Category: The Journal

After the Storm

by Elena Schwolsky, Workshop Leader

“It has been exactly a year,” Sarah thought as she glanced at the calendar from Valdez Insurance Inc. held to the fridge by a magnet. The magnet was one she had bought on one of her vacation trips—it had tickled her at the time. “The only normal people are the ones you haven’t met yet” it proclaimed—black letters on a white background that had yellowed during its time on the fridge.
___“More true now than it was when all this started,” she thought, gesturing around her tiny kitchen as if “all this” was somehow contained in the hodgepodge of mismatched appliances, Formica counters, and clutter of tchotchkes that crowded the kitchen where she had made her morning coffee for over 30 years.
___Nothing in the kitchen had changed in this year. The toaster still worked only when it wanted to. The refrigerator sounded like an outboard motor when it cycled on and the stove required a long wooden match to light the burners. Oh, but she and Nate had whipped up some tasty meals in this kitchen. Well, there was something that had changed–– Nate was no longer here. Sarah wondered if their love and deep friendship would have survived quarantine together––or the isolation of being in their own separate spaces. But Nate had left, just before all this.
___There was a before, though it seemed long, long ago––but so far, no real after that Sarah could hold onto. Yes, she had managed to get her two shots and had celebrated briefly––pouring herself a rum and coke and imagining herself on a tropical island—even asking Alexa to play some cumbia music and dancing around the living room with an imaginary partner.
___So much in her life was imagined now—what a hug from her dear friend Deenie would feel like after all this time, how it would feel to walk on the Avenue without a mask covering her smile. She wondered if she even knew how to be with people in real life anymore, make small talk, laugh at a joke. Was it like riding a bike—just get on and pedal—or would she have to learn all over again?
Sarah sat with her coffee in her chair by the window. The garbage had finally been picked up, but patches of dirty snow still dotted the curb and trash was strewn up and down the block.
___The storm was over, and they had survived–– worn, battered, ragged at the edges. How much they had learned was still unclear. And what would happen next––a complete mystery.


The grey blue of a sliver of sky visible between dusty brick walls
The yellow of a tulip curling into itself
The magenta of the tiny buds on the tree outside the window
The filtered gold of the sunlight behind the shades
The distant song of unseen birds
The milky beige of her morning coffee
The clank of the spoon on the saucer
The smell of garlic from her neighbor’s kitchen
This narrow slice of the world was all she had
Shrinking from one day to the next in a relentless test
Of her ability to subtract.
What would be left when she finally opened her door?

Case Closed

By J.P. Swartelé-Wood

Eleanor knew she would have to leave out much of what she wanted Eddie to know about her after she was gone. Over the past three years she had broached the subject of vital information he would surely need—or maybe even want—if she were the first to die.
___Even thinking about Eddie on his own in the old house, oblivious as he was regarding its plumbing and heating, the quirks of odd sounds that meant nothing and would remain meaning nothing because inaudible to him as he would probably ever remain resistant to wedging his hearing aids into place—yes, Eddie on his own, at a loss even to find the toolbox—oh, it would be grim and she felt for him.
___Would she look down from heaven or up from hell and pity him? Or maybe an afterlife she might find really did exist would allow her to whisper, in ghostly fashion, “Eddie, call a repairman. Face the facts. Be glad, you have cash to pay him.”
___The first of the two suitcases was almost full. Only add the last three years of their joint tax returns, a checkbook, photocopies of Eddie’s medical records and of course, Eleanor’s life insurance policy that should serve as a big fat cushion of cash, $750,000—more than either of them had ever dreamed of possessing.
___Next, she reached for the dark blue leather suitcase, Aunt Chrissy’s from her college days. Eleanor opened it and did a quick calculation of which mementos, letters, notebooks, and diaries she could safely leave for Eddie’s eyes.
___As for easing his heart, she had already a cardboard box half-filled with her photos and letters from the boys and men—some from her long-ago youth, some from recent years—who had enraptured her and frustrated her over those years. All those engagements and attachments that, if Eddie were to learn of them, would surely break his heart. She knew herself to be at times disloyal, but she did not think herself cruel. In two hours, she would have the cardboard box full and could heft the lot out to the backyard. Newspaper, kindling, and matches were all in place. What a bonfire it would be!



