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Category Archive for 'Issue 5'

Happy Anniversary, damselfly press!

A year ago today we published the inaugural issue. Our journal continues to be a rewarding experience. We truly appreciate the continued support from such an amazing community of talented female writers across the world.

As always thank you to our submitters. It’s a pleasure to read your work.

Our fifth issue honors women of all experiences, ages and backgrounds. We are pleased to feature fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that is excellently crafted, thematically diverse, and accessible. So take a cue from our writers – whether you’re kicking back on an unbelievable mattress, or abroad and lounging under a canopy of lush trees, there’s always time to snuggle into some great writing. Enjoy!

Our sixth issue will be available January 15th. If you’d like to submit, please visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by December 15th.



Twenty minutes to midnight
the frogs are still calling

and somewhere in the far distance
a woman is flinging clothes

into a suitcase. Her shoes
echo like gunshots on the tile floor.

In my sleep I am forever
counting the times my parents

have left me alone in the house,
the frenzy of my fingers reaching,

the deadbolt drawn back
with an unexpected snap.

Ann Walters lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Cider Press Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Ballard Street Poetry Journal, Literary Mama, and others. She is also a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Dialogue of Distance

“What’s this?”—I asked,
my finger tracing in small circles
the radius of his knee.
“Repeat after me: la rodilla.”
“La rodilla,” I said, deliberately,
without the trill. “And this?”—
my palm smoothed the wrinkle
of his neck before climbing
down his spine. “El cuello
y la espalda.”

Shifting to an elbow, Ricardo reached,
squeezed my foot—“El pie”—and walked
his hand to my calf where he paused
and whispered, “La pantorilla.”
Too lovely a word, I thought,
for such a mild mannered curve.
Further up, his hand crept, to my knee
(no need), my thigh (“el muslo”),
delayed, walked up to my hips:
“¡O, las caderas ”
and around: “Las nalgas…”
us turning and smile-sly.

But then,
too quickly,
took my hand
and held it
pale side down
to his chest:

“¿El pecho, acuerdo?”
“Yes.” “¿Y esto?” His palm
pressed mine more firmly
and he breathed slow,
that I might not miss
his rhythmic beats.
¿Y esto? He nodded, silent.
¿Y esto? With my hand
sweating beneath his
and through blue
cotton weave.
¿Y esto?

Amy Lee Scott is an MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her essays and poems have appeared in JuiceBox Journal, The Iron Horse Literary Review, Quarter After Eight, and Brevity.


I want the rats back. I want spilled seed in the cellar and tossed seed on the ground near the feeder. And the warped door draped across two planks in the yard–I want it mounded again with grain. In tribute I want rain to gray the day to match the coats of rats. I want them to plump up before it’s dark; to watch the small sacks of their bodies scuttle along paths from hole to seed and back. Bring his large hands and teeming bags of trash. And the burner in the yard’s deep corner, I want that. Unclean this raked and organized world. Bring squirrels and rats and ground-feeding birds.

Linda Tomol Pennisi is the author of Seamless (Perugia Press, 2003) and Suddenly, Fruit (Carolina Wren Press, 2006). Her poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Cimarron Review, Lyric Poetry Review, McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets, and Natural Bridge. A 2004 recipient of an Individual Artists Grant from the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, Pennisi directs the Creative Writing Program at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

Just Off Highway 10
In memory of Shelley Anne Martin

I first felt lost
when I pulled out of the drive
Penske packed
dripping moss in the rearview mirror.

Leaving behind the highway
the cool clear wind hits my face
and I am in Nanaimo
watching her ashes find the path of wind.

Even if I could shed my skin
memory would race behind
threading a needle.
I find myself

back to the broken tree
trying to figure out what car part
lies at my feet.

Chantel Langlinais’s poetry has appeared in The Louisiana Review and The Southwestern Review. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from UL Lafayette, where she majored in creative writing. She enjoys collaborating with fellow artists in projects that explore experimental modes of poetic discourse through the implementation of music and photography.


Eating out of a metal pod, looking up.
Maple leaves like duck feet,
The way everything is like nature.
You know, like umbrellas are like canopies;
My heartbreak like moss.
Or no, not moss, duckweed – ever growing green life,
Something hatching, yes…spurned and cracked and wet

You know there’s a fungus that infects ants,
that makes the ant mad
until the fungus spurts from his head and kills him
Like something out of Ancient Greece
which the Romans copied and made worse.

I miss you, sitting here, looking up at these stupid maple leaves
Your feet are like Roman feet.
Your fat toes: square, there, leaning on the table.
You, looking out
onto your computer screen, longing for mountains.
You screen-save them

All around me there are mountains now but no windows.
I’m in somebody else’s window and how I wish you were here
With me
Sharing my Can of peas, shaded by canopies

Vanessa Garcia is a graduate student at the University of Miami in Creative Writing (full scholarship and TA ship). She is a recent finalist for the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative and full scholarship recipient from the New York Summer Writer’s Institute. That’s lately…much more to be told – please visit the website: www.vanessagarcia.org.


