By Kathie Giorgio,

Dottie never had ramen noodle soup until after her husband died. She was sixty-three years old, and while she was a college graduate, the student staple of brightly colored soup packages never caught her eye during that particular four years, or for all the years after. In college, she stayed in the dorms and the only time she didn’t eat in the cafeteria was on the weekends, when she went out with friends, and then with the man who would become her partner in all things for forty-two years. They ate at campus pizza places or Denny’s. When they married one month past graduation, he promised to give her everything wonderful. He did his best. While there were weeks early on where supper was Campbell’s soups purchased three cans at a time with the use of a coupon, and bolstered with slices of white bread slathered with margarine, she never even noticed the ramen packages when she searched for grocery store bargains. She wouldn’t have thought to look for soup encased in plastic wrap.

Over the years, Gavin’s best indeed proved to be wonderful. Pizza places and Denny’s dropped away to make room for fine restaurants every Saturday night and every holiday, birthday and anniversary. But then Gavin died. Not entirely unexpected at sixty-three. A month past his death, Dottie came across a bin of ramen noodle soup on an endcap, just between aisles six and seven in the Pick’N’Save.

Ten for a dollar! It was hard to walk away from what seemed to be a bargain, though Gavin didn’t leave her poor, just as he promised. Dottie swirled through the packages and noted the flavors.

Creamy chicken. Lime shrimp. Beef. Pork. Chili. Oriental. Mushroom.

At ten for a dollar, Dottie figured she didn’t have much to lose. If it tasted horrible, she’d only be out a buck and she could donate the unused packages to the food pantry. So she bought three of the creamy chicken, two of the oriental, one beef, one pork, one chili, and two mushroom. She wasn’t crazy about shrimp, and lime shrimp with noodles didn’t sound like it would make her a convert.

Ten days later, Dottie came back for more. She was delighted to find out that the ten for a dollar wasn’t a sale, but a regular price. The ramen was good! She took to slicing and adding things to it—canned chicken, hot dogs, ham, sausage—and it made for a high spot in her day. She sat at her kitchen table, alone, but with a book open to her left, a glass of water on her right, and a glass of wine waiting for the meal to be over, signaling the official start of afternoon. She kept a placemat out in Gavin’s spot and she glanced at it, from time to time set her hand upon it. The soup steamed her face in heat and salt, reminding Dottie of a flavorful ocean, and the book, whatever it was, kept her company. She took to speaking out loud to the characters, and sometimes, to the writer.

And then she had her wine.

Dottie missed her husband. Without a doubt. But with the ramen on her table every day at noon, Dottie felt her mind, and her grief, ease just a bit. She worried about that, it seemed like maybe too soon, but the ramen…well, the ramen was good. She still cooked well for supper, and still cooked the meal for two; she just saved the second portion for the next day. On Saturday nights, she still went out to very nice restaurants, sometimes with a friend, sometimes with her younger sister, and sometimes with her daughter. She never went alone. If no one was available, she stayed at home, cooking a recipe that took a little more time and that required higher quality ingredients, a better cut of meat.

“I can’t believe I never had ramen before!” Dottie said to her daughter. “I’m having it at lunch every day.”

Her daughter looked alarmed. “Mom, the sodium! That’s just not healthy for you!”

Dottie cut carefully into her prime rib. Queen cut. Rare. “Really? Isn’t it an Asian staple? And don’t they live forever?”

Her daughter stared. Then she changed the subject.

After dinner, Dottie went home alone. She poured a glass of wine and set out for Googleland. Dottie was no stranger to the internet; as soon as everyone merged onto the information superhighway, as they used to call it, she joined the drive too. Gavin told her it was fine, as long as they went to approved sites and they stayed safe. She wasn’t clear on what was safe and what wasn’t, but there sure was a lot to see. “Recipes With Ramen,” she typed in.

Then she sat back and began to click with abandon.

*          *          *

SUNDAY BREAKFAST: In a medium saucepan, bring a cup of water to a boil.  Add a block of ramen (water should cover it) and then add a layer of onion and tomato slices. Top with a whole raw egg. Put the cover on the saucepan and cook until the egg reaches desired doneness. Salt and pepper to taste.