A Day at a Time

The rain had stopped before dawn. Lydia had now no excuse to cancel her visit to her new neighbor a mile or so along the track to the village. An older man, maybe sixty to Lydia’s forty-six, but agreeable in a sort of Solid-Citizen way. Although these days what fit that description was becoming ever harder to describe and, Lydia had concluded, even harder to find.
___His name was George Harrison. He chuckled at the many jokes he’d been subjected to for not being the George Harrison. “No, can’t sing a note. Never learned an instrument. I can dance a bit, that’s about it. I like to dance. Do you like to dance?”
___Lydia was unaccustomed to this kind of banter with its hint of a possible invitation to spend time together on the dance floor. What came immediately to mind for her was the flash of a mirrored globe, revolving on the ceiling. Scenes from a distant disco past. This George Harrison seemed reasonable. Maybe not a solid citizen, but not a scoundrel either. She could be a casual acquaintance, invite him for coffee and cake—innocuous—and why not try out again, after seventeen months of mourning John’s cancer-ridden departure from this life, to get to know a man, just a little?
___Lydia had met George two days earlier and smiled when he waved and walked on toward his rented cabin. Then turned back and called out to her, “Do drop by. I’d like some company.”
___She had pulled from the freezer the apple cake she made every three weeks or so. It was thawing, the rain had stopped, she had argued with herself the pro’s and con’s of “dropping by” George Harrison’s cottage. Maybe he would have gone for a walk, or off to the supermarket. That would be best. He would not answer her knock or the ring of his doorbell. She could put the one-half cake, carefully wrapped in waxed paper, into the small package bin on his doorstep, tape a note to say, “Sorry I missed you, George Harrison. Cake in the bin. Enjoy. —Lydia Crouse.”
___Then she could pick up today where yesterday had left off. That would start another no-risk day.


by Sandy Santora

The Battle of Stalingrad. The storm. This months and months long battle between Germany and Russia was one of the turning points in World War II.
___It occurred between August,1942 and February,1943, and ––after countless defeats for Russia–– their strategy was finally effective against Germany.
___Russia’s top general, Zhukov, brilliantly encircled Germany’s weak point to their stronghold, gathering momentum. The German general, Frederick Paulis, was ordered by Hitler to stand firm and not retreat.
___This decision would draw the Germans to the streets of Stalingrad for house-to-house fighting. It was no match for the Russians. But they were no match for the Russians who were noted for their combat in one-to-one confrontations. Eventually the Germans were trapped and the consequences dire.
___Against the direct orders from Hitler, Field Marshall Paulis (newly promoted) surrendered to the Russians and it marked the beginning of the end for Germany.
___Many historians have their opinion on the turning points of the war.
___This is mine.



Tina had no idea that she would go from the adoring wife to a man she trusted with her life and happiness, to a woman filled with a broken heart and fear for her life.
___Her growing doubt about John was always pushed into the recesses of her mind but today it caused a nagging feeling to surface and, with it, trepidation for her being.
___John had told her late last night that he wanted them to go to their summer cottage located deep in the forest in Maine.
___It was November and his excuse for going was that he needed to meet with the mayor of the town to discuss something to do with building a restaurant in the area. It needed the approval of the county board members.
___Tina would not have thought this trip meant anything sinister, but just that morning she saw it–– the reason John had been working late, missing dinner and pulling away from her affection.
___She saw his emails. Why she had scanned and then spied on his emails?
___“I can’t believe I’m doing this. Why am I so suspicious?” The thought gave her a chill.
___But there they were–– love letters written every morning for weeks from her husband to
___The notes between them were so intense. Tina felt her heart sink with hurt and anger. Then a worry began to grow.
___“He wants to go to the cottage, in the woods, away from anyone close by,” Tina thought. “Why doesn’t he just ask for a divorce?”
___Then It then dawned on her. Just a couple of months before they had both taken out life insurance policies–– for a million dollars each.
___Later, packing to leave for their trip to Maine, Tina called a friend. John did not know where she lived. Then Tina left her apartment to hide from the man she had loved forever and save herself from his intentions.


