Visions of Olive

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Tabitha Sanders


William Blake (British, 1757 - 1827), / Satan Exulting over Eve /  British, 1795, Graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor, 42.5 × 53.5 cm (16 3/4 × 21 1/16 in.), 84.GC.49 / Getty Open Content

William Blake (British, 1757 – 1827), / Satan Exulting over Eve /  British, 1795, Graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor, 42.5 × 53.5 cm (16 3/4 × 21 1/16 in.), 84.GC.49 / Getty Open Content

Olive struck the ground with her foot as she drove her scooter over and over the same patch of sidewalk in front of her house. It was her car, and she was driving it to work; she must take care to stop at all of the stoplights and to never go above the speed limit. Her little sister, Amy, had decided to quit the  game, but the disappointment was only temporary. She had her imaginary friends to play with, and they made good playmates.

When they left, though, things did get a bit lonesome. Worse still was when her friends would withdraw, leaving little Olive with the enemies. She knew that they were only visions, that they weren’t really there. The man with the long white-hair was likely a figment from a dream, and the devil voice a secret sadness within her. The other enemies would often come and go, torture her and then leave forever. But these two stuck around for an awful long time, and Olive knew that they could stay forever if they wanted to.

The two enemies had made the decision, it seemed, to disturb and make miserable every aspect of her life. The white-haired man, who would so often appear in her mind and then flash away just as quickly, was in the habit of whispering things of past that had never happened.

As the white-haired man would confuse and distort the world she lived in, the devil voice would demand of her the payment of every second of her life. Any action she strove to do, be it turning her scooter around, picking a Tupperware cup to drink out of from the cabinet, speaking, was to some extent controlled by the devil voice. She would decide to turn her scooter around clockwise instead of counterclockwise, and the voice would change her action: If you don’t turn it counterclockwise, you will be trapped in a different time continuum. While wanting to choose the large blue cup, the voice would rebuke her: You’d better choose the small green cup, or else I will go into your heart when you drink. If about to say hello to someone: Keep your mouth closed or you’ll go to hell.

The battle, was continual. Perhaps it was made worse by the third enemy, the enemy who was real, her new stepfather.

He was a strange man, strange in his appearance, strange in his manner, and strange most of all in his preference for love from children. His acts shook the ground and broke it apart, leaving the shards of restlessness on which her family stood to drift away from each other.

Olive felt that the situation would have been easier had it not been for the visions that haunted her. But, no, the white-haired man would visit her and fill her waking dreamland with  his version of reality; the devil voice would prohibit any freedom and terrify her beyond belief.

The girls went into a kind of years-long trance. No amount of consolation or screaming and yelling could snap them out of—not a bit of cajoling from their mother or cruel mind games from their stepfather would rescue them from it. It tied the two sisters together, each a source of comfort for the other.

They would talk to each other of the brutishness of their stepfather. Perhaps that was why her sister had left their game today so early on—the conversation had come up again. And with it had come an argument-turned-agreement.

Her sister had asked, “Do you think we need to tell someone?”

Olive felt a surge of panic.

“No, only if it happens again. And then we need to tell each other first.”

“But it did happen again, last night,” said Amy softly.

No, Olive, don’t you dare give in. You know it’s better kept a secret. Don’t tell… or else. The devil voice. You really don’t want to find out what I can do to you.

“Well,” Olive faltered again. Inside, she argued with the voice. Amy was crying. “Well. what if we promise each other something? If it happens even one more time, we will tell each other and then give each other a month to tell someone.”

Amy seemed to follow what she meant. “Is it really a promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

The two shook hands like adults and looked each other in the eyes. “Okay. Who are we going to tell, then?”

“I don’t know. We should probably tell mom. But remember, only after a month if it happens again.”

Olive wondered if she find the courage to uphold that promise. And over the next few days she noticed that the devil voice was growing quieter, yet gaining strength in anger. Then there came a new voice, softer, clearly feminine.

Olive. Olive stared at the vision that began appearing, similar in ghostlike appearance to the white-haired man. It was a girl though, and much older than Olive. Olive. May we talk?

As much as Olive desired an escapade conversation, she had to decline the offer for fear of a permanent attachment to this potential enemy. “No. Please go away.”

I’ve come a long way to get here, little Olive. There are some things I need to tell you. Think of me as an older sister. The vision was becoming more vivid as the words grew clear.

