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  • Robert L. Giron

Issue 172

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

This issue features

Catherine Eaton Skinner

Copyright © 2023 by Catherine Eaton Skinner.

About the Artist

Catherine Eaton Skinner (Seattle/Santa Fe) illuminates the balance of opposites, reflecting mankind’s attempts at connection.

Exhibitions include Pie Projects; Branigan Cultural Center/Las Cruces Museum; Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center; Enterprise Library Gallery; 6-city traveling exhibition throughout Missouri; International Art Museum of America; Wilding Museum, Cape Cod Museum, Yellowstone Art Museum and the High Desert Museum and 40+ solo and group exhibitions.

Publications include Magazine 43, Art Hole, MVIBE, LandEscape Art Review, Art Magazineium and her monograph 108 (Radius Books).

Awards: U.S. Art in Embassies, Papua New Guinea and Tokyo, and Acclaimed Artists, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Courtney Brach

Seven Letters

The letter appeared in the post on Thursday morning. My husband found it newly delivered while I was taking a lap around the neighborhood in the misty shroud of a soft day. I made sure to return after the green An Post van sputtered away from the house; I didn’t want to be there when the mail was pushed through the slot of our bright red front door. The letter was addressed to me, the outside of the envelope scrawled simply with my name and our small Wicklow town. The smudged, inky postal stamp indicated that it had been mailed just a few days prior, but there was no address betraying the identity of the sender, no other distinguishing features.

Liam had placed it on top of the in-progress manuscript on my desk, obscuring a Post-it Note I had written to myself as a reminder of the things I needed to send to my literary agent.

“It’s a small miracle that it was even delivered at all,” he laughed when I returned home, my hair damp from the silvery haze that had settled heavily in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.

“The mysteries of the Irish postal service never cease to amaze me,” I said as I turned the letter over in my hands and inspected it. “This would’ve never made it to me back home.”

“Well, I suppose it’s no secret that you live here,” Liam said. “A world famous writer living here in this town? Word is bound to get around.”

I glanced at him and placed the letter back on the desk, facing downward. I didn’t want him to look too closely at the slanted loopy handwriting on the front of the envelope. I eyed the Post-it Note warily. “The only reason anyone knows I live here is because I’m married to you.”

We had met at Trinity while I had been studying abroad in Dublin as a third-year college student. My husband, a few years my senior, was studying for his masters in English. I had thought him strangely beautiful as I watched him loping across the quad one day in early autumn. He was tall and thin with dark eyes and dark hair, the former peering out from behind a round pair of spectacles. Soft spoken and somewhat awkward, there was a delicacy about him that gave the impression that he was evanescent, neither here nor there, on the verge of evaporating.

He had asked me where the library was, confusing me for a returning student, unaware that I was an American trying to navigate my first week on a foreign campus. Even I was surprised that he wasn’t put off by my stumbling response or New Jersey accent. Years later, after we had started dating, he admitted that he had indeed known where the library was but had wanted an excuse to talk with me after spotting me the day before.

Liam laughed softly, his thin frame leaning up against the doorframe of my office. His arms were folded across his chest. “No one knows who I am.”

I looked at him silently over the top of my reading glasses before yanking them off the bridge of my nose with more force than I intended and said, “Says the man who has had two bestselling books on both sides of the Atlantic, a movie adaptation, and a mini series on BBC.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure no one knows where I live or what I look like. Just a name on a book.”

I stood up from the desk, the legs of the chair scraping loudly against the wooden floor. Liam flinched slightly at the sound.

“So, who’s the world-famous writer now?” I teased.

* * *

Years earlier, when we had been searching for a house in Wicklow, our realtor was a chic older woman named Roisin who always dressed in a monochrome white outfit and chunky gold jewelry. We were in a quiet leafy neighborhood bordered by the mountains to the west and the sea to the east. The house was white, taller than the others surrounding it, with a slate gray roof and bright red door. We hadn’t stepped inside and yet I already hated the house.

Beside me Liam drew a hand to his brow to shield the sun from his eyes as he inspected the facade.

“I know it’s not as remote as you would have liked,” Roisin said, “but I think you’ll both really enjoy this one. It’s a quiet neighborhood, a perfect spot to get some writing done.”

“It looks great from the outside,” Liam said.

Liam did most of the talking. As Roisin brought us from room to room, pointing out the house’s features and inviting us to envision ourselves living in the space, I smiled and nodded politely. I didn’t like the idea of living in the country. I hadn’t wanted to leave our terraced house in Dublin, narrow and cramped as it was. There was comfort in hearing the neighbors fight and drop things occasionally through the walls, a characteristic of the house that I hated at first when we moved in. It had grown on me over the years, proof that we were not alone. Though this house and this town were undeniably charming, it was too quiet. No sound or movement emitted from any of the other houses on the street. No one had peered from behind the curtains of any of the neighboring homes to spy on us as prospective neighbors. I could only decipher the faint lapping of the waves rolling in from the Irish Sea.

“I can imagine my desk pushed up against the window,” mused Liam, his fingers pressed to his chin. He pushed his glasses farther up on the bridge of his nose with an index finger and turned to me. “What do you think?”

I forced a smile, remembering our heated discussion the night before. “It’s lovely,” I said weakly.

“Why won’t you even just consider moving back to my hometown?” I had complained as we stayed up late and debated possible new houses. Liam refused to budge from the idea of settling down in one of the Wicklow towns he had visited on weekends with his family as a young boy. “I’ve lived in this country—your country—for almost my entire adult life. Why won’t you even meet me halfway here?”

“America is too much of a distraction,” Liam said evenly.

“You’ve never even visited in all the years we’ve been married!”

“It’s too close to New York City.”

I had crossed my arms and leaned back in my seat, tilting back on just two of the chair legs and huffed, “I didn’t grow up anywhere near the city. And what difference does it make? We’re living in a city now.”

I had gone to bed annoyed at him and consequently lay awake all night stewing in my anger until the sun crept in behind the curtains. Now we were tramping through a seaside house in County Wicklow and I was dizzy and cranky from lack of sleep. I did not want to start another argument. I wasn’t going to win anyway. Liam would not consider moving to the Jersey Shore beach town I had grown up in. He owed his publisher two more novels and Dublin had become too loud, too noisy for him. He took no pleasure in the neighbors dropping things or talking loudly through the walls. He needed something peaceful, more secluded to pen his next bestseller.

The offer we put in on the tall white house with the slate gray roof and bright red door was accepted by the end of that week.

* * *

The letter remained unopened in the corner of the desk. I didn’t wish to break the letter’s seal just yet. I reached across the desk and held the mysterious letter. I had toiled for nearly fifteen years, facing rejection letter after rejection letter, a series of apologies from agents and editors who had politely declined my manuscript, citing a quiet plot or unrelatable character. I had built my career slowly but surely through the years, gaining a readership, gaining fans. My name stamped across the cover of a book was recognizable. The title might be one the casual reader spots in a bookstore or the jacket design might be noticed on the train as a passenger nearby reads it.

