Updated: Oct 16
This issue features
photo by Zbynek Pospisil,
poetry by Madeleine French,
photo by Tatiana Golmer,
fiction by Kasimma,
poetry by Malak Kalmoni,
poetry by Mickie Kennedy,
poetry by Andrew Oram, and
fiction by Peter Phillips
Woman artist painting with fingers on canvas
© by Zbynek Pospisil
About Waxed Canvas
Here’s the thing
about waxed canvas:
it remembers, too
I might sketch a finger
along its smooth patina
trailing the scars
of each nick and fold
Like I did, as a girl
with my freckles
as I could now
tracing my way back
through tiny rivers
on the backs of my hands
Copyright © 2023 by Madeleine French.
About the Author
Madeleine French lives in Sarasota, Florida and Fairfax, Virginia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Madrigal, Loch Raven Review, West Trade Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Westchester Review, Hyacinth Review, and elsewhere. Find her on X: @maddiethinks.
Oh Woman …
Oh, Mother …
Oh, Sister …
Oh, Daughter …
Oh, Teacher …
Oh, Friend …
All of you are one and none.
All of you have born one.
All of you suffer through to the bone.
Some are beaten down
By words and emotional abuse,
Others suffer while hopelessness is of no use.
When one is hurt, we, women, all
Feel the repercussions and ball
Our pain and return it back
To sender, but no less painfully Black …
I’ve trodden that road
Of vengeance and found …
That when engaged, revenge
Is a game best played in a cage;
Where the only ones affected
Are the fighters, with no bystander
To be used against either opponent.
Lo and behold, the effects still ripple and send
Pain in rivers that have bled in their bed.
Copyright © 2023 by Malak Kalmoni.
About the Author
Malak Kalmoni is a survivor of two Civil Wars, Ghana, and Lebanon, also Canadian. The survivor of being transplanted into three different continents as a child, witnessing violence, racism, segregation, defamation, inequality, injustice, and more. Kalmoni grew into adulthood, her experiences shaped her into a strong mother, protector who again went through upheavals of war. Those events that shaped her opinions now have an outlet in her writings and poetry. She hopes to share her experiences in order to connect and alleviate the stresses of immigration, as well as to create a connection to a life of post-colonial immigrants. She has published a poetry book, Perfectly Flawed, and Romancing Time, a letter, was published in The Unsealed. www.malakkcwriting.com Tumblr: @Malakkc-poetry Twitter: @KalmoniMalak Instagram: @Malak Kalmoni. Chehab.
Male hands chained in heavy iron chains with flag of Nigeria
© by Tatiana Golmer
Father Francis relished the jangles of his voice. He talked about how Buhari was the worst person to happen to Nigeria. Even if I only believe a rumour after the government had denied it, I agreed with Father Francis that the president man knew he was unfit for the crown. Father Francis’ facial muscles contracted as he spoke animatedly, counting the nation’s failings on his fingers. I poured him another glass of baileys, my thoughts occupied with the final touches to my plan. For six months, I calculatedly worked my way into Father Francis. The first time he noticed me, which was actually three weeks later than he should have, was when I went to ask for forgiveness for my “impending suicide.” His kind, fatherly voice reached me through the thick wood of the confessional. I glimpsed him through the gauzed hole, his head bent, and eyes closed as he listened. He then asked me to come to his office where he began counselling me on how to draw nearer to God during travails. The counselling section ignited our close-knit friendship. He became a constant visitor to my house.
Father Francis tapped my lap as if to call my attention. His eyes shone as he spewed words about the Ghana Empire. This gist was better than the knackering rant over Buhari’s incompetence.
“The Trans-Saharan slave trade, I guess, was as intense as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, but with far lesser documentation,” he said.
I decided to say something abstract to check if the “love-portion” I dropped in his baileys had started kicking. “Those who looked up for rain should now look down for mud.”
I smiled, satisfied.
“Look, bah,” he said, tapping my lap, “if Africans don’t tell her story, another person will tell it for her, and, then, God help her.”