“Fine, then. Go ahead.” It would be best to get this spiel out of the way before figuring a way to dispel this vision from her life.

The vision gently led her towards the backyard, where the two sat on bulging tree roots in the mossy shade.

I left you years ago. I am Olive.

Olive studied the figure. It certainly looked a bit like her, but it was too old. It was too different. “You aren’t really me.”

I’m you in the future, when you’re eighteen. I know I’m different, and it’s my fault that you came to be this way. When I left you, I found hatred and selfishness. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much I left you alone to suffer. I thought I had done myself a favor, and therefore done you a favor, but the deeper into life I got I realized it wasn’t true. It seems that for every thing I left you alone to suffer, a reflection of it has shown up in my own life. Now I know your pain, and I am so sorry.

Olive looked down at the thick grass surrounding them, and kept herself quiet for a time. Without the devil voice here to interject its threats and commentary, she found it difficult to judge the veracity of this conversation. The vision seemed patient in that respect, and her silence brought Olive the encouragement to consider. “I really don’t know if this is real, but I forgive you.”

Thank you. Thank you ve
ry much.
Her vision took a moment to examine the yard, as if remembering. May I ask you something?

Olive nodded.
You need to tell someone. It’s hard, but it’s important.

Olive murmured her agreement.

Don’t leave yourself behind. Always stay with yourself; help yourself grow. Don’t hide, and do all you can to keep goodness in your heart.
The vision was fading, and the different volume levels of the voices all mingled again. Her vision was gone, and again the devil voice came and scolded her on her belief of that vision. The white-haired man found evidence against her from his undocumented wealth of knowledge of time.

Upon returning inside, the sound of the swamp cooler overwhelmed her, and the sight of her stepfather slumped on the couch clutching his container of peanuts angered her. She walked quickly, silently, down the hallway into her shared bedroom, where she found Amy curled helplessly onto her bed. The music on the radio was turned low to her sister’s favorite band, and the beats and tunes of emotion mingled with her sobs.

“I just want mommy to come home from the store,” she sniffled. “I’m afraid of daddy.”

Olive climbed up onto the bed with her sister. “I am too. She’ll be back soon.”

Amy looked up at her face. “Do you still promise? Really promise?”

“Yes, I promise. Do you?”

“Yes. But,” Amy sat up, trying to gain composure. “I’m really afraid of telling.”

“I am too, Amy. It’s okay. I promise it’s okay.”

Tabitha Sanders graduated from Chino Valley High School, Arizona, in 2016 with the strong inclination to become a writer. Her dream is to support herself with writing while living in an RV.

Three poems by Leah M. Hughes

Fall 2016, Uncategorized
The Ramones: Photo by Roberta Bayley/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) / Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

The Ramones: Photo by Roberta Bayley/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) / Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame 2002

Wouldn’t Joey Ramone have loved
to have lived to see this?

Wouldn’t he have circled the day,
written down the address,

even if the driver with the boys
were coming to pick him up

again and last and on time
to be inducted into the Rock-n-Roll

Hall of Fame?  Probably
the first time he’d ever visited.

He would have I bet you
lay flat on his back on the carpet

of the condo his manager bought
him when the cash ran like a trout stream

knowing it wasn’t your handprints
they were after:  no gold nude

for the mantle, or a globe or Victrola.
Not even money or a gold record —

“Man,” he would sit up thinking,
“they just want my guitar.”


You’re sexy as hell the guy on the next barstool
said. I wanna know, how’s that sexy? It’s hot?
Cicero knew it in Claudius Pulcher, so grotesquely beautiful
out from his saffron dress, from his headdress,
from his Cinderella slippers and his purple ribbons,

from his dereliction, from his lust.
You’d dress me up like a tart
or in a little devil
costume, complete
with horns and pitchfork,
and then say you’re hot.

I’d dress you up like a fireman.
And I’ll be on fire.

Call It History

In tragedy, you die.
In comedy, you marry
Tell me, who wrote this system?

Considering the options,
I killed parts of myself
every time I said I do,

which was never funny
particularly when I did not anymore.

No bliss outside of marriage –
the system directs out of decency,
preferring the conjugal
to lusting adulterous or flirting.
Yes, even the flirting.

What about – you marry for comedy
and divorce to be born
again, twist of sacrament?

Call it history.

