Literary as hell.

Category: Essay (Page 1 of 5)

“Word Slice” by Tamara Adelman

Letters are the details of words. They are the smallest unit that cannot be broken down further, but when combined together, make something larger than themselves. Bricks put together in just the right way make a building. Numbers work together to help us figure out important stuff, like how much of what ingredients makes a cake, or how many bananas can I buy with my dollar. Letters are like that to words. Letters build words and words build sentences and sentences express meaning. Life would be hard without words.
When you are able to say or write a word, you should thank the alphabet.

Some letters are curvy like S, and some have tails like Q and Z in cursive. M’s tend to know a lot because they have double mountaintops from which to see.

O’s generally round things out. Some are rotund, like D.

You can make a letter prettier if you have good handwriting.

* * *

Each letter has its own personality.

Z can tickle your tongue and tries to fit in with his buddies, the other letters, because by himself he is always sleeping: zzzzzz. But even then he’s not alone; he’s with his family.

* * *
Letters make different sounds, depending on how they are feeling. Sometimes they are loud and sometimes they are quiet.

C can be soft, like in “celebrate,” and hard, like in “candy.”

S’s are everywhere, always trying to fit in by keeping quiet.

Some letters get along better than others. Q is usually with U, like in “quick” and “quiet.”

I and C have an alliance: I before E except after C.

When a letter repeats itself in a word, it is really trying to tell you something: shhhh! You really ought to listen.

A’s are often self-starters, since they are the firstborn of the alphabet.

I is often successful alone as a capital, and we all know anything with a capital is important. Like you. You are your own I.

Think about states: they each have a capital, and they are very big and important.

* * *
The way the letters look can tell you something too. Small letters like j and i are seven-year-old basketball players, who want to be tall one day, always practicing their jump shots and hitting above where they stand. Their dots leave a fingerprint.

You can swing in the bottom of a y, j, or g.

Small e can look like a snail sideways.

Small r is like a hook: it has a flexible neck. R has peeked around the corner.

U’s and V’s: you could fall into. W’s are upside-down M’s.

* * *
In reading and writing, the page is the larger landscape. Words are the landmarks: the individual plants, the trees. Letters are the bees. They work hard to produce something larger than themselves, and when bunches of letters get together they form a colony, which is also known as a book.

__________________

Tamara Adelman is a former massage therapist, ironman triathlete, and now writer and golfer living in Rancho Mirage, CA, the playground of Presidents and the Adelmans. She have a certificate in Creative Nonfiction from UCLA.

“A Mind Like a Steel Trap” By E.O. Connors

A few days ago, I scrubbed the sink clean and lifted the steel trap out. As I knocked the trap against the trash bin to dislodge the sopping wet food particles that had collected there, it occurred to me that I made an egregious error in judgment in August of 1995.

I’m quick like that sometimes.

It was three weeks after our wedding. My husband, Tim, was mercilessly scrubbing the kitchen sink of our new apartment. It was clear he was angry about something. He didn’t do anything vigorously. Except, perhaps, drink Diet Coke and program his computer. Anything that might cause him to break a sweat was anathema. Cleaning the kitchen fell into that category. 

It wasn’t laziness, exactly. He was generally tidy, avoiding the making of a mess so as not to have to clean one. But he was also raised by a lovely June Cleaver type. She kept house and said things like, “Oh, Timmy, leave those dishes for the women,” when, one year, he rinsed some mashed potatoes off his Thanksgiving plate and tried to put it in the dishwasher. 

Tim and I had already had the very first domestic squabble of our marriage that same sink-scrubbing morning. Standing in the galley kitchen in the light of the refrigerator, I plucked the orange juice carton from the door to accompany his breakfast cereal. Overnight, it would surely have settled. I didn’t want him to drink juice from the top that was too thin, nor from the bottom that was too thick. Only Goldilocks orange juice for my husband. 

So I shook it. Hard. Up and down for a solid five seconds to mix it perfectly. 

Tim’s face pinched with anger. “What did you do that for?” 

“What?”

“You just ruined it.” I looked at the carton trying to figure out what he meant. He let out a huff of disgust. “Now it’s all full of pulp and the junk that settled to the bottom. Why would you do that?” He said it with the same bewilderment and grief as though I had hit the gas pedal to commit vehicular rodent homicide on an innocent squirrel in the road.

So just before lunch when I saw him come dangerously close to breaking a sweat at the kitchen sink, I wondered, Now what?

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Holy Ground by Jennifer Spiegel

Nothing To See Here

In June 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Reconstruction, and More Surgery followed. Between then and now, I wrote Cancer, I’ll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide to Breast Cancer, A Writer’s Memoir In Almost Real Time. 

 

Unraveling

People ask how cancer has changed my life. Am I more religious? Have I forsaken sugar? Given up red meat? What’s with sex? 

