A few highlights from Sassafras issue 7

I’ve highlighted some great lines from the current issue of Sassafras – # 7 is huge (in no particular order):


You fold this sweater the way a moth
builds halls from the darkness it needs
to go on living

Simon Perchik – Untitled

The struggle to take root, to look up
as I do, in awe of the elder, pray they will be able
to avoid boot, bird and belligerent weather

A.J. Huffman – From Forest’s Path


Possible side effects include sticky-slick crayon
sketches on paper tablecloths and your mother, smiling, her hand
on her soap-bubble belly. 

Allison Hymas – Warning


A woman had come in, hesitantly as if I might hit her with the broom I brandished. She wore a long red jacket and a black hat
that looked too expensive for this town and asked for books on alcoholics anonymous — she wasn’t the alcoholic, she assured me.
After fifteen minutes of her trying to catch the bird in her jacket while I chased it with the broom, I knew it was getting
ridiculous. And then, the bird vanished.

M.C. Kelly – Beware of Bird


You pat the mound with the shovel again. She was right. It turned out to be good practice. You cough, harder this time. Dry breath hits your knuckles. Inside, a light comes on. 

Bennett Durkan – Good Practice


My son roared right back at them,

                        arms overhead—

                        Eyes full of wonder,

                                                I watched him instead.

Joe Wahlman – Autumn Waves


I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise,
fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.

Bahar Anooshahr – In her Body


We notice things: the steady speed of dust
Accumulating at our spines, your glances

Kevin Murphy – Shelf Life

The neighbor, she likes to grow vegetables in the warm,
leaving my headaches and my heart on the front porch.
I must insert each in the proper cavity.
Sun widens over in a massive thaw.
All land obeys like a shackled chain gang.

Amanda Tummirano – The Approach of Spring


Before he left, he turned,
and to all of us and to none of us
gave a slight, seemly bow,
as if to say,
Sleep well. I am here.

                       Bric Barker – 1281 Train to Andong


You roll over into a darkness that eases
upon your shoulder.  Within
a manageable light, your two faces
discuss themselves: hammer or nail—
nurse or patient?

Britt Melewski – In Patient


Where we would walk
with shadows ignoring the coarseness
beneath our feet like barefoot nomads
yours, one step ahead of mine, so carefully
avoiding this unbearable existence of following.

Carol Lynn Grellas – Before the Pink House


Eyes.  Ebi
Shinjo starry
Friends to whom I belong.  Friends who I will wrong.

Lynn Xu – Our Love is Pure (first in Octupus Magazine)


“This is a game isn’t it? You’re testing me somehow.”

“Interesting you would think that. How do you feel about tests?”

“I don’t care one way or the other,” I say.

“Suppose I pulled a gun from my pocket and said I was going to shoot you?”

“I’d have to think about that. Shoot me where exactly?”

“For starters, let’s say the leg.”

Allen Hope – Not The First Time


Beside the refrigerator is where Mom sits, in the dark. Even though it is only afternoon, the house does not let much light in. The leg holes of the underwear she wears on her head open up to pink curlers with pressed black hair wrapped around them; they poke through like antennas. The nightgown she wears is sheer. I can see the outline of her long breasts under it. They sit on top of her tummy; these are the biggest things on her five-foot frame.

“This is my house,” she says.

Melissa Valentine – Evidence of Him

Later that evening, before retiring, Mr. P. was cleaning his teeth in his bathroom. Midway he paused,  and looking in the mirror with a mouthful of froth, he mouthed softly, “Wow, awesome!” and then, a little louder — “MAGIC!!”

Kay Perry – Terri and Tonka

We sleep, clinging to the elbows
of spring, shackled to the warmth
of doors.  Safety is any number
greater than one

Quinn Rennerfeldt – Low Bones

In July, chemo ended:
Wendy’s napkins
folded the same–
but I’d been rearranged

Carol Smallwood – Lunch at Wendy’s (first in vox poetica)



You are a stone chained behind my teeth, biting my tongue
until it is slashed into ribbons.
Does your throat swallow
broken glass when a shadow reminds you of me?

Carolyn D. Elias – Mother



I have felt the night quiver with heron’s wing
over the swamps, over wild pigs in a blackberry patch,
their snouts bloody & alive in the moonlight,
& I have walked on, dirty, alone, kicking to the grasses
the swollen bodies of possum, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, bobcat,
giving them no prayer, no peace-filled silence.

Joshua Poteat – Hitchhiking in the Dying South

the best way is to have these conversations
with your backs to one another
trembling from what you may hear next

Roger Bernard Smith – said

if we could hold still
long enough in the sheen
of morning light.

Carol Tyx – Tomatoes on Windowsill

“I’ll be wantin’ decaf too, sweetheart. Make sure it’s hot,” he wheezes. His eyes, level with my throat, are disturbingly blue, but one struggles to stay open. As I turn to assist The Golden Girls, who are making eyes at the pot in my hand, his snowy hand clutches my wrist.

“Ya know, I have a fetish for ponytails,” he says, licking each word. Oh my God. I am suddenly too aware of the end of my ponytail tickling the back of my neck. I breathe in the mixture of scrambled eggs and last night’s Old Spice.

Kelsey Damrad – Breakfast at the Ranch



Kelsey Damrad – Breakfast at the Ranch

Breakfast at the Ranch

“Everybody, doors open in 5,” his voice calls out, heavy from the weight of his accent. Nobody pays any attention.

Stale sunlight pours through the oversized windows, which line the room. Waiters and waitresses styling the signature maroon polo and black cargo pants bustle by to check that each glass on their table is perfectly polished. Sergio, the robust manager, is not forgiving when confronted with an unpolished glass.

“No, cariña,” Sergio says to one of the waitresses, reviewing the glass under the light and shaking his head. “Otra vez.” She picks up her wet rag and resigns herself to rubbing the glass free of fingerprints.

I pretend to ignore Sergio as he checks my tables for unpolished culprits and wait for the nod of approval. I relax when he moves on without a complaint.

“Oh God,” the waitress, Maria, says. I follow her gaze out the oval window that overlooks the terrace and half-hearted gardens that sketch the outline of the driveway. Three buses unload the weekend guests. It is not unusual for people to come in groups to the Rocking Horse Ranch. Moral support, I assume. “It’s an old peoples’ weekend.”

I shrug, preoccupied by the clang of the bell in the distance and the familiar “Come and get it!” screamed at the guests by two of the waiters. Breakfast time.

She shakes her mane of tangled hair and her midnight irises focus on me.

