Archives for posts with tag: Stories

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Stories of the Past/Present
by Maria Nestorides

Before I came to live in Cyprus, my life had been quite nomadic: a year here, two years there, on loop. This small island in the middle of the Mediterranean gave me my first glimmer of hope of a stable home, but these roots began to form in a most unexpected way.

I knew next to nothing about my new city, Nicosia, and even less about its history. In an attempt to map it out in my mind, I explored. When I asked “How do I get to ‘X’?” the answer was an unvarying, “It’s next to/opposite [insert Landmark name].” I quickly discovered the important markers I needed in order to navigate the streets of the old quarter: the National Theatre, the Famagusta Gate, the Cyprus Museum, the Venetian walls, and the Liberty Monument, to name but a few. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was part of a bigger picture. My rusty Greek slowly improved, and I found myself gradually managing to speak the language, in more ways than one.

I belonged.

The more I explored, the more I realized that these landmarks told the stories of the ideals, the beliefs, and the way of life of the many men and women who had wandered these neighborhoods before me. The passion and creativity that had burned within them had breathed life into inanimate objects, transforming them into works of love which, in turn, whispered stories of our shared human experience to my soul.

Ultimately, I got much more than I bargained for in my search to know my way around my new home, because these landmarks not only taught me how to get to “X,” but they also welcomed me into their city and made me a part of their story.

PHOTO: Nicosia, Cyprus, by Atosan, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cyprus is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean. The third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean, it is located south of Turkey and southeast of Greece. (Source: Wikipedia)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This prompt was a tough one for me. I’ve moved around quite a lot in my life, and found I couldn’t pinpoint one particular landmark I wanted to write about that had a little more depth to it than just an exciting visit. I spent a good few weeks mulling the theme over in my head trying to find a way to approach it that would be meaningful to me. I’m happy with what has come from my heart and I hope you enjoy reading it too.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo was taken at the Kouris Dam, in the Limassol district of Cyprus, in 1994, the year I arrived.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides lives in sunny Cyprus. She is married and has two adult children. She has an MA in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her short stories have appeared in Silver Birch Press, The Story Shack, Red Fez and Inkitt. She also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Memory Palace
by J.P. Slote

The impression is of a huge stone pile, a palace of white marble blocks stacked by a giant child from a race of giants. There are bigger buildings, taller atriums in this city, but inside the entrance hall of the New York Public Library’s Manhattan Main Branch on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, one is awed by the massiveness of the entire endeavor.

The eye is deceived—distance is skewed. Tiny little faces of people peer down from behind the stone railings of the stone balcony above; the ant-like proportions of people climbing up and down the massive stone stairs at the two ends of the stone chamber; the massive stone arches through which tiny modern people enter and exit. Escher’s impossible logic—simultaneously ascending and descending, coming and going—materializes for a surreal instant.

Other senses are affected. Sounds are both muffled and amplified—whirr of two archaic fans posted like tall sentinels on either side of the open entrance door (so mid-20th century). The ripeness of bright summer heat blowing in, unfiltered, from the city smells archaic in the vast, hushed, and darkened interior. The ear loses its bearings: echoes echo off stone—through the arches, around the pillars, down the staircases, along corridors seen and unseen.

The enormous hall puts one into an odd associative or dissociative state of mind. Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul. A line of poetry (“The Chambered Nautilus,” Oliver Wendell Holmes) floats to the surface of the mind, from a children’s book (The Diamond in the Window, Jane Langton) read long ago about a brother and sister trapped in a dream, in a seashell, by the ocean’s shore, who discover the doors to their many-chambered prison open as they recite lines of poetry. Ever-grander sentiments release them into ever-grander chambers—until they tumble out onto the sand just in time to escape the rising tide.

A mausoleum, a memory palace, built to hold, encompass interiority (thought, dream, memory, desire). The space is real, finite, concrete—but the dream is illusive and infinite.

