. He is still Lenin.

She held my hand in the mausoleum.  One of the guards smiled at me.  He could tell she was an American.  Russians can always spot an American.  When we came out of the mausoleum I told her that she needed to go to G.U.M. and buy some Soviet clothes so people wouldn’t notice her Columbia jacket. I wanted her to be my girlfriend.  Sometimes the Russian Mafia take the American girls and date them because they are rich. I didn’t want that to happen to her.

She was hungry.  She wanted to eat on the street from one of the stands. I told her that it might make her sick.  Rumor had it that the meat was from stray dogs.   I bribed one of the restaurants owners to give us a seat.  There was no one there. The sign on the door said they were closed for cleaning day.  Cleaning day is like no hot water in the pipes.  Bullshit. The restaurant liked to keep the seating open for people with dollars.  I only had rubles.  But I had an American girl.  He let us sit at a table in the front window.  I ordered champagne.    It was eleven o’clock in the morning.

“Where did you grow up?” I asked her, but I didn’t really care.  I wanted her to stay in Moscow.

“In Wisconsin. On a tobacco farm.” She answered. I tried not to stare.  Farmers are not the same as peasants.  Peasants were the reason for the Bolshevik revolution.  Lenin said he wanted to make the peasants free and equal. My mother said that Lenin and Stalin killed more people than they ever made free.   We never learned this sort of thing in school.  My father told her to be quiet.

I asked why she was here.  “I decided that I was going to get a graduate degree.  I liked Soviet history. I wanted to come and see it. Study it.”

She leaned in.  “What are you going to do? You know, now that there’s freedom and democracy?”

 I was going to get a graduate degree until there was no Soviet Union anymore.   “I’m going to sell ice cream.”

“Ice cream?”  She was disappointed.

 “Ice cream.  I can buy a cart and sell from it and then when I get more money I can buy more carts and then I can hire people to sell for me.”  Money was to be made, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.  Everyone liked ice cream.  I had heard of someone who had become a millionaire. 

She asked, “Why do you want to sell ice cream?  I thought you were getting your Ph.D.”

She did not understand how revolutions destroy lives.   “There’s no point in getting a Ph.D. now.  The universities are falling apart.  Little things like selling ice cream can turn into bigger things.  It’s like America in the 1920s.  I just need a start. A way to make money.  There isn’t any money in getting a degree. Not now.  I have to think about now.”

I could tell she didn’t understand.  She didn’t like capitalism.  Capitalism was what the revolution promised. We talked about the weather. I didn’t want her to be angry with me. 

I took her to see a show at the Bolshoi.  I bought tickets on the street.    Russians buy the tickets cheap. Tourists buy the tickets for dollars.  I don’t go to the Bolshoi very often anymore because it’s better to have dollars. My mother and father used to go every week end before Gorbachev came along. My father does not like Gorbachev.  My mother thinks there might be hope.  

We watched the opera and ate caviar and drank more champagne during the intermission.  Exactly as the Soviets imagined.  Everyone at the opera.  Everyone drinking champagne and eating caviar. Equality among the masses.   She liked the Bolshoi. She drank too much champagne.   She wanted to go home.  I wanted to take her to my apartment.

I hired a driver off the street.   I told him to drive very slowly and to take the long way home.  I kissed her in the back seat.  She kissed me back.  Then she gave me a blow job. The driver watched in the rear view mirror.  He winked at me.  I was glad that I wore the underwear that I had bought in the states.  They were leopard print.  We didn’t have these sorts of things in the Soviet Union.   I bought twenty pair because I didn’t know if I could ever go back to the United States.  We weren’t friends with the Eisenhower family anymore.

When we got out of the car I asked her, “Why do American girls give blow jobs before they will have sex? Russian girls won’t give blow jobs until after they’re married.”

She shrugged.  “American girls don’t give blow jobs after we’re married.  Only before.”

American girls have strange logic, but they give good blow jobs.

