The Babysitter


"Privately, Kate knew that her daughter-in-law found her too distracted or too slow to take care of a toddler amid the many dangers of Paris."

Fiction by Paula PaigeSummer/Fall 2016


The baby screamed violently, his little face tomato-red, his platinum hair lighting up the dark hallway like dandelions gone to seed as he flung his head back and forth.  He clutched at Kate, pulling away from his new French baby sitter, Françoise.

“You’re going to the park now,” Kate said, “and when you come back Nana will give you lunch.”

Oliver went on thrashing and screaming.

Françoise said: “Laissez-moi sortir.  He will stop when he doesn’t see you anymore.”

Kate nodded, prying off his plump little tentacle-like arms and legs, and Francoise got him out into the hallway.  She closed the door and leaned against it, breathing hard, wiping her own tears as the screams went on, then were, finally, mercifully swallowed up by the elevator’s creaky descent.

Kate was about to go out to the market; she had her granny cart ready, so that she looked like an old-fashioned Parisian housewife.  She’d just give them time to get around the corner on their way to the garden.  But then she hesitated.   She went over to stand by the window, looking out at the courtyard, at the unusually cloudless blue sky, at the white cat named Claude sitting in a window in the apartment across the way, next to a pot of geraniums.  What a nice place this was that her son and his wife had rented, but they didn’t seem to spend much time here:  he was buried most days at the Bibliothèque Nationale, working on his latest book; she worked in a neighborhood café on hers.  And Oliver went off every morning with a series of teenaged babysitters, whom they’d declined to replace with Kate for the short time she was in Paris.  Privately, Kate knew that her daughter-in-law found her too distracted or too slow to take care of a toddler amid the many dangers of Paris.

Claude blinked up at her in the June sun, and all of a sudden Kate thought: to hell with the market!  She was only here for two weeks, and she wanted to see Oliver.  She stowed the shopping cart in the kitchen, grabbed the paper, and walked down the circular staircase, out through the front courtyard with its ivy-covered buildings, where children kicking a soccer ball muttered “Bonjour!” as she went by.  She knew where Françoise and Oliver had gone: the courtyard of the Hôpital St. Louis a block or so away. 

The Rue du Faubourg du Temple was a vibrant, tacky street that seemed to be the cheap shoe capital of Paris.  High platform sandals were piled on tables on the sidewalk; bright sundresses in patterns that made you seasick waved like banners in the breeze.  Kate turned down a side street that led to the hospital, a mostly Muslim street full of small shops in front of which men stood smoking and staring at passersby. Once she saw a woman’s face eclipsed by a black chador peering out from the darkness of a shop.             

Up ahead loomed the hospital, with its gray slate roofs atop rose and beige patterned walls, like the Place des Vosges.  She slipped around the car barrier and walked under the arch into the courtyard, a typically French green island of calm in the midst of the noise and hot cement of Paris.  Ahead of her was an oval hillock planted with purple pansies and pink begonias, ringed by a gravel path and then grass, where children were actually permitted to run.  Young mothers and nannies sat on stone benches, surveying their children or charges.  A few hospital patients were sitting out, too, in the morning sun, one an evident burn victim in a wheelchair—the hospital specialized in dermatology.  Kate spotted Oliver toddling around on the grass on the other side of the garden mound.  Françoise sat talking nearby with another nanny.

Kate sat down on a bench from which she could see Oliver but not be seen by Françoise.  At least, she hoped not.  She put up her paper as a screen, pretending to read about Strauss-Kahn and his humiliating treatment by the New York City police.  Peering around the edge of the paper, she saw Oliver trip and tumble.  Françoise called out “Olivier!”  She came to scoop him up and they passed out of Kate’s sight behind the flowered mound.

A few minutes later, Oliver set forth again.  This time, he went farther afield, headed for the figure in the wheelchair, swathed in bandages, who had wheeled himself closer to Kate.  The man—the gray hair looked like a man’s—was smoking, inserting his cigarette among the bandages that crisscrossed his face.  Only in France, Kate thought!  Oliver watched in fascination, standing a few feet away, staring at this strange figure, at the cigarette going into the dark hole, at the blue smoke rising in the sunlight.  It was quite possible that this privileged child of Northern California had never seen anyone smoke before.

And then the man seemed to speak to Oliver, holding his cigarette to one side.  Kate heard something that ended in “mon petit prince.”  Despite the bandages, Oliver smiled.