“Old people don’t tip and so gross!” she explains. “And you make damn sure their coffee is hot, mami, because you won’t hear the end of it.”

Sergio calls for us again to line up to seat the guests. I don’t have time as my table starts to pile with a group of eight clucking women who seem to have come straight from the set of The Golden Girls.

I grab the handle to the coffee pot, and pause. Better bring the decaf. I replace the black handle with the orange.

Everything is buffet style, except for omelets. I stand next to one lady as she munches on a cantaloupe with cottage cheese and knits a scarf with the other hand. Her pink mouth stretches in a smile as I introduce myself, with lips as cracked as the Sahara in a drought.

“Honey! Has anyone ever told you? You are the spittin’ image of Molly!”

“Ringwald? Yeah, I get that sometimes.” Their popcorn heads bob in agreement at my uncanny resemblance to the 80’s actress – their own little breakfast club. I pull out my pad to change the subject.

They give me their egg orders and demand their decaf.

Hot, they remind me.

I ask them what their plans are for the rest of the weekend. Honestly, what do people do on a ranch getaway? My generic question produces a predictably generic list: swims in the lake, horseback rides and endless gluttony. One of them suggests nude swimming and they all burst into cackles of delight, but know they would never, really dare.

After I drop off my slip of egg white omelet orders to the chef, I make my way to stand against the wall and plaster on a smile as a new cluster of elderly folk claim their tables. The other manager, Katie, asks if I gave my egg orders to the chef. Her stomach bulges over the top of her belt, and a button is threatening to pop open.

“Old people are so adorable,” she coos. One of the ladies at my table, who I pick as Betty White, hears her and shares a look of disdain with the woman next to her. I stay quiet. Who am I to call someone with 50 years on me adorable?

Across the room, I notice an elderly man struggling to occupy the corner table. Waiters around him either don’t notice or don’t care. I worm my way through the littered floor of squashed grapes and abandoned napkins toward him. Two chairs, made from heavy oak, block his path and his knotted fingers scratch at the nape of his neck with what I can only assume to be frustration.

I move the chairs out of his way.

“Coffee?” I ask, as I make room for him to sit. He relieves his massive frame onto the chair and doesn’t answer immediately. Dressed in a pallid gray suit and glossy shoes only suitable for Sunday brunch, his chest heaves with exhaustion and he ignores me. A stuttered sigh later and I begin to wonder if he had even heard me. But, finally, he turns a milky gaze on me.

“He’ll be wantin’ decaf,” a voice aged with tobacco answers behind me. Of course. I could have guessed that. I make a note on my pad and repeat my question to the newcomer. He is sturdy, yet slight, and exudes an air of boyish confidence. He must have been a charmer in his day. For some reason, this makes me more uneasy than his silent friend.

“I’ll be wantin’ decaf too, sweetheart. Make sure it’s hot,” he wheezes. His eyes, level with my throat, are disturbingly blue, but one struggles to stay open. As I turn to assist The Golden Girls, who are making eyes at the pot in my hand, his snowy hand clutches my wrist.

“Ya know, I have a fetish for ponytails,” he says, licking each word. Oh my God. I am suddenly too aware of the end of my ponytail tickling the back of my neck. I breathe in the mixture of scrambled eggs and last night’s Old Spice.

“Can I tug your ponytail?” Without consent, he reaches behind me and gives a feeble tug. I throw a desperate look around the dining hall, but still nobody pays attention. The silent man turns his thick neck to watch the horses that graze in the paddock. A woman who favors purple paisley attire pushes her walker past me.

The old man, clasps his black and blue hands together and indulges in a toothless grin.

“Ahh, my wife hates it when I tug other girls’ ponytails,” he wheezes a chuckle, his skeleton hand still clasping my wrist as he sits. I force myself to stay polite, for the sake of my tips.

“Shall I get a decaf for your wife too?”

“Nah. She’s been dead for four years.”

He lifts the scalding mug to his cracked lips and sips. His hand trembles. Should I pretend to ignore?

I settle for an apology.

“I’m so sorry.” Even as the words come out, I am not sure if they are sincere. He ignores me.

He digs into his plate of sausage links and pancakes. Mouth full, he taps on the rim of his already suffocated mug and I top it off.

A hand squeezes my hip and Alex, a waiter, is next to me with a serving tray piled with The Golden Girl’s omelets.

“Hey you,” he says, with a crooked smile. “Thought I’d help you out. You looked like you needed it.” His eyes are mocking, and the same disturbing blue as the ponytail puller.

I silently relieve him of the tray and deliver the eggs to the ladies. I am prepared this time, with a fresh pot, when they hold out their lipstick stained mugs.

Decaf, they cluck. They noticed, by the handle, that I brought the caffeinated kind.


I finish their refills and stand beside a bus stand, topping off a mug every now and then as the room starts to thin out. The Golden Girls are one of the last tables to leave. They each grab my arm to say goodbye on their way out, pulling my face close to theirs. They all do that, I notice.

Maria helps me clear the table of their untouched eggs and empty half & half containers. Rolling her eyes and muttering aggressive Spanish under her breath, she snatches a broom and dustbin from the kitchen and begins to sweep away the muffin crumbs the ladies had carelessly strewn on the carpet.

I glance over at the corner table. Looks like Curly and Larry left.

“I’ll go start that table,” I say, and slip the empty bus bin under my arm. The plates and fork handles are sticky with maple and the table is littered with egg carcasses. My stomach curls as I gingerly pick up a stained, crumpled napkin and toss it in the bin.

The charmer’s coffee mug is left untouched and the lukewarm contents swirl like oil. Not hot enough.

Katie’s manicured finger calls me over. Maria’s eyes follow me, squinting at the object in Katie’s hand.

“Your table left a tip.”

She holds a pocket-sized manila envelope, containing a tip from The Golden Girls : $2.87. Maria screams a laugh as she looks over my shoulder at the amount. I pretend to ignore.

I slip the envelope into my apron, and continue the mundane task of scraping the crumbs off the surface of the table in preparation for lunch.



Kelsey Damrad is a writer and journalism student at SUNY New Paltz. Born and raised in Rhode Island, she hopes to move to a big city after graduation to pursue magazine journalism. Aside from her being in front of her laptop, her favorite places are on a mat in a yoga studio or in nestled in a corner of a library. Kelsey’s is infatuated with culture, people and the power of the pen. Her main priorities in life are to try new things, eat anything red velvet and start the day with a decent cup of coffee.

Allen Hope – Not the First Time

Not the First Time

I am sitting on the sofa. Watching him watch me. He is wearing the same beige slacks, white shirt and red tie he wore on my last three visits. I am trying to decide how often he wears these clothes between washes when he looks sideways at me and says, “This isn’t the first time you’ve been here. Is it?”

