Kenneth Harper Finton


by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

Santa Claus

Claus checked his ledgers in Quickbooks. It was not a task he enjoyed.

He fondly remembered the days when the smoke encircled his head like a wreath. He quit smoking a pipe a decade or two ago, but he still missed the pungent aroma of his tobacco. What he did not miss was the sore tongue and hacking cough he would often get.

When Christmas was taken over by the corporate gift manufacturers he had shaken his head and withdrawn in total disbelief.  “How could they corner the market on gifts so quickly,” Claus remembered saying.

He had long since had to retire much of his elf force. The elves just could not compete with the prices the corporations charged for general gifts of all shapes and sizes. Soon metal toys replaced his home-made-by-elfen-hands wooden…

View original post 525 more words


by Joelly Cameron ©2014




You lay before me nicely decorated.

Despite  that you were a weak, and doddering sponge of a man.

One who was too undependable to demonstrate love and compassion.

I review your constant state.

As my heart exhumes the recitals of your frailty and your miscarriages.

Though a transient, your face is kindred.

I regret that I only knew you through stories of pissed lullabies, desecration, and verbal vomit.

Somehow, I lost track of the letter you sent.

The small cursive print was unclear despite,

that inside rest a diamond concealed in a  small velvet envelope.

Adolescent hands before a mirror clung to its fluid matter.

Yet, it symbolized squat, zilch…nothing.

My character twice descended.

Our paths now thwarted permanently.

And for that I am mournful.

This Purple Heart pinned neatly to your chest,

Is inconsistent with the abundance of pollution you helped create.

Your disdain nested itself among us…those left to grieve you…

The ones you ponied up and passed out.

As the flag is presented and folded.

I am brought back to the here and now.

Forever is not mine to conserve,

For I cannot bleed over a stranger.




The Laundry Maid

 Joelly Cameron

Alphabet Soup Minuscule

You lay before me nicely decorated.

Despite  that you were a weak, and doddering sponge of a man.

One who was too undependable to demonstrate love and compassion.

I review your constant state.

As my heart exhumes the recitals of your frailty and your miscarriages.

Though a transient, your face is kindred.

I regret that I only knew you through stories of pissed lullabies, desecration, and verbal vomit.

Somehow, I lost track of the letter you sent.

The small cursive print was unclear despite,

that inside rest a diamond concealed in a  small velvet envelope.

Adolescent hands before a mirror clung to its fluid matter.

Yet, it symbolized squat, zilch…nothing.

My character twice descended.

Our paths now thwarted permanently.

And for that I am mournful.

This Purple Heart pinned neatly to your chest,

Is inconsistent with the abundance of pollution you helped create.

Your disdain nested itself among us…those left…

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by Tom Atkins ©2014

Quarry House

round barn

In The Emptying

The barn is empty,
slowly stripped of the debris
that has crept in for generations,
the piles of broken things,
of abandoned things,
of useless things, not wanted,
no longer cared for,
but still clung to,
things of theoretical value,
and only that.

It has taken ages to pry these things loose,
to admit their uselessness to your life,
to confess your clinging
to dead things,
and begin at last to expose them
to the light
and let them go.

Some will be claimed by others,
tinkers perhaps, with a will to wrestle
them back to usefulness,
or to other collectors of the broken.

And in the giving, in the emptying,
you are the winner, for your old barn,
once so full there was nothing
is suddenly full
of possibility.

About this poem

We do this in our spaces. We do this in our lives.


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by Bill Yarrow ©2014



How to Boil Water  Unknown

Get a pot.
Fill it with water.
Place it on the stove.
Turn on the flame.
When tiny bubbles appear and grow wild
It is done.

How to Cook an Egg

Read my poem “How to Boil Water.”
Drop an egg in it.

How to Eat

Press your food Unknown-1into the hole
just below
your nose.

How to Thinkimages-1

Pick one thing
one thing you’ve been told
Pick this one thing you’ve been told
and pick
and pick
and keep picking at it
until the scab of unknowing
falls off.

How to LoveUnknown-2

Sweep into one corner
all your ego.
Set a match to it.

How to Dieimages

Watch those who live in your neighborhood.
Watch them closely.
Copy what they cease to do.




Bill Yarrow is the author of THE LICE OF CHRIST (MadHat Press 2014), INCOMPETENT TRANSLATIONS AND INEPT HAIKU (Cervena Barva Press 2013), POINTED SENTENCES (BlazeVOX 2012), FOURTEEN (Naked Mannekin, 2011), and WRENCH (erbacce-press 2009).

Bill Yarrow, an editor at the online journal Blue Fifth Review and Professor of English at Joliet Junior College is the author of “The Vig of Love,” “Blasphemer,” “Pointed Sentences,” and five chapbooks, most recently “We All Saw It Coming.” “Against Prompts,” his fourth full-length collection, is forthcoming in 2018 from Lit Fest Press.





by Tomaj Javidtash






Man wakes up in the middle of existence; he cannot remember how and why he ended up here. He doesn’t remember anything. Unable to remember, he decides to forget, to forget that he has forgotten something. In his attempt at forgetting his forgetfulness he begins to fill the surrounding void with objects of his own imagination; he is obsessed with decorating the void so he forgets he is in the void; he becomes the master decorator and he calls his business life. Little does he know that he is still in the middle of the void trying to remember how he ended up there. He makes up stories as to how he is here; he can’t help but imagine a fall; he makes up stories after stories, calls them science, philosophy, religion; he seeks as if there was something to seek for. He makes up names to account for the alleged fall: God, Self, consciousness, creation, Big Bang, world, Brahman, etc. He imagines a thing and calls it truth. He decorates the void with these idols.

How deluded is this creature! What he had forgotten after waking up in the middle of existence was that “waking up in the middle of existence forgetful of how and why he ended up here” was one of his own stories. In reality none of it has ever happened; nothing has ever happened; there is nothing to remember as there is nothing to forget. Nothing is nor is not. If truth is inexpressible it is because there is nothing to express; if Self cannot be known it is because there is nothing to know: Nothing has ever happened.


