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Elizabeth Kadetsky

March 17, 2019

To see Elizabeth Kadetsky’s comics in full view, click below:

Elizabeth KADETSKY comic1




Elizabeth Kadetsky is author of a memoir (First There Is a Mountain, Little Brown), a story collection (The Poison that Purifies You, C&R Press) and a novella (On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World, Nouvella). Her fiction has been included in the Pushcart Prizes, Best New American Voices, and in Love Stories For Turbulent Times — a best of the previous 25 years of the Pushcart Prize, and her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Antioch Review, and many other venues. She is nonfiction editor at New England Review and associate professor of creative writing at Penn State University. This is her first published comic.


Laura Manardo

March 17, 2019

For Sale: Death and Coyote Jaws

I woke up on a Friday morning hungover, and walked, blue Gatorade in hand, toward Andersonville. Today, on purpose, I would step into Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities for the first time. I had been in pursuit of finding myself again. My therapist recommended that I go somewhere, do something that scared me but did not put me in danger. I remember being troubled by the exterior of the shop even before my assault. I think my therapist wanted me to feel capable of conquering something.

The mile walk was hot and my thighs stuck together with sweat as I got closer to the shop. A man on a bike stopped on the street next to me and stared me up and down.

“Hey baby,” he said. I looked at the ground and walked ahead.

It was difficult to walk anywhere alone since last Fall.

“Honey,” he said, pedaling to stay at my pace. “Sweetheart, don’t ignore me.” The heat of the day was coming and I felt it in my gut. The man biked away.

“Safe,” I thought.

I had planned it so I’d arrive at noon, right when they opened, but at Clark and Foster my heart had begun to beat out of my chest. I stopped at the intersection and held myself for a whole minute before walking into Woolly Mammoth.

The sign on the door read CLOSED, but the door was open. The lights were out and no one was inside. No living things. Only dead. An eight-legged baby pig in a jar filled with formaldehyde. A “real two-headed cow” named Brussel Sprouts.

I’ve always been fascinated by death. When my great uncle Andy died, I was nine years old and my mother hates when I bring it up, but I touched his face in the casket. I remember the aunts gasping. My mother yanked me up and took me quickly out of the church, passing amused cousins in the back. My excuse was that I was grabbing his nose like he always grabbed mine, but I knew better. I wanted to feel the face of a man who was no longer inside his body.

I surprised myself by whispering, “Hello?” inside the shop. No one answered. I half expected the two-faced cow to moo at me, half expected the piglet to squeal. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of Brussel Sprouts. He looked sad. Or they did? Did the cow have one brain or two? And is it the heart or the brain that makes us singular? Where does the soul sit?

A man’s voice said, “No pictures,” and I looked to the back of the shop. He had a receding hairline and a thin voice. I apologized and watched as he turned the lights on, illuminating more of the once living. He walked to the front of the store and, half-closing the door, flipped the sign to OPEN. I thought in that moment that he was shutting the door, that he would punish me for taking pictures of the creatures that didn’t have a voice. I looked around for a weapon. I am always looking around for weapons. “Just in case,” I tell myself. Just in case.

In front of me, behind glass, sat a “REAL SHRUNKEN HEAD” named Lenny. Lenny sat just above a bin full of coyote jaw bones. I thought I’d smash my hand through the glass, grab Lenny, and chuck it at the man if he tried anything. I saw that the man wasn’t shutting the door, wasn’t going to hurt me, and so I was temporarily safe. I took one of the coyote jaws in my hand and felt the weight of it.

I have temporomandibular joint disorder. My jaw locks. It started six years ago and is made worse by stress. I haven’t been able to make my jaw stop clicking when I speak, eat, breath, since my assault and I wondered if the coyote who once lived with the jaw in my hand had ever experienced fear as great as being held to a bed and told to take it or die. This coyote died.

I turned around to the man staring at me and decided to ask him how he’d acquired these items.

“I go everywhere for them,” he said.

Sometimes when I feel unsafe in the presence of a man, I feel the need to talk to him, to

reveal my human-like qualities, to make him realize that there is someone inside my body. The man smiled with half of his mouth.

I walked over toward the register and noticed more little bins of oddities: “Real human teeth” for $10, “Dentures” for $15 or two for $28, and “Lucky Raccoon Penis Bones” for $14 each. The penis bones were curved, thin, long. I didn’t want to touch them, didn’t want to look at them. Nowadays, anything phallic makes me feel dirty, makes me remember having to throw away my blood-stained comforter. I couldn’t shower for a long time after getting home from the hospital. I couldn’t touch myself. I pulled out my phone to check the time and the man touched my shoulder.

