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Our Pushcart Nominees

We are pleased to announce our 2022 nominees for the Pushcart Prize: clockwise from top left: Nancy Deyo for “Naked Facebook Friday“; Jean Ryan for “Letter to a Phantom“; Liza Wieland for “The Museum of Odd Inheritance by Daughters from Mothers“; Sydney Lea “What Time Was It?” The quality of the writers we are so lucky to feature makes such decisions difficult. Congratulations to all. We are humbled to feature such great writers.

With an essay that reminds us that brevity can be powerful, Dan Keeble sends us reeling back to his childhood…and perhaps into our own.

The Send

by Dan Keeble

I am standing in Hopes’ East London grocers, ten years tall. Two cawing crow trees, in 1950s black utility coats down to their ankles, tower over me like gothic cathedrals. They conceal paisley patterned wrap-over pinafores. Their trunks reach up to ash-grey canopies topped with war-poster head scarves. The dull-to-depression fluorescent shop light doesn’t reach down to a sapling with a jute shopping bag and a send note from Ma.

Through nasal gossiping they are slandering the neighbourhood. Doreen Prosser was at it again in the alleyway last night. I heard it wasn’t kissing. What It was was concealed in a snorted mumble and a nodding glance to Mrs. Hope. She silently nudged them on while turning the handle of the Avery slicer. Today it is ham. Floppy pieces fall from the spinning blade without stopping. She collects every fourth slice in her other palm, folds it twice and stuffs it into her mouth. Her eyes are barely visible, buried behind shiny flushed cheeks. I am mesmerised by her dexterity and how her greasy lips resemble the animal she slices. Munching noisily on a mouthful of the pink gunge doesn’t stop her talking. I think about Ma. We don’t have much, but we’ve got manners. Mrs. Hope’s attentive ear urges on the character assassinations. Mrs. Dawson has new net curtains. I’ve no idea why that’s, Hmm, or why they all sniffed on the intake hearing, Jenny Bartlett has a new lodger.

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Bittersweet Freedom

by Gina Disipio

A vibration wakes me from a deep sleep. I think something is moving around in my bed. My eyes snap open, confused by the darkness. I brush curls out of my face and feel around for the source of the vibration. My hand finds the square object that is my cell phone, and I sigh in relief that it’s not a mouse I’m clutching. No one calls me in the middle of the night. It is 2:00 a.m. Suddenly I am wide awake. Something is wrong.

I hold the phone close to my face, because I don’t have my glasses. Squinting, the blue light hurts and with one eye open I read the caller ID: “Lily W.” The name alone tells me everything I need to know. 

“Hello?” She does not recognize my horse, half-asleep voice, which sounds more like a croak than a greeting. I hear stifled sobs. She doesn’t need to tell me what I already know: he’s dead. 

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Imposter Family

by Trevy Thomas

Everything important to me had to fit inside the trunk of my MG Midget. That included a framed photograph I’d recently bought on the street where I worked in D.C. It was a pink ballerina-slippered foot poised atop an egg. It was the most beautiful picture I’d seen in my nineteen years, and I hoped it mirrored my identity. So, even though it was large and covered in glass, I allowed it about half the trunk.

We drove for two days to reach Florida. My sister, Helen, sat in the passenger seat. She’d rightfully counseled me not to make this trip alone. It was my first move out of state, and even though she couldn’t drive a standard shift, she was good moral support. We made one overnight stop in a hotel, but the rest of the time was solid driving with the car’s top down. I arrived in Florida with one of the worst sunburns of my life. After our arrival, layers of skin peeled off my face like the shell of the egg in my trunk.

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Chicken Salad

by Alan Caldwell

They had great chicken salad, just the right mix of shredded breast, nuts, red grapes, mayonnaise, celery, and Dijon mustard. I’m not sure how such a culinary artist ended up making chicken salad for the mentally ill, but I’m glad she did.

We were roughly divided into two groups: those allowed to have shoelaces and those who weren’t. I had shoelaces. My bevy of therapists discussed my self-harm status each morning and granted me the daily privilege. I was always proud of that status. I saw it as an achievement. I worked hard for it and felt justified in my pride.

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My Granny’s Handbag of Algorithms

by Basundhara Mitra

I love toothless smiles—in chubby and wrinkled faces alike. The endearing lack of bite inevitably evokes in me an emotional resonance of the tenderest intent. So, transitioning my personal priorities, I went ahead and invited my ninety-year-old grand-aunt to stay with me on my much-awaited month-long vacation. Not surprisingly, my friends thought I had whimsically forsaken sanity. “You’ll end up being a babysitter,” they warned. “You’re wasting your holiday and risking your peace of mind.”

