Wild Ducks in the Snow

Lois Marie Harrod

after Ando Hiroshige

Today, the liturgy of snow,
light as stone under the pelt of a brush.

All your past becomes the sycamore
flecked cold and white in the dawn,

your brother drifts from the patient gray
gently about you, your sister’s eyes spill,

and now your father’s arm stretches along the willow
his white shirting and white chain,

Sweeping the ground, your mother,
her frozen sorrow.

And you, you are the wild duck
feathered softly as the frost,

one of two in the water moving,
your body dipping as dabblers do.

You have known all summer
the manna that feeds this chill.

You’ve known all summer
you cannot stay.

 

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About the author:

Lois Marie Harrod’s 16th and most recent collection, Nightmares of the Minor Poet, appeared in June 2016 from Five Oaks. Her chapbook And She Took the Heart appeared in January 2016, and Fragments from the Biography of Nemesis (Cherry Grove Press) and the chapbook How Marlene Mae Longs for Truth (Dancing Girl Press) appeared in 2013. The Only Is won the 2012 Tennessee Chapbook Contest (Poems & Plays), and Brief Term, a collection of poems about teachers and teaching was published by Black Buzzard Press, 2011. Cosmogony won the 2010 Hazel Lipa Chapbook (Iowa State). She is widely published in literary journals and online e-zines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3. She teaches Creative Writing at The College of New Jersey. You can find links to her online work at www.loismarieharrod.org.

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Jacqueline Vogtman

Review: Tiger Pelt by Annabelle Kim

Leaf Land Press, 2017

We are lucky here at Kelsey Review to have published local writer Annabelle Kim’s short fiction in the past, and luckier still to be able to review her debut novel, Tiger Pelt, published earlier this year. Deeply felt and thoroughly researched, this work of historical fiction follows two main characters, Kim Young Nam and Lee Hana, as they struggle to survive in Korea during and after WWII and the Korean War. These two characters lead separate lives—Kim helping to take care of his family, trying to further his education, and working for the US Army; Lee forcibly taken to work as a “comfort woman” for the Japanese soldiers—but their paths do cross one fateful day during a powerful monsoon, when Kim saves Lee from drowning in the Sap Kyo River. This event is grippingly narrated in the opening chapter, although it isn’t until near the end of the book that we see these two characters’ lives intertwine again.

In the meantime, the chapters alternate between Kim and Lee, recounting the events of their lives with brutal, sometimes horrifying detail. The author’s power in this book comes from narrating these events unflinchingly. She boldly presents to the reader the horrors of war for both women and men during these times, as well as the tragic aftermath when war ends. Lee, considered “ruined goods,” is shunned by her family and is married off to a man who beats her (although she later finds a short-lived love with a kinder man). Kim fares somewhat better, attending Seoul Bible College, where he falls in love with a young woman whom he eventually marries. However, he is haunted by the horrors of war and poverty, and he is tormented with guilt over his little brother’s death. This highlights one of the themes of the book: the desire to save others and the remorse that accompanies the realization that one cannot save everybody.

When Kim’s little brother dies, the family posthumously goes to a genealogist in town to give him a proper name and enroll him in the official register. While there, the genealogist quotes an ancient proverb: “When a tiger dies, he leaves a pelt; when a man dies, he leaves his name.” The title of the book, then, is also an ode to names, to family, to what is left after one dies, to legacy. And yet, the book suggests, a man leaves more than just his name; he leaves the lives of others changed. If he has lived a good life, as Kim Young Nam does, a life of hard work, valuing family and education, making the right choices, sacrificing one’s self for others—then he will leave the world a better place.

Another Korean saying holds tremendous weight in the book: “When whales fight, shrimp’s backs are broken.” This aphorism runs through Kim’s mind as he witnesses a bridge burning over the Han River. This saying seems to suggest that Kim, his family, and his community are the “shrimp” who end up devastated because the people in power—the “whales”—wage war. What’s remarkable about this novel is that the author makes the seemingly small lives of Kim and Lee seem large and important. These were not unnamed casualties of war; these were individuals with desires and dreams who overcame insurmountable obstacles to survive.

