This issue of VOICES of BHC is dedicated to the memory of Krystal Madison who died
too young in January of 2006. Krystal was a talented and committed instructor in the
Black Hawk College Outreach center, an enthusiastic and encouraging participant in
the online fiction writing class, and an outstanding writer whose work shows intelli-
gence, wit and style. She is missed by all who knew her.
Just a few weeks before her death, Krystal wrote this short piece offering a glimpse
into her teacher-mind. The affection for her students at BHC Outreach and the dedica-
tion she brought to her work are apparent. What a wonderful teacher she must have
The door has already been unlocked when I walk in at 8:25 Monday morning. This is
good; I don't have to fish around in my deep coat pockets for my keys. The carpet has
been vacuumed and the room smells like air freshener. I pull back the wooden window
shades to let the morning sun filter its brightness into the room. Carla and Tammy,
both oversweet brunettes, sit together at the table in front of my desk. They smile at
me and say hi before going back to reading. They're sharing a bag of Twizzlers and
quietly reading their respective copies of The Dispatch. The table has scattered text-
books on it with syllabi and half-finished homework spilling out of them. I smile; my lat-
est classroom contest to inspire students to work is paying off. I sit at my desk and turn
my computer on. The desk is pretty neat. My desk calendar covers the expanse of the
desk surface and I read the dates. Three whole weeks until Christmas break: that'll
give me plenty of time to type up copies of the student's handwritten plays in my
'homework' tray. I can't wait to assign parts for them to perform, even though I know
-- Krystal Madison
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WALTZING MATILDA by Krystal Madison .................................................4
PASS TIME by Brianna Dyer....................................................................14
PURITY BALL by Kearston Kosth ............................................................15
DREAM BOY by Alyssa Grimes ...............................................................16
RANDOM by Joseph Hotle.......................................................................18
UNTITLED by Ella Mae McCallum ...........................................................18
A LIFE-CHANGING EDUCATION by Heather Watkins...........................19
A ONE-WAY TRIP TO SUCCESS by Cecelia Bailey ...............................20
LONG WAY IN LIFE by Kearston Kosth...................................................22
FIVE FOOT EIGHTEEN by Joseph Hotle.................................................24
FOXFIRE’S RACE by Valerie Walker.......................................................25
MORNING RITUALS by Salvatore Marici.................................................29
ADOLESCENCE by Melanie Bealer.........................................................30
SHORT SHORT STORY by Krystal Madison...........................................30
PRINCESS ROSIE’S DOLLHOUSE by Melanie Bealer ...........................31
EMPTY by Cassie Boorn..........................................................................32
ABBY’S WORLD by Amber Bigus ............................................................33
FOR MELANIE by Alysa Grimes ..............................................................34
LATE by Ella Mae McCallum....................................................................35
SMILE by Nathan McDowell.....................................................................35
SUSPENDED ANIMATION by Salvatore Marici.......................................36
WELCOME TO THE TEENAGE LIFE by Ana Canas...............................37
PAINTED BY NATURE by Brianna Dyer..................................................38
THE UNIVERSITY by Nathan McDowell ..................................................38
UNCLE BOB by C. J. Kirk ........................................................................39
FIRSTS by Kearston Kosth ......................................................................41
TWO HAIKUS by Joseph Hotle ................................................................42
HUMMINGBIRD by Kristina Lyons ...........................................................42
CASTING THE SATURDAY EVENING SPELL by Salvatore Marici ........43
HEY MISTER by Alex McKeag.................................................................44
ADOLESCENCE CLINGS TO UNDERPASSES by Alex McKeag ...........45
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE by Steven Elliott ................................................46
INDIGO by Heather Watkins ....................................................................46
SONNET FOR GEORGE ORWELL by Ben Young..................................47
DISTRESSED FRIEND by Alex McKeag .................................................48
WORLDS OF DIFFERENCE by Christina Chom ....................................49
WORLDS OF WONDERFUL DIFFERENCE by Jason Welvaert ............50
THE CYCLE by Nikki Moline ....................................................................51
TOO LATE by Nikki Moline.......................................................................51
GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS: THE TRUE STORY
by Kendall White .................................................................52
GIRLS GONE WILD by Melanie Bealer ...................................................53
GIRL KIRBY AND HIS FREEDOM by Kathleen O’Brien .........................54
VOICES of BHC is the literary magazine of Black Hawk College, produced once a year
by and for the students of Black Hawk College. The stories and poems in this issue
were selected by the students in Fall Semester 2006 English 231 and Spring Semester
2007 English 232. The essays were selected by Professors Erskine Carter, Paul Cioe,
William Anderson, and Isabel Hansen. The layout was created by Sheryl Gragg. The
faculty advisor is Dorothy Beck. The ideas and opinions expressed in this magazine
are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Board of Trus-
tees, the Administration, or the Faculty of the College
I have to admit, Matilda's a good dipper.
Or should I say Harry? I'm still not sure what to call her or him, or her that was
him. I shake my head free of the puzzle to concentrate on my steps; the dance moves
she taught me. Last time I spaced out and accidentally stepped on her foot, which ru-
ined the entire meditation. “It's a delicate balance,” she told me at the time. It isn't easy
sneaking into the dining cabin unnoticed in the middle of the night to retrieve clues of
her past life, so I can't risk screwing up again.
She glides across the room as I struggle to keep up, feeling like a graceless lump
of dough next to her. I keep my eyes on my feet, which scuffle across the hardwood
floor, trying to follow her lead. Occasionally I glance around the room to prove to my-
self that I can dance without staring at my feet, but it's hard. I only see parts of things:
the picture window revealing the muddy, trampled dirt path leading to the dorm cabins
where the other campers slumber; a few, flickering candles that cast our shadows
against the log wall behind us. I keep time to the rain drops pelting the roof since we
don't have music to guide us. She’s humming a tune, a piece by Strauss, one of her
favorites. But I don't recognize it. The owl-shaped clock near the fireplace of dying em-
ber says we've been waltzing for twenty minutes, seven minutes longer than last time.
It's an improvement and I sigh with relief...
...only to sharply suck in my breath again. Did my noisy breathing interrupt her
concentration? I look up into her face, but her eyelids remain tightly shut. I wish I knew
what she was thinking, but before I speak I remember that she was on the verge of a
breakthrough the last time I broke her trance. I keep quiet.
Her humming fades, her eyes open, and our dancing slows to a halt in the middle
of the cleared space. "It happened here," she says. "I can sense it."
"You mean, where you died?" A blur of images zoom past the front of my mind, a
montage of every attempt I've made this summer to understand her. I still have a hard
time believing that this sepia-toned girl with thick black coils of hair standing in front of
me has ever died, let alone in this room. I can't picture the balding, middle-aged white
man she describes as her former self, lying before the fireplace in a widening pool of
blood. Instead I see her wedged between the long, cafeteria-style tables near the
kitchen: her hands are neatly clasped against her chest as they are every night in the
bottom half of the bunk bed we share. Right here, smelling of raspberry-scented can-
dle wax and Johnson's baby shampoo, she's real. And this phantom she's chasing
feels bloated and thick, but fragile as a balloon.
She untangles her arms from mine and hugs herself. "I'm getting closer, but
something is blocking my progress." My heart beats a little faster and I wonder if my
sigh did bother her. She looks at me and waves my worries away with the casual flick
of a wrist. "Oh, it isn't you. It's something else. But we won't get any further tonight. We
might as well go to bed."
We blow out the votive candles and run through the rain to the far end of the girls'
side of cabins. The heavy July storm clouds are letting up, but my sneakers squish like
farts in the mud, making my climb up the slight incline all the more trying. Naturally,
she's already waiting for me in front of Cabin Ten as I slide to it.
Before we go in, I stop her. "Do you think we’ll ever really know what happened?"
"Sure we will. Why do you ask?"
The tone of her voice alarms me and I scramble for something better to say. I
don't want her to think I doubt her the way her parents and therapists do; they keep try-
ing to get her to let this idea go. I will prove what a good friend I am; I will support her
all the way. "I guess I’m just as anxious as you are to find out who your murderer was."
Her shoulders slouch a little and she runs her fingers through her damp hair. The
slightest hint of a grin edges along the sides of her mouth and I feel momentary relief.
"Don’t worry, Aletha. We’ll find out who killed me."
* * *
Investigating a homicide is hard enough, but it's even more difficult when the vic-
tim is you. Or in this case, Matilda. I carefully lean over the edge of the bunk and watch
the rise and fall of her chest as she lies in the bed below me. She’s already dozing, but
I can’t sleep. It’s exciting, helping her uncover the identity of a killer. We just don’t
seem to be making any headway. We finally figured out a method that works—dancing
sustains the trance she goes into when she conjures up memories of her past life—but
now we just need enough time to practice.
I know this all sounds weird, but bear with me. We’ve been at this since we met
on the first day of camp back in June. I was in a self-imposed state of exile ever since
my parents made the decision to go through with this camp thing, but I hazarded a
hello during our craft class. I wasn’t looking to make friends, but all the other tables
were full so I figured I might as well make nice just this once. She sat by herself at a
corner table, flanked on either side by a bucket of seashells and a large spool of purple
yarn. She smiled when I sat down and seemed as anxious to talk as I was eager to
keep quiet; we hit it off right away. Her story was far more interesting than the direc-
tions Flo, the middle-aged camp counselor, barked at us about punching holes in sea-
shells. I didn't like Flo at all; neither did anyone else. Her shiny face revealed chin stub-
ble and blemishes that could’ve been disguised with an unrestrained tweezer and lots
of concealer. Stories that her lesbian lover was away on a business trip were relayed
as fact. Instead of ghost stories during lights-out, we exchanged tales of Flo on a dry-
I turned to Matilda, who had already launched into her life story. She explained
that she'd known all her life she was the reincarnation of someone else. Her nightly
dreams transported her to a world that was at once foreign and familiar to her. But she couldn't
make sense of it all, and neither could the countless therapists her parents paid to help her.
"But then I found a book that explained everything."
I looked up from my maladjusted wind chime. "What book?"
She shrugged. "One in the library. It said that reincarnations happen all the time in India."
"We're in the U.S."
"Yeah, but I'm Indian." She devoured every page of that book. In turn, it released her;
freeing her to discover who she really was. She disregarded her current therapist entirely, who
advised a "radical erasure" of her claims; instead of letting the past sleep, she prodded it with
the stick of her insistence. She learned how to hypnotize herself in order to siphon glimpses of
her former life in increasingly detailed pieces. The scenes she'd dreamed about as a toddler
suddenly began to make sense. She'd been a man who loved to dance, especially the waltz:
she saw herself spinning around a brightly lit room with a raised platform in front of a
line of judges. This man liked to play tennis on the weekends with his sister, a green-
eyed woman named Inez. He wanted lots of kids, but his wife couldn’t have any so he
set up a camp for troubled juveniles. Matilda reached the peak of her meditations when
she recalled an argument the man had had with his wife about naming the camp. "She
screamed that Lorna was a stupid name and he yelled back that it was his grand-
mother's name and not stupid at all!"
Matilda cocked her head toward Flo, who was helping Brad Smith, the resident
arsonist, string a seashell. Her big fingers labored to tame a stubborn piece of red yarn
and she didn’t seem to notice Brad giving her a wide berth. He was a year older than
me and I thought he was hot—more for his tousled brown hair and permanent smirk
than his fiery attitude. But he looked almost feminine next to Flo, whose buzz cut and
stout body shape I found vaguely menacing.
"She's my widow. I must've had bad taste."
I nodded. I couldn't figure out what was stranger: Matilda's story or the idea of Flo
ever being married. Then again, in my duffel bag back in our cabin I had a twenty-one
year old sack of flour named David. Who was I to talk?
We left the arts and crafts cabin and were making our way to the lake for self-
esteem exercises when Matilda revealed her plans to me. "I looked up the camp
online," she said. "The founder of the camp was a man named Harry Serrano. That's
me; I'm Harry. This camp used to be mine. Now it belongs to Flo and Inez. But I was
“How do you know that?”
“Newspaper reports, of course.”
"Who killed you?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I searched newspaper archives for arrests, possi-
ble suspects, anything. But I came up empty. That's why I'm here."
"How are you going to find out who killed you?"
"Well, my trances reached a plateau at home, so I figured if I conducted them
here, at the site of my murder where I lived and worked, I'd get more information. It
wasn't hard convincing my parents to send me here—they already think I'm crazy."
"What are you going to do when you find out who killed you?"
"Go to the loony bin, that's what." We turned around. Brad had been following us
and heard everything. His eyes were set into conniving slits and I struggled to come up
with a retort. I almost said, “Whatever,” but it felt lame. Matilda seemed nonplussed;
she just turned away and continued walking down the path. I stared at her in awe—I’ve
never backed down from a fight and she made it look natural and flawless. But I could-
n’t resist giving Brad a dirty look as I ran to catch up with my new friend.
* * *
“So what are you in for?” Matilda asks me at breakfast the next day.