Kate stood and walked a bit closer.  She saw that Françoise was absorbed in texting, and that the man was perfectly presentable.  In fact, he seemed to have a rather aristocratic way of speaking, and he wore a green silk ascot around his neck.  He acknowledged her from a distance: “Madame.”  It was a lovely moment.

All of a sudden, the man seemed to nod off, and dropped his cigarette on the grass beside him.  Oliver stood transfixed for a moment or two, then began to run toward the spot of flame glowing in the grass.  Kate did, too.

“Oliver!” she yelled, before Françoise had any idea what was going on (she was still texting, and jumped up in surprise when she saw Kate running around, and indeed through, part of the flowerbed).  The baby stopped and turned; then his face lit up in a grin and he toddled to meet Kate.

“Na-na!” he cried.  It was the first real word she’d ever heard him say.  She caught him up in her arms.

Then the force of French society came down on her:  Françoise came over to claim her charge, looking daggers at Kate because she probably thought she was a spy planted by her son, but also a bit shamefaced, as well she should.  A dark-skinned gardener dressed in green appeared out of nowhere, berating Kate for walking on the parterre, gesturing at the crushed flowers.  In vain did she plead that her petit fils was in danger of being burned by a cigarette butt; the gardener looked at her skeptically, and handed her a fine for 25 euros, payable to the City of Paris.

But the man in the wheelchair moved in, speaking with the authority of the privileged.  “Je suis désolé, Madame.  This is all my fault. Permit me.”  He reached into the pocket of his pants—very nice gray flannel pants-- and pulled 25 euros out of a brown Hermès billfold, which he handed to her.  Then he bowed and wheeled himself away.

Françoise was still standing there, looking at Kate warily, hot and flustered in her tight jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt, her reddish hair falling in her face.  Kate felt sorry for her.

“I wasn’t spying.  I just wanted to watch him,” Kate said.  “I don’t get to see him very often.  That’s why I followed you.”

Françoise’s hazel eyes widened in surprise.  “Really?  You mean you’re not going to tell your son?”

Kate laughed.  “No.”  What a dark view of human nature the French had!

The girl smiled and handed her the baby.  Kate stood holding him, inhaling his infant smell of new skin, powder, and poop.  Then she kissed him, handed him back to Françoise and went off to make lunch.


Paula Paige is an Adjunct Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures emerita at Wesleyan University in Middletown,CT. She travels frequently to France and Italy, in order to keep up her fluency in those languages.


Handing of the Flag

Poem by Jean HowardSummer/Fall 2016



(Services of William Reese)


At the grave site,

as each star is swallowed

by a fold

or white-glove tuck,

the flag moves,

slowly, precisely,

each tug calculated

and rehearsed.


The gatherers are silent,

hearing each move,

though inaudible.

The only sound lifting

above us is a baby

whose lips begin suckling

in his mother’s arms.


The sound, so visceral,

so intense, its primal longing 

moving him closer

to his mother’s breast,

is drifting upward

above the flag

as it slowly, steadily,

crawls toward its end.


The crisp finality

of its pointed blue

floats within

the widow’s arms

as the mother steps away,

the infant clamping beneath

her shawl onto the nearest



A participant in the original development of the internationally acclaimed Poetry Slam, Jean Howard’s poetry has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Revolution of The Spoken Word, The Chicago Tribune, as well as over 120 literary publication, with her book of poetry, Dancing In Your Mother’s Skin, being awarded two grants for publication.

Organizer of the annual National Poetry Video Festival for eight years, she has performed in hundreds of venues nationally, from biker bars to contemporary art museums, with her own award-winning video poems airing on cable and public television and film festivals. www.jeanchoward.com

Original publication: This poem was originally published in Evening Street Press, Fall 2016 issue #15 www.eveningstreetpress.com


I Meet Mary

"In her early eighties, she began to repeat herself and forget things, like elderly people do, but then she took to shoplifting from the grocery store next to her apartment building."

Memoir by Joe ArtzSummer/Fall 2016


I woke to the sound of footsteps coming slowly up the stairs. The door opened. The overhead light flicked on, flooding the room white. 

A small, gray-haired woman, neatly dressed in black slacks, a white blouse with a ruffled front, and a black pin-striped vest stood in the doorway of my bedroom, her hand still on the light switch. The alarm clock read a quarter past midnight.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,” she said, “but my name is Mary Ashmore, and I’m from Mulvane, Kansas. Can you tell me where I am?”

I stood facing her, wearing sweat pants and no shirt, eyelids heavy from sleep, blinking in the light. The adrenalin that had driven my startled leap from bed began ebb. 

