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Tuesday, October 25, 2016


by Sheila Moeschen

That spring brought a slow thaw and Beccas divorce papers.

Will you come with me to do something? Becca asked.

Of course, I said without hesitation. What are we doing?

A ritual, she said giving her eyebrows a theatrical wiggle. We laughed.

Three years ago Becca and Neil were married at the lighthouse. In the same way it called ships to harbor, the lighthouse was an irresistible draw for couples. Maybe it represented the idea of a light pricking the darkness, hope housed in a tower of brick, glass, and metal to them. Becca and Neil claimed this site as their own the way so many others had before them, grafting wishes for constancy onto a place where erosion was inevitable.

After the brief ceremony we posed on the rocks in our mismatched bridesmaid dresses like the oddest collection of mermaids just finding our feet. We shivered as the salt wind lapped at our bare shoulders and ran its sticky fingers through our hair. The April sky was the color of blanched sea glass. High, thin clouds hurried across the horizon; we barely made it to the backyard reception before the first fat rain drops fell.

Shit, Becca swore as we pulled into the narrow dirt parking lot of the lighthouse grounds. Its really windy.

We are on the ocean, I said drily. She rolled her eyes and popped open the trunk.
Becca reached for the metal bucket and handed it to me while she fished out a small bottle of lighter fluid, a lighter wand, and a bag of stuff. Photos, a few Birthday and Christmas cards, the marriage license, a piece of material that looked like it came from a flannel shirtthese were the things of our alchemy.

Thats it? I said. I dont know what I was expecting exactly just that there would be more of it.
Were not exactly having a bonfire here. Yeah, thats all she wrote, Becca replied giving the trunk a hard slam. We started up the path toward the lighthouse.

The had marriage unspooled the way marriages do when theyre held together with safety pins and fear. He wasnt mean. She wasnt reckless. They had unsaid expectations that bloomed like rust on a fender. They experienced frustrations and disappointments, hurt and resentment that slowly grew into the understanding that they had mistaken love and connection for a choking need to outsmart loneliness.

You know what I said when he proposed? she asked the day she told me he was gone, that they were done and the marriage had really ended. I shook my head. I said to him Are you sure?’” Becca sat back in her chair and chewed on the wisps of her cuticles. “I should have known as the words were coming out of my mouth. I should have known.”

The lighthouse is perched high on a grassy, slightly rounded rise. Below it thick fingers of rock jut out to form jetties that you can easily walk on when the tide is out. Behind the lighthouse, the land forms a basin. It drops off in a series of short cliffs to form a wide inlet where people boat and scuba dive sheltered from the ocean.

“There,” said Becca pointing down into a part of the inlet a short way below us that curved slightly away from the main property. “Less chance of someone seeing us and messing up the ritual.” She pronounced the word “ritual” in a terrible, fake British accent. We giggled, suddenly nervous.

Earlier in the day as we drove along the coast, Becca talked about closure and moving on, all the right things you’re supposed to reach for even when you’re nowhere near them. She needed a way to sever herself from the past, she said. She wanted to be free of the weight of her sadness and what she felt was her biggest failure.

She laid out her vision for how it was supposed to work—a quiet place, a bit of flame, and later scattering the ashes into the sea. Sweet and clean release. She said there were words she would need to recite.

“A prayer,” I said helpfully.

“More like an intention,” she answered.

“A spell!” I said. A chanted promise, a lyrical beacon. Now it was my turn to give my eyebrows an exaggerated wiggle. We cracked up and stretched our arms outside the windows, palming the wind, letting the sun slide over our skin.  

Together we picked our way down over the rocks that were jagged and forked like the scales of a dragon’s back. With no flat surface, we made do in a small area that straddled narrow tidal pools. Becca nestled the bucket as far down as she could and still reach it. I gave her the bag, it felt wrong somehow for me to over-handle these meaningful things. The unseasonably warm autumn afternoon meant that plenty of people were roaming the grounds. We could see them wandering around just above us and expected points and shouts any second.

Our attempted ritual proved pathetic. The wind kept snatching away the flame. We huddled closer to form a human shield around the bucket, twisting it this way and that, but the wind was everywhere. We could feel eyes on our backs. We knew we were pressing our luck. A little burned, a lot didn’t. We compromised, tipping the bucket toward the ocean to let it fill with salt water, drenching whatever was left. It would have to be enough. It would have to make magic in some way. That was the point all along, wasn’t it? To purify, to cleanse, to ruin what had already been laid to ruins in order to feel like you are walking around with a few less broken pieces.

“We’ll find a trashcan to dump what’s left,” I said. She nodded. “It was a good ritual. It counted, I’m sure it did.” She nodded again, looking more resigned than assured. We could have burned the entire ocean in that bucket and the moon for good measure and it would never ease the uncertainty that lived with her now.

