Delmarva Review Fiction: American Dream by Mark Jacobs

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Nothing that happened the night Nelson killed the raven was funny. Especially not what happened to me. Started happening, I should say. The mystery was why I kept laughing. I thought if I figured that out, I would know what I was supposed to do. For the record, Nelson did not mean to kill the bird.

Nelson Pacheco was the Hilltoppers’ catcher. He was having a terrific season, batting .285 and making some killer plays at the plate. Somehow he managed to connect with a vicious curve ball delivered by the opposing pitcher. The ball popped up over the third-base dugout at the exact moment the bird happened by. They collided, the bird came down dead, a few morons in the stands laughed, and the ump called a time-out. Everybody thought it was a crow, me included. But there was some sort of professor at the game that night. He recognized the dead bird for what it was. Eventually the play-by-play guy announced it wasn’t a crow, and the ump hollered play ball. Our guys went on to win by a run and hold on to second place in the standings.

From what I read, later on, we didn’t have all that many ravens in our area. Knocking them off with foul balls couldn’t help.

I loved baseball. I loved our stadium. It sat on a hill on the west edge of the city, and from just about any seat in the place you had a knock-out view of the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance. Summer nights, the sun going down softened the scenery. It glowed, and the glow made you feel like you had stumbled into a significant moment. You sat there sipping a cold brew as your eye swept from infield to outfield, over to the scoreboard and up over the fence to the trees, and finally to the mountains in the distance. You wished you could stop time because there it was, right in front of you, the American Dream.

Nelson, the catcher, was living in our basement, in Pete’s old room. Single A ball did not pay much, unless you had a signing bonus. In that case nobody expected you to stick around longthey bumped you up to a Double A or even a Triple A club pretty much overnight. One way the players got by was living with families when they were in town. Most of the host families were pretty well off. Realtors, car dealers, that kind of person. The guys who stayed with them had a good thing going. A big comfortable room of their own, sometimes a private apartment. Nelson did not have it that good, staying with us. I was a welder. My wife worked at Big Lots. Luck of the draw, Nelson’s and mine. Ginny Elizabeth and I tried to make up for not living in a showplace by feeding the hell out of our ballplayers.

We had been hosting players a long time. We got free season tickets out of the deal, but that was not the reason we did it. My wife liked baseball, although not the way I did. It had something to do with the solid feeling you got, making a contribution. In my experience, most people like doing something generous. No one puts a gun to their head to force them to do it.

The night Nelson killed the raven, Ginny Elizabeth was out playing spit-in-the-bucket with her friends, but our daughter, Carrie, came with me. That surprised me, her wanting to see the game. From Carrie’s point of view, baseball was nothing but embarrassment. It meant a strange guy staying in the windowless room her brother fixed up for himself in the basement back when he was a teenager and wanted to get away from us. She knew how the other host families lived. But she was a month away from turning eighteen, and there was not much I understood about her, so when she said she was coming with me, all I said was Great. In the bottom of the second inning, she got a text from a friend on the other side of the stadium and moved away to sit with her.

After the game, I went looking for her. Found her where I did not expect to. She was down on the field staring at Nelson. He was swinging a bat with a doughnut on it like he was warming up. He was staring back at her.

That was all it took. What made fathers so dense? My daughter was growing into her looks. She was not the kind of girl you were going to see on a magazine cover, but there was a freshness about her. Ginny Elizabeth said Carrie was earnest, and earnest was attractive. After a three-month bout with blue, she had let her mother’s wonderful auburn hair grow out again the way it wanted to. The pouty air she had been cultivating through her senior year bugged the hell out of me, but I knew better than to make a big deal out of it. And I was not naïveI also knew it had something to do with sex.

“You going home with me?”

I was talking to both of them. I guess this is the place to say that Nelson was from the Dominican Republic and spoke English with a pretty heavy accent. And had brown skin. People are going to climb all over me for mentioning that. All I can say is, it was relevant.

“Thanks, Mr. Boggs,” he said. “I’m going out with the guys. Home later.” He dug in his pocket and brought out a key ring with a neon orange fish head, held it up. Ginny Elizabeth had given him a house key once we decided we trusted him.

He smiled. It was a smile you could imagine seeing on a baseball card some day. He was handsome in a sports-hero way.

The ride home with Carrie was not one of my finer moments.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.


“What am I thinking?”

“That me and Nelson are going to…do something.”


I won’t repeat everything we said. My part came down to, Nelson was too old for her and wasn’t going to be around anyway. Her part was accusing me of being a racist.

“He’s living in our house,” I said. “He sits at our table. Tell me what’s racist about that.”

She pounded the dashboard in frustration. It was her way of telling me I didn’t get it. At home she flounced off, made herself scarce. I watched a little TV then went to bed. Six a.m. came early. By the time Ginny Elizabeth came to bed, I was sawing serious wood.

It must have been fatherly intuition that woke me in the middle of the night and sent me to the window. When I looked out, there was my daughter dancing with Nelson on the flagstone patio I’d laid myself three years ago. Dancing, and no music. There wasn’t much light, either, just a couple of lanterns on the picnic table.

