Author: jbulley

“Translating Tener” by Jacqueline Jules

“Translating Tener” by Jacqueline Jules

In English, I say
“I am afraid,”
using the verb
“to be.”
En Español,
Me tengo miedo,
using the verb,
tener “to have.”
I have fear.
If you translate literally,
ignoring the notion of idiom.
Subtle difference,
but enough to question
if fear could perhaps be
something I possess.
Mine.
To leave under the bed
or carry like bricks.
Mine. Mío.
Something I could lose
if I didn’t hug it so tightly
against my chest.

Jacqueline Jules is the author of three chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press),
Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications), and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016
Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her work has appeared in numerous publications
including Cider Press Review, Potomac Review, Inkwell, Hospital Drive, and Imitation Fruit. She is also the
author of 40 books for young readers. Visit www.jaquelinejules.com 

“Contemporary Piano Interval” by Roberta Gould

“Contemporary Piano Interval” by Roberta Gould

Sometime before dawn

an hour before midnight

a brash chord sounds

Bold dissonance

Pause

and another follows

 

You have heard

nothing of that

cats musical stalkings

and I am awake for good

lie still 

on the pull-out bed

and await the next

charge of the keys

that does not come

 

The cat jumps to a shelf

and is utterly still

 

Me too


Roberta Gould lives in the Hudson Valley and study birds.  Her work has appeared widely in poetry journals, blogs, and anthologies, She is the author of   11 poetry books, including Pacing the Wind, Shivsitan, Louder Than Seeds, Foothills Publishing and The Art and Craft of Poetry.  Her website is robertagould.net.

“Avian Envy” by Rebecca Hart Olander

“Avian Envy” by Rebecca Hart Olander

I am jealous of the syrinx, the ability
to sing two notes at once, to harmonize
with the self. In my harnessed larynx,
so many caught songs, edges cracked
and fading, muffled as if from behind
rows of coats in a deep cedar closet,
mothballs blotting out sense.
Then there’s mimicry, the way the lyrebird
can copy the chainsaw gutting its forest,
the car alarm piercing its canopy.
But birds should never sing those notes.
And it’s not like everything is a lark.
The calls they make to each other,
warning and mating, staking their claims,
it’s posturing in every kind of way.
Still, I wish to slip from my body, to be
a mockingbird, to inhabit new skin,
reedy bones, a different sort of plumage.
What a relief to stop being
for an interlude, to call out in new
language that elicits fresh response.


Rebecca Hart Olander holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poetry has
appeared recently in Ilanot Review, Mom Egg Review, Plath Poetry Project, Radar Poetry, Virga
Magazine, and Yemassee Journal, among others, and her critical work has been published in Rain Taxi
Review of Books, Solstice Literary Magazine, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Collaborative work made
with Elizabeth Paul is forthcoming in Duende and They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary
Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press). She was the winner of the Women’s National Book
Association poetry contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Rebecca lives in Western
Massachusetts where she teaches writing at Westfield State University and is the editor/director of
Perugia Press. You can find her at rebeccahartolander.com.

“Continuing Grace (we can always come back)” by Michael Tucker

“Continuing Grace (we can always come back)” by Michael Tucker

1999

It smelled funny in church. Antique wood paneling, breath mints, musty hymnals, Aqua Net Hairspray, polyester suits worn by old ladies since the 1970’s, sour old man sweat, cheap perfume, slightly mildewed carpet, and that institutional, indecipherable smell which is somehow contained in church buildings everywhere added up to a smell that Zach had come to hate. He didn’t want to be sitting here with his back pressed up against this hard and unforgiving, wooden pew on a Wednesday night smelling this funny church smell as the congregation of The Continuing Church of God brought their painfully discordant rendition of Hymn Number 422, “When Storms of Life Are Round Me Beating,” to a merciful end. Brother Don stood at the pulpit in a navy blue, pinstriped suit waiting to start this evening’s sermon. Zach hoped he wasn’t going to again pull out those horrific banners that displayed the beasts from the Book of Revelation alongside the visions of Daniel in all their terrible glory. He particularly dreaded the one that bore a demonic looking image of a drunken harlot clad in scarlet riding on a many- headed, leopard-spotted beast with snarling fangs and glowing eyes. Brother Don had just unfurled those scary, prophetic pictures in his sermon three Sundays ago, so he should be safe tonight. He hoped, too, that the pastor wouldn’t pull out those tapes of rock music being played backwards with its garbled, demonic voices that praised Satan. That was scary stuff— and besides what kind of person listens to music backwards anyway?

 Zach had hoped to no avail that his mom would let him stay home this evening. He was, after all, already thirteen years old, and his friend Malora, who was also thirteen and who lived in the trailer at the end of the road with the grouchy old man she called Pap, stayed home alone all the time. Besides the fact that she always smelled of stale cigarette smoke, Zach really liked Malora. Unlike the people here at The Continuing Church of God, Malora made him laugh with her sarcasm and her silly streak. Brother Don with his slicked back hair, ruddy, rubbery face, and booming voice just made him feel sort of uncomfortable and more than a little unworthy.

