Thursday, January 2, 2020

What Happened on 12/21/19: Alex Kazemi, Terese Svoboda, Jacqueline Doyle, Anne McGrath, Courtney Kersten

On 12/21/19, we invited writers and readers to write about "What Happened" that day, however they interpreted it, as an exercise in mass attention, and promised to publish as many of the resulting essays as possible. So here we go! For more details and a full list of the contributors, click the What Happened page.



This day, as for all my current days, I am at the bottom of the world. At least that is how it would appear to you from where you sit, I suspect. So if you were to dig straight through the centre of the Earth—both impossible and  unwise—from where you are, or more accurately from some beautiful village with white washed houses and hanging red chillies in Andalusia, then you would eventually emerge again in this part of our world. A part that is often excised from its place on the very edge of the world map for reasons perhaps of oversight, geo-political or artistic. The part where deep tectonic plates, far older than any map, grind relentlessly against each other, where the earth beneath us often trembles and cracks to bring fire close to our feet, where volcanos lie smouldering and where I am reminded that the brief passage of this exact day is indiscernible in the vast geologic timescale of the world. 
     So it is that here, in New Zealand, it should be the longest day, not the shortest. I have discovered already today that the obliquity of the Earth to its ecliptic plane is 23.4367 degrees and declining, a number that brings us—us here at the bottom of the world—now closest to the bright Sun. And that the celestial equator, which forms this angle—the obliquity of the ecliptic—to the orbital plane, is just the continued projection of the Earth’s actual equator into a giant imaginary celestial sphere of our making, as if we were not just a speck of dust drifting through an indifferent cosmos.
     Disappointingly, I discover also that today is not the actual summer solstice. That falls tomorrow in this particular year, due to the oscillations and perturbations that are a constant feature of how we teeter through the heavens.


The words at the front of my mind as I wake are the same ones that I read just before drifting off to sleep last night—“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”, writes Joan Didion. I reflect on how a simple sentence can curl its words slowly around your mind until it embeds in such an insistent way that it seems like a fundamental truth, as if it could not have been written any other way.
     I wake, still tired from days spent working at the hospital, into the lingering mist of dreams of volcanos and phone calls. I resolve that there is a limit to how long one can spend at a time trying to map and mend the fraying threads that bind our bodies together. Today is a day to bathe in the ordinary. The knotted stiffness across my shoulders and lower back on rising begins this immersion into the commonplace.
     On emerging into the kitchen, the children are already sitting at breakfast and the first question I am faced with from my son Noah is why can’t you travel faster than the speed of light? Still rubbing my eyes, I stumble over the explanation, stating simply that no-one can travel faster than light because otherwise you would be travelling backwards in time. This is an unsatisfactory explanation both in my own mind and for Noah. But no amount of further thought allows me to clarify this and I pour myself a black coffee and look out of the window at the light on the trees and the pale blue sky beyond them. 
     As I go to get the newspaper from the mailbox, I pause at the door to the study because the early morning sun casts flickering shadows of the trees outside on the grey carpet, a gentle dancing mirage that I watch for a moment or two.
     On the way up the garden path I notice that a large white hydrangea flower lies half in soft sunlight, half in deep shadow, against dark green leaves. I pause, thinking about the art of presence, and why nothing can exist now if it is not photographed, but I go back in anyway and get my camera to take a photo of the flower. Perhaps as atonement I stand near the entrance of the beehive and let the coming and going of the bees envelop me for a while before I finally return to the kitchen with a newspaper which I will never read in the course of this long day. 


