Keeping a Light
by Sophia Maurasse
Mommy, I need to pee, said
Manouska. The voice of my six-year old sister woke me up from
a daze. Six hours had just passed. This was not strange. Only
when I heard those words did I begin to feel the weight of the
mattress on my back and the hard tile that was no longer cool
against my chest.
During the past three months, they
had never stopped shooting. But most of the time the noise was
at a distance, far enough away that I could venture to play in
the rooms full of windows, pretending that it was just part of
the usual background as it replaced the honking and loud engines
of the cars during the day and the frogs at night. It was always
Today was different. Not the usual
shot followed by another in the daily wartime conversation that
I had slept through many nights before. This was much angrier
and I could no longer distinguish the different sounds - like
hail on a tin roof, an angry neighbor pounding on the front door,
or little clicks between big bangs.
From the hallway, between the open
door of the bedroom and the bookshelf, there was nothing to see,
only sunlight when I lifted my head and turned to the left, the
first sunny day in weeks. Still, none of this was out of the ordinary.
We had been preparing - it was ingrained in us - between the walls,
underneath the mattresses, on the floor. Yet, now that the shooting
had stopped and we waited for the next round, Manouska had forgotten.
My mother reminded her. Stay where you are and do it.
Manouska lifted the mattress and stood
up. It didnt matter that the walls were riddled with bullet
holes. She had to go. I followed. If it happens to her, it had
better happen to me too, I thought. But it didnt. She sat
on the commode like she would have on any random day.
I stood in the baby blue tiled bathroom,
staring at the plastic shower curtain, trying to remember the
words to the Lords Prayer, knowing that only one wall separated
us from the bullets. Too scared to pray or focus, I waited between
the sink and the toilet and she finished before I could recall
anything. We made our way back to the hallway, the shooting resumed,
and I kept staring at the open room door.
Then, above the gunshots and missiles,
we heard our neighbor scream. Ma people, ma people, ma people,
she wailed, and screamed that her four-year old had been shot
dead. I supposed that that kid, too, had stood up when she shouldnt
have, that one of those holes in the walls and curtains had brought
her death. My father crawled over to my mother Why didnt
you take the kids and leave? I had told you to do so.
For the first time in the seventeen
years he had lived in Liberia, he seemed to have remembered that
it was not his home. He forgot how he had ridiculed my mother
when she had pulled me out of school and taken me to that big,
white American Embassy building to get American visas for the
whole family. He forgot how he had laughed at her when she had
packed our suitcases and filled the van with gas in case we could
not take the plane from Monrovia but had to drive across the border.
All that was lost to him, as he understood that there was no way
The smell of gasoline began to fill
the hallway and my father told us that they had shot through the
gas tank of the car. I couldnt believe that they were outside,
because they sounded like they were already in the house. And
when I began to burrow even closer between my mother and sister,
the soldiers started shouting again. Erebody git ouside,
We all stood up and ran to the bedrooms,
each grabbing a single object. We had been prepared for this.
My mother had packed a small bag with essentials for each of us
to carry. Yet, when we all met outside, none of us had a bag.
I had only grabbed my glasses with the huge plastic frames, my
godmother her ornate crucifix, my sister her backpack filled with
hair ribbons and her favorite red belt.
Outside, I could feel the thick, green
lawn between my toes and reaching up to my knees. I was barefoot
and so was Manouska. We were both carrying our sandals in our
hands because we had not had time to stop and put them on. We
walked across the yard to the nearest house. It was right next
door, and yet I had never set foot in it. It didnt matter
I entered an open white living room
space without any furniture in it, just bare, dirty feet and bodies,
people crouched on the floor, all clumped together like little
mounds of brown flesh draped with raggedy clothes. I found my
own corner, sat on the floor cross-legged next to Manouska and
I looked across the room at the owner, a tall, slender, black
man, who announced who had been shot or killed - as if one of
us could have done something. My godmother, who had worked for
as long as I could remember to fix cleft palates with Operation
Smile, had nothing with her but that crucifix.
When we all settled in our space, I
saw him. Kwame sat on the floor, only wearing white shorts, with
his long, skinny legs straight in front of him. He turned to the
side, revealing his bloody skin, big red strokes running from
his shoulder to his lower back. I could not see the holes I knew
the shots had made, just blood. I could not reconcile his silence
with his wounds. No tears or complaints. He was alive and I wondered
what he must have felt.
I knew his name like Id known
where this house was. They had always been here. And today was
the first time I truly saw them both. I had seen him play and
run around the yard with the other kids. Hes going to die,
I kept thinking. Hes going to die. There is no way. There
is no way. There were no ambulances, no one to rescue him.
We waited for the shooting to stop
once more. And when it did, the soldiers told us to leave. We
had to. The rebels were on one side, the government soldiers on
the other, and we in the middle.
I hadnt been outside in months because my mother feared
what the soldiers would do to me. I didnt think about them.