Brother Don wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead with the handkerchief he kept in his lapel pocket, took a deep breath, and began his sermon. It didn’t sound much different to Zach from the one he had just heard this past Sunday or last Wednesday night or any of the other ones he had been forced to sit through before that for that matter.  

“Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we are truly living in the last days. Just as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, the world is full of filthy perversion and immorality. People have turned away from God. And just like He did to Sodom and Gomorrah, God will once again pour the vials of his wrath out upon the earth. The world is full of immorality and homosexual perversion…”

Zach glanced sheepishly over at David McAllister who was sitting three people away from him in the same row. Zach wasn’t sure what he felt when he looked at David, but he found himself looking at David often— even if it made his stomach do flips whenever he looked at him or thought about him for that matter.  Besides, if he didn’t want to end up being burned up by the hand of God or turned into a pillar of salt, he had better stop staring secretly at David. He had seen him playing basketball at the park last week with his shirt off in the early spring sunshine. Zach wondered if his own skinny body would ever develop the muscles that David had. He thought about the naked statue in his art book that was named David, and he thought about how much the real David resembled its smooth and chiseled musculature there in the shimmering sunlight on the basketball court that early spring afternoon. His mother tapped him on the leg. She unwrapped a Certs and handed it to Zach. This was his cue to pay attention.

“… and yes, brothers and sisters, false information is all around us. Television. Radios. Newspapers. So-called universities of higher learning. All the Devil’s tools in these last days. Scripture tells us in Second Timothy 3: ‘This, know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents…’”             

Zach squirmed in his seat. There it was: that funny church smell again.

“…ever learning and never able to come to the truth.’ Do you know my brethren that there are even those among us who claim today that animals have souls when the Holy Bible clearly tells us that this cannot be so?”

Zach’s mind wandered to Jerry, the fuzzy, gray ball of fur that had showed up shivering and mewing on their front porch two weeks ago. He couldn’t believe that his mom had agreed to let him keep the poor little, hungry kitten. Things had been tough since Zach’s dad had passed, and another mouth to feed was kind of a big deal, not to mention paying for cat litter and vet bills. All the stuff that came with being a pet owner added up to extra expenses, and most of the money his mom made at the factory went for rent and food, but who could say no to those bright green eyes? That little cry? That purr? That warm little body that made frantically loving circles around their ankles in the morning?  Zach thought to himself that Jerry had a soul. He was sure of it. He didn’t care what Brother Don or his book said. He glanced over at David and felt another orange Certs being pressed into the palm of his hand.

2015

It smelled like rain: fresh and green and sad and somehow fertile with more than a hint of earthworm and mud in its essence. Zach sat on the front porch waiting for the lightning to let up. He looked at the box and the plush, blue blanket inside it. At least with all the rain, the ground would be soft. This was going to be hard. Each time someone he loved died, it brought back memories of all his previous losses. He barely remembered his Dad’s passing. He was five. The details were fleeting. Eating a bowl of Lucky Charms in the warm kitchen on a snowy morning. His mom looking pale and shocked on the phone.  An emergency room waiting area. A closed pine casket on a white pedestal. The sickening stench of flowers. Eating food in the basement of The Continuing Church of God with its paper table cloths and folding metal chairs and that funny church smell. His Mom’s death was much more vivid in his mind. The details much more visceral. The diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. The constant doctor’s appointments. Chemotherapy. Sickness. Low red cell counts. Radiation. Isolation. The hospice people bringing in the hospital bed. Morphine. The sickening stench of flowers. A waxy skeletal figure that only vaguely resembled his mother in the pine casket lit by soft funeral parlor lighting.  Brother Aaron, son of Brother Don, officiating at the freezing, January graveside service. Food prepared by the ladies of The Continuing Church of God and served in the same basement. Same paper tablecloths. Same metal folding chairs. Same damn funny smell… And now his best friend of the last fifteen years lay wrapped in a soft blanket in a cardboard box on the front porch waiting for the lightning to let up, so Zach could bury him. It wasn’t unexpected, really. Jerry didn’t do much but sleep these past few weeks. Zach had found him stretched out dead on top of the dryer when he came in from work. His eyes were closed. Old Jerry must have drifted off into eternity in his sleep.

Thunder rumbled in the distance. No sign of lightning. Zach buried Jerry at the edge of the backyard. He scattered some lime over the fresh grave to keep other animals from digging Jerry up. I’ll never forget you, Jerry. May your soul be at peace in the land of mice and catnip, my friend. He went back to the shelter of the front porch and had a much needed, cathartic cry on the damp, cool concrete.

