Posted on: April 29, 2013

I keep dreaming about this impossible place. The geography expands in every direction and I feel some cosmic cartographer etching the map across my soul. It is desolate - there’s no one but me to explore the abandoned streets, to feel the heat radiate up my legs from the concrete, to push open the unlocked doors of antique storefronts. I feel like the only person left in the whole world and I get to peer into the lives of people I will never meet, to pass my hand over their furniture and sit on their empty porches. Sorrow shakes me when I wake, as the city fades away. Whenever sleep takes me back, I am grateful.

Since I was a little girl, I loved to describe my dreams to people. Most thought it endearing and fascinating, but as I grew up and entered adolescence, my parents became concerned and embarrassed if I elaborated for too long. I remember my father’s warning squeezes on my shoulder. I learned to trail off and allow him to change the subject with ease, but I never understood his restraint for he was also a dreamer. I found some of his journals in an old keepsake trunk he had in the garage. I hid them under my mattress and would read them by flashlight after everyone had gone to sleep.

When I could no longer speak freely to others about my dreams, I started to write. My mother noticed the growing callus on the outside of my right pinky and how much my hand would hurt after filling pages of lined loose-leaf paper. She found an old IBM computer that sported the iconic black screen and green type. It came with a dot matrix printer that used the never-ending paper spool with the holes on the sides. Everyday after school, I finished my homework and grabbed a Capri Sun out of the fridge before running to my room to spend the next two or three hours at the keyboard. My favorite part was the sound of my dream manifesting on paper, watching the print head move back and forth as it squealed.

I was twelve years old when I first dreamt about the abandoned city. I was wearing a sleeveless white Easter dress with navy blue pinstripes and matching sash around my waist. I stood in the middle of a two-way street, acutely aware of my childish ruffled socks spilling over saddle shoes. On the left side was a valley full of trees and a city skyline beyond it. On the right were tall glass buildings that seemed to disappear into the clouds. I followed the yellow lines to a bend around the block and kept walking until I noticed a large fountain with a statue of Athena rising out of the water holding a shield and a sword.

When I woke up I kept my eyes closed tight, wanting the dream to come back, wanting to go back to that place and take off my shoes so I could step into the water and walk up to the goddess. I wanted to touch her sandaled feet, to feel the grain of the stone with my fingertips. I wanted to feel the water soak the skirt of my dress and pull me down toward the coins littering the fountain floor with wishes. I stayed awake and reluctantly got out of bed, not expecting to ever go back and see more of that city.

I sat in front of my computer a few days later, staring at the screen with the green blinking dash that summoned me to write. Describing what I saw would be easy enough, but I didn’t know how to capture how I felt inside. Have you ever been somewhere or done something or been with someone and felt completely whole? Have you ever experienced a complete loneliness that did not make you sad, but brought you peace? Have you ever felt like you finally came to the end of yourself and the beginning of unadulterated existence? How was a twelve year old supposed to put any of that into words?

One day, my mother asked me if I was depressed. The question startled me; I’d never considered the notion before. I looked at her face and saw her eyes laced with wisdom and concern.

“No. I mean, I don’t think so.”

She flipped through a few pages of one of my notebooks, placing her chin in her cupped hand. “Your stories seem sad lately.”

I sat next to her, leaning over and looking at the pages as well, cocking my head to the side and pursing my lips as I reflected. “Well, sometimes I get sad, but I don’t really know why. I keep wishing I was somewhere else.”

My mother closed the notebook with care, folding her hands on top of the red cover and turned her head to face me. “I’m not like most mothers. I don’t say what you want to hear. I tell you the truth.”

“I know.”

“Your father has a wonderful imagination, but he began to resent it. He never learned that our dreams and our reality do not have to be separate. They are one.”

