Shali Nicholas

The Fog Has Moods

The fog has moods
that I tiptoe quietly through.
It rolls in thin and laughing,
tumbling over itself,
a mean edge to its saunter,
begging for play, but canyons
lay still, too frightened
to respond. Rejected,
it sits heavy and brooding,
hiding things in its pockets,
a boulder, a fox, the red
warning of a street light.
Finally it weeps under
its own weight, tiny circles of
tears bubbling up on its skin
like a burn.

When we are sad

Gene Louise and I walk/scramble to the lake.
We sniff urine, dandelion fluffs, that stupid stray
cat, the rotting corpse of a fish and someone
somewhere is grilling steak. We curse them
and their happy, Laissez-Faire life. We want to
chase egrets but all we can find are ducks. We
dig holes for strollers to stumble into. We discover
two tennis balls (one neon orange, one bleached
a beige) that have sat on the shore since
our last visit. Poor tennis balls. We cautiously
lap the water. Sand-coated and sun-warmed,
we finally make our way back home, pissing
on everything along the way.


Shali Nicholas is a student in the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino. Nicholas lives and teach in the San Bernardino mountains for Rim of the World School District.

Michelle Gonzalez

Workshop Feature: Inlandia Creative Writing Workshop – Riverside

Workshop Leader: Ruth Nolan



Getting on the 215 to San Bernardino meant
we were going to grandma’s house.
Passing the 5th street exit,
then getting off at Baseline
meant I would be
making fresh flour tortillas on Saturday
and walking to St. Anthony’s on Sunday.

Going on the 60 meant
a trip to the drive-in movies
right by Rubidoux mountain
where you can see the truckers pass
on the freeway as they honk their horns.
I climb into bed at 1 am after
trying to stay up for two movies.

The 91 freeway to Riverside meant
possibly going to the mall,
getting new shoes for school
or maybe even a long trip
to the sandy beach.

But at the end of the day,
I was always glad to be home
where I have my new daybed
and flower bed set
that matches my sister’s.

Midnight Drives   

On the third of our many dates,
we drove down the 60 freeway
around the midnight hour
to see the glimmering meteors.
We talked about how
beautiful the sky would look
once we got to the badlands,
small, but still beautiful.
I imagined it would look like
a brighter version of the moon,
glowing in the darkness
all alone.

We passed the exits with the stores
and other signs of life,
until we reached our destination.
The headlights lead the way
to the dark hidden spot.

We got out of the car and
sat on his dusty hood.
Looking up, all we saw were
the shadows of clouds
covering the dark sky.
There were no meteors to be seen,
but somehow, that was fine with us.
We decided to stay and talk awhile.
He asked, “Have you ever made a wish,
on a shooting star?”
I lie and say, “No.”
It’s too early to tell
all my secrets.

Michelle Gonzalez is a longtime member of Inlandia’s Creative Writing Workshop in Riverside. She earned her BA in English from the University of California, Riverside. She also received her teaching credential from University of Phoenix and MFA in Creative Writing from National University. For the past 29 years she has lived in Riverside and has no plans on leaving the Inland Empire. Her poems have been published in National University’s literary magazine and other local magazines such as Slouching Towards Mt. Rubidoux  Manor and 2011 Writing from Inlandia: Work of the Inlandia Creative Writing Workshops. Recently she has published her book of poems, Morning in the House by the Field.

Ontario Creative Writing Workshop Collaborative Poem

Written as an exquisite corpse during the first workshop session, Spring 2012

Authors: Marie Griffiths, Florelei Lueb, Linda Rhodes, Heather Dubois, Bill McConnell, Victoria Waddle; Workshop Leader: Cati Porter



Sprinklings of an Inside-Out Beach Tea Party

He sat on a sofa in the sand, his saxophone
leaning sadly against his leg. I am walking out

at low tide at Chapin Beach & the breakers
are half a mile away; stepping over clam shells

I can smell the salt air & hear the call of gulls
overhead. The air conditioner couldn’t quite

cool the room, leaving a hint of mugginess,
like the air in the veterinarian’s office the day

I had to give my dog the needle. Shining,
smooth and polished, the titan’s spoon reflects

scribbling patrons in its concave bowl, scooping up
their delicious thoughts. Sitting at the maple

dining table, covered with a fifty-year-old linen
tablecloth, she waited until her grandmother

appeared with the tray holding a silver sugar bowl
full of cubes, silver tongs, pink napkins, a fine

china teapot, and matching cups. Really? It is
another emergency? You mean to tell me that

the contract you signed three months ago
and the other technical studies you’ve had written,

yet again didn’t clue you in to tell me you needed
an air study before the week you need it finished?

The first object I saw when I walked in the room
was the iron backed chair, scroll-worked into

fanciful curlicues. I hear the chinking
of silverware as Sandra scoops up two fistfuls

of spoons and forks out of the sink, and I smile.


Background: This was a fun workshop exercise in which I wrote a random selection of words/phrases on the backs of large sheets of paper; each author was asked to use that word/phrase to write a line of poetry. We were seated in the cafe at the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario, California. Many of the sounds & images were drawn, either deliberately or subconsciously, from our surroundings.

After everyone had finished writing, I collected the sheets and read them in order around the table, and, strangely, they all fit together, with an implied narrative and surreal setting. While the participants were initially skeptical that an exercise like this could produce something readable, everyone was surprised by the clarity & cohesiveness of the finished product.

— Cati Porter

Ruth Nolan Interviews Carlos E. Cortes

Published by Heyday Books, Berkeley, 2012 (173 pages)
Dr. Carlos E. Cortes, Inland Empire scholar, playwright, film collaborator and author, discusses his new book.
By Ruth Nolan

Arguably, this has been one of the hottest and most humid summers in the Inland Empire in recent memory, and the excessive heat has driven many people indoors, looking for something good to read. Fortunately, a compelling new memoir by one of our region’s most prolific academic scholars and longtime Riverside residents has appeared on the local literary horizon. Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time Time, published by Heyday and the Inlandia Institute earlier this year, was penned by Carlos E. Cortes, professor emeritus of history at University of California Riverside who also happens to be a prolific playwright/actor, lecturer, and collaborating writer for the popular children’s TV series, “Dora the Explorer.”

Cortes was born in Oakland in 1934, the son of a Mexican-American/Catholic father and German-American/Jewish mother, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri before attending University of California, Berkeley and eventually taking his teaching position at UCR in 1968. He took time recently from his busy schedule to talk about his book while sipping coffee and munching at oatmeal cookies at Riverside’s iconic Back to the Grind coffee house.

“At my daughter Alana’s request, more than 10 years ago, I agreed to write the stories of our family history,” Cortes says. “I never set out to write or publish a book. In fact, the whole thing ended up being about 600 pages, in all,” he chuckles.” He began by writing short mini-biographies about each of his grandparents, and then his parents, and then about other family members, until he ended up with somewhere between 50-60 little anecdotes that focused on each person’s life and character. Much of the manuscript was penned while he sat at a table along the downtown Riverside promenade adjacent to the Mission Inn.

He quickly realized, once he began to review what he had written, that what he had originally considered to be personalized family stories, written for his daughter, just might appeal to other people. He relates an anecdote about how, when he was reading part of the manuscript aloud to Alana while seated at a former Bob’s Big Boy restaurant located at the corner of University and Iowa Avenues in Riverside, another customer poked his head out from another booth, and said “that’s a great story! You should publish a book!”

He realized that the heart of his story collection resonated strongly with a number of cultural and historical themes and nuances common to most, if not, all of us, including the search for identity and belonging that so many people in our richly diverse multicultural and religious diaspora that comprises our society struggle to reckon with. As the son of a mixed race/religion family, and keenly aware all his life of the tug-of-war he lived in between his parents and other family members, Cortes has struck, and poignantly elicited, something that many readers can easily identify with.

Initially, Cortes skimmed his manuscript for the key ideas that formed the core of a one-hour, one-person play that he wrote, based on these stories, and titled it A Conversation with Alana: One Boy’s Multicultural Rite of Passage. He has subsequently performed the play more than one hundred times around the country.

He later decided to edit and create a narrative structure to his larger manuscript and publish it as a book. With help from Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books – who he reveals that he shared a long lunch with, with both of them telling little stories in Yiddish as they discussed ideas for the book -, and Heyday’s Acquisitions Editor, Gayle Wattawa, the much-abbreviated, final version of the current book began to take form. He also notes that, in creating the final manusucript for the book, he took the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who wrote the novel Get Shorty: “…leave out the parts that people skip.” It seems to have worked for Cortes’ book.

“It was important to me that I make my book accessible to as many readers as possible,” he Cortes says. “I was hoping to open up a general discussion, among readers, and at the readings I do, about issues of mixed racial and cultural backgrounds, which affects so many people everywhere in the melting pot of our society. I wanted to help articulate the experience, and find a common thread in this that others can relate to, so they don’t feel so isolated.”

The start of Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time begins, for example, by giving the reader a clear sense of this, at the start of Chapter 1: “Dad was a Mexican Catholic. Mom was a Kansas City-born Jew with Eastern European immigrant paragraphs. They fell in love in Berkeley, California, and got married in Kansas City, Missouri. That, alone, would not have been a big deal. But it happened to be 1933” (p.1).

