Tuesday, July 3, 2018

July 3: Jillian Ivey • Colin Rafferty • Eshani Surya • Morgan Reidl • Ashley Hutson • Laurie Easter • Lisa O'Neill • Ronnie Lovler • Maria Sledmere • Sarah Einstein

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work by the end of June (at the latest: earlier is better!) via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

July 3: Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey • Colin Rafferty • Eshani Surya • Morgan Reidl • Ashley Hutson • Laurie Easter • Lisa O'Neill • Ronnie Lovler • Maria Sledmere • Sarah Einstein


I had to take my car to the auto repair shop at the dealership, about 35 minutes away, by 10. But in order to drive to the dealership to have them look at my driver’s side front tire, which had been slowly leaking for months, I had to put air in said tire.
     At the gas station—the one where you have to pay a dollar (quarters only!) for air, and not the one where air is free because I forgot to put air in my tire when I was near that one Sunday—a woman waved at me while I was getting out of my car. “I needed less air than I thought,” she told me. “No need for you to pay for air if I still have time left on my pump.” I thanked her as she handed the air hose off to me and topped off the air in my tire off until the pump stopped. It was enough.
     I dropped my car at the Honda dealership and walked next door to Hyundai. My husband was bringing his car in for an inspection, and he’d scheduled his service appointment at the same time as my own so we could test drive a few new cars. My lease is up and we don’t need two cars, so we’re planning on turning my car in and trading his toward something new. I have mixed feelings about this. I love my car.
     I made small talk on the Hyundai sales floor with the salesperson assigned to us—a woman, which automatically elevated her in my book. My husband arrived a few minutes later and we set out to drive two different Tuscons with two different trim levels. The cars were priced about evenly, and the mix of features in each felt incomplete. Apparently, we’d have to look at the top trim package to get everything we want.
     The salesperson also escorted us to the Toyota dealership, although she doesn’t sell Toyotas herself, because it’s in the same family of dealerships and this is something they do pretty often. We went for a spin in a Rav4. I liked it; my husband did not.
     Our salesperson had an appointment so we went back to Hyundai, thanked her, and checked on the status of our cars. My husband’s car was ready and had passed inspection but barely. It would need new brakes soon—all the more reason to trade it toward something new. My car was ready, too: leaky tire confirmed, they’d found a nail between the treads and patched the hole. It was not big enough to warrant a new tire, which was a relief given that I’m dangerously close to maxing out my credit card right now. I told the man who called me from the service department that we’d be by shortly, and then my husband and I got into his car together to drive to the next dealership over: Nissan, also in the same family of dealerships.
     The receptionist at the Nissan dealership had just retrieved her lunch—sausage and peppers—and the smell reminded me that I hadn’t really had breakfast. We were assigned to a salesperson with a heavy accent. He walked us through an informational brochure and then showed us some of the Rogue’s unique features. When it was time to go for a test drive, he sat in the back seat while my husband and I took turns at the wheel. We liked the car, but weren’t planning to make a decision that day, which we told the salesman, but that didn’t stop him from calling his manager to make us “an aggressive offer” before we departed. We’re keeping it in mind.
     My husband drove me back through the Hyundai parking lot and into Honda’s so I could retrieve my car. We were hungry and decided to get Thai food at a restaurant nearby. He headed there ahead of me, while I paid the $49 I owed the dealership for my patched tire and readjusted my seat and mirrors.
     The restaurant had a $12, three-course lunch special so we both went with that. Soup, then dumplings, than entrees—a curry for my husband, and something called “angry jungle princess” for me. It had coconut milk in it, which I was not expecting and was not thrilled about, but I ate it anyway.
     We headed home in our separate cars and I immediately got on the phone with a prospective client while my husband responded to the many emails he had missed while we were test-driving cars. Later in the evening, I would participate in a live video chat with the CEO of a non-profit dedicated to empowering tween- and teenage girls. We talked about storytelling, which seems like a fitting way to end a day I was supposed to tell a story about. 

—Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey

Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey is a freelance writer, editor, and communications strategist in Philadelphia. You can read more of her work, sign up for her newsletter, or follow her on social media at jillianivey.com.


When June 21st began, I was waiting in Richmond International Airport to pick up my wife, whose Wednesday evening flight home from a work trip was delayed. We’d had a lot of rain here lately, and the roads to the airport were lined with big puddles.
     Richmond’s not really a late night dining town, at least not on weekdays, so we went to a place called the Galaxy Diner, where I got an open-faced turkey sandwich, because I’d gotten a filling replaced the day before, and my jaw still ached a little from it. Elizabeth got a quesadilla and took a lot of it home for later. We got back home about 1:30, greeted our dog, and went to bed.
     About five hours later, I woke to walk the dog through our neighborhood. He’s old—turns thirteen next month—but still has boundless energy, and his enthusiasm for walking is unabated. The city is repairing a lot of the sidewalks in our neighborhood, so we detoured down a lot of alleys, where the more interesting smells are.
     I’m the morning person in my marriage, so when we got back, I made coffee and fed the dog, our usual rituals. He gets a pill twice a day for a thyroid condition that he’s had for ages; I take a pill for seasonal allergies. He eats a cupful of dog food—the brand is the kind that twelve years ago was a sign that you cared about your dog but now seems like the bare minimum you can give your dog. I ate a bowlful of oatmeal, because my genetics are terrible for heart health, and apparently oatmeal is a good thing to eat for that.
     After my wife woke and I brought her a cup of coffee, we both went to work, which means we moved into different rooms upstairs. I’m trying to write a book proposal right now, and throughout this day, I try to write chapter summaries. This is new to me—to write a book proposal and to write a book that’s a single narrative, as opposed to a collection of essays—and it feels strange to guess at what I might say in the hundreds of pages that I have yet to write. This results in me getting easily distracted from writing the summaries, which means that it’s much easier for me to do light lifts through the day—stuff like coming up with a driving plan for our trip to NYC next week, or how to use the rest of our health care flex spending, which expires on June 30th.
     For lunch, I made a kale salad (see above, re: heart health), as well as some tortilla chips in the oven (simple, really—slice into quarters, spray a sheet with olive oil, lay out the chips, spray and salt them, bake at 425 for 7-8 minutes) and ate the brown layer off the guacamole in the fridge. After lunch, I worked a little more on the book proposal (“do not use the phrase ‘in this chapter, I will,’” advises the Internet) and listened to a Wadada Leo Smith album I’d found the day before at a record shop in town. Then I walked the dog in the afternoon heat.
     When the work day was done—we’ve tried to get better about a work-life balance, with some success—we went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and saw their exhibit on the Horse in Greek Art, at which I learned that the Greeks had a horse/rooster hybrid called a hippalectryon that we only know about because it appears on pottery; no stories about this beast survived.
     The rain had returned when we left the museum, but they provide umbrellas to use on the walk from the museum to the parking garage. It’s a small kindness, but given the year we’ve had, small kindnesses are something I notice more and more.
     We got home and made dinner. Neither of us was terribly hungry, so I scrambled some eggs and ate some leftover shishito peppers that Elizabeth had brought back from her work trip. We watched The Thin Man, and by the time it was over, it had stopped raining, so we took the dog out one more time. He has cataracts and is scared of the dark, so we bribe him with a treat (secretly a joint supplement!) and that’s usually good for getting him at least around the block.
     Before going to bed, we discussed our upcoming travel plans. We usually have a trip somewhere on the books to give us something to work towards and look forward to.
     Finally, as I was brushing my teeth, my phone dinged with its e-mail tone. At 11:26, just a few minutes before the longest day ended, an editor had decided to reject some flash essays I’d sent the previous month. This year, huh?

—Colin Rafferty

Colin Rafferty is the author of Hallow This Ground, a collection of essays on monuments and memorials published in 2016 by Break Away Books. He teaches at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. More essays at colinrafferty.com.


Today, on my last day in San Francisco, I meet Riley and we walk his old neighborhoods. He used to live close to La Taqueria, where he claims the best burritos are. They don’t have rice, but he says they’re the exact wet, sloppy burrito he craves whenever he is out of the Bay Area. Earlier in the morning I asked about El Farolito, another popular spot, and he said, in a text, that what he remembers best about that spot was stumbling into it past 2 AM for a late meal to brace him in his drunken haze.
     I met Riley long after he let the impulses for that behavior dictate his plans. By the time we came to know each other, he was married, co-owner to a lanky rescue dog. He’d already traveled and lived in Southeast Asia, already worked a career-defining position in the tech industry. He was already talking, every so often, about the possibility of having children sometime soon. Some people are easy to imagine risky, but for me Riley was always steady, the one I wanted to drive me to doctor’s appointments and give me advice on asking for a raise at work. I know he had a wilder life before me, but the thought of it is unsettling, an outlier in the logic of him that I have created in my mind.
     We meet at the 24th St Mission Station around noon. I am ten minutes early, and when he ascends the stairs from the platforms to the rest of the station, I feel the spark of gratitude that I always do--that our friendship has lasted through the years, that neither of us seem uncomfortable and obligated  in each others’ presence. We walk a short way to La Taqueria where the line curves around tables. Oh, wow, this is way more crowded than it was when I was here last week, Riley comments, and I’m worried for a moment that he’ll suggest we give up on the endeavor, even though he traveled all the way from The Sunset for one of these heavy burritos. But the people in line wait without irritation, and Riley joins easily too and guides me through the steps. I order a vegetarian burrito, super, and with horchata. He orders meat, carne asada, I think, but more importantly, his burrito is dorado, fried before being served. It’s a style he has never tried, so even here, in a place he knows well, with me there is newness. I wait at a table I spotted and claimed in seconds and I think, of course my presence is newness in itself, but Riley won’t be eating the same food he knows with different company. We’ll both share the same sensation at the same time: the slow chew, the tongue trying to parse out flavors, the cataloguing of all the other burritos we’ve had to decide if we like this one.

