Wen Wen Yang Reading “Ink Stains” Appearing in Volume 70 of Grub Street

You can view Wen Wen Yang’s pieces “Ink Stains” and “Lukewarm” in Volume 70 of Grub Street, out now. Click here to view Volume 70. Below, you can listen to a reading of “Ink Stains” by Wen Wen Yang.



Wen Wen Yang was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University, with a degree in English and creative writing. You can find her flash fiction “The Fox Spirit’s Retelling” in the anthology Remapping Wonderland: Classic Fairytales Retold by People of Color.

Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “To Whom It May Concern” by Olivia Mclean

Dear White people, To whom it may concern,


I am writing to you not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of color but as a young, scared Black woman and as a young, scared person of color. I am writing this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I am writing this letter today regretting it, as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I am writing this letter.




Dear white people,


……We don’t hate you. We are tired. We don’t despise you. We are tired. It is by luck, by chance; that you are white. Just remember, you too could have easily been in our situation. And my question to you is, would you be able to handle it? The emotional, physical, and mental torment. I ask again: Could you handle it? Could you handle the unjust fear? The unjust inequality? The unjust hate? Could you honestly tell me right now you would be able to handle not only what we are currently going through, but what we have gone through for centuries?

……Some of you have to be excused or warned about certain historical events in history before learning about them. Why is that? Is it because of the gruesome details and pictures? Is it because your heart goes out to our ancestors? Is it because you are tired of learning the same thing over and over and you can’t bear to sit through a forty-five-minute documentary on what our lives were like? We aren’t warned before we are gunned down. We weren’t warned before we were enslaved, and we will not be warned in the future. Could you handle that? If you couldn’t handle a mere history lesson of a snapshot of our lives, I think I can answer for you. No, you could not handle any of it. Nor do you wish to handle any of it. So why should we? So don’t dismiss, misplace, or excuse my lack of gratefulness when I voice my annoyance and blatant disgust when I hear a privileged white individual say, “I understand how you feel.” 





Dear police officers,


……We do not hate you. We fear you. I question the system that provides us with people like you, people who vow to protect and serve. There have been too many times when you have gotten away with killing us. 

……And the question is, why? Is it because you believe we are inferior? Is it because  our existence threatens you? Do you feel like you are doing justice to your badge? Does it sound better when you internally justify it as doing your country justice? The question that cannot seem to escape my mind is: why are you all threatened by us? That question should not be answered through numerous unnecessary killings. That question is one for you and you alone to settle with your consciences. 

……Allow me to elaborate on who I am referring to when I say, “all.” Although this letter is dedicated to police officers, I do not solely mean police officers, but the systems that employ them, the people who create systems to ensure Black people do not succeed. I am referring to our medical practices and our justice systems. I am, although it may seem out of place, also referring to our school systems. 

……With that being said, I do wonder how you, our protectors and enforcers of “fair” law, go home and sleep at night knowing you killed innocent people and you went unpunished. How do you go home and kiss your kids goodnight when hours ago, in the blink of an eye, you took that opportunity away from someone else? How do you go home at night and hug your spouse, knowing someone will never get a hug again from their loved one because you decided, despite not having known a single thing about this Black individual, except the one or two things you interpreted as truth, that they didn’t deserve to see another day? 

……I wonder: how do you all come to this conclusion in a fraction of a second? Do you get a little tickle in your left foot? Is it more of a gut feeling? Does your right eye twitch?  Is the left knee quivering? It must be something special that is occurring, something so special that only police officers possess this knack for knowing, in such little time, the worth of one’s life.  How do you go home at night and wake up the next morning and make a fresh pot of coffee knowing a man will never walk this earth again because you decided it was his time to leave? How do you go home at night knowing you took so many opportunities away from not only the person you murdered in cold blood but their family too? ? How do you even go home at night?

……One? sixty? One-hundred? Two hundred and fifty? How many. How many more children, brothers, fathers, mothers, cousins have to die before this ends? How many more names have to go down in history before this ends. How many more riots have to occur before this ends? How many more stories do we need to tell? Our bodies were not solely placed on this earth for people like you to fire off practice shots like you are at a range. We do not exist, nor should we exist, only to become a landmark in history. We are human just as you are, and our history needs to stop being written for us. “Justice will be served” in reality means justice will be served to certain people.

……I would not wish this life on anyone. Not the life of a Black person but the fear of living the life as a Black person in today’s society.

……When will it end.