The narrative arc of the book follows his parent’s controversial marriage and his own birth and growing-up years in Kansas City, and is told in short chapters, each of which serves as its own vignette, as a story in itself. Cortes reveals his parents’, and his own, struggles in their search for belonging to a society that all too often expects people, and family, to fit into neatly-prescribed and restrictive “norms.”

Although much of the book’s setting is placed in Kansas City, the book does have a definite Inland Empire-area flavor. Cortes talks, later in the book, about how he came to play an important role in the development of inter-cultural curriculum at UCR, as creator of the university’s Chicano Studies program in the 1970’s, which helped both him and his father reaffirm their Mexican-American heritage.

There’s also the passage in the book where Cortes and his wife discover his parent’s decades-old love letters, in storage in Cortes’ garage in Riverside. “Now, at the very time I was trying to reconstruct our family’s story, the letters had been revealed to me,” he writes. “And as I read them, I yet again rediscovered my family, as I had so many times before” (p. 160). The letters had somehow survived many moves across the country, and in fact, Cortes had almost mistakenly thrown them out while moving.

The overall impression of this gently-rendered, often humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and honestly-written memoir is one that will remain with most readers, long after they’ve finished reading. Taken as a whole, the stories are highly readable, familiar, spirit warming and also, in a profound but never forceful manner, tinged consistently by the current of the book’s wider sense of vision and the compelling themes that it evokes.

In the past few months, Cortes has given readings from Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time throughout the Inland Empire, which he combines with a question and discussion forum with his audience. So far, he’s appeared at events sponsored by the Inlandia Institute, the Inland Empire Latino Artists, the Redlands Library, and at at UCR and at the annual Cesar E. Chavez breakfast in Riverside. He continues to give readings, and will soon be appearing at College of the Desert in Palm Desert and at a book festival scheduled at Barnes and Noble in Riverside this fall.

“It’s important to open up the dialogue on these issues,” Cortes says. “So far, all kinds of people have approached me to say that the book has given them a sense of understanding and familiarity with some of the bi-racial and bi-cultural and other issues of social duality that they struggle with.”

Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time may be purchased at the Heyday Books website or by contacting the Inlandia Institute.


Ruth Nolan is a native of the Mojave Desert and a former California Desert District/Bureau of Land Management helicopter hotshot and engine crew firefighter. She is now Professor of English and creative writing at College of the Desert, and a California desert literature scholar. She is also a widely published poet/writer/photographer focused on writing and lecturing about California desert cultural and conservation issues, and is editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s deserts, published by Heyday Books in 2009. She is a regular columnist contributing desert feature stories online for Heyday Books, and KCET Artbound, Los Angeles and has been a contributing writer to Desert Star Weekly Alternative. Nolan lives in Palm Desert blogs about life in the desert at She can be reached at

Jeff Mays

Pieces of the Ocean Are Floating in the Sky

The sun’s rays heat the top
of the ocean – its waves cresting

and falling, the krill bobbing
and swimming, the seaweed

sleepily drifting

Warmer and warmer it gets as the sun
seems to climb and presto

chango! it poofs into vapor,
causing the thin blue horizon to

shimmer, if you’re looking

The sweating vapor is released like a
balloon striving for the cooler

air to calm and condense it
back to water, tiny droplets that

are magnets of white fluff

Until windtraveled and seeping
with inky blue and grey

these chunks of ocean floating
in the sky finally succumb to gravity

and make their mad, foreseen dash for home

Lunch at Victoria Gardens

a man with a beard black
and grey sat on a bench under

a sheet of shadow and light, his
dark jacket keeping him warm,

his folded card-table legs propping
up an opened book, his disinterested arm

holding up an apple, its orange-red
variegated skin like an ornament

and behind the bench the boxwoods ran
their green around a sycamore which

was all reflected in a storefront window,
the glass glinting silently as a shop-

woman, young and full of possibility,
stooped like a simple calligraphy

rearranging the props and wares, as if
Edward Hopper hadn’t been here

a hundred times before


In addition to being published by the Inlandia Journal, The Pacific Review, and The Sand Canyon Review, Jeff Mays is considering joining an indie rock band to write lyrics for in order to find an audience for his written work.

Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Cattail Fever

Root-bound pot of cattails packed vegetal solid,
black pot cracked, stretched into white plastic
the roots a dense mat, truly hair-vegetable,
Mandarin pun on ‘long life’: ‘can never die’.
           Roots tough as wire slice your bare fingers.
Crack open the pot to release
not roots but shoots prowling around slow inside the pot
           circling, hell-bent on digging in
then rising up, zombies called from their graves,
hunting fresh food, driven to take hold.
           At the edge shoots escape, hang over the side
like cold fingers, rusty ivory, cracked,
weathered like zombie fingers.
You must chop them off.
The host will not stop, will not die.

Once the pot gives way, cattail spears
will invade the entire water garden.
Zombies hanging over the side,
they’re thumping solid against the pot,
no need to rush when pressure is all.

Crouch low in the ditch among cattails.
           They crowd the banks
in ditch water clear like you’ve never seen it.
Snow melt numbs your feet,
your hands are become strangers.
           Cattails are Wal-Mart in a ditch,
strange flour, sweet syrup, Cossack asparagus.
           Over-ripe, even green, boil them and eat up.
Iris rhizomes, those will kill you.

You will die in this green-gold place under the trees
where the light is filtered as through water
so cold you forget how to swim.

Cattails, the Wal-Mart of rushes,
           zombies in a ditch
spreading by pollen slough, by cold white spears.
           To destroy them
cut off the fingers, below the water-line

drown the new sprouts do not let them breathe


Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a retired clinical psychologist in California. For five years, she reviewed restaurants for the Claremont Courier, variously in heroic couplets, anapest, and imitating Hemingway. In an earlier life, she was a German Lit major and read poetry for credit, earning her B.A. from Reed College. She started writing when she was nine. Since 2007, more than 70 poems have appeared in many publications, most recently The Centrifugal Eye, Word Gumbo, Convergence, and dotdotdash. Her first chapbook, Eggs Satori, was a finalist of note in Pudding House Publications’ 2010 chapbook competition. She keeps water gardens.

Deenaz P. Coachbuilder

Desert Rose

Hewn from the granite mountains,
each petal edged in frail white
carved across millennia, you were witness
to the graceful pronghorn as they made their way
through the Piute and San Jacinto mountains.
You mourn the shrinking grasslands,
scarce desert tortoise, forests of Joshua trees,
and sunshine amidst vast silent spaces,
the wild valleys of a vanishing frontier.
You long for a time devoid
of the footprint of mankind,
of telephone poles and fences.

The Last Bird

In the trees, along the lake,
countless water birds
breed in the winter months.
Snow-white egrets resting
beside soot-black cormorants,
the mighty open bill storks lived peaceably
next to the small white ibises,
the purple night herons.
          The common sparrows twittered,
          busily hunting for dry seed
          and nesting twig.

In the autumn, after the rains,
beyond the yellowing grass
gleams the rich dark green
of the lofty sal.
The fiery blossoms of the
flame of the forest disappear.
May-awe screams the peacock,
displaying its splendid feathers,
fanned out before adoring hens.
          Those forgotten sparrows bathed in the dust
          collected beneath overhanging branches.

Mumbai city attracted the screeching parrot
that scolded from the burnished brown
of the gulmohor tree.
Grey pigeons goodo-goed,
awkwardly encircling each other
along dusty ledges of rusted windows.
Crows held a caucus in the evening gloom.
          Sparrows drank off muddy water
          gathering along the dripping eaves.

Then the river waters rushing through
Manac’s spectacular gorge
Sanctuary grasslands that sheltered
the chukor partridge and the sarus crane
                    lay waste.
Leaves of the city’s gulmohors
the garden guavas, house of the green totas
                    stripped, denuded.

And then the birds were gone.

Only the dull sparrows,
unnoticed amidst the dustbins
               a last faint song.

A Scattering of Stars

Supposing that abruptly you learnt
how brief your life was to be, a year
left in this veil of reality,
what would you do?

A woman of consummate morality,
hers is a sunny life, rewards of work,
love of family, the warmth of friends.
She believes that men are intrinsically good.
She knows that for some there is a world
of darkness, but it has not touched her.
Disregarding prayer all her life,
she lives it quietly instead.

Her mind becomes a tumbled jumble
of unfulfilled desires and disbeliefs. What
if it were not true? Could she spend a week
amidst the tangled golden waters of Kerala?
Did she have time to read the holy Vandidads?
Whom should she tell? Seek out a habit of prayer?
Recount stored memories, to leave behind some mark?

She chooses the precious familiar,
a world reflected in her beloved’s smile,
the neighborhood evening walk,
and daily bread.

On an eternal orbit, her life span
is a tiny speck amidst a scattering of stars,
here, and then gone, her tracks slowly fading.


Deenaz P. Coachbuilder has been a resident of Riverside, California, since 1981. She received a Doctorate in Theater Arts from Brigham Young University, an M.S. in Communicative Disorders from Utah State, an M.A. and B.A from Bombay University, India. Deenaz is an educator, artist, poet and environmental advocate. She is a retired school principal, an adjunct professor in Special Education at California State University, San Bernardino, and a consulting Speech Pathologist. She is a Fulbright scholar, and the recipient of several awards, the most recent being President Obama’s 2011 “Volunteer Service Award.” She is a published poet in the U.S. and India, and is currently working on a publication of her poems.