Ed is Orb

The truth about mattresses? Generally speaking, the best times we have on them have more to do with our company than anything else. I’m in the business of selling furniture, not sex and so this is what I tell customers. Your spine should look the same lying down as it does standing up. Most mattresses don’t provide enough support to maximize spinal structure without sacrificing comfort.

A perfect mattress supports your backbone equally at each vertebrae allowing for complete relaxation while maintaining shape. The perfect mattress? In the store we simply call her The Lady. Her full name is the Ultra Foam Stabilizer. Topped off with three solid inches of body melting memory foam she is fantasy realized. Priced at 2 grand, The Lady costs more than most customers are willing to pay. The majority looks at her tag and refuses to even sit down. They protect themselves from ever experiencing such unrivaled and unattainable comfort. So until Ed arrived, The Lady was left alone.

For the first few days Ed slept in our store, I thought perhaps he was a stalker or serial killer, only I knew neither would waste their time on me. I was too easy a target to matter.

I named him Ed in his sleep.

He was a handsome older man, his skin mahogany, his face thin and angular, hair shock white. The faint scent of lavender lingered in the air after he walked through. The first time he came in, he was bleary eyed, exhausted and walking with a syncopated stumble, repeatedly saving himself from tumbling onto the floor. He bee-lined for the Lady. In my six months at the Furniture Palace, I had never seen such purpose. Ed sunk into her. Even through his dreary haze and empty, half-moon eyes he knew what he wanted.

“Hey Miss,” he called out to me, “I’m going to take a nap. Turn down the tunes, will you. I want to take this baby for a test-drive.”

He never said whether or not he would buy her, which interested me because I work on commission. As a salesperson, I knew better than to push. Pushing usually causes a customer to say no, when if left on their own they might say yes. If Ed bought The Lady, I would earn half my rent in a single day. Once Ed became a regular, I stopped caring so much about material concerns. As far as I know, he was the only regular we’d ever had at the Furniture Palace. I was like the waitress in the movies who brought ‘the usual’ to the man who frequents her booth. Instead of bringing Ed coffee with sugar, hold the cream, I killed the music when he walked in to nap. Over time the idea of him lying on someone else’s mattress produced a hard pulling feeling inside of my chest. I couldn’t call it adultery, but it was certainly betrayal.

Technically I shouldn’t let Ed sleep in the store, but couldn’t convince myself to ask him to leave. I wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to nap daily in our store, but it’s equally true that no one else would have tried. This is what made Ed so special. He tried. And he offered no explanation. It was as if there was something between him and The Lady and it could not be interrupted. I didn’t enable him. I just didn’t stop him.

When there were no customers, I spent my time pacing the store, adjusting chairs and couches and beds and desks into straight lines. 20 laps around the showroom was a mile. I probably walked four or five in a day, stealing fudge from the customer courtesy plate when I walked past. I eat until my tongue burns from the sugar, and even then cannot stop.

It is my opinion that the job of the shopper is harder than the job of the salesperson. I know the pitch. Our Polyurethane Advanced Foam is better than our Deluxe Foam Top. This is true now and will always be true. A cheap mattress will last you four or five years. A quality mattress will last twenty.

From my observations the job of the shopper is to decide if he/she is worth the purchase. The shopper or if it’s a couple, the shoppers, must measure and judge and place themselves along the gradation of mattresses. They decide their own value. When a couple disagrees, it’s devastating. Their inequality is exposed. An Advanced Polyurethane might discover she’d been dating an Air Mattress all along. I’m no relationship doctor, but even I know, it all comes down to softness and support.

I am very talented at selling furniture. We don’t get too many customers, maybe only fifteen in a whole day, and some might be repeats from the day before, returning after shopping around at our competitors. On average, over one third of the customers that I talk to buy something. The trick is to visualize a piece of furniture as a force of change in someone’s life. First, when a customer comes in, I ask them what they are looking for. Then, while they are looking, I chat with them about their work. Later, I comment on a piece of furniture that caught their eye. Usually it isn’t something they were looking for. People usually look for something they think they should have, but end up buying something that represents the life they wish they had. I try to sell furniture as the bridge that will take them from their working life into their dream life.

On the third day Ed came in, I sold a shiny red Dante armchair to a pig-nosed sports coach looking for a wooden file cabinet. I had caught him eyeing the chair from all different corners of the room. “Go ahead, try it,” I said. “It won’t bite.” The man sat down and put his hands over the wooden ends of each arm. He rested his fingers between the grooves on each claw. He was sitting very straight. As he sat on the chair, I saw him survey the store, taking in the lamps, the Apex Transitional, the Prairie Dog, the Flaming Bush. Everything that lay before him, he counted and appraised.