We let the arms of the coast release us back to civilization, driving home in silence. I thought about Becca’s wedding reception and the way the rain ran off the tent in ribbons and forcing people to huddle around small cocktail tables in the center to avoid getting drenched. The flower girl stood at the tent’s edge, palm out to catch the rain, shifting from foot to foot, itching to cause trouble in the puddles. Becca took her tiny hand and danced her outside. I watched the friend I had always known flicker in and out of focus as if she were the subject of a jumpy, Super-8 film and summoned acceptance. The flower girl shrieked and hopped around. Becca twirled the little girl in a dizzying spin, laughing despite the cold and wet, determined to make this the shiny, storied day she was promised it would be.

Sheila Moeschen is a Boston-based writer and photography enthusiast. She is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and her work has also been published in Niche Magazine and Red Line Roots. Sheila is currently at work on a nonfiction book about women and comedy. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recycling Wasn't Always Fashionable

by Martha Clarkson

My mom heard that Libbey-Owens would pay money for old glass at their plant in north Portland. Libbey drinking glasses sold in sets of four in the dime stores in 1972.

To get this money, my mother had to find glass. She drove her little blue Beetle around to restaurants in the area, asking for empty liquor jugs. Bartenders at three lounges were willing to save their empties for her. The three restaurants were Poor Richard’s, the Mandarin, and the tile-faced Pagoda, all within a few blocks of each other in a district called Hollywood. During the day she made her rounds, hefting the bending boxes of jugs into the front trunk of her Beetle and more into the backseat, reached awkwardly in the two-door car.

Sometimes she took me along on her collection route. I didn’t like going to the bars. She was only allowed to pick up by day, before opening, so as not to interfere with business. Walking into the dark empty bar to find an employee spooked me.

My father drank in public at places that I assumed were similar, at lunch and after work, making deals with his advertising clients, and sometimes losing them, depending on how drunk he got or how badly he’d estimated how drunk the clients were willing to get.

I didn’t like going to the liquor store either, government-run, walls always the same sour green, rows and rows of bottles behind the counter, their gold and black labels calling to the customers. And I never went to the liquor store with my mother because the stance she presented to the world was that alcohol was evil. She never drank at a social dinner out, but ordered a 7-Up in a haughty tone, something I never heard her use any other time, while the other guests gave their directions to the waiter, words like “up” and “with a twist.”

But at home in the evenings she drank vodka posing as water from a yellow Tupperware glass on the kitchen counter. The yellow glass’s contents came from under the sink, behind the onion bin, a half-gallon jug of Popov, secretly poured.

Our garage was underneath the kitchen, off the basement, a typical design for a house on a steep hill, and after dinner, which was sometimes cooked well and sometimes a disaster, depending on the action seen by the yellow Tupperware glass, she’d head to the workbench and start smashing. She wore glasses anyway, but never any goggles. She’d empty a box except for one jug, and smash that one to bits, because the recycler would only take broken glass, and on and on this continued until the box was full of fragments. She had to learn what weight she could lift in pieces, versus jugs.

I think in the beginning, my dad wondered if she’d adopted this hobby to pour the last bits from each bottle and keep a liquor stash on her workbench, which really was hers, because my dad was hard pressed to pound a nail, let alone operate a drill or know the purpose of a vice. But that wasn’t it, there was plenty of booze upstairs behind the onions. She was not desperate in that way.

The Libbey plant was a mammoth metal structure supporting two large angled sections at the top resembling a claw. I rode to the plant with her, the little Beetle sagging on its tires, wending through security to get to the consumer recycling station. The red-lettered sign by the huge scale read “No color contamination.” My mother had diligently sorted brown, green, clear. The burly worker wouldn’t even help us unload. At thirteen, I could barely lift the boxes, but my mother hauled them out like they held duck feathers.

We put the boxes on the commercial scale and the man in the blue jumpsuit paid my mother from a wad of bills in his deep pocket, between six and eight dollars. We drove home, the car floating on the road like a piece of plastic.

The money from the recycling was what drove her to do it. She was a Depression child, had grown up poor, with the bad molars from not going to the dentist to prove it. My mother paid cash for everything and used paper money even if she had the change. At night, she’d dump all her coins into a blue ceramic piggy bank by the phone. Twice a month we’d go to the bank, a square glassy building close to her bottle pick-up spots, and deposit the money. She’d show me her passbook with the updated modest total and tell me it was a secret from my dad, her stash. I wondered if she planned to run away.