Victoria Waddle




The waiting room of the psychiatric clinic was crowded as teens of varying piercings and tattoos awaited a group anger management session. Sharalyn, sitting quietly next to her husband, Mike, noted which teens sat with a parent, and concentrated on their multiple silences, the ways they ignored one another, waiting to be united against conflict.

Mike was busy with his Blackberry, checking his work email and the score of the Dodger’s spring training game, lamenting aloud the trials of being a fan of losers. If only LA could get a decent owner and be winners again. When this didn’t carry him through the wait for the psychiatrist, he switched to his fantasy baseball league, scratching his graying temple as though some strategy were to be awakened there.

“See, Sharalyn, if you had gotten an iPhone for your birthday, you could be listening to music right now. This guy is 30 minutes late.” He pointed toward the office door—one of four—with the “Dr. Burman” nameplate.

“Maybe he had a psychiatric emergency.” She thought that she probably should have agreed to the iPhone. But ten months ago, she hadn’t been able to admit that she was afraid she couldn’t learn to use it. Then, it had seemed like magic. How quickly the device became commonplace.

For Sharalyn, each new piece of electronic gear quickly floated into rare use, flecks of entitlement, unhealthy additions. She wanted to brush them away, shake off her snow globe existence, create a clear, clean path.

“Mrs. Mitty?” the receptionist looked up. “Doctor will see you now.”

Sharalyn stood. Why do health workers always say “Doctor” like it’s a first name?

Dr. Burman was Indian, maybe. Sharalyn had meet him a month earlier at her first appointment and had wanted to ask about his origins but wondered if he would perceive it as prying. Instead, she focused on herself, going with a few incidents from her youth. The time that her fourth-grade teacher grabbed her and pulled her to his crotch, and she had flung the can of paintbrushes she’d been holding into his face. She’d never told anyone the story, and thought that was the kind of thing the doctor would want to hear if he were to make sense of her.

 But Sharalyn discovered that going to a psychiatrist wasn’t about therapy. It was about getting drugs. So on that first visit, she had walked away with a prescription for Prozac in the hope of lifting her spirits because she did tell Dr. Burman that Mike said she was just too hard to be around—a real downer. Now she was here to report on the drug’s success or failure.

She sat down on the couch across from his weighty desk, scooting toward the edge and clutching the armrest, tracing the pattern of leaves on the navy and emerald upholstery.

“How do you feel?” the good doctor asked.

“I’m okay.”

“Any thoughts to hurt yourself?”

“What? No—no. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“Do you feel the way you would like to feel?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“How would you like to feel?”

“Um. Energetic?”

“Madam.” That made her smile, this form of address, Dr. Burman’s own polite vestige from some other life previously lived. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but there is a worm on the sofa, making its way toward you.”

A worm? Curious. What is a worm doing out of the ground? Here, no less. How can it move on a couch? She edged forward, so that she could turn her head over her shoulder. A chubby little creature, green and fresh as iceberg lettuce, inched along the back cushion to her left. She wouldn’t have called him a worm, but she wasn’t sure whether he was a caterpillar. He had the inching suction—but no soft, furry pelt, certainly not the black caterpillar of her youth. No potential monarch.

A moth? She thought of the green becoming brown, the powder-dust covering that would allow its night flight toward distant stars or death on a burning electric bulb, as chance had it.

Fresh as the pale green was, lucid and wet, the poor little creature was still ugly.

Sharalyn shifted right. “He’s like the very hungry caterpillar,” she motioned at the creature.

“What is the very hungry caterpillar?”

“The children’s story? Everybody reads it to their kids. The caterpillar has an amazing appetite and eats a lot of junk food and gets sick. But then he finds a nice leaf, feels better, and takes to his cocoon. Don’t you know it? My son loved it.”

“ I do not know that story.” Dr. Burman cut in. “How has your sleep been this month?”


“How many hours each night?”


“You have to try to sleep regular hours. Go to bed an hour earlier each night.”

“All right.”

“So, no thoughts to hurt yourself?”


“Are you sure?”


“If you want to increase the medication, we can increase it. If you want to be happy.”

Dr. Burman stood up, and for a second Sharalyn was confused, thinking she was being dismissed.

“Madam,” he came around the desk and stepped toward her, leaning down. “The worm.”

Just as she turned to observe its progress, the caterpillar leapt—yes leapt, as though to prove that flight was his creature purpose—to her shoulder. She sprung from the couch and yelped, banging her shin on the ebony end table and knocking over the mica-shaded lamp. The caterpillar, having missed his target, plopped onto the seat cushion.

Dr. Burman grabbed the cushion and carried it, hot-potato style, out of the office, while Sharalyn set the lamp right, thankful its translucent mineral cover hadn’t broken. She heard the outer door click shut and wondered about whether this had drawn Mike’s attention. When Dr. Burman returned, she peeked out at Mike, who looked up with a shrug and a “What was that about?” raised eyebrow and then went back to the Blackberry.

“Is that your husband with you?”

“You mean the guy with the crackberry?”

“I do not know what a crackberry is.”

“Sorry—it’s just a bad joke. Yes, that’s my husband.”

When they left the office and headed back to the hybrid Escape, Mike sat in the passenger’s seat. “What else do you have to do?” he asked.

“Grocery store. We need to drop off your dry cleaning. Just errands.”

“Can you take me home before you go?”

“I guess. Don’t you want to pick out some treats for yourself?”

“You can do it—I’ll eat whatever,” Mike said.

“Hey—if you’re bored, why don’t you make a quick visit to your Grandpa Walt? It’s only five miles from the clinic, and I’m sure he’d love the company.”

“I can’t take the smell of that old folks’ place.”

“But he’s probably pretty lonely,” Sharalyn said.

“He doesn’t know who I am anymore. Hate to say it, but he’d be better off kicking the bucket, six months to the century marker or not. Nope, Sharalyn. I’m not going to listen to him hocking up and swallowing loogees. Just drop me off.”

When Sharalyn pulled into the concrete driveway, and Mike opened his door, the familiar tones of a car alarm greeted them. We-woo, we-woo, beep, beep, beep, beep, whaaa, whaaa.

“That’s weird,” Sharalyn said. “That sounds like a voice.”

“It’s that damned mockingbird you were so happy to see the other day. That’s all it knows how to sing. So much for the good luck of a pair nesting in our yard. I guess we’re gonna be listening to that all spring.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’ll learn something else. A mockingbird can be anything, you know.”

“The term ‘birdbrain’ didn’t come from nowhere. Don’t hold your breath.” Mike swung the car door shut and jogged toward the house while pulling his keys from his pocket.

The dry cleaner was in the same strip mall as the grocery store. Sharalyn picked up the week’s groceries, thinking that Mike would like some chips and crackers for watching the week’s many baseball games. On a whim, she grabbed three packages of dough, cylinders that could be popped open to make crescent rolls, cinnamon buns, and biscuits. At one time, she had liked to make bread because when she kneaded the dough, it pushed back, swallowing her fingers with a life of its own. Now, it just felt like a lot of work.

Pushing her cart back to the car, Sharalyn passed a nail salon. She had been born just a bit before weekly manicures had become necessities rather than self-indulgence. But she thought of Dr. Burman’s question “Would you like to happy?” and considered that, yes, maybe she would, and maybe a mani–pedi was a start, so she hauled the groceries into the rear of the little SUV and walked back toward the streaked plate-glass storefront that exclaimed, “Walk-ins welcome!”

As she entered, four Vietnamese women looked up at her, two from stools where they were applying acrylic nails, their mouths and noses covered with surgical masks. Sharalyn wrinkled her own nose at the acetone smell of the place. The two customers were big-boned and white, all the working women pretty and petite. Perhaps a family business, Sharalyn thought, as two of the women appeared to be in their twenties while the others looked to be a generation older, Sharalyn’s contemporaries. Moms and daughters? The younger woman with the UC Berkeley sweatshirt gave a quick smile before turning back to wash the pedicure basin she was leaning over. Sharalyn started to tell her that her glossy, long hair was so pretty. After all, an easy compliment like that doesn’t cost a thing. Before she caught the girl’s attention, one of the older women walked to the front counter and spoke.

“What you like?” she asked Sharalyn.

“I’m here for a manicure and pedicure, please.”

“You want wax, too?”

Sharalyn stepped back into anxiety. “Middle age,” she laughed in a way that she hoped wouldn’t sound offensive. “I don’t need a perfect bikini line. These days my motto is duck and cover, you know?”

The woman pointed at Sharalyn’s lip and spoke slowly. “You like that fixed?”

“Oh. Well, no—I didn’t think I looked like Frida Kahlo.”

“What you say?”

“Oh, nothing. Just a bad joke.”

The woman smiled. “Only nine dollar. Looks good.”

“Well, okay. Why not? I’m here, right?”

“That’s right.”

Sharalyn imagined a dark room with “the sounds of nature” music, but she was escorted to the chair over the basin that had just been cleaned, and sat under a bright light, as though she had come to the dentist. The woman applied the hot wax strip there, in front of the other customers. “You wait,” she said.