My wife has taken the two older children to a school holiday theatre performance. I take our youngest son Gabriel out into the back garden. The sun is hot but the wind is cool and bends the tree tops towards the east. Gabriel is nearly two but does not speak any words. He understands, though, and is in turn understood. Rain dries on the deck. Our old cat sleeps curled on the beanbag. I crouch to look in the netted butterfly enclosure, counting 21 monarch caterpillars and one chrysalis. The caterpillars start to move as the morning warms and I watch their heads bob as they eat the milkweed I have cut for them, the leaves slowly disappearing with crescent shaped bites. Briefly Gabriel and I are sitting side by side on the deck, knees touching, in a warm patch of sunlight filtered through the wattle tree. I look at the flowers in the pots—morning hues of crimson, magenta, saffron—and revel in this temporary stillness with only the hum of traffic, distant, and bees, nearer, and the breath of moving air swept this way and that through leaves. 
     Then Gabriel runs down the garden to the trampoline pausing only to point out the police helicopter overhead. He makes his sign for butterfly—an opening and closing of his hand like flapping wings. Like all language it is now extended beyond its original meaning and I recognise it as his sign for flying. I walk down to the vegetable patch and attend to tying the apices of the growing tomato plants to their stakes whilst Gabriel jumps on the trampoline. Somewhere via the swirling wind I hear the sound of piano scales that seems like the music of time past. I watch the unspoilt joy that Gabriel has in jumping on the trampoline and recognise the same lit up smile as when I throw him into the air and catch him repeatedly, his long hair falling around his shoulders.
     We sit on the beanbag reading stories before his morning nap. The sun beats in through the pergola and turns to shimmering heat. Gabriel points out the passing police helicopter again. After I have put him to bed, I tread quietly back up the cool, dark central corridor of the old villa looking at our photographs on the wall and wondering about the previous lives of this house of dust and shadows. Somehow makes me think of the first time we came here during an open home, as potential buyers, how the master bedroom had smelt of foot odour and how my wife and I stood at the kitchen window staring out to the tall trees in the back garden and whispered excitedly to each other “This is the one”.


I am looking absently out of the kitchen window.
     “What are you dreaming about?” says my wife.
     I smile. “I am dreaming I have a hat. It looks very good on me” I say without pause.
     “You also have a hat. It looks very good on you too” she says.
     These lines are well rehearsed, from the book We Found a Hat, which we have read innumerable times to Gabriel and are enough to bring me into the present.
     I look up the tide chart.
     “Why don’t we take the kids to Point Chevalier Beach this afternoon?” I suggest.
     My wife agrees.
     At about this time of day our shadows are the shortest they will be during the year and the children and I stand on the deck looking down at our shadow selves trapped right under our feet.

High tide 3:15 p.m. 

When I first came to Auckland, I argued with my wife about why isn’t Point Chevalier pronounced as it is in French, rhymes with day, but no she said it is pronounced Cheval-ier, as in the English, rhymes with here, this is how it is.
     We zig zag down the path to the beach past the old brick house with no right angles and its jacaranda that has burst into the deepest purple flowers and down where the pohutakawa branches spill eagerly over each other until they meet the very edge of the water. The pohutakawas at this time of year are splashed with bright red flowers and the path is a red carpet of their fallen stamens. Looking up I see a child’s kite stuck high up in a tree—its yellow plastic flapping in the wind, trapped amongst crimson inflorescence. The beach is thin as it is dead high tide and people lie on the grass and on what sand there is, in front of the muddy turquoise water, like Seurat’s bathers.
     A man sits in a deckchair drinking a beer while his children play in the sand. Gabriel runs off with one of their spades. The man says sure, it's okay, he can play with it. Gabriel ruins one of their sandcastles. The man does not look happy.
     Millie and Noah make the palisade of a pā out of foraged driftwood. Millie asks me to take a photo of it on my phone, but I say no we don’t need to photo everything—just remember how it looked in your mind.
     The drive back home is the normal mixture of backseat yelling, ice cream and tears. We have fish and chips for dinner.


I sit in the formal lounge, the oldest room of the house with its thick beamed ceiling as it was a hundred years ago. The evening sun streams diffusely in through the high windows, past the leaves of the cherry tree, casting the same shimmering soft shadows on the pastels of the cushions. I am sitting next to our Christmas tree, watched over by the scarlet angel that balances crookedly at its very top. The room is quiet and smells of pine needles.
     Gradually, as I sit still, thinking, the sun approaches the horizon turning trees into silhouettes. Somewhere in the distance I can hear a helicopter flying through the same thin blue sky that swathes all of this slanted world, yours and mine, north and south. Our home, which is both calamitous and resplendent, filled with the ordinary and the ethereal, at once tangible and fathomless.

The speed of light is an unsurpassable constant

If you were wondering, I believe the reason you can’t exceed the speed of light is to do with special relativity. For were you to approach this speed your mass would increase so vastly you would cease to accelerate and time would slow to an eventual and relative stop. 

