Condensation beads on my glass, droplets collecting to trickle down onto the tiny napkin beneath. The boredom of waiting for a delayed plane only to have it be cancelled is only slightly worse than the loneliness. But as I lift the glass to my lips, letting the sweet and sour liquid dull that wretched feeling, I feel the warmth of eyes on me.

As I look up, a slow smile pours over his face, crinkling his eyes before sliding down to curl his lips into that panty melting grin I hadn’t seen in months.

“Hey there, sweetheart,” he says, sliding onto the stool next to me. Over 6′ of sleek sinew and corded muscles beneath the clothes of a far less meticulous man, he always surprised me. Every time.

He finds me where the rest of the world neglects me. Today, in an airport bar after a few Amaretto Sours. A few months ago, in the airport parking lot searching for my stolen car. Earlier this year, in Nordstrom, certain that a new duvet would fill the gaping hole in my soul.

I swallow the last sip from my glass, surrendering to fate’s cruelest practical joke. “Let’s go,” I mumble, gripping his bicep as I move to stand.

His eyebrows lift before he turns to steady me. “How many of those have you had?” His chin lifts toward the glass and I realize I left the cherry.

As I shift to pick up the glass to retrieve it, the bar tilts making me laugh until his hands are pulling me up and against him. I look up into his pale eyes. “Maybe like three-” The bartender holds up his hand, fingers splayed to indicate five, pausing there before he lifts his other thumb. “Six? Holy shit.”

My voice sounds strange to my own ears. But it’s Owen’s that sounds the weirdest. “Why don’t we get you some dinner? Something to soak up some of that booze.”

As I work to focus on his face, his lips move again, but my fingers reach up to touch them. “Why bother?” Leaning into him, my throat stinging with the words that refuse to stay inside. “You’re just going disappear again.”

The bartender turns away as Owen winces. The pinch of his brows makes my stomach turn. Pushing off of him, I step back. But his fingers grip me.

I twist away, grabbing ahold of the barstool behind me, but it tilts too, and the spinning doesn’t stop. The bar jumps up and rams into the side of my head and as lights pop in front of my eyes, I feel my backside hit the floor. His knees land hard next to me, his arms tangled in mine where he tried to catch me.

He was never cold or cruel. Years of coming in and out if my life hadn’t made me hate him, because when he was there, he was perfect. He was the perfect man for me. Until he was gone.

His fingers press something soft against my temple. I squeeze my eyes closed as the pain registers hot and blinding across my skull. There are other voices, but my own groans muddy them. Then hands lift me. But my eyes won’t open.

“Stay with me, sweetheart.” His voice seems to be inside my head, gravel that feels like silk. “You’ve got to stay awake.” His hand squeezes mine, and it draws the pain in my head down, filling my chest. We’re moving, so I will my eyelids to lift. I want to see him. I need to see that he’s real.

“I’m awake,” I whisper as the light cuts white and angry into my eyes. We’re outside and rolling towards flashing lights. “I can get up. Please, no hospitals.” But they keep pushing me towards the ambulance.

Owen squeezes my hand again, “You need stitches, Lex. And an X-ray. You’re going to the hospital.” As the gurney stops and the paramedics shift to open the doors, he leans down. “I’m staying with you,” he says with a finality he shouldn’t get to exert. But he does.

A twenty minute ride passes in twelve, but the EMT checking my vitals and making sure I’m awake makes it feel like five. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and wonder what it would be like to have sex in one. I’ve truly had way too much to drink.

I close my eyes as they wheel me inside, my face hot and my fists clenched. But Owen presses his hand against the to of my head, and I realize he was telling the truth. He’s staying with me.

For now, at least.

He was spot on about the stitches and xray. They always say that adrenaline burns up the alcohol, but they’re wrong. Everything they are saying and doing to me is hilarious. As I make jokes about the nurse sewing a prettier face on me, Owen glares at me. But I don’t stop. Why should I care what these people think? I’m drunk off my ass at 2pm on a Thursday. Fuck ’em.

A doctor talks directly to him about the sprain in my foot as I watch two nurses having a silent but heated debate. I will one to hit the other, that would make all of this worth it. I always love watching people fight. It’s voyeuristic. A peep hole into people’s minds. And other people’s minds are far more interesting than my own.

“Lex, are you listening?” My eyes find Owen’s lips and I desperately want to suck on them. “He’s asking about your pain level.”

I shrug, trying to stifle a laugh. “Pain?” But the laughing makes it difficult to answer.

“Well, you’re probably going to feel it later.  So I’ll write you a script.” The doctor is quite young, and I work to control the giggles still bubbling from my chest.