I brought her home to meet my mother.  She would not be able to meet my father.  He never came out of his back room anymore except to eat the food that my mother prepared for him. He ate the food after she went to bed. She didn’t know what he did in the back room.  She didn’t care.  She still had to live with him because there was no place else for her to live.  They went their own ways after my brother died.  He killed himself by jumping out of the window in my mother and father’s flat.    He was an artist.  A Kazak too.  Two things that the Soviets hated.   My father was part of what killed her son and my mother never forgave him for it.

My mother had no other family.  They had been killed in the collectivization movement in Kazakhstan.  She told me her people did not believe in owning the land.  They fought very hard against the Soviets who wanted to own everything.   My mother survived because she had a talent.  She met my father when she trained as a dancer in Moscow.  She could not dance at the Bolshoi because she was short and dark.  She became a teacher.   She told me not to drink too much red wine if I wanted my skin to be called white.  I never do.  My skin is lighter than hers.

I introduced the American girl to my mother.   My mother couldn’t speak English very well.  My mother said that I should have the American girl spend the night because it was too late to take the metro back.  There were too many beggars sleeping in the tunnels.   The drug dealers and the prostitutes would be out.  It was too dangerous.  “When it was olden days.  When it was before.  There no beggars. We all starving. Communism treat us all the same. Treat us all terrible.”

The American girl slept on the couch that night.  Right where Henry Kissinger had sat underneath the dangling lights.  She liked being so close to the place where Henry Kissinger had hit his head.  My mother told her the story was true about Kissinger hitting his head. She laughed.  She liked that I did not lie to her.

It wasn’t long before my mother made her a place to sleep in the study.  I snuck in and slept with her.  We had sex.  My mother knew.  She wanted me to marry the American too.  She knew it would mean a better chance for me.  She called her Liza.  Her name was Elizabeth.  Liza liked my mother too.  Her father was dead and her mother drank too much.  She told me that she identified with the Russian people.  I was not quite sure what she meant.

I took her shopping for old books by Marx.  There were many books by Marx because no one wanted to buy them anymore.  Marx was history.  I took her to the place where the Bolsheviks had been imprisoned.   She didn’t like Lenin and Stalin.  She said that they used Marxist ideals to bad ends. She didn’t understand that Lenin and Stalin said they were Marxists too. They killed people in the name of freedom.  Russia was fighting for a different kind of freedom now.   I was fighting too.  For her.

Every weekend we shopped for old Soviet posters. No one wanted them, either.  We went to the bazaars where people who were not being paid by the government anymore would sell their possessions.   One time there were some stolen relics from the churches that she wanted to buy.  I told her they might have come from Chernobyl and that we had to be careful because they might be radioactive. Some people had raided the churches in Chernobyl for Russian icons to sell.  They were beautiful.  People died because of them.   I bought her painted Russian eggs instead and matyroshka dolls too.  I told her that wood cannot be radioactive.  

I took her on train rides all over Russia.  We visited the principalities.  She saw that Russia once had been great.  Russia could be great again. Russia and I had a future.  

She had been in Moscow for nearly two and a half months when I asked her to marry me.   She would be leaving in a month.  I took her to McDonald’s because she wanted to see if the restaurant was the same as in the states.  The food was the same. There were fries and milkshakes too.  People from the country would save their money for months to come and eat there.  She said that the restaurant was exactly the same except that people stood on the toilets to piss because they didn’t know enough to sit on the seat.  They were used to outhouses.  There was never any toilet paper because people would steal it. 

She ordered a fish sandwich. She said she was a vegetarian.  There were no vegetarians in Russia.

I ordered a burger and fries.  I asked her, “Would you stay here with me? Marry me?”

She said she wasn’t sure about staying in Moscow.  I knew she wasn’t sure about me.  My ice cream business hadn’t taken off.  I was too late for the capitalist revolution.  The Russian Mafia was making all the money.   My  mother told me to stay away from them.  She had already lost one son.   She could not lose another.  I sometimes drove a car for money but I did not know how to survive in the new economy.  My father was no longer part of the government.  The new democrats let him keep his apartment because he had earned it.  I did not know what to do to keep it.