I had amassed some success but I knew that I was, at best, a mid-list author. But with Liam it had come so easily. Nearly ten years after my first novel had been published to critical success, he disjointedly drafted a manuscript one summer between cups of tea on our then balcony in Dublin where we had once lived. He was messy and disorganized. He wrote longhand and was forever misplacing scraps of paper on which he had jotted down ideas in a flash of inspiration. By the end of that summer, he had completed his first draft. By mid-autumn he had already scored an agent. Before the year was out, he had sold the book to a major publisher in a six-figure deal alongside a contract for two future books. In the new year, the agent had sold the film rights before the book had even been brought forth into the world.

I turned the letter over carefully in my hands. It had gotten slightly creased and battered en route. The heavy black ink that spelled out my name was blotched from rain droplets. The envelope was ripped slightly in one corner. I placed the letter back down on the desk atop my manuscript where my husband had left it earlier in the day, still unopened.

* * *

One, two, three more letters arrived at the house addressed in the same fashion. A crisp white envelope, addressed to me in large loopy cursive, with no return address. They were delivered to the house over the following few weeks, again falling through the mail slot on Thursday. My dutiful husband gathered and sorted the received mail, leaving the letters in a small pile on my desk. After the fifth letter arrived, again on Thursday morning, Liam pushed the damp envelope into my hand just as I had reentered the house after returning from my walk.

“Another one of these arrived for you,” he said. His brow was knit. “It’s strange, isn’t it? Always on a Thursday. They must be a big fan of your work.”

“A fan?” I asked dubiously. “Oh, the letters?”

“It’s fan mail, isn’t it?” Liam said. He frowned. “Seems to be from the same person.”

I smoothed the crinkled letter in my hands. Liam eyed it cautiously.

I promised him that I’d open the letters that day. I didn’t.

* * *

The letters stopped for a couple of weeks. Liam didn’t mention them but the small stack of unopened letters on my desk remained. After two weeks, a sixth letter arrived, but this time on a Tuesday morning. Once again, I took a walk and missed the moment the envelope was pushed through the mail slot. I missed the moment my tired husband, having gone to bed in the small hours of the morning after staying up late working on edits, picked up the letter and hastily tore it open. I wasn’t there when my husband, still wearing his pajamas and in slippered feet, read the letter with trembling hands.

When I returned from my walk, he was sitting in the front room, staring straight ahead. I could see fingerprints on the lenses of his glasses in the late morning light. I didn’t need to see the torn envelope or its partially folded contents, lying on the table beside him, to know that Liam had read the mysterious letter.

Liam blinked at me dumbly. I took a step closer to him and cleared my throat yet was uncertain of what to say. He stood up from the chair. It was then that I realized he had retrieved the stack of unopened letters from my desk and had also torn them open. He looked unusually pale in the gray morning sunlight.

“I think your life may be in danger,” he said quietly, his voice quivering slightly. He pressed the letter into my hand. “This came today.”

I unfolded the crumpled letter. It looked like a ransom note, almost comical in its stereotypical jumble of mismatched letters. Each letter had been painstakingly clipped from what appeared to be magazine and newspaper pages and then glued down onto the stationary.

“They all look like this,” said Liam as he bent down to gather the other opened letters on the table beside the chair. He shuffled through them quickly and looked at me over the top of his glasses. “They all say the same thing.”

I took the other letters and scanned each of them quickly. At first glance, they appeared to communicate the same exact message indicating that the sender knew where I lived and was deeply disappointed in me for plagiarizing their work. I turned each letter over. The message continued on the back and each letter was more threatening than the last.

“I think we need to call someone,” Liam said. His eyes were wide. “The one that came today was especially violent.”

I frowned at today’s newly delivered wrinkled letter. “It is alarming,” I said slowly, “but I think this person is bluffing. If they really knew where I lived, they would've written out the entire address and not just my name and the town.”

My husband stared at me in silence with his mouth agape.

“Did you read the letter?” he sputtered and then turned it over in my hand. He poked at the glued alphabetic cutouts. “This is a pretty serious threat!”

I glanced up at my husband. I couldn’t help but think how kind his eyes were and how enviously long his lashes were. They were the same eyes that smiled at me across the table during our first date in a pub near campus. He was a genuinely sweet man. I felt a twinge of guilt for subjugating him to this.

“I don’t think this is anything to worry about,” I said as I folded the letters. “This really just sounds like an unstable individual who doesn’t have any legal pull. If they were serious about plagiarism, my publisher would get a letter from a lawyer.”

Liam bit his bottom lip and looked down at the letters in my hand. “I suppose you’re right,” he sighed.

I put the letters back down on the table and placed my hands on either side of Liam’s face, pulling him down to my height.

“But thank you for being so concerned,” I said and kissed him on the mouth. “It’s very sweet of you.”

Liam smiled at me, the skin around the corners of his eyes crinkling. He told me that he loved me. I could see in his eyes that he was still fearful.

* * *

A seventh letter arrived the following week. The mail had been delivered later than usual and I had just returned from my walk. I watched the An Post van pull away from the curb and drive off into the late morning mist. I glanced at my watch. Liam would be in his office at the back of the house at this hour, too deep within the folds of our home to hear the mail slide through the door and onto the floor.

The letter was at the very bottom of the pile scattered on the rug before the front door. I scooped up the pile and thumbed through it. Junk mail. Unsolicited advertisements for landscaping and solar panel installments. An invoice from the electric company. And there, at the bottom of the pile, bent slightly, was the letter. I stared at it with trembling fingers. I took a deep breath and tore the envelope open, releasing the imprisoned letter from within. I could see the mismatched lettering glued to the stationary as it ran onto the back side of the paper, starting in mid-sentence on the second page.

Liam came around the corner, freshly showered and dressed, but still wearing his slippers just as I had finished reading the first page. I brandished the note at him, and his eyes widened. He stood behind me and read the letter over my shoulder. From the corner of my eye I could see the darkness of his hair. It was impossible to hold the letter steady without shaky hands. He pushed his glasses farther up on the bridge of his nose and squinted at the letter.

“When was this sent?” he asked as I turned it over. I heard his sharp intake of breath when he reached the letter’s disturbing end.

I flipped the mangled envelope over in my hands. “Just two days ago.”

We stared at each other in silence for a few moments before I could hear my own voice, high pitched and strangled, foreign and not my own, say the words, “I cannot live here anymore.”

“We need to notify the Gardaí,” Liam said quietly.