“No,” I say. “I’m a regular. Pretty regular anyway.”

He scribbles something in his notepad.

“Which is it?” he says. “There is a difference between regular and pretty regular.”

“Regular,” I say.

“That’s odd,” he says. He touches the tip of his pencil to his tongue and writes again in his notepad.

“This is a game isn’t it? You’re testing me somehow.”

“Interesting you would think that. How do you feel about tests?”

“I don’t care one way or the other,” I say.

“Suppose I pulled a gun from my pocket and said I was going to shoot you?”

“I’d have to think about that. Shoot me where exactly?”

“For starters, let’s say the leg.”

“My left leg has been giving me problems. It goes numb, feels like it’s burning. It keeps me awake at night until I get up and walk it off. Maybe a bullet is what it needs.”

“Then the right leg. I’m going to shoot you in the right leg, the thigh. What would you say about that?”

“I’d say I prefer you shoot me in the left leg.”

“There,” he says. “You made a decision. How does it feel?”

“How should it feel?”

“I’m the one who asks the questions,” he says. Again, more scribbling. “So, how does it feel?”

“Considering my decision is over which leg gets shot, not very good.”

“Still,” he says, “it’s progress.”

He places his pencil and notepad on the table between us and leans forward.

“Next week we’ll discuss your aulophobia.”

“I don’t think I have aulophobia. Whatever that is.”

“We’ll determine that on your next visit. Until then,” he says.

On my way out, Nurse Hillesand stops me in the hallway.

“What was it today?” she says. “The same as before?”

“Yes,” I say. “He still thinks he’s a psychiatrist.”

“Oh,” she says. “I was hoping for the comedian again. Your dad really is very funny. That story about changing the baby’s diapers, I smile just thinking about it.”

“Maybe next week,” I say. “Maybe next week.”

Allen Hope’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Ghost Town, Gravel Magazine, Snow Monkey, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Gallipolis, Ohio with his wife and two daughters.


Bric Barker – 1281 Train to Andong

1281 Train to Andong



Late night, Yeongju. Track 4

Three other people on the platform

– a couple desperately trying to drag

heat from a cigarette

and a Buddhist monk

swimming in his gray robe,

a black and red Christmas knit cap

protecting his blue bowling ball head.

He gently tapped a wood block,

eyes closed as the train pulled in.


I found my car.

I found my assigned seat.

The others slept.


A consumed coachman in uniform entered

for my ticket.

Before he left, he turned,

and to all of us and to none of us

gave a slight, seemly bow,

as if to say,

Sleep well. I am here.



Bric Barker, currently an English professor at Woosong University in South Korea, has taught in many foreign countries. His travels have informed his poetry greatly. Once Poet in Residence at University of West Georgia, he has published poetry in The Eclectic, Old Red Kimono, and In Other Words (An American Poetry Anthology). His most recent acceptances were from Indiana Horror Review, Beecher’s Magazine, Hothouse Magazine, and What’s Your Sign (Poetry Anthology). He won the Kay Megenheimer Poetry Prize, and also awards for journalism and playwriting.


Issue 6




Emily Strauss (photos) - Covering Fog,
Hills and Barn, River Morning


Jon Bennett - AHM#2
Michael Boccardo - What No One Told Me About Autumn,
Fable For Boys Who Chase Tornadoes

Beth Boylan - The List
Micah Chatterton: Self - Hypnosis
Nancy Correro - Pursuit of the other side,
New Life in the 21st Century

Megan Kaminski - Dear Sister
Mercedes Lawry - Trends, The Observer
Jeremy Nathan Marks - The Conversation,
The Moon

Dawn Schout - Scablands,At The Royal Palace
Emily Strauss - After a While Dumbness Strikes, Night Music


Michael Brasier - Like Nothing Ever Happened
Ron Morita - Flight
Sherri H Levine - Footbridge
Ashleigh Rajala - Coal Dust


Riona Judge McCormack - Theme in A Minor
Kelly Seiz - Pluck

(Sassafras issue 6 as a PDF)

Ashleigh Rajala – Coal Dust

Coal Dust

Chapter One

Caroline once joked that she got the worst bits of Dad while I got the best. Now I see what I never did when I was alive: Caroline wasn’t talking about genetics at all. She was sitting beside me on the beach then; we were having a holiday up in Whitby, as we always used to. The grains slid through her fingers as she dug through the loose sand hot from the sun to get to the dark, wet
Now that I’m dead can I replay those moments like rewinding a tape or skipping through the scenes on a DVD. Time means nothing: I can see past moments fresh like they’re happening before me. I was just a kid alive: only eighteen. Now that I’m dead I could be eighty. The loss of flawed and biased eyes brings a careful certainty to everything. My concluded life is a butterfly stuck through with a pin: the wings are never flapping again and all I can do is study them.
I watch Caroline at my funeral. She stands side-by-side with Stuart, facing my horde of mourners. Stuart stands on the left, Caroline on the right. They don’t look like family. Which is fine because they’re not. Not really. The only blood they shared was mine. I was a bit of each of them: half Stuart’s mom, half Caroline’s dad. Between them sits a picture of me like the overlap on a Venn diagram, a blend of the two of them. I only notice now how awkwardly they both stand with me between them. They both feel like first drafts, I realise now, with me the final copy. It’s unbelievable, really: their differences. You wouldn’t think you could make a person out of that.






Ashleigh Rajala divides her time between a variety of poverty-inducing ventures: writing for fun and writing for torture; watching far too many movies and reading far too few books. Previous incarnations include bookseller, bureaucrat, filmmaker, zinester, student, and wayward traveller. Her physical home is Vancouver and her internet home is sandpaperblues.wordpress.com.

Sassafras Literary Magazine issue 4




Gloria Garfunkel - Thunderstorms in South Dakota 
Matthew Laffrade - Choked City 


Gary Beck - Night Thought, Remote Father 
Tina Egnoski - Electroconvulsive Therapy;Dinner Guests at the Country House,
Apolitical Apothegm

Bruce Hinrichs - What seems now, well, only too ordinary
Seth Howard - Stepping Through The Door 
Kathie Jacobson - NEWTOWN

Don Kingfisher Campbell – Brothers 
Maureen Kingston – Threshold Dream, Dementia Aspic 
Steve Klepetar - A Silence, Laughing at the Leaves 
Justin Million - Convent, The Fourth Act 

Gaetan Sgro -Every Night We talk About The Same Thing, 
Afternoon, June 
The Coast
John Sibley Williams - Beirut,
                                I'm Reading Sunday’s Headlines That Call for Things Like Justice 

Jeremiah Walton - Road Trips Seen Thru Motel Rooms 
Jeffrey Zable - Natural Born Killer, Dear Editor/s 
Thomas Zimmerman - Forget to Die
Ali Znaidi – Counter Replica, Australian Horoscope 


Rebecca Andem - Fumes
Terry Barr - “Andy, It's Therapetic”


Ece Zeber: Self-Portrait, Scene 1 - 6, untitled

Sassafras issue 4 - PDF

Rebecca Andem – Fumes



“Please keep going. Please keep going.”