I brought the plate of fudge to him. “May I interest Your Majesty in a bite of chocolate?” I said. The man giggled and took four.

He paced the store for fifteen minutes, and then bought his throne. I gave him a whole plate of fudge to take home. “You’re worth it,” I told him as he left. Ed sat up in the bed when I said this. Without saying goodbye, he walked out the door.

The next day, I waited until Ed stirred in his sleep, and picked up the plate of chocolate. I took off my shoes and walked towards him. The Lady is designed to insulate you from surrounding distractions. In fact, you can lay down next to someone, roll over, scratch your foot, get up, go to the bathroom, lay back down and jack off and the person next to you won’t feel a thing. The Lady will not budge.

I stood over Ed. His pants were hiked up at the ankles exposing black dress socks that must’ve gone all the way up his skinny calves. Ed is the kind of man whose body defies definition. He is thick on the top and skinny on the bottom, a mismatch. When he woke up, it was with alarm as if the whole building were on fire.

We looked at each other for a long time. The whites of his eyes were actually yellow, as if they had been stained with age. His pupils were so dark they were black and his left was larger than his right. While we stared at each other I had the distinct feeling that as long as we didn’t break our gaze, we were both naked. I am 23 and have not been naked in front of another human being since the age of thirteen.

“Would you like some fudge?” I asked, finally. “There’s hazelnut and dark chocolate. You don’t have to pick. You can have them both.”

“I’m lactose intolerant,” Ed replied.

“Dark then?” Our fingers brushed when he took it from my hand, and I could feel our energies crackle. “Did you sleep alright?”

Ed looked away as if embarrassed by the intimacy of my question.

“How was the mattress?” I tried again, shifting as best as I could back into store decorum.

“Not bad,” Ed replied as if we hadn’t had this conversation many times before. “What are the measurements on the queen?”

“60 by 80 inches,” I replied, looking at the warped thickness of his fingernails. “But it’s a good idea to allow some room for overhang.”

“You’re like a walking almanac,” Ed said, kneading his fingers into his scalp. “You know everything there is to know.”

“It’s my job.” As I walked away, I could feel his eyes on me, taking in the weight of my ass. I tried to sway, to make it move for him. No one had ever stared at me with such intensity.

“Did you know,” I said, turning around, “that the weight of a mattress is directly proportional to how long it will last?”

“No,” Ed said, “I did not.”

Weighing in at 243 lbs, I had the urge to tell him that I would last a very long time.

“See you tomorrow,” I said when he left the store.

“Goodbye Sugar,” Ed said.

“Goodbye Sugar,” I repeated to myself after he walked out. The shape of Ed’s body was still imprinted on the mattress. Before the memory foam on the mattress rose back into a flat plain of white, I ran my fingers along the symmetrical moth wings left by his butt, the delicate trapezoidal plateau of his arched back.

The night after I offered Ed the fudge, I saw a news program all about a new kind of mattress made with magnets. It wasn’t actually news because at the end of the program, a 1-800 number scrolled across the bottom of the screen and a woman named Mona tried to sell them. Even so, the information in the program revealed a whole side of mattresses I had never known existed. According to Mona her magnetic mattress pads created a mystic subfield of untapped energy. During your sleep this energy would open the closed windows inside you and free your caged Eagle. From the diagrams on the program, I could see that the magnetic subfield worked almost like a snake, entering you through your mouth and then working it’s way down your spine, taking field trips out to your fingertips and back until it reached your pelvic area.

“The pelvis is the portal to the new you,” Mona cooed. “Inside of each of our pelvises is an energy vortex.” This was represented on the human body diagram by a glowing red orb, which Mona tapped three times with her middle finger. “Only by accessing our energy vortex can you transcend your humanity and reach for your other. Embrace the animal within. Access your primal power.”

Mona turned and looked right through the TV and into my eyes, into my very own pelvic orb. “Transform yourself! Learn never to say never again!” She preached. Oh the possibilities! The unlived life! Love reborn! Just watching Mona and the program I could feel the orbiting energy vortex inside of my own pelvis. It was pulsing and warm and it wanted nothing more than for me to reach out and touch it. What would I be capable of, I wondered, with this power released? I am a large woman. How vast would I be if I came unhinged?

The next day, I walked the store all morning waiting for Ed and decided to make my own Self-Actualizing Magnetic Mattress. Since I sleep on an old futon, a bottom feeder in the mattress hierarchy, it didn’t make sense for me to test it out myself. Besides, to be scientific, the magnets needed to work their magic on someone who was unaware, someone I could observe, someone like Ed.

That night I took all the magnets off my refrigerator and shoved them in my bag. Most of them were rectangular advertisements that came with take-out. I drew a series of diagrams and finally decided that a figure eight layout would maximize the subfield and allow for deep penetration. The next day I got to work early and placed the magnets between the mattress and box spring. With the few magnetic letters I had I spelled the words ED IS ORB at the very center of the figure eight.