He reached for the letter in my hand. I yanked it out of his reach, pressing it to my chest. He blinked at me, lips parted slightly, and looked startled by my reaction. I was convinced he had glimpsed the handwriting on the face of the envelope. My heart hammered in my chest.

“No,” I said. “No, we shouldn’t do that.”

“What? Why shouldn’t we?”

“What if this person retaliates?” I said quickly. “What if they actually do something? It

could be worse than just threatening letters.”

“So you’re going to let them chase you out of your home?”

“You mean your home.”

“Right,” Liam mumbled.

“Maybe I should spend some time at my parents’ house,” I suggested. “Get out of the country and clear my head.”

Liam nodded and said, “I think it would be safer if you left for a bit.”

“You could join me in a few days.”

Liam frowned. “I need to have these edits in by Friday. I’ll spend the rest of the week here and then I’ll meet you over there this weekend.”

* * *

I apologized profusely for not notifying my parents of my unannounced visit and calmed my mother down after she asked me a series of pointed questions, worried that my marriage was in jeopardy and that I was abandoning my husband.

“It’s nothing like that,” I said, although I didn’t want to delve into the messy backstory of the mysterious letters that were appearing at our house. “It was a last minute thing, just a spur of the moment trip. Liam is flying out this weekend.”

And then I asked, as calmly and nonchalantly as I could muster, if they were aware of any houses for sale in the area.

* * *

By the time Liam arrived four days later, I had compiled a listing of houses in the area that were for sale. I was sensitive enough not to spring the idea on him the day of his arrival while he sat beside me at dinner sleepily answering questions my parents peppered him with about his in-progress novel, eyes puffy and ringed by tired circles thanks to jet lag. Later that night as we got ready for bed, he asked me if I had told my parents about the letters.

“No,” I whispered. We were lying side by side in bed in the guest room. “I didn’t have it in me to tell them. I don’t want to worry them.”

* * *

By noon the following day, I had shown Liam the various listed homes on a realty website. He didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic but he tolerated me. Over a steaming mug of black coffee at my parents’ kitchen table, he nodded politely.

“Don’t you think you’re rushing into this?” he sighed. “We should talk about this some more before we move to an entirely new country.”

“Rush into it? Liam, I’m being sent threatening letters.”

“I dunno. I just think we should give this some more thought before we buy a new house.”

“I can’t go back to Wicklow.”

“It doesn’t have to be Wicklow. It could be somewhere else. What about the west? We both like Kerry.”

My parents’ house was not the place I wanted to start a fight, especially after I had insisted that our marital relations were fine.

“We’ve lived in your country for years. I love Ireland—I really do—but I’d like to be closer to my family too.”

“I just don’t understand why you won’t file a police report,” said Liam. “Do you really think ignoring the letters will help?”

“I don’t want things to escalate.”

“I think by not doing anything, you’re almost guaranteeing that things will.”

“I’m not not doing anything.”

“Right. You’re letting someone chase you out of your house.”

I bit my lip and took a deep breath. “Why does it matter?” I said. I could feel my voice quivering with anger. “We both have jobs that allow us to work from anywhere. Why does it matter where we live?”

“Well, it seems to matter to you.”

I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. I didn’t have a retort in response to his comment that would not make me sound childish or petty. His jaw was set firmly and both of his hands were flattened, palms against the table, on either side of the mug. In that moment, the familiarity of his face, every curve and feature of his visage, his perpetually messy hair, and the round glasses that he was forever pushing up along the bridge of his nose were characteristics I abhorred. I thought back to our first date in that pub off campus and how I had been giddy and dazzled by him then. I thought back to the first time we slept together. His shyness and awkward stumbles had seemed sweet and endearing then. That same face, older now, was glaring at me from across the breakfast table. In that moment I couldn’t comprehend how I had once been young and infatuated with it.

“I think this has more to do than just moving back here,” he said.

I sat up straighter in my chair and leaned closer to him. “And what is that?”

“I think you’re jealous of my success. You’ve always been. You’ve been at it for years and my career took off after one book.”

I pursed my lips and stared at him from across the table.

* * *

We flew into Dublin Airport two days earlier than we had originally planned. Back home in Wicklow, a heavy silence settled between us. Jet lagged and cranky, we each went our separate ways in the house. The following afternoon after we arrived back home, I walked in on Liam in the kitchen as he was rummaging through the refrigerator.

“Hello,” he said haltingly.

I responded with a clipped “hi” before returning to my office. I needed to make a trip to the post office. As I sat down at the desk, I wondered how many more days it would be until one of us dared to speak a full sentence to the other. I felt a pang of shame. I knew by now that Liam felt remorseful and regretted everything he had said to me at my parents’ house. He’d likely curl up to me tonight in bed and apologize.

I rummaged around in my desk drawer and wondered if I had gotten better at disguising my own handwriting over the last few months. I pulled out the first magazine on top of the stack inside the drawer. This one was a fashion magazine, an issue from the spring of the previous year. With my thumb, I flipped through magazine pages peppered with cut out holes and absently thought about how they reminded me of Swiss cheese until I turned to an untouched page.

I reached for a pair of scissors and began to draft letter number eight.

Copyright © 2023 by Courtney Brach.

About the Author

Courtney Brach is a writer from New Jersey. Her work was selected as a quarter-finalist for general fiction in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and has been longlisted for Ireland's Fish Publishing Short Story Prize.

Bette Ridgeway

Fire Dance (acrylic 50" x 56")

Copyright © 2023 by Bette Ridgeway.

About the Artist

Bette Ridgeway has exhibited with 80+ museums, universities and galleries, including: Palais Royale; Embassy of Madagascar; London Art Biennale; Swiss Art Expo; and Ventana Fine Art and is represented by 10 galleries.

Prestigious awards include Michelangelo International Prize, Leonardo DaVinci Prize and Oxford University Alumni Prize/Chianciano Art Museum. Mayo Clinic and Federal Reserve Bank are among Ridgeway’s permanent public placements, in addition to private collections and commissions. Many books and publications have featured her work, among them: 100 Famous Contemporary Artists, Magazine 43, Art Reveal, LandEscape and Art Magazenium. Ridgeway has penned several books about her art and process.

Alexis Garcia


Christopher. Christopher. Ah, what’s the use? He can’t hear me anyway. I wonder if he knows that I’m trying. I never knew the effort it took just to move a single finger. I think I blinked today —I can’t really tell. He runs his fingers through my hair and kisses my forehead. Here I am again, defenseless against a man’s touch. He caresses my cheek. He’s got his father’s hands, but I’ll never tell him that. Not after what he’s done. To Michael, to me, to us.

“Why are you doing this?” he tells me.

