Weekly Featured Essay
This week we feature a companion piece by Liza Wieland to one we published earlier this summer. This one needs no introduction, as its title conveys all that is needed:
by Liza Wieland
In her last year, my mother asked me to gather up all her jewelry and hide it from the cleaning lady (who was completely honest and devoted to my mother). And then my mother forgot all about it. And then she died. So I am in possession of the whole lot: the pearls real and fake, the gold, plate and solid.
When my sister came to visit our mother in the hospital, the nurses asked her to take off our mother’s wedding ring. Steroids were causing her fingers to swell, and so the idea was better do that now than, you now, after…. Our mother protested mightily, but eventually the ring came off, and I presume my sister still has it.
I call these accidental leavings, different from inheritance.
My mother accidentally left us these things.
My mother accidentally left us.
The Last to Go
by Julia Van Buskirk
Outside in the garden, a scrawny robin tugged at an uncooperative worm until it got just the right tension and then, with a frenzied slurp, snapped it from its’ hole. Grandmother did not see it. The distant look in her eyes told me she had not seen what went on around her for a long time.
“It’s sunny out today, Grandma. What do you say we take the winter chill out of our bones?” I pushed her wheelchair from the solarium towards the lobby. “Let’s go for a drive; maybe we can go by the cemetery.”
But we only got as far as the vestibule door where she grabbed the brake on her wheelchair and abruptly locked it in place.
“Grandma,” I implored, “we should really change the flowers on Dad’s grave. The cemetery people don’t like it if you leave the plastic winter wreaths past Memorial Day.”
And then, from a place so deep inside her, so guttural she barked. “No!”
I reached down to unlock the brake. She was his mother, for God’s sake. I was not going to allow her to pretend he never existed. His memory was the fragile link that bound us; without it, she would be alone. I pulled up on the brake as forcefully as I could.
A hard slap met my hand.
The Second Mistake
by Liz Olds
The University of Idaho theater scene shop smelled of cut lumber and cold cream, a smell that made me feel at home, reminding me of my small scene shop in high school. The difference was scale—this hangar-sized room contained a bounty of plywood, two by fours, a radial arm saw, a band saw, a table saw big enough to accommodate plywood, and tools hanging on pegboard with outlines of those tools drawn around them in black magic marker so they would always be returned to the same spot on the wall. In my high school shop we made do with one hand-held power saw, a drill, and a bunch of hand tools—we fought over the ratchet we had bought.
The first time I entered the Idaho theater shop, a woman sat cross-legged on the floor painting a sign on canvas. “University of Idaho Theater presents Guys and Dolls” in bright red letters. The group of us, six first-year theater students, stood silently, nervous, shy, expectant.
“I’m O.B.” she said in a Texas accent. “Y’all must be the freshmen.”
What Time Was It?
by Sydney Lea
That long-legged woman was not you, though she was almost as striking, almost as tall. We stood together for mere moments on the sidewalk, having come out of a Rothko exhibit. The paintings were hung on one floor only. How had I missed her indoors?
She seemed rushed. I saw her hail a taxi and flee, as I inanely put it to myself. In that mere instant, I noticed her beauty, but although they never met mine, it was more specifically her eyes that intrigued me. Unlike yours, they seemed full of sadness.
She shook out her hair just before getting into the cab. The gesture was brisk, but it made me sigh, because it too revealed certain fascinating, if indefinable traits, ones I now know were of my own invention.
Sitting in It
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.
Want even more? Here are links to our two most recent issues:
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.