Archives for posts with tag: Stories


Mercy, Merci
by Melanie Villines

It’s election day 1996 and I’m in Paris—covering an ulcer conference as a medical writer. Everywhere I go, people ask about “Beel Cleentone.” They love him here—the American hipster in shades with a saxophone. But the conference is over and I’m free to spend a week on my own. I change hotels and check in to a place on the Ile St. Louis recommended as Parisian perfection by a famous psychic who used to live here. That must have been a long time ago, because this place is worse than a dump—it’s scary, with thick peeling coats of wallpaper that seem to move. My room is close to the street with windows anyone could jump through. I manage to call a spot where I’d stayed before and book a room. I run outside, rush down to the main street and hail a cab. I duck my head inside. “Do you speak English?” He shakes his head. I open the door and sit in the taxi. I try to explain my problem in the simplest way I can. “Mon hotel est mal,” I say and point, then point in another direction to show that I want to go somewhere else. He gets the message, zooming down narrow streets to the hotel, waiting while I get my bags and check out, zooming across town, pulling up at the new spot, helping me inside with my bags. I give him a 200-franc tip. Later, I sit at a café, ready to read with my prescription sunglasses—but they are gone, lost in the shuffle to change hotels. When I return to the hotel, the concierge hands my sunglasses to me. The cab driver came back with them. Was it my trying to speak French? The big tip? Or was it Beel Cleentone?

PHOTO: Bill Clinton plays “God Bless the Child” on the saxophone (Arsenio Hall Show, June 1992).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Villines is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her latest novel is Windy City Sinners (Sugar Skull Press, 2015).

gift card

The Christmas Present
by Kristina England

I was certain I had placed the gift card in my designated Christmas drawer. As I lived alone, I could designate a drawer in plain sight at the bottom of my bedroom dresser.

I pulled out the drawer to take a deeper look. I peered into the darkness, reached my hand back there and felt around. No card, not even a piece of lint or haphazard penny.

I stuck the drawer back into its home, losing a handle in the process. This was expected. It had been a cheap dresser. The screws never stayed in place as if they were constantly trying to escape a less than adequate home. I gently lined up the metal hinge, then tightened the screws for the millionth time.

I was one present short and it was Christmas Day. My sister wouldn’t miss it and I convinced myself I would find it a week later.

A year passed and as I stuck presents in the drawer in preparation for another holiday, my cat came around the corner and dropped something from her mouth. She darted out of the room and left me staring at the gift card perplexed.

“But how? Where?”

I had forgotten about the cat, the same cat who had stolen a roll of toilet paper and made confetti out of it under my bed.

A week later, I counted all my gift cards. The lost one was there, but another of my sister’s cards, bought two days before, was gone. The cat sat behind me, eyes staring straight ahead, unreadable.

I muttered and began searching the house as she followed me around. I could almost feel her eyes saying, “You’re getting cold,” yet her face seemed to grow warmer with each minute in that shared, indisputable language of laughter.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I immediately thought of this story when I read the Lost and Found theme. My cat can be best described as a class clown and I never know what she’ll do next. She makes for good entertainment and I always think works herself into my creative process knowingly as she loves attention. Of course, she always learns new tricks, but never shakes the old ones. Maybe one day I can keep the bathroom doors open without her stealing a roll of toilet paper. There’s always hope.

Kristina England Photo1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristina England was born and resides in Worcester, Massachusetts. She is an artist and writer. Her work has appeared in several magazines, including Foliate Oak, New Verse News, Silver Birch Press, and Tipton Poetry Journal. For the latest on her writing and artwork, follow her on facebook at



Our first jobs usually didn’t pay that well, but left us with lots of stories to tell.  We’d like to hear about your fledgling foray into the workplace in our MY FIRST JOB Poetry and Prose Series!

PROMPT: Tell us about your first job in a poem (any reasonable length) or prose piece (300 words or fewer — this word limit also applies to prose poems).

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems or prose. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish the piece on social media. We are a nonprofit blog and offer no monetary compensation to contributors. If your piece was previously published, please tell us where/when so we can credit the original publisher.

WHEN: We’ll feature the poems and prose in the Silver Birch Press MY FIRST JOB Poetry and Prose Series on our blog starting in May 2017. We’ll also feature the work on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Email one poem or prose piece to as an MSWord attachment — and in the same file include your name, contact info (including email address), one-paragraph author’s bio (written in third person), and any notes about your creative process or thoughts about your piece. Please put all this information in one MSWord document and title the file with your last name (and only your last name). Write “JOB” in the subject line of the email. If available, please send a photo of yourself around the time you  worked your first job  — and provide a caption for the photo (where, when, what). Send the photo as a separate jpg attachment.