I’m scraping butter onto a slice of slightly burnt toast and halt mid-scrape. Hers
is a pointed question I’ve been trying to avoid answering all summer. Everyone in our
cabin offered their sob story the first evening after lights-out, but I pretended to be
asleep. I stare down at my bowl of cinnamon oatmeal. I could pretend to fall asleep
and slam head first into my bowl, but somehow I don’t think narcolepsy is a valid ex-
cuse when I’ve never exhibited symptoms of it before. I try to frame the words in my
head before I expel them into the space between us.
She chews on a spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats as I begin. “My parents hate
“Is that all?” she asks, one eyebrow arched high on her forehead.
“So the only reason you’re at Camp Lorna is because your parents hate you.”
“I’m a nuisance to them.”
Matilda pushes her now-empty bowl of cereal aside. “Why are you a nuisance to
“I got into a lot of trouble at school.” I take a bite out of my toast and glance above
her head at the stuffed beaver on the wall. “I was in a lot of food fights last year.” I
pegged Amber Dennison with a piping hot apple pie right in the kisser last October.
And threw a handful of pumpkin pie at Peter Organelle at the Thanksgiving lunch. My
math teacher, Mrs. Congruent, got it good with a Bavarian cream-filled donut in Janu-
ary. Derek Willowby will definitely think twice before making fun of me now that he’s
worn devil’s food cake all day. And I haven’t even gotten to Lacy yet.
And I won’t. “I have ‘anger management’ issues,” I say between bites of oatmeal.
At least that’s what Principal Pendergast said toward the end of the school year at a
private meeting with me and my parents.
“You don’t seem like the angry sort to me.”
I shrug. “Beats me. But I have to get better or else I’m going to be in big trouble
when I get back.” I start pulling apart the other piece of toast on my platter. Pendergast
had the nerve to tell my parents that I can’t re-enroll in the fall if I don’t show ‘marked
improvement.’ What is that supposed to mean? That when some prissy cheerleader
comes up to me at lunch and makes fun of me, I’m just supposed to ignore her? Even
now, I can hear Lacy’s voice mocking me. What’s your problem? Do you have a
grudge against the cafeteria? Or maybe you have a personal issue with the dessert
“So all you have to do is show your parents that you can be around food and not
fling it,” she suggests.
“Maybe.” I consider what I’ve used for weapons in the past. Usually I chose pas-
tries. They’re easier to grip and more aerodynamic than, say, a slice of meatloaf. If I hit
the target dead-on, they make a huge, splattering mess. And every time I throw one, I
feel like I’m throwing a good punch at David.
Yes, the sack of flour in my duffel bag: one more tally of proof that my parents
hate me. If no other explanation will do, the fact that they prefer his company over
mine ought to.
Before they left me at camp, Mom and Dad warned me to be on my best behav-
ior. Mom said, “Don’t do anything David wouldn’t do.” I sighed loudly. They didn’t no-
tice. It's ridiculous. David doesn’t exist! Mom and Dad talk about him like he’s my older,
perfect brother, when he’s really nothing more than a small sack of flour. Years ago
when they were trying to conceive, their fertility expert convinced them to role play as
parents, some crock about ‘mind over matter.’ The cock-and-bull theory was that if they
could convince their minds to see themselves as parents, eventually their hormones
would get tricked into playing along. For seven years they pretended a sack of Gold
Medallion self-rising flour was a boy named David and role-played their butts off until
the drugs and mantras paid off and voila. Here I am.
But my mom said, Don’t do anything David wouldn’t do. Yeah, like a sack of flour
is going to get smart with a camp counselor. Puh-leeze. And wouldn’t you know, they
planned to take him with them on their vacation! I found the sack of flour in the trunk—
carefully hidden away until they left, no doubt, when they’d proudly display him in the
backseat. I took care of that—I stuffed him into my bag without them noticing. I’m not
sure what I am going to do yet, but one way or another, David is going to pay for being
their favorite child.
“You know,” Matilda says as she picks up her tray and heads with me to the
kitchen, “Tonight is Parents Night.”
“Don’t remind me.” I don’t expect my parents to show up. I throw my empty carton
of milk into the trash can for emphasis.
“But they’ll want to see how much you’ve improved. Maybe we could prepare
some treats, like cookies and cupcakes. You can serve it to them to show how much
better you are at handling food.”
“I suppose so.”
“We can decide what to make after therapy. We’ll just need to figure out where to
get all the ingredients.”
And then it occurs to me. “I know where we can get some flour.”
* * *
Part of the deal at Camp Lorna is group therapy sessions. "Hi, I'm Someone-You-
Don't-Know and I am Something-You-Couldn’t-Care-Less-About. Now let's all pat our-
selves on the back." These are held once a week in different cabins, depending on
which group you're in. My group is a random mix of cases. Like Brad, who has already
been caught twice trying to set a canoe ablaze. The counselors say he’s a pyromaniac
and tail him all over camp. He says he aims to please and tries to keep them on their
I don't think the counselors know what's wrong with Matilda, but I’ve overheard
them call her “the really crazy one” when they gather at the smoking pavilion. I think
she meditates about her past life during our group sessions; she stares out the window
most of the time. She says these meetings are a waste of time, and I agree. I have
what therapists call low self-esteem. They say that's why I act out violently and don't
have any friends. Matilda tells me I don’t have a problem; everyone else does. When
people stop making fun of me, I’ll stop lashing out. In the meantime, I’m just naturally
introverted. They tell me I'll make friends when I become my own friend. But it's really
the other way around. If I had friends, I'd have better self-esteem. They say I'm getting
better because the group therapy is working, but I know that it's my friendship with
Matilda that's helping me.
Today’s session is assigned to Flo. We sit in an uneven circle in the middle of
Cabin Ten waiting for her in silence. It’s stuffy with the windows opened as far as they
will go—a crack—and the door is shut for privacy. I steal glances at Brad, who flexes
his muscles. Matilda spaces out.
Flo finally shows up and sits next to me, the folding chair creaking underneath
her. Without looking up, she scribbles sloppy cursive all over a notebook on her lap
and says, "Sometimes when the world becomes a scary place, we try to calm our-
selves down. Brad, please share with us your method for de-stressing."
"I set things on fire."
Her pen pauses. She emits a low sigh. "Anyone else? Matilda?"
Before I can 'psst' in Matilda's direction, Brad says, "Oh, that’s not Matilda." I
shoot a glare at him; he’s looking at her, and she isn’t paying any attention.
Flo continues to scrawl notes. "What do you mean?"
I try to answer, but Brad cuts me off. "She thinks she's a man and—“
“Brad!” My eyes bore into him all the anger I feel but can’t say because he has yet
to notice me and if I tell him off he never will. His lips project a flitting smirk in my direc-
tion and he crosses his arms in front of his chest while my chest flutters like a ribbon
on the handlebars of a bike. Did he actually smile at me? I think he did.
Flo places her notebook on the floor and fixes her gaze on us. "No, Brad, go on."
Matilda sits up in her chair. "I can speak for myself."
Flo faces her. “What an interesting development. You never mentioned this delu-
sion in previous group sessions.”
“It’s not a delusion. It’s called past life regression.”
Brad rolls his eyes. “Whatever the hell that means.”
Matilda glares at him. “It’s reincarnation, you idiot.”
Flo cuts in. “Right. And who were you in this past life?”
“Harry Serrano,” Matilda quietly says. Brad snorts and my hands prickle with de-
sire for something hot, sticky, and gooey to shove in his face. But I can’t look away
from Flo and Matilda, who face off in the center of our circle.
“You stop that right now,” Flo says. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes I do. Harry owned this camp.”
“You made that up.”
“Lorna was his grandmother.”
“Anyone could’ve gotten that information from a camp brochure.”
“I channeled it.”
“That’s a lie.”
“He had a schnauzer named Betty when he was a child. He loved listening to
Strauss. He liked his coffee black. He had a star-shaped tattoo on his left ankle. He—“
Flo’s eyes widen and her mouth sets itself into a grimace. “I don’t know where you
got that information, Ms. Havarti, but that’s enough. If you think you’re just going to dis-
rupt the entire session by antagonizing me, it’s not going to work.”
“I’m going to find out who did it!”
Flo exhales through her nose like a raging bull. “You will do no such thing. You
will stop this nonsense immediately.”
“Don’t you want to know who killed your husband?”
“That happened a long time ago. It’s in the past, my past, and it is none of your
business. We are moving on.”
Another camp counselor opens the door and pokes his head in. “Is everything all
right in here? I heard shouting.”
Flo smoothes her tee-shirt over her jelly belly. “No, everything’s fine. I was just
about to dismiss this group.” We take our cue and rush out of the cabin before the
other counselor has a chance to leave us alone with Flo.
* * *
Carefully, I transfer the batch of sugar cookies Matilda just took out of the oven
from its cookie sheet to a cooling rack. I hear Mom and Dad talking to some other par-
ents in the dining hall and hurry with the spatula. We used up half of the flour this after-
noon, but now the whole camp will now enjoy some ‘mind over matter’ with a dash of
David. I balance the tray of cookies and make my way to the swinging kitchen door.
Matilda follows me as I make a beeline for the table where my parents sit. They smile
when they see me, but their faces look tired and haggard. Mom’s hair has strays hang-
ing out here and there, and Dad has bags under his eyes.
I sit down opposite them. “Hi, Mom. Dad.” I gesture toward Matilda, who sits down
next to me. She smiles at them, but glances around—probably on the look-out for her
own parents. “This is my friend, Matilda. Matilda, this is my mom and dad.”
Both sides murmur pleasantries, followed by silence. “Well,” Matilda says, “I think
I see my parents walking along the path outside so I’ll go greet them. Nice to meet you,
Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar.” She hurries away.
The tension between us settles like a fine coat of dust. “Would you like some
cookies?” I ask, pushing the plate toward them. My heart races as they hesitate, then
slowly pick up one cookie apiece. I give them a wide smile. Go on, eat it. Chew. Gulp.
Mom takes the first bite. “This is really good, hon. Did you make it all by yourself?”
Hon? “Yes. Well, me and Matilda made them this afternoon. I’m glad you like
Dad sniffs a little and pushes the bridge of his glasses up his nose. “Aletha, we
think you should know something.” My smile falters and I nervously pull at my brown
ponytail that had been draped over my shoulder.
Mom nodded. “It’s about David.”
Uh oh. I flip my hair back against my back. “What about it?”
“He’s missing!” Mom says, her voice on the verge of breaking. “We don’t know
where he is!” Her eyes well up and I look away; first at the table next to ours where
some camp counselors eat another batch of cookies, then down at my flour-encrusted
fingernails in my lap. The evidence of my crime is everywhere. Can my parents tell?
“We just…” Dad trails off. He takes another bite and I grimace when his teeth tear
into the white crumbly cookie.
Mom continues. “We thought we brought him with us when we packed your suit-
cases into the trunk. But when we got to the hotel, it wasn’t there…it wasn’t anywhere.”
“We went home right away,” Dad says, “and couldn’t find it there either.”
I hear arguing outside, and one of the voices is Matilda’s. But I can’t figure out
what she’s saying because Mom starts crying. “David’s gone!” she cries.
Dad puts his arm around her. “Do you remember seeing it, Aletha?”
I stare at the cookies to avoid direct eye contact. “No, Dad. I don’t remember it.” I
shrug and grab a cookie. I pull it apart, bit by bit, saying, “What difference does it make
anyway? It’s just a sack of flour.”
“It’s more than that,” Mom says, “and now it’s gone.”
“Well, enough about David,” Dad says, clearing his throat. “How are you doing,
* * *
I follow on Matilda’s heels toward the dining hall. My mind keeps replaying the tor-
turous talk I had with my mom and dad just hours earlier. I’m in the mood for some-
thing else to think about, other than the fact that I fed parts of my brother to my par-
ents. The night is clear and the moon beams down on our heads. I'm not used to being
in the countryside where the stars are numerous. I feel like they're staring down at us,
picking up the slack for the camp counselors. Flo's lover returned (though no one had
seen her) and Flo's unrelenting attention to us campers waned. The rest of the coun-
selors relaxed a lot this last week—no bed checks for once—so we could walk openly
along the path to the dining cabin.
Once inside, I head to the kitchen and retrieve what’s left of David. I set him on
the table next to a glass of water Matilda poured for herself. I gesture for the votive
candles, but Matilda tells me she didn’t bring them because the light of the lingering
embers in the fireplace is enough. We get into position and she tells me to imagine the
prettiest tune I can muster because tonight will be a marathon session.
I want to ask her what happened during Parents Night, what all the yelling was
about, but she goes into a trance as soon as we begin moving. I dare myself not to
look at my feet and stare at the ceiling instead. There are lots of cobwebs, just like at
home where I imagine my parents are probably sleeping. I wish they could see me
dancing with Matilda. Well, maybe not Matilda. I close my eyes and picture a tall, older
boy with Dad’s brown hair and Mom’s blue eyes swaying with me to ballroom music;
something old with lots of dramatic violins. He’s in a black tuxedo with a blue cummer-
bund and white lily in his lapel. My pink dress—tulle skirt, off the shoulder, satin bod-
ice—sashays like a bell ringing as he leads me at an arc around the room. I imagine
my mom and dad standing along the perimeter of the cleared floor, their eyes welling
with pride as they watch their children flawlessly execute long, gliding, synchronized
steps. I open my eyes and glance at the half-empty sack. I may never admit what I did
to my parents, but I’m going to bring what’s left of the flour home. Family is family, after
Suddenly Matilda's eyes fly wide open and a stern "ahem" from behind us creates
the sensation of a thousand cockroaches scurrying across the skin of my arms and
back. I don't know whether to cling to Matilda or separate myself from her. She makes
the decision for me and backs away, her brows furrowed into a deep scowl. I turn
around, afraid of what I'll see.