As if I had a choice. As if I had a choice in any of this. My mother used to always tell me that I had a flare for the dramatic. The damsel in distress. The princess who was trapped in the dungeon. No, I’m Donkeyskin. Wait, I’m not her either. I’m the little girl who gets eaten at the end because I never heeded the warnings. I’m the unconscious girl who’s kept away in seclusion. Kept away for my own good? No matter how many times I’ve hid myself, I was always found. There was no hiding from Christopher or Michael.

Christopher grasps my hand and plays with my fingers. He’s observing each finger closely. He’s got his father’s close attention to detail but I’ll never tell him that either. He closes his eyes and brushes my hand against his cheek. I could never understand what goes on in his head. He’d always say the same about me. But a mind like mine is not meant to be understood. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. They say when you’ve been through traumatic experiences, you retreat into your subconscious, assuming that you could find sanctuary underneath all of the madness. It’s not safe here for me.

“I can make it all better,” Christopher tells me. Look where that’s gotten me since the last time he told me that.

They’ve got me sitting in his nice armchair. I can feel myself yearning to sink into it from time to time. Today’s ensemble: a black shirt and gray pants. My hair was up in a messy ponytail until Christopher pulled off my scrunchie and let my hair fall. My hair is able to be free, but I will never be. I can still feel Michael. He’s here, bodiless. Even in death, he can’t get enough of me.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” Christopher says. “Say something Goddammit!”

He’s looking right into my eyes. I know what he’s looking for. He’s been looking for it for the past few years: my innocence. It’s been buried with Michael. If I had any say in what would have been put on his tombstone, it would have read: Michael Garibaldi, unloving father, tyrant to his son, and conqueror of his step daughter. Christopher passes his fingers through my hair. His thumb traces my cheek.

“You’re as beautiful as ever,” he tells me.

His voice sounds faint. I can tell he’s holding back his tears. Christopher always told me that his father hated criers. I knew that couldn’t be true. I’d tremble and wince at the very touch of Michael’s hand traveling down my spine. In the beginning, my cries seemed to amplify his craving.

I remember a time when I kept shaking and I jetted off my bed toward a corner. Michael came at me. My eyes burned from the crying. I curled up in a ball, trying to shield myself from his advances. He knelt down and put a finger to his lips. There was a calmness in his face. His intense eyes were on me.

“Shhh,” he told me. “I’m here to keep you safe. You can trust me. Come on, get back to bed. You must be cold.”

He held out his hand toward me. That rough, sturdy hand. My innocence was trapped under his fingernails. Oh, the stories those hands could tell. I grasped his hand and he led me to my bed. In that instance, I didn’t feel the need to scream or fight anymore. He knew just how to get me to submit to him. There, Christopher lacked. I always believed he secretly knew that. He always competed with Michael for my attention. My poor, foolish mother. Michael had been unable to mold her into his version of the perfect woman. But there I was, my innocence still intact, for the most part.

“Sarah baby, let’s go through your closet together,” she once told me one night after dinner.

I believe I was 16. I had lost track of the years. Each year that passed was another year of my body developing in ways that only Michael could enjoy. I longed to be 18. People at school spoke of finally leaving the confines of parental authority and going off to find themselves. Others spoke about finding sustainable jobs in order to get their lives started and eventually repaying their parents for everything they’ve done for them. Me? I just wanted safety.

My mother hadn’t really agreed with my fashion choices during that time. Hell, I didn’t either. It wasn’t up to me - nothing ever was. I remember her shuffling through my clothes. I saw a yellow post-it sticking out from one of the outfits and took it off before she could notice. It had read: Wear this for me.

“What are you going to wear for school tomorrow?” my mother asked me. I showed her the outfit that had been picked out for me. Immediately, she scrunched her face in disapproval and shook her head.

“Well what else should I wear, mother?” I asked her.

“Something that would catch someone’s eye of course.”

I looked over and saw Michael standing with his arms crossed in my doorway. He was focused on my mother shuffling through my clothes. She went from the closet to my drawers, insisting that I needed to change my look. I did. A lot of things needed to change.

“What’s going on here?” Michael asked us.

“I’m giving our daughter a much needed change in her usual wardrobe,” my mother answered.

“What for? I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

“You’re not a woman, honey. You wouldn’t have a keen eye for women’s fashion.”

Shows what she knew. Every time I spoke with my mother, I looked deep into her eyes— the way Christopher always looks at me. I looked for a sign, any kind of indication that she knew. She had to have known what Michael was doing to me. Don’t they always say that a mother knows when there’s something wrong with her daughter? Maybe she preferred to be ignorant. She wouldn’t have to come to terms with the fact that her husband was preying on her only daughter. She would think it meant that something was wrong with her - that she wasn’t enough for him, ignoring the fact that when it comes to child molestation, the only person to blame is the molester.

“Well Sarah, do you have a problem with the clothes you wear?” Michael asked me as he put his hand on my shoulder.

A shiver passed through my body. I could feel the goosebumps slowly beginning to form. His eyes locked onto mine. I had to surrender to his gaze. There was the answer I wanted to say and the answer he wanted me to say.

“No, I -”

“See,” Michael said as he cut me off.

“Sarah baby, you’ll attract people more if you switch things up,” my mother said.

“She’s 16,” Michael argued. “She doesn’t need to attract anyone. You want her to wind up pregnant or taken advantage of by some good-for-nothing boy?” My mother rolled her eyes. I watched as they bickered for a few more minutes.

“He can’t hurt you anymore,” Christopher tells me.

It’s tragic, really. He has the chance to actually live his life, but he’s here wasting away with me. Michael’s body isn’t physically here anymore, but the memory of him - the memory of him, still hurts us. Too much damage has already been done. I can only imagine how badly Christopher used to get it from his dad.

Dr. Nelson comes into the room. Christopher stands up and shakes his hand. He starts to fill Christopher in on my prognosis. Doctors love to beat around the bush. I’m a lost cause. Soon, Christopher’s going to have to come to terms with that. He can’t free me from a prison that I put myself in. Christopher looks upset. He’s pointing his finger in Dr. Nelson’s face. It’s not his fault. Not everyone is meant to be saved. I know how badly he wants to be the hero of my story. He’s got villain blood in him. He’s got to let me go.

“Christopher, put me down!” I told Christopher while he had me on his shoulders.

“Ha, what are you so afraid of?” he told me. “I’ve got you, sis.”

Another male had bent me to his will. I was frozen for a moment. Our neighbor Elijah hoisted another neighbor of ours, Cathy, on his shoulders the same way I was on Christopher’s. The boys told us we had to pretend to fight in order to win. I had no strength to push a grunting, panting man off of me. I could knock her off, I thought. It was now or never. Our arms were flailing toward each other. We got hold of one another. I could feel Christopher holding my body up. He reassured me that he wouldn’t let me go. Cathy kept aiming for my face. I dodged her first couple of hits, but her hand soon collided with my face. In a split second, Cathy was falling off of Elijah’s shoulders.