She waited for me to answer, cautious, but unafraid, a step back from the doorway, turned slightly to one side so as not to seem too forward to a stranger. Her make-up was on, her hair was brushed, her eyes were steady, her expression composed. 

“You’re in Iowa City, Iowa,” I said. “I’m your son, Joe.”


I had always thought, because I’d always heard, that Alzheimer’s makes a person ugly. That it reveals every blemish on a person’s psyche, magnified to terrific, unrelenting dimensions. My father’s dementia was livid, tormented, hateful. My wife’s Great Aunt Elma saw faces at her windows and heard my wife’s teenage brother singing outside her bedroom at night. My mother’s Alzheimer’s was not like that at all. That was the kindest of its cruelties.  

In her early eighties, she began to repeat herself and forget things, like elderly people do, but then she took to shoplifting from the grocery store next to her apartment building. The store’s manager reported this to the front desk in the lobby of the apartment tower, an affordable housing facility for independent living. “She’s not really stealing,” he said. “She just picks something off the shelf and by the time she gets to the front of the store, forgets she has it.” 

He didn’t bar her from the store, just kept an eye on her. He’d call out, like he would to a child, “Mary, did you forget to pay for that?” She didn’t argue, didn’t take red-faced offence. If she was lucid, and meant to buy it, she would. If she wasn’t, or had forgotten her money, she’d be embarrassed and leave the item with him. 

“Who did you say you were?” asked the woman in the doorway. 

“I’m your son, Joe.” 

“No,” she said, searching my face. “You’re not my Joe.” 

“Yes, I am,” I said, smiling. 

“No,” she said, shaking her head. She glanced away, down the stairs. “I was about to call out to see if anyone was at home. I thought I might be in Council Grove, but I’m not. Where did you say I was?”  

“In Iowa City, Iowa.”

“You came yesterday with your other son, Dennis, and his wife, Jean.” 

“Well, you have the names right,” she said. “I do have a Dennis and a Joe, but you don’t look like my Joe.” 

“I am your Joe, and I live here in Iowa City with my wife Cherie, and my daughters, Lana and Emily.” I spoke in measured tones, sensing it was important to focus all my attention on my mother, even though I stood shirtless, feeling exposed and a bit chilly from the early June night air. 

“You came here yesterday,” I repeated, “with my brother Dennis, and his wife, Jean. They brought you from your home in Haysville, Kansas.” 

“No, sir. I live in Mulvane.” 

“You used to, a long time ago, but now you live in Haysville, and before that you lived in Council Grove. Dennis and I helped you move to Haysville, three years ago. You have an apartment there, on the fourth floor of Peach Tree Plaza.” 

“But where am I now?” 

“You’re in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m your son, Joe, and this is my house.” 

“I don’t know.” 

“Why don’t we go downstairs, where we can sit and talk?”

The T-shirt I’d been wearing that afternoon was by my feet, on the floor by the bed, where I’d let it fall at bedtime. I knelt, stood, pulled the T-shirt on. It was an ancient, threadbare souvenir from Wall Drug, South Dakota. 

“My Joe was wearing a T-shirt like that this afternoon,” she said.

Going down the stairs, she asked, “Who’s your wife?”

“My wife is Cherie.” 


“And Dennis’ wife is Jean.” 

“Yes.” She looked over her shoulder. “Where is your wife?”

“She is still in bed, up in the bedroom. Did you see her there?”



Why wasn’t I frantic, begging my mother to recognize me. Why didn’t the woman Mary run in terror from this half-clad stranger who claimed to be her son? Why didn’t Cherie get out of bed to help? Afterward, she told me she decided against getting up, because the two of us, this Mary and I, seemed calm and in control.

As for me, here’s how it was. When the woman in the doorway introduced herself, I recognized her as who she said she was,Mary Ashmore, from Mulvane, Kansas, a woman I’d heard about all my life, and imagined a thousand times, but never dreamed I’d get a chance to meet, much less help out of a tight spot. She was not the first version of Mary Ashmore that I would meet in the years ahead, the next one in the coming hour.


Downstairs, in the living room, my mother and I sat, apart, on the edge of the futon that Cherie and I had folded down to make her bed. 

“Where did you say I was?” she asked. 

“You’re in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m your son Joe, you’re in Iowa City, your son Dennis and his wife Jean brought you here.”

“Are they here?”

“No, they’re staying in a motel here, in Iowa City.” 