It is worth it, I thought. The dazzle of the midday sun has a longer tenure. Those parties, music, and hikes would wait for me, but the soft twilight rays receded too fast. If I didn’t embrace the delicate beam now, if I didn’t savor and celebrate the light, I would let something beautiful pass by. I had thought a blast with the past would energize my present.

Instead, I got the future.

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Bor

by Alisa Vereshchagin

On a humid and overcast fall day in Austin, Texas, I hike on a trail not far from my house. Reaching a small creek, I sit on a rock at its edge and take in the moment. Crickets chirp softly and the water gurgles. A child laughs in the distance. Then, the hiss of a truck just outside the park spoils the pleasant scene. Its annoyance is brief, however, for the sound of that truck cutting through nature’s hum has a warm familiarity. It carries me back to a place with little semblance to this one: a tiny Russian village nearly 10,000 kilometers away.

In this village, there were more dogs than people. Free to roam the land, the dogs knew the meadows, valleys, and forests better than anyone. Once a week, on Sundays, the dogs howled in unison when a food truck rattled down the village’s single gravel road. Somewhere in the middle, the old Soviet truck stopped, and the village residents, like the dogs, heard the commotion and came running. Because there was no grocery store, this was the villagers’ only chance to buy what they needed for the next week. That truck stirred up enough dust to disguise itself and obscure its immediate surroundings, but in the few minutes that the driver stopped, shut off the engine, and disbursed his goods, the haze settled to reveal the silhouettes of dozens of ill-fed dogs.

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Confabulating

by Jane Frances Hacking

“I have news,” our father said and gestured for the three of us to gather round. He’d agreed to be transferred to his wheelchair and so instead of standing around his bed, we perched on the assortment of uncomfortable chairs that populate his retirement home living room.

“I’m engaged to Rachel.”

“To me?” my sister Rachel asked.

“No, no. Rachel Evans.”

It was possible to trace this marital development back to earlier in the day when he’d reminisced about this girlfriend from the distant past. We, of course, had never known her since she predated our mother. We did know that she was somehow related to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, and that our grandmother could never quite forgive him for not walking down the aisle with her. We played along.

“When?” Daniel asked.

“Two Wednesdays after Easter.” Oddly precise.

“Where?”

“Canterbury Cathedral. The archbishop will marry us, I’ve had an email from him.”

He radiated happiness and declared, “We should have a toast. Champagne, I think.” Daniel was dispatched to the liquor store. But of course, he isn’t getting married. He is confabulating.

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The Casual Cruelty of Schoolgirls

by Elizabeth Bird

As the teacher turns to the board, I see the note moving from desk to desk, winding its way toward me in the back left corner. Surreptitious notes are nothing new, but never to me. I veer between anticipation and fear.

Our English teacher continues her impassioned, solo “discussion” of the Brontes, while I manage to unfold the perilous scrap of paper:

“You know you’re the most unpopular girl in our year, don’t you? By far!!”

I feel the heat rush to my face, with nowhere to look but down at my desk, willing the bell to ring. Does everyone know what I’ve just read? Glancing up, I catch the grin on Angela’s face, looking at me from the opposite corner. A slight lift of the eyebrows and a conspiratorial giggle toward her neighbor’s desk. They know …

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No Time to Say Hello, Goodbye

by Alden S. Blodget

          On the Friday night before my father’s memorial service, our family gathered for a dinner that felt surprisingly normal. We sat around the old dining room table, eating quietly, without my father—pretty much as we always had, but with a more profound silence that magnified the occasional clink of knife or fork striking china, like a bell invoking a shadow’s shadow. My father was always more an absence than a presence in my life. He was a businessman who worked long hours. He departed early in the morning, traveled a lot, missed many dinners.

When he came home in the evenings or on weekends, he often disappeared into his den to conduct more business on the phone. For hours his laughter rumbled through the house. His work seemed to be the source of great friendships and hilarity. My mother said he constantly approached strangers—in railroad stations, airports, restaurants—to introduce himself and leave his business card. “He wants lots of people at his funeral,” she told us, laughing. He and my mother enjoyed a social life with these friends on the few weekends when he wasn’t traveling, so even when he was home, he wasn’t home. He was the personification of the work ethic. He was my role model.

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2019: Volume 9, Issue 1

Work from twenty-two fine writers. You will be transported into war zones, alongside horse tracks, within homeless shelters and food kitchens, laundromats and trailer parks. These true stories will inspire, enrage, provide hope, and change your perspective.


2018: Volume 8, Issue 1

A full-bodied, eclectic issue featuring twenty-five essays.

 


Don’t Forget to Check
out Our Anthologies

Encounters features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.