“I don’t want to live here.”  She had been attacked on the streets by the gypsies.  When she jogged in the park, my mother made me guard her with a gun. 

I asked her, “Do you love me?”

She answered.  “I’m not sure what love is when I’m living here.  You keep me safe. You take me places I’ve never been.  But that’s not love.”  She was right.  That was what my mother and father had.

She took my hand, “What would it be like if we were to marry? Where would we live? I don’t know if I want to have children here.”

I pointed to the apartment around us. “We’d live here.  With my mother. With my father.  It’s one of the biggest apartments near Red Square. We’ll raise our children here.  My mother will help. I’ll earn a living somehow. ”

She looked sad.  “But what are you going to do? If you can’t sell ice cream? What kind of job will you have?  What kind of job would I have?”

American girls always want a job.  They called it equality in America. Russian women have to work too because of communism.  My mother said they did all the work at home and outside the home because Russian men are lazy.  She said that wasn’t equality but all the intelligentsia and hard workers had been killed by Stalin. 

I didn’t have any answers for her.  I didn’t know what kind of job I would have.  What kind of future I would have. I only knew I needed her.  “Stay. Please.”

She didn’t answer.  She gave me a blow job instead. I knew then we wouldn’t ever marry. 

She packed up to leave to go back to America. She gave my mother the left over toilet paper she had in her bag.  We were no longer receiving toilet paper from the special government store.

Liza insisted on taking all her Marxist books and Soviet posters even though I promised I’d send them to her.  I took her to the airport. She wore the Army coat that my friend Peter gave to her.   The guards made her give it back.

I never saw her again.   The democratic revolution never happened in Russia either.

H.L.S. Nelson holds a PhD and J.D. from the University of Wisconsin?Madison and specializes in the field of science, technology, and society. She has been a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant and has published a book, America Identified: Biometric Technology and Society (MIT, 2011). She is currently an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and a Fellow at the Philosophy of Science Center.  She serves as an appointee to the Department of Homeland Security’s Policy Advisory group on Data Integrity and Privacy (DPIAC).  She’d give up everything else to be a novelist and has several novels in the works to make that happen.

After The Deluge

We knew it was better just to ignore her, stay out of her way.

“These clothes are dirty,” she said from the laundry room. “You boys need new clothes.”

We could hear doors opening and closing. Water filling the washing machine. Mama hid a bottle of vodka in one of the cabinets. We found it over the summer and I took a mouthful like I saw cowboys do on TV. I remember it burned and made my stomach warm. My head was light. Billy only took a sip, holding the bottle in both hands. He cried and I made him macaroni and cheese in the microwave. I forgot to boil the noodles and it was crunchy, but we ate it anyway and fell asleep.

She came in the kitchen. Me and Billy were sitting at the table playing a card game I learned at school. There was a cake on the table. It was Billy’s birthday yesterday. He was eight now. She looked at the cake.


“Where’d that come from,” she said.


“Aunt Sarah brought it yesterday,” Billy said.


“Happy birthday,” she said. She went to the sink and poured a glass of water. “Make sure the firewood is stacked before your father gets home.”


We stood up. I turned Billy’s cards over. He had me beat.


“Damn,” I said. He smiled.


We went outside and loaded wood into the splitter. We learned a long time ago to do things the first time we were asked. Papa wasn’t a drunk like Mama, though he did drink once in awhile. At least she had a reason for the way she acted. He was mostly just a mean son of a bitch. Said his family had always been down. Ever since the flood that tore apart the land a century ago.


>Mama passed us on her way to the car. Said she was going to get us new clothes. She wasn’t supposed to be driving. They already took her license away. Papa hid the keys to the wagon, but she found them and made copies that she also hid. Whenever she’d come home he would yell at her. They were always yelling.


The old station wagon tore off down the driveway. We heard a pinched cry. A dull snap. Papa’s dog. She didn’t stop.


