Saturday, July 7, 2018

July 7: Hala Gabir • Samuel Rafael Barber • Jason Thayer • Cecilia Pinto • Elona Sherwood • Simon Flory • Lynn K. Kilpatrick • Michelle Midori Repke • Caleb Klitzke • Cynthia Brandon-Slocum

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 via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

July 7: Hala Gabir • Samuel Rafael Barber • Jason Thayer • Cecilia Pinto • Elona Sherwood • Simon Flory • Lynn K. Kilpatrick • Michelle Midori Repke • Caleb Klitzke • Cynthia Brandon-Slocum 


Imagine you are driving. It does not matter where, all that matters is that you are behind the wheel. Keep your eyes on the road. Make sure your speed is constant. Too fast? You just rammed into someone. Too slow? Someone just rammed into you. Either way, you looked at your speedometer too long and now you are in an accident. Check your mirrors. You checked the wrong mirror and now you crashed into that guy changing lanes. Check your blind spots. You looked too long and you are eyes are off the road. Did you forget to check your blind spots? You just hit a motorcyclist. And that is just in ideal driving conditions when it is sunny and dry, and all the other drivers are following driving protocol. But what if it is raining or foggy or dark out? What if drivers are selfish and disobey laws, texting while driving, or even drive under the influence? What will happen then?
     I am a college student and I do not know how to drive, and this is my dilemma. When I am behind the wheel I have to pay attention to everything all at once and it is disorienting. Make one mistake and it costs you your life, or someone else’s. That type of pressure is scary, especially for a novice driver. Yesterday, I was in the waiting room of the driving simulation, nervously waiting for my fourth and final session to begin. Why am I so nervous? I’m glad you asked.
     You know the saying about how you are more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane? Although this is true, it is mostly used to comfort people who fear that their plane will be hijacked and will hit a tower, as well as, I assume, novice pilots. This saying is not comforting for people like me, novice drivers with severe vehophobia. I do not know accurate or recent statistics on car injuries and deaths, but I do know car accidents are one of the leading causes of death, including the health-related deaths in the United States. This fact is very hammered into the head of student drivers: unlike in a controlled simulation, the real world road is dangerous and unpredictable, and if you do not follow the rules you will die.
     Now that you see my rational reasoning for my irrational fear, how did I get anxiety behind the wheel? It all happened in late 2015 and early 2016. My parents did not want to me start driving at the ripe young age of sixteen and instead when I am eighteen and much more mature; I do not know if the age made a difference, but that was the least of my problems. I got my learner’s permit and started to learn to drive in December 2015. I completed six hours of training with an instructor and my dad wanted to practice with me. At first, things were going well. I was driving straight, well straight enough, turning and using turn signals, and stopping at stop signs; all the things I was supposed to do. Then came the dreaded turn. When I was turning right I veered too much and I drove on the sidewalk, but it did not end there. The car kept going past the sidewalk, slid onto the gravel, and it did not stop until after I ran over a fire hydrant. Outside of the paint on the front, the car was not damaged. I cannot say the same thing about the hydrant. It was completely flattened under the car; although thankfully, water did not spray out everywhere, the car could not move with it underneath, so we had to borrow our neighbor’s car lift.
     Afterward, my dad called the police, which I think he should not have done. The police issued me a ticket for speeding, even though I was under the speed limit when I crashed, and destruction of public property, something I am actually guilty of. In order to not pay for the ticket, I had to go to a defensive driving course. I was embarrassed, humiliated, and traumatized, and I did not want to drive ever again, but that did not matter because my parents had already paid for more driving lessons. Two weeks later, I had my next lesson. I became more nervous and more anxious than I was before, and what little skills I had were deteriorating, because I was so scared of making mistakes that I just made more mistakes. “It was just a fire hydrant,” you are thinking, “No one was hurt and your car was not severely damaged. People get into accidents all the time, so what is the big deal?” This was in a residential area with very few cars on the road, where I was not going more than fifteen miles an hour. Imagine if I was on a major street, the freeway, or a school zone, and I made that mistake; I did not want to take that risk.
     In fall of 2016, I moved to Tucson and attended the University of Arizona. I lived with my older sister, and since there was only one car, she did all the driving; this means that she had to drive me wherever I needed to go, whether she liked it or not. It was then I found the miracle of public transportation. As a student, for less than one hundred dollars a semester, I had a pass that allowed me unlimited rides on the bus and the streetcar. I lived near downtown Tucson, and there is a major transit center in downtown that almost all buses stop, end, or begin at. The pass and the transit center allowed me to go everywhere I needed to go and most places I wanted to go. Teenagers want to learn to drive and have a car because it gives them a sense of independence, not having to rely on anyone else; for me, however, public transportation gave me that sense of independence. I did not need to learn how to drive, rely on my sister, or carpool. I was no longer a hazard to the road or a burden on drivers, now I was just a passenger.
     Happy ending, right? Nope, not even close. I had spent almost two years without ever being behind the wheel again, with the exception of arcade games and go-karts. My learner’s permit was expired, so even if I wanted to drive I could not. Public transportation may have been a blessing, but the fact of the matter is as a college student I should know how to drive. Despite how big Tucson is, using exclusively public transportation only works there. If I wanted to live in a bigger city after graduation, like Phoenix, or leave the state, public transportation would no longer be a viable option. I had to face the fact: I needed to learn how to drive.
     Of course, there was the big question of money. Learning to drive is expensive because you have to pay for both the instructor and the special car with breaks in the passenger’s seat. The whole point of instruction is to earn my driver’s license, but what if I fail again and waste all that money? The physically safest solution was also the monetarily least safe option: simulated driving, to be behind the wheel in the safety of technology and air-conditioned rooms. The fact of the matter was that I was mentally unprepared to go on the road again.
     The first session of the simulation was learning the basics: driving straight without hitting the cones, turning left, and turning right. The second session was more advanced with me driving in residential areas and business districts and practicing recognizing signs and signals. The third session was about learning how to drive on a freeway or highway: how to merge, change lanes, and exit.
     This very long backstory brings us to yesterday. Yesterday was my fourth and final session. I checked in fifteen minutes early and the appointment was not until two o’clock. Waiting in the waiting room only increased my anxiety and my desire to just get it over with. Two o’clock came and I entered the simulation. First was a review of the previous lesson. Next came the hard stuff: weather. First I drove in a business district at night, then drove on a freeway when it was night and rainy, and then drove on a rural road when it was rainy, dark, windy, and foggy. The lesson is two hours long, and in between each hour, there is a fifteen-minute break with free snacks, possibly to calm down the nerves of the students. In order to calm my anxiety down, I did what I do best and ate a lot of the free Rice Krispies Treats. The second hour was focused on recognizing hazards early and preventing accidents. I hated that part because everyone in that simulation is very rude, selfish, and outright dangerous, just like in real life. The important thing is I made it out alive; I cannot think of a reason I would not make it out alive, but you never know.
     According to my instructor, I did well in nonideal circumstances and was ready for the road, so my mom and I made the first appointment for the first time I will be on the road in over two years. I do not feel ready, even after eight hours in a simulation. The real world is not a simulation where you can control whatever you want, it is unpredictable and dangerous. I felt unprepared; I feel unprepared. Driving is supposed to be easy, a skill sixteen-year-olds have mastered. Would I fail again? I am so sick of failure. The first lesson is next Friday, so there is only one way to find out.