At the California Academy of the Sciences. I start in the Osher Rainforest, a four-story sealed space that is more humid than the rest of the building. Birds and butterflies fly free through the air. When I look up, I see the jewel-bright bodies studding a tree. A large blue butterfly—I don’t know the species—pauses in front of me, seems to present, as it unfolds and folds its wings. I have been in rainforests before, near Arenal in Costa Rica most recently, and I’ve never seen so much abundant wildlife. Usually, the trees are quieter, the animals and insects more wary to be seen by humans. But here, watching seems welcome. It seems like the creatures have been briefed, some museum official reminding them that the more we visitors see, the more we’ll be willing to understand and love.

Riley waits for our food by the counter while I occupy the table. At La Taqueria, the seating is precious. We share a smile, a little eyebrow twitch of hah, we’re still waiting, and then he disappears into the fray to return with two red plastic baskets and my horchata. I look down at my food. This is the famous San Francisco burrito. Naked out of its foil, it seems strangely vulnerable. With good reason, I suppose, as I steady my hands on its body, open my mouth, with its many incisors and molars. Some things are meant to be shredded, ruined, but they seem precious in the moments before. We are protective in the most inopportune moments.
     I bite the top right corner of the burrito off. I remember before I left for college, one of my biggest fears was losing all my friends who already knew what I looked like eating. I’d cultivated years of eating with same group on weekdays, with people who liked me in spite of pesto stains on my collar or mayonnaise dribbling out of the corner of my mouth. I’ve eaten in front of Riley before--many times—but never a burrito with my hands. I wonder if he is archiving the moment as a new version of me, but maybe not. Maybe he is more used to these nebulous friendships, friendships that seem like hallmarks of adulthood, where people shift and change and revert and we are not able to witness and understand each twist. If we accept this, we last.

When the sun starts to set, I walk all the way back to the hostel from the park, even though my legs are already tired. I want to catch my last glimpse of the city before I have to wake up at 6 AM tomorrow to head to SFO. Through the park, into Haight-Ashbury, Hayes Valley, near the Civic Center, just past the Tenderloin, until I hit Market and go north.
     All I can feel is the music, pounding through my earbuds, and the muscles in my legs twitching. By the end of tonight I will have walked almost fourteen miles, and I will want to keep going. I love being a ghost in the city, moving and moving, taking up as much as I can in strides. I love swallowing up space without really being seen. I love that someone could look at me from the easternmost point of the city and wonder, who is that girl, and the same could happen on the west side too. I could be anyone after that long journey.

In glass boxes there are other animals. Snakes, with alert eyes, and fish circling the same square feet again and again. A poison dart frog seems desperate to escape. It is the same in the aquarium, where I see blue tangs in perpetual cycle and eels that lay on what should be seafloor, but is only silt in a tank. And in the rest of the museum, there are dead things: whale skeletons, a slice from a redwood tree trunk, stuffed giraffes and antelopes and lions. Why is there vibrancy so close to what’s frozen, what’s trapped, these facsimiles?

I eat. I’m so hungry at first all I can register is that the food is “good.” But soon I can taste the flavors, cheese and sour cream melting together. After, I tell Riley I’m so, so happy. This is exactly what I wanted, spicy sourness of the salsa, the beans, perfect ovals against my soft palate. He is relieved, saying that he was worried he’d talked up the place too much, especially because the Mexican food in Tucson is excellent. For a moment, his gentle awkwardness, which I have always treasured, as it is an offshoot of his concern over other people’s comfort, is exposed, and I know that he wants me to love the same places in San Francisco that he considers fundamental to him. At some point, I ask him if the burrito dorado is tasty, and he nods enthusiastically, and I am glad to be part of another joy he discovers in this place.

The exhibits aren’t so unlike what I’ve just seen in Riley’s life, spectator as I was. It isn’t so unlike how I revisit my own old lives too. What’s alive is our own feelings about these places, the desire to delve back in, the obsession with imparting that time onto the people we care about. What’s dead is the rest of the ecosystem. Everything that Was is hollow, only a backdrop for the feeling. And yet the staging only amplifies those same feelings too.

When we finish, Riley asks me what I want to do next and I say that I don’t have plans, so he suggests we just walk into the rest of The Mission and Valencia Street so that I can see it all. Around us, the streets feel like an intersection of home for me too. Gridded streets with trees that gently pendulum in the breeze, like living in the East Village when I was nineteen. The burbles of Spanish like the families crossing 147th Street up where I lived after college. The murals, bright with color, almost like Tucson, where I live now, where I lived when I met Riley. We went to coffee on the first day I was there on my own. There was a monsoon, but he rode his bike through the rain to become my friend. I wonder, if I could peer into that early conversation how I would see the two of us. I imagine in some ways we’d be unrecognizable.

Alone, I double back on the walk to fill my stomach at a dosa restaurant on Market. I don’t eat food like this in Tucson. It holds so many memories of my heritage, eating it with my grandmother and mother after visiting temple, sharing it with my Indian roommate during Diwali.
     The waiter asks me if I work in the area, and I enunciate too clearly when I tell him I am a tourist. I don’t want to pretend, because I have a feeling that one day I’ll return to San Francisco, a resident now, who will be unrecognizable to the people who know me now until we get so close that have to make out my features properly. And then I can tell him, this waiter, exactly who I am and why I am here and how much I belong. I will say it every day, until I’m ready to move on.

We talk for a long while, stopping for coffee at a place where Riley worked after college, and he tells me what it used to be like. There’s a story here about a customer yelling at him for cutting a loaf wrong, which he told me months ago. We sit in the same spot where it happened, as though the energy has persisted through all the renovations of shop and self. After, we keep going. Riley points out a hill close to where he used to live. I stop at Tartine Bakery for a lemon tart with a dollop of cream on top to eat later. He suggests we look at the flavors of ice cream at B-Rite and then impulsively orders a small cup. He gets honey lavender and asks me what else we should add. Carrot cake? I say, unsure if that’s a terrible suggestion. He shrugs. Carrot cake! Why not? We eat on a bench outside, marveling over the tastes, the thick swirl of the ice cream, the strangeness lemon notes that have emerged, the bits of pure cake imbedded in it.
     It occurs to me that I would be the same if someone visited me in New York, the place that shaped me. I’d take them on a path through the East Village, narrating the whole way: I used to have class in those three buildings, that Starbucks is where my first college boyfriend broke up with me, that’s where we got coffee on Sunday mornings before starting work in the dorms, I used to take that NQR line up from Union Square to my literary agent internship, I always got the hazelnut ice cream at Sixteen Handles until I ended up being allergic, Veskelka is where I lost my favorite earrings while drunkenly crawling on the bathroom floor, Blind Barber is where we would go to dance until one of the bouncers told my friend he couldn’t dance on the tables. That was a girl I lost, had been seeking for years, finally have let go of. And yet, maybe like Riley, I wouldn’t mind inhabiting her for a bit, letting my friends in to an earlier iteration. Her existence is a stranger’s now, made to experiment with.

The last exhibit I enter is the fog room. It looks like a bathroom after a too-hot shower, but the white clouds are cool on my cheeks. I think, why not just go outside to see this? In all the mornings I’ve spent in San Francisco, the sky floods with this opaqueness. But it isn’t always possible, I realize. Some days we wake up too late to catch the fog. Some days the sun decides to be brighter. Someday, far off in the future, there may not be fog, depending on what we do to our planet, and all we will have is this room, constructed memory. In time, it will be become precious, a tool to inform the future, a beautiful place to return to, whenever we need. The room isn’t meant to overtake reality, only whisper even more truth for us to sink into.

When Riley and I say goodbye, we hug on the MUNI and I hop off. I miss him already, knowing that I won’t see him for at least another couple of months. When I see him, I’ll have to learn everything new he is. I’ll have to parse out the ripples of change that he won’t articulate, both because he can’t and because I don’t want to be told, I want to find out.
     I imagine it, both of us at the coffee shop we usually go to in Tucson, mirroring each other as we sip at our drinks. Keepers of the microcosms only we are privy to, even as we rip the memories apart and make space for whomever we need to be in that time.

Eshani Surya

Eshani Surya is a current MFA student in fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she also teaches undergraduates. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in Terrain.org, Ninth Letter Online, New Delta Review, and Lunch Ticket. She was the 2016 winner of the Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction from New Delta Review. Eshani is also a 2018 Summer Fiction Mentor at Adroit Journal. Find her @__eshani or at http://eshani-surya.com. 