“Despite how it might appear, she can’t take much of anything. Maybe Tylenol.” Owen glances at me as the laughter dies.

How did he know that? Had I told him? I can’t remember. When would I have brought it up? My stare draws his gaze. But this time, I can’t look away.

“She also won’t follow any of instructions you give her unless they ‘fit’ her.” He makes air quotes and my cheeks burn. “She’s hyper in-tune with her body,” he says, taking the script from the doctors hand. “She always knows what’s right for her.”

I swallow a mocking remark about him being the exception to that rule. He’s the exception to all of my rules.

After more instructions and some signed forms, I’m told I can leave. My buzz slipping with humiliation, an aching foot, a throbbing headache, and an unwanted companion.

That’s a lie. He isn’t unwanted. I want him more than anything or anyone. But I know what comes next. What comes tomorrow. His absence.

Amidst the chaos of the past 60 minutes, he managed to find time to hire a car which picks us up directly from the ER, though I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed. Once we’re in the backseat, he turns to face me with blazing eyes. “What were you thinking?” His voice is low and thick, as he wraps his fingers around my wrist. “What if I hadn’t been there? What if some creep had been instead?”

His face is inches from mine and his grip on my arm is painful. “Let go,” I say twisting away. “Some other asshole would’ve taken me home, I guess.” I shake him off and turn toward the window. “What’s it matter?”

A sound close to a growl comes from his chest as he grabs and forces me to face him. But the petulance I’d been nursing since he spoke to the doctor dies instantly when I see his expression. “It matters to me,” he says, his eyes racing over every part of my face. “If you’re going to be so, so-” His fingers rise to tuck my bangs behind my ear before skimming down my neck. “So careless-”

The thought hangs in the air, incomplete. Deflating next to me, he releases my shoulder and sits back against the seat, letting his head fall and his eyes close. I watch him for several blocks, waiting for the lecture to resume. But it doesn’t.

I relax back into the seat as well, staring down at my fingers in my lap. It’s rush hour, as the driver makes the turn onto the ramp for the highway toward downtown. I glance at him, but he remains still and silent. “Could you finish something, for a change?” My voice is high but soft and I hate myself for it.

His eyes open and he turns them toward me. I look down, picking at the nail polish on my thumb. His hand lowers over mine, and I swallow a sigh as his fingers intertwine with mine. Lifting my hand to his lips, he kisses each knuckle softly. My forehead hurts with the pinch of my brows.

“I can’t finish. Not with you.” Bringing his other hand up, he turns my fingers around, kissing each finger tip, and then my palm. His voice is lower and raspier as he continues. “I know it’s a mistake. But it’s a mistake either way.” He presses my palm into his chest. “And you don’t seem to be able to find happiness without me-“

“What the fuck, Owen? Stop talking in riddles,” I yank my hand away, turning in the seat to face him. “Say something true and real, or just stop talking.” Realizing I’d shouted, I lower my voice and close my eyes. “Or just come home with me and do what you usually do so I at least don’t have to be alone.” My throat is tight, but I force the words free. “At least for tonight.”

His breath leaves his nose in a silent chuckle, and I squeeze my eyes shut hard, willing myself not to cry. But his arms come around me and pull me into him. “I don’t want you to be alone, ever,” he whispers against my hair.

I press against his chest, but he pulls me harder, releasing my seat belt, and tugging me into his lap. A sob breaks in my throat as he cradles me and kisses my forehead. “Then why do you leave me?” I say, giving voice to something I’m not sure I want him to answer.

His breath is constricted, so I lift my face to see him. His pale eyes shine in the fading light of day, but his face is as beautiful as it had ever been. He shakes his head slightly. “I always hope you’ll forget me. Move on with someone-“

“Don’t.” I slip my fingers around his face, holding it close to mine. “Tell me your reason.”

Staring into my eyes, I feel his body relax. “I love you too much to let you stay with me.”

My throat is dry and my head is throbbing. But I’m almost positive he just said he loves me. “What?” I straighten, pulling back so that I can see him clearly. “What?”

He breathes out a long sigh, releasing something I’d never noticed him holding onto with every muscle in his being. As it leaves him, his eyes brighten and his lips curve. “I love you, desperately, sweetheart. I think I have since the moment you climbed into my car that night at the airport.” His fingers find their way into my hair and he presses our foreheads together again. “It was the day my world turned upside down.”

As he speaks, my mind seems to clear in a way I haven’t felt in years. He’d been married before, and his wife had left him for his best friend. I knew he’d been divorced, but I couldn’t have imagined how horrible it ever could’ve been. They’d worked together to strip him of everything, embezzling from the company they worked for and framing him for the theft. It had been the perfect heist, because, in the end, they died in a boating accident leaving him with no recourse for clearing his name.