What’s my own with stories? I almost laughed. Almost. Harmattan will lick the lips of a person who refuses to lick it themselves. If Africa like oh, let her not tell stories oh, or sing songs oh, or act movies oh, or what-is-my-blessed-own oh! E no concern me; I don’t care. My concern was about to go down, and I could not wait. My breath scented of calmness irrespective of my pumping adrenaline. I was close. Very close.
Father Francis kept enjoying the sound of his voice. “See bah, Jack, even if all Nigerians become storytellers, we will still not be enough to tell the story of Nigeria. The land is vast, but there are no farmers.”
His forefinger dragged sweat from one point of his forehead to the other, salting my rug with his filth. I mentally counted to twenty, channeling my anger to the nonentity I bumped into, during my afternoon walk, along Ahmadu Bello way, in front of a building that was formerly Lion Bank, later Diamond Bank, now Access Bank. A girl ran out of the bank’s ash bar gate, clutching her stomach. She spurted forth a slimy mixture of beans. I jumped back, missing a puke bath by a hair’s strand. The girl kept throwing up. I wanted to grab her by the neck, raise her face to mine, and slap her until her “yellow” face turned red or blue or even dead. Almost did. But I jumped over the thing and passed.
“Okay, imagine someone like Gowon. You know Gowon, right?”
I nodded. What a stupid question! Which Nigerian my age had not heard of Yakubu Gowon?
“Good. Tell me why Gowon has not written a very good book about the truth of what caused the Biafran war. Who shall we run to for the truth? Wait, I’m coming let me go and urinate.” He got up, dragging his feet. He entered my bedroom and shut the door.
A bat flies at night because it is aware of its ugliness. I wondered how Father Francis was so oblivious of the pockmark of foolishness imbued on his fat, pot-bellied, stout form. He reminded me so much of Mama Tapgun, the black statue of a woman holding a baby on one hand and a pan to her head with the other hand. The statue stood on the roundabout in the middle of the Jos Terminus Market until one short-sighted governor pulled her down. The door creaked as it opened and Father Francis staggered out, zipping his trousers. He dropped on his sofa, emptied the contents of his tumbler, belched, and continued rapping.
“Okay, do you know that some history books said Awolowo refused to give the Igbos all the monies in their account when they fled. Sfssffsfihiwns…”
O ruo na omume! It was show time! I smiled; my interest piqued. His head dropped to the side, he jerked up, smiled to himself, rubbed his eyes.
“Awolowo should have written a book so that we can know his side of the sto...”
He dragged the “sto” so much that I was not sure if he wanted to say “story” or “stole.” Whatever he wanted to say, I did not care, just sleep already! As if he heard my thoughts, he abandoned his head on the headrest and, finito! Ya ka re!
The best person you can send on an errand is yourself. Dragging Father Francis to the car proved difficult, but I had stored up enough strength for this task. I had not come to this city, which seemed content with talking to itself, for tourism. Jos. Terminus market. Apata suburb. Traders. Hawkers. Beggars. Madmen. Men in suit. Men, mad, in suit. The whole gamut of it — solitude in a deep, noisy, busy, mind-your-goddam-business — rankled the hell out of me. But my time here was now a billboard screaming, “Adios amigos!” I could not wait to leave this cold city: always “colding” for nothing. My father used to say that if a man chases away his woman, he would live alone. So, if Jos froze everybody, it would be alone. Alone as I had been for twenty-two years since Mercy took an overdose of her drugs. And, no, she did not kill herself. It was another hand that triggered the process: the hand that I’d soon snip.
Thunder cannot surprise one who was cooked by lightning. I wore my double gloves as a precaution. I did not expect the Nigerian Police to dust for fingerprints. Of course not! They were not that smart. But I wore the gloves anyway. Father Francis lay in my backseat, snoring, puffing like a train. Without headlamps, I drove the short distance to the place I liked to call, “My crime scene.” I did not go to the main road. I cannot be that idiotic. I stayed within the streets. Studying my area was the first thing I did when I returned to the city of my birth. Jos tasted of sweet, sour nostalgia. The BQ I rented at Liberty Boulevard was accessible from the back pedestrian gate. The compound was as big as those of the other houses around, which suited me well. When I settled in, I sought and found a crime scene. It was an abandoned warehouse, more like an old shipping container. That settled, I stalked the shit out of Father Francis for five weeks. I knew that after celebrating evening Mass every Friday, Father Francis dressed in joggers and jogged away. When he was out of Apata suburb, he would board a taxi and head to number three Dilimi Street.