Tomaj Javidtash is the author of writing about quantum physics, quantum entanglement and the indistinguishability of particles.  He write non-fiction books available on about the non-dual aspects of quantum physics.


Man wakes up in the middle of existence; he cannot remember how and why he ended up here. He doesn’t remember anything. Unable to remember, he decides to forget, to forget that he has forgotten something. In his attempt at forgetting his forgetfulness he begins to fill the surrounding void with objects of his own imagination; he is obsessed with decorating the void so he forgets he is in the void; he becomes the master decorator and he calls his business life. Little does he know that he is still in the middle of the void trying to remember how he ended up there. He makes up stories as to how he is here; he can’t help but imagine a fall; he makes up stories after stories, calls them science, philosophy, religion; he seeks as if there was something to seek for. He makes up names to account for the…

View original post 123 more words


by Amy Skelton




Editorial Note: The situation described in this story is all too common. Safe houses now exist in many cities and small towns, but clever abusers can all too often escape the justice system and wreck the lives of the innocent. This is but one small tale that occurs daily throughout the world. Whether this story is truth or fiction does not matter. It is a subject that society must address and correct.


Deborah stood on the threshold of the house, trembling with fear. She wanted very badly to go further, feel the crisp fall air, smell the fallen leaves and hear them crackle under her feet. It had been a very long time since she’d heard that sound. Eight long years she had been shut in her house, unable to endure the openness of the outdoors. Her doctor had diagnosed her with agoraphobia but she didn’t believe it. She knew it was more than that. Eight years ago something happened to her. Something that changed her in a deep and horrible way. She had many medical books and journals on her shelves. She knew she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She couldn’t explain to her doctor why she believed she was right. She had repressed the horrible memories of that period of her life so thoroughly, that it was more like a fading dream that still haunted her every waking moment.

* * *

Eight years earlier … in the misty dawn of a beautiful autumn morning, Deborah emerged from her house. She sat at her patio table with her steaming cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. She never smoked inside; her husband didn’t like the smell. It was five in the morning and he would be getting up in about an hour. Deborah used the extra hour to relax and be alone. He was relentless from the time he woke until the time he fell into bed at night. She couldn’t stand it anymore. Watching the beautifully coloured leaves fall from the trees, Deborah went over her plan again. She needed to escape. She didn’t know where she would go or what she was going to do about money, but that didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was her daughter.

On September twenty-eighth at two in the afternoon, Deborah’s life took a dramatic detour. She remembered the date clearly, as it was the day after her daughter Jenny’s tenth birthday. Jenny came to her mother and sat her down at the kitchen table. She had tears in her eyes but her chin was firm and her eyes blazed sapphirine fire. Deborah had never seen her daughter look so angry and sad at the same time. She was afraid of what she was going to hear but she sat quietly and waited for her daughter to speak.

“Mom,” she began, “I am going to tell you something. I know you are going to be mad but I can’t keep it in.”

Jenny looked down at her hands and Deborah saw she was twisting them together vigorously.

“I know that Gary is not my father,”

Deborah started up in protest and Jenny raised her hand to silence her.

“He told me that years ago, mom. That is not what I want to talk about. Just listen to me, okay.” Jenny swallowed hard and got the next part out in a rush.

“Gary has been having sex with me. He comes into my room at night, drunk, and puts his penis into me and has sex with me. I know you don’t know because he always hits you until you don’t get up. Then he comes into my room. I’m leaving this house. I asked my friend Katie’s parents if I could stay with them and they said it was okay. I’m sorry, mom. I wish you could come too but I know you won’t. I know that if you were going to leave, you would have by now. Good-bye. I love you.”

Tears were streaming down Jenny’s face as Deborah sat across the table from her, mouth open and paralysed. She shook her head vigorously and when she finally came out of shock, Jenny was half-way out the door.

She ran to her and screamed, “No, Jenny! Don’t leave me!”

Jenny cried harder and ran down the driveway with her little backpack. She didn’t look back.

Deborah didn’t want Gary to find out where Jenny was hiding. When he came home from work that day and found out that Jenny had left, he beat Deborah so badly she ended up in the hospital with a fractured skull.

She spent three weeks recuperating in the hospital. Gary came to see her three times. Once, the day after she was admitted, the second time after she had a stroke due to her injuries and the last time, when she could finally go home. She didn’t miss Gary in the hospital. She was happily entranced in a romance novel series that one of the nurses gave her to pass the time.

The nurses all knew what happened. Deborah never once told them what happened, they just knew. They were experienced and had seen it too many times to miss the signs.

She fell down the stairs.

Sure she did.

The doctor told her that she had options. She didn’t have to live like this, in constant fear. She replied, “Fear of what, doctor? Of falling down the stairs?”

She laughed feebly and the doctor shook his head. It was up to her now.

When Gary took Deborah home he was very gentle with her. He laid her on the couch, on some pillows that he had arranged and got her a nice, hot cup of tea.

She said, “Thank you, Gary. I missed having tea in the hospital.”

He smiled at her and asked, “Do you know where Jenny went?”

Deborah hesitated, only for an instant, before she replied, “No, I don’t know. She wouldn’t say. She just ran out the door and got into a silver car. I meant to call her friends and ask but you came home shortly after and…”

He shook his head and said, “I said I was sorry. What more do you want from me? Why is it never enough with you?”

Gary was yelling by the end of this speech but he took a deep breath and moderated his voice, “I will let you make those calls, since you know who her friends are.”

He left the house to go to work.

In the next few hours there were a lot of plans to be made.

Deborah needed help.

She knew that the only help she could find was at a shelter, but she didn’t know where it was. She looked in the phone book and called the number she found.

Deborah was relieved to hear a woman’s sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. She made arrangements for a room and told them her daughter was staying with friends but was concerned that her husband would be able to find her.