Ginny Elizabeth sat up in bed and said What’s wrong, Patterson? I didn’t answer. I tore downstairs and outside and broke up the dance party. To his credit, Nelson knew he had crossed a line. He hung his head. Meantime, Carrie was furious, spouting every kind of nonsense about me not trusting her and her having the right to live her own life and…fill in the blanks based on your own experience.

“Get out of my house,” I said to Nelson.

It was two o’clock in the a.m. He had no car. There were no buses in our neighborhood. He might or might not have had enough cash on him to cover a hotel room. But he went.

“You’re mean,” my daughter moaned when he was gone. “You’re a racist pig.”

Well, I was mad, but I took it. What choice did I have? Harder to take was Ginny Elizabeth’s analysis of the evening’s events. She said I overreacted. After a while, I put a pillow over my head and did my best to sleep.

At Cushman Machine & Welding the next morning, my head was pounding like it used to when I drank too much and got hangovers. Not enough sleepit brings out the darkness in a new day. My friend Randy Bullock and I were working on a rush job for the foreman. The customer had invented a machine for sorting gravel by size. The novelty was how the shaker connected to and moved the sorter tray. He needed a working model to try and sell the idea. It was a kick-ass concept, and normally I would have enjoyed working on it. But the incident with Carrie and Nelson had me rattled.

“It’s simple,” said Randy.

For Randy, everything was simple. He spent way too much time listening to the hotheads on talk radio. There was gray in his beard now, and he’d been walking with a limp since he took a spill on his brand-new Yamaha, taking a curve on one of those mountain roads meant for scenic cruises, not daredevil bikers past their riding prime. He lifted his mask and prepared to lecture me.

“This country was started by guys with names like Patterson Boggs and Randy Bullock. Am I right or am I right? They’re turning it into a country that caters to guys with names like Nelson Pacheco and Ali Baba. They sneak over the border and look for a sign called Easy Street. They park their ass and stick out their hand. Before you and me are in our graves, they’ll outnumber us, and the whole thing is over.”

My friend’s immigration theory did not make me feel better. I did not regret throwing Nelson out of the house. He had betrayed my trust. But I liked the guy. And now it was going to be hell, getting through the rest of the summer with Carrie. In the fall, if everything went the way it was supposed to, she started college. To make that happen, Ginny Elizabeth and I were taking out a humongous loan. Which, be it said, we were more than happy to do. I didn’t give a shit what she studied as long as she studied.

After work, I drove to Hilltoppers Stadium and hunted up Will Abbott. Will handled community relations for the team, including which players stayed with which host families. I found him in the grass outside his office having a smoke. He was a long drink of water with hands like grandma’s spaghetti bowls. Way back when, he used to play third base for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Never made it to the big leagues but handled defeat better than most of them. He was leathery now. The baseball life will do that to a person’s skin.

When I filled him in, he shook his head, let out a mouthful of smoke. His voice rumbled like a gravel sorter. “Too bad. Pacheco is a decent kid. But they know the rules. No fraternizing. Never mind, I’ll find someplace for him to stay.”

“Ginny Elizabeth and me, we’re happy to take another guy.”

He shook his head. I didn’t know what that meant. He told me, “‘Course, you hear this all the time.”

“Hear what?”

“Guy’s got a future in the game.”


“You got scouts looking at him?”


He wouldn’t say much more. Team management held that kind of information pretty close to the chest. They had their reasons. But it stabbed me in a soft place, thinking about Nelson moving up. He had a consistently hot bat, he had the command of the field of play a catcher had to have. It would be sensational to watch a ball player who had eaten your meatloaf and mashed potatoes rise through the ranks. Nobody that stayed with us ever got beyond Double A. The best was, one time a guy they called Skinny Pockets hit a grand slam in a playoff game while he was with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

Driving home, I kind of wished I hadn’t kicked Nelson out of our house. Not so much because he might make it to the bigs but because, as a person, he was one of the nicest we ever hosted. Polite, soft-spoken, and you got the impression he didn’t mind a bit staying in a welder’s basement. But by the time I pulled into the driveway I was facing a fact I did not particularly want to face.

Think of it as a movie trailer, and here’s the plot: Dominican kid makes it to the majors. Bam, he’s a star, a fence buster with a slugging percentage to die for. The baseball world gushes, look at those XBH numbers. Cameras follow him home, where his young wife is waiting to hug him. Welcome home, sweetie. She’s got stunning auburn hair. A couple of kids are horsing around in the yard. They’ve got light tan skin, a color a lot of people considered cool.

Watching the trailer, feeling a twinge when the ball player’s wife hugged him. Did that make me a racist?

The team was away for a three-day series against the Mosby Raiders. At home, we managed to keep the peace by talking about anything that wasn’t Nelson Pacheco. Carrie went around the house looking like I had run over her dogon purposebut if I asked her a question she answered, and I figured time would smooth things out.

Wrong again.

The next home game, I told Ginny Elizabeth I’d meet her at the stadium and went early. I had no plan, only a hunch. I ate a hot dog and watched the team warm up. There wasn’t much of a crowd. The weather was hot and muggy, and our guys were playing the team in the cellar, who played like ice hockey was their sport. Not much drama.

My brain took notice of the atmospheric conditions. It slowed down, the way you imagine a bear’s brain does in hibernation. Ginny Elizabeth texted me that she was taking an overtime shift at the store. In all the years we’ve been together, neither of us has ever said no to overtime. That’s part of the American Dream, too, but don’t ask me to explain how, it just is.