Because the cloud does not darken for the fun of it, one day, I went to number three Dilimi street and knocked on that door. A light-skinned woman answered. She gawped at me. As she deepened her looks, her forehead creased, her eyes thinned. I claimed that I was selling hair products. She looked at my chest, my beard, and cornrows as if doubting my maleness. Three children, the oldest would be maybe nine, came to the door. Shi ke nan, that’s it. They all had Father Francis’ dark complexion. The eldest had the same Mama Tapgun’s nose with nostrils hospitable enough to house a stopper. Father Francis’ round mouth that resembled those of a chronic porridge beans-and-yam eater was unmistakably chiseled into all their faces.
“May I come in?” I asked.
Her answer came out cold. “No.”
Her heart seemed frozen. And, no, it was not Elsa’s undoing. The woman gathered her children inside and banged her door.
Death comes visiting with its own bed and chair. I dragged Father Francis into my crime scene and locked us in. I flicked the switch. The dim, yellow, joke of a light bulb flickered on. The floor was an infant refuse dump. It seemed that heavy rain, or series of heavy rain, washed in the dirt. For me: the dirtier the better. My new, metal, armchair with grid backrest was right in the middle of the room where I left it. I bought one that was big enough for his size, and I took it to a carpenter to cover its arms in leather. I got my concoction of Super Glue mixed with Araldite out of my backpack. I rolled him on his face and applied a good portion of my adhesive mixture on his trousers before I stuck his fat bum to the chair. He even relaxed well. I chuckled. The idiot! I hastened up because my love-portion, the Rohypnol, I added to his Bailey’s might wear out soon. I applied a generous amount of the adhesive on his hands and stuck them to the leather chair. I wore him oven gloves which I secured firmly on his wrists with a rope. I stuck his feet to the cemented ground. Then I still used a strong rope to tie his ankles to the legs of the chair, because Local Man no fit shout. I passed one end of my rope through the grid, around his tummy, around the back of the chair. I continued like that until I had circled his stomach five times with the rope. I then knotted the rope tightly at the back of the chair. I also firmly secured his lap to the seat with a rope. This was unnecessary considering that his butt was stuck to the chair, but should A fail, B would keep him right how I wanted him: seated. Having bound him, I pulled down his lower lip and painted them with adhesive. I needed absolute noiselessness. I still had duct tape in case the adhesive failed. Satisfied, I unmasked, sat opposite him, placed my jotter on my lap, and waited.
A secret backstabber shall also receive a secret reward. When Father Francis betrayed his friend, my father, in the secret of the night, and got away with it, he did not know that his own reward would come twenty-two years later, at night, about the same hour.
Father Francis woke up. It was a slow movement of the head and silent “umm.” His eyes opened sluggishly. He blinked. I guessed his vision was blurred. He attempted to move his hands in vain. The frequency of his blinks intensified. I smiled. He struggled to move. It was a serious struggle with a weak body. He stopped when he noticed the rope around his stomach. Then he looked at me. His eyes narrowed, then widened. His lips tried to move but could not. I raised my palm. He stilled. I opened my jotter. First page, in a clear handwritten imitation of Times New Roman,
What is going on here?
He nodded briskly. I turned the page. It was difficult to achieve that with my gloves on, but I did anyway.
His eyes widened. He looked around him as if to take in the details of the place. I waited. When he looked at me, I turned the page.
Where am I?
He nodded like agama. I smiled and turned the page.
No need to know.
He pressed his eyes closed for a short while. He sighed. I turned the page.
Why am I here?
He nodded. I turned the page.
A patient dog eats the fattest bone. Calm down.
He looked at the ceiling that bore the map of a leaking roof. He looked at me, his head tilted to the right as though he was wondering who I was. I flipped the page.
Who are you? Where is Jack?
An eager nod from him; a page flip from me.
Na me be Jack. But shaa call me Jackie the gluer.