Voices clicked around her, in tones she couldn’t comprehend. Sharalyn focused on the little boy who walked in with his mother. “Sit there,” the mother pointed to a white molded plastic chair near the door before grabbing a bottle of polish from a rack and making her way to the pedicure station with vibrating back massage. She hit the button and closed her eyes, her arms draped over the armrests, so slack that the bottle of polish seemed poised to slip to the floor.

If Sharalyn didn’t keep her eyes on the boy, she knew she’d spend the next minutes, stomach clenching, willing the polish not to fall.

The boy, his eyes electric with awareness, couldn’t have been more than five.

He could grow to be anything, the voice in Sharalyn’s head, her own voice, said before her mother’s voice took over. Then Sharalyn heard the woman who, even before she’d died, was so fused with God that she would have put a nun to shame, was shaming Sharalyn now. Because Sharalyn knew what intrigued the boy, knew what he was going to do, and certainly knew her mother would stop it if she were here and alive. Not for the first time, Sharalyn devotedly wished to be an atheist, someone who could experience moments of solitude when no god or saint watched her every move. A believer never walked alone, true, but she never had privacy either.

Shame or not, a story was going to spin out, and Sharalyn needed to know how it would end.

In the front corner of the shop, hidden from the working women by the intervening reception counter with its cash register, was a low shrine with a gold-leaf Buddha meditating in front of a carved wooden altar. He was not the happy, hefty fellow Sharalyn remembered from the neighbor’s garden of her childhood. He was the silent one, the one so heated with longing that snails took pity and cooled his head, their hundred shells tightly packed over his naked scalp. Now luminous under the warmth of the ceiling spotlight that doubled as his halo, he drowsed, unaware of the long-clawed fingers in the framed posters over his head, multi-colored acrylic nails reaching toward him, a moment from snatching him in their rainbow clutch.

In front of the altar was a raised cake plate full of fake fruit—some golden-red apples, a banana—and real donuts. The donuts were dusty, and Sharalyn’s conscience was uneasy on that account.

Sharalyn thought of the signs she’d seen on walking trails, a triangle of arrows anchored in each corner by a figure. One arrow shows that the walker must yield to the horseman, but the other two arrows show that the bicyclist must yield to them both. Who should yield here? The disembodied hand, the Buddha, or the boy? Add the ancestors in whose memory the altar was placed here, and directional arrows became useless. Sharalyn’s mother’s voice was silenced for once, now, when a mental traffic cop was needed.

The boy slithered from his seat and undulated as he moved, a silent, stealth natural. He cupped a cake donut, was a magician in making invisible the chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles until the circle hung from his mouth. The ancestors whose shrine this was and who hadn’t cared enough for the food to eat it themselves made no move on him.

The boy didn’t like the donut any better than they had. He bent from the waist, gagging, a dark glob slowly sliding from his wide mouth. As it hit the floor, he followed with a hard retch, a thin stream of vomit, and wailing.

The cries woke his mother from her mechanical massage trance, and she jumped up, dropping the nail polish, which broke on the floor. She ran to the boy and pulled the remains of the donut from his hand, throwing it back on the cake plate. The woman who had applied Sharalyn’s wax mustache followed her.

“This boy a brat. Look this mess. Who clean this up?”

“You make my son sick to his stomach with rotten food that you leave laying around when you know that any kid is going to want a donut? And you want to blame me? What is wrong with you people?” the woman screamed to be heard over the pitch of her son’s wailing.

“You teach him. What wrong with you?”

“Listen, bitch, you’re lucky I don’t sue you. I’m going to call the . . . .”

Apparently, the woman wasn’t sure who she was going to call. The police? Sharalyn was embarrassed by her fumbling for words and was about to suggest that she was thinking of the Better Business Bureau, but in a karate kick worthy of a Jackie Chan movie, the mother knocked the cake plate into the counter, cracking an inch from the corner of the plate glass but splintering the platter, and just missing the Buddha and his altar. She then flung herself toward the door, holding the boy, who was still wailing, by the hand.

Sharalyn didn’t think the boy was a brat, only curious, as boys should be.

Meanwhile, the manicure customers paid and slipped away. The proprietor brought a mop and rolling pail out of the back room, all the while letting fly what Sharalyn thought must be curses in Vietnamese.

Ten minutes had passed since the proprietor had waxed Sharalyn’s lip, but she remained silent until the woman remembered her and tore the strip away, causing her to yelp for the second time that day.

“You have soft skin.”

“Thank you.”

“No—it bleed. Here, you hold this.” The woman handed a gauze pad to Sharalyn and pointed to her lip. Sharalyn pressed it to her face.

While she was having her manicure, Sharalyn held the gauze pad by turns in her idle hand. By the time she had her pedicure, the pinpoints of blood had dried.

“You like flower?”

“Of course. I love flowers. I had some gladiola bulbs on the east side of my house that came up for ten years, and I never—”

“You want? Five dollar each, okay?”

Sharalyn did not want, thought she was too old for that look, but thought, too, of the boy and of his terrible mother, her own need to fix it, and said, “Um, okay.”

The woman quickly painted a flower on each of Sharalyn’s big toes.

Back on the road and waiting at a nearby traffic light, Sharalyn set her elbow on the armrest, her chin in the palm of her hand. “The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,” she thought to sing, but didn’t. An old oak was growing too close to the street and made an easy specimen for examination. It was burnt hollow through its trunk, but layered branches arched outward, tiny green-gray leaves sprouting skyward.

“I thought only redwoods could do that,” she spoke, still facing the window. She heard a crack and a sharp pain popped the right side of her head. She reached up to finger the spot and came away with a bloody hand.

“Shit.” Drive-by shooting? “Oh, my God. Oh no.” Though Sharalyn felt blood in rivulets down her neck, she was not losing consciousness. She even thought to put her car in park and turn on her emergency flashers. The bullet only grazed me, she thought and reached for her cell phone to dial 911. Cars pulled around her, but no one stopped.

The fire department paramedics arrived first and then an ambulance. “Are you okay?” a young man in uniform asked. He was tall, dark, and handsome, with the obligatory mustache. Sharalyn had wits enough to notice he could have been the calendar fireman of the month.

“Someone shot me, but luckily it just grazed the side of my head.”

“Ma’am, if someone had shot you, your window would be broken.”

Sharalyn hadn’t thought of that.

“But you’re bleeding pretty good here on the right side of your head. Did you hit it on something?”

“No. Really. I promise.” The ambulance attendants stood by while, with the help of his partner, the paramedic sat Sharalyn on a pop-up gurney.

After bandaging the wound, the man told Sharalyn to lie back on the stretcher and they’d get her into the ambulance. “I need my purse, please,” she said, and he leaned over to pull the heavy black hobo sack from the passenger seat.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “What’s this?” He showed Sharalyn a metal disk, just bigger than a silver dollar, with a splatter of blood. “This is your culprit.” He looked over to the back seat and pulled up the rest of the dough cylinder, now popped open and grown over the end of the tube, like that wicked Blob of B-movie fame.

“Are you telling me that I’ve damn near been done in by the Pillsbury Doughboy?” Sharalyn sat back up.

“Yeah, it kinda looks that way.”

“I’ve had it. I’ve had it today. That’s an urban legend. That’s not real. That can’t be my life.” No whining, she thought and added, “If that’s all it is, maybe I can just drive home?”

The ambulance driver looked over, along with his attendant, at the paramedics. They all joined in the laughter. “This is one for the books,” the driver said, then turned back to Sharalyn.

“No can do,” said the paramedic. “Sorry, but doughboy or not, that’s a pretty good cut, like I said. You might get a bit too dizzy to drive yourself. Plus, your lip’s bruised. Maybe you’re gonna get a black eye. It sounds weird, but stuff like that can happen from a hard hit.”

“Ah—no.” Sharalyn touched under her nose to feel the tenderness. “The lip is from something else.”

“We’ll park your car over to the side of the road. Do you have someone who can come to the hospital and pick you up?”


Sharalyn waited until she had gotten five stitches in the center of a shaven spot on her head, was bandaged, and filled her prescription for Tylenol with codeine before calling Mike. When he didn’t answer, she tried his cell. When he didn’t answer there, she left a message telling him that the car was on the corner of Brookhaven and Oak Drive, and that she was taking a taxi home.

“I’m having a crappy day, and the least you could do is answer the phone.” Sharalyn longed for the era of receivers, hefty realities to be slammed down. “Hanging up” now was just an imperceptible touch of a button, soundless.


Sharalyn found Mike in front of the TV with his Bose earphones on. In the kitchen behind him, she pulled a leftover low-carb chicken breast lettuce wrap from the fridge, and filled a glass with water from the door. She got the Tylenol from her purse and sat down next to her husband. She pulled the left earmuff away from his ear. “Is this the Lakers?” she asked.

“It is.”

“Those shorts look pretty short. Is that Magic Johnson?”


“What is this?”

“The 1988 championship game.”

“Why do you want to watch that?”

“Nothing else on.”

“Well, it’s not like you don’t know the outcome.”

“It’s still a good game. And we won.”

“We?” Sharalyn said.

“Did you forget your medication today?”

“No,” she lied. She had forgotten to take the Prozac, but she knew it wouldn’t have stopped working in one day—well, two days, since she’d forgotten the day before as well. It didn’t matter.

“Did you talk to the doctor about the dose?”