My morning started early, with a text at 4:54: “Get your ass up class in 45 min.”
     I hadn’t been to a morning gym class in a year, since finishing my master’s thesis occupied most of my thoughts—waking and sleeping, even though I didn’t have nearly enough time for many sleeping thoughts. But this week at my usual Monday afternoon spin class, the instructor mentioned she was going to do TRX during her Thursday morning boot camp. I hadn’t done TRX in probably two years, when my instructor moved to Hawaii.
     This is all to say, it had been a while since I had seen this hour, let alone worked out during it.
     I didn’t get up at the text, waiting until 5:25 to roll out of bed, which my remembering self recalls as being easier than I’d expected. My experiencing self would probably argue this.
     The class was fun and didn’t feel too challenging until the pull-ups at the end, but that was the sort of challenge I crave—invigorating.
     It was an early start to what turned out to be one of the longest days.
     At 4 pm I drove half an hour to meet up with a woman whose farm house I was going to take care of while her family was away. She gave me a tour of the house and introduced me to her two dogs, cat, chickens and turkeys, and two horses.
     While it was a lot of information, I felt confident.. until I tried to leave. My truck wouldn’t start. Not. At. All. Not even close. No lights. Just a strange, tinkery clicking.
     I called my mom because that’s what I do any time anything remotely “adult” happens to me that I don’t know how to handle. She suspected I had a dead battery and when she asked when I last replaced my battery and my answer was “huh?” she was sure it was my battery. My Ford F150 is eight years old.
     While this conversation was happening, the homeowner had reappeared with a stray dog she had found earlier and was keeping in a kennel until the owner could be reached. I explained my situation, and she offered to jump my truck. The process itself was new to me, and my ignorance was obvious and, for a yet-to-be-analyzed reason, discomfiting.
     Still, it worked—took a few tries, but eventually my blue truck started.
     With Big Blue running, I wasn’t going to stop until I made it to Walmart’s auto center, at my mom’s recommendation.
     Except about 100 yards out of the driveway, Blue stopped running, so I coasted to the side of the road.
     At that point, I called my insurance’s roadside assistance number to arrange for a tow.
     I was required to pick a destination within 15 miles of my current location. But I wasn’t familiar with the part of town I found myself stranded in. I could have used my phone to help figure this out, but—obviously—I was having a conversation on it.
     When, to my still persisting confusion, the representative couldn’t tell me the place closest to my house, I asked her to tell me the relative location of the first place she named.
     “It’s south, a little west, and north-east.”
     “… that’s all the directions.”
     She offered to put a hold on the request while I figured it out myself, but I didn’t want to wait any longer than I had to. It was already after 5, and I realized auto shops would be closing if they weren’t already. So I just picked the first location she named.
     After I hung up, I googled. Realizing the place she named was closed, I called the Ford dealership, which I had been to in the past, to see what could be done about a dead battery. Fixed tomorrow morning, if the truck was indeed just in need of a new battery.
     Which was an if. Earlier when I was on the phone, the homeowner had passed me on the street and invited me back to her place to wait for the tow truck. She seemed to think I might be in need of an alternator. Not knowing what was wrong with the truck made figuring out where to take it—already a challenge—even more complicated.
     The dealership was 14 miles away—within the 15-mile tow radius. But if the truck needed more work done than a battery replacement, the timeline was uncertain. I decided to risk it. I called the insurance agency back to change my destination.
     Within the hour a tow truck arrived, and Jon stepped out. He was able to jump Blue and drive it onto the ramp, which he assured me meant the alternator wasn’t the problem. As I was getting into the passenger seat, he verified the destination and I told him I’d called insurance to change it. He didn’t have any record of it.
     “I can get in trouble for taking you somewhere else, but I’m also not an asshole.”
     He said he’d call base to see if they’d gotten a notification of the request (they hadn’t), but in the meantime he asked me if I’d been to Ford before. I had, I explained, and I was only picking it because I knew it and it was open and they could get me a new battery in the morning… if it was just a battery I needed.
     “Morning? Hold on, I know a guy at Tony’s that can get you one tonight.”
     I’d heard of Tony’s actually, but I figured they were closed. “They’re open?”
     “Oh no, but they hang around there until 8 or 9 or 10 at night sometimes.”
     He called, and sure enough they were there, and so that’s where he took me.
     Blue was so dead, Jon had to jump it to get it off the tow truck. Tony and his assistant checked the battery and pronounced it shot. It wouldn’t hold a charge at all. Then they set to work replacing it.
     Meanwhile I waited inside with Jon as Tony popped in and out, on and off the phone with what seemed to be his wife, who seemed to want him home already.
     “You married or engaged?” Jon asked.
     “No, but I’m in a pretty committed relationship.”
     “Gonna get married?”
     “There’s nothing like it.”
     “Yeah. Me and my wife are separated right now, but I’m sure we’ll work things out. We just needed some space. It’s been good for us. Made us talk about things we’d kept bottled up.”
     “Yeah, I think so.”
     Tony walked in with the prognosis. Blue was fine. A new battery really was the answer.
     I texted my mom, the woman who I was going to house sit for, and my landlord whose truck I’d asked to borrow in case of an emergency—all to let them know the good news.
     As quickly as my catastrophizing mind escalated this to disaster, these people had deescalated it. It felt like some small miracle—the relief of having sidestepped, even though it was just serendipity, a greater disaster was invigorating.
     And so I drove home on a high from having replaced my car battery, feeling quite lucky.

—Morgan Riedl

Morgan Riedl is a writer based in Fort Collins, Colorado where she lives with her horse and dog. She has an MA in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University.