PHOTO: New York Public Library, Main Branch, by Vitaly Edush, used by permission.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: A few years ago, I did a summer seminar at The Cullman Center Institute for Teachers, an enrichment program for New York city public school teachers of humanities. My cohort met every morning in The Cullman Center’s offices inside the New York Public Library’s Main Branch on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street to work with a Cullman Writing Fellow, reading and discussing a wide variety of creative nonfiction, and in turn writing pieces of our own. Our first assignment was to choose a location in the building and describe it fully. “A Memory Palace” is the result.

PHOTO: The author inside the New York Public Library, Main Branch.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: J.P. Slote is a poet, actor, and educator. Co-founder of Loretta Auditorium, a collaboration of theatre artists, she is the author of Loretta Auditorium Presents The Body of Loretta, three plays on the pornography of power, free will on the free market, and arousal in the public realm, published by Fly by Night Press and soon to be available at www.tribes.org. A native New Yorker, She lives and works on the Lower East Side, the neighborhood of her immigrant grandparents, where she teaches literature and writing to a new generation of young adult immigrants.

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Promontory
by Rachel Hawk

In August 1965, my friend Barbara and I drove out of Ohio and headed to San Francisco. Unlike our friends, we weren’t ready to get married, buy houses, and have kids. And thought we might never be. We had other dreams and imagined livelier, more varied lives in a beautiful city by the ocean. Because we were nurses, finding work would be easy. Zigzagging across the country, we stopped whenever something caught our fancy. The Golden Spike National Historic Site did just that.

In 1869, two teams of men completed the building of this country’s first transcontinental railroad, laboring toward each other from Iowa and California. For 1,912 miles they  burrowed tunnels, built bridges, and laid down track. It was a massive, arduous, dangerous undertaking. Finally, on May 10th at Promontory Point, Utah Territory, the men hammered a commemorative gold spike into the last, connecting rail, joining east to west. Surrounded by tents, saloons, and boarding houses, the crowd of dignitaries, railroad workers and owners brandished their whiskey bottles, posed for pictures, and cheered. The dangers of crossing multiple raging rivers, deserts, and mountain ranges in horse-drawn wagons had been conquered, making it possible for thousands to travel safely. It had been considered an impossible dream.

When Barbara and I visited, everything — trains, buildings, even the tracks themselves — were gone. As true of many landmarks, there was only a descriptive sign; nothing remained but the story. It was enough. Standing in the wind of that vast beautiful high-desert plain, the excitement of a great endeavor caught us. This was a monument not only to hard work and accomplishment, but also to dreams — and we had our own.

PHOTOGRAPH: National Park Service sign for the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah, by Sue Smith, used by permission.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Between 1863 and 1869, as many as 20,000 Chinese workers helped build the treacherous western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad that began in Sacramento, California. When not enough white men signed up, the railroad began hiring Chinese men for the backbreaking labor. Chinese workers blasted tunnels through mountains, cut through dense forests, filled deep ravines, constructed long trestles, and built enormous retaining walls. Chinese workers were paid 30-50% less than their white counterparts and were given the most dangerous work. As they approached the meeting point with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah, thousands of Chinese workers laid down 10 miles of track in less than 24 hours. Progress came at great cost: Chinese civic organizations retrieved an estimated 1,200 bodies along the route and sent them to China for burial. The transcontinental railroad’s completion allowed travelers to journey across the country in a week — a trip that had previously taken more than a month. Politicians pointed to the country’s great achievement, failing to mention the foreign-born workers who had made it possible.

Source: “Remember the Chinese immigrants who built America’s first transcontinental railroad” by Gordon H. Chang, professor of history, Stanford University, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2019.

PHOTO: Chinese workers toil in a treacherous stretch of the Transcontinental Railroad in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, late 1860s. (Source: National Park Service.)

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PHOTO: Ceremony on May 10, 1969 for installing the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, representing the completion of the First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right). They are surrounded by men who built the railway — but Chinese workers are noticeably absent. Many of the laborers who worked their way west on the Union Pacific Railroad were Irish immigrants — about 3,000 in all, many of whom were veterans of the Union Army in the Civil War. They, too, faced dangerous working conditions and hardships. Photo: Andrew J. Russell, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, used by permission.)