He fixed a veggie burger for dinner since there would be no food served in basement of   The Continuing Church of God in Jerry’s honor. Not that Zach ever went back after his mother’s passing. Not even once. Malora would be picking him up in a few minutes. Going to shows together was sort of their thing. If he hadn’t already paid for the tickets, he would have called Malora and told her not to bother, but tonight Zach’s favorite band, Papadosio, was playing, and dancing would be fun. Sometimes dancing was the thing that kept Zach sane. It was the way he worked things out in his body, his mind, and his soul, and tonight, he would dance in Jerry the Cat’s honor.    

Malora pulled into the driveway in her hulk of a Lincoln Town Car: dull silver with a Bad Religion bumper sticker on the left side and a multicolored, dancing Grateful Dead bear sticker on the right. She had stickered up the old beast of a car when it became hers after Pap’s death. She blew the horn. “I’m sorry about Jerry. You partying tonight?”

“Thanks. Nah, I’m staying sober,” Zach replied, sliding into the gigantic, leather front seat. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke. He took comfort in the fact that some things never change.

“You don’t mind driving, then? Do you? Hell, yeah, Dosio tonight! What do you want to hear the boys play?”

“Not at all, it’ll keep my mind straight ‘til we get there. And I would love to hear a super dank ‘Magreenery,’ ‘Out of Hiding,’ or ‘Utopiate,’ or hell yeah, ‘We Can Always Come Back.” It’s my favorite off the new album.”

“Dude, I want ‘Therian’ so bad. I love Sam’s voice so much.  And did I tell you that I can see people’s animal spirits now?”   

He slid into the driver’s seat and pulled away as Malora howled out the window at the moon at the top of her lungs.

It took almost an hour to reach the venue. Zach spent most of the ride thinking about Jerry and laughing at Malora’s sarcastic take on the customer base at Hot Topic. It was an okay enough job and it payed for her efficiency apartment in town, but damn, what posers. The topic of conversation somehow switched to include a lofty spiritual analysis of Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club, Lana Del Rey, and Labyrinth-era David Bowie as her spirit animals, and the two travelers reached their destination before they knew it. They went inside the venue where it smelled of patchouli and fruity vape-smoke along with that magical essence of anticipation for incredible music hanging in the room: something kind of electric, yet somehow tangible. Tauk, the opening band, was already playing a heady mix of progressive rock and psychedelia.      

They were greeted by the usual suspects in the regular congregation of Dosio family revelers. Shawn with his bear hugs and giddy excitement about what the boys would be playing tonight, Mark with his “Fuck, you two look beautiful tonight,” Claire with her kind smile and patchwork style, Rob, the merry prankster all lollipops and goofiness, and Nick with his bright eyes and intensity. They all gathered together at the rail up against the stage as the lights grew dim. They screamed and cheered as the time to rage was finally upon them: those nice boys in Papadosio took to the stage immersed in surreal lights and began to play.          

 From the first note onward, the music overwhelmed Zach. It felt like liberation-to be lost here in the lights, all violet, orange, green and white, and the sounds, those driving beats, shimmering synths, and soaring-vibed guitar melodies, to be at one in this moment with the crowd, moving together as a single organism and hanging on every note as if this sound was nourishing the very fiber of their souls. And perhaps they were. To Zach, this all felt somehow sacred. Malora was babbling on and on in his ear about how Sam had turned into a shining, white wolf creature behind the piano. To Zach, he just looked beautiful, pounding away at the keys with rhythmic abandon and arching his back elegantly as he played on, his silhouette glowing against the trippy projections on the seemingly liquid-LED screens that served as a backdrop. She rambled on that Anthony had morphed into a multi-limbed Hindu god and that she couldn’t even look at him because he was really freaking her out  with his ability to send out gigantic love vibes with his guitar… and would you just look at Healy stealing faces and flailing away on the drums like a beast and Billy twiddling those knobs opening wormholes in space and Rob. . . he really made your feel that bass all the way down to the bottom of your soul like no other badass creature in the universe. Zach felt love wash over his entire being as the band veered a familiar melody into an achingly beautiful, uplifting jam. He kept riding the crest of the waves of the melody until all his grief, all his cares washed away from him. This felt like salvation. There was nothing left but joy and gratitude and appreciation. He was all ears and all heart. He felt the pleasant sensation of other human beings moving to the music with him. One body kept pressing itself against him in rhythmic sync to the epically danceable groove being laid down for them. This body belonged to a boy with glowing green eyes in a tie-dyed hoodie with a large lightning bolt patch sewn on the front. Zach smiled sweetly at him, and wordlessly they fell into a timeless hug.  Chest pressed tightly against chest, all that existed for them was each other and the music. It was pure, and it felt like magic.

“Thanks for the awesome hug, brother. My name’s Jerry, and I’m grateful I met you.  Have a great night.” He gently pulled away from Zach and danced off into the crowd.  