I could barely look at Ed when he arrived. I simply waved and watched from a green armchair as he walked to the back of the store and into my subfield. His eyes were red and his cheeks sagged. I don’t know what he did that made him so tired all of the time. No sleep was ever enough for him, but maybe today, it would be different.

I watched him as he slept. His stomach rose and fell and a peace fell over him. His shoulders relaxed and his jaw dropped open. He slept for an hour and a half. It wasn’t until he woke up that I could see the difference.

Rather than waking up bewildered, he seemed to carry the release sleep afforded into his waking life. It appeared as if all of his face muscles had let go. I know that can’t happen, because our muscles work in pairs, when one is loose, the other is tight, and vice versa, but Ed seemed to have achieved this, breaking a long cycle of clenching. He looked as if he’d happened across some great and comforting knowledge. Serenity exuded from his being. I wanted to climb a mountain and find him long-haired and meditating and sit at his feet. “Be my guru.” I breathed. I wanted to dive into him until I too could walk in perfect equilibrium.

“Did you dream?” I asked Ed.

“No.” Ed said. “I never dream.”

“Maybe you just forget them?”

“I don’t think so.”

I examined the mattress after Ed left to see if I could feel what had changed him. I stood over it and finally touched it. The Lady was warm where Ed had been. I breathed in his lavender smell and ran my fingers over the place where his head rested. I picked up a piece of his curly white perfect hair and held it in the light.

That night I dreamt I was making eye contact with Ed. The longer we looked, the deeper his eyes penetrated and I could feel him searching within me. He was gentle at first but firm. “What are you looking for?” I kept asking Ed, but he wouldn’t answer me. “What is it?” I could see that the inside of my body was made up of rooms. There were halls and bathrooms and staircases and bedrooms and all of them were empty. As Ed walked from room to room, he ran his finger along the wall. I felt heat. A fire burned somewhere in the house of me. My heart beat so hard that even in my sleep I could feel it throbbing in my teeth. “Maybe it isn’t here? Maybe I don’t have it?” I whispered, my voice staticky and robotic, omnipresent as if from loudspeakers in the walls. But Ed kept searching. When I woke up, my body was drenched in sweat. I felt turned on and exhausted.

Like all scientific experiments, mine required multiple tests in order to produce conclusive evidence. Revelation was immanent, but could not be achieved alone. I needed Ed to sleep again, but the next day he did not show. That was a Friday. I was anxious all weekend anticipating his return. On Monday when he didn’t arrive at his usual time I began to worry. By 4:00 when he was still not there, I broke store policy. I lay down on The Lady. “Magnetic deities,” I prayed. “Guide your soldier Ed. Bring him to the store so that we may work our magic upon him.”

And then I was asleep. I don’t know when Ed arrived, or how long he had lain next me. I was simply aware that I was both dreaming and awake at the same time. I could hear his oceanic breathing and feel his body heat pressing red into my skin. It was then that I discovered that Ed and I could speak without using our mouths. He listened to my thoughts.

“Darling,” Ed said to me in my dream. “Sweetness.”

“Me?” I asked.

“Who else?” Ed responded. “There is no one but you.” His voice so deep it was more vibration than sound.

And then it happened. A crossing over. A devastating awareness.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I had never felt this looseness, the expanding vastness, the space that goes on without end. Anything was possible in that moment. I could see futures unrolling before me, a great wheel of opportunities and myself standing bewildered in the center. Would I learn to diet and drink wheatgrass shots until I believed in myself and began a career singing broken-hearted songs to the wrong men in the smokiest dive at the end of the world? Or would I lose control of eating all together until I became 500 lbs and found that I couldn’t get up off the couch? I could see myself, waiting like a cow chewing its cud to slim down enough to shuffle to the bathroom.

Our bodies lay side by side stretched out on The Lady and slept. I had described the way the memory foam lifts to meet each curve of your body to customers, but never before had I felt it. She didn’t meet me halfway. She supported me. The endless mattress stretched out in all directions, the moon low in the sky with a chain hanging down so that it could be turned on and off. I rolled. I dove. I swam. I came up for air and filled my lungs and went back under.

Everything was moving. Not just me, but the ocean and the air and even on the atomic level I could feel the particles bumping up against each other, not wanting to rest, possessed and aimless specks. I cried out. The Furniture Palace is so still, the lines of furniture bleak and rigid, the structure of it all lifeless, and what was I? A thing with legs like all the rest. Amidst the greatness I emerged and in the open space, I was capable of anything. I could see it so clearly. There was no energy vortex. There was no magnetic subfield. There was no Furniture Palace. There was only this.

– Anya Groner currently lives in Oxford, MS where she is pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Mississippi and writing her first short story collection. Besides writing, Anya enjoys playing the fiddle, cooking, and weekly crafternoons. She is a recipient of a John and Renee Grisham fellowship for writing.