There was something so decadent about having onion at breakfast. As soon as Dottie started dating Gavin, she gave up on onions, wanting to always have her breath fresh for him, just in case he’d want to kiss her. As the years went by, onions slipped in here and there, mostly when she couldn’t avoid them, such as at friends’ houses for dinner, or in restaurants. Dottie took care of this by always having a travel size tube of toothpaste in her purse, along with a folding toothbrush. Never once in her entire relationship with Gavin did she turn away from his kiss. Never once did he find that kiss not sweet, laced with peppermint and the bubblegum wax of Dottie’s lipstick.

And now, onions for breakfast. And tomato, and an egg, and ramen noodles. A cup of strong coffee completed the meal. For her daughter, Dottie added a glass of grapefruit juice.

Breakfast with Gavin changed over the years. When they were first married, it was toast and thermosed coffee on the run, as they danced around each after waiting until the last possible minute to climb out of bed. It was a good dance, though, with plenty of trailing fingers and loud smacking kisses. Slaps across the rumps. Promises for later. On weekends, there were afternoon breakfasts in bed, and Dottie cooked omelets and pancakes and waffles. When the children arrived, breakfasts transitioned to mostly cold cereals, with hot meals reserved for special mornings out, especially after church on Sundays.

Toward the end, past kids, past work, it was oatmeal for their cholesterol. Now, Dottie looked at Gavin’s placemat and tried to remember what oatmeal tasted like. Bland was what she remembered. But the sounds weren’t bland. Gavin’s voice. The clinks of their spoons against the bowls. And until the morning Gavin died, there were still the slaps across the rumps, the slowly trailing fingers.

Now there was this ramen mixture. A ramen breakfast. With onion.

Dottie scooped up another forkful. She brought her teeth together.

Oh, the onion bit. It flooded her mouth with the sharpness of morning. The moment of opening the eyes and being stabbed, but infused with sunlight. Bending the joints and hearing the snap of being drawn upright again. The flame of awakening tendons.

That kind of sharp. Dottie chewed and she swallowed. She looked at Gavin’s placemat, trailed her fingers across it. Then she scooped up another mouthful.

She would brush her teeth, of course. But for now, she was saturated in onion.

And tomato. Egg. And ramen.

She wished Gavin was there to taste it. She wished she’d eaten onions with him and had the sharp of it on their tongues when they kissed after a decadent breakfast. But even as she wished, she enjoyed her breakfast without him.

She wondered if it was too soon.

*          *          *

MONDAY LUNCH: Boil a ramen noodle block for three minutes. Drain and place in a salad bowl. Over the boiled noodles, place one cup chopped red bell pepper, one cup crumbled feta cheese, and one cup each of chopped onions, tomatoes, green olives and black olives. Mix one cup canola oil and one cup lemon juice to pour over your ramen Greek salad. 

Dottie couldn’t remember ever in her life eating cold noodles. Gavin eschewed summery pasta salads, claiming noodles were meant to be hot, and bathed hotter in soup stock or extravagant sauces. As she chopped the vegetables, Dottie felt a tad unfaithful. She glanced sideways at the noodles, now drained and placed in a bowl. They weren’t soldered in the ramen brick anymore, but sprawled in the most unruly way. Spiral directions. Rebellious.

On the table, her book already waited, face down, open to the last page she read. Her glass of water was ready too, and the wine was just out of reach. It was a pinot grigio today, as a trip to Googleland told Dottie that was an excellent match for a Greek salad. Dottie thought she might miss the steam of the soup during her meal. She wondered if Gavin would be proven right.

Greek salad with ramen soup noodles without the soup. What did that make this meal? A mutt? Greek-Asian? Grasian?

Dottie laughed out loud alone in her kitchen. She listened for Gavin’s appreciative rumble and then his laughter. Their humor almost always dovetailed. But this time, the sound of her laughter had no counterpoint.

Still, the tingle in her ribcage was there, the tingle that always came after a good laugh.

When she finally sat down, she orchestrated the meal. The salad was situated in the center of her placemat, and she set a piece of oven-warmed Italian bread, thick with butter and sprinkled with garlic, just to her upper left. She figured she was already eating multinational, so adding in Italian wouldn’t hurt. She opened her book and tilted it against a stack of books she still had to read. Books upon books made the nicest book-holder, and it brought the page to a readable level.