“I’ll be paying it off for the rest of my life,” he says as I lay my head on his chest. “I can’t offer you anything but a convicts future.”

He’d taken a job in finance at the airport, one that was under constant surveillance. His paychecks were garnished weekly, leaving him to buy his clothes used or discounted, but with great perks like per diem for dining at the airport and getting access to a car and driver. He always found me there, not because he was travelling, but because that was his life. I just happened to intersect with it on occasion.

The pieces fit together impeccably and cruelly. “You assumed I couldn’t want a man like you, and I was positive you just didn’t want a girl like me.” He stares at me with soft eyes, the lines around them deepened by the horror of the truth. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

He shrugs, but keeps his gaze locked on me. “Because I want you to have the life you deserve,” he says drawing a finger over my lips. “I don’t want you to be shackled to a-“

“Shouldn’t I get a say in that?” I sit up, and grab his hands. “That’s pretty shitty considering the hand you were dealt that you are stuck playing forever.” Shaking my head, I let go of him and shift back into my own seat as the driver pulls up to the front of my building. “It’s really shitty since you must have been able to see how miserable I am.”

As I shift to open the door, his hand presses against my shoulder blades. “It is shitty, Lex.” I feel him shift toward me as his fingers slip through the hair curled down my back. “Is it shitty enough to make you forget me and move on?”

Turning to meet his eyes, the ache in my chest feels expands. I shake my head again slowly as I chew on the inside of my lip. But then we sit there, the silence draining all of the air from the backseat. Time feels like a water balloon with a pin hole, sitting their as pregnant as it can get just waiting for the surface tension to become too much for that tiny hole to withstand.

What do you say to someone who loves you so much that they would purposefully stay away because they think you are better without them? How do I trust that he won’t just disappear tomorrow? Couldn’t I just climb out of the car and walk away?

“No,” I whisper, turning toward him again. “I’ll never forget you and move on. And I’d rather get tiny pockets of bliss with you than a lifetime with someone else.”

That smile which starts with his eyes spreads down his face to turn his lips into a perfect crescent. “Tiny pockets? They’re a little better than tiny pockets, aren’t they?” His voice is like sunshine, warming every single part of me.

“Ok. Well, since I need you to get upstairs, I’ll give you that.”

The night turns into days. He doesn’t leave me this time, but takes me to his tiny apartment near the airport. We are different there, and I finally figure out how to fill the gaping hole in my soul. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and it isn’t perfect. Neither of us is perfect.

But he is perfect for me.


Photo by cottonbro studio:

it creeps in
seeping softly into
the dark
slowly building
eroding the sharpened
edges of my
sanding down
the callouses
created from
the barbed borders
I’ve made for

it is warm and
gliding over me
the angst ebbing
with each
carefully composed note

thick and deep
rumbling through
the internal
self-strung traps
rendering each hate-filled
in its wake

the soft chime
of something ancient
but somehow
widening and lengthening
until it is ringing
through my mind
colliding with its
bass and treble
lovers in between the
made wholesome
by the purity
of their goal

it scrubs me free
of rumination
oiling my mind for
wonder and mirth
taking its time
with me
as any good master

I am fluid and arch
inside its stanzas
beautiful in a way
I may never feel
and when the lyrics
I unfold completely

ready and waiting

False Spring

Photo of Forest Trees With Snow Melting on Ground

It was warmer than it should’ve been. That day, towards the end of January when my world stopped.

The winter always steals something from me, something biological and necessary. The sun and sky feed me and keep me tolerable. And that day was so warm. You could even hear the birds singing.

They called it false spring. You were determined to eek every ounce of pleasure one day could muster. Who ever heard of a picnic in January in Ohio? But we weren’t alone. The park wasn’t crowded, but there were enough people to disrupt your plans, if you had cared about privacy. The meadow was soggy with melting winter and the woods were dripping. But you took me there, deep in the trees. You always took me, wherever and whenever you wanted me.

I have so many scars from us, but only those are visible still. You were fierce, coaxing me with your fingers and tongue as the bark scraped my skin. You forced sounds from me that I’d never heard myself make. We were a tribute to sex. A human sacrifice to the gods of pleasure. And when you were finally done with me, as the sun was setting, I was certain I had fallen for you.

I couldn’t have known just how much further I had to fall.

We slipped into the seats of my Mercury, soaked through but sparkling. “Turn the heat up,” you growled through clenched teeth. “My Goosebumps have Goosebumps.” My own teeth chattered as I leaned forward cranking up the dial, fat raindrops splattering on the windshield. Do you remember what you said?

