My Shadow’s Shadow by Cheryl Skory Suma

My Shadow’s Shadow

(Memories of Before & After a TBI)


Before the fall, I did not appreciate the power of memories. They were of the forest’s shadow, easily eclipsed by the echo of my forward footsteps upon the broken parts of my now. 


Once I’d become my shadow’s shadow, I saw memories through new stalker’s eyes. I became the observer, concealed behind a forest of lost snapshots of me.


My memories were too aggressive. Painfully thrusting themselves to the forefront or tugging me backward to a past best left behind. Even the innocent were more of a distraction than something I cherished. I was focused forward.


Post the fall, I wished only to travel back in time; to turn around and scoop up those lost comrades. To hold them under my cloak, both the innocent and the pained, lovingly cocooned together. Without exception.


I saw memories as slithering, living things. Like earthworms wriggling out of the ground to chase the rain, memories had a sly way of slipping in and out of my consciousness, of gleefully appearing without warning to disrupt my present. The cruel ones were experts at waiting to pounce, cunningly curled up in the darkness until the time was right to show themselves—to remind me of all the burdens and hurt they cradled.

It wasn’t their fault. Like me, memories were at the mercy of time. Time changed us both, without consideration and with few concessions. Memories found a way to embrace time’s wreckage, morphing into something new. They demanded I support their vision even though they’d managed to recklessly color themselves with experiences and emotions that were never part of their beginnings, or mine. 

Memories were such a negative presence in my life that I took them for granted. Until I fell.


Until a patch of ice on a blustery, snowy day. Until a misstep that birthed a head injury. In that instant, a large company of my memories and I parted ways. They flung themselves free, to scatter like mirror twins along with the swirling snowflakes that danced upward into the sky, riding the wind as I lay on my back, watching until my eyes blurred and the last stragglers melted on my lashes. 

Suddenly, I became a mess of “Couldn’t” s. I couldn’t wash my face without vertigo shoving me over. I couldn’t write without leaving out expected prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions. I had trouble finding simple words or replaced the desired word with something that sounded or looked the same but wasn’t. I couldn’t smile and say, “Yes, that was a great day,” when my family told a story—a story from a past where I’d lived and loved, but now couldn’t remember. 

A large piece of me was left behind on that ice, sliding sideways until coming to rest roadside. No matter how much I’ve tried to retrace my steps, I never found what the snowflakes so merrily coveted. My memories enjoyed their new freedom and chose not to return.

No more past stories to be tainted by time, no thoughts snaking in the basement, no happy memories swinging defiantly in the gallows. Just clean, crisp, nothingness. A decade long hole in my life. The head injury decided which memories were worthwhile and which were too heavy to carry on, and it didn’t care to sort through the good and the bad—it dumped them all. It had its own forward focus.

The encampment that once sheltered my memories now burnt to the ground, I began to feel invisible. Most of my memories were truly lost, although some would occasionally pass by to whisper in the ears of my loved ones, allowing them to share their version of my lost stories. Hearing it second hand didn’t feel the same; the stories didn’t engulf me the way the memories did when they still wriggled around within me. They were not mine. They were not real. 

I hungrily looked at photographs from those lost years, hoping to tempt back that nagging tickle. To feel memories’ insistence for acknowledgement—so they could validate that I had a past worthy of remembering. When this failed, I would flee to walk circles around the block. Determined to go anywhere the quiet photographs were not, but with nowhere to go.

After the Shadow’s Gift

Post the fall, the initial deficits and memory loss forced me to sell my business—I had to leave behind the healthcare company I’d founded. Nor could I return to my previous career as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I had to find a new voice.

In my career, I had worked with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) patients. So I knew that if I wanted to heal, I should exercise my brain through math, word puzzles, reading. This led me to reconnect with my first love, writing. It took five years, but eventually, I found acceptance. I found ways to embrace my reborn self and the lessons of my head injury. Diving back into writing was only the first gift.

I discovered that I could leave unkind slithering thoughts in the shadows; it was in my power to forget them. I could use the absence of their biases to move forward free of the burden of past hurts. As new memories were born, I could allow them to wriggle through my consciousness and poke without competition at my future present—I could birth my own forest of recollections to echo new life choices.

I learned to slow down and appreciate life’s gifts more. This was a new me—one with a past full of holes. Perhaps, a trail of holes was just fine and dandy. It was the wholeness I could make of today that mattered.

These choices, this acceptance of my reborn self—it ensuredthat my new memories and I could cast our own shadow, instead of only belong to those we’d left behind.