To help everyone understand our submission requirements, we’ve prepared the following checklist.

1. Send ONE MS Word document TITLED WITH YOUR LAST NAME (e.g. Smith.doc or Jones.docx).

2. In the same MS Word document, include your contact information (name, mailing address, email address).

3. In the same MS Word document, include a one-paragraph author’s bio, written in the third person. You are encouraged to include links to your books, websites, and social media accounts — we want to help promote you!

4. In the same MS Word document, include a note about your poem/prose or creative process written in the first person (this is optional — but encouraged).

5. In the same MS Word document, include a caption for your photo (including where, when and/or date taken).

6. If available, send a photo of yourself at the age when you had the job as a SEPARATE jpg attachment (not in the MS Word document). Title the photo with your last name (e.g., Jones.jpg). Also send a current photo to accompany your bio.

7. Email to — and put  “JOB” in the subject line.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Wednesday, May 31, 2017

PHOTO: Welder at boat and submarine building yard, 1943 (Bernard Hoffman, LIFE Magazine).


In Bruges
by Michelle Walshe

An early morning in January, Charleroi train station, Belgium, in a brain fog induced by budget airline scheduling, bleary eyed, headachy, vaguely nauseous and freezing cold I paid for a train ticket and shoved my wallet back into the top of my handbag. I remember him bumping into me as I boarded the train. Then I noticed the open zip on the bag. My heart sank. I wasn’t carrying much cash. I know better. Despite my lapse of concentration, I am an experienced traveler. It was the wallet. It was red leather, from Paris. I had photos of my deceased father in it, of my nieces and nephews, my credit cards, loyalty cards, membership cards, all the cards it takes to live a modern life! It was soft, elegant and well…French! And it was gone.

I walked up and down the train hoping he had discarded it. I reported it, in halting French, to the conductor. And then I sat in disbelief as the Belgian countryside rolled by. My first stop in beautiful Bruges, the Venice of the North, was not the Clock Tower or the canals or the Chocolate Factory, but the police station. Paperwork, telephone calls, signatures. No sign of the wallet.

My mother, who has an instinct that fortune tellers would die for, reckoned the wallet would turn up. I scoffed the idea, it was gone. But, she was right. About a week after returning home I received an email from Frederique in Belgium who had found my wallet on the train, looked through it, found my business card and emailed me to get my postal address. One week later, my red wallet, photos, cards, everything – except the cash – arrived in the post! I sent her Irish chocolates, whiskey, and a big card to say thank you.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The wallet featured in the story. I bought it in Paris in 2010.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Walshe is a teacher in Dublin, on career break, traveling, reading, writing, playing tennis and eating! Basically, doing what she does on the weekends, only full time, for the moment! Find a recent article at


by Clive Collins

I lost our car key somewhere on the sand at Governor’s Beach, or if not there, then coming or going along the forest track that led it.

Governor’s Beach was one of the most beautiful beaches along the Freetown Peninsula, a long white curve with a winding, shifting river that emptied out of the mangroves into the Atlantic Ocean. There was seldom anyone on the beach, and so it was a favourite, but we had been stopped and robbed before on our way to it, and so it had become our routine to leave everything locked in our Renault 12 and go down to the beach in our swimming clothes. The single key to the car stayed in the pocket of my shorts.

Except that afternoon, it did not.

It was our fifth year in Africa, and our last year there as a couple. We had quarreled that morning and during the afternoon at the beach, scarcely exchanged a word. Late in the day, thirsty, tired, hungry and each of us still nursing our own private grievances, we got back to the car and I found I no longer had the key. We looked everywhere there was to look: it was pointless.

Finally, my soon-to-be-ex-wife in her bikini and me in my shorts, we walked up to the paved road to try to thumb a lift back to our house. We felt exposed, and we were. The light was gathering. Night would soon fall. Afraid, for the first time in a long time, we held hands.

Someone or something blessed us. A car came. The people in it were our close neighbours.

Back at the house, I burgled my own home. We were quiet that night, but also sad. Perhaps we understood that more than a key was lost.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, somewhere in Sierra Leone, 1978.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I found this a challenging prompt because, it seems to me, the things we possess and then lose are never simply what they are, but all the myriad associations that we as possessors invest them with either over a long period of time, or at the moment they are lost or found, or even after that moment.