Leah M. Hughes is from Dalton, Georiga.  She attended Oglethorpe University, Georgia State, and Queens University of Charlotte. She educates and writes in the metro-Atlanta area, where she enjoys copious reading, her three dachshunds, gardening, and live music.

The Holdout

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Kelly Lett

Gutted house at the corner of 8th and C streets, NE. / Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos Inc. / Newscom / Universal Images Group /Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Gutted house at the corner of 8th and C streets, NE. / Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos Inc. / Newscom / Universal Images Group /Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Miss Denise’s favorite spot was the left corner chair on her front porch.
Most of her life she had sat there watching the neighborhood. Often she would sit well past sundown, giving the breeze time to dry the day’s humidity caught in the creases of her brow. The August sun didn’t set until near 10pm, but the day’s heat stayed caught inside houses where every movement was a battle against the air itself as it licked at exposed skin, causing a feverish chill. It felt as though the air pushed back , stopped you from moving freely, forced youinto stuffed chairs that, while comfortable in the winter, became soggy, sticky traps in the summer. For all these reasons Miss. Denise longed to sit out on her porch tonight. Instead she stood in the doorway, staring at the faded lawn chair, imagining the cool air in her lungs.
But that relief was just out of reach. Working against the moldy screen door were a legion of mosquitos. They buzzed against the door, seeking any small cut or hole that would allow them access to the old woman’s blood filled arms and legs. This was Michigan in the summer.
“The Devil’s own,“ Miss Denise sighed, swatting at a bug that had gained entrance and started feasting on her arm. Its death left a small splatter of blood on the old womans delicate, thin skin.
Forced by nature to seek relief, Miss Denise stood in the doorway, avoiding the bugs, greedy for the cool air. She looked out across the street, staring at what had once been the Freemans’ house. The foundation was still intact, strong and solid as ever. Like all the houses on this block it had been built well. Michigan weather tested houses and humans alike; striking against them with biting winds, freezing rains and thick snow in winter then turning it all around in summer with unrelenting temperatures and humidity so high a person could swim to the store.
Some of the front porch was still there, wooden beams rising up towards a missing roof. The rest of the house was nothing more than broken glass and charred wood. The Freemans had left ten years ago, nobody had wanted their house, so it sat ready to be stripped for saleable scraps, torn up by vandals, and burned to the ground by unknown shadow figures who came and went at night.
The neighborhood turned 100 this year, but it had started dying at 90. Miss Denise had been born and raised in that neighborhood, in the very house whose doorway she now looked out from. She certainly never thought she would be the only person left in the last house standing on a once lively block.
“Blight!” Miss Denise huffed, “An even uglier word for cancer.”
But houses don’t get cancer, so they call it something short and nasty. It spread like cancer though, leaving little behind except shelters, stray cats, and drug addicts.
A breeze picked up. Closing her eyes she heard it moan through the glassless windows. Far back in her memory a child yelled ‘wait up!’ as bikes whizzed by. She smiled.
“You be careful now!”
Catching herself Miss Denise opened her eyes. The memory faded as she stared out at the remains of the Kibber house. Another memory shoved its way up, overwhelming Miss. Denise with the smell of ribs coming off the grill. Sam Kibber and his ribs! It was a two day process of sauce boiling, meat smoking, biscuit baking, and finally wood fire grilling. The Kibbers never sent out party invitations, they just opened their kitchen windows.
The Kibbers had left eight years before. Their house sat empty, another cancerous tumor for all to see. Finally a mysterious fire had burned any hope of a new family filling its rooms.
Fire took the Greens’ house, too. The Greens had arrived in the late 90’s to a block that was still very middle class. Mr. Green mowed that lawn every week, trimming every edge to symmetrical perfection. He planted flowers so early each spring that a late frost shriveled leaves and froze roots more than once. But the next weekend he’d be back with another flat, all those bright reds and yellows.
Once the blight began, nobody wanted a house on this block, so they had
emptied, one after another and bit by bit they were taken apart. Thieves always arrived first, pulling copper pipes from walls, carting appliances to scrap metal yards, taking doorknobs, lighting fixtures, stained glass windows; anything.
The thieves were followed by squatters and drug addcts. Fights became common in what had once been a peaceful neighborhood. And Miss Denise was certain that the Greens’ house had last been used for murder. From her front porch she once heard such awful sounds.
Cursing, crashing, flesh smacking against flesh; it bothered her so that she had run inside, slamming and bolting the thick wood door. Still she heard screaming, until very suddenly she heard nothing.
She had called the police, telling what she saw and heard, but they never bothered to show.
“Just a torn down neighborhood with a scared old lady, what they gonna do?” she asked nobody.
And so it was up and down the street, memories tied to the remains of homes in a once proud neighborhood. The only keeper of those precious memories, an old woman standing alone in the doorway of the last house left standing.
Sometimes in her mind she saw the Williams Christmas light display, each year it grew bigger and brighter until it went dark three years ago when the Williams took the twinkly bulbs to Georgia.
Once the cancerous blight took hold, the flights of fear began. One after another they had departed, leaving only an old woman in an old house, paid off by her father long before she
took over.
Anger rose in Miss. Denise’s throat, “I told you not to get another mortgage! Factories been closing for 30 years, I said. Interest rates go up, I said. That house is yours! It’s paid for, I said. But you all wouldn’t listen to some dumb old woman. Blue skies and sunshine that’s all you damn fools saw. Well I saw the clouds gathering. Saw the rain a coming, and it came and it fell, like it always does ending good times, like it always does.”
Weii, maybe they all hadn’t taken out second and third mortgages, but enough had. Pensions were squandered trying to fend off foreclosures, but those bright yellow bank notices always ended up tacked on doors.
And if the mortgage man didn’t get you, the tax man did. Nobody cared that when the car parts factory closed it took your dry cleaning customers with it, the city still wants revenue.
“They’re just waiting on me.” Miss Denise shifted her focus back to the frenzy of mosquitoes outside her door. “They’re all just waiting on me. Bloodsuckers.”
She hit out at the screen door causing a small, living cloud to burst away backwards. For a moment they took each other in, the old woman and the buzzing little cloud. The mosquitoes waited, hovering, on the other side of the rotting door. Miss. Denise backed away leaving the cool night breeze for the bugs as the oven-high heat of her living room swallowed her up.

