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November 2022

Image by Art Institute of Chicago
Art History
by Carol H Schlank

          Tillie is unpacking her husband Edward’s suitcases in his new room in the Finger Lakes Nursing Home. Edward sits in a wheel chair--one side of his face slack and distorted as if by a massive dose of novocaine. His head tilts on the bad side toward his shoulder, bobbing up and down like a child’s wind-up toy. He follows Tillie’s movements with his good eye as she places neatly folded shirts and underwear in the bureau drawers. She hangs his favorite tweed jacket in the closet, slides the empty suitcases under the hospital bed, and surveys the room. She is very thin, and her skin is wrinkled around her eyes and mouth and under the green silk scarf she has tucked into her suit jacket.

 

          Edward moves his tongue along the sloping side of his bottom lip. He makes a sound, a hissing syllable. “Sssit.”

 

          “Yes, Edward,” says Tillie, resigned. She sits until he seems to have forgotten her; then she gets up quietly and goes to the dresser for his comb and brush.

 

          She is combing his thin white hair into place when the nurse’s aide appears. Tillie studies the girl and approves. The girl is young, but has a confident, solid look, as if she knows she has a mission here.

 

          “Is your husband all settled in?” she asks Tillie. Her pretty round face is concerned.

 

          Tillie scans the young woman’s name tag. “Yes, Christine. I think he has everything he will need.”

 

          Tillie looks at the braided rugs, the Swedish ivy on the window sill, and the bright prints she has hung.

 

She smiles at the girl. “He likes TV. He can manage the remote switch himself.”

 

          Christine nods, approving. “It’s a nice TV.” Her eyes move to the prints. “Are those by famous artists?”

 

          She’s certainly not sophisticated, Tillie thinks, but that won’t matter now. She’s pretty enough.

 

          She smiles at Christine again. “The one of the nude at the picnic is by Edouard Manet. The lighthouse is by Edward Hopper. They’re two of my Edward’s favorites.

 

          Edward’s good eye slides toward the pictures. His mouth forms a slanted O. “Monet,” he says. “Wwwhere’s..”

 

          “There wasn’t room for everything, Edward,” Tillie says. “I did my best.” She picks up her coat from the leather easy chair.

 

Christine moves quickly to hold it for her.

 

          “Thank you.” Tillie has deep smile lines and even teeth. She buttons her coat, adjusts her scarf, and puts both hands up to her white hair arranging it on her head as if it were a hat.

 

“What did Mr. Blake do before he got sick?” Christine asks.

 

          “He was an art history professor at the University of Rochester.” Tillie raises her voice. “He was very popular with the students, weren’t you, Edward?” She looks past him at the window which frames the nearby Bristol Hills.

 

          She sighs and goes to him. She adjusts the plaid throw rug around his legs and leans over to kiss his forehead. “Goodbye, Edward,” she says. “Christine will look after you now.”

 

          Edward looks past Tillie at Christine. “Hellllo, C’stine,” Edward says. His crooked smile looks oddly rakish. His good eye studies Christine, who averts her eyes and pulls a pad and pencil from her uniform pocket.

 

“What kind of juice would you like, Mr. Blake?” she asks. “Orange or cranberry?”

 

          Tillie watches them a moment, then turns to leave. She closes the door quietly behind her. As she walks down the corridor, her one-inch heels make clicking sounds which echo in the tiled hallway.

 

          The front door of the nursing home is heavy oak with brass fittings. Tillie tugs it open the necessary crack and slips out into the crisp March day. She pauses and takes a deep breath of the early spring air before walking briskly down the steps. Then smiling broadly and swinging her purse like a school girl, she almost seems to skip as she heads to the parking lot and her car.

Bio

A specialist in preschool education, Carol H. Schlank co-authored three biographies for young children: about Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rachel Carson; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She also co-wrote a book for educators on fostering gender equity in early childhood programs. “Art History” is her only published work of literary fiction.