The woman at the shelter told Deborah that she needed to contact the police.

The woman offered to pick her up in her own car and take her down to the shelter where they would call the police and have Gary picked up.

Deborah said, “I don’t have any money. He has it all and I can’t access it.”

“That’s okay, Deborah, we will do what we can. By the way, my name is Wendy Barnes.”

Deborah smiled as she hung up the phone and went to pack her meagre possessions while she waited for Wendy to pick her up.


Gary came home from work earlier than expected.

He came up the stairs, saw the suitcase on the bed and immediately flew into a rage.




“What are you doing? Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

He grabbed her arm and Deborah didn’t protest. She knew that she was still too weak to do anything and she knew if Gary hit her again, it would be the end of her.

“Gary, please. Don’t hit me. I’ll die if you hit me again.”

Gary hesitated only for a moment before throwing her down on the bed. He grabbed her leg and twisted hard.

Deborah could feel her hip dislocate and the searing, agonizing pain it caused.

Gary jumped on her and started punching her in the stomach. Her screams were ignored and she could feel pressure building up in her head.

When he finally stopped, he said, “Where is Jenny?”

Deborah laid motionless on the bed. She whispered, “I’m not telling.”

Gary emitted a wordless scream and starting throwing things around the room. Her mother’s china and the precious pictures of the family crashed against the walls.

Deborah was crying but she knew there was help on the way. She let out a gasp when the doorbell rang.

Gary tore downstairs to yell at whoever rang the bell. When he flung open the door, his face was red and sweat was pouring down his cheeks. Wendy took a step back as the door flew open.

She opened her mouth but no sound emerged. She was surprised, and a little scared, to see Gary, but she stuck out her hand and said, “Hello, my name is Wendy Barnes. Elections are coming up and I am going around door-to-door to talk to my constituents.”

Gary was confused and still angry, but beginning to calm himself. He knew that if anyone saw him like this, then saw his wife, he would be in trouble. He already had to go back to the hospital and tell those moron doctors about how clumsy his wife was.

“Hello. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to talk. My wife has just fallen down the stairs again and she needs to go to the hospital.”

Wendy backed away again and replied, “Oh my god, how awful. Can I help? Would you like me to take her?”

Gary eyed her suspiciously. Why would a local politician want to drive Deborah to the hospital? He said, “No, no it’s fine. Thanks anyway.”

When Wendy got back into her car and drove away, Gary carried Deborah down the stairs and out to his pick-up truck. He threw her in the cab, sat her up straight and said, “Do up your own damn seat belt.”

While pulling out of the driveway, he was none too gentle. Slamming the truck into gear, he sped down the street, heading toward the hospital. Little did he know that Wendy was following in her car.

At the hospital, Gary asked for a wheelchair and went out to put Deborah in it. He wheeled her to the desk and then walked right back out of the emergency room.

Wendy ran into the emergency room and saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair, crying. The nurses hurried to help the woman and quickly carried her off to an exam room. Wendy was explaining the situation to the nurse at the desk when one of the others walked up to her.

“Do you know that woman?” The nurse asked.

“Yes, I spoke to her this morning. I’m from the women’s shelter. I don’t know what happened. Her husband must have come home from work unexpectedly. He was red in the face and sweating when he answered the door. Then he said she fell down the stairs and he had to take her to the hospital. I followed them in my car. Will she be alright? Can I speak with her?”

“Her hip was dislocated. She will be fine but we are going to do an MRI to make sure she suffered no further damage since the last time she was here.”

Wendy covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes widening, “When was that?”

The nurse replied, “Actually, she just left here today.”

A tear streamed down Wendy’s cheek. She thanked the nurse and went outside to get some air.

Sitting on a bench outside the door of the hospital, Wendy made a couple of phone calls. One was to the administrator of the women’s shelter, to get approval to act as she knew she must. She knew that if she was not careful, Gary could sue the shelter.

She also called the police and spoke to a detective that she knew personally.

“Hello, Detective Marshall’s office.”

Wendy sighed and said, “Hello, Martha. It’s Wendy. Is Ben there?”

Martha answered in a worried voice, “Yes, Wendy, I will put you through right away.”

Wendy heard a click and Ben answered, “Hi, Wendy. What’s up?”

She gave him the whole story and he listened in silence.

“I think she’s reluctant to talk and that’s why I called you. You have convinced a number of my ladies to press charges. If she doesn’t get out of that house, Gary is going to kill her. I know it, Ben. Please come to the hospital.”

“I’ll do what I can. I know Gary. I’ve picked him up for drunk and disorderly and a few other misdemeanours. I had no idea he was so violent but I trust you. You’ve seen some horrible things, Wendy.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Ben. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that these women need me and I so badly want to help them.”

“You do great things, lady. Keep it up. I will do my part as well.”

Wendy thanked Detective Marshall and hung up the phone. She lit up a cigarette and tried to relax. As long as Gary wasn’t at the hospital, Deborah would be fine. She was in good hands here and all the nurses watched their patient carefully.

After a few more deep breaths, Wendy went back into the hospital and was allowed to see Deborah. She ran to the woman and hugged her gently, introduced herself and apologized for not getting to her house sooner. Deborah told her the story of how she had come to be in the hospital immediately before the current incident and explained how embarrassed she was to be back the very day she was released. Wendy said, “This is not your fault. Please don’t feel embarrassed. It is for Gary to be punished for his crimes. Please don’t punish yourself.”

Deborah nodded and closed her eyes for a moment. She was relieved that she was in the hospital again. Gary couldn’t touch her there.

She laid back and took a few deep breaths but a sudden flash of her daughters face appeared before her closed lids. She snapped her head up and said, “Jenny! I need Jenny to be here right now. Gary tore out of here real quick and since I’ve been out, all he could say was, ‘Where’s Jenny, where’s Jenny.’ I know he went looking for her. We need to get to her before he does!”