My mind replayed that seen over and over for months after. If I just could’ve had that day back, everything would’ve been different. You leaned over, holding my hands between yours and blowing into them. If only I’d played it cool. But you said the thing that blew up any rational thought in my mind. “I wish I could do that to you forever.”

I get it today, looking back. You meant it differently than I took it. My brain was soup, melted like the snow by dopamine and oxytocin. Your lips kissing my knuckles only set the misinterpretation in stone.

Guys think girls are crazy. Girls think guys are cold and calculating. It just all comes down to the simple fact that we don’t understand each other. You think we are too sensitive, too love hungry, too clingy, too emotional… Too much. You are too unfeeling, too stubborn, too self-absorbed, too physical. I wonder if one just brings about the other. But it’s the chicken and the egg, isn’t it?

That afternoon was like a brick in the foundation of my future. You watched me spiraling and tried so hard to pull back on the reigns. On some level, I think I knew it. That I was pushing you and manipulating you. Sex is the best weapon, sometimes on both sides. I negotiated with myself that it was normal, that this is how women keep men interested. But it was more than that, wasn’t it. You were addicted and I was your dealer. I let you do anything to me. Just promise to come back tomorrow. 

I threw the four letter word around for both of us, deluding myself into a psychotic certainty that you just couldn’t say it. That your childhood had created a block against it, and I simply needed to keep pushing. I learned to cook everything you liked, cleaned your apartment for you every weekend, washed your clothes in my washing machine so you didn’t have to waste time going to a laundromat.

It was the hours together on the weekend that fooled me. You were so appreciative. I can’t even blame you for using me. Who wouldn’t? I was giving you everything any man could possibly want. I was the housewife without the house and marriage. I hung out with your friends and did stuff for them too. They all loved me. 

Did you know it was Billy who told me? It was almost summer and I’d packed a beautiful picnic, determined to recreate that afternoon in January, except better. I came to pick you up and he was there, sitting on your stoop. His dark eyes were wide as he looked up at me, his jaw was set beneath his beard.

“He’s not here,” his voice was gruff and low. “But sit with me for a minute, ok?” I set the basket down but remained standing until he looked at me again, his brows knitted tightly together. “Please, Case. Sit.”

When I did, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. “Where is he?” I asked, my voice a bit too high. My stomach felt like it was filled with bees. “We were-“

“Do you ever actually spend the night with Calvin?” He interrupted, turning his face to look at me. “You’re normally at your place in the evening, right? And he tells you he needs to sleep in his own bed?” 

His head was cocked slightly and his eyes bore into me. I’d always felt like he could see right through me. My throat felt tight as I tried to say I didn’t know. He shifted to square his shoulders to me and his eyes blazed.

I didn’t want to hear any of it. But once he started, I didn’t want him to stop. He told me about the woman from your office back in January, several more you’d met at bars. “Didn’t you ever wonder why he left so early?”

Of course I did. But being faced with testimony only made me numb. I told him I loved you and that I didn’t care. I already suspected that you were a sex addict. I was ready to excuse it all. 

But it wasn’t just random women, anymore. “Her name is Jenna. His lease is up next month, and he’s going to move in with her.”

Everything suddenly clicked. 

You’d talked about her a lot when we first started dating. But you never actually said you’d broke up. Billy said that you never had.  He told me everything. Heading home just before she got off work or sending me home when I was at your place. You told her that you’d hired someone to do your cleaning and laundry. You told her that your mom left her earrings in your living room. You stayed at her place, all the time.

“You don’t deserve this, Casey. And I just can’t stand by and let him ghost you.” His voice was soft and his hand was firm on my shoulder. Maybe he thought I’d run away. “He isn’t worthy of you.”

Some sick, broken part of my brain locked onto that phrase. I called him a liar. I may have even slapped him across the face for being such a horrible friend. I tried to storm away and I might have tricked myself into believing that he made it all up just so he could try to get me for himself. But then he said the one thing I couldn’t ignore.

“He bought her a ring.” The words were gritty and dull, but his eyes continued to blaze. “I can show you. He’s doing it now.”

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if he’d let me walk away that afternoon. I may have kept cleaning your place and washing your clothes for another couple of weeks, sucking you off on Sunday morning and letting you continue to experiment on my body and mind until you just disappeared.

Would you have ever told me? Did I mean anything to you at all?

The sun was warm on our backs as we walked the length of the park I’d planned to take you to that afternoon. When I first saw you, in the woods, I thought you were alone. But Billy turned me around just as I noticed your fingers combing through her dark, red hair, your jeans hanging a little too low on your hips. 