Onye ma mmadu n’egbu ya, someone who knows you can kill you. Father Francis’ eyes got even wider. His face, powdered in confusion, pleased me. I was not going to tell him that I had been pretending to be a boy. I would not go into details of how I wore a plaster over my nipples every day to make my tiny breasts invisible. I did not have the time to tell him how I wore fake beards daily. If he had any sense, which I doubted, because it was his senselessness that condemned him to that chair, he would have wondered why I always wore baggy long-sleeved tops and a face cap whether it was sunny or not.
I flipped the page.
Alaye, say your last prayer.
When the anus farts, the head receives a knock. Father Francis’ head was about to be knocked for a fart from twenty-two years ago. I guess his eyes could not get any wider. His lips shook as if he wanted to cry. Soon enough, tears dropped from his eyes. I almost laughed. Almost. Bros did not even have guts. Ordinary “Say your last prayer” and Oga wanted to cry Justin Timberlake a river. He did not need to talk for me to know he was pleading for mercy. But I could not give what I did not have. Mercy died with mercy. Because we were twins, I was not allowed to attend her burial. They bundled me to Olot where I then grew. They hoped that the distance would heal me from the trauma that took my sister. It did not. I mean, how could it?
Father Francis sobbed like a freshly widowed woman. If tears could stop evil, Mercy, and mercy, would still be here. I flipped the page.
Father Francis, have you asked Kyrie for eleison?
He shook like a titanic survivor. I wished he would die with dignity. You don’t already know how to say you go die, die with your heads-up. How hard was that? He did not answer my question: could not. He looked up at the ceiling instead. Maybe he was praying. I bet that he was thinking of his woman and children at number three Dilimi Street. Well, too bad.
When poop is not cone-shaped, then there is diarrhea. Father Francis shit himself. The brown paste that dripped from his trousers to the ground had the disgust and smell of fear, anguish, hopelessness, everything, but regret: the one thing I hoped it would have. The stench was inhumane. It must have come from the spirit world. It was time to go. I dropped my jotter. His eyes turned to letter O, watching my steps. I walked behind him. His body stank of concentrated sweat. I held his temples and bent his head up. I looked at him right into his pupils, which rolled here and there in fear. I wanted to see the recognition in his eyes. I did not. He did not remember. How dare he! I almost shouted. Almost. But I kept staring into his eyes. Then I saw realisation flash into his eyes. He must have finally seen in my eyes, the eight-year-old Mercy and Marcy. He must have remembered that night when my parents entrusted us to his care and how he violated us. The shock was still in his eyes when I dropped my adhesive into his right pupil. He “umm!” squeezing his eyes shut. I pressed the top of his left eye, not minding if his eyeballs fell out, until he opened it. I gave his left eye a dose of my “eyewash.” His “Umm!” was nonsense. I stuffed his nostrils with two balls of cotton wool and stepped back. Na there the shaking started. No, a fish out of water had nothing on him. He puffed his cheeks as though doing that would give him oxygen or let out carbon dioxide. I saw his head get bigger, or was I imagining that?
They that plant yam shall eat yam. Father Francis planted a whole field of abomination. He would have difficulty eating everything he sowed. As Father Francis struggled for life, I thought of Mercy and how she bled until our parents picked us up from the parish house the next morning. I thought of how we carried pans of blood away from under Mercy’s bed every day. I thought of how she shrank into a skeleton in a garment of thin, dark flesh. I thought of how many nights I woke up to find her crying, dying of trauma and bleeding. She wanted to end it. She wanted to die. I wanted her to have peace, but I was not ready to live without her. Then one morning, someone with a strong grip yanked me out of bed and ran! I screamed, but my father kept running, shielding me from Mercy’s corpse. Had I seen her corpse, it was believed that I too would die.
Father Francis got away with it until now.
The evil that men do dies with them. Father Francis had stopped shaking. His face looked distressed except that there was this smirk on his lips. I felt his neck for a pulse: none. I packed all my kaya, my properties, and left. I left his nose stuffed maka adịghị amama, just in case.
I locked the door, wondering why he died with a smirk. I almost ran back to punch him. Almost.
Jackie first appeared in the 2021 Winter Anthology of Cinnabar Moth Publishing.
Copyright © by Kasimma.