Alex Kazemi is an Intensive Care doctor and aspiring writer. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife and three children. He writes more occasionally than he would like, in the small gaps between work and home and not usually on the day following either solstice. He has had work published in Thin Air magazine. He sometimes peruses Twitter as @kazemialex


December 21, 2019

On Thanksgiving, my two sons declared that humans were doomed and the end was only a decade or so off. Every maternal instinct I harbor kicked into gear and I immediately enrolled all of us in an Urban Survival class which happened to be scheduled for the 21st. The guys collectively groaned with skepticism and of course regretted voicing their dismay, yet the 37 year old met the leader early and my 27 year old ghosted up behind me like a ninja just before we made it to the 10 a.m. appointment at Central Park. It was thirty degrees but the sun was out and the wind light.
     Shane, our leader, has been featured in the NY Times, CNN, the New Yorker, and he'd worked with FEMA, NYPD and Special Forces and had a sideline as a stunt man. A small guy, he was half Native American and at one point casually collected a stray piece of bark from the park and turned it into rope. Shane started off by making it clear what happened to whiners: honey all over them, and left strapped to a tree. He said FEMA is not interested in saving people, that in case of emergency try to get out of town as quickly as possible. Since I had once walked out of Manhattan for a Vogue assignment, strolling along for eight hours and twenty-five miles, I knew which bridge was best. Shane told us we had to be prepared to walk for twenty-four hours. Wear the right shoes, with silk liners. I'd also spent nearly a year in South Sudan a long time ago, but when Shane asked how many of us knew how to make a fire, I realized in Sudan a fire was always lit, or some child brought a coal over from another one in his bare hands. What luxury!
     After an hour of mind-boggling instruction in the cold, we went to sit in a coffeeshop. A father/daughter or May/December couple had joined us and she was the one, after another two hours, who put down her pencil (we were all taking notes), and said maybe a cyanide capsule is just easier. Shane side-tracked, telling about how some Native American groups had decided not to procreate, though some decided to have as many children as possible. He talked about where to get medicinal oils and about the healthful benefits of bear fat. Did he veer into conspiracy theories? Not too far. He did say to have copies of your net worth with you because FEMA was going to discriminate. He talked for five hours, two hours overtime. He also teaches a class in shadow tracking, enabling you to disappear in plain sight, and a class in fire-making, both of which were of interest to my sons. Afterwards, they had more important things to do than walk through Central Park with us and after a few Wows, peeled off into Manhattan.
     My husband and I decompressed at a coffee shop on the other side of the park, splitting a sandwich that was surely was made of bark, some kind of waffle. There are only seven safe places in the world, we repeated, and here is not one of them. En route to the subway, we were lured into Cooper Hewitt where the exhibits were full of brilliant ideas for easing us out of our petroleum-based culture: algae-based plastic, bio-cement, and seaweed yarn. I couldn't help but think about how glitzy it all looked, how far away these solutions were to real change.
     Would I buy a 22 caliber pistol? The collapsible bow? What about that nice wrist GPS? I forgot to ask about rain coats, but what about toilet paper for my go-bag? How can I collapse that? Isn't it egotistical of me to try to stay alive, to assume that my DNA (forget my genes, they're on their own) are worth saving? I'm old. Palliatives, how important are they in the equation?
     After the museum, my feet were killing me.
     All this apocalyptic talk was ripe for a long serious discussion. Instead we watched Dolomite is My Name. Halfway through, my friend in faraway Victoria B.C. called to say she'd “kicked the tires” on the houseboat we're trying to buy in Fisherman's Wharf. It's called “Noah.”

Author of 19 books of fiction, poetry, memoir, biography, and a book of Nuer oral poetry, Terese Svoboda published Great American Desert (stories) in 2019, and Theatrix: Play Poems is forthcoming from Anhinga Press in 2021.


December 21, 2019
Castro Valley, CA

The shortest day of the year felt pretty long to me, probably because my husband and I went out and socialized with people we don’t know well in the evening, which is not something we do all that often.

As usual, the neighbor’s dog woke me at 6:30 am, yapping from across the street. I checked my email before returning to bed and got absorbed in an exchange with someone in my online writing group (very international, very good writers, mostly women I’ve never met in person—I’ve only met the two others in California). She asked why I was so frustrated with my hybrid work-in-progress The Lunatics’ Ball and it turned out that articulating my problems with the nonfiction voice was very useful.

I went back to bed and didn’t get up until 10:30. I read an article in the local newspaper about “turtle stranding season” in Cape Cod over breakfast—a bowl of cereal and a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Rising sea levels because of global warming are making it worse. After breakfast I worked a bit on a “Top Ten Things in 2019” that a lit mag asked me to do. I wanted something personal, maybe even funny, but mine’s turning out to be about climate change and I’m looking up all these statistics, which is making it less and less personal, more and more depressing. Our son majored in Environmental Science and Public Policy, which means it’s something we talk about a lot in our household, especially when he comes home on Sundays to do his laundry and have dinner with us.