We walked over to the dog. It was dead. It lay in a small heap, like a dropped towel from the clothesline. Billy asked me if it was sleeping. “No, let’s go back inside,” I said, “Papa will be home soon.”


Neither of us liked the dog. Papa brought it home three months ago late at night. We were excited to see it in the morning. It bit Billy when he tried to pet it. Papa laughed.


“He can tell you’re scared,” he said.


Mama didn’t like the dog either. During that first week it got in to the refrigerator. There wasn’t much in there. What it didn’t eat it pulled across the floor and shredded. The floor was smeared and bits of tin foil and paper dotted the room like confetti.


>After that the dog was kept outside. It barked at us and growled. We kept our distance. Papa put it on a long chain so it could run around. Sometimes it would wrap itself around a tree and stay there, stuck for days, until Papa went out to untangle the leash. He was the only one the dog liked.


We sat down in the kitchen. Billy looked at his cake.

“Can I have some?” he asked me.

“It’s yours,” I said.

He always asked me permission when Mama or Papa weren’t around. He dug his fingers in the cake and scooped out a handful. He looked at me to see if it was ok. It was.

We heard an engine at the top of the driveway. The wheels crunched closer and slowed. Then stopped. The engine went quiet. The door whined open and then shut with a thunderclap. Footsteps. Heels of boots dragging.  

Then nothing.

I looked at Billy and his cheeks were covered in cake.

Then feet moving closer. Knocking on the wooden boards of the back porch. The screen door ripped open and slammed shut pulled by springs.

“What did she do?” he said.

His voice was gravel.

We looked at him.

“Where is she?” The veins in his neck were thick.

“She went shopping,” Billy said.

Papa’s eyes shot to him.

“Shopping?” His mouth pushed the word out, small and tight.

“And you didn’t stop her from killing my dog?”

His hand was quick and landed sharp across Billy’s face. I jumped out of my chair and stood in front of Billy, under Papa’s raised hand.

His hand came down.

And then again.

My face stung and I tried pushing back but he was too strong. He kept hitting. Billy ran upstairs and Papa’s hand balled into a fist and cracked on my head. I fell.

Papa stood over me, shaking and breathing heavy. I got up and ran. Billy was under the bed, his fingers covered in icing, his face red and messy. I grabbed the side of the dresser.

“Help me,” I said to Billy.

He crawled out from under the bed and helped me move the dresser in front of the door.

Downstairs we could hear yelling and cursing.

I was glad she killed his dog. I hoped she would come home and clip him on the side of the driveway too.

Then me and Billy could live with our Aunt Sarah in Altoona. Things would be better there. She wasn’t like her sister.

My lip was fat and my face felt big and tight. Billy hadn’t said a word to me and looked away whenever I caught him staring.

I sat there on the edge of the bed. Outside I heard a door slam and an engine start. Wheels gripping rocks. I imagined Mama coming home, making the turn into our driveway.

Mama hid liquor in the woods. Papa didn’t let her keep it in the house. He said it was too tempting. Made the devil in him come out. One day Mama came home from the woods, bits of leaves and dirt hanging on her clothes, and locked herself in the bathroom. When Papa broke the door down she was asleep, sitting on the toilet. He smacked her. She crawled to the tub and passed out again. I went outside to go to the bathroom. My piss made an arc off the back porch and the sun reflected gold in it. It was beautiful.

Billy used the bathroom upstairs and he had poison ivy on his ass and legs for a week.

We went back downstairs.

In the kitchen, dishes were piled in the sink and mail was stacked on the counters and on the table. A picture Billy drew of a stegosaurus was on the floor. It was ripped. He picked it up and looked at it. He moved the two pieces together. He put it against the refrigerator, making sure magnets held it at all four corners.

I wrapped Billy’s cake lightly in a dishtowel.

“Take it upstairs,” I said, “and then come back down.”

I wiped the crumbs on to the floor. A chair was knocked over. I picked it up and moved all the chairs into the living room. When Billy came back I told him to sweep the floor.