About the Author
Kasimma is from Igboland (obodo ndị dike). She’s the author of All Shades of Iberibe, which was published in 2021 and translated into Croatian in 2022. Kasimma is the 2022 Nikky Finney Fellow at the University of Kentucky and the 2023 Humanities Graduate Fellow at the University of Utah. Her short stories, essays, poems, and scripts appear in Guernica, Solarpunk, LitHub, New Orleans Review, Meet Cute, Mangoprism, The Saltbush Review, The Forge, Afreecan Read, Native Skin, Writers Digest, and other online journals and print anthologies. Kasimma is an alumnus of Chimamanda Adichie’s creative writing workshop, Wole Soyinka Foundation writers’ residency, and others across four continents. Visit: https://kasimma.com/read-online/
My Very First
was a straight boy
who pinned me down
in his bedroom
and called me a faggot
before commanding me
to suck his dick.
He held my head
till I gagged,
my eyes teared up,
and my body came
against my will,
as church windows.
Copyright © 2023 by Micki Kennedy.
Very Honest Grindr Profile
I am vanilla, no flecks of sweet bean, an absence
of all flavor. A blow job followed by a fuck,
always him on top. I’m lazy, not even wanting
to move unless I must. Corpse cosplay.
Pillow-princessing my way towards self-
indulgent orgasms. I’m a thick vanilla shake
sucked through a straw, my thick body shaking
on a stranger’s vanilla-white sheets.
Selfishness is my kink. It’s the whipped cream
on my dessert, the whipped ass I deliver
if my lover says he’s nearly there. As if
I care. I have no time for anyone’s release
besides my own. So shove your finger up my bum.
Use your tongue and make this ice cream cream.
Copyright © 2023 by Mickie Kennedy.
About the Author Mickie Kennedy (he/him) is a gay writer who resides in Baltimore County, Maryland with his family and a shy cat that lives under his son's bed. A Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared in The Bangalore Review, The Pinch, Plainsongs, Portland Review, Wisconsin Review, and elsewhere. He earned an MFA from George Mason University.
Minutes after the day’s final edition had been put to bed, two security guards approached Eliot Stafford, the managing editor, watched him clear out his desk, and escorted him from the newsroom. It happened so unexpectedly that it took me a minute to grasp what I had just seen. After a brief, stunned silence, the newsroom erupted into a barrage of questions, almost all directed toward the bullpen, where Eliot and I had adjoining desks. I was as clueless as everyone else, however—if not more so.
The rumors began almost immediately. According to one, Eliot was fired because of a series of critical articles that had upset a major advertiser. Others had it that he had violated a tenet of political correctness, played favorites with one or more staffers, or had stepped on a prominent politician’s toes.
I gave none of it a bit of credence, and it pained me to see how quickly the publisher began a search for Eliot’s replacement. A summa cum laude graduate of Columbia, Eliot, as far as I could tell, was happily married to his high school sweetheart and was the proud father of two teen-aged sons. I had met his wife Sally, a kindergarten teacher, several times at office parties and found her to be an amiable, down-to-earth woman.
Eliot had worked his way up from cub reporter and was widely respected and liked by the staff. I considered him an exemplar of integrity and decency, a principled editor with uncompromising standards. One could almost see his mustache bristle when reporters turned in stories with what he called more holes than Swiss cheese, or copy that wasn’t in lucid, syntactically perfect prose. When warranted, he was lavish with praise and quick to reward exceptional work with plum assignments. Under his leadership, the paper had won several awards, including a Pulitzer.
I waited in vain to hear from Eliot, to hear him explain the reason for his abrupt ouster. But he did not return messages I left on his answering machine. It was as though he had simply vanished. I considered going to his house a few times, but something always held me back.
Throughout the years I had worked with Eliot, most recently as assistant managing editor, our relationship had been strictly professional. Even during the many hours we spent in the Muddy Martini, the seedy watering hole across the street from the office, we talked mostly shop. Though on the whole gregarious and fun loving, Eliot tended to keep his personal life close to the chest—with one memorable exception.