Zach thought about Jerry the Cat and was overcome with gratitude for the deep friendship they had shared. He thought about each beautiful soul in the crowd and how grateful he was to be sharing this moment with each one of them. He thought about his Dad and how he never really had the chance to know him beyond Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons on the couch together. He thought about his Mom and how she had found meaning and purpose all those Sundays and Wednesdays at the Continuing Church of God— and how much she had wanted Zach to find his meaning there as well. I just found mine in a different place, Mom. That’s all. I love you. He pulled Malora close to him and smiled just as the hauntingly spacey synth line of “We Can Always Come Back” began—  and it felt like a prayer. For Zach, it felt completely like grace.


Michael Tucker is working on degrees in English and Human Services at Hagerstown Community College. He enjoys live music, literary pursuits, and spending time with his partner, Tara, his daughter, Emily, and their menagerie of furry critters.

“Out of the Country” by Karla Linn Merrifield

“Out of the Country” by Karla Linn Merrifield

No surprise, you agree to meet me at the pub
on Dundas after I arrive, short-notice,
on the last flight into Toronto before the storm
slams your city shut for the duration,
and well after your night class at the conservatory
on Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question,
his renowned Harvard lecture series, which always
makes you break out into the weepies.

We’ll be two of a kind in simultaneous
spasms of grief, yours twenty-five years old,
mine only yesterday – twin points
in time dirtied with words incinerated,
smudged by the mute notes of ash.
We make believe like we did in high school.
Another dram later, an hour’s more drift
of snow below Ontario’s sleeping smokestacks,
you finger a piano that is our table, a first few bold notes;
I scribble a few quick lines, and our masters come alive.

in memoriam Phillip Levine


Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-
Residence, has had 600+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books
to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel
toGodwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for
Poetry. Forthcoming this fall is Psyche’s Scroll, a full-length poem, published by The Poetry
Box Selects. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. Visit her
blog, Vagabond Poe Redux, athttp://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more;
Tweet @LinnMerrifiel;https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

“Night Waltz” by Joan McNerney

“Night Waltz” by Joan McNerney

O Michael tonight

I am dreaming of you.

We trace night with

our fingers climbing

ladders of darkness

past the full moon.

 

Over silver light into

star light we dance

through air redolent

with lilacs.  Your eyes

glow like burning comets

as we waltz over clouds.

 

O Michael tonight

I dreamed of you and

woke to find you

sleeping at my side.


Joan McNerney’s poetry has been included in numerous literary zines such as Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze, Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Blueline, Halcyon Days and included in Bright Hills Press, Kind of A Hurricane Press and Poppy Road Review anthologies. She has been nominated four times for Best of the Net. 

“Sleaze, on its Role in Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire” by Daniel M. Shapiro

“Sleaze, on its Role in Mötley Crüe’s “Live Wire” by Daniel M. Shapiro

It’s too easy to call me
floor-level cocaine,
nagging whine
of an ambulance
trapped on the freeway.

I’m the makeup worn
by straight guys pretending
to make fun of gays but really
liking the look, a costume
that never finds a closet.

I’m the cowbell played
because it’s there.
I’m the menace
of power chords
read from a manual,

close enough not
to need another take.
Don’t mistake me
for the sports car.
I’m just a guy

who shouldn’t
be behind the wheel,
a personal driver away
from aging gracefully,
from natural causes.


Daniel M. Shapiro is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, including How the
Potato Chip Was Invented, Heavy Metal Fairy Tales, and The Orange Menace. He is a special
education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh.

“Hootenanny” by Robert Berveridge

“Hootenanny” by Robert Berveridge

Pull a slip of paper

from the fishbowl, sidle up

to your assigned instrument—sit

at the traps, fondle frets, moisten

the reed.

 

The act of drawing

your assignment does not convey

competence, any more than the act

of drawing a different set of keys

from the punchbowl mandates

someone else playing second fiddle

for a while.

 

The most eager participant

always begins the riff, sets the tone,

the pace, chooses the key. The decision

before you: whether to harmonize.


Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances include The Literary Yard, Big Windows, and Locust, among others.

Dissonance by Pat Snyder Hurley

Dissonance by Pat Snyder Hurley

C-Sharp!
my mother shouts
kitchen to living room
over the jiggling dance
of the regulator
on her pressure cooker.
C-Sharp!
Try it again.
Occasionally she walks out
wipes her hands on her apron
bends over, inspects the music
points out the error on the page
since I lack her perfect pitch.
She knows her notes —
better than cousin Evelyn,
who went to conservatory
and can hardly play a thing.
All that education wasted on Evelyn
who never practiced in the first place.
Evelyn’s folks could afford the tuition.
It’s all for the best, she says.
My reliable dad —
high school valedictorian, no college —
would never have fallen
for someone so educated.
And then, of course, there would never
have been me, so she is grateful
Really
for that surprising turn of events
that seemed so sad and is yet
so perfect.
Except occasionally on those lazy afternoons
making pot roast
when I fumble careless with Haydn
and stab her in the heart with Middle C
Plain
not elevated.