“And how did I get here?”

“They brought you here, you and they drove all day from Haysville, Kansas, where you live. Cherie and I made up this bed for you to sleep in.” 

“Yes, this is the bed I woke up in,” she said, “and the dog was here.” She pointed to the dog, Milly, curled up on her bean bag on the floor. “He didn’t bother me at all. But I knew I wasn’t home, because I don’t have a dog.” A pause. “And where did you say I was?”

“Iowa City, Iowa.”

“And you’re my son Joe?”

We continued the cycle, over and over, like horses patiently pulling a plow, back and forth, over the same field. 

I became aware she was holding car keys in her hand. 

“Those are your car keys.”

“Yes, I looked outside and didn’t see my car. Where’s my car?”

“It’s in Haysville, at Peach Tree Plaza, your home.”

“And how did I get here?”

“Dennis and Jean brought you.”

“And Dennis and Jean were here?”

“Yes, they were here for dinner last night. Do you remember what we had for dinner?”


“We had chicken.” I said. “Cherie was grilling it on that big, black, round grill.” I remembered Cherie lifting the lid as Mom and I watched. How a great cloud of fragrant steam billowed up, revealing eight chicken breasts, basting in barbecue sauce, hissing and popping over white hot coals. 

“Yes, I remember. Yes.”

“And then later, we went to Lana’s graduation. Her high school graduation. Let me go get something. I’ll be right back.” From the kitchen, where we’d left them on the table, I brought Lana’s red graduation gown and my digital camera. “Do you remember? Lana was wearing this.”

“Yes.” She felt the fabric. “Lana wore this.”

“And we took pictures of her with this camera.”


Thoughts crossed her face the way thin clouds cross the moon. She sighed, a deep, old, worried sound. Her arms and hands began to tremble.

“Oh, what have I done?” she said. “I’ve been failing lately, but I’ve never done anything like this.” 

She told me about memory problems she’d had, and how the doctor thought it might be Alzheimer’s, and gave her pills, but she thought she might have run out of them. She spoke with clarity about waking up and not knowing where she was. She told me she got dressed and went outside, “but not far,” came back in, and decided that before calling out to see if she was alone, she’d check upstairs. There, she said, she’d found a man, and because the man was smiling, she’d thought he would probably be able to help her. 

She sat up straight. 

“Well, I’m going to put on my pajamas and go to bed. And you should go back to bed too. I’ve kept you up long enough, Joe.”

“Good night, Mom,” I said.

I kissed her cheek. She said, “That helps most of all.”

She lay down on her side, her head on the pillow. She said, “I sleep on this side, so that my good ear is up. I want to be aware of things.” 

At 3:30, the dog erupted from her bean bag, barking furiously, as she always did when the morning paper arrived. I dashed downstairs. My mother was sound asleep, her good ear against the pillow. 


The next morning, Mom apologized a couple times, and asked me not to mention the previous night to Dennis and Jean. The day went as planned and that evening, we all went out to dinner, then the girls left for a party, and Dennis and Jean went back to their motel.

I was still awake, reading in bed, when I heard Mom downstairs, talking. I found her lying wide awake on her stomach on the futon bed, her head at the foot of the bed, her chin propped on crossed arms on her pillow. She looked like a teenager at a slumber party. She was talking to the dog, who listened, cocking her head this way and that. 

I sat with her. Like a three year old, reassured by repetition, she rehearsed over and over that the girls were at a party and would be home at 10, and they would turn off the porch light, but they would leave the bathroom light on, and enough light would come under the door for her to see if she needed to go to the bathroom, and at nine in the morning, Judy would come to pick her up and drive her home, to Council Grove, and the girls would get home at ten and turn off the kitchen light but leave the bathroom light on, and at nine, Judy would come. 

She was confused. Judy, her niece, wasn’t coming to get her, my brother and his wife were, and they would drive her to Haysville, not Council Grove, but I accepted this. Three year olds don’t always get it right, and there are times when a good parent just lets it ride. 

Eventually, I said to her, gently, as I once said to my own three-year old daughters, “It’s time to stop talking. It’s time to put your head down and sleep. I’ll sit here a while and read, but it’s time for you to sleep.” 

The small child, Mary, lay down her head and slept the rest of the night. 