I finally opened the box for a steamer I bought for new linen curtains months ago and never used. Steamed our Christmas tablecloth, which has cranberry and gravy stains but which I like because it was my aunt’s and she always made a big deal over Christmas. I wrote the first two sentences of this paragraph before I’d actually steamed the wrinkles out of the tablecloth, which I didn’t really feel like doing, but then felt compelled to do because I’d written it down. This might work better than “to do” lists in the future. Write down an accomplishment as if it’s already occurred to make it happen. Or is that too much like those New Age motivational speakers who say you only have to imagine something for it to come true?

I used to teach the English department’s nineteenth-century American literature survey and I’ve always been suspicious of the famous “Build, therefore, your own world” passage in Emerson’s “Nature.” At least that line’s famous, maybe not the rest: “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit. So fast will disagreeable appearances, swine, spiders, snakes, pests, madhouses, prisons, enemies, vanish; they are temporary and shall no more be seen.” I’m tempted to quote more and start lecturing, but you get it. He wants to imagine his own version of the world and get rid of things he dislikes, with very little sense of nature as an ecosystem that requires pests, for example, to nourish birds, and very little sense of the limits of human will power. Maybe that’s inspiring, but it annoyed me. Even more annoying was his advice in “Self Reliance” to shut your door on “emphatic trifles” and follow your genius. (Though I’ll admit I love the phrase “emphatic trifles,” that entire sentence really.) “At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,—‘Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion.” That’s quite a list, and includes things you can’t shut your door on. You can bet someone’s on the other side of the door taking care of it all, and she’s a woman.

To be fair, it’s not so different from Woolf’s advice to kill the Angel in the House and claim a room of one’s own, but of course it is different, because he wanted all those angels in the house, wives and daughters and maids, taking care of the children and “emphatic trifles” so he could write. (I haven’t mentioned my husband, who deals with more than his share of our “emphatic trifles” so that both of us can write. I appreciate that.) I put the tablecloth on the dining room table, and polished two silver candlesticks. Just two candlesticks felt like a chore, and I thought of all those nineteenth-century Concord women regularly polishing silver and how their days must have been filled with tedious tasks. And my nineteenth-century Irish and Irish-American female forebears, working for women like those Concord women, and how their days must have been filled with even more arduous tasks. (It’s possible they wouldn’t envy me sitting at my computer all day either, but I feel privileged to have a room of my own and a door I can shut.)

I returned to my study and waded through more email. There’s a lot I should unsubscribe from, but I can’t get rid of the university. The recurrent bulletins we’ve been getting from IT make no sense at all. “ITS is requiring all users of H: drives to migrate their data to the ‘My Drive’ folder Google Drive by year end. If you don't have the ‘Google Drive File Stream’ (GDFS) client installed on your workstation …” The what? For what? If I don’t know whether I have it, do I even need it? Several pages of this, every couple of weeks. What will happen in ten days to those of us who’ve ignored these cryptic missives?

I suddenly remembered a “learning activity” that the university’s requiring me to take, and I might actually get in trouble for not doing it, so I scrolled back through more emails trying to find it, and decided to do it before I forgot. I got “CSU’s Discrimination Harassment Prevention Program for Non-Supervisors” to open, after some problems with a pop-up blocker, and the activity (a series of videos and power points and quizzes) took almost an hour to complete. How could I have imagined that nineteenth-century women had lives filled with more tedious tasks than this?

I wrote some more of this account of my day, eating a yoghurt at my desk, and then settled down to read Carole Seymour-Jones’ biography of Vivienne Eliot for a couple of hours. Took some notes, as I’m writing about her in The Lunatics’ Ball. (Another sad story, another woman who died in a mental asylum. Would Emerson just imagine these madwomen out of existence? Madhouses were on his list.)

A couple of minutes on twitter turned into half an hour before I showered to go out. I don’t count that as wasted time because I read other flash writers and they read me. Checked my email one last time and found a rejection from the CutBank flash nonfiction contest. “We enjoyed reading it and … hope you’ll submit again in the future.” Wondered briefly whether that was an actual soft reject, or just what any contest would say because they want lots of writers to submit to their next contest. It’s a flash I like, kind of funny, so I’ll send it somewhere else.

It was good to get out for the evening, a cheery dinner party for twelve at the home of a French student of my husband’s (a former U.N. interpreter) and her husband (who traveled the world working for the United Nations doing I can’t remember what—something to do with animals?—it’s too late to ask, as we’ve been to dinner parties of theirs before, and I’m supposed to know). More talk about food, books, and travel than politics. Some talk of Hong Kong, the strikes in France, nothing about the impeachment, which I’m tired of talking about too. Stories about this year’s California wildfires, how close they came, what people packed in their cars in case they were evacuated, whose power was turned off, for how many days.