I went to the laundry room. The washing machine was full of water. I loaded it with clothes. I opened up two packets of detergent and poured them in. Papa brought home a big box of samples two years ago. He said a guy came by his work selling them by the loading dock. Ten bucks a box. A guy was always coming by his work selling things like this. The detergent would last us years he said. He was right.

I went to wash my hands at the utility sink and caught my reflection in the glass of the back door.

My eyes were already blackening and my lip wasn’t as big as it felt, but my face was red and swollen. I touched my cheek and it felt like rubber.

I stood there looking at myself in the reflection on the glass. The washing machine rocked, the inside crashing against itself. I could hear Billy sweeping behind me in the kitchen. Beyond my reflection out in the yard just on the edge of the driveway was the dog. Its legs were under it except for one that shot out at an angle. It reminded me of the fall leaves on the ground. I waited for it to blow away. It didn’t.

I remembered a story my grandfather told me a few years before he died when I was five or six. My grandfather’s grandfather survived the flood. He said houses were on top of each other and families were torn apart. He lost both his parents. He said people stole after the flood while others helped to clean up and rebuild. One of the stories he told was about a dog that somehow got on the roof of a house. It stayed there for hours as the water receded. People could see it from their attics and roofs. Someone eventually climbed up and got it. I remember asking my dad later on what they did with the dog.


“How the hell do I know?” he said.

“Did someone take it home?”

He smacked me in the back of the head.

“Goddamnit. It got off the roof. That’s all.”

I went back to the kitchen. Billy had already started on the dishes. He was a good kid. I went to help him. I took over the washing and he dried.

“We’re leaving tonight.”


We finished the dishes in silence and put them away. When the washer was done we put the clothes in the dryer and started another load. Our clothes were coming with us.

We got baths. It would be a long walk. We wouldn’t get there until tomorrow night if we left before morning. We stayed up watching TV in the living room. Our clothes were packed in our school bags upstairs and we filled the side pockets with cans of tuna fish and soup we found in the back of the cabinets. My face had already settled into a swirl of purple and black. Billy’s cheek was an apple turning rotten. Aunt Sarah would have to let us stay if we showed up like this.

It was almost midnight and a light rain kept starting and stopping. We had to wait for Papa to come home so he wouldn’t find us outside. Mama was probably asleep in a field somewhere. That’s how they always found her. On the side of the road, corn stalks crushed under the car.

Headlights shone through the back window. We could hear Papa stumble to the porch and through the house.

“Can we go upstairs,” said Billy.

“No. We’ll be fine.”

Papa came in the living room, his eyes bloodshot and his hair greasy. He sat down without looking at us.

>“You’re up late. School tomorrow?” His voice slurred. He must have went drinking.

“School starts next week,” I said.

“Oh.” His breathing was heavy. His head dropped.

He looked over at me from under his eyelids, his chin on his chest.

>And stared.

His eyes scanned my face.

He pushed his hair back and swallowed hard.

“Come here,” he said. His voice cracked. His body heaved and he started crying. We sat there watching him.

He got out of the chair. Wiped his sleeve across his face.

“Stand up,” he said, his voice low.

He was big. I wasn’t sure which way this would go.

“Come on, stand up,” he said.

I pushed myself off the couch and squared myself to him.

He half smiled.

“I’m not gonna hit you,” he said. He put his hands on my shoulders.

“I’m glad you stuck up for your brother. Had to teach you a lesson. A man gets beat so he can get stronger. Only way to survive.” His hands gripped my shoulders harder.


I looked up at his face. It was weary and pocked. It reminded me of a scarecrow too many crows had gotten the best of.

“Good.” He pulled me in tight. My face pressed against his shirt and it hurt. He smelled like smoke and motor oil. The hair on his chin scratched my forehead. His breath was stale and hot and smelled like beer.

He let me go and we sat down.

“I loved that dog. Would have survived the flood.”

Always the flood when he got drunk. I think some part of him thinks he was there – that he deserved to be there, or that something that happened long ago was an excuse for the way things are now. The way he acts now.