Wendy ran over to the phone in Deborah’s room and called Detective Marshall again. Martha answered again and Wendy gave her the whereabouts of Deborah’s daughter. She told Martha to have Ben go there before the hospital, as it was an emergency and that little Jenny could be in grave danger. Martha hung up and immediately told the detective the news. He lit up his cherries and raced over to the house just in time.

Jenny was playing in the front yard with her friend when Detective Marshall arrived. Just as he was getting out of the car, Gary showed up in his blue Chevy pick-up.

Detective Marshall drew his gun and pointed it at Gary. Gary raised his hands and slowly approached his daughter. Jenny’s eyes were wide and fixed on Gary. She was about to run when Detective Marshall spoke, “Jenny, please don’t run. Come over to me, slowly. I’m going to take you to your mommy.”

Jenny was silent and Gary laughed, “Great, you take her to Deb and when I pick her up, I’ll have both my girls together again.”

Detective Marshall’s eyes never left Gary’s face and he knew that there was something wrong. His eyes were strangely dilated and his hands were shaking. Jenny had walked over to the police car and Detective Marshall had heard her gasp.

He said, “Don’t worry, Jenny. Gary isn’t taking you, or your mom, anywhere. Consider that a guarantee.”

Detective Marshall walked slowly toward Gary, still pointing his gun, and said, “Get on the ground with your hands behind your head.”

Gary rode in the back of the cruiser and Jenny rode up front. Gary had finally lost his temper. He was kicking at the door and the back of the seat, slamming his head against the window and yelling incoherently.

Jenny was leaning forward, crying and covering her face with her hands. Detective Marshall patted her shoulder and tried to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, Jenny. You and your mom will be safe now. I don’t know a judge in the country that wouldn’t throw this scumbag in jail for a long, long time.”

Jenny wiper her cheeks with the back of her hand and asked, “Do you think you can convince my mom to press charges? She’s scared of Gary. I am too. I had to run away but I didn’t want to.”

Detective Marshall answered, “I know I can get her to press charges. If I can’t, would you appear in court to testify against him? His abuse of you is enough to get him a good, long sentence. Are you too scared to do that?”

Jenny looked him square in the eye and said, “No, I’m not too scared. I hate Gary and I hate what he has done to my mom and me. I want him to go away forever.”

Detective Marshall smiled to himself and stopped at the police station. He dragged Gary out of the car, escorted him into the building and came back out right away. Jenny waited in the car and they were soon on their way to the hospital.

The reunion between mother and daughter was frantic and filled with tears. Jenny held her mother’s hand as the detective spoke to them. He told Deborah that he was filling out a statement as she spoke and that he expected her to sign it.

“If you don’t sign this, Gary will go free. After hearing your story, from the doctors, nurses and Wendy, I think I can say without contradiction that if you do not sign this statement and press charges, Gary will kill you. Do you agree?”

Deborah gasped and turned away and Jenny squeezed her hand. “Mom, he’s right you know.” Deborah turned to her daughter, with tears streaming down her face, and said, “I know, dear. It’s over. Give me the papers.”


It took a year for the courts to hear the case. Gary was in county jail the entire time and was not given the opportunity for bail. No one would have paid it in any case and Gary was broke. He was charged with assault, aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm, sexual interference of a minor, sexual assault of a minor.

Gary was sentenced to ten years in prison but an appeal to the court was granted and his sentence was reduced to one year. Deborah and Jenny were devastated and Deborah got a restraining order against him. Gary ignored the order repeatedly and was constantly harassing them until the police agreed to put them into the witness protection program. Deborah and Jenny were moved to a new city, far away from home, where they were able to start a new life.

Deborah was able to start out on disability, making just enough money to live in reasonable comfort with her daughter by her side. Jenny had deep-seated emotional problems and was seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis to help her deal with the horrible conditions of her childhood. Five years later, Jenny took an overdose of her anti-depressant medication and died before her mother had any idea of what was going on.

Now Deborah is still coping with the loss of her daughter and the permanent injuries she sustained at the hands of her ex-husband. She walks with a cane now and her head injuries have never healed properly, causing extremely painful migraines and dizziness. Gary is still free and even though she has not seen him, Deborah knows he is still looking for her. She doesn’t leave the house, not even to go to the end of the driveway to get her mail. The farthest she will venture is her front porch and even then, if a car drives by, she darts back into the house. One of her neighbours, who knows her story, retrieves her mail from the box and brings it to her every day. She also goes grocery shopping for her once a week. She feels an incredible sympathy for Deborah and does all she can to help her. Deborah has never visited her daughter’s grave since the funeral.




Amy Skelton is the author of Night Terror, published in Helios earlier this year. 

Amy lives in Ontario with not far from the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. She is a writer of novels, short stories and poetry, specializing in women’s issues and disturbing images.  She is the owner of the website and the administrator of the Facebook page Amy’s Tales and Poetry that can be found at This story was originally published in Scriggler. 


by Hannah Miles  ©2014




Self-compassion is the garden

that I’m tending tenderly,

nourishing the roots and shoots

of all that makes up me.

It’s time to rake things over,

to unearth the weeds and stones,

uprooting the lies that held me back

and worked me to my bones.

I’m shaking loose the soil

that became so dry and dead;

as I shake loose those clumps of doubt,

that overtook my head.

If others ask for nurture,

I provide with tools and seeds.

so why not turn to my own ground

and work through all my needs?

The season’s come to cultivate

a growing sense-of-self:

to celebrate, and sow into,

my happiness and health.

I’m pulling out the poison plants

and germinating care.

I want to harvest sustenance,

not fears that just ensnare.

I’ll water each new truth in deep,

with streams of gentle peace.

I’ll sit and soak within the flow,

and let self-hatred cease.

For here within life’s garden

self-compassion creates room.

It slows the pace, and clears out space

For me to boldly bloom.