“Knock it off—you are the one who is being a pain in the ass here.”

Mike turned to look at her. “What the hell happened to you?”

She stifled the desire to cry, to admit openly her fear that all her relationships were transactional, that she was desperate for the sense of the unconditional that she had lost.

“Long story,” she said instead, handing him the Tylenol. “It’s no big deal, but we have to get the car. Listen to the message on the answering machine.”

She walked back into the kitchen and stuffed her lettuce wrap down the garbage disposal. “I’m going outside to check for stars.”

“It’s cold. Why don’t you take some of that codeine and hit the sack. You’ll feel better. You look awful, I swear to God, I wouldn’t lie to you. You’d better take care of yourself.” Mike had gotten up and was heading toward the phone.

“I feel awful. But I was wondering where Van Gogh got the idea to paint his starry night. Maybe I’ll take a painting class down at the rec center.”

“I hope you won’t be too disappointed if that doesn’t make you a Van Gogh.”

“I’ve already given up on being Frida Kahlo.” Sharalyn touched her lip.


“Nothing, just a bad joke.” Sharalyn went to her room and fumbled through her bottom dresser drawer for her fleece hoodie. She stopped to outline one of the cowboys on the boy’s pajamas, an unworn pair she had kept all these years. The boy had refused to wear them because, he said, no one wears cowboys anymore. She knew even then that they had been a funny thing to keep, without a scent or a memory. But they reminded her of what he’d been. Not a brat, just someone who could say what he’d wanted.

He could have been anything. And then he was nothing. Sharalyn learned that she could not work her will on the world, that the world was having none of it.

Sharalyn opened the front door and stepped into the cool breeze. There were few stars visible, but they were out there.

Taking another step into the night, she felt a strand pull across her face. She tried to grasp it, but she couldn’t quite manage. Whether it was a thread blown from some intricately designed spider web or just her own hair blown out of place was impossible to tell.

When she was no bigger than the boy in the salon, no bigger than the boy who refused to wear cowboy pajamas, her family had visited her grandfather, who, in his summer cabin in the Pennsylvania Blue Mountains, spent most of the time drunk on the porch. She thought of the spider webs there, which decorated every corner, top and bottom.

That was the first time she’d met Grandpap, but she immediately fell in love when he’d shown her how to shoot watermelon seeds into an empty pie tin. “Come here,” he motioned to her as she looked for bunnies under the rotting foundation. He had a can of mixed nuts in one hand. He picked out a large nut. “I want to teach you a song.”

She moved into the circle of his outstretched arm, and it closed on her.

“Crooked teeth and crooked nose, that’s the way the n—-r grows,” he bellowed.

Grandpap had laughed and spit tobacco juice into a beer bottle. Sharalyn ran inside to repeat the song for her mother, who narrowed her eyes and said nothing. For a moment, Sharalyn thought her mother was going to spit on her, spitting being something the family seemed to do with accuracy. But her mother decided to ignore her throughout the evening and wouldn’t kiss her goodnight.

But I could’ve been anything, Sharalyn thought.

As awful as the old bigot was, he had sober moments during that vacation. In one, he taught her how to cup her hand into a bowl for water, clamp her other hand over it as a lid and then blow into the opening between her bent thumbs, making a trilling noise. “Bird whistle,” he’d said, and she’d left the bunnies to their underground hideout in order to captivate the jays in the trees.


Sharalyn stepped into the little gravel path through the drought-resistant xeriscape of her front yard, for which she’d given up her gladiolas last year. Bending to the faucet, she turned the spigot, and water and air blasted in alternative bursts, making sounds like quacking ducks. At the sound, the mockingbird, which was hiding in the old crape myrtle on the side of the house, took flight, landing across the street atop the Jetson’s-styled shrub next to the neighbor’s door.

Cupping the icy water as her grandpap had taught her, Sharalyn blew. When she took a breath, she accidentally sucked back the water. Gagging, she pulled away to see tiny red dots of blood on her upper thumb. She held the cupped hand of water to her lips to wash the blood, then spilled it onto the saguaro cactus, and tried the faucet again. She held her hands to her lips and turned outward toward the street, a Pied Piper in her white glowing bandage with the crimson blot soaking through, her red and blue swollen lip, her jewel-toned peasant top and cropped purple pants. She sent out a call for all winged creatures to join her in her march, and the mockingbird echoed her quavering warble.



Victoria Waddle is an unapologetic reader, a closet writer, and a lover of all things literary. She is also a high school librarian in the Inland Empire and writes teen book reviews for her Colony Library Lady blog at

Anita Harmon

Between the rocks at Joshua Tree

For some reason I think of Egypt.
The wind there, they say, is the
sound the dead make, as they flow
between the stone hills, out
of the Sahara. Pharaohs, scribes
farmers, the diggers of wells
tall fathers shouting across fields
mothers singing.

This voice then, the only familiar
whistles itself up, then dies away.
The buzz of a fly, bore of a plane
cry of a bird. Silence is always

The dead trail behind each one of us.
They have followed me here, stacked
high in the strata of rock, gusted in piles
of boulders, whispering in the pinion.

They could have no voice without
these impediments. Like wind
the dead must have their instruments
to claim our attention – their right
to haunt our movement
to quiet places.

Humming Bird

Loneliness has
no antonym
worth a damn, unless
you count
being with other

people: little bright
iridescent birds,
very bold, immensely fast
needle the jasmine

the sky hurries
past with you gone

these delights

Two Haiku

A pine cone rat-tats
on the Buddha-hall roof
– delivers the moment

A Stellar’s Jay
rasps the winter evening
smooth and quiet


Anita Harmon retired to the desert from London six years ago. She lived in London for 60 years so it was a bit of a shock! In her working life she was an actress, a psychologist and a Business consultant. Now she works on memoir in various forms, as well as poetry. She has studied and practiced Zen Buddhism for twenty years.

Caroline Mays


          Except for black rubber skid marks on the floors, the terminal was all white and sanitized; its huge walls reminded one young woman of very square, carefully-brushed teeth. It had high ceilings with long fluorescent bulbs and sunlight shining through the glass panels looming at the front of the building. On the second floor, several security personnel manned two arches and x-ray machines. Twenty people waited their turn to go through security. The young woman at the front of the line, Brier, walked through the archway. She set the alarm off.

          “Please empty everything from your pockets, miss.”

          “Yes, I did. Oh wait, maybe it’s my earrings,” Brier unhitched the studs from her ears and walked back through the plastic doorway.

          It buzzed again.

          “Step over here, please, Miss.”

          “I’m so sorry,” Brier said, as she jammed her feet into her ballet flats, hurriedly smushing the backs down. She was meeting her boyfriend in Chicago while she worked on a movie set; then they’d both fly back to their respective universities.

          Grabbing a container with the contents of her pockets, she dumped it in her purse. Coins and lip balm fell in between business cards, a skull wallet, pens, and Altoids. She’d had to throw out her pepper spray. A security guard asked her to spread her arms and legs like an X. Brier set the purse by a wall and held up her arms, flushing as he outlined her rigid body with a black metal wand. Though she considered herself to be of average height and weight, she wore button-up, size 3 jeans paired with her favorite size-small band t-shirt. Her hair looked like curled chocolate shavings.

          Brier watched the guard screening her, narrowing her eyes on his very even teeth. She winced slightly when the wand beeped and flashed a red light twice. The guard went back over the warning areas, and again the wand beeped.

          “Are you wearing an under-wire bra?” he asked, studying her chest.

          She raised her chin, “Yes.”

          He said that he thought her pants buttons and under-wire were what was showing up, but they’d have to check. Just a moment. Brier reached for her purse and dug out a necklace. Slipping it over her head, she listened to the muffled click clack as she ran a charm up and down its chain.

          The guard flicked his fingers in the air and called over another security guard, a thick woman with a tight blonde ponytail. He introduced her as Valerie, and said that since metals on her person were picked up by both the archway and the wand, she’d need to be physically screened. Brier felt strange; her stomach made itself into a fist.

          “Physically… screened?” She asked, beginning to roll the dinosaur charm in between her thumb and index finger.

          He explained that it’s a standard procedure, probably nothing, of course, but they had to check — airport policy. “Valerie will take you into a private room and you can keep your clothes on; she’ll use the back of her hand to screen you for weapons or dangerous materials.”

          No. The idea was out of the question. “Yeah, sorry,” she told them, rubbing her pinky knuckle. “I’m not doing that.”

          Four years ago, Brier had gone to the dentist for x-rays and an estimate. Before she had even opened her mouth, he said that he’d get her braces if she was his child.

          A few weeks later, she was again reclining in the big chair with blue plastic upholstery, waiting for the dentist and hygienist to return. They were going to extract one of her teeth before gluing on brackets the brackets.

          The dentist walked in and greeted her. He began fiddling with a syringe on the tray near Brier’s head.

          “That’s a cool picture,” she pointed to a drawing on the wall. It was a cross-hatch drawing, something she’d learned to do in her ninth-grade art class.

          “Isn’t she beautiful?” he said of the drawing. “I love women. They’re all beautiful.”

          Brier raised an eyebrow.

