“Some Good Hills Lie Around Me” by Carita Keim

Glacially, Holmes County, Ohio, sits on two stratigraphic units of northeast Ohio. Primarily, the Pennsylvanian stretches across most of the county with the Mississippian webbing down into it from the north, like a complicated system of tributaries. But more importantly, the blue line stretches nearly perfectly across the wide center of the rectangular county, delineating the furthermost southern reaches of some ancient glacier. The boundary neatly divides north and south Holmes County into two plateaus. The north belongs to the Glaciated Allegheny Plateau, the south to the Appalachian Plateau. Or to simplify it further, the north begins the plains, and the south belongs to Appalachian hill country.

I don’t know in which region my home is. I do know that that if you turn south down any nearby small road, the small township roads fall and dip and curve. Fields are planted in small valleys that appear abruptly, then fade from view. Red barns nestle into the sides of wooded hills, and cows graze in plunging ravines and hilltops.

To the north, pastures for animals stretch and roll. They’re the “rolling hills” that make Holmes County a popular tourist destination. I’ve climbed those hills, too, and remember the summer day when my brothers and I, lured by the sounds of large equipment, crossed the ridges for what seemed like hours till we came to a man-made cliff. Below us, in the belly of the earth, yellow excavation equipment was digging up earth, putting it on dump trucks, and hauling it away. We sat atop the hill in the summer sunshine, watching. In a ravine on the way back, in a wooded creek, my brothers had found many arrowheads, but now the that area is fenced off with more sharp wire.

It’s the fields on those rolling hills that I think about. Holmes County and the surrounding counties is home to the world’s largest Amish community, and they love the land. Only 25% of them farm today, because their population doubles every twenty-one and a half years, but all of them have roots on the farm. I do, too.

My mom tells me stories about sitting on a second plow behind a team of draft horses, her small hands gripping the reins to calm the horses. My grandfather came beside her with the walking plow, turning both around at the end of rows. She was four, and Amish, at the time. Our home never had anything bigger than a garden, but her expansive farm knowledge stays with her. She called me last week to tell me that they were experiencing blackberry winter, when the blackberry bushes bloom. We had a late spring, and a late blackberry winter, she explains, because full moon occurred scarcely hours after spring arrived. I can’t imagine a world in which this knowledge is useful, but I wish it were. She reminds me of Willa Cather’s country girls, “who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Ántonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new.” The daily struggle to keep the land cultivated gave her a vigor she still carries with her, forty years off the farm.

I sometimes visit the hills that she plowed, but they show no evidence of her. My uncle quit farming them twenty years ago, and now some stranger with a fast tractor leases them. Other fields have been divided into lots and sold to fund my centenarian grandfather’s unexpectedly long life. He tells me that the biggest mistake he made in life was to sell his horses which he followed over every inch of his land.

I drive to work, northwest, only one mile away from the farm where my mother grew up on, where my cousins still live. It’s technically in the glaciated areas, but because of its proximity to the edge of the glacier melting, kames and other hills dot the landscape. More fields stretch across the landscape, often up a gentle hill. At one point of my drive, three country roads span a lazy intersection. A prosperous Amish farm lies to the east, with twenty draft horses grazing in the field.

Off to the side, one lone tree stretches up, high into the sky, surrounded by a white fence. In Holmes County, the Amish bury their dead in the fields, surrounded by white wooden fences. They have no church buildings to bury them near, and a town cemetery would seem a secular, sacrilegious end to their lives. They bury their dead under trees, out in the fields, up on the hills, and the white fences get painted every year. All the other white fences in the area are vinyl, but these are often built from wood that comes from the land nearby.

In the next quadrant lies a series of hills. They recline silently, brushed with corn, or soybeans, sometimes. They loll supinely next to one another in a comfortable harmony, as if they were distinct at one time, but they’ve given in, lying back, slack. My eyes widen, as if to encompass their purpose, being, or substance. They calm and nourish, like a beloved, fruitful mother. They’re silent, with little to say.

I’ve lived in Virginia, where every morning I peered out to see what hue the Shenandoah Mountain took on that day. The majesty of Massanutten Peak called to me from the other side of the valley. Mole Hill, a considerable ascent, stuck out like a zit, or a wart, with a story to match its personality.

The hills in northern Holmes County rest. They have a different sort of personality, as if they’re a different species from the mountains and hills further east and far west. They have no heart-wrenching peak, no summit, where hearts call out to the sky. Shenandoah Mountain challenges people, separating Virginia from West, but these hills complacently agree with their beholder. My geology professor said many of them were formed by the glacier’s last efforts to maintain its heaving, slow-moving form. I pictured the glacier, formidable and foreboding, creeping inevitably across the landscape. Warmed by the land beneath it, it inched on, till bits and chunks of sand and gravel fell out from its underside. The hills testify to its relieved collapse from its race across the landscape. These three hills seemed to have been pushed from out of its underbelly, dropping in a torrent of tiny, disparate ground bits. In all actuality, the glacier may have broken apart several miles north, but the hills always lie inert, as if they’d found their resting spot after a journey of a thousand miles.


Carita B. Keim lives in Berlin, Ohio, surrounded by hills. She graduated from the University of Akron in 2015 and currently is enrolled in the University of the South’s MA program of the School of Letters.

“Shitty Tattoos” by Charlotte Covey

This is a story about boys, which means it’s a story about Zachary.