A mantra, a prayer, it didn’t matter as long as it worked. The road ahead disappeared, a straight line evaporating into a haze of heat. Rice fields, spiky green with new shoots, flanked my peripheral vision and curved off into the horizon. They seemed to circle in behind me. I passed a wat and the occasional warehouse. Nothing else. Trucks sped past. Their hot wind pushed me further onto the breakdown lane. I held my breath through clouds of diesel fumes that gathered grit. Pebbles spun off their wheels and pelted my visor. Again, I glanced down. I wasn’t going to make it.

“Please be around the bend. Please be around the bend.”

I changed my plea, anything to get me there. But there were no bends in this road. I slowed down. I remembered a moment from childhood, my mother coaxing an enormous black sedan down a country road. She drove slowly, and my sister and I practically squirmed out of our skin we were so anxious. We wanted her to hurry up and get to the station before the tank was empty, but she said driving slowly would save gas. I was willing to try it, but I didn’t have a chance. Was it my imagination, or was the moped slowing down of its own accord?

I began to picture the possibilities. How far could I push a moped?  How much did a moped weigh? The temperature had been well over 100 degrees for days. I had one inch of melted Yogurt Fruit Tea hanging in a little plastic bag from my helmet hook. When I looked down to check that it was still there, I couldn’t resist another obsessive glance at the gas gauge. The needle hovered near the bottom of the red zone.

But then there was a town. It rose out of the heat. There must have been a bend in the road. I scanned the cluttered sidewalks, the greasy little shops, the side alleys. I looked up through clusters of wires and signs, holding my breath for that giant yellow shell or a simple Esso, a bold Caltex star. Cars and motorcycles passed me from behind while several others came toward me, shortcutting through opposing traffic to get where they wanted to go. I dodged them and kept looking. They were all running on gas. Where did they get the gas?

But then the town was gone. I contemplated turning back. Perhaps I could take my own little wrong-way shortcut, but my u-turns were still a point of embarrassment – and danger – although in comparison, a farang woman pushing a moped down the highway was bound to draw some stares.

While I tried to make up my mind, I covered ground. Somehow the moped continued to run. I saw a sign up ahead, one of the official ones, black script on white, and I willed the moped forward. Suphan Buri 15. The needle rested at the bottom of the gauge. I couldn’t see even the tiniest sliver of red beneath it. How far could I go on fumes?


Up ahead tall trees bordered the road. They cast a shadow, a long, cool shadow, and I let off the accelerator, yearning to drift into it like a leaf into an eddy. But heat rose off the pavement, and another truck bullied past. I squinted against the grit and almost slowed to a stop. When I opened my eyes again, I saw it. Just past the trees, an entrance, a slight rise of tar off to the left. And there at eye level sat an old-fashioned sign with large removable numbers, white on navy blue. I didn’t need a logo to know what those numbers stood for. Gas.

Two old women sat on a concrete hump between the pumps. When I braked in front of them and turned the engine off, one of the women climbed to her feet. She wore oversized shorts and a polo shirt, and the bagginess made her thin arms and legs appear birdlike. Her hair was slicked back, and her smile was missing every other tooth.
She spoke, and I shook my head. I took the key from the ignition and unlocked the seat latch. I pointed toward the tank and mimed filling it up. She smiled again.

“How much?” she asked in English.

“Full,” I said.

“Hòk,” she said. “Six.”

I didn’t think six gallons would fit, but I figured she’d realize that soon enough. And then I remembered the concept of liters. Perhaps six would fit, but if they didn’t, would I have to pay for them? Why did I have to decide up front? Once again I mimed filling up the tank.


“Full,” I said.

She counted off on her fingers for me in English. “One, two, three, four, five, six.”

“Okay.” I was too tired, too hot, and too grateful to care about particulars, but just to be sure, I put the seat down and pointed at the gauge. “Empty.”

When she saw the gauge, her mouth dropped open. She flipped up the seat again and removed the cap to the gas tank. Bending over, she pressed her eye close to the opening to survey the inside, and when she stood up, it was with a gush of wonder. She gestured to the other old woman, who hurried over and repeated the motion, staring in close, standing with amazement. They chattered rapidly with each other, and then the first woman turned back to me.

“One hundred,” she said.

I shook my head, confused. Did the price go up when the customer was quite obviously stupid? The woman pointed at the last sale on the pump. The numbers were the old-fashioned kind that flipped. Either they were stuck on one hundred, or the customer before me had bought the same amount. Perhaps it was a standard amount to buy. I didn’t care. I didn’t even calculate how many liters that might be or what the price would be in US dollars. She could have said five hundred baht.


“Okay,” I said.

She pointed again to make sure and repeated the number. We agreed, and she picked up the nozzle. Within a second, the numbers on the pump had flipped around to one hundred again. I looked down. I could see the rainbow sheen of gas in my tank, right up to the brim, the perfect amount. Perhaps I wasn’t the only customer who took a chance with fate now and then.

The woman replaced the cap, and I paid her. She laughed and pointed at me.

“You good,” she said.

I laughed. I pointed at her. “No, you good.”

I straddled the seat and started the engine. I smiled my thanks one last time, and then with a little rush of power, I maneuvered down the sloped entrance and accelerated into traffic. The heat and haze encompassed me again, but I felt free. I glanced in my wing mirror. The station was already gone.






Rebecca Andem earned an MFA through the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Petrichor Review, Hamilton Stone Review, and Upstreet. She also has three novels. Currently, she lives in Chengdu, China, where she teaches writing at an international high school.

Paul Beckman – This Is Not Self Service


The Fruit Corner, a greengrocer’s store, occupies the same spot in New Haven
since the Amato family first opened it some forty years ago. The current
proprietors are third generation Amato greengrocers. However, unlike
greengrocer stores throughout the world, and especially the east coast, The
Fruit Corner does not put their wares on display outside the store. They are
also not given to window displays.

Inside, signs are posted around the store: This is not self-service!
Ask for help!