When Gavin was at still worked and the children were still in school, Dottie read at lunchtime. The other two meals, breakfast and supper, were filled with family conversation, but lunch was Dottie’s alone. She preferred to spend that time in mindful discussions with fictional others. When the children grew up and Gavin retired, she set her books away from the kitchen, leaving them instead in stacks on the end table next to her recliner and on her bedside table. Now, with Gavin gone, lunchtime reading returned. But she also kept the stacks in the family room and bedroom. And she added one in the bathroom. She read short stories and essays there. Sometimes poetry.

She enjoyed her lunchtime reading. But she missed Gavin.

Now, Dottie found where she left off in the book yesterday, then raised her fork like a conductor’s wand and dug in to her meal.

In the sunshine of her kitchen, Dottie felt the bite of the onion again, but this time, its teeth were gnashed with the bell pepper.  The tomato coursed sweet and Dottie felt the sharp softened in juices, then blended with the salt and brine of the olives, the grit of feta. Through it all, there were the noodles, which twirled cool and slim over her palate. They were a surprise, Asian upstarts with attitude among the Greeks. Rebellious.

Dottie’s international conversants chattered in the sunlight and she ingested it all. She spoke to them all and she listened to the characters in her book and she discussed possible plot twists with the author. The world spun through her kitchen.

Everyone fell silent for a moment, when she glanced at Gavin’s placemat. She stopped chewing and her fingers rested at the corner of her page, just about to turn. “You would have loved this,” she said out loud. “Even the cold noodles.” And she knew him well. She knew he would.

She missed him. They shared so much, but not red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, black and green olives, feta cheese, and ramen. The ramen was so good.

By the end of her meal, she was ready for the interplay with wine. She raised her glass and toasted her book. She toasted her empty bowl.

Dottie wondered if it was too soon.

She toasted Gavin’s placemat.

*          *          *

TUESDAY DINNER: Saute one diced chicken breast in two tablespoons butter.  When chicken is done, stir in one cup chopped onion and two tablespoons flour. Cook until deep brown. Add one cup water, one tablespoon vinegar, one tablespoon snipped parsley and one teaspoon each tarragon and thyme. Bring to a boil, simmer for one minute and serve over hot boiled ramen noodles.  

Dottie turned on the new television in the kitchen as she cooked. She’d gone out today special just to buy it. In the house she shared with Gavin, the house where they raised their children, there was always only one television. That was kept in the family room. Dottie always wanted a television in the kitchen. She wanted the company of voices and faces, even faces she didn’t know, as she prepared meals. Gavin worried that if there was a television in the kitchen, they would start to watch it during mealtimes, and conversation would stop. So for years, she made do with the radio, snapping it off when her family congregated for the meal.

Her children used to complain that there wasn’t a small television upstairs that could be wheeled into their bedrooms on days they were home sick from school. Instead, once they were feeling well enough to crack their eyes open through the swamp of a cold or the puffiness of the stomach flu, they had to trek downstairs to the family room couch, where Dottie bolstered them with pillows and blankets and stacks of Kleenex and saltines, bowls of soup and plastic cups of white soda. Gavin again worried that a television available to the bedrooms might encourage the kids, or even Gavin and Dottie, into holing up behind closed doors.

Gavin was a family man. Dottie loved him for it. Now the kids were scattered and he was gone. She missed him.

But Dottie had her new kitchen TV, a small set that fit snugly on her counter. Tomorrow, Dottie was considering going back and getting a second set for their bedroom. Her bedroom. Maybe. She read before sleeping, of course. But it would be nice to have the company of the television as she took her shower in the morning, as she made the bed, or unmade it at night.

Now, a blonde woman softly murmured the news as Dottie sauteed her chicken. She only paid half attention to the television, but it provided her with a voice and a face besides her own, just as Dottie always wanted. Even after retirement, Gavin stayed out of the kitchen until the meal was served. It was her domain, he said. She hummed as she stirred in the onion (again!) and flour. Onion was a new persistent presence in her usually lemon-cleaned kitchen. The air felt rich, foreign and familiar at the same time.

Tonight’s recipe was called Chicken Diablo. Dottie Googled the word and laughed when she saw it translated into devil. She was making a chicken devil dinner in her kitchen. Complete with ramen noodles.

After browning the chicken and bringing the pan to a boil, Dottie turned when she heard the newscaster’s voice raise a pitch.  Dottie crossed over to the television and turned up the volume.