Whenever I started to forget about my dream place, sleep would take me there again. I would scale bridges, walk along railroad tracks, make tea in empty cafes, take naps in strange hammocks, and drive luxury cars. Over time, I recognized different parts of the city and could navigate my way back to a place I had not seen in years. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that someone trespassed into my dreamscape, standing in Athena’s fountain. I would often gaze at the goddess in awe, but this woman looked upon her as an equal. I woke up before she turned around to face me, but I knew it was my mother.

There was a text message on my phone from her. “Call me. I love you.”

Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Natasha Akery


Posted on: April 22, 2013

He bought the chicken to make Kathy happy. It would be like before. He’d make his special sauce from ketchup and brown sugar. It could be the two of them together, watching the game. Or Bill and Meg could come over. But when he got home from the store, Kath was mad again, scrubbing the bathroom floor with her little frayed toothbrush.

“It never comes clean,” Kath muttered, her teeth clenched.

Jerry put the chicken in a bowl in the back of the refrigerator. He could tell Kath had done a sweep of the kitchen again. His eggs were gone; so was the seaweed salad he’d meant to have for lunch one day this week.

Jerry trudged to the basement. He could hear Kath opening and slamming the metal doors of the dryer. Best to keep out of her way.

The game. He dug the remote out of his recliner. There were Frito’s around here somewhere, he knew. He found them. He chewed. Stale, but good. The crunching echoed in his ear, drowning out the commentators on TV, drowning out Kath’s movements upstairs. Jerry reached over for the stuffed Tasmanian devil toy he had picked up at a yard sale a few months ago.  Its crazy eyes looked past him. Its tongue lolled in its fanged mouth. Jerry tugged at the tuft of fuzz on Taz’s head. The day he’d brought it home Kath yelled at him, like she always did, about junk. But this one wasn’t junk. He would save it for when Brice and Caroline brought the baby over. He’d give it to the baby. It was perfect for the baby.

Brice and Caroline never came over anymore. Kath would plead on the phone.

“I’m working on cleaning the place up—the baby will be safe,” she would say.

Brice always had an excuse. A work thing. Caroline’s allergies. All the dust, you know; it’s not you; it’s the cat you used to have. Caroline can’t handle any residual cat dander. And the baby was showing symptoms of the same allergies.

Kath would wail at Jerry.

“Don’t you care that you never get to see your own grandson?”

Jerry did care. That’s why he’d buy things, just in case. This week at the Salvation Army on MLK Jr. Drive he’d found a whole box of those little baby sleepers, the tags still on.

“Brice’s baby—he’ll love these,” Jerry had said. “Keep his feet warm at night, see? I used to have ones like this when I was a kid. Red, though. With grippers on the bottom so you don’t slip?”

“The baby’s a boy, Jerry,” Kath said. “These are pink. And they’re too small. Six months? The baby will be a year old soon. Take them back.”

“Salvation Army doesn’t do returns,” Jerry said. “We should save them. Brice and Caroline might have another baby. Maybe a girl.”

Jerry finished the Fritos. He tucked the bag down into the crevices of the recliner. He was still hungry. There was that chicken upstairs. But maybe he would surprise Kath with dinner tomorrow. She would come home from work and he would have it all ready, served up on those new plates he had picked up from where the people on Firth Street got evicted. Perfectly good plates. The blue willow kind, each one a different picture. His favorite was the one with an old house on it, trees, children dancing in a meadow.  In an upstairs window, a ghost. It only had three little chips. Still perfectly good. He would have to remember where he stashed those plates. Not in the kitchen. No room. Maybe in the den, in one of the crates. Maybe there.

Upstairs, the screen door slammed.

“Kath?” Jerry called.

No answer. She must be going out. Going to the store for something. He turned the TV down, strained to listen for the sound of the truck tires crunching on the gravel driveway.

The screen door slammed again. He heard Kath stomping through the house, rustling things.

“Kath?” Jerry called again. “You’re not moving stuff around up there, are you? I need to know where everything is.”

Kathy appeared at the top of the stairs.

“I’m out, Jerry,” she said.

“Out of what?” Jerry said.

