Somewhat More Than Zero by Leah Mueller

When your boyfriend looks like Elvis Costello, you’d better be a new wave babe. I was the furthest thing from a new wave babe, and Rob knew it. Two years past high school, I still wore earth shoes, gray wool socks and tie-dyed wraparound skirts.

Nobody in Chicago dressed like that in 1979. I attracted a lot of unwanted attention. One night, at a pay phone in front of Hull House, two well-dressed yuppie businessmen gave me a once-over, then a twice-over. They gaped in wonderment at the album I was carrying. “Wow,” one of them said. “Best of Cream.”

Retro is a polite word for my vibe. I was a dork, too dense to keep up with trends. Still, I thought new wave guys were cute as hell. I spent hours at record stores near Belmont and Clark, staring with wistful longing at Costello’s expression of geek fury on the cover of “My Aim is True.”

Rob and I worked together at a Howard Street porn publishing outlet, located above an antique store. A long, wide stairwell led to the dark office I shared with several other young women. That stairwell freaked me out. Perhaps it was haunted, or perhaps I spent too many graveyard shifts talking on the phone to lonely men who wanted to buy lists of swingers for $25.00.

Rather, they shelled out $25.00 if they felt desperate and wanted to do more than masturbate. Rob had his own cubicle at the other end of the cavernous hallway. Hunched over his desk, he labored feverishly on essays that bore such titles as “50 Hot Pick-Up Spots in Chicago.”

Not surprisingly, most of the porno house employees liked to drink after work. We had forged a tight bond, one based on disgust and trauma. Our posse went to clubs like Neo and O’Banion’s. Everyone dressed for the scene except me.  Though I was a few weeks shy of 21, the bartenders never checked my ID. They just shoved vodka tonics in my direction.

After bar time, my co-workers crashed at my apartment. I lived in a third-floor walkup with two roommates. Brenda worked in the porno house with me, and Jackie was usually asleep. Jackie owned Dan Fogelberg albums and was even more of a nerd than I was. She didn’t want to know what we were doing in the living room.

One morning, around 3:00 AM, I gazed at Rob’s prostrate form as he slumbered on my couch. The guy looked adorable. His glasses had fallen to the floor, and one of his angular legs protruded from an armrest. “I want him,” I told Brenda.

She shrugged. “Go for it.”

Rob had a crush on our co-worker, Astrid. Blond, six feet tall, and fluent in German, Astrid could have any man she wanted. Though she’d flirted with Rob, I could tell she didn’t take him seriously. Her boyfriend was a musician who planned to drive to New Orleans in an ancient station wagon that was sure to break down along the way. She’d join him there after she had saved enough cash.

Rob was mine for the duration. Our routine seldom varied. We got together for a movie or a walk. He read aloud from some ponderous screenplay he was writing. I feigned interest and tried not to fall asleep. He showed me the latest album he’d bought and spent an hour talking excitedly about Martha and the Muffins or the B-52s.

When our obligatory ritual ended, we had sex in my queen-sized bed. Rob’s saving grace was his endless fount of erotic energy. His wiry body moved quickly on my mattress.

Obviously, impermanence had been written into our arrangement from the start. After a couple of months, Rob’s disdain became evident. “Why do you dress like you’re about to head to Woodstock?” he demanded. “Don’t you have any other clothes?”

Astrid shopped for outfits at Fiorucci, a glamorous shop on the top floor of Water Tower Place. Their cheapest wares cost at least $25.00, more than I made in five hours. I’d seen her shell out a week’s salary for a sequined Marilyn Monroe tee-shirt.

Before Astrid left for New Orleans, she gave me the shirt and a couple pairs of her Calvin Klein jeans. She stressed this was meant as a loan, not a gift. Astrid planned to travel light and return to Chicago in the spring.

I received several postcards from her during the ensuing weeks, keeping me apprised of her progress as she rode to San Diego with her boyfriend, dumped his ass, went to San Francisco, hooked up with a European tourist and crashed with him on my friend Mike’s floor in Fremont. Rob seemed pretty dull by comparison.

I started seeing another man. Paul wore a black leather jacket and jeans with knee rips. Though he had an explosive temper and a drinking problem, he could really rock the Ramones look. At least, he rocked it from the neck down. Paul bore a strong facial resemblance to Pete Townshend, and he played a mean blues guitar, using his toilet paper spindle as a slide.

My new boyfriend was jealous of Rob, but I didn’t want to place all my bets on one guy. Besides, Paul didn’t own me. He had another, part-time girlfriend – Nikki, a pot dealer and bigwig in the Chicago chapter of the Communist Youth League. She called Paul a misogynist but couldn’t resist that jacket.

When Astrid returned to Chicago, Rob and I decided to throw a small party for her at my apartment. The boozy gathering devolved into a threesome on my kitchen floor. Eventually, we migrated to my bed. Astrid had started to fall for Rob, and he dug it. I felt like I wasn’t even in the room.

Next morning, we nursed our hangovers with leftover pizza and listened to Gary Numan’s new album, “The Pleasure Principle.” I had purchased it before the party, hoping to impress my cool friends.

Synthesizers droned endlessly as we chomped on bits of cold pepperoni. The music sounded gloomy and depressing, like a dirge. Each note pulsated into my brain and made my hangover worse.

 “This record fits my mood exactly,” Astrid said.

Three days later, my phone rang in the middle of the night. “I want my jeans and tee-shirt back,” Astrid announced. I could hear Rob laughing in the background. “When can you bring them to me?”

I should have told Astrid to go to hell or someplace even worse. But I was a pushover, and I didn’t love Rob. I loved her. Astrid’s goddamned clothing wasn’t mine to keep, anyway. I felt like a pretender when I wore her Marilyn shirt, but I had grown fond of it. Her jeans fit me perfectly, which meant I was as skinny she was, although I loved to eat, and she didn’t.

Afterwards, I never heard from either of them again. I quit my job at the porno house and found a waitressing gig. Rob and Astrid got married a few months later. Word on the street claimed that the new wave couple didn’t get along. Rob liked to throw public tantrums, and Astrid spent most of her time doing damage control.  

Meanwhile, I had my hands full with Paul, who threw tantrums every other day. Both men were Geminis. Did that have anything to do with it?

The 70s were over, and the 80s stretched ahead like a paper roll with question marks on it. I had ended up with Paul by default but wasn’t sure if I’d grabbed the better end of the bargain. At least the two of us liked the same music. That had to count for something.