—Hala Gabir


I open: my eyes. I remember: read the note scrawled on the bedside table’s notepad. I read: the note. The note is a two sentence frame for a new story. The note asks me to remember Bolaño and Chile and the CIA funded and planned overthrow of democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973 which resulted in 3200 “disappeared” dissidents, the imprisoning of 30,000 (many of whom, like Bolaño, were tortured) and eventual exile of 200,000 men, women, and children. Generally, indigenous people and teachers and young people, of course. I think: they always come for us. I remember: My job begins in July, so today is a “day off.” I wonder: A day off from what? What are “on days” and who flips the switch? I think: I must write as much as possible during these days that are somehow off so that my future self does not regret these off days each and every on day morning as I walk past the five or so armed guards and through the metal detector which collaborate in welcoming each and every person to the high school at which I will begin to work, in July. I will do the things I like to do today, because the contractual terms under which my existence is justified according to the logic of the market don’t require the exchange of my labor power for money, today. I open: a screen to double check the figures of mindless violence I seem to be incapable of forgetting. In doing so, I notice: in addition to its obfuscatory naming, Wikipedia, on its “United States involvement in regime change” page, mentions only a third of the attempted coups implicating the CIA of which I am aware. It does not, for instance, mention Ecuador even once. I think: my mother lived in Ecuador for a year. 1969. She was eight. I remember: each and every time I donate blood, I must disclose the year in which my mother lived in Ecuador. Something to do with a mad cow disease outbreak elsewhere in South America during that era. I read: A military junta overthrew the democratically elected Velasco Ibarra in 1972. I feel: He is a wonderful man, my mother’s father. He is a wonderful man because he is a kind man. I think: he is living his quiet life of dignity, and it is enough, for him. He has many friends, my mother’s father. He has found a way to like people, somehow. I remember: one of these friends was also from the valley, and accompanied him during his year in Ecuador. They were both teachers, ostensibly. It became clear, much later, that my mother’s father’s friend was in fact working for the CIA to help coordinate the replacement of a democratically elected President with a General more suitable to our national interest in global resource domination. I think: this is the national interest of every country, of course. We are no more or less virtuous than any country. We are merely richer and more powerful than any country, and our country has done the sorts of things one would expect a country to do, were it the richest and most powerful country in the world. There is a logic to this. The logic of extinction. I think: all the good done by my mother’s father, that year in Ecuador, is so significantly outweighed by the suffering and violence done by my mother’s father’s friend, that year in Ecuador, as to be beyond comprehension. I remember: this is what we do to each other. I know: suddenly, how to write the story. By write I mean create on a screen by pressing a series of keys, each of which is marked with a designated letter, in a particular order. In three hours I write: the story. I feel: It is all right. It is a better version of a story written five months before about imperial slaughter and plunder in the Belgian Congo. I worry: writing about this writing in this will be construed as a sort of showing off. I consider: leaving it out, but do not. It is now 1 p.m. I consider: meeting a friend at a bar to watch the latest world cup game, but do not. I remember: last time we hung out, I explained to him how we know the identities of only a fraction of the people we kill in drone strikes, how the data we only reluctantly release to Congress categorizes anyone killed over the age of 18 to be a militant. How we specifically target weddings and funerals. How this is a war crime. How we specifically target those who come lending aid to those who have been targeted by a drone minutes before through what is known as a “double tap.” How this too is a war crime. How, despite all the caring about the brown bodies of my people at the border, these days, we cannot seem to care about all of the brown bodies at the same time. How my friend seemed grateful to learn this, while we watched Mexico upset Germany at a different bar from the bar at which he will be watching the latest world cup game, alone, today. I think: perhaps, if I write all this in this, whenever I get around to writing this, perhaps some of you people will begin to care about all the brown bodies. I think: this is foolish; I will do so anyway; this is how I survive. I consider: writing this, but do not. I make: tacos out of leftover rice and beans and corn and squash. I read: “the news” for four hours. I read: about various permutations of suffering and violence on both a domestic and global scale perpetrated by various governments and institutions and individuals for the same, simple reason, for four hours. I consider: writing this, but do not. I play: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for a while. I pause. I open: a screen and check the game’s release date. I remember: what I was doing on August 23, 2011. I was preparing to move to Providence, Rhode Island, for college. I had not yet met my best friend. I was myself, but I was also not yet myself. Further specificity is forever lost, of course, for the same reason I have agreed to write this. I un-pause. I wish: the apartheid themes of discrimination against those with cybernetic implants was more sophisticated. My best friend returns home. I think: she has been working too hard, and too late. I say: you have been working too hard, and too late. She says: I know. She says: pride is this weekend, and I’ll let you know when I’m working as soon as they let me know. We discuss: various things. We make: vegan chili. We watch: various things. We brush: our teeth. She goes to bed. I open: a screen. I read: the San Antonio Spurs have drafted Lonnie Walker. I consult: draft experts. I watch: youtube highlights. I watch: the interview in which he agrees the world is not flat, instead suggesting the world is an illusion. I give: Lonnie Walker the benefit of the doubt. I think: it bothers me when people misunderstand this concept, or misattribute it to The Matrix. The Matrix is a rather one-dimensional allegorical depiction of Descartes’s evil demon thought experiment. I remember: I first saw it, at age six, because a childless uncle didn’t know better. I feel: it, along with The Truman Show, made a huge impression on my developing mind. I think: I have always hoped, secretly, that my brain is in a vat. Or that my life is a television program. Either would be a horrifying prospect, for the obvious reasons. However, it would become so much easier to accept the irredeemable flaws in human nature as designed obstacles keeping me in my lane as I provide power (or entertainment) to my oppressors. I decide: I like Lonnie Walker. I consider: writing this, but do not. I close: a screen. I close: my eyes. I think: our eyes are just another screen. They provide access to a certain world. We enter and exit this world every day. We assume that everything we come across is quite obvious and clear when everything we come across is really quite distorted and opaque. Eyewitness testimony, and all that. I realize: this is not original. I cannot use this.

—Samuel Rafael Barber

Samuel Rafael Barber has an MFA from the University of Arizona and an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. His work has appeared in DIAGRAM, Fanzine, Green Mountains Review, Puerto del Sol, and TIMBER, among other journals. According to life expectancy tables, he will live another 57.2 years. For now, you can find him at and somewhere within a certain American city.


June 21st, I called my mother. I had not spoken with her in 5 weeks—longer than any 32-year-old should go without calling their mother, and a greater distance than is common between our conversations. The previous day, I’d met with a heart surgeon to discuss the results of a cardiac MRI. Since turning thirty, I’ve kept a closer eye on the congenital heart disease that killed my father a day after his 36th birthday. I do not, generally, mention these hospital appointments to my mother.
     “The doctor says I have an aortic aneurism,” I told her, no preamble.
     The surgeon had drawn a picture of a heart—the standard cartoonish representation. “Your heart looks like this,” the doctor said. “Because Hallmark says so.” She was full of scripted jokes like this to diffuse the tension rising in the small white hospital room.
     “What does that mean exactly?” My mother asked. “Aneurism. I’ve heard the word—it’s not good, I know that.”
     The doctor had separated the heart into its four chambers, drawing chutes looping off to reflect the arterial network. “I’m going to explain it in plain language, so you can tell your family,” she had said, labeling the components of the organ.
     “It’s a widening of the aorta,” I told my mother. “A bulging.” I told her the doctors were going to wait and see. Get another MRI in a few months, measure again for growth rates, then decide if the time was right to saw into my breast bone, pry open my chest, and get to work replacing the unwieldy aorta with some surgical mesh and tubing. I exuded an air of nonchalance when I told my mother this. No big deal. I’d get this done when they decided it was time. I didn’t refer to it as a surgery, I called it a procedure—a more innocuous term. My partner’s father had an aortic aneurism last summer. After his procedure, it had hurt to laugh, to cough. He couldn’t open jars or handle a steering wheel for a while.
     I didn’t feel like talking about this anymore and so was thankful that enough time had lapsed since our last conversation, that I had another, softer misfortune to fill her in on to steer us away from me thinking about that surgical saw chewing its way through my sternum, my mother panicking over the immediate risk to her son’s life, the memory of my father bombarding her, the image of him lying still on his back on the hospital table, my sister and I holding her hands as the doctor lead us in an Our Father.
     “I have another not great thing to tell you,” I said.
     “Oh? Okay.” I could sense in my mother’s voice a bracing for the worst—a fear that maybe I was about to tell her that things with my partner just weren’t working out, that she’d broken up with me and now I would need to pack up my belongings and move back home to Oregon to start over again.
     “We have bedbugs,” I said. “We found them in our bedframe. A ton just living there, biting us while we slept.”
     “Oh, darn,” my mother said. “I’m so sorry.” I could hear the relief in her voice. I almost felt relief too. It was just bedbugs. My life was still intact, albeit a thousand fewer dollars in my bank account, the cost of heat treating the house. I was drying every item of clothing I owned on high; I was not driving two thousand lonely miles across the country to mope, heartbroken in the bedroom I grew up in. I think this is one of my mother’s biggest fears—that another serious relationship will erode and the chasm between her and any potential grandchildren will widen. It is among my biggest fears too, as unfounded as it remains.
     Bedbugs are not as bad as a bad break up. Bedbugs are, say, just a few ticks worse than the timing belt you’ve put off replacing, snapping on the highway, totaling your aging Accord.
     “Jason, do you need some money? I want to give you guys some money.”
     “No. Thank you, but no. I’m fine.” When I’m not adjuncting, I hustle thrift store clothes on eBay—the impetus for our infestation, a colony of bedbugs stowing away in the snap button breast pocket of a Sherpa-lined denim jacket I found at a mom and pop thrift store in Lancaster, Ohio.
     “It’s my money,” my mother continued, “and if I want to give it to you—”
     After my mother clocks out as an elementary school teacher’s assistant, she cleans other people’s million dollar houses, polishes the picture windows that look out at the violent surf crashing down on the rocky cove in Seaside, Oregon. There is something like a one in three chance that a tsunami will sweep Seaside and these expensive houses into the sea sometime in the next fifty years. A tsunami far worse than any bedbug infestation. A tsunami worse than any bad break up, worse than the timing belt snapping, worse than aortic surgery with its 95% survival rate.
     On the wheel of bad luck, the cataclysmic tsunami lurking in Seaside’s future will be more on par with the trauma of living in a war-torn region, or a country plagued by cartel carnage. It will maybe be equal to getting your child taken away from you at the border, a tidal wave of anxiety and fear swelling over the uncertainty. Or maybe not. Maybe these things are all worse than any hell that could be unleashed on the Pacific Northwest when the Cascadia subduction zone quakes.
      Every pain is measured privately, against a barometer buried inside the self, the wallop of every tragedy dictated by the degree at which it affects our lives immediately. I do not fret as much as I should about the menaces lurking beyond my own bedframe, the trauma that resides outside my own chest. This is a privilege my mother shares too. And so, I change the subject, away from hospital bills and impending procedures to talking about the news, filling her in on the gloom of the nation. Because this will upset her, but it will not shake her to the core like the words heart surgery. This discussion, even in its horror, will be something like relief.
Jason Thayer

Jason Thayer's essays and short stories have appeared recently in The Rumpus, Hobart, and decomP magazinE, the latter of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Ohio University, where he also serves as an Associate Editor for Brevity. He is currently working on a memoir about loss and adjustment called Every Last Bad Time. More at