          The dentist apologized if it hurt as he injected the anesthesia into her cheek. He said the hygienist was with Mrs. Coleman in chair five, and she’d be back in ten minutes to help him extract Brier’s tooth. Then he took off a glove and felt Brier’s jaw, saying that at least her bite was correct. She tried to keep her tongue in place while he poked around, but felt distracted and a little drowsy. Then his un-gloved hand brushed her neck and meandered down to her hip. Brier gasped. His fingers played with the hem of her shirt. She clutched the armrests, trying to push herself up. Instead of an adrenaline rush, she only felt sleepier.

          “I know the first time is scary and uncomfortable, but you won’t feel anything once the anesthetic sets in. Don’t worry. You’ll be asleep in a second, or almost asleep. Now open up wide.”

          Brier had to fight. She had to stop him. She tried to scream and bite his fingers, but he pushed his large hand into the back of her mouth, gagging her and holding her head firmly against the headrest. The tips of his fingers gently edged under her top. Brier’s eyes fluttered. She flung her legs up at his head and pawed at his hands. She panicked as the clear lines of the cabinets and blinds melted into each other. She aimed a wild punch at his face, but her hand only fell back in pain.

          Please, don’t. Please, stop. Her body relaxed against her will. Expecting the mercy of unconsciousness, her eyes drooped shut. She tried to calm her chaotic mind, tried to enable the anesthetic. If she was asleep, she wouldn’t feel him and her mind would be spared part of the memory. A hand ran softly over her hip. Please, I’m not asleep yet. Please wait till I’m asleep. She could feel her clothes getting tugged off.

          “Hm,” she heard him. “Besides that bicuspid that needs to go, these aren’t in bad shape.”

          She had to stop it, she had to save herself, but she couldn’t move and she realized that she couldn’t even sleep. Still, she had to jump out of the chair, she had to push him away and open the door and run down the stairs and out of the office and across the sidewalk and past JFK Street and Gilmore. She had to move; if only she could move a finger, just one finger.

          Something pushed in. A soft heaviness pressed her into the chair, and she knew she wasn’t dreaming. Oh my God, stop! I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin. I’m not a virgin.

          He was warm like a fever. Crushing pressure on pelvis and stomach and chest and face — he was all over her and she couldn’t breathe.

          She didn’t believe it. She had just been studying Algebra at the table an hour ago. She hated him. She had to bite his fucking lips off; she had to scream and cry and rip out his hair and stab him with needles and dental tools and kick him in the head over and over and over and over until the blood splattered and his teeth were gone and he was as still as she was, only dead.

          Something tingled. Get him off me! I don’t want this. I don’t want it even… I… it.. why is that… She felt a burning. Her own heat. No, I don’t want to… please stop. This was a part of herself she didn’t know about, a darker part. It shocked her. She hated that she betrayed herself. She was so ashamed that she thought maybe she had deserved this. She wanted to die. She wouldn’t be able to feel him if she died; she wouldn’t hate herself if she died. It would all stop if she died.

          Still rubbing her knuckle, she tapped her toes on the airport floor in an attempt to ground herself. I am at the airport. I am here.

          “All right,” the guard said. “Then you’ll have to go back to the waiting area. I’m afraid we can’t let you on the plane with unidentified metals on your person.”

          Shit. Shitshitshit. If she skipped the plane, she’d miss the call. She had ten lines! Ten! She thought of all the auditions she went to; she would have to do another twenty-eight, if not more, to get a part again.

          But she could never get it again. In this movie, she was set to play one of Laura Dern’s students. Laura Dern had been her all-time favorite actress since she saw Jurassic Park when she was eight. This was her dream job. It would springboard her into the acting world. She twiddled her necklace as she glanced at the other people going through security.

          “But didn’t you say it’s just my under-wire and buttons?” She bit the inside of her cheek. She wasn’t a dangerous person; she tried to cajole the guards into letting her through. They insisted that the screening was a strict security policy.

          “I…. er..” She said, squirming. “I have… I really can’t do that.” She couldn’t tell them, she still couldn’t tell anyone. It wouldn’t make a difference anyway. She tried to take a deep breath. It was just another one of the coping methods her old psychologist had recommended. She had also pushed Brier to talk about what happened, but if she had, the psychologist would have be able to analyze Brier and know what she was thinking — giving her the upper hand, like the dentist. Nobody will ever have that much power over me.

          Six days after the dentist, Brier sat on the living room ottoman, her right hand in an ace bandage. Her parents on the couch, grading biology papers and scrapbooking. Brier stared at them for a long time. She had only told them that she banged her hand into a wall, nothing more.

          She shut her eyes and set her jaw forward; she was about to torture their imaginations, slashing up their brains with words like scissors, and chopping out every other thought.

          “Mom,” Brier had to tell them.

          “Yep,” she continued to flip through a set of last year’s vacation photos. Brier’s father circled a paragraph on an essay’s third page.

          “When I was getting my tooth pulled… um…” Brier started, and stopped, and talked her way around it several times. Finally, she managed to say she wasn’t going to the next dentist appointment.

          “Uh, yes, you are,” her mother raised her chin and squinted at a group picnic photo.

          “There’s a fee for canceling on less than 48 hours notice,” her father informed her, dropping the essay on the stack of stapled pages next to his knee.

          “I’m not going back,” Brier said. “Ever. At the dentist’s, on Tuesday…” Her throat hurt, and she stuttered, as if her own body was working against her again, trying to keep her from saying it. “Something happened. He…” She strained, clenching the ottoman. She dug her nails far into its upholstery, squeezing the stuffing out along with the words she was going to have to pronounce. “He…” She stared at the beige carpet and concentrated on shoving out the next two syllables. “Touched me.”

          “What?” They both said. Her father clenched someone’s term paper in his fist, deeply creasing it. “Who’s he? What did he do?”

          “Nothing,” Brier cried on impulse. Everything.

          “What’s ‘nothing’? Who’s ‘he’?”

          “The dentist… he…. he,” Brier felt like she should be screaming.

          “Touched me,” she repeated, hoping they would understand because she felt unable to expand on it.

          “What happened?” Her father yelled, still holding the crinkled pages in his hand.

          Brier torqued a wrist out on the upholstery.

          Her mother raised her voice. “He didn’t touch you,” she sounded frightened. “Anywhere… private, did he?”

          One sentence had been hard enough, and they couldn’t even believe that he touched her anywhere private. She couldn’t explain that he’d stroked, rubbed, and kissed her everywhere private.

          Her mother stood up, “Brier, I… I should have sat with you. It wouldn’t have happened… Why didn’t I even check on you?” She walked over and knelt down, hugging Brier close. Brier couldn’t move. She felt the skin of her mother’s arms locked tightly around her, pinning her own limbs down. Their shoulders touched. Their knees bumped. She squirmed against her. He’s on me again, maybe he’s on me again. Stop. Stop! “Let go!” She said, pushing her mother away. She slid off the ottoman and away, hyperventilating. Her head throbbed. She needed the air and space around her. She needed to see everything in the room.

          “Baby…,” Her mother’s eyes and mouth were wide open.

          Brier backed against an old chair. Its rough cover rubbed against the back of her legs. She didn’t want it to happen again in their minds. She didn’t like that if she told them, they could see it for themselves whenever they wanted. She hated the thought of them imagining her rape behind her back, without her permission. They would make it their business, they’d think of her differently. She would forever be the damaged daughter, the one with a past.

          “Did he rape you?” Her father yelled, crumpling the essay even more. “Answer me!”

          Brier’s hands shook. If she told them, she could never pretend it didn’t happen. And she couldn’t ever see or control exactly how they imagined it.

          Now, Brier wanted to say no, of course not. Nothing like that. She pressed her lips together, struggling against her body to keep the lies in. “No,” she rubbed her nose with the wrist of her bandaged hand, glancing at the arrangement of carnations on the wooden side table. But she wouldn’t go back. She wouldn’t ever go back. “Yes.”

          They stared at her. “Bri-” her mother said. She covered her mouth with her hand, turning Brier’s name into a horrible sound. A horrible shame. Her mother shut her eyes. Brier’s father pushed his glasses up on his head and went to her mother.

          There, Brier cringed; she knew they were picturing her splayed out under someone, limp and naked, or maybe she was writhing and screaming in their minds.


          “Oh, sorry,” Brier said, beginning to breathe faster. “Um.. could I just change into something from my bag? Something without metal? Something–”

          “Ma’am, I’m sorry,” Valerie interrupted. “You don’t have to comply with the screening, of course, but we cannot let you on the plane if you don’t. Even if you switch clothes.”

          Brier remembered a small souvenir shop in the other half of the terminal, by a McDonald’s. She hurriedly suggested that she take the tram over there, buy some other clothes, and come back for the screening.

          Valerie looked doubtful.

          “AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 166 — DEPARTURE IN 30 MINUTES,” announced a loudspeaker.

          Brier froze. Oh God.

          “Ma’am, if that’s your flight, I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. Do you want to do the physical screening?”

          Brier breathed in sharply. No. She tightened her grip on the bags. Think. Be rational. Maybe she should go. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. She could move and see what was going on. She could just leave anytime, right? And she would be clothed. But Valerie would actually touch Brier’s chest and crotch. No.

          She really needed to get on that plane. She knew Kale would want her to do it. They had an agreement that someday she would touch people. That someday they could touch.

          She wanted to run out of the airport, to blow Kale off. But how could she? He was her best friend. He never called her a freak, like her past boyfriends had. He never hurt her. He understood her, and when he didn’t, he tried to.