The story behind the story:

I’ve lived in several states, but I’ll always consider myself a Chicago gal. My voice originated on its gritty streets. The people I met during my early adulthood will always be with me. I often re-visit my young adulthood through my stories, as those years left an indelible impression. Intensely emotional, confused yet purposeful, I careened through life, creating perpetual havoc. There was a beauty to all of it that superseded the chaos. “Somewhat More Than Zero” serves as one of my favorite snapshots of that time period. It captures my restless drive for experience, even at the expense of my self-esteem. Writing the story helped me understand the young woman who still lives inside me.

Leah Mueller is the author of ten prose and poetry books. Her most recent book, “The Destruction of Angels” (Anxiety Press) was published in October 2022. Leah’s work appears in Rattle, Nonbinary Review,  Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. She was a 2022 nominee for Best of the Net. Her flash piece, “Land of Eternal Thirst” is in the 2022 edition of Sonder Press’ Best Small Fictions anthology. Website:

Somewhat More Than Zero was first published in Talking Soup magazine.

Header Photo by Andretti Brown.

A Micro By K.B. Carle

A Reminiscence of High School Required Reading that Triggered My Search for the Black Protagonist

Great Expectations | The Odyssey | Greek Tragedies | Henry the Fourth | Upon the Head of the Goat | Medea | Out of Many: A History of the American People | Sons and Lovers | The Great Gatsby | Mrs. Dalloway | The Tempest | Paradise Lost | A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies  | Of Mice and Men | The Things They Carried | Walt Whitman Selected Poems | Pride and Prejudice | A History of US: A History of the American People | The Catcher in the Rye | A Raisin in the Sun | To Kill a Mockingbird | Othello | The Autobiography of Malcom X | Death of a Salesman | Dante’s Inferno | Their Eyes Were Watching God | As I Lay Dying |


The story behind the story:

I originally wrote this micro to explore my complicated relationship with reading. What started as an extensive list that covered a majority of my middle school through master’s program required reading was edited to what you have here. My high school required reading in particular alienated me from actively participating in the imagined adventures the oftentimes white male protagonists were experiencing. I found that I never got “lost” in the reading and documenting these books was a reminder of where my hunger to find, as I mention in the title, the Black protagonist began. The beginnings of my hunger to read books by someone who looked like me. Books containing characters that I could become because they were different versions of me. I’m forever grateful to Dorothy Chan who originally accepted this CNF piece for HAD.

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her flash has been published in a variety of places including Okay Donkey Magazine, Lost Balloon, CHEAP POP, Five South, and elsewhere. K.B.’s stories have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, and her story, “Soba,” was included in the 2020 Best of the Net anthology. Her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at or on Twitter @kbcarle.

“A Reminiscence of High School Required Reading that Triggered My Search for the Black Protagonist” was first published in HAD.

Header Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash.

Divorced By Amy Barnes


A car the size of a house rams our house that’s the size of a house. Thunder from a 1986 Thunderbird shakes me out of my canopy bed to the window to the street. It’s the moment I know my mother is a liar, a big one. She lays there lazy for too long or maybe not long enough, in her satin-sheeted bed and satin-matching lingerie with a man who isn’t her husband or my father. Her lipstick is smeared and our house is too, a brick mouth opened up on one side. When the red lights encircle our house with the car-shaped hole in it, Mama staggers out wearing this not-father-man as a blanket. It’s not enough to hide him or her. The neighborhood sees extra glimpses that should have been kept secret — breast tops, upper thigh thunder, rumpled bedroom hair. My brother and sister and I all stand in the cul-de-sac all in our night clothes, clothed by midnight, staring at the full moon-shaped hole that has appeared in our house galaxy, stars guiding insurance adjusters and curious neighbors who watch papers float out, folded blowing into the sky. My mother and father’s signatures land in front of our house when the papers settle. We argue over who gets what name or what parent but it’s late and we have school and cold feet so everyone goes back to sleep, except me. I follow the policemen until they find my father a sidewalk away drunk on moon and moonshine next to the battering ram car that we used to take together to the beach and back. The muscle car isn’t parked next to oceanside muscle men anymore, just idling on the curb by a curbed man sobbing into his I went to Virginia Beach and all I got was this t-shirt t-shirt. There are hangers full of my father piled in the back seat next to fast food robe wrappers and receipt pillows and balled-up Kleenex and lawyer lists of divisions of property and parents. I stand by him in bare feet and bare anger, pat his bent shoulders and ask if he needs directions home. 


The story behind the story:

In the wee summer hours, there was a loud bang and sirens and flashing lights. When I took my daughter to school in the morning, the corner house had a gaping hole in its side. A car was upended in the ditch next to the house and what looked like legal papers were wind-held against trees. Kids waiting for the bus stood next to the car and the house with holes in the brick like they were broken monuments. The neighborhood gossip chain soon shared details: a drunken, angry man who left his family in the night, drove over the curb into the house and then tried to run away. They eventually fixed the house with new bricks, but it never quite matched and the family moved away. We still comment on the two-tone bricks and wonder where they are now. It wasn’t the first time a driver had driven into the side of a house — earlier the same year, another man took out two cars and an air conditioning unit. I needed the full story and wasn’t getting it, so I took all of that and added some defining-C into the NF of it all — into Divorced. 

Amy Cipolla Barnes is the author of three short fiction collections: AMBROTYPES published by word west, Mother Figures published by ELJ, Editions and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press. Her words have appeared in a wide range of publications including The Citron Review, Complete Sentence,The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, Southern Living and many others. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads/judges for The MacGuffin and Narratively.

“Divorced” was first published in Xray Lit.

Header Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

At Home, Adrift by Rashi Rohatgi

In lockdown, my son sings in the bath. “U is for ulta-pulta,” he says, quoting his current favorite book. He warns his wooden flamingo, “Here comes a topsy-turvy wave!” 

The research suggests that trying to pass on a language sans context to a third generation is hopeless, but I cannot stop. His first blocks were adorned with the forty-four letters of the Hindi alphabet; his bookshelf is full of the Indian comics my parents would bring back from family trips to India (or at least Edison, NJ). Usually he’ll pick one in English, but not so rarely, he’ll ask me to tell him the story of Hanuman or Ulupi in sentences I am sure he doesn’t understand. Perhaps this is partly because of the smug glee that I refrain from wiping off his face as he says, “Papa doesn’t understand this story. Only you and I speak Hindi.”