The story behind the story:

After a Traumatic Brain Injury several years ago, the initial deficits and memory loss forced me to sell the healthcare company I’d founded in Canada. Ironically, I had worked with other TBI/head injury patients in my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist and Rehabilitation Business owner, but I did not fully appreciate nor anticipate the additional impact memory loss would have on my identity. It eventually returned me to my first love, writing, as part of my recovery process. This flash nonfiction piece touches on that experience at a turning point in my recovery. I have had many exchanges with other TBI survivors who have said this piece resonates with them and their experience, and I am honoured that SugarSugarSalt has chosen to share this glimpse into my head injury journey again. 

Cheryl’s fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in US, UK, and Canadian publications, including Barren Magazine, Reckon Review, National Flash Fiction Day, Exposition Review, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Longridge Review, SFWP, and many others. A multi-Pushcart nominee, her work placed in thirty-seven competitions across 2019-to date, including: shortlist, Five South’s 2021 Short Fiction Prize, shortlist, Blank Spaces Magazine’s 2021 Fiction Anthology Contest, Runner-Up, 2022 Pulp Literature’s Flash Fiction Contest, Honorable Mention, Exposition Review’s 2022 Flash 405 Contest, shortlist, Solstice Magazine’s 2022 Literary Contest, and shortlist, 2022 International Amy MacRae Award for Memoir. Cheryl has a MHSc Speech-Language Pathology and an HBSc Psychology.  She is a staff reader at Reckon Review & Flash CNF Contributing Editor at Barren Magazine. You can find her on twitter @cherylskorysuma.

“My Shadow’s Shadow” was first published in Nightingale & Sparrow.

Header photo provided by the author.

The Years Go By in Single File by Roberta Beary

Maybe behind your house was a rock garden where you ran when your mother shooed you away where you loved the rosebush but hated the thorns and always the bees buzzing a secret you didn’t know but still it made you cry in the cubbyhole under the stairs where you could hear in the kitchen your mother tell her mother she was done having sex she didn’t care if he was her husband and what was he going to do about it anyway and maybe the years go by in single file like the poet says and maybe at night you read her poem over and over in a book of poems the pages edged in gold and hold onto it like the rabbit’s foot you’ve outgrown hidden in a shoebox and every night he’s in your room the sweet smell of tobacco the scrape of bear paws and you wonder does she know and he says love says a secret says don’t tell says there now that wasn’t so bad and maybe when you cry at night the wallpaper blooms red roses and in your head the bees buzzing a secret too big to fit in the cubbyhole because he will find you he always finds you and he gives you books on your birthday which your mother forgets then tells you nothing she buys will fit you’ve grown as big as a house and maybe he gives you a book of best-loved poems bound in red leather you run your fingers down the pages edged in gold and maybe he is the only man who will ever love you and maybe this is what love means and even though at night you look past him find your spot on the wall like your ballet teacher taught you to keep from falling as you twirl spot twirl and maybe you’ll tell someone but you never do and the years go by in single file and when they call you come quick he hasn’t much longer maybe you sit and stare at the telephone on your desk and don’t leave work until your boss says take as much time as you need and maybe he’ll be dead by the time you get there and you stop at Bloomingdales and waste a few hours trying on black clothes until it’s too late to catch a flight and the bees buzzing you can’t sleep and ransack the basement closet find an old black blazer with mothballs in the pocket run your fingers down four buttons on each cuff how he taught you what to look for when you buy a blazer that afternoon in Brooks Brothers and how he always wore the same blue robe when he said goodnight and maybe you miss the smell of his cherry tobacco and wonder if it was you that wanted it all along and none of it was his fault which is what your mother said except when she said it never happened and maybe when you get to the hospital your mother will pick up her handbag and coat and say at last I can get some sleep and push past you and maybe there’s an empty coffee cup on a bed-tray which you carefully examine like it holds the secret meaning of life and after the morphine drip you run out of things to look at it’s the two of you and maybe his big green eyes look like the sea cove where he lifted you on his back when he was a whale and he said hold on hold on and maybe you squeeze his hand and say hold on hold on and together you watch the years go by in single file until maybe just maybe the white wall blooms red roses and bees gather above the body spilling a secret to the living and the dead.


The story behind the story:

My process was to tell the story in all its parts, the good, the bad, and the ugly, as a way to dilute the power of one family’s secret. One other thing. For decades there’s been a voice in my head saying this is the story I was meant to write. Finally, I listened.

Roberta Beary grew up in Queens, New York and identifies as gender-fluid. Honors: 1st Prize (Poetry) 2022 Bridport Prize, Best Microfiction 2019 & 2021, Best Small Fictions 2020 & 2022. Their work is featured in The New York Times, Rattle Magazine, Atticus Review and other publications. A trauma survivor, they divide their time between USA and Ireland.

“The Years Go By in Single File” was first published in Cleaver Magazine.

Author photo by photographer Dave Russo.

Header Image by Keenan Constance from Unsplash.

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