Spring’s Battle by Alison Cloonan

Spring has forced its way onto the earth, prying up the icy fingers of winter. The battle wages between bareness and new life, between seeds bursting open and late frost killing cold.  The flower bulbs orient their embryonic shoots from the chill beneath, up towards the softening earth above. Seeds rest in their shells with the eternal patience of the dead.

Winter brings out the last of its arsenal, fighting to its bitter end with winds and snow-making clouds. Spring surges forward with its breath of warm air, and the trees and shrubs prepare their battalions of new buds.

Time seems to pause. The combatants entrenched between continued death and new life.

And then, the dead air is cracked open with the sound of the trills of an advancing warm front.  Daffodils explode open their yellow petals. Crocus fling shoots upward.  Wild violets camouflage in tender grasses.  Forsythia jettisons forth their troops of gold. Cherry blossoms leap forth from their coffin twigs.

Each battle is waged with cold wind and warm sunshine, but life forces push out of dead twigs, branches, limbs, and seeds, releasing the captives.  Winter melts away in surrender.  Spring celebrates its victory with butterflies and bees; warm breezes and fluffy clouds; weeping willows and redbud trees.


Alison Cloonan is a sixty year-old emerging writer, recently completing her college creative writing class with Ms. Amanda Miller and is now submitting work, both from the class and previous writings, for publication.

“Spring Feast” by Eileen M. Cunniffe

If you live in a place that experiences cold, blustery winters, you know what it’s like on that first warm day when you open a door or roll down a car window just for the pleasure of gulping at the spring air—a heady mix of sweet and musty smells, so thick you almost taste it as it splashes in your face.

I always know winter has run its course on the day I pry open the heavy, glass-paned doors that lead from the living room onto my screened-in porch, dust a thick green film of pollen off the table and chairs, and claim my rightful place in the sun. That day finally arrived this week; I was giddy with the sight of daffodils bursting in the garden, dark red buds feathering on the maple in front of my house, and the magnolia tree next door teetering on the brink of its annual, fleeting glory. Never mind the days to come of playing pick-up-sticks to clean up after winter storms, then weeks of planting annuals and spreading mulch around the garden beds; on this day, my favorite al fresco dining room was ready to be opened for the season, and a celebration was in order.

As a foodie, I am inclined to mark the arrival of each new season with appropriate fare, some of it ritualized. Summer isn’t really summer until I slice into a fat Jersey tomato. The first crisp fall day inevitably produces a hankering for an apple-cheddar quiche, dusted with enough nutmeg to perfume every corner of the house. A winter snowstorm leads me to dig out the chicken chili recipe; after weeping over heaps of onions and garlic, I am rewarded with the pleasure of unwrapping a single square of unsweetened dark chocolate and watching it disappear into the unsuspecting stew.

And spring just hasn’t sprung until I have somehow celebrated the wonderfulness of fresh asparagus—even if I cheat a little with a California-grown crop, rather than waiting for the local harvest later in the season.

So on the first warm spring day of this year, as happy as I am just sipping a cup of tea and solving a crossword puzzle on my newly re-opened porch, I know what must be done. I’ve been saving a recipe I discovered over the winter for just this occasion. As quickly as I can slip into sneakers, I am off, on foot, to the local produce shop. Two words form a mantra in my head as I walk: Asparagus, arugula. Asparagus, arugula. Asparagus, arugula. Blessedly, the produce shop has both—the bright thin stalks and the dark green leaves. The woman at the register nods her approval at the canvas tote I brought along for my vegetables. Ten minutes later, I’m home, happily cluttering up the kitchen counter with everything I need for my impromptu spring feast.

The recipe I’ve been holding onto is for an asparagus-arugula frittata, topped with Gruyere cheese. Fortunately, I’ve got a hunk of Gruyere in the fridge, although I will have to substitute 2% milk for the half-and-half the recipe calls for. Not to worry, because there will be no substituting for the butter, which is already beginning to foam in an oven-proof skillet, begging to be introduced to the asparagus stalks I have carved into small pieces. Once the asparagus begins to soften, I toss in a heap of arugula I’ve rinsed and patted dry. Within moments it wilts to a fraction of its original volume. I drown the vegetables in a frothy egg-milk mixture; when the eggs start to set, I top off the custardy blend with a generous sprinkling of grated Gruyere and bread crumbs.