They’re standing in the shadows and I squint to make them out. They're in front of
the door, and all I can think is that I don't remember it creaking open. My mind replays
every other time Matilda and I came here in the night. It always made a noise.
The stranger speaks. "What are you two doing?" Her arms are crossed in front of
I don’t speak. I can’t; countless benign excuses stick in my throat. Matilda an-
swers. “You know what I’m doing, Inez.”
Inez! Why does that name sound familiar? One of them, Flo, steps forward into a
beam of moonlight shining in from the large window near the door. “Didn’t I tell you to
stop this nonsense?”
“You’re not my mother. And you’re no longer my wife!”
“Can you believe this little brat?” Flo says to Inez. “She still thinks she’s my dead
“I am your dead husband. And I know you two killed me!”
My heart beats like a fist to a face. “What?” I manage to ask out loud.
Inez steps into the light next to Flo, peers out the window, and her green eyes
switch on the light bulb in my head: she’s Harry’s sister. “You are truly delusional.”
“No I’m not!” Matilda says.
Flo scoffs. “You keep that up, you’ll be put away for good.”
Inez grabs the sack of flour from the table. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.
Back to Cabin Ten, you two.” In a moment that feels like forever, she tosses the con-
tents of the sack into the fireplace and it responds with a low hiss.
“Noooooo!” I yell. I snap back at her and lunge. “You killed my brother!”
“What the—“ Inez starts, but I punch her in the mouth. I keep pounding at her on
the floor. Hands try to pull me away, but it’s futile because I can’t stop. I stop hearing
her grunts, the smack of my fists against her skin. I can’t even see what I’m doing any-
more—I’m swinging blindly.
Something whooshes past my head, and I reckon a food fight is about to begin.
But instead of the scent of baked goods, I smell burning wood. I keep hitting Inez, only
slower now, and take in the sudden warmth around me. I stop what I’m doing. It occurs
to me that people are yelling and I look around. One whole wall of the dining hall is en-
gulfed in fire, with flames licking out and spreading across the floor. Matilda grabs my
left arm and pulls me toward the door. Her mouth forms an urgent phrase that I can’t
hear, but it looks like “Let’s go.” I turn my head to see Inez woozily getting up from the
floor with Flo’s help.
We run outside where Brad cackles at his creation. “Damnit,” I say, my hands
balled into fists. “I have to save David!”
Matilda shakes her head. “There’s nobody in there!” I look back over my shoulder
and see Inez sprawled out on the grass near the path. Flo is running toward the coun-
selor cabins. My arms ache, but my chest heaves and I want to punch something. I aim
for Brad and topple onto the ground with him as he falls.
* * *
Camp Lorna has been shut down indefinitely. Our parents were informed last
night to come pick us up. It’s sunny outside and Matilda and I sit on a tree trunk near
the parking lot, waiting for our parents to arrive. I ask her if she regrets not ever finding
out who killed Harry.. She turns away from me to look at the smoking ruins of the din-
ing cabin a ways off. “I know what I know,” she says. “And I feel vindicated.”
“Yeah,” I say, and caress my bruised knuckles. “Though it doesn't really seem to
have mattered much in the end.” I pictured Brad's self-confident smirk as his eyes
blazed with the leaping flames of the dining hall. His face isn't so pretty now. My stom-
ach turns. But he finally noticed me.
Matilda reaches for my hand and cups her own over it. I feel a puff of something
soft land in my palm. When she removes her hand, I find a small mound of flour there.
“The past matters. But we can’t change what happened, and we shouldn’t spend our
whole lives trying.”
I blow the flour onto the gravel of the parking lot. “Might as well let it go.” Rest in
Enlivens our world by
It’s time for my favorite show.
Not another rerun!
The girls walk in beside their fathers
Wearing their tiaras
Some with their own flowers
Heads held high
They flutter about in their frilled dresses
Waving at friends and smiling at other fathers
They dance and laugh
They eat and greet
But most importantly they sign
They put their signatures down
Beside their fathers’ making a binding vow
They promise their purity until marriage
The fathers stand beside them
Promising to cover their daughters
To shelter them, until they are married
To keep their virginity intact
These are young teenage girls
With their Heroes beside them
Full of hope and dreams
Believing they know exactly what they are promising.
This is a dance for Purity.
What do you do when the boy of your dreams walks into your place of work?
I don’t have a lot of experience with dream boys. It isn’t like they come waltzing into the
mall everyday. Now, when I say dream boy, I really mean it. You know how you talk
with your girlfriends about what the perfect man looks like? Well, this boy fit my ideal
He was tall and skinny with brown hair toward his chin. He had bangs that
kind of swept to the side of his adorable face. He had a baby face and wow, am I a
sucker for those. His baby blue eyes perched on pink cheeks that framed a wide smile.
Oh, his smile…I’m pretty sure I looked like an idiot swooning over that smile. His
clothes were fitted but not too tight. He was wearing blue jeans and one of those cute
“cowboy” shirts with the pearl buttons. The way he walked was so smooth, it was a
saunter really. I was completely drawn to this boy I had never seen before. When his
eyes hit mine I felt my chest collapse as all the air left my body. He gave me a small
smile as he walked by me and all the air came rushing back to my brain. I felt like I
Ok, enough drooling, where was I? Oh right, he walked into Orlendale’s, the
department store where I work. I’m telling you it was like a movie with a slow motion
entrance and everything. I prayed Damien Rice would start playing over the store
speakers. I’m pretty sure that would have been the only way it could have been better.
I was gawking. There is no other way to describe it. As I stood there and gawked, he
walked (in slow motion mind you) right by me. When I saw where he was headed, my
heart dropped into my shoes. He was walking right into the men’s fragrance depart-
ment where I work. My heart started beating so fast I was sure it was going to quit on
me. I made myself take a step toward him. Then another, and another until I got the
hang of walking again and was on my way. I came up beside him and squeaked out,
“Is there something I can help you find?”
He turned to me and focused his perfect gaze on me. That’s when I started to
sweat. “Oh perfect, that’s just what I need right now,” I thought as I looked up at him. I
tried to smile but my lips were sticking to my teeth so I’m sure it looked more like a
“Yes, I was wondering if you carry Fierce?” He smiled and I started imagining
him in a tux standing at the end of a long aisle. Luckily, I remembered I was at work
and not at my wedding. “Do we carry that?” I thought. I couldn’t remember. I was lucky
I remembered what cologne was. The name didn’t sound familiar so I replied, “No we
don’t. I’m sorry!”
A million things were flying through my head. How can I keep him here a little
longer? Maybe I could strike up a conversation somehow? Oh I couldn’t do that. I’m
completely inept when it comes to boys. As you can tell, I get all sweaty and stumble
over my words. I’m hopeless!
“Oh, that’s ok.” he said, “Thanks!”
He started to walk away and a kind of desperation came over me. I couldn’t let
him leave with no chance of ever seeing him again. If I let him walk away right now, he
would have no reason to think of me. He would walk out of this store and go on with
his life and I would be an unmemorable blip in his day. With these thoughts came a
kind of rush of adrenaline. It was bubbling through my system and suddenly I called
out, “I think you’re really cute!”
I clapped a hand over my mouth. “Oh my God.” I thought, “Did I really just say
that?”. I couldn’t believe myself. Never in my life had I attempted something so bold. I
was sure he was going to think I was a huge nerd. He stopped and turned around to
look at me. He was smiling that gorgeous smile.
“Thank you,” he said before he turned around and walked toward a girl
standing in the accessories department. I could feel my cheeks burn as he leaned in
and kissed her before taking her hand and leading her out of the store.
I slumped against the glass counter and wondered if I was totally naïve. “This is why
you‘re not supposed to talk to strangers. Especially really cute boy strangers,” I said to myself.
I knew I shouldn’t have expected anything but after that roller coaster of emotion I didn’t think
nothing would come of it. Boys like that should have to wear an “I’ve got a girlfriend” sign or
something. I walked away dragging my steps and feeling dejected. I noticed another boy at the
women’s fragrance bay. He was cute. Ugh, no more cute boys today! I trudged toward him pre-
paring to help him and bolt. I peeked at him from behind my bangs and saw that he was smil-
ing at me. My heart started to do that funny beat thing again. My thoughts drifted toward phone
calls and first dates. “Hold your horses missy,” I thought, “This boy is probably shopping for his
girlfriend, or he’ll be
weird and have a wall in his room devoted to pictures of dragons or something.” I gave him a
weak smile back and his smile just grew bigger. He seemed nervous as he tucked his reddish
brown hair behind his ear. He looked up with intense blue eyes and I didn’t think I still had it in
me but my heart gave a little flutter. “Resist!“ I thought, “You’ll be let down.” The reasons why
I ought to stay away from boys flew through my head but that didn’t stop my breathing from
coming in and out a little faster. I started to wonder if perhaps this is how it goes. You get let
down a few times, but one of those times you’re going to meet a nice boy who thinks you’re
cute too. I decided I had to go for it. I shook off my rejection and walked more confidently.
Dream boy isn’t the only boy in this mall. As I had escaped from that interaction relatively un-
scathed, I suppose I could keep doing so. Watch out boys, I think I’ve found my second wind.
The morning light broke,
I round housed the curtains,
And got a fly caught in my throat,
Cough once, cough twice,
Now my dogs looking at me,
I look at him crazy eyed,
You got a problem Apollo Creed?
Yeah that’s right I talk to my dog,
Just like he was a human being,
He stands up abruptly and says “wait!”
“You got a problem with me?”
Starched crisp, clean, and prim.
Instructed to sit sedately viewing the flowers.
Spotting a mud-puddle along the path.
Passing fancy, muffling the echoes of conscience.
Sitting in the mud.
Plunging hands into its depths.
Gathering oozing filth between fingers.
Breeze preaching “stop this instant” each time it passes by.
Splashing, shaping, and packing.
Oblivious to the seeping wet, and the dripping.
One last pat.
Nothing could be better than this one mud-pie.
--Ella Mae McCallum
A LIFE-CHANGING EDUCATION
This essay is the College’s entry in the Illinois Community College Board’s Paul Simon
Of all the ways that Black Hawk College has changed my life, I think the one
that has stuck with me most has been the effect the institution has had on my self-
esteem and identity. When I was kicked out of my parents' house at the beginning of
my senior year of high school, I was pretty sure I'd never get my diploma, let alone a
college degree. At that point, living off friends and distant relatives, often with no idea
where my next meal was coming from and no money to buy it with, I thought that a life-
long career of flipping burgers was the best I could ever expect.
I almost didn't enroll. I didn't see any point. I had no money to afford it, and
since my parents had disowned me, I couldn't exactly get their information to fill out the
FAFSA. I was 18, too old to apply to the state to be a ward of the court, so it was basi-
cally me against the world, and I didn't see how a place like Black Hawk could possibly
fit into that battle.
I'm glad I was wrong, and that I finally went out to the college and applied. It
took some work, but I managed, with the help of the staff, to get my parental informa-
tion requirement overridden due to extenuating circumstances. Needless to say, my
grades had taken a dive during my senior year with working and being homeless for
awhile, but something about the atmosphere at BHC made me want to succeed. I
ended up taking 19 hours my first semester, and passed with a 3.56 GPA. For the first
time in quite a while, I started to believe that maybe I did have some potential after all.
I owe most of that to the faculty and staff at the college. There hasn't been a
moment in all my years of part-time enrollment that I haven't been encouraged. My cir-
cumstances were treated with the utmost respect by everyone I spoke to, and arrange-
ments were made so that I could work two fulltime jobs and still attend school, mostly
through online and Study Unlimited courses.
Black Hawk College has given me the gift of knowing that I can achieve what-
ever I want to. It took a lot of time for me to believe that, and believe in myself, but I do
now thanks in large part to the College. Through the help and support I've gotten here,
I no longer base my self-worth on how my family thinks of me, but rather on what I
think of myself. It's been a very liberating experience, and I'm very thankful to Black
Hawk College for letting me see that even someone like me has a shot at a better life.
-- Heather Watkins
A ONE- WAY TRIP TO SUCCESS
This essay has earned its author the Tom Batell Scholarship.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, and you haven’t got a plan to get there, you
won’t arrive” (Sidney Friedman from M*A*S*H). I always believed that dreams were
the future. After all without dreams, how is one to know what to reach for. Soon I real-
ized that dreams are important for direction, but directions mean nothing without a
map. Black Hawk College has provided me with a beginning destination and a map on
my one-way trip to success.
My whole life I had dreamed of becoming an engineer; when a full ride scholarship to
an engineering school fell into my lap, I grabbed it. But then my life change course;
due to a family emergency I left school and my scholarship behind. A few years later I
realized my true passion, working with children, and dreamed of opening a youth cen-
With dream in hand and an ending destination in sight, I arrived at Black Hawk; I
needed a path to get from start to end. Black Hawk helped me map it out; providing
me with the courses required for entering the Business program at Western Illinois Uni-
versity. Opportunities like working in the Disability Services Center, receiving scholar-
ships, being mentored by caring wonderful staff, and an All- USA Academic Team
nomination have paved my path with invaluable experiences.