I

Sebastian was the lead singer of a band, which thrilled me, as I never grew out of being a sixteen year old girl. He had a Deathly Hallows symbol on one forearm, and the Zelda triforce on the other. His first tattoo was an All Time Low skull, and he had The Used’s album art just below his shoulder. He never blinked his eyes. They were light brown, the kind that looks like honey in natural light. He would climb on top of me and stare, and I would close my own in order to pretend that his were, too. Once, we lay in bed for hours, and when the stare was too much, I would look at his arms (an emo museum of sorts), and I would trace the shitty tattoos encasing him from wrist to shoulder. When I left him, I didn’t tell him about his stare, or how I couldn’t help but judge his choice of ink. I didn’t tell him that it bothered me how much he liked me, or how I pictured blue-gray eyes and a scarred knuckle when I looked at him; I just left.

II

Jose had an Angry Bird right below his appendix scar. It looked like one of those temporary tattoos, small and sloppily placed. He got it when all his military buddies decided they’d get shitty Angry Bird tattoos together. Just a little inked bird, right on the side of his stomach. I know he didn’t want it, but he’d never been good at standing up for himself. Later, after I started dating Zachary instead of him, he got a shitty chest piece, one with an angel in the middle and a clock that was unfinished at the top, since he wasn’t allowed to show any ink in his uniform. I haven’t seen him since he left the Marines, but I imagine the clock still open, the twelve at the top slightly cut off. Sometimes, when he calls me in the middle of the night, even five years later, I wonder if I’m the angel, ugly in black and white lines and curves, permanently etched across his chest, as frozen in time as the hands on the left-open clock. Sometimes, less frequently, I realize how presumptuous this is. Jose’s never forgiven me, but he hasn’t forgotten me, either.

III

Jared had so many, all shitty. We’d see each other once or twice a month, and each time, I’d swear he had at least one more than before. The sugar skull with Elvis hair was his newest one, but the most memorable to me was the Raichu with the leg sticking out at an odd angle. I would have been in middle school when he got his Jack Skellington tattoo, and I can imagine how much thirteen-year-old me would have liked it. I was always calling him pretentious, since he only listened to “deep” bands and read The Virgin Suicides for fun, but he was always quick to point out that I was, too. It was hard to argue, since I’d borrow his copy of the book and read it while he traced the matching Brand New tattoos sitting jauntily on either side of my left ankle. On one thumb, he had a tooth and on the other, a nail. I’d watch him slide his hands over my skin and puzzle at the reason for the ink just below his thumbs, wondering what they meant, if they even meant anything at all. But I never asked about them. I’d kiss him and hold those hands in my own, and watch them slip inside me, but never ask him what they meant. It felt like I was learning him through each shitty tattoo, each line inking his story to me, more so than talking to him ever did.

IV

I met Thomas at a show, both of us drunk and slurring. He was in the band, and he held my hand because I asked him to. I traced the huge bass clef on his forearm and pretended to like it. Later, he’d trace the crescent on my neck, the lotus on my thigh. I’d kiss his huge, unabashed Type 1 Diabetes tattoo, colorful and ornate across his wrist, and I would imagine a tattoo on my own and shiver. How nervous it made me, that he could show the world his disease so easily, with such pride, something I couldn’t imagine or understand. How unfairly jealous I was that he could push insulin into his body and immediately avoid catastrophe, while I struggled through therapy before giving up entirely. I stayed with him month after month, an endless back and forth of insults and just this once, only to fall right back in, looking into eyes that were almost the right shade of blue.

V

I had a crush on Martin, the kind giggly girls in sitcoms have. He had dark hair, tight jeans, and the Nintendo logo on his arm. He had a Charmander inked on the other, and later, when I met Jared, I briefly panicked, thinking I might have a thing for men with shitty Pokémon tattoos. Like with Jared, Martin and I never said very much about anything that mattered. He pierced my nose and kissed me in his red and black bedroom, and I’d chatter about anything just to fill the quiet of the next morning, touching the sugar skull on his shin whenever I’d run out of things to say. He was twenty-five, but his black sheets and red curtains reminded me of older days, of Zachary straightening his hair in my parents’ bathroom, Bullet For My Valentine shirt one size too big. Martin’s brown irises never quite looked directly into my eyes, but I guess it was only fair.

VI

Zachary didn’t have tattoos. This was often an argument, as I had a few, and I was always begging him not to get any. My defense, as always, was that he wouldn’t pick out the right one. Guys are known for shitty tattoos, I’d say, and he would roll his eyes, before telling me (unironically) that he wanted an anchor or some shitty Morrissey quote circa 1984. I would cringe, and soon it would become a battle of which was worse, an overused Beatles quote on his clavicle or the overused Harry Potter quote on my left wrist. We were together five years, and he never got one, even though sometimes he went as far as making an appointment. He would sit with guitar in hand, and I would watch him and imagine an anchor on his shoulder, a quote across his chest, a ring on my left finger. He’d play me a melody until I memorized every note, just as I did every word he ever told me. With him, I never stopped talking. I’d watch his hand, the one with the tooth-shaped scar, and I would think about how it would never really fade, just as the ones on my wrists cannot be completely hidden by ink. I’d watch him and think about his blue-gray eyes and unmarked body, the blank canvas of flesh. He didn’t need tattoos for me to know him.


Charlotte Covey is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Currently, she is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as The Normal School, Salamander Review, CALYX Journal, the minnesota review, and Sonora Review, among others. In 2015, she was nominated for an AWP Intro Journal Award. She is co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal and an assistant editor for Natural Bridge.

“Swept Away! Jimmy Pro Washes Out In Terlingua Creek” by William C. Crawford

Jimmy Pro was shooting this spectacular bluff when thunder rumbled into our audio track far to the northwest. Winter, high desert light is spectacular!