Four years later, I spooned runny oatmeal into her mouth. She lifted her chin and leaned forward for the nourishment, closing her lips to draw the oatmeal off as I pulled the spoon away. Little bits clung to the corners of her mouth. I collected them on the tip of the spoon and, when I pressed her lip with the spoon, her mouth opened to take the morsels. I raised a lidded plastic cup with a straw to her lips so she could drink, dabbed away a loose droplet with a napkin. After the attendant took her tray, I rolled her in her wheelchair up and down long halls. She made murmuring noises from time to time. “Muh, muh, muh, muh,” she would say, and once when I accidently bumped the chair against the wall, she murmured faster, in alarm. Paintings hung on the walls between rooms. She fastened her eyes on the most brightly colored ones, and I stopped so she could look. 

“You like that picture?” I asked. “Those are apples. They’re very red.” 

When we tired of hallways, I rolled her back to a table in the dining room just to hang out. The nurses kept her arms wrapped in thick gauze, to keep them from bruising if she brushed against something. Her fingers, which she no longer used, curled into the hollows of her palms, like a baby’s, but gnarled with age. 

She lifted a hand ever so slightly and bopped me on the forearm. I turned my head, and we locked eyes. Afterwards, I told my brother I was sure she had recognized me, but all I really know is that I recognized her. Cataracts clouded her eyes, and age had yellowed the whites to the color of the smoke that comes up from a pile of burning leaves, but through the pupil, deep in the eyes themselves, I saw Mary, her eyes full of mischief, I saw her familiar, what’re-you-going-to-do-about-it-buster squint. 

I bopped her back. She bopped me again. We boxed ever so gently, a mother and her son.   


Joe Artz, raised in rural Kansas, lives in Iowa with his fellow archaeologist and wife of 32 years, Cherie, His fiction has appeared in Prompt Press, the Wapsinicon Almanac, and on his blog, https://joeartz.wordpress.com


Fish Legs


"Of course Chico would die. Her poor son didn’t know anything about the lifespan of goldfish."

Fiction by Nancy Ford Dugan, Summer/Fall 2016


Eva’s chunky calves had fish juice on them. She was cleaning the fish tank for the first time. The fish, her son’s recent birthday present, was flapping in spilled tank water on the kitchen floor.

“This is disgusting,” said Eva. Her lower legs felt violated, filmy, and damp. “I have fish water on my legs. Why am I stuck doing this?” She’d told her son under no circumstances would she have any time to deal with a fish when she got home from work. It was his fish and his responsibility.

“But Mommy, the tank is too big for me!”

This was true, Eva had to admit. She had got him the wrong size tank. He couldn’t manage it. She could barely manage it. She was a terrible mother.

Her son jumped up and down, worried about his dirty fish, the dirty water. “I don’t want Chico to die, Mommy!”

“OK, calm down. Stop jumping or you’ll slip on the water. Be careful.” Eva sighed. Where did he ever come up with that name? She found some tongs her sister had bought her. After several tries, her son screaming all the while, she scooped up the flailing fish and tossed Chico back into the tank.

“Well, these tongs can never be used again,” she said as she pitched them into the garbage. “Your father can carry the tank back into your bedroom when he gets home. And this weekend, we are going to buy a smaller tank you can handle, and a self-cleaning one. Got it?” She patted him on his head. “We’ll do homework and fix dinner after Mommy cleans up.” Why, Eva wondered, did parents talk about themselves in the third person?

“OK, Mommy.”

The bathroom was the only place in the apartment where she could find any measure of peace. She turned on the faucet, even though taking a bath now would significantly push back dinner and homework. She didn’t care. She wanted the oily skim of fish filth off of her. She looked forward to the very large glass of wine she’d enjoy as she cooked; that would mellow her out enough to deal with all of her son’s math questions and, later, all of her boss’s after-work emails.

Her doctor had recently advised her to cut back on her wine consumption. Apparently she was now borderline diabetic; the doctor also hinted she may be borderline alcoholic, since she’d admitted to having eight to ten glasses of wine a week. Since when was that a big number? It must be like blood pressure, Eva thought, where they kept lowering the numbers that were risky, with pretty much everyone now having a dangerous reading. She slid into the tub. She should have brought a glass of wine with her into the bathroom. Then she’d really relax.

Of course Chico would die. Her poor son didn’t know anything about the lifespan of goldfish. It was his father Dale’s big idea to get him a pet. The fish seemed less intrusive than the other options. Tell her calves that. She sudsed them up in the tub. Fish grossed her out, but so did most animals. She hated taking her son to the zoo. She must be a terrible mother. Dale could take him.

Dale thought the fish could keep their son company, since he spent so much time alone and was always bursting to tell his parents everything. Dale thought he needed someone else to talk to.

