Weekly Featured Essay
In this week’s featured essay, Jeremiah Bass discovers grand adventure as a new resident of Brazil, but finds frequent danger amid the vibrant culture.
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.
by Robert Dugan
I grunted while wrestling the heavy, dusty box wedged in crawl space of my apartment. I had outgrown the cramped place, and my teacher’s salary allowed me to purchase my first home. In preparation for the move, I divided my possessions neatly into two piles. One held the things I would take with me; the other I would donate to a local thrift store. The destiny of the current box was unknown as I dragged it from its lightless resting place. I pulled the box into the open air through a flurry of coughs and sneezes.
I opened the box, and a face stared up from a pile of crinkled photographs. The face was that of a young man who sat in a small plastic kiddie pool wearing torn Levi’s, an oversized belt buckle, and a camouflage ball cap. There was a scuffed, golden fishing hook bent around the bill. A cigarette dangled from his lip, and he held a beer in his hand. There was a pile of cash on the coffee table in front of him. He couldn’t have been older than eighteen or nineteen. I studied him for a moment, ashamed that it took me so long to remember a good friend.
Becoming A Real Girl
by Pam Munter
I was never much good at becoming a girl and I loathed every bit of the relentless indoctrination.
Early family photos either show me looking uncomfortable in frilly girl’s clothing or smiling broadly while wearing my preferred dirty jeans and tee shirt. My mother offered to teach me to cook, but I had no interest. Sewing was completely a non-starter. I wanted to be outside, hitting a tennis ball against the wall or riding my bike around the neighborhood. When my mother decided I had earned too many Girl Scout merit badges, she refused to sew anymore on the sash “because it might hurt the other girls’ feelings.” When I was in the first grade, I wanted to be called Phil. An outlier at an early age.
All this is coming up now because I’ve been having phone conversations with my junior high school Homemaking teacher. We first met over sixty years ago, a time when becoming a paragon of the socially acceptable female was a more urgent matter than it is today.
My White Tribe
by Vic Sizemore
On July 7, 2016, I forced myself to watch the video of Alton Sterling’s son breaking down and crying, “Daddy,” as his mom spoke to reporters about her husband’s death at the hands of the Baton Rouge police. The video was heartbreaking, but the endless cataract of online news almost immediately churned it under.
One of my daughter’s summer reading assignments for fall semester was Richard Wright’s Black Boy. Both of her older brothers had read it for English class as well. It was first published in 1945. In an autobiographical sketch, Wright speaks of the “dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun has set.” He says, “While white strangers may be in these neighborhoods trying to get home, they can pass unmolested. But the color of a Negro’s skin … makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.” Reading Wright’s book, my daughter will get a glimpse into what it was like to be a black boy in the United States seventy years ago.
I never read Black Boy in school. In fact, I cannot remember being assigned a single black writer until I chose an African American Literature elective my junior year in college. I was raised in a place that was not only lily-white, but white with a red neck. No black people lived up the Elk River until a woman moved her black husband and mixed-race children into a trailer beside North 119, between Elkview and Herbert Hoover High School in Clendenin when I was young. From passing cars, people hurled slurs and rocks at the children as they tried to play in the yard. Kids laughed about it at school. Eventually someone burned a cross in the trailer’s front yard—that was the story going around—and the family moved away. Nonwhite people did not often venture up the Elk River, not willingly.
by Paul Juhasz
On a cold, clear winter weekend morning, of the kind pictured on postcards and calendars, Derrick called to see if I had any plans.
“Why don’t you come over and bring your bike. There’s a park near me with some trails and a pond. There’s usually someone playing pond hockey, so bring your skates and stick.”
“Sounds great. See you in a bit.”
I hung up and went to ask my father for a ride.
He was, as always, lukewarm about any plan involving Derrick. To counteract these nascent reservations, I told him we planned on playing hockey, assuming his love for the sport would trump any misgivings he might have.
This turned out to be a tactical miscalculation on my part.
Fixing me with a piercing stare, he asked, “What are you really going to do?”
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.