Of all the Things I Could Try on for Size…

The day after Christmas, 2007, C, a guy I barely knew, asked me to marry him, and I said yes. As he slipped the ring on my finger and the restaurant burst into applause, we kissed, trying desperately to keep from laughing.

“We are such bitches,” I hissed as we left holding hands.

He just grinned.

Outside, I gave the ring back and said, “That was fun. We should do it again sometime.”

* * *

At the time of the “engagement,” I’d known C a few months. We’d met at a party the previous summer. As he tells it, the first time he saw me I was standing in the host’s kitchen reciting a poem for some Russian kid we never saw again. Hand a young, hungry poet a glass of wine and she’ll perform anything you like. There was some deep talking about writing and music on the back porch, as it often goes when the few intelligent and/or sober individuals find each other.

We crossed paths at a couple costume parties that fall (Halloween and a Cosby Sweater party), but after he moved to Brooklyn in November (as most of Boston eventually does), we maintained a pen-pal relationship, trading work and ideas, eventually sharing more personal details about the inspirations behind it all. Letter writing has always been my preferred way of getting to know someone. The ability to edit and the distance from the individual I am writing to keep me from giving in to hormones and impulse and doing something I’ll later wish I hadn’t. E-mails are safer for me to exchange than drinks.

Fast forward to December twenty-sixth. Our original plan had been dinner, but several weeks prior, he’d sent an e-mail saying, “I have an idea that maybe you’d be willing to try. We could dress up nice and go to a fancy restaurant, and just before dessert, I’ll get on my knees and propose to you. We’ll get the whole restaurant into the act, and then we’ll eat free desserts, and generally be adored. What do you say?”

Hm. I didn’t know how to take that. I wasn’t ready to own up to how much I looked forward to hearing from him every day (much less the possibility of a mutual attraction—I feared he was even more of a lone wolf than I), so I said, “Hey, performance art, I like it.”

So I found myself in a hookah bar on first avenue between eleventh and twelfth with my pen-pal going over the details of our—I mean, our characters’—imaginary relationship. “He” was a CPA, “I” sold ad space in new media. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing there. This was the first time we’d ever gone out alone, and here we were, about to get engaged.

I proudly take credit for our “how we met” story. We mistook each other for the respective blind dates we were supposed to be meeting. A similar situation had happened to me in real life, and months later, I’d found myself wishing I’d gone with Mr. Not-My-Date. This was my chance.

Most of the other stuff, C came up with: We’d been together two years. We didn’t live together, but I would soon be leaving Cambridge to move into his one-bedroom in Brooklyn.

“Do we have a cat?” I asked.

“No, but we’re getting one.”

I asked if we could name it Nietzsche or something equally pretentious. He’d realized he wanted to marry me on an April trip to some bed-and-breakfast in the Berkshires. He’d awakened early one morning, wanting to watch the sunrise—I’d been game, thus cementing his vision of me as his adventurous fellow explorer. However, he’d waited to ask for my father’s permission over Christmas. We did not discuss why.

C was a Sagittarius like me (independent types not exactly known for their house-with-a-yard tendencies) and, at twenty-eight, on the other side of the twenty-something spectrum. He claimed not to believe in monogamy, yet had planned out this whole elaborate charade. And I was going along with it.

I’d recently been struggling with the realization that I’d reached the age my mother was when she and my father got engaged, during the winter vacation of her senior year at Fairfield. Here I was, a senior at Emerson, unable to stay more than a few months with someone. This haunted me. My sister was the normal child. I was the promiscuous mad scientist daughter with the sharp tongue, and my parents wholly accepted me as such. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they wanted something different for me. I think they’d imagined me happier, healthier, in love with someone deserving.

My father, as the legend goes, proposed in the car—in a Burger King parking lot. I guess their relationship was the kind of comfortable that meant such a special moment was only enhanced by a Whopper and fries. For me, grade-D meat and processed cheese in the car would be a deal breaker. I’d definitely raise an eyebrow if a lover brought me to Taco Bell (at least in the wooing stage). Mass-produced guacamole? No thanks. I don’t consider myself high-maintenance, just a fan of (subtle yet essential) flavor—and good presentation.

But go figure, my elaborate marriage proposal was a joke. My mom had the love, I had the show. But I did manage to get engaged over winter break my senior year, even if it was, on the surface, just to get a reaction.

I’ll admit, though, I don’t get it. You take two loose ends, and you put them in a softly lit restaurant with wine and chocolate and a stupid little jewelry box. Hand the waitress a camera and ask her to capture it on film, these two Sagittarians in a big city trying to look like they know how to act in a situation they believe is exclusive only to “normal” people. You know, normal people…

He gets on one knee and reads a poem. She blushes and tries to forget that everyone is watching as she feigns shock. Should she stall or just say Yes already? She’s afraid her eyes are going to tear up for real—Why? She blanks out as he stands to kiss her (Why is she so touched he thought to buy a ring guard? How did he remember how small her hands are?), and then she says, “I thought we were going to wait until after we got the cat.”