It happened late one Saturday afternoon in the Muddy Martini after the Sunday edition had been put to bed. It was one of the few times when Eliot, who could hold his liquor better than anyone I knew, had one or two too many. (The Muddy Martini was famous for serving generous cocktails in individual shakers.) I was about to suggest calling it a night when he leaned his head close to mine and said, “You know Chuck, Pamela Hammond is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“Breathtaking,” I offered.
“Breathtaking is right,” he said. By this time he was slurring his words. “Every goddam guy on the paper is in love with her.” He stopped to cough, then clapped me on the shoulder and added, “Now be a good pal and forget what I just said.” Ordinarily I would have complied, but for some reason Eliot’s remark stayed with me. Is it possible, I asked myself, that he, too, had fallen under Pamela Hammond’s spell?
Everything about Pamela Hammond struck me as distinctive, from her blue-green eyes and shock of auburn hair to her throaty voice and come-hither look. Her assumed accent, acquired during two years at a boarding school in London, added to her cachet. She could hold her own in any conversation and wasn’t shy about stating her opinions. She could have made a name for herself in Hollywood, or as a fashion model. Instead, she chose journalism.
A graduate of Barnard, Pamela Hammond (she insisted on not being called Pam) was hired—with my enthusiastic concurrence—not because of her looks, but because she was a natural for the job. After a brief stint as Eliot’s assistant, he assigned her to the city desk. She quickly proved to be a skilled reporter and writer, with an iron determination to get the facts. Unafraid to step on influential toes, she got more stories onto the front page in her first year than some of the more experienced reporters.
Three years after Eliot’s forced removal, his replacement, a fifty-eight-year-old chain smoker, died of a heart attack while sitting at his desk. I was immediately named as his replacement. That made me the youngest person ever to hold the job of managing editor. Bowled over by the promotion, I decided to reward myself with a brief skiing vacation in Vermont before assuming my new responsibilities.
On my second day there I was shopping for a pair of gloves when my eyes fell on an advertisement for a bed-and-breakfast called “The Stafford.” Near the bottom it listed the names of the proprietors: Eliot and Sally. This can’t be a coincidence, I told myself, and asked the owner of the shop a couple of questions. Her answers confirmed my suspicion. After vacillating for twenty-four hours, I tossed aside my indecisiveness and drove to the Stafford.
Eliot was clearly taken aback when he opened the door and saw me, but the moment quickly passed and both he and Sally seemed delighted to see me. When they finished showering me with questions, including what had brought me to their little village, they gave me a tour of their lovingly restored Victorian inn. Sally then excused herself, leaving Eliot and me to sip brandy in front of a crackling fire and to reminisce about some of the major news events we had covered.
“We had some great times, didn’t we?” he said, leaning back reflectively in his rocking chair.
“We even had a few scoops that left our competitors in the dust.”
“It was a hell of a good place to work,” I concurred.
“But that’s all in the past,” he continued. “The world is changing so fast that I find it hard to keep up.”
“Even the newspaper business isn’t what it used to be.”
“‘Used to be’ is a long time ago,” he sighed. “So much of the fun has gone out of it. Nowadays the almighty dollar rules.”
I took a deep breath and asked whether financial consideration had played a role in his firing.
Eliot shook his head. “I wasn’t fired, Chuck. I resigned.”
“Resigned?” I was thunderstruck. “What on earth for? And why in hell were you escorted from the building like a common criminal?”
“As I just said. It’s a different world.”
“I don’t understand. What could have made you resign?”
“Pride, mostly, and to spare my family needless embarrassment.”
“I don’t get it. Something must have happened. I’m curious to know what. That is, if you’re willing to tell me.”
“It’s a painful story, Chuck, even after all these years.” He got up to refill our glasses. “Maybe if I have enough of this stuff,” he said, holding his snifter aloft, “I’ll tell you the whole goddamn thing.”
For a while, our conversation returned to some of the challenges we had faced when suddenly Eliot sat bold upright and exclaimed, “Oh, to hell with it. I don’t see any reason to keep it a secret any longer.” He paused, drew a deep breath, and added, “Believe it or not, I was accused of sexual harassment.”
“Sadly, I’m not.”
“If I may ask, who accused you?”
“Do you remember that young reporter, Pamela Hammond?”
“Well, she was the one.”
I was speechless and said as much.
“Trust me. It’s true. By the way, is she still with the paper?”