The Disability Center has given me insight into diversity; to understand people it is im-
portant to listen to them. I have met students and staff from all walks of life and devel-
oped lasting relationships. Knowledge of their needs and a command of software and
business operations make me a more understanding and tolerant person; I am better
prepared for the challenges I will face in the workforce.
With all the misfortune in the world it is easy to forget how beautiful life can be; caring
staff reminds us that people do care. Receiving scholarship opportunities demon-
strates that people have faith in me; knowing that someone believes in me helps to
ensure success. Black Hawk College has encouraged me to jump over, stomp on, and
break through barriers. Perhaps one of my most encouraging accomplishments was
being named an All- USA Academic Team nominee. As a person who believes that
our talents are meant for the benefit of others, helping is the right thing to do, and rec-
ognition is not necessary. However, if people are not acknowledged for doing right,
how are others to know who to follow?
Black Hawk College has recognized me as a leader, providing me with a beginning
destination and a map. In addition to academic knowledge, I have met people from all
walks of life, gained practical business knowledge, self confidence, and been named a
leader of the future; I am on a one-way trip to success. Black Hawk has put me on the
right path, changed my life, and changed my world; I proudly accept the challenge to
show others how to join me on the correct path.
LONG WAY IN LIFE
He spotted her from across the room; she had not noticed him yet. The party
was in full swing. Mark leaned up against the wall by the door and watched his prey as
his mind wandered. He had come a long way in his life, he thought to himself. He
slowly walked toward the bar to order a drink; he glanced in the mirror behind the bar.
He wore his tuxedo well, he thought, and fit right into the crowd because he was one of
them again, which fit his purposes tonight perfectly. He knew he would blend in with all
the other men at this fundraiser and no one would suspect him. He found a spot at the
end of the bar and continued to watch her.
He thought about his life. He had been born into wealth but before he turned
ten his parents were killed in an airplane crash leaving only debt in their wake. He was
soon transferred from one foster house to another, he learned a lot from his other fos-
ter brothers and sisters. His life had gone from private boarding schools to the school
of hard knocks. He decided to try life out on his own after one very bad foster care ex-
perience. He lived on the streets, setting up with a few kids he had met during his fos-
ter care stints. He learned the artistic trade of picking pockets. The kids loved him be-
cause he blended in with the rich and had a great flair for the art, as they called it. He
stayed with then until earning enough money to put himself through college. He de-
cided to go into film because of the acting jobs he had seen the kids he lived with pull
off to all kinds of people. They would put on a sad face and tell the old lady, the police,
and any one else they thought they could con about their sorry sad life and they only
needed enough to feed their little brothers and sisters. He became a film director after
his college graduation, and using the kids he grew up with as his stars, his movies be-
came incredibly popular. He had made quite a killing on his drama stories.
After earning his first million he started buying back his ancestral home along
with most of his family heirlooms. He had taken quite a gamble in spending so much
money so early in his career, tracking down and buying back what had been taken
from him as a child. He had become successful, bringing his family’s good name back
to its former glory. He had worked hard to get the life he wanted back, and tonight was
part of that. She was part of it.
The woman he watched had long rich brown hair which she had piled on top
of her head in cascading curls for tonight’s party. She resembled a Greek goddess
with her tall and curvaceous figure. She was sitting on a plush black chair with one leg
crossed over the other. Those really long legs were shown off spectacularly tonight
due to the almost indecent slit in her dress. Her white silk dress stood out against her
tan skin, and she had picked out the perfect jewelry. Mark smiled to himself. She had
diamond earrings on that hung from her ears to her shoulders and a matching neck-
lace that plunged down between her breasts; the neckline of her gown was deliciously
He eyed the diamonds thoughtfully. Those gems should have been his. He
sighed, telling himself, “In time,” and looked around the room to get his mind off of the
At the fundraiser tonight everything in the room was black or so deeply red it
almost looked black, which was a feat considering how huge the room was. The tables
were all black with tall black vases holding up huge bouquets full of deep red roses.
The chairs were plush black velvet. The chandeliers were dim but sparkling. All the
tables for dinner were surrounding a very large dance floor. Musicians were almost
completely hidden behind a black sheer piece of cloth hung from ceiling to floor. It was
an expensive black tie affair tonight to raise money for some society or other. The
room was supposed to look dark and sophisticated, but felt to him like a vampire den.
He let his eyes roam over her again; she really did look stunning tonight. She
looked pure and virginal. He chuckled to himself knowing that his thought was based
on the color choice of her dress, not on her purity. He knew that she had probably
chosen white silk for that very effect. He remembered back to when he had first seen
her. She had been auditioning for a role in one of his movies. She had chosen to
audition for the role of a young innocent girl. Mark had laughed when he saw her. She
had had the look of an exile on her face and the clothes of a sixteen year old on her
body. She had been twenty-five at that time. “Yes”, he mused, “She’s always known
just what to wear to fit her surroundings.”
Mark continued to watch her for most of the night while chatting with the sad
shmuck’s who were slumped at the bar with no dates. He watched her dance, he
watched her eat, he watched her drink, he watched her smile, and he watched her
chat. Her hands were always moving. Mark’s thoughts continued to wander. There
was something about how she moved that could turn a man on, and she knew how to
move. Just the way she walked was devastatingly sexy. Mark glanced at his watch.
The fundraiser was nearing its end, and it was finally Showtime.
He casually walked across the room touched her shoulder gently and then ran
his palm down her bare arm. “Care to dance,” he said in more of a command-
ing tone than questioning. He pulled her onto the dance floor in the middle of the
room. She glared at him. If he was less of a man he may have squirmed. He smiled
“Are you ready to give them up?” he asked her as he pulled her closer than he
needed to for dancing.
She smiled at him with a deceptively sweet look on her face.
“Never” she said simply. He smiled back at her; he was quite the handsome man.
She had noticed him half way through the evening and had prepared herself for the
confrontation she knew would come. She had picked out her jewelry counting on the
fact that he would be here tonight. He dipped her suddenly. She gasped. She could
feel his hand caressing the back of her neck.
He smiled, almost laughing. “Well, I just thought I would try one last time.
Those gems are well worth it,” he said as he moved his hands from the top of her neck
down her spine. She stopped dancing abruptly and used both hands to push against
his chest with all her might. He didn’t budge.
“If you had cared more about me than these stupid diamonds we might still be
married.” He laughed in her face as she continued, “You were the one that divorced
He was still laughing when he replied close to her right ear, “And I am the one
who paid for those diamonds you so happily wore while cheating on me.”
“So, you gave them to me.” She said flippantly.
He smiled at her in a pitying way and nuzzled her left cheek, “Yes, I did indeed
give them to my wife, but our divorce was finalized and I have no wife, so I will get my
mother’s jewels back.”
She glared at him and whined in a childish voice showing her true colors, “It
doesn’t matter who they belonged to, you gave them to me and they’re mine now!” She
proceeded to make her point by tossing what hair that wasn’t piled on top of her head
over her shoulder and stomping away in her five inch stilettos.
He smiled to himself as he quickly walked out of the party,. Too bad she’d
never been interested enough to find out what his first job had been while he grew up
on the streets, he thought as he reached his hand into his jacket pocket and fingered
the diamonds he had come for. He reached into his mouth and pulled out the two fine
strands of diamond earrings. What a shame he wouldn’t be around to see her expres-
sion when she finally realized she’d been prancing around in plastic replicas of the real
He really had come a long way in life.
FIVE FOOT EIGHTEEN
"You’re taller every time I see you,"
Everyone always says to me,
It just seems that way cause you’re 5’11’’
And I’m 5 foot 18.
Prince’s Foxfire was a beast of a horse with a foul temper and a blemished track
record, but Miya was pleased that the unruly stallion was her mount for the race. If she
could win with him, it would prove to everyone at Pineside Acres that she could race
with the best of them. Even if it was just an allowance race, not an important stakes
Truly, the only reason it was even a second level race was because in Foxfire’s
last race, a maiden race where the entries had not yet scored a win, he had taken the
bit in his teeth midway through the race and won on his own terms. The jockey had
not had a very good ride—at all—and after the race he told Pineside’s owner, Derrick
Miles, he’d quit his job if he ever had to race “that beast of hell” again. Thus, Miya’s
chance arose. No one else wanted to race Foxfire.
Miya, a skinny girl with shoulder-length black hair and emerald green eyes, had
moved to Pineside when she was 18 and had wanted to race ever since. She finally
got her chance to apprentice when she turned 21, the age a person could become a
legal jockey. She’d won nearly every race she entered, but she’d only raced in maiden
races up to now. Two weeks ago she’d turned 23, and two weeks ago Mr. Miles had
given her his present: permission to race Prince’s Foxfire, as a test of her abilities, with
Pineside’s colors, green and white. These were the colors of the racing silks she wore
now as she stood outside the walking ring, her helmet tucked under her arm.
Miya stared at Prince’s Foxfire as he warmed up in the circular walking ring with
one of Pineside’s assistants leading him. His golden neck arched proudly and on oc-
casion he would jerk at his lead rope, just to see if he could pull out of his leader’s
grasp. Aside from his coat being a little darker than normal with sweat, he didn’t seem
worried about his upcoming race at all.
Miya felt like she’d swallowed a large rock and it was sitting at the bottom of her
stomach. She wasn’t expected to win, but if she did too poorly it would severely hurt
her chances at becoming a permanent jockey at Pineside. Not only that, but it would
put further doubt in the ability of Prince’s Foxfire and his worth to Mr. Miles. It was ru-
mored around Pineside that if Foxfire lost this race he’d be sold, and Miya didn’t want
to see that happen to such a magnificent horse.
Foxfire was 16 ½ hands high and was a muscular, beautiful palomino Thor-
oughbred with one white stocking on his left hind leg and a white star on his forehead.
The two-year-old colt was a pampered and important horse because of his bloodline.
He could be traced back to champion racehorses and even if he never won a race he
would still have worth as a breeding stud. Foxfire seemed to know of his worth, which
gave him an arrogance that could cost him his racing career if he didn’t shape up. He
only listened to his rider when he felt like it, and that wasn’t often. He was so stubborn
he’d often spend all his energy fighting his jockey’s directions. He had bitten other
horses in races, reared in the starting gate, and thrown one jockey clear over a fence.
The man was all right, but never rode Foxfire again. Now it was Miya’s turn to try and
tame his stubborn spirit.
It was time for the jockeys to enter the walking ring and mount up. Miya put on
her helmet, adjusted the chin strap, and walked towards Foxfire. She eyed him suspi-
ciously and he eyed back, his head tilted as if to say, “So you think you can race me?”
Her will steeled in answer to his unspoken challenge and she climbed into the saddle,
ready to take him to the track.
“Don’t let him overtake you, miss,” the assistant told her. “You can keep him in
check.” Miya smiled at his kind words, but as she turned to thank him she thought she
heard someone whisper, “You wish.” Startled, she glanced around her, although she
knew no one but the assistant was close enough to have whispered to her. But it was-
n’t his voice she heard. It almost sounded like the voice had been inside her head
rather than next to it, but she had to be mistaken. Her nerves were apparently getting
to her, so she shook her head, thanked the assistant, and nudged Foxfire towards the
As they waited for their turn to gate in, Foxfire’s coat darkened more with nervous
sweat, but he still stood cool and steady…until he noticed a dark brown colt stepping
into gate 3. Suddenly he threw up his head and if Miya hadn’t pulled back on his reins
there was little doubt he would have charged the dark horse. Forced to stop after only
a step, he bobbed his head a few times and neighed an obvious challenge to the other
horse. The dark brown half turned toward Foxfire before his jockey straightened him
out. The jockey turned in his saddle and glared at Miya, his mouth under his black
mustache curled in a sneer. “Keep your horse in check,” he snapped before going into
the third gate. A few other jockeys gave Miya disapproving looks too, and she felt her
face go red from anger and embarrassment. Foxfire was oblivious, staring at the rear
of his apparent “arch rival.”
When Foxfire’s turn came to gate in she took him slowly and cautiously to gate 6, their
number that had been pulled randomly from a hat before the race. There was a field of
ten colts, so it was a decent placing, but Miya wished they had been put closer to the
inside rail, where the distance was shortest. The man in gate 3 had a better position
than her, making her frown. Fully Alive, the dark brown horse he rode, was the race’s
favorite to win. The race was a mile long, longer than Foxfire had ever run, but Fully
Alive’s last race had been a mile and he’d placed second by half a length and closing.
Worried about Foxfire’s own stamina, Miya planned on keeping him in the back half of
the horses, reserving his speed for the race’s end. Undoubtedly the horse beneath her
wouldn’t take kindly to being held back, but she prayed for both of them that he would
Foxfire was acting up more than ever now and was prancing with nerves as he
stepped inside the gate. With the noise of the crowd, the tight space he’d been put
into, and the important race before him, Miya couldn’t blame him. She tried to calm
him down by stroking his neck, which was damp and dark with sweat. “It’s alright Fox-
fire, we can do this,” she whispered to him.