In our remote Norwegian town, you can hear dozens of languages, but you’d be lucky to hear the language I made one college boyfriend learn before we became exclusive. You’d probably be eavesdropping on me reciting a poem to myself, or have caught a snippet of a Bollywood tune coming out of my headphones. When we first arrived, I barely noticed, so immersed was I in my translation of a Hindi novel from Mauritius, a translation I’d wanted to do for fifteen years, a translation I’d been actively working on for almost ten. My son couldn’t speak then, and it was easy to narrate my work to him in Hindi during the day, English when my partner came home from work. 

But then he could talk, and he was starting daycare, and like the lovely woke people that they are, his daycare teachers asked him to tell the class something about his homeland: America. He told them that people in America were vegetarian, and how could I have been more thrilled? But my partner and I noticed that his accent was atrocious and quickly came up with a rule to make sure he’d still be able to communicate with all his grandparents: no Norwegian at home, only English. And Hindi, I added. But just with you, my son pointed out. 

Hindi, like so many aspects of my heritage, was always a background murmur in my life. It was the language of the movies we played on loop at parties, of two brown faces falling in love in the rain. It was the language my grandmother pretended she was illiterate outside of when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. It was half the grocery list. And it was this last bit that got me into trouble when I took a Hindi language placement exam at college: sure, I knew it, the oral examiner admitted, but I was using verbs about chopping carrots to discuss the news article about terrorist carnage. All I knew, he concluded, was “kitchen Hindi.” 

There were no Hindi classes offered at my level, and therefore no Hindi literature at the college library, but the Intro to Hindi professor offered me a book I’d never imagined would exist: an anthology of poetry written in Hindi by Americans, hyphenated and otherwise. I was swept out to sea: there was literature in Hindi, I gushed to my exasperated parents. Determined to read more of it, I convinced the U.S. government that someone ought to know it properly, and they chipped in two years at a grad school housing rows and rows of Hindi books. I fell in love with two people that year: a untranslated writer from Mauritius, or rather his humane, bell-clear Hindi poetry and prose – and a partner who’d never even heard that song where Rakim tried to sample Lata Mangeshkar singing  Bappi Lahiri’s “Thoda Resham Lagta Hai” without paying either of them. 

Over the next several years, my partner made it clear that he was open to learning as much about desi culture as I was willing to share: he taught himself to cook daal and bhindi, took a Bollywood dance class so he wouldn’t feel self-conscious at our wedding, took my parents on a tour of the British Parliament building by himself during which time all they did was compare it to a better Parliament building they’d seen elsewhere… but, he explained, he couldn’t do foreign languages. Drowning as I was in synonyms for toufaan, I thought nothing of it. Then, post Trump’s election, we settled in Norway with our newly-enlarged family. Before our child could speak, I found that, in fact, my husband could do foreign languages, very well. And then, all of a sudden, his not speaking Hindi was not okay. 

I got the call: the editors were happy with the final edits on the translation. I’d held that book so close to my heart, and now it was out in the English-speaking world. It was a world I no longer lived in, and when my partner suggested we celebrate, I grew furious. Didn’t he see I was disconsolate? All that comforted me was lying on the floor of our minimalist, Scandi-chic apartment, nursing the toddler while murmuring Hindi poetry into his ears. When, at the end of the month, it was time for me to leave my son for the longest we’d been apart since his birth – I’d be gone a week for a writers’ conference – I was so relieved to get away from my treacherously bilingual partner that I didn’t think of how it might be to leave the child. I felt unmoored while I was away, which seemed right; when I returned, though, I felt myself drifting further and further from who I’d been, from the relationships that had kept me anchored through a transatlantic move. My son was no longer a baby I could speak at, a vessel I could fill: he was a child with a mind and a tongue of his own, and as he told me all about the week I’d missed, I could see him translating as he spoke to me, reaching for the English phrase for something so very obvious to him in Norwegian. It was pointless, I decided. I switched my focus towards teaching him to ride a bike. I’d run in front of him, thinking jaldi, jaldi, but saying, “Faster, faster!” 

“When are you going to take them to India?” asked my best friend. It was winter, pre-pandemic, when everything seemed possible. 

Except that. The last time few times I’d been to India, my trip had centered around funerals. Since I’d arrived in Norway, I’d missed even those, unable to physically get from location A to location B before the body was turned to ashes, the ashes returned to the Ganges. My visa had run out; the country’s new government was one I couldn’t abide. “Later,” I said, and I meant it. 

Then: lockdown, further funerals. I started using Hindi again. “What are you saying?” my son would ask, but I wouldn’t answer. Now I used Hindi to shut him out of conversations with relatives, mournful ones. All the death vocabulary I’d learned to ace future exams about carnage instead of kitchens was deployed in a virtual outpouring of grief that stretched from east to west. 

The problem was: it was too late. Indian comics – often based on Hindu mythology – are grim. Endings from a few stories we’d enjoyed before I’d decided not to bother included: a monkey setting an island on fire and watching it burn, a doofus watching from a treetop as a lion ate his friends, a mother falsely accusing her adopted mongoose-son of murder and then murdering him, instead. My son already knew the word for dead. 

“Can flamingos swim?” he asks, his hand poised to plunge the pink painted block into the watery depths.

“I don’t think so,” I answer. “They do hang out in water, though. Want me to look it up on my phone?” 

“Yes,” he says, waiting. I turn to my phone, enter the search terms. It turns out I am wrong. I am about to tell him so when he speaks again. “If they can’t swim, why do they hang out in water?”

Here’s the truth: my parents’ language is not a bridge I can use to keep uncertainty at bay. I can give my son as happy a childhood as I had – Christmas and Diwali, Holi and the Norwegian Day parade on the 17th of May – but he will always know English, his secondary language, as one both for the kitchen and for house rules regarding quarantine. And he may never know enough Hindi to make me feel less isolated. For a moment I’m stumped, and then he answers his own question. 

“Jeevan uska pani hai,” he says. It is a line from a poem I’d recite to him in the bath long before he could speak – “its life is water” – long before I worried about his reaction to its last line, where everybody in the poem dies. I look at my son. He gives the flamingo a kiss, hoping for the best, and, with a splash, lets it fall. 