May 25, 2020

Dear George Floyd,


……Your letter will be the shortest. Not because I lack the necessary sympathy or empathy. And It is not because I lack the format in which I hope the words will flow my mouth and transfer onto this paper. My reasoning for keeping your letter the shortest is rather simple. There are simply no words that yet exist that can express the whirlwind of emotions I feel while writing this. To say I’m saddened by your death would be the understatement of the year. To think that you will never return to your family simply because a man took it upon himself to take your life disgusts me. I am sorry that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am sorry that I am writing this letter. I am sorry that the system failed you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. The tears that fill my eyes for you and for your family will not bring you back. The tears we all cry for you. The screams we scream for you, the fires we start in your name. None of it will bring you back and that is the worst part. No matter what we do you will not be back. I am sorry. I am sorry your life ended prematurely before you could reach your aspirations. I am sorry your family is one man less. I am sorry you will be a topic of conversation for generations throughout your family for something so troubling and I’m sorry all I can do is apologize for something that never should have happened to you or anyone. 


Olivia Mclean



I do not wish to be white or any other race. I wish for something that should not ever be one’s wish…equality. To say I want you all to look at me and not see colour would be an unfair and rather illogical request of mine. I want you all to see the colour of my skin, just as I wish to see the colour of your skin. However, I do not want to be judged for the colour of my skin, my hair texture, or the size of my lips. When I look at you all, I want to see the different shades of us that help make up the world we live in today. I want us to appreciate what has become so taboo as a topic in today’s society. No, our skin tone or other physical features do not and should not be the basis of judgment, rather a mere observation as we continue to make what should be natural, fair judgements based off what exists in one’s mind, body, heart, and soul, versus the minor details of physical appearance that we notice on the pathway to judgement.  




And to the public,


……Black lives matter. That seems to threaten and enrage many people. And what is heard in response is all lives matter. It needs to be understood that the Black Lives Matter movement is not one negating the struggles of others. It is making those aware of our struggle as well. To say all lives matter in response to that is, however, negating our struggle. To say you understand what we are going through and how we feel is false. You will NEVER understand the pain we live through for simply having darker skin. We need not negate the progression that has been made but we are nowhere close to the end nor should we be. If men and women are still to be taken from this earth because of their melanin…We should not even speak of the progression made thus far. We should be embarrassed to speak of progression in a positive manner.

……Violence is never the answer and I would never condone it, but hear me out when I say I understand it. I feel for those who choose violence. It has been years of fighting a fight that seems like a losing battle. It is not easy to fight for rights that everyone should have. It is not easy to see unjust things go without punishment. People get tired. People get angry. So one can’t be surprised when violence has become a means to an answer.





November 11, 2020

Dear 2020, 


……A letter is not sufficient enough for this year. Who would have thought we would live through a pandemic, Trump (the epitome of a patriarchal society), and everything else that spiraled down after he became president, on top of everything else wrong occurring during 2020. What can I say? We made it through multiple phases of the world being shut down and we made it through Trump. We have a ways to go, but all I can stomach saying right now is we made it thus far and that must go for something. I refuse to say anything else, call me superstitious…but I won’t risk it. 

……Two more months. 






……And I somehow feel obligated to apologize for my blunt choice of words or topic. I feel this need to make it clear that my intentions, which are not to (never will be to) hurt anyone, gather pity from anyone especially an unknown audience, or provide any more unneeded hate. 

……I wrote this letter not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of colour, but as a young scared Black woman and a young, scared person of colour.  

……I wrote this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I wrote this letter today regretting it as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I wrote this letter.


Olivia Mclean



Olivia Mclean, an upcoming junior at Towson University, is working towards obtaining her degree in Exercise Science. She loves writing and finding creative ways to express what’s on her mind. She sees writing as a form of art, and one she can not imagine being apart from. She loves the idea that writing can express so many different emotions in various forms, and she hopes to continue exploring writing and learning from it.

Nonfiction Feature: “For All The Lost Dolls” by Kennidi Green

……My family consists of six girls, two boys, one father, and one mother. We were all forcefully compressed into a house in downtown Baltimore. I shared a room with one of my older sisters who believed it was her room. My two brothers slept in the bathroom, so whenever you had to use it, you had the beg them to leave and pray they actually did. My other sisters all shared rooms as well.

……I was a child who loved dolls. I carried a few dolls around with me well past my diaper days. Some dolls could talk, some could laugh, some had combs and some had hairpins. My favorite was a doll with red yarn for hair and a blue apron dress. I brought this doll everywhere with me. If I was eating dinner so was she. If I was playing hide and seek so was she. Being a girl attached to dolls wouldn’t go over well in any household, but especially not one with six girls and two boys.

……My brothers would laugh at me and find new ways find ways to torture my doll—and therefore me—every day. My sisters were either older than me and wouldn’t let me play with them or were younger than me and not fun to be around. My mother, a nurse, was understandably tired all the time and didn’t want too much bother from her kids. My father was my safety.

……My father had a voice like thunder and eyes like black marble. He was always good to me. I was his favorite. I looked just like him. My skin, my hair, my lips, my everything was reminiscent of my father.

