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Rebecca Khera

May 16, 2020

Sticker Collection



Walmart Mad Lib


When I was _________, I would hide ________________ in my ________________.

(age)                                            (plural object)                            (place, container)

I never got caught and so it encouraged me to do it more often. I began hiding _____________

(small objects)

in the bottom of my pockets to carry out of _________________. Stealing and hiding are

(name of store)

synonymous. If you are good at hiding, you will be good at stealing. My first time stealing

something significant I was in rehab. They would take us on Saturday trips to Wal-Mart and I

would watch boys steal________________, packets of instant coffee, and __________________

(brand of energy drink)                                                      (musician/band name)

CD’s for the scratched CD players the meditation man would loan us. But I didn’t steal anything

from Walmart—not then anyway. I would find people on detox, usually a roommate, someone

named ________________________ and I would steal their makeup, cigarettes, snacks, pens. I

(middle-aged white woman name)

even stole their _______________. Rehab is the best place to learn how to steal, because we all


share stories. I had stolen ________________ before, but had never really considered it stealing.


I guess I never considered a lot until now.



How to Hide Your Addiction

12 Steps


Rebecca Khera is a Pakistani-American writer. She recently graduated with an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in R.KV.R.Y. Quarterly Literary Journal, Reservoir Lit, and Saw Palm among others. She often writes about addiction, race, and ghosts. You can follow her solo travel adventures, along with digital art and writing at @bekyykhera on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok.


Tomie Anne Bitton

May 16, 2020

Hormone Horoscope


Day 17

After working all day, you pick the kids up from school, come home, sit on the couch and notice tension in your shoulders. Why? It wasn’t a particularly stressful day. You play Chutes and Ladders with your six-year-old son, a Curious George cartoon chatters in the background. When your eight-year-old daughter belts out, “Could somebody get me some more TP?” from the bathroom, you lose focus, but only for a second. She perches on the porcelain, toes dangling, not touching the tile floor as you walk in and; hand her a roll.

What day is it? You check your phone, specifically the new app you downloaded just over two weeks ago when you began your last period. Ah. You’re sliding down now. No wonder you’ve harnessed Wonder Woman powers around the house, in the bedroom. You’ve had energy to work a full day, do laundry, clean the shower, and make dinner. Even had some leftover oomph to read before bed. You haven’t wanted to snack all day long. Haven’t opened those Oreos on the shelf in the pantry.

You’ve wanted to talk with your mother on the phone, run through the sprinklers at the park as you chase your kids toward the playground monkey bars.


Day 18

You wake a little sluggish, make your daily coffee—two scoops Maxwell House to 4 cups water. In place of your 2%, you reach for the mocha-flavored creamer. You take your Super B Complex, C and D vitamins while the brew steams. Think to yourself that cream cheese on a bagel sounds good. But then decide to grab a yogurton the way out the door, instead. In the next week or so, you’ll need all the fiber and probiotics you can get.

As you head to the bathroom for a shower, you kiss your daughter on the cheek and whisper, “Wake up, Sleepyhead.” Look closer in the magnifying mirror, say hello to your crow’s feet. They’re getting deeper. Inhale slowly. Hold your breath. Sigh as you exhale through your nose, relaxing your jaw and clenched teeth.


Day 19

You notice fingertips beneath the bathroom door as you step into the shower. Tell your little boy in a raised voice it’s time to get dressed and ready for school. You don’t want to cover up and hide, but realize he’s getting older, may start remembering things like your silhouette. Lately he’s gazed at your chest a tad bit longer than usual, reaching for your breasts when you wear a low-cut blouse or swimsuit. You hear him whine about his sleepiness as he walks away.

Decide not to wash your hair for one more day, requires too much energy. You twist it in the back and clamp the strands with the claw, the one you hate, the one missing a tooth.

Your husband walks in. Asks if he can join you, which you know in his language means more than just a backwash swap. You agree, neither upset nor excited. You tell him you’re not washing your hair today. He’s careful not to splash.


Day 20

Remove your wedding ring before bed, notice the indentation left behind on your finger. Look down at your swollen ankles and feel your feet pulsate. Start to doze off, roll over to your stomach and feel tenderness in your breasts. Think back to your pregnant body, how large and sore your breasts became. How you couldn’t walk downstairs without the reminder of your boobs, cradling them, especially when bra-less. You can do without the extra cup size, and certainly the ache, but you know your husband will enjoy the look of your naked, swelling body in the upcoming week, as he did during your pregnancies.

Maneuver onto your side to face the window to see the moonlight creeping through the slats of the blinds. You cherish the sound of cicadas chirping.


Day 21

Your mother was plagued with migraines. When you were a girl, she retreated to her dark bedroom several times a month to sleep with a wet washcloth over her eyes. You tiptoed up the stairs to check on her, but she’d yell for you to leave her alone before you got close. How did she hear you?

When you got your period for the first time, it was a sad thing in her mind because of the cramps and mess, extra effort and time to get through the day. Every month, she repeated, “Oh, no, you’re not on your period, are you?” Even though she asked, it remained a secret, something hidden like the package of Always beneath the sink.


Day 22

When your mother video chats with your daughter, you join the call briefly to say hello. You notice your mom has no makeup on, can tell she has a headache because of the slow way she’s talking. Your neck tightens. You arch your back, stretch your neck from one side to the other, and she asks if you feel alright. You say, “Of course,” lying a little, smile with pursed lips.

You go to another room to check your email. Notice spam in your Inbox with the subject line “Check out your Hormone Horoscope!” You don’t take the bait but, make a mental note to Google it tomorrow. Is there such a thing as a horoscope for your hormones? With only a week to go, you really don’t need someone to tell you what’s about to happen.


Day 23

You blow your nose as you do every morning when you sit on the toilet to pee and sense a lighter, runnier substance in your nostril. Know without looking you have a nosebleed. Recall having one about a month ago. Could these nosebleeds connect to your cycle? You doubt it. Tell yourself to check it out later. Stuff a cotton ball up your nose.