I hear the birds somewhere in the three o’clock hour but I make it to about six fifteen before I get up. I eat my yogurt. I page through an issue of Family Circle that I swiped from my eye doctor’s office. I am looking for a product name. I find it. It’s called ‘Voluminous Hair.’ This is something I think I might need. I also note that the same manufacture makes something called ‘Sleep Better.’ I may also need this.
     I review these on Amazon and determine that about half those who have tried ‘Voluminous Hair’ have felt it caused them to have better hair, and half did not find it to be a useful product. The same goes for ‘Sleep Better.’ I move on.
     I am trying to read an article on the New York Times website entitled, “Glamorous Grandmas” when a screen informs me that I need to have a subscription to continue. I have a subscription and this has happened before. I call the Times. A recorded voice takes some information and then informs me that it knows where I live and what time it is here by my phone number. Can it see my non-voluminous hair?
     Eventually I speak with someone who cannot resolve my problem.
     It begins to rain.
     I cannot continue reading “Glamorous Grandmas”. I am also irritated by the fact that the Times is only able to think of these women in terms of their relationship to their childbearing status. The woman in the photograph which accompanied the article had really great hair.
     I have lost the top to my pen and stand staring out the window thinking about what to do.
     For twenty five years, I have seen the same woman running through our neighborhood, for exercise.
     She always wears a baseball cap. There she goes.
     I take a bath. No, I don’t. I look out the window some more.
     My neighbors are sitting on their porch across the street. They have a porch swing and some nice French blue, wooden chairs with floral cushions. They usually have coffee on the porch on summer mornings; even today, even though it’s raining. They make each other laugh.
     I turn on the television. The news is all about the children at the southern border. It’s too much for me today. Among many other things about this situation that I find troubling, I am struck by how we now refer to our country in terms of its borders. I think this is a shift in how we think about ourselves, or how some people do. I watch an episode of Will and Grace. 
     My husband appears from his slumber and observes that I must be “in a desperate place” because I am watching this program. Sort of, although secretly I like Will and Grace a little bit, I like any sit-com for its comforting predictability.
     I see my pen cap on the floor and feel better.
     I take a bath. I have recently learned that I have ‘chronic dry eye’ and so cover my eyes with a warm washcloth.
     You may have heard of chronic dry eye. Products for the relief of symptoms are advertised on television and one features Dr. Tendler, a real eye doctor who also has chronic dry eye. Earlier, there were television ads that featured the actress, Jeanine Turner, who is also affected.
     Jeanine Turner starred on the television show, Northern Exposure. I liked Northern Exposure which aired in the early nineties, a lot. The show had a mystical element not usually found in television programming. Also, I cannot name another television show that featured native people as characters.
     Jeanine Turner is white, she played a bush pilot. She had a cute, short haircut. There was a kid on the show named Ed, who had long black hair. I think I remember hearing they dyed it and that he was really blond. But I look him up on IMBD and it’s hard to tell, he’s older and his hair is short but his father was Native American. The male lead, Dr. Joel Fleishman, was played by the actor Rob Morrow.
     Later, Rob Morrow would star in a program called Numbers. In the logo for the show the ‘e’ was replaced by the number 3. Rob Morrow played an F.B.I. agent, his brother was a genius and his father was Judd Hirsch. Rob Morrow’s hair was clipped short, the other two actors had wilder hair, denoting, I guess, their, unconventional- ness. I tried to watch it but it didn’t do much for me. This is kind of what I am thinking about during my bath.
     It is still raining. We take our dog to the vet which is the usual disaster when a hundred pounds of muscle, enthusiasm and anxiety meets a vaccine needle. At one point five people are involved in chasing the dog through the examining rooms and reception area.
     On the way home we listen to something on NPR about Vice President Mike Pence. He is deeply religious and has presidential aspirations.
     Back home we settle into routines. The dog sleeps. My husband goes out. I return to this project which I discover I have written more in my mind then on the page. Throughout my work on this piece of writing I am listening to Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman, over and over. It’s a lovely album.
     I walk to Subway and get a sandwich. No, I don’t, not yet, because I want to wait and eat while I watch General Hospital.
     And here we arrive at the crux of the day. I loved the soap, One Life to Live. I remain unreconciled to the idea that the program is no longer on the air. I especially loved Victoria Lord Buchannan, known as Viki and played by Erika Slezak, who, throughout ridiculous hardships, disasters and indignities and despite having a second personality named Niki, who did also sorts of outrageous things, (and looked like a lot of fun to play), maintained a dignity and moral compass. According to IMBD, Viki appeared in 2091 episodes. She was the heart of the show and while One Life to Live has not been on for three or four years, I still miss it and Viki.
     From Wikipedia: “American journalist and soap opera critic Connie Passalacqua Hayman (pen name "Marlena De Lacroix") briefly summed up the character role: "... Slezak's 'Viki' is the consummate soap opera heroine, because she has so harrowingly and humanistically triumphed over all her life's tragedies."
     I look up the word humanistically because I am suspicious of it, but it is a real word, defined as, from the point of view of classical studies, or from the humanist point of view. According to the online dictionary, it is a rarely used word, so bully to Ms. Marlena De Lacroix for using it.
     I consider briefly a soap-opera-ish pen name.
     I walk to Subway. I live in the city, but my neighborhood is full of bungalows and two flats. I pass a tall, pale man in a bright red jacket with the hood up because it’s still raining. He is smoking a cigarette and does not make eye contact. For a few steps, I am behind three women in black burkas, one carries a large, turquoise umbrella. I get my sandwich and on the way back I see the red-jacketed man on the other side of the street, smoking.
     I watch General Hospital. It is a pale comparison even though a few of the OLTL actors now appear here including the actor Michael Easton as a doctor although on OLTL he played Detective John McBain which is how I always think of him. He must be known for his flowing mane. I’ve never talked to anyone about this. I don’t know that I’ve ever really talked to anyone about OLTL; I mean anyone who liked the show, although I used to recap plotlines for my family.
     I doze a little. Then I start some laundry, send an ‘important’ email to students and clean the bathroom. Other things happen. My son comes home. We talk about confederate generals. We eat something.
     In the evening, my husband does a crossword puzzle and we watch a program on PBS about the evolution of man and how people travel deep, deep into caves to retrieve the bones of creatures and then reconstruct them to see what they looked like. The creatures look like us and they don’t. They are hairy but not glamorous.
     My eye has bugging me all day. I go to sleep. Everything emptying into white.

—Cecilia Pinto

Cecilia Pinto is a writer who lives in a big city and apparently watches a lot of television.


21st Century Solstice

We are picking cherries, Sophie and I. Rain is finally on the horizon and it is 20 degrees cooler than it's been in weeks. "You can eat 'em if you want. While you’re pickin’. So long as you don't mind a little dust," Mark, the proprietor of this Midwestern orchard smiles and tilts his head by way of apology. For the dust. "From the dirt road," he says.
     Sophie, at nearly ten years old is still thrilled by the idea of picking fruit. Even fruit that she won't eat. She notices the dust, but doesn't seem to mind. It makes it more real. She searches through the branches for low hidden fruits like it's a scavenger hunt. No, "Like Minecraft!" she says. "Except in Minecraft they're apples." She notices how the cherries glow when the light hits them just right, and her smile, too, is genuine – lit from the inside out. She pulls two cherries from the dark leaves, an iconic set of twins with stems still attached at the top. "Hey! It's like the emoji!” She holds them up for me to see. “It's just like the cherry emoji!" She seems shocked.
     How strange, I think, that she is finding life to imitate art. If you can call emojis art. Which I suppose they are, in an imitation-plastic, 21st century kind of way.
     In the car she pokes a hole in a cherry with her teeth and then holds it to her mouth. It's a Balaton cherry, which is neither purely sweet nor purely tart. She sucks the juice, tentatively, non-commitally. Sophie has been overexposed to the fake cherry flavors of Tootsie Pops and Icees; I know she won't like the tartness of the real thing. But I do. I have come to appreciate the quick flick of sweetness on my tongue followed by the lengthier suck of sour. One day she'll learn, I think. One day, when real life hits her with all of its poetic might, she'll suck on it for all it's worth. She’ll roll the pit around in her mouth and notice the way the lingering tartness breathes life into the sweet.

—Elona Sherwood

Elona Sherwood lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband and daughter. She is currently at work on a novel, the writing of which she fits into the nooks and crannies of domestic life. She was recently awarded a fellowship from the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, where she enjoyed wide swaths of uninterrupted writing time.