So I watched the game by myself. Nelson had another good one, smacking a three-run homer. He also made an impossible catch at the plate, body stretched out like a ballerina’s, foot on the bag. Out. It felt strange, cheering my lungs out for a guy I had booted out of my house. Live an adult life long enough and you’re guaranteed to feel something similar.

After the game, the guidance from my slow brain was to stick around and spy. Aye-aye, Captain. I stuck. What I spied was Nelson getting into Carrie’s car and the two of them driving off laughing like a couple of hyenas. He’s only nineteen and a half, she had huffed once in a moment of exasperation. Meaning not too old for her.

I could have followed them. I didn’t. Not because my noble nature stopped me. Hill City was small by anybody’s yardstick.

First time Carrie looked in the rear-view mirror, she would see my F-150, which was both old and purple. Also, I thought I might do something stupid if I caught up to them. If I was going to do something stupid, it needed advance planning.

All the planning I was capable of that night was getting smashed, something I had not done in maybe ten years. That was the one drawback to Ginny Elizabeth’s overtime shift. It left me alone. I found the bottle of Jack we kept for company and did some major-league damage to it. I fell asleep on the couch. When Ginny Elizabeth got home from work, she shook me awake and told me I smelled like a brewery. She meant distillery. I didn’t correct her.

I paid for it, next day at work. Randy and I were really pushing to get the gravel-sorter done on time. That morning, however, I did not hold up my end. Which Randy found highly entertaining. His color commentary made my head pound worse. He kept yakking on that I had to have it out with Nelson. The kid had to know there would be consequences if he didn’t leave my daughter alone.

“What about Carrie?” I said.

“Ginny Elizabeth is talking to her.”


“What makes you so sure?”


“What makes you so dumb?”


Everything was worse because I had drunk the Jack with Coke. On the rocks would have been smarter.

That was when I started laughing. I had no idea why. Randy gave me a look like I was going soft in the head. When we pulled our masks down and went back to work, I was still smiling.

I laughed when Ginny Elizabeth told me Carrie was AWOL.

“What’s funny about that, Patterson?”


We had been together a long time, since two years before we got married. We sagged more than we used to. We told old stories. We saw more yesterday than tomorrow in each other’s faces. None of that was bad, it only meant we had to be deliberate in the way we touched each other.

She asked me again what was funny.

“The situation, I guess.”


She shook her head. I didn’t understand me any better than she did.

Carrie was working at the Sonic on Ward’s Road for the summer. She left a voicemail on our land line saying she was calling in sick and, by the way, she was thinking about taking a year off before college. Rich kids did it all the time. They called it their gap year. There was no law said you had to be rich to do that, was there?

The message hit both of us hard. At that point, we’d have broken our arms and legs and whistled Black Sabbath tunes in a nudist colony if it meant she went to college. We were devastated. And she wouldn’t pick up her phone, she wouldn’t answer her mother’s texts. The night was long.

“She’s in Keysburg,” I said.


“Not necessarily.”


“Count on it.”


“Then why are you laughing?”


“I’m cracking up. In a good way, maybe.”


The Hilltoppers were playing an away game against the

Keysburg Mighty Mice. A two-hour drive. The question was whether Carrie came home that night.

She did not.

Next morning at work, Randy told me it was time to play hardball.

“He’s a catcher,” I pointed out.

“But is he a U.S. citizen? Call the border cops. ICE, they call ‘em. I seen it on the backs of their jackets on the news. If he ain’t a citizen they can deport his ass right back to Taco Land.”

“You’re a piece a work,” I told him.

Which was objectively true. My friend and workmate was three times divorced. He believed he was sexy, down to the Colt .45 tattooed on his butt. He drank too much and thought too little. His favorite sport was telling me how to run my life.

The upshot of Randy telling me I had to do something about Nelson Pacheco was I spent the rest of the day building up a scenario in my mind where I had it out with the guy. You know how you can get carried away with an idea? I got lost in mine. Sometimes the scenario ended in violence. Sometimes it ended in tragedy, and sometimes it was black and bitter. But no matter how it played out, the scenario had me stalking the kid, tracking him down.

So it threw me that afternoon when he showed up at Cushman. Lisa, the secretary, strolled out to the work floor to tell me there was a Spanish guy outside wanted to see me. This was no sacrifice on her part. She came out on the floor on any flimsy excuse so the guys had ample opportunity to ogle her in her clean dress, her red shoes, sashaying across the crowded space where we did our dirty work.

“Now’s your chance,” Randy told me. He was looking up the ICE phone number on his phone.

“Forget it,” I told him.

“What do you mean, forget it? And what’s so funny?”


I found Nelson in the parking lot leaning against a red Hyundai he had borrowed from somebody. He was calm and cool, just like an innocent man. I asked him what he was doing there.

“I want to explain something.”

“I don’t give a damn what you want,” I told him, which was a lie. I really did want to hear what he had to say. I thought for a second about pleading with him to leave my daughter alone so she would go to Lynchburg College like she was supposed to. But the picture in my mind of me begging him was so pathetic I couldn’t open my mouth to try.

“It’s me, isn’t it?” he said.

“What’s you?”


“The way I look.”