I fought him to let me turn back around and watched you finish, that groan from deep in your chest audible even from 200 yards away. She stood up, and you kissed her like you never kissed me. You wrapped her arms around her and said something I couldn’t understand, but her laughter rang like a disharmonic chord through the trees. And as her hands came up to link around your neck, a gem glinted in the sun on her left ring finger.

Billy asked if I wanted to confront you as I watched you kissing her neck. All I could do was shake my head. How stupid I was, how crazy I had been. I turned and stared up at him, my hands and face numb. And I walked back to the car without saying anything. 

I thought he must’ve known I was crazy, because he didn’t leave me alone all weekend. He took me to my car and followed me back to my place, watched me pack your half-finished laundry into trash bags and carried them for me to the dumpster. The tears started around 6pm and didn’t stop for days. 

I’d loved you with everything I had in me, and it hadn’t been enough. How does a person get over that? 

Billy spent the next night on my sofa too and bought coffee and croissants Monday morning. As the tears burned inside my swollen eyes, he asked if I was going to be ok. If I could pretend that you loved me, I could surely pretend I was ok. And so I did.

But he was right to not trust me because after he left, I drove to your apartment. I called into work and sat outside, waiting for you to come home all day. I stared at my phone willing you to call or text, to find out when I was bringing over your laundry, but there was nothing. I tried to figure out who she was, too. But your social media was perfectly crafted to appear public, but be as private as humanly possible. I couldn’t even find her last name. 

Billy found me there again Thursday at 8pm. I’d gone there each day after work, waiting to see you, to confront you. I’d fallen asleep in my car every night.

He tapped on my window softly, “This isn’t ok, Case.” He pulled me from my car and wrapped me in a hug. “You need to call someone, there must be a friend or sister-“

“Stop,” I spat, pushing hard against his chest. “As if this isn’t humiliating enough, I now have to tell everyone I know that-” I finally freed myself from his arms and gritted my teeth against a sob. “That I made up an entire relationship in my mind.” I balled my fists and squeezed my eyes shut. “I must be insane.”

Headlights flared on the corner, making me want to hide. Hadn’t I gone there to confront him? But when Billy stepped in front of me to shield me from the oncoming car, I stared up at him and recalled what he’d said when we first met.

Calvin must be the best con man in the world to win over an angel like you.

My heart hammered against my lungs as the car passed us and continued up the street. Frozen in his gaze, I stopped imagining how I’d looked to everyone else. This man had basically risked all of his friends to help me see the truth. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t seen all of the ways he tried to warn me before. He’d even called me Jenna, once. Billy had cared more about me than you.

He took me home and we called my sister in Illinois. He left me on the phone with her, but asked me to call him before I went to sleep. 

I called you first. 

I wonder if you ever got to hear that message. I like to think you did and that you felt some modicum of guilt. I don’t like thinking of you as the womanizing sex-addict who was murdered by one of his victims. For my own sanity, I like to remember how sweet you were after making me come. How you held me that afternoon in the park, kissing each of my fingertips and telling me you wanted to hear me make those noises again and again. How those few nights when you did stay the night with me, you’d hold me all night and make me feel loved, even if you never said it.

We all know now just how much you’d twisted everything and everyone. I still don’t blame you, not like Jenna does. Or like Marcy obviously did. She plead insanity and might’ve only gotten 3 years in a psychiatric hospital. But instead, she bled to death having punctured her jugular with a sharpened toothbrush. 

I try not to blame myself either, and my therapist says I should blame you since you were the one who lied. But I always catch myself thinking back and recognizing that you didn’t really lie to me. You never promised me love. You never promised me anything, really. Even that one misunderstood promise on that false spring day was never really a promise at all.

That brittle ‘forever’ flaked away to nothing, by the time I found out everything. Shredded by the thousand paper cuts the truth offered me. It all left so little behind besides the salty sweet aftertaste of indifference.

I suppose I owe that all to Billy. He called every night after after that, until last January when we started spending the nights with each other. He’d asked me at Halloween if I would give him the chance to show me everything I’d been missing with you. It didn’t take long for me to see.

It was a bitter cold day, nothing false or spring about it. But under my covers, late that night, he made me feel like you never did. And when he whispered that he loved me and then shouted it for anyone to hear during the weeks after, I realized that my world had finally started back up again. 

And that everything happens for a reason.