“That was a cheap shot,” Elijah laughed.

“There’s no rules in chicken,” Christopher told him.

Christopher lifted me higher up. I landed in his arms like a baby. He looked at me with such admiration. Even though it had just been the four of us in the pool, I could feel Michael watching from a distance. It was always as if he could tell that another male had been touching me - looking at me the way that only he was allowed to. In that moment, Christopher was my hero. I knew he’d always be there.

A rush came over me. Christopher let me down into the water. Our eyes were fixed on each other. I moved closer to him and kissed him on the lips. I can still remember the look of shock on his face. I was blushing. He held my wet face and kissed me back. Our lips fit perfectly together. That had been my first true kiss with a boy my age.

“Aren’t you guys like related?” Cathy joked.

The four of us laughed. Christopher and I weren’t blood-related, but there was always something that felt very wrong about our situation. We were living together. Michael always reminded us that we were brother and sister and that we had to behave ourselves as such. But I knew, deep down, Michael was jealous. Christopher was competition. I remember Christopher smiling. He turned his head toward our kitchen. I watched as the light on his face dimmed. His smile sank, along with my heart.

“Chris, what’s wrong?” I asked, touching his face. He softly kissed my hand.

“I’ll be right back guys,” he told us.

Christopher got out of the pool. He disappeared through the screen door. He had only been gone for a few minutes, but it seemed like much longer. The three of us continued swimming around and diving underwater. Elijah tried to get on top of our pizza float, but he kept falling off. I watched as he playfully grabbed Cathy’s legs underwater, trying to drag her down with him. I heard the screen door open. I looked over and Christopher was walking back toward us with his head down.

“Hey man, is everything good?” Elijah asked him. He splashed water at Christopher. Christopher picked up his head. He had a fresh black eye. The three of us looked awkwardly at each other. He picked up his towel and started to dry himself off.

“That’s quite a shiner you got there, Chris,” Cathy said. “What happened?”

“I fell,” Christopher muttered. “I shouldn’t have gone in the house when my feet were still slippery.” An awkward silence passed between the four of us. Elijah and Cathy got out of the pool.

“Well, I guess we’d better get going,” Elijah said as he started drying himself off. “We’re probably going to grab a bite to eat. You guys wanna come with?”

“No that’s okay,” I told him. “We’ve gotta do this again sometime.”

“Of course,” Cathy said.

She dried herself off and gave me a hug. The discomfort on her face spoke loudly. They couldn’t have left our backyard any faster. It was hard for Christopher and I to keep friends. It was even harder for us to have people over. Michael was never much of a host. He was never much of a father either.

“He saw us, didn’t he?” I asked Christopher. He could barely open his eye.

“He needs to know that he doesn’t own you,” he said.

“Christopher keep your voice down. I don’t want you in any more trouble because of me. I’m a big girl.”

“And you’re also a victim.”

Dr. Nelson looks uncomfortable. There’s not much they can do for me. It’s all up to me. But there’s safety in stillness. I’ve grown accustomed to this room, this chair, this - this life. I can’t even imagine what kind of future awaits me if I ever left this place. I used to crave being 18. In here, I get to be 18 for as long as I want. Dr. Nelson leaves the room. Christopher stands by the door, rubbing his temple. He’s shaking his head. He kicks the wall hard. He grabs one of the chairs and slams it against the door.

So much rage. Christopher can’t get to me and it’s killing him inside. Even when we were growing up in the same house, he still couldn’t reach me. Michael was always steps ahead of him. Dr. Nelson rushes into the room with a couple of nurses.

“What’s going on in here!” Dr. Nelson says.

“I just lost my temper for a moment,” Christopher answers. “It won’t happen again.”

“You’re right. I think it’s time for you to leave.” Dr. Nelson holds the door open for Christopher. Christopher slams the door shut.

“I ain’t going anywhere. I’m her brother and I’m all she’s got.”

“Well if you don’t leave voluntarily, I’ll have to get security.”

Dr. Nelson tells one of the nurses to call security. Christopher walks over to me and kisses my forehead softly. He whispers something in my ear. For a moment, I am completely frozen. I’m tossed backwards in time. He’s always going to be here for me. He’s never letting me go. I don’t know if I should feel thankful or scared. Christopher is harmless. Security comes and Christopher stands his ground. He isn’t going anywhere. One of the guards tries to reach for his arm. Christopher slaps his hand away and stands beside me.

“You can’t take me away from my sister,” Christopher yells.

“Come on kid,” one of the security guards says. “If I have to drag you outta here…”

The guard grabs his wrist. Christopher swings his other fist. Christopher isn’t successful in landing a hit. There’s a lot of commotion and pleading on Christopher’s part. But eventually, he’s gone. He’ll be back. Christopher always finds a way to come back. I never thought I was worth all this trouble. I know he’s always loved me. I could tell the moment we laid eyes on each other.

“Here, wear this dress,” my mother told a 9 year old me. “Isn’t it so cute?”

“Why do I have to get all dressed up?” I asked.

“You’re meeting my friend today, remember? And he’s bringing his little boy. He’s your age. You two can play together.”

“What if he’s mean? What if he doesn’t like me?”

“Most little boys are mean, but you won’t know until you meet him.”

I sucked my teeth. I remember being so worried that Christopher would be mean to me or try to pinch or poke me. I didn’t know how to feel about Michael. I knew I wanted an actual father and she had been going out with him a lot. Michael and Christopher came over to our apartment. Christopher had a light blue buttoned up shirt on. He had a nice crew cut. Michael’s eyes gravitated toward me as soon as he walked toward my mother. They kissed and me and Christopher stood staring at each other. I looked away awkwardly. When I looked back, he was still staring at me and smiling.

“Do I have a booger in my nose or something?” I asked him. He blinked his eyes and snapped out of the trance that he was under.

“No,” he answered me.

“Be a gentleman,” Michael told him. “Introduce yourself.”

Christopher held out his hand and shook my hand. His eyes were still focused on me. We were only 9, but it was already as if he were trying to figure out my story. My mom looked so giddy and full of love. She thought she’d finally found her happily ever after. There was something about Michael’s presence. I felt it as soon as he entered our apartment. It’s loud. It makes itself known.

“I’m Christopher,” Christopher told me. “You’re pretty.”

“Uh…” I said.

“Easy there, son,” Michael told him. “You shouldn’t be coming on to your sister.”

“Sister?” My mom said. “Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves?”

Michael focused intensely on my mom. He grasped her wrist and pulled her into his embrace. He kissed her passionately. Christopher and I both had looks of disgust on our faces. My mom was glowing. That kind of happiness is pure and uncorrupted. Everything is always great in the beginning until personalities clash, and you realize the man you’ve been sleeping with isn’t who you thought he was initially.