Beheading. A beheading performed by a man with a draped black scarf over his face. The scarf, which fell from his lower eyelids to his neck, didn’t manage to hide the self-satisfied smile raising his cheekbones. Dottie remembered that smile from her children, when they passed spelling exams, captured the lead in the school play, convinced Dottie that their curfew was too early. Gavin had that smile too, sometimes, when he landed a promotion at work, or after a particularly satisfying round of love-making. “Quit looking so smug,” she would tease him.

That smile on the masked man was incongruent and shocking.

Now a new face filled the screen, the man who was beheaded, but here, still intact, his eyes so full of despair, so free of hope, Dottie pulled up her hands to her mouth to keep her scream in. To keep the children who no longer lived there from hearing, to hold all the emotion in until she could tell her husband, spill it to him, have him tell her that she was safe. Until they could talk about it in whispers in bed that night, their heads nestled on pillows, their faces inches from each other, the news pushed by their words firmly back to the other side of the globe. Whole oceans away. Dottie’s breath when Gavin kissed her goodnight sweet with toothpaste peppermint. Her lips warm, naked, not waxy.

But on this night, he wouldn’t be there to tell. Dottie clamped her lips closed, holding in not only the scream, but the newly onioned breath that must surely be keeping her husband away. Which surely left her all alone. Despite the television voices and faces in her kitchen, providing her with company in her domain.

The newscaster was becoming a siren.

Dottie turned off the television. She unplugged it. Then she returned to the stove, where her Chicken Diablo boiled for over the required minute. She pulled it from the burner.

There was a devil in her kitchen that night.

Dottie told herself to focus on the matter at hand, to stay in the approved site, her own kitchen, and not oceans away. She carefully presented the meal on her plate. The noodles first, scattered evenly in a perfect circle. Then the chicken mixture, spread on top. By the time she sat down, Dottie wasn’t shaking quite so badly. She would, she decided, call her daughter after dinner. They could talk of their days. Dottie would offer her the little television, laughing at her own folly for buying it. “What was I thinking?” she would say. “A kitchen doesn’t need a television.”

She poured herself a chardonnay. Unlike lunch, the wine didn’t have to wait. There was no water to her right. Just a long-stemmed wine glass. It was hand-painted, a red and orange and gold autumn tree ablaze, sending sparks of leaves to the ground. In the cabinet, there was a twin. Gavin and she bought the glasses on a trip to Door County a year before Gavin died.

Dottie glanced at Gavin’s placemat, then retrieved the twin glass from the cabinet. She filled it, clinked her glass to it, took a sip, then propped her book on the book pile. She knew she would drink Gavin’s glass later, after dinner. But for now, it stood sentinel.

He led her to safe places. He told her what was safe.

She was safe.

Scooping up a forkful of hot ramen noodles, sautéed chicken, onion, vinegar, parsley, thyme, tarragon and flour, Dottie thrust it all in her mouth. And then she chewed on the devil. She chewed until she could swallow and then she washed the devil away with a swig of good wine.

It was warm in her kitchen, though the sun no longer shone. The utilitarian round light on her ceiling did. The air was heady with onion and chicken, vinegar and spices, and her mouth, if Gavin kissed it, would taste of chardonnay. Dottie turned to the next page in her book.

She missed her husband. But she was safe. Still, she glanced at the dark outside the window. She wondered if it was too soon.

*          *          *

WEDNESDAY DESSERT: Place three sponge cake dessert cups on a plate. Top each with a sliced banana, one-third cup maraschino cherries, a third of a package of fried ramen noodles and a cup each of hot fudge sauce.

On Wednesday, Dottie invited her sister over for dessert. She needed to divide and share the ramen dessert recipe she found.  With three sponge cake dessert cups, she and Margaret could have one and a half each, and not feel too piggish. Dottie never could have eaten all three by herself. Well, she could, but she wouldn’t.

Having her sister there surrounded Dottie with familiarity, with the comfort of home, but a home well before this one. When she and Margaret were growing up, their parents often had friends over for dessert. They met in the living room and Dottie’s mother served coffee in a special silver urn that sat on a silver tray, and the coffee cups were made of special Italian glass. Dottie used to look at them through the window of the dining room china cabinet. She used to dream of a time when she would serve coffee and cake to her own friends, in that urn, in those cups, with her husband sitting in a leather chair, holding forth. Maybe even smoking a pipe.

Gavin never smoked. Dottie, as an adult, was glad of it.