Img 20230105 142811735

skin to skin
my coils of
covert femininity
wind around
like vines
holding onto
her solid oak
trapped within

twisted with desire
your hands
possess me
bending me with
delving beyond
the dry, cold
armor I show the world
to find where
I am wet
and warm

you are endless
and the very air
seethes with
my hands fight
to take hold
to be held
to be restrained

more than want
it is need
I press against it
plead for more
music in my cries
soft and new
beneath your touch
joy finds it’s
electric release

capture me there
in the laughter
brought forth
by your force
see me
in all your splendor
feed me more
so that I might
twist myself
against your bark

or remain
for as long as I can
or until I break

Life flashes before your eyes

Life flashes before your eyes

You’re never ready for it. All hell breaks loose and your brain suddenly feels like swiss cheese. Women are better at dealing with it than men are, sure. Specifically mothers, like there’s some sort of mechanism born within the mind of a momma when she gets pregnant. But the feeling is the same. “What the fuck do I do now?” It’s a universal thought process.

When you add trauma to the chaos, that’s when momma’s really shine. Take a black woman in her kitchen making dinner for her kids when she hears thumping bass notes turning onto her street, that first pop barely reaches her ear before she’s pulling those babies into the basement stairwell, screaming at them to get down. Like she knew it was coming. But then a bullet aimed at the neighboring dump ricochets off a shovel sitting on their porch and bursts right in through her living room window and catches her neck as she’s hunching down to follow her kids on the steps. She doesn’t immediately have that next step ready at the front of her brain to call out to her 12 year old now watching her momma slide down the steps with blood seeping from a major artery. Nope. She thinks to herself, “What the fuck do I do now?”

Holding a hand to the wound, pressing as hard as I can, staring into my oldest baby’s face as I tried to unfold emergency plans in my head, I felt as stupid as the dummy I married who is now rotting in a prison cell up state. Fortunately for me, it’s my daughter who inherited brains from someone else in my family who had the plan.

The 911 operator’s voice seeps from the phone calm and authoritative, and I thank heaven for that. “My mom’s been shot. We’re at 62 Hanover St. It was a drive by and I think the bullet is still in there because I’m pretty sure it hit an artery but the blood is just sort of leaking out.” I raised an eyebrow at my little science junkie. “Don’t press too hard, Momma. Just keep your hand there.”

I watched her bark orders at her younger siblings, her beautiful eyes focused on me until she heard the sirens outside. As she stood on the step beside me, peeking out the basement door, I cursed myself for never getting us out of this shitty neighborhood.

“Make sure it’s cops first, baby. Don’t open the door until the cops are here.” I grabbed her wrist with my left hand, “And keep your hands way up in the air, you hear me?”

She shook me off, “I know, I know.” I could see the lights, but my vision was getting hazy. “Hang on, Momma. Just hang on.” I imagined her with babies of her own in some big house in the suburbs with a two car garage and one of those kitchens with a double oven. She’s smarter than me. She would take her brains to college, instead of getting knocked up at 18. I prayed every day of her life that she would be smarter than me.

The police pounded on the door, and she walked out of the stairwell with both hands straight up in the air. “I’m coming to unlock and open the door. I have a phone in my hand, but only a phone.” As she unlocked the door, I prayed some more for God to keep her safe. It was getting hard to hear over the heartbeat in my ears. Oh why couldn’t I have just gotten us out of this hell?

My vision went black and I felt as though I were floating, carried by something free of form. Light began to flood in all around me. Blinding light. But then, suddenly, I was standing in my kitchen. I looked around at a frozen moment in time. Raybecca stood at the front door, hands high, in front of a familiar looking cop. I turned to the stairwell, my crumpled body lay on the top two steps, Miandra and Michayla hunched around my legs. Watching their momma die. And Tobias sat with his back to it all on the bottom step. Good boy, Toby. You keep your mind and memories safe.

I turned back, the cops eyes were on me. I blinked and he smiled. “Hey, Dahlia.” His voice was familiar too. And his skin glowed like amber coated bronze. I did know him.

“Lonnell?” I took a step forward but stopped as an invisible band held me in place. “How- Am I dead?”

He laughed, and the sound went straight through me. It was rich and deep, and something that had been frozen within me for a long time melted. “No, baby girl.” He stepped around the statue of my daughter. Nothing else moved. There was absolutely no sound but his voice. “This isn’t death. This is a choice.”

He came to stand in front of me, and part of me wanted to reach out to grab him. But if the choice was between going wherever he came from and staying alive for my babies, I could never choose him.

“I know.” He gave a sad, hopeless smile as he stood before me. “But if you had chosen me all those years ago, we’d be in a different place now, wouldn’t we?”

I blinked up at him. “How could I have known Ray would do what he did?”

His eyes narrowed, and his smile disappeared. “You believe that you didn’t see that side of him? The day I met you, he’d backhanded you right in the middle of a Walmart parking lot. Knocked a beautiful, pregnant woman to the ground. You didn’t know then what he was capable of?”