Story
Poem
shallow focus photography of person hold
Where we go from here
by Katherine Gaffney

There’ s no go-to guide like there is for a failed
garden or to lift white water stains from wood.
There’s no intuition for this as there is when
turning leftovers into new. It’s an autopsy,
working to find out what went wrong, bad:
the blood, the brain, the heart? For a while,
our blood went cold so we held each other
in bed to warm what was left of us, together.
We tried the guide to a failed garden, churned
our soil, sprinkled pellets of fertilizer as trinkets
left with notes for the other to wake up to: A Star
Wars T-shirt, an omelet in the pan. Keep asking
each other, how to move forward and the answer
will surely be nestled like a bullet in one of our guts;
if we dig deep enough we’ll extract it with tweezers
as in a game of dark Operation. Our language
has changed. What once coded love, now codes
fraught. We are the weather that humans only
pretend to predict with precision.
between us grows wider every day.

Bio

Katherine Gaffney completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has previously appeared in jubilat, Harpur Palate, Mississippi Review, Meridian, and elsewhere. She has attended the Tin House Summer Writing Workshop, the SAFTA Residency, and the Sewanee Writers Conference as a scholar. Her first chapbook, Once Read as Ruin, was published at Finishing Line Press. Her first book is forthcoming from Tampa University Press after winning the Tampa Review Poetry Prize.

CNF
Image by Olga Tutunaru
An encyclopedia of mistakes
by Amanda Bramley

Apology
My feet say they’re sorry. All the miles I did not walk, lost for steps I took                instead. My mouth says “sorry” for words I should have said.

 

Black
High school. Junior year. The day before my last day, my sister gave me a black   eye. She was thirteen. Even though I had her permission to borrow that white      pair of shoes, I did not have her approval to throw them over the loft’s railing,      hitting her head like a bullseye target. In response, she stomped up those pink-  carpeted stairs, turned me around, and punched me. I didn’t think it was                apparent. My forehead’s pain. A feeling that wouldn’t show. Until I drove, ice pack in hand, to the Blimpie Sub Shop to show my friends. B.P. was working. He stepped out from behind the vegetable assembly line, and said, “You better sit down.”

 

"C," Only One
I received one “C” in high school, but I never really tried or worked for my A’s and B’s. They would just appear four times a year on a piece of paper in the mail. They had no meaning. But that one average letter had many.
   (See also Eichhorn)

 

Dad
Lessons I’ve learned from my dad: Be aware. Be open to perspectives other than your own. Peripheral vision is essential. He, on the other hand, exists in a realm of his own construction. How could he have lived so long and never have stepped outside to survey the view? The crux of his unhappiness: He’s trying to make everyone fit into the rooms of his understanding. When he lost his toe recently, I felt guilty for judging him. I know that he’s lonely, but only as a result of his own craftsmanship, and I pity him: an emotion a child should not have for a parent.

Eichhorn
From a payphone in Creve Coeur Park, using my AT&T calling card, I told my mom that the seniors in the Masterpieces course could take a senior trip (before spring break) to London, to Paris, and to everywhere in between, including a cruise liner across the channel. I wasn’t asking. I knew the answer. “Oh, you don’t have a choice,” she said.
   “I know.”
   “No, you have to go. We’ll find a way.”
Mrs. Eichhorn, my English Masterpieces teacher, and her family were our chaperones. As long as we stayed in groups, we had freedom that wouldn’t be allowed this century. Poor Eichhorn. We lost sight of Melanie at the Hippodrome. She took a ride with a stranger back to our hotel at 3am. We were lucky. When we returned home, I stopped. Everything. I quit the cheerleading squad and never opened a book. I remember lying on the carpeted floor in her windowless classroom while Hamlet, starring Kenneth Branagh played. Poor Eichhorn. She was so excited to have gotten a copy of the new release on VHS. But I fell asleep on the floor, not worrying about whatever assignment accompanied the film. Later, she pulled me in the hallway and said, “I know you’re done with high school. I know you need this class to graduate. I just want to show you my gradebook, in case anyone asks, you can corroborate the story.” She opened the green grid book. I wouldn’t try to argue those zeros. I knew I had quit. But what I saw, the image that won’t leave my memory, is a row of capital C’s.
   (See also “C.”)