In the morning, I’m upright on a couch, and my eyes won’t adjust. My contacts must still be in. Smell of goat and rat piss and weed and old beer. This is the last place I lived before moving into an updated home in a historic neighborhood with my partner. I got in about 1:30 a.m., let myself in with the spare key I’ve kept on the ring. My old roommate is still here. He still has my canoe, and I’ve come to collect it. He quit the post office and works for a cheese shop. Doesn’t get enough hours, but gives me sandwiches for the road. My best friend from childhood is with me, his 6’5” frame doesn’t fit on the air mattress, there is confusion about who everyone is this morning.
     After hasty introductions, we use the straps I bought at a garage sale with quarters from my girlfriend’s change jar to strap the canoe to the top of my new-to-me minivan.
     It’s 100 degrees at 11 a.m. Brown brown grass of home. Texas is a convection oven. We sweat through our shirts, then pants, then boots, as we fumble with the ratchets.
     “Old men know how to do this shit because they’re goddamn geniuses.” I say.
     “My old man is dumbass and he can do this,” says my friend.
     Suddenly I forget every street name in my old neighborhood. As we make left turns around the block, I see an old lady flamingoed on one leg, trying to move a garbage can. I put the van in park and get out to pull the can to the curb while she leans against the carport screaming, “God bring you to me, God bring you to me.”
     We stop for lunch at a diner that’s a long bar with booths on one side. It’s 1:52 p.m. and the smiling host wears a bowtie, homage to the past in a town that forces my tax bracket out. The waitress rocks back and forth in her slingback heels. Her apron, made of Milky Way galaxy fabric, features a yellow button with the smiley face shot in the head, blood trickling. We order bloody marys and a beer to split. “Hope you like ‘em strong.”
     I take a right out of town, then cross the river and realize I went the wrong way. So we take FM (Farm to Market) 973 north. At 3:30 p.m., we stop at a ghost town erected across some railroad tracks in the 80s to lure undead city dwellers to the small enclave outside of town. Recently, it was used as the set of the HBO show Westworld, which is about rich folks entering into an artificial consciousness of the Old West. I had just played a festival here and gotten too drunk after the show to get one of the $60 Texas themed tattoos in the sheriff’s jail cell. I couldn’t decide between being permanently branded with a cactus or a bluebonnet.
     “This would be a great place to have a party,” says my buddy. “Especially in high school so you could make out with girls in this general store.”
     We walk through the fake saloon, the fake restaurant, and the real bar that opens at 4. I need a beer, or I need to leave. I go back to the gravel parking lot and sit in the van while he takes short videos on his phone, keeping the horizon of new oil tanks and abandoned grain bins just out of frame. A real town in a ghost world.
     By 4:15, we’re driving through little towns where old timers watch the traffic in their overalls. Automobile Repair, Tomatoes For Sale, Guns at the Blinking Light. Just like our hometown. We’re drunk and hungover and drinking tea with CBD oil and talking. My lifelong friend confesses that he was physically abused as a kid. The word “abused” blows around in the air-conditioning. Our brothers and sisters were friends, I knew the context but not the details. He punched holes in the drywall when his Mom scratched his arms. His Dad back-handed him in the face at the dinner table and boxed his ears at Pizza Hut, but came to his aid after his brother beat him by breaking his brother’s ribs. All retribution and heartache. Just like our hometown.
     The canoe made it home. My girlfriend left a note on the table, “Can WE Partay now?!” We showered and left for a steakhouse at the behest of my friend who needed some local flavor. The old part of town where the cowboys used to drive cattle and party and bathe with women was still there and celebrated more than ever. Baby boomers were mobile. We walk the short blocks of brick streets past the western wear stores announcing new old styles, tattoo parlors, haute cuisine made fashionable by reality TV and historical signs protesting the future. The old bordello is a motel now, I had stayed there before I lived in this town, driving from another state for my first wedding anniversary. We never had a baby, she told me she was sleeping with someone and I gave her the house. Life was better now.
     I get the deep fried bull-calf testicles or “calf fries” and jalapeño spears and announce my love for wine cooked mushrooms. The waitress says she’ll bring me some for free for some reason. I don’t know why. Steaks and beers in a dark lit room. The chef lords over the grill with his name against the wall, a backdrop of proof. I wish aloud that I was that accomplished. Proud steers sold at the Stock Show in the 50s and 60s hang like giant monuments in black and white, a sense of pride wells in me. My family owned a small town feed store and fed cows like these. A table of French speaking people sit down and pull out their phones to use the bright flashlights on them breaking my prideful moment. I turn from them shielding the side of my face, rude as a Frenchman.
     There was a new saloon in an old space that had $5 French 75s and Old Fashions. The bartender was alone when we walked by on the way to the steakhouse, now he had 3 drinkers bellied up. We made it 6. We had two rounds and some pony beers and the bartender was very intense but we couldn’t tell what he was saying and Bob Wills and Willie Nelson and his mouth kept moving and George Strait and Hank Williams and the men on the walls rode bulls and horses and a Native American perched in frame against black velvet told us to go home. At our real home, safe in the booze and away from dad’s fists and in the arms of our stories, I slump on the couch and passed out.

—Simon Flory

Simon Flory resides in Fort Worth, TX where he splits time as a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist for hire, teacher and most recently working on a film to accompany his upcoming recording project.  Also: gardening, trail running, Larry Brown, the Davis Mountains, the incomparable love and support of his partner Anita, family recipes, tackling the Ghazal, native plants of TX, Earl Hines, mules, a nice hat, a decent pair of boots and a ten year old shirt to name a few things.


8 a.m. : I’m awake! Later than I would like, later than usual, but in my defense yesterday was my 20th wedding anniversary. I went to dinner with my husband, had some wine, then a few drinks, then stopped at a neighbor’s house for a final whiskey. When we returned home, our 17 year old son was hungry, not having quite figured out how to cook, on his own, the myriad carbohydrate sources from the freezer. I heated up some fried rice for him, and myself, and got to bed around midnight.
     Before the drinking, I had agreed to run with my friend Jane. We are both training for different races, her for a couple of half-marathons, me for a trail 10K that will happen in three weeks. I spent the last two weeks in Hawaii (sea level) and did not only no running, but no exercise of any kind. It seems like a good idea, therefore, to do a trail run in one of the many canyons surrounding Salt Lake City. She originally said we should be at the trailhead at 8. I told her to pick me up at 8, then texted her, mid-drink, to say, let’s be realistic, 9.
     I slowly roll out of bed at 8, not quite hungover, but not not-hungover. I drink a large glass of water, then coffee, make some hard boiled eggs, eat two to stabilize my blood sugar, drink more water, sget dressed so slowly that when she arrives, I have yet to put on a shirt or to lace up my new-ish trail running shoes.
     9:45: We arrive at the trailhead. I try not to, but inevitably do, think of rattlesnakes. I had read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune reporting that food is scarce this year, so the snakes are coming down to lower elevations. Great. To avoid snakes, one should hit the trail early, say before 8 or 8:30. We are now in prime rattlesnake viewing time frame. I veer my thoughts elsewhere.
     Jane needs to run 3.1 or 5. I have on my schedule several 4 mile runs and a longer run of 5. Or 6. Though we have run this route many times, none recently, we can’t remember the distance. Her online mapping indicates that the route is 2.8 each way. That seems wrong to me. The sign, when we reach it, says 2 each way. Either way, I’m fine. I’ll run until we reach Elbow Fork, a bend in the road not unlike an elbow, where the trail we are running meets up with the road, still closed for the winter.
     We have already agreed to walk the steep beginning, which she thinks will be about 1.6 miles. My partly unreliable Fitbit reads .75 when we come to a patch of shade and, where, to my eye, the trail becomes not too steep. I decide to run. We agree to meet up later, possibly at the top of the last hill where the trail levels out.
     I run, and quickly the level spot becomes another hill which I run up (if you can call my slow pace “running”), and at the top I walk again, then run, until I come to a spot which I truly remember as the bottom of the last hill before it gets easier. I wait for Jane there. She is not far behind and we walk up the last hill together. At that point, we’re at 1.5 miles in and I decide to run, I hope, until I reach 2. Jane has a plan to run/walk some ratio, so I take off, not unmindful that, alone, if I scare out a rattlesnake, I’m on my own. I don’t even have a Sharpie! I read somewhere that rather than cut yourself and get your companion to suck the venom out (eww!) you should actually just draw a circle around the puncture wound and then try like hell to get to a hospital. They can discern something, apparently, from how much the wound has swollen. And besides, I tell myself, hardly anyone dies from rattlesnake bites, though I did hear of one man who lost all feeling in one of his legs. No running for him.
     Along the way, I pass a group of young women hiking with dogs, and several bicyclists pass me. I encounter a solo man running with a water vest and a dog. I ponder the relative merits of the water vest, with several pockets for water and gels, versus the backpack, versus the handheld water bottle I’m carrying in my right hand and which, to my dismay, is over half-empty.
     When I reach the turn around, after running, walking, jogging, more walking, my Fitbit reads nearly 3 miles. So this will be my long run, it turns out, after two weeks off and one short run on Tuesday. My legs already hurt, so I pause my watch and do my 25 air squats, which I swear by for warding off sore legs in the days after a run. I walk around, read a sign about the closed road which features the word “culvert,” a word that will bounce around in my head on the three miles back. Jane joins me soon after, we discuss the road and the trail. We don’t mention snakes.
     We head back, walking a bit, and I remind her to run in the sunny parts and walk in the shade. On the run down, every stick and rock seems to be a rattlesnake in disguise. I keep my eyes open, but try not to be paranoid. I save what little water I have for later. I practice surges, one minute intervals in which I run faster, followed by one minute slower. I do this by counting to 60 while I run fast. Then, inevitably, I have to walk. When I try to start running again, my legs feel like a pottery project from junior high: hard and misshapen. I fear I will not be able to walk tomorrow. I still have two miles of running left!
     I wait a minute for Jane in the shade at the bottom of a hill, but then decide to walk to the next bit of shade, jogging a bit in between. Eventually I do stop, and appears. We walk up a hill, which then begins, quickly, to lead us down.
     “I’m going to run,” Jane says, “for that bat out of hell feeling.” She begins to run, but, spying some big rocks on the trail, I precariously pick my way around them. I have run enough trails to have tripped epically, once, just a week before my wedding, resulting in a scar which looks like an equal sign on my left knee. Luckily my floor length dress hid it nicely. So I am rock shy on downhill trails. Jane runs away from me. Eventually I do begin running downhill, but with an upright stance that I’m sure is not good. I am slow and pick my way between rocks and sticks that might be snakes.
     Eventually we get back to the sign that informs us Elbow Fork is a mere two miles away. My unreliable Fitbit reads 5.9. We walk the path towards the car, me letting my Fitbit run until it reads 6 miles. I like even numbers.
     11:45: At the bottom, we see the lone runner with his cute dog. He informs us, is his expression abashed?, that he had seen a snake before he passed us, and that he was going to tell us, but it had been 20 minutes, and well…. I am actually grateful. I might have turned around had he told me about the snake, and we didn’t see any snakes anyway.
     We discuss all the places we have seen snakes in the past: Mt. Olympus, Neff’s Canyon, this trail. I tell him how my dog ran over a snake, twice, and now I don’t go to Neff’s in the summer. Ever. He stretches while we agree how stupid we are to run at this time of day.
     I do my 25 air squats while sipping the water I left in Jane’s car. I am grateful for water, and for my legs, though I fear I will not be able to walk tomorrow. I have already planned an epic swimming session for tomorrow, when the blessed 50 meter outdoor pool finally opens after months of anticipation and repairs. I tell myself the swimming will make my legs feel better.
     We pay the canyon fee with the one dollar bill I have and change from Jane’s car. It is after noon already, and I feel the day has gotten away from me. For the rest of the day, I will read something for a grant, maybe work on organizing the basement, maybe dump out a junk drawer in the kitchen.
     As it turns out, I will read only one academic article, a study of goal setting. Then I will spend hours taking online personality tests that are actually legit (part of the Happiness Study from University of Pennsylvania). My dominant personality trait, according to them, is Love of Learning. “You have always loved school,” it tells me. Surprise!
     I do, eventually, convince my son to go to the basement with me. “Half an hour,” I promise. He wants to keep everything, but I manage to throw away a puzzle that I had preserved with glue and was going to frame, I think, and hang in his room. It’s a puzzle of the periodic table. In any case, I throw it away, recycle the box and the cardboard. He’s in the basement organizing the paraphernalia of his tabletop gaming. He allows me to throw away some old paint. We push some books, all the Rick Riordan hardbacks, into a corner. “It’s mostly your stuff,” he says, which is a lie.
     I agreed, midday, to go to dinner with some colleagues and a visiting scholar at a restaurant I love. I still haven’t showered from my morning run, which left dirt on my legs. I clean the kitchen, doing dishes and wiping everything down so that my husband, who actually works in the summer, in an office, won’t have to do it.
     5:30: When my husband gets home, I read him my character strengths and tell him about the tests. I report, gleefully, that Son and I have managed to be home together all day without fighting. The summer is young, however. This is our first real, long day together. And he wasn’t on his computer at all, the usual source of our arguing.
     6:30: Eventually I do shower and get dressed, making it to the restaurant just five minutes early. Our group is seated in the back, where we have a view of their beautiful garden and, it turns out, their newly acquired bees. Many items on the menu will be from or supplemented by vegetables and herbs from the garden.
     My colleague Melissa and I renew our plan to project a summer movie onto her garage. We discuss movies. I vote for Jaws, perhaps the best summer movie ever, and she mentions an ant movie from the 70s, Empire of the Ants.
     We eat all of the delicious things, an appetizer of three different mushrooms served on homemade sourdough with broth, and something called a Dukkah. I have the duck, which is sublime and served with a coconut milk broth. Dessert is equally decadent, and my favorite is the goat’s milk pudding with mint and candied pine nuts. Ridiculous.
     I haven’t mentioned the poetic descriptions of each dish by our waitress, the most comical of which is the process by which Chef creates a beet steak (yes, beet not beef) through a process of dehydration and rehydration. No one orders the dehydrated beet. Each dish has a garnish from the garden; our favorite is “micro leeks.” The waitress describes the process by which the chefs create “citrus ash.” Imagine for yourself.
     10:30: Home. I describe the meal for my husband and tell him that I am taking him back to this restaurant for the tasting menu. Sometime. Soon.
     We go to bed, both of us reading the same book on our respective Kindles, Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. I began reading this book on our vacation in Hawaii, and beneath Finnegan’s description of tunnels and the perils of surfing, I can still hear the soothing crash of waves that accompanied my beach reading. I can’t keep my eyes open. I set aside my reading and go to sleep.