The story behind the story:

 As a quiet child, my spoken Hindi was never great, and I often worried that my Indianness itself would seep from me from lack of use. Discovering Hindi literature quelled my anxieties; even if I never spoke another word in any language, reading made me feel like a part of something. In a pandemic with a child too young to teach to read, the limitations of my bookish Hindi, my bookish nature, made all of my other limitations shine brighter. How could I make my child know that he wasn’t alone when I felt that, for who knew how long, we were? 

Rashi Rohatgi is the author of Sita in Exile (Miami University Press, 2023) and Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow (Galaxy Galloper Press, 2020), the English translator of Blood-Red Sweat (Lal Pasina), and the Fiction Editor at Waxwing Literary Journal. She lives on the beach in Norway, on twitter as @rashirohatgi, and at

“At Home, Adrift” was first published in Angime.

Header Photo by Eelco Böhtlingk on Unsplash.

Two Micros by Jared Povanda

The Idea of a Thing is Not the Thing Itself

This boy wants a cat for the idea of a cat. Real responsibility chokes him. This boy wants to embody the writer—navy sweater, gold chinos, salmon boat shoes, honey hair tousled, thick brown glasses, posing with the frothing sea at his back, black feline in cashmere arms. This boy would be charming and this boy would be coquettish and this boy wouldn’t be pathetic. This boy wouldn’t tip and fall forward into foam. He wouldn’t spend his days staring at the ceiling, counting knots in the wood, wondering, sinking inward, considering his every mistake from 1995 to now.

It was a moment. The impact of moonlight and campus slicked underfoot. Leaves scratched brick. This boy was struck by the lust that snuck behind him, held his shoulders, smirked, became a weight he couldn’t swallow around. Shoes scuffed hard cobbles. Wind tore this boy’s hair. 

It was a moment, two strangers passing. This boy didn’t call out. This boy didn’t say, I like your shirt. This boy didn’t bump a shoulder and, oh, sorry, Im such a klutz. This boy walked past, beyond, gnashing. 

For this boy, regret is not an ocean, and regret is not a cat, but the view of a still lake from a long-ago dormitory window. How the water carried the following morning’s red light like a heart spilled.  


The Distance Between

This boy has never been in love. He takes his phone to bed, a ghost or a third hand, he can’t say. Can anyone, anymore, the world being what it is? 

He yearns as the hours creep. Desperate to mimic the way winter wind slips through bare branches. For someone to pin him on pine needles. For morning to slap his skin.

He is a dressing gown, a softness, a swanning. An exhale of cold air in a cold living room spangled with Christmas lights spaced exactly two and a half inches apart. Manufactured to never touch. 


The story behind the story:

“The Idea of a Thing is Not the Thing Itself”: Both of these micros are part of my “This Boy” series. Writing nonfiction from the third person point of view forces me to contend with myself as a Character. What does this character want? To be noticed. To be loved. When this happened to me in Ithaca, I did feel pathetic. The regret that suffuses the piece only came years later, with time and a different vantage point.

“The Distance Between”: I couldn’t figure out how to end this micro. How could I thread loneliness and desire together in a way that felt genuine to me? In December of 2020, watching a show about Christmas lights with my family, the care and precision the decorators attended to their lights gave me this perfect metaphor for sustained and permanent distance.

Jared Povanda is a writer, poet, and freelance editor from upstate New York. He has been nominated multiple times for Best of the Net and Best Microfiction, and his work has been published in numerous literary journals including Wigleaf, The Citron Review, and Fractured Literary. You can find him online @JaredPovanda,, and in the Poets & Writers Directory.

“The Idea of a Thing is Not the Thing Itself” and “The Distance Between” were first published in Hobart.

Header Photo by R Mo on Unsplash

Driving Like a Boss by Myna Chang

T-Rex dislikes my neighbor’s dog. It’s a vicious little yapper. T-Rex is afraid Neighbor-Dog will bite his foot.

Stop being a wimp, I say. Stomp that mutt.

Sometimes Neighbor-Dog chases my kid. 

Don’t let that yapping menace chase my kid, I say. Use those big dinosaur feet.

T-Rex would rather go water skiing.

Fine, I say. But I can’t drive the boat. There’s too much turbulence.

I’ll do it, T-Rex says. Vroom vroom.

The other skiers have each cut a deep wake, leaving the water crisscrossed with suburban machinations and zero-sum playdates. Their waves push us off course.

Driving sucks, T-Rex says. Let’s eat ice cream instead. It’ll settle our nerves.

T-Rex eats a lot of ice cream.

Stop it, I say. That won’t help. Let’s watch a movie.

T-Rex slurps another gob of frozen avoidance.

We need a change, I say. Pick a new movie. Something strong.

T-Rex wants to watch Bridget Jones’s Diary. Again.

Nope, I say. We’re gonna watch Die Hard this time.

T-Rex wants to argue. I throw away the dinosaur’s ice cream.

T-Rex is taken aback.

Yippee kiyay! I say. We can too drive this damn boat, as fast and loud as we want, right through that stupid parent-teacher conference.

This oughtta be good, T-Rex says.

Miss Judgmental Math Teacher does not think it’s good.She squints down her nose at us, but T-Rex and I are through being wimps. We rev our engine.

“And no, Miss Judgy-Pants,” I say, gaining momentum. “I wouldn’t care to keep my voice down. Nobody understands Common Core Math, so back off my kid.”

Drivin’ like a boss now, T-Rex says. We slice a new channel through the neighborhood, spraying backwash and brass at all our antagonizers as we slalom past.

My kid is taken aback.

“You yelled at my teacher,” he says.

“Yep,” I say.

That mean kid from the playground, too, T-Rex says.

“It was easy,” I say.

We kinda liked it, T-Rex says.

“Coach Pushy-Man didn’t much like it,” I say.

Yippee ki-yay! T-Rex says.

My kid flops on the floor like a spilled fish. “Your coping mechanism is ruining my life,” he says.

Pfft. As if I’m the only mom with a dinosaur in her boat.The mom across the street skis with a frickin’ velociraptor. Nobody messes with her kid. And I’m pretty sure that PTA tyrant has a megalodon swimming in her wake. She always gets her way.

“T-Rex is too loud,” my kid fish-flops.

“We’re being assertive,” I say.

“That’s not what my soccer coach called it,” he says.“Mom, the dinosaur has to go.”