Hannah loves studying textiles and design. She says: “I use words to explore, grapple, discover and remind myself of the wonder of being alive. I love to write long letters to people and decorate the envelopes all bright and fun to surprise the postman. Basically, I hope to make people smile or, failing in that, to at least make myself smile.



Kenneth Harper Finton

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014


When I was very young, I did not know the world.

The world made itself known to me quite gradually,

in small steps that I can now only imagine.

I cannot remember these steps.

They happened before memory was born.

I felt these steps.

Discomfort was a feeling that I learned quickly to correct.

My first feelings were those untenable positions

which caused me to turn away from irritation

into a position of familiarity and contentment.

I kicked and moved to find my snugness

not knowing or caring that my attempt to find relief caused pain to another.

The experience of the world of the womb was lost to me.

The world was making itself known, but I knew nothing of the world.

I knew nothing about myself for I was not a self.

I was as close to bring nothing as I have ever…

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by Erica Verrillo ©2014



I’d been working at Shady Grove almost a year the morning Clarence moved in. It wasn’t a day I would have remembered otherwise, since it started fairly typically with Mama red-eyed on the sofa and Hector passed out on the kitchen floor. Nothing new on the home front. It was wall-to-wall traffic all the way up I-10, as usual. My AC was on the fritz, so the commute was literally hell on wheels, and the only thing my radio was picking up was ET trying to make first contact.

Beam me up, I thought.

No such luck.

After I’d changed into my uniform, Mrs. Jackson took me over to meet the new inmate.

“Mr. Savage,” said Mrs. Jackson. “This is Stella. She’ll be cleaning your room.” Mr. Savage bobbed his head at me. They were all polite when they first arrived. Once he’d gotten used to the place he’d be pinching my butt and hissing dirty jokes in my ear along with the rest of them.

“I’m so glad you’ve decided to join us, Mr. Savage,” I recited. “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call. We pride ourselves on prompt and courteous service.”

Mrs. Jackson beamed at me. It had taken her hours of hard work to get The Speech crammed down my throat. The fact that the janitorial staff was never needed for “prompt and courteous service” meant nothing to her. Neither did the Emancipation Proclamation or the Bill of Rights.

“You can call me Clarence,” he said. I expected that. While Mrs. Jackson always insisted that we address everyone by their family names so as to “preserve an atmosphere of propriety,” nobody else followed her example, especially not towards the staff. I was always plain old Stella right from the get go.

That morning I went about my normal routine. Cleaning up the public rooms came first, since most of the old folks slept in. I guess there isn’t much point to getting up early when all you’re doing is dying. I always started with the chapel. I enjoyed the quiet. There wasn’t much of that at home. Best of all it was cool. Hector was too cheap to put in central air, so my room was an oven in the summer even with the window unit, which hardly worked anyway. I liked to sit in the front pew for a few moments before I got on with my rounds, just to gather my thoughts. After the chapel was clean, I moved on to the public bathrooms, the dining room, the rec room, and the TV room. By then most of the old folks were tottering about, so I could start on their bedrooms. When I got to Mr. Savage’s room I banged on his door and waited. On my very first day of work at Shady Grove, Mrs. Jackson told me to always knock real hard and call out their names. She said we needed to respect the “members’ personal space.” I was much more concerned with my own. Some of the men had an uncanny way of popping up stark naked when you came in to clean. I hoped Mr. Savage wasn’t going to be one of those.

“Mr. Savage!” I hollered. I began counting to thirty before I turned the key. That would give him plenty of time to come to the door if he was still in there. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be, since Mrs. Jackson liked to take her new “members” for a tour of Shady Grove the day after they arrived. She liked to tell them all about the “estate” and how it had been in her family for generations and all that la-de-dah. So it just about knocked my socks off when the door opened smack in my face. I hadn’t even made it to five.

“I can hear just fine,” he said. He was wearing a pair of khakis and a green plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the top.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “Some of the members . . . ”

“I understand,” he said. “You can come in.”

I peeked into his room. It was neat as a pin.

“I’ll only be a minute,” I said. Maybe less. His room was already so clean I probably wouldn’t have to do much more than mop. I waited a moment for Clarence to go away, but he just stood there holding the door open. As I angled past him I noticed that he didn’t smell like a shut-in. Old people, when they’ve been housebound for a while, start to smell musty. Clarence smelled like a man who worked with his hands. Clean and sharp. He watched me as I mopped the linoleum, which made me nervous.

“Y’all are gonna love it here. Everybody’s real friendly, and nice. And when the weather cools off all y’all can take a walk in the old pecan grove.” I tend to rattle on when I get nervous. “Y’all can even send some pecans home to your loved ones next Christmas. Everybody does.” I took a breath. Clarence was looking at me funny. I noticed his eyes were a clear gray.

All y’all?” he said. His face was round and pleasant when he smiled, but my feathers had been ruffled.

“You aren’t from around here, are you?” I said, real careful.

His face got serious again. “No,” he said. “I’m from Maine.”

I’d already taken him for a Yankee. His skin was too smooth for a Texan, even a transplanted one. Old Texans don’t have wrinkles, they have ruts. Still, my jaw dropped. Maine was on the other side of the world. I couldn’t imagine a farther place.

“How on earth did you get down here?” The question just fell out of my mouth. Then I realized I’d forgotten my manners, so I had to apologize again.

“No, no,” he said. “That’s a good question. We Yankees find Texas fascinating. It’s the lure of the Old West.”

Having lived in Texas my whole life, I didn’t see anything luring about the West, old or new. But I had a Texan’s pride in my state, which is to say, knee-jerk. The only real requirement for graduation in Texas is to remember the Alamo, which we did every spring, regardless of the fact that most of my classmates would likely have been fighting on the other side.

“See y’all tomorrow,” I said. His smell stayed with me all day. Like Christmas.

* * *

By the time I got home, Mama and Hector had made up and were watching TV on one of the velveteen couches. Mama has three of them. With Mama, everything is either too many or too much. Hector had one beefy, tattooed arm draped around her and the other wrapped around a six-pack. The two of them were drunk as two skunks courting in Kentucky.