 

False
My mother’s false memory: I’ll give you the facts first: she was a single mother of two teenage girls, in her thirties, working full time getting a college (a Wash. U.) education in the evenings, trying to find time for herself too. She swears to this day, that from her bathroom in our small apartment, I stole her new, super expensive, black, Neiman Marcus bra. I don’t remember this. We laugh about it now. But Mom still gives me that face, the one full of eyebrows, when the subject arises.

 

GG
On September 9, 2015, my mom’s sixtieth birthday, I cried for eight and a half hours straight. She came over, and we all ordered Imo’s. The lighting in our family room still bothered me. Was it too blue? Too white? Too something? Not how it should be. I told Chris, between sobs and tissues, we would need to go to Home Depot the next day to find better bulbs. He agreed. He agreed the same way he let me claim the recliner that looked out the front window. He agreed the way he picked up Mom’s birthday present from the store (with the baby) so that I could sleep. He agreed because at that point, he knew not to ask if I was okay. He learned just to ask what he could do to help.
   (See also Postpartum Depression)

 

Hair
Amy Van Gels’s brother was known for bleaching chunks in her hair. Two stripes. They framed the face. It was a very popular style in the mid 90’s. It was two nights before prom. Somehow the foil stayed in place too long. The front half of my head had been transformed into paper: white and stiff. Of course, the back half was still its natural dark brown. Walking ying yang. Four hundred dollars and six hours at the salon later (Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry), I appeared as close to the way I did before the failed experiment as possible. What a waste. Lesson not learned. Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry.
   (See also YouTube)

 

Insults
I’d gained too much weight for him to be attracted to me. I should have seen the red flag when his last name rhymed with my first. But a year together didn’t keep these words from escaping his mouth. Over the phone. What should I have said? I come up with endless ideas of insults today. But at the time, I only said, “But do you still love me?” I cringe at the echo of the memory.

 

Jazmine
It was a lie, of course. But I tried anyway. When I turned thirteen, I tried to convince everyone that my name was Jasmine. That Amanda and Rose were the second and third. I said I never knew my name before my parents’ divorce because my mother had secretly added it to my birth certificate. I guess the idea formed from the picture I found in an old collection, after we moved into Gram’s house. A little boy. A school picture. On the back it read, “To Daddy. Love, Tommy.” I hadn’t known that my dad had been married before or that he abandoned a family. So I tried to reinvent myself with a new title. A few friends believed me, at least I think they did. Maybe they were talented liars too.

 

Kansas University
I drove my black Sunfire, following my mom, close behind, all of highway 70, across the state line and Evening Star Road, into Lawrence. We passed the condo where, as a kid I would stay with my grandparents when my grandad taught “for the Jayhawks.” I’d roller skate on their back patio and into the church parking lot next door. As a college freshman, I’d find new ways to spend my time. Mom and I unloaded my meager belongings into the room I’d share with my closest friend. Naismith Hall offered Annie the freedoms her parents never allowed her, but to me, those bare cement walls restricted me from what, from who, I wanted. My mom drove back to St. Louis that same night. I called her at midnight, the moment she arrived. “I’m coming home tomorrow,” I said. “I have to.” “For Paul,” she said. I don’t think she ever argued. Surely she complained, but I don’t remember. Her love for me included acceptance. What remains in my moving picture memory is that when she returned, the next morning, at eight, my car was already packed. We made two stops to unenroll me and to stop payment. “What will you do now?” she asked at a rest stop somewhere in the middle of Missouri. “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.”