Do not touch the

To make a purchase, the customer stands in front of the desired fruit or
vegetable and the Amato on duty asks questions in a tone more suited to a
clinic than a grocery- “What day do you plan to eat this?” – “Do you like
your plums soft or hard?” – “Is this going into a salad or will it be served
whole?” The Amato then makes the selection accordingly. Time could be saved
if each customer were given a clipboard and form to fill out upon entering
the store-perhaps the next generation.

Many people over the years have reached to pick up an apple or peach only to
be yelled at from across the store. “The signs! Don’t touch! Read the

When I was in high school I worked at The Fruit Corner but I was not allowed
to touch any unwrapped food. I moved boxes into coolers, out of coolers,
carried bags to cars, swept up, made deliveries, and touched young Mrs.
Amato-and she me, in the back room, while the rest of the Amato family was
busy keeping watch on their precious produce.





Paul Beckman writes everywhere and sells real estate in Connecticut. He’s
 been published in The Raleigh Review, Boston Literary Review, The
 Brooklyner, Web Del Sol, Pure Slush, Connotation Press, Playboy, Soundzine,
 5 Trope, Word Riot and other wonderful venues in print, online & via audio.
 Stories upcoming in Ascent Aspirations, Yellow Mama, Pure Slush, Full of Crow Quarterly, Metazen, The Story Shack, Connotation Press and My Audio

Matthew Laffrade – Choked City

Choked City

Glum smokestacks, the observers of a choked city, called to the men from their observatory. The men, denimed and bearded, made their way through silent urban mornings on city buses or three to a seat in a battered pick-up. The workday called nigh.
Jake, the pointed face foreman with greying stubble, drove to static country to pick up Mark, his nephew and the factory’s newest apprentice. With dawn’s approaching break still forming, he arrived at his sister’s small home. Mark got in silently, a piece of dry toast in his hand, lunch pail in the other, cigarette hanging from the centre of his mouth. Hungover, he swayed like a man fresh in the gallows.

“Where’s Chip?” Mark asked.

“I don’t know. He wasn’t out front when I went by his place.”
“Did you get out and knock?” Mark looked at Jake.

“I don’t run a goddamn car service.”

The gates to the parking lot were parted for the morning rush of trucks, beaters, and pedestrians fresh from public transportation. There were no names on them but everyone had their own parking spot. A privileged right, where you only got one spot closer to the door when someone retired or died. This was a man’s man’s place of work but some things had to remain gentlemanly. Through a steel door with steel shoes, Mark followed Jake inside. The air was different in the factory. It tasted of metal, a dry indifference to the humid hang of smoke clouds aplomb outside.

“Alright Mark, today is your first day by yourself on the stamper. Do you think you can handle it?” Jake asked, placing his lunchbox in the communal refrigerator.
“Chip taught me pretty thoroughly. I’ll be fine.”

“You better be. You’re only shot to move on to another station is death or retirement. Even then it’s all based on seniority. You prepared to do ten years of stamping?”

“What choice do I have?”

“You can fucking leave and give the spot to the poor mook standing in the welfare office because he ain’t lucky enough to have family who can get him in here.”

“I’m ready, Jake.”

“I thought so.”

Out on the floor Mark started up his machine. Was a time when a man would just take over from the last shift. Now, there was only one shift left.
There were three stampers in close proximity. His was for small pieces and the only one that could be run by one man. It started with an abrupt, deafening whir, and only sallys wore earplugs. He moved the flat metal from a bin to the stamper and pulled a lever. He retrieved the stamped piece and put it in another bin. As his bin was almost emptied another would replace it. Steam whistle relief told him when to piss. The end of the job just a mirage, an oasis just out of reach.





Matthew’s work has been seen in various publications including Hitherto, Requiem Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Coe Review, and Ditch Poetry. He is also the recipient of the University of Toronto’s Harold Sonny Ladoo Book Prize for his novella ‘Past Present’. He lives outside of Toronto and has recently begun to archive previously published pieces at www.matthewlaffrade.wordpress.com


Gary Beck – Night Thought, Remote Father

Night Thought


I sit in my dark room quietly absorbing the night. The wind rustles the undergarments of the trees, making them sway in solemn dance. Obscure voices drift through the open windows, penetrating my semi-consciousness. “But her teacher said she couldn’t. I got angry and sent a letter….”

“Aw. They never care what you say.” “And she sent me a very nice answer, telling me how good she is in ….”

“In what?” I asked silently. I pushed them away, into the domain of night which holds so much of empty conversation in its tired bowels. My upstairs neighbor, giving vent to his incompetence, repeatedly screams at his wife: “You’re a dog. You’re a dog.” On and on, until the night becomes aware of his emptiness, his obsession. I picture him grotesquely lumbering around a fire, chanting strange monosyllables to whatever gods he feared, until daylight found him sprawled across the remnants of his fire, oblivious to everything but his primitive dreams.



Remote Father


In unreachable distances

anesthetically removed

by a hollow heart

I sit alone

and listen to my daughter

crying in darkness.







Gary Beck has spent most of his life as a theater director. His chapbook ‘Remembrance’ was published by Origami Condom Press, ‘The Conquest of Somalia’ was published by Cervena Barva Press, ‘The Dance of Hate’ was published by Calliope Nerve Media, ‘Material Questions’ was published by Silkworms Ink, ‘Dispossessed’ was published by Medulla Press, ‘Mutilated Girls’ was published by Heavy Hands Ink, ‘Pavan and other poems’ was published by Indigo Mosaic, ‘Once in the Bronx’ and ‘Iraq Monologues’ were published by Atlantean Press and ‘Escape to Cyberspace’ is being published by Writing Knights Press. A collection of his poetry ‘Days of Destruction’ was published by Marie Celeste Press. His novel ‘Extreme Change’ was published by Cogwheel Press and ‘Acts of Defiance’ is being published by Artema Press. His story collection ‘A Glimpse of Youth’ was published by Sweatshoppe Publications. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry and fiction has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines.


Terry Barr – Andy, it’s ‘Terapethic’

Andy, It’s ‘Therapetic’



I’m standing in the early spring darkness: a day-for-night scene in the vein of those “Andy Griffith” episodes when they wanted to portray Mayberry by night but you could see the sun shining through the dark filters.

Our hosts have provided a keg of Busch and are keeping the late New Wave tunes cranking. Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” has segued into Wang Chung’s “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight” into Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”

I don’t know a lot of these people even though they’re members of the English Department, like me. But then, I’m beginning my dissertation, and so many of them are thinking only of whether they’ll take Master’s comps or write a thesis. I see my friend Steve talking to the woman he loves and who maybe loves him back, but then, she’s married so “who can it be now” indeed?