……Every day when my father came home from work he would pick all six of his daughters up to receive a hug and a kiss. I waited every day for him to come home. I would hide under the bed until everyone had their turn and only then would I run out to my father for him to swing me around and kiss me on my forehead. One day my father came home, kneeled down, and took the hand which held my doll. My father said, “Look at Daddy’s hair.” I looked at his hair; it didn’t look any different than it had looked before. Was there supposed to be a difference? He continued, “Look at Daddy’s eyes” and as I looked at his eyes they too were also the same. They were brown circles so deep and dark they almost looked black and had burning red lines drowning in the whites. Finally, he said, “Look at Daddy’s skin” and his skin also looked the same as it has always been. Dark. Then he held up my doll, “Look at this doll’s skin.”

……The doll had skin that was the opposite of mine and my father’s. Light.“Your baby will never have skin like this. Your baby will never have hair like this. Feel Daddy’s hair.” I felt his hair. It was like cotton candy. “This is the hair your baby will have.” He then took my doll out of my hand. The doll who I played with more than my brothers and sisters. He took her and hid her behind his back. I never saw her again.

……I started panicking. Then out of his other hand, he gave me another doll. This doll was the opposite of the first doll. The first thing I noticed was her hair. It had coils, like mine. Her skin was deep and dark, like a  midnight ocean. Her eyes were as black as space.

……The doll’s name was Savanna. Savanna became my new best friend. She sat at breakfast with me. She was beside me in the car when the shadows stretched and rolled across us at night in the backseat. She was everywhere I was.

……However, she began to tear. A small tear where her legs met her back. She bled white blood. I panicked. She was in pain. I took her to my mother. She took out her cold thin needle and began to sew. I waited intently, holding my breath so I didn’t disturb my mother as she worked. Each stitch seemed like it hurt me more than Savanna. Savanna was strong. She will be fine. My mother saved Savanna and I was thankful. Then it kept happening. The stitches kept coming out. She dropped her white blood all over the floors in our house. If I happened to find it, I picked it up immediately and collected it to give to my mother. The rip got worse. And worse. My brother snatched her from me and swung her by the leg. She bled more. I screamed more. I ran to my mother hoping she would help as she did so many times before. Instead, she screamed, “I am tired of stitching up this damn doll!” My mother walked over to the window, spun Savanna in her hand gaining momentum, and flung her onto our neighbor’s rooftop. She needed help and I couldn’t reach her.

……From on top of a stool in the bathroom window, I could still see her. Only Savana’s tiny hand was visible. It was stretched out over the side of the roof, asking for me.

……With each passing season, I still visited my Savanna from the stool in the bathroom. When winter came, I saw her fingers covered in snow. I needed to make sure she didn’t have frostbite. In the summer, I panicked knowing she had no water. When it rained, I watched as the cold drops pounded on my baby over and over and over again. The weather was killing my baby. I needed to protect her.  I went to my father crying and told him what happened to Savanna. “Baby, you are too old for dolls” was his response. After three failed attempts to retrieve my baby from the rooftop, I unwillingly accepted her fate. She was exposed to the elements. The world was going to tear her apart. No one cared about her but me.


……As I grew, I no longer needed the help of the stool to view what was left of Savanna. After years, her hand still hung in a silent, sad call.

……She reached when I found “Dark and Lovely” to be oxymoronic.

……She still reached as I spread white paste in my hair and waited for the burn.

……When I realized perm couldn’t burn away my DNA, her little brown hand still stretched out to me. The scars of my blackened blood were invisible. 


…..She is still there.



……But, I’m much too old for dolls now. 



Kennidi Green is a nonfiction author from Maryland. Her writing draws from her own experiences as well from those around her. Kennidi is currently a graduate student at Notre Dame of Maryland University and will receive her master’s degree in Contemporary Communications in December.

Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “Blood Brother” by Hannah Melin

……From that high, the cloudless sky was a threatening, disorienting blue. I rocked my head back and forth on the stone floor, feeling gravity’s pull just so I didn’t tumble upwards into a pale aqua abyss. I felt the wisps of my hair sticking to the tacky, drying blood of the altar. The metallic smell was overwhelming; the Mexican sun cooked the gore that ran down the dizzying steps of the temple. Hundreds of feet below me, a crowd screamed in a language I couldn’t understand. I looked up, away from the sky to the face of a madman. He stood above me, his blood-spattered form adorned with a feathered headpiece around which the golden form of Quetzalcoatl curled. He raised a stone dagger to the sky, and the sea of people cheered. 

……“I’m gonna cut out your heart!” he screamed, lowering the dagger into my chest. I shrieked as he carved a rough circle through my chest. I let the pain wrack through me, white-hot shudders that surge from deep below my stomach. The priest drew his knife deeper into me and my blood spurted up his arm, shooting up into the sky. With his free hand, he reached into the cavity