Weekly Featured Essay
This week’s featured essay takes its title from a familiar, if descriptive phrase, but applies it in unexpected ways.
by Gary Fincke
“You left him sitting in it,” my wife said, angry because she’d returned from running errands to discover I hadn’t changed our six-month-old son’s reeking diaper. I didn’t argue. The baby was crying. The evidence of my selfishness entered through smell, touch, sight, and sound. No one could have ignored it but the self-absorbed.
I didn’t lie and say he must have just filled that diaper as she walked up the stairs, but I didn’t apologize either as I handed our first-born to my wife and told her I had to leave. I rushed out as if I’d somehow not had a few minutes to spare before keeping a set of afternoon appointments with commuter students at the branch campus of a large state university where I was an English instructor.
My wife would never say things this way, but I knew there was an adult corollary to her expression, one that fit me perfectly—I had shit the bed. Just like my infant son, I was sitting in it, an embarrassment to reflect upon, for sure.
The Museum of Chalkboards Never Erased
by Liza Wieland
Einstein’s chalkboard lives on in the Oxford University History of Science Museum. The lecture captured in chalk was on cosmology, and the measurements on the blackboard estimate the density of matter in the universe, its radius, and the time span of its expansion.
Recently (ten years ago—is that recent? Or has the universe expanded enough already to elongate time?), another scientist discovered a statistical error in Einstein’s measurements. That the error is now preserved makes the chalkboard seems less like science and more like art.
In museum terms, the blackboard is called a mutant, because it no longer serves the philosophical purpose of a blackboard. It can only regain its original purpose by being wiped clean. There was in fact a second chalkboard used by Einstein, but a museum custodian accidentally cleaned it, thus returning its purpose.
Objects can exist in one of two ways. They can function or they can be possessed.
Which would you prefer? To be used or to be owned?
Use is beauty. That is all ye know. That’s what the custodian thought. Also, my job is to clean.
Is a job an object? Maybe.
Jackie, Nina, and Me
by Anika Pavel
“Travel is the university of life”, my mother said with regularity. I thought about her words as I looked out the window into the night, one that started no differently than any other. The moon cast a pale light on the unattractive buildings built quickly by the communist government in the years following World War II. Speed, not beauty, was of essence as the nation rose from the ashes.
As a young teenager, every Friday at 8:00 pm, I listened to the one radio program that broadcast music and poetry the young people in communist Czechoslovakia wanted to hear. I listened to Ave Maria sung by Charles Aznavour, followed by a poem beautifully written by a fellow teenager. It spoke of love and of hope found in a sliver of a blue sky by two young people trapped in darkness—and in that moment it fostered in me a palpable need to write.
My mind was still processing the words of that poem when the radio program was interrupted by a somber announcement:
“The American president, John F. Kennedy, has been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.” It was 8:45 PM.
Letter to a Phantom
by Jean Ryan
I see your bedroom. First, the slanted ceiling angled over the twin beds, Sam’s on one side, yours on the other. Sassy, your beagle, dozing on a blanket on the floor. One small window, a view of the snowy yard below: the burn barrel with a few blackened aerosol cans around it; a listing swing set; Elizabeth trundling about in her blue snowsuit; Rick leaning against the fence, smoking.
“Get out,” you’d say to Sam; being the younger, he would leave without protest. (This impressed me, the straightforward way brothers interacted. In my family of all girls, every request was negotiated.) We’d kiss for a few minutes—you loved to kiss—then take off our clothes and fall into your unmade bed, where we would leave the world behind and thrill each another with endless, steamy foreplay. You were the best sex I never had. At last we’d notice the time and pull on our clothes before your mother, if we were lucky, pulled into the driveway. Afterwards, you would escort me home along the half mile of abandoned railroad tracks that separated our houses. You did this unfailingly, whatever the weather. On the days it snowed, I would pause at the edge of my yard and watch you fade into the white distance, waving at me just before you disappeared. Although I could not see your face, I knew you were smiling.
by Suzanne Ketchum Adams
Viewed from the water, my grandparents’ summer cottage at The Cove stood tall and spindly, like Grandfather himself, poised right on the brink where the lawn dropped off six feet to the rocky beach below.
Like us, my grandparents lived year-round just five miles away, but they were old by the time I came along and seldom came to The Cove anymore. My siblings and I spent every fair summer weekday of our childhoods at The Cove, often with friends in tow, my mother driving us there in the station wagon from the farm where we lived. After we’d left the main road, we bumped along on the dirt one that led down to the shore, past rocky outcroppings and small cottages nestled in the woods, until we came to a hand-painted sign my older cousin Mark had posted years earlier which read: “Dangerous Curve. Speed Limit 100. 95 Night.”
Death in the Family
by Ruth Spack
A feast for the eyes. That’s what I wanted my two young grandchildren to discover at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. But the specter of death loomed over our visit. More than a feast, we needed a balm for the soul. Zachary, almost eight, asked to see the mummies first, and so we headed toward the steep staircase leading to the ancient world. Refusing to hold my hand, his three-and-a-half-year-old sister, Annabelle, started the climb by herself. Zachary walked up a few steps in front of me, then stopped. I stopped too. I could see from his expression he had something serious on his mind.
Zachary pushed his long dark bangs away from his eyes, as if to clear a path for his thoughts. “It’s too bad Lauren died,” he said. “She was only twenty-eight.”
Lauren, our beloved cousin, had overdosed on painkillers three weeks before. It was hard to talk about. “She had a rough life,” I said.
“Now she has no life at all,” said Zachary.
The Ballet Barre
by Aminah Wells
There is a ballet barre in my living room. There isn’t much room for it, but I make it work. You see, just before COVID-19 arrived, I took my first ballet class. I felt awkward and gangly trying to waltz and pirouette across the floor, but there was a sense of belonging at the barre. The barre was smooth to the touch and securely fixed to the wall, a reminder to keep my core stable while attempting the unfamiliar movements and positioning of my feet, legs and arms. When the world shut down and my classes were canceled, barre work seemed easy to replicate at home and a good form of exercise. My kitchen counter, however, wasn’t cutting it—I felt like I should be cooking, not pliéing—so, I bought a barre.
by Andrew Yim
I am three years old in the photo, taken at the end of the Easter weekend, just before Grammy heads back home from New York suburbia to the outskirts of Boston. It is a slap dash portrait—brothers with hair tossed by wind and play, Mom and Dad weary with the holiday effort, framed by the backyard forsythia and violet in first bloom. I stand at Grammy’s side with tears running down my cheeks, distraught and aggrieved that she is leaving. My maternal grandmother was the only grandparent I knew, and I adored her.
I knew my Korean grandparents as black and white photos on the living room wall. Their photos held court like austere religious icons, both blessing and reminder of another place and seemingly another time. Grandma Yim was only a distant voice on late night phone calls from Korea. Though she often made the case for relocation to the United States, Dad argued that, without her church community and friends, she’d be lonely and unhappy. So she stayed in Pusan, South Korea, and we never met. Grandfather Yim died just a few years after my birth. Mom’s father, Grandfather Donovan, died just before she graduated from college.
Which left only Grammy, and she was fun. With a half-smoked Parliament in hand, a Buick with soft leather seats, and a seemingly insatiable love of card games (Uno, cribbage, hearts, and Russian bank), she was, for a grandchild, easy company. She was a connoisseur of simple pleasures: a buttered roll for the grilled hot dog; large, soft pillows on crisp cotton linen; and long summer evenings on her enclosed porch with endless games. She seduced my three brothers and I with these pleasures, reveling in her role as the indulgent grandparent.
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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.
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.