I am taken aback.

“Go?” I say.

But we just figured out how to drive the boat.


The story behind the story:

My anxiety dreams often include a T-Rex. Sometimes I’m the dinosaur, stomping my way through life; other times, T-Rex is my reluctant partner in crime. In this story, I explore the stress of parenting in a hyper-competitive neighborhood where I do not fit in. I wanted to look more closely at the line between successfully advocating for my child, and becoming an overbearing bitch. The dinosaur helped me access and distill my thoughts, and nagged me when I wanted to nap instead of editing.  

Myna Chang’s work has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, and CRAFT, among others. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writings Award in Flash Fiction, and she hosts the speculative fiction discussion group Electric Sheep. Her chapbook, The Potential of Radio and Rain, will be published by CutBank Books in 2023. Read more at or @MynaChang.

“Driving Like a Boss” was first published in the Grace and Gravity: Furious Gravity anthology.

Header Photo by Anita Denunzio on Unsplash

Two Micros by Melissa Llanes Brownlee


Your hair is going gray but you don’t want to dye it yet. That would admit defeat. I part its darkness in uneven rows, with a comb, starting in the front and working my way to the back, hunting. Pull it out from the root, you instruct, but I can’t get a good grip with my tiny hands and I break it, don’t tell you, and I keep trying to find my targets. It’s not fun but I have to do it, or else. You are seated in front of your makeshift vanity and I am standing on a stool because I am not quite tall enough but you don’t care as my arms and legs hurt from the minutes that feel like hours.

You finally give in, and also decide to take me to get my eyebrows professionally done. The Brooke Shield’s look is so out honey, the man at the beauty shop tuts at me. You smile in agreement under your shower cap of black. You didn’t tell me that I would spend my mornings, my hands finally big enough, tweezing my own face, after this, but I do, and it’s all hunting and trying to pull it out from the root and breaking and remembering your anger which is mine.

Later I will think about those days of searching and plucking and breaking the white hairs on your scalp, the veins, blue and red beneath my growing hands, as I move across my own face. Sometimes I think about those weekend afternoons and wish we had shared something more than this.


Of Being

Your auntie has too many damn kids mom tells me one day over a glass of Chablis. She’d just taken a capsule of Fastin for dinner as she laughs at her cousin living on government cheese and food stamps, cornflakes served with spoonfuls of sugar and powdered milk. Even at an early age, I knew the shame of being poor, of being fat, of being anything my mom thought wasn’t classy. On her second glass, she whispers the story of how auntie’s mom smothered her last child when she fell asleep, rolling her immense body onto the baby as it nursed. That’s why she has so many kids mom continues to whisper into her third glass, her slender hands cupping it like the face of a sleeping child.


The story behind the stories:

These micros deal with the complicated relationship I have with my mother. In “Tweezer,” it’s an exploration of aging and beauty as well as the expectations of being a daughter. “Of Being” continues this conversation with an added layer of trauma from extended family, alcohol and diet pill abuse. I am so grateful to Sarah Freligh and Meg Pokrass for their workshops last fall where these CNF pieces were created.

Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, Milk Candy Review, Lost Balloon, Atlas + Alice, Fictive Dream, Maudlin House, Five South, and Cotton Xenomorph. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at

“Tweezer” was originally published in Red Fez, “Of Being” was originally published in JMWW.


Header Photo by Guilherme Petri on Unsplash

Deserted Valley by Amanda K. Jaros

 Winter was coming. I bumped along the frosted dirt road in the Park Service truck, veering to avoid the biggest potholes. Any day I took out the truck was a good day, but the shining sun and sapphire blue sky made today all the more appreciated.

I was a guest in this desert for a few months, working at Hovenweep National Monument. Most days I spent at the Square Tower ruins greeting people in the Visitor’s Center. But days like this were why I was here: The times I could get out of work boots, into hiking boots, and step deeper into the nature of the place. Today’s plan was to check on two of the outlying sites and show a rangerly presence. We called it work, but I took an afternoon alone amongst the juniper trees and ancient ruins as one of the perks of the job.

Hovenweep, which in Paiute/Ute means “deserted valley,” is comprised of a handful of acres spread out across the border of Utah and Colorado, containing Ancestral Puebloan sites.  While these mesas and canyons were once a bustling center of activity for hundreds of people, these days not many people visited the Monument, which lay nestled in the desert an hour and a half drive from the modern world. It felt like a deserted valley to me.  

By December, the other seasonal volunteers and rangers had moved on, and only the lead ranger, Jim, and I were left to take care of everything. With just us two available, it meant I often worked alone in the Visitor’s Center. It astounded me that they would leave a twenty-four-year-old, white, hippie girl from New Jersey to run the joint, but with a daily winter average of 15 visitors, I guessed they figured I could handle it.

Today, however, held an uncommon treasure. Jim stayed behind and I escaped the Visitor’s Center to make the rounds in the cold afternoon sunshine. Hackberry ruins waited silently as I parked the truck and climbed out. The air was dry and stark. Nothing moved. 

The desert plains offered little noise; no buzz of technology anywhere, no cars, no tall leafed trees to rustle had there been any wind. Only my feet created any sound—kicking stones aside, sliding across dry dirt, and rock hopping. I moved along the trail to look for offending garbage, or any signs of people at all. Nothing. It seemed a place frozen in time.

The Hovenweep I had begun to know held its grip on me as I imagined time in solitary confinement might; nothing to break the silence except me. I could scream at the top of my lungs and no one would hear. I could lie in the middle of the trail looking up and lose myself into the blue. I could sing my favorite tunes as badly and loudly as I wanted, without fear of anyone but the coyotes judging me. Sometimes I just sat, looking around, listening to nothing. It was the biggest sound I had ever heard. All that nothing, with nothing but me to fill it. I usually didn’t even try.  


By 4:30 I turned back to the Visitor’s Center, avoiding the same cracks and ruts in road. I pulled up next to the boxy, grey-blue building to find Jim coming in from the last tour of the day. He blended in quite well with the desert in his requisite olive-green Dickies and hat with yellow National Park Service patch on it. Only his long, grey-white hair stood out against the backdrop. The wind had picked up and he and his four elderly and enthusiastic charges scurried in from the cold.