I woke up late and groggy, and I tried to recall my dreams. Once I committed them to memory, I took up my ancient computer tablet to perpetrate the first bad habit of the day: scrolling through the internet.
     My husband Steve, who is better than me at rising with the morning alarm, came in and kissed me hello. He said he had to film something in the living room for his YouTube channel, so I waited until he was finished with that before I got out of bed and got dressed. I was glad to get out of bed because it meant the night was over. I struggle with neurotic insomnia and irregular sleep patterns, so I was glad my husband was up, too, because once he's awake the black cloud of night thoughts dissipates, and everything seems okay again.
     After Steve packed up his filming equipment, we went into the kitchen to make breakfast. I always have a headache or am getting ready to have a headache, so I took two generic Excedrin Migraine pills. I was also preoccupied by the random memory of an old high school friend who, eight years prior, told me he had unfriended me on Facebook because he did not like my "obvious streak of feminism," I guess because I had posted a brief rant about the whole "Save the Ta-Tas" breast cancer awareness campaign. (I was sensitive about the issue at the time because my mother was going through breast cancer treatment, and I found the slogan disrespectful.) I couldn't stop thinking about how hurt I'd been by my friend's judgment, or how I'd replied to him with a long email explaining that I wasn't "one of those" kinds of women (meaning the kind of hysterical maniac I could only assume he meant when he invoked feminism) and also explaining that I was sorry we wouldn't be in touch anymore because his friendship had meant a lot to me.
     The memory of this situation flew up out of nowhere and kept pecking at me. I felt a little ashamed that this small episode still mattered to me, and that I had put so much stock into Facebook friendship or unfriendship. However, as I stood at the kitchen counter and swallowed my headache pills, I realized that I had been wrong to try and explain myself to this friend, and that I should have instead told him to eat shit and die.
     Anyway. Breakfast. Steve always fries the eggs and fake bacon while I butter the toast and make coffee, and today was no different. We live in an old apartment with questionable wiring, so I was careful to turn off the air conditioner while the coffee brewed to avoid flipping the breaker.
     As Steve cracked the eggs into the pan, we got on the subject of the movie The Graduate, specifically Mr. Robinson screaming at Benjamin, "I think you are filth. I think you are scum. YOU ARE A DEGENERATE!" Steve acted out this scene in an exaggerated fashion several times, which delighted us both a great deal. Then we ate breakfast on the living room couch while watching MasterChef, a cooking show where the judges break down the contestants until one of them cries.
     Following breakfast, Steve asked me to help him record character voices for one of his videos. I voiced the female characters. We often waste time giggling over his script, but this time it went pretty smoothly.
     Once that was done, I sat down at my computer desk in the living room to write, and he disappeared into his room to work on video stuff. Our plump tuxedo cat Ottie, who will be 12 years old this December, napped on the couch and was a vision of perfect rest.
     I made notes for this essay. I wrote some fiction that came out like a smelly sock. I checked email. I tried to fix the smelly sock I wrote. This went on for a few hours.
     However, I was still prickled by this memory of the old friend from eight years ago, who I will call MG.
     It is not hyperbole when I say that an obsessive thought loop is similar to an animal hunting me. Sometimes the best way to rid myself of this menace is to drag out the evidence and exhaust the bad memory until it surrenders and dies. To this end, I searched my files for my old, now deleted, Facebook account. I was 27 then, 34 now, and I wanted to see if I had remembered things incorrectly. Had I been a rabid feminist on Facebook in 2010? I didn't recall being any such thing. MG had also mentioned that he'd felt "strong negativity" from my posts at that time, and I wanted to double-check that, too. That claim, at least, seemed plausible.
     But no. I had not engaged in rabid feminism or strong negativity. Instead, I was surprised at how good I was at social media back then: I shared fun things I did, I made corny jokes, I was shockingly pleasant. It's a skill I've lost.
     Just as I'd guessed, the only post that had a remotely feminist flavor appeared on August 23, 2010, and reads as follows: "So on vacation I proudly (and politely) told the Seaside Country Store in Ocean City to go to hell for carrying the incredibly stupid 'Save the Ta-Tas' merchandise. And screw the 'charity' the proceeds are supposedly going toward; let's stop spreading gross male chauvinism in the name of a good cause. My mom has breast cancer. You know what else she has? Class."
     Not my best writing effort, to be sure, but it was written at a time of heightened stress and emotion. It is sincere. It is also 63 words long, which I suppose was 63 words too many for MG's acutely-tuned Negative Feminist radar. Ah, well. At least I was reassured that his claims were groundless. After completing the due diligence on this matter, I confidently returned to my earlier conclusion that I should have told MG to eat shit and die.
     At that point it was 6:05 p.m., and this bunny trail of obsessive rumination had consumed approximately thirty minutes of my time. However, I had effectively strangled the vicious predator that was this memory, so it was time well-spent. To put this beast to rest for good, I decided to do housework and busy my mind with washing dishes and the like. However, just then Steve appeared and asked if I wanted to eat.
     Because our sleep schedules have been miserably off-kilter lately, we called this lunch. I ate half a can of lentil soup and he had a sandwich and an apple, and we both had ice cream for dessert. While we prepared the food he told me about a clamor on the internet that concerned remaking the most recent Star Wars movie. We then chatted about other subjects and exchanged a few inside jokes that would take too long to explain here. Somewhere in there we hugged and kissed each other, and I thought about how much I liked hugging my husband not only because I loved him, but also because there was great comfort in hugging someone much bigger than myself (he is 6 ft tall and I am 4'9). I felt grateful and lucky.
     While we ate, we watched Dynasty, the Reagan-era houseplant phantasm. It's soapy and mindless, and the women's outfits and hairstyles become more spectacularly ugly with each episode we watch.
     We returned to our respective "offices" after lunch and worked some more. I wrote the first part of this essay. Steve took out the trash and took a shower. I wrote some more smelly socks. My teeth had been hurting me on and off all day, so I took some ibuprofen.
     I also looked at the clock several times. Time is like oil here. It slips away so easily, yet I have little conception of it passing on a larger scale, probably because the days are so unchanging and untouched by the outside world. I am always surprised by the clock and calendar.
     Taking an internet break, I read the local obituaries and looked at national news. Donald Trump signed an executive order stopping family separation at the Mexican border, and some of the headlines suggested that the public should feel relieved and consider the matter closed. Reading these headlines, I wondered, for the upteenth time, whether a deep game was being played. Melania Trump also made the news for wearing a jacket that bore the phrase, "I don't really care, do u?" on her way to visit an immigrant detention center. I mean, you can't make this shit up.
     I then looked at the TMZ website even though I know it's trash and think paparazzi are bottom-feeders, and sometimes I actually feel angry reading it because I loathe the culture that glorifies that sort of thing, and half the time I don't even recognize the celebrities because I'm getting older and more out of the loop. But the news had put me in the mood to wallow in trash. I hate the spectacle but I feed the spectacle. I eat the spectacle. America!
     I opened Twitter and found some nice comments waiting for me. The day before, my first professionally-paid short story had been published at a big-time magazine, and people were still being very kind about it. I was surprised at how nice people were being, actually, since I am constantly defending myself against an invisible, hostile audience in my head. I assume people hate me. I don't know why. I don't think I am that hate-able, yet I give myself this distinction when viewing myself through the eyes of others. It's a form of twisted narcissism, no doubt, and an excuse to avoid personal entanglements. But I was proud that this story had been published where it was. I'd always assumed someone like me would never be allowed into a big magazine like that, so I was pleased and mildly bewildered that so many people seemed to like my writing.
     The positive feedback on Twitter beat back the hostile forces raging inside my brain, and whenever that happens I get up enough courage to post something that's just me talking (vs. me publicizing something I wrote, which is oddly less fraught with potential humiliation). But my brain felt dried up as a prune. I logged off.
     Then I checked Facebook, which I went crawling back to in 2015 after deleting my first account during a suicidal funk in 2013. As I had on Twitter, I had shared my story publication news on my Facebook account.
     However, few people had "liked" this post, which by this time had been up for over 24 hours. That really got me down. My 65 Facebook friends are 90% relatives and in-person friends/acquaintances, which is why the lack of likes felt like a terribly personal rebuke. The other ten percent are writer acquaintances who seem like decent people, though I'm fairly sure at least one of them dislikes me or believes me insane.
     (I must add that, the day before, my mother did contact me to offer some unexpected positive feedback on my story after I first posted it, as did my dearest and oldest friend Brian, and my conversations with each of them made me feel so wonderful. And Steve called me his "Granta girl" all day long which made me feel like a million bucks. But all that had occurred 24 hours prior, and I have something broken inside me that will not allow praise to sustain itself. Now all I could see was who did not like or comment on this Facebook status.)
     So, upon seeing the previous day's Facebook post floating lonely as a cloud, I figured my aforementioned fears were confirmed: people hated me.
     I then wished that I did not care so much about the approval or support of others, especially since this approval came in the corrupted form of Facebook "likes" from so-called Facebook "friends," most of whom I had not even or seen or spoken with in five years. I felt deeply ashamed, as it is the height of weakness to admit to caring about these trivialities, even to one's self. The invisible audience rose up inside me yet again, smirking away.
     Which, as usual, made me angry. Surprise! I'm human, motherfuckers. I had had about enough of this guerrilla jury that judged me at all hours and wore the faces of every capable person I had ever known. And anyway, why should I feel ashamed for caring? I wondered. Because it's not cool? Because someone else might think it undignified?
     I concluded that every other person on planet Earth was a fucking idiot. After all, the whole Facebook/social media objective was to encourage people to care about this statistical-self-worth bullshit, so people who pretended like it didn't matter were probably lying. And anyone else who said they were too cool for social media, or somehow avoided it, were either a) people who were old enough to escape the great technological brainwash, b) off-the-grid types, or c) insufferable, privileged liars who had the luxury of in-person social and professional communities.
     I fantasized intensely about walking into the back yard and digging a hole to hell, or sinking to the bottom of the sea while being brutally crushed by metric tons of water. My thoughts took an even more profane turn, at which point I logged out of Facebook.
     It was during this dark fugue that I decided to finally do the dishes and complete housework.
     I took a shower first so I'd have hot water, and afterward I troweled on some good-smelling lotion, because smelling good is one of the few joys of my life that has nothing to do with other people. Then I washed the dishes while watching a Season 2 Three's Company episode, "The Baby Sitters," and scrubbed the sink and the stove and wiped down the counter tops. I felt a little better.
     I also brewed iced tea for Steve. His video editing was taking longer than he expected and he had sequestered himself in his room. I figured I wouldn't cook anything major because he likes to be left alone and plow through it on nights like this. I'm also a nervous cook and, well, I'll take any excuse to avoid cooking. I sneaked a few spoonfuls of hummus and took myself out to the couch, where I cuddled with the cat while playing Scorpion solitaire and Scrabble on my tablet. It was nearing midnight.
     I listened to some music and thought about my family, particularly my father. Steve and I went to my sister's house earlier that week (Monday) to celebrate Father's Day, and all of us had asked him (Dad) questions about his military service. He told us that Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is the only movie that comes close to getting the boot camp experience correct, but even so, it doesn't go far enough. Mom mentioned how his mother didn't cry when he signed up for the Marines, but she did cry when he called home and told her he was being shipped to Vietnam. He was nineteen. My mother was really young at the time, still in high school. We got to laughing because Mom said that when Dad called her to break the news, she just said, "Oh, okay!" because she didn't really comprehend what it meant. His mother did, though.
     While they chatted about this an odd feeling had passed over me. It was the realization that history wasn't just in movies or books, it had happened. It had actually happened. That's a funny thing to admit, but sometimes I forget—not the historical facts, but I forget that it really happened. I think a lot of people forget. We're trained to forget. History is enshrined or memorialized or fictionalized, and then it's like we're allowed to forget it was real.
     I asked Dad if he was scared when he got his orders, and he said yes. He said, "I am not ashamed to say that yes, I was scared." I've thought about that a lot since Monday because it's hard to imagine my dad being scared of anything. With all this on my mind, I looked up some info about the Vietnam War, particularly Da Nang Air Base, where he'd been stationed. Then I worked a little more on this essay.
     Eventually Steve finished up his work around 2 a.m. I could tell he was annoyed with himself because the editing was taking longer than usual, but he was also excited that the final product would look great, and I was happy for him. He made his favorite evening snack, a peanut butter and honey sandwich that we fondly call a "PeeBeeAitch" in varying local and Southern accents, and I finished off the other half of my can of soup.
     Steve wanted to watch a show where Gordon Ramsey fixes gross restaurants in 24 hours, but I was not too keen on this because I don't like watching disgusting things while I eat. I suggested we watch a short John Oliver clip or something while we eat (Steve likes John Oliver) and then watch the restaurant show, and Steve agreed.
     I'm glad we did this, because when we watched the Gordon Ramsey show there were roaches and rats and rotten food all over the place, and in one faux-dramatic moment, a dead mouse dropped out of a toaster. I suspected the TV crew planted the mouse because the restaurant employees hardly reacted, and the mouse wasn't decomposed or smushed or anything. What I'm saying is that the mouse was acceptably dead. Very suspicious. Everything seems so fake on these shows, but I always feel sorry for the people who get fired on camera. Their disgrace radiates through the television. I hope they at least get paid a little bit for showcasing their public shame for the benefit of a TV show.
     After that was over, Steve went in to take care of a few more things on his computer. I took a half a Unisom and brushed my teeth and undressed. I twisted my hair up and clipped it (it is quite long) and climbed into bed.
     I opened a free Bible app I had downloaded a week or two ago even though I'm not religious anymore. The daily reading was from Leviticus, which, when I was a child, had been my favorite Bible book name because I found it beautiful. The excerpt was full of leprosy and ritual killing. One of the leprosy cleansing ceremonies included two birds: one to be killed, and the other to be dipped in its dead partner's blood and released in an open field. I found this image macabre and striking. Then I checked the weather for tomorrow and it called for rain.
     I started playing a game of Penguin solitaire and thought about all the things I needed to do. I needed to cook those vegetables tomorrow. I needed to start exercising again. I needed to tell people I love them. I needed to be less paranoid. I needed to go outside. I needed to read more, and more widely. I needed to open my mind. I needed to write more, write better. Write faster. Wake up earlier. Get off the internet. Keep track of time. Wouldn't it be nice? Wouldn't it be nice?
     Steve brushed his teeth and undressed and came to bed. He smiled and kissed me. A few minutes later, Ottie lumbered up onto the bed and lay down between us. We looked at our tablets for a while, and I played card games until I finally became sleepy.
     Whoever gets sleepy first usually touches the arm of the other and says, "Goodnight, my love," or something to that effect. I like to include, "Sweet dreams," because dreams are the best part of sleep, and I always want the people I love to have good ones.
     I reached over and touched my husband's arm, and I told him I loved him. Then I turned out the light and curled up on my side. And then, like a miracle, I dropped out of consciousness.