She didn’t run away. She wasn’t the type. She was just saving for a rainy day, which she seemed to think could come at any moment from my father’s business decisions. The recycling went on for two years. Sometimes I helped her in the garage. I liked it when she left me alone down there after dinner to smash the glass. The first time she did, I was surprised how satisfying it felt to slam the family hammer down on those jugs. I combined the activity with swearing, which made it all the sweeter. “Break, fucker!” I shouted at the glass. I had loved learning the word “fuck” the year before. When I was done, I found the sweeping up of errant chips peaceful. Then I’d plant the broom on its wall hook because I’d get yelled at if anything was out of place, and walk up the stapled vinyl steps to the first floor. I’d sneak through the back hall to climb the carpeted upper flight, not wanting to see her staggering around the kitchen. My father offered to buy her a dishwasher each year, but she declined on the basis of losing cupboard space. What she really wanted was that time alone in the kitchen after dinner with the yellow glass on the pretense of washing dishes. Most of the them were chipped from the unstable handling. Two or three glasses broke a week. When I grabbed the stair’s handrail, a splinter of glass poked into my palm, but I kept my wits enough to skip over the stair that squeaked.

Martha Clarkson manages corporate workplace design in Seattle. Her poetry, photography, and fiction can be found inmonkeybicycle, Clackamas Literary Review, Seattle ReviewAlimentumHawaii Pacific Review. She is a recipient of a Pushcart Nomination and is listed under “Notable Stories,” Best American Non-Required Reading for 2007 and 2009. She is recipient of best short story, 2012, Anderbo/Open City prize, for “Her Voices, Her Room.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Death in the Family

by Sarah Russell

It was 1963, and at age 19, I felt like the original American in Paris—cafés echoing Hemingway and Fitzgerald, dapper Frenchmen to flirt with, and classes at the Sorbonne when I remembered to go. I was living La Bohème on the Left Bank in a one bedroom, fifth floor walk-up I found with Helen, another American stray from Redlands, California.

These were not the plush digs of the 16th Arrondissement. The place had no hot water and little heat, but we kept reasonably warm if we wore sweaters now that November winds rattled the windows. We shared a toilet in the hall with seven other people who lived on our floor, and I showered once a week down the street at the public baths. I stepped over winos to visit the corner crêperie at midnight when I studied late and ignored the whispered obscenities of vagrants who followed me home. After I opened the heavy outer doors and crossed the deserted courtyard, I would yell up the stairs and hope someone would turn on the hall light to guide me to the top floor. The light only stayed on for two minutes, so I always arrived breathless, often stumbling up the last flight in the dark.

Helen and I had a quid pro quo with two American guys who lived on our floor. We cooked and cleaned for them; they bought the groceries. We ate dinner together if we didn’t have dates, and on the 22nd, Mike from Tucson had just asked me to pass the bread when Peter from Detroit told us to shush as the words “blood on Jackie’s clothes” and “Dallas motorcade” came over the radio and into our consciousness. We sat stunned as the BBC announcer said the president had been taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital; they were operating; there had been a sniper. A short time later the sonorous, very proper British voice intoned, “I am sorry to inform the world that president Kennedy is dead.” Then, incredibly, he added, “And now, I believe we should all take a moment to compose ourselves.” And with that, the BBC went off the air.

Broadcasting resumed twenty minutes later, with moving tributes by members of Parliament and other dignitaries. The four of us stared at one another in grief, anger, denial. It was incomprehensible that this could happen. Not in America. Not to our president.

The next day on my way to the Sorbonne, the flags on government buildings flew at half-staff, and the buses had one French and one American flag in their brackets. I thought I looked like a native after six months in Paris, but apparently that was not the case since total strangers stopped me to say how sorry they were, as if I had lost a member of my family.

And, of course, I had.

Sarah Russell is in metaphor rehab after spending a career teaching, writing, and editing academic prose. Her short fiction and poems have appeared in print and online venues including Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, Everyday Fiction, and Shot Glass Journal among many others. Follow her work at

