This week’s charming feature essay holds wisdom we can all learn from.

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by Sydney Lea

I smacked my foot against a table leg this morning and scolded myself: Watch where you’re going! A blood-bead stood below the nail, whose jaundiced color puzzled our grandson, here for the weekend. He asked, “Grandpa, how come you’re gold?”

But he quickly turned his attention to that little globe of blood. Our interest in pain, or so it seems to me, develops early. We may take whatever measures we can to avoid it and yet it intrigues.

I recall, for instance, a hornet’s stinging that child’s older brother a summer ago. The two still speak of the incident now and then. The pains, or rather for the most part griefs, that hold my own attention now tend to be psychological rather than bodily, however hard they often are to identify exactly.

This grandson of ours owns a little plush dog named Oko for whatever reason, and the child loves to say he’s been stolen by what he calls billains. Or sometimes the dog’s simply lost. I know it’s feigned, yet I still wince at his look, precisely, of pain.

Oko’s never gone for long, however, and I rejoice with the boy when he’s found.



A Cuban Kitchen in Greenwich Village

by Dina Alvarez

At eighty-two, my Cuban mother complains her taste buds are off and that she doesn’t know what to eat anymore. She has a host of health issues including a thyroid condition and high blood pressure that she manages, but the one she speaks most about is her lack of appetite and frustration over enjoying food. “One of the true delights of life,” she says. 

Most phone conversations are a blow-by-blow description of everything she managed to eat that day and any hints of flavor that came through that reminded her of a dish she used to make when cooking didn’t feel like such a chore. Although she goes out less after a recent fall, she never misses visiting the farmers market at Abingdon Square on Saturday searching for the freshest ingredients. She may not be able to fully savor those market finds, but her Greenwich Village kitchen, the same one since 1966, still manages to serve up some of the best Cuban fare when she’s feeling up to it. Just as if she was back in Cuba. Muscle memory.


Digging in the Dirt

by Madison Christian

My pick-axe sinks deep into the tread of the trail with a satisfying “thunk.” The soil gives ground easily to the blade now that rain has finally fallen. It’s almost dark and I’m alone on the hill. The mountain bikers, hikers, runners, and dog walkers have retreated for the night leaving me with the coyotes and the crescent moon. I take another whack. The ground, heavy with blue clay compacted by a parade of tires, feet, and hooves, splits to reveal the dark, moist soil beneath. A promising sign. That wouldn’t have happened a week ago. Then, impregnable to the steel in my hands, the surface would have simply shattered like broken pottery. That all changed with the rain. Now the earth is malleable. It bends to my will. And to my axe.



by Andrea Abbott

Appleing, that’s what my dad called it, a fruity version of hunting. We’d drive, though we could have walked, less than a mile, but the backpacks would be heavy afterwards and my dad took pity on me. He could walk miles and miles with huge loads on his back, this ability courtesy the U.S. Army and WWII.

That history also gave us our backpacks. Sometimes it seemed like most of what we owned were Army leftovers. Our backpacks were worn canvas, his khaki and on a frame, mine a faded red-brown, a bag with grommets with a string through them at the top to snug it up. Sacred vessels these, indispensable for our quest.


Fertility and Femininity

by Alli Mancz

I run beside the Hocking, feel its energy plunging me into the next moment. Mid-November, and my bared shoulders glisten with sweat. The river meanders and flashes through Ohio’s Appalachian hillsides. Blood pumping in my ears, thighs clenching with each step, I taunt the autumn water and leaves rushing about me. I can outlast them, going farther, faster.

63° and sunny, I can’t remember the last time I traded in gloves for shorts. A tank top. The last time the river was this low. But the grass, it gleams in the wind. The slopes, they shine with an afternoon glow. The land and I look healthy, from a distance.

I forget about my latest prognosis, explained at an afternoon visit to the ob-gyn while office doors and floors creak, and nurses call out first names. I feel the concavity of my stomach as other women fidget and rest hands over their proud ballooning midriffs. A nurse escorts my mother and I to an exam room. She checks vitals (all healthy though your pulse seems high) and glances over bloodwork (normal range for my age?). She shrugs; the door snaps shut behind her.

We wait.


Attachment Theory

by Maria Hewett

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The cliché runs like a ticker tape through my mind. But it’s the best description for the past three years, which have passed like a series of car crashes. Each crash renders a new appendage inoperable. Eventually, every limb is damaged, and I become immobile, paralyzed in a reality I do not recognize but cannot escape. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.

It has been three years since he joined our family at age thirteen. Three years since he boarded a plane for the first time and landed 9,000 miles from the only place he had ever known. My husband and I had waited so long; we wanted this.

Now, every morning, I balance a banana and bowl of cereal in one hand while unlocking the deadbolt on the hallway door with the other. I set the bowl on the floor and rap firmly on his bedroom door. “Okay, time to wake up.” My voice is intentionally robotic. The sheets on his bed rustle. I slip out of the hall and return the deadbolt to the locked position.


The Time of Spring

by Paolo Paciucci

The attack was over in seconds. The young man in the bed lay drenched in sweat, inert, motionless, like a breathing dead person. The nurse I had called with the buzzer tied to the bed rail came in too late to witness the seizure. The soaked linens had to be changed with fresh sheets. Other nurses came to help. After a while, the young man opened his eyes and quietly looked around, disoriented by the return to consciousness after being adrift in the mysterious world of the mind. His mouth still awash with foam, he attempted to say something but couldn’t.

The episode had happened during my morning rounds. I was intrigued by this young patient, perhaps nineteen or younger, who had been transferred to our unit from an affiliated hospital in Queens. His only visitor had been a well-dressed, collected, and unquestioning older woman, probably his grandmother. But she might not have been even a relation: she always quietly left the room whenever I came in as though not to interfere with the confidentiality between doctor and patient. I had never noticed people of his age visiting this young man, whose name I have long since forgotten. Other than for wisps of blond ringlets around the ears, he had already lost his hair after an unsuccessful attempt at chemotherapy at the other hospital. He never complained; whenever he answered my questions, he whispered. He never inquired about his prognostic outlook, as though he were not concerned about improving his conditions or remaining alive.


Daddy’s Girl

by Ria Parody Erlich

Before I was my mother’s daughter, I was Daddy’s girl.

For much of the first six years of my life, my father was my best pal, my playmate, my everything. In fact, I was so afraid of losing him that when I sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee at school and came to the line “land where my fathers died,” I stopped singing in order not to cry because I took it literally.

My father was more available than my mother, who was the family breadwinner and devoted to her job as office manager at an exclusive women’s clothing store on downtown Canal Street, the premier destination for shopping in 1950’s New Orleans. Mama worked six days a week and often came home late, too tired to give me the attention I craved.


2020: Volume 10, Issue 2

2020: Volume 10, Issue 1

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.