“You look like a catcher. You’ve got the ideal build to play the position.”

He shook his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“The end of August, Carrie goes to college.”


“I know. She wants to study Spanish.”


“That’s news to me.”

“I don’t get why you’re laughing,” he said. His tone of voice was respectful. “It’s like you are full of anger and laughing at the same time.”

I was beginning to understand why that was happening. He was the last person I was going to explain it to.

“Last night,” I said.

He waved at me, not like I didn’t matter but like he was giving me his blessing, which of course he had no right to even think about doing. But that was all it took. It came to me on a silver plate, shining and new. From here on out, I had no control over what my daughter chose to do. That part of our life together was over.

“I won’t talk about last night, Mr. Boggs.”

I had two choices: tell him to fuck off, or turn around and go back to work. I turned around and walked away.

“Wait, please.”


I stopped. I waited.


“I grew in a place called La Vega.”


He meant grew up; that was okay.


“We played a lot of baseball. Two years ago, a scout showed up. His name was Moseley. He brought me here.”

“So?”

“Before I got on the airplane, he told me something muy importante.”

Saying the Spanish words was like taunting me. That was okay, too.

“Moseley was black. African American. He told me here in this country you have to go into every situation expecting to be treated bad. But at the same time, you must keep an open mind.”  

“An open mind about what?”

“There might be a situation where the color of your skin don’t matter. If that happens, you take advantage of it. I just want a shot, Mr. Boggs. If they give me a shot, I can make it.”

That was it. All there was to say on both sides. He was behind the wheel of his borrowed car before I was halfway across the lot. Then I had to put up with more of Randy’s foaming nonsense. He had the ICE number up on the screen of his phone. His thumb, the one with a mangled nail thanks to a claw hammer and too many schnapps, was poised, ready to punch it. There was more like that until we finished the shift, lots more. But I had the laughing figured out.

I went to the next Hilltoppers game by myself. Since Carrie had come back from Keysburg, there was not a lot of conversation going on around home. Ginny Elizabeth had already figured out what took me longer to tumble to, that the girl was making her own decisions. But at that point none of us could take on a conversation about what came next.

We were playing the James City Night Hawks. The two teams had been neck and neck all season. This game mattered. If we beat the Night Hawks, we elbowed them out of first place. And there was another reason the game was significant. Scouts.

There were half a dozen of them in the stands behind home plate with their clipboards and velocity guns, their ground-out- to-fly-out ratios, their bequeathed runs scored numbers. I had mixed feelings about those guys. They were an important cog in the wheel of baseball, sure. But they were guessing, just like you and me. They had a certain power of death and life when it came to signing bonuses. Their recommendations to management carried weight. But often as not, they guessed wrong.

The Hilltoppers played a terrible game. By the end of inning four, they were trailing five zip. And Nelson’s game was horrendous. He whiffed every time he stepped to the plate, and behind it on defense he played like a Little Leaguer under psychological pressure from his asshole father yelling at him from the stands.

I felt bad for all concerned, but more for Nelson. Okay, it was not the only game where scouts showed up. And they had his stats. They knew good players had bad games. But if I had been one of those judges in short sleeves, I probably would have put a line through Nelson’s name and moved on to the next prospect.

I toyed with going over to where the scouts were sitting, engaging one of them in conversation, casually talking up the Hilltoppers catcher. But I was a nobody, and nobody was going to give me the time of day.

The game ended worse than it began. A botched double play in the eighth inning brought in three more James City runs, and we were humiliated, as in skunked. The scouts left at the end of the seventh, which I guess was some consolation. They didn’t see that double play disaster. On the other hand, they didn’t have to.

The stands emptied out, but a feeling of gloom kept me sitting there. I was done laughing for now. It turned out I had not been laughing at the situation after all. I was laughing at myself. Why? Because I was a crusty old dude with a bad attitude and no imagination. Because I’d been listening too hard to Randy Bullock for too long. Because I felt a chilly hand squeezing the secret space around my heart and decided the world was coming to an end. Because I didn’t know how to let my daughter go. Who wouldn’t laugh at a guy like that?

Eventually I stood up. I made my way to the parking lot, which had quickly emptied out. There was Carrie’s blue Focus, parked a couple of rows away from my truck. She was standing alongside the car, facing off against Nelson. I couldn’t not go up to them.

When I did, I saw tears in Nelson’s eyes. They were the tears of desolation. He knew exactly how bad he had looked to the scouts.  

The sun was going down over the Blue Ridge in a pale gleam that seemed like a promise, although I could not have said a promise of what.

Nelson said, “It’s over, Mr. Boggs.”

A squad of crows started up from a pine tree and flew across the parking lot in saw-tooth formation. At least I was pretty sure they were crows. As it happened, I had two twenties in the pocket of my jeans. I dug out the money and held it out to him.

“Buy Carrie some dinner.”

That was worth doing if only for the look of amazement on my daughter’s face. She said something that did not quite come out in words. The sound was like gargling with salt water. I was prejudiced, of course, but she was beautiful just then. The pouty look was gone.

Nelson cautiously took the money. “It was the worst game of my life.”

I nodded. No use pretending it wasn’t.

“It’s all over for me.”


But he was wrong about that, and I told him so.

“What you need to see, Nelson, is that it’s only beginning.”

