That morning Cristina’s husband Charley brings her breakfast from the Diner,  gray hair tufting from under his ball cap as he hands her the bag with an egg and cheese sandwich.

“Why aren’t you coming again?” she asks as she unwraps it. 

“Off to provide another goddamn eight hours of superior customer service,” he says. That's been his life: jobs with name tags and aprons, jobs where the dickhead customer’s always right. 

“Make sure you eat before you leave,” he goes on. “Give my best to her family.” 

“Not sure who’s even left.”

“Wasn’t for staffing issues, I’d be there.” He hands her napkins from his jacket pocket. 

“With everything she went through, I guess it all makes sense.” Cristina’s sigh holds him beside the door. “I’d just like to see her again, you know?” 

He kisses her forehead. “See you tonight Babe.”

Cristina bites the sandwich, tastes her breath, rinses her mouth with OJ. “Holy fuck Sammi,” she says.

Sammi: freckles and tomato hair, her curls like spaghetti tinsel. “Speckled Sammi,” the mean girls called her. All curves and softness, like a pillow, but when she hugged you, she meant it, she squeezed. Back then it was Cristina and Sammi, hip to hip through the halls of Daleborough High. Nicotine hair and Newports tucked in their jean jackets.

Cristina brings her phone outside where they have reception. The tire swing in the neighbor’s yard is like the one they rode at Sammi’s while they waited for the bus: overjoyed, legs splayed, after wine coolers for breakfast; their moms absent, September sky like a musty blanket.

 Her hands tremble as she makes the call. 

“Yes, one PM,” Mr. Herman says. “Light refreshments after. The information’s on the website.”

“Will there be a viewing? Can you tell me that?”

“There will not. The family chose cremation.”

While Cristina pulls on her best blouse and jeans, slicks back her hair, Pandora plays Quarterflash, Heart, The Pretenders. She arranges her nips on the bureau, hums along, punches the air to punctuate the choruses. Imagines Sammi’s ashes crossing the country in a jet, limo transporting the urn from Logan with a police escort. Blue lights, music blasting.

Music was Sammi’s wine cooler buzz, pink fog fizz. They rode with “Shadows of the Night” on the radio, Sammi’s voice cracking at the top of her range, stubby arms waving as if commanding a back seat band; Cristina, the better drunk driver, behind the wheel. “Midnight angel, won’t you say you will?” All night Sammi was thinking of Matty Cryans, her cheeks red, forehead glistening, everything in her mind with a heart scrawled across it, “Sammi loves Matty.”

Matty was skinny, long eyelashes over moist blue eyes. Gawky, shy, thick shag of blond. 

“He's my number-two pencil," Sammi told everyone, “long and straight. Girls think he's dumb because he’s quiet, but he’s always observing. He saves his thoughts for nighttime and brings them home to me.”

Were they twenty-three when it started? One Friday Cristina invited Matty over for supper, while Sammi worked a double and Charley was away. When Cristina pulled him onto the bed Matty’s wet eyes filled with questions, but he hardened as soon as she unzipped him.

“But what about Sammi?” he said, as she mouthed his dick. “What about Sammi?” as she climbed on top, settled onto him, “But Sammi,” wincing first until she bounced, bounced, and shoot made sure he came inside before she fell off (he was crying now) and went to wash his mess out of her.

Cristina’s jacket smells like cigarettes, its inside pockets packed with nips. While she waits for the taxi she slips into her neighbor’s garden and breaks off four lilies, wraps them in tissue.

The taxi drops her at the corner of Crawford and Elm, next to the building where Sammi lived after everything blew up. Cristina slides the lilies in her pocket, pats her hair, remembers visiting before Sammi ditched them all and moved out West.

“Just listen Sammi,” Cristina told her.In the doorway Sammi blew cigarette smoke in Cristina’s face, her fist on her hip. “Why.”

“We need to talk.”

“Matty’s not here anymore.” She turned, flipped the butt off Cristina’s shoulder. “Leave me alone you greasy bitch.”

In the back row at Herman’s Funeral Home Cristina looks at the program, Sammi Cryans, 1967-2018, with a Psalm printed inside.

There’s a lectern, flowers and two big pictures up front: Sammi in lopsided pigtails, riding a tricycle; forty-something Sammi with some guy beside a Christmas tree, flannel shirt, curls chopped, pupils pinned, high as fuck.

After the hometown bridges have been neglected, burned, bombed, what’s left are aunties, a lonely cousin, a drunk former friend in the back corner. Three speakers: the pastor; Aunt Ellen, trembling; a former coworker. Stories about kid Sammi gobbling graham crackers; smoke breaks at her old job.

Finally Cristina can’t stand anymore. She stumbles out, lilies in her fist, past a lady in a hairnet beside the door crying into a napkin. 

She walks outside, head swimming. She already knows how it’ll end. Read The Lord is my shepherd, hallowed art thy name. Claim it was Sammi’s favorite scripture, as if she fucking had a favorite. Talk about her “troubles,” say something about God’s wisdom; describe a peaceful rest, free of pain. No mention of tire swings or Matty Cryans or her fierce, ragged heart.

How long has it taken her to walk home? Her face is flushed, jacket loose, thistle sticking to her jeans after she plunges through the brush into the driveway to find Charley standing outside with his phone, ball cap pulled low.