Kelly Lett recently moved from Los Angeles to Detroit to pursue her writing career. Thanks to the internet she is able to tell stories while enjoying a much lower cost of living.

Photo credit: House. . Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 12 Aug 2016.

Maude Mabel and the Big Green Splat: A Children’s Story

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Grace Imbesi

Studio shot of mixture of paints / Visage / Stockbyte / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Studio shot of mixture of paints / Visage / Stockbyte / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Maude Mabel was particular. Maude always kept her room spotless and her fur clean. Her clothes were all folded neatly in her dresser drawers, and her coats and dresses remained hanging in her closet with the hangers all facing in the same direction. Her closet shelves were neatly lined with boxes of crafts and other storage bins. Maude always brushes her teeth for the recommended three minutes, and makes sure to floss every time. She only uses eight squares of toilet paper in the bathroom. Never seven, never nine; Maude felt more comfortable with even numbers.

Maude went about every morning in the same way: she made her bed, put on the day’s favorite dress (unless it happened to be a Friday, and then she put on her favorite purple, polka-dotted shirt), ate a hearty breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jam — never letting the two mingle, gathered her school things in her old backpack with the flower patches sewn into it, and left the house for school at 8 o’clock sharp.

Her schooldays remained almost the same from day-to-day. She started the day with a simple social studies, and continued on with math- she liked math, because everything had a right answer, unlike her next class: English. After English her class took a snack break, and then had gym. Gym was followed by lunch and then recess, which was spent mostly on the swings, where she would swing no more and no less than sixty times. She then had Spanish, music, and finally, her favorite class: art.

Maude liked that art was her last class of the day, so she always had something to look forward to. Whenever her teacher gave them some free time to work on whatever they pleased, she always chose her favorite way of expressing herself: painting. All of her paintings included her three favorite things: the bright yellow sun, a tall, lush tree- always with an owl hole, and herself wearing, of course, her favorite purple polka-dotted shirt. Every time, though, she would change something about the painting. Sometimes there wouldn’t be an owl in the owl hole, or sometimes, depending on the season, the leaves would be orange and red, or not there at all. Some paintings would have more flowers than others, and she often painted herself with blue or pink ribbons in her fur.