Pat Snyder Hurley is a Columbus, Ohio poet whose work has been published in the literary journals Pudding Magazine and Still Crazy, Common Threads, a journal of the Ohio Poetry Association, and OPA’s ekphrastic poetry anthology A Rustling and Waking Within, as well as online journals The MOON Magazine and Snapdragon.  Her work also appears in a collection of poems that she and her late husband Bill Hurley wrote during his battle with esophageal cancer (Hard to Swallow, NightBallet Press, 2018).

“Hopeful Now” by William Cass

“Hopeful Now” by William Cass

I was nearing the end of my last year in college and could be described at the time as deeply passionate, obsessed even, about my music.  I spent more time in the practice rooms in the basement of the performance center than anywhere else on campus. I was there again one bitterly cold Sunday evening during white-out conditions in what was supposed to be early spring.  I’d been at the piano in the room at the far end of the hallway for three hours and was struggling over an ending for my senior composition that I couldn’t get right. Out of exasperation, I began playing opening strains of famous pieces.  Perhaps it was my discouraged mood that led me to begin with the second movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata #2, using a tempo even slower than his staff notation. After I’d finished, I sat with my head down and shoulders slumped and blew out a long breath.  A moment later, the same strain at the identical tortured tempo came from the next room, then stopped abruptly at the exact point I had.

I sat up straight and frowned.  I’d passed all the open doorways in the hallway on my way in and they’d all been empty, not surprising with the weather.  I was used to being vaguely aware of other music being practiced elsewhere in those rooms while I was there and hadn’t heard a

note played since I’d arrived.  I sat in the stillness for a full minute or more, then launched into Beethoven’s Op.126 bagatelle.  I stopped again in the middle of a strain, then waited. Another moment passed before the same interlude came from the next room, but played with a precision and emotion that made a shiver pass over me.  It stopped again precisely where I had.

I listened more intently and could just make out the sound of the wind straining the glass entry door upstairs, but nothing more.  Suddenly, I entered into the “Se je chart mains” canon, this time much faster and louder than it was intended to be played, and halted arbitrarily between notes.  A handful of seconds later, the same piece echoed from the adjoining room, but with a yearning and quality I couldn’t possibly approach or hope to attain. Again, it stopped abruptly where I had, and then I heard the door to the room fly open and footsteps clatter down the hallway.

I jumped from the bench, stumbled to my knees, regained my footing, and pushed open my own door.  I was in time to see the back of a young woman in a long blue overcoat with auburn hair bouncing over its collar turn at the end of the hallway.  The side of her face became momentarily exposed as she started up the stairs, and I saw her glance my way with green eyes that sparkled and lips that held a crease of smile.  

I shouted, “Hey!”

But, she didn’t stop.  Instead, I heard her take the steps several at a time.  I ran down the hallway after her, but she’d disappeared at the top of the stairs when I got to them.  I clambered up as quickly as I could and burst onto the landing on top, only to find the door that led outside

yawning closed.  I shoved it open and hurried into the thundering storm of whiteness.  There was no sign of the woman and no indication where she might have gone in the night’s fury.  I stood there hugging myself long enough that the wind and snow had turned my cheeks numb before forcing myself back inside.

*           *           *           *           *

Eventually, I finished my senior composition, received Honors in the Major after playing it for my oral comps recital, and graduated.  During those final few months of school, I searched actively for the woman from that stormy night, but was unable to find her. Our department was a large one in an urban university with over ten thousand students, so it was no surprise that she remained unidentified to me.   When I was in the practice rooms afterwards, I often tried playing the opening strains from well-known compositions, but never heard another musical reply.

My father convinced me that relying on a career in musical performance was foolhardy, so I enrolled in a teacher’s credentialing program that started in September at a college in another city a couple hours away from my old one.  While I was there, I played in the university orchestra and continued composing pieces that were heard only by me. I auditioned for several larger community and musical theater orchestras, but didn’t get selected. That next spring, I was offered a full-time position at the high school where I’d done my student teaching, and took over the band and all other music-related classes there in the fall.  

Like most beginning teachers, my days and nights were consumed with work.  I felt lucky if I found a couple of hours on weekends for my own music. Auditioning further elsewhere became an afterthought.  But, I did begin dating another teacher at school shortly

before Halloween, and she and I had become serious enough that we invited one another to meet our families over Winter Break.

Her name was Dawn, and she’d begun teaching English there the year before I arrived.  She had a long tangle of brown curls and a manner that was both shy and removed that I found alluring.  Her smile was rare enough that it felt like a small victory when I could coax its arrival. She wrote poems and had published a few in literary magazines I’d never heard of, so we shared artistic interests, if not temperaments.  We accompanied one another to readings and recitals, but I could only marvel at the way she squeezed my hand as a poet’s words moved her, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way when I did the same at a strain of music I found particularly beautiful.  But, we enjoyed simple things together – cooking meals, taking walks, watching old movies, keeping a jigsaw puzzle going on the coffee table in my living room. Of course, we also understood one another’s preoccupations with work and the long hours involved there, so had few expectations with each other, or disappointments either.  By early spring, she’d moved into my little rental house by the river, and a month later, we’d taken an abandoned puppy home from the animal shelter. We passed the shelter one Saturday during a walk, looked at each other, and then simply retraced our steps and went inside. Although we didn’t speak of it, there was an intentionality and shared responsibility involved that felt warm and significant and a little frightening.  He was a mutt and we named him Wags: a nod to Wagner, who was a writer in addition to being a composer.