The gate closed behind him, making a loud banging sound and Foxfire snorted,
the whites of his eyes showing. She continued to whisper soothing words to him, hop-
ing he wouldn’t panic while they waited for the race to start. When the last horse was
in Miya tensed, knowing the race would start any second now. The track’s stadium of
people were hushed in anticipation, and then three things happened in rapid succes-
sion: the gates flew open, the horses bolted out, and Foxfire’s front hooves left the
ground. He reared only half way before realizing what happened and came back down
running, but the extra time spent in the gate cost them. They were half a length behind
the last horse.
Immediately Foxfire pulled at the reins, trying to catch up to the other horses,
but Miya held him back. If he used all his strength now they’d lose for sure. “Easy
Foxfire, you’re got to reserve yourself.” The colt would hear none of it. With horse and
rider fighting all the way, Foxfire moved so he was even with the gray horse just before
them earlier. Once Foxfire had his nose in front of the gray he slacked off, but his
mouth was already foaming from the exertion it took to fight Miya. It wasn’t looking
“Cyborg Rider is in the lead with Dry Sun just behind!” the announcer yelled
from the speakers. “Fully Alive is biding his time in third, then it’s…” Miya tuned out the
rest. The race’s favorite was in position and they were just above last going around
the first turn. The race was already half over!
Foxfire sensed her frustration and pulled for more slack in the reins but Miya
wouldn’t give it. He tossed his head and Miya heard that voice in her head from ear-
lier, this time saying, “More!” It weirded her out. Foxfire foamed more at the bit and
Miya realized that he was using up just as much energy fighting her than he would run-
ning, so she let him go just a notch. Oddly he didn’t jump forward, but seemed to calm
down some and took his headway with steady strides, moving up a little more into the
crowd of horses. It seemed that was where he wanted to be, because he stopped
fighting. “Alright then, we’ll do this your way.”
They raced on, but Foxfire flicked his left ear back toward her when she spoke,
a sign he was willing perhaps to listen. So Miya tried talking to him again. “We need
to win this one, Foxfire, to show them we have what it takes. I know you have poten-
tial, if you’ll just listen to me!”
“Drop the whip.”
Either she was going crazy, or it was the horse that she was hearing in her
head! It was the only logical explanation she could think of, except that it wasn’t logical
because it was impossible! Foxfire pulled at the reins again to get her attention, and
again she heard “Drop the whip.” Hesitantly, she glanced at the riding crop in her right
hand. Should she listen to this voice in her head?
The horses made the final turn of the race, heading for the home stretch.
Ahead of her, Miya saw Fully Alive make his move. She wanted to beat that horse.
They both did. And if this was the best way to do it…
A black riding whip hit the dirt.
She could feel the immediate difference in Foxfire. He collected himself under
her, stopped pulling at the reins, and turned both his ears back towards her, awaiting
instructions. He was going to listen! As a test, she guided Foxfire a little to the right,
where an opening was starting to form. He moved right with her signal. She grinned.
“Okay, at the two furling mark we’re going to make these horses eat our dust!”
“Fully Alive has made his move and is now up in front of the pack and pulling
away!” the announcer called to the roar of the crowd. Miya didn’t care; she and Fox-
fire were focusing. The two furlong mark approached fast, and once they reached it
she leaned forward, gave Foxfire his headway, and yelled to her horse, “GO!”
“Prince’s Foxfire is roaring up on the outside! He’s got some ways to go and a
bad start, can he make it up to Fully Alive’s amazing lead?”
‘You bet we can,’ Miya thought. They were passing horses so fast it looked like
they’d stopped for a breather. In no time they were away from the pack and in second,
closing the gap between themselves and Fully Alive. The finishing wire was just
ahead, but Foxfire was still amazingly putting on speed. They were only a few furlongs
away, then half a furling, but they were still half a length behind Fully Alive when Miya
felt Foxfire start to tire. With the last of his speed burst, they pulled even with the dark
brown horse. They were neck and neck with both horses struggling for the lead, the
announcer yelling about their feat to the race-hungry crowd. The two horses’ strength
seemed nearly equal; it appeared that the race would be a head-bob finish. Depend-
ing on luck, whichever horse was in the extended part of his stride would win.
Neither Miya nor Foxfire wanted to leave this race to chance. Miya asked the
strong palomino for just a little more, and he gave it. With the last of his will, Foxfire
pushed just a little more as they went under the wire, the winner by a nose.
“At the last minute it’s Prince’s Foxfire in a great come from behind win!” Now
the crowd cheered for them, Miya and Foxfire, and the announcer gushed about never
seeing such drama in an allowance race.
Miya was beaming as she slowed Foxfire, who though extremely tired arched
his neck with pride. He knew he won. But Miya told him so anyway. “We won Foxfire!
I can’t believe it!”
“I knew I could win,” he replied with a snort, but couldn’t hide the happiness in
his “voice.” Miya leaned forward and petted his neck, looking at him with awe and curi-
osity. Somehow she knew Prince’s Foxfire hadn’t ever spoken to anyone before, and
it made her feel a little special.
As Miya dismounted, she saw Mr. Miles and a few others from Pineside approaching
them, everyone looking happy. Mr. Miles gave her a thumbs up. She knew what that meant.
“I get to be a jockey!” She hugged the neck of the tall palomino beside her and he quietly in-
- --Valerie Walker
4:15 a.m. my hand slaps the Bose radio
shutting off deafening decibels of chamber music
losing seven hours of dreams.
Wrapping myself in red fleece throw
I a Buddhist monk meditating
to southern winds rattling the registers
thirty minutes later temperate climate settles
turning the covers agrees with my nudity.
Dressed like a B.C. Greek Olympian
competing on the rowing machine
to thirty-five-year-old music of David Bowie
silent channel 6 spectators
observing via satellite for forty minutes.
Sicilian stove espresso pot
spits four shots like pumping crude oil
through its pipe
into it top chamber.
Caffeine adrenalin generic Prozac fish oil
I a Roman Senator who commands with a flip of a wrist
hot water steams my bathhouse
like slaves the cascade scrubs my back.
I a knight suiting up in armor
white shirt with blue stripes black Dockers blue tie
for the tournament with the Commander
of the Joint Munitions Command
packed with power point presentation.
6:30 am Moe Curly Ruby Tuesday
sitting by the kitchen door
tails like windshield wipers wiping
the oak finished laminated floor
tell me to stay at home
fantasize in my poetry.
Trying to find them selves
Everyone watching them
Everyone judging them
No one understands
Anger rises and begins to focus
Grinning on the outside
Embarrassment, rage, and plans for
Spray out as machine gun fire
SHORT SHORT STORY
The car vents blew cool air against my skin. I looked at Dad; his eyes remained on the
road. I straightened a bikini strap and hugged myself.
He switched the a/c down and parked the car. I unbuckled myself and grabbed the
door handle. I felt his warm hand on my shoulder.
I longed to smell daisies, not squeaky hospital floors. My mom's gray skin against the
sterile bed sheets riled me; I needed sunlight. I didn't want to just wait for the clock to
tick another minute's passing.
I faced him. "Will you pick me up?"
"Of course," he said. "Have fun at the pool party."
PRINCESS ROSIE’S DOLLHOUSE
The window panes are clear and tall, tidy
wooden boxes bloom with flowers below
Mom and Dad with brother and Rosie
sit together, rocking the baby slow
Aroma of cookies wafts through the air,
gingham picnic basket on the patio
family strolls out, the wind in their hair
Idyllic setting, perfection in faux
Dollhouse world where Daddy is kind, a man
who protects and provides for Princess Rose
instead of a
Mommy fighting to protect little girl
within a Norman Rockwell nightmare world
You call I come
There is a part of me you hold in the palm of your hand
I don’t know what it is
But its missing
I feel empty without you inside of me
I feel torn apart without you next to me
I wait for you
And sometimes you never come
But I will lie here and wait and wait and wait
She liked to play with the blue Mardi Gras beads that hung from the rearview mirror
whenever she had to wait for him out in the car. It was an unconscious habit. She’d
pull the beads through her fingers, scraping her fingernails along the outside.
The window was cracked open just a little; the pot smell always aggravated her
morning sickness. She wished she didn’t have to come, but he still wouldn’t let her
stay at home by herself when he went out to conduct his “business”, so she’d usually
spend up to an hour in the front seat, ankle deep in McDonald’s bags and pop cans.
She kept looking up the flight of stairs, trying to see if he was on his way down
This apartment complex was falling apart, he usually made a lot of money here. She
was never allowed to go in, so she had no idea what kind of people paid for her exis-
A couple of teenage girls kept looking at her from their perch on a bench. They
were sneering, watching to see how long she would be sitting in the car this time. It
was a game for them, and torture for her. She’d known them once, even borrowed the
taller one’s math notes, a very long time ago.
Thirty minutes later she saw his round shape come tromping down the
concrete steps. She sat up a little straighter, ran her fingers through her hair. He’d
find a reason to yell at her if she looked sloppy.
He crashed into the driver’s seat the way he always did, grunting to himself a
little bit and slamming the keys into the ignition.
They want me to do all the drywall in this building. You ready to go Abby?”
He was already pulling out before he’d finished the question. Hysterical to
her, it wasn’t like she even had a choice.
“Yeah Dad, I’m ready to go.”
This is a dark tale of addiction and hopeless need. It is imperative that everyone read
this. It will save your life!
* * *
“No, don’t do it.” She thought, “If you start again, it will only be harder to quit
next time.” Her fingers were itching for it. She needed her fix. She was starting to
sweat and her breathing was shallow. Melanie thought she could do it but this was
proving to be difficult. She tried to think of all the harm it had caused her. She had
gone from an outgoing girl to a recluse. She had never seen her friends and never
had any real contact with people. “Remember how you shut your family out.” She told
herself, “Everyone was so worried about you. You can’t do that to them again.” The
reasons to stop all made sense but that didn’t make it any easier at times like this.
Besides, it was right in front of her, a glaring bright white. She stared at it and
tried to will herself to walk away. “Melanie, you have things to do, remember? You
could do your homework, call your best friend, you haven’t talked to her in a while.”
She was panicking now. The detail in the carpet became crystalline to her adrenaline
fueled senses. Back and forth she paced her room always aware of it. It was taunting
her, beckoning her. “I can’t take it!” she screamed and lunged for the mouse.
Her white screen saver blinked off and she typed www.myspace.com into her
web browser. As the familiar web page came up she breathed a sigh of relief and re-
laxed into her addiction. “I love you myspace.” Melanie whispered to her computer.
She was an e-stalker to be sure. She loved reading all the profiles and blogs
of those she had never met. It made her feel powerful. “I know all about you and you
don’t even know!” she chortled. In mere minutes she had gone from a nice girl to an
unrecognizable fiend, crazed with every click of her mouse. She almost foamed at the
mouth over glittery icons and witty quotes. “I need this for my page!” she said over and
over, creating the myspace of doom. She sat there for hours until she passed out.
* * *
That’s how they found her. Melanie was lying on the floor still clutching her
keyboard with a look of ecstasy on her face that can only be described as frightening.
The autopsy came back saying she died of over stimulation to the brain, or as we call it
now: TMM, Too Much Myspace. I say “we” because this affliction has become an epi-
demic that is sweeping the nation. I write to you in hopes that you can end your ad-
diction before it consumes you entirely. It’s too late to save Melanie, but you can still
Remember to go out and enjoy the sunshine and talk to real people. It is so
much more rewarding than staring numbly at a computer screen and talking to your e-
friends. Please, just go outside, for Melanie.
Woke up late.
Have to hurry.
Going out the door.
Guess I could get dressed first.
--Ella Mae McCallum
Your smile makes me think of
All the places it belongs
Like in the streets of Madrid
With the bronze sun in your hair
And the red wine in your cheeks
You could be my diamond
Lying in the mountains
Oak framing your night sky
Twinkling at the stars
Your hand firmly in mine
Truth be told we could stay home
You bless the sun with your smile
The stars with your laughter
So I will chase your smile
Wherever you take it.
Locust branches and utility lines catch rain
later icicles bending sometimes cracking
their supporting beams.
The rain by passing the fixtures
splatters and spreads
into quarter inch mirrors.
Rain changing into sleet
persuades me to wear a wool sweater
even with 72 degree air
blowing into the living room
under the bay window.
Beyond the glass
in the whitish-gray
slush streams dashes and lines
hitting east side of the locust tree
at 45 degrees.
The earth continues its rotation
just before the sun passes to the west
it lights the lamppost
across the road
a block away
guiding this time capsule
into a new day
I cannot distinguish from yesterday.
PAINTED BY NATURE
Take a moment. . . look and see
one lively tree with vivid leaves
within a crowd of barren trees
made bleak by winter's bitter touch,
and caked with only fallen flakes.
Yellow, orange, red, and brown
descending onto sheets of white.
A lovely image rarely seen. . .
A source of Earth's uplifting beauty.
