Friday, April 30, 2010

Home All Day, by Stephanie Wilbur Ash

My neighbor Charlene asked me to take a photo of her. It was so her dear husband could have one for his desk at work.

She said it was part of their therapy. They are those kind of people, the kind who think their perfectly natural distrust in human beings is neither perfect nor natural, and that therapy can erase this distrust, ushering in a new era of domestic bliss and better cuddling after sex. You know—a stronger, sturdier sense of self, sucked from others.

The therapist had suggested tangible ways to help Charlene feel emotionally safe in the relationship. This translated into me taking a photo of Charlene wearing lipstick in her bedroom.

This is what I get for being home all day. 

And having to hear about it all the time, I get that, too. The specific gist is that Charlene feels her husband loves their daughter more than he loves her. “All that cuddling he gives her after sex?” I want to ask, but do not. I’m a good person, but obviously not a trained therapist.

So I put a movie on for the kids and went next door and took some photos of Charlene standing against her bedroom wall, which is painted a bloody uterine red with a shiny gold wash over it, in an effect I like to call “Crime Scene in a Brothel,” but only to myself. She kept saying things like, “Did that one turn out good?” And I kept saying things like “So good you’ll have to give me one for my desk!” And then she said, “I feel so close to you, like we’re sisters!”

What I got for that was a framed photo of Charlene for my own personal use.

I tried to be a good person and actually put her photo on my desk, but there wasn’t room for both a photo of her and my framed photo of Sartre. I ended up setting hers on top of the printer-scanner on the utility desk in my kitchen. It means that all day long, out of the corner of my eye, I see Charlene’s smiling and lipstick-ed face mugging it for me or her husband (who knows which?) and that I have to move her every time I print the lunch menu from the kids’ school or the bank account.

But what can I do? She looks for it every time she comes over.

That, apparently, is what good people do for each other—keep their eagle eyes peeled for pictures of themselves in other people’s homes.

My ex-husband came to pick up the children at the appointed hour, wearing the khaki pants and blue button-down of Expert Anonymous Office Man, as is his custom. He saw the photo on the little utility desk and laughed his ass off.  “Sartre I get,” he said. “But Charlene?”

“We’ve become like sisters,” I said.

It was none of his business anymore whose pictures I displayed. I could display a picture of two golden retrievers humping, a very large picture, even—an 18 x 20, hung over the sofa—and there was nothing he could do about it anymore, especially if the dogs were important new friends of mine, dogs I had grown to love in my new life as a non-married woman with the free time and space available to develop important connections with a new and wonderful community of humping dogs, a community that he did not have—nor never would have—the wonderful pleasure of knowing, especially given his uninspired attire.

“Sisters, or ‘sistas’?” he asked, and then, as usual, backpedaled with, “I don’t even know what that means.”

“Meaning has never really been your ‘thang,’” I said, and then—briefly—had the vague awareness that if I were cursed with the can-do moxy of the self-improving and hired a therapist, he or she might make something delicious out of all of this. This was an interesting exchange between us here; I could sense that. Perhaps it was even a humorous one.

“Touché,” my ex said. Then he raised his eyebrows and pointed to the ceiling, clowning, like a white-bread Groucho Marx, “And I don’t know what that means either.”

He opened the fridge, took a gander in it, saw nothing of his interest, gathered the children, and left.

Afterwards, I went to my desk to print out the lunch menu for the week, and saw that the kids had been playing around the kitchen utility desk and had left there these pirates made out of clothespins. The clothespins had transformed into pirates when the children had glued tiny felt pirate clothes and tiny martini olive swords to them during some sort of artsy-fartsy daycamp their grandparents had sent them to, a camp specifically for children like them—the poor little heathen children of divorce.

I brushed my hand over the usual detritus to collect the clothespin pirates and their tiny felt pirate clothes, and then I threw them into the garbage. I thought about how the glue didn’t stick to the felt very well, or for very long, so little pieces of cloth shaped like eye patches and boots and Napoleonic hats, all smaller than a pinky fingertip, stick to my forearms as I sit at the utility desk and print the lunch menu or check the bank account, and how those tiny martini olive swords jab me—without the benefit of actual martinis—and how when the tiny felt clothes fall off those clothespins pirates, the clothespins cease being pirates and become just clothespins again, and how those naked clothespins have no real utility either, seeing as we’ve all been living with the miracle of the clothes dryer since Lucy Ricardo squeezed out Little Ricky, divorced Big Ricky, and then spent the rest of her years chain-smoking wisecracks around the house in cute little capri pants.

And I thought about taking a trip. Yeah, I thought about maybe taking a trip somewhere.


I don’t know.


Stephanie Wilbur Ash is one of the founding creatives behind the Lit6Project, Electric Arc Radio, and PowderKeg Live!, and co-creator of the original musical Don't Crush Our Heart! Her fiction, reviews, features, and essays are locally and nationally published. Track her movements at

Sunday, April 25, 2010


One of my most impressionable memories of church is of the morning I accidentally stapled my hand in Sunday school. 