          A year and a half ago, Brier walked out of the dressing room with the rest of the cast, her duffel on her shoulder. Families and friends kissed and embraced their performers in congratulations. Brier found Kale and halted in front of him. “Hey,” she said, looking at the ground and the space between their sneakers, unsure of how he’d react. She’d had a kissing scene with Darien, the male lead.

          “Hey. Good job.”


          Darien walked up behind them and slapped Brier on the back. “Hey, great job, Desdie. You really broke that leg.”

          “It looked more like she broke your lips,” Kale said.

          “Oh, yeah,” Darien winked at him. “Kale, right? Lucky guy.”

          “That’s right,” Kale pointed at his chest. “Because-”

          “Kale,” Brier interrupted, but he talked over her.

          “-when there’s a script nearby, she’ll let you suck her face all night long, but I, I don’t even know wh-”

          “Kale, stop,” she thought she was going to cry. She pulled on his hand, turning him away from Darien. “Kale.”

          She dragged him over to a wall and tried to explain again that she’s not herself on stage. She’s a villager, she’s the Girl in the Red Dress, she’s Waitress #3, she’s Mrs. Shaw, she’s Mushu, she’s Annie Oakley. And when I kiss him, I’m not Brier-the-girl-who-got-raped. I’m Desdemona-the-wife-of-Othello.

          They stood off from the crowd, by the rough, brown brick wall. She tried to explain that on stage, she was always in control. If she wanted to stop kissing, she stopped. No questions asked. Nobody was mad. Nobody was hurt. Nobody thought something was wrong with her. Nobody called her a freak. She could kiss if she wanted to, how she wanted to, for as long as she wanted to. She was in complete control.

          He stared straight into her eyes. “You mean, you think I’d make you kiss me if you didn’t want to? You think I’d do that?”

          “No,” she looked at chalk marks on the floor. But it’s different because it’s real. The blue-chalk S in “Seniors” twisted around their feet. She couldn’t explain it to him any better than she already had.

          He stepped in and leaned down, breathing close to her face. They were standing in the same S-loop. Her heart fluttered about. No, no, no, this is why I only do it on stage. She felt sick, and yet she wanted to prove that she trusted him. Just a little. Just a little touch. She lowered her eyelids, lifted her trembling chin, and touched her lips to his. I’m touching him, he’s not touching me. I can run if I need to.

          She started breathing too fast. I need to.  She stepped away and began running towards the double doors. I could’ve stopped it on stage. Her head throbbed once for every step she took, but she kept running through the doors, across the concrete, into the parking lot. She skidded up to her car and fiddled with the keys. She opened it, slid onto the seat, and slammed the door. Leaning her forehead against the steering wheel, she wiped her eyes. She’d felt him again, she’d felt the dentist’s flesh on her mouth. She groped for the handle and swung open the door. Leaning over, her she threw up on the asphalt. Vomit and phlegm dripped from her mouth. It wasn’t the dentist it was Kale but still he touched me. He touched me, and I let him. She gasped for air and brushed her hair away before her stomach contracted again.

          They discussed this afterwards, and made an agreement that someday they could touch. It made sense; if they ever decided to get married, of course she’d have to be okay with touching him. Still, she dreaded the process.

          Kale encouraged anything that would help her recover, like movies with hospital scenes and sets with big, close crowds. Sometimes they even practiced a little. She would let him rest his hand on her shoulder for a little while at a time, but only when she was standing up and staring at him — comparing every one of his features to how it was not like the dentist’s. She hoped she’d eventually be comfortable with it.

          She thought they made some progress — they held hands if he asked permission first. She even kind of liked that. They were touching, but she could easily pull away if she needed to. Also, the dentist never bothered with her hands.

          Although Kale knew it would be a long time until she was comfortable with him, Brier thought he got impatient sometimes, especially around spring and fall — play season. He went to all of her plays, even though she sometimes tried to convince him out of it. She knew it killed him to watch her make out with the actors, but he kind of tried to convince himself that it might help.

          She fiddled with her dinosaur necklace. What was she thinking, she’d be getting touched again. Of course it would be bad. But, what was she thinking? She already knew that waiting for the next plane was not an option, and even the nearest airport was too far away to drive to. What would Kale say when she missed her first small role because she refused to be searched by a security guard? What if he broke up with her? If she’d give up an acting break before she’d be touched, he might think that she’d give him up before being touched. He would think that. He might be right. She shut her eyes. He would be right. I’m not letting that happen.

          “Okay,” she said quietly, staring at the creases in the front of Valerie’s light blue pants. The other security guard left. Brier stood up very straight and followed Valerie into the back of the terminal. She took a deep breath in an attempt to stave off the hyperventilation overtaking her. She tried to pretend everything was all right, but soon failed. Drumming her temple, she stared at Valerie’s heels and frantically ran over all the causes for the screening and every way out of it and all the reasons why they wouldn’t work. Metals, under-wire, buttons, change clothes, new clothes, another airport– no time.

          She saw a straight row of white doors with metal lever handles. Her head started to hurt. Valerie pulled a gold key from a string around her waist. She stuck her hip up near the handle and unlocked the door.

          Brier walked inside the small, grim, grayish room; it had a darker gray carpet that was snagged near the door. Two dull blue plastic chairs sat near each other. They had round, metal legs, and no arm-rests.

          Brier lowered herself into the chair, knees clenched together. She set her bags by her feet; it was so brightly lit in there that it looked like an operating room. She shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths. She needed to get to Chicago. She needed to act. She needed to prove to Kale that she could recover. She knew she couldn’t ask him to exist like this forever; she needed his love. She tried to fold her hands in her lap, but her fingers shook against each other.

          Valerie looked a little distracted, but she explained again that it was nothing, really. She would only use the back of her hand to feel around Brier’s breasts and crotch. Oh, no. Brier’s vision blurred. Her forehead and stomach ached. She couldn’t do this screening. She couldn’t handle it. She simply would not be touched. She swore that this wouldn’t happen again; that’s how she got better — by consoling herself, promising herself, swearing that that had been the last time. Four years later, and she wasn’t even recovered yet. This would just make it worse. She already hurt horribly inside. She hated it. She hated the shame, duplicity, her own doubts and reservations.

          She tapped frenzied, shaking fingers on her jeans, hating the crazy-person looks she got. She hated the Dares she ended up performing to avoid the Truths she was tired of lying about; she hated the crying that she couldn’t stop when an Avon lady brushed her face with powder; she hated the shivers she got when people talked about doctors, or when ambulances passed her on the road. She was tired of the crying.

          Valerie knelt down by her side. Brier pressed her toes into the carpet. She hated that she wrestled with her mind every time it was referred to as “rape,” because some little thing in her head kept asking her if she secretly wanted it, if she deserved it, and another little thing said that if you liked it, it wasn’t rape. She hated that she’d had to resist his body as well as her own, but she could not stand how much she’d hated herself for it afterwards.

          She’d sworn she’d stand up for herself, and she had, so far. She’d been disappointed, lost things, but she’d gotten through it before and she could do it again. She was not going to get touched. She still tapped her knees. I won’t hate myself for letting this happen… I can’t hate myself that much again. She rubbed her pinky. I can do another twenty-eight auditions. She made fists. But I can’t be touched.

          Brier lay on the mat doing situps while Roxanne, a junior, held her feet down.

          Quatre-six, quatre-sept, quatre-huit… “Okay, thanks,” Brier leaned forward, over her knees.

          “Ten more,” Roxanne urged, nodding her head.

          “No, no, I’m done, thanks,” Brier put her hands down to stand up.

          “C’mon, you gotta push yourself,” Roxanne still clasped her white and pink athletic shoes.

          “No, sorry,” Brier stood up and wiggled her feet out from Roxanne’s grasp. Walking away, she raised her shoulders up and forwards, towards her ears. Her blue T-shirt looked empty, hanging off her concave shoulders. She walked over to the side of the gym and stood near the scale and an exercise bike. She put a dusty hand on the wall above her head, letting her arm dangle between the wall and her shoulder. She took quick, shallow breaths, trying not to expand her ribcage.

          “Hey, you okay?” Her gym coach asked.

          “Yeah,” Brier said, still concentrating on her breathing. “I’m good.”

          “Yeah… I’d have that breathing thing checked out if I were you.”

          “I’m good.”

          Coach Gerri wrote out a note and instructed Brier to go to the nurse’s office.

          Brier dragged her feet to the 300 building, trying to breath regularly and figure out any way out of it. She’ll ask me to sit on the bed, she’ll listen to my heart, she’ll listen to my breathing, she’ll put her hand on my back, she’ll ask me to take off my shirt… she will not touch me. She will not touch me!

                      By the time she got to the square, tan building, she only felt a sharp prick in her chest when she breathed in deeply. I can’t get off campus. If I’m reported for not going, then Coach will tell them I was supposed to go because I was breathing funny… and then my parents will force me into going to a doctor… so… I need to be sick, but not with whatever it is I have. By the time she leaned into the glass doors, she also had a plan. If the nurse had to touch her, she would only touch her extremities.

          She began limping down the hallway to 318. The hall was painted beige, and lined with blue-framed doors. Each door had a small plastic plaque stuck next to it.