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PHOTO: In 2014, on the 145th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad’s completion at Promontory Summit, Utah, a group of Asian-Americans, including descendants of Chinese railroad workers, recreate the iconic photo taken without their ancestors in 1869. Photo (c) Corky Lee, All Rights Reserved. 

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PHOTO: Plaque at Promontory Summit, Utah, placed in 1969 to commemorate the centennial of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad and to honor “the Chinese workers of the Central Pacific Railroad whose indomitable courage made it possible.”

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Today, at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, visitors can see full-sized exact replicas of the original (and colorful!) Victorian-era locomotives. According to the National Park Service website, the site now features a visitors’ center as well as driving tours, hiking trails, and re-enactments of driving the Last Spike.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Hawk facilitates a weekly writers’ forum. Her personal essays explore both the interior world of the narrator and the nuances within relationships. Her current work utilizes elements of memoir in narrative form.

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Phantasmagoric
by Clive Collins

A monument’s a solid thing of stone and metal made to define an age, defy the ages. My monument, the one I speak of here, is formed from less tangible tissue: memory, dream, hallucination.

In Edinburgh once, during a two-year long moment of confused foolishness, I sought freedom from my demons in the streets. On one of my walks I got lost. It was late in the afternoon. The day was already gathering. I was in an area completely strange to me. Where I should have turned back, I kept walking.

Eventually, I came upon what has recreated itself ever since in my dreams.  Narrow sloping streets, cobbled, banked with tall stone tenements. A church that split the way before me, posing left or right. The downward slope grew ever steeper. Afraid, I questioned the sense in what I was about. In front of me reared of a sudden a monumental stone gateway, the same grey-sooted stone as the buildings that pressed in from either side.

Beyond that, well, memory sings; more cobblestones, more buildings, these with half-basements occupied entirely by junk shops whose contents spilled out onto the basement steps or, seemingly, climbed the walls. A shop sign to my left read “Madame Doubtfire’s.”

I thought I’d lost both sense and way. Looking behind me, the last of the day’s light made the dreadful gate I’d passed through loom up dark against the sky.

How I found my road back, I do not know. I did, although in many ways I did not. A marriage died. A probable career deserted me. Now, in my dreams, when I am walking city streets, they are those streets. And always in this dreamscape I see that gateway in silhouette against a black-clouded sky, monument to myself: monument and folly.

PHOTO: “Old entrance to Stockbridge Market, Edinburgh, Scotland” by Macumba (2005).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Memory is deception, of ourselves mostly, but of others too if we choose to air memory’s fabrications. The Stockbridge area of Edinburgh where I became lost in 1973 is not the place that so often forms the backdrop to my dreams or is remembered here.  But I did see “Madame Doubtfire’s” on that walk, the shop long predating the novel and the film.

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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 terrain.org. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.  Carried Away and Other Stories is available from Red Bird Chap Books.

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Being Blank
by Leslie Sittner

I was born bald. Mother’s joy was chipped. My blue-green eyes and cherubic face would have to do. I was adored anyway. When carroty downy fuzz began to cover my head, then proper baby hair in waves made shampooing and styling necessary, Mother’s joy mended; her plate was full.

Father and Grandmother owned red hair; dark, thick, with frizzy curls. Plus dark red eyebrows. I wore the more common redhead characteristics of pale skin, freckles, white-haired eyebrows and eyelashes. Mother worried throughout my childhood when this didn’t change; my face was blank. Puberty tested Mother’s patience; eyebrows and eyelashes had to match the hair, define my face. She instructed me to mascara the brows with the tiny Maybelline brush; never use an eyebrow pencil on the skin―it looks fake. Spit in the mascara cake, scrub the brush into the pasty color, apply gently, accurately, to the hair only. The eyelashes were easier. My face no longer blank; I did look defined, complete, almost pretty.