Dawn often stayed late at school grading essays, so I began playing the piano again alone in the band room while waiting for her to be ready to go home.  Sometimes, she entered while I

was playing and I wouldn’t see her there until I’d stopped, when she’d smile and applaud heartily.  She’d usually get up in the mornings an hour or so before I did to write, and would often allow me to read pieces that she was ready to send out; I admired those I could understand, and always told her so, even about those I didn’t.

*           *           *           *           *

By October of my second year at school, the marching and pep bands I taught had improved to the point that they both had placed in several regional competitions.  I’d gained enough of a reputation in the area that I began taking on a few adult students for private lessons. At around the same time, one of the online journals that had published a couple of Dawn’s poems asked her to become an assistant editor, which she was proud of and could do remotely.  So, our lives become busier and more productive, I suppose, but it did mean less time together.

We kept Sunday mornings kind of sacred and unencumbered to be with each other.  If the weather cooperated, we usually began by taking Wags for a walk along the river.  During one of those in early December, Dawn surprised me by asking, “So, do you find giving private lessons satisfying?”

I glanced at her and shrugged.  I said, “Not particularly.”

“Then why don’t you use that time instead for your own music?”

“What, compose pieces that I write down and put in a drawer?  It’s not like your poetry that you can publish and share with other people.”

“Aren’t there ensembles or something you could join?  You know, like chamber music?”

“Those are string quartets.  No piano.”

We were quiet again while Wags sniffed at a tree in the light dusting of snow.  I looked at her face while she watched him; it had taken on that distant look, her mouth a small, straight mark.

After we resumed walking, she said, “I’ve been asked to take part in a reading.  One of the local journals where I had a poem appear.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”  She looked down at where Wags tugged her on his leash along the path.  “I’ve never actually read before except in a creative writing seminar, so this will be my first time in front of an audience.  I’m a little nervous.”

“You’ll do great.  Where is it?”

“At a bookstore…next Saturday evening.”  

“Shucks,” I said.  “My pep band has a competition then.”

“That’s okay.  I’d probably be more anxious if you were there, anyway.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”  She looked at me for the first time.  “I just would.”

*           *           *           *           *

After the first of the year, Dawn won a contest for one of her poems sponsored by a fairly well-known journal that paid her $500.  Our town’s newspaper found out about it and published an interview with her about her writing, which she tacked on the wall above her desk in the second bedroom we used as a study.  That led to her becoming a member of a new literary arts council formed by public libraries in four adjoining municipalities, and she began devoting lots of time helping organize council events like author visits, book signings, and young writers’ forums.  During that same period, I started playing basketball after school a few afternoons a week with some other teachers at school; we often grabbed a beer afterwards at a pub near the gym.  Our

schedules became such that by February, Dawn and I were driving to and from school in separate cars.  At home while she was gone, I watched a lot of YouTube videos of musical performances, sometimes binging on one after the other, while Wags sat on my lap and I scratched him behind the ears.

On an evening just before Spring Break, I came into the house after playing basketball and found Dawn sitting on the edge of the couch in her jacket with a small suitcase at her feet.  She looked up at me blankly and said, “This isn’t working.”

I felt my heart quicken.  I said, “I don’t understand.”

“We don’t share anything anymore.”  Her voice was flat and dull.

“We’ve just gotten busy doing our own things.  That can change.”

She shook her head, looked away, and said, “No.”

I squinted at the way she said it.  I was still sweating from the gym, and a cold shiver crawled up my back as I asked, “Is there someone else?”

She didn’t look my way.  A moment passed before she said, “That’s only part of it.  You and I haven’t been happy for a long time.”

“I’m happy.”

“Well, I’m not.”

She stood up, lifted the suitcase by its handle, and walked towards the door.  I reached for her, but she shrugged under my arm.

I said, “Don’t leave.  Please.”

But she opened the door, went through it, and closed it quietly behind her.  I heard her footsteps hurry down the walk, heard her car’s engine start, heard it crawl quietly down the driveway and then disappear up the street.  I stood staring at the depression in the sofa cushion where she’d been sitting, a numbness spreading through me. I felt as if I was falling, falling, falling in a well with no bottom.

*           *           *           *           *

Dawn wasn’t at school the next morning, and when I got home, all her things were gone.  She didn’t answer any of my calls or messages, and after several days, she’d shut down her cell phone and personal email accounts.  She didn’t return to work after the break either; one of her friends at school told me that she’d heard Dawn had moved to another state with a writer she’d met somewhere; a month or so after that, the same friend said she’d been told they’d gotten married.  The ache I felt was like an echo, deafening at first, then slowly receding.