“Yo, mamacita,” said Hector.

I hate it when he calls me that. In spite of appearances, and a lot of effort on his part, Hector doesn’t have a drop of Spanish blood in him. Mama, on the other hand, is a direct descendant of Don Quixote.

Hector tried to grab my butt when I walked by, but I was ready for him. My purse has a five-pound mini barbell in it. Mama never shifted her fake eyelashes from the screen.

“That’s disgusting!” she said. Some idiot was chowing down on a plate of worms. She took a swig of beer.

“There’s spaghetti,” she said.

Somehow, I managed to get back to my room without having to hit Hector again. The house was a classic “shotgun” with one long central hall going from front to back. It was a simple design, but whoever built it hadn’t been sober long enough to read a blueprint. There wasn’t a 90-degree angle in the place, and all the doors swung the wrong way; out instead of in. If you weren’t careful, you could brain someone, not that anybody around here had any.

I switched on the window unit, but all it did was bitch and moan. Just like an eighth grade boyfriend, all jaw and no action. I appreciated the racket. It blocked out the noises Hector and Mama would be making later on.

That night I dreamed about the Titanic again. I especially like the part where it goes down.

* * *

I liked Clarence. He never asked questions like didn’t I have a boyfriend, and how many boyfriends had I had, and he never, ever treated me like a servant. At first I couldn’t resist boasting. I’d heard Texas described a lot of ways, but never, to my knowledge, had anybody ever called it “fascinating.” As far as I was concerned, Texas was nothing more than a giant griddle, flat as a pancake and hotter than Hades. Of course, I never let on. The fact that he thought it was interesting made me feel good, like I was special too, somehow. And Clarence was a good listener. When he sat down and cocked an ear at me, it made me stand up tall. In fact, I got so high and mighty it took a couple of weeks for me to realize I didn’t know a thing about him, which was not the normal run of events. Usually, after two or three days I could recite an inmate’s life story by heart.

“What’s Maine like?” I asked.

“The interior is mostly woods,” he said. “But I grew up on the coast. In my younger days, I was a lobsterman,” he added. “Later on, I built boats.”

I should have guessed. That clean, sharp smell was sawdust. I could see him in a workshop, sawing something. Although, I have to say, I couldn’t imagine Clarence pulling those big ugly red things out of the water. With those evil-looking claws grabbing at you, how in creation did you get the hook out? You probably had to bash ‘em upside the head with a hammer, which I couldn’t see neat-and-tidy Clarence doing. Anyway, Clarence didn’t smell like the fishing type. Fishermen drank.

“I’ve never seen the ocean,” I said.

This time it was his turn to look surprised.

“Well,” he said. “It’s big.”

I knew what he was talking about. Texas is big.

“I know all about big,” I told him. “I could drive all day and never even make it out of this county.”

Clarence pulled on his chin and thought about that for a while. I could tell I’d impressed him.

“Ayuh,” he said. “I had a car like that once.”

Well, I just about popped my panties laughing.

“That’s a very old joke,” he said, shaking his head. “You must have heard it before.”

I hadn’t, but I didn’t want to be shown up by quiet Clarence. Besides, I really had seen big bodies of water. My entire tenth grade class had taken a field trip to the capital, and on the way back we’d stopped for a picnic on Lake Travis. I told him about it.

“The ocean is a lot bigger,” he said.

“Well, that may be,” I admitted. “But I’ll bet you dimes to dollars you couldn’t swim across Lake Travis.”

Now it was his turn to laugh, though I didn’t know why.

“You won that bet,” he said. “I couldn’t swim across a bathtub.”

I gave him a skeptical look. I was beginning to get the suspicion that he had been pulling my leg all along. “You said you caught lobsters.”

“I did,” he said. “Lobstermen can’t swim. The water off the coast of Maine is so cold, if you fell overboard you’d be dead in ten minutes.”

He swirled his tea, making the ice cubes clink against the sides of the glass. “It’s like ice,” he said.

“That sounds real good,” I told him. “I’d like that.”

* * *

It was May, and the heat was just revving up. You couldn’t fry an egg on the sidewalk yet, but you could probably poach one. Every morning I would arrive at work just itching to get Clarence into a conversation about that big old ice bath. I swear it made me feel cooler just to hear him talk about it. I’d lean up against the wall for a few minutes after I’d mopped (there never was anything else to do in Clarence’s room), and I swear I could feel that cool sea breeze blowing right over me. He had a way of telling stories that would make me fall down laughing, though I could never remember how he did it afterwards. He would just sit in his chair, pulling his chin. Maybe it was because he’d made me laugh so much that I forgot my manners one day.

“How come you don’t have any pictures on your dresser?” I asked him. Everybody else at Shady Grove had scads of family photos propped up on just about every surface. That’s why it never took me any time to clean up Clarence’s room. There was nothing to dust.

Clarence didn’t answer me. So I just stood there like a moron until it dawned on me that I was way out of line. Stupid me. I’d forgotten Rule Number One: Staff is Not Permitted to Make Personal Inquiries of Members.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

Clarence still didn’t say anything. He looked out the window to where the crape myrtles were blooming. Crape myrtles are perfect for this climate. They bloom all summer long and don’t mind the heat. I imagine that’s why Mrs. Jackson’s illustrious ancestors had planted them everywhere. On second thought, it was the gardeners who had planted them. My illustrious ancestors.

I was almost through the door when Clarence finally said something.

“My wife died a year ago last March,” he said. “We didn’t have any children.”

Now, I felt terrible. “Oh, I am sorry,” I said again. This time I meant it. Clarence looked so forlorn. All of a sudden I wanted to go over and hug him. Instead, I stood in the doorway like a fool, holding a mop and a bucket in my hands. Clarence shook his head and sighed.

“She was from Texas,” he said.

