Weekly Featured Essay
In this week’s featured essay, Sean Talbot travels to Indian state of Rajasthan and questions his reactions, and those suggested in the guidebooks for travelers, to his near-constant encounters with beggars.
The Shoulder of Orion
by K.C. Frederick
I saw two planes collide over Detroit when I was a kid. I was in our back yard, where my father had covered a patch of dirt with concrete and installed a swing set. It was next to a lilac bush and, in my memory, the lilacs were in bloom. In most of my memories of the back yard, the lilacs are in bloom. I once buried my coin collection near the lilacs: there were Indian-head pennies, flying eagle pennies, even a large cent, bigger than a silver dollar, from 1818. I started collecting coins from the piles of change that showed up each night on our kitchen table, my father’s leavings of the day’s play in the numbers.
The coins were in a tin box that may have held tobacco once. Some of the coins I bought from dealers, and I think the hoard may have been worth a bit of money after a while, but all my later efforts to dig it up proved fruitless. Did the stuff just disappear?
by Priscilla Mainardi
Sasha, my daughter, sits next to me in the car, dressed all in black. Navy blue is the brightest color she ever wears, but beneath the dark clothes she’s all sunniness. We’re driving across New Mexico. The weather has finally warmed after the chill of Illinois and Missouri, and winter sun heats the car through the windows. The road is long and straight with nothing but empty fields of winter-brown grass on each side, dotted with dark shrubs. We have three more days together in the car before we reach Riverside, where Sasha is moving with her boyfriend Ty.
We pass faded billboards and abandoned ranches, climb some hills and descend the other side. A small sign tells us we just crossed the Continental Divide. “I always thought that would be a bigger deal,” Sasha says when we stop for lunch an hour later.
What Doesn’t Kill You
by Helen Coats
On June 16, 1944, a pack of cigarettes saved my life.
My grandfather, only twenty-one years old at the time, lost his squadron just outside Budapest after his fortieth mission as a P-38 Lightning fighter pilot. He dipped several hundred feet above a lake to search for his friends—low enough to remove his oxygen mask. He stuck his hand into his flight suit pocket and fished around for something—maybe a stick of Juicy Fruit. He accidentally dislodged his box of Lucky Strikes. It fell to the cockpit floor. As my grandfather leaned down to retrieve his smokes, two Messerschmitts ambushed him from above, shooting directly at the acrylic bubble canopy where his head had been just a second before. The gas tank exploded. Flames engulfed my grandfather’s arm. The plane shuddered and groaned as its nose tipped toward the lake.
by Jeremiah Bass
When we got off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Every foreign country I’ve visited has its own odor. Brazil was no different. A mild hint of salty air reminded me of Jamaica, where Casie and I had been wed nearly eleven years earlier, but the lingering smell of unsanitary bathrooms reminded me of the Greyhound buses I’d frequented as an adventurous youth. The smell was just the first in a long line of surprises and potential hazards.
Side streets were shared with horses, mules, donkeys, goats, cows, sheep, and the occasional iguana. Healthy trees weren’t cut down when roads were made, either. These mid-road diversions were spray painted white and orange so motorists didn’t crash into them. The abrasions and bits of plastic and glass embedded in the bark indicated how well this tactic worked.
We arrived for our seven-month stay at the end of the rainy season and the thin layers of asphalt had washes and gullies that would have destroyed our 1980 VW Beetle had we been unfortunate enough to veer into one. To make drivers aware of these mid-street chasms, Brasileiros filled the holes with whatever broken bits of furniture they had lying around. One morning there was a bent, metal, fold-up chair sticking about six inches out of a hole big enough for a child-sized desk. A few mornings later, that same hole required a fold-up table to raise awareness.
by Susan Pope
Hockey posters—two walls’ worth. A row of ball caps slung on hooks. The requisite electronics—TV, computer, smartphone. Dishes caked with dried food. And over every inch of floor space, camping gear, some with price tags still attached.
Perched on the bed in my fifteen-year-old grandson Cason’s bedroom, I watch him pack. Tomorrow we leave for a raft trip, on a river we’ve never seen with people we’ve never before met. He’s had five months to get ready. His mom—my daughter—has quit nagging. He could have recruited his grandpa, my husband, to help. But he knows that Papa—the name Cason calls him—would just say you’ve got the list, check it off, pack it up. That leaves me, the organizer, explainer, and most of all, the soft touch.
I miss talking with Cason. We used to have moments of conversation in the car, on the way to hockey practice, when his sister and parents weren’t around. Little things: How he hated math. Liked his new hockey team. Hoped to catch a king salmon this summer. Now he rides with his buddies who drive, so the two of us rarely speak except in passing.
Cason asked for the trip. Not this trip specifically, but any river trip. I’m not sure why. “Sounds like fun,” is all he said when I asked.
by Lisa Conquet
It was our seventh anniversary, but being first time parents made our marriage seem new again. Still, I struggled to focus on this exciting beginning while I was dealing with another life coming to an end. It was past evening visiting hours when my mother sent me home. Staying as late as possible had become our daily ritual. On this night, the doctor and nurses were impressed with her turn-around. Her fever was down, her stats were normal, and they told me she was out of the woods. Both the doctors and my mother insisted I go home and get some rest.
I held her hand and looked right in her eyes, “Are you sure you want me to go?” She smiled at me, “I feel better. Go home and at least have a late dinner with your husband. Besides, it’s cold in here and you should be wearing a sweater.” She winked while squeezing my hand and I was relieved to feel some strength … and warmth. I lingered a bit longer, hoping my idle chatter could fill the void of my conspicuously absent siblings. Two extra visitors’ chairs had sat empty for weeks, since the first day they promised to come, then used traffic and distance as an excuse to opt out.
MORE RECENT WORK: Like what you’ve been reading? All the fine essays published throughout the history of the magazine can be accessed via the contributors/archives page.
Summer/Fall 2016 Issue Released
Nineteen essays from Volume 6, Issue 2.
New Anthology Released
We are pleased to announce publication of our new anthology Encounters, which features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.
Issue Reviewed at NewPages
Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.