I hoped he understood what I was driving at. Because what I had in mind was, you might say, muy importante. 

 

In addition to Delmarva Review, Mark Jacobs has published 133 stories in magazines, including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Baffler, and  The Iowa Review. His stories are forthcoming in several magazines, including The Hudson Review. He has published five books. Among them are A Handful of Kings (Simon and Shuster) and Stone Cowboy (Soho Press). Website: http://www.markjacobsauthor.com.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit the website: DelmarvaReview.org. Obtain print or digital editions at Amazon.com or Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford.

 

Delmarva Review: Cotton Mouth by Holly Karapetkova

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“And the field for cotton goods, that is every day enlarging, as
the East is answering to the impatient calls of commerce, gives
no prospect of a speedy check to this vast power of the produce
of the slave.”
⎯ A Carolinian, Slavery in the Southern States, 1852

Luck is a field
white as stars
in a sky of jade

harvest season
heads full of cotton
hands full of cotton

we dream of buds
aching green with envy
flaring their white

blossoms open at dawn
pink by sundown
then red

withering until
the bolls beneath
crack open

foaming white
this high cotton
we’re rolling in

our mouths
so full we choke
on our own spit

 

Holly Karapetkova’s poems and translations from the Bulgarian have recently appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Delmarva Review, and other publications. Her second book, Towline, won the Vern Rutsala Poetry Contest and was published by Cloudbank Books. She chairs the Literature and Languages Department at Marymount University. Her website is www.Karapetkova.com.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website: DelmarvaReview.org.

Delmarva Review: On Being Enough (or Paris M’a Libéré) by Abigail Johnson

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The morning dawned early and clear over the grey cobbled streets of Paris. Rosy golden sunlight crept over the tops of sleepy Parisian eaves, as I lay awake in my bunk, aware of the cold chill coming through my open windows. The pleasant noises of a city just were beginning to wake filtered through those windows. However, I had been woken up precisely at 6:55 a.m. not by those sounds, but by my iPhone softly playing one of my favorite folk songs, a tune laced with what I thought were the echoes of the most beautiful sorrow. A few minutes passed as I took in the beautiful chorus of a Paris morning, a smile reaching all the way down into my soul. My alarm suddenly sounded again, its biting yell worming its way through the haze of sleepiness coating my mind. Relinquishing any hopes of more sleep, I rolled over to shut my phone off. The time now read 7:00 a.m.

My sister Eryn stirred in the bunk above me, making the entire bunk sway and creak with a seemingly ancient groan. I slowly rose from my bed, shivering as I pushed aside my cozy blankets. Goosebumps stood sentry on my arms and legs as I ambled over to our small table in front of our tall, French-style windows. Truly, it was a sad little black folding table with brightly colored plastic stools, one grape purple and one bright red, but to me it had begun to stand for so much more. That table had quickly become my favorite place in the entire hostel. I’d lost track of how many times I’d sat down at that table in our wonderfully dinky little room and stared out at the narrow streets, savoring just being in the City of Light. I’d never been so far away from home before.

Thunk! I was broken out of my dreaming. Time and place came back to me as I turned to see Eryn jumping off of the bunk bed’s ladder.

“Morning!” I said with honey in my voice. She threw me a sort of good-hearted, pained grimace.

“How are you?” I tried again.

She gave a quiet chuckle and smiled, saying, “I cannot believe that you’re making me get up this early to go do this.”

“But it’ll be fantastic!” I promised.

“But it’s soooooo early, Abby,” she laughingly complained with a twinkle in her eye. “You really wanna do this? Like, it’s something that will break your heart if we don’t?”

“Yes!” I declared dramatically. “My heart will shatter into a million bloody fragments if we don’t!” I put a hand to my forehead and gave my best Oscar-winning sigh. Eryn shook her head and gave a good-natured groan.

“Hey,” I said, “Remember, it’s an experience.”

Her eyes started to glow. Got ya! I knew that my sister valued experiences above all else. The chance to experience something brand new always piqued her attention. Defeated, she grinned and rolled her eyes. “It’s a good thing I love you,” she said as she quickly grabbed her towel and clothes, heading off to lay claim to the bathroom before another hosteller could take it.

“Love you, toooooo,” I called out after her, turning my attention back to the waking city just outside of my window. Still mesmerized by its beauty, I happily sighed and reached for my clothes and makeup, relishing the day to come.

Twenty minutes later, dressed and freshly perfumed, we headed downstairs, grabbed croissants, said goodbye to the hostel cat, and flew out onto the street. The city welcomed us with open arms, calling out to us to come and see all of the little treasures hidden in her depths. Alas, time had a different plan.

“Eryn, it’s 7:23. It starts at 8…think they’ll let us in if we’re late?”

“I would hope so!” she giggled.

I tried to laugh along with her, but I couldn’t help but think about how crushed I’d be if we didn’t make it. We were still at least a half-hour metro ride away from our destination, after all. I walked faster, feeling the icy fingers of the cold stabbing through my thin sweater. My god, it felt like Christmas was in the air! There was a certain magic to this feeling, and I did indeed feel as though I was a child on Christmas morning. The feeling of the clock running down, however, lingered in my mind and propelled me forward.