Now, she served her sister. Her coffee pot wasn’t a silver urn, but a nice decanter. The cups, however, were their mother’s.  When their mother died, Dottie kept the cups. Margaret kept the silver urn. The sisters sat on the couch together, each grayed head turned to the other. In the corner, the leather chair was empty, but Dottie turned on the reading lamp every night. Even though she never sat there.

“This…is weird,” Margaret said as Dottie plated a dessert and a half and gave it to her. “There’s ramen in this?”

“Yes.” Dottie went on to describe how she fried the ramen noodle brick in a skillet. How the noodles turned brown and crispy, like those odd chow mein noodles their mother used to serve with canned chop suey. How Dottie ate one, and it was like a spaghetti-shaped potato chip.

As girls, Dottie and Margaret loved the canned chop suey. Their father hated it, and so their mother always made it as a special treat when he was away on business. For dessert, her mother slid a frozen banana cream pie out of a box, then sliced it. Her father hated the pie too. Dottie hadn’t had these in years. She made a mental note to look for each item on her next trip to the grocery store.

After pouring coffee in the special Italian mugs, they each gathered a forkful of dessert into their mouths. They crunched together. Margaret delicately dabbed a bit of hot fudge sauce from the corner of her mouth.

“It’s weird, but good!” she said.

Dottie agreed.

They alternated bites with sips of coffee and with memories of home pulled up by the flavors. Mom and Dad and several of their neighbors dancing to music on the new console, delivered that day and the first in their subdivision. The record player had a special arm that held multiple records up, dropping them one by one onto the rotating platter. The music that came out of the speakers was lovely, but more fascinating was watching the needle’s steady ride inward over the grooves, the arm pulling up, a new record plunking down, and then it all started again. Their parents didn’t even stop dancing. They just kept going, having faith that the music would last forever.

Through each scene remembered, Dottie and Margaret smacked their lips over the chemical sweetness of maraschino cherries, their teeth turning pink. The tender squash of bananas and the rubbery solidity of hot fudge. And there was the delicate snap of the fried ramen noodles between their teeth. Their voices alternately clogged and cleared as they chewed and swallowed, and their laughter at times made them choke. Margaret, totally undone, lifted her plate and licked it clean. Dottie, first aghast, tried swiping up the remains with a finger, but then gave in and licked her plate too. Their girlhood reflected in their tongued clean plates.

After carrying their dishes into the kitchen, Margaret and Dottie hugged at the front door. “So,” Margaret said. “You seem okay.  Are you okay?”

Dottie shrugged. “Most of the time, I am.” But her eyes filled.

They hugged again.

Dottie locked the door behind Margaret. She left Gavin’s reading light on. The others, she switched off. She darkened the kitchen as well after starting the dishwasher. It took four days now to earn enough dishes to run it. For a moment, she appreciated the steady rhythm of the jets, filling her kitchen with ocean sounds and lemon scent.

As she left the kitchen, she slowly trailed her fingers over Gavin’s placemat. Then she took a glass of wine with her to the family room, where she settled down in her recliner with her book. Here, she didn’t need the stack to prop the book at reading height. Her raised knees did it for her.

She found herself content in this quiet, with the ocean a kitchen away. She felt she could hear the echo of her laughter with her sister, whisping in from the living room. She could still smell the frying ramen, and the new sharp of onion. Beneath that, still detectable, there was the sound of the family room television and Gavin’s steady commentary, even though the television was turned off and his recliner’s footrest was neatly tucked in.

But she was content, despite the tears that swelled earlier. And swelled again now.

She wondered if it was too soon.

*          *          *

THURSDAY SNACK: Mix together two packages of uncooked broken ramen noodles, two cups Chex cereal, and one cup each pretzels and peanuts. Melt a cup of butter and stir in one teaspoon season salt and one tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.  Pour over the noodles and cereal mixture, stirring well. Bake in 250 degree oven for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes.  Cool and serve.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, Dottie took a bowl of her new ramen noodle snack out onto the back stoop. She also carried a glass of iced tea, fresh-brewed, complete with a few squirts of juice from a plastic lemon and a generous helping of sugar.

For her snacktime, Dottie didn’t require a book. She liked the back stoop, the view of her yard, the trees in their varying styles of dress. Only the coldest days kept Dottie indoors, and then she sat at a table by a window, so she could still see the yard. During that frigid season, the trees were draped in white and sparkled with ice, but the green always shining through promised spring. Dottie liked to think that’s why the trees were called evergreens; they embodied hope.