As you’re putting on a little foundation and eye makeup, your daughter walks in and asks if she can wear some of your lipstick. She seems oblivious to the fuzz protruding from your nose. Standing next to you in front of the mirror, she opens the tube and dabs on a little fuchsia, smacking her lips together. She places her hands under her chin, tilts her head and smiles as she bats her long, dark eyelashes at her reflection.


Day 24

Vicarious menstruation. Who knew there was such a thing? You discover from an internet search and blog post that it’s common to have nosebleeds as estrogen rises. Even at your age, you can learn something new about your body.

Think back to your teenage years, how often you had nosebleeds. Along with them and your period, you wonder if you suffered from anemia. You used to hate that time of the month, wondered about the curse of girlhood. You remember running to the bathroom every chance you got at school, hoping you hadn’t leaked, hoping you didn’t have a glaring red spot on your pants. You would die if the kids at school to knew it was that time of the month for you, a sanitary napkin lining your underwear.

At the age of sixteen you figured out you could wear biking shorts under your jeans during your period to feel more secure. It was one way to feel confident. Other girls used tampons, but you felt scared to. You remember wishing you could talk to your mom.


Day 25

You have no desire to get out of bed. No desire to shower. The kids make their way into your room to wake you up. They ask who finished of the Chocolate Malted Crunch ice cream. They noticed the container in the trash, next to the sink full of dishes. You honestly cannot remember if you ate it. It’s possible you got up in the middle of the night. Sleep eating? Something else to look up.

Realize you forgot about Running Club after school. Tell your daughter her team shirt didn’t get washed. Apologize. She storms off, beginning to cry. Drag yourself up, the anger inside you spills over. Where is your husband? Why can’t he get the kids fed, dressed, and to school?

You tell yourself to take a deep breath. You are just tired. You are just hungry. You are just bloated and hot and . . . A reminder on your phone alerts you your period prowls three days away. As if you didn’t know.

Get out of bed. Open the blinds. Notice one coot on the fence and another searching for worms in the grass.


Day 26

You wake from an erotic dream sequence. Feel frustrated. Snuggle up next to your snoring husband. Watch him flip over onto his stomach as you untangle from the sheets. Note how peaceful he looks, even in his over-washed sweatpants.

You undress, look at your naked body in the bathroom mirror. The extra trundles of skin around your waist and backside seem to say: I’m not ready for this day; let’s go back to bed. Remember your son has an award assembly at school later. Take a deep breath of steam clouding from the shower spout and wonder how you got here. Glance at the ledge of the tub and spot your dull razor purchased last summer. Realize you haven’t used it for months. Remember the last time you wore a bikini, years earlier on your honeymoon, before the babies branded you with stretch marks and bulges.

Grabbing your acne face wash from the shower rack, you think about last evening, your out-of-the-blue outburst toward your son because he didn’t finish the peas. You know now your hormones do affect your mood.


Day 27

Read the back of the Excedrin bottle for the fourth time while eating a Lemonzest Luna bar at lunchtime. Don’t take more than six caplets in 24 hours. Wonder how you will survive the day with only two left to take. Wonder what else you can do to get rid of a headache. WebMD suggests drinking more water. You imagine drinking fountains calling out your name each time you pass by. Your jeans too tight to even think about sipping water. Recall your image in the mirror this morning—a water balloon about to burst.

Pick the kids up from school. Tell them Mommy doesn’t feel well today. Tell them to talk quieter. Tell yourself to relax. Your husband can take over in two hours. Relax. Feel your head pound. Feel anger bubble up as they run off screaming, leaving you behind to park, carry all the bags into the house.


Day 28

Skip bedtime stories with the kids. Tuck them into bed early. Shield your chest as you lean over to kiss them. Wish you had kept your bra on a little longer for support, padding. Hugs hurt.

Walk past the piled-up dishes in the sink. Walk past your husband sitting on the couch watching football. Tell him you’re going to bed. Pretend not to hear him when he asks to join you.


Day 29

At 3:00 A.M., wake to find your nightshirt soaked through. Beads of sweat between your breasts and on your thighs. You have damp hair beneath your ponytail. Move onto your side and feel a tightening in your gut, a twinge of a cramp. Get up to use the bathroom and hear the rush of fluid mix with toilet water. Lean forward to expel more urine. You are not surprised to have more pee come out. Walk back to bed and fall asleep with a grateful sigh as you move your head to a dry part of the pillow.

At 6:00 A.M. wake to a full bladder, even more pee. Notice a dark streak on the TP after you wipe. Notice in the mirror that your boobs, though less full, remain larger than usual. Remove your menstrual cup from a drawer and place it on the counter for tomorrow. Wrapped in its tiny, bright pink drawstring bag, one might think a pair of priceless earrings nestle inside.

Before driving the kids to school, you make scrambled eggs and do the dishes. Sing songs loudly on the way. “Have an awesome day!” you say as they slam the car door and skip into school. They look back to you, and you wave wildly. You notice the cloudless sky. The radio DJ predicts warmer temps ahead.

Before retiring for the night, you make sure to put new sheets on the bed. Take a long Epsom salt, coconut oil bath. You lie back completely, submerge your head, envision all the yuck swirling down the drain with the bubbles.


Day 1

You wake from a hard sleep. Tell the kids at breakfast: “Last night felt like a snap,” which you know in their language means it was a fast, really good night’s rest. Linger as you kiss your husband good morning.

You are alert. You have more energy than you’ve had in weeks.

Swallow Ibuprofen with your coffee to stave off cramps until lunch and help keep your flow as light as possible for the first day. Think back to the days when you wore diaper-like pads. Think about the panic you felt when you had to wear skin tight, shorter than short, white basketball shorts for your first varsity home game. The fight you had with your mother beforehand because the tampon wouldn’t work.

When your daughter asks for more milk in her cereal, think how empowered, worry free you feel with your menstrual cup in place. How sexy you feel wearing the period panties you ordered online after you saw an ad shared by a friend on Facebook. Look forward to reading Cara Natterson’s The Care and Keeping of You to your daughter. You hope she’ll cultivate excitement, not worry, and you want her to know all her options. When she’s 13 you will celebrate her first period. You’ll have a girl’s day, pick out training bras, and get your toes painted red at the spa.