I stood there for a bit, trying to think of something to say that would cheer him up. “Did she say all ya’ll?” I asked. “Like me?”

Clarence looked me straight in the eye. “Just like you.”

* * *

Hector and Mama were going at it full blast when I got home. She was calling him an hijo de puta, which is the only thing she can say in Spanish, and he was yelling about somebody named Frank. I heard some thumps and crying. But it was 101 degrees and after spending an hour on the interstate, getting passed by suits yakking on their cell phones inside Audis that had frickin’ frost on the windows, I was in no mood to call the police. So I went to my room and turned on the AC as loud as it would go. I also turned on the radio for good measure. Then I stretched out on the bed, praying for world peace, for a sea of ice, for anything but this. I lay there for a while with my ears cocked, just in case things got really nasty. Then, in spite of the heat, Willie Nelson, and the sound of dishes flying around the kitchen, I fell asleep.

What woke me up was the quiet. The whole world was dead. I looked over at my clock and saw nothing. Outage. In the summer, with all of Texas trying to reinvent Alaska, the power frequently goes out. I got up and went to the window. There were lights on in some of the houses. Maybe it was just a blown fuse. I threw on a robe, since I wasn’t wearing much, and tried to remember where the fuse box was. Or did we have switches?

My door wouldn’t open.

I shoved and pushed and kicked, but it wouldn’t budge. Something heavy was blocking it. Finally I started yelling, but nobody heard me; Mama and Hector were probably out cold. Eventually, my brains woke up. I went back to the window and pushed out the AC unit. Even though it didn’t work, the thing still weighed a ton – kind of like Hector. Then I climbed out the window and hopped onto the lawn.

When I came around to the front of the house, I saw the door hanging open. Hector’s car was gone, so he must have stormed off after tonight’s fight, leaving the front door wide open.

Total idiot, I thought. Don’t y’all come back now.

The house was pitch black, but I knew it well enough to find what I needed. Neither Mama nor Hector had gotten around to opening any of the drawers in the kitchen, except, of course, for the one that had the bottle opener in it, so the flashlight was still where I’d put it when we moved in last year.

The kitchen was a wreck. But, that was to be expected. I hadn’t gone in there for a while, so there’d been plenty of time for TV dinner trays and dirty dishes to pile up. The cans were having a pow-wow on the floor with some broken plates and there was a bunch of empty bottles on the table. It looked like Hector and Mama had graduated to the hard stuff last night. Or maybe it had been that way all week. I hadn’t been keeping track.

I walked out of the kitchen and headed down the hallway to the back of the house. There was something heaped in front of my door.

“Mama,” I said. I shook her as hard as I could. When I tried to lift her, Mama’s head snapped back like a broken doll.

I called 911.

When the ambulance arrived, I still hadn’t been able to wake her. I hadn’t even thought about the fuses, so I had to lead the medics through the house with my flashlight. I was glad they couldn’t see most of it. But what they couldn’t see they could smell. They took Mama straight to the detox unit of the hospital.

The doctor who finally came out to see me looked harried. It was 4 AM.

“She’ll need to stay here for a couple of weeks,” he said, glancing at her chart. “Are you a relative?”

I said yes.

“Good,” he said. “You’ll have to sign some forms.”

“Will she be all right?” I asked.

The doctor finally took a good look at me. “You aren’t a minor, are you?”

“No,” I said. “I turned eighteen last August.” And if we’d been in China, that would have been God’s honest truth.

“Good,” said the doctor. “Go to the main desk. They’ll have the papers ready.”

He hadn’t answered my question. After I’d signed everything, the nurse told me that I should probably take a couple weeks off work. It might help Mama to have someone there for support. I asked her if Mama was going to be all right.

“That depends,” she said.

There wasn’t much I could say to that.

* * *

I called in sick and told Mrs. Jackson I needed some time off. She grumped about unreliable help, but didn’t say I was fired. Thank god for small favors. Then I went back to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I needed to talk to somebody. I got into the car and drove to work, hoping that Mrs. Jackson wouldn’t catch me on the premises. I’d have a hard time explaining my miraculous recovery from the plague.

Clarence looked so happy to see me, I felt like bawling.

“I thought you were sick,” he said.

“No, my mother’s not well.” I said. “I’m going to have to take care of her for a couple of weeks.”

Clarence waved me into his room and shut the door. He pulled up a chair for me, and then sat on the edge of his bed.

“Is there anything I can do?” he said softly.

I just looked at him, sitting there in his green plaid shirt. Even first thing in the morning his eyes were clear and bright. He didn’t look like the sort of person who had ever gotten falling down drunk, or tried to pinch his step-daughter’s butt, or carted his mother off to detox. He looked like . . . Maine.

“No,” I said. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Clarence sighed and nodded. He knew I was in over my head. And what made me love him is that he didn’t call me out on it. He respected my decision to keep my problems to myself. And I knew that whenever I wanted to talk, he’d be there. In the end that was all I really needed. Just knowing Clarence was there was enough.

We sat for a moment. Then Clarence got up and took something out of the top drawer of his dresser. He handed me a little box.

“Open it,” he said. “I was going to save it for Christmas, but now seems to be a good time.”

Inside the box was a rusty-looking thing with five points, like a star. The top of it was covered with tiny pimples. I didn’t want to know what was on the bottom. It looked like something one of those weirdos on TV might eat if you offered him enough money.

“It’s a starfish,” he said.

It didn’t look even remotely like a fish. But, then again, lobsters don’t look like anything you’d want to put in your mouth either.

“Did you used to catch these things, too?” I asked.

“There’s a note,” he said. “Underneath.”

I lifted up one corner of the starfish with tip of my fingernail and saw a small square of paper. A star for Stella, it said.

“Umm,” I mumbled. I wasn’t good at getting gifts.

“Make a wish,” he said. “It’s a star.”

“I don’t have anything to wish for,” I lied.