The restaurant claps. The waitress cries.

* * *

Originally, I’d planned to write the fake proposal story as fiction. One scene I had planned was the moment the girl realized she was in love.

“Do you propose to all your female friends?” she would demand.

The guy would then reply, “Don’t be ridiculous. Only some of them.”

“But that was our thing!” she would cry, something like hunger in her eyes.

Or I imagined her asking him, “How come you never propose to me anymore?”

I don’t know why I assumed the female should be the one to get hurt in the arrangement. Perhaps that shows something about my sexual politics. Or maybe it’s a self-esteem thing. Did I expect to always be left? Violin hips and quick feet, that’s what I’d felt like all through college, a collection of girl-parts and a mind that wasn’t sure what to do with them. I was prone to fits of feeling dangerous—to myself, to others. Was that why I tended to choose freewheeling types with faster feet than mine?

A lot of people preach about self-love. While I think there is definitely something to the notion that you need to love yourself in order to love someone else, it’s the “know thyself” bit that many people seem to wrestle with. Who are we? What do we want? Are we sure? Do our desires and our needs correspond to our images of ourselves?

* * *

In what would have been the future, this act would have become a regular thing, a curious pastime unique to a platonic relationship. Every time Chris and I were in the same city, we’d choose a new restaurant, or eventually something entirely different: an ice-skating rink or a pet shop, a museum. We’d do it in Times Square, just to see if anyone would even stop to watch. Maybe to shake it up, I’d say, No, sometime, or maybe I’d propose to him to show we were a modern pretend-couple.

In the here and now, we don’t talk much about getting engaged anymore. To friends, we cite that first fake proposal as our “first date.” When he kissed me that night, I forgot we were supposed to be in character. I was light-headed for days after, wondering whether I was crazy for thinking there might be something there. I waited a few days for him to set the record straight. No, I wasn’t crazy, just a bit oblivious.

By now, miles have been traveled, hundreds of pages written, old haunts re-explored together. Sometimes as we’re planning our next visit, he’ll say, “I really need to propose to you again soon.” I’ll ask if we should stick with the old characters or make up new ones. And then we forget about it again.

I hate writing about relationships in the present tense. Things last as long as they last; they end when they end. One day I will read this and swallow the ache to fill in the parts of this story I did not know yet. Or maybe I’ll just write the whole story somewhere else and let this piece be what it is.

Little I’d wished for has taken place, not the “girl goes to college and meets nice boy who takes the pain away” scenario, or the “girl swears off boys altogether and pens bestseller” fantasy, not even the “girl-and-boy vagabonds make documentary about marriage proposal performance art” thing. I’d imagined I’d turn this into a fiction, a good story with a neat beginning-middle-end set up. My language would be confident as it clipped along, sure of what was in store.

But what do you know? The charade turned into reality. I found myself cast as one of the characters with no author to tell me what to do. A wrench had been thrown into the plot, and I had to accept that this story was only just beginning, that I couldn’t step back and pin it down or conveniently pack it into a structure yet. I didn’t want to. I was only starting to scratch the surface of C’s real-life character, and, yeah, some things I didn’t know about the corresponding version of myself intrigued me too. I was digging the revelation process.

So I had to wonder if I could get away with blaming the planets for this one. What was going on with Sagittarius, man? Just when I was getting used to this female bachelor thing, Venus had to reach for that ticket stub of a heart I’d been carrying around, and then Saturn and Jupiter got in on it, then Mercury…fuck Mercury.

Maybe it was fate or maybe just that I’d finally realized I was better off making my own damn plans rather than letting alcohol and bravado do the talking. Either way, it was time for a change. I was just surprised. Hell, I still am.

– Jessica Del Balzo is a recent graduate of Emerson College and for now she kisses ass in PR to make rent.


Condolences, You’re Having a Baby

I’d never be able to have my friend Tracie baby-sit. In fact, I figured she’d probably never visit my house once my daughter was born. But I never thought she’d get hives because of my baby shower, especially since the “shower” was more like a co-ed drunken bash where I was everyone’s designated driver. Her reaction wasn’t an allergy to peanuts or shellfish or too much to drink. No, what did her in is the very notion that one of her friends—someone as level-headed as she is about womanhood and autonomy—is having a child. She had to take Benadryl and lie down.

She’d given me a Winnie the Pooh bath set and stuffed toy and proudly proclaimed as I opened the gift, “Every kid should have a Pooh. I tried to find Winnie the Pooh in Latin, but couldn’t and I’m not giving you my copy.” Perhaps this should have shocked me. I’ve known Tracie for three years. She has had so many men, she reminds me of a glamorous nineteen forties woman in a long black Cadillac trolling the hillside in search of her next conquest. She laughs at people with children.