Garlic frites (straight from the freezer, I must confess, by way of Trader Joe’s) crisp in the oven as I place the frittata-to-be under the broiler. I pour a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc and carry it with me to the porch, where I dress the table with a colorful cloth and set out a napkin and silverware. Within minutes, I am savoring my first real taste of spring, watching the world jog and stroll and wheel by in the balmy early evening. The crisp asparagus, the bitter arugula, the pungent Gruyere and the cool wine dance across my palate; they mimic the alchemy taking place in the muddy garden outside my porch, where a reliable old row of azaleas is conspiring with the sunshine to serve up a confectionery of blooms—although I’ll have to wait a few more weeks to feast my eyes on that treat.

Tomorrow, the temperature will drop twenty degrees (hopefully without scaring the blooms off the magnolia tree) and I’ll have to remember that spring arrives slowly, not all at once. It will be another month or more until I can start taking most of my weekend meals out on the porch, in the leafy shadow of the maple tree. But for this one April evening, warmth has triumphed, asparagus has been celebrated, and winter has once again been banished from my front porch.

Eileen Cunniffe has been writing nonfiction for more than 35 years—the first 25 without the benefit of a byline, as a medical writer, corporate communications manager and executive speechwriter. Her work has appeared in journals such as Referential Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Superstition Review, Emrys Journal, The RavensPerch and Bluestem Magazine, as well as in anthologies. Read more at www.eileencunniffe.com.

“Breakfast with the Innkeeper” by Kathleen Latham

The innkeeper starts to cry at breakfast.

He’s telling me the story of his incarcerated brother over plates of French toast and fruit diced so small the cantaloupe is the same size as the blueberries.

The two of us sit alone at a long pine table beautifully set. Thick linen placemats. A vase of hand-picked impatiens. Bone china edged with a terra cotta scroll long faded to pink.

His brother is a convicted murderer.

This happens to me a lot when I dine with strangers. Stories get told.

I am the only guest at the bed and breakfast. Outside, horses graze, and sunlight beckons. New Hampshire in July.

I had arrived the evening before, after dropping my daughter at sleep-away camp, and my plan was to spend a leisurely day exploring the area before heading back home to Boston. I had hoped to eat quickly so I could get going, but then the innkeeper joined me at the table with apologetic shyness and a reluctance, he admitted, to eat alone.

He pours coffee, fresh-brewed and pungent. Offers heavy cream, a tiny bowl of sugar cubes. A miniature pitcher of warm maple syrup. The French toast is perfect: crusty on the outside, milky inside, flecked golden brown and dusted with powdered sugar. It is a beautiful, thoughtful meal, and I am thankful for it.

We start—as most strangers who dine together do—with small talk. The weather. How I slept. How long he’s owned the inn. Looking back, I think it’s this last question that leads us down the rabbit hole, his finances and dependence on the inn being inextricably tied to his brother’s fate. Before I know it, he is telling me the strange and complicated tale of his brother’s conviction eight years before.

I feel a brief, initial trill of alarm when he begins. I’ve watched too many crime shows to not be aware I’m alone in a strange house with a man speaking intimately of murder. But then his obvious love for his brother reassures me, and I focus on the details, all of them thrilling in a distant kind of way. High stakes Kentucky horse breeding, adultery, someone else’s inheritance—they sound like pieces to a puzzle I might hear on NPR, the scope of it far removed from where I sit piercing blueberries with my fork and nibbling perfectly-cooked bacon.

The innkeeper dabs his mouth with a cloth napkin—its delicate floral pattern a jarring juxtaposition to his sturdy hands—and tells me about his brother’s bad luck. The jailhouse informant. The incompetent lawyers. He uses words like failure of the system and final appeal as he passes me freshly squeezed orange juice. He seems compelled to share his story, as if he’s been waiting all along for me to arrive on his doorstep, suitcase in hand, ready to listen.

He’s used his life savings on investigators, he confesses. They’ve uncovered inconsistencies in procedure. Hope, I can tell, hinges on technicalities.

For a moment, I fantasize I might solve the case. There are other suspects to consider: The victim’s husband. Her son. A long line of shady business partners. But then I use the wrong spoon to stir my coffee and realize I am being foolish.

This is real, I remind myself. This happened.

Still, when he starts to cry, I am taken by surprise.

He’s describing the reading of the verdict. The horrible silence just before. The frowning judge. Twelve sets of eyes, averted. The foreman wore glasses, he tells me, as if this might be significant.