“No pictures,” he said again, this time hitting the end of “pictures” harder, brasher. It made me want to cry. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t going to take a picture, that I was just checking for the time, that I was trying to feel anything but death and the fear of it around me, but I didn’t. I turned around and walked out of the shop feeling his hand on my shoulder the entire walk back to my apartment.



Laura Manardo is an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago for Creative Writing/Fiction in her second year of coursework. She received her BA at Kalamazoo College in 2015. She primarily writes stories that border the strange about love and people’s quest to find it. This is her first non-fiction publication.


Jane Babson

March 17, 2019


Lost and Re-found

It may well be true that my son David’s Chromosome 7 is partly responsible for an

overnight journey to Lost Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest that I recently took with him

and his staff, Jose.  I say this because Chromosome 7 has been studied quite a bit and various

developmental disorders may be linked to its genetic material being displaced, or lost, or

shuffled, or even repeated.  It’s easy for me to blame his condition on something, so I do,

though, of course, it may not be true.


Chromosome 7 represents 5 – 5.5% of the total DNA in our cells.


5% may not seem like a lot, but it is the 7th longest chromosome with maybe 900 – 1500

coding genes depending on whose site you read, so no turning your back on this guy. Here we

were then, away from the city and the group home where David resides in order to show him

new adventures, to shake off any lurking genetic-fate, to make his life look like other


This particular Lost Lake in the Upper Hood River Valley, Oregon, is not lost, for it

never goes away, or disappears. It can always be found at the end of a very long and windy road.

There is, however, another Lost Lake in this same state. This one is in the Willamette National

Forest and is so named because it really does disappear into three holes in the ground.  The

Spring run-offs fill the Lake, but by Autumn there is mostly a dry meadow, for there is no more

mountain water to replenish what is lost. It’s not a duplicate lake at all then, just truer to its

duplicate name. Go figure.


According to the Human Genome Project, when the genetic region on Chromosome 7,
called 7q11.23, is duplicated, Autism-like traits and language problems are the 


David’s absence of spoken language, his low-functioning Autism, require that two

people accompany him for long drives and sleepaways, so it’s not lost on me that his 7q11.23

could be why we made this journey. Jose and I had no way of knowing if he really wanted to go,

but he is the reason why we did go. After we walked around the 245-acre Lake that is never lost,

we left our cabin (easy to lose in the dark) in order to find some dinner in the closest town,

Parkdale, but first had to find a Pacific Pride gas station for the group home’s company car. It

turns out there is a Pacific Pride in Pine Grove, and oh boy I should have known where Pine

Grove is⎯having passed it a million times on Highway 35 from the town, now city, of Hood

River to the village of Parkdale every summer of my life-as-a-youth.

Pine Grove’s business center is one market and one gas station and has looked exactly the

same for ever. It has not gained ground, or lost ground, for that matter, and for this alone it is

unique—at least it can be counted on not to reshuffle itself. One can, and should, say that it does

stand the test of time. You would never know a Pacific Pride lived there; there is no sign, and the

pump is playing possum behind the everybody-can-use gas station.  It’s not lost, but it’s not

easily known, that’s for certain.  If it had been there all those years, then it was invisible to me. I

could have both seen it and not seen it.

Jose, a favorite and experienced staff from David’s group home in Salem, GPS’ed a

different route back to Parkdale after Pine Grove and other landmarks appeared, puzzle pieces of

the past tinkering with me⎯Woodworth Road where I rented a house one Summer while setting

fires for the Forest Service plus a sign for the Parkdale Cemetery. The house I hadn’t thought

about for a long, long time, so it was a memory re-found, just like that—a three months’ moment

from 1974. A space, mind you, not particularly relevant to my before-then existence or my after-

then existence, but some mental pictures developed, oblivious to my say-so. My son must think

in pictures. He doesn’t know words in the sense that he can’t say them or write them, but he

knows what a lot of them mean even though he can’t picture the letters in his head, I think.


Three of the genes on Chromosome 7 that may be related to Autism are AUTS2,


The gene, FOXP2, is related to one’s ability to speak. According to Adam Rutherford in

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, “There’s only two changes between the protein

sequence of FOXP2 in chimps and us, and we can talk and they cannot.”  I like chimpanzees,

and I imagine they talk to each other just fine, but I get Rutherford’s point.  This protein

sequence seems agreeably blame-worthy plus I like its full name—forkhead box P2—even if it

might be playing with my son’s genome, lost, misplaced, or shuffled in some way. I have no

real-time words that go along with the house pictures. If only pictures remain, then, in this way, I

am sometimes like David though I can recall certain words, phrases, sentences Jose and I

shared during that time, and my son can’t, I think. David responds in countless ways,

vocalizations, gestures, various signs, so clearly some of the time he does duplicate his hominid

cousins, and nothing wrong with that⎯way too many people talk who shouldn’t be allowed to.

In her 2005 bestseller about Autism and its correlation to animal behavior, Animals in

Translation, Temple Grandin, whose Autism couldn’t be less like David’s, remarks on

her mental cognition as one of seeing in pictures: “During my thinking process I have no words

in my head at all, just pictures.” The academic and well-known author explains that words come

in, but only “after I’ve finished thinking it through” (her itals). These two things then (Temple

and David) prove the Sesame Street song to be true: “One of these things is just like the other;

one of these things is just not the same.”  But guess what? That is not the case because they

(Temple=David) do match according to the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental

Disorders or DSM-5 which is the go-to book for finding out how you are similar and different

from the normal people.


The DSM-5 “diagnosis will be called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and there no longer will be
subdiagnoses: Autistic Disorder,  Asperger Syndrome
Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not
Otherwise Specified,  Disintegrative 
Disorder”  (The American Academy of Pediatrics). (my itals).


Anyone can see that the problem with the previous DSM-IV was that it was way too

crowded with things that were really not the same but had a few look-alikes—which caused

some consternation and upset the natural Sesame Street order-of-things. DSM-5 erased that

prickly-pear of a problem by simply reshuffling the four into one, Autism Spectrum Disorder,

where a person with a PhD and another person who can’t say or spell PhD are holding the same

umbrella with a big fat sign on it saying ASD HERE. Andrew Solomon rightly quips about the

disappearing disorders in his groundbreaking work Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and

the Search for Identity: “PDD-NOS—pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified

(which critics claim stands for ‘physician didn’t decide’).” (my Itals). Six words, just like that,

lost forever and why not, it was a mouthful and a tad on the vague side.

Compared to the mentally-neglected house on Woodworth Road, a few words and

pictures arranged or shuffled their way into memory lane when we visited the Parkdale

Cemetery, after finding the gas, but before finding the dinner. The sign demanded our presence,

for my parents are there, and I hadn’t been to see them for several years. In that sense, the house

on Woodworth Road and my parents’ resting place are not the same at all—one was a rental

house I will never see again; whereas, the cemetery I have visited a few times is my parents’

forever-home, since 2000 for my mother and since 2010 for my father. You could say that, like

one of the four disappeared Autism disorders, the House is NS—not specified; whereas, the

Cemetery is VS—very specified.

The cemetery was much smaller than memory said it would be. Alongside Mom and Dad

are four others⎯my paternal grandparents, and a paternal aunt and uncle, which was a

surprise because I had forgotten they stayed there as well. The cemetery has a dramatic natural

backdrop, Mt. Hood, and in a society under siege by the war between sameness and otherness,

it is something of an egalitarian residence given the equal payout of grave markers

for the dead by the living. No stone edifices here, no outsized monument to one father and husband,

no statues to mother and grandmother. If you have a choice for one last place

to live, you can do a lot worse than this picturesque cemetery (from GK koimeterion ‘dormitory’

from koiman ‘put to sleep’). Going to sleep with like-minded people in a similar environment

under the watchful eyes of a majestic mountain, what’s not to like?

I showed David his maternal grandparents’ places, and he jumped and hopped on them,

unmindful (no, mindless) of who, what, or where, or why we were there, while my mind saw the

lost years fly by. The quiet dormitory is surrounded by an apple and pear tree orchard, and a deer

glided through some trees, and looked at us⎯at me I was certain.  Yet who is to know

what a deer sees, or thinks?  He stopped right in front of us, and I held David’s head, trying to

force him to sight this wild nature, this deer.  He didn’t, of course, and my mindless

determination to make him see what we saw has ever been a lost gesture, yet who knows what

David actually sees? While Jose, David, and I all have the visual apparatus to sight

the young deer, maybe only two of us really did see something that, to us, was just the same.

Chromosome 7 has 159 million base pairs.


Sure, that sounds like a lot, but these building blocks of DNA in Chromosome 7 are the

most highly studied of all the chromosomes, and the mystery of lost words or unsighted

deer may be uncovered here. The inability of this man-son with healthy eyesight and hearing to

be able to focus on close-up or middle-distance images, never mind a far-off flying hawk,

is a never-forgotten reality of the low-functioning kind of Autism, and I don’t mean the other end

of IT⎯pretty much anyone can fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder. And fall under it they

do, although presumably far from any trees one can see. Statistics reveal Autism to be so

common but really, then, where are they all?

There is no photograph that proves the deer, and only two out of the three people there

could talk about it the next day, or the next.  But that too falls apart because the words and the

pictures in my mind and in Jose’s mind cannot also be the same.  Any meaning, if there is one

for Jose, a thoughtful artist, is his alone, and must be different than mine: he, too young to

dialogue day-to-day with mortality as I do; he, who did not know my parents; he, who has not

lost a parent. Older people seem to be mired in deathscapes, and, if they don’t like the mire, they

may be unable to stray far from it. Mire, related to swampy or boggy ground, but also⎯and so

more true to my mind⎯to be involved in a difficult situation, that is a mother who will one

day not be present and a son who will not understand why she is absent.

This deer followed me fondly for the next few days knocking on my moody

metaphysical door and kicked up a memory of another deer in the film Three Billboards Outside

of Ebbing, Missouri. The character, Mildred, is planting flowers next to one of the billboards

where she has placed an ad that is a pretty clear demand to the Sheriff to find the person who

raped and killed her daughter. She is silently thinking of her loss, and a fawn materializes out

of nowhere, stops, and looks at her. She says to the deer: “Well, you’re pretty. But you can’t be

her. She got killed, and now she’ll be dead forever. I do thank you for coming up though.”

The mother’s loss is and will continue to be profound, and the writer fuels it by

this act of suspending disbelief⎯who sees a deer staring at her when life stops at sorrow and

mortality?  Should justice prevail, Mildred’s words reveal the finality of her loss:

daughter’s death, no afterlife, the deer “coming up” as though it resides in the underworld.  

Even so, life’s grace and fragility are equal to the young, pretty deer that is not her

daughter but has given the mother the only positive response to her words on the billboards,

which have pitted the town against her.

But this clever brain-storm happened much later, after dinner, after walking through Parkdale,

after seeing the old wood church dating from 1911, the place where I was told I was baptized (maybe

1950) obviously too old at the age of three for religion to stick around and, appropriately enough, no

mental pictures or words rise up from that at all. None. No one has ever talked about it, a Not

Otherwise Specified event certainly. Come to think of it the only people who can testify to this not-

properly-a-memory are together in that dormitory.

Next appeared the building where my sisters, mother, and I went to the movies, oh-so-

long-ago, and I recall to this day, my first cinema-seeing, my painful entrée into the two-faced

Janus of comedy and tragedy. The grandfather’s orchard where we stayed every summer was a

few miles away, and for an evening excursion, we went to the local theatre, although I only

remember this one time, so maybe it did not occur often, or maybe it occurred only once,

historical facts being notably lean on the ground this trip, as anyone can see. I remember it

because the Native American women in the audience wore traditional clothes, had long braids,

and really-and-truly had babies on their backs in papooses you now see only in books.

But that is totally not why I remember it. The birthplace for this memory is because the

film scared me to death. If you want to look up The Long-Long Trailer (1953 Fox) starring Desi

Arnaz and Lucille Ball, you too will find this Hollywood artifact, perpetrator of a singular, albeit

cloudy, snapshot that I can bring to life as if it occurred yesterday, which isn’t much it’s true.

The year is probably 1954, which makes me seven and seemingly too old in today’s

terms (technology having made innocence and naivete obsolete) to be so distressed by a movie

where the characters are in peril of driving their very long trailer off the twisty-turning high

cliff road to die a terrible death. But that isn’t correct either. This is comedy, pure and light.

There is no reason, from any normal perspective, whereby the trailer could actually fall off

the cliff, crash, and harm the two comedians.  Zero. Not going to happen.

No flip side to this at all, no gray area, no dark humor. Desi and Lucy will never die, and

no one in that theatre in Parkdale, Oregon, thought they would (except me).  What I can’t prove

is that any of it is true, nor will anyone be able confirm this scene that I have incubated through

time. It is my memory and no one else’s though I would prefer it had become lost along the way

because it clearly hasn’t done me any good.  I’ve been blaming it on my fear of heights ever

since then, so I can’t back down now.  The inside theatre is no longer there, (of course,

obviously), but I remember exactly which building it was located in, and I proudly pointed out to

David and Jose, as a good tourist guide would, where I saw that movie.

Some weeks after the Lost Lake adventure, I was reading Ed Yong’s breathtaking page-

turning study of microbes in his 2016 book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a

Grander View of Life. He colorfully shows that individuals are pretty much tethered to the

microbes in their system.  Microbes in the intestines affect people’s immune systems, and it

turns out that “Many conditions, . . . are accompanied by changes in the microbiome, suggesting

that these microbes are at the very least a sign of illness, and at most a cause of it.”  Wow is what

I thought because Autism is one of those conditions he lists.  If I can just reshuffle David’s gut

bacteria, maybe he too can see the deer.

Yong writes “that we have around 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion microbial

ones. . . . ”  Microbes “. . . the brainless, microscopic, single-celled organisms that live inside

us have been pulling on our strings all along.”

Microbes in the human body outnumber every single human cell!?  Brainless they may well be,

but if it is microbes (not David’s Chromosome 7) that spin his existence, and by

extension mine, and the people who work with him like Jose, then there is more blame

to go around, which I am quite happy about.

Our next trip is to find that other Lost Lake. Jose and I have decided David

would love to see it, we mindful, but really mindless, of his true desires and so off the three

of us will go, pulled by the genes in chromosomes or by not-so-brainless bacteria or just by the

luck of the draw.  There won’t be a lake then at the end of August, just a meadow.  The water

will be lost underground and no one knows, year after year, exactly where it goes.

The three of us together will see that there is no Lake there. We will share a

similar reality as we walk through it, because the ground won’t be underwater, and maybe we

will all see a deer.  Jose, David, and I will not see what, in the past, was there and what, in the

future, will be there again.  In this way, we three will be the same. And when the mountain water

fills the meadow up with a lake next Spring, this too we will not be there to see, even

though it will be true.


Jane Babson has a master’s degree in African Languages and Literature and a doctorate in Comparative
Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She often writes about her son with low-functioning
Autism (Neutrons/Protons Magazine) as well as her travels in Africa, Greece, and Viet Nam (Cargo Magazine).
For the past twenty years, she has taught literature at Western Oregon University.


Kirsten Voris

March 14, 2019

Birth Stories

Dad was still filling out the paperwork as I arrived, umbilical cord looped twice around my neck.

“I guess she did an okay job,” Mom says, when I ask her to tell the story of my birth. She means the nurse. A nameless woman who was there at 3 a.m. and held Mom’s hand until I appeared.

What about me, I wonder. I saved myself from strangulation, by being born so quickly. Amazing, really. For a first child.

And so, the story goes, I was born. The cord was cut, the nasty part fell off and that was that. Mom was free to forget the whole thing.

This is what I got when I asked Mom to tell me about the amazing day. The special day. The day Mom was christened Mom.

Mom didn’t want to talk about it.

In the car on the way home from the latest baby shower, high on cake and punch, I would forget myself. I would ask, one more time, for Mom to remember my birth. She never missed a baby shower. Armed with her go-to gift, The Big Book of Mother Goose, Mom took me to my cousins’ showers. Then, I took her to my girlfriends’ showers. Over the years, I saw Mom play memory and guess-the-baby. Watched her drink the alcohol-free punch and taste the cake. When talk turned to epidurals and episiotomies, Mom smiled and listened. I watched her. I wondered what she was thinking.

Because Mom didn’t like details. Mom would give me the birth story summary. Followed by a frown. Followed by her position statement. “Women have been having babies since time began,” she would say. “They would squat in the fields, have the baby, strap it on and get back to work.”

I pictured women threshing wheat, or picking cotton. Then, I saw Mom, in her scarf and pant suit heading back to work at the department of social services. I was not clinging to her body, as she checked on her caseload. I was at Grandma’s. She didn’t strap me on. But she did get right back to work.

Mom thought having babies was not a big deal. And talking about it was something women did to make themselves seem important. To make the event seem more important than it was. This, Mom told me, was why she didn’t like to talk about it. She seemed angry as though she dared me to disagree. And I decided that, for Mom, childbirth was as ho-hum as taking a crap.

It took years of questioning to extract the story of the hand-holding nurse.

Throughout our lives together, Mom rose every morning an hour before she had to in order to read. I have no doubt she read child rearing books. I wondered about the advice Mom may have gotten. Did the books say, “Don’t spoil the baby?” Did the books say, “Let the baby cry?” Did the books say “Hands off?”  

In my family, praise and attention were handled carefully. Like radioactive isotopes.

My sister thinks radioactive isotopes killed Mom. So, while Mom was playing outside in the coal town she grew up in, poison followed the wind from the Nevada Test Site and settled on her. Why not? We don’t know what set off the chain of events that ended with Mom lying still and small and encircled by IVs. Dying. Downwinders Syndrome? Mom was contacted by researchers. We found the letter.

I’m not convinced that forces from outside Mom killed Mom. And it doesn’t matter. She is gone. There will be no new versions of her stories, from her.

I never really wanted to know whether she had an epidural. Whether it hurt. How long she breast fed. I wanted Mom to tell me that the day I arrived was a big deal. To her. The only way I knew how to ask for that, was to pester her for details. She never did tell me the nurse’s name.




Mom’s second career was with the IRS, and she dressed up for her shifts at the taxpayer service counter. She had a scarf for every outfit. The scarves were stored, wound around toilet paper rolls, in the bottom drawer of her dresser. Hidden behind the scarves, in the very back, was a pillbox hat.

The pillbox hat and a handful of photos were all that was left of the day she stood outside St. John’s in her blue suit with Dad.

When Mom was out, my sister and I would liberate the hat from the drawer and marry pretend men.

It was blue. I wonder if someone counseled her to wear blue. She was pregnant, after all. Although I didn’t know this when I first found the hat.  

Mom caught us one day with the hat in our hands. She told us it wasn’t a toy. She was angry and I could feel the sadness underneath it. She said we tore the veil.

Mom didn’t want our dirty hands on her pillbox hat. But here we were, holding the hat with our dirty hands. The hands that were born into this world, because of that veil. And the day Mom stood on the stairs of St. John’s with Dad.   

Mom rarely let us see her upset. I wondered why she cared so much about some forgotten thing in a drawer. Maybe she kept the hat to help her remember a moment or a feeling; a moment or a feeling that my sister and I could ruin by touching it.

Mom and I. Doctor and nurse. No one else was there to see as I arrived. Perhaps this memory of my birth contained a joy that Mom didn’t want spoiled by retelling. She knew her mind would erase bits and add parts as she repeated the story. Ad infinitum. Changing the memory with each sharing, until the joy was gone.

The night I was born, I imagine Dad lingering over the intake forms. Saving Mom and Dad from facing each other as they took in the truth of the situation. The truth was, they were helpless. Powerless, as the completely ordinary scene of my birth was unfolding.

Neither of them could have stopped me as I muscled my way past the final road block: Mom’s body.

Through her, I launched myself. The morning I was born, I was in control of two nervous systems. I was the boss. Of Mom. Maybe she didn’t want to remember that.




Mom kept things she didn’t want to share in the bottom drawer of her dresser.

Her mom kept private things in the back of a closet.

I didn’t find what was hidden there, in the sewing room, until Grandma died.

Mom and I were removing Grandma’s things from her house when I found a hosiery box full of clippings. There were yellowed maps of the Pacific Theater of war, photos of the Dionne quintuplets. And newspaper columns composed by a psychic.

I took these out. I read them.

Before the hosiery box, I knew Mom was the final child, the only daughter. She arrived as all three of her brothers shipped out to the Pacific to fight during World War II. Mom told me the barest story of Grandma and Grandpa and her birth. Cousins and aunts added ribs and finger bones to the skeleton. This was not enough for me. There was no love, no fear, no uncertainty in the stories I was told. Only facts.   

Someone, I don’t know who, mentioned Grandpa liked to say he had “three in the service,” during the war. I decided that Grandma resented this bragging. Felt wounded by it. In my version of the story, Grandma was anxious. She understood that she might never see any of her children ever again. Her plan, borne of fear and desperation, was to get pregnant. Have another child. Someone else to take care of and love. This happened, Mom told me, when Grandma was 42 years old.

Mom arrived. Walking at nine months, showing talent for dance and piano, Mom exceeded all expectations, according to aunts and cousins. And she was the girl Grandma had pined for. She was essentially, an only child. Her parents were decades older than the parents of her playmates. Mom told me this embarrassed her.

This was the story of little Mom. Until the hosiery box.  

“What are these?” I asked, holding out the columns.

“Oh,” Mom said. “Grandma sent her a letter during the war to find out if she’d have a girl. If she got pregnant.”

As I stared at Mom, I felt a shift in my consciousness, my world view, my understanding of Grandma. My grandma consulted psychics? “And . . .” I said.

“She told Grandma she’d have a girl.”

Implications churned. My face flushed. My scalp tingled and in the moment before thought stopped, I understood: no fortune teller, no Mom. No Mom, no me. What if the psychic had said “don’t bother?” I had to sit down.

On the one hand, I was here in Grandma’s house, sorting with Mom. On the other hand, I might have never been born. Because I was here I had trouble imagining my absence. I was alive. For the first time, this felt tenuous. Like something that was barely true.  

How long did Mom know about the psychic? Her whole life.

Why wouldn’t you broadcast the news that a psychic had predicted your birth? I wouldn’t have been able to keep my mouth shut. If it had been me who was the promised baby daughter. Mom wasn’t planning on telling me. Then, I found the clippings. I decided her silence was important. I just didn’t know why.




I was in junior high the time my cousin, also in junior high, spent the weekend. We were flipping through a photo album. I chose the album. The one with my baby pictures. There are Mom and Dad on the steps of St. John’s. There’s Mom in her blue suit and pillbox hat. Here’s Dad opening the car door for Mom. He’s dressed in a brown suit with pencil pants, still with the white-blond hair of his childhood.

The honeymoon in Victoria BC, the modest, pregnant Mom shots. Yes, here I am, in the sink. It’s bath time. Dad looks bewildered. Look how cute I am. As I admired my sink shots, a cousin started counting on her fingers.

“You were born in March,” she said. “Your parents got married in September…”

“Yeah,” I said. “So?”

“Your mom was pregnant when she got married.” My cousin gawped at me. Then, she started laughing. I flushed red. Then, I tried to recover. Pretend I knew. I didn’t. It was too late.

“My Mom was pregnant, too,” she said, as her giggling died. “That’s what happens when you use prayer for birth control.”

As far as I know, my parents didn’t pray. They didn’t teach me to pray. There was no ban on premarital pregnancy. No shunning or shaming. The year I decided to appear I was welcomed. In fact, another cousin, then nine, was part of the shopping expedition that produced the blue pillbox hat and veil. She knew Mom was pregnant. Everyone knew.  

The fact of it was right there in the photo album, waiting to be discovered. And still, I felt embarrassed by the news that Mom was pregnant. I was caught off guard by my cousin. I was mad at Mom because this was part of our story. And she didn’t offer to share it with me.    

I could have said something, but I preferred to wonder. It felt safer. I wondered whether Mom married, because she was pregnant. Women, Mom might have said, have been getting pregnant for millennia. You get pregnant; then, you do what is required. Did Mom want kids?  

I imagined Mom was waiting for the day I would approach her and ask: “Was I a mistake?” The day never came. Long before Mom died I had stopped asking for stories. I had already decided I was a mistake.




Mom got pregnant in 1966. Right after college.

Her college-era girlfriends are still living. Mutual curiosity has kept us in touch. Slowly, over the years I have plied them with questions. On one occasion I treated one of these women, J, to lunch. Over Indian food she gave me an image: Mom and her girlfriends sitting on the floor of their apartment. Drinking wine. Talking. Up until that moment, they had felt lucky. Their boyfriends had draft exemptions. Now, they don’t. College kids are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam.

I can see Mom on the floor, her legs stretched out to the side. Drinking her wine out of a water glass like a bohemian. All of the girlfriends are dressed in pencil skirts and cardigans they knit themselves. They are drinking. And smoking. I suspect that J edited the smoking out.

Mom was already dating Dad on the night of wine and smoking and worry. She had been for a while. Mom removed a cigarette from her purse the night she met Dad. “I told her I didn’t like smoking,” Dad said. He never saw another cigarette.

I like to think that Mom continued smoking, behind Dad’s back. Perhaps she set down her water glass and shook one out of the pack. She needs a cigarette. They are talking about the student body president. He was drafted. They have just learned he was killed in Vietnam.

“The war terrified us,” J said, interrupting my imagining. “It’s difficult to convey.”

Dad, like the student body president, only had a student exemption. He could be called up to serve at any time. According to J, I was not an accident. I was planned.

From the time my zygote was formed, I had a purpose. To save a life. Mom would marry Dad and I would be born. In an instant Dad would have three-layer force field to protect him from draft; three exemptions.

I imagine Mom told her girlfriends, as they drank and smoked, that she would get pregnant and marry my dad. With or without his consent. This seems too bold. It doesn’t sound like Mom. Mom, who shared stories slowly, begrudgingly. Unlike J.

She sensed my skepticism.

“Do you think your dad could have survived getting sent to Vietnam?” she asked.

I take a moment to picture Dad. In his chair, reading. In the garage, working. Almost always, alone. I tried to imagine him under fire. Taking orders. Cooperating with people.

“No,” I said.

J took a spoonful of curry and placed it on her dish. The conversation returned to Indian food.

Although I tried to introduce this topic at other times on future visits, J was silent. Perhaps she felt she’d said too much.

Mom saved Dad from Vietnam, by getting pregnant. This was her contribution to the protest movement. An example of what women did to oppose the war. I wanted to hear more about that. For a while I imagined that I was part of a baby army that saved scores of men from serving in Vietnam. We were the unsung heroes of the anti-war movement. We had purpose. We were important.

I added this gem to the collection. Stories about me and Mom. Stories Mom never told. I started making up my own stories about what it might have meant to Mom, to Dad, that I was thought of and given a life by them. I wondered how Mom felt about her choice once I arrived and she was locked into being wife and mom.




Mom was wanted. She was so intently hoped for that Grandma called in the psychics. Mustering forces of the unknown, Grandma leveraged control and certainty. She received a sign from beyond that things would not end badly as her sons left for Fort Lewis and from there, an un-picturable expanse of ocean.

Mom was not a mistake.

That was what the story of the psychic meant to me. Mom was wanted in a way that I never felt wanted. Grandma had shared the story of the psychic with her daughter. Mom knew what Grandma did to make sure that she would arrive as ordered. Mom was ordered. And from the time she was first thought of, she had a job.

Her job was to comfort Grandma. Mom knew that, too.

Grandma was worried her sons would die in the Pacific. That she would be alone, without children to love. Mom was worried that Dad would be drafted and die in Vietnam. Mom never told me about her plan to save Dad by making a baby. I didn’t know that I came into this world with a job. I didn’t know it was up to me to comfort Mom or save Dad from certain death. Mom wanted me to decide for myself what my job in life would be. She wanted me to be my own person.

It was up to me to figure out that I wasn’t a mistake.



Sarah Cedeño

November 29, 2018

On the Road’s Shoulder

I’m sorry for the table scraps I give the dog when you’re not looking, how I scrape the meat sludge from your sauce plate into the dog bowl, how she laps it up because she knows it is deserved, the last of her ten years on this earth. I’m sorry for dimming the ceiling light you’ve just blazed on, for preferring the lamps my mother gave me that I nestle in the corners. I’m sorry for having turned my back to you so many nights, for having blamed the oppressive heat and tied the curtains back when you’d rather them closed.  I’m sorry for having enjoyed all the breeze that came in through the windows while you snored into the hallway. I’m sorry, too, and I’ll say again and again, that I’m sorry for the glass of wine that turns into four and into five until I’ve sunken into someone who is not me. That I will make the “just jelly” sandwich for Sammy, who’s sweaty with afternoon sun and working toward hockey practice, instead of slathering peanut butter on one side. I’m sorry not all the meals I make contain a protein. And I’m sorry for the heels of my foot, scratchy against your calf at night. I’m sorry for so often saying yes to others that I have to say no to you. I’m sorry for forgiving myself for saying what I mean even though I’m not right, for dragging what you mean out of you like the entrails of a buck on the road’s shoulder.

Sarah Cedeño’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in The Journal2 BridgesThe PinchThe Baltimore Review, New World WritingThe Rumpus, Hippocampus Magazine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. Sarah holds an MFA from Goddard College in Vermont. She lives in Brockport, NY, with her husband and two sons, and she teaches writing at the College at Brockport.


Caitlin McGill

November 29, 2018

Morning Glory

Emerald vines strangle my Boston porch and crawl up the deck where I stand, alone, clinging to wood. At the neck of the tendrils: a single morning glory, a blushing base. And where the flower widens, opening like an unfurling fist: a rich, deep purple—a glazed, twilight sky. Early morning, no other humans in sight. No other eyes studying my tapering limbs, my protruding collarbone, the water pills hiding inside my pocket.

My phone rings—Mom again. The sun sears my legs, intensifying with the nearing birds’ caws. I clutch the rail tighter. My hands shake. I ignore her call.

A text message: Just checking on my girl.

Is she studying photos of me again and remembering her own thin limbs? Examining my shrinking, twenty-four-year-old body and wishing I would open up? I still have not told her of the holes in my ex-boyfriend’s walls. His bloody knuckles. The hazy memory of his hands around my neck, mine around his wrists. My dented fenders, our cocaine. The way my body began to vanish after I left him last year.

I consider calling her back and then don’t. My stomach grumbles.

I peer down at my violet glories and wonder if they’ve opened more since I’ve been standing here, wonder when they will begin to shrink. By tonight—when I’m hiding in bed and opening another book—they’ll disappear. They’ll close and wilt and split from their stems, exhale petals onto dirt.

Tomorrow, new blooms will replace the old, and though I know this I still watch the eggplant petals all morning and think, Maybe today will be different, maybe they won’t disappear, maybe, maybe, maybe, we’ll change our ways.

Caitlin McGill’s work has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writers’ conference, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, The Chattahoochee Review, Consequence, Iron Horse Literary Review, Vox, War, Literature, & the Arts, and several other magazines. She is a 2016 St. Botolph Emerging Artist Award winner and the 2014 winner of Crab Orchard Review’s Rafael Torch Nonfiction Literary Award. She recently completed a memoir about intergenerational trauma, inherited survival mechanisms, immigration, race, class, addiction, mental illness, war, and the cost of ignoring our histories. One essay from her book was named a Notable in The Best American Essays 2016.




Priscilla Long

November 29, 2018

Why Read?

Photo Credit: Jerry Jaz

Because we are all on an Odyssey.

Because reading a book while waiting for a bus causes the bus to arrive sooner.

Because books open doors to worlds.

Because holding a well-designed book, feeling its weight, turning its pages is one of the good things in life.

Because, says my friend, my father was so mean that I needed another reality to live in.

Because reading leads to the library, and the library, with its books, reading tables, and kindly librarians, is a great socialist institution.

Because if you love sentences, you want to read them.

Because a long novel is a long vacation.

Because in reading a book you join the community of all the people who have read that book.

Because a house full of books is a cozy home.

Because poetry is music, and we need music.

Because Jean Rhys wrote stories, because Walter Mosley wrote novels, because Virginia Woolf wrote novels, because James Baldwin wrote essays, because Shakespeare wrote plays, because C. D. Wright wrote poems. . . . Continue Reading