Clarence looked down at me. “Follow your dreams, Stella,” he said. “While you still have them.” He held out his hand for me to shake, and I realized he’d never touched me before. I said goodbye to him then.

Y’all come back now,” he said.

Ayuh,” I replied. “I’ll send you a post card.”




* * *

When I came back to work, I was excited about seeing Clarence again. Hector had disappeared and Mama seemed to be doing much better without him. She had lost that gray haggard look, and she’d even whipped up a batch of chicken fried steak on her first night home. But with Mama it was hard to get hopeful. Within a month or two she’d probably be slugging it out with her next Hector, or maybe the same one. Anyhow, I was glad for the peace and quiet, even if it was temporary. I’d bought Clarence a big Stetson, just for laughs. I knew he wouldn’t be caught dead in it.

It was early, so I put on my uniform and started on my rounds. The chapel was quiet, as always, but this morning it was filled with flowers. There was a casket on the dais.

Oh, no, I thought. Mrs. Perkins has finally died. Delia Perkins was in her nineties and as fragile as a china teacup. We all expected her to go any minute.

I walked over to the casket and peered inside. Lying within the pale satin interior was a man in a suit and tie. He looked familiar.

“Is that really you?” I said. Some idiot had put glasses on his face.

“Oh, Clarence,” I whispered. “I bet you never wore glasses a day in your life.”

At all once, I had to sit down. I must have sat in the front pew for an hour. That’s about how long it takes me to make a decision. On my way out I gave Mrs. Jackson my notice. She didn’t look at all surprised. “You can’t count on young people nowadays,” she said.

When the chapel was opened for the service, the glasses Mrs. Jackson had placed on Clarence were missing. On his head he wore a big, black Stetson hat. A note was tucked into the hatband: Gone fishin’.

* * *

On Christmas Eve, a post card arrived at Shady Grove Estate addressed to a Mr. Clarence Savage. A box was kept in the main office for letters and cards such as these. In her spare time Mrs. Jackson would sit at her desk and inspect them for return addresses. She liked to write the letters of condolence herself. It gave Shady Grove that genteel touch for which it was so famous. She held the card a moment in her hand, automatically looking at the picture. Inappropriately, given the time of year, it was a photograph of waves crashing violently against dark, jagged rocks.

“Not very Holiday-like,” she murmured. Mrs. Jackson turned the card over. It was postmarked Southwest Harbor, Maine. There was no return address.

“Dear Clarence,” she read. “You were right. It’s bigger than Lake Travis. Wish y’all were here.

Love, Stella.”





7094134Erica Verrillo was raised in Syracuse NY, the daughter of classical pianist, Violet Silverstein, and noted psychophysicist, Ronald T. Verrillo.  At age seventeen Ms.Verrillo moved to England, where she performed in the Oxford Symphony Orchestra. On her return to the U.S. she attended New England Conservatory. She finished her undergraduate education at Tufts, where she majored in History.

After completing her degree, Ms. Verrillo spent two years hitchhiking through Central and South America, where she gained first-hand knowledge of the culture and politics of Latin America. Verrillo returned to complete her M.A. in Linguistics at Syracuse University. Soon afterward she joined SUNY Albany's Chiapas Project as a Mayan linguist. While in Mexico, Verrillo founded an aid organization for Guatemalan refugees, which she directed for ten years.
Ms. Verrillo has written three middle reader fantasies, the Phoenix Rising trilogy (Random House). She is the coauthor, with Lauren Gellman, of Chronic  Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide (St. Martin's) and author of Chronic  Fatigue Syndrome: A Treatment Guide, 2nd Edition. Her short stories have appeared in Million Stories, Front Porch Review, THEMA Literary Magazine, 580 Split and Nine.  Ms. Verrillo's first screenplay, The Treehouse, was completed in 2011. Erica Verrillo currently resides in Western Massachusetts. 

"Stella's Star Wish" was originally published in Million Stories.

Erica's website is Her blog, Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity can be found 
at as well.

CAN WE REWRITE THE EARTH (Peut-on réécrire la terre?)

by Jean-Paul Gailbert ©2014














Translated (poorly) by:


We have the chance:

in French, we have two words

very beautiful, and, first, quite parallel:

light writing, it is photography,

and the writing of the Earth, we call the geography.

But tell me, how, so far, we wrote the Earth?

Drew on passages

or the borders defined?

We open paths,

or closed doors?

We wrote

the Earth as

a prison

Against the roads and railways, the gates and the walls were multiplied.

And travel and adventure and infinity is disapproval gradually within the borders.

How many wars has been raised by introducing these limits no truce and no end

that the principle of the ownership trace and moves according to the forces and powers?



What is important

What is responsible

It is to rewrite the Earth

to write constantly to write endless

a thousand passages that laugh of the walls.

Follow the path of the underground. Out by all issues

Take the roads in all directions. Prefer shortcuts and stop

to prohibit

of the senses.



wandering and

one of




will be


Add a whole new meaning to the formula of democracy,

saying ‘a man, a track ‘. Each his way

and for all the meetings,

the thousand and one



Nous avons de la chance :

en français, nous avons deux mots

très beaux, et, d’abord, tout à fait parallèles :

l’écriture de la lumière, c’est la photographie,

et l’écriture de la terre, nous la nommons la géographie.

Mais, dites-moi, comment,jusqu’ici, a-t-on écrit la terre ?

A-t-on tracé des passages

ou défini des frontières ?

A-t-on ouvert des voies,

ou refermé des portes ?

Nous avons écrit

la terre comme

une prison

Contre les routes et les chemins, on a multiplié les barrières et les murailles.

Et le voyage et l’aventure et l’infini s’engluent peu à peu dans les frontières.

Combien de guerres a-t-on déclenché en instaurant ces limites sans trêve ni fin

que le principe de la propriété trace et déplace au gré des forces et des puissances ?



ce qui importe,

ce qui nous incombe

c’est de réécrire la terre

d’écrire sans cesse d’écrire sans fin

les mille et un passages qui…

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