We hurried through the streets to the metro, joining the friendly bustle of the city. We walked out of our home neighborhood, Montmartre: the historic artists’ district. We passed Parisians outside of warm cafes and bakeries, sipping espresso and munching pastries. We saw small grocery stores opening and women on their way to do their daily shopping. We saw young professionals, smartly dressed and braced for the cold, hurrying to work. Kids riding bikes passed us on their way to school, and cars cruised down narrow streets. People called out to each other, and friends walked the streets gossiping,

“Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?”

“Bienvenue dans ma boutique!”

“Alores je lui ai dit…”

The city was alive and dressed in the beautiful array of the colors of her people.

We eventually reached the metro and jumped down the stairs into the relative warmth of the subway-tiled tunnels. We giggled and chattered while we tried to figure out how to get tickets from the bright purple ticket machines. We plotted our route on the complex metro lines, and I kept tabs on the time. Eryn had been to Paris before, so I mostly let her handle it, letting myself be swept away by the beautiful, colloquial, and melodic French being spoken all around me by beautiful Parisians. I drank it all in greedily.

Eryn figured out the ticketing machine, and we went on our way, hopping from subway to subway in a race against time. Baby blue line to pink line, pink line to sun yellow line. Hurry hurry hurry. Faster faster faster! The tunnels seemed never ending.

We finally ended our journey on the yellow line. I glanced at my phone. 7:50. “Aghhh, Eryn! It’s 7:50!”

“Okay.” She laughed. “Don’t sweat it.”

We rushed out of our metro car, ran up the metro stairs, and found ourselves in a square in an older and quainter part of town. We quickly consulted our map, and it took us a little while to orient ourselves. Time: 7:55 a.m.

Walk faster. Walk faster. HURRY! No other thoughts but those. We speed-walked past tourists, small French soap shops, and more grocers. Jeweled heaps of sublime oranges, ruby apples, and emerald pears lined the streets. Keep going, keep going! The moments were speeding by me, wrapped up and laced with obsession and the mind. Yet, as we ran toward our destination, it suddenly hit me.

I am in Paris.

I am in Paris.

Me.

The me who grew so depressed at the thought of being stuck in my little town, George Bailey-style. The me who my well-meaning parents thought needed to be protected from the world at all costs (my father had even gone so far as to show me Taken before I left!). The neurotic me. The obsessive me. The me who needed to control it all. The me who was so sheltered and seemingly helpless. The me who had lusted after the dream of traveling the world.

Me.

I had traveled on my first international flight all by myself to get here. I had found Eryn, who was already in Europe, all on my own in a land where I did not speak the language. I had navigated both the complex metro system and Paris herself. I had planned this trip to Paris all on my own. I did all of that. Me. All to fulfill a dream.

I was not helpless. I was not dependent⎯at least, not as dependent as my parents had led me to believe I was. I was going places. I was here, despite everything, or rather in spite of it. I was enough…and I was in Paris. Running through the streets and running toward another dream. So why was I so worried about trying to be on time to a dream?

I found myself while running through the narrow streets of Paris. I let go of the conscious and surrendered to the moment. I let go of worry and just was. I forgot the clock and time itself…and it was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. I found myself while sitting beside those windows back at our hostel. I found myself while line hopping in the metro. I found myself while listening to the harmony of a foreign language.

Those were all the real me. The real me was wantonly running across a bridge over the murky Seine at 8:00 a.m., every fiber of my being screaming with joy. The real me was pausing to take a picture of that quiet, romantic river as the bells of a nearby church gravely tolled. The real me was outrunning the lies of helplessness and dependence, flying out of their midst on winged soul. The real me was late, beautifully late, and that was okay. The real me was running alongside my sister, whom I dearly loved. The real me was running past a sunken church garden, gloriously almost out of breath. The real me was jogging into the cobbled square just outside of Notre Dame, giggling and dodging people as I went. The real me was passing through her timeworn doors with my kindred soul, hearing the soft whispers of the just-begun Mass that graciously awaited our presence.

The time? It didn’t matter.

Abigail Johnson, of Delaware, is a gap year student with OneLife Institute in Central, South Carolina. A creative soul, dreams of travel and exotic adventure are never far from her mind. She spends her days baring her soul on the stage, scribbling out notes for a future novel, and devouring new reads with a hot mug of her favorite green tea by her side.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website: DelmarvaReview.org.

Delmarva Review: Ninety-three Pounds by Helen Sperber

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She weighs ninety-three pounds. Her legs are drawn up against her body. Her hands clutch at anything they come in contact with, pulling it to her mouth, clenching it between her teeth. Her eyes are half open, unseeing.

An IV drips fluid and antibiotics into my mother’s arm. A catheter drains the fluid from her bladder and away from her body. A nurse comes in and holds a mask over her face, willing the mist into her lungs.

When the nurse leaves, my sister, Ruthie, and I hover over our mother’s gaunt body. We coax her to take nourishment from a straw. She takes the straw into her mouth but chews on it instead of sucking. She accepts a bite of pureed food from a spoon, but her tongue moves the wrong way, pushing it out of her mouth instead of moving it back into her throat.

She doesn’t know me, her youngest daughter. I live nearly 1,000 miles away, in Colorado, and only visit three or four times a year, so it is not surprising that she doesn’t recognize me. Ruthie lives nearby and sees her daily, but Mom doesn’t seem to know her, either. Maybe she just doesn’t care if we are there.