Day 2

In the hours ahead you’ll have to empty your menstrual cup at least two times. It’s your heaviest day. A dull ache lingers inside despite your continued Ibuprofen gulping. You’ll take three at a time instead of the two recommended, but just for today. You honestly feel good.

As you shed blood, and what feels like 10 pounds of excess fluid, you experience relief. Your breathing slows down. Your shoulders relax without you telling them to do so. Your mind so sharp you surprise yourself with what you can recall: It’s your great grandmother’s birthday today. Your skin glows.

Before getting dressed, while looking in the mirror to do your monthly self-breast exam, you feel perky. Your boobs look soft, almost teen-like.


Day 3

You feel like you could run a marathon and you don’t even like to run. You feel like you could skip your coffee and still have enough energy to work, clean the house, clean the shower, make dinner, and read an entire book, or even make it a date night.

You finally check your hormone horoscope at, just for fun. Realize everything it says, you already know. The rhythm of your body no longer a mystery to you. As you pick up your cell to call your mother, you pause to delete the period app from your phone.


Day 4

Take your kids to the pool, notice how your blue boy-shorts shimmer underwater as you float on your back next to your daughter. Later, you feel your wet and curly hair rest on the curve of your breast as your lounge, sunbathe, read your favorite book. You hear your son’s splash off in the distance as he plays Marco Polo.

You close your eyes. Think about your husband and the two of you honeymooning on a sandy, beige beach many years ago. You don’t feel anything but the sun.


Tomie Anne Bitton is a Ph.D. Candidate in English at Oklahoma State University, and is from Oakdale, California. Tomie received her MA in nonfiction creative writing from California State University, Chico, in 2015. Although she used to clean offices and vacuum around lazy house pets, Tomie is much happier now cleaning up after her two children. Her favorite moments include reading a book or losing her feet at the beach.


Julie Levinson

March 10, 2020

Lost Soles

Wily ghost that she is, she haunts me in odd ways. Improbably, the Moroccan slippers are one of the things that most often evoke memories of her.  I had bought them in the Arab bazaar in Grenada, a city I first heard about decades earlier in her wistful accounts of the one trip to Europe she took with my father.  My sisters and I were delighted when, after her death, we found her red leather travel diary from that trip.  It was comprised of brief lists of each day’s conscientiously visited tourist sites followed by pages of lovingly thorough accounts of what they ate for dinner that night.  Our favorite of her stories was the one about the waiter in Italy who, when my mother scarfed down roll after roll of what she described as the best bread she had ever eaten, gently slapped her hand and warned her not to get full before the actual meal arrived.  Food was the only thing she enjoyed with uncharacteristic abandon.  As a no-nonsense child of the Depression, she shunned excess or self-indulgence.  Whether by inclination, habit or history, she was more dutiful than desiring.  Or so I always thought. In her last decades, her hiatal hernia forced a reluctant self-restraint toward eating: the one activity she had reveled in unstintingly.

Longevity without pleasure was one of the many cruel ironies of living into her nineties.  Like Tithonus, the prince of Troy to whom the gods granted eternal life but not eternal youth, she felt that she had outlived whatever joys she had known.  Although my mother had been a professional musician, she no longer wanted to listen to music because she said it just made her sad.  The only old song she still liked, no doubt because it was elegiac and therefore apt, was “September Song” which begins, “Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September.”  But that song’s refrain – “And the days dwindle down to a precious few” – didn’t quite do it for her since “precious” was far from the first adjective that she would use to describe her dwindling days.

The conventional wisdom is that grief works in strange ways but I have nonetheless been caught off guard by the talismanic power of seemingly inconsequential things.  It was only after I had gotten back from Spain and began wearing the tan leather slippers daily that I discovered there was a word for them: babouches. Although that sounds like the surname of a Groucho Marx character, the word is, reportedly, a French derivation of an Arabic rendition of a Persian term meaning “foot covering.” I discovered that not only did my slippers have an etymologically migrant name but they also had a history, detailed in several websites that described their provenance.  “The traditional babouche hails from the Middle East, where Bedouins and monarchs have been shuffling around in them for centuries,” explains one. “They were fashionable amongst 17th-century French courtiers, possibly because their ultra-soft soles were suggestive of a devil-may-care attitude to dressing,” it continues.  Although, being my mother’s daughter, I could never lay claim to a devil-may-care attitude toward anything, those ultra-soft soles were, indeed, the stand-out feature of my babouches.  The simply designed slipper consists of three pieces of supple leather stitched together.   No sole, to speak of: just that smooth leather bottom made for shuffling and a back folded down under the wearer’s heel to facilitate said shuffling.  It was those smooth bottoms that led to the mysterious disappearance of my beloved babouches.

During her last years, she spent most of her time reading on her bed.  She had lived with us for upwards of two decades by then: an arrangement that bemused my American friends but seemed familiar and right to those from cultures in which the distance travelled from one’s family in adulthood was not necessarily a point of pride.  Mostly, our cohabitation worked although she did, on occasion, elicit a tetchy eye roll from me.  That happened most often in response to her incessant worrying.  Any sign from me of illness or sadness or disappointment would preoccupy her.  Ever conscientious as a parent, she was an inveterate advice giver, notwithstanding my own by-then advanced age.  So one day when, from her bed, she heard me lose my footing and fall on the stairs while wearing those evidently slippery slippers, she urged me to get rid of them.

As similar as we were, we parted ways on our opinion of the value of divesting oneself of belongings.   She was a minimalist who knew few greater pleasures than throwing things out, whisking away half-finished glasses of water or winnowing down items in the refrigerator.  I am a pack rat, saving things that I haven’t worn or used for years in the dim hope that I may want them again someday.  If I couldn’t bear to part with pieces of clothing long since unworn or with books never again to be read, I certainly had no intention of relinquishing my cherished, if ever slicker-bottomed, babouches.  Although she imbued in me her predilection for prudence, the peril of soft-soled shoes be damned!