A wash-off in the Big Bend Country of Texas may closely resemble an arroyo in neighboring New Mexico. Both are ephemeral streams carrying big water only during winter storms and monsoon season.

The terms are often used interchangeably in the American Southwest. As water wears away geoforms, a deep gully forms from the fast moving current. Some of these irregular fissures are elevated with proper names. Terlingua Creek in Brewster County, Texas falls into this category. But hey! I am getting ahead of myself.

Jimmy Pro runs a mythical tourist agency dubbed OzQuest. I and a couple of other friends are his only real clients. Jimmy huddles at his fading computer in Sydney and churns out resos and itineraries. When I least expect it, an email pops up alerting me to an impending photo shoot at a venue where I really didn’t expect to go.

We have been friends for 50 years now since our Army days as journalists. In some ways, we may have peaked in 1970 as young writers at Fort Hood for the Armored Sentinel. I was arrested for consorting with antiwar protester, actress Jane Fonda. Jimmy Pro blew the lid off improper command influence as the Green Machine prosecuted My Lai perpetrator, Sgt. David Mitchell. On weekends we shot laconic monochrome photos of derelict CenTex railroad depots.

Somehow, decades later, this crazy journey evolved into something of substance. Jimmy coughed up OzQuest and we started rambling about on offbeat photoshoots to El Paso, Death Valley, the Nevada mining country, and even Gotham City.

Late one afternoon a few years ago as we stared into cold cans of Tecate in a dated Motel 6, we conjured up a name for our tediously obsessive, throwback photography. Forensic Foraging was born, and we attempted to stave off the mounting modern wave of techno driven, digital photography.

We rediscovered New York photographer, Stephen Shore, who decades before had helped to popularize color photography. We venerated his minimalist approach. He too was a wanderer who found Texas. His famous Amarillo Postcards fit snuggly into our favored West Texas motif.

We recently landed up in Study Butte, Texas late one January afternoon. Just say Stooody Butte! We hoped to shoot the wild border country of the Big Bend, along the Rio Grande. OzQuest had booked us into the Chisos Mining Company, a funky 1950’s décor lodge which intersected perfectly with Jimmy’s spartan travel tastes.

Terlingua Creek at the entrance to our small Canyon. Placid, then a torrent!

Study Butte is the home of the Terlingua ghost town set in heavily mountainous desert. It features remote getaways and famous chili cook-offs. The most prominent feature is a played out mercury mine which left the earth in perpetual upheaval with arresting, gaping pock holes ringed by dark brown, grooved piles of tailings.

Will Study was once mine superintendent here. Today, snowbirds, in near million dollar RV’s, populate local campgrounds in search of the warm winter sun. Their license plates indicate they hail from snow country – Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Brewster County is the largest county in Texas. Big enough to swallow up Connecticut with room to spare. Ronny Dodson is the smooth drawling sheriff here. He charms local voters over breakfast at a packed buzzing beehive diner. But his larger than life, Big Bend credo often clashes with intrusive, outside values. A big court case brought by pesky liberals forced removal of tiny crosses from his sheriff’s cruisers.

Ronny often blasts the preachy Texas media by saying “there is no border security problem in the Big Bend.” That’s because traffic back and forth over the border runs unfettered by the law on a daily basis. Jimmy Pro is mesmerized by the Sheriff whom he knows a bit from his previous sojourns here. They have a history of swilling very early morning coffee and solving complex problems.

One afternoon we decided to forage Terlingua Creek which bisects the lunar mercury mine site. The water was low and the well-polished creek stones provided a dry foothold. Jimmy led the way upstream in brilliant winter sunshine. Soon 100 foot, craggy bluffs soared overhead. The creek bent slightly northwest and Jimmy cooed excitedly as we grabbed some imposing images in the magnificent winter light.

Off on the creek bank framed horizon, some unexpected black clouds flirted with 7,000 foot peaks. Far above us, but out of sight, squatters’ dogs yapped happily in the ghost town. Squealing children attested to the families who were living rent free in long abandoned, stone miners’ cabins. An incongruous audio track squeezed into the mix. Barely audible across many miles, we almost failed to hear faint thunder even as we shot the sun bathed bluffs above us.

Old Rugged Crosses–Terlingua ghost town, high above the Creek. Mexican mercury miners died in droves of poisoning from the deadly extraction process.

Jimmy Pro squinted through his camera viewfinder. He was isolating curious formations etched in the cliffs. The walls laced with traces of mercury, saltpeter, and even a bit of silver, were popping out in front of his lens. He suddenly lowered his camera and said matter-of-factly, “The damn water is coming up!” And it was, now four inches instead of two. My feet were suddenly getting wet inside my low cut hiking boots.

Now Jimmy Pro is a seasoned trekker in Australia’s quixotic outback. A light bulb suddenly exploded deep in his brain. “Crawdaddy! Big water is coming down through here from that mountain storm!” he screeched. But 100 foot bluffs blocked our lateral escape. A faint gurgling rumble cascaded south into our little canyon.

Things then turned into shit in a hurry when we tried to quickly retrace our steps to the bridge where we left our rental car. Terlingua Creek was suddenly a berserk washing machine tumbling us end over end. I caught a glimpse of Jimmy for only an instant as his backpack bobbed into view as I spun momentarily to the surface. A silly thought crossed my racing mind. Forensic Foraging can be dangerous.

We bobbed quickly down to the bridge more than a mile away. Jimmy tried to plaster his drenched body against the concrete abutment to arrest his journey. I was still midstream in the full grip of the now raging current. I flashed straight under the bridge and looked back to see bubbling brown water scrape Jimmy off his concrete finger hold.