“No. She left shortly after you did to work for a financial magazine.”
Eliot got up and got another bottle of brandy from a cabinet at the rear of the room. “That’s the story in a nutshell,” he said when he came back.
“Eliot, there must me more to the story than that.”
He turned his head and stared into the crackling fire, the only sound in the room. After what seemed like a long time but probably wasn’t more than a minute, he looked me straight in the eye, swore me to secrecy, and began to tell me more than I expected—or wanted—to hear.
“As you may recall,” he began, “Pamela Hammond caused quite a stir the day she first stepped into the newsroom.”
“You were very taken with her,” I reminded him.
“So were you.”
I nodded and told myself not to interrupt him again. Shortly things only half remembered started to come back into focus.
Eliot Stafford was not an easy man to impress—until the day one March when an employment agency sent Pamela Hammond to us for an interview. Bundled up in a trench coat that was far too big for her and a fur hat, she so captivated Eliot with her keen intellect and wide-ranging knowledge that he hired her as his assistant after a forty-five- minute interview.
Pleased with the job she did answering his mail and shielding him from annoying phone calls, he occasionally let her try her hand at writing obits and covering local social events. Always eager to please, she never minded working extra hours and did her job diligently. She hung on his every word, particularly when the subject turned to politics. Occasionally she brought him homemade cookies and showed him purchases she had made during her lunch break. On the rare occasions when things were quiet, they talked about movies, books, and sports. With time she began to confide in him and sought his advice on how to deal with her abusive father. After six months Eliot assigned Pamela would work with a veteran reporter covering city hall.
And then one Friday morning Pamela failed to show up for work. She had always been punctual, often arriving when some of the older reporters were still recovering from their hangovers. Worried, he called her at home. A gruff male voice answered and told him that she intended to come in after lunch. “Doesn’t she realize we have a weekend edition to get out?” he shouted and hung up. When she finally strode into the newsroom she headed straight for the bullpen and accused him of invading her privacy. Though taken aback, he let it pass.
A week or so later he ran into her at the coffee machine and noted that she had done something to her hair. “I cut it,” she said tersely, turned on her heels, and walked away in a huff. Another time she came to his desk seeking guidance on a story on which she was working. In the middle of their conversation, he told her that she had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. She responded with a muttered expletive and returned to her desk.
Although he subsequently apologized to her in writing for “saying things I shouldn’t have,” she wasn’t appeased, as became clear to him when the publisher summoned him to his office. “There’s a rumor going around that you’re a skirt chaser,” the publisher said, looking at a point somewhere on the far side of his extravagantly appointed office. “I won’t have that on my newspaper.” Then, without giving Eliot a chance to defend himself, the publisher dismissed him with an admonishment” “Don’t pay Miss Hammond so much attention.”
Eliot’s first impulse was to grab his hat and coat and walk out. On second thought he decided to call Pamela at home and suggest meeting her for a cup of coffee.
“Sorry,” she said brusquely. “I’m busy.”
“How about one day next week when you’re less busy.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” she said and hung up.
That was on a Friday. Monday morning, he paged her and ordered her to report to the bullpen.
“Yes?” she said defiantly, ignoring his offer to sit down.
“I’m told there are some nasty rumors about me.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“Pamela, you don’t have to be a journalist to know that every rumor has a source.” He paused, then said, “And I don’t appreciate being made the butt of embarrassing gossip.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“What did I do that offended you so much that you felt you had to report me? And possibly ruin my career?”
“You hit on me.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying. I never laid a hand on you.”
“Why did you constantly come to my desk, in your words, to see how I was getting along.”
“Maybe you forgot that I hired you and had every right to monitor your progress. Besides, you never gave me the impression that my so-called visits bothered you. Nor were they what I would call lecherous advances.”
“Those aren’t my words. Anyway, there’s more to it than that.”
“Tell me. I’d like to know.”
“Okay, since you insist. Do you remember the night we worked late and shared the remains of a bottle of Chivas Regal you kept in your desk?”
“Vaguely. That was while you were still my assistant.”
“Right. Afterwards, on the way down in the elevator to get a taxi to take me home, you said, ‘If I were single and thirty again, I’d propose on the spot.’ Do you remember saying that?”