I read The Arabian Nights and made skirts and shirts for Manouska
out of the old curtains. And at night, I listened to stories about
Po Boy and the clever Spider.
I finally put on my sandals and made
sure Manouska had hers. We had to walk because driving was out
of the question. On the street, there were no cars, just the soldiers
lying in the grass, by the sidewalk, manning checkpoints.
My mother had made me wear my godmothers old jeans every
day for months because my usual shorts and t-shirt outfit somehow
made me a possible target. Now, I wore the shorts, but wore my
godmothers jeans on top, just in case. They were meant for
her large body so my mother used some needle and thread to make
them fit my ten-year-old frame. But, as we walked down the street
looking for a place to spend the night, the thread gave way, and
the jeans slid down.
As we passed each checkpoint and the
soldiers ordered us raise our hands in the air, I could only raise
one since I the needed the other to hold up my pants. But the
soldiers never seemed to notice. Instead, they noticed my father.
His lighter complexion and beard had also worried my mother, yet
she had not thought of a way to fix this. So as we crossed an
intersection, one group of soldiers stopped us. You rebel,
come ere, a soldier ordered. He made my father stand
aside, apart from the rest of us.
By the time we were stopped, Manouska
was too tired to walk and had to be carried, and my father had
begun carrying her backpack for her. The soldier seized the bag
from him and after going through the pastel colored ribbons, he
found the red belt and held it up as evidence. My father was a
rebel. The red belt proved it.
by Tauheed Zaman
I stand swaying in the subway car as
it pulls into the station. The sliding doors open with a hiss
and I am the first one out. I weave around people on the escalator
and breathe in the cool air. I walk down the street and my darkly
shined shoes seem to float an inch above the cracked sidewalk.
I feel a breeze pull at the ID badge around my neck. It swings
nonchalantly over my rumpled button down and khaki pants. I pass
other people and wonder if they notice it. I hope they do. I hope
they wonder about the lives I am going to save that day. I hope
they wonder about my scintillating nightlife. I am a mans
man , a womans man, a man about town. All this is a detour
on my path to greatness.
It is the second month of medical school,
and every morning I walk through Chinatown on my way to the hospital.
I step over puddles and candy wrappers along Temple Place. I glance
at the neon signs in the restaurant windows. Shopkeepers yank
open the galvanized storefronts, and I barely wince at the squeal
of unoiled pulleys. I turn the corner of Temple and Washington.
I pass two old Chinese women along the way. They walk slowly and
hand in hand, wrapped in heavy winter coats and bright scarves.
I notice the folds of skin at their eyes and wisps of hair that
escape their caps. The hair seems translucent, and so like my
grandmothers was her hair so white last time?
that my breath catches at my throat. I walk on, to the corner
where an aproned man fries meat for breakfast sandwiches. I smell
spices mixed with the sour scent of garbage. The scent grows transmuted,
somehow, between the crisp air and my senses, and seems to grow
Then I am standing in a saffron-scented
kitchen, watching oil sputter at the edges of a frying pan. It
is a warm afternoon and I am waiting for a sari-covered arm to
reach in and pluck hot bread from the oil. The mango tree outside
the window casts shadows on our waiting hands, mine small and
brown, hers bigger and adorned with curlicues of henna. Then I
hear the rumble of an approaching truck, and with the trumpet
of its horn I am jolted back to my walk. I fold my arms against
Out of My Head
by Diane Stevens
The first thing I knew about it, I
was sitting on the edge of my bed, blinking. My husband, Ed, sat
by me. An EMT stood a few feet away, looking at me with an intent,
inquisitive gaze. Another EMT stood by him. A firefighter or two
and a police officer hovered in the doorway. It looked like some
kind of big bust. Apparently I was the suspect.
Do you know what happened to
you? the EMT asked. He was a few steps ahead of me: I was
still figuring out that something had happened to me. I had the
distinct feeling of joining our program already in progress.
No, I dont, I said. In retrospect, I wish I
had said, Id like to ask the audience, Regis,
but it was far beyond my reach at that moment. My baseline wits
were still slightly beyond reach.
We think you had a seizure,
Did not, I thought, but said nothing.
Have you ever had a seizure before?
I was reminded of one other time when
Id come to and found myself the focus of sudden medical
scrutiny. In that case, I had passed out in the cafeteria at work
after a lunch spent with four guys obsessively discussing the
nationally televised gruesome fracture of Joe Thiesmans
leg. Partly because it felt way too hard to explain and partly
because some as-yet dimly illuminated corner of my mind realized
that this was not the same thing at all, I merely said No,
Do you know what day it is?
I gave this a good think. There were seven possibilities. I mentally
auditioned each one. None seemed more likely or less likely than
another. It was a strange feeling to find myself utterly without
an opinion on this question.
No, I dont, I said.
I was beginning to sound like a witness at a Congressional hearing:
I do not recall at this point in time
Apparently I had answered
some early round questions correctly: Whats your name? Do
you know where you are? I have no recollection of this, but Ed
tells me its so. I was stumped in round three.