It wasn’t snowy now, though, but just the beginning of the lackluster heat of summer. Dottie kicked off her sandals and wiggled her toes against the coolness of the concrete steps.

During weekends and school breaks, her children sometimes joined her here. After retirement, Gavin did as well. But Dottie thought of it as a solitary place and so to be alone here felt routine and familiar.

Not all that was familiar was routine anymore. Normalcy, she knew, was seeping into the rest of her new life as well. A new normal that was not hoped for, not dreamed of, and certainly not welcomed. But it came along anyway.

Dottie used her finger to stir the snack in the bowl. She filled her fist full, trying to get an even assortment of noodles, cereal, peanuts and pretzels, and she siphoned it into her mouth.

As everything snapped and popped between her teeth, giving off random bursts of flavor and salt and Worcestershire, she let her eyes rove the yard. In the center, there used to be a swingset. There were still two bare oblong spots where the kids spiked their toes to gain momentum and height, where they dragged their heels to stop. In the back left corner was her vegetable garden. Gavin tilled it at the start of spring, then died several weeks later. She hadn’t planted. She wasn’t sure then that she was strong enough to handle a garden on her own. The separating of dirt, the placement of plants and seeds. The constant weeding and watering. The harvest and the putting up. Now, in this new familiar, she knew she was okay. Even when her eyes filled. But it was too late, and she would have to wait until next spring, when she would look at that plot of ground and see a new sort of anniversary. She wondered if there were anniversaries around death dates. She thought she would take herself, alone, out to dinner at a fine restaurant on that night. Just as she and Gavin did for years, for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and every Saturday.

In the other corner of the yard and along the sides of the fence were her flowers. Many of them were perennials and so they grew and bloomed without her, though she started offering up some care again. But the annuals, the marigolds, the pansies, the begonias, were missing. She never made it to the garden center. Now they were all sold out. Like the vegetables, they would wait until next year.

Dottie took a sip of tea, another handful of her mix.

The trees were a riot of summertime green. From some, pine cones drooped. Dottie thought they looked like her breasts when she took off her bra at night. The thought made her laugh. She wished she could share the thought and the laugh with Gavin.  She and he would dovetail.

She wished he was there.

But he wasn’t. He hadn’t been since spring. And Dottie was moving into a new season.

She made a mental note to tell her sister about the pine cones and then she stirred through her bowl again. This time, she tried to get only the ramen noodles. She pushed aside the squares of cereal, the pretzel twists and the peanuts. A pile of curlicues, browned by heat and Worcestershire sauce, mounded in the belly of her bowl. Dottie scooped up the noodles, and bit into them, enjoying the percussion. Then she swirled the mix all together again, and finished it off, alternating with sips of her sweet iced tea.

Pushing herself up, Dottie gathered this new familiarity around her and prepared to go back inside. She would call her sister, and maybe her daughter too. They could laugh over the pine cones and her daughter just might gasp at the ramen snack digesting in her mother’s ample belly. Dottie would assure her she had orange juice at breakfast. And that she was preparing one of Gavin’s favorite meals for supper.

A braised pork chop. A leafy salad, topped with cucumber, the flirt of cherry tomatoes, and the special croutons that Dottie made herself. The dressing too, parmesan ranch. A side of green beans, laced with sliced almonds. Italian bread, warm, thick with butter.

But Dottie decided she wouldn’t tell her daughter that she replaced the sliced almonds in the green beans with the crunch of fried ramen. She wouldn’t tell her daughter that she planned on having chili ramen soup tomorrow for lunch, complete with two sliced-up hot dogs popping up like porky life preservers in a red and noodly sea.

She would tell her sister. She’d also tell her that there was canned chop suey in the cupboard, along with chow mein noodles, and a boxed banana cream pie in the freezer. She might even invite her sister over for dinner. Dottie could put on the radio, they could find an oldies station, and they could dance to the songs their parents danced to. They could giggle.

Dottie missed her husband. Even as she let the screen door squeak closed behind her, she wished she heard his voice, asking if that was her, even though he knew very well it was. She wished she could go in and find him in his reading chair, and she wished she could plaster a waxy lipstick kiss on the top of his head.

But it was all right. She could still hear him as this new silence enveloped her and became the familiar of years. His echo blended in with those who were still here, their daughter’s voice on the phone expressing alarm over sodium, her sister’s voice on the couch as they laughed over memories. Dottie was safe. There was a good book to read. Dinner to prepare. A glass of wine to savor.