Ashley Hutson

Ashley Hutson's writing has appeared in many places in print and online, including Granta, Catapult, Electric Lit, Wigleaf, Fanzine, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She lives in Sharpsburg, Maryland.


The cat wakes me at 6:00 am by clawing the corner of the king-size bed. I turn off my cpap machine, pull off the mask, then stumble to the living room to let her out. She’s hiding when I get to the sliding glass door, and I’m irritated because first she woke me and now I can’t find her. She then jumps out at me from beside the woodstove. I shoo her out and return to my husband’s side of the bed, which I have taken to sleeping on since I returned home ten days ago after being in “town” for three months. Steve died of liver cancer eleven weeks ago today. Every morning, my first conscious thought is he is gone and another day without him. Today is no different, although the cat is competing for this space in my brain.
     I sleep another hour, get up, go pee outside (for there is no indoor bathroom), let the chickens out of the coop, and make my decaf coffee with cream before sitting on the couch (my side, not his) to scan through emails and Facebook. The posts on FB depress me. They are all about the atrocities conducted by our government underneath our very noses. I don’t need more sadness. As one friend described, I am walking in the underworld. I think, I should quit Facebook, but I don’t because living rurally and off the grid, it is a sort of lifeline to the world.
     At 8:00 am, the dog starts barking. I look out the back door. It’s Trinity, an eighteen-year-old girl who is five months pregnant and arrives barefoot. I have hired her to do some work I should do myself, but I have no motivation between my grief and the overwhelming list of tasks piling up that need attention. Besides, Trinity needs the money. She excitedly tells me that as she and her boyfriend were driving up the road, a very large cougar bounded across right in front of their truck. She holds up her hands in an O the size of a grapefruit to show the size of its paws. I tell her I feel justified in my response to my neighbor Tim, whom I asked to hike with me over the ridge to the creek to fix my water line because I didn’t want to go alone, citing as my reason: I’m afraid of cougars.
     About ten minutes later, my friend Hervé arrives with his chainsaw to clear the thicket of ash trees consuming part of the meadow above a grass landing where I intend to put a screen easy-up gazebo. I plan to haul the king size bed outside to sleep for the summer. When the weather turns cold, maybe I’ll get rid of the bed and downsize to something smaller. I show Hervé where to cut and which trees to leave—a wild plum, hawthorne, two apples, and a large ash that is my cat’s favorite to climb. He has three hours before another job, and he makes steady progress, but there is more work than he has time for. When he is leaving, I ask if he wants to keep track of his hours and I’ll pay him at the end. He says he doesn’t want to be paid. I can just pay any expenses that might arise. He had already been coming over to mow the wild, neglected grass before I returned to the land since Steve’s death. He says he will keep chipping away at whatever needs to get done. “We’ll get this place looking pretty,” he says. I start crying because that’s what I do most days and because generosity and kindness is something I desperately need even though I don’t want to admit it and I hate feeling desperate.
     Sometime between Hervé’s arrival and leaving, my daughter and nearly three-year-old grandson wake and come into the house from their bedroom, which has a separate outside access. Tristan has no interest in being indoors. He’s entranced by the chainsaw, and before I realize it, they’ve walked to the neighbors’ place to play on the jungle gym. I notice that Roxy, our dog, is missing, and I figure she went with Lily and Tristan. My friend, Maya, calls and says a few moments ago she saw the backside of Roxy trotting down the trail next to their garden and that their dog Jupiter was most likely with her. Our dogs have been running wild together into the woods. It has become a habit that we are struggling to break. The last time they were gone two nights before returning reeking like skunk. “Oh man, those little shits,” I say. I’m pissed and worried, knowing the cougar was nearby only hours earlier. I hear Lily calling for Roxy and walk down the gravel driveway to tell her the dogs have taken off once again.
     I eat the leftover sushi from the night before. My friend, Robin, took me to town for dinner because I no longer cook and have little appetite. We went to Fred Meyer and printed pictures on her camera from Steve’s 65th birthday celebration, an event more like a living memorial service than a birthday party, twelve days before he died. I gorge myself on the sushi even though I’m not really hungry. I figure it needs to be eaten before it goes bad. Afterwards, I pull the photos out and begin to slide them into the empty slots of a photo album I’m making of Steve. In some of these celebration photos, he looks gaunt. In many, he is smiling, laughing, happy.
Trinity’s boyfriend Cameron arrives to pick her up. He says when they were driving up the road this morning, he saw something brown in the bushes and he thought it was a deer, and then the cougar leapt out, and he slammed on his breaks. It crossed the road in two bounds. He says the cougar was so large that its head to the tip of its tail spanned the distance between the middle yellow line and the white line on the side of the road. We all marvel at them seeing a cougar in the wild in daylight hours, and then share cougar stories. Mine, of when I was woken by cougar screaming and wandered down our driveway, naked in the middle of the night, calling “here, kitty kitty” while looking for my cat because I was afraid she would become cougar snack. I unwittingly walked beneath it as it perched in a tree. And Lily, who also came upon one in the middle of the night as she walked from the barn where she slept at an old boyfriend’s house to go use the bathroom in the main house. She describes how she lifted her jacket high up over her head to make herself look big and stomped her feet. Tristan grins and laughs. He then tells his own cougar story, plucking details from all three stories he has just heard and mixing them into a sort of animated cougar soup.
     The dogs return smelling more like skunk than before they left. Lily drives five miles to the general store to buy hydrogen peroxide to make the de-skunking shampoo to wash Roxy (one-quart hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, and a teaspoon dish soap). Before she leaves, I sign letters to Steve’s creditors who have filed claims against his “estate,” telling them there is no estate because he left no money or assets of monetary value and please don’t contact me further. I stuff them into envelopes for her to mail.
     When she gets back, Lily hauls Roxy into our outdoor clawfoot tub and lathers her thick fur with the hydrogen peroxide/baking soda mixture. Tristan wants to help, but he makes Roxy nervous. She’s wary of little people even though she is fully tolerant of Tristan, so I pull him onto my lap and we sit on the steps to the laundry room next to the tub. At one point, Roxy shakes her entire body. Tristan and my legs are covered in skunky dog water, but it feels good on this ninety-degree day. Afterwards—or maybe it was before because since Steve’s death I have grief brain, which means chronological time is a blur—Lily and Tristan and I kick the soccer ball back and forth on the lawn that is drying out due to the irrigation line from the creek losing its prime and going dry. The ball keeps rolling towards the day lilies, where a chicken is tucked underneath, sitting on a ceramic egg in a makeshift nest. Lily moved the fake egg from the laying boxes in the coop to encourage this chicken to continue laying here after we stole her eggs.
     At 4:15 pm, I have a date to meet Maya at her house to talk. We need to do a clearing. A couple weeks before I returned to the land, when I was still staying in town at the cottage where Steve died, my daughter’s boyfriend, who had been taking care of things on the land, had forgotten to ask someone to close in the chickens for the night when he left to go back into town. He realized this at 10:30 pm and tried calling all the neighbors to ask for help. He was unable to reach anyone but Maya. She refused. She said she was tired and it was late, and no, she wouldn’t do it. I ended up driving an hour to go close the chickens in that night, arriving at midnight. If chickens don’t get locked up at night, they are at risk of being slaughtered. Maya’s refusal to help left me feeling angry, uncared for, and like I couldn’t depend on anybody. I felt truly alone. I was ready to cross her off my list. So I go to Maya’s house, and enough time has passed that I’m no longer irate.
     I say, “I know you aren’t a chicken person and don’t understand the ramifications of not shutting them in at night.” I say, “The last thing I could deal with was more death.” I say, “I appreciate all you have done for me in our friendship and realize no person has the capacity to fulfill every need.”
She says, “I know I let you down when you really needed help, and I’m sorry.”
     I stay too long talking with Maya. It’s 6:30 pm, and I’m a half-hour late to meet Tim to hike to the creek to fix the water line. I run home, and Tim arrives. We gather some tools—a shovel, clippers, crescent wrench, a flathead and Phillips screwdrivers—but we realize that my upper gates have been wired shut and staked down by Maya’s husband in an attempt to keep Roxy from escaping the fence, so she and Jupiter won’t roam. We have to take the long way around by going back to Tim’s property next door and through his upper gate. The trail is full of poison oak. I haven’t walked it since winter when the plants had yet to leaf out. I do my best to tip toe around the plants and evade the branches. We get to my well site and start up the trail to the ridge. The forest floor is dry and crackly. We spot many standing dead madrone trees that could be cut for firewood come autumn when it’s once again safe to chainsaw in the forest. Seeing all this potential firewood is reassuring to me. I may not have Steve around to cut it, but at least I know it is here. The climb is steep. We follow the trail to the ridge where there is a faucet for bleeding air out of the water line from the creek. The pipe is broken in half, severed by a bear who has chewed the pipe on one side of the faucet and ripped it clean apart on the other. Water is pouring out the broken pipe and seeping down the hillside. This is good news. Before going up here, I thought the entire line (2,000 plus feet) from the source at the creek had lost its prime. With Steve gone, I don’t know how to re-prime the system. But if the water is making its way uphill to the ridge from the creek, then once the pipes are sealed back together, there is nothing to stop the water from continuing on down the other side. We talk about how to patch the system and head back.
     Once home, I strip off my clothes and scrub with Tecnu, poison oak cleanser, and rinse off in a cold shower. It’s quiet. Lily and Tristan went to town for the night. I’m alone, except for the animals. The light is fading. I eat cheese puffs for dinner, a couple of bites of leftover tofu, and a See’s candy still hanging around since Mother’s Day. And because the nights are always the hardest (next to that first realization upon waking in the morning), I need something to distract me, so I turn on the TV and watch a couple episodes of Sex and the City. I’m no longer getting any sex, and I certainly don’t live in the city, so it seems a good way to escape reality.