I got onto the gurney under my own power, inwardly grumbling Shit.
Do we really have to do this? Another strange feeling: being carried
backwards, semi-reclined, down my own staircase. An ambulance
was parked in the driveway, and I was loaded in. It was cold and
I was shivering uncontrollably. The EMT asked again if I knew
what day it was. I did not. He started an IV. Ed appeared at the
ambulance door and smiled, visibly relieved. He told me this was
because I now looked pissed off, but like I might actually be
Hi. You gonna follow us in the car?
Yeah. See you there.
He headed up the driveway toward the
garage. The sky was just beginning to show pink at the horizon.
The big oak behind the garage was silhouetted on a background
of grey-blue. Somewhere in my head a cluster of stunned, flailing
neurons reconnected, and suddenly, I remembered.
Oh! I know! Its Saturday.
Well, Sunday morning.
Welcome back to the river of time.
by David Ferrone
Every once in a while someone claims
to hear a voice coming from the canal. The hunch turns into a
paranoia that someone is drowning. They call the police and when
they drain the canals, all they find are old tires and shopping
carts covered in black mud.
If you listen hard enough, you can
hear anything coming from water. For me, it is the sound of a
hundred kids on a wooden roller coaster. I can hear the giggling
voices as the cars climb up to the top of the rise. Then as the
track drops off, the pitch and volume increases and I can hear
the screaming. Sometimes I hear actual words. The townies from
my childhood are taunting me with a cruel rhyme. And now just
as then, I feel angry and humiliated, and when I listen harder
they go silent. This makes me even angrier. Soon I begin to speak
Who would hear me anyway? The bedspread
manufacturer that used to cut the checks downsized to a few looms
and some maintenance workers in one small part of the mill. They
defaulted on the property taxes and the city seized the buildings.
Now the city leases it back to them and anyone else willing to
Like me. When I enter my shop I see
a track overhead that was used to transport bags of wet fabric
as big as my dads old VW. There is a fan in the corner that
was used to exhaust the moist air from the dryers. There is dirt
everywhere. The dust piles up on the surface of the brick walls.
The dust is a combination of dead skin, cotton fibers, and animal
droppings and it drapes over the fluorescent lamp shades. It hangs
down like moss and drops off in clumps when I accidentally hit
the lampshade with a broom.
The few remaining workers dont
seem to like me too much. I steal air hoses and lampshades from
the abandoned parts of the mill that theyve seen in my space.
We both know that they dont belong to me. They dont
belong to them either, but theyve been working in this building
since before I was born. Sometimes a maintenance worker will approach
me from the opposite end of the long hallway that spans the building.
I can hear the footfalls before I can see him. To save electricity,
every other fluorescent light in the building has been turned
off. So, the hallway goes from pitch black to bright light every
ten steps and neither of us is in the light at the same time.
Sometimes I can see him but he cant see me and sometimes
its the other way around. The craters on his face are the
aftermath of every insult hurled at his complexion in high-school.
I am taller than him but I slouch so that we are actually at eye
level when we pass. I spit out a hello without looking him in
the eye and he only stares back at me.
School has not started yet, so I have
no place to sleep and nothing to eat. I fast until I can actually
feel the insides of my cheeks start to fall inward against my
teeth. When I rise from sitting on a stool at my workbench I get
dizzy. I buy some Twinkies and a Coke from the vending machine
and I work until 4 A.M. when I am so tired and hungry that it
stops me thinking altogether.
I sleep in the office that was built
by the last tenant. The drywall that was used to build it is half
as thick as a standard sheet so when you punch it your hand goes
clear through to the other side. I scoop my papers off the desk
and put them in the drawer. I lie on my side on top of the cracked
faux wood laminate top and I bend my knees up to my chest, figuring
that the rats wont be able to climb up the side and nibble
at my face.
Sometimes I practice what I will say
when I run into her again. I will explain what I have been working
on all this time and how I have done it all without her and how
I am not like I was when we were last together. Then Ill
tell her a joke that is perfectly witty and her eyes will shine
Author, Peggy Rambach, runs creative writing workshops in community education settings for the Healing Arts in health care, correctional facilities, ESL programs and immigrant support centers as well as offering assistance with lesson plans in professional development presentations for middle and high school teachers. She teaches memoir writing in medical schools as part of the curriculum in Narrative Medicine and Medical Humanities. Ms. Rambach is conveniently located for teachers, students and participants from throughout New England including the Vermont (VT) cities of Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier, the Maine (ME) cities of Portland, Gardener, Kennebunkport and York, the New Hampshire (NH) cities of Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester, Dover, Nashua and Rochester, the Massachusetts (MA) cities of Boston, Newburyport, Amherst, North Hampton, Salem, Beverly, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill, Gloucester, Plymouth, New Bedford, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Rockport, Hyannis, and Falmouth, the Rhode Island (RI) cities of Providence and Newport and the Connecticut (CT) cities of New Haven and Hartford.