When Eva was single and living in Manhattan, every day she’d walked by a tiny dry cleaning store. The non-smiling woman who worked there had intimidated Eva; Eva had always felt an undercurrent, that the non-smiling woman hated her job and possibly hated her customers, including Eva. Was she sneering at Eva’s suit jackets and work clothes, and Eva’s overfriendly conversation? Eva was just trying to be pleasant while she politely waited for the spirally purple receipt to be torn out of the machine by the miserable woman. Despite the convenience, Eva had stopped dropping her clothes off there, walking farther to another block where multiple dry cleaners at least pretended to welcome her business. But Eva still had to walk by the non-smiling dry cleaner to get home. She always tried to avoid eye contact, but occasionally Eva, lost in her thoughts, would forget and look up to see the woman scowling at her through the glass.

One night, Eva had passed by when the store was closed and the lights were dimmed. She had seen the woman smiling, leaning over the top of a fish tank by the window, her face shrouded with blue light. Eva had never noticed the tank before but suspected it had always been there. The woman was talking to the fish, animated and yet relaxed, as Eva had never seen her. She imagined this cheerful ritual as a highlight of the woman’s day. Eva had been delighted for her, yet looked away quickly to give the woman some privacy in what seemed an intimate moment.

Maybe Dale was right. Maybe their son would find comfort and conversation with his fish. Maybe hope was a thing with fins and gills.

Eva sank deeper into the warm water and wiggled her toes. Smacked up against the end of the tub, her plum-painted toenails looked crowded but orderly, like jammed, quaint houses on a postcard of a scenic Italian hillside.

Last night she’d dreamed that she was on some kind of road trip with the actor Bobby Carnavale. She had no idea why she had dreamed about him. She didn’t even know what he’d been in. Maybe she had seen him online? Or in a GAP ad in the subway? Who knows?

In the dream, Eva was sitting behind the driver’s seat, behind Bobby, who seemed to be a decent driver but very tall, blocking her view. There was a screen behind the driver’s seat, like they have in NYC taxis, spewing stupid ads, fake news, and clips of mindless talk shows. But the taxi screens in real life were on the other side, not behind the driver. During the dream, Eva was puzzled by where the screen was situated and recognized it as odd. It was particularly disturbing because there was someone else in the back seat with her and this woman, whom she did not recognize, kept leaning over to Eva’s side to better see the screen. Eva wished that the screen placement in the dream matched the screen placement in real life so this babe wasn’t crowding her so much.

Bobby was driving them from Washington DC to Manhattan and making good time. Bobby told Eva she was funny, a phrase guys who did not really know Eva frequently said.

Eva had luggage in the trunk, which was stuffed with Bobby’s crap, including a bunch of guitars. Well, at least two. Was he one of those actors who wanted to be a musician? Eva felt kind of bad for Bobby when she saw them.

When they reached Eva’s stop, which in the dream seemed to be a fancy residential area that bore no resemblance to her neighborhood in Queens, Bobby got out to stretch and opened the trunk for her. Eva had an overwhelming desire to make circles of her two hands and put them over Bobby’s comically large brown eyes, like eyeglasses made of flesh. But instead, she yanked her suitcase out of the trunk, thanked him, and seemed to be about to head home when her 5:00 a.m. alarm went off, ending the dream and waking her up.

In the tub, Eva wondered what the dream meant. Work had been busy lately as her company faced yet another merger. The subways were a mess with chronic delays and infrastructure issues, making her late for work, late for her family, always running late, disappointing everyone. Was she yearning for a needy actor with bushy eyebrows to drive her around with a mysterious back seat companion who hogged Eva’s territory? Driving Miss Eva?

Eva pulled her heels in closer to her butt, raising her knees out of the cooling bath water to air her formerly fishy legs.

“Mommy, are you about done? I’ve got a lot of homework!” Her son’s voice was up against the bathroom door, pleading from the hallway. He was always pleading.

Maybe Eva and Dale could get their son a few more goldfish to pack the new tank, just in case something happened to Chico, post the trauma of the kitchen floor incident. Maybe there’d be some safety in numbers, Eva thought. Maybe she could even help him name the new fish.

“OK, sweetheart.” Eva lifted the drain stopper and the water started to suck out of the tub. “I’m coming. Mommy’s almost done.”


Nancy Ford Dugan's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (in 2012 and 2013) and has appeared in over 25 publications. She lives in New York City and previously resided in Michigan, Ohio and Washington DC.