“That woman would have got us all killed,” he said. “Not my dog.”

He hugged himself.

“Don’t know why she had to go and kill it.”

His head dropped to his chest again.

His mouth hung open.

Billy poked me.

I nodded.

He slipped quietly off the couch and went upstairs. He came back down with our bags.

Papa was almost asleep.

We pulled our bags over our shoulders. On the way to the back door, Billy stopped. He looked at Papa. He pulled at the blanket from the back of the chair and laid it across him.

“Come on,” I said.

The rain had stopped and we snuck out the back. We jogged off into the darkness – past the dog and up the driveway that led away from that place.

Up on the road it was dark. Our flashlights bounced along the asphalt and dirt shoulder. In the woods we heard crickets and small animals. Nothing dangerous. We would be on a main road soon. After that, we would take to the flood trail for the night.

When I was little Papa always told me stories his grandfather told him – that his grandfather probably told him. A long time ago, a bunch of men built a dam and canals for factories. A terrible storm hit. It rained for days. The dam broke and millions of gallons of water surged downstream destroying all the towns in its way. He told us a fire burned for three days. I never understood how a fire broke out during a flood. But it did. And it burned. Houses and animals were swept away. He told us barbed wire from farms was ripped along and people got caught in it.

I tried to imagine what it would look like getting caught in barbed wire. Billy had a dummy on strings. The strings always got tangled around the limbs. I imagined it would look like that.

We walked in silence. We were soon on the flood trail. No one should be out this late. It was used as a hiking trail now and people were often out here, but at night it was abandoned. We sometimes rode our bikes here, but we never went past the tunnel – it was supposed to be haunted by the people who got caught in it and drowned.

Billy complained his feet hurt. I shone my flashlight to his shoes. The bottoms had worn through. We used cardboard when that happened. It wore away and we didn’t have any with us. I told him to put on more socks and tore away some bark from a tree and stuck it in his shoe. We had to walk a few more hours before we could rest.

“How long do you think we’ll be away,” Billy asked.

“A long time I hope.”

“Where will we go to school?”

“Somewhere else.”

“Do you miss home?”

“No. Do you?”

“A little.”

I stopped walking.

“Do you miss getting hit? Or being hungry? Or being afraid?”

Billy didn’t answer.

“Sorry,” I said and put my arm around him.

The slope of the hill, going up on the right side of the trail, was cut by the Little Conemaugh River and deepened by the flood. The river overflowed with the force of the dam water, reshaping the land. I wondered how different the trail was before the flood. There were other times it overflowed, but none as bad as that first time. It was quiet here. We could hear the soft push of the water downstream to our left.

“Are there bears in the woods?” Billy asked.

“No. They’re asleep.”

I had no idea. Last year a kid at school told us how his uncle was attacked by a bobcat in the woods behind his house. His face was almost ripped off. I forgot if I told Billy that story and decided this wasn’t the time even if the story was made up. I wasn’t thinking about animals anyway. I knew the tunnel would be up ahead soon. It was an old railroad tunnel. I thought about bodies caught in barbed wire. I felt a raindrop through the branches. The trees were thick and a little rain wouldn’t matter much. We kept walking. It rained harder.

There it was. A dark hole in the black-green of the night. We were wet. We were hungry. We walked in just under the lip. The rain echoed. We were shaking. I wished we would have brought matches. I shone my flashlight through the tunnel. The light fell grey and dissolved on the curved arch of the walls. The ground was flat and dry.

“I’m cold,” said Billy.                                              

“Me too.”

I didn’t want to be in the tunnel. I thought about climbing up the hill. That would be harder and we would get muddy.

“Let’s run to the other end and then eat,” I said before I could change my mind.


“Make sure to keep your flashlight in front of you.”

We ran. I didn’t believe in ghosts but when the wind blew through and howled I couldn’t help myself from thinking again of people caught in here and drowning. I imagined people running from the wall of water. I thought about Billy’s shoe. Would have to fix it again when we got to the end of the tunnel.