“Out. I’m gone. I’m going. I didn’t touch any of your stuff. I just got my clothes and some of the things from the bathroom. Nothing of yours. I’m going to Meg’s tonight. Don’t try to talk me out of it, because this is too much. I’ve decided.”

“What are you saying?”

“You can have the house. I don’t want it.”

“What about the truck? Are you taking the truck?”

“I’m not. Meg’s coming to get me. She’ll be here any minute.”

“How are you going to get to work without the truck?”

“I’ll figure it out,” Kath said. “I need you to let me be for awhile.”

“If that’s what you want. Is that what you want?”

A car horn sounded outside, two sharp honks.

“That’ll be Meg,” Kathy said. She shut the door to the basement, leaving Jerry alone. He was still clutching the Tasmanian devil. It had a little rip under its arm. The polyester stuffing was starting to escape. He pushed it back in. It was still a good toy. He’d bought it for the baby. The baby would still like it.

When the city officials came with the citation stating that the house violated city ordinances, Jerry vowed to be cooperative. He would accept help. He would downsize.  He let them take the crates from the den. The baby clothes. The mountain of books he’d purchased from the friends of the library sale.

The cleaners and organizers were shocked when Jerry wouldn’t let them in the kitchen. They found him clutching a metal bowl of putrid chicken legs, long rotten.

“At least let me keep the bones,” Jerry said, his face ironed of any feeling. “They were for my wife.”

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg


Posted on: April 15, 2013


“Yes, child?”

“Can we move across the road?”

Brenda scowled at the newly constructed lofts across the street and closed the curtains.

“No, child. We can’t.”

She made her way across the cramped bedroom and took a seat at the foot of the twin-sized bed being shared by her two daughters. She sat quietly, trying her best not to disturb the sleeping sister

“Why not, Mama?”

“We ain’t got that kinda money.”

“What kinda money we got?”

“This kind.”

Brenda twirled her right hand above her head like a ceiling fan–one of the many amenities that were hard to find on their side of the asphalt. Her eyes remained on her daughters’ juice-stained comforter. She didn’t need to see the constellations of mold spores spanning the roof. She didn’t need to look at the cracks in the walls where pests fled with food crumbs held over their heads. She didn’t need to watch the AC unit convulse erratically in the window to keep the room below 90 degrees. She was painfully aware of their living conditions.

“Why don’t we got that kind of money?”

“That’s a matter of opinion.”

“What’s opinnin?”

“An opinion is something people say is true, even though they ain’t got no way of proving it.”

“What’s your opinnin?”

“It don’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because I ain’t got that kinda money.”

“Who does?”

“The people across the street.”

“What’s their opinnin?”

“I’m lazy.”

“Are you?”

Brenda laughed, looking down at her knuckles that were swollen from decades of clenching cleaning supplies.

“I guess that’s a matter of opinion, too.”


“It depends on what you think is important.”

“What do they think is important?”


“The people that think you lazy.”


“You was lazy in school?”

“That’s a matter of opinion.”

“Everything’s a matter of opinnin to you, Mama!”

Brenda and her daughter braced themselves as the sleeping sibling started to squirm. After a few furrows of her brow and nose, the toddler squeezed her raggedy plush turtle and settled back to sleep.

“You betta watch your tone.”

“Sorry, Mama. So why do people think you was lazy in school?”

“Because I didn’t do too good on my report cards.”

“Did your mama get mad at you like you do at me?”

“I didn’t have no mama growing up.”

“You didn’t have no mama!”

The daughter quickly grabbed her mouth to stop the outburst from spilling out, but it was too late. Her younger sister yawned, stretching her slender frame as if her arms and legs were being pulled in opposite directions by invisible forces.

Her ribs pressed against the caramel-mocha skin of her unclothed torso. Her elbows disrupted the smooth lines of her arms like knots in a length of rope. The thighs extending from her reusable diaper were the same width as her underdeveloped calves. And her sugar-rotted teeth protruding crookedly from her gums like a weathered picket fence. Her eyes opened as her lips closed.