Where is the Light

Where is the light?
Has it been hidden for these too many years?
Does it shine where we cannot see it?
Does it shine while we sleep?
Oh, a glimmer is passing through quickly – hold on to the seconds it appears.
It’s moving more slowly now.
Yes, we can see the shine peeking through the maze of darkness.
Oh, light keep appearing so we can feel that sense of satisfaction within ourselves.

Questions for the Quarantine

by Rhonda Zangwill, Workshop Leader

Is your mask impermeable? Impermeable to what? To air?
Does it filter, purify, sanctify? Are you impermeable? To me, to my moods? What about my slings and arrows?

And what of the undulating microwaves? From kitchen to bed to bath and back to bed. Do you want to go back to bed? With, or without me? With or without a mask?

Is this a high touch surface? Is that? Don’t you miss the depths? The digging, the excavating? All those layers? Will they still peel back now, today, after all that…Disinfection?

Did you miss a spot? Is that the spot that will invade, insert? Maybe adhere? Or will it just drop by for a visit, depositing nothing?

Will it dissipate into a thousand inconsequential, insignificant ions, capable of no deadly mutation?

When will it become no more than ordinary matter?
And when it does, will it matter?


The Oracle

I consulted the oracle this morning. No appointment. I knew this was wrong, but it was an emergency. Time was fleeting.

She was sunbathing. In a kidney-shaped pool. Wearing tiny black eye protectors. She gave no sign that I was there. She was tossing pinto beans into the shallow end, each creating little concentric circular waves.

I heard that to get her attention, an offering was necessary. The rumor was that she favored sliced mangoes but this season all the mangoes had withered. Instead I had Prosecco and an exquisite champagne flute. It was well known that the oracle had a weakness for carbonation.

I placed the glass, brimming with bubbles, on the pool’s smoothest edge.

I had prepared questions sure to appeal to her reputation for philosophical conundrum. Clearing my throat, I asked: “What kind of times are these? Are these the times that try men’s souls?”

Then I added “How about women’s?” The oracle did not respond.

I tried again, refilling her glass. “Are you having the time of your life? Am I? Is anyone?”

Still, nothing. No response. Also no more pinto beans.

The oracle frowned.

Maybe, I thought, a more whimsical approach. Maybe a fairy tale. “Once upon a time,” I said, “time stood still.” I waited. Just when the silence was nearly unbearable I announced (with a mischievous look) “then it marched on. In a huff. But, is it true what they say? Is it true that time heals all wounds?”

The Oracle stared at the empty champagne flute. “Time’s up,” she said. And then she submerged, leaving only a steady stream of bubbles on the surface of the pool.

If You’re A Lady

by Beverly Schutzman

If you’re a lady
If you’re a lady who owns a horse
If you’re a lady who owns a horse that is also a lady
If you’re a lady who owns a lady horse and you’re both born bred and breathe Southern
You may gentlewoman below the Mason and Dixon Line swish hooped skirts of
nostalgic Civil War Time just a yesterday away
You may charge into an antebellum dining hall as long as an Alabama drawl mounted
bare back on your summer white stead Lady
You may accessorize your flamboyance with extraordinary eccentricity and far out of the
box hoof marks flattening the plain cardboard of conventionality
You’re a lady
You’re a lady who owns a horse
You’re a lady who owns a horse that is also a lady
You’re a lady who owns a lady horse and you’re both born bred and breathe Southern