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Dear James

by M. Betsy Smith

When my son Justin first battled alcoholism, he used music to ease his agony. He played guitar and wrote sensitive, deeply personal songs during those difficult years. As a part of his recovery, he recorded a CD he titled Vinegar and Vigilance. It was apt. His songs told of his loneliness, his prayers, and of loves he lost. His deep voice quivered at times, but his lyrics and skillful guitar playing helped to carry him through to sobriety.

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Kant Skateboard

by Andrew Miller

I had to use the roll-in to get enough speed going up the bank. That was the first hurdle. The kids around me hopped on and went for it. I kept letting them snake in front of me. I needed to understand the physics before I committed. At least with a roll-in, you never lose contact with the ramp. When you drop in, you have to redirect the nose of your skateboard, from horizontal to vertical, using only your gravity, sense of balance, and most importantly, your confidence.

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A Dispatch from Olivia

by David Kennedy

The ladies of the press, by inclination and profession given to skepticism, had appeared at the luncheon anticipating a ghastly masquerade. There had been abundant rumors, which the ladies had been obliged to report in accordance with their duty to their readers, that Kate Chase Sprague was now a Miss Havisham, roaming as a spectre in a cobwebbed and abandoned mansion. Yet these great expectations were confounded once the carriages pulled into the drive. Edgewood had been polished, scrubbed, and manicured such that it nearly gleamed in the spring sunshine.

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I Was Nineteen

by Tammy Peacy

I worked at a pet shop. My boss was forty-two. That’s what he told me. Besides owning the shop, he was also a cop or a DEA agent or maybe in the CIA. I couldn’t then be certain about his stories. He had a cellphone in a time when no one had a cellphone. He might have been married or in the middle of a divorce. He complained of a woman he called his daughter’s mother. He did have a daughter, seven years old, and I know this because he brought her in one day, I think to show off.

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A Tale of Two Wallets

by Steve Kowalski

I found a wallet on a sidewalk in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles. I might have missed it if it wasn’t white, beautiful white leather reflecting the glow of a distant streetlight. I looked up and down the boulevard. Although lined with multi-story apartment buildings, it was completely empty and eerily quiet. It felt as if the entire city stopped what it was doing to watch my next move.

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Almond Joy

by Cristina Chopalli

I see her as I drive into the grocery store’s parking lot.
Hungry. No food. Please help.
A woman balances atop the lot’s concrete curb, biceps taut, a handwritten sign held above her head.
A toddler rides the woman’s hip. His fingers curl into the sweaty T-shirt across her breasts.
I slow my car.

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Lake Effect: 1963

by Stuart Terman

The driveways on Verona, the street next to ours, were all snowbound, and I walked up to a home whose drive looked in need of a good shoveling. I rang the front doorbell, and Boubi, recognizing me as the paper boy, gave me a thumbs up to clear out her drive. She was a widow, her children were grown, gone with these chores now on her frail shoulders.

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Fathers

by Jim Cavan

As I rocked with Rett the morning he was born, hoping to spark his first earthly dreams with whispered oaths to give him all I have and know, his fatal cancer still an unseen demon in his cells, I thought now and again on what I’d say to my own dad and damn near cried every time. It stemmed partly from the pride of new fatherhood, of the blue eyes and late-April birthdays our trio would share and the laughs and campfires and straight-up Manhattans to come. And then this inflective twinge that I’d never feel further from life’s nascency, from unremembered youth, as I did just then, not even at my deathbed goodbye.

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Formations

by Oksana Marafioti

Love. Vulnerability. One is a ghost without the other.

As children, we’re masters of affection. We overflow with it. Love comes naturally, like the seasonal flu. You hurt us, we love you still. More and fiercely. Like you’re worth saving even if the world gives up on you. Having no idea this gift is precious, we squander it on those who don’t always deserve it, but it matters little, because our hearts are in bloom.

Until the onset of adulthood.

By then, our scars prevent us from blooming too much.

Adulting and vulnerability are well-known oxymorons, not the norm. Once we’ve grown, emotional dignity becomes a commodity.