Monday, October 3, 2016

Consecrated by Use

by Adrienne Pine

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mother collected S&H Green Stamps. She referred to them as her “mad money.” She got them every week at the store as a bonus for the money she spent on groceries. The stamps accumulated until there were so many that it was time for her to cash them in. Then we would hold a Green Stamps party, where my mother, my sisters, and I sat around the dining room table, each equipped with a stack of empty books to paste the stamps in and a bowl with a sponge sitting in a puddle of water.
The stamps came in perforated sheets. We separated the sheets of stamps at the perforations so they were size of the pages in the books—five stamps across and six stamps down. The backs of the stamps were coated with a glue that was activated when wet. The trick was not to wet the stamps too much—just enough to get the adhesive sticky but not enough to soak the stamps through.
It was pleasant work, sitting around the table, wetting the stamps on the sponges, and pasting them in the books, while our hands turned green from the dye, and Mom discussed with us what she was planning to buy. In this way she accumulated a blender, a steam iron, a toaster oven, an automatic “baconer,” and other useful objects. We loved to pore over the Green Stamps catalogue, calculating what she could buy, converting the amounts into what they would cost in dollars, and finding the best deals. One of my favorite items Mom bought was a three-tiered sewing box that cantilevered open. The exterior was white-and-blue wicker, the interior quilted blue satin. I thought it was beautiful, and I enjoyed helping Mom organize the spools of thread in different colors, embroidery scissors, tape measure, pin cushion, and thimble; the flat paper packets of sharp needles with eyes of different sizes; the little plastic boxes holding buttons, snaps, and hooks-and-eyes. Mom had been a home economics major at the University of Alabama, and she insisted that we all learn how to sew. I learned to sew but not to enjoy it, though I loved the accouterments and supplies.
When I was accepted into college, Mom promised to use her Green Stamps to buy me what I needed. For once, I had permission spend her capital, and I was determined to enjoy it. One hot June day after I’d left high school forever, we drove to the S&H Green Stamps store with two shopping bags of Green Stamps books and a list. I used Green Stamps to buy an electric pot to boil water for tea, a pillow, a mattress pad, a light blanket to start out the year and a heavier one for when it grew colder, two sets of sheets for a twin bed, and bright orange bath towels, so mine wouldn’t get confused with anyone else’s.
I had ideas about the sheets I wanted, and I wasn’t sure I would find them at the S&H Green Stamps store. Its linen selection was from J.C. Penney’s. When I expressed my reservations, Mom called me a snob.
“I’m not saying I won’t look,” I explained, “but I don’t want plain white sheets; I want a pattern, with nice colors.”
To my surprise I found two sets of sheets I liked right away. Blue was my favorite color in those days, and one set of sheets was blue and white in a geometric design. Its design featured two sets of parallel lines that crossed diagonally, meeting at right angles. A third set of parallel lines intersected the squares at every other row. The lines appeared to be woven through each other where they met; the effect was like an abstract trellis in Grecian blue and white. The fitted bottom sheet was blue on white, and the flat top sheet was white on blue, with a matching pillowcase.
The second set of sheets was in a floral pattern in shades of dusty blue, blue violet, lime green, and yellow green. The flowers appeared to be roses and cosmos. I liked the fact that the colors of the sheets did not correspond to the colors of the flowers in real life; it gave them an abstract quality, and they matched my color palette.
All through college I slept in my two sets of sheets, alternating them with each other, and they grew softer with repeated washings. After I graduated, I moved in with the man I would later marry, and we slept in a full-sized bed. I no longer had a use for the sheets, but I kept them on a closet shelf. They had a second life after our daughter was born, and she used them after she graduated from a crib to a bed.
My sheets became her sheets, though we bought her other sheets as well. And when she went off to college, she couldn’t take any of her sheets with her, because the beds provided by her college were longer than standard beds, and we had to purchase special sheets for them. Once she left home, we turned her room into to a guest room, replacing the twin bed with a full-sized bed.
Though I no longer own a twin bed, I have held on to my old college sheets. Now I use them only once a year, when I rent a house at the beach in August. I come to spend time alone, and then my family joins me. Before my family arrives, I sleep in a twin bed in a little room overlooking the sea. When my husband comes, I move to the big room with the larger bed. It is a nice room, but it only looks out to the yard.
I come alone to write, think, dream, and end each day watching the sun slip into the sea. I come when I am sick at heart, for the wide vistas and the silences, the healing sun and birdsong and rustling breeze, the fogs and drenching rains. I come for the moon-and-starlit skies, rolling surf and crashing waves, the sand between my toes, and the piles of rocks worn smooth as eggs by the surf. I come in search of my essential self, the girl that I was before I evolved into who I have become, the person I would still be even had I not followed the paths in my life that beckoned me.
          Built by an artist for himself, the house dates from the middle of the last century, which means it is as old as I am. From the first time I saw it more than thirty years ago, it seemed to me that the owner might have been designing it for me. Its setting on a hill sloping down to the sea. Its modest scale. Its grays and blues. The handmade attention to every detail. The artist’s paintings on the walls. The drawings of his friend. Here I have always found everything that I need.
          Like my old sheets, I bring old clothes with a talismanic quality—a white cotton smock I use for writing, an ancient gray sweatshirt. Faded beach towels, a white cotton nightgown, old jeans, cut-offs, stretch pants. I bring a needle and thread, and like my mother, I mend what is torn. I wash my sheets and clothes and hang them to dry and bleach in the summer sun, smelling of roses and the sea. And when I leave, I put my old clothes and my old sheets away, and I hope I will return the following year.

Adrienne Pine’s creative nonfiction has appeared in A Tale of Four Cities, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Write Place at the Write Time, DoveTales—Nature: An International Journal of the Arts, and Rebeldes Anthology.