One rainy Friday afternoon, there she was, painting her same painting with the purple polka-dotted shirt and her pretty pink ribbons, when the clumsiest boy in class, Jackson Spivey (who Maude Mabel tried to avoid as often as possible) swung his arm around and accidentally knocked over a bottle of green paint, making one large splat right on top of her artwork, landing right where she had just painted her perfect, purple, polka-dotted shirt. Jackson Spivey froze in embarrassment as Maude Mabel froze in frustration. Her stomach started filling up with thunder and lightning that was just as anxious as the storm brewing outside, just as it always does when she’s forced to stray from her routines, but then something funny happened… The rain outside started calming down, and so did her stomach…

Maude stood staring at the painting, confused. She couldn’t explain why, but she actually sort of liked the way the green splat looked on her purple shirt. Maybe it was the way the two colors looked together, or maybe it was how the splat was so simple that it added just enough crazy to actually look cool. Whatever it was, it changed Maude Mabel’s perspective and she hugged and thanked the messy boy who she had hated all year.

After this art class phenomenon, Jackson and Maude became best friends, and he showed her how to live life in a more fun, carefree way. At recess, he showed her that you don’t have to stop swinging once you reach sixty, because seventy, or even eighty, can also be fun, and you don’t even have to count at all!

At home, during dinner time, Maude saw her brother mixing his mashed potatoes with his meatloaf. At first, she was disgusted at the thought of food touching, but he seemed to enjoy it, and so she thought she would give it a try. She took her fork, mixed away, and threw a heaping mouthful of mash onto her tongue. She was delighted by how it tasted and could not believe she hadn’t discovered this sooner.
After these little discoveries, Maude wondered what other little secrets to happiness were hiding behind the routines she had spent so long perfecting, and she decided to get a little crazy… Maude took all the arts and crafts boxes out of her closet and spilled its contents all over her desk, hoping that she would in time become more creative. She opened up her sock drawer and tossed around rainbow handfuls until striped socks rested with polka-dotted socks and pink socks hung around with orange socks, because who doesn’t like a little mixin’ and matchin’? She tore up all of her gel-pen lists, neglecting any and all routines she had planned for the night, the next day, and all the days after that. Maude went back to her closet and mixed everything up, no longer feeling the need for her dresses to be color coordinated. After tiring herself out from all the excitement of new experiences, Maude decided to go to sleep early, at 8 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock. She changed into mismatched pajamas, climbed into bed, and, soon,  Maude Mabel was resting soundly with hangers pointing every which way.


Grace Imbesi, aspiring poet and children’s author. English major at Russell Sage College of Troy. New York.

Photo credit: Studio shot of mixture of paints. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. Accessed 11 Aug 2016

Four Haibun

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Pat Tompkins

MATSUO BASHO (1644-1694). - Japanese poet. Scroll painting by Watanahe Kwasan. The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

MATSUO BASHO (1644-1694). – Japanese poet. Scroll painting by Watanahe Kwasan. The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

Note: Haibun, originally a Japanese literary form, combines prose and haiku. Usually the prose suggests a story or journey, and, as with haiku, the prose should be succinct, concrete rather than abstract, leaning more toward imagery than narration. What’s key is that the haiku, which does not need to follow the old 5-7-5 syllable “rule”, works with the prose without repeating it. The haiku can serve as a juxtaposition; and, although it is often last, can appear elsewhere in the piece.


The Coconut Cake Lady


A woman twice my age approached me at the bakery while I waited for my order. “You don’t know me and I don’t know you,” she said, looking somber. “Would you buy me a piece of coconut cake?
My eyebrows probably gave away my surprise at this very specific and, at eight in the morning, peculiar question. Who eats cake so early? I said, “Do they even have coconut cake today?” I peered at the display case: cheesecake, a chocolate torte, strawberry tarts, and looming high, the four-layer extravagance feathered with white flakes.
“Yes, they do,” she said with enthusiasm. A card noted the price: the most expensive item. She didn’t look homeless, just shabby. Her cardigan’s Fair Isle pattern was blurred by wear and seemed heavy for June. I handed her the money. “Thank you so much.”
I took my raisin toast and coffee to the patio, my Saturday morning treat, as I read the newspaper. The bakery’s coffee wasn’t as dark as I like, but there was cream and free refills, plus real butter and decent marmalade. For an hour, I could pretend to be the type who splurged on fancy coffee drinks and rich sweets, even though I ordered plainer fare.