One could describe this novel as a bildungsroman, but perhaps more accurately it is a Campbellian hero’s journey. Kim leaves home, pursues education, saves Lee, struggles, marries, and then travels to America. It is in America that he realizes his dreams and then connects again with Lee, who has also made her way to America (thanks to the “kinder man” mentioned earlier). It is in America that Lee, too, realizes her dreams, and is finally able to show some agency in her own life. And then, like any good hero’s journey, there is a “return,” when Kim is pushed back to his homeland. This circular pattern of storytelling is nothing new, but it works very well for this material; it highlights the heroism and mythic elements inherent in Kim’s story.

A tale of war, of love, of family, of salvation, of culture and identity and coming to America, Annabelle Kim has woven a tale that transcends time and culture even while being very firmly grounded in it. Many times in the reading of this book, I found myself moved to tears. This novel does exactly what a novel should do—it absorbs the reader in its characters’ lives, and enriches the reader’s own life while doing so.

 

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About the author:

Jacqueline Vogtman is Editor of the Kelsey Review and an Assistant Professor of English at Mercer County Community College. She received her MFA in Creative Writing-Fiction from Bowling Green State University in Ohio (where she served as an assistant editor of Mid-American Review) and her BA in English/Creative Writing from The College of New Jersey. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Connotation Press, Copper Nickel, Drunken Boat, Emerson Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Versal, and other journals both in print and online.

 

Neruda Street

Barbara Krasner

It’s Sunday afternoon and the rain drips
onto cobblestone, leaving a reflective sheen.
Milos has led these tours a million times I’m
sure, and yet he talks to us like he’s Geraldo Rivera
dredging up the treasures of the Titanic on camera.
In Mala Strana we traipse up Neruda Street
like climbing the stairs of the Empire State Building
and he says hello to some white guy
with Rastafarian braids. The guy’s
an American ex-pat. In his U.S. Army surplus jacket
he stands on a stone ledge and recites his most
recent poetry, his hands clasped, eyes closed. He speaks
to the open air, no notes. He performs his poems,
announcing that despite his own protestations
and self-berating monologues he has been productive.
I listen to his controlled lyrical rant and think, yes, this
is what I’ve come to Prague for. He stands at the pinnacle
of the hill, behind him stuccoed walls and terra cotta
roofs, street lamps perhaps once lit with kerosene.
Smetana’s Vltava flexes under the Charles Bridge. It
creeps into his voice and through his fingertips. If only
his fingers would whisper that juice into mine
so I could call it my own.

 

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About the author:

Barbara Krasner’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Peregrine, Rust + Moth, Blue Lyra Review, and numerous other journals. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing and composition in New Jersey and online.

 

Man from the Thirties

Dave Olson

 

KELSEY REVIEW COVER ART FALL 2017_OLSON_MAN FROM THIRTIES

 

About the artist:

Dave Olson has been a construction worker, a school bus driver, a student, and a teacher. He is in his 22nd year in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District where he works as a special educator. He is married and has two grown sons. His family is everything. He has previously had drawings published in the Kelsey Review.

Life & Death

Lauren Fedorko

 

KR 36 Online Fedorko Life and Death

 

About the artist:

Lauren Fedorko, M.Ed., is an Adjunct Professor of writing at Rutgers University, teaches AP and Honors high school English, and advises a creative writing club for her students. Her passion for writing is longstanding and ongoing, composed mostly of poetry and creative non-fiction. She enjoys exploring, photography, good company, and travelling the world every chance she gets. Her work has previously been published in the Kelsey Review.

Submission

Arlene Gralla Feldman

Jessica is late as usual, so we MFAs wait, talking idly with three observers from the undergrad program: English majors, wannabe writers.

I talk with the mousey-looking one who tells me she’s already submitted to a publisher. “A house in Puerto Rico,” she says. “They’re into mainland writers.” She tells me about her plans to submit her writing for evaluation for admission to this master’s program. “Why?” I ask her, when the professor pointedly says to me, “I think we’ll start with your piece.”

“Okay,” I say, “but I just need a minute to take off my pantyhose.”

“Can’t it wait?” he asks. “We’re running kind of late.”

“Professor,” I answer, “I’ve had these on since six-thirty this morning and you know about pantyhose—you’re fine until the ants are crawling into every opening, every pore. It isn’t pretty. You feel them spreading from your bellybutton to your pubes…”

Professor looks at his watch disdainfully and then at the brown Formica table before him.