          317, 318, Brier pushed in the door; she started to breathe raggedly again, worrying she’d be found out. The nurse greeted her and took the note.

          “Are you okay? You’re breathing hard.”

          “Oh, yeah, no,” Brier gasped. “My ankle hurts really bad.”

          Brier rolled her eyes around the room gray room and took in a deep breath. Valerie reached out her hand and Brier’s eyes jerked back to hers..

          “Actually,” Brier stood up, bumping Valerie’s hand with her thigh. “No. Sorry.”

          Brier was so relieved. It felt good to say no without anyone challenging her. Just one word — no. Her breathing seemed to steady. She lifted her chin and picked up her bags, turning towards the door. Let them try and touch her. Just let them. There was nothing you could stop her from doing once she made up her mind. There was nothing you could do to her if she didn’t want it done, and there was nothing you could make her do if she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to do the screening, and she wasn’t going to.

          She put her fingers on the metal door handle. How she hated him. He’d fucked her up. She wouldn’t have had to make this decision if it weren’t for him. It was his fault that she was like this. It was because of what he forced on her, in her. It wasn’t just his dick. He forced this hatred, this life. He controlled her life. She pressed down on the handle.

          From her boyfriend to her acting career, to her own thought process… He was the reason she couldn’t be touched. He was the reason she had her hand on the door. If it weren’t for him, she’d already be on the flight. If it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t be like this; she wouldn’t be doing this. No. I am leaving; I made the decision. You can’t touch me. They can’t touch me. But… if it weren’t for him to begin with, she wouldn’t have a problem. It was because he had… Say it. Rape. Raped me. I don’t know.

          “Let me escort you out,” Valerie said from behind.

          Raped her. It was because he’d raped her that she feared contact, hated contact. She died of contact. Because of him. And now she was missing her future because of what he’d done to her. He was fucking controlling her life.

          She slammed her shoulder into the door to open it.

          He began controlling it four years ago, the second he gave her the shot. He’d been making her decisions ever since. He’d decided who she’d first have sex with. Then he decided who she could date and what activities she’d do, what movies she could watch, even how well she could breathe at times. And the fucker decided her own feelings for her — he determined what made her happy and what made her upset. She knew the books said that rape was about power, not sex. Her rape gave the him complete power over every moment of her life after he pulled out. And she had thought she was free when he got off her, when her eyelids fluttered and her fingers moved.

          She looked out down the blank hallway, at the white walls and the floor, dirty, like plaque.

          She felt nauseous. I won’t be raped again. I won’t be assaulted. I won’t be touched. She didn’t trust many people, and not being touched was her one way to stay in control. She squeezed he eyes shut, furious. Or rather, his last way to control her. Because of him, every choice she made erred on the side of avoiding human contact.

          Half in and half out of the doorway, she clenched the handle as if she wanted to crack the thing open. But not this choice. I’m not letting him fucking control my life anymore. He made me lose my virginity; he made me lose my self-respect; I’m not losing control.

          She yanked the door back shut. Quaking with anger, she slowly eased the handle up. It latched. She wouldn’t cry over him anymore after this. She hated him. Four fucking years of my life belongs to him. Four years of my life, nine months and fifteen days. No more. Not another year. Not another month, not one more day. Today’s the day I break it. Today’s the day it ends.

          She turned to Valerie. “Sorry,” she focused on the words. She would do as she wished. She would take the call. She would keep her boyfriend. She would take back the needle. She would take back control. “I — will do it.” Stiffening her jaw, she flung her purse and small duffel across the room. She sat.

          “Okay,” Valerie hesitated, waiting for Brier to stand up again, then squatted by the side of the chair and apologized a second time, looking like she probably meant it. Brier tried to ignore her own head. She glared into Valerie’s eyes; they were light blue with white specks splattered throughout. She had short eyelashes with mascara that didn’t help much. Small and angular, they were set far behind the brow bone. Brier ground her fists together and pushed them into her legs. She hated her almost as much as she hated him, almost as much as she hated herself. Valerie rubbed her hands together and grasped her own knees. Her hands were medium-sized and a little wrinkled; they looked rather motherly. She had wide knuckles and short nails. There was a blood clot on the nail of her left index finger. She shook her head slightly, “Are you ready, then?”

          “Yes,” Brier hissed, hoping her nails would make her own hands bleed, because some people said it made you feel better. Her eyes narrowed.

          “Are you sure you want to do this?”

          “Just do it,” Brier yelled, thinking that Valerie might waver.

          But Valerie lifted her right hand, palm facing inwards. She touched Brier’s chest. Brier’s shoulders jerked.

          “I’m so sorry, honey,” Valerie said again, patting her down.

          Like hell you are. Brier’s nostrils flared. I hate this! I hate him! I hate him for raping me! I don’t want to think about it I don’t want to think about him I don’t want to remember his hands on me, hands that wouldn’t come off, hands that I feel right now, I know where they were, I know where he had them on my hips on my legs on my waist hands on my chest they don’t come off because I can still feel them, her hands feel like his hands, her hands are his hands!

          Valerie moved to the other side and gently pressed her hand into the crease between Brier’s ribs and left breast.

          Brier tried to calm herself and channel her fury into convincing herself she was at the airport, not the dentist’s. But the chair’s even blue. Shut up.

          She took in the hard chair and smashed her feet into the floor, bubbling the carpet. I am in control. I am not with a dentist. I am not with a dentist. I am in control. Her hands are her handsAt least I have clothes on. At least I have clothes on. The tendons in Briers wrists bulged out; her face was pinched and her throat constricted. Valerie pulled her hand back from Brier’s chest, cleared her throat, and stood up. Brier’s mouth twitched. She didn’t move. She didn’t turn her eyes.

          “Sweetie, I’m sorry, but your plane leaves in about fifteen minutes…..” Valerie’s square eyes softened at the edges, and she wiped one of them. Brier’s breathing came regular and paced, though loud. It’s not sexual at all, she rationalized. It wouldn’t effect her anymore. It wouldn’t control her life. He would not control her life.

          She spread her legs and wrapped her feet backwards around the supports. She slid her fists down and clenched the sides of the chair. She held on as if she was being tipped over the edge of a cliff, and holding on to the seat was the only thing that could save her. She could do this. She could stay in control.

          Valerie leaned over and touched Brier’s crotch. Brier stared straight ahead, concentrating on the second joint in the door’s lowest silver hinge. She told herself nothing was wrong; she was in control; she’d chosen this; she’d made the decision. But she could feel the light touch of Valerie’s hand on her pubic bone through the pants. She took a short breath and her eyes glazed over. No, no, I’m not losing control. She hated him. She hated him, and Valerie and security measures and guards and metal detectors, and the gray room. Brier hated the metal and hated her body for drawing attention to itself all the time and then betraying her and shaming her. She tightened her muscles even more, holding this hate in so it wouldn’t seep out as acid through her pores, or burst out of her mouth, splitting her head in half, it was so immense. But she wanted to let it go. She wanted to burn everything up with her hatred. And her jeans — she could still feel Valerie’s hand in between her vagina and anus! She wanted to dash out the door, but that would mean he’d win. She would live her own life without him. She would brave anything to defy him. To stop him. She wanted some paper nearby so she could scribble on it so hard that the pen poked through and ripped across it. She wanted to tear it up, huge pieces of it, and then she’d shred it with her teeth. She wanted a punching bag so she could hit it over and over until the seams opened and then she’d tear out the stuffing and light it and she wanted something with lots of little parts like a computer so she could smash it against the concrete to see the sparks and watch the plastic crack and metal pieces and circuit boards come flying out and she wanted to rob people and hurt them so they would know what it felt like, so they would understand her and her desire to control things because she had been controlled, so they would understand her desire to destroy things because a part of her had been destroyed. He wouldn’t destroy her anymore, he wouldn’t control her anymore.

          Valerie gave Brier some space, about to say that she was done. Brier still clenched the chair with her hands and feet. Black hatred dripped down over her contorted face and eyes and poised to jump out of her.

          I’ll never let him touch me again! I’ll never let anybody touch me! Don’t you touch me, I don’t belong to you and you can’t control me and what I want to do, I’ll do it, I’ll just do it and you’ll have to deal with it because I’m doing what I want and I’m not going to be touched. you have no right to touch me. don’t touch me, don’t humiliate me, don’t violate me, don’t degrade me, don’t hurt me — but you won’t have to worry about avoiding that because i won’t let you, i won’t let you have a chance, i’ve done it before and i won’t fail myself again i won’t betray myself again and live with the hatred it brings because it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t my fault no matter what i did or how much I hated myself it wasn’t my fault and it won’t be my fault again it’ll never be my fault because it’ll never happen again and i’ll never feel like that because i’ll keep myself safe and i won’t let it happen again because i hate you for making me hate myself i hate you for touching me any of you all of you and i’m telling you i’ll die first you can kill me first before you can touch me…

          Brier leaned far over her knees and opened her mouth. She finally screamed the hate. She sensed the commotion  but couldn’t feel the hands on her shoulders or hear the men or see through the blackness and still she screamed.


Caroline Mays graduated from UCR, interned for Inland Empire Magazine, and is currently an MFA student at CSUSB. Her favorite books include Emma, House of Mirth, A Proper Knowledge, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. She enjoys martial arts, dance, pirates, and traveling.