Like it had to, I guess, life went on for me.  My walks with Wags became more frequent and longer.  I declined social invitations and dating opportunities.  Every now and then, I Googled Dawn’s name and found a new poem of hers in some online literary journal; they became more upbeat than I’d remembered them, breezier, lighter.  One was called, “Hopeful Now”; my heart clenched as I read it.

When summer vacation arrived, I brought a keyboard home from school, and used the extra free time to try composing again.  To say I was rusty was an understatement. My first few attempts were halting and dirge-like. But, eventually, a few pieces seemed promising enough that I went over to school to try them on the piano on the theater stage.  I thought the place was

empty, but when I finished, I heard someone in back clap slowly three times and saw our custodian there grinning at me, a broom leaning against the crook of his arm.  

“Great!” he called.  “Bravo!”

I gave him a sheepish wave and heard his footsteps go off across the linoleum into the foyer and ascend the stairs; the sound reminded me of the woman on that stormy night long ago.  The thought came quickly to me because I’d found myself dreaming of her recently, waking and sitting up suddenly in the darkness, the image of her so close and vivid I felt chagrined to have awoken.  When that happened, I tried lying back down quickly in the hopes of returning to the dream, but was never able to.

Over the long July 4th weekend, I returned to the city where I’d gone to college to visit a friend who’d found a job and settled there after we graduated.  I brought Wags with me, and took him on a walk across the deserted campus one morning. I passed my old dormitory, the wing of the library where I’d done most of my studying, and peered through the cafeteria windows at the table where I’d usually sat to eat.  I wandered over to the performance center, found the entry door open, and went downstairs to the practice rooms. No one else was there, and I took a seat at the piano in the room at the end of the hallway. I played the same three openings I had on that snowy evening, pausing after each one to listen to the silence that followed.  As I did, Wags looked up at me where he sat at my feet with his head cocked.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  “I have no idea what I’m doing either.”

When we left the room, I paused to look at the spot where the woman had turned and glanced at me before ascending the stairs.  I thought of her eyes, that hint of smile. An idea occurred to me out of nowhere, and I led Wags up the stairs outside.

We went inside the adjoining building, which housed the music department’s administrative offices, and I found the student bulletin board on the wall just inside the entrance where it had always been.  The same assortment of housing requests, job postings, textbook sales, and flyers advertising musical venues were tacked here and there across its surface. I sat on the floor beneath it, took a pad and pen out of my daypack, and wrote a description of the woman from that night.  I included her blue coat, auburn hair, green eyes, and exceptional piano talent. As near as I could, I estimated her height, weight, and age, as well as the date and description of that stormy evening. I asked anyone who knew her to contact me and ended with my name, cell phone number, and email address.  

I stood and looked up and down the long, empty hallway.  Then I tore the page off my pad, found a tack and spot on the bulletin board, and secured it there.  Wags studied me with the same cocked head.

I shrugged and told him, “What the hell do I have to lose?”

In early August, I finally scooped the last jigsaw puzzle that Dawn and I had worked on off the coffee table into its box; I couldn’t remember the last time either of us had touched it.  As I was closing the lid, my cell phone pinged and I glanced at its screen where it lay on the table. A text appeared from a number I didn’t recognize. It said: “You’re looking for me.”

I frowned and typed back: “Who is this?”

A moment later: “Performance center practice rooms.  Stormy night.”

My heart leapt, and I snatched the phone off the table.  I steadied my hands and typed: “I’d like to meet you.”

Another moment passed, then a new bubble swooped onto the screen that read: “Saturday night @ Jake’s, 8pm?”

I recognized the name of the bar and could picture it in a hip neighborhood on the opposite side of the city from my old college campus.  I typed: “I’ll be there.”

*           *           *           *           *

I changed my mind several times about wearing a sport coat before eventually leaving it at home and starting the drive that Saturday evening.  It was hot, humid, and I kept the air conditioner and classical music station on low. The stretch between my new and old cities was mostly farmland, long stretches of corn and wheat fields, tall with the approaching harvest.  I watched them nodding in the small breeze along with the dipping telephone lines in the distance and let my thoughts tumble over themselves. I thought about Dawn, her new life, and what had happened to us. I wondered about the woman from the practice rooms and how she’d filled the time that had passed since then.  I thought about the days ahead and how I’d fill those myself.  I’d just turned twenty-five and had spent my birthday alone.

Jake’s was down a little set of stairs, a long narrow room that was already dark against the gloaming outside when I entered.  There was only a dozen or so customers, and I found the

woman quickly once my eyes had adjusted to the dim light.  She was sitting alone at a table next to a small stage with a piano in its center and was fingering a glass of beer.  She raised those fingers to me, and I recognized her green eyes and smile. I took a breath, walked over, and extended a hand.  She took it, and we shook.