She is ninety-seven years old. For ninety of those years, she was one of the most capable, independent, and strong-willed women I have ever known. I saw her digging ditches and changing tires alongside my father at the businesses they owned⎯first an automobile service station, and later a mountain resort⎯and she taught herself the bookkeeping skills required to run a business. When Daddy died at age 50, she moved to California, where she became caregiver for her own mother and worked at a hospital for nearly twenty years to support them both.

For five years now, she has been unable to move around, feed herself, or communicate effectively. Extreme agitation, daily anger, and chronic pain have been only partially controlled with medications. The nursing home staff has provided total care for all her physical needs, feeding her, changing her diapers, turning her over in bed.

They brought her to the hospital two days ago with severe diarrhea, dehydration, a bed sore on her bottom, fever, low oxygen, skin tears up and down her arms. Now they have confirmed MRSA in the blood and are looking for C-diff in the stool.

My sister and I look at each other and shake our heads in mutual disbelief, tears welling up in our eyes. We’ve seen her like this in the hospital four times in the last two years. Why must this woman we love and admire so much endure what she is going through?

The priest comes to visit. He has already administered Last Rites. He understands that of course we wouldn’t want to do CPR or tube feedings, but he says withholding fluids in the IV would be a different story, and not condoned by the church Mother has been so strongly devoted to all her life.

The doctor consults with us. He can treat the MRSA with another antibiotic in the IV. She is almost fully hydrated again. How long? Six months?

Mother of God, why?

Every time I have seen her in the past two years, I have thought it would be the last, but at every crisis, treatment has bought her another six months.

Ten years ago, she lived with me for a while. With some assistance, she was still taking care of her personal daily needs then, although dementia and anxiety were causing her mental ability to fade in and out. She had purchased a prepaid funeral plan years before and carefully went over the details of it with me. She made sure both Ruthie and I knew where these papers were, and whom to contact with them when the time came. She had always been meticulous about planning ahead.

Finally, I remember. There was another paper she had shown me. She called it an “Advance Directive.” Where is that paper? Ruthie and I look for it among the files we have, but we can’t find it. It must be in her medical chart. We ask at the nurse’s desk.

They find it and bring us a copy. It has been with her chart since admission to the nursing home eight years ago. No one has ever looked at it. No one has ever even looked for it. No one has ever asked what she wanted.

It is very clear and detailed. She describes the conditions under which she does not want life-prolonging procedures administered: conditions she has been living with for five years. When these conditions are met, she specifically rejects even antibiotics and IVs, “even if this allows me to die.” Medication to relieve pain or provide comfort is to be given “even if it may hasten my death.” She worked in a hospital. She knew what she did and did not want.

My sister and I read it⎯over and over again⎯sitting beside her bed. She moans weakly, and I cover her contracted hand with mine. Ruthie has tears on her cheeks, and a quiet sob escapes her.

We give the paper to the doctor. He looks doubtful. You aren’t comfortable with this, I say. He hesitates. I could be, he says. I could be. We give him time.

He returns an hour or so later. It is very clear, he says. She made it very clear. He gives the orders, contacts hospice, and prepares the paperwork.Now she lies in her bed at the nursing home. Comfort measures only. Do not transport. No IVs. No antibiotics. Morphine as needed. A few days, perhaps a few weeks, they won’t predict.

She knew me today. She asked in a clear but weak voice, “When are you going back to Colorado?” The first complete, lucid sentence I’ve heard her speak in a long, long time. Am I imagining that I hear relief and comfort in her voice?

Still, I can’t answer her with complete openness and honesty. I tell her I’ll be leaving tomorrow and will come back when I can.

I wish I had told her good-bye.

Helen Sperber’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Diverse Voices Quarterly, Sanskrit, Meridian Anthology, and Front Range Review. Her novel, The Blue Wildebeest, promotes active living in retirement. Website: www.helensperber.com.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website: DelmarvaReview.org.

11 Years of Grace and Beauty: Delmarva Review Presents Celebration Reading March 16

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Delmarva Review and the Talbot County Free Library invite the public to an 11th Anniversary Reading of prose and poetry by ten outstanding regional authors. The reading, “11 Years of Grace and Beauty,” will be at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at the Easton Library, 100 W. Dover Street. The event is free and open to the public.

The authors who will read their work from the review include Sue Ellen Thompson,Anne Colwell, George Merrill, Meredith Davies Hadaway, Wendy Ingersoll, Bill Peak, Kate Blackwell, Emily Rich, David Salner, and Kelley Katharine Malone.

The reading celebrates a literary milestone, as the Delmarva Review has now published the new work of over 300 authors during its 11-year history. More than half are from the Delmarva Peninsula and Chesapeake region. In all, the writers span 40 states and ten foreign countries. Over 60 have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and other national literary awards.

As a literary journal, Delmarva Review exists to encourage writers to aspire to the highest standards of writing. It is published in print and digital editions available worldwide through Amazon.com and locally at Mystery Loves Company bookstore in Oxford.

With local roots, the Review’s influence extends far beyond regional borders. The independent, nonprofit review is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.

For more information, visit the website at DelmarvaReview.org.