Collins 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Leicester, England, Clive Collins has spent the greater part of his life working as a teacher in Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Japan. He is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/ Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. More recently his work has appeared in online journals such as Penny, Cecile’s Writers, The Story Shack, and He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. A chapbook of his short stories is to be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2017.

by Michelle Walshe

I remember that class very vividly. It was religion. We were talking about what we would do after school. I went to an all-girls, Catholic school, where Sister Margaret prowled the corridors looking for misdemeanours, policed the colour and size of your hair clips, while all around me, my classmates were getting pregnant, drinking heavily from the age of fourteen and smoking John Player Blue. My classmates didn’t go to University. My voice was a lone one that day in class saying I wanted to study further, to have a career, to travel. I remember telling the teacher I thought my life had not begun yet. All around me, astonished expressions on faces already jaded, skin already ruined by drinking and smoking too much, eyes already glazed from living an entire lifetime in your teenage years. I remember feeling very young and very innocent that day, surrounded by girls I couldn’t wait to be free of. Their tiny existences, centred around “the group,” their cliques, their boyfriends, their babies, the drunken nights, the hangovers, all things I didn’t experience until much later in life. It was like living in a parallel universe. I would leave my academic, over-achieving house every morning and enter this place. I hated it, every minute of it. And seventeen was the age I left it all behind, never to look back.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Seventeen, final year in school, taken in May at the end of the school year in my school uniform (policed by Sr. Margaret!).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am about to buy a new pair of glasses and they remind me of these ones. I haven’t worn glasses like this since I was seventeen. I graduated to contact lenses and smaller, less visible, less noticeable specs. These ones in the photo were red. I loved them. Now I am returning to this style and I went looking for this photo in a box of hundreds of photos to reassure myself and managed to locate it. Looking at it now I’m tempted to let my hair grow again too!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Walshe is a forty-something woman searching for meaning and happiness. To this end she travels, reads, writes, plays a lot of sport, anything to escape. No husband, no kids, no ties, just a passport and a credit card and a wish to be free. Just back from two years in Morocco, home in Ireland for Christmas.


by Laila Simon

Without my permission, my mother signed me up to take the AP French test. I took three years of French class with Madame at Wilson High School but at this point I could say all of five sentences in correct French. I could say that I would like something, specifically steak and French fries, an assortment of clothing pieces, and who I was in a basic way: age,  dix-sept; name, Je m’appelle Laila; country of origin, USA. A typical class period included repetition, verb conjugation, and mass amounts of free study time. Madame liked to keep us on our toes and decided one afternoon that we were watching Not Without My Daughter, starring Sally Field. Then comes the morning of the test. I saw three girls standing outside the outdated library. They were all discussing French home-stays and a fourth girl soon joined in. Oh my god. Before I turned I could see them all wearing black turtlenecks and berets, eating baguettes and talking about how stupid Americans are. I stayed in the bathroom until there were only four minutes left until the test began. When I returned to the library the other girls had taken their seats in desks complete with thick booklets and to my horror, bulky machines that looked like tape recorders. Five of us total in the room, and all of them except for me had lived in France. I doodled a giant wolf’s head on my page until it was time to move onto the third and final task which was the speaking portion. Somehow I got through, speaking low into my tape recorder so that there was no chance that the other girls nor the proctor would be able to hear me making up words and cursing my mother.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me at 17 in Norway for the summer. July 2010. Twirling Selfie.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I adapted this piece from a series I am working on where I write on small moments from my life at different ages. This is the second one I wrote as I am jumping around in my own timeline.


Laila Simon
is a writer based out of Portland, Oregon. She works promoting Scandinavian culture and is looking for her next adventure. Previously published in St. Olaf’s The Quarry, on the Rain Taxi: Review of Books website, and on the Thank You for Swallowing website. Visit her online.

PHOTO: The author at the Portland State book wall, downtown Portland (Fall 2016).


One Thing Led to Another
by Marion Tickner

At age 17 I received a phone call that I believe changed my life.

Our church’s Christian Ed Director wanted to talk about Vacation Bible School. At first I thought she was inviting me to attend a class for teens . . . until she said she’d get the lessons to me. It turned out that I was to help teach a class of four- and five-year-olds. What had I done? I had already said yes and didn’t want to admit that I had misunderstood her. But that year I discovered that I loved working with children.

In college I majored in Christian Education and worked with children in the church setting for more than 25 years. Also volunteered to read to a class in a public school.