“Come here, child.”

Brenda’s youngest daughter crawled into her mother’s outstretched arms and pressed herself against the right side of her body. Her tiny figure left plenty of space for her older sister.

“You too.”

Brenda beckoned her talkative child with her free arm. She bounded across the bed to Brenda’s left thigh in a single leap. The three of them sat bunched together at the foot of the narrow mattress.

“No, child, I didn’t have no mama.”

“Did you have a daddy?”

“Nope. I didn’t have no daddy either.”

“Where were they?”

“Jail? A grave? I don’t know? I just know they wasn’t there. I was raised in a foster home.”

“Did you have any sisters or brothers?”

“TOO many! They weren’t my real brothers and sisters, but we still had to share beds and food and all the things you two fight over. There must’ve been a hundred of us.”

“Did they keep you safe?”

“Safe? I haven’t felt safe my whole life.”

“Do you feel safe now?”

“Do you?”


“Then that’s all that matters.”

“Do the people across the street feel safe?”

“Not yet.”

“When will they?”

“When our side of the street looks like theirs.”

“Can we still live here then?”

“No, child.”

“Why not?”

“Because we ain’t like them.”

“What are they like?”

Brenda looked up from the sleeping toddler leaning against the right side of her body and stared at the floral-pattern curtains separating her eyes from the other side of the road.

“They‘re roses.”


“Yes, child, roses. They’re soft and delicate and pretty to look at. They need a lot of food and water and a special place to live. They need lots of love and attention.

“Well if they’re roses, what are we?”

“We’re more like those.”

Brenda pointed to the tripling of succulents sitting on the girls’ nightstand, their durable petals illuminated by the leftover moonlight seeping in from behind the curtains.


“Yes, child, cactuses.”


“Because we’re tougher than roses. We survive on a lot less than they do. Most people don’t pay us no mind, but we stay alive.”

“But I don’t want to be a cactus, Mama.”

“Why not?”

“Because everybody likes roses more than cactuses.”

“Well, child, that’s not up to you. You’re either born a cactus or a rose, and you and your sister, you’re a couple of cactuses.”

The daughter pressed her face against Brenda’s chest. Brenda could feel her shirt moisten with tears.

“Quit your cryin, girl.”

Brenda gently slapped her daughter in the back of the head as if she were hitting an emergency-release button. Brenda’s daughter peeled her dampened eyes from her mother’s shirt.

“Let me finish. You and your sister were born cactuses and you will always be cactuses deep down in your souls, but if you make smarter decisions than your mama, you’ll be the strongest, fiercest, most beautiful flower of all.”

“What’s that?”

“A cactus rose.”

“Do they live across the road?”

“Child, there ain’t nowhere a cactus rose can’t grow.”

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Mark Killian

From the Summer to the Fall

Posted on: April 8, 2013

“Do you know why they call me the Coward King?”

“Why is that?”

“Because, as it goes, to the victors go the past.”

“What do you mean?”

“The history books are wrong about me. It’s true, I’ve done terrible things, but what they don’t teach in schools is that I had to, I had to do those terrible things.”


“Why did I have to do them? Why do men do anything? As King I was forced to make difficult decisions I never chose to make, but it was my duty. And in times of war, those difficult decisions became impossible, but unceasingly necessary.”

“It’s been years since the last war.”

“Don’t be na├»ve, there’s always war. Men go to war because they must – it’s what makes us human, so it becomes part of our existence. Kings though, that’s different, the role of King shifts. There was a time when they built statues in my honor you know, statues that I lived long enough to see brought down – but war, war is constant.”

I’d never met the Coward King before. The last time I’d spoken to Pete, he was a shepherd that had lost his flock. The time before that, he barely spoke, trembling in fear at the red-eyed, goat-headed half-man that silently towered over him. And while I never knew who I would be speaking to during any particular visit, it was always Pete I was looking at. Aged, of course, but time had been outwardly kind to him. His strong, handsome features said little of his internal struggle. Only his eyes, often wide and vacant, gave him away.