My feet no longer touched bottom! We were in a severe desert flash flood. The sun still shone brightly and I saw patches of blue sky overhead as I tumbled toward the distant Rio Grande. Somehow the current swept Jimmy past me, and the steep terrain began to flatten out. The creek banks were now only three feet high with scrub shrubs projecting out over the raging torrent.

I traded upside down for right side up. In what I could imagine was only a terrified apparition, I observed a solitary figure hanging out from a stout shrub on the bank. Then I noticed a white cowboy hat above an outstretched arm. Jimmy grabbed the proffered hand under the white hat. I knew this might be my last chance. I mustered a little strength and swam straight for Jimmy.

My body inverted and corrected at least twice! Suddenly, I slammed into Jimmy dead on. I bear hugged for dear life. A familiar rich baritone voice out of a Marlboro commercial calmly intoned. “I think you boys should stop right here.” Even in my panic, I instantly recognized Sheriff Ronny Dodson under his trademark white hat. He had one big hand on Jimmy Pro and his other was squeezing that stout shrub. A big, brown uniformed deputy was back up on the bank reaching to grab his boss.

Now remember, Jimmy and Ronny had history. On Jimmy’s previous forays to Brewster County they sipped steaming coffee and unraveled world problems at the now defunct barbecue truck operated by Cosmic Cathy, a local icon.

As the sheriff wrapped our shivering bodies into some of his handy space blankets, the deputy helped us toward the nearby cruiser. As I slid shakily along the back fender, I noticed a small cross now faintly painted over because of an unwelcomed lawsuit. I placed my index finger lightly on the cross and gave silent thanks. Screw the ACLU! When you are in deep shit down in the wild Big Bend, then Sheriff Ronny Dodson dispatched by God is probably the only help coming.

AFTER

A few days later we returned to the safety of El Paso. As we often do, we were snorting afternoon Tecates in The Tap, voted the best local dive bar for nine years in a row. Lingering mud and grit still infested every orifice of our aging bodies. I allowed as how my chronic hemorrhoids probably soaked up a toxic dose of mercury poisoning during our downstream ride. “Well Crawdaddy,” opined Jimmy Pro dryly, “might just be that they will be falling off, that is, if you live.”

Some 30 days after our washout, Sheriff Ronny Dodson opened a large, flat FedEx package. The sender’s address said Jimmy Pro. A framed 36×18 photo of a blood red sunrise over Study Butte appeared. Just a thank you from a serious shooter who respects law and order down on the Big Bend. Sheriff Dodson immediately began clearing wall space behind his desk.


William C. Crawford is a writer and photographer based in Winston-Salem, NC. He was a combat photojournalist in Vietnam. He has published extensively in various formats including fiction, creative nonfiction, memoirs, book reviews, and essays.

“Finishing Plates” by Ashley Shaw

I never shared Avery’s pain at having to finish my plate. Instead of forcing everyone to stay seated at the table until our sauces were dried and crusted onto our otherwise empty plates like my absurdly picky sister, I just ate the questionable things first. Mindlessly eat the canned, steamed, or microwaved veggies first, leaving more time to savor homemade mashed potatoes and low-and-slow cooked pot roast. My mom knew exactly what I was doing, and she loved me for it. I was a genius.

If I left anything on my plate, especially on a meat and potatoes kind of night, it was a single blob of inedible fat. And most nights, I went back for seconds, finishing round two before my younger sister Avery worked up the courage to touch the mushy green sides. If the diced tomatoes in the spaghetti sauce were too chunky, she slid them to the perimeter of her plate. Diced onions, green peppers, mushrooms– if they were big enough to find, they were similarly exiled.

Back then, mom still served bread at every meal. She used it as a bargaining tool with Avery.

“You can have another piece when you finish your meat,” she said. Avery pouted her puffy bottom lip and let out her signature, exasperated huff. The sighing was tolerated, but if those eyes rolled to the top of her head, she got out of finishing her plate by getting her rear-end popped.

I just kept eating. I didn’t know how to help her, because I couldn’t comprehend her resistance to food. I was older, so I was supposed to be bigger. There were only two and a half years between us, but nearly twenty pounds distinguished me from her. She was a gymnast, and I was a mediocre soccer and basketball player. Despite years of Dad trying to coach my skills to overcome my emotions, I still came out of my grade school years with a pat on the back for effort and my family’s insistence that I ran “like a Barbie”. The problem with this accusation (aside from the embarrassment) is the insinuation that I was physically flawless. I don’t remember feeling athletic or thin as a kid, and looking at team pictures reaffirms my memory. The roundness of my soft face accentuated by round wire frames, and my neck folded too noticeably under my chin. I was never the big girl on any team, but I was the fluffy one who couldn’t run (and who certainly did not resemble Barbie).

By the time I reached high school, the TV stayed on during dinner. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” replaced our table’s “One More Bite” game. Pubescent Avery still managed to dig onions out of a monotone spaghetti sauce, dragging the translucent enemies to the sidelines of her plate and leaving thin trails of red in their wake.

“I’ve got the first question,” she always said clearly over the sound of Regis Philbin introducing the next hot seat contestant.

We sat at the table as mom handed our plates through the open wall behind my seat. Avery’s seat was to the left of me, Dad’s on my right, and Mom across from me. I sat squarely facing the TV. I don’t remember ever choosing my spot at the table based on anything but its proximity to the stovetop. All I had to do was turn 90 degrees right or left, and my plate could be full again. Or my fork could be in the mashed potatoes, my spoon in the chili, my hand on the Parmesan asparagus.