Some loyal part of me stretched to defend him. But Lonnell’s point was valid. “I loved him. I was about to have his daughter.”

“I can’t fault you for giving him the second chance, Dahlia. But the others?” He pointed to the steps, and I started down at the frozen figures of the only other things Ray ever gave me. “Eh, I’m just salty because you didn’t feel what I felt back then.” He stepped forward and his warmth invaded me. “This is a new choice though, baby.”

He took my hand and spun me on the spot. As my vision cleared, I stood in a sunny kitchen before a broad, pine table with benches on either side where 12 children sat eating breakfast. I looked at their faces and realized that the twins were sat at the end, teenagers now and laughing as their brother sat across from them. His preteen face sulky, but his hazel eyes lit up like I’d never seen before. The rest of the faces were unfamiliar until I turned around to see Becca standing at the kitchen island with a forty-something version of Lonelle.

She was a woman, three massive textbooks in her arms. “She’s just finished pre-med. But that smile on her face that looks so much like yours is because my wife, Liza just told her that the scholarship program she started when she graduated high school is going to put 4 kids into college.”

As my eyes moved around the kitchen and found Liza, my absent insides twisted. Liza-Marie had been Ray’s girl before me. In high school, she’d dumped him because he had disrespected her father. And now she was married to Lonell, the boy who’d promised to save me from all that I’d made myself endure. He’d married her and was going to take in my four parentless kids?

“They are all foster kids. Liza and I can’t have our own. So we try to give a better chance to kids who grew up like we did. Show them there’s another way.” He stepped up next to me and took my hand again.

I looked up at him. “This is my choice? Die and give them to you or keep them… And what? Fuck them up forever?”

“No, baby girl. That’s not the choice at all.” His fingers came under my chin. “Think bigger.”

I felt this world falling away. He didn’t spin me this time, just lifted my face, and when he let go, I stood in the parking lot of Becca’s elementary school, holding the hands of my tiny toddler twins and pregnant with Tobias. I remembered the day vividly. I’d stood there with my babies waiting for their older sister and trying to think what to do. Seven months pregnant with a swollen, bruised face, two broken ribs, and nothing to call my own, I was about to decide to stay, just until the baby was born. But I never left.

“You could choose differently this day. Decide not to go back. Move into that woman’s shelter. You could have had Ray arrested for this, instead of that terrible thing he did after this. Your friend Natalie from Becca’s school would’ve taken you in and gotten you a part-time job at the school, helping kids who don’t have computers at home learn how to use them.”

He squeezed my hand again, and I opened my eyes to the nursery where the twins spent their first fragile days of life. Ray had disappeared for 29 days and Becca was being looked after by Ray’s sister, who I was pretty sure was a heroin addict. But I hadn’t known what else to do. There was a nurse, wheeling me into the NICU 26 hours after my precious babies had been taken out of me in a emergency C-section. I was still swollen and weak from preeclampsia. But they’d finally let me out of bed to go meet them. I didn’t even remember my babies being born.

“She’d asked if she could go get Becca for you, do you remember?” I nodded but not looking at the nurse. I stared at myself. So puffy and stubborn. I wouldn’t even accept help when it was offered. “She would’ve helped you get into a better house, too. Her mother’s house in Reynoldsburg. She would’ve let you live there and helped you get that IT certification you’d wanted. When the girls were two, you would’ve moved into your own home where Becca would’ve been mentored by an amazing science teacher and even graduated early.”

I looked down at our feet, “Why are you telling me this?”

He slipped his fingers under my chin to look up at him, and when he dropped them, we were back in my crappy house on Hanover Street, right after we’d moved in. I stood at the bedroom door with Becca on my hip, watching her Daddy, naked on the bed with another woman. “He turned this around and made the whole thing seem like my fault,” I said in a tight voice, remembering all of the times between then and now that Lonell wasn’t showing me. All the moments I should have walked away.

I turned away, and as I did, a park shelter house materialized, where he’d shown up drunk to his daughter’s first birthday. My expression frozen in horror as I watched the path of his fist coming straight at me. The first of many full, facial punches over the years. “Stop, please.” I covered my face, but there were no tears.

Until I heard my own voice.

“I can’t Lonell. I know I’m probably making a mistake, but you won’t love this little girl like he will.”

Lonelle at 21 was softer than he was at 35. His kind, coffee color eyes scanned over me. My face had healed from the night in the parking lot, but I’d seen him every day since that night. “That’s where you’re wrong, baby girl. I could love her more.”

I shook my head. But he kissed me. The whole world was right that night.