“…through your cleft, to your thighs until your toes begin to curl.”

Mother, hovering in the easterly corner of the empty ceiling, shouts, “Let her go already! How many minutes could the whole thing take?”

Professor relents with a wave of his hand towards the door.

I go into the bedroom and pull off my pantyhose. Some ants scatter, burying themselves in the warmth of the car­pet. We are relieved.

When I return the professor is clearly annoyed. “We’ve heard you’ve done this before. In your biology class you were clearly late in distributing the scalpels. The frogs lying there— spread-eagled. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.”

Professor begins to read my submission listlessly. The others in the room read along silently or stare blankly at the scalpel on the table before them.

At page five, Jessica arrives. There is a catch in Professor’s voice as she tosses her books, coat and um­brella on an empty chair. She takes a seat at the opposite end of the room, facing him.

Professor clears his throat as Jessica’s voluminous right breast flows over her right arm like mint Jell-O. For an instant, I see fire in his eyes, but his drone does not change even as he drops my heart on the table.

Jerry picks up the scalpel, takes a sliver of the left ventricle. “Too issue-oriented,” he says sublimely as the scalpel is passed from one to another.

“Explicit rather than implicit,” Rena says at my right as she cuts off the aorta and throws it over her shoulder into the wastebasket.

“No sense of closure,” remarks Kim and she slices from the right to the left atrium. The knife catches at an artery.

I feel ants at the inner crease of my left thigh.

“On the contrary, I see closure,” says Jessica as she puts aside one of the vena cava she has been sucking. Her right pinkie carefully wipes a trace of blood from the left corner of her lips.

The ants are in a state of frenzy.

Jessica purses her mouth, pushes her cropped, auburn hair behind her left ear, and remarks, “The rapist gets his. AIDS. It’s clear to me and that’s precisely what ruins this piece. The closure.”

The ants nest in my pubic hairs. I declare war, cross my legs. The queens lay eggs.

“Poetic justice,” Jessica continues. “Dickens could get away with it. But today? It’s laughable!”

Professor’s eyes are sparkling. A-plus, they say. He says, “Like the idea of the child molester being absolved of the crime, leaving the courthouse only to be walking up the stoop of his house to be hit on the head with a pot of geraniums. I agree with Jessica. This simply does not work.” Professor strokes his beard, half smiles at Jessica, and hands my mother a dishtowel.

Jessica purrs. The Jell-O quakes.

The wannabes gather around me. “I thought your work was insightful,” the shorter one says self-con­sciously.

“The stream of consciousness is real,” so says the young man.

The mousy-looking one gathers the remains of my heart and places them into a round aluminum container.

My mother goes to the wastebasket, fishes for my aorta then adds it to the collection. She begins to wipe the table with the dishcloth, rubbing diligently on a stubborn blood clot. “I don’t know what you expect from my girl,” she says.

Professor ignores her. He caresses Jessica’s submission, begins reading it mellifluously.

Mother gently places the container before me. “Send it to Puerto Rico,” she wails before she floats up to her corner.

“Spare yourself,” I caution the mousey-looking one. “Don’t apply.”

 

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About the author:

Arlene Gralla Feldman received her MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York. She published an excerpt from a longer work, One God or Another, in Two Worlds Walking: Short Stories, Essays & Poetry by Writers with Mixed Heritages, Edited by Diane Glancy and C. W. Truesdale (New Rivers Press, 1994). Four of her short stories were published in US 1 Summer Fiction issues. Her short story “The Kill” was previously published in Kelsey Review 35.2 (Winter 2016).

 

Back When My Brother Kept Me Afloat

Steve Smith

… I remember roaming the Hudson River shoreline with him searching
for buried treasure among the rusted car parts, old tires and broken
bottles and sitting on the marina pier as small waves lapped our feet
and we watched the tanker we called the Mud Sucker dredge the harbor,
leaving the strong odor of tar, dead fish and muck hanging in the air
the boat’s huge bucket thundering up and down into the water
with Manhattan in the background glittering like a stage set made of gold.