The actual area inside the building where visitors could stand and peruse books, videos, and various stuffed lizards was about the size of a bathroom. A doorway led to a room half that size where we volunteers and rangers sat to greet park guests. This connected to a third room, Jim’s office. There was a back door hallway, about the size of a shower stall, which connected these rooms, and one tiny bathroom out back. The quaint building was cozy and served its purpose. It allowed us a roof over our heads when it rained and gave visitors from around the globe a place to begin their journey into the castles of the past.  

It was a mid-December Wednesday, and this last tour had been the only one of the day.  While I had been lazing around the outlying ruins, Jim had been lazing around the Visitor’s Center, doing paperwork, and making sure to correctly count the eight visitors who managed to make it out this far. The elderly guests left and we began to lock up for the night.

“Talked to the Boss last night, and guess what?” Jim asked in the playful way he always spoke. 

“They’re coming tonight to install the phones?” I replied. There had been promises of phone service for weeks now, but somehow it kept failing to materialize.

“No. They’re giving us a millennium surprise. They’re going to tear down this old place and build a new Visitor’s Center. Pave the parking lot, and the road coming in, and give us a whole new modern feel here.”

I wondered how anyone could construct a new building when they couldn’t even get the phone lines installed, but I asked “How long have you known this, Jim?”

“Oh, they’ve been talking about it for a while, but you know the Boss. Always tell the people at Hovenweep what’s going to happen to Hovenweep after it’s been decided. I guess they’re finally gonna do it,” he replied.

He spoke with a laugh, but I guessed that he was not pleased about the modernization of the Monument. Despite his being a pretty reclusive person, I had gotten to know and like Jim a lot. He had been working as the main caretaker of Hovenweep for many years, and if anyone was entitled to an opinion about this news, it was he. Unlike our current regional boss, who appeared to be only in the Park Service to see how soon she could become director of the whole operation, Jim genuinely loved Hovenweep.  

As we finished up our daily record keeping, I took real notice, maybe for the first time, of the building my life currently revolved around. It fit perfectly into the flat desert landscape, neither sticking out drastically, nor disappearing entirely. It was there when you needed it, kind of like what I imagined the ancestral Puebloan people were striving for with their buildings. 

While no one knows for sure what those ancient buildings were used for, some theorize that the Puebloans went inside for small gatherings, or to cook, or just to get out of a snowstorm. Whether the people simply did not spend a lot of time inside because the buildings were small, or the buildings were built small so the people would not spend too much time inside, was unclear.  Regardless, the ancient people lived outside, on the mesas, in the canyons, with the world. I liked that about them, and felt like this aging Visitor’s Center was a reflection of their style.  

“Well, who needs this junky old shack when you can get the taxpayers to build you a new one,” I said as Jim locked the doors behind us.


A week later the Boss came to Hovenweep for a visit. She met with Jim, did her perfunctory check-ups on various aspects of our work, and left before lunch. It seemed she preferred the flashier parks likes Arches, Canyonlands, and Natural Bridge, where gorgeous works of nature needed protecting, hundreds of visitors required impressing, and nonstop issues demanded managing. It was standard that Hovenweep fell onto the bottom of the pile for her. 

But this time the Boss had brought with her the wave of the future, the architectural drawings for the new Visitor’s Center. As soon as she left, I dived into the plans with Jim. 

It was to be a modest building, but distinctly different from the desert landscape. It would have a large interpretive space and shop area, offices, actual separate bathrooms for men and women, vending machines, and best of all, phone service. It would be built closer to the road, which meant those working in it would be enclosed quite deeply within and not have a direct line of sight down to Square Tower. I preferred the current setup, where the winter winds blew right through the single panes, causing me to look up from the desk and into the world outside. The plans looked nice, but Jim and I agreed that it all was so unnecessary. 

In 1923, President Warren G. Harding declared Hovenweep a National Monument. Around the same time, our little building was built at Mesa Verde National Park, some fifty miles away. By the 1950’s, the public began to visit Hovenweep, and a Visitor’s Center was required. Some creative park employees cut the little building in half, and carted the two pieces from Mesa Verde to Hovenweep. They reassembled it, took a few pictures, and voila, instant headquarters. 

I couldn’t help but notice that our whole job at Hovenweep was to preserve the buildings of an ancient people, exalt their lives, and understand their motivations, and yet the NPS powers that be were so eager to throw away this interesting bit of recent history. Jim began a fight to preserve the building, gathering historical documents and photographs, contacting retired rangers for information, and building a case to present to the NPS. 

People who made the effort to travel all the way out to Hovenweep generally appreciated history, and they liked the story the old Visitor’s Center had to tell. At the very least, visitors suggested that the new center be built (who doesn’t like new bathrooms?), but the old one be kept to celebrate Hovenweep’s history. It seemed to the Park Service, however, that the history of the Monument itself was less valuable than the history of what the Monument protected.


Before returning to New Jersey for a Christmas break, I headed back to the outliers to hike the four-mile trail across Bureau of Land Management land that connected Square Tower to its closest neighbor, Holly. Arriving on another perfectly sunny day, I sat on a cold slab of pale rock to ponder the incredulity of these seven-hundred-year-old remnants.

At the head of the canyon rested a large boulder. Atop the boulder, a typical stone Ancestral Puebloan building somehow clung to the rock surface. Holly House. With the side walls completely flush to the rock itself, and stone bricks of the same color and texture, the building simply looked like an extension of the boulder. One impossible side door overhung the canyon below. 

I imagined people walking all around this shallow canyon, living their everyday lives, and climbing up to that tiny doorway when they needed whatever laid inside the building. A whole community lived in this area, and only these few ruins remained.

It pleased me to know that at one time, in one place, right where I was, there were people who lived in harmony with their world. I didn’t doubt that they affected nature in their own ways, but they somehow had a handle on meshing with it, too. They built a stone structure that blended into a boulder and created a city that left nothing behind but that boulder house as evidence. 

As I made my way down the scrubby canyon trail, I thought about the new Visitor’s Center that would replace our eighty-year-old shack and felt sad. Not because I imagined that new bathrooms would suddenly draw in hoards of disrespectful Americans to trample the ruins and disintegrate the structures with their greasy French-fry fingers. No distance of paved road, or glistening of new facilities would be quite enough to entice any but the most excited travelers to come here. No, I was more concerned with how Hovenweep would feelafter such a big transition. It meant the end of an era. The end of simplicity, minimal impact on this environment, perhaps even the silence. 