Delmarva Review Presents Public Reading on March 16

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Delmarva Review and the Talbot County Free Library invite the public to an 11th Anniversary Reading of prose and poetry by ten outstanding regional authors. The reading, “11 Years of Grace and Beauty,” will be at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 16, at the Easton Library, 100 W. Dover Street. The event is free and open to the public.

The authors who will read their work from the review include Sue Ellen Thompson, Anne Colwell, George Merrill, Meredith Davies Hadaway, Wendy Ingersoll, Bill Peak, Kate Blackwell, Emily Rich, David Salner, and Kelley Katharine Malone.

The reading celebrates a literary milestone, as the Delmarva Review has now published the new work of over 300 authors in its 11-year history. More than half are from the Delmarva Peninsula and Chesapeake region, though the writers span 40 states and ten foreign countries. Over 60 have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and other national literary awards.

As a literary journal, Delmarva Review exists to encourage writers to aspire to the highest standards of writing by offering a respected publication for their work. It is published in print and digital editions available worldwide through Amazon.com and locally at Mystery Loves Company bookstore, in Oxford. With local roots, the Review’s influence extends far beyond regional borders.

The independent, nonprofit review is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, visit the website at DelmarvaReview.org.

Delmarva Review: Entropy by Adam Tamashasky

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Entropy

I don’t know that much about entropy
except that I don’t call my brother much anymore.
Holidays and birthdays, ours and our kids’,
but the bonds weaken over time.
It’s enough now to leave a voicemail.
Our lives, like leaves, have branched apart,
though a thin root keeps us, briefly, in touch.
But I see these October leaves around my feet now,
and I can’t tell which ones grew up together.

I’ve taught my daughters so many lessons—
how to hold my hand across the street,
how to hold on to me in the deep end—
but now I wish I’d offered better lessons:
what their sisters’ hands in theirs can feel like,
how not to let go during the fall.

Maryland poet Adam Tamashasky teaches at American University. One of his poems in Delmarva Review was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poetry has also appeared in Cold Mountain Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and 491 Magazine. He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and went to the University of Dayton for his undergraduate degree and to American University for his MFA.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers and prints compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit: DelmarvaReview.org. Order copies at Amazon.com.

Delmarva Review: Man-Hours by Holly Painter

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“Take heart that in Detroit
Every three seconds
A car is born.” – C.K. Stead

It takes 6720 man-hours
to make a baby, give or take.

The catch is

it must be the same man
and that man a woman.

We cannot specialize.
We cannot automate.
We cannot use assembly lines
or lean production techniques
to accelerate the timeline.

We cannot do anything.
She must do it all.

Her body assembles the baby
step-by-step, though her brain
does not know how.

She builds a heart in only 18 days.
She constructs the intestinal tract,
starting with the anus, of course.

She engineers a custom machine:
designed at random within certain
parameters and built in the dark.

At 6720 hours, the deadline looms
and she always delivers.

Holly Painter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Canterbury and teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. She is the author of the poetry collection Excerpts from a Natural History (Titus Books, 2015). In addition to Delmarva Review, her work has appeared in numerous literary journals in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the U.K.

Delmarva Review is a literary publication of national scope, with strong regional roots. In its eleventh year, the nonprofit journal discovers compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.DelmarvaReview.org.

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Delmarva Review Announces Pushcart Prize Nominations for Poetry and Prose

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Delmarva Review announced six Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry and short fiction published in the review’s 2018 annual edition.

Nominations include four poems: “Words of My Father/Palabras De Mi Padre,” by Alejandro Pérez, from Maryland and a student at Columbia University; “Responsibility,” by Holly Karapetkova, a northern Virginia poet and teacher at Marymount University; “Autumn Sestina,” by Adam Tamashasky, from Maryland and a teacher at American University; and “Epithalmion,” by Daisy G. Bassen, a poet from Rhode Island.

Two fiction nominations: “Cantabile,” by John J. McKeon, a Maryland author, and “Prairie Fever,” by Emily Rae Roberts, a student at Ohio State University.

The nominations were chosen from 57 poems and 26 prose selections published in the Delmarva Review’s eleventh edition. Pushcart editors will select winners to publish in the anthology, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses XLIV, due in the fall of 2019.

The prestigious literary prize honors writing published in small presses “dedicated to exciting, innovative and eclectic prose and poetry.”

Delmarva Review was created in 2008 to offer writers a valued venue to publish their best writing in print at a time when many commercial publications were reducing literary content or going out of business. The journal favors the permanence of the printed word, but it also publishes an electronic edition to meet the digital preferences of many readers. Both print and electronic editions are available at Amazon.com and other major online booksellers.

Since its first annual issue, the review has showcased the original work of 300 writers.  In all, authors have come from 40 states and 10 foreign countries. Fifty-one percent are from the tri-state Delmarva Peninsula and Chesapeake Bay region. Sixty have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Some have received notable mention in Best American Essays or achieved notice from other publications and awards. For many, this was a first recognition of their literary accomplishments.

The submission period for Delmarva Review’s twelfth edition is open now through March 31, 2019. The journal welcomes all writers. A submission link is on the guidelines page of the website: DelmarvaReview.org.

Delmarva Review is an independent, nonprofit literary journal published by the Delmarva Review Literary Fund Inc.Partial financial support comes from tax-deductible contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.

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