 

LeGrands
Jill, Lisa, Amy LeGrand. Three sisters my age and older. Mother: Linda. Father: “Boots.” Our families sojourned together at the Door County house the summer when a car hit me. I was riding my bike down Highway 42, near the beach and The Pioneer Store, too far ahead of my family. They yelled for me not to cross the street. I must have misheard, but I’ll never remember it happening. Three days later, when I came back to our oddly shaped home there, the back of my head felt like a water balloon. Fractured skull, but I’d be fine. The worst part, to me, was that I couldn’t go under water for eight weeks. But Jill, Lisa, Amy and their creative antics made sure I still enjoyed the vacation. In the evening, with the windows open and flames growing in the stone fireplace, the girls flipped upside down on the couch and made chin faces by drawing eyeballs on the top of their necks. Hilarity ensued. I came to sit by Amy and dipped my head down to be a reason for laughter. But Mom came running in, reminding me of my condition and that I shouldn’t be upside down. We all giggled when she went back to the adults on the deck.

 

Memories Forgotten
In my basement, packed in plastic tubs, I searched for memories. For almost eight years, I kept a journal. Each day. Bulleting my events. Exactly what I did. Under a dusty lid, I found 2002, the year I lived in both St. Louis and New York City. Back and forth. Reading those pages, I realize how much I don’t remember. Who was Jeannette? Elijah? I spent time with these people. They make appearances on numerous dates, yet I can’t picture them. Who were they? I’m reading words written by someone else.

 

Nightmares

They occur at least once a week. I had one last night. I’m late for a class, math, I think. I haven’t been in class all semester, and I’m far behind. I’ll fail this class. In our hallway, I tell Mom, “I’m just waiting for the call.” She doesn’t say anything. My bookbag becomes too heavy, and I can’t remember the combination to my locker. Before I fully enter the classroom, all the faces turn to look at me. “I’m sorry,” I say, not sure if I’m talking to my mom, the faceless teacher, or all of the ones staring at me. Then I wake up.

 

On the Seam
In 2011, I was Fort Zumwalt South’s Educator of the Year. I earned an interview at District Office for the Zumwalt representative. It took place at 6am, before school. Afterwards, at school, I taught first and second hours. Knowing that I had a principal observation in third, and having consumed four large coffees, I used passing time to take advantage of the restroom. As I passed the large wall mirror, the color white caught my eye and caused me to stop. I wore black dress pants, half of a suit. At some point that morning, the seam in my crotch had completely ripped open. From front to back. The “white” contrast of my granny undergarments screamed against the black of my pants. Another teacher, three actually, came to my rescue. One watched my class. Another pulled me, half crying, half laughing, to the FACS hallway bathroom where I hid in a student stall, stripped, and handed the burst slacks over the door. The last teacher, I’ll never know which one, sewed them up. My principal later gave me an award for “Most Wardrobe Malfunctions.”

 

Postpartum Depression
When the two of us returned from the hospital as three, it began. “The house looks different,” I said when we pulled up. As sleepless days passed, it became more daunting to breathe, to eat, to speak without crying. I knew what it was. My own doing. A fault. Prescriptions and unconditional love helped the recovery.
   (See also GG)

 

Quiet
Sometimes, when I’m quiet, you think I’m mad. At you. I’m not. It’s just me.

 

Red
I’ve been sunburned, poisoned by solar power, twice. After J.D. and I broke up, or after he disappeared, Dad’s wedding (the third, no fourth, no third) one would be an escape, so I agreed to go to Florida that March with my sister, dad, Sharon, and her two daughters, for the destination wedding. Get it? Destin, Florida? After coming in from a few hours on the beach, trying desperately to gain a warm, dark glow to show off at school, I curled up on the couch. Rachel was talking to Mom on the phone. “Amanda, she wants to say hi to you,” she said. I stood up too fast and fainted. The second time, no surprise to any of my friends, was a result of a drunken day in the pool. Ryan and Meredith’s wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Both times, my stupidity.