The way he describes it, I can see his brother standing there in his Sunday suit, flanked by lawyers, shoulders hunched, back to the gallery. I can imagine the innkeeper seated in the sea of spectators behind him, holding his breath, heart hammering.

“I watched him when they said the word guilty,” he says. “I watched him the entire time. The gavel fell. The bailiff stepped forward. And do you know what my brother did?”

I wait, the fork in my hand an embarrassment.

“Nothing,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. “He said nothing. Did nothing. Just turned and emptied his pockets, expressionless, then held out his hands to be cuffed.” The innkeeper makes a pathetic gesture over the remains of our meal. Two pale wrists upturned.

His face, when he looks at me, is etched in anguish. “Wouldn’t you have fought? If you were innocent? Wouldn’t you have forced them to drag you out screaming?”

This is where he starts to cry, his face crumpling in on itself. “It’s the only time I ever doubted him. The only time I wasn’t sure…” His chin trembles as if his brother’s surrender is the only unforgiveable part of the story, a capitulation that will haunt him forever.

He can’t fathom giving up, this man who has spent everything, who even now, eight years on, continues to fight. I’ve just met him, and I already know this.

I look down at my plate which is stained with the palette of our meal—brown syrup, opaque grease, the blood stain of berries. I don’t know what to say.

Somewhere, in the brief ensuing silence, the innkeeper realizes he’s shared too much. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly, wiping his nose with his napkin. “So sorry,” he repeats.

The conversation ends abruptly after that. I make a belated attempt to comfort him, but he waves it away and jumps up to clear my plate. With forced good-humor, he mentions antique stores I might want to visit, directions to a nearby lake. He calls out suggestions while he carries our dishes to the kitchen. There’s a clatter of plates, and I picture him standing in the next room, hands shaking.

There are no guidelines for moments like this. No etiquette books which teach how to proceed. I imagine the suggested responses would be as varied as the listeners. For my part, I am awash in reactions I can’t categorize. I want to tell him that what is true for him may not be true for his brother, that character is not interchangeable, that innocence and guilt shouldn’t hinge upon the emptying of pockets, but at that moment, these concepts are mere feelings—nebulous and unarticulated. So, instead, I bashfully thank him for the breakfast, for the considerately chopped fruit, and I walk outside to the inn’s pastures and the sunlight of an unfamiliar place.

Shame follows me. And I don’t know why.

It is one thing to share breakfast with a man. It is another to hear his story and know that when the next guest comes, the words will not have changed. Strangers, while sometimes audiences for confession, rarely give us what we truly want.



I can offer him neither.

*           *           *           *           *

I have thought of that meal again and again over the years. It comes back to me every time I share a table with a stranger. It is not just the innkeeper’s pain I remember, but the juxtaposition of that beautiful breakfast, so painstakingly prepared, and the sense that I was involved in some kind of transaction, that partaking of that food meant hearing his story, whether or not I was capable of providing the comfort he so clearly sought.

Standing outside that bed and breakfast, flush with the awkwardness that follows an unsolicited confession, I had no way of knowing how many meals with strangers were in my future or how many times I would reexperience the temporary intimacy such dining can evoke—intimacy inexorably tied to the food that accompanies it.

There will be a lunch of Beef Wellington with truffle mash and marrow sauce eaten alongside a Kenyan diamond trader in Dubai who openly distrusts the color of my skin yet finishes our lunch with a hug. A boisterous dinner of fried chicken, browned butter noodles, and pepper cabbage at a communal table in Lancaster, PA where my family bonds with a heavily pierced teenager over a shared taste in music. A simple breakfast of toast and jam, sliced meats and cheese shared with a nervous tour guide in a hotel dining room in St. Petersburg, waiters standing by like guards while she carefully chooses her words in English.

Opportunities, again and again, to listen. To hear.

If the innkeeper taught me anything, it was how easily confidences come when we share food with people we will never see again and how heightened that experience can be.

Perhaps it is the food itself—our experience of eating so grounded in sensation that the vocabulary we use to describe it is redolent with double meaning. Raw. Tender. Suck. Swallow. Or perhaps it’s some kind of evolutionary throwback to a time when food was scarce, and our wisest ancestors only dined with those they trusted, a hard-wired faith in others that’s evoked when we share a meal, engendering feelings of communal brotherhood.

Either way, food and the company we share it with nurtures us.