Eventually, I came to the junction of trails that led to Square Tower and saw the ruins at the canyon edge. I realized that an entirely different era had ended when the Ancestral Puebloan people moved away from here in the 1280s. They lived and died and raised their babies in and around these canyons for hundreds of years. And then, they left, leaving everything of their world behind. Would they laugh at our silly little rock pathways and our obsessive ranger rules about not touching the stone buildings? Would they find it strange to feel a connection to an old building and want to preserve it? Did they carry sadness for what they had left behind? 

I wasn’t sure I could ever know the answers to all the questions that Hovenweep asked.  But I knew that I wanted future visitors to be able to stand in the silence of this place and reach out with their own hearts and minds into the deep nothing and discern for themselves the answers.


The threat of a world computer crash riveted the news as I made my way back to the desert after Christmas holiday. I arrived on December 31st, 1999, prepared for at least three more months of silent service to the Monument. I watched some New Year’s Eve celebrations on the static-y TV, and figured that since Sydney and Beijing had not melted into oblivion at the changing of the clock, then we Americans probably wouldn’t fare much worse. With Jim sequestered in his house for the night, I went to bed early in my own apartment, ready for another quiet day at the Visitor’s Center. I doubted anyone would come on New Year’s Day, but I would be well-rested to greet them if they did.  

I awoke to a sound. Like the foolish girls in horror movies, I tiptoed to the living room to see what it was. I stood in the dark and heard a soft dripping noise on the roof. The living room clock turned to midnight as I moved to the front door and stepped out into the night. 

It had begun to snow. I looked up into the black sky and the million stars I usually saw there had been replaced by millions of white flakes drifting down on me. I laughed to myself. If this was the oblivion of the new century, I would take it.

The thin veil between the lives of the Ancestors and my own lifted, ever so silently, ever so briefly. I finally understood. I knew that they had felt some sadness as they gathered their babies and left their world behind. I would feel the same way when my time in the deserted valley ended. I loved the old grey Visitor’s Center, as I loved the old Puebloan buildings of stone, but any one building, whether from this era or one long past, did not make this place what it was. A year from now, when new staff, new bathrooms, new phones, and a big shiny Visitor’s Center building overtook this land, it would still be Hovenweep. Just as it had been for hundreds, if not thousands of years. 

The cold air whispered across my face and the wet snow clung to my hair. Winter had arrived.


The story behind the story:

“Deserted Valley” was the first essay I ever published. At that time my writing process was undeveloped. I knew the story I wanted to tell with the piece, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I wrote it more than ten years after the winter I spent at Hovenweep National Monument, so I went back to my old journals and photos to glean the day-to-day life I had lived in the desert. It sounds cliché, but Hovenweep is a truly magical place, and I wanted to tap into that source again. I sat quietly at my writing desk and allowed the memories and moods of that landscape to resurface. The more I did that, the more easily the words spilled onto the page and the pieces came together into something I hoped would reflect the beauty and power of Hovenweep.

Amanda K. Jaros is a freelance writer and editor. Her essay “Blood Mountain” won the 2017 Notes from the Field contest at Flyway Journal. Other work has appeared in journals including, Newfound, Appalachia, Stone Canoe, and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Literary Mama and holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Chatham University. She lives in Ithaca, NY with her husband and son.

“Deserted Valley” was first published in print in Pilgrimage Magazine in 2013.

All photos courtesy of Amanda.

The Weight of Light by David Luntz

The weight of light can be measured by my uncle Kev’s death. But before that, some memories: it’s family dinner and uncle Kev’s explaining how the bread mashed in his ex-boxer’s, sixty-year-old fist represents Pangea and the glass of wine in his fingers the Tethys Sea. He’s telling us about the earth’s history, Wegener’s theory of continental drift, orogeny, extinct volcanoes, dragonflies in amber, and trilobites. Mom and dad tune him out. As do I. I get enough of that kind of shit at school. But uncle Kev doesn’t care. He’s relentless, a natural fighter, and won’t stop until he’s educated me properly. Most of his instructing, though, takes place in his car, when he’s driving me somewhere. There’s no escaping him there.

When he talks about light, his eyes gleam like wet pebbles. He always smells nice, like Old Spice™️ aftershave. He waves his hands a lot. They’re hairy and tufted, like a coconut. His polished nails blur cyan in the air. One time, he tells me about how light actually dies, as it hits our eyes, and says, “Isn’t that beautiful, I mean that light must die so we can see?” I wish I’d really been listening to him, at what he was really trying to tell me, but I thought he was just plugging some lame metaphor: like light is just like Jesus, always sacrificing and always giving, as if light exists in some sublime state of eternal crucifixion and resurrection. And I reply: Maybe light would rather not die. Maybe light doesnt give a shit about our sight.

It’s the only time I remember him giving me a grieved look. But this was before, and now we’re driving down Route One and uncle Kev blurts out, “Kinch”, which is what he calls me after reading Ulysses, “Answer me this, How’s the spirit supposed to fecking survive when it’s got to look at this shite every fooking day?,” nodding at the strip malls and billboards, a question whose unanswered weight each passing season presses down on me like ten thousand leaves, maybe more, because soon afterwards came his limp wrists floating like pale petals in a pink scurf that won’t come out of the tiles. And because he still burns and reaches me like light from a dead star, it makes no sense to say he no longer exists, especially, when I see him, as a child, basking on kilned rocks after swimming in the cold water of Keeley Bay, telling me how much he loves it there, the sunbaked scent of stranded kelp, the wisps of tickling seaweed, and the way light rushes into spaces he never knew about inside him: shooting deep inside him, promising him that it will always be there and never leave him. And I wonder too, sometimes, if what he did was his way of giving back the gift, so light could see things it couldn’t otherwise see, and whether somewhere, perhaps not so far off, he stills skips up to some sunny attic, where he unpacks his sewing machine and stitches a dress from old curtains, hoping that with his new lip stick and pumps, when he hits the streets that night, he might get lucky.

(For my uncle who took my education upon himself, since he trusted no school to do it.)