“It was a mistake,” she says, “the whole day was a farce,” she says, “it’s not fair, we’re too young,” shivering as Charley wraps his arm around her and Sammi’s lilies and helps her inside. 

Continue Reading...


We remember the shy teenager who visited aunts and uncles with a novel and a piece of knitting.  The adult in an over-sized sweater, huddled in a corner over a cup of tea.

Though separated by ten years we had similar interests and for a time considered ourselves creative people.

We always meant to collaborate.  What happened?


Especially now I feel you may have insight to offer.  Wisdom from a place unknown to the rest of us.

Thus enclosed find a few ideas.  Feel free to alter them in any way.  Merge your memories. Melt your vision over mine like caramel over an apple.


Our story about a brother and sister.  Begin as children, the brother thirteen, the sister three, sitting in his lap with a book.  Enchanted castles, blue cheerful moons, talking animals, silver stars shining. His eyes on the page, her head tilted to watch him as he reads.

A sense of trust.  A sharing of words and imagination.  Her then soft hand on his knee. Her shaking laughter, curls bouncing, when he mimics the animal sounds.


We must allow ourselves to make brave mistakes.  There will be opportunities for lyricism. There should be a place for deep feeling.


Her heart.  A condition she was born with.  Poor circulation; its inefficiency.  Later this might be a metaphor for other things.

The essay she writes in her single semester at UVM, detested by her sour coven of dormmates.  Her brother tries first to bully her into believing it isn’t any good. We must tell it from her side.  Stress its shimmering quietude. Its common sense and strength.


Sister, while you consider this know also that Uncle Fred and Aunt Josie miss you terribly.  Mother awaits word. She sits near the phone while looking out the kitchen window. Lights a candle; listens for the wind.


In our story perhaps the brother finds for a time a female companion.  Jittery, frail, tongue-tied with strangers, his hands fluttering birds—yet still.  The family at a loss how to explain his good fortune. Sensitive to his sister’s loneliness, when he calls he tries not to sound giddy.

It would be realistic to write a scene after the brother’s companion breaks it off.  The sister is called, a sobbing message left. He mangles and repeats the phrase, But I didn’t do anything wrong.  The words likely unintelligible due to the sobbing, though he’ll never know if his sister listens.  Or if she does whether able to understand.


The sister calls some months later.

“I’m sorry but I can’t be there.  Seeing Mom now makes me crazy. I have to get away.”

“Away” is a series of apartments in towns no further than an hour distant.  “Away” is a bedroom to which she returns after work to read and knit, as a wind rattles the windows.

On long winter nights she masters a variety of stitches.  Cabled, seed, herringbone. Waffled, cross, garter, farrow.  Dreams of the undulating line formed by a succession of purls; knit stitches in mounded V’s.


Little Sister, as you read these understand we’re trying everything.  Mother’s idea to spend time in your favorite places. At the Reading Room in the Prescott Library; on the bench next to the birdbath; along the winding path through mother’s birches where we try not to imagine you as a fallen leaf fading into the forest floor.


The sense of dislocation, a misplacing of years, when the older brother at last visits one of her apartments.  After not having seen or spoken to her. She has called because she needs money. Her building is dark, shabby; the apartment cramped.  Around the living room saucers with crumbs and saucy smears. Empty wine bottles under an end table with cracked legs.

“I’m working again.”

“I’m glad to hear.”

She asks, “Are you still at the office?”


“Do you still hate it?”

He spends at most an hour.  The sister is experiencing various ailments and takes miscellaneous prescriptions.  She wears several sweaters. Her hair is gray at the temples though she is twenty-eight.  The brother’s hair entirely white.

“The blue and white pills are for my heart.  They regulate the pulse.”

“What are the yellow ones for?”


Her skin a pellucid blue the paleness of water-reflected moonlight.

“Do they help?”



Had we known your heart was as serious.  We worried but didn’t know it was worse than suspected.

We swear we would’ve been there to put our arms around you.


Near the end of our story he runs into his sister at an outdoor event.  She wears a paisley blouse and skirt; she is drunk, perhaps high. Hair short, wrists and shoulders tattooed, wearing sunglasses though rain threatens.  Her fingers sketch intangible shapes in the air. She is with an older man with a cane, shawl and silver medallion. He is charming, in fact riveting. The brother knows at once that they are involved.

The man’s handshake is firm.  “Ah, the brother. I’ve heard so much.”

After they part she watches her brother’s bent figure walk away.  “Bye now. See you never.”


Little Sister, we wonder about your modes of communication.  Mother’s clock that mysteriously stops and starts; inexplicable slamming doors; phenomena of other kinds.  We want to believe these are signs.

We can’t be sure the extent of the powers you’ve grown into.  We wonder by what hidden currents you’ll arrive, via what vivid strikes of multi-colored lightning.  Some of us are afraid but we feel sure you’ll make the attempt.


No reason for our story to conclude with her body in bed, limbs splayed, eyelids frozen open, tongue visible between parted lips.  But the family has read that approaching the final moment the dying sometimes experience an enveloping warmth and comfort. An immersion in an embracing light.  Perhaps later the opportunity to reach out for those left behind. Little Sister, please don’t tell us we’ve heard it wrong.




Continue Reading...