The staple's legs didn't fold under they way they did when I pressed down hard, flattening my palm across the end of the smooth, flat arm in search of that satisfying Ka-Chunk that let me know when the staple was securely in place, legs bent under meditatively.  Instead, the legs went straight down and nearly all the way in.

It wasn't until the blood began to seep from the holes the staple had made that I fully realized what I had done. It happened when I reached down to pick the stapler up from the floor, against my teacher's warning that I might hurt myself, and that I should let her pick it up for me.  I was eight years old.  I had used a stapler at home many times.  Almost every art project I made at my mother's kitchen table that had parts attached had staples in it. I preferred the sleek, definitive purpose of staples to the sticky, ambiguity of glue at that age. 

I used to make masks from medium sized, brown paper bags that I could slip over my head, corners neatly tucked over with staples in order to match the curve of my skull. I made movie monster masks of Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and the Werewolf.  For the werewolf, I even fashioned a mangy shock of fur made from yarn, each piece dangling down loosely from where it was stapled on at the top of the mask. 

I would cut nose and eye holes into the bag with scissors.  I would slip the neatly contoured bag over my head and press a marker tip against my face where the bag met my eyes, nose, and mouth, to mark the places where I should cut.  I would hold the mask with one hand inside while I pierced, with the scissors blade, the marks I had made. It never occurred to me that this was dangerous, that I might accidentally pierce the skin of the hand steadying my work from inside the bag.  I never once heeded the warnings of my mother, who stood by watching closely though she never interfered, willing to let me test the give and resistance of the world even then.

The stapler had fallen off the low table to the floor.  It was either an arrant elbow or a careless hand that knocked it there from the table where we sat making easter baskets from brightly colored construction paper for our moms. The mouth of the stapler was pointing up.  When I reached my young hand down to grab it, I hadn't expected to find it that way, open and baring its tender underbelly to me. Suppliant.  It happened before I had a chance to even consider the danger.

After staring for a second or two at my palm, just at the base of the thumb, I reached over with my other hand and pulled the staple out, amazed that the staple had not attached itself to my hand, content with letting the blood drip slowly down my wrist and arm and beneath the cuff of my sport coat. I held the staple closer, eyeing the legs for the slightest bend, the very ends tainted with my blood. It wasn't until I looked back at the wound that I felt any sort of pain at all.  My wounded palm began to throb, pain and blood pulsing through me simultaneously. 

"Like Jesus," I said, holding my bleeding hand up for the whole class to see.  And though I meant it earnestly, somehow believing that the pain I was feeling matched the pain of crucifixion, my teacher, who I did not like and who did not seem to like me because she spent most of her time telling me not to do what I wanted to do, took exception to my remark.  The other kids in the class looked at my bleeding palm blankly, some nodding modestly, mouths open, in agreement to my claim. It was, after all,  Palm Sunday.

The teacher grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me from my seat.  We marched across the room, out the door in to the hall to the boys' room two doors down, her holding my wrist, my arm extended above my head. She exclaimed while we marched that my mother would hear about this, as if she believed I had somehow impaled myself on purpose. 

She pulled me roughly through the empty bathroom, our footsteps echoing loudly against the light blue tile, to the sink, where she shoved my hand beneath the faucet to cleanse the wound.  The hot water and soap stung, and only then did I begin to cry.  She held my hand in the water firmly against my attempt to pull away.

"Hold Still," she demanded.  "I'm almost done with you." She paused then, and stared down at the rising steam before turning the faucet handle slowly, finally shutting the water off, her actions burdened by the heavy weight of her thoughts. 

And though, even then at eight, I knew she meant my hand, that she was nearly done chasing away infection, she achieved the opposite affect, her words assembling the lingering doubt we realized then we both shared.

We walked back to the room in silence. Her hand rested softly on my shoulder, while I held a damp paper towel against the open wound. She took a bandage from her purse and pressed the adhesives to my hand, rubbing her thumbs across them to secure the small arms in place across my palm.  When she was done, she looked at me with a forced smile, and with a heavy sigh, she turned her back to the table where the baskets were being filled with green paper grass, where everything but my stapled basket corners had begun to come undone, the glue still wet and changing colors from the dye. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Le Chien, by Melanie Faith

I. Le Woof-Woof:

I crouched on the cobblestones, a bright fuchsia bougainvillea shrub and scuba-gear store at my back. Framing the dog’s expressive face across the street at the café, I silently willed him look over here, come on, just once more--there we go! My shutter a split second too late. Ah! A soundless exhale, my left hand reaching out, assuring him I am friendly, my right hand releasing the shutter. The anguish! Take three. Le Woof-Woof exhibited the kind of patient ennui that his master, who did not happen to be anywhere nearby, would have found fitting. Like most European dogs I had encountered, Le Woof-Woof did not have a leash. European dogs in general did not run with wild abandon in the carefully landscaped public parks--they stuck to the owner’s sides or were carried. They were a curious mixture of spoiled senseless and disciplined. This, after all, was the land of General Charles De Gaulle, who one quipped, “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” Sure, they demonstrated a modicum of normal dogness--sniffing curiosity, intent observation, alertness--and yet most exhibited nary a bark nor signal of aggression. These were not their boundless and infinitely energetic American cousins. Le Woof-Woof tilted his head twenty degrees to observe tourists climbing steep steps through village roads carved deep and twisting into the mountainside. Then, unaffected, just as easily glanced away, straight over my shoulder for my third try is a charm.