Image: The Goldfish Bowl, Henri Matisse


In the Death Seat

The road is his, and he takes it.

Fiction by Marty Carlock, Spring 2016


The Audi is beetle-black and shiny as a dancing slipper. Under her hand the door latch opens with a heavy snick. She slides into the passenger seat, knowing the danger. The door closes with that weighty authoritative sound automotive designers have determined indicates quality.

The leather is babyskin soft; the seat embraces her body cushily but firmly. Over her shoulder she locates the seat belt strap and snaps it into the chrome buckle at her left hip. She has made up her mind the ride will not stress her. Years of meditation, of yoga and tai chi, plus two belts of scotch this evening will make it possible.

Her husband has slid into the rear seat and wordlessly buckled himself in. Their son Andrew hits the driver’s seat heavily, carelessly, in one motion snaps his seat belt closed and puts the car in reverse. The dashboard and console of the Audi remind her of pictures she has seen of the cockpit of an airliner. All the controls are outlined in red light, like inflamed eyes. The Audi has started automatically on sensing the key in her son’s jeans pocket. Once in the street, he shifts into drive and accelerates hard, although the stop sign at the corner is only half a block away. He turns north, for the airport.

He is the driver every other driver hates. The sonofabitch the turkey the fucker the damned idiot the tailgater the aggressive dolt who slides into the least space you give him, who rides your rear bumper until there’s a space in the next lane and takes it, who indicates by his vehicle’s posture his time is much more valuable than yours and he cannot consider remaining behind you or the landscaper’s truck or the old man in a hat or even the liberated leadfoot chick who drives the same way he does. The road is his, and he takes it.

She leans back in her seat that feels very much like the new seats at the Cinemaplex. She realizes the ride is thrilling. People pay money for excitement like this. At first she imagines she is riding beside a driver on the Indianapolis speedway, only without a helmet or burnproof coveralls. There is a certain unreality to the view out the windshield, as if she were watching a video game. Or like being on one of those programmed stationary bikes, with a screen before you that unrolls a virtual landscape with virtual riders, whom you can pass if you pedal hard but who pass you if you slack off.

Nobody passes Andrew. She begins to take some glee in the experience; she sees he is daring rather than truly reckless. He makes the same decisions she might make if she were driving with this urgency. She finds herself admiring his skill. Suddenly she realizes that their speed appears in red analog numbers two inches high in the middle of the speedometer dial: 86, 87. She waits for 90, but Andrew has to slow, boxed in between two trucks going no more than 80. A tiny window appears in the stream of cars on the right and he veers into it. He has the reflexes of a skilled athlete, the kind who can see the whole court, the whole field, and take advantage of the least opening. His eyes protrude slightly, not unattractively, giving him exceptional peripheral vision.

She could enjoy it more if he would keep both hands on the wheel. He scratches under his left armpit. She doesn’t dare speak to him, break his concentration, but she glimpses four bursting lights in the sky far off on the right and murmurs, ‘Whoa, did I see fireworks?’ He doesn’t answer until they negotiate a curve; he gestures left, ‘There.’ On that horizon a white-and-green starburst rises along with three yellow rockets, soundless.

Her husband’s silence in the back seat rolls forward with palpable weight. She knows he’s angry, and also terrified. He insisted on coming to meet their grandson; they have not seen him for six months, after all. He knew it would be like this. She almost congratulates herself on not being terrified. Not quite.

Yesterday she asked her son whether he had ever gotten any speeding tickets. He nodded without taking his eyes off the road. ‘How many?’ ‘Maybe – six.’ He paused. ‘Only paid about two, though.’ ‘How did you manage that?’ ‘Cops don’t show up in court. Got lawyers.’ ‘They must have cost more than the fine.’ ‘Except for the insurance.’ Right, she thought. The fine can be ten dollars, and your insurance socks you for a premium of three hundred a year for years. She had rather hoped he had gotten fined enough to slow him down. She and his father have told him they worry about him, have asked him to drive more responsibly. He says nothing. His innate competitiveness won’t permit it. Once she said, ‘Your son will be driving in a few years. You have to set an example.’ The grandson let him off the hook, looking at him and laughing, chiming in, ‘I’m much more conservative than he is.’

Her equanimity almost falters when she sees a rectangle of light in his right hand, his iphone. He’s glancing between it and the road. Of course. He has a text from Sam. He slows just enough to ramp off the freeway onto the access road. On this stretch there’s some traffic, some of it slow; he can’t get the numbers beyond 68.