She missed him. She was content. She was safe and okay, even when her eyes filled.

It wasn’t too soon at all.


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It began with fish.  One sulky, rainy afternoon, a man walked into my store and asked if he could order fifty live salmon. Dressed in leather duds, he was short, square-jawed, dark-skinned, with long grey hair and a creased face. He was ancient.  A silver hoop dangled from his huge earlobe that reminded me of my grandmother’s. She used to tug at her ears when she told horror stories about WWII and the concentration camp, where she had been discovered on a pile of rotting corpses by an American soldier.  When she died, her ears were as large and floppy as burdock leaves.

As a store-owner and an immigrant living in Virginia for the past twenty years, I was used to seeing all kinds of odd customers. There were mostly people like me, expatriates from the former Soviet Republics or other … Continue reading

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My dad and his replacement family lived on the banks of a Lake Erie tributary, in a lopsided old house near the dead-end of a winding, mile-long dirt road. The house was too small and hot for eight his-and-her kids who resented each others’ presence for six weeks every year.

I preferred the outdoors, anyway.

Summers in Michigan were a crisp contrast of green trees against the dense blueness of sky, belying the sweltering heat. In Florida, where I really lived, I would trek miles in my flip-flops just to cool off in the municipal … Continue reading


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“She won’t stop referring to you as my roommate.”

Sandy adjusted her purple headband until it rested evenly upon her dusty, short-cropped hair. There was a long silence in the room as she scrutinized herself in the mirror and picked at a tiny piece of dry skin that hung from the tip of her nose. Mariah admired the shape of Sandy’s pea-sized nose and the way it pointed up at attention like a tiny soldier. It was one of the first things she noticed about her. “It’s as if we never even had the conversation,” said Sandy, who had stopped fidgeting. She looked herself over and sighed, as she often did in front of the mirror. “I shouldn’t have told her over the phone. I should have waited.”
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Demington’s Dream

By Mark SaFranko,

Demington had been dreaming the dream, in one form or another, for as long as he could remember. The action was always extensive and complicated, as it usually is in dreams, but the principals were always himself and his wife, Morgan. All manner of things happened inside his personal nighttime movie: sometimes he was lost on the highway in his car, or he was about to run out of fuel, or the road was slick with ice or snow and he panicked … Continue reading

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By Allan Drew,

Andy and Dad always stopped off at the church before going fishing. Andy looked through the window as they crunched over the gravel, and waved to the man inside.

Pastor Cunningham sold tackle and bait and rods from a room at the side of the church, even on Sunday mornings, and even when it was still dark. He would read the Bible with his feet up. He opened his shop half an hour before dawn — even on Christmas and at Easter — according to sunrise times listed in the Kaipara Harbour Fisherman’s Handbook, which he put together himself each summer using the photocopier in the Church office.

… Continue reading

A Feral Queen

By John Minichillo,

Sue Ellen knew a healthy fear of dinosaurs and bumblebees. Dinosaurs populated her nightmares, where they turned up in miniature, like squat dogs that bit at her legs with pointed teeth. They foamed at the mouth, hungry for her, and when Sue Ellen’s mother tucked her in and told her to pray, the word she heard was “prey,” and she hoped her limbic system had already fallen asleep, the place her father called the seat of her fears. Dinosaurs weren’t real, she … Continue reading

No Further Questions

By Matthew Vollmer,

Had the attorney asked me, on the day that I took the stand, how long I’d known my friend Wayne, I probably would’ve said, “as long as I can remember.” We’d both attended a Seventh-day Adventist elementary school in southwestern North Carolina: a three-story A-frame on a terraced hill overlooking a rusty playground and a church parking lot. I wonder now—supposing I’d been given the chance that day I spoke on his behalf—whether I could’ve adequately characterized my friendship with Chris, a kid who, during … Continue reading

Borrow Pits

By Laura Gabel-Hartman,

The upside to staying with Mrs. Byrd would be Florida. Eleanor had never been to Florida. She saw herself on a white sand beach among palm trees, flamingos, and armadillos. In the news recently an alligator had poached a toddler from a backyard, and in her imagination, alligators crisscrossed the state, lumbering free.

The reason for the trip was that her mother Jennifer had a conference there and had arranged for Eleanor to fly … Continue reading