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Weekly Featured Essay

What is it like to only feel married “sometimes” as determined by the demarcations on a map and the legal interpretations of those you will never meet?

For the Land of the Free

By Christine Kiefer

I am wrapped up in a map of the United States of America.

I have an artsy map of the country hanging above my bed. I look at it when I lay on the bed backwards to pet my cats. When I drift off to sleep, I see myself, smack dab in the middle of the U.S. of A.

Missouri is tricky. We touch six other states. Just a slight brushing against Tennessee and Oklahoma, in addition to the obvious ones. Of course, I am aware that many people in The United States of America can’t find Missouri on a map at all. I have no hard feelings about this. I know its body, its jagged lines, its little “bootheel” at the southeast corner, how one could travel along Route 66 and find kitschy historical landmarks, like “Gary’s Gay Parita,” where the “gay” is actually a woman’s name, not a queer person like me.

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The Loom

By Alicia Robinson Geilen

For the last twenty-five years, I have carted around the pieces of a barn loom that has been in my family for at least six generations. And until recently, the idea of putting it back together again had begun to seem like a pipe dream. The story of how a 100 plus year-old loom got from a chicken house in Oklahoma to a basement in New Hampshire, with the help of a stranger from Connecticut, is one of true serendipity.

The loom, when set up, is a five-foot cube of thirty or so hand-hewn oak timbers. God only knows what it weighs. My Grandaddy was taught to weave on it by his grandmother, who was born in 1863. Sadly, nothing woven by his mother or grandmother survives. But each of his eight grandchildren received a small piece that he wove out of dime-store-quality string and yarn. Next, he wove a small piece for each of the eleven greatgrandchildren who had been born by that time. Eventually he had to stop weaving as his health declined, and the loom sat abandoned in the old chicken house at the back of the garden, which he had used as his workspace. Then in the late 1990s, my grandparents were moved into a nursing home, and the contents of their house divided among family. No one wanted the old loom. It was slated to be thrown out, so I offered to take it. Problem solved! Except that it was in Tulsa, and I lived in Massachusetts.

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Try Harder

by Julie Wittes Schlack

“Which dish towel do you use for dishes?” my mother-in-law Roz asked while helping to clean up after dinner at our house one night. This was in the early days of my marriage, when her ways were still new to me.

In the span of a microsecond I wondered: How many dish towels do I have? How many dish towels should I have? What else would I use a dish towel for besides dishes?

“Oh, any one will do,” I answered genially, magnanimously, cluelessly.

“Really,” she said, almost trembling with the effort it took to contain her judgment. “I know I’m always grabbing a towel to clean up a spill on the counter—you know, if I overfill the coffee cup or I get a little dirty water run-off from the dish rack or …” (chuckling) “… I remember one time I was spraying the cast iron skillet—this was before the days of Teflon—I was spraying the skillet—this was my mother’s old frying pan that she probably got from her mother, that’s how old it was—I was spraying the skillet with Pam—the butter-flavored Pam—I don’t like the olive oil flavor; I find it too heavy somehow …”

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Pauline

by Inez Hollander

He attaches herself to his body as a tick does to a cow.
~ Henry Miller, Moloch (1992)

I had passed out on the bed, but the penetrating smell of alcohol, uterine blood and sweat of contractions made me come to. I remembered instantly.

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Our Second Outbreak

by Patti Niemi

Opera plots don’t bother with reality. In Wagner’s The Ring, a brother and sister make out and have a baby together. So it’s a plot twist worthy of opera that Covid-19 is San Francisco Opera’s second experience with contagion. Twenty-seven years earlier, we dealt with a different epidemic.


That one began with an itch.


It was November, the busiest part of our season. The orchestra was stuffed into the pit for rehearsals by day and performances at night. Sweat was destroying the armpits of tailcoats; spit was raining down from the singers above us. We were asking to spread germs.

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Piano

by Lori Lindstrom

I was nine, sprawled on my bed writing in my five-year diary when I heard the first five notes (alternating E and D-sharp) of “Fur Elise” by Beethoven. Oh good, Cindi’s playing again. I opened my bedroom door to allow her music to enter, awestruck at the sound of her fingers flying across the keyboard, never missing a note, never missing a beat.

Lord, can she play. She even plays better than dad.

Cindi played the classics—Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. But her favorite piano book—a red cover with a boy and a girl dancing on the fire escape stairwell—was music from West Side Story, a modern-day remake of Romeo and Juliet starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. If she wasn’t playing show tunes from West Side Story, she was listening to the film soundtrack, flitting around the living room singing, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty/I feel pretty, and witty and bright.”

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Wisdom from the Alligator Purse

by Emma Berndt

          Once upon a time I sat in a miniature chair in a parent-tot class and became smitten with ‘the lady with the alligator purse.’ Remember her from the playground rhyme “Ms. Lucy had a baby” that children sing while playing hand clapping games? If not then here’s a refresher. A baby by the name of Tiny Tim drinks all the bathwater and then tries to swallow the tub itself. Understandably he doesn’t feel so great afterward. Ms. Lucy calls the doctor, who calls the nurse, who calls the lady with the alligator purse. The doctor looks at Tiny Tim and declares he’s sick with measles and the nurse says it’s the mumps. But, in the version read at parent-tot that day, the lady with the alligator purse declares the doctor’s and nurse’s assessment of the situation nonsense. She says there is nothing wrong with Tiny Tim and then she orders pizza for everyone. That’s the end. And, listening to the story that day I was struck with the feeling that I’d spent time as a mom to first one and then two small children desperately needing more of her wisdom. Could I get her number?

          After my second son was born, I left the workforce with no immediate plans to return. At the time, I had trained myself over nearly two decades of climbing the ranks in the working world to spend a large portion of my day in a state that I now refer to in my head as “robot.” In “robot” mode, every email that popped into my inbox would cause my heart rate to speed up and a small surge of adrenaline to course through my body. I prided myself on how quickly I could dispatch various tasks and the sheer volume of work I could process. I wanted to excel in my job, and like many people I know, a lot of my very identity was wrapped up in my work.

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Carrying Sam

by Karen Foster

My father and I have a schedule: I pour the cereal into each child’s bowl, and he adds the strawberries, defrosted from the night before. I put clothes in the washer, and he moves them to the dryer, initiating a truce between us. If he bathes the kids, I dry them and put them in pajamas. He hands me the baton as he leaves for work, and I run my leg of the course until I go to school or work and then give it back to him.

Everyone in town knows the shocking story of how our mother abandoned us, her flight from our lives bringing an end to a kind of chaos she seemed to cherish and initiating the schedule by which my father and I managed our own negotiations. The day of her departure was the happiest of my life. I was sixteen and she had been keeping me home from school since I was six.

“I just can’t get her to go to school,” Mummy tells my third-grade teacher. No one would believe me if I said she keeps me at home, that she gives me her pills, that she lies.

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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.
Want even more? Here are links to our two most recent issues:

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.