Over time the daily process became easier with mascara wands, more natural color choices, waterproof for water wear. I’ve done this for 65 years. It’s second nature. It’s automatic. I never leave home blank-faced. Recently, while wearing the required protective COVID mask in public, it occurred to me that I’ve been wearing a vanity mask since I was 10 years old. Revelation! At first I continued to color the brows and lashes, because after all, that’s what you see above the mask. Yesterday, sweaty, grungy, and tired from gardening in the afternoon sun, I said “what the heck” and walked the dog in public with the mask over my blank face. Neighbors knew me. No one made a “what the?” face or snarky comment.

I may finally be free of one of my masks.

PAINTING: “Young Girl Reading”  by Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As I’ve aged, I’ve managed to fracture all the rules I said I’d never break when I retired. Never wear sweat pants in public. Never grocery shop during lunch hour because seniors prefer that time and take forever, preventing getting back to work on time. Always wear earrings and eye make-up, etc., etc. Sadly, sweatpants (or worse), midday shopping, and, now, blankface are normal. Earrings are annoying to wear with a face mask…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leslie Sittner’s print works are available in The Apple Tree by Third Age Press (2016 -17-18-19-21), Adirondack Life Magazine, BraVa anthology, and read on NPR. Online poems and prose reside at unearthed, Silver Birch Press, 101Words, 50 Word Challenge, 50 Word Stories, Epic Protest Poems, and Adirondack Center for Writing. A collection of essays about European travels with her ex-husband in the late 1960s awaits publishing. Leslie is currently editing the memoir written by her ancient dog and compiling her own book of haiku with photographs.

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My Most Memorable Mask
by Janet Banks

I’d expected to ride a camel into the Sahara wearing my well-worn hiking hat, but when the young Moroccan driver caught sight of my rectangular scarf, he grabbed the hat from my hands and tossed it in the trunk of his car.

In less than a minute, he took the gauzy turquoise material that I’d used to cover my head when visiting religious sites, and conjured me a headdress to match his own: my hair, neck, nose and mouth totally covered. Totally protected. “Much better,” he said.

Without a mirror, I fingered the results — there were no knots. “Will it stay put?” Our guide, Mohammad, stood nearby, watching.

“Perfect,” he said, smiling.

The small group of tourists and my husband were already astride their camels. My headdress, a traditional Berber-style tagelmust, was a cross between a veil and a turban. With help from a guide, I hoisted myself on to the waiting camel’s back and held on tight as he pitched forward to stand on four spindly legs. The camels moved forward; as riders, we rocked along with their gait. The wrap allowed me to see the world and breathe comfortably, the perfect shield against the endless expanse of blowing sand. I imagined the caravans of traders who for centuries traveled the routes between the exotic cities of Fez and Marrakesh and Sub-Saharan Africa, and tried to appreciate the dangers, the challenges they faced.

Today, I simply loop elastic around my ears to hold in place the masks I wear to walk in my Boston neighborhood. There is no beauty or grace in these masks, just necessity. My aqua scarf is tucked away now, a reminder of the beauty of the Sahara and of a time when we were free to explore the world without fear.

PHOTO: Desert Tented Camp east of Erfoud, Morocco, near the Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara, March 2018.  (The tour company was Abercrombie & Kent.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I haven’t left my condo without wearing a mask since beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. I miss seeing the smiling faces of neighbors and strangers, but, unlike the desert sand, the virus is invisible. Wearing a mask is the least I can do to protect myself and others.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Janet Banks is a writer who is exploring memories from her youth as well as the joys and challenges of aging in real time. Her personal essays have been published by The Rumpus, Entropy Magazine, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Silver Birch Press, and Persimmon Tree, among other on-line sites. Shortly after retiring from a corporate career, she was published in the Harvard Business Review and contributed commentary regarding career development to numerous publications.