“Eww,” Christopher and I both said.

“Mom, do you have to do that in front of us?” I asked her.

“Mommy’s in love,” she told me. “Some day you will be as happy as mommy is.”

I wonder where Mommy is now. I can still see the look of disgust on her face when Christopher told her what Michael had been doing to me all these years. He couldn’t bear to withhold such a scandalous secret any longer. But how could she have not known? Maybe deep down inside, she blamed herself. But on the outside, I knew she blamed me. When a man stops finding his wife attractive and stops having the desire to make love, chances are there is another woman. In Michael’s case, there was a girl. I don’t know where my mother is. But I know wherever she is, she’s either blaming herself for not being able to protect me or blaming me for ruining her shot at a happily ever after. This would make for a gruesome fairy tale. They do always pit the female characters against each other. The not so motherly mother and the fragile daughter vying for male attention.

Michael was a beast. He was bloodthirsty. I found that out when I was 15 and had gotten my period for the first time. I thought for sure if I left my pack of pads on top of the table by my bed, that it would somehow make a difference. I thought the smell would make him turn away. I thought the sight of the blood pouring out of me would repulse him. I was wrong. It served as an invitation.

Christopher never liked blood. Once, when he fell and skinned his knee after taking a really sharp turn on his bike, the blood seemed like it would never stop. Only after I ripped a piece of napkin and held it down on his cut, did he finally relax.

There weren’t enough napkins in the world that could remove all of Michael’s blood from Christopher’s skin, Christopher’s clothes. It was all over him, all over the floor. His hands were trembling when he walked into my room. He shook with each breath.

“You’re free,” he told me. There was something sickening about the proud smile he wore on his face. “He can’t control you anymore.”

“W-What did you do…?” I was stunned.

“I made sure he can’t hurt you anymore.”

It hadn’t seemed real. I shoved past Christopher and ran to the living room. There he was - put down like a rabid animal. His face was nearly unrecognizable. I was waiting for any sign of life. Every ounce of life had been stripped from him. Christopher stood behind me and put his bloody hand on my shoulder.

“What have you done?” I asked him. My hands started to shake. My face went cold. I was struggling to find the right words.

“I freed you,” he said. He sounded so sure of himself.

I pulled his hand off of my shoulder. I turned around and began shoving him. He backed away, holding his hands up defensively. My hands were slapping his arms. Once I started aiming for his face, he tried grabbing hold of my wrists. With his back against the wall, I momentarily overpowered him. I made the mistake of turning to take another glance at Michael. I froze. The only thing that was audible was my heavy breathing. He restrained my arms. This time, I was the wild beast.

I crumbled in his arms. I screamed loudly. This didn’t feel like freedom. My tormentor had been put down. Nothing felt different. A part of me went down with him. Christopher had taken that from me. I hadn’t been freed. I only found solace in another prison - a prison that was solely my own.

I haven’t seen Christopher in a while. I wonder if he finally realized that I can’t be saved. I’m trapped in my own tower. I know him, he’ll be back soon and like always, I will be waiting.

Copyright © 2023 by Alexis Garcia.

About the Author

Alexis Garcia is a queer Hispanic writer from New York, NY. She graduated from Manhattanville College in 2017, where she studied Creative Writing and Criminal Law. Since then, a few of her poems have been published in the anthologies UNITED: Volume RED and UNITED: Volume HONEY with Beautiful Minds Unite, LLC and Upon Arrival: Threshold with Eber & Wein Publishing. Most recently, she has had more of her poems accepted for publication in Third Estate Art, Door Is a Jar, Mixed Mag, Air/Light, along with other literary magazines.

Bette Ridgeway

Boomerang (acrylic on canvas 36" x 34")

Copyright © 2023 by Bette Ridgeway.

About the Artist

Bette Ridgeway has exhibited with 80+ museums, universities and galleries, including: Palais Royale; Embassy of Madagascar; London Art Biennale; Swiss Art Expo; and Ventana Fine Art and is represented by 10 galleries.

Prestigious awards include Michelangelo International Prize, Leonardo DaVinci Prize and Oxford University Alumni Prize/Chianciano Art Museum. Mayo Clinic and Federal Reserve Bank are among Ridgeway’s permanent public placements, in addition to private collections and commissions. Many books and publications have featured her work, among them: 100 Famous Contemporary Artists, Magazine 43, Art Reveal, LandEscape and Art Magazenium. Ridgeway has penned several books about her art and process.

Robert Wexelblatt

Happy Landings

Three days before Brenda was to marry Jerome, her brother Rupert’s best friend, her father, owner a small textile factory, was felled by a massive heart attack while bawling out a new hire in sales who had made a serious error in writing up an order leading to a shipment being returned and a considerable financial loss to the company. The terrified young man, already ashamed, remorseful, humiliated, and certain he was about to be fired, believed he had caused his employer’s death. The young man fell to the floor and became catatonic, so that the ambulance that had been called for Brenda’s father carted the young man away as well, side-by-side with the corpse. Brenda’s mother, who for weeks had thought of nothing but wedding preparations, reacted with a kind of mania, alternately weeping over the loss of her husband—“How am I going manage without him?”—and worrying about flowers, the three-tiered cake, Brenda’s passport, how many vegetarians would be coming to the wedding luncheon, where everybody should sit. “He was a decent man and only fifty-three,” she said to her children. “Will I have to sell the business?”

Rupert, who intended to specialize in thoracic surgery, visited the young salesman in the mental health unit of the hospital where he was finishing up his residency. Rupert thought he could comfort the fellow, assure him he was not to blame, but the young man ignored everything Rupert said and, with his head rigidly bowed, kept mumbling “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

Rupert was certainly not going to take over the business. He had never shown the slightest interest in it except to tell his father that he didn’t pay his workers enough and that they needed dental insurance. Jerome wouldn’t be interested either, as he had already joined his own father’s profitable pipe and flange company as vice president.

As soon as she got the phone call from her distraught mother, Brenda called Jerome. He picked her up at the bookstore where she was working and drove straight to the family home. Rupert arrived ten minutes later. The three of them tried without much success to calm the widow’s anxieties which tumbled around her mind like so many deranged monkeys. She worried about what to do about the factory, the house, her finances, the wedding, and, in general, what she saw as the wasteland of her future. It was all overwhelming and, as Brenda said with unseemly candor “so awful and so inconvenient.”

Friends and neighbors brought casseroles, a pot roast, cakes; customers sent fruit baskets and heaps of flowers. Delivery vans clogged the street as these offerings arrived along with wedding gifts of linens, wineglasses, crockpots, toaster ovens, German knives. Surrounded by flowers and boxes, the four of them sat at the dining room table, the pot roast, a lasagna, a chicken casserole, bowls of peaches and plums laid out before them.