“You know I was right back then.” The 35 year old Lonell locked his fingers with mine as we watched our younger selves make love.

I turned toward him, “But I can’t go back. I can’t choose you now.”

He stepped close to me. “None of this has happened yet, Dahlia. I’m not real. You’re not dying on the steps to your basement. Ray doesn’t exist here. You have the chance to make a different choice right now. Any choice. But only one. And you won’t remember anything else once you’ve made it. Your life will simply move forward from that point, with a different trajectory.”

As I turned away from him, I saw them all. Options on a wheel of fortune. I could spin around and walk into any of them, deciding the opposite of what I’d decided before. I could decide not to let Carson Donovan put my hand in his pants when I was 12. I could say yes to going to prom with Stephen, our class valedictorian. I could walk away from our neighbor Mr Quintez when he asked if I wanted to watch a movie with him in his basement.

I could decide to go to college and get that degree in IT.

Making the entire circle, I turned back to Lonell. “But there were good things, too.” I closed my eyes and pictured my babies’ faces. I remembered the day Ray told me he was going to turn himself in, and try to turn his life around. I remembered the night we’d talked all night about how we could make things better. I remembered only a few days ago when I went to see him, and he cried fat, heavy tears about the things he did to me. “There were so many moments I will lose if I decided anything differently.”

Lonell’s smile was full and bright. “That’s right.” He nodded and held his hands out to me. “That’s what makes it so hard. You know what you know, but if you give one moment up, everything could be entirely different.” He put his hands together and opened them again to reveal a bubble. Like a crystal ball. I stepped close to see inside.

It was me. A foggy, different version of me, wearing an expensive looking flowered blouse with navy slacks. My hair was cropped short and flecked with gray, and I wore chunky jewelry that I always loved, but wouldn’t afford. I stood in a beautiful sunny office, writing on a whiteboard. But as I squinted to try to see more clearly, the bubble popped.

“Sometimes, the choice is simply to see yourself in a different life. And go there.”

I looked up into his eyes. And I saw the scene reflected there. My daughter’s face contorted with fear and anger in front of him. I turned and saw myself. The woman I’d let myself become, covered in blood. “Can I survive this?”

“If you make that choice.” He stepped back, his voice growing distant. “All you have to do is decide.”


Skyscrapers by Ralf Kunze

The pavement pulsed with waves of heat, out of time and place in the city during late October. The bus stop was quiet. The park was void of anything that resembled a Saturday evening. There were a pair of forgotten pink rainboots sitting by the wishing fountain.

A rich, amber glow had settled into the horizon, over the ocean, supplemented by this sound heard by no one. Or possibly everyone.

Clouds gathered in the west mocking the sunset’s twin by hiding it from any possible observer. Or maybe calling to its observers. Bidding them west.

Before it is too late.


Martina Janochová

but perhaps
all these threads
do not limit me
I am limitless
devouring life with
each change in
weaving my world
around us
some ugly
but to me
it is infinite
for today I focus
on heart
but soon
when morning dew
casts prismatic
upon us
sunrise will welcome
my contributions
break me free
to spin
something solid
stable and salable
for you
to trade
I am incalculable
a hundred plans
millions of words
one hope
I will be
the seller
one day
I’ll find the
single shining strand
and follow it to
pot of gold


Artist unknown… Forgotten?

existence is perspective
the sanded edges of memory
cause history to evolve
we aren’t who we are
nor are we who
we will be
it is foolish to believe
a memory is forever
that love is everlasting
or that you are important
the phases of lives
bumping into one another
like so many
soap bubbles
floating on the wind
please don’t let mine
for here, inside this breath
perhaps i won’t be
sand beneath the
boot of time
i make myself real
in every brush stroke
each wiped tear
a hundred loaves
ten thousand cookies
millions of stitches
all the back rubs
and neck kisses
this is my memory
and perhaps
where my name is lost
are just blank pages
i was never meant
to be
or maybe
they just await my story
not yet


glitter veins by ThisGirlCanHateYou via
glitter veins by ThisGirlCanHateYou via

greater than the sum
of us, here
something brilliant pulses
a guiding light
a beacon, drawing us together
our home may change
but it was never a place
it is us
in our veins, in our morrow
love is forever
it glitters inside me
as new and magical as
the day you kissed me
and set loose a million
in my soul
do you feel it, too?
as life cracks it’s whip
drives us harder, farther, faster
we drink up these
tiny moments
where it is just us
coiled and locked together
as we were made to be
until you are part of me
and I am part of you
thirsty only for
another day
another month
another year
of you
give me another sip
one more, pretty please
I’ll give you forever
for just



~~ Happy Birthday, Daddy! ~~