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Picture Stones

by Susan Niz

On my wrist, a single round bead, white with purple marbling, suspends on a knotted black cord. In one spot, crossing my vein like a rope bridge over a blue river, a single, dull thread wears thin. I hope it will stay on until he returns from Guatemala. With each shower or yank of my sleeve, the bracelet gets weaker. I hold on to it, precarious, as if it will tell me how things will turn out. As if, when he returns, I’ll put it on a silver chain and then things will be safer, better, more secure. As if keeping it will bring him back.

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One More Thing to Make You Proud

by Tara Wine-Queen

My grandmother, called Nanny, was magic.

She saw everything good. If there was an ounce of goodness to be found, no matter how much flesh or how many years of disappointment and weariness it was hidden beneath, she could find that light, and she did. Once found, she would study it shrewdly but briefly, take in its shapes and test the sturdiness of its walls. She learned its contours, and then, sometimes with great delicacy, and sometimes with a great reckless enthusiasm, she would stretch it until those whose eyes were less suited to light-catching could see it, as well, and bask in the warmth of its wholesomeness.

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His Demonstrative Gallantry

by David Kennedy

The distinguished members of the Senate were by now regretting their heartfelt devotion to the business of the people. The session had extended itself well into May, long past the days when the cherry blossoms that so adorn our national capital had bloomed and fallen, and as June wore on the heat became oppressive, then nearly unbearable. Yet the Democratic Party, having assumed the majority in the congressional elections the prior November, had proven incapable of effectively conducting the people’s business.

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Goodwill Romance

by Claire Coenen

As I walk out of the store into the parking lot, I feel smug about finding a $5 sundress. The dress is just right for summer, made of light material, bright blue. It makes my eyes pop. Snagging quality clothes at consignment stores gives me a sense of satisfaction, and I almost always find at least one treasure when I shop at Goodwill.

About fifteen feet from my car in the Goodwill parking lot, I notice a shiny, black truck slow down as it approaches me. The man driving it stops the vehicle beside me. He pokes his head out the window.

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FTO Star

by Debra Groves Harman

When I was a child, I lay in bed at night and fantasized about using a razor-sharp knife to carve fat off my body. First, it would be my stomach, and then my arms. My double chin bothered me too. I had started the habit of keeping my chin lifted up, so the beagle-like droop of my double chin wasn’t so obvious. It didn’t occur to me how horrible it was to think about slicing flesh off my own body. I just knew I hated being fat.

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Split

by Andrew Jason Jacono

When I was a kid, I’d see severed heads floating in the dark. Every night my mother would scratch my back, kiss my forehead, say I love you, then shut off the lights. It would usually take a long time to fall asleep, and sometimes the dreams were good, but once or twice a week, the heads would squeeze through the cracks in the walls or descend from the ceiling. They’d surround me, wan and stiff and misshapen. They liked to watch my skin change color, from calm olive to tousled red to chilly white, and the way my lungs would seize up when they drummed their stumpy necks on my chest. They liked even more that I’d weep, silent and catatonic, hapless in the fog of my unconsciousness.

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The Woodlands

by Mandy Fishburn

At the end of my sixth-grade year, my mother sat my brother, my sister and me down on the couch to have a “talk.” The last time we’d had a family talk like this was six years before when she’d told us that she and our father were getting a divorce.
This couldn’t be good.
“I’m an alcoholic,” she announced.
What’s an alcoholic?
“I know I’m sick, and I need to get help.”
Oh — maybe that’s why she sleeps a lot.
“I’m going away to a hospital for a few months.”
Uh-oh.

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A Matter of Touch

by M. Betsy Smith

I stare at my cell phone in a sick state of disbelief. I had missed Justin’s one call. He left a message that I play again, hoping it’s not real.
“Mom, how did I get here?”
I hit stop unable to listen to it in its entirety.
“I don’t know,” I whispered.
I’m not sure I can do this anymore, being privy to his suffering and the hell he lives in. It’s too hard. But I am the one he needs; the one he reaches out to, his mother. I know that if I abandon him he won’t survive.

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Shadow Boxing

by Laura Iodice

The room is dark; a large queen-sized bed sits in its center. The Old Man who occupies it is propped up on a pile of pillows, the skin on his cheeks sagging like so many yards of curtain valance; his eyelids lowered to half-mast; his mouth yapping up and down like a marionette puppet whose strings have been pulled by too many hands.

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