“For God’s sake, Pamela. I was drunk!”
“Right. And what about the Christmas card you sent me?”
“What about it?”
“I thought your message was over the top.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘over the top.’”
“Maybe you were drunk then, too. Anyway, does your wife know about this?”
“This? “What’s ‘this?’”
“I think you know exactly what I mean.?”
“All right,” he said. “Maybe I was flirting a little. But since when is that a crime? Ever hear Oscar Wilde’s definition of flirting? He called it attention without intention.”
“Couldn’t you have spoken to me first, instead of reporting me?”
“I did what I had to do.”
“Very well. I see no point in continuing this conversation.”
The next day he handed in his resignation.
“Quite a story,” I said. “Any regrets?”
“None whatever. Sally and I are very content here, and I’m doing what I enjoy.”
“You should write a book about it,” I suggested.
“Maybe I will.” He paused. “Some day when I have more time. Meantime, I’m too busy getting on with my new life.”
I looked at my watch. “It’s getting late, and I must get going.”
He frowned. “I was hoping you could stay and have a light supper with us.”
“Sorry, but I have a dinner engagement and a long drive back.”
“Too bad. I so enjoyed this little reunion. We must do it again soon.”
When Sally heard I was leaving, she also said I must come again, only longer. But I knew that I was seeing them for the last time.
They watched me get into my car and I waved a final goodbye. Then I gunned the engine and sped back to the city. Pamela hated to be kept waiting.
Copyright © 2023 by Peter Philipps.
About the Author
Peter Philipps is an award-winning former writer and editor for The New York Times and Business Week magazine. After retiring, he turned to writing fiction. He is currently at work on his second collection of short stories. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
The first church
For the church existed at first before the law.
The first church, which is to be called the most ancient, existed before the Flood.
That was a time
When people conversed with angels
The movements of their mouths were praise for God
The mountains rang with Truth
The flowers germinated Love
It is scarcely possible now
To acquire one-thousandth of what we then knew
We had no need of doctrines
Nor of empires—a golden age
Because we saw the pulse of eternity in the sap of a tree
We worshipped in our tents
Could we spurn the evidence of our senses
When even the wicked heard the Word of God?
Every phrase in this poem paraphrases a passage from the works of Swedenborg. In order, starting with the epigraph, the sources of the passages are True Christian Religion, n. 760; True Christian Religion, n. 202 and Arcana Coelestia, n. 10,355; Arcana Coelestia, n. 607; Arcana Coelestia, n. 920; Arcana Coelestia, n. 920; Arcana Coelestia, n. 895; Apocalypse Explained, n. 815; Divine Providence, n. 215; Arcana Coelestia, n. 920; Arcana Coelestia, n. 414; Arcana Coelestia, n. 126-128; and Arcana Coelestia, n. 784.
Copyright © by Andy Oram.
Every spirit praise (no drum or choir)
I heard a Pope cry out for the Earth
with a clarion denied
by those who hang carcasses on every canon
He declared that all the creatures of the earth
crushed by footprint and glyphosate
will rise to the seat of Christ
but no eyes rose from the platters
teeming with martyrs
He mingled the cry of the earth with the cry of the poor
and called out the rupture that is sin
but no one stood in assembly with the parched fields
or their first victims
He embraced reason to justify faith
but neither was aired in the plaudits issuing from dim sanctuaries
He wept for the fish slipping through the hands
of those called to fish for men
but they returned to their violation of the sea
He took on the robots of earthly destruction
but could not disarm the robots of the palsied mind
And he asked for a dialog with God
but witnessed only the disappearance of a consciousness
that could reply
Dated May 24, 2015, and released June 18, 2015, the encyclical letter Laudato si’ expressed Pope Francis’s plea for humanity to save humanity and the world from the devastation of climate change. The encyclical was generally ignored.
Copyright © by Andy Oram.
About the author
Andy Oram is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects have ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Print publications where his writings have appeared include The Economist, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, and Vanguardia Dossier. He started dabbling in poetry after noticing that he had been inserting his creativity in unprecedented ways into the technical documentation he was paid to produce. He has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for fifty years. His poems have been published in more than fifty journals.