It’s in the book, but:

  1. I’m an introvert now.
  2. I savor road trips. 

The road trip part first: I’ve always loved travel. But now, I crave the jammed-in-the-car/free-hotel-breakfast/seven-hour-stretches–of-highway. I want to craft memories for my children. I want to unravel maps with them, holding hands in White Sands or before Renoir. I know life is a privilege. 

But Introversion is new to me. I’ve always been extroverted, social. 

Cancer has rendered me insular. There are medical reasons, like exhaustion, like incessant hot flashes. However, there are others: I just want to be with Tim, my husband. I’m a little nervous to be out there alone. I do it sometimes, venture into the world. I do writer things. I flew to Portland for a conference, went to Kentucky for a teaching gig even. But it wasn’t easy, and I missed my small world: family, pets. 

(Do you know how many times Tim has attended my readings? Like, a gazillion. Because he’s had to go to every single one of them.)

So, I rarely go out past dark alone. Cancer has left me stumbling at dusk, longing for middle-aged marriage, a cup of tea, Tim, and his nightly bowl of cereal. 

Unintentionally or maybe intentionally, I have made it a hard thing to maintain a friendship with me. With some trepidation, I admit that Tim is my world. Saying that—admitting that—frightens me. I love my steadfast friends, the persevering ones, the other introverts. And I’m wary of the vulnerability of my position, my reliance on some guy. Really? 

Just the same: I’m an introvert now.

Cancer demanded of me that I get my house in order—because I was going to spend a lot of time in it.

Is this an essay on marriage?

No.

It’s an essay on writing under the cancer rubric.

It’s an essay on road trips.

It’s an essay on writing about road trips under the cancer rubric.

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Learning to Wipe by Christopher Luis-Jorge

Mother said big kids didn’t ask their teachers to wipe them and that if I didn’t learn how to do it for myself before I started kindergarten, I’d be walking around all day with poo-crusted cheeks. I now realize that this was likely a lie. Missy Vee, it turned out, was a very kind and uncommonly patient teacher. You have to be for kindergarten. Most likely, my parents were just tired of doing the deed for me. In retrospect, I don’t blame them. But, at the time, the idea of wiping myself offended me. So, began my journey into manhood.

I didn’t feel qualified. But Mom said it was easy, just a two-step process: first, you wipe until there’s no more poop on the paper, then you flush. See? Easy.  And so, armed only with two-ply and willpower, I skipped to my loo and allowed my movement to pass.

I wiped.

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“Targets,” an essay by Kay Smith-Blum

Who breaks their arm planting bulbs? Well, technically, I was retrieving bulbs, from a box on the other side of the low-rise-industrial-wire fence they put up around small urban gardens at street level to keep out the dogs that don’t keep out the dogs. Why build a fence just high enough for me to trip over? This question begets an annoying answer. The kind of answer that targets you, relentless as the sunrise. Most wouldn’t trip over it. The fact that I did is a visceral confirmation of aging, a steady and sure march to death, bringing with it the accidents of youth.

The virus is also on the march and the Governor has closed my pool eliminating the aquatic option to recovering my range of motion. So, here I am—albeit four staggeringly painful and miraculous-in-the-fact-my-bone-healed-at-my-age months later—in physical therapy, a risk of a different kind. 

Kim, my physical therapist, announced on Tuesday I should have worn a mask. They had sent an email. One I deleted before reading as I do most irritatingly-perky missives that fill up my inbox with random products, services or advice on healthy choices I thought I wanted to make. In the wake of the virus, I’ve decided I’m healthy enough for someone who may die soon and has long planned on dying at year seventy-five. Which is the perfect age to do so, and I could tell you why but I won’t digress.

On Thursday, I arrive orange bandana-bound. I insert my disinfected credit card for the co-pay. I Purell my hands and look right. A talkative young man, without a mask, seated on the banquette adjoining the front counter, his body twisted toward the receptionist, is chattering non-stop. His way-too-low pant waist is way-too-revealing. He twists again, his white fleshy cheeks pressing against the rust vinyl cushion in cringe worthy fashion. This can’t be the hygienic standard to which they aim.

The machine buzzes. I extract my card and whisper. “He needs to pull up his pants.”   Continue reading

Spring 2020 Contest WINNER: “We Regret to Report an Anomaly” by Joanna Grant

We Regret to Report an Anomaly

 

Kandahar Airfield, January, 2013

You know, it had not been the best day of my life, that day back in the early spring of the year before when my mother had posted on my public Facebook wall that “your doctor’s office called and said your cholesterol is too high and they’ve written you a prescription for Lipitor.”  

“Mom, you can write those kind of private things in a private message,” I reminded her in a text. 

Gawd, cholesterol, I grumbled to myself, ripping open the box of mail my mother had forwarded to me there at my new Ed Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. What could be worse?