Thousands of dollars
And dozens of books
Weeks of lecture hours
A dumpster of Red Bulls
Months of studying/watching porn online
Two memory cards of Halo files
74 failed tests and
74 sexy study sessions
Enough condoms to make the Charlie Brown
for next year’s Thanksgiving parade
And enough whiskey to fuel an aircraft carrier
Now, I am ready to go take on the real world
The air was stiff and musty smelling. The thickness of the air made it hard to
breathe. I gasped for a tiny breath that would help to clear my head. My head pulsed in
agony. I could feel my heart beating rapidly. Fear. Had I given in? I pushed at the
door, “Just one more try,” I thought. “Would he come back if he heard me?” I stopped
pushing and held my breath still.
“Oh God, please help me!” I prayed silently not knowing if there was a God to
hear my pleas. I hoped, prayed that mommy and daddy would come home soon.
But I knew better; it was always the same.
“Uncle Bob,” I begged, “please let me out, I won’t tell, I promise, I’ll be good
please just don’t leave me in here.” I pushed with all my strength, but the door did not
move. My cries and pleas turn to silent sobs. What had I done wrong?
Even though I really wanted to come out of the dark, lonely closet, I knew I was
safe in there. Even though every breath I took burned my lungs, even though I was
scared of the dark and the smell made me want to vomit, I did not want to leave its
safety. I slipped finally to sleep, knowing when I woke up the door would be unlocked.
Some time later I groggily awoke shifting my weight to make my self more com-
fortable. It felt like hours had passed and I was a little confused by where I was. Re-
membering where I was I tried the door once more. It popped open with a creaking
sound. Slowly I crawled out of the closet holding my breath; something did not feel
right. I walked cautiously to the living room expecting Mommy to be there. But sitting in
the reclining chair was Uncle Bob.
“So I see you decided to come see me,” Uncle Bob smirked. “Come on, climb
up here and sit with me.”
I knew if I didn’t obey I would be locked back in the little closet under the stairs. I
fought back the tears that tried to force themselves out of my eyes, and obediently
climbed in to his lap. It was the same every time Mommy and Daddy left and Uncle
Bob babysat. Uncle Bob slid his hand between my legs and began to touch me. The
voice in side my head begged him to stop, but I uttered no sound. Instead my mind
took me to a different place a safe place: I was sitting under the apple tree in my back-
yard playing with my dolls. I was pretending to be Mommy. Mommy was good, every-
thing I wanted to be.
A cold feeling snapped me back to where I really was: Hell. This was Hell, as if
I really understood what Hell was. I only knew Hell was bad, the preacher told us we
go to hell if we are bad. Was I bad? I felt bad; was this my punishment? Had I done
something wrong? Why did Mommy leave me here?
Uncle Bob was kissing me now his hot stinky breath gagged me the smell of va-
nilla and moth balls made me dizzy.
“Where are all the kids?” I asked hoping to delay my fate. My cousins were no-
where around. I wished hard for someone, anyone to come running though the door.
Uncle Bob whispered, “No one here but us,” as he lifted me to move me to the
couch. I felt my self get sicker with every passing minute. I lay still on the couch only
wanting my safe place. Where was Mommy? Where was the God preacher talked
about on Sundays? Alone—I was all alone.
“Spread them.” I paused, holding my breath as he barked his order at me.
“Now!” he said and I knew he was getting madder as he waited for me to obey.
I swallowed the sour taste that rose up in my throat. All I could do was wait until
he was done with me. I closed my eyes as he rubbed himself all over my body. When
he finished with me he smacked my bare bottom hard. “Go get cleaned up, and you
know you better not say a word about our special secrets.”
My body shook so hard my stomach hurt. With each step to the bathroom my
legs felt like stones. I closed and locked the door and ran my water very hot. The rub-
ber ducky in the tub floated up to me staring with a grin on its face. Violently I picked it
up and threw it at the wall. “I hate them” I cried “I hate them all” tears slid down my
face burning as they went. I scrubbed at my skin until it felt as if it was on fire. “I hate
Mommy, I hate Daddy” I slapped the water with my fist. “Why me?” I yelled. I wanted to
die; I slid my body down into the water and held my breath. All I could think about was
all the times before. I wanted it to stop I could not take anymore. It was days like this I
hated. Days like this I wanted to die, and this day was the longest as if it would never
end. “It is the only way to make him go away.” I told myself. I knew what to do I had
seen it on television. I rose from the tub and stumbled to the sink. I stood looking at
myself in the mirror; I hated that face, I hated myself. I lifted the razor to my wrist. As
the razor cut through my skin, everything went black.
A fog lay over my mind as I awoke in a white room with people staring at me.
Mommy was crying, and Daddy was wearing his I’m-very-upset-with-you face. It was at
this very moment I knew life was not fair now and would not be later in life. I knew Un-
cle Bob had lied to them. I knew what I had done had hurt them. I made Mommy cry
and Daddy mad, but if I told them the truth about Uncle Bob it would hurt them even
more. I made up my mind to keep my mouth silent. Where was God in this? Had he
brought Mommy home to save me? This I did not know. Tears streamed down my
face, I could not die, not right now; Mommy just wouldn’t understand. I closed my eyes
and told God I hated him even if he was real; where was he when I needed him? Not
there, and not here with me now. It wasn’t fair. Now would Mommy and Daddy hate
me? Would God hate me?
Who cares? Nothing is fair. “Let them hate me,” I thought to myself as I drifted
back to sleep wondering if there could ever be a better day.
--C. J. Kirk
When you first met me at my party
You made me feel important
You said I was the “Best”
When you first talked to me at my church
You made me feel special
You said I was “Beautiful”
When you first asked me out at the game
You made me feel unique
You said I was the “One”
When you first kissed me at my house
You made me feel loved
You said I was “Perfect”
When you first left me at the restaurant
You made me feel insignificant
You said I sas “Stupid”
When you first came back to me at work
You made me feel grateful
You said I would be “Fine”
When you first hit me at the park
You made me feel angry
You said I was “Nothing”
When you first threatened me at your house
You made me feel scared
You told me I was “Unstable”
Now for the first time no matter where I am
You make me feel nothing
Now for the first time I wonder why
Why I allowed you to make me feel anything at all
A sting in my throat,
And a cough,
Smoke is heavy in the bar.
* * *
Her lips sticking to mine slightly,
pulling away slow,
We feel the breath as we exhale.
Zip zip zoom!
I zip around zealous
Impatient and insatiable,
Collecting my cuisine,
cunning and crafty
Even racing in reverse,
So rare and remarkable
I dine on the devine,
delicious and delightful
So sweet and savory,
so scrumptious and swell
The flower is my friend,
funny I flourish
My momentum is mighty,
my measure minute
CASTING THE SATURDAY EVENING SPELL
Turn the stove knob to medium
click click click-poof
blue flame under me
waiting to physically and chemically change
what will lie on my black iron.
Pour first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
over my warm smooth surface
grab my handle with your firm right hand
lift twirl my eight pounds
gliding the oil in a circle.
Crushed fresh basil and oregano
pine nuts, chopped garlic, broccoli
and onions to caramelize
skinny-dipping in the pond
dancing a love ritual
with the edgy virgin
and to the sizzling beat
of her breaking bubbles.
Nutty and sweet aroma
rising above my circular wall
until the wood spoon scooping the sauté
over pasta al dente with Parmesan
serve with chilled crisped Chardonnay
like a love potion
that comes out of a witch’s cauldron
this dish will seduce Kathy
to fulfill the chef’s desires.
Mister wastes his days pressing keys
rubbing his eyes of the imagined something
released by the computer screen.
To edit a story, to retell it,
means to relive it.
Mister commands the mouse with ferocity.
Opening the windows
dancing at memory’s capacity.
Mister fills his stainless steal coffee mug,
and pours the Columbian roast
leaving room for vanilla creamer
and leverage to twirl the mixture into a light brown.
Walking back to the computer
Mister inhales the air conditioned office air
Then exhales heavily into his cup.
A plume of steam rises quickly
condensing on his thick, expensive lenses
forcing him to pause abruptly.
Mister flushes his eyes of foreign waters,
rubs them dry and red.
The steam it no doubt bothers
but ejects the imagined something from his eyes
left there by a glowing computer screen.
Mister waits for his tears to dry.
He then begins to command the mouse again
and reads through stories of bloodshed, gas attacks, genocide
and countries’ prescribed relentless struggles-
Narratives shared worldwide.
Mister knows steam from any brewed coffee
will not abruptly stop
those caught in these stories.
Mister settles into a leather desk chair,
edits the humbling biographies
of a collection of papers he is paid to prepare,
a collection of peoples for which he does not care.
ADOLESCENCE CLINGS TO UNDERPASSES
Troubled teens drawing on ledges of highway
Underpasses, fitting into sharp concrete corners in the dark
Of shadows left by streetlamps above.
Exclaiming their lack of trepidation
With a whisper, in black clothing only exposing
The dismal whites of their eyes to passersby.
These young fear of being branded for their sins
In the cedar halls of a city courtroom,
By the lacerations of inebriated parents who
Have stumbled home. Still, the young display their ornate emotions
In hues; forever dressing boxcars stretching country miles
And clinging to underpasses motorists blur by
In morning commute. Without a signature in the corner
Of their pictures they feel secure; expect the city workers
To whitewash their sins, ignore the painted trigger fingers
Keep all hidden. The councilmen believe troubled teens
Must mature. Peel off their dark clothes
Run one last time from sirens, discarding cans
Under pressure, and leap the high fence dividing adolescence from
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE
It seems like only yesterday
For aging, tired James
Recalling old adventures
When he never went by name
No more streamlined silver cars
And even faster birds
No more guns or vodka . . .
Shaken, never stirred
The world has changed like his reflection -
not all for the best
When living here alone
It doesn’t matter how he’s dressed
So no more distant paradises
No more work to do
Nothing larger than this life -
only what is true.
If ever a name could be given
to all the beauty the stars possess,
it would be synonymous with yours.
Sun and stars blend to illuminate your eyes,
guiding me down paths formerly barred
to wayward souls like mine--
leading me to the places within myself
where I've always yearned to be.
SONNET FOR GEORGE ORWELL
Greed and power consume their lives
And they are all told to look away
Then demanded to cover their eyes
The people are all led astray
The system cannot check their power
As leaders hypnotize the masses
Killing ideas like sheep at the slaughter.
Until the day they revolt.
Emerging from darkness they take to the streets
Refusing to sit in obedience
Assuming conformity is the same as defeat
They will no longer remain in silence
The fight will be gruesome, but must be done
The people rise up and declare revolution.
Thin, tweezed eyebrows turned inward and serious.
Your mouth stretched wide,
placed almost inside
are your two top fingers
with thumb high, pointing up at the steeple
and acting as the hammer
that will ignite
a biochemical reaction inside
your double barreled fingers.
With an abrupt downward action
of the thumb
and quick jolt of your wrist
you feign suicide:
eyes relaxed, neck melts
as eyelids shutter and swell.
My body hair stands attentive as I search to see
If adjacent pews are still empty
if I was the only one who watched.
I will hold your firearm
As long as the safety is on.
The pain in your apology is real
but the gun, fake.
A blessing from our God.
I can sit with a despondent friend,
but I cannot resurrect her
when she is dead.
“WORLDS OF DIFFERENCE”
Worlds of Difference
This essay is one of two winning submissions in the “Worlds of Difference” Essay Con-
test, sponsored by the College in conjunction with the Spring 2007 International Festi-
Wrestling with a stubborn sliding glass door which apparently has sand in the
track, I step outside onto the 1960’s cinderblock balcony. Its pale pastel hues are Car-
ibbean art deco. I stare out to sea, a gentle steady trade wind blowing. The sun is
bright, bringing every tropical flower out in full color. The billowing clouds look like
huge cotton balls. The sea air is fresh, clean, and without scent. I glance down at the
cook clipping fresh herbs out of a garden for breakfast. I see her move to the nearby
orange tree for fresh fruit. This is not a dream but it is another world. This is Antigua.
I traveled to Antigua a few years ago with a dear friend. No pollution, no traffic,
no skyscrapers. It was like no other place I had been. Visiting with a local, I had the
privilege of mixing with the Islanders.
I was completely taken by the charm of the island and its people. Yet, I was on
vacation and would soon return to my world. I enjoyed the cornucopia of indigenous
island cultures that blended together. However, the romance of the island could not
overcome my longing for fast food, business schedules, driving on the right side of the
road or any kind of fast pace. It was beautiful, but a culture shock none the less.
Since my return, I have come to understand more. I asked my Antiguan friend
Walter why he moved to America; he stated “economics.” Walter holds dual citizen-
ship in the US and his native Antigua. He admitted he chose America because it was
easy to get into, it was not hard to live here, and he had no trouble fitting in. He did
say he sometimes wonders if it was worth it.
“What’s the biggest thing you’ve missed while being here in America, Walter?” I
asked. “Freedom” he replied. This was an unexpected answer! He is living in the
Land of the Free. Well, that’s me being ethnocentric. Walter explained that he felt free
in Antigua. It was a hard feeling to describe. He explained that there was closeness
on the island, that he felt free to be himself. There were no certain expectations he
needed to live up to there. He could just live and enjoy life. This was a profound reve-
lation for me. I then connected with what he said. Though I visited as a tourist, I al-
ways felt welcome, not judged. I never thought of Americans not being free, but hav-
ing experienced his world and stepping out of my own, I was able to see our restric-
tions and could connect with what he said.