It wasn’t until after the shower was over, after my husband and I had piled mountains of gifts into our car, that she said, “I wanted to get you a sympathy card. I knew you’d get the joke, but didn’t know if any one else would.”

I pondered what a card like this might say: Hey, time to celebrate! Life as you know it is over!

Or Your identity is gone forever—You’re a MOM!

Maybe Condolences. You’re having a baby.

This is how I feel ninety-five percent of the time, so I wonder why Hallmark hasn’t cornered the market on this sentiment. At least so Tracie could have given me a token of how she really feels about my pregnancy.

I’ve never been a woman who liked playing with baby dolls. I was given a Cabbage Patch Kid as a child that I still own, but I never changed his diapers. Poor Fitz just sits atop my bookcase in my writing room, a thin layer of dust covering his bald head. He’s a first edition, something I’m very proud of, and that is the reason why I still have him. Not because of fond baby doll bonding moments (although he did see me through the chicken pox), not because I’m emotionally attached. And not because I want to give him to my own daughter. Hopefully, she’ll be like me and want to play with He-Man action figures.

My sisters, though, loved dolls and everything pink. They made pretend crying noises for their babies, pushed them in strollers, picked out frilly outfits, changed imaginary poopy diapers. It seems that since the ages of three my sisters have known they would be mothers, and for the last nine years they have been. I never saw myself as a mom. In fact, I’m eight and a half months pregnant and still don’t see myself as a mother. My daughter’s room is finished, she has been given two of everything, her name is ready, her feet dig into my ribs, and I still don’t feel like a mother.

When I found out I was pregnant there were no string quartets, no violins, no holy music from on high with a light shining down to bless me with the gift of mother-to-be-ness. Instead, when I went in to see the doctor because of a pain so bad on my left side I thought I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit, and the nurse told me I was pregnant, I didn’t believe her. I wanted her to take the blood test again. When she refused and told me I’d have to have an ultrasound that day, I burst into tears. I was crying so badly, she brought my husband into the exam room. When he saw me the first thing he thought was Cancer not Baby. “You’re so pale,” he said, “Are you going to faint?”

During the ultrasound my doctor confirmed that the pregnancy was not ectopic and we could expect a healthy child the following spring. The following spring, I thought to myself, my life will be over.

This is not melodrama: since I learned about childbirth—by watching a video in ninth grade Health class of a woman giving birth—I’ve been afraid of it. I think it’s going to kill me. I’ll be one of those freak women who hemorrhage or die of a heart murmur or coronary embolism just as my child is springing forth from my womb. I’m serious. My entire life I’ve been afraid this will happen.

Now, I’m more afraid that it won’t.

Four years ago I had surgery. The doctor removed lesions from the ligaments on my uterus, ovaries, and rectum. After the surgery he showed me photographs of my internal organs. Pointing at my ovaries he said, “Just look at all those healthy eggs. I don’t see any reason why you and your husband can’t start a family now.”

I certainly saw reasons. Dozens. I was 27. Married less than six months. I liked that it was just my husband and I. We could travel across the country to visit friends and family, we could live in a cramped apartment, we could spend money on DVDs, restaurants and books. We could save up and go to Italy for a vacation, maybe even to live.

So my doctor prescribed a new birth control pill and life went on as usual.

The real reason I’m pregnant is because of my cat, ZuZu. She’s a little stray I found in a parking lot, huddled under a car hiding from an icy rain. The day before I found her, I’d seen a dog hit by a truck just outside of my apartment. The truck didn’t even stop and the little white dog rolled and rolled into the gutter and then remained still. Three minutes later its owner found it, ran into the road, picked it up and bundled it into her car. I like to think the dog survived. But I know it didn’t.

So when I saw a small white cat under a car, I took it as a sign that I should adopt her. We named her ZuZu from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life because she had a cold and sneezed for the first two weeks we owned her. Although we had two cats already, for some reason I thought ZuZu was mine. She would be my comfort, my baby. I never thought she’d be the reason I’d have a real baby.

Because she wasn’t a kitten when we found her, ZuZu’s a bit feral and likes to scratch. Last summer she swatted me on the side of my right hand—my writing hand, the hand I use so much I forget I have a left—and the wound never healed. I went to the dermatologist who conducted lab tests on the wound and prescribed an antibiotic just in case it was infected. I was to take the pill for fourteen days and stay out of direct sunlight.

Nowhere on the bottle of antibiotics was it printed May cause birth control pills to be ineffective or Do not consume with alcohol because this may cause you to get pregnant, idiot. So my husband and I left for a romantic, drunken vacation in Savannah, Georgia. This was the first real vacation we’d taken in three years of marriage. In the Savannah pictures the dark pink wound can be made out just below my pinkie finger, especially in the photo of me at Churchill’s Pub, downing my second pint of Guinness.