And still, I come back to the innkeeper. Here is a man destined to cook for, and dine with, new faces every day. Is it a wonder that the lines of intimacy have been blurred for him? We, as humans, are social creatures, often desperate to be heard, for our pain to be recognized, and there he is, in his remote, red clapboard home, solitary in his grief, looking for connection, burdened by a story too horrible to carry alone.

*           *           *           *           *

I googled his brother’s story. Made note of the names and dates and checked on it from time to time.
Recently, on a cold, winter day with snow eddying around the trees in my front yard, I read that his brother lost his final appeal and will spend the rest of his life in prison.

I picture the innkeeper in his kitchen, chopping fruit, dropping slices of French bread into batter, crying.

I fight the urge to jump into my car. To find him all these years later and attempt to reenact that meal.

I heard you, I want to say. I remember.

We are still connected.

Kathleen Latham is an award-winning short story writer and poet whose work has most recently appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, The London Reader, Clockwise Cat, and Picaroon Poetry. She currently lives outside of Boston and can be found at KathleenLatham.com. This is her first creative nonfiction piece.

“How it Feels to be Fat or Why I’m Allowed to be Pretty” by Elizabeth Malone

November 14th, 2015 was the first instance I can remember feeling beautiful. Draped in a dark blue gown, the bodice sparkling slightly like faint stars just before dawn, I looked in the mirror and realized: I am pretty. It hit me hard, almost scaring away the thought. It almost made me default to my previous mindset that because I am fat, I’m not allowed to be pretty, and that foreign feeling consumed me for the rest of the evening. For the first time in my life I was undeniably beautiful.

It all started at the age of 6. I had chubby cheeks and more of a tummy than the other kids. We were playing pretend on the playground one afternoon and there had to be a monster to hide from, so the other kids appointed me. When young me protested, I was met with a chorus of laughs. One of my “friends” turned to me and said, “But you look like one!” I asked why they said that and the reply was simple, “Because you’re fat and we’re not, so you’re the monster!” With that, they ran off squealing and giggling like the children we were. Perhaps the intent was innocent, only thinking of wanting to play the game, but I cried anyway. From that day on, the adults on the playground pitied me and would often keep me company as I watched my peers pound upon the asphalt parking lot that served as whatever your imagination made it.

“Kids are mean”

“They’re just jealous, sweetie”

“Well you know what they say, sticks and stones…”

The private Catholic school soon became my personal hell. The teachers, the priests, my parents all preached about a God that loved you. A God that wanted you to be happy. A God that no matter what would watch over you. If all of this was true, one question in my mind remained: Why would God do this to me? Make me like this? Make the people around me so cruel? And while, at the time, I was still wholly devoted to the Church, I grew distant from the idea of “God’s everlasting love.”

By the time I was nine, I was invited to all the parties through the year, and was promptly ignored at every single one. This was also the age of every diet I could get my chubby little fingers on. Protein diets, Smart Ones, not eating at all, and countless Weight Watchers meetings later and my hatred for myself and the people surrounding me only grew deeper.

In third grade, my worst nightmare became a reality: The Presidential Fitness challenge. Push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, pull-ups, sprints, and the dreaded mile run. When the pull-ups challenge came, I tried to hide because we had to go up one by one in front of everyone. The harsh yellow of my shirt, combined with my big stomach, did not lend itself to my cowering.

Soon, I was pushed forward onto the chair and told to hold onto the bar above my head. The chair was dragged from under my feet, my knuckles turning white and I willed myself to tug upward; the next instant my fingers could no longer clasp the cold metal and I fell. My face growing red, tears forming in my eyes as I landed less than gracefully on the dirty gym floor. Not waiting for the teacher to say anything, I ran away, back to my corner. Back to being invisible.

The horror continued when a girl, far more athletic than I, looked at me laughing and said “You’re such a cow.” The rage in my little nine-year-old heart led me to do the unspeakable. I hit her, shoved her against a wall. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I was pulled away from her. The girl was ultimately unharmed, and we were both reprimanded with no recess and extra prayer.

I started feeling as if God had truly abandoned me. I prayed and pleaded with Him to make my suffering stop, or at least to give me some guidance to get through it. I continued this for years on end, and rarely did I get a response. I grew distant from the Church as well as my peers.