—Laurie Easter

Laurie Easter is taking life one day at a time on her land in Southern Oregon. This is the first thing she has written since losing her husband of thirty years.


When I’m stressed, I salivate.
     Two short minutes after I woke up, after remembering the current state of our country, my mouth filled.
     It is 2 p.m. now and I’m salivating still. My parasympathetic nervous system is on overdrive.
     A story I have been working on for a week was published today so this morning was full of final back and forths with the editor before the piece went live. And the last few days have involved talking to community members about family separation at the border: parents, a pastor, a former youth care worker at a Tucson immigration detention facility for children.
     My house is a mess, dishes stacked high, papers scattered everywhere. Our country is a mess so even though I have a little time to clean today, I haven’t felt compelled to do so. The mess is an appropriate mirror.
     My dog is sleeping on the floor, my swamp cooler is running trying to keep my house cool when it is a million degrees outside.
     This morning, my friend and I had breakfast at a trendy new spot in a rapidly-gentrifying part of Tucson and talked about our parents. How even in our thirties, they feel the urge to protect us by telling us what to do. Not out of belligerence but because they see us--their grown children--as still in their charge.
     I read a news story about how the United States government has no plan to reunify the 2,300 migrant children separated from their parents. There is “very little paper trail.”
     I see a picture of the First Lady taken on her way to visit child immigration detention facilities wearing an olive jacket with the words: “I DON’T CARE, DO U?’ on the back. I googled to see if it was, in fact, photoshopped. But no, that was what was on her jacket: “I don’t care.”
     I read a statement from her spokesperson saying: “It's a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today's important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn't going to choose to focus on her wardrobe."
     I sent an invoice. I checked Facebook and Instagram.
     I decided to take a nap. But then I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead,  listened to a guided meditation. I lay down on my back in corpse pose and listened to a teacher named Ruth King tell me to breathe. I fell asleep until the bell to end the meditation rang. I turned the app off and napped.
     I dreamed. I had been invited by a writer friend to a party, but then suddenly I realized that party was at Sarah Jessica Parker’s house. There were long tables covered in white tablecloths and green topiaries on the outside of the tables. I was underdressed in seeksucker shorts and slip-on shoes. I walked outside the house to where there were celebrities in ballgowns and a long line of linened tables leading up to a big screen. I went to ask my friend if I should go home and change when I realized the person I just said, “Hey can I talk to you a minute?” was Sarah Jessica Parker. She turned and I said “Nevermind” and she said, “No, please continue.” I told her, “I thought you were my friend but maybe it is just that I recognize you from the show.” “It happens all the time,” she said. Then she told me maybe she needed to change and left. I was briefly in a cabin hanging up clothes before I transported to a corridored space--a labyrinthian office building. And then, I was inside an empty old school bus I understood was being used to transport children separated from their parents. On the floor, a crumpled pile of stuffed animals. Then I was back in the corridors where men leered at my woman friend and I and critiqued our writing. We were told--by whom I don’t remember--that these were men we were supposed to respect. We tried to find a way to navigate the labyrinthian halls.
     I woke not because I was done dreaming but because my dog was walking around making noise. My arms felt like lead. Years ago, I went to do cranial sacral work after my dog was attacked by another dog, and at the end of the session, I felt incapable of moving my arms. This was a parasympathetic response, my practitioner had told me. When we feel powerless, our arms leaden up. He told me to move them slowly as I could, much slower than my impulse, and as I did, my arms began to feel like they were made of flesh again. I could feel the blood coursing through.
     In present day, I fell back asleep for a minute. When I woke, I felt like my dream had moved something through my body.
     Earlier, after breakfast and before everything else, I had my cards read. The animal card that came up first was an armadillo. I needed a shield, armor, the reader said. Boundaries to protect myself, to keep the toxic outside and the good inside. I needed to maintain a sense of home and armadillos transport their homes with them.
     After my nap, I looked at what movies were playing and saw that the new Mister Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor was playing. The film traces the history of Fred Rogers’ career in television and ministry and ministry through television. I decided to take myself.
     I loved Mister Rogers as a child. And when I grew up and learned that this was not a cool thing to admit, I still loved him. Because I felt seen by Mister Rogers. I was a kid with a lot of feelings and Mister Rogers told me that that was okay. I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped becoming mystified by the way he tossed one sneaker into the other hand. Why was that so mesmerizing?
     In the documentary, one of the interviewees says “There was a lot of space in the show but no wasted time.” On one episode, Mr. Rogers asks, “Do you wanna see how long a minute is?” And then he set an egg timer. That was it: Sitting for a minute to see how long a minute took on live television.
     I didn’t realize how explicitly the program dealt with the problems of the world until watching the documentary. The first episode aired in February of 1968, in the middle of the Vietnam war, and in the Land of Make Believe, King Friday XIII is portrayed as a despot who fears change and wants absolute power. He appoints border guards. “I want to build a wall,” he shouts. My jaw dropped. In the Tucson theater where I watched the film, people laughed, with discomfort or recognition.
     The film opens with Fred Rogers in a room full of children of tender age. The camera focuses in on their baby faces looking over to Mr. Rogers who sits on a small stage, attending to their questions. One little girl tells him she wants to tell him something. “I like you very much,” she says. “Well, I like you very much, too,” he responds. In another scene, Mr. Rogers wears his Daniel Striped Tiger puppet as a boy confides that his dog was run over by a car. The boy speaks directly to the puppet. Daniel Tiger puts his paws over his face. Then the puppet asks the child for a hug. It’s as if Fred Rogers, the man, isn’t there.
     By the end of the movie, my cheeks were wet. When I looked at the small children in the film and heard about child development, I remembered being that age. I also remembered the picture of the two-year-old migrant girl in pink sneakers, face distorted into a cry, as her mother was patted down by Border Patrol.
     “Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships,” Rogers says. “Love or the lack of it.”
     After the credits rolled and I left the theater, I drove to In ‘N’ Out Burger just down the road in the same shopping center. As I pulled up, I saw directly in front of me was a Border Patrol vehicle. I wondered what I should do. I had never before contemplated getting out of my car and trying to have a conversation with someone in a Drive-Thru line--but now I did. How did he feel about detaining asylum seekers, putting babies in jail?  When he arrived at the first window to pay, I searched for his face in his driver’s side mirror and caught a glimpse. I don’t know what I was looking for. Some feeling or expression? He was white, clean-cut. His face was neutral. He was paying for his fast food, going through the motions of his day. I didn’t get out of my car. I sat behind the border patrol agent’s car no longer feeling hungry, feeling ill actually, wondering who else had sat inside. 