I learned a great deal about Walter’s culture. I had been able to immerse myself
in this culture very different from my own. I enjoyed much of it and some of it made me
appreciate my own culture more. I learned more about myself. I now find myself de-
termined that I will live more “free” than I ever did so I can truly enjoy what my own
WORLDS OF WONDERFUL DIFFERENCE
This essay is one of two winning submissions in the “Worlds of Difference” Essay Con-
test, sponsored by the College in conjunction with the Spring 2007 International Festi-
In July of 2006, I met one of the most inspirational and beautiful human
being I have ever met; his name is Hoerun Somnieng. This gentle soul certainly stands
out in a crowd because of his bright orange robes, simple flip flops and shaved head.
This different attire is because Somnieng is a Buddhist monk from Cambodia. From the
moment I first saw his smiling face I felt a sense of peace and tranquility radiating from
his being. Generally monks in Cambodia bow to one another, but since Somnieng was
in America, he gave me a big hug with such a soothing voice of welcome.
I had seen an article in the Quad City Times a week prior, describing a monk
that was studying at St. Ambrose and giving free meditation classes at a yoga school
in Iowa. I was so excited to learn about this because I had never met a Buddhist monk
from another country. The picture of Somnieng in the newspaper captured his beautiful
smile, and I knew I had to go and meet him.
Hoerun Somnieng has been a monk for most of his life. He is only 25 but he has
accomplished so much already in his country. He is the executive director of Wat
Damnak, a Buddhist monastery in Cambodia, which supports orphaned and street chil-
dren. The monks provide food, education, clothing and shelter for vulnerable and dis-
abled kids through their “Life and Hope Association.” Somnieng’s goal is to give these
children who have been the victims of war, poverty, and HIV/AIDS equal rights for a
better future through the nurturing of the Buddhist principals of love and compassion.
Somnieng, an orphan himself, knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up under war-torn
and utterly filthy and degraded conditions. He never gave up hope, though, and is
making a big difference in this world by this invaluable service.
Hoerun Somnieng enlivens people with his teachings on compassion and lov-
ing kindness wherever he goes. Our Humanities class at BHC last year was very fortu-
nate to have him come and speak about his life and work. It is so easy to think that
everyone in the world has it as good as we do in the west, but it is real a wake-up call
when you hear someone like Somnieng explain the situation from a personal perspec-
tive. Somnieng was given an educational grant to finish his schooling in America so
that he could better manage the business affairs at his monastery in Cambodia. Unfor-
tunateley though, Somnieng was denied a visa to return for the 2006-2007 school year
to finish his degree. Somnieng has been an example in my life that one must never
give up hope for a brighter world, especially when that hope is backed by a forgiving
and loving heart. Somnieng has such a heart which brings out smiles in people wher-
ever he goes.
She says she’s doing great
When you ask her how she’s been,
But the black eye that she has
Betrays the fight she did not win.
He orders up a whiskey
Despite the unpaid bills;
He doesn’t believe that anyone on earth
Could feel the way that he feels.
Her visit to the doctor
Left her with bad news:
Her liver is destroyed.
But she needs that glass of booze.
Over the years the faces change,
But the stories just repeat
This never ending cycle
With no cure for their disease.
That beautiful crystal vase
Will not help the roses survive.
The roses are already dead:
They weren’t given enough light.
You’re trying to water them now,
But they are wilted and dry.
Though the thorns are still sharp,
The roses have already died.
GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS: THE TRUE STORY
Goldilocks alone in the woods.
If she’d had someone to play with then this story would be different.
Walking along she found a house
No one inside -- quiet as a mouse
Or so she thought.
She explored different rooms, couldn’t help but stare
She found cold porridge and hard chairs
She even found a set of stairs
So up she walked.
Little did she know up there were three bears
And they were hungry
They ate Goldilocks up
Like a fresh piece of salami.
GIRLS GONE WILD
Girl Gone Wild
or just a child
with twisted inspiration
from the pages of Cosmopolitan
A literary rag unnaturally birthed
from the bulging womb of
Corporate slaves and prostitutes
GIL KIRBY AND HIS FREEDOM
Gil Kirby somberly stood facing the casket, yet from the corner of his right eye, he
was watching the small group of mourners moving silently in his direction. He quickly
turned his back toward them, raised his hands as if stifling a choked -up cough and
poked his index fingers into the whites of both eyes. Tears welled furiously and
streamed down Gil’s cheeks just as he turned around to face the mourners now beside
Myra Pence stepped forward and extended her thin hand. Gil put out his to meet
it, but Myra’s traveled past his to gently pat the left breast of the deceased. “I’ll miss
you, Gladys. Such a good-hearted person you was, helping me through my trials and
tribulations. . You just seemed to have a way of seein’ into the hearts of everybody,
didn’t you, dear?” Gil winced.
“Poor, poor Gil!” Deloris Baker lamented as she patted the sleeve of Gil’s black suit
coat, and upon adjusting her thick glasses, surveyed the body in the casket. “They
sure went and done a fine job of makin’ her look nice. Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d
say she weren’t dead at all. They did a real fine job, didn’t they, Gil? She looks like
she’s just lyin’ there sleepin’ real peaceful.”
If she were sleeping, Gil thought to himself, she’d be snoring like a freight train.
Aloud he solemnly replied, “Yes, she’s real pretty, Deloris. Just as pretty as the day I
met her twenty-five-. . .” Loud sobs from the back of the funeral parlor interrupted Gil’s
words, and the small group of mourners turned their heads in unison as Gracie’s heavy
body plodded its way to the casket.
An eerie feeling swept over the little group as their eyes darted from one sister to
the other - the one horizontal in the casket, with her red frizzy hair, broad shoulders,
and thick hands folded in repose over her ample bosom, and the one vertical, with her
red frizzy hair, broad shoulders and her thick hands now wiping away the tears rolling
freely down her face. The latter turned to Gil, flung her flabby arms a little too tightly
around his neck and wailed, “Poor Gladys! How we gonna go on without her, Gil?
How are we gonna live without dear, dear Gladys?”
Gil Kirby was finding it hard to breathe, much less utter any words of comfort to
his sister-in-law. Mercifully, Ben, Gracie’s husband, stepped forward, and gently but
firmly pried his wife’s arms from around Gil’s neck. Gil’s face had become quite red
and he bent over the casket and took a big gasp of air.
“C’mon, Gracie” Ben said soothingly. “Lookit, Gil’s overcome with grief. Let’s let
him have a few minutes alone with Gladys.”
The group of mourners slowly dispersed, leaving Gil alone beside the casket and
the body of his wife. He bent down and took her pudgy, lifeless hand in his and whis-
pered ever so softly in her ear, “I’m finally free of you, Gladys. Free at last!”
Gracie and Ben lagged a step behind the other mourners who were quietly exiting
the parlor and meandering towards their cars. Ben shook his head sadly, “Poor dear
Gladys. That virus getting her right in the prime of her life!”
Gracie turned around one last time and watched the grieving Gil holding the limp,
lifeless hand of her sister. “Oh, Gladys! Sweet, sweet Gladys!” she sobbed, a new
batch of tears flowing down her puffy cheeks.
“C’mon, Puddin’” Ben whispered, putting his arm around her broad shoulders and
steering her toward the door. “Let’s go home”. .
At home, Gil Kirby whistled as he flung his black suit coat and trousers across the
bedroom floor, pausing to stamp on a little line of ants as he did so. Then, wearing
only his briefs and black nylon socks, he danced a lively jig down the hall and into the
sitting room and plopped down in Gladys’s wheel chair next to her desk. Furtively, he
rifled through the contents of the drawers until he found the packet of envelopes se-
cured neatly with a yellow ribbon. “Let’s just see what we got here”, Gil uttered, as he
tore off the ribbon and leafed through the stack. The scent of “Caution,” Gladys’s per-
fume, wafted into Gil’s nostrils, but he did not flinch as he used to, when the fragrance
meant that her heavy body was nearby, for now it signaled Gil Kirby’s freedom since it
was emanating from the little stack of envelopes which included Gladys’s will and the
policy from Metro Life Insurance. Gil opened the first envelope and started reading,
“The last will and testament of Gladys Bomire Kirby.” He scanned the rest of the first
page and somewhere in the middle of the second page, a big grin swept over his face.
“…and I bequeath all of my possessions to my husband, Gilbert Riley Kirby. In the
event that my husband, Gilbert Riley Kirby should die, the remaining portion of my es-
tate will be passed on to my dear sister, Gracie Bomire Putnam.”
“Me, pass on?” Gil laughed derisively. “Not after all the plans I’ve made!” and he
reached for the envelope from Metro Life. Nervously, he unfolded its contents, and
started reading, his eyes growing wide. “A million smackeroos! Thank you, Gladys, old
girl! You’ve made me a rich man!” he exclaimed. Jumping up from the wheelchair, Gil
Kirby skipped all the way back to the bedroom, jumped up on the bed and, knocking
his knobby knees together, erupted into song. “I’m in the money! I’m in the money! Gil
Kirby’s free now and rich as he can be!”
Back in the city, Gracie took off the black dress, wriggled out of the tight heels
and pulled her flowered muu-muu over her head. As she yanked a Kleenex from its
box and sat down on the edge of the bed, overwhelming grief erupted inside her chest,
shaking her large body uncontrollably. Long guttural moans spewed from her lips.
“Glaaaadys! Glaaaadys!” Gracie’s thick hand grappled for the phone on the nightstand.
She punched 555 – 2643, listening to it ring twice before realizing she was calling
Gladys to console her over her own death! She quickly returned the receiver to its
base and let her body fall heavily back onto the bed. No more hoping Gladys would be
the way she used to be; no more hoping she would miraculously get better. No more
Gil opened the closet door, got down on his knees and groped around until he
found the handle of the plastic crate, or his hope chest as he liked to call it. Giving it
a strong tug, he pulled it out and carried it to the middle of the bedroom floor where he
plopped down beside it. Thorough exhilaration spread through his body as he re-
moved the items one by one; the flowered shirt, the brochures of Hawaii, the box of
Grecian Formula, # 98 – “Fox Brown,” and the picture of the red Ferrari he had incon-
spicuously torn from a magazine during one of his visits to the dentist to have his den-
tures refitted. Reaching down into the hope chest one last time, he pulled out the
framed picture of himself standing next to voluptuous Tammy, his young blonde secre-
tary, snapped at the last Christmas party. Disappointment replaced the grin on his
face, as he saw the cracked glass running right between the two of them, culminating
just below the crotch of his slacks. Just then, the phone rang. Sheerly out of reflex, Gil
Kirby scooped up his treasures and quickly put them back into the plastic hope chest
before reaching for the phone on the nightstand. “Hello”, he answered sadly (after all,
he had just lost his wife), but the caller did not respond. “Who is this?” Gil asked, but
again, the caller did not answer. Gil slowly placed the phone back on its base.
“Probably just a wrong number”, he told himself; nevertheless, he quickly pushed his
hope chest back into the closet and closed the door.
Ben grabbed his lunchbox off the kitchen table and leaned down to kiss the top of
Gracie’s frizzy hair. “Puddin’, I know how depressed you are, but it’s been two weeks
since Gladys passed. I’m gettin’ real worried about you.” Scrounging around in the left
pocket of his bib overalls, he pulled out a crumpled ten-dollar bill. “Here, take this and
go buy somethin’ nice for yourself, ya hear?”
“Ben, I can’t take that! That there’s your gas money!”
“Aw, the gas tank’s not on E yet, and anyways I get paid on Friday. I mean it,
Gracie! You go on down to K-Mart and get somethin’ for yourself. And I don’t want ya
bringing back any socks or underwear for me. You’re always doin’ for others and never
yourself. That money’s for you”. Glancing at his watch and with a quick “Gotta go!” he
hurried out the door.
Gracie listened as the clomping of his work boots descended the two flights of
stairs and disappeared beyond the door of the apartment building.
She poured herself another cup of coffee and stared at the crumpled ten on the table.
Everything it seemed, led back to thoughts of Gladys, even the money Ben had left for
her. Her mind drifted back to one of those days when she had scrounged up enough
quarters and dollar bills to take the train out of the city to visit Gladys. How she had
cringed at the sight of her suffering sister, her heavy frame slumped in the wheel chair!
Gladys had divulged to her, amidst Gracie’s strong protestations, that she would be
well cared for, once Gladys was gone. Yet, and Gracie felt guilty for even thinking
about it, as Gladys lay dying, she weekly pleaded for Gracie to take care of Gil. Gracie
grimaced. Gil sure didn’t take care of Gladys – always leavin’ her alone, even when
she was so weak she could barely lift her head. She was glad now that she hadn’t told
Gladys about the time Gil had driven right by Ben’s tow truck with a young blonde
woman in his car. It was Ben who reminded her that Gladys was sick and she sure did-
n’t want to add any more sorrow to her sister’s life, did she? Of course, with Gladys
and that uncanny ability of hers to discern the hearts of others, she probably already
knew about Gil’s infidelity anyway, yet kept it to herself. “I wish I was more like Gladys”,
Gracie murmured. “The way she never complained, the way she was so forgiving.” She
grimaced as she thought of Gil laughing and carrying on with the blonde while Gladys
sat alone in her wheel chair. “Shame on you, Gracie!”, she reproached herself. “By
gosh, if Gladys can forgive Gil Kirby for his selfishness, I guess I can too! I’m gonna
make him a meatloaf for supper. That’s what I’ll do. Not for him. It’s for Gladys. She
wants me to take care of Gil. That’s what I’ll do.”