Remember him blackening the eye of the river gang bully who’d thrown
me down on the slimy rocks…and the winter he pulled me
from the river ice when I fell through trying to jump the icebergs
clogged along the shore and how we built rafts out of tree branches
and driftwood to float whichever way the tidal current would take us.

Now together again after years of disagreements and drifting further apart
while he worked one dead-end job after another, smoked two packs a day
and lived with a father who spoke only in punches and insults, I sit
in his hospital room, watching streams of blood rush through his heart
on an electrocardiogram screen… my love for him coming in like the tide.

 

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About the author:

Steve Smith is a Poet/Artist from Pennington N.J. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, he is retired Theatrical Scenery Painter.

A Certain Path

Jeanine DeNitto

In 1972 when Oriana was laughing at Jesus in a song
She heard on a radio, set on a glass table top under trees,
Her man shook his head. Nothing like that holds sway here
She said. She turned the dial, and pipes wailed from the tinny
Sounding machine until the batteries lost all their juice and died.
The sound soaked into the bricks and sometimes,
If you walk a certain path you can still hear it
Beneath the train whistle, that high lonesome sound
And the whir of car tires on the highway.

 

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About the author:

Jeanine DeNitto lives in South Brunswick NJ, where she is involved in cat rescue. She enjoys writing, gardening, and making artwork, especially collage and altered books.

That Would Depend

Peter Brav

James looked up from his phone and reached for his wallet to get his monthly pass ready. The 7:53 to Penn Station was standing room only as usual. He was thankful for the seat and the fact that it was his wife’s small rear in the seat adjacent. They had raised fares as much as the denizens of this beleaguered state could afford, then started cutting the number of trains and crew drastically. Nothing worked, and finding one seat, let alone two together, made commuting akin to being a roller derby Bay Bomber in the sixties. Not quite a cattle car yet, but give them time.

He glanced over at Marian, resting up for brunch and matinee with her new best friend Renee. Her embarrassing snores were scant moments away, her silky red hair pressed against the filthy window. For a woman who dispensed herbs and holistic advice with equal enthusiasm, she always had been a bit cavalier with her own vulnerability. Another inconsistency, the kind one noticed all the time after almost three decades of marriage but knew better than to comment on. Well, he knew better anyway, her not so much. For most of the twenty minutes to the train, she had been clearly bothered by his lack of interest in exactly which matinee she was going to see. Hence the peppered queries, for which he had been a half-asleep captive audience.

Didn’t he care which play she would be seeing? (No.)

Didn’t he want to know which big star in search of instant credibility would be center stage? (No again.) 

Didn’t he remember that they had seen this very same play at the Shubert the first year they were together, with what’s her name playing the lead, when they had those great steaks and baked potatoes at Gallagher’s, when she got those free house seats from her boss? (No, no, no, but he did remember that guy’s pretentious handlebar moustache that was never in horizontal alignment.)

She should have known better. He didn’t play that game and didn’t have to. It was Shakespeare, always Shakespeare for her, and James disdained that corpse. Hated him, truth be told. Every play, every poem, every sonnet. Every summer repertory theatre crushing otherwise lush lawn in some park. Every coffee mug with that black and white silhouette on it. Four hundred plus years running, and he hated all of it, even that otherwise fine Devil Wears Prada actress Anne Hathaway who shared Mrs. Bard’s name.

Shakespeare and Latin and catechism and just about everything else they had tried to drill into him many decades ago at the Holy Nazarene in Rye. Some memories just don’t fade.

So this morning’s less than sunny attitude had nothing to do with his wife and everything to do with Shakespeare. He loved Marian, deeply and truly and all that, and admired her for mastering a very long time ago what it took to make marriage to him work. Trips. Day trips to Manhattan. Cruise trips to the Caribbean. Biking trips in Europe. Alone, with girlfriends, with the alumni association, with her yoga class. Short hops with folks like Renee and longer ones with longer term friends like Patti and Becca. A whole lot of trips. Over time she learned not to impart all the details of what she did when she was gone for which he gave small thanks. He had always understood how much of a control freak and daily pain he really was and their marriage had simply educated her. Love and accommodation.