I was learning quickly that to be fat is to be ugly. To be fat is to be untouchable, unlovable. To be fat is to walk through life a paradox; sticking out like a sore thumb and being completely invisible all at once. We are told that fat is a word filled with venom and hate. “Fat” is one of the many words whispered in the chaos of self-loathing, yet it is screamed to me on the streets. To be fat is to be shamed into only eating in hiding. It is to try and will the pudge off your body. It is to be ashamed of the food you eat, the things you wear, the way you walk and talk. To be fat is to be ashamed to exist.

The years following were about the same. The same self-loathing. The same jeers of disdain from my classmates. Their hatred for the way I looked influenced the way I looked at them, and more so the way I looked at myself. Through the next years, I only ever caught glimpses of happiness, like the time when we ran the mile and I was the last one running, and everyone ran with me to cheer me on until I finished. Or when I was on stage singing and no one could deny that I was talented. Or even when I was taken in by the older kids in my sixth grade year when they saw how estranged I was from my peers.

The next year, with my older friends gone to the high school, my depression only worsened when I found myself, once again, completely alone. I didn’t want to be. I had yet to accept that sometimes being alone because you’re different is okay. I was a square peg being shoved in a circle hole, and the harder I tried to shove myself into it, the more it chipped away at who I was. I came home every night and cried, sometimes for hours. It was the year of true hatred. It was the year of losing weight for all the wrong reasons, and in all the wrong ways. It was the year of promising everyone “I’m fine.” It was the year of too many tears. And it was the year my parents decided that I wouldn’t be returning to the private Catholic school.

Eighth grade was my first year in a public school. It was the first year of healing. The first year of making friends. The first year of figuring out that I really was talented. It was the first year someone told me they loved the way I looked, and meant it. It was the first year of eating when I was hungry, and having no shame about it. It was the first year of finding “my people.” It was the first year the I had fun in a gym class. It was the year I got into Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. It was the first year I felt even a shred of self-worth.

November 14th, 2015 was the first instance I can remember feeling truly beautiful. Draped in a dark blue gown, the bodice sparkling slightly like the faint stars just before dawn, I realized: I am pretty. It hit me hard, almost scaring away the thought. Almost defaulting to the previous mindset that because I am fat, I’m not allowed to be pretty. Looking in the mirror, I decided that I would no longer be a walking paradox. I would no longer be defined by a number on the scale, or the names people called me. I am Beth, and that is enough. I am happy. I am fat. I am undeniably beautiful.

“Send My Regards to the Wind” by Portia Dobrzanski

The day had been worn down and left in pieces. Rain drops hurry down the window without any hesitation. I long to feel even the smallest ray strike my cheek, but I know all warmth has evaded me. A subtle residue is all that’s left of my better days. For just a minute, I swear I could remember what it was like to bask in the light with those I love most. I swear I almost could recall what it felt like to be refreshed by a cold breeze, without it forcing the hairs up from under my skin. My emotions have bound themselves to Earth’s erratic phases. With every gust of wind my heart lurches. With every icy drop my eyes pour out their secrets. I long to break free from this dreadful relationship. Oh, how I miss those better days.

Through the glass
The clouds — their impending cry
A dance I cannot escape

The wind throws me back and forth restlessly, but the tall trees remain still. Her bulging roots reveal past battles, a set of scars that make up her foundation. The branches that have fallen become a victim of Earth’s mighty breath as they are thrust against the base of the tree. Her rings tell stories of the many years she’s stood strong and her saplings promise to preserve her legacy. Come fall, the leaves will abandon the tree, leaving their mother barren and exposed. I think of the times when I, too, have changed. Who else had to endure the pain of my development? In that moment, I realized that the steps of growth I view as improvements may feel like a series of abrupt hurricanes to those that surround me. Change is inevitable, but growth is reserved solely for those who are willing to accept disaster as payment for their progression.

Branches sway
The one who has seen all
Warns only those who listen

I gaze into the pond, but the ripples hide its true contents. Bubbles of air rise and fall, as if the pond is breathing for its inhabitants. The surface appears still, but I know that beneath it, water flows brutally against the rocks and sand. The exterior glass reflects an image that I am reluctant to analyze. A sudden ray of light breaks through the top layer and distracts me from my vulnerability. It’s an entire world, completely hidden from all of nature. Those who stumble upon it are few and their discovery is always made without intention. I think of the little I have seen and how much I have left to experience. Until this day, an entire community of life has been living quietly without any familiarity from myself. Whether an overcrowded city or a minute blade of grass, each fragment of earth is a magnificent universe that I couldn’t possibly recognize.

Under my thumb
Life persists undisclosed
A small fish buried in blue satin