Like usual, I invited my roommate, Sean, a wild and worldly guy from Pittsburgh who spent the previous two years in Senegal under Peace Corps auspices. I didn’t know him before last fall, but I needed a roommate, and he seemed harmless. But he’s caused trouble at other parties, hitting on already-taken girls and causing one boyfriend to confront me:

“You better tell that roommate of yours to leave Joanna alone. She’s mine.”

As if Sean were “mine.”

Still, I like Sean; he’s a good late-night companion, and I don’t care whom he hits on as long as he leaves my face out of it. So I invited him again, for in another month I’ll be moving to a basement apartment across town and never see him for the rest of my life.

So as I’m observing Steve and listening to Van Halen’s “Jump” and wondering just who has taken over this time in my life, I see Sean coming, followed by a guy I’ve encountered before. A short guy with a combo peach-fuzz beard and upper-lip sneer. An obnoxious jerk even when he’s not drunk.

I give Sean a look.

He shrugs, half-grins, and whispers, “He followed me.”



Terry Barr writes about music and memory for culturemass.com, and his essays have appeared in Red Fez, Steel Toe Review, Bookends Review, and Hirschworth. He teaches Creative Nonfiction at Presbyterian College and live in Greenville, SC, with his wife and two daughters.

New Sassafras issue 4 – see you soon!

In about two hours the shiny new issue 4 will be released into the wild. This issue is full of great new writing, some tragedy, some comedy, some storytelling.

Here’s a preview of the all-new filled and expanding issue of Sassafras, issue 4. The number of pages have, ehmm, grown from about 30 to 40, give or take.  (Plus five pages of illustrations, cover, content, etc.) For the upcoming fall and winter issues, I’ll be cutting down the page number, to make the reading easier,  focusing on a slightly smaller volume of work.

The cover was a nightmare this time, I went through at least a handful of ideas, nothing just right, wanted heavy and strong autumn colors, the result turned out too flat and generic. I tried neon, exclusive fonts, negative spaces – too modern, too superficial, not inspiring, no depth, and so on. The cover that was finally approved is simple and clean, and that will do for now.

Preview issue 4, artwork by Ece Zeber:

selfportraitecezeber  Skärmavbild 2013-10-14 kl. 12.59.42

Rejected design ideas:

Skärmavbild 2013-10-14 kl. 12.55.13Skärmavbild 2013-10-14 kl. 12.54.31

Skärmavbild 2013-10-14 kl. 13.10.47 Skärmavbild 2013-10-14 kl. 13.07.06

issue 3

Sassafras Literary Magazine issue 3 - Sep. 30th

(issue 3- pdf)


L.S Bassen – Vixen, October
Michael Brownstein – The Sound of Fear Late in the Midnight Hour, When You Die, Can You Still See The Moon?

Wayne F Burke – White Lines, Rat
Sam Caldwell – Below The Dock
Valentina Cano – The Wait, Missing an Ocean
Rose - Anne Chabot – For Jeanne
Sara Flemington – My Palm

Gabriella M Geisinger - Exit 13, Set Adrift                  
Christopher Hivner – Extra Credit, Manifesto
Alex Rieser – Everything’s the Cause Nowadays, The Thing That Saying Nothing Says, Mantes That Summer
Tom Sheehan - Born to Wear the Rags of War
Dylan Wagman – Ice


Tom Darin Liskey – Watershed
Tom Sheehan – Searching for Mushrooms and Trolley Cars
Jeroen van Honk – Something in the Air


John Brantingham – Graham Greene Saved Me That Year
Optimism One - Five Photos, Nine Lives


Miko Maciaszek - Instagramming, Dusk Trap, Ghosts
Mike Stanko - October

Jeroen van Honk – Something In The Air

Something in the Air


Bring a red balloon, he had said, and I’ll find you. It seems to me like a bad practical joke by now. Here we are, in the busy Saturday shopping crowds, and the sky is brimming with the damned things. He had said that it’d probably be the only two. At best, there’d be five of us.

Now there are at least fifty people clutching heavenward strings. Other people look at us warily. Grown men are not supposed to hold balloons, their eyebrows are telling me. Their curled upper lips denounce me, make me uncomfortable. What I understood to be a convenient way to meet up with a stranger has turned into a statement, part of a rebellious movement. I get all fidgety and flee into a side street.

In the evening he contacts me again. Tomorrow, he says, bring two red balloons. Naturally, I query after that blood-red sky of the afternoon. He says he doesn’t know what happened. Perhaps just bad luck. It’s a ridiculous explanation, and I know he knows it too. I decide not to press the matter. The next day I do as asked and show up with two red balloons and, again, the sky is charred with paired balloons, tangoing fire-hot around each other, never quite touching, in eternal dance. We are all in sync, somehow: when I pull the two strings apart, stretching out, one left, one right, all the other balloonists mirror this move. Or is that just a megalomane vision of mine? Again, I ponder letting go of the strings, or just one of them, but can’t. It would somehow feel like betrayal. Threads both visible and invisible link all of our faiths together. It is as if we are a puppet show conducted by the balloons, instead of the other way around.

Again, at the end of the day, I ask him what happened. Someone must be tapping our phone, he says. As a manner of speaking of course, he adds (we don’t even use a phone to communicate). He suggests adding another balloon for tomorrow. I linger, weary of the process, and try to come up with another method to meet up. He tells me three’s a charm, all things come in threes, etc. Fine, then. But at night I come up with another plan. I’ll add a few more, go for broke. If the pattern continues, if they are tapping our phone, I will at least stand out. I stroll into the streets with seven balloons. The city is painted red. The warning effect of the color, it’s murderous connotations, frightens me now. I can’t even trace the balloons back to their sources anymore. They are all huddled together, each belonging to everyone. I trace the strings back down, look at people’s hands. They all seem to be holding on to seven lines. Incredible.

I walk around for a bit, dazed. I feel like I’m in this perpetual nightmare I can’t get out of. When I try to think it all through, I can’t even remember anymore what or why we’re supposed to meet for. With whom for that matter. I can’t remember there being anything else in this world but a sky of red balloons. Somewhere far, far away this strikes me as insanity. Meanwhile, I keep scanning people’s hands. Seven, seven, zero, seven, zero, seven, seven. It’s all or nothing. People not belonging to the balloon brigade, not caring for whatever symbolism, whatever protest we are into here, seem oblivious to the crimson-clouded ceiling we create. Are they used to it, already? They were still eyeing me with some concern two days ago. Zero, zero, seven, seven, three. Three! I stop. People glide around me all robotic. My free hand searches for Mr. Three’s free hand. It’s you, he says. He’s not surprised. You disobeyed my orders, he says.