He looked about the train car as they stopped at Metro Park. The ridiculously crowded train was about to get more ridiculous and James knew that even more slumped shoulders and weakening knees would be filling the narrow aisle. No doubt a guy named Guy with the most important deal on the planet would soon be letting his briefcase massage James’ neck. Guy would be informing the entire train about his new deal, everything that was wrong with it and everything that could go wrong with it. James always got Guy, his raspy voice, his briefcase, his wheezing, his half-eaten sesame bagel. He never got the quiet unmarried woman with exemplary cleavage heading to the Victoria’s Secret open casting call. She would be in the next car, as always. Just how life worked.

The man settling in to the aisle space next to him probably wasn’t named Guy and held neither phone nor bagel. He was tall and heavyset, graying brown hair and freckles, loose fitting jeans, torn Emerson Lake & Palmer t-shirt, blue Red Sox cap, small orange and black wrist tattoo of something that resembled a pumpkin playing hockey. He was staring, looking James over even as James now averted the gaze and found the maroon back of the seat in front. James wanted to turn and whisper to Marian, who of course still remembered everyone and everything, what they ate at whose house, where so-and-so had been hired, where he had been fired. But she was sleeping so quietly, warming up her snores, leaning more heavily into the dirty glass, and the man was in whisper range anyway. He just looked so familiar. An associate from Siemens on a day off perhaps. Almost certainly some part of his always fading past.

“Jim, is that you?”

James looked up. “That would depend,” he replied with a slight smile.

Long ago James had declared Jim verboten, along with Jimmy, Jimmer and Jimbo. Even for Marian who especially liked the simplicity of Jim’s one syllable and the way Jimmy was so easy to shout with emotion. Like carbon dating or tree rings, the use of Jim would put him as a classmate at Brown or prior.

“Depend my ass. Dude, you can’t hide in that goddamn thousand-dollar suit! Son of a bitch! Can’t believe it’s you, Jimster!”

That probably eliminated Brown. And Jimster was new and the worst one ever.

James felt bad for not recalling Kyle Miller right away. Not that he owed the jerk anything but Miller would most certainly be a prominent statistic in any compilation of his fifty-one years. Miller and he went back to a simpler time, before texting, before smartphones, computers, almost before stereo. He and Kyle Miller fought almost every day from 5th grade through ninth, something he never quite understood way back when. When James would return from summers at the Cape and Labor Day had passed and he was dropped off at Nazarene, he knew that he and Kyle would soon enough be rolling down that grassy hill leading from the school’s first floor red entrance door to the black wrought-iron fence. That was understandable. Each year was new and Kyle couldn’t really be blamed for testing how summer growth spurts or karate lessons might have changed things. Not that there weren’t other regular grapplers. They weren’t the only two crazy Catholic adolescents. Yet others seemed perfectly content to let the results of September battles dictate pecking orders for the school year. Not Kyle Miller. He’d go down on a Monday and be ready to try again by Wednesday or Thursday.

James did remember a few losses. Sucker punches, days when he was tired, or worried about what his mother would be thinking when she got the call from the nuns. Mornings when he had eaten too many pancakes and just couldn’t dart about with his usual quickness. But the losses were few and far between and James recalled that day at the end of 9th grade he gathered a few years of scrawled W and L notes and compiled something of an official notebook binder of their joint track record. By his admittedly questionable count, there had been 403 victories, 19 losses and 20 too close to calls in those five school years.

Why hadn’t the school tossed them both? What supernatural powers had his very involved mother exhibited with the sisters? Why hadn’t he ever been able to just walk away? And why had he considered Kyle Miller a friend, his strangest, no need for after-school play dates friend, someone to be admired for persistence if not brainpower? And where and why had Kyle moved without notice the summer before 10th grade? These were all questions for the ages. Frankly, having passed the last thirty-five years in a whirlwind of dates, dollar bills and diapers, and mortgages, mentors and Marian, the simple fact that he had rarely thought of Kyle again now mystified him.

“Kyle?!”

“You bet! You ride this train all the time, old buddy?”

“Yep, five days a week. You?”

“No way. I had to go down to Trenton to help out a friend. Just on my way back to Vermont. Hey, you ever see any of the old guys?”

“Nah, I pretty much lost touch,” James said. “I read Sister Josephine died a few years ago and they were thinking about selling the church for condos, but that’s about it.”

“Yeah, Josephine. She was the only nice one in the bunch.”