As I paged through the paper, I wondered: Did I look like an easy mark? Her cake cost more than my items combined. Consider it a good deed. Anyone desperate enough to ask for cake deserved it. You can’t get what you want unless you ask for it, right?
It’s not enobling, dwelling on the cost of things. I went inside for more coffee. The cake lady sat with an empty plate and espresso cup. She said, “I would have paid for the cake with a check but they wouldn’t take it without the manager’s approval.And the manager isn’t in yet. It’s ridiculous. I’ve been at my bank 22 years.”
I gave her a thin smile. Who writes a check for cake? You must think I’m really dumb.
Later, I realized what bothered me: fear. Fear that I’d end up like her, alone and poor in the city, begging for a treat.

she walks with a cane
among quaking aspens
early November




Camera Obscura


Not a modest man, Eadweard Muybridge, he of the weird spelling, often signed his negatives Helios. Sun god. Some god. And he dubbed his mobile darkroom, horse-drawn wagon or chariot, “Helios’s flying studio.” To capture action, most famously a running horse, all hooves off the ground—he shot a series of stills.
An early name for what we call photography was “sun drawing”. Monsieur Daguerre gave his name to his craft. Writing with light, with an echo of fancy and fantasy in photo. Can we believe what we see or is it a trick of the light? Or a manipulation of the image (cousin of imitate), sleight of hand? Solar print. If we can’t count on the sun—sunrise/sunset—what can we rely on?

conquers the art of drawing:

is handwriting next?



Mauna Kea

It’s May in Hawaii yet I’m wearing a knee-length down jacket, hood up, and padded gloves because it’s also 35 degrees and windy atop this inactive volcano. An elevation of nearly 14,000 feet and absence of light pollution make it one of the best accessible places on Earth for viewing the night sky.
Near the equator, this view encompasses the northern and southern hemispheres. A simple pivot brings me the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper in one place. Although only a few thousand feet closer, the stars appear much nearer.

by starlight
how far can you go?



Paving the Road to Hades

The ancient Greeks are always with us. Developed as a painkiller, morphine, a derivative of opium, was named for Morpheus, Greek god of dreams. Heroin was intended to be a non-addictive substitute for morphine. name, from Greek heros, refers to a godlike character with great power. Unfortunately, heroin is highly addictive and more potent than morphine. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer marketed it in 1895 as an over-the-counter cough suppressant; it remained a Bayer trademark until World War I.

losing a war
by missing the enemy


Pat Tompkins is an editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She discovered the haibun form a few years ago and has published in CHO, Haibun Today, KYSO Flash, and other publications.


Photo credit: MATSUO BASHO (1644-1694). – Japanese poet. Scroll painting by Watanahe Kwasan.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Aug 2016.



The Day the Sun Turned Black

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Jerine P. Watson

Girls playing in school playground / John Birdsal

Girls playing in school playground / John Birdsal

My world was not very extensive, back in those days.  The house, the backyard, the front yard, the driveway, the sidewalk.  We lived in a small bungalow on a busy street named Rice Boulevard.  I loved to say the name and even today, I think it has a nice ring to it.

The brick on the house was a dark red.  The front door was heavy wood with a fascinating crystal doorknob I liked to stare into.  The living room was always in shadow and seemed cooler than the rest of the house.  The only light from the outdoors streamed in from a narrow leaded glass panel set into the wall, beside the door.

Our front porch consisted of a rectangular thick slab of concrete, devoid of pillars or inlaid pebbles.  It was smooth and satiny-feeling to my bare feet.  Blistering hot in the summer, cold as ice in the winter and slick as oiled glass in the rain.  On each side of the steps leading down to the front walk stood large spruce trees – the variety that was always plagued with “bag worms” encased in their tiny little gray cocoons, swaying in the breeze like dun-colored, shabby Christmas ornaments.  When no one was looking, I picked them off, pried them open and watched the worms inside wiggle and try to dodge the bright light I had let in.  After they ceased to be entertaining, I squashed them under my heel.

The driveway, two narrow ribbons of parallel tracks, was of special significance in my small world.  Daddy came home up that driveway.  When I saw his black coupe bump up over, then cross the bulging, heat-swollen strips of asphalt and cough its way up to the wooden garage in back, my heart pounded with excitement.  After my afternoon nap, I parked myself astride my tricycle on the front walk, in order to be there first thing when he came home.