I ask him what is going on. I explain how, completely on my own, I came up with the number seven. I ask him how they do it. Don’t you think they’d wonder the same thing, he says. I didn’t.

Triggered, I look around, try to look these other people in the eye. They do seem bewildered, they do seem to be searching for something, too. Let go of one balloon, he finally says. The penny might just drop. I do as he says. My eyes follow the balloon in the air, slowly, certainly. My eyes follow many more balloons in the air, slowly, certainly. Many eyes are following many balloons in the air, slowly, certainly. I stare waiting for them to fade away, but they never do. They just keep getting smaller, infinitely, yet somehow my eyes keep discerning them. I marvel at the polka-dotted veil we’ve drawn over the sky. Somewhere far, far away this strikes me as insanity.

It’s just something in the air, he says.

Tom Sheehan – Searching for Mushrooms and Trolleycars

Searching for Mushrooms and Trolley Cars

(Amanita Colyptraderma and Electric Street Cars)


They came out of West Lynn or East Saugus years ago, dark mushroom seekers, with their long-pieced poles, their own language whose word for amanita, to the initiate, would tell where their roots began, whether they were Florentine, Roman, or islander, Piana di Cartania. They might say Cocoli, Coconi or Coccori, the delicacies growing thirty or forty feet up on the great elms in the circled green of Cliftondale Square, those huge sky-reaching elms that fell to the hurricanes of ’38, or Carol in the ‘50s, finally to the toll of traffic demanding the green circle be cut down to size.

Once, in a thick fog, on my third floor porch, the mist yet memorable, I remember thinking the elms were Gardens in the Clouds.  I felt a bloom rise in me, a taste fill my mouth. They don’t come for amanita anymore because the elms have all gone, those lofty gardens, those mighty furrowed limbs; now shrubs and bushes stand in their place you can almost see over. Nor do the street cars come anymore from Lynn into Cliftondale Square. They say the old yellow and orange ones,  high black-banded ones, red-roofed ones,  real noisy ones, ones long-electric-armed at each end, the ones off the Lynn-Saugus run, are in Brazil or Argentina or the street car museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, quiet now forever as far as we are concerned, those clanging, rollicking machines that flattened pennies on the tracks so that good Old Abe became a complete mystery, or the Indian Chief, him and his background, became as flat and as charmless as his reservation.

From my porch high on the square, I’d watch thin long poles extending men’s arms, needles of poles they’d fit together, as they reached for the white-gray knobs growing in cloudy limbs. They wore red or blue kerchiefs around thick necks, like Saturday’s movie cowboys if you could believe it, as if any moment they could slip them over their faces and hide out in such bright disguises. They’d cut or tap loose the amanita, see it fall slowly end over end, like a field goal or a touchdown’s point-after, down out of the upper limbs, cutting a slowest curve and halved orbit, and they’d swish butterfly nets to catch the aerial amanita, or Cocoli, as it might be; or their women, in kerchiefs and drawn in and almost hidden away, faces almost invisible, with an upward sweep of gay aprons would catch the somersaulting fungi, the amanita colyptraderma, or being from Piana di Cartania, calling out its name Coconi or Coccori,

Oh, Mediterranean’s rich song airing itself across the green grass of Cliftondale Square, Brahminville being braced, uplifted. I was never privy to know their roots, their harsh voyages, to know where they landed and why, and now their sounds are lost forever, their voices across the square, the gay and high-pitched yells setting a brazen mist on Cliftondale, their glee as a soft white clump of fungi went loose from its roost, coming down to net, swung apron, or quick hat as if a magician worked on stage in the square, heading for Russula Delica, Cocoli Trippati, Veal Scaloppine, Mushroom Trifolati, Risotto Milanaise or plain old Brodo dei Funghi. All these years later I know the heavens of their kitchens, the sweet blast front hallways could loose, how sauce pots fired up your nose, how hunger could begin on a full stomach when Mrs. Forti cooked or Mrs.Tedeschi or Mrs.Tura way over there at the foot of Vinegar Hill feeding her gang of seven and their guests.

And I grasp for the clang-clang of the trolley cars, the all-metallic timpani of their short existence, the clash of rods and bars stretching to the nth degree, of iron wheel on iron rail echoing to where we ear-waited up the line with fire crackers’ or torpedoes’ quick explosions, and the whole jangling car shaking like a vital Liberty Ship I’d come to know intimately years later on a dreadful change of tide. How comfortable now would be those hard wooden seats whose thick enamel paint peeled off by a fingernail as I left her initials and mine on the back of a seat, wondering if today someone in Buenos Aires or Brasilia rubs an index finger across the pair of us that has not been together for more than sixty years.

But somehow, in the gray air today, in a vault of lost music carrying itself from the other end of town, that pairing continues, and the amanita, with its dark song-rich gardeners, though I taste it rarely these days, and the shaky ride the streetcars, for all of a nickel on an often-early evening, softest yet in late May, give away the iron cries and, oh, that rich Italiana. Once a sheer edge of moonlight, a reflection hung in my mind of a whole night’s vision, the smell and the sound of it all, the touch of things as they were.



(bio from Press 53)

TOM SHEEHAN is the author of Brief Cases, Short Spans (Press 53, 2008) and Epic Cures (Press 53, 2005). He has been nominated for the illustrious Million Writers Award twice and the Pushcart Prize twelve times. He has received a Silver Rose Award from American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century (ART) and the Georges Simenon Award for Excellence in Fiction. His first short story collection, Epic Cures (Press 53), received a 2006 IPPY Award Honorable Mention. Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea in 1951, an experience that forever changed his life and serves to inform his writing. In addition to short story collections, Tom Sheehan has published three novels, five books of poetry, and three books of memoir and nonfiction. He lives in Saugus, MA.

Tom Darin Liskey – Watershed



When I was about twelve the kids on my block got the grand idea of sticking playing cards in the wheel-spokes of our bikes. They made a pretty cool clickety-clack sound with each turn of the wheel. If there were enough of us when we raced down the street, our wheel spokes sounded like a battalion of machine gunners going at it full blast on D- Day. We soon copped this cocky attitude about having the cards in our wheel-spokes. It almost made it seem like we were riding honest-to-God motorcycles.