Brenda leaned across the table and put her hand on her mother’s. “You’ve got to eat something,” she said, as people do, but didn’t eat anything herself.

The afternoon had been filled with doorbells, silence, and clichés.

Everyone was worn out. Rupert alone kept his head clear having learned from his internship how to stay alert when he was exhausted. He had been thinking, and what he thought, he said aloud.

“We should hold the wedding and the funeral at the same time, simultaneously.”

Brenda was shocked. “What? Are you joking?”

Jerome shook his head at his friend and reached for Brenda’s hand, back now from her mother’s. The mother didn’t say anything; she just stared disconsolately in the general direction of the chicken casserole.

“I’m serious,” said Rupert seriously.

“You can’t be,” said Jerome.

Rupert stretched and sighed. “Look, I couldn’t be happier about you and Brenda, and, of course, it’s tragic about Dad. Don’t we all feel that way?” The question was rhetorical.

Jermone said, “We have to postpone the wedding.”

“Why? You’re scheduled to be off right after the reception. If we do both the funeral and the wedding, it’ll run late and you’ll only have to miss the luncheon to get to the airport on time. Putting off the wedding and the honeymoon would be a nightmare—planning them certainly was. The church is already reserved, the invitations went out weeks ago, the caterers and band are hired, the flowers ordered, not to mention the plane tickets and all your European arrangements. Everything would have to be canceled and rescheduled. Think about it. Can you really face all that?”

“So,” said Brenda slowly, beginning to consider the idea, “you really think we can use the church for both?”

“The church and Father Murray. Sure. Why not?” Rupert repressed an impulse to say “two birds with one stone.”

The groom wasn’t persuaded. “Come on, Rupe. I mean, can’t you see it’s totally inappropriate?”

The best man shrugged. “Yeah, sure, it’s unconventional but the obvious solution, Jerry. The casket will go under the altar—we could leave it open. He’d be right there. It’ll almost be as if he’d led Brenda down the aisle. The joy of the wedding would make up for the gloom of the funeral. The wedding ceremony will be solemn and the funeral mass—well, just a little lighter.”

Brenda, who had been an English major, couldn’t decide how she felt about her brother’s plan. “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel, you know, altogether right but maybe it is right. Tragedies are about the end of families and comedies are about how they go on. They’re not supposed to mix but maybe we could do it, run the gamut, I mean.”

The mother, the new widow, still said nothing, as if this had none of this had to do with her.

Jerome looked at his bride almost with horror. “You’re actually considering it?”

Brenda turned toward her big brother who smiled and nodded encouragingly at her.

Jerome looked from one sibling to the other, as if he didn’t know them at all.

“I know, Jerry. You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind; but it really is the best solution. Not ideal, of course, but still the best. It’s practical and efficient. More people are going to show for the funeral, but the church has plenty of room. The organist can play Bach and then Mendelssohn. We can have the florists add some lilies and the guest list for the luncheon can stay the same.”

“My parents aren’t going to go for it,” said Jerome. “And what about the rehearsal dinner? You want to go through with that too? What about the ushers and bridesmaids?”

Rupert shrugged. “I don’t see why we can’t do the rehearsal dinner. Look, the bridesmaids all have their costumes and hotel reservations. They’re excited, I imagine. We can’t disappoint them. So, no changes there. I can do the toast that night and the eulogy the next day. No, I don’t see why the rehearsal dinner should be canceled. Fred and Chuck are as excited as the bridesmaids. They’re in love with their swallowtails. And they can double as pallbearers.”

Jerome scoffed.

Reaching back for a memory from her Shakespeare class, Brenda quoted Hamlet almost correctly: “Something, something. . . the funeral meats furnished forth the marriage table.”

“Jesus,” mumbled Jerome and rubbed his forehead.

At that point, the mother of the bride, widow of the deceased, spoke up. She was the one who would decide even though she was in no condition to do so. She aimed her comments more to the table than the company. “I don’t want to just throw out all the arrangements,” she said peevishly. “It really was so much work. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He’d tell us to the penny how much we’d lose if we canceled or postponed. I suppose I can get through it. I don’t really know.” Then she raised both her head and her voice. Panic replaced peevishness. She looked around the table. “Does anybody know how to sell a business? Are you going to move me to one of those, you know, one of those places? Who’s going to walk Brenda down the aisle? Rupert, will you do it?”

Rupert nodded. “Best man, giver-away, eulogist, pallbearer, maker of toasts. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll see to it all. And I’ll be the chauffeur too. Adding a funeral to the wedding is going to take up a lot of time. If you’re going to make your flight, you kids’ll really are going to have to miss the luncheon. I’ll whisky you off to the airport straight from the cemetery.”

Rupert’s mother smiled with relief and approbation. “There’s my good boy.”

Brenda managed a tight grin while loosing a few tears at the same time. Jerome got up, glared at Rupert, walked around the table, and draped a protective arm over the shoulders of his bride-to-be. Rupert reached for the pot roast.

The mourners mixed with the celebrators. Both groups were nonplused. As if there were nothing unusual in it, the ushers directed the bride’s people to the left, the groom’s to the right, and told the mourners to sit wherever they liked. There was a lot interrogatory whispering in the pews. Father Murray took his place and explained.

“Bless you all for coming. This morning we’re having both a funeral and a wedding. The family has asked to do the funeral first. Benedicite omnes vos.” He crossed himself and nodded to the loft. The organist struck up Wachet Auf and the service began.

Rupert’s eulogy was a string of decorous, prefabricated platitudes except for one sour passage.

“My father and I didn’t share many interests. There was really only one, but we both embraced it passionately. This was arguing. I’ll miss our little quarrels and Mother yelling at us not to yell at each other.” He wound things up with an apology. “I regret the peculiarity of what we’re doing this morning, and I want to thank you all for your patience as we’re only halfway done. If the mourners would like to leave before the wedding begins, we’ll understand. I owe a special thanks to Father Murray for doing double duty. It’s certainly unusual, maybe even unprecedented to join together the two biggest family gatherings, a funeral and a wedding, to follow up lamentation with a celebration. But there’s a lesson in it, a reminder. Weddings are ultimately about what got us here, funerals about what gets us out. The cycle of life.”

After Brenda and Jerome made their vows and were pronounced married, the funeral cortege followed the hearse to Saint Adelaide Cemetery. There was a big crowd graveside what with factory workers, golf buddies, Rotary officers—but also wedding guests who’d joined the processing under the mistaken belief that all the cars were headed toward the Four Seasons.

Jerome’s parents skipped the interment and went straight to the hotel. That was all the protest they made.