She said, “You haven’t changed much.”

“You either.”  I sat down across from her.  The simple blue dress she wore was the same shade as her coat on that snowy evening.  I said, “I’m Tom.”

She gave a short nod and said, “Sylvia.”  The hint of smile was still there. “So, what’s this all about, Tom?  This query of yours on a bulletin board.”

I felt color creeping up my neck.  I said, “I’m not really sure.” I shrugged.  “That night has stayed with me, I guess. How you played.  Why you did.”

She took a turn to shrug.  “Well, that Chopin sonata you started was pretty woeful.  Sounded like you could use some encouragement.”

Her smile widened a bit, and I did my best to return it.  “That’s true. I was feeling a little down, frustrated.”

“Truth be told, I’d been listening for quite a while.  The piece you were working on, it was your own?”

I nodded.

“It was beautiful.  Really”

A tiny bubble of something opened in me: something good.

Sylvia said, “The finished version was even better.”

I felt my eyebrows knit.

“I was there for your senior recital.  Out in that dark audience. Has it been performed since?”

I swallowed and shook my head.

“That’s a shame.  And you’ve written others?”

“Plenty.”

“None performed?”

“No.”

“Well.”  I watched her take a sip of beer.  “Then that’s a shame, too.”

A waitress came up to our table and I ordered a draft beer, too.  Then Sylvia and I sat looking at each other until I asked, “Why did you run off that night?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Enough said at the time, I guess.”

Our eyes held.  She wasn’t beautiful, but her combination of features was pleasing, lovely somehow, full of life.  Finally, I asked, “So what about you? Even hearing you play those few moments…well, it was exquisite.”

She shrugged again.  “I’m more interested in theory, actually.”  She took another sip from her glass. “The department at school there had started a degree program for music theory, and I’d just transferred into it shortly before that night.  I’m almost finished now.”

“Then what?”

“Still trying to figure that out.”

“You should be playing.  You should be heard.”

“Oh,” she said.  Her eyes took on that same sparkle from the snowy evening.  “That might be involved.”

The waitress brought my beer and set it on a coaster.  I lifted it, and we clinked glasses. “To your good fortune,” I said.

“Likewise,” she replied, and we both sipped.

The place had begun to fill up.  The few remaining tables had all been taken and most of the stools at the bar were occupied.  As a cone of dusty light blinked on over the piano, a quiet sort of murmur rose in the room, and I felt several glances turn our way.  Sylvia looked beyond my shoulder, and I watched her raise a hand and her smile broaden. Another woman walked up beside her, leaned down, and they kissed.  Then, they both turned to me, and Sylvia said, “This is Anne. With a ‘e’.”

I sat blinking, hesitated, then took Anne’s offered hand and shook it.  She was tall with short blonde hair; even dressed only in a green T-shirt and khakis, she was striking.  She sat down in the seat between us and placed her hand on top of the Sylvia’s. They exchanged quiet smiles, then looked at me.

“So,” Anne said.  “Are you staying for the set?”

I frowned.  “I’m not sure.”

“You don’t want to miss it.”  She studied her watch, then said to Sylvia, “You’re on.  Your fans await.”

Sylvia took another sip of beer, glanced again at me with those eyes, then stood up and climbed the two steps onto the stage.  She sat down on the piano bench, adjusted the microphone

on the stand at the piano’s side so it was near her mouth, and began playing random warm-up riffs.  As she did, her gaze became serious and the noise in the room grew silent. A moment later, she closed her eyes and began playing one of Mendelssohn’s softer “Songs Without Words”.  I shook my head slowly at the absolute beauty of it.

She played steadily, a wide variety of pieces: classical, jazz, old standards, even a few improvisational versions of popular ballads during which she sometimes hummed melody into the microphone.  Regardless of the type, I was astonished at her virtuosity, and the crowd’s reaction grew more robust after each song concluded. Sylvia kept her eyes squeezed shut while playing, and only opened them briefly to say a few words of introduction between pieces.  

At one point, Anne leaned towards me and asked what I thought.

“Unbelievable,” I said.

She nodded and I watched her for a few moments gaze at Sylvia while she played.  As she did, I saw a combination of emotions on her face: love, of course, but also joy and pride and contentment.  Eventually, I looked back at Sylvia’s bowed, swaying head and closed eyes as her fingers glided over the keyboard.

After about an hour, Sylvia told the crowd she would be taking a break after the next song.  Then she looked once at me, smiled, and began the piece I’d been composing in the practice room on that stormy night.  She played it perfectly, better than I ever had. I felt

something akin to what I’d seen on Anne’s face spread up through me as she continued.  I whispered, “Hopeful now.” I didn’t want her to stop. I whispered, “Thank you.”


William Cass has had over a hundred short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as decemberBriar Cliff ReviewJ Journal, and The Boiler.  Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a Pushcart nomination, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal.  He lives in San Diego, California.