Between the sidewalk in front of our house and the curbing of the street was planted a four-foot parkway of grass.  Leafy tallow trees stood guard along this strip, one every eight feet or so.  To the right of our walk near the curb was an orange and black bus stop marker.  Made of a wooden stake four inches square, it leaned crookedly in the dry dirt by the curbing, taller than I was.  The word “BUS” was printed downward from the top in black letters, on the orange half.

One steamy afternoon, I had tired of squashing the worms on the hot porch and pedaled my tricycle back and forth along the sidewalk, watching and waiting for Daddy’s car.  I was not allowed to go beyond the hedge bordering the far side of the driveway, nor was I permitted to go along the sidewalk beyond its intersection with the drive of the house on the other side.

That day, I looked up to see a woman and a young boy about my age, walking on the sidewalk, coming from the area beyond my permitted range.  The woman was heavy-set, more than plump, and smiled at me.  I smiled back and looked with interest at the boy. He grinned shyly and ducked his head.  I remember the feathery length of his eyelashes, the wondrous shining of his eyes and his startlingly white teeth.

They stood by the bus stop, the boy hanging from the post by one hand, swinging himself around and around slowly, lunging out over the danger of the street in a daredevil sort of way, watching my face, his eyebrows arched upward in a teasing question.  I dismounted from my tricycle and joined him, laughing aloud.  When he laughed with me, dimples stamped his cheeks with a delighted mischief.  His mother chuckled at our antics, her bosom bouncing as she shifted the paper package she carried in her arms.

It wasn’t long before the boy and I, with an instantaneous mutual joy, were holding hands and playing Ring-Around-The-Rosy in the afternoon sun, tumbling ourselves down on the grass at the end of each twirling time.  Over and over we sang the old rhyme, over and over we threw ourselves down on the sticky grass.  Our giggles were spontaneous, our rapport mystical.  I couldn’t recall ever having had so much fun.  I remember the slight odor emanating from his white shirt.  He smelled of soap, starch and sunshine.  His mother watched us, smiling her gentle approval, warning us occasionally to “be careful.”

           I didn’t notice the front door of our house opening, but I remember the sound of my mother’s shriek:

“You get in the house this minute!”

I looked at the boy and his mother, bewildered.  He had run to stand stiffly against her skirt, his black eyes round with fright, his face solemn.  His mother’s face clouded over with something I could not understand.  Her eyes narrowed into slits and she looked toward my mother, then away from me. I was filled with an inexplicable guilt as I ran as fast as I could, up the front walk and into the darkness of the living room.  My mother slammed the heavy oaken door and grabbed me by the arm.

“Don’t you ever let me catch you playing with any of those filthy people again, young lady!  They’re mean and dirty and you should know better!”

She jerked me around and beat my bottom with a flat hairbrush until my skin stung like I’d sat in a nest of yellow jackets and the tears streamed down my face.  When her anger was satisfied, she stormed from the room, leaving me alone with my hysteria, unable to get my breath.

I remember stumbling over to the leaded glass panel beside the door.  I leaned forward, trying to get a better look at the evil people outside by the bus stop.  My tears and the beveled glass sections distorted the image of the outdoors, but I could make out their shapes, still waiting for the afternoon bus.  I saw the boy’s round black head above his white, white shirt and his mother’s gentle brown hand resting on his shoulder, where his red suspenders crossed over.  Not until that instant did I know there was such a thing as different skin color.  Only at that precise, frozen moment in time did I become aware of certain persons’ “blackness.”  I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, sniffled myself quietly into dry spasms and absorbed my mother’s ignorant fear with a four-year-old’s trusting obedience.

Nearly a lifetime later, I have often wished that young boy and his mother could know how I have grown from that prejudice, that ignorant xenophobic racism, of the “old South.”  Now perhaps they do.

Jerine Pace Watson was graduated from Southern Methodist University with BA in English. Her work has been published in HowlRound, Brazzil, and Penthouse, and she has published several novels and chapbooks. As a Featured Writer, Jerine is willing to field questions on the esthetic and commercial aspects of being an author. She may be reached at


Photo credit:Girls playing in
school playground. D055647John Birdsall / John Birdsall Education / John Birdsall Social Issues Photo Library / Press Association Images / Universal Images GroupRights Managed / For Education Use Only / Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Aug 2016.