We set down our bags.

“Let me see your shoe.”

He lifted his foot up. The bark held.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s change into dry clothes and then eat.”

I set our flashlights against our bags, crisscrossing. We changed and opened a can of soup. We peeled the lid off and drank it. It was slimy and cold and we were careful not to cut our mouths on the can. When we were done eating, Billy leaned against me and closed his eyes. I looked at my watch. It was almost four. I let him sleep. I sat there looking out into the night, the rain coming down harder. I could hear the river waking up. Billy’s breath was warm against my arm.

A hand was on my shoulder when I opened my eyes. I saw boots and the dim lights of our flashlights.

“Hey,” a voice said. I jumped. I saw a man’s face when my eyes adjusted.

“It’s okay,” he said. I recognized the patch on his shirt. He was a park ranger.

It was still raining. The morning was a blanket of grey. I was cold.

“You boys spend all night out here?”

I didn’t answer. He looked at my face and then at Billy’s.

“What happened to you?”

Billy stirred and looked up.

“Come to my truck. The river is rising. You can’t be out here.”

We got up and walked through the heavy rain. The river was high and white. We got to the truck. The ranger gave us his thermos of coffee. It was hot. We drank it. He drove and radioed headquarters. He put an earpiece in and spoke quietly. I told him we lived in Altoona and gave him our Aunt’s address.

“Okay,” he said.

“Can you take us there,” I asked.

“You hungry?” he replied.

“Are you going to take us to Altoona?”

He handed a brown bag over the backseat.

“There’s a sandwich in there and a granola bar.”

We ate the food and held the coffee in our hands. The truck was dry and warm. We drove on the road alongside the river. Outside it was raining hard. I didn’t know where we were going. Up ahead we saw lights from a fire truck and a police car. There was a form on a stretcher being lifted into an ambulance. The ranger slowed as we passed. Through the grey I saw a station wagon tied to the back of a tow truck. I looked away, up ahead through the front window. The wipers moved fast, pushing away endless water.

Daniel DiFranco lives in Philadelphia where he is currently working on an MFA from Arcadia University. He teaches high school music and English. His work has appeared in Crack The Spine. Wanderlust bit him at an early age and he learned the hard way there is no peanut butter in Europe. He can be reached at

A Coffee Can Buried in the Lawn

I was digging up our dead dog from the lawn. Winter was on us, so the ground was hard and cold. I really had to whack at the dirt to get anywhere.
Across the street in Pennypack Park, kids were running, fooling around. The Catholic school down the street had just let out, and the kids were in no rush to go home. Leaning against the shovel, I took a break from the digging and watched as they yelled and laughed and flew about in their plaid uniforms.

My wife told me to dig up the dog, which was funny, given that she and I were never dog people. We only got the dog because our daughter, God bless her, was the one who wanted a puppy, absolutely had to have one. She begged and begged until we finally gave in. She named her Diana, after Princess Diana. “She’s a real live princess,” our daughter would say, “just like in storybooks.”

Years passed, and despite all that happened, we could never bring ourselves to get rid of the dog. Even when she died, we still couldn’t part from her. So we cremated Diana, put what was left in an old coffee can, and buried her in the lawn.

Now we were moving, leaving our empty house for a new condo downtown. We needed a change of scenery.  It would do us good.

Like I said, it was my wife’s idea to dig up the dog. “I hate to leave her,” she said to me earlier in the day, when we were packing in the basement. Stacks of cardboard boxes, full of things forgotten but too precious to throw away, surrounded us.

“You want me to dig her up?” I asked. “We don’t have a lawn in the new place. Where will we bury her?”

“Maybe we’ll put her on the mantel,” she said.

“The mantel? Will we still keep her in the coffee can?”

A distracted look covered my wife’s face as she stared at me but didn’t say anything. I waited. She had a youthful appearance, my wife, and when you looked at her from a certain angle, you could almost make out the young woman she was when we first met, or even the little girl who liked horses, dolls and fairies so long ago.