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Italian Masks
By Terrence Sykes

After numerous trips to Italy it was determined I should buy a Carnival mask . . . the calli in Venice are laden with storefronts galore to buy marbled paper & masks . . . one even if you never have any intention of attending Carnevale before the Lenten season . . . after visiting the ones noted in our travel guide & making my selection & purchase . . . carrying that shopping bag with the large nose protruding . . . left me unmasked as a tourist

Most times in Italy I am maskless when I fool people into believing I am someone I’m not . . . researching & growing heirloom vegetables is a hobby of mine and I stop at every place that sells seeds . . . on this occasion we were in the middle of nowhere in Emilia-Romagna in this little store and as we paid for the seeds . . . the clerk reminded us it was time to plant them . . . my husband told him we weren’t from here . . . Oh you must be from the Veneto! Must have been that mask I bought in Venice

Another time we were visiting the Architectural Biennale in Venice . . . its grounds are in the Arsenale . . . a part of the city tourists only frequent to attend the Biennales . . . after seeing the exhibits for the day . . . we slowly meandered though empty narrow side streets and decided to stop for an afternoon espresso . . . two pale-skinned Americans entered a dark empty bar . . . my husband ordered our drinks with Italian precision . . . as she sat our drinks before us she was puzzled and softly spoke . . . Oh you ARE Italian . . . you must be from the Trentino

I wore that Pulcinella mask every New Year’s Eve dinner party for years . . . then one night around midnight an errant water pitcher transmuted it back to papier-mâché . . . leaving me maskless once again

PHOTO: “Window of a mask shop in Venice, Italy” by Sheila Sund (2006).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My initial concept was the time I went to a gay Halloween party . . . maskless . . . as an intellectual straight man . . . but thought this angle would be more interesting . . . I adore Italy and especially Venice . . . a tourist destination since they stole the bones of St Mark all those centuries ago.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Although Terrence Sykes is a far better gardener-forager-cook . . . his poetry — photography — flash fiction have been published in Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland, India,  Mauritius, Pakistan, Scotland, Spain, and the USA . . . he was born and raised in the rural coal mining area of Virginia and this  isolation brings the theme of remembrance to his creations — whether real or imagined.

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Swing Sets Were Never Essential
by Joseph Johnston

In my mask I’m dismantling a swing set. It was once steel but is now rust and I’ve counted many times around the sun since any kids have laughed amidst this rubble.

I was proud as a sneak-thief when I bought this swing set. I’d leveraged everything I had in the middle of the Great Recession to move my family out of danger and into better opportunity. A faker the whole way. But I did it, wearing an invisible mask to fit in and play the part and act out the game for the creditors.

Two hundred bucks available on the last credit card of my Great Recession Mask and I plopped it on the counter of the Toys R Us and said “I’ll take the HappyFunScape. WITH the optional five-foot slide.” It was the evening before we moved, and I stayed up all night putting it together so my kids would see it first thing and know we’d arrived. Two swings and a see-saw and a plastic slide + a yard big enough for it to rust = deliverance. That was the cold equation then. Fake it, and perhaps make it.

Now it’s the Great Pandemic and there is no equation and the mask is visible and uncomfortable. I can’t see and I can’t breathe and I’m sawing through swing set rust because I need the money.

In my mask I’m not concerned with tetanus. I’m concerned with scrapyard policies and viral load. Will they be wearing masks? Is there a scrapyard workers union? Is it as powerful as the gravediggers union? Will their droplets become mine, or my droplets theirs?

I think I prefer the pretend masks of yore. At least the phony intangibles were controllable. Swing sets were never essential, but lungs are.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For me, the most bizarre aspect of the pandemic is the masking of faces. That’s something our culture, however that can be defined, usually reserves for Halloween and Mardi Gras. In other cultures they’ve always been far more ubiquitous, so it’s strange to see them all over the place now. It’s good, but it’s frustrating to know now that if we’d been utilizing them in February things might look a lot more positive today. It’s even more frustrating that they’ve now taken on symbolic political meaning. Something so simple as a tool to prevent the spread of disease shouldn’t carry political weight. Hand-washing isn’t political; masks shouldn’t be either. I have a vision of a post-pandemic future where the clever masks we made to help prevent the spread of the virus are sewn into scrapbooks or quilts, mementos of a most bizarre time. My story is an attempt to relate the physical masks of the present with the pretend masks we sometimes wear out in society.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Writer and filmmaker Joseph Johnston made his first movie at the age of 11, an industrial espionage thriller that continues to play to excited crowds in his parents’ living room every Christmas. His prose, poetry, and video literature have appeared in Atticus Review, Matador Review, and Iron Horse Literary Review. He currently resides in Michigan, where he is working on a feature-length play about a dystopic suburban road rally.