Gil Kirby removed the bottle of dye from its box and sat down on the toilet seat to
read the accompanying directions. Step 1: Important! Test a sample of Grecian For-
mula on a small section of hair, before beginning. Gil scanned the remainder of the in-
structions, crumpled the paper and pulled on the plastic gloves. An hour later, he stud-
ied his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His graying hair had meshed with the bald
spot on his head, yet now the Grecian Formula dye # 98 – “Fox Brown” only accentu-
ated the circle of bare scalp, making it more noticeable and larger than he remem-
bered it being. He picked up the near-empty bottle on the counter and turned it upside
down, catching the last few dribbles of Fox Brown with his plastic gloved finger. Turn-
ing back to the mirror, he commenced rubbing the top of his head furiously until the
bald spot gradually turned the same brown color as his hair. If he squinted his eyes, he
could barely make out the bald spot at all “Hardly noticeable now”, he smiled at his re-
flection. Of course, he didn’t look Tammy’s age, but with his new brown head of hair,
and if he jutted out his jaw enough so that his jowls were less noticeable, surely he
would not be mistaken again for her father.
Gracie stepped down onto the platform of the train station and motioned a nearby
cab driver with her one free hand. “Sumpun sure smells good,” the cab driver com-
mented as Gracie maneuvered her large hips into the back seat of his taxi.
Gracie smiled. “This here’s a meatloaf for my brother –in –law,” she said as she
patted the foil-covered pan. The taxi came to a stop in front of 333 Oakwood, along-
side a small red sports car. Laboriously, Gracie got out of the cab, holding tightly to
the covered pan of meatloaf. The cabbie smacked his lips. “Shucks, I was hopin’ you’d
ferget that meatloaf in the back seat. Sure does smell good!” Gracie smiled, paid him
and made her way around the back of the sports car to the sidewalk. She pushed her
fat finger on the doorbell and waited. Looking down to check the foil around her pan,
she noticed that several colonies of black ants had amassed on the brick steps.
“Pesky critters!” Gracie mumbled and commenced to pound the sole of her wide shoe
on the small mounds just as the doorknob turned. Gil Kirby flung the door open and
peered outside. At first, Gracie hardly recognized him, with his flowered shirt and dark
“Dye!” she exclaimed, staring at Gil, while still stomping the ant mounds on the
brick step below her.
Gil Kirby took a step back. “What?” he gasped.
“Dye!” Gracie repeated. “You’ve dyed your hair!”
Gil’s hand flew up to his head. “Oh, my hair! Yes, uh I’ve put a little color on it. No harm
in uh, well, you see, since I lost my poor Gladys, well, uh, every time I looked in the
mirror, and saw myself, it’d remind me of when we was together, so I uh changed my
hair color so looking at myself wouldn’t make me so sad.”
By now, Gracie’s eyes had left Gil’s brown head and traveled down to the bright
flowered shirt. Gil’s eyes followed Gracie’s. “And the shirt, uh, you like it? I bought it
after poor dear Gladys passed, just to uh kind of cheer me up. See here, it’s got these
flowers on it and uh you remember how much Gladys liked plantin’ flowers. You don’t
blame me for trying to cheer myself up a little, do you Gracie?”
Gracie stood speechless, trying as hard as she could, to muffle the laughter bub-
bling up inside her. Quickly, feigning a cough, she turned away and bit her lip hard, to
keep the laughter at bay, however, a wide smile did slip upon her face, as she replied,
“No, Gil Believe me, I know how hard it is to think about Gladys’s awful sickness and
her untimely death. You deserve whatever comes your way.” With that, she handed
him the foil-covered pan. “Your dear wife’s last wish was that I take care of you and
that I am doing.” Gil reached out and took the meatloaf. The savory aroma made his
mouth water. It had been awhile since he had enjoyed a home cooked meal, he realized, and
he hoped it was as good as the meatloaf Gladys used to fix.
He bent his head to take a stronger whiff at the meatloaf, and a dark stream of
brown dye slithered down his left cheek. Unable to contain the laughter much longer,
Gracie bid a very quick farewell and hurried down the street and around the corner.
There she leaned against a white picket fence, and almost peeing her pants, let the
pent up laughter burst forth. How utterly ridiculous the man looked wearing that wild
colored shirt and with that dyed hair and the brown matching streak running down his
That evening, Gil ruminated over his sister-in- law’s brief visit. Surely she didn’t
suspect anything, yet what did that crack mean about him deserving everything that
comes his way? Naw, surely she didn’t suspect anything. After all, she wasn’t nearly as
smart as Gladys, and Gladys sure hadn’t been suspicious even up to the end. Gil de-
voured two large pieces of meatloaf before carefully wrapping the remainder with the
foil and putting it in the refrigerator. He burped a contented burp, slid into bed and fell
soundly to sleep. About midnight, he woke with a start. “But what if Gracie suspected
him? He suddenly bolted upright as a police siren in the distance, gradually shrieked
louder, louder. He held his breath, unable to move. The siren reached a blaring pitch,
before gradually ebbing away. “Naw, Gracie couldn’t possibly suspect me!” he uttered,
rather unconvincingly, all the while pulling the bedcovers over his brown dyed hair.
Gracie hoisted her large body into bed next to her husband. A smile spread over
her face, followed by an eruption of laughter. Ben grinned broadly. “Puddin’, it’s sure
good to hear you happy again! What’re you laughin’ about?”
Gracie told Ben the whole story about making the meatloaf and the compliment
from the taxi driver, and the sight of Gil standing at the door with his flowered shirt and
newly dyed hair. Ben listened intently, his grin fading to a sober expression.
“Gracie”, he said softly, “the poor man’s goin' loco with grief over the loss of
Gladys. I don’t think we oughta be makin’ fun of him.” Tears welled up in his brown
eyes. “After all, I’d probably go crazy too and do all sorts of weird things if you was to
Just as quickly as the laughter had come over her, the shame came even faster.
Gracie leaned over and put her large flabby arms around her husband and gave him a
warm embrace. Of course, Ben was right. That night Gracie tried to think of some way
to assuage her guilt, and by morning, she knew what she would do.
Gil got up early the next morning, scratching his head. He happened to look down
upon his pillow and jerked back in shock. No wonder his head was itching! There on
his pillow were several long stringy worms, dead as doornails. He grabbed his reading
glasses from the nightstand and, with the tip of his index finger, he nudged one of
them, then bent down closer to get a better look. Lo and behold, they were not worms,
but strands of his own Fox Brown hair! He jumped out of bed, ran to the bathroom and
stared horrified into the mirror. The patches of hair were not only missing, but in their
place glared bright red bumpy patches of scalp! What would Tammy think if she saw
her Honey Buns looking like this! Gil Kirby slumped down at his kitchen table and
reached for the phone. No, he told Tammy, he would not be in today, and from the way
things looked, maybe she should reschedule all of his appointments for the next two
weeks. Forlornly he added, “I miss you!” but the young blonde secretary had already
Gracie sat down at the kitchen table and held the pen between her pudgy fingers.
“Dear Gil”, she wrote, “I was glad to see you last week. How is your hair doing? Is the
dye staying in? And that new shirt of yours sure did look nice on you. You reminded
me of one of those people who live down in Hawaii. It was so colorful and all. I know
how much time Gladys spent on keeping her garden looking nice but those ants on
your walk will be crawling all over those pretty flowers she planted it you don’t get rid of
them. This here bug killer could kill a horse, so be careful. Ben told me to tell you to
use it sparingly so it will last longer.” Gracie chewed on the end of her pen as she
thought of what Ben had said the night before. A feeling of compassion swept over her
as she resumed writing. “I just want to tell you that I know how you really felt about my
dear sister, Gladys. I do hope you enjoyed the meatloaf and know that our thoughts
are with you as you eat it. Love, Gracie and Ben.”
Gracie folded the letter neatly and wedged it in the small box next to the bug kil-
ler. She was glad now that she had spent the extra two dollars to get the “Kill Away!”
brand instead of the generic brand of bug killer, a gesture she was sure would not be
lost on Gil Kirby since he always bought the top of the line in everything that had to do
with himself. Gil had a daily habit of plucking one of the pretty flowers Gladys had so
lovingly planted, and sticking it in his lapel before leaving for work. He certainly would-
n’t want those big black ants to accompany him. Yes, she concluded, Gil would be
happy to have the little bottle of bug killer.
Gil Kirby sat at the kitchen table with the last slab of meatloaf on the plate before
him. He cut another large piece, jabbed it with his fork and stuffed it in his mouth.
While he was chewing, he reached across the table and grabbed the small package
he had pulled out of the mailbox. Hmm, he thought. Another gift from Gracie, and he
tore off the brown paper and opened the lid of the small box. Abruptly, he stopped
chewing and stared at the small bottle of Kill Away! bug killer within. Large beads of
perspiration formed on his upper lip as his hand, now clammy, nervously pulled the
bottle from its resting place. “What the devil!” he exclaimed, and then spied the neatly
folded paper remaining in the box. With the bite of meatloaf still inside his gaping
mouth, he scanned the contents of the note from Gracie, his eyes stopping, backing
up, and rereading the last sentences. ‘I just want to tell you that I know how you really
felt about my dear sister, Gladys. I do hope you enjoyed the meatloaf and know that
our thoughts are with you as you eat it.’ A horrified Gil raced to the bathroom and spit
every vestige of meatloaf that lay in his mouth into the toilet. His body trembled as he
poked and prodded his finger down his throat, gagging up chunks of the meat he had
only minutes before savored.
Evening came and Gracie plopped her heavy frame down on the old lumpy couch
beside her husband. The sadness and pain over the loss of her sister were gradually
lifting, partly due, she realized, to forgiving Gil for not being the kind of husband to
Gladys as Ben was to her. She looked adoringly at Ben now snoring like a freight
train, and smiled. Life was good.
Evening had arrived, finding Gil Kirby curled up upon his bed, clutching a pillow
tightly to his chest. By now, he had memorized the letter Gracie had sent along with
the bug killer. How she had caught on to what he had done -- and with the exact same
brand of Kill Away! bug killer, no less! -- he would never know. Even alluding to his
plans to visit Hawaii by craftily mentioning his Hawaiian shirt! Suggesting that he use
the bug killer sparingly, just as he had done with Gladys, so that nobody would sus-
pect… Again, his thoughts returned to the last sentences of the letter, ‘ I just want to
tell you that I know how you really felt about my dear sister, Gladys. I do hope you en-
joyed the meatloaf and know that our thoughts are with you as you eat it” What a cun-
ning, evil- yes! evil person she was to cruelly poison the meatloaf he had been eating
for the past five days. His hand involuntarily moved to his head and the hairless red
bumpy patches. Dammit! That’s why the thin strands had been loosed from his scalp,
floating morosely into the sink as he combed his Fox Brown hair! For a brief moment,
he thought back to Gladys’s frizzy hair and how he would find clumps of it in the basin
each morning. With great sadness, Gil Kirby’s eyes moved to the framed picture on the
nightstand, of him and voluptuous Tammy, with the cracked glass forever separating
them. Life was not fair, he thought miserably, as his eyes traveled past the empty plas-
tic hope chest on the floor, beyond the bedroom door and through the hall, to the gray
metal wheel chair coldly stationed in the corner of the sitting room. . . . He wouldn’t
die like she had! Gracie had cheated him out of his brief freedom, but she wouldn’t see
him die a long agonizing death like Gladys. No she wouldn’t get that satisfaction!
Ben and Gracie pulled up to the funeral parlor in the red Ferrari. Gracie didn’t
much care for the car she had inherited, as the remaining survivor of her sister’s es-
tate. Its small size made it difficult to extricate her heavy frame from it, but Ben had in-
sisted that it was more dignified than driving up in his tow truck. Gracie reluctantly
agreed. “You know, Ben”, Gracie mused, “Gladys said we’d be taken care of once she
passed. She just had this uncanny way of knowin’ how things’d work out.” Ben nod-
ded, got out of the car and went around to open the door for his wife.
Inside, a small group of mourners walked quietly toward Gracie and Ben. Deloris
Baker stepped forward, peering into the casket with her thick glasses. “Gil looks so
natural there, just like he’s asleep, don’t he, Gracie? And I see” she whispered even
lower, “that they did a fine job of covering the place on his head where he shot hisself”.
As the mourners quietly dispersed, Gracie pushed a red frizzy tendril from her
forehead and wiped away a tear that had found its way down her cheek. “Poor, poor
Gil”, she cried softly as she bent down over the casket and placed one of his cold,
lifeless hands in hers. “What pain you musta endured over losing Gladys!” and into his
ear, she whispered ever so softly, “You’re free, now, Gil Kirby. Free at last.”
Krystal Madison Scholarship Fund
C. J. Kirk