—Lynn K. Kilpatrick

Lynn Kilpatrick’s essays have appeared in Zone 3, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Ninth Letter, and Ocean State Review. A collaboration of prose sonnets with visual artist John Sproul was recently published in Western Humanities Review. Her poems have appeared in Tin House and Denver Quarterly. Her collection of short stories, In the House, was published by FC2. She earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, and she teaches at Salt Lake Community College. 


When I walked into my older sister’s apartment around 12:38 a.m., my sister’s dog, an elkhound/coonhound mix, did not wake or greet me. Normally when he does, it’s because he wants me to take him on a walk so he can chase cats around the parking lot, so I didn’t mind him ignoring me. He is impossible to walk when he is constantly looking under each of the cars, is circling back because he smells what might be a cat, is not interested in actually going anywhere. Okay, so sometimes he just greets me and goes back to sleep, and maybe I was a little sad he didn’t even show his face. But it could also have been that he was so deeply asleep he didn’t hear me walk through the door. Right?
     I get back late because I work in a call center for insurance claims and adjusters—it’s not related to anything I’ve studied or want to do, but it’s not bad. It’s better than breaking my body working in a Michigan warehouse, better than living off of 8 hours of pay each week, the stress of wondering when I’ll be kicked out of my friend’s Philadelphia apartment because I can’t pay her for rent, if it’ll be warm enough at night to sleep in my car. I find I am good at calming angry people and apologizing for all inconveniences.
     This time of night is when I make and eat my biggest meal, though I know I shouldn’t. A few days ago I had made a large amount of stir-fry and I was looking forward to eating the last of it, but in the kitchen I noticed the pan was out of the refrigerator and empty. My sister had left a small portion of rice so I scooped that into a bowl, added a bit of water, warmed it in the microwave. Then I seasoned it with the furikake my siblings, or maybe just my older brother and I, used to call “the purple stuff”—dried bits of beefsteak plant mixed with salt and sugar—and sriracha, and ate that for dinner.
     As I ate I watched a YouTube video from the Philip DeFranco Show which discussed news the internet was interested in for the day. He talked about the situation at the border, how children were being separated from their parents, how some parents have already been deported and so what if they’re ending family separation now? Irreversible damage has already been done to so many. Then, upset and feeling a little useless, as I tend to do after watching or reading about the way narrow-minded and unconcerned people can treat (see: devalue) others, I left my dishes on the table and went to the couch—my bed—and continued watching videos. One was a documentary about “Pure O,” a type of OCD where symptoms often manifest in the form of violent intrusive thoughts. Another was an hour-long game playthrough video: “Cry Plays: Vampyr [P1].” I didn’t finish that video, as Cry’s voice helped lull me to sleep, and, well, it was already after 3 a.m. anyway.

My older sister took her dog for a walk around 8 a.m. and I woke up but did not want to wake up. So I went back to sleep and dreamed:
I was in my childhood home’s basement though it was not my childhood home’s basement. (The only thing that was the same was the green-blue carpet, the bare white walls.) I was myself and my younger brother was there, we were going to crawl through the door beneath the basement stairs which led to a large, low-ceilinged room, a Michigan basement, empty except for the murky grayness. Hidden behind a slab in one of the walls was a sort of rock, a crystal or something, which I had remembered putting there when I was much younger. 
     My sister and her dog came back from their walk and I thought, I must’ve dreamed about hiding something in that basement space before, it’s so familiar. I went back to sleep:
For some reason I must extract this rock from its hiding place in the wall and get it tested. What is it made of? When you hold it tightly with sweaty hands you teleport into your favorite story-world. I take it to a lab but am held up by the receptionist. She tells me they can test the crystal but they’re not sure how long it’ll take before I get my results. Due to this, I ask if it’s okay if I only give them half. The crystal shrinks to a pebble, a tiny, glassy bead, and she says, I think we’re going to need the whole thing. 
     Again I woke but this time I opened my eyes. The familiarity of that room, of that hiding spot, was strange but not unnerving. Just interesting enough for me to commit the dream to memory by forcibly recalling what had happened. How interesting that I may be able to revisit a dream place for no particular reason. I checked the time and was shocked: 1:20 p.m.
     I washed my hair, kneeling over the side of the bathtub, and parted it to hide the newly shaved sides of my head, for work. Then I went out on the balcony, smoked half a cigarette. It began raining and then stopped. My sister’s dog needed to go for his afternoon walk and since I couldn’t find my small, flimsy but manageable umbrella, I grabbed my sister’s very large umbrella—it is more than half my height—put my sister’s dog on the leash, and while eating the last half of a mint chocolate chip cookie my sister had left in the box (I assumed for me) we headed out. The rain came again in large drops but in a restrained way, for Georgia, whose rains up until then seemed to come mostly in deluges. My sister’s dog stood underneath the very large umbrella with me every now and again, content to either walk slowly or stand still just sniffing dirt, so needless to say we didn’t get too far. Walking back, I realized I must’ve looked ridiculous—I was not sure if I should rest the umbrella on my shoulder, head close to fabric, handle knocking against my knees, or if I should grip the umbrella by said handle, the canopy hovering three feet above my head, as if I were also sheltering a tall ghost from the rain—as I made eye-contact with the people staring at me.
     At 3:10 p.m. I drove to work, eating two fruit strips and smoking the other half of my cigarette. My car has been running stiffer lately, and I wondered when I would take it in for an oil change, if I would ever get the dashboard fixed: it doesn’t turn on and I can’t see how fast I’m going, how much gas I have in my tank, my odometer. (I have an app on my phone I use for these things, so it might not be for a while, the dashboard.)
     At work, only 6 of the 18 phone calls I took needed more than a quick transfer or search for basic information. Mostly, I re-read and revised a story that probably doesn’t need any more revisions and scrolled through social media. I sent a coworker another one of my stories for her to read during her shift. On Facebook I read Will’s post about Essay Daily’s project, read Dorian’s essay and both of Ander’s posts about it, thought of people who might not have seen Will’s post but might want to contribute, texted or tagged them. When I took my lunch break, I went outside, smoked half a cigarette, thought about quitting.
     The people I used to smoke with when I was in Tucson have quit, and what started as a social habit has turned solitary, secret. These days the people around me think it’s disgusting, that I am disgusting, and would walk twenty feet away if I happened to be smoking in their presence, if they couldn’t just leave. I know better than to do that now. It’s fine, of course, I am used to keeping secrets, keeping things hidden (though I think about the implications of including everything in this piece, and hope the people I do not want to know about this never read these words). Perhaps the reason I keep smoking is equal parts addiction and spite.
     I wrote most of this at work but could not write the rest of the day before it happened. I stopped writing. What I remember is that my shift passed slowly, sometimes quickly, as I phased in and out of focus. A coworker asked me what I had been working on and I told him about the project. He looked at me skeptically, in a why-would-people-read-about-other-people’s-ordinary-day kind of way, and I smiled at him. It’s nice to have a few coworkers interested in hearing me talk about stories, essays, art. Conversation is always interrupted by a phone call, though; I mean, we are technically still at work. One by one, people left. Just before midnight, as I readied to leave, I noticed how quiet it was in the office, how loud that silence was.