I met Pete in the summer of ’67, after the riots, after the National Guard had been called in, when everything changed. They said that the violence had erupted because some white police officers had killed a black cabbie, but everyone knew it went beyond any one event. The black cabbie’s name was John Smith, though it could’ve been anyone, any number of John Smiths could’ve been the catalyst for what had been culminating for years. The riots lasted three days, three days was all it took to dismantle an entire city. In the weeks that followed, uncertainty hung in the air. Some people tried. They went about their days desperately clinging to routine, praying that maybe if they pretended hard enough, it would be so. But there was a mass exodus of, not just whites, but affluent blacks too, out of the city and suddenly, Newark had been altered. The possibility of healing, of revival, was never given a chance. Eventually, I would move on too, but at the time, Newark was my home.

For a long time after the last day of violence, the city was a ghost town, its people either having deserted it or who were still too afraid to face the aftermath. But many of Newark’s business owners who had built their lives in the city needed to see what remained, if anything remained. Folks like Pete and I were there on the streets immediately after the mayhem had ended, gauging, not whether we could afford to go on, but how much it would cost to do so. There was hope among us.

But, the harmony that existed between my past and my future ceased the moment I stepped through the cracked, wooden door frame where a glass pane once stood, kicking around the thoroughly looted remnants of Bendemann’s Grocery Store, of my grocery store – hopes of salvaging something, anything, dashed. There was little I could do, so I spent the rest of that day helping others where I could.

Pete and his ten-year-old son Charlie were standing outside his once popular diner on Broad Street, staring into the charred hole that stood in its place, when I approached.

“I’m sorry,” I remembered were my first words to Pete.

“Me too,” he replied as he turned to me. We spoke casually and openly about what we had lost, as strangers do in times of shared tragedy. Charlie had remained silent during our exchange, staring dispassionately at the destruction around him.

We turned off of Broad Street together and onto Central Avenue where a butcher friend of Pete’s owned a storefront. Pete became distracted by the remains of a fallen statue honoring a white police officer that once stood proudly, audaciously, on Central Avenue. When he noticed that he no longer had a grip on Charlie’s hand it was already too late. The official report was that Charlie had lost sight of his father for a split second and stepped onto the street into the path of a passing car, nothing more than a terrible tragedy. Pete and his wife, Sara, suspected otherwise, but it was too fantastic an idea that such a young child, not yet world-weary, could’ve suffered from depression, let alone be suicidal.

Soon after Charlie’s death, Pete’s headaches began. The doctors found a benign tumor on his parietal lobe, which they said was harmless. The most damage that it would cause, they said, was chronic discomfort, but that it could be safely removed. After the operation came the voices. The tumor had acted as a valve, its removal unleashing a torrent that had been crying out for decades, previously unheard and unheeded. Charlie’s death suddenly made sense to Sara, Pete’s madness being the missing link. The illness must’ve been imparted to Charlie, just as Pete’s blue eyes had been. It was an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable, and it was enough for Sara. Still reeling from Charlie’s death, she was unable to cope with Pete’s rapidly deteriorating state and left him.

I kept in touch over the years, as the world Pete once knew began collapsing in on him. Then one day, he disappeared. Nearly a decade passed before he emerged again, Newark had taken him, had swallowed him whole.

“You don’t understand do you?” Pete said to me tearfully, still as the Coward King. “Some choices are not choices at all.”

Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: James Mo

The Extractor

Posted on: April 1, 2013

Anna lost both her parents at an early age, her mother of illness and her father of mortified suicide. Haunted by their sudden departure, she became a ward of the state, hopping from one foster home to the next until she pleaded her case before a judge at age seventeen with her GED in one hand and pay stubs in the other. He granted her early liberty and she was able to look after herself, work full-time washing dishes, and keeping her own apartment. She would brush past the pretty college girls on her way home from work late at night, smelling the perfume caught in their hair and listening to their laughter erupt across the sidewalk. Anna decided to go back to school.