I became involved with Pioneer Girls, a scouting club similar to Girl Scouts . When PG Headquarters announced plans to publish a magazine for girls, I wrote a short story and submitted it as a contribution to the new magazine. Imagine my surprise when it was accepted and I received a check.

With a new interest in writing, I have since been published in several magazines for children, both on line and print. My stories also appear in some anthologies.

As I look back over the years, I believe that one thing led to another. Elsie Auringer has since passed away, but I still thank her for introducing me to the joys of working with the little ones.

PHOTO: “Fountain Pen On Typewriter Keys”  by Garry Gay. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I hadn’t had my eighteenth birthday yet, so I was still 17 when I graduated from high school. It was that year I got a taste of working with children when asked to help out in Vacation Bible School. I think that one thing led to another and an interest in writing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marion Tickner has been published in several magazines for children, both print and online, as well as other publications. Her stories also appear in a variety of anthologies, including  Mistletoe Madness, Summer Shorts, When God Steps In, The Christmas Stocking, Treasure Box, One Red Rose A Valentine’s Day Anthology, Nightlight A Golden Light Anthology, God Still Meets Needs, Gingersnaps and Candy Canes, To Love Deeply (Kindle only), Blizzard Adventure (Kindle only), Nancy Drew Anthology, and A Celebration of Mothers.

PHOTO: The author reading her story from Mistletoe Madness to a second grade class at Porter School, Syracuse, New York.


In the World at 17
by Rowan Johnson

At seventeen, he stayed at the Polana Hotel in Mozambique, with swinging palms and the biggest and bluest swimming pool he had ever seen; and then the desperation of the streets outside—rusty old vehicles covered with all kinds of garbage, strewn all over and stinking. Old and weathered women who could barely walk, carrying barrels of water for twenty kilometers every day, just so their children could have a drink.

The next day it was Austria, simply trying to find a toilet. The helplessness of not knowing German; the exhilaration of being a foreigner, a stranger asking directions—a child, knowing nobody, with an intense fear of peering over the edge of that mountain outside. The simple peasant girl who led him back to her room in the dead of the Austrian night, after more than a few too many Jagermeisters; a potent combination for a young boy. Her hair was fantastically black, longer than his arms.

And so he had his memories: the discovery of new, untouched lands, new faces and places, the feeling of real snow, the taste of Alpine water from fresh streams. This was his world—this was the life that he had always known.

PHOTO: Polana Serena Hotel, Mozambique.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rowan Johnson holds a doctorate from the University of Tennessee as well as an MA from the University of Nottingham, England. His work has been published in Two Thirds North, 4ink7, Passing Through Journal, Wordriver Literary Review, GFT Press, and the Writers’ Abroad Foreign Encounters Anthology. He has also written numerous travel articles for SEOUL Magazine.


by Zoë  Ramsey

When I was 17, I secretly defied my father and boarded an airplane bound for Turkey, where I spent one amazing month of the summer before my final year of high school. Ten years later, he still doesn’t know.

I never considered myself particularly rebellious. Independent is how I’d describe myself. My parents split when I was quite young, just two years old. If you knew my parents, you’d wonder how they even got together in the first place. I spent the school year with my mother on one side of the country and visited my father during the summer holidays on the other. As I got older, I realised my summer holidays could be used for things I wanted to do, rather than just the obligatory family visit.

So at the age of 16, I participated in my first foreign exchange. I spent the summer in Brazil, a decision my father supported both eagerly and financially. I was always going to be a traveller and he was happy to encourage my dream. It was my first taste of travel and I latched onto it and never let go. So when the opportunity presented itself to go on another exchange the following summer, I jumped at it. Dad wasn’t so pleased. Turkey was different from Brazil. It was farther away, more dangerous. I remember the phone call perfectly.

“I…don’t plan on sending you,” he had said.

I remember exactly what my mother said when I repeated his words. ‘So just go and don’t tell him,” she had said with a shrug.

So that’s exactly what I did.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me at seventeen (my eyes most unfortunately closed) with my host mother and host brother standing in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I first saw the “Me, At 17”  prompt, I racked my brain for something I did at 17 and was disappointed that I was coming up with nothing. Then I almost laughed out loud when I realised that was the year I took my secret trip around the world and knew immediately that’s what I was to write about.


Zoë Ramsey
attended the University of Edinburgh and received her MSc in Creative Writing. She currently resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she’s working on her first novel. She can be contacted via twitter @zoe_writes_.