—Lisa O'Neill

Lisa M. O’Neill is an essayist and journalist whose work operates at the intersection of popular culture, politics, place, and social justice issues. Her writing has appeared in Bitch, Edible Baja Arizona, Everyday Feminism, DIAGRAM, GOOD, Good Housekeeping, Talk Poverty, and The Washington Post, among others.


On June 21, I woke up in my dorm room in Prague at the Univerzita Karlova or Charles University where I am spending three weeks to take classes in poetry and screenwriting. Serendipity is how I got to be in Prague, in the first place. I am not a poet or a screenwriter, but I did meet the internationally recognized poet and screenwriter James Ragan at a conference in March and he invited me to attend his four-week course. And that is what puts me in Prague on June 21.
     I threw my laptop and some changes of clothes into my backpack and headed to the central train station to grab a bus to the airport to catch a flight to Nice, France.  If it all sounds rather exhilarating and exciting, well for me it was and is. This is my first extended trip to Europe and I am going for it with everything I’ve got.
     I had to do a run-through of the train station to make sure I would get to the right place to find the bus. Czech is not an easy language, and despite what I was told, not that much English is spoken here. I am fluent in Spanish, but that doesn’t help much. But I made it to the bus, happy to spend the equivalent of $3 to get to the airport rather than the standard $35 on a taxi. Since I wasn’t carrying much, I figured I could manage without the taxi, and it would be more fun.   
     So continuing with my June 21 adventure, as a U.S. citizen, I found traveling by plane in Europe rather interesting. Almost no choice except to use mobile boarding passes, since you just activate the bar code on your boarding pass when your go through your gate. Nor was there anyone at the security gate checking passports. You enter the security area with your boarding pass, which again is just scanned.
     No passports stamped, which was rather disappointing for me, since I like collecting proof that I’ve been somewhere.  So if you look at my passport you will never know I arrived in Nice, France on June 21.  But I did. I’ve got the photos to prove it, taken from my window seat on the plane on the approach to Nice. I had a two-hour wait for the bus that was to take me to Brignoles where my friends were picking me up. I used the free Wi-Fi, got a pastry and coffee at the airport café and luxuriated in the simple idea that I was in Provence.
     Why Provence? Through another bit of serendipity, I Facebook reconnected with friends from San Francisco who have a second home in Provence. My free weekend and their free weekend coincided, so voila!
     The bus trip itself was a delight. After all, I was riding through the Provençal countryside. What was not to like? Glimpses of the sea. Glimpses of vineyards. Glimpses of beautiful buildings from afar. I was clicking away on my iPhone, taking pictures, even as the bus was moving. I was almost sorry when the bus ride was over and we got to Brignoles. My friends picked me up, and we made a quick stop at their home in Carcès, between the Argens and Caramy rivers. I got to see briefly the street where they live, which is everything you would expect a small French village to look like—two and three story buildings with shuttered windows, flowers in window boxes and art, not graffiti, painted on the outside of the buildings. But our stop was quick because we were there just to drop off my bag and pick up food to take to the music festival the next town over.
     So I just happened to arrive there on June 21, which as it turns out was the day of the annual Fête de la Musique, a nationwide music festival where in every town, village and city there was music in the street. There are musical performances all over the country and the public gets to enjoy music for free. My friends told me that when this festival first began 37 years ago, the idea was for people to simply play and enjoy music at home. But in the intervening years, it has evolved into these public celebrations of music.
     So on June 21, I got to hear music in the village of Entrecasteaux, a village that dates back to the 11th century. We could have stayed in Carcés, which had its own event, but my friends had already made plans to see other friends in Entrecasteaux. I have never experienced music in this kind of setting. The Bar Central set up a long, long table on the walkway across from the restaurant. Then there were plenty of smaller tables out on the street. Lots of rosé to drink and I think I am hooked. You sip it in small glasses. We were eating, drinking and dancing in the streets of Entrecasteaux. The music and the party went on past midnight, and so June 21 came to an end.  Quite an eventful June 21 for me, and one I will not forget. 
—Ronnie Lovler

Ronnie Lovler is a journalist who now works independently as a writer, editor, researcher and translator. She is the author of the chapter entitled "Journalist: Don’t Shoot" in the recently published anthology, Alone Together: Tales of Sisterhood and Solitude in Latin America. She also teaches journalism classes at the University of Florida and helps people find low-cost insurance under the still-existing Affordable Care Act. She continues to travel as much as possible, as her June 21 essay attests. 


My first encounter with the summer solstice was through Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel, I Capture the Castle. The heroine, Cassandra, is at the awkward age between adolescence and adulthood. She is in love for the first time, quite hopelessly. Or she will be, after the solstice. Something happens that night, in the dreamy arras of memory reinvented. On the longest day of the year, everyone else away, she revisits a quirky familian tradition: gathering flowers to make a pyre at the top of the mound, smoking her way into the latter half of the year. A certain amount of wild dancing is required. She feels silly doing it, but does it anyway. The man who her sister is soon to marry stumbles upon her childish rites and charitably decides to join in, finding he genuinely enjoys the Pagan flirtations. He is a handsome American. Later, if my memory serves me, he takes her to his conservatory and they enjoy some Debussy together. This is after he kissed her on the mound and she ran away and he caught her, explained he shouldn’t have done it. If my memory serves me.
     She would dwell on that kiss forever. Writ on the margins: I love you.
     I love the idea of the solstice as a nexus for various intensities: those little instants which signal different planes of one’s life colliding and forming new topographies. In previous years, the day was marked arbitrarily by unusual remarks in the news, then later with more conscientious effort to respect the significance of solar energy. Romantic encounters and spooky concerts coloured the evening. I dressed up in a long silver dress and wore flowers in my hair. I felt very long in the world.
     Lately I’ve been staying up all night, falling into bed around six. I’m sleepy around two, then eat dinner and feel wired again. The light occurs indigo at four in the long long morning and then the dawn chorus. I message my friend through the wee intermission hours, as we fall in sync through the catacombs of the internet. Sending videos. I am laughing out loud quite shamelessly. Our patter overlaps and develops its secret niches. IRL, we vocalise our world of in-jokes; we do all the voices. I wake up at eight or ten, depending on work. I feel guilty each time for waking up, then desperate to be in my dreams again. I wake intermittently through the night, to new messages from various people. The messages inflect the shade of my dreams, the names crop up as characters. I might be in love with so many people. Have do you figure and narrow such a proliferating feeling? Every curl of my body into itself makes a chrysalis. There are layers of so many sleeps I have not yet finished; the day peels them from me, membrane to membrane.
     The night before the solstice this year, a busy shift cracked my depressive period. Slashed through its nasty, leatherette skin. I’d been feeling catatonic, a deep blue stained burgundy, for almost a month. Everyday interactions stunned me. Something about the running around, plate-lifting, bantering and howling and slugging water and stealing bread rolls and running some more, ascending stairs, hugging water jugs, licking butter fingers, astrological argument—it must have rubbed away at the ugly rock that was blocking me. Calcine deposits of negative consciousness. I blame the stagnant weather, which was clearing. My last tarot reading drew A Perfect Circle card and so I listened to the band of the same name, resetting a room of tables. Electric guitar like shivering fronts of weather. Somebody sparked a good fire in my mind. I stood up so late and knew the longest day would happen soon and I would howl in the time spent to fill it. Something Cassandra writes in her diaries about visiting an empty field in the rain, just to shriek, soaked to her skin in unrequited love. There is more than a shriek in me.
     The word ‘solstice’, split between summer and winter. I want to make of this half a soft season, don’t want to hide necessarily but shimmer in the myriad possibilities. Attain a pensive quietude. I am one thing then another, another. I am something for everyone. I only offer tiny facets of personality, so very few people see the gaping and complicated, hungry whole—how it breaks away nightly into pieces. I don’t want to eat but I do and too much. I have not been shopping properly.
     Was sunny and slightly warmer on the solstice. A relief to see blue. The streets of Glasgow central choked up with rubble, police presence, fence lines. I try not to look at the ghost of the Mac building. Its uncanny duplicity of blackness, before; like the negative after image of an infinite photograph. Each time glimpsed as though glimpsed through a screen. Inward crumbling. I board a train to Greenock, rushing at the last point. A relief to feel the blue rush by. Orange ticket, distant hills. Later, in the workshop, there is some kind of hospitality-related drama going on in my phone, while I am talking to a man at the homeless centre whose arms are pockmarked with vein-damage and covered in the unmistakable white-line abrasions of self-harm. I think of my own arms, mostly clear now, how lucky I am. His life defined by methadone, valium; a barely suppressed threat of violence. My little cigarette burn remaining. And I am getting this text about some woman who didn’t receive her Prosecco last night, how angry she is. How I am going to have to personally pay for the delivery of champagne to her door. I offer this. The man is so earnest about his work. He writes in staccato sentences which pack a purpose. I feel very out there now, vulnerable and meandering.
     “Can I ask you girls a personal question?” he says, so many times.
     “How can I get to where youse are? Like, obviously not that high, but on the way to it?”
     He just wants to be loved, he says, just wants to write. As though the two were part of the same. He writes precise, autobiographical poems about his life, usually with a redemptive or hopeful ring. He writes about people who shame him, about prison officers he likes or dislikes. There are poems with chiming rhymes. Social service employees who become a mass of collective bureaucracy. People who have helped him. He draws heart tattoos and expresses a constant need for love, admitting its absolute lack in his life. His doodles form a graffiti of distracted soul. 
     “But I have so much to give, you know?”
     I feel ashamed in his presence for the fact of my own life. Where I have come from, where I am going. My self-consciousness seems selfish. So I crack jokes with him; we foster an easy atmosphere. He says he can’t get a job or sort out a writing course until he’s got his front teeth. His earnestness is almost painful, but it is driven towards a performance of hope that I want to believe. We all do. It makes society. When he speaks, there’s sometimes a lisp but not a whistling.
     Together we write poems about daily life, variously expressing our desires for change.
     I part from my friend on Hope Street and sleepily walk home through the blazing park. Parquet Courts in my headphones. It has heated up considerably, the sky alight, but every bone in my body is heavy beyond measure. Punk and groove. I fantasise about a cool, soft dark, rich with humidity. Beads of sweat on my skin. Ice cubes. A person who would physically lift and carry me there, through the endless business of the park.
     A bird flies into my window.
     I’m home at my computer and Dom has sent me a message. He’s written me a poem for the solstice, like actually addressed it to me, myself, Maria Sledmere. There are butterflies in my chest. It is a gorgeous glow stick of a poem, short-lined and luminous. I love it. I want to wear it like a charm, memorise the words to take permanent shape in the muscles of my mouth, or wedged somewhere deep in my sternum where the vibrations happen whenever I talk or recite a poem.
     With a jazz gig to attend that night, I decide to dress up all nice. Formal. Winged eyeliner and lipstick a shade called Sassy Mauve. I wear my mother’s black velvet dress, the one with cleavage implied. My best black bra for luck. Tortoiseshell heels which are plastic and leather and rock when I walk, giving the impression that I am gliding over a buoyant sea, the crumbling concrete. My hair all up in curlaceous mess, barely pinned. Drop pearl earrings (fake), pearl ring (real). Thin denier tights I bought that day from Primark. £3 for three pairs and each one will ladder upon the first wearing. Everything about me is frankly unravelling. I look forward to the evening. I am going to see my friend make beautiful, curious music in a room that feels like a 1920s speakeasy. I drink whisky again which doesn’t hurt. I smile without thinking. The music is so many genres rolled into one. Saxophones, chiptune glitches, steel drums, earworm piano. The mood catches and I feel a little electric again. There’s a positive energy. We get a taxi to the bar I work in. We talk until three am then you walk me home with your haunted pakora, waving it in my face. Our talk saved my life this year. It is brilliant, scintillating, silly. Intellectual veering to absurd and empty. Which I love, I mean the veering. Gossip entrances. The day they found his body, we talked for hours of frantic messages. You’ve read Remainder. The bit with the ten cappuccinos, which is how I feel about much of life: I want to pay for ten but only get the remainder. Have it made for me, that free surplus, a cleaving. Extra.
     My friend Jack wouldn’t come drink by the river with us in case he fell in, or swallowed moss. Really he was just skint. He’s a boy of vivid humour, which comes out of him in startling streaks. I love that about him. He’s here or he’s distant.
     I fell asleep at dawn, trying to ignore the squawk of the gulls. Every 11:11 I wish for love. I am not specific.
the hum / and bustle / of some / summering,
When I hug my friend at the gig I am trying to convey that he is a special person. I want everyone to know that about themselves, but especially the sparkly ones with these making minds, a talent. And also the ones with these caring minds, a talent. When I message the one who wrote this poem I am doing the same with delirious thoughts and vivacious emoji. Asking for brightness. I could not drink the half pint I ordered in the bar where I work. It tasted of sweat and work. Lager never much did it for me, but I wanted to order something golden. More work. I think from now on in the morning before sleep I will message you the colour of the sky. We might compare scene transitions, so the lore of our sleep is sweet. Palettes of pink and indigo, lilac and peach. So upon waking there will be more words to share, things I can’t keep to myself anymore.
     I expected this to be a long night, in which I would not sleep before work the next day. A hyper-night. But it wound down quite easily, reduced itself to threads. There was something to come, brooding in my body. I just had to protect it, then figure out a way to nourish it too, the exception.