On the way home, I noticed that the Safeway in our small town has a bunch of gala banners fluttering in the breeze outside, brightly lit in the dark: “Re-Grand Opening.” Since the Safeway has been on Castro Valley Boulevard as long as I can remember, and we’ve lived in this town for twenty years, I have no idea what this could be. I guess since nothing much happens here, we might as well repeat good stuff that happened a long time ago.

Jacqueline Doyle’s flash chapbook The Missing Girl is available from Black Lawrence Press. She had her fifth Notable Essay listing in Best American Essays this year, and has essays forthcoming in Passages North, Sonora Review, and Fourth Genre. Find her online at and on twitter at @doylejacq.


I check my left foot, first thing upon waking. The area around the knuckle —or, more specifically, the medial cuneiform bone on the top, near the inner edge—is silvery blue and swollen. A reminder of my mortality. Two days ago I’d been working on an art collage and, unable to find the Exacto knife, had decided to use one of the spare blades that came in the little vial of five double honed blades. I dropped the vial.  Sharp blades fell in all directions. One sliced my right middle finger and the another lodged itself, upright, in my left foot. Seeing a two-inch blade protruding from my foot, was surreal. I felt no pain as I pulled it out from where it had sliced down about a half-inch. Lots of blood squirt to form a dark puddle on the floor, but no visible cut. The blood stopped with pressure but then it started to pool, like a blue stone, under my skin. A puncture wound is no joke. Google it, if you want to know.

Daily foot checks have become a necessity because the package of blades contained the following information: Our Edge Makes the Difference. Warning! All blades have sharp edges. This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. I can’t imagine what chemicals might be found on a doubled honed blade, but whatever they are, they’ve now entered my blood stream where they will feed a lifelong fear (second only to blindness) of developing an incurable cancer.

I look in the mirror and am more than a little joyed to see that I’m having the first outstanding hair day in a least a month. It’s no accident. I had a reading last night in a café and did a full wash, blow-dry, scrunch to prepare.

I’m letting Steve sleep in because it’s his birthday. I throw on boots fitted with ice grippers over my pjs and take our tiny black poodle out for a frosty business-walk. We’ve always had larger dogs that didn’t need a human with them in the yard, but I’ve seen the way the red-tailed hawks look at Ollie.

Our yard and driveway are a shiny frontier of white ice, except for one small patch of bubble-gum pink, where I spray-painted the mailbox last week. Ollie hates sliding around on the slippery snow. I feel sturdy in my traction cleats and show off a bit with a sprint. Ollie can’t get his groove on. He squats and pees, looking around like he’s afraid of being eaten. He needs to do more, but there’s nothing to sniff in the cold. No dirt or grass to scratch. We end up in the woods and he circles several spots, only to deem them unacceptable. A forlorn whistle calls from a train rolling along the Hudson toward New York City. After about ten minutes I get grouchy.

Come on, Ollie! Songbirds and squirrels scatter. I feel monstrous and give up, settling for just pee. If someone invented a way to get small dogs to pee and poop quickly in the bitter cold, us small dog owners would line up to pay whatever price. I stick Ollie inside and fill the bird feeder until it overflows with their favorite seeds, nuts, and berries. I apologize for my earlier outburst as I sprinkle a path of seeds to our door.

Back inside our warm house I make a fire in the woodstove and feed Ollie. I give him his anti-seizure med rolled up in a piece of leftover chicken. He spits out three times, and three times I stick it back into an additional piece of chicken, before it finally goes down his throat. Love takes consistency.

I look under the Christmas tree for a birthday gift for Steve. December 21st is an inconvenient birthday, especially for someone who craves full birthday adoration. Steve’s friend Norm, a devastatingly good baker, had offered to make a scratch carrot cake, but I’m not counting on it. It’s everybody’s busy season. I’ve never made a carrot cake. I wonder if I have enough carrots.

I look out my kitchen window and catch my breath. Between the white snow and the blue sky lies a horizontal strip of saturated rose-pink edged in pale-gold. I’ve read that light knows when we’re looking at it and behaves differently because of it. This feels like solid truth. I put my grippy boots back on and walk out into the soft, golden light to what we’ve always called the root cellar, a mysterious stone chamber built into our hillside—ten-feet wide by six-feet high. A reminder that much is hidden.