II. Dog-Less:

Growing up, we were forbidden to have a dog. “Dogs are too much work,” Mom pronounced--and she would know, having grown up on a dairy farm where housework and barn chores were a perpetual facet. Being typical children, however, My sister and I circumvented this ruling through pet shop visits, attempting to get Dad to sneak a dog home (no such luck--although Dad did rescue two pigeons from an about-to-be-demolished building, which we named Maude and Claude, and housed in a coop in the apple orchard), and when all else failed, we begged. Finally, my sister and I started bringing home a menagerie of “allowed” pets including hosts of fish (dead-in-a-day goldfish along with tropical fish that did not fare much longer), a rabbit my sister named Licorice that was a prize from a country fair ring toss, and a host of stray outdoor cats from surrounding farms and their legions of kittens that we named, cuddled, and set free. When I was sixteen, my sister bought a guinea pig, Daphne, who would squeal on cue whenever the freezer door was opened because peas were her raison d’être.

III. Hot Dog!:

Google Search:
“Dog”: 286,000,000 results
“Puppy”: 35,000,000
“Dog Quotes”: 34,300,000
“Man’s Best Friend”: 17,600,000
“Canine”: 16,100,000
“Pooch”: 2,870,000

IV. Princess:

My cousins across town had a large and affable border collie. In a family with five children and scores of cousins dropping by on weekends, Princess was gentle beyond all good sense. You could pull her fur and ears, or ride her like a circus pony (which several younger cousins attempted) and she would stand unflappable, her tail wagging. You could hear her toenails like high heels scampering across the kitchen tiles to find the nearest clump of children and there she would hang out in the huddle, pleased to be included, even when that meant attempting to sausage her into doll clothes too small for her. French dogs, I could tell upon study, would have none of that.

V. Le Chien:

My sister and I took the train into Nice (testing our flagging high school French skills: “Je voudrais un billet, s’il vous plait”). Crowded with buskers, tourist shops and fast food restaurants, we had wandered from the platform to streets along the main thoroughfare, past the bookstore vendor who scolded me in rapid fire for photographing a poster of Nicolas Sarcozy through the window. After several days in Spain and Italy, we wondered if France would be a wash.

Then, after our return trip “sur le train,” we ambled through a tinier nearby village, Villefranche. This visual map dotted the atmospheric fulfillment of every picture-book-American-in-France fantasy Hollywood ever envisioned. From the friendly vendeuse who sold me batches of postcards and initiated chatty conversation about how I had picked the best ones and was going to keep them all for myself (I kept one), to the ancient apartments, louvered shutters flung wide to display laundry, the pristine white power boats bobbing in the harbor, the damp cathedral vestibule with candles flickering but no supplicants in sight, and even the toddler on his tricycle pedaling home with two trailing parents close behind (one with the newspaper, the other with a bakery bag). Parfait! Sister wanted espresso while I wanted freedom to amble the tourist bazaar, so we parted amicably. Five minutes in--after perusing milled lavender soap bars that I could purchase for a third the price at home and lovely hand-painted silks--I spotted him. Le Woof-Woof.

What first struck me about the dog was his expression, which resembled a long-ago acquaintance. Not that it is a detriment to either’s handsomeness--quite the contrary. But it wasn’t only this doppelganger quality to the dog that drew me in. On a Mediterranean June afternoon, Le Woof-Woof reminded me of a landlocked rural farming community: home.

I thought of the future--and in that future I imagined a similarly lounging dog on painted porch boards on a lazy Saturday. Dogs symbolize the unconditional security we crave and, at the same time, an inquisitive spirit that we yearn to retain. As European novelist Milan Kundera has noted, “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring, it was peace.” In a world that can be anything but secure or sensible, dogs represent something deeply tender, observant, yet optimistic in us, the better qualities we lose track of in the gleaning and grasping and running breathlessly forward.

MELANIE FAITH holds an MFA in poetry from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. She recently had a travel essay featured in Quicksilver (U. of Texas, March 2010), and another published essay (Shape of a Box, Oct. 2009) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work won the 2009 Anne E. Sucher Poetry Prize for the Iguana Review, and her articles about creative writing were published in The Writer and Writers' Journal. Her current poetry chapbook, Bright, Burning Fuse, was published by Etched Press ( in December 2008. Her poetry and photography are forthcoming from Schuylkill Valley Journal, Porter Gulch Review, and Old Red Kimono (Spring 2010).