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The girl in the plastic mask
by Maria Nestorides

The plastic strap snaps into place onto the back of my head and I adjust the tension, so it fits comfortably. The glass on the front of the mask is a little hazy but the thought barely registers because my heart hammers, and I’m not sure whether it’s from exhilaration or fear. I adjust the snorkel so it’s pointing straight up like I’ve been taught, and survey the shimmering surface of the ocean, the water lapping around me in a welcoming caress. The slight scent of rubber and the pressure of the mask on my nose and around my eyes are new and strange.

I take my time and slowly submerge myself, then push downwards towards the seabed. Sunlight leaks through the ocean’s surface. I kick the water with my feet once, twice, propelling myself forward and, just like that, I find myself in a surreal, silent kingdom that hustles and bustles like a busy high street, one without any sound, like an old silent movie. The only thing I can hear is the amplified sound of my rhythmic breathing through the snorkel. Vibrant, brightly coloured marine creatures swim by, oblivious to my presence. I’m a visitor in their world but they allow me to witness their everydayness like I’m a part of it. Schools of yellow- and blue-striped fish move languorously through brightly coloured corals, and shadowy, slithering, sinister-looking eels slink by.

My flippers guide me through every nook and cranny of this underwater paradise, and I don’t leave until the skin on my fingertips has wrinkled like prunes and the mask has left an angry red mark around my eyes and nose. As I slosh through the shallow water towards the shore I look back wistfully. I promise myself I will be back. I will be back soon.

Photo by dmosreg (123rf.com).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was about twelve and living in Khor Fakkan (in the United Arab Emirates), a friend of the family offered to teach my sister and me to snorkel. This short piece is my first attempt to describe how that felt.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides lives in sunny Cyprus with her husband. She has two adult children. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in 2011. Her short stories have appeared on The Story Shack, Inkitt, Red Fez, and Silver Birch Press. She also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Masks of Industry
by Cecilia Kennedy

A parade of masks stretches out on Facebook, their straps trailing the pages. Sleek, sparkling—full of bold patterns and vibrant colors—they go by on industrious friends’ posts. People I know are turning them out—20, 30, 100 a day. Some have made hundreds, and they donate them. Beneath the posts, the memes march past, on the edges of the fabric, reminding me “there is no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it’s their time.” I’m not supposed to judge my “productivity based on what was ‘normal’ in January.” But I do. I do, when I see the masks. And here I am, in the middle of a pandemic without a sewing machine or talent for sewing.

Refreshing the page just lengthens the parade. Teens make N95 masks on 3-D printers and fly planes to deliver supplies. The fireworks at the end are the announcements: Masks Required in Stores. In a panic, I knock on the neighbor’s door to ask for a donation. I’m handed four sturdy masks that are too big, but maybe they’ll shrink.

In the store, we watch each other with wide eyes—looking, looking, looking. I like the strawberry print that another woman wears. Someone else wears a pink flamingo patterned mask—and I wish I could make my own. I’d fashion it from old jeans and bedazzle it.

When I’m done shopping, when I’ve held my breath while walking past mask-less strangers, I place my covering into the wash, hoping I can get a tighter fit. That’s my super- power: shrinking. I snap a picture of my work and add it to the parade. A caption about my progress reads: “Four masks shrunk during lockdown. How the sun and moon do shine!”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cecilia Kennedy taught Spanish language, culture, and literature as well as English composition and literature courses in Ohio for over 20 years. She now lives in the Greater Seattle area with her son Alex and her husband Nathan. Since 2017, she has published over 20 short stories in literary magazines and anthologies online and in print, including The Writing Disorder, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flash Fiction Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, Coffin Bell, Headway Quarterly, Open Minds Quarterly, and Gathering Storm. Her blog Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks chronicles her humorous attempts at cooking and home repair.