The first day we put the cards in our wheels we rode along the riverfront and peddled our way up to the trace road that ran along the heights of the town. Then we raced back down to the bottom where we put out our kick-stands and hung our arms over the handlebars, all sweaty and exhausted. There was about seven of us. We were winded out but ribbed each other about how fast – or slow – we were in the downhill race.

We gave each other nicknames like Bottle Rocket, Midnight Racer, Downhill Don and Slingshot. They called me Riverboat because I liked to coast down the hill with my legs stretched out and the wind in my hair. They also called me that because my old man liked to gamble. Hell, he was a perv when it came to Lady Luck. He’d place a wager on his own dying day if he could.  I bent my playing cards through the spoke of my front wheel in the fashion of a royal flush: Ten of diamonds, Jack, Queen, King and Ace. I put the rest of the cards in the back wheel. I thought it might impress my dad or make him a little proud of me.

I’d gotten the cards from the top drawer of the chester-drawer set in his bedroom. I chose the most worn out pack among the others still in their cellophane wrappers. My dad had about ten packs stacked atop some dirty magazines and the cigar box where he kept an old .22 caliber pistol that he called his peashooter.

I honestly didn’t think he would mind. I’d always seen him play poker with his friends at the kitchen table with a new pack anyway. He’d never sit down to a game with a secondhand set of cards. We lived in a wretched little trailer park near the Missouri River. It was just me and him by that summer. My mom had already left us to go live with her new boyfriend on the Pacific Coast.

By the time I was sticking his playing cards in the spokes of my bicycle wheels we had been so flat busted for such a long time that he stopped going to the horse tracks or playing back-room card games altogether. My mom taking off the way she did was a big blow to him. When the old man wasn’t working he hung around with his low-life friends. They were a bunch of divorced-can’t-pay-child-support-losers just like him. They’d come over on Saturday afternoon with bottles of cheap gin, jugs of wine and beer to entertain the women they met the night before down at the Wagon Wheel, or some other dive in the county.

What always got me was how my dad and his pals acted around these women. For Chrissake, these women already had plenty of mileage on them but they treated them like Hollywood starlets. Maybe that’s why the women came around. They liked being treated like beauty queens, even if it was by a bunch of half-ass deadbeats.

My dad liked music at these cookouts. He grilled hot dogs and burgers for the ladies on this rinky-dink grill he kept chained to the porch. The old man and his friends would put on nice slacks and clean short-sleeve dress shirts open at the neck and josh each other like they were some sort of trailer trash version of Sinatra’s Rat Pack sizzling twenty-dollar steaks at a pool party for a bunch of pretty girls. Some of the women who came to the cook outs had this sad look on their face that the layers of cheap rouge and eye shadow couldn’t hide. It was like you just knew they were waiting for someone to get out of jail.

The day I took the old man’s cards from his room I came home late in the afternoon when he was having one of those BBQs. He was at the grill wincing in the billowing smoke, a spatula in one hand and a sweaty gin-and-tonic in the other. When he saw the bike with the cards in the wheels, he threw the drink down on the ground and ran over to me. He pushed me out of the way and yanked the mud-splattered cards out of the spokes. He was mad as hell and dragged me into the living-room by my ear, smacking me on the back of the head with the greasy spatula.

One of his friends was sitting on the couch with his arm around a fat woman. She was in a tank top and tight-fitting miniskirt. Her swollen ankles spilled out of her cheap white high heels. The woman’s lipstick was smudged from kissing the guy. But when we barged in she acted like her and the man were only watching TV. She had this embarrassed look on her face as she gently tried to put her hair back in place. He pushed me onto the couch next to them. They were nursing beers and the impact made them spill their drinks. My dad’s friend leapt from the couch, pulling at his wet shirts and licking the spilled beer from his hand.

The old man’s eyes were red with rage. He turned to me. He looked like something from a horror movie with the flickering TV screen behind him, spitting out things like you stupid bastard and little shit. Then he started shuffling the cards. He threw them at my face one-by-one like some pissed off sleight of hand. Every time I tried to swat a flying card away from my face he’d kick my legs and tell me to sit still. He had a lot of rude things to say about me and my mother that day. He said I had ruined his luck by putting those cards – for Chrissake those cards, he whined – in the spokes of my wheels. The old man said he had those cards since Parchman where he did time.

The fat lady stood up and tried to get him to calm down. Dad was drunk and there were no words to soothe when he got in a state like that. But the woman kept on trying to talk to him in a low sweet voice, like he was a spoiled child having a tantrum in a store.

He finally blurted out that he didn’t need any lonely old bitches coming around and telling him how to raise an ungrateful kid. The women got pissed off at that. Righteously so. She started waving her hands around shouting at him. She threatened to call the police for child abuse. The woman acted like she was trying to defend me but I just wanted her to shut up too. Dad ignored her and she finally stormed out, slamming the aluminum screen door behind her.

My dad’s friend murmured something about calling him later to see if everything was okay before he followed her out to her car. Some other people came inside trying to get him to stop his ranting, but he just shrugged them off. He made me pick up the scattered cards from the floor so he could flick them at me again. It didn’t matter I was crying. The other partygoers left because of his crazy ruckus. The old man beat me so bad with the belt that night that he had to keep me home from school for three days. Even when I went back to classes, he had to send a note to the gym teacher excusing me from exercising and showering with the other kids. The handwritten note said I had a rash or something like that. It took a week for the green-blue bruises on my ass and lower back to fade. For once the old man felt bad for knocking the snot out of me.

The next Saturday he tossed me an unwrapped pack of cards from the drawer. He said they were for my bike. I nodded, took the cars and rode down the old portage road to a river station where the Missouri emptied out with great force into the Mississippi River. There were towering bluffs on the opposite bank overlooking the white swirling caps atop the sediment-rich waters. It was freaking’ loud. The rivers crashed into each other like two armies. Sometimes when my dad was on one of his benders my mom would bring me here. We’d sit for hours looking at the rushing river with the sun and clouds and swirling birds casting shadows on the waters with their outstretched wings. But she was gone.

I sat there that day with a brand new pack of cards in my sweaty hands and for the first time since she had left I realized how much I missed my mother. I undid the cellophane wrapper on the pack and took the cards out. They were stiff and glistening in the sunlight and had that new smell to them. I shuffled them slowly – just like I had seen the old man do before he dealt out a hand. I flicked each one of those cards into the tumultuous waters before me and watched them disappear downstream. The cards jerked and tossed on the turbulent waters. Sometimes the wind picked one or two of them up just for a second before they pirouetted back down onto the rushing river where the rapids swallowed them altogether.



Tom Darin Liskey lives in Texas, but spent nearly a decade working in Latin America.