Waiting, I leaned against some random boxes and fought the temptation to look inside them. Finally, my wife said, I just don’t want to leave her.”

“But after I dig her up, what should I do? Where should I put her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe we should put the can in the fridge, maybe even the freezer.”

“I don’t know. Will the ashes smell?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe we should put the can in the fridge, maybe even the freezer, until we figure out what to do with her.”

The whole thing was crazy. I wanted to let the dog be, but if taking her with us meant my wife would feel better, so be it.

That was how I came to be on the lawn, whacking away at the ground. Across the street, in Pennypack Park, the kids were still fooling around. They were 8 or 9, which was a wonderful age. It was a time of imagination, of playing and pretending. They probably no longer believed in Santa Claus, but they were still young enough to believe in things magic and make believe.

Eventually, the kids went further into the park. At first, I could still see them because the leaves had fallen, but as they went deeper down the path, deeper into the trees and branches, the kids vanished, the park swallowing them up.

I used to take Diana for walks through the park. Our house was so empty sometimes. It was a relief to get away from that.

The park was like another world. It was big enough that, in some parts, you couldn’t hear any cars or noise. It was like you were in the middle of a gigantic forest, far from houses, far from everything. Old timers fished in its creek. Kids swung on a tire hung from a tree. You saw deer all the time, and in the early mornings, fog hugged the ground and the world was quiet.

Diana and I did our walks for years, until she got sick. Near the end, we snuck the dog into church, sprinkled her with holy water, hoping for a miracle, for some magic to make it better. I wanted to believe in that kind of thing. Just once, just fucking once, I’d like to see God or an angel or whatever work some magic.

There was no miracle. There never is. We gave the dog a last meal of hamburger and took her to the vet. Then we brought her home and buried her.
After a few more whacks at the ground, I finally found the can. I pulled it out of the dirt with my hands and wiped it off. I found my wife in the basement. “I got the dog,” I said.

My wife paused her packing, looking distracted again. “Just put her right in the fridge,” she said. “She’ll be fine in there.”
My wife went back to the old things scattered around her. I stood there, holding the can, watching. I wanted to meet her eyes, but she was lost in the boxes.

Upstairs, I looked at the fridge, where report cards and crayon drawings once hung from magnets. I put the coffee can down gently on the kitchen table and opened the door. Cold air drifting over me, I cleared a space. I moved bottles, jars and containers of leftovers to make a special spot for the can.
Then I stopped. The door was open, cold leaking out, but I stood there, not moving. I thought about my wife. I thought about the dog. I thought about lots of things, things that had been buried with Diana in the ground.

This wasn’t right. She wasn’t going in the fridge. She didn’t belong there. Leaving the house, I carried the can tight under my arm, like a football. I walked across the street into the park, finding the path, the same path where Diana and I once walked together. Rocks crunched under my feet. The path twisted around a bend, rising slowly, then falling, then rising again. The last of the winter sun cut through the trees.

I came to the creek and a small bridge that kids always played on. Boys would guard it like soldiers, shooting imagery guns at those who tried to cross. I once saw a bunch of girls sitting on the bridge holding candles, reading out of books, like they were witches casting a spell.

No kids were around now. They had disappeared into the trees and bushes, so I stood alone on the bridge. Opening the coffee can, I let the ashes drip out. Some were carried on the wind. Others floated into the creek’s muddy water. So long Diana, I said.

It was time to let go. It was time to let it all go.

We never had another dog. We were never dog people anyway. Our daughter, God bless her, had wanted one, not us.

We never had another kid either. It was too much. After our daughter passed, we boxed up her toys and clothes and shoved them in the basement. But we couldn’t get rid of the dog. She wasn’t ours. She belonged to our daughter.


John Crawford was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia, where this story is set. John Crawford now lives in Waltham, Mass., with his wife and daughter. He is the senior editor of the Babson Magazine, the alumni publication of Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. He still visits Philly often and jogs around Pennypack Park whenever he can.