At that point I just wanted to be full to make my mother happy; I wanted my plate to be clean to make my father happy. And I wanted to answer correctly more than the first question Regis read to Avery. To make my father happy.

Ninth grade was the year I abandoned basketballs for pom-poms. I knew it was an inevitable decision, but my dad’s eyes told me I was throwing all of his coaching efforts away. He couldn’t correct my form, practice with me in the backyard. But if I could answer the $25,000 question scrolling across the TV while all but licking my plate clean, Dad might forget I was as disappointing as a fruitless Phone-A-Friend.


At Grandnancy’s house (my dad’s mother), there was no “kids’ table.” The dining room table accommodated ten chairs and place settings with just enough elbowroom for most adults. French glass doors let the sun shine in and bounce off of Grandnancy’s silver tableware. The ornate spoon, fork, and knife handles that matched the delicate butter knife and the big two-pronged fork used to cut, stab, and serve the turkey. Even in November the crystal water glasses perspired on the white linen placemats. By the end of the meal, those little dewdrops would be replaced by greasy, sticky fingerprints and several shades of lipstick: rosy, translucent pink from my mother and fluorescent violet from Grandnancy.

Sitting at the adult table meant eating like an adult. At least this is how Grandnancy saw it. Mushy cornbread dressing, sliced cranberry jelly still shaped like the can it plopped out of, asparagus with mystery hollandaise sauce. If we wanted macaroni and cheese or warm yeast rolls or anything made without cream of something soup, we had no choice but taste it all.

“Just a taste,” my mother said, loud enough for us to hear as we all watched Grandnancy scoop mounds of food on top of more food on my plate and Avery’s. She piled every casserole and overcooked vegetable and gelatinous dressing right onto our plates without regard for what was touching or running together—or what we actually wanted to eat.
Inevitably, Avery’s eyes would start leaking with fear and disgust. As Dad recited, “Bless us thy lord for these gifts we are about to receive,” I counted the number of bites I would have to force down to be finished. This wasn’t a normal meat-starch-veggie dinner around our safe four-person table that faced the television. Avery might have been gagging in an effort to swallow one more bite, and I might have eaten enough to see white shining space again. While Mom teetered on the line between sympathy for Avery and “taking her to the bathroom” (code for straighten up or I’ll give you something to really cry about), I felt accomplished.

It didn’t matter to Grandnancy, whose voice I still hear when I’m sitting at any table. “Your plate’s not clean. You didn’t even touch your broccoli or sweet potato casserole. Are you going to dump all of that in the trash?”
Suddenly the clean white spots on my plate were covered again. She didn’t give me more, but I saw that there was more. Those single bites didn’t satisfy her, even though she knew my mother’s rule: “Just one bite.”

“I taught your daddy the importance of never being wasteful. When they were growing up, my kids ate everything on their plates at every meal.” She glared at me, her eyes forcing my fork to my mouth. Avery cried and Mom rubbed her back, half pitying her and half making sure she wasn’t actually choking.

I watched my dad reach for more bread, more butter. He didn’t disagree with his mother. I just shoveled in more until he and Grandnancy agreed: “Good girl.”

Avery and I would have traded our equally as mountainous dessert plates for a kids’ table on Thanksgiving Day. Grandnancy’s eyes still would have found our wastefulness, but we might have gotten away with a smaller plate.
I imagine my dad’s earliest memories of sitting at a dinner table in their Brooklyn apartment, before they sought refuge in Alabama: his mother’s makeup failing to hide another bruise; his little brother crying because there wasn’t enough on his plate; and Dad watching his father sip bourbon whiskey in front of a black and white TV set, the courtesy of setting his plate on the dinner table going to waste.

Today, when my mother leaves town for work, my dad is alone with our dachshund Gus. Lucky for Gus, there is only one meal he has to worry about, and it is guaranteed to be scooped out of the same Rubbermaid storage container every day, twice a day. While that plastic cylinder with the broken blue lid is certainly full, the pantry where it rests is sure to be bare. When mom is out of town, dad resorts to scavenging in his own home.

“When Payton is gone,” he’ll boast to anyone in earshot, “I don’t have to buy groceries or take out the trash every week. I hardly ever run the dish washer, and I don’t have to replace the toilet paper rolls constantly.”

If Mom doesn’t prep and freeze chicken enchiladas or store a pot of chili in the outside fridge before traveling, Dad survives on the random things hiding behind the desirable contents of the pantry shelves—old boxes of bowtie pasta, canned cranberry sauce, nearly empty and certainly stale Cheez-Its, a banana moon pie from Mardi Gras three years ago. The fridge is full of expired salad dressings and mystery plastic containers.

He’ll find something. And, he’ll boast about it when we tease him later.
“I fried that last egg and slathered some’a that horseradish mustard on top. Put it on the two ends of a loaf, toasted it, and had a little sandwich.”

Or one of his prouder concoctions: “I had a few flour tortillas left and some’a that spicy cheese. So I just tossed that cheese in the tortilla, nuked it in the microwave for a minute, and had a dang good quesadilla.”
We might live in Alabama now, but my dad’s accent is more of an impression of the southern twang surrounding us. He was born in Long Island, grew up in Brooklyn, went to high school in Mobile and college in Kansas. So his voice doesn’t reveal anything until he starts “yappin.’” The words run together or get chopped off just like those of his southern-tongued friends, but it’s not harsh or unpolished.


To this day, he cannot fully accept the fact that Avery and I are hungry (or nearly starving, really) for lunch by 1:00 when we “just ate breakfast” at 8 a.m. His voice echoes in my head every time my stomach growls: “I’m hungry,” my body says. To which my father’s voice replies, “Again?” I can even see the incredulity on his face, his lightly spotted skin and perfectly moussed hair all cocked to the side like a confused puppy’s.