 

School Bus
The story is mine, but now third hand, picked up like a memory from the Goodwill bin. I see it from an outsider’s perspective: a little girl, a kindergartener. She remembers the words her parents told her, “Never walk out in front of a car.” The school bus pulls up to her house, concluding her first day of school. When she needs to cross over Pepperwood Drive to reach home, she walks in skirted steps behind the back of the bus.

 

The Princess Bride
I skipped school many times, twice–unsuccessfully. Freshman year, I convinced my mom I was sick and needed to stay home. Brandon Portell and I watched The Princess Bride on our family room couch. My mother surprised us-- surprised herself too-- when she came home for lunch, to make me soup. Oops.
   (See also Vacation)

 

Unspoken
here have been many times, and there will be more, when I don’t say the words. I’m sorry. For that, too, I apologize.

 

Vacation
By my sophomore year, you’d think I’d have learned. Ha ha. Friday, before spring break, my boyfriend (J.D.) and all of his friends were getting signed out early (to do what, exactly? I don’t remember. Probably nothing). His older sister would call, pretend to be my mother, sign me out, too. I didn’t know how to wait, so I hid in the restroom repeatedly popping my big head at the attendance window. Until finally, “Yes,” those two old biddies told me. “Your mother is on the phone now.” I planned on feigning a child’s voice when speaking to his sister, my “mother.” I didn’t have to though. “What vacation are we going on, Amanda?” None for me, apparently, as I’d be grounded the entire week.
   (See also The Princess Bride)

 

Wedding
Halloween of 1999. Miss Piggy. I had the dress, a wig, perfect purple gloves with a ring, the nose, the tail, curly and pink, ears, and the shoes to match. The party would be my best memory of the year. I planned on winning the two-hundred-and-fifty dollars contest prize. Paul wouldn’t go as Kermit. He had to be a vampire ninja, but I didn’t mind. I was excited just the same. Until my mother told me that she had purchased a plane ticket for me, to North Carolina, for Uncle Wayne’s wedding. Who gets married on Halloween? I fought. I won. The non-refundable plane ticket would be wasted. I would miss the wedding. I’d never be truly forgiven.

 

X
   It’s one of the letters on the alpha dice. My son is playing what he calls                        “jackpot.” “Mommy! Roll it and see what prize you get,” he says as I settle in,             comfortable in the recliner. “Mommy!” “Give me a second sweetie, I’m busy.” I         shouldn’t have been. My attention should have belonged to him.

Youtube   
   I had watched a YouTube video, a “How to” on blow-drying hair with large round
   brushes. The demonstrator simply used three large barrels, wrapped them up         on each side of the head with a section of hair. Simply direct the dryer on each,     release, and viola. Not so much. 5:45am. Alone in the house. Getting ready for         work. It seemed so simple. One portion above each ear and one in the back.             Three brushes. The last one was the mistake. The holes in its design were to             help the air move through it, to dry faster.
   But my hair became entangled in a complete knot. I tried pulling it out,                       knocking my body into the walls hard enough to cause framed wedding photos      crashing to the ground.
   I drove to work with that brush in my hair. Crying and laughing. A neighbor up         the street attempted to save me. “I don’t know how you’re not going to have to      cut this out,” she said. No. I would not give up and be forced to chop twelve            inches of my hair, grown forever after a poor choice in layers and bangs. My            coworker, a mother of four boys, used a metal nail file to pull out each portion.      After twenty minutes of tugging and untangling, I was free. The fate of the               brush is not to be discussed.
   (See also Hair)

 

Zeugma
          A rhetorical device. The official definition, as found by my students, reads, “a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., John and his license expired last week) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g.,with weeping eyes and hearts ). I am one, too. I make my bed and my apologies.

Bio
Amanda Bramley earned her M.F.A. from Lindenwood University. She has been
previously published in Natural Bridge, The Lindenwood Review, and BlazeVox. She teaches high school English just outside of Saint Louis, Missouri. Her students know her as “the crazy pug lady.” Recently, her creative nonfiction essay won the "Write Outside Your Door" Contest with the Missouri Botanical Garden. A video of her reading will be on display later this summer (2022).

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