This could. This letter from my doctor, the one I’d self-addressed to my Georgia address without giving it a second thought. It went a little something like this:

“We regret to inform patient ****** ***** (my name handwritten in the form letter blank) that her recent mammogram has come back abnormal. We regret to report an anomaly and we recommend that she follow up as soon as possible with her primary care provider and/or any recommended specialists.” I read it again, and again, and then again. Anomaly. Specialist. 

And then I refolded the form letter, put it back in its envelope, and laid it flat on my desk, my own breezy handwriting looking back at me.  Continue reading

Spring 2020 Contest Finalist: “The Hobo Queen” by C. Christine Fair

Trigger warning: child abuse, sexual assault and violence

 

Sketch by C. Christine Fair“Cuz Christy, if you ever show up around here, I’m gonna kick your ass. And you know I can”; her heavy emphasis upon “know” reflected her conviction that she had done so previously.

Struggling to appease her fury, I conceded “Baby Sandy. You can kick my ass. But I’m still a pretty good runner and I’m not sure you’d catch me. We’re both old women now.”

“Oh, I’d catch you alright and knock that fuckin’ useless head off your shoulders,” Sandy snarled.

“But why? I’ve just been trying to help. What did I do? I love you. Always have. Always will. I worry about you every day and night. I wonder where you’re sleeping and eating. Are you safe, happy? The questions keep coming. But I get no answers. Ever.”

Without hesitating, Sandy barked “Because you left. You fucking left us here.”

The worst part about this allegation? 

It was true. 

And I’d do it again. Continue reading

“The Inheritance” by Christine Fair

Sitting across the rotting planks of a water-worn picnic table at a lake dive in Rome City, Indiana, Chris glowered at Bob and strained not to hear him. She studied his ruddy face with his pale, hooded, sky-blue eyes. His face was unmistakably and disappointingly redolent of her own. In anger, her mom would shake her head slowly and deliberately while growling in revulsion, “You look just like him.” She usually managed to render “just” a two-syllable word to make her point. Chris hated this actuality and longed to resemble her mother who always lingered just beyond her reach. But his widow’s peak, unruly hair and godawful teeth were all lamentably hers too. Maintaining her own teeth was a Sisyphean task. They’d crack or break. Dr. Hill would patch them up. They’d break again and Dr. Hill, again, would do the needful. Bob simply let his rot. In fact he seemed proud of these gaping holes as they were yet another signifier of his indifference to the consequences of his decisions.

She wished she could be tender or something like that. But, “This putrid son of a bitch” rolled around in her head like her moist sneakers in the dryer after an early run in the dew-kissed grass of spring. She tried to appear indifferent as he plowed along in his flat, nasal Midwestern voice which also—irritatingly—sounded like a more masculine version of her own hilljack voice.  Episodically her ears grabbed onto his words and she could feel that familiar anger rearing up on its hind legs, begging for permission to lunge at him, sink its teeth into his crepe-skinned neck and suck out whatever life lingered in that wankstain’s body. She forced herself to intermittently grunt or nod, feigning interested disinterest. The task helped to keep his venomous words at bay. 

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“Diet Coke,” an essay by Maya Landers

My mom is hard to miss. She’s recognizable by her handmade skirts and Birkenstocks, by her playlists that range from Sinead O’Connor to Maroon 5. I can find her at night by the glow of Candy Crush on her phone screen. In grocery stores I track her by her sneeze: explosive, cathartic, followed by a “Whew! Thank you!” to all the people who offer a “bless you.” 

 

When I was seven, I went to a birthday party at Inflatable Wonderland in the mall. After diving into the ball pit and getting lost in the maze, I realized suddenly I didn’t know where I was. Right as I started to panic, I saw a half-drunk diet Coke at the top of a staircase. I relaxed. It was a sign: your mom is here! 

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Halloween Contest Winner: Various Ways of Looking at Halloween by Nancy Slavin

“Stay with us, stay with us,” the swarm of ghouls yelled at me just after dawn on Halloween morning. 

Witches had snatched my three-hour-old baby, taking her so I could not see her. Her cries from being torn away from my breast tore through me, but the ghouls told my husband, who now held our newborn child, to get the hell out of the room. 

The doctor who’d cut me open just a few hours before to birth our baby, now pressed with the heels of both hands on my newly stapled belly, which was bleeding out. A gush of blood, blood pressure dropping to thirty over forty. When the numbers match up, the body is dead. 

The rest of the goblins, I remember, discussed a machine, some machine they wanted to arrive to help me survive. The nurse was a minute away, they said. The drug she would give me would cause bloating, and they had to give me someone else’s blood. “I’m just tired,” I complained. I did not know I was dying. When she arrived, she wore a Nurse Ratchet costume, with a tight white tunic, bright white leggings and a small blue-and-white striped paper hat bobby-pinned in her coiffed blond hair.

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