On a ten-hour road trip to Texas, Dad, Avery, my boyfriend Alex, and I rode together in Dad’s Corolla. At every stop Alex asked Dad, “Are you sure you don’t want to take a break, let me drive a while?”
And every time he met the same resistance. “Oh no, I can’t sleep in the car.” In other words, “No way in hell am I handing over the wheel. If something goes wrong and someone gets hurts, it will be my fault. My fault because I wasn’t driving.”

This is how he thinks about hunger, too. If he eats too much before everyone else, it will be his fault that someone is left hungry.

So, when everyone has left the table, dishes are stacked in the sink awaiting willing hands, and wine glasses are refilled, Dad is standing over the leftovers on the kitchen island forking in a few more bites. No plate, no napkin, and sometimes just his fingers. At home this is normal and acceptable. In someone else’s kitchen, it’s a little embarrassing. He is the last to make a plate and the first to scavenge for whatever is left.


Watching Dad hunched over his plate at a mediocre restaurant, shoveling in over-dressed salad and slathering his bread in the leftover pools of oil and vinegar and dried herbs, I thought about empty plates. His clear glass salad plate had been full and empty at least twice before our entrees arrived. When they did come, I watched mine with disgust as each little bite I tried made the contents of the plate multiple. If I nibbled at the gelatinous risotto, the pile of sticky once individual noodles spread closer to the edge of my growing plate. If I ate one undercooked slice of squash from the pathetically grilled vegetable kabob, three more raw inedible morsels appeared on the stick.

Dad doesn’t want to savor the distinct flavors of each bite. He doesn’t care what the spices do to first his taste buds then his mind. He wants to be physically satisfied. He wants to eat until he is full and the amount of food he consumed is comparable to the dollar amounts listed on the menu.

Food is still a necessity, not a luxury or a hobby or an art. For him. But maybe for me, too.

As hard as I’ve tried to develop a discerning palate, one that refuses to finish a meal that is not satiating or rewarding or nourishing to more than my stomach, the guilt of leaving a morsel behind lingers. The hands that prepared the overcooked filet, the chef who struggles to keep the kitchen stocked, the waitress who depends on our tips to feed her kids. The money that is thrown away if I don’t take the last few bites. The feelings and culinary confidence jeopardized if I didn’t enjoy someone’s home-cooked meal.

After college, my seat was waiting for me at the kitchen table, and the TV played more loudly during meals than I remembered. I took advantage of not having to pay for the groceries by exploring my knack for turning a recipe into a pleasurable meal. I cooked my parents’ dinner. I was a college graduate with more time for food than planning for the future. I cooked Mom’s oatmeal, packed my lunch and hers, sweated for an hour at bootcamp class, showered, and opened the store I managed before 10:00 AM. Most nights I would make it home and have dinner on the stove before my parents were met at the back door by our yapping wiener dog.

We ate and watched “our shows,” the ones Dad was recording anyway so he could re-watch tomorrow. He’d need to assure himself that the sound of my voice didn’t drown out a pivotal revelation of plot or character, or that mom hadn’t blocked the exposed killer from episodes three through seven when she got up to put her plate in the sink.

Most of our family dinners were easy. Easy for them because I cooked and cleaned; easy for me because I didn’t know what else to do. Avery wasn’t there to throw a fit over cilantro or too much red pepper (her palate had matured slightly since childhood). Mom could always be counted on for a glass of wine (or three) every night of the week. And Dad was happy, too, as long as I didn’t say anything controversial.
“How was your day, Dad?” turns into a debate about healthcare. Watching the 6:00 PM news together, incites a flurry of ear-piercing epithets: dumb broad, bunch ‘o ‘mos (homosexuals), niggers and niglets.

“Why is this water bottle’s label written in Spanish?” boils my blood and leads to a drowned plate.

I hear the words stammering out of me nearly as shaky as my hands on the plate’s perimeter. “What do you mean why?”

The lines in the corners of his eyes deepen, one side of his mouth turns up in snarlish incredulity. He squints at the half empty plastic bottle. “This is America. We speak English here. If you’re drinking out of this water bottle you should speak English.”

He knew what he was inciting, provoking, antagonizing. He was already blocking out the sound of my slamming door, forgetting my overreaction, buttering another piece of bread.

“That’s one of the most racist things you have ever said, and you know you said it on purpose. You knew exactly how I was going to react to that statement. Fuck you, Dad.”

It used to be easy. Eat more than Avery; say something intelligent. Now bringing my rational open mind to my father’s table along with the food caused me more pain than those few bites of green bean once caused Avery. Sometimes I imagine what really goes through his head when I talk about literature or war or religion. Is he picturing us back in our driveway shooting basketballs into a now dilapidated net? Does he imagine what would have been different and easier if I had been a boy? Does he wish I was still his naïve little girl?

It was easier for us to hug each other before I understood “love thy neighbor” as more than a religious commandment. And it was easier to finish my plate at his table before his intolerance was as evident of his love of bread.


Since graduating from the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa in 2016, Ashley has been reading, writing, and submitting as persistently as the shampoo bottle’s mantra “lather, rinse, repeat.” She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, their puppy, and a growing collection of 3D printers. Currently, she works for Hoffman Media on Southern Lady magazine.

“Blue Blazes” by Cameron Hunt McNabb

Between 7000 and 10,000 Kelvin, a flame blazes blue. But this is only my most recent understanding of blue blazes.