“Vermont’s nice.”

“Who gives a shit?”

“Not me.”

“So?”

“So?” James nodded, his end of the conversation on empty already.

“One for old times?”

James looked over at Marian who hadn’t stirred. The ticket taker was still thirty feet away at the front of the car. He removed his smartphone and slipped it and his wallet inside his wife’s purse. He checked the immediate area to make sure there were no pregnant women or little children. He brushed his thin graying brown hair back.

“Yeah, guess so, why not?”

He sprang up like an aging tiger out of the cage. His left fist collided with Kyle’s stomach as his right elbow careened off his chin. It felt better than good. He fell forward onto Kyle, and they were on the floor rolling in the narrow space between black leather shoes and brown high heels. The phone calls were on hold now but the screams and shouts of disgusted annoyance were loud as could be. A cup of coffee fell to the ground and James caught sight of a buttered bagel, almost certainly sesame, plummeting onto Kyle’s head. James could see the oversized ticket taker pushing his way through the aisle with decidedly less determination than he remembered the sisters showing on a regular basis. Chances are he wouldn’t be lifting them up by their earlobes either.

Marian was still sleeping, missing a show so much better than Shakespeare. Her loss.

 

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About the author:

Peter Brav is the author of the novels Sneaking In, The Other Side of Losing, Zappy I’m Not, and 331 Innings, as well as numerous plays, short stories, essays, and poems. He lives in Princeton with his wife Janet and three small dogs. His short story “Changing” was published by the Kelsey Review in 2011.

 

Gardening, Twin Rivers, September 2016

John Langendoerfer

She had been staring at the envelope for ten minutes, sipping her black coffee. It lay on the kitchen counter, white on white, in danger of being lost in the loose piles of junk mail and bills, grocery and to-do lists.

I should tidy up that counter. Might lose a bill or worse, a check. It’s okay now but it’s on the verge. The verge of confusion. Like the garden and the housekeeping and the cooking and the accounting.

She wasn’t going to be hard on herself. At 76 one could expect to slow down a little.

Fifty-four years of marriage, then everything changed. Saw it coming plain as day, but we both pretended we had time.

She picked up a stack and started sorting: bills in one pile, junk in another, everything else in a third. She looked at a blue envelope, admiring the fact that it had an actual stamp, but her eyes drifted over to the white one on the counter. The return address was clearly visible through the cellophane window. She tossed the rest back onto the counter and went into the living room. The vacuum cleaner waited in the center of the carpet where she had left it earlier, but she waved it off like an approaching salesman and went out the sliding glass door to the back yard, her small, overweight dog immediately joining her.

If I don’t do that housework, my son will get me a housekeeper. And I’m not ready to have a strange person running around my house. But it will have to wait because right now I want my garden.

She went around the side of the house where dozens of plants grew in various containers. They were mostly annuals, and mostly past their prime. It was sunny and warm but it was already late September. She usually sold flowers at the beginning of the summer, but this year each weekend had gone by and the list of tasks required to make it happen never got shorter and it didn’t get done. A lot of things didn’t get done.

I enjoyed them all summer. Geraniums and fuchsias, dahlias, even some impatiens. Had to find impatiens that could resist the downy mildew this year. I didn’t sell them, but I enjoyed them.

She puttered around the containers for a while, watering, pruning, turning. She started working on a geranium, thick with white flowers.

What a beauty. Never had a white geranium before. Can’t believe my son found it on the internet. He doesn’t know anything about geraniums, he just thought I’d like it. He was right.

The blossoms were beginning to turn brown. Dozens came off as she tried to prune away the oldest ones, hoping to preserve as many as she could. Usually she enjoyed falling blossoms, cherished them, but something about the splotches of whiteness on her time-toughened hands disturbed her, made her think of the envelope with its deadpan insistence.

I’ll open it when my son gets here.

Not the son who wanted to get her a housekeeper. The oldest one, the one who lived in the next town over instead of clear across the country. They had always been close. He stopped in frequently to check on her and help out around the house.

The little dog was growling at something in the underbrush near the fence on the other side of her garden. There was a stand of corn there, several stalks growing out of large containers. She and her youngest granddaughter had planted the kernels last spring, after the memorial.