Recent research I’ve undertaken for an essay suggests our root cellar might not be where previous homeowners stored their carrots and onions after all. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been curious, slightly enchanted by the structure nestled into the crest on the woods since we moved into our hundred-year-old house in the Hudson Valley twenty-years ago. I think my deceased mother tried to communicate with me near the structure several years ago when I was walking the dog.

The stone chamber might be: something to do with the winter solstice sunrise alignment, a portal to another dimension, a Native American ceremonial cave, something to do with aliens. Though not exactly sure what I’m looking for, I’ve been waiting for this solstice to see what happens with the light in the cellar. I’ve rabbit holed the topic and ended up studying Stonehenge, the prehistoric European monument. I approach the cellar and find that it looks disappointingly the same as always, except I do notice some previously undetected faint blue paint around the door opening.

By the time I get back inside and look out, the sky no longer looks like grapefruit sorbet. It’s more silvery-blue. While savoring my warm croissant and espresso, I watch the trailer for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women. I’m charmed to read that she was inspired to recreate the golden light of childhood she found in Winslow Homer’s paintings. 

Steve is now up and agrees we can see Greta’s film on Christmas day. My boys, now men, think they’re too cool for it and won’t be joining us. Steve is happy that his sons will be playing music, jamming and recording, with him at a friend’s house studio today. I plan to write and grocery shop while they’re out. I’m also hoping to sneak a nap, something Greta would probably never do.

As I drive out of our driveway to shop, I admire our pink mailbox, festooned with bright blue polka-dots, making it impossible to miss. It replaces our previous pink mailbox that fell apart after twenty years of abuse. Steve and the boys return from their practice and I give Steve his gift. It’s a linen shirt that turns out to be too small. Our eighteen-year-old son ends up taking it. Who ever imagined the boy I could cradle in one arm could grow so tall? I send the boy out to the local camping store to buy Steve a set of his own ice cleats as a consolation gift. Now he too can sprint on ice.

My older son and his girlfriend gather with us for dinner at the nicest restaurant in town. We order two different kinds of oysters as an appetizer and are having a lovely time, greeting neighbors we see through the window and toasting our waters. Steve has been sober for a year, so we toast to that too.

Just like that, my son orders wine. The mood all changes, but nobody says anything to acknowledge it. He’s buying dinner for us. He’s twenty-six. There’s a slippery line between right and wrong. He orders a second glass and becomes progressively moodier, annoyed by small things—the cold from the front door, the speed of our servers, the free birthday dessert. Then things get worse. I’m not going to talk about that. I no longer want to pay close attention. I want to remember a time before anything went wrong.

It’s Steve’s birthday. It’s the winter solstice. We may or may not have a portal to another dimension in our backyard. No matter what else happens, I don’t have a blade sticking out of my foot and, for a few moments in the morning, I saw a sliver of sky that was the color of pink grapefruit.

Anne McGrath's work has appeared in River Teeth, Ruminate, Lunch Ticket, and other publications. Her audio stories have aired on National Public Radio and the Brevity Podcast. Anne is an assistant contest editor at Narrative Magazine and a reader at Fourth Genre. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a Virginia Center for Creative Arts Fellow.



Leinenkugel’s brewing down the block and they’re tryin’ to recreate San Luis Obispo on Main Street. This city is stogies stubbed on car tires, bile dried on sidewalks, and homemade tattoos plotted in the Gordy’s parking lot. But they got white walls and plants that don’t require sun and organic jelly splat on the countertops—this place is full’a shit and I know it. 

Last time we were here, I watched my ice cream cone careen into the Chippewa and now I wonder if that meant something.

Maybe if it had been like this while I lived here, I would’a never left.


The crumbs mark time since her death. I sweep them away, but they come back. I sweep them away but sometimes there’s broken glass, and I worry about sticking all that in a bag. I sweep them away, but still ruminate on the risk of bare skin.

I sweep them away, and I’m helping him fake it. We get thirteen hours of pretending the ficus never died. The towel rack’s still nailed to the wall. Nobody’s ever collapsed on the floor and ridden its stagnant wave.


He tells me I’m soft, and I think about the broom. The ice cream cone falling into the river. The fact that the only reason I know that place downtown is full’a shit is because I left. I think about those times we flipped the bird at one another, and a body withered on the couch, and I wonder if he sees all that too.

Courtney Kersten is the author of Daughter in Retrograde (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018).

Check back tomorrow to read more about What Happened on December 21, 2019. —Ander and Will

No comments:

Post a Comment