She did not want to go to a four-year institution. Instead, she enrolled in an entrepreneurial certificate program at the community college that would only take three semesters for her to complete. Anna ordered her books and met each of her teachers before the first semester began in order to state her intentions for the program and explain that she has a hard time listening for extended periods of time, which is why she takes copious notes. They found her both odd and delightful.

The semesters flew by and Anna inhaled every bit of information from her courses. Her teachers were very impressed and encouraged her to pursue a business degree at the university level, but she staunchly disregarded their recommendations. One of her courses in the final semester required a research project on a topic regarding current business trends and what that means for small business owners. Anna presented the idea that in order to obtain business, you have to relieve pain, otherwise your product or service becomes obsolete. She received her certificate in the summer with a 4.0 GPA.

Anna put an ad in the paper for her business:


When the ghost of someone you love
   or someone you don’t even know
            can’t seem to let go.
        Call for an appointment.

The ad printed in the Sunday paper and she received a call at 8:30 AM. The woman was a widow named Shirley and she was both nervous and eager to meet with Anna regarding her services. They met an hour later at Shirley’s home in a suburb on the west side of town. They sat together at the kitchen table with only the sun filtering in through the window over the sink to illuminate the room.

“My husband died three years ago, “Shirley began. “He was a pastor with a congregation of over two thousand people. He had a heart attack and passed, but he is still here.”

Anna ran her thumb and index finger down the handle of the coffee mug in front of her as she watched Shirley’s face.

“I don’t mind him being around,” Shirley continued, “but it becomes quite difficult to distinguish reality and fantasy. I go on about my life as if he is still really here. I talk to him, read with him, go to the grocery store with him. Sometimes it slips into my conversations with others and they think I’m losing it.”

Anna took a sip of her coffee before stating, “And that bothers you.”

A look of shame flashed across Shirley’s face before she looked down at her hands in her lap and said, “I just need for him to go away. I don’t want to feel crazy anymore. He’s dead and it should seem that way.”

Anna nodded, trying to convey sympathy and understanding. “Shirley, if you could please ask your husband to reveal himself to me, then we can get started.” The widow looked up, a question on her wrinkled forehead before Anna explained, “A ghost chooses whom it haunts. Essentially, he has to haunt me in order for me to see him.”

Unsure of herself, Shirley turned to her right and asked, “Frank, dear. Would you please introduce yourself to Anna?”

His appearance was like wind blowing pollen off trees in the spring, a smokey arrival before full manifestation as a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a pleasant smile. Anna smiled in return.

“Hi Frank. As you know, your wife is interested in carrying on her life in as normal a way as possible. I need to know if you’re okay with that.”

Frank nodded.

“Good. That makes this much easier. To tell you a little bit about me, I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with ghosts ever since my parents died. It was easy because I was always looking for them. I’m not special really. I think anyone can see ghosts. I’m just a little more open to it than others. So, this is how it works. I want you to tell me the name of a place you’ve always wanted to visit, but never could.”

Frank twiddled his thumbs a moment, examining a table leg. “India. There is a shrine there that is claimed to be the burial place of Jesus after he rose from the dead.”

“What city?” asked Anna as she leaned back in her seat and reached into her coat pocket, pulling out a handful of stamps.


Anna leaned forward, picking through the stamps with the tip of her index finger before selecting one. “Even ghosts need a mode of transportation.” She placed the stamp on the table and looked up at Frank, smiling. “Take a look at that and then close your eyes.”

Shirley gasped, reaching for the space that Frank once occupied. “Oh, my God. Did you send him to India?”

“Good grief, no. He’s haunting the stamp. I’ll write a letter to the shrine in India, put this stamp on it, and he’ll be on his way.”

“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Shirley whimpered.

Anna pulled out an invoice and filled in the necessary information before sliding it across the table. “You didn’t get to when he died. Some things should stay as they are.”

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Natasha Akery

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