“Let’s go home, Grandma,” she had said, taking her hand, all braces and ponytail and mother-couldn’t-make-me-wear-a-dress.

“We need to plant something.”

Not that she’s seen it much, being so far away. I’ll take a picture and send it to her. I’ll get my son to show me how to do it on my phone.

The little dog was snuffling around behind the containers, growling, and the woman hoped it wasn’t on the trail of another possum nest. She was not sure of the dog’s ancestry but thought there might be terrier or beagle in the mix, and it suffered no other animals in the back yard. The dog had once brought home an entire family of dead possums, one each night for nearly a week. It would beg to go out and then sit in the darkness in the middle of the yard, waiting, ignoring entreaties to come in. The dog was not fast but had become too heavy for the woman to lift. When a possum would venture out the dog would charge and dispatch the creature with a few quick bites. The mother possum was a relatively large specimen with sharp teeth, but proved no match for the dog’s commitment to its mission. The dog proudly brought each body to the door and dropped it at the woman’s feet.

She winced at the memory, warm bodies limp in her hands. Nothing left for her to save, nothing she could grow.

The dog barked a few times, then gave up and trotted back to where the woman worked, plopping down in the shade near her feet.

No dead possums today.

The woman pulled a few weeds from the containers holding the corn. She thought one of the nearly-ripe ears looked a bit odd, so she took hold of one and pulled away some of the enveloping husk. What she saw alarmed her, so she ripped open the remaining leaves wrapped around the ear. The inside was grey with some insect, an aphid perhaps.

The woman grunted in disgust. It had been decades since a pest or blight had gotten the better of her. In a sudden rage she ripped out all the plants in that container. Carrying them by the roots, she took them over to the compost pile and chopped them into pieces with her hoe.

She paused to catch her breath, then went back and checked the other plants. The next container was infested, but the third was clean. She went to work on the infested container. The dog got up, sensing her anger, and patrolled alertly while she worked. It eyed the offending corn stalks suspiciously and growled while she hacked with her hoe.

Finally the woman rested, out of breath. She felt a little dizzy, but she leaned on the hoe, the worn wooden handle easily supporting her weight.

Not here, not now. Still my garden.

The dog sat watching her, ears perked. The woman nodded and a tail thumped vigorously.

She thought she should go back into the house. The son who lived far away and wanted to get her a housekeeper would be calling her on the computer soon. She looked forward to his video call, she liked being able to see him and sometimes she got to see the granddaughter.

He worries too much. Always asking if I’ve seen the doctor, am I eating enough. He’s paying some of the bills now too. Told him I don’t need it but he pays anyway.

The dog gave a bark and perked its ears, looking at the fence bordering the front yard. She thought she heard a car so she went over to look. Sure enough, her oldest son’s truck was pulling into the driveway. She went back into the house to greet him. The little dog followed on her heels, bursting into a joyous, tail-wagging dance at her son as he came in the door.

“I was just going to get some lunch,” she said. “How about a ham and cheese sandwich?”

“Thanks mom, why don’t you sit down and I’ll fix us both something?”

“Why don’t you get out of my kitchen before I take my spatula to your hind end?”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” he replied, eyes widening in mock terror. His eyes focused on the counter, suddenly serious.

“What’s this? A letter from your doctor?”

“Looks like it,” she said.

“Want me to open it?”

“Go ahead. Maybe I’ll sit down while you read it to me,” she said, sitting at the dining room table.

He ripped open the envelope and quickly scanned the letter, forehead crinkling. Gradually his face relaxed.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he said. “The biopsy came back negative. You are cancer free.”

The woman let out a breath. He put his hand on her shoulder and she reached over and patted it.

“I’m feeling good,” she said. “I might have to do a little dance or something.”

“Whatever you like,” he replied.

“I’m dancing inside.” She wiped her eyes.

Her son leaned down, his head touching hers. She could feel his beard on the side of her face.

“You should take the rest of the day off. Watch some CSI.”

“No,” she said. “I want to work in my garden.”

 

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About the author:

John Langendoerfer lives in East Windsor and works as the IT Director of a small market research company. When not in the office he navigates his other roles as husband, as father to a teenager, and as an aspiring writer. Once in a while he breaks free from the computer and goes hiking or trail biking with friends.