When, some time later, I couldn’t find them, I went on an epic search, certain that I had shuffled out of them somewhere in our large house and would happen upon them in some unexpected place.  It did not occur to me until well after her death that she had, out of an excess of concern and caution, taken them from my bedroom and thrown them out.  It wasn’t the first time that she had taken it upon herself to toss out something that I held dear.  When I came home from college one year, I went on a tear trying to find an old muumuu that someone had given me when I was in middle school.  To me, it was a sacred, if tattered, object; to her, it was a rag that offended her sense of sartorial decorum and her self-appointed role as curator of the chest of drawers in my childhood bedroom.

A month after she died, and several months before it finally dawned on me what had happened to my babouches, I gave up the search and bought another pair on Etsy: bright red ones.  Their vivid color makes me think of her with aching amusement. When my aging grandmother lived with our family, as my mother later would with mine, she had her heart set on a pair of red shoes.  But my mother considered red shoes garish and unbefitting for an old lady, so she put the kibosh on their purchase. In her own old age, she told me that she regretted having done that, emblematic as it was of her lifelong penchant for saying no rather than yes to sybaritic pleasures.  I suppose my choice of color, along with my insistence on reupping for another pair of what my mother considered death-defying footwear, could be understood as an emphatic blow against discretion and caution, or perhaps as my “yes” to living large on behalf of my sadly sensibly-shoed grandmother. My mother and I would have laughed together at the grandiosity of that claim. Still, I can’t help suspecting that, had she lived to see them, those red babouches might, like their predecessors, disappear one day without a trace.

Once she died, I felt instantly old. Until then, I permitted myself the illusion, viable only through the happenstance of good health, that I remained part of that catchall category of the middle-aged.  I considered her endurance a sort of life assurance for me; while she was alive, I was out of reach of old age and death. But her passing made me admit, if not accept, that I had advanced one step forward in the queue of the mortal, with no parent up ahead of me to stave off that last footfall.  And so I shuffle along toward my own senescence, babouche-shod but orphaned and dispossessed.  Shambling onward, I hum my own September song under my breath because I am too wary of the walk to sing it out loud.


Julie Levinson is Professor of Film at Babson College.  She is the author of The American Success Myth on Film, editor of Alexander Payne: Interviews and co-editor of Acting: Behind the Silver Screen. Her publications in journals and edited collections focus on a wide range of topics including cultural history, genre and gender, documentary film, and metafiction.​​​ She has been a film curator for museums, film festivals and other arts organizations.


Susan Nash

March 10, 2020

Leaving A Trace


Last week I learned that my fingerprints are disappearing.  I was standing on the X outlined in pink tape on the floor, pressing the four fingers of my right hand onto the glass.  The tech nodded her head.

“Yep,” she said, pointing to the translucent box on her machine, “you see how light they are?  Especially the right two fingers?”

The machine agreed, flashing a red “REJECTED” in response to my touch.

The tech dabbed some water on the tip of each finger, then tried again.  This time the prints were darker.  We watched the machine, waiting.

The green light flashed.


I moved right, into the small box outlined in blue tape.  Standing squarely in the center, I put my left four fingers down hard on the glass.  Four very light prints appeared on the screen.  The tech administered the water treatment again.  And again.  Finally, the green light flashed.

I had gone to the police department’s live scan facility as part of a background check required for an Encore Fellowship starting in the fall, working out of the San Jose Mayor’s office.  Assuming my fingerprints pass muster, I’ll be helping the city with its Age-Friendly City program.

Encore Fellowships are for people who have retired but want to continue working and contribute to society.  The fellowships match experienced professionals with social sector organizations and local governments.  The Age-Friendly Fellowship will give me a chance to use the skills from 36 years of practicing law in a completely new way.

The tech asked if I worked in data entry.  Apparently a common reason for fingerprints becoming less visible is the constant tapping on a keyboard.

“No,” I said, “but I do use my laptop a lot.”

As a lawyer, I have spent thousands of hours on computers: drafting briefs, writing memos, preparing outlines for clients, responding to emails.  I type fast, “touch typing” it’s called, based on a long-ago 7th grade class on a manual typewriter in which I received a commendation for my typing abilities.  There were no boys in that class.  Now I privately gloat every time I see an older male colleague hunting and pecking.  Who knew that this one small aspect of raising girls in the 1960s would actually give women an edge when the ability to use a keyboard became a critical life skill?

As if to confirm the tech’s theory, my left thumbprint came out strong and clear, no water required.  My left thumb has swung free in all those hours of tapping out letters and symbols.  The only keyboard stroke assigned to a thumb is the space bar, hit with the dominant hand, in my case, the right hand.

Device addiction, polarization, manipulated elections, loss of privacy, identity theft, poor mental health, bad posture, obesity, the utter inability to navigate without a GPS: the ramifications of our increased reliance on technology are still unfolding, often in unpredictable ways.  Now, it seems, our laptops are destroying our fingerprints.

History shows that this is no small loss.  According to fingerprint historian Simon Cole, artisans in the ancient world signed their pottery and marked cave paintings with fingerprints.  Fingerprints were used as signatures or seals to conduct business in seventh-century China.  By the mid-19th century, with its greater mobility and loss of small village society, new ways were needed to keep track of people and their history.  Once it was possible to compare a person’s fingerprints with criminal records indexed according to fingerprint patterns, modern policing was born.

We leave fingerprints because of the friction ridges that develop as our fingertips brush across the inside of our mother’s womb.  The friction ridges allow us to detect fine textures and grip rough or wet surfaces.  Although there are common patterns to these ridges – loops, whorls and arches – the places where the ridge lines end or fork are what make each person’s fingerprints unique.

Fingerprints are elemental.

The ridge endings or forks on our fingertips are called minutiae.  A good quality fingerprint image can have 25 to 80 different minutiae.

The question of how many minutiae must match between a crime scene print and that of a suspect is not simple: for decades, a match in the United Kingdom required 16 points, while in the U.S. the number was whatever the fingerprint expert said it was.  Point-counting is now out of favor, but an expert will often still cite the number of matching minutiae to support an opinion that the prints came from the defendant.