—Maria Sledmere

Maria Sledmere is a writer and critic living in Glasgow, about to start a PhD in Anthropocene aesthetics, ecopoetics and the everyday. She tweets @mariaxrose.


The dog kicks me out of bed at 5:30, having finally cuddled me over the edge. As soon as I’m out, he’s climbed up so that his head rests on my pillow, just inches from my husband’s. He’s only ours for another few days—we’ve been fostering him while his person is on Fulbright in Zimbabwe—so I’m able to find it cute instead of annoying.
     I make myself a cup of coffee and sit down to comment on short stories written by my summer students. They’re good, mostly, and it makes me happy to read them. The one guy who sporadically just doesn’t turn stuff in has, again, just not turned anything in and it might be the tipping point. I hate it when I have to fail someone; only do it when there is genuinely no other choice. But I can’t give partial credit without at least partial work. Still, I will look for ways to give him extra credit on his final portfolio, because I know he’ll lose his athletic scholarship if he fails.
     My husband wakes and kisses me good morning. He makes a cup of tea and goes into his office to listen to the Austrian news. Because it’s in German, and because om spite of three months of Duolingo all I can say in German is Ich bin nicht der Tisch (I am not a table), it’s more soundtrack than information to me. I’m grateful. The news is wearing me down, and he listens to it for more hours in a day than I could take.
     I go out to the garden. The eggplant is coming along nicely. There are two zucchini and a cucumber to pick. One of the artichoke plants seems to be dying, but the other two are doing well. One tomato on the vine has blossom rot, the rest do not. The strawberry patch is flourishing, but before they ripen, the squirrels and chipmunks steal all the berries. The back patio is littered with them, half-eaten and green.
     I shower and then, a little ashamed, I sit down to play an hour of World of Warcraft. I run around gathering Ancient Mana to feed the dissipated elves who’ve grown addicted to it so that they will give me the next step in a quest line. It’s been a good fifteen years since I played any game with any regularity, but this summer I’m in need of the escape. An blue elf takes the mana and then sends me off to kill someone. I do.
     I drive to campus for a grade appeal meeting; I’m on the deciding committee. As a graduate student, I was terrified of having my grades called into question; I assumed it was a dire thing and that it happened all the time. In fact, I’ve been on this committee for a year and it’s only the second appeal we’ve heard.
     In the meeting room, the student glares at her professor and insists that he had treated her unfairly. She doesn’t contest the outcome of her exams, none of which she passed, she just thinks it’s unfair that he failed her. That he wouldn’t have failed her if he’d liked her better. But it’s a class with definitive answers, and she’s gotten too many of them wrong. We are kind in our deliberations, but we are also firm. She will not graduate on time.
     I stop at the grocery store on my way home. It’s a terrible grocery store, one we call The Food City of Despair. Everything at the meat counter expires in three or fewer days; I’m convinced they get the almost-bad meat and produce from the stores in more affluent areas. Our neighborhood isn’t quite a food desert, but it’s close. We shop here to try to make this that it stays in business, that our neighbors who can’t go elsewhere don’t have to buy their food at convenience stores. Most of our neighbors who can drive into Georgia to shop, because there isn’t any tax on food there.
     As I’m trying to decide if the bananas are ripe or over-ripe, a toddler breaks away from his mother and runs toward me, yelling “nanners, nanners!” I’m charmed by the sound of him. I turn to look, a broad, old-lady-charmed-by-a-child grin on my face, and see that he is wearing a “White=Right” t-shirt. I walk away from the bananas. I don’t trust myself to keep my mouth shut. I’m not even certain that I should, but can’t think of a useful thing to say. The two black women also in the produce section go about their business. I also can’t think of anything to say to them that wouldn’t be intrusive or weird. When I get home, I’ll send another $25 to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I know it’s not enough, but I can’t imagine what would be.
     I buy wine and yogurt to mix into the dog’s kibble and a bottle of Tylenol PM.
     My husband makes dinner from one of those meal services; Korean meatballs on a stick with a spicy slaw. It’s good. We turn on the TV and then each pick up our books. I’m reading The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, and I’m drawn in by its complexity and nuance. These days, I mostly read speculative fiction, because I want to imagine other ways of being. My husband is reading a Warhammer 40k player’s manual. We are comfortably settled into our nerdiness together.
At the end of the evening, we crawl into bed. The dog has to be picked up and put into it; he’s too short to jump. He growls at our feet, thinks they encroach on his territory. This is an every night thing, and yet every night we still laugh about it.
     I dream about a group of white children in racist t-shirts. I’m meant to be taking care of them, but they keep wandering off into danger and there are too many of them for me to do my job adequately. One by one, they get hurt in horrible ways, and I’m helpless to stop it.

—Sarah Einstein

Sarah Einstein teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She's the author of Mot: A Memoir and Remnants of Passion, and her essays have appeared in The Sun, Ninth Letter, Full Grown People, and other journals. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She's the founding editor of Signal Mountain Review. 

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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