The story behind the story:

This piece is the first in a series I’ve been writing about an uncle (“Uncle Kev) who’s been visiting a teen version of myself over the last year or so. He’s Irish (like my grandfather) and was a formidable boxer. He’s annoying. He demands to be heard. He’s trying to stop me from molding myself too closely to society’s conforming demands. His life’s project is to do away with my high school’s curriculum so I can learn to think for myself. He’s obsessed with light, too, and will abuse any chance he has to lecture about its physical, ethical, literary and philosophical properties. I think, also, he comes around because he can’t save himself, so he’s trying to save me. Uncle Kev has visited X-R-A-Y Lit, Orca, Janus Literary and will appear soon in Atticus Review. 

Work is forthcoming or appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Reflex Press, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions (2021), trampset, X-R-A-Y Lit, Fiction International, Orca Lit, Atticus Review, Ellipses Zine and other print and online journals. Find him on Twitter.

“The Weight of Light” was first published in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. 

Header Photo by Eric Masur on Unsplash

Wild Thing by Eileen Vorbach Collins

Her tail is up and there is a spring to her step as my Labrador non-retriever mix heads out on her morning walk through the manicured landscape of our gated, cookie-cutter community. The Saint Augustine grass is thick and coarse and while she is not fond of the feel of it on her paw pads, she does love a leisurely sniff of the secrets hidden deep inside the nearly impenetrable mat.

There went Barnum, the lumbering old English Lab she so wants to romp with, but who makes the hair on her back stand up like she must have a touch of Rhodesian Ridgeback somewhere in her DNA. Barnum’s scent is fresh— he must have been here already this morning. And here, here is the scent of little Raven, the sweet and timid Schnauzer with the lovely silky beard who shakes and trembles even as she approaches, trying to make friends.

After a short time, we come to the special place. This deeply shaded area is a scene straight out of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and Sugar approaches with  not-quite-unbridled curiosity and  more than a bit of trepidation. The sniffing becomes more intense and her ears are now lying back like the fins on a ‘57 Chevy. What’s that? A scaly armadillo? Or perhaps it’s an otter or a bobcat. These scents are still unfamiliar. It’s not the rabbit or squirrel or even the fox she knew from our Northern home. This reeks of something deliciously feral and, though she is cautious, she wants to know more.

This small oasis in the middle of a beautiful but homogenous plant palette is a thicket of saw palmetto, Sabal palm, prickly Bidens alba, and grand live oaks heavy with tillandsia. Hundreds of ball moss cling like gnarled claws to knobby branches while the Spanish Moss hangs like flowing tresses, making me think of fairy tale witches and their spells. The damp fetid earth, the mosses and lichens, the decomposing bodies of snakes and grubs, all sustaining so much life. Even as the plant and animal carcasses pile up, millions of creatures are living and breeding in this bio-soup of steamy bog. Towering old Slash pines welcome nesting herons, owls, and hook-beaked ibis. By the grace of all that is sacred, the landscape crew with Roundup tanks on their backs do not bother to come here. Maybe the witch has scared them off.

If I would let her, this dog would dig here in the deep pile of dropped fronds from the cabbage palms, unearthing ants and beetles, anoles, and God knows what else. She would dive in and roll about with abandon, loving the feel and the smell of it all on her coat. How she would love to get her teeth on a real scrap of bone and sinew, with maybe even a bit of fur left behind to tickle her palate

A small ringneck snake catches her attention and I pull her away before she can pounce on it. I keep her a safe distance from the hefty toxic Bufo toad who looks stern and judgmental and the two-striped walking stick that can shoot its stinging venom straight into your eye from quite a distance, and won’t hesitate to do so as my little fluffy dog who waits at home for her walk will tell you.

The rescue people said Sugar had one puppy, maybe there were more, but only one that they knew of. The details were sketchy, but it looked as though it hadn’t been too long ago that she’d nursed her pup.

Who knows what stories Sugar would tell if she could? Why did she cower that night early on as my husband took off his belt preparing for bed? Why does she timidly approach, yet still shrink back when a man reaches out to pet her?

Sometimes Sugar romps and frolics and acts like a puppy as though she’s fully recovered from the bad times. She’ll wag her tail and smile, and it seems that all is right in her world. There are times though, that she is very sorrowful. She’ll plod along with her head down or curl up in a corner with a loud sigh. It’s these times that I find it so hard to comprehend how people can believe that animals don’t have memory and feelings of sadness and despair.

Sugar and I have gone gray together over these past ten years. I do my best to give her happy moments and give her space to have her lamentations. I hope that our walks on the wild side will take her out of the sad place  she goes to when she’s too long confined in the house. But wait! That’s me. It’s me that needs to get outside – to see and smell the wild things, to dig in the dirt, to stir the soup and explore the bog.

Maybe it’s really Sugar that’s doing her best to give me happy moments and space for mylamentations. We’ve learned a lot from one another, and although we talk long and often, there are secrets so terrible that neither of us will ever be able to share.  It would break our hearts.

Satisfied for now that all is well in our jungle, we are silent on the short walk back to civilization.

These small wild places, these exquisite gifts tucked away in our urban landscape, offer respite from the safety of our air-conditioned fortress. Sugar will lie on the cool tile, feet racing as she chases the wild prey of her dreams. I will sit nearby, reading of adventure.


The story behind the story:

While looking for a home, my husband and I found the unusual HOA in Florida that would allow Sugar, our 70-pound lab mix and Sophie, our 14-pound Bichon. We could, if we wished, even add a third dog to our family. We rented with an option to buy. I wrote Wild Thing in my head while on a morning walk with Sugar. It was one of the first essays I ever published. I was not yet comfortable writing about my daughter’s suicide. So afraid of judgment, so mindful of the stigma, I allude to that grief in the essay, but leave it to the reader to gauge. Melancholy or Madness?

One day I counted 13 vultures roosting in a dead tree and thought it an omen. Although my
husband and I made some lasting friendships and there were some great things about the
community (a poetry slam with guitars and steel drum!), we soon decided the gated oasis was not for us. 

I read most of my work to Sugar before submitting. Little Sophie recently crossed the rainbow bridge, but I still talk to her too.

Eileen Vorbach Collins is an essayist from Baltimore. Her work has been published in SFWP Quarterly, The Columbia Journal, Reed Magazine, the Brevity Blog, Shondaland, and elsewhere. Her essays, have received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction, the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award, and two Pushcart Prize nominations. Her essay collection, Love in the Archives, is forthcoming in 2023 from Apprentice House Press, Loyola University.  Find her on Twitter here

“Wild Thing” was first published in In Parentheses Magazine.

Header Photo by Matt Bradford-Aunger on Unsplash