Once we were back from our trip, the dermatologist’s lab results confirmed there was no infection and I could stop taking the antibiotics. I’d have to put a special salve on my wound twice a day. It would take five weeks for the wound to heal. By then—because of ZuZu, and Savannah, and Guinness—I was three weeks pregnant.

ZuZu and I have reconciled. She follows me around the house, squeaking at me, crying when I leave a room. Because she’s so small, she’s the only one of our three cats I cat pick up and snuggle, the only one that can sit on my lap and not put my legs to sleep. I don’t blame her for this pregnancy as much as I do my body. And my stupid brain is at fault too. It didn’t know instinctively that antibiotics and birth control pills don’t mix. Why, in seven years of higher education, did I not know this? Why didn’t anyone in ninth grade Health class tell me this? That horrific birthing video is burned on my brain, so I’m sure I would’ve remembered not to make myself a birth control, antibiotic, Guinness cocktail if I’d ever been told it would land me in the motherhood club.

Since my belly has grown—along with my feet and my ass—perfect strangers approach me in public and ask, “When are you due? Boy or girl?” and they make statements like, “How exciting.” These are people who, if I weren’t pregnant, would walk right by me, perhaps even into me, and never think twice. I want to ask them what is so exciting about eighteen hours of labor, or about the two-week-long period I’m supposed to get after the birth. Or the inability to sleep for the rest of my life.

This morning in bed I turned to my husband and said, “We’ve only got three weeks left of just me and you,” and burst into tears. I’m selfish. I crave his attention and when I don’t get it, I stomp my feet and demand it. A baby will force me to grow up, to quit all of my self-indulgences. I’m not ready for this.

My husband is more level-headed than I. “Don’t you think we’ll still be us? Just us plus one?”

I couldn’t respond. If I said yes then I was just being overly emotional, anxious about the “new path” my life is taking. If I said no I was a heartless bitch, not fit for motherhood.

I stared at the ceiling of our bedroom as he coaxed me and told me how much he loved me and the little girl we’re going to have. How he’ll love me even more because I wasn’t just his wife now, but the mother of his child.

As if being his wife was never enough.

Don’t get me wrong. There are days I’m so proud to be the mother of his child that I cry tears of joy. There are days when I think of him holding her, teaching her to play the guitar, reading to her, that I get choked on tears. These are rarities, hormone driven. And in these fantasies, I’m never around. I don’t see myself teaching her much of anything; I don’t imagine mother-daughter teas, taking her to buy a training bra, listening to her heartbreaks. These are annoyances I barely survived in my own girlhood, I don’t want them rehashed.

Instead, what I see for my future is a huge wall. An enormous wall of old smooth gray stone and chipped mortar built up in front of the life-path I’ve so meticulously created for myself. It’s so high, I can’t see around or above it. It completely blocks the path I’ve set for myself—writer, traveler. I’ve finally finished a manuscript of writing I’m happy with; I’m getting published regularly and don’t feel ashamed to call myself a writer anymore. I’d just begun to think that in a few years I’d finally travel to Italy, to France. Now this path is gone. I have no control over what is going to happen. Maybe I never did, but the thought that I did always comforted me.

Instead, what I see scribbled on that wall is a message in Pepto-pink spray paint. It reads Condolences. You’re having a baby.

Just as Tracie was taking Benadryl at my baby shower, another one of my close friends was coming to terms with the fact that her newlywed husband doesn’t want children. This friend has always imagined her life with a child—she’s saved toys and clothes for a little girl since she was small. She has boxes packed and ready to be opened just as soon as she can. But these boxes will remain sealed, she’s learned, unless she wants to give these things away to children that are not her own.

She says, “My husband and I don’t talk to each other because we’re just talking around the child we won’t have.”

I’m angry that her husband has ruined her hopes, that he’s created for her a wall along the life-path she’s set for herself. I tell her she can spoil my daughter like she would spoil her own. And I know that this is a cheap substitute for her loss. Just as I know that what I’ll be gaining in a few weeks, that thing I’ve been dreading since I could remember, pales in comparison to the void she will feel for the rest of her life.

I think of this little person inside of me and how selfish I’ve become. How selfish to resent her before I’ve even given myself the chance to love her. Or her to love me. How selfish to think that I will be a bad mother just because I’d like to take Benadryl and wake up from my stupor without a baby. How foolish.

My husband is wrong about still being myself after my daughter is born. I won’t be me any longer, nor will she ever know who I was before she came along. For that, I’m grateful. I want her to know me only as the mother who wanted her. Wanted her for so long that I fought my body and my mind just to have her. I hope this lie is enough to sustain me for the rest of my life. And I know—from somewhere ethereal, dare I say maternal—that it will be. It has to be. It has to be enough for me to tear down the wall I’ve put in my path, and instead line the way for her and me with the smooth gray stones.

– J.W. Young has been published recently in Best of the Web 2008, Memoir, and, as well as 20 Something Essays by 20 Something Writers (Random House).