The earliest comes from my grandmother, who was also ignorant of anything in Kelvin. Her simile “It’s as hot as blue blazes out there” was reserved for the hottest days of Florida’s August, when temperatures between 7000 and 10,000 Kelvin actually seemed possible. It was always preceded by an exclamation, like “goodness gracious” or “heavens to Betsy,” idioms of equally unknown origin; and it was always pronounced in a Southern drawl, a leftover from our family’s post-bellum days in Georgia, something in our blood that even the Florida mosquitoes could not drain.

As I grew older, though, I realized that Florida does blaze blue. Caribbean blue on kichy beach towels, or chlorinated blue in roadside waterparks, or plastic blue in the rooftop tarps after a hurricane. But it also blazes the electric blue of dragonflies, and the slate blue of mosquitoes’ vicious eyes, and the cobalt blue of scales on armadillos. The northern springs cooly boil the aquifer of turquoise blue while the oceans churn like stonewashed denim. The sky before a summer shower blazes a leaden blue and moves like a coffin lid sliding closed.

To tourists, Florida may be the emerald green peninsula jutting off of the bottom right of a map, or the exuberant yellow of the personified sun, with his oversized white gloves and thick black sunglasses. But Florida is blue. And it can be as hot as blue blazes here.


mcnabb-profile-pictureCameron Hunt McNabb is an Assistant Professor of English in Lakeland, FL and is a fourth-generation Florida native. She has published with the Tampa Review Online, Deep South, Neutron Protons, and Creative Loafing. Much of her work focuses on her home state.

“She Was Playing a Part I Could Understand” by Terry Barr

I watched The Last Picture Show again this week. Sonny, and that poor girlfriend of his, “Charlene,” are still making out in the last row of the Royal Theater, The Father of the Bride playing in their semi-shadowed faces. As they kiss, Sonny, played by Timothy Bottoms, is watching the screen because even Spencer Tracy is more interesting than Charlene. What he’s really eyeing, though, is the moment “Duane” (Jeff Bridges) and “Jacy” (Cybill Shepherd) walk into the theater and plunk down in the row in front of him. It’s Jacy he wants. Later on, he gets her, too, but only for a while, only until her parents come to the rescue. His rescue, as Jacy’s mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, puts it, while Jacy’s father rushes this soon-to-be “un-bride” away.

Forty years ago I only had eyes for Shepherd. But when I re-watched the film, not only did Burstyn outclass, out lust, Shepherd in my eyes, but so did Cloris Leachman, the “coach’s wife.” Life changes. Eyes grow far-sighted.

But back to that last row.

Only once in my life did I make out with a girl in the back of the theater, side one of the Bessemer Twin. Maybe the movie was The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a bad horror film, part of the timeless Friday Night After the Football Game Horror Shows. This particular night was the November Friday of my senior year, our Homecoming night. But this particular girl was not Melissa Krahenbuhl, the girl I escorted to the midfield stripe in the Homecoming Court earlier that night, the girl I would be photographed with for our 1973 yearbook. No, Melissa had another date for the official and unofficial festivities after the game: with Don Griffis, number 62 in your scorecard, our team’s starting left guard. My “Duane.”

I knew better than to challenge “Don-uane,” because of his barrel-chest, his reckless rep, and because back then, like Sonny and Duane, we were friends. Friends just didn’t do that to each other even if the Melissas of this world wanted them to. Which she didn’t, leaving me without a homecoming date. Leaving me to go to the game with my equally dateless friend Jim.

Earlier that evening, after she fried us two of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever eaten, Jim’s mother gave him and me $20 to “have fun” that night. Like Jim, I had no big plans for spending that money.

What I did have was another kind of girl.

I met Diane the previous week working at a Bessemer Jaycees Haunted House. For three straight nights, I wove stories of zombies and mummies to the unsuspecting little kids paying their dollar fee, while the other bad actors near me menaced them with masks and fake hatchets and blood in this soon-to-be-abandoned house on 18th Street.

Diane and her twin sister Denise were working at whatever scary exhibit needed them. Mainly, though, they kept hanging around me, letting me think I was in charge. I kissed both of them the second night, and I thought I knew which was which.

As I entered the run-down ghost house on the third night, All Hallows Eve, Diane leapt to hug me. Then I knew, though I kept what I knew to myself.

She was only 14, an eighth grader, and I was 17, ready to graduate in six months.

I should have known better with a girl like her. I should have known something about the law.

Especially when she asked me to meet her at the movies after the game, asking me not to tell anyone about it beforehand.

When Diane saw me enter the theater, she immediately signaled to meet her in the back row, center-left. As we sat French-kissing in the rear of the Bessemer Twin, all I thought about was how well she did it, for a girl her age, and how great it felt to hold her and kiss her while the movie was playing; while Vincent Price continued frightening no one; while my other friends, who surely saw us but didn’t care, were figuring out what this night meant, what the rest of high school held. What lay in the unrecorded world beyond ours.

One night a week later, I came home from riding around with my friends.

“Some girl called for you,” my mother said, her tone suggesting that I was on notice. “But she didn’t leave a name.”

I thought about calling her back. If I had been Sonny and she had been Jacy, I might have played some lonely Hank Williams record, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” perhaps. But this was Alabama; I didn’t feel lost or even very southern. So I put Neil Young’s Harvest on my portable hi-fi.

I didn’t know then how much I should have known about girls that young; the knowing took these forty years, until I had a 14-year old daughter of my own. A daughter pursued by 17-year olds: my potential Jacy, who once allowed me to answer the phone when one of her Duanes called. It felt good to cower a boy who tried so secretly to take advantage of a girl he should have left alone. Despite hormones and cautionary tales, your fourteen-year old daughter is your daughter, a fact that got me to remembering that lost Homecoming night and Diane, a fatherless girl.