—Michelle Midori Repke


My morning began in the woods. I woke on a twin mattress beneath buttressed triangles of square wooden beams in the loft of a timber frame cabin. At 7:30, noisy birds in the maples and poplars outside my screened window helped me out of sleep as I wiped my eyes and put in my contacts. I filled my backpack with notebook, water bottle, sunglasses, toothbrush and paste, and I slipped on a red shirt, shorts, socks and shoes. Far off, the morning bell rang, signaling all in camp to congregate at The Point in fifteen minutes.
     At 30, I feel like an elder statesman at this not-for-profit camp in Northern Minnesota, and though I am a good five or ten years older than most of my coworkers, I am also a beginner compared with them. Many were campers here or have guided dozens of wilderness trips. This is really my first summer camp experience--other than a week at Bible camp when I was in elementary school. I choose not to tell my wilderness-loving coworkers about Bible camp, where instead of learning how to portage a canoe or tie knots or carve a paddle the way the campers here do, I spent time singing at worship services or buying M&M-minis and filling the empty bottles with ants or attempting to lie to a capture-the-flag opponent about which team I was on, to which he said, “Someone is not wearing their belt of truth.”
     I found my way to this camp because I have always loved the deep woods of Northern Minnesota, taking trips with my dad to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at least once a year from ages 8-25. When I felt the need to hit refresh this spring, I looked online for a way to live in proximity to this my most romanticized place, and I found this camp offering a summer job as canoe master.
     I scooted to the creaky ladder and climbed down from my loft and left the single-room cabin I share with one other fellow. It’s like an enlarged bunkbed made into a full domicile, and I’m top bunk. On the boardwalk toward the point, bullfrogs belched from the swamp. At the point, I took a seat on the bleachers facing the water of Bearskin Lake as Olivia began First Word. She shared a quote by Rene Daumal from “The Art of Climbing Mountains,” setting up for us that Daumal is describing what mountaineering provides:
So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully. There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know…”
We chewed on that and quietly walked across camp to breakfast in the dining hall.
     We ate sausages, warm blueberry coffee cake, apple slices, and yogurt. My cabin-mate, Matt, asked Johan about the Spanish morning greeting, “¿Como amasitise?” Johan helped me spell it in my notebook. Matt told me about the new video for Beyonce and Jay-Z’s song “Apeshit,” knowing I’m a fan. Apparently they filmed in The Louvre, and we talked about how awesome that is because of the people and the place, but also because people like the Carters were not the intended attendees of an institution like the Louvre. I’ve since watched the video, and they do a better job making that point, I’d say.
     Others at the table chimed in about music video stories. A different Matt (I know I’m giving you a lot of names. I want the folks who contributed to feel like they were recognized if they read this. Readers unaffiliated with the camp need not feel obligated to track all the names.) talked about Young Thug’s video for “Wyclef Jean,” the title of which confused me repeatedly since the Fugees member seems to be uninvolved. Matt said Young Thug missed nearly all the filming for his video because someone hacked his Instagram and he had to tend to that. Though there is no cell phone service and wi-fi in only two buildings (unavailable to campers), no roads so that everyone who arrives has to paddle to camp, technology and the art of the times stows away.
     After cleaning up, we passed out song books from the center of each table and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon,” pausing after for announcements from the staff. A few people mentioned goings-on, and I stood up to tell everyone about this project and to ask folks who wanted to contribute to come tell me stories about their day. We ended by singing “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” With those modern flares of hip-hop and social media, there are still some hippie and old spiritual remnants that live at the camp too.
     We had a short staff meeting, divvying up duties for the day and ending with a joke as is the norm. Ryan volunteered one about a kid jumping up and down on a box repeating “62, 62, 62!” Ryan strung out the telling, and since I can’t see a way to do the punchline justice here, I’ll skip it and let you find it on your own.
     As canoe master--a title I love and feel underqualified for--I work in a shop called York Factory, and after breakfast, I headed there. York is built of timber beams much like the cabin where I stay, and three sides of the shop are open to the woods and wind and water. I don’t think I’ve ever worked somewhere so aesthetically pleasing. It’s all sawdust, tool boxes, bins of scrap wood, heavy duty power tools like a miter saw, a band saw, a table saw, a drill press, sandpaper, varnish, epoxy, stain, glue, paint splattered floorboards, knives for carving, ropes for tying, canvas for stretching. Out back there is a shed with some of the more severe power tools and arguably the best writing desk I’ll ever use tucked into a corner under wire shelves with instructional binders and mechanical manuals. I sit there now, writing this from my notes. There are canoes hanging in the rafters beneath the aluminum roof. There are canoes on racks in the yard between the shop and the water. There are canoes next to the shed out back that are out of commission. And on the floor of the shop, there’s one cedar strip canoe on saw-horses.
     I started my work day sanding down hardened epoxy I had previously coated on fiberglass patches inside the cedar strip. A small job to get started since I knew there would be a group of campers coming through with their guides in what the camp calls The Shuffle--stopping at stations: food prep, swim test, swamp a canoe and recover, learn to group lift canoes and heavy packs, pick out boats for trip, etc. It was our first full day of campers. They had arrived the evening before, and I had performed my spiel to inform the folks about the shop and the fleet a handful of times so far.
     Sanding the patches on the boat, I hoped for one of those Bob Vila or This Old House moments I remembered from childhood PBS shows. The audience appears in the work space while the host is in the middle of a task, and he looks up pleasantly surprised to say, “Oh, hello. I was just doing a little such-and-such,” and he welcomes them to join as he instructs.
     It didn’t quite happen that way. Instead, I went looking for my first group of campers who were running behind schedule. Anxiety preventing the PBS moment.
     I talked with trail guides, Sarah and Cody, as campers practiced setting up a tent and looked for flaws. Cody gave me my first story to add to the pile: he had played a game of bocce ball--later I found out he played with Walter, another guide, and his campers.
     The group I was expecting, led by James and Ryan, came to my shop and I gave them the spiel: York Factory was named after a fur trading post on Hudson Bay, a historical site in Manitoba. The shop is where we house, maintain, and repair our fleet of canoes. It’s a cool, open place but the tools, chemicals, and situations can be dangerous, require care and respect, so do the canoes, etc. We walked through the yard and I showed them the canoes. The aluminum Grummans: affectionately called “lumis” here, developed in 1944 near the end of WWII as Grumman Aircraft Engineering shifted some of their production from F-14 fighter planes to durable, lightweight canoes with an appealing keel down the bottom that makes steering easier. Then we talked Kevlars: fiberglass, the lightest canoes in our fleet, half the weight of the lumis, easier to portage, harder to steer, the fiberglass breaks down from UV rays, peels, and gives some people a rash. The plastics: canoes made of Royalex or ABS molded plastic, tough as the lumis but will bounce back after catching a rock to the hull rather than taking a dent. I told them about a video of a plastic Nova Craft fresh off the production line taken to the roof of the factory and dropped six stories with barely a scratch. The droppers take the boat straight to a lake and paddle with no trouble at all.
     Finally, we reached the pride and joy of the camp, the wood canvas canoes. These puppies were developed in the late 1800s near Bangor and Old Town, Maine. The design reversed the construction operation of Penobscot Native Americans in the area, who started with naturally waterproof birch bark, bent upward into the shape of a canoe with stakes holding the walls in place. They then filled the shell with outer planking, inner ribs, and fastened it all together with gunwales around the lip. The wood canvas, instead, starts with the gunwales. Then the curved ribs attach to the gunwale and the outer planking covers the ribs. Finally canvas is tightly stretched and coated in waterproof sealants and paint.
     I told the campers that the wood canvas canoes we have are some of the oldest boats in the fleet, with some built around 1940. They are all donated and some could sell for something like ten thousand dollars. But they are still boats and are meant to be used. They simply require a heightened level of respect and care on the trail. This is one of the coolest things about the camp, I think, treating the boats as boats rather than relics. The same goes for the wilderness--a place to be revered and treasured but not feared or avoided.
     I finished my spiel and the guides suggested their group of mostly beginners take a kevlar, a lumi, and a plastic, skipping the wood canvas options for this trip. They tried on yokes to test the feel and hung nametags on the boats they hoped to take.
     After they left the shop, I mixed epoxy in a red Solo cup and painted layers over the patches on the cedar strip canoe and over a crack in the bottom of a plastic canoe. The epoxy heats as it starts to harden, and the excess melted the plastic cup into a hockey puck. Fumes steamed from the countertop as the paintbrush became excalibured in the plastic. I let it cool before tossing it in the trash.
     Walter and his campers came to the shop to check on their Nova Crafts. This summer they will spend around 45 straight days on rivers in the Northern Canada, cutting through rapids, portaging or line dragging impassable sections. Their boats have been a priority. As an added wrinkle, they are being flown into their starting point, and in order to get the boats on the floatplane, they have to turtleshell one inside the other. This means they will drive to the airport with the boats on a trailer, then they will remove all the hardware (seats, yoke, thwarts, handles, all held to the gunwales with nuts and bolts) from one canoe, and slide the still intact boat inside the empty one before tucking the two between the pontoons of the plane.