As soon as Father Murray had said “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and the handfuls of dirt were tossed on the coffin, Rupert whispered to his mother’s friend Judy, “Get things started. Be back soon as I can.” Then he, Brenda, and Jerome dashed to Rupert’s pre-packed Civic and sped off toward the airport. Some of the guests lingered to pay their respects to the widow, commiserating then, awkwardly, congratulating. The mourners took their mixed feelings home, and the wedding guests drove, no less conflicted, to the wedding luncheon from which the two principals were missing.

The luncheon began almost lugubriously. People asked where Brenda and Jerome had gotten to and where, for that matter, was the best man, who ought to be presiding. Should they mention the late father of the bride or not? No one was sure what tone to take.

After settling her bereaved friend at the head table, Judy went into action. She gave the two bartenders a nod, instructed the caterers to start laying out the buffet, told the band to play upbeat dance music after she took their microphone and spoke to the point. “Welcome, everybody. The open bar’s open, and the food will be out in fifteen minutes. Enjoy!”

The mood had perked up by the time Rupert got back. He thanked Judy and then coaxed his mother to dance with him. He reminded her how she used to complain that her husband would never lead her on to the floor. “Well, here I am and there’s the floor. Come on, Mom.” They danced to two tunes and Rupert was delighted to see that his mother had moves. He tired out before she did and, when he went to get some champagne and a plate of roast beef, he motioned to Chuck and Fred to take over his mother. Both told her what a great dancer she was. When, finally winded, she begged to sit down, Fred and Chuck went on dancing with each other. The band played “Staying Alive” and they got into it. They were terrific. Everyone stopped to watch, then applauded. The party was a success and a relief.

When everybody was seated, either eating or about to, Rupert struck a glass and delivered his toast.

“I regret that Brenda and Jerome can’t be here. Right now, they’re thirty thousand feet over the North Atlantic. They’d better be. I’d planned to tell at least five terribly embarrassing stories about Jerry and at least three about Brenda. But, under the circumstances, I’ll cut it down to one each, mild ones.

“As some of you know, Jerry I were roommates our freshman year. The University of Pennsylvania fixed us up then, and two years later, I fixed him up with Brenda. Two out of two. Well, at Penn freshmen males had no social life at all. One dateless Saturday night, Jerry and I decided we should get drunk. We found a liquor store uninterested in our ages and bought a bottle of the cheapest whiskey they had. It was called Horse’s Neck but would have been more aptly named for another part of the equine anatomy. We set about getting hammered while blasting the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. When were sufficiently blotto, we wandered out on the streets of West Philly and ran into a gaggle of high-school girls. ‘Where can we find nice boys?’ one of them asked us. I thought it was a come-on with giggles, but Jerry explained they were looking for a frat party. We were staggering at that point, but Jerry who, I’m glad to say, has never had any inclinations to debauchery, drew himself up like some Puritan grandfather, wagged a finger and said to the girls, ‘Go home. The nice boys will find you.’

“Now for my dear little sister Brenda. When she was little, our father called her ‘my princess.’ She loved that. Brenda went all in on Disney princesses. She even had this glittery tiara that she’d wear to dinner every night. It wasn’t enough that our father called her princess. We all had to. She simply wouldn’t answer unless we did. She’d also deign accept ‘Your Highness.’ This went on for months. Well, if Brenda was a princess, then I suppose Dad had to be a king. She may not be his princess anymore, but now she’s Jerry’s queen. And for the next two weeks they’re going to be traveling all over France and Italy.”

Rupert raised his flute. “So, let’s drink to Brenda and Jerry and their royal progress,” he suggested, and everybody did.

When Rupert sat down, Julia, the prettiest of the bridesmaids, came up behind him and laid her hands on his shoulders. The band was playing “The Way You Look Tonight.” They played it very slowly.

“Want to dance?”


Julia said she felt sorry that everything had fallen on him at such a hard time. “God, the wedding, the funeral, the airport, your mother. Poor Rupe. Poor Brenda.” She put her cheek against his and whispered in his ear. “I’d really like to cheer you up.” Julia was specific about how. “I’m in 807 and I’m going upstairs in a half-hour.”

Rupert was surprised. “But aren’t you engaged?”

Julia smiled. “Yes. Just not tonight.”

A week later, Chuck phoned Rupert and asked if he and Fred could meet with him and his mother on Sunday. Rupert invited them to lunch at the family home. “Noon on Sunday? Bagels and lox okay?”

Fred and Chuck were right on time. Both were wearing suits and ties, looked serious, and went straight to Rupert’s mother.

“Once again, we’re so sorry for your loss.”

“Yes, it’s terrible.”

“The dancing was fun,” said the widow. “You two were marvelous.”

When they were all seated at the table Fred haltingly explained that, after the funeral and the wedding and the party, they’d talked things through.

“Talked and talked,” said Chuck.

“All night,” said Fred. They smiled at each other as if they were sharing a private joke.

“It was the funeral and the wedding together, I think. I guess one reminded us that life’s short and the other that the best way to spend it isn’t alone.”

“I think it was the way Brenda leaned on Jerry in the church,” Chuck added.

Fred explained. “We’ve decided to get married.”

“Mazel tov!” said Rupert. “Have some lox and cream cheese.”

“We’ve promised to renew our commitment every morning.”

“Over the orange juice.”

“But it’s not just that. I mean, that’s not why we’re here.”

“What? There’s more?” said Rupert genially. I mean, neither of you is pregnant, right?”

No one laughed.

“You know how we both love fashion,” said Chuck to the widow.

“Almost as much as each other,” Fred chimed in and turned to the widow. “We know it’s way too soon and sudden; but, well, if you’re open to it, we’d like to make an offer.”

The widow stared at Fred. “An offer?”

“He means he wants to buy the business,” Chuck explained. “We’ve looked into it. We think we can make a go of it.”

“And we’ll give you a fair price.”

The offer was more than fair; it was generous, and the alternative was probably liquidation. The widow was over the moon.

“Now I don’t have to feel responsible about all the people who work there. And I can afford to keep the house.”

It was a big house with five bedrooms, three baths, with a huge yard, plenty of room. So, when Brenda and Jerome returned from their honeymoon, they moved in. Brenda’s mother loved having them there. She began having dreams of grandchildren.

When she got up the nerve to raise the matter with her daughter, Brenda confided, “Jerry and I decided on three.”

“Three? I’d prefer an even number,” said her mother. “Why not four?”

“Nope. Three’s the limit, Mom.”

At the end of the summer, Rupert, who gave up trying to like his father when he hit puberty, announced that he was leaving for Yemen to work with Doctors Without Borders.

Copyright © 2023 by Robert Wexelblatt.

About the Author

Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published nine collections of short stories; two books of essays; two short novels; three books of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals, and a novel awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction.

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