Though I have no idea where my theater girl is now, she comes back to me so easily when I think of last picture shows and high school kids longing to be adults and taking advantage of what they have in their arms, and all those days when I never knew who I was or what I truly wanted.

Two years later, the Bessemer Twin Theater closed. For a while it became the temporary library in town, but now, it’s just a shell, nothing at all really. Not even a record of itself.


terrybarrTerry Barr is the author of Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother. His work has appeared in Eclectica Magazine, Blue Lyra Review, Bookends Review, Loud Zoo, South Writ Large, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Steel Toe Review. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

“This is Not a Tree” by Renae Tucker

I invited a murderer to several of my birthday parties. That sounds harsh, but so does a knife plunging into a thirteen-year-old’s body. She got me Polly Pockets, I think. Then, we played games like hide and seek, but on steroids. Two teams, one hides, the other seeks and defends the “jail” (a designated area, a tree will suffice). The hiding team, if captured, goes to jail BUT can be freed if tagged out by another member of their own team. Simple enough. When it got too dark to play outside, because dangerous things could be lurking, we were called inside by our loving suburban mothers and tucked in by our fathers who had to wake up early in order to put food on our Pottery Barn tables. It was just a game, then. That jail was just a tree.

I remember the murderer’s room was pink, or maybe purple? Doesn’t matter. Her grandmother painted fairies and a castle on one of the walls, because all little girls love fairies and the color pink, or purple. Like most moms, hers drove the standard suburban cul-de-sac minivan that could sit seven people comfortably because moms have mom stuff to do that requires mom space. The murderer’s dad worked for NASA, that was pretty tight. Her house was the place to be with its endless piles of toys that were never put away (this bothered other parents but only contributed to it being the favorite house among the kids). Average is a word one could have used to describe the household, quirky at most.

We weren’t close. It was more like one of those obligatory friendships through a mutual friend, or in my case, through living in the same small neighborhood. That’s not to say I didn’t like her, I did. We just never had enough in common to keep our relationship going past elementary school. Eventually, I replaced playing outside with listening to boy bands, wearing way too much eyeliner, and chatting on AIM. My username was sweetpea964u@aol.com. I’m not proud of it. My hard earned calluses from running barefoot on asphalt and climbing trees faded at the same pace my childhood friendships did. I let them.

I’m nineteen, in my college apartment, and on Facebook expecting to find that my mom has tagged me in yet another video of puppies or “How to Make Shrimp Lettuce wraps.” My childhood friend’s mugshot appears and I do a double take (or double scroll?) My first thought: it was one of those “What would you go to jail for?” quizzes that people take for fun and her result was murder. Keep scrolling. More mugshots, not only hers but her male accomplice’s as well, statuses claiming, “I went to middle school with that girl!” and “What a shame” and “This is so creepy.” I click on a link. The only words I am able to process are “13 year old,” “dead,” “accessory to,” and “no motive found.” I call my mom for answers; gossip spreads like butter where I’m from.

It’s true. There is a dead girl and someone I know, or knew, was involved. Things like this didn’t happen in my life. If anyone I knew was ever in the news it was for stuff like saving ducklings from a sewer and returning them safely back to their mother.

I realized I had not thought of her for years until the day I saw her mugshot. From what I remembered, which wasn’t much, she had a whiney voice. Imagine the sound of a mosquito in your ear, and at the same time that mosquito was in your ear, an infant uncontrollably began to cry next to you. That was her voice. But she was nice. Not the nice where you’re like, “Oh her? Yeah she’s pretty nice,” but actually nice, which made up for the whole voice thing. So nice that if you asked me to line up everyone I knew since birth in order of who I thought was capable of murder, she would be maybe fourth to last. She oozed innocence in an almost annoying way. I never wondered what she did on the weekends because I felt as though I already knew she stayed in and did homework by choice.

I learned once that people in pain tend to create false versions of themselves in order to cope with life.

As the story grew and pictures of her haunted every news channel, I discovered more about her than I ever thought existed. I discovered through media alone that she had a tattoo of a semicolon behind her ear, a symbol of hope for those battling thoughts of suicide to imply that although they could have ended their story, they chose to keep going.

Over time it was revealed that she participated in the murder in order to feel a part of something. She claimed she felt as though she was a member of a “secret club” with someone, her partner in crime, who “understood her.” Any person hearing this story would feel sorry for the dead girl and I did, but I also felt sorry for my childhood acquaintance, sorry that this was her way out.

In my apartment you’ll find things like colorful throw pillows serving absolutely no purpose, a hand painted sign that says “never chase anything but drinks and dreams,” and a wall full of cut and pasted Franzia wine boxes. Typical college girl stuff. In the murderer’s dorm they found the thirteen-year-old’s Minions blanket and a pink cellphone, all stuffed into the same bag the body was.

She began breaking and entering into my dreams and pleading to me that she did not do it. I finally decided she and her walls were the same, loud and girly. Covering truth with pink or purple paint. I was angry.

In what seemed like no time at all, our childhood recreational activity became her reality. Except this time there was no one there to tag her out. No jail that ceased to be a jail when it got dark outside, just a cell in darkness and in light. No paint to cover the cold, dry, cement walls. No fairies. No castles.


img_1871Renae Tucker is an undergraduate at Salisbury University majoring in English, concentrating in creative writing, and minoring in ethnic and global literature. She was the associate fiction editor for Scarab, Salisbury’s in-house literary journal.