It’s a holiday and the arrivals curb is almost deserted. He stops in the right-hand lane, pulls the handbrake and starts to get out. She knows it’s illegal to park here. ‘What’s happening, what are we doing?’

‘Going to get him.’ He shuts the door with that satisfying thud. She hopes it won’t take long; she is more nervous about a cop appearing than she has been about his driving.

In the back seat her husband says, ‘What an idiot.’

She smiles a little. ‘He didn’t go over 89.’ Their son and grandson appear silhouetted in the terminal’s exit door, almost of a height. She gets out, hugs Sam. ‘You can sit in the death seat provided your father drives more responsibly,’ she says. ‘You’re more valuable.’

‘True,’ says her son.

She buckles herself into the right rear seat. From here she finds she can still see the big red numbers on the speedometer dial. He tries at first to exercise patience, but his habits betray him. Still, most of the way home, he keeps their speed under 85.


Once a journalist chasing facts for The Boston Globe, Marty Carlock finds it’s more fun to make things up. Her short fiction has appeared in a dozen-plus journals and quarterly publications. She’s author of A Guide to Public Art in Greater Boston and several unpublished novels. She sometimes writes for Sculpture and Landscape Architecture magazines.




I took out my binoculars and watched her bathroom.

Fiction by Saramanda Swigart, Spring 2016


She was very regimented. She took a shower at 3 p.m. every day, and at 3 p.m. I took out my binoculars and watched her bathroom. I had a hard time holding the binoculars because of the bandages. Since the accident I could only see out of my left eye. She appeared to be a shower singer, her mouth wide and unabashed as a girl’s. I wished I could hear. I imagined lying on her bathroom floor, gazing up, hugging my shoulders and listening. If I could hear her sing, maybe the daily rush of wind wouldn’t careen through my mind. One time I saw her cry. She stood in front of the mirror, pinching her upper nose between her thumb and middle finger, and sobbed. It was summer—the window was open to let out the steam. She was naked. She wasn’t beautiful. She had a little belly fat, puckered thighs, and gray at her temples. But beauty’s common. I’m not that shallow. I wished I heard her crying. When she and her husband moved away, I felt a great rending in my soul, and the rushing came early that day—a gale through the brain, right to left—and stayed until I passed out in my rocking chair.

I knew their names. I’d found them before and I could find them again. I spoke into the microphone, the computer transcribed, and in this way I cross-checked the husband’s job against a national database and found out that they’d moved to a cheap but leafy suburb at the outskirts of town. I still had insurance money. I waited a long time, and had to pay more than it was worth, but eventually I got the house across from theirs. Although I couldn’t see into the bathroom, I had a direct view into the living and dining rooms. By this time the infection had worsened, and each of my breaths rattled in my chest. I lost whole afternoons, dreaming about her husband’s death—tragic suicide; ingestion of household products; mugging gone askew. When I was awake, something diamond-shaped flickered in the corner of my good eye. A nurse started coming in the afternoons. I think she started coming. She didn’t speak, just sat, hand-sewing a child’s yellow blouse. In the evenings I pinched the binoculars between my arms and watched. From my attic window, I saw the man and his wife eat their dinner before reading in perpendicular armchairs. They didn’t talk much. It made me sad.

She stepped out one morning to water her hydrangeas. My good eye was getting milkier every day, but I could see the outline of her body swaying with the hose. I leaned forward to hear a fragment of the song she was singing. I leaned so far forward that half my body was out the window, and suddenly she turned and looked straight at me. She gasped. I was horrible to see. I tried to scramble back inside, but I couldn’t adjust my weight in time, and instead I fell from the attic window onto the pavement below. I heard a bone crunch. Her face was above me then, older than I had imagined, older than the last time she had been above me. This time she didn’t drive away, leaving me and my bicycle by the roadside. This time she waited with me until oscillating lights—blue, red, blue—pulsed right up beside us. She hovered like a hummingbird. I think she was singing. I want to think she was singing, with her wide and gorgeous mouth. She flickered, singing, until my good eye faded out for good, and all I could hear was a voice, a voice, a voice.


Saramanda Swigart has an MFA from Columbia University, with a supplementary degree in literary translation. Her short work has appeared in Oxmag, Superstition Review, Fogged Clarity, Caveat Lector, The Literati Quarterly, Ragazine, The Penmen Review and Thin Air. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at City College of San Francisco. Website: http://saramanda-swigart.com