     In the shop, they practiced removing and replacing the hardware, applying spray skirts that tightly snap into place over the bow and skirt the front paddler to keep some of the spray of rapids from flooding the canoes. Between Walter and the three paddlers, they share a common pseudo-British/posh-New Englander accent that I gather came about during previous trips together and lots of nights spent playing Settlers of Catan. In that voice, they joked about trying to reassemble their canoe before a charging bear reached them. I enjoyed watching the spectacle of young men bonding over shared silliness in the face of real danger that they choose to encounter.
     After they left, I checked my stock of repair kits that go with the guides taking trips over 30 days, four of which I have been outfitting over the last couple weeks. I saw I had given out the only complete kit to Heather, a guide on one of the Nor’wester trips of 30 days, who had left that morning for whitewater training with the other guides for those long trips. I couldn’t find instructions for what belonged in the kits and decided I would try to snag the one back from Heather when she returned to put together more.
     A currently unassigned guide, Carson, came to York to offer to help sometime after lunch. At breakfast, the Program Director, Claire, told me I should take a half-day since I had worked on an off day to prep the canoes for whitewater training and should try not to accrue overtime when possible. I told Carson I would probably not be in the shop in the afternoon but gave him instructions for replacing a broken thwart and a yoke pad for later as the lunch bell rang.
     For lunch we ate some sort of Italian soup (Italian wedding? Is that a kind of soup? It’s hard to know without internet to verify these things), bread, and peaches in sauce. One of the cooks, Tori, told me she baked a bunch of bread today: pumpkin, Italian herb, honey whole wheat, coffee cake--later she told me she made a second round of many of these loaves.
     We cleaned up and sang “Free Fallin” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the latter being one of my favorite songs in the book. Everyone winds up an air bullwhip and screams “Yah!” at the end of the chorus.
     I gathered a few more stories from guides as the dining hall cleared out. Walter told me about his involvement in Cody’s bocce ball game. Sarah and Olivia told me about the tent they set up, which I passed by earlier. They added that they played the card game Egyptian Rat Slap with their campers and wrote trail notes for other guides to read on their trips. And they had plans for a hike to Daniels Bluff and a swim in the lake that afternoon.
     Another guide, Lily, and her group told me they had swamped their boat for the swim and swamp test, and they had had a lot of fun doing it. They wanted to do it again but had to keep moving through their schedule. While looking over maps, they learned they were going near a stretch of path called the Bottle Cap Hike on the Canadian border, where people walking side by side could be in different countries. They also said they were heading to Daniels Bluff later on.
     With my half-day, I had thought to visit Daniels Bluff but decided it would be good to stagger my hike so I wouldn’t intrude on the group outings.
     There was another short staff meeting on the deck of the dining hall. Workers finished installing solar panels on the roof that would provide all the hot water used by the dining hall from now on.
     I stopped back at York Factory to see if Carson had gotten to the thwart and yoke pad. He was otherwise occupied, so I set up Matt with the job. I learned later that a hole was being dug behind an outhouse near York by Carson, Ryan, Liam, Jake, and probably some others who I apologize for not mentioning. They snapped the handle of a pickaxe trying to break a rock. They were sweaty, tired, and sore by the end.
     Feeling flush with time, I swung back to my cabin to read some Shunryu Suzuki and meditate for a few minutes before prepping for my hike to Daniels Bluff. Just to be safe, I stopped back at York to see how Matt was doing before hitting the trail. He pointed out that the yoke pad I asked him to replace had a bolt which had slipped its threads and wasn’t coming out, just spinning. At the moment, he was trying to pry the wood to see if he could just snap the pad off. I remembered a giant pair of bolt cutters I had stashed while straightening up the shop. Pulling them out, I handed them over. Matt made short work of the problem bolt and no wood was snapped. I picked up the bottom half of the bolt from the floor and felt heat at the pinch point.
     Passing along the boardwalk through camp, I said hello to Sarah and Olivia’s group returning from their hike. Behind the dining hall, I spotted Stella and Kiera wearing safety glasses and headphones, cutting scrap wood with the miter saw. Stella gave a big smile and nod with her hand on the running saw. Kiera gathered the cut pieces and handed fresh chunks to be sawn.
     The path behind the dining hall that leads to Daniels Bluff starts wide with ruts where tires and tracks from winter dog sleds have cut into the earth. I felt the wild grass pull against the top of my shoes as I trudged through. In a swampy clearing to my right, I saw the empty dog kennels stacked, waiting for the winter activities to resume in the fall.
     There’s a turn I missed my first time trying to hike to the bluff where you need to hook north away from the wide path and sled tracks. Helpfully, someone tied an orange bandana to a tree branch at the turn, and I swung around it, moving uphill on the narrower path.
     I paused at my favorite giant white pine to press my palms against the bark and look straight up. The top swayed lightly in the wind. I tried to taste the sun the way the needles did, as warmth and sustenance. Behind me, a ruffed grouse began its accelerating drumroll of wing beats, slow thumps speeding and building, fading.
     At the end of the path, I found Lily’s group lounging at the bluff, writing trail notes and taking in the view. They presented me with a joke/riddle: “Two penguins are paddling through the desert. One turns to the other and says, ‘Where’s your paddle?’ The other says, ‘Sure does.’” It works better as a verbal exchange, I realize.
     I told Lily’s group I had heard the penguin bit on a trip I took with some guides the week prior. It took me a good 24 hours to get the joke. But I wouldn’t spoil it for them. They asked me to use their cameras to take photos of them on the bluff. I obliged before continuing down the trail to another overlook where I sat cross legged on a rock in the sun. I rubbed in sunscreen and started reading Steven Church’s “The King’s Last Game” as ant legs poked my ankles.
     The voices of Lily’s group faded, and I decided to switch to their spot with the best view of the neighboring lake. There, I sat on a log and looked over Daniels Lake. Three canoes fished the western corner, stalling near the shallows to cast. The surface of the lake was a crosshatch of waves. Light wind moving ripples that bounced off shore and rode back toward the middle in expanding and collapsing diamonds of troughs and peaks.
     I finished the Church essay and got my things together to head back to camp. On my way back down I passed Max and his campers on the way to the bluff. I moved slow and waited at a downed log for them to hop over before continuing on.
     Like curled shavings piling at my feet, I had been gathering the many grainy, fragrant verbs for cutting and working wood: carve, widdle, shave, tear, rip, split, slice, divide, rend, saw, blade, plane, lathe. I began the list in Grand Marais, looking out on Lake Superior. With my fingers I dipped water to bless my lips and forehead, like Isaiah and the Seraphim’s burning ember, in a moment of grateful awe facing the expanse and the prospect of spending time near such wealth of water and wood.
Walking back from Daniels Bluff, I worried that I had read someone do this gathering of woodcutting words already, specifically Lia Purpura in Rough Likeness, and I made a note to check when I returned to camp. I was right, in a way, the essay “On Tools” focuses on woodcutting and gathers the words and phrases of Purpura’s friend and expert.
     Passing the dining hall and through camp, I ran into Matt, who had been working in York for me, and he filled me in on all the tasks he finished. I stopped by my cabin and read more Church before the dinner bell clanged.
     At dinnertime, I started gathering more stories from others, which I was grateful to receive since most of my notes up to that point were about my largely leisurely day. Jonah told me that he jumped off the sauna dock and swam to Mouse Island in the middle of the lake. He described the oddity of swimming with goggles in a lake instead of a pool. The lack of flipturns disoriented trajectory and distance, and there was the eerie moment when the rocks at the bottom of the lake descended beyond view and all he could see was the deep.
     For dinner, we ate enchiladas, salad, and milk. I sat next to the Camp Director, Meghan. It’s her first summer at this camp too, with plenty of experience running camps like this one and time spent on the fundraising side for organizations that support wilderness camps. We talked York Factory and canoes and previous jobs and a boat expert who had come to look over all the wood canvas canoes and left notes for me to work from. I’m quietly a big fan of hers, and her little golden-doodle, Woody. She’s the kind of boss I always want to impress, I think because she’s reserved enough to only offer praise when it’s genuine--probably some parental issues on my part.
     We had another short staff meeting after dinner, a “deck sesh” as I learned they are called. My cabin-mate, Matt, saw he got a cryptic “Ugh” text from a friend back home in Memphis and figured the Grizzlies had made a troubling pick in the NBA Draft. We sidled up to sneakily check results on our phones in the island of wi-fi around the dining hall. Deandre Ayton, from my recent school, the University of Arizona, was picked number one overall by the Phoenix Suns and the Grizzlies had just taken Jaren Jackson Jr from Michigan State. Didn’t seem like a bad pick to me. There were still a bunch of picks before the Timberwolves would take Josh Okogie. I sat on the fireplace of the dining hall deck with another Matt (Young Thug fan and bolt cutting phenom) and talked about his team, the Denver Nuggets.
     Folks started prepping for a Leave No Trace activity, teaching campers about the seven principles of LNT. I made a joke about the Eightfold Path that didn’t land.
     Leaving the dining hall, I walked to the boathouse, a central point of camp and sat on benches while Max’s campers played a game of Ninja. Each person stood frozen, taking turns making one fluid motion to try to slap the hand of another player, who had the opportunity to evade in one movement. After the attempt, they had to freeze again in the new position and hope no one would slap their hand. It looked pretty fun.
     Guides without campers to tend to started coming to me with stories a little more rapid fire, and I tried to record the gist. The biggest events seemed to be a lot of wood hauled and split, the depths of composting outhouse shoveled out, and the holes dug for new outhouses, previously mentioned. My notes are bullet points that look like this:

  • Willa and Anna shoveled poop (with others I’m sure) and were surprised that it wasn’t awful and didn’t smell as bad as expected. 
  • Kiera and others carried four loads of wood in the trash cans they previously used to transport the poop and stacked the wood on the sauna dock. 
  • Powdered lime was carried, and spilled. 
  • People went swimming.
  • Stella went for a jog across the lake and pulled off nine ticks after.
  • Kiera and Stella moved more wood and cut it by the dining hall, which I passed on my way to Daniels Bluff. In three hours they made it through about a quarter of the pile.
  • Willa helped organize the walk-in freezer (with a poster of Christopher Walken next to its handle that makes me chuckle) and found banana chips that didn’t need to be frozen.
  • In the septic field where the shoveled poop was dumped, rhubarb and wild strawberries grew.
  • Anna said someone picked up a chunk of dried poop and thought it was mulch and pleasantly fragrant. I thought of the scene in Shawshank Redemption when Heywood picks up a rock for Andy Dufresne’s collection only to be told it’s a horse apple, a turd.
  • Emmet made “a ton” of pemmican for trail food, spending three hours mixing the stuff. I asked him how to spell “pemmican.”
  • Ford went to a clinic in Grand Marais and found out he does not have tuberculosis.
  • Laura mixed powdered Bisquick in a giant garbage can for trail food.
  • Charles was on Duncan Lake with his campers who tried to enter their wood canvas canoe at waist deep and, too short to reach across to handle both gunwales, swamped the purple canoe named Manomin--the only named boat I always remember because it’s the name of the lake at the center of Menomonie, WI, where my parents grew up.
  • Emery went to the clinic with Ford to get his sprained ankle looked at. With a smile, he told me there was another story of the day he wanted to tell me off the record later. I’ve since heard it and will keep it between us.
  • Jake said digging the hole was tough but gratifying. It was a tangible task that let him change the earth over the course of hours as he dazed out and just kept moving. He, Ryan, Liam, and Carson talked about their relative soreness from digging.
  • Ryan called his girlfriend, whose birthday it was, and she was glad to hear from him.
  • Liam saw a frog and a snake.
  • Carson made his first solo paddle across the lake to get gear from his car.

     While I tried to scribble down these stories, campers lay on their bellies looking over the edge of the dock and netted sunnies from the shallows, watching them flop for a bit on the planks before Sam, their guide, told them to put them back in the water.
     As folks either started moving to The Point for the Leave No Trace activity or clearing out from the boathouse, I decided to do the latter and skip the campfire activity. Jokes were made that to skip the activity was to truly leave no trace. From my cabin, I heard yells of applause and encouragement as people acted out the principles in skit form. I found and read “On Tools” by Purpura and “String” by Nicholson Baker.
     The sounds of campers faded around 9:30, and I decided to take a solo evening dip off the sauna dock. The moon was two-thirds full and reflecting off gentle chops in the water. I breathed in the woods, the moon, the buzz of mosquitoes, and jumped off the dock. The water wasn’t as cold as expected, didn’t make my breath short the way it sometimes does. I felt a nibble on my leg from the fish dubbed Attack Bass and scooted away from its territory. Loons began their evening call and response, howling and laughing.
     I side-stroked away from the dock, facing the orange western horizon, spotting two bright spots out before the other stars. Jupiter and Venus most likely. Floating on my back, I filled my ears with the silent slosh of lake water and waited as the bright spots turned from two to three to more. I rubbed down and rinsed my hair before climbing out. On the dock I met a frog.
     Back at the cabin, I asked Matt if he had anything to add to my notes and he said he had called his grandpa who was in the hospital with a staph infection but would be getting out soon. They talked basketball, and Matt was moved that this man from another generation agreed that Steph Curry is the best shooter ever.
     A couple days later, I asked the folks who were gone from camp on the 21st for whitewater training on the St. Louis River near Duluth what happened on their day. Joe and David said they swamped in rapids with their campers, on purpose, and recovered well. After one portage through tall grass, David removed 19 ticks, a camper from the group removed 13, and another removed six.

—Caleb Klitzke

Caleb Klitzke is a recent MFA grad from the University of Arizona. Feeling trees on his shoulders makes him happy.


After squinting around the house looking for my glasses, I sat on the front porch for a minute trying to decide how to spend the day. Run? Finish the sloppy collage that will probably end up in the trash? Write at the coffee shop? Plant the rest of my pea starters before they fuse their threadlike fingers to one another?
     The neighbors had their orange garbage bags on the street—must have missed the email from the city announcing all garbage pickup was cancelled until a new route was made.
     I weighed myself: 162 pounds. I took off my shorts and T-shirt: 159 pounds.
     I checked the Facebook page for the Houghton County Flood Volunteer center to find they needed help with data entry. I made a smoothie with blueberries, banana, lime, almond milk, and pea protein and, for later, packed a peanut butter and banana sandwich, water, a Clif bar, and my computer. I dug my bike out of the garage.
     At first it seemed like they didn’t need me, like they had plenty of volunteers at the Evangel Church, but within an hour, I was scrolling through a spreadsheet of addresses, work requests, and columns that said how many volunteers had been deployed.
     Every fifteen minutes for eight hours, I heard a safety briefing for each new group of volunteers—how to know if your mask is properly applied, why to never take it off in unventilated areas, why you should listen to the victim if they want to tell you their story, why you should never do work you aren’t sure is safe, why you should take breaks, why you shouldn’t take photos of the homeowners or their homes (if you want a good photo, this is all you need: muck boots and a shovel in your hand—you’ll get hundreds of likes), why you should hydrate.
     The eight hours at the volunteer center were a stream of questions. Where are we sending perishable food donations? Which towns in the county have free dumpsters for debris? Who is bringing lunch to the workers on Canal Road? Are they willing to hike a bit? What is a backhoe, a skid-steer, a front-end loader, a bobcat, a telehandler, and can we get one to Rocky Shores Drive, to Royce Road, to the house on the other side of the sink hole? Does he need sand and a skid-steer at the same time, or are they unrelated? Is someone pumping out houses yet? What can a previous resident do to help all the way from California? Is Michigan Tech still offering rooms and showers to the volunteers?
     How long have those donated sandwiches from Subway been sitting there? How long have those donated pasties from Amy J’s been sitting there? How long have those donated brats from Vollwerth’s been sitting there? What assignment can we give to the group of 35 volunteers coming tomorrow? Is St. Ignatius taking any more people for food prep, and if not, what task can we give this 70-year-old woman? Do we have any more wheel-barrows, more spray kits, more bleach, more dehumidifiers, more Oreos, more squeegees—how do you spell squeegees? There’s a street named Amygdaloid? Has the boil water alert been lifted? How much water is too much for a shop-vac? Does anyone need a volunteer who has OSHA pipeline safety training? Do we need a mobile response van from Habitat for Humanity? What is a mobile response van from Habitat for Humanity? Who can look at a gas leak, a toppled furnace, a washed-out culvert, a destroyed septic system, a leaking roof?
     I biked home around 6:30, careful to avoid any sinkholes, and when I got to our street, I walked my bike up the steep three blocks to our house. I watered my sweet potato vine, my salvia, my coleus. I helped the peas and bean plants to climb and wrap around their poles. Too tired to run, I showered and ate elk burgers and tater tots with Joe on the couch. At 9:34 the sun stamped a burning orange rectangle on the wall next to the TV. The neighbor’s cherry tree, backlit and glowing from the sun, waved its leaves from outside our porch window. The cilantro bobbed from its planter on the wall. The washing machine gurgled and drained from the laundry room. Aaron Sanchez on Master Chef couldn’t distinguish between one contestant’s pastry cream and whipped cream, therefore declaring their pie a failure. Pie after pie was tasted by the judges and then thrown away almost whole.
     I wondered if that sweet old man on the phone today finally got the ten feet of water pumped from his basement.
     I set my glasses somewhere I wouldn’t remember in the morning and kissed Joe goodnight.

—Cynthia Brandon-Slocum

Cynthia Brandon-Slocum lives in Houghton, Michigan where she teaches college english. Her essays can be found in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, North American Review, Southern Indiana Review, Arcadia, and Redivider.

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

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