Fingerprints left on a surface can last months or years; the print alone does not allow a determination of when it was made.

When I was practicing law, I once had a client who received a life sentence for murder because his fingerprints were found at the scene, on a drinking glass in the drying rack by the sink.  The victim was stabbed to death.  My client admitted to knowing him, to going to his house sometime in the days before the murder to buy crystal methamphetamine, and to having a glass of water during the transaction.  The fingerprints on the knife were definitely not my client’s.  Nor were the hair and semen samples left in the bedroom where the body was found.  My client had a solid alibi for nearly every minute of the 48-hour time range guesstimated as the time of death by the coroner.  But, according to the People’s theory, two sets of prints at the scene meant that two people must have been involved: one who stabbed the victim multiple times in the bedroom, while the other had some water and rinsed out his glass in the kitchen.

It took me almost five years to get this man out of prison.

Fingerprints can mean life or death.

Fingerprints can be permanently lost after taking certain cancer drugs or disappear temporarily after a bee sting or an encounter with poison ivy.  Burning, acid and plastic surgery can be used to change or entirely remove fingerprints.  There are rare medical and genetic conditions that can cause a person to have no fingerprints at all.

Secretaries who spend years sorting and copying are particularly prone to losing their fingerprints, as the handling of paper causes additional wear on fingertip ridges.

It can also be difficult to capture the fingerprints of older people, as the elasticity of their skin decreases with age and narrows the space between the ridges and the furrows on their fingertips. Their fingerprints may just appear as a blur.

Since I left the practice of law I have been using my keyboard a lot, trying to write something other than legal briefs, trying to capture what it means to get older and be female in today’s world.

The more I type, the lighter my fingerprints will become.

Perhaps barely visible fingerprints are a good thing, as I will not have to clean the glass surfaces or mirrored medicine cabinet in my house as the years go by.  Perhaps I should consider a life of crime, if I can manage to leave no trace of my skin, blood, hair or nails behind.  But will I be able to enter countries that require fingerprint scans, or even get back in my own, if I can’t get my fingerprints to show up on the monitor?  Will I be locked out of my phone, denied access to my bank account, told that my health records can’t be located?  Should I be lobbying my legislative representatives to make sure that biometric systems include options, such as retinal scans, other than the ability to leave a solid fingerprint impression?  What if something happens to my eyes?

Are lost fingerprints merely one of the many indignities of aging that I can expect to creep across every part of my body?

Will I still make a contribution if my fingerprints are disappearing?

Doris Lessing tried to describe the aging process for women as a good thing:  “You achieve a wonderful freedom,” she wrote.  “It’s a positive thing. You can move about unnoticed and invisible.”

I struggle with that idea.  During the decades of feminism and striving and proving ourselves that followed my all-girl typing class, invisibility was definitely not the kind of freedom we were after.

Of course, the trope that women become invisible as they age is just a figure of speech, right?  Women don’t literally disappear as they get older.  Do they?

After the fingerprint scan, I set all the apps on my phone to facial recognition.  I re-committed to writing for some portion of every day, typing the words on my laptop, faster, furiously, sometimes pounding, fingerprints be damned, trying to make my way.  Trying to stay visible.  Trying not to leave only a blur.


Susan Nash is a former lawyer who has traded years of writing briefs in favor of chronicling the experiences of older women in our culture.  Her work appears on and on multiple websites at Stanford University.


Naomi Washer

March 10, 2020

With Bruno


In my first memory of life, which I recall as both observer and observed, I am four years old and waiting in the wings. I am waiting for my cue to burst out onto the stage. I can feel the heat of the stage lights and the curious eyes of the audience in the dark seats. I have woken, suddenly, though I did not know I was asleep. I nearly miss my cue. I begin to cry. Strong hands and arms behind me push me out of the darkness of the wings and into the light of the stage.

The kind of art I care about is a regression, childhood revisited. If it were possible to reverse development, to attain the state of childhood again, to have its abundance and limitlessness once more, that ‘age of genius,’ those ‘messianic times’ sworn to us by all mythologies, would come to pass. My ideal goal is to ‘mature’ into childhood.

I like to look at Bruno Schulz’s photograph. He looks like all the rebellious, brilliant boys I was friends with in school who, in one way or another, burned out and faded away. He wears a perpetual mischievous grin, as if he plans to pull the rug out from under you. He is deeply melancholic, extraordinarily dramatic, occasionally lazy, and totally inept at any practical adult skill. In short, I am quite in love with him. But like his fiancée, Jósefina, who waited for him to get his act together and move with her to Warsaw, where they would have married and had children and lived a conventional adult life—I’m certain I would have hated living with him.

Beyond this, I don’t identify with Jósefina. I identify with Bruno. Like him, I possess the impulse to create circumstances for living that serve my inquiries in art, rather than squeezing in time for art around my obligations. Still, I can’t help but laugh sometimes at his total ineptitude; at least I am fully capable of feeding myself, paying my bills, and cleaning my house without the assistance of others. It was these very skills Jósefina possessed that made Bruno hold onto the possibility of their marriage for so long: he knew he was largely unable to take care of himself, and her patience (while it lasted) was so comforting. He would have had a happy life in Warsaw.

I was walking through a cemetery in New England one summer afternoon when a friend texted me and asked if I thought it was possible to be happy and write. I said no. It wasn’t the answer he was looking for. What I did not say was why I believed this, but I believe Bruno would have agreed with me for my reasoning; for people like us, conventional ‘happiness’ is not the goal. Bruno never moved to Warsaw with Jósefina, and she stopped waiting, because he chose to stay in his hometown of Drohobycz—the space of his childhood and the geography of his mythology. Happiness was not what he sought; rather, happiness came to him through the time, space, and ability to write. Happiness was not a constant, static state he pursued but rather a manifestation of fulfillment. His drive in life was to find a language for the reality of his mythology, a language he could only seek and explore in the dim light of the houses and avenues of his village—“in the hazy light of an undefined hour.” I should have explained all this to my friend. He would have understood. Doesn’t matter—I’m explaining it now.

I am four years old and I am dressed as a clown, leading a parade, and all this is not a dream, though acting and performance always toe the line of a dream space. Acting is work, but I am four years old, so I don’t know this yet. What I know is that my real father, The Peddler, is on the stage with me, but I am forbidden from behaving as though he is my dad. I know that my real sister, The Tightrope Walker, is also on the stage with me, but I mustn’t call out to her by any other name. In fact, I must largely ignore her existence within this context. I know that my real mother, The Director, is somewhere out there in the dark audience, and to call out her name would break the fourth wall and the reality of the play, ruining the entire glorious thing.

I have attempted to uncover my private mythology, my own ‘stories,’ my own mythic family tree. Just as the ancients traced their ancestry from mythical unions with gods, so I undertook to establish for myself some mythical generation of forebears, a fictitious family from which I trace my true descent.

Not much is known about Bruno Schulz outside of what we can glean from his mythological autobiography and a few key facts from his curriculum vitae. He worked as a part-time painting and drawing teacher at a high school in Drohobycz. Aside from his failed engagement, the majority of his close friendships and relationships were epistolary. He isolated himself in a small, provincial town so he could write long letters to mentors, publishers, and friends from school. In these letters, he spoke of everyday life matters but seemed to care much more about the ability of letter-writing to draw out the details of one’s internal emotional life. He was a dedicated correspondent and cared deeply for the act of letter-writing and the literary status of letters.

Schulz began his book, The Street of Crocodiles, in the footnotes of his letters to Deborah Vogel, an author, philosopher, and painting enthusiast with whom he carried on the most significant correspondence of his short life. The mythological stories he expounded in those letters were meant originally for her eyes alone—begun as afterthoughts, aspects of his epistolary explorations. The footnotes grew and expanded and took on a literary life of their own, until they morphed into the book that would make him known beyond his untimely death. These stories of mystical horse-drawn carriages, magical birds in the attic, and a father whose unnamed illness turns him into a cockroach appear to be the stuff of fiction, but when read in conjunction with the story of Schulz’s life, they seem quite real to the logic of childhood, the mythology of dreams, and the literature of unexplained phenomena. Since the day I discovered The Street of Crocodiles, I have wondered why Schulz never attained the same level of a household name as Kafka. I find his short story on a man turning into a cockroach to be profoundly superior.

I am four years old, the youngest in a family of actors and theatre-makers who include their children in the theatrical realities they create. It is 1994, and I am performing in the first official stage adaptation of Caps for Sale, the children’s book by Russian author and visual artist Esphyr Slobodkina. My mother has struck up a kind of friendship with her, and together they have created this vision for the stage. We perform at the University of Hartford and Hartford’s historic Wadsworth Athenaeum. But it will be many years before I realize the historic significance of this event. The historic significance is secondary to what develops for me here, on this stage, at four years old—an inability to differentiate between fiction and reality; between myth and dream; truth and fact; my life and the stage.

Schulz said of Rilke in a letter: “The presence of his books is a guarantee that the mute, convolute mass of what remains unformulated in us may yet reach the surface, miraculously sublimated.” It is not until I read Schulz for the first time in college that I gain the power to see my own unformulated masses of mystery—the questions regarding the gray area between reality and myth—and gain a possible framework through which to articulate these mythic dreams. Reading Schulz, I begin to pry open the story I’ve always told myself about my life, my family, and my identity; the story of why I’ve never been able to commit myself fully to fiction or reality. I begin to find a language for all this.

The elements operating here rise out of that misty region of early childhood fantasies, forebodings, anticipations, terrors which is the true spawning ground of mythical thinking. It seemed worthwhile to condense that mythical suspension into a coherent, densely meaningful world of legends, to let it ripen into a kind of personal and private mythology without sacrificing its substratum of authenticity.

I may not be remembering this correctly, but I believe that I first read The Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz while on a plane. It would be appropriate if that were the case, as airplanes create an atmosphere of non-place and non-time that gives rise to realizations and awakenings. For most of my life, I was unable to practically tackle obligations that were expected of me. I tried, but I would inevitably slip into a non-place mid-task and disappear for a while into the space of dreams. Like Schulz’s father in The Street of Crocodiles, I could not “merge with any reality and was therefore condemned to float eternally on the periphery of life, in halfreal regions, on the margins of existence.” I believed I was a non-person who did not exist on the surface level of daily life but rather in the murky subconscious of fears, isolated images, archetypes, and imaginings. And I believed in the truth of this space more than any other.

In early childhood development theories on the brain, age four is called The Dreamer—the stage at which the child reaches something called Imagination Explosion. I was four when my real parents put me in the arms of two college student actors and told me they were my mother and father. I was cradled in the arms of a young woman I did not know while my real mother disappeared into the audience and my real father piled a stack of caps on his head—“first his own checked cap, then a bunch of gray caps, then a bunch of brown caps, then a bunch of blue caps, and on the very top, a bunch of red caps”and walked onto the stage as The Peddler before a backdrop of rolling green hills and apple trees and wildflowers.

Behind [this book] I see the contours of another I’d like to write myself. Thus I actually can’t tell if I am reading the first book or that possible but unrealized one. That’s the best way to read—reading oneself, one’s own book, between the lines. This is how we used to read in childhood, and that is why the same books, once so rich, are like trees stripped bare of leaves when read in adulthood—stripped, that is, of the commentary we used to putty over the gaps. The books we read in childhood don’t exist anymore; they sailed off with the wind, leaving bare skeletons behind. Whoever still has in him the memory and marrow of childhood should rewrite these books as he experienced them.

If I read the book version of Caps for Sale when I was four, or if someone read it to me, I have no memory of that. I only recall experiencing it—bringing the book to the stage and the story to life. Esphyr and my mother chose to add a scene from another one of her books to this play—a circus parade, led by me, The Clown—as an explanation for why the townspeople were nowhere to be found when The Peddler arrived hawking his wares. Esphyr’s illustrations from the book were projected and used to create enormous backdrop landscapes. Before my eyes, my father became a fiction and the book became the real world in which I lived.

In a way these ‘stories’ are real, represent my way of living, my personal fate. The overriding motif of this fate is a profound loneliness, isolation from the stuff of daily life […] Loneliness is the catalyst that makes reality ferment, precipitates its surface layer of figures and colors.

Loneliness is often seen as a terrible thing; an undesirable, pitiable thing. But there are some of us who manage to live both on the surface—enough to get by—as well as in the solitary space of dream; a necessary headspace for artistic development.

Schulz knew he had to reject the surface-life—a happy life in Warsaw—if he wanted to manifest his personal fate. Reading Schulz, I am able to access those figures and colors that constituted the contours of the work that was laid out for me, lying in wait for me to encounter.

There are texts that are marked out, made ready for us somehow, lying in wait for us at the very entrance to life. This is how I absorbed Goethe’s ballad, with all its metaphysics, at age eight. Through the half-understood German I caught, or divined, the meaning, and cried, shaken to the bottom of my soul, when my mother read it to me.

I cried when I encountered the stage at age four, the mythical village where my mythical family lived and traveled. I absorbed the meaning I divined from this experience—that we are both the observer and the actor in our own lives, both embedded and apart from the scenes in which we find ourselves, the worlds in which we live. After a lifetime of playing characters on stage, studying the concepts and consequences of the theatre, I came to see that writing, for me, was not the stuff of pure invention but rather a willingness to confront those initial images, the sources that present themselves to us at the gates of life, in order to delve into the particular secret language that is ours to articulate to others beyond the bounds of our particular stage.

These early images mark out to artists the boundaries of their creative powers. The works they create represent drafts on existing balances. They do not discover anything new after that, they only learn how to understand better and better the secret entrusted to them at the outset; their creative effort goes into an unending exegesis, a commentary on that one couplet of poetry assigned to them.

Art does not resolve that secret completely. The secret stays in a tangle. The knot the soul got itself tied up in is not a false one that comes undone when you pull the ends. On the contrary, it draws tighter. We handle it, trace the path of the separate threads, look for the end of the string, and out of these manipulations comes art.

Encountering Schulz for the first time was, for me, not alighting on the answer to my lifelong struggle, not tugging on the ends and setting them free, but awakening to the image of the knot itself—as if I had moved from inside the tangled mess where I could not see it to just outside it, a little above or to the side, still connected by a taut thread but able to observe the ins and outs of my particular problem; my personal fate. And I do not want an easy answer, a simple way out of the maze, a chapter to passively consume before closing the book and walking away and never thinking about it again. Instead, I want to commit to the greater task laid out before me—the task of the essayist, of the translator: to plumb the depths of narrative, inquiry, and imagery.

The ultimate given data of human life, [Schulz] submits, lie in a spiritual dimension, not the category of facts but in their transcendent meaning; likewise, a curriculum vitae that aims to elucidate its own semantic structure, that is honed to be sensitive to its own spiritual significance, amounts to—myth.

Here is a myth: Bruno Schulz, age 50, was shot dead in the street in Drohobycz in 1942 by S.S. Officer Günther. It was an act of retaliation against Officer Landau, Schulz’s protector, for killing Officer Günther’s Jewish dentist.

Here is another myth: Bruno Schulz, age 50, was shot dead in the street in 1942 by an unknown S.S. Officer. The shots were randomly fired on Black Thursday—the day all Jews were forced to move into the Drohobycz Ghetto.

Both of these myths might be true. They’re both out there. Both are believed.

So much of Schulz is lost to us—his final manuscript, so many of his letters disappeared. But what little evidence we do have of Schulz’s life tells us that to fill in the gaps with a coherent chronology would go against everything he believed and everything he stood for. If he had wanted his life subsumed by the curriculum vitae, captured in a single image, he wouldn’t have lived his life the way he did. Schulz’s life was “made up for the most part of inner events, spiritual and aesthetic quests, and writing (which in the general Slavic tradition is called, simply and boldly, Twórczość, ‘creation’), which to him is the only worthwhile concern, the exclusive purpose of best effort, and the whole meaning of existence.”

I’m not done exploring Schulz’ tangled threads, and he will never be done with me. In some ways, I will continue for the length of my lifetime following Bruno’s knotted strings the way he also followed them in others. In a review of Maria Kuncewicz’s novel, The Foreigner, Schulz described the nuances between genres which publishers and critics had no name for:

As for literary gender this novel is a portrait:

We have to postulate a special genre for [it] even if it should be the sole specimen in the category. It is a portrait assembled by the incommensurable means of narration and novelistic plot. Unlike a biography, which presents its subject in a process of sequential dynamic development, the portrait has the contours of its physiognomy fixed from the start; development tunnels into depth and becomes dramatic analysis. The actual biographical passage of time is arrested, and the various episodes of a life are arranged not chronologically and pragmatically, but according to their deeper characterological meaning for the line of fate etched in the human palm.

Bruno, there’s so much more I want to say to you, things I can’t say to others or outside the letter form. I understand why you never left home, why you taught at your own high school for the stability it afforded you to write. I understand why you never got married; why you thought artists shouldn’t get married. I wish I didn’t agree with you, but I struggle with this: I can’t decide. I prefer to be alone than with someone who does not understand my headspace.

I write this letter to you in the midst of my tangles. I am trying to draw a portrait of myself that extends beyond the borders of biography, that “tunnels into depth” and “becomes dramatic analysis.” I have to believe that it is possible to do; that it doesn’t matter what literary gender the critics assign my work as long as I ensure it is authentic and true.

I’m very far from where I began this essay, Bruno. It feels as though I’m off on a new beginning. I speak to you from the echoing chamber of my solitary life, my knot tied to yours as it tumbles down the avenues in our dark nights of the soul. Are you listening, Bruno?

I’m trying to find your lost, elusive text—The Book, that exquisitely Jewish idea of a space where all things are contained, the whole of the unseen; a text that is beyond all other texts and one that comes before them, hovering behind their frames. The Book is so immense that it can only be glimpsed in fragments. I know you knew this too; hidden in scrapbooks or newspaper clippings; hidden in the back pages of some Almanac. The more you try to control it, the more you feel it slipping out of your grasp toward some mountain far away—some ancient hilltop inscribed with obscure messages, the teachings of our Jewish ancestors who can’t let me into the cemetery because of my tattoos.

I write you this helpless letter as a means of making contact with whatever aspect of the divine has been laid out for us. When I glimpse it, I will continue writing you.


Naomi Washer is the author of Phantoms (dancing girl press) and American Girl Doll (Ursus Americanus Press) and the translator of Sebastián Jiménez Galindo’s Experimental Gardening Manual (toad press). Other work has appeared in Seneca Review, Passages North, Essay Daily, and other journals. In 2019, she was named one of 30 Writers to Watch by The Guild Literary Complex. She is the editor-in-chief of Ghost Proposal.


Michelle Menting

March 10, 2020

Segues Sealed


It’s the holiday, but the bird is gone. Breadcrumb stuffing goes on to explore new stomach linings. After the table is cleared, plates scraped, plates stacked, I take the stairs, walk down to the basement floor.

Down there: photographs, webbed and mature, glass shards giving grotesque smiles to hands, knees, proud new car owners, pets in portraits, domesticated in frames—a world of squared wood living familiar with silver garland, heelless shoes, generations of rodent shit. I recognize the license plate my sister removed from her Dodge Daytona, the car that hit that doe the year I turned twelve, the summer my sister promised to take me camping with five of my friends. Intact but still wedged against the Wisconsin aluminum: a photo of silhouettes my sister took of me, those friends, the immense lake in the background. In the scene, mist lingers around lake rocks and tween limbs, the six of us balance-beaming tree logs in water.

We were masts and sails. We dreamt of sailing.

To get to that lake, we had to pile into one car instead of splitting in two (my sister’s car had already split that deer in two). Six friends and our chaperones (my two sisters) in the family Ford Escort, where I sat in back with our bags and played tic-tac-toe with Stacey.

Stacey, who would pile into another car, five years & five teenagers later. Stacey, who would sail through the windshield of that car with those teens that night that fall a mile from my house and weeks from Thanksgiving.

This November I sit in a basement room in the center of a kept world. Rest my chin on my knees. So full and digesting all of it: the boxes of decorations, the stacks of National Geographics my mother collected when she was alive, the jars of sea glass from Lake Superior, the snapshots, the silhouettes. Everything stored in a 12 x 14 cinderblock scrapbook. Like chambers of a clogged heart: all segues sealed at the seams, it seems, and in silence, bursting.

Michelle Menting’s creative nonfiction has appeared in New SouthBellingham ReviewOcean State ReviewThreadSuperstition Review, and Quarter After Eight, among other places. Her most recent collection of poems is Leaves Surface Like Skin (Terrapin Books). She lives in Maine and teaches at the University of Southern Maine.


Patrick Thornton

March 10, 2020



Dear JonBenét,

Did you ever notice how in the grocery store checkout line tabloids are always put at just the right height for children to see them? Adults have to look down to see a tabloid, and may not notice if they’re distracted unloading their cart. Children, however, can’t help but read the headlines of tabloids. Looking back on my own childhood, it seems like every time I had to wait in line at the grocery store I was eye-level with your glossy face. I would read the headline each time, and it was always some version of your mother killing you, your father killing you, a stranger killing you. I was eight at the time, and until then had not been fully aware of the fact that children died, and that adults were often to blame.

In 1996 and 1997 my world was changing at a faster rate than I was comfortable, and I found myself perpetually anxious. My aunt got a divorce, and moved in next door to us with my two cousins. My parents took me out of school because of my seemingly precarious health, and schooled me at home. I spent a lot of time by myself. I had an overactive imagination that often turned toxic. I saw rows and rows of your face in the checkout line every week. I was learning about the fragility of the lives we create, and the lives our parents make for us, but I didn’t have the words for it at the time.

Do you think it’s creepy that I’m writing to you? I know about the man who wrote poems about you and built a shrine for you in his home. Some people thought he murdered you. I know about John Mark Karr, and how he claims to have been with you the night you died. DNA proved, then disproved, that he murdered you. But the day after Christmas, 1996 these men were already men, and I was a little boy who didn’t understand why someone wanted you dead. I suppose I’m writing to you now because I’ve been thinking about how much the world has changed since then, but you and your murder continue to exist outside the confines of time.

We are both supposed to be adults now, and I am not supposed to know who you are. Your pageant videos should only be home movies for your family, and strangers should not be leaving flowers outside the home where you once lived.

I suppose too that I wanted to write this letter because I still think about a conversation between my parents I overheard one night shortly after your murder. They were watching your parents on the news, and your mother was telling the country to keep their babies close. I loved listening to grownups talk. Did you? Everything they said seemed interesting. That night I sat on the stairs and listened to my parents talk about whether or not they would cover up for each other if one of them murdered me. My mother said she wouldn’t, my father said he would.  They talked about it like they were deciding what to have for dinner that night. They spoke so matter of fact that my already anxious brain kicked into overdrive, wondering if I needed to worry about my parents murdering me. It’s more of joke now in my family that the thought even crossed my mind, but in the last days of 1996 it felt as though all bets were off.

If I were you I’d be angry about becoming a footnote in my own death. Come to think of it I’m angry on your behalf that this has happened. The constant stream of footage showing you in pageants, the way your parents acted like they didn’t want the case solved, the theories about why there was undigested pineapple in your stomach—all of these elements overshadow the fact that a child was hit in the head, then strangled and left in her basement, and there were suddenly thousands of other children, myself included, who were afraid.

Maybe it was all a freak accident. I tend to believe it was an accident with lifelong consequences for your family. Perhaps there’s a logical explanation for all of it that was lost in a contaminated crime scene. But at the time it was more sinister—it was suddenly dangerous to be a child. And then it never stopped.


A Kid Like You,



Patrick Thornton is a writer and editor living in Chicago. He earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago and completed a writing residency at Vermont Studio Center. He is currently the managing editor of the online literary journal and small press Ghost Proposal. His nonfiction and poetry have previously appeared in Figure 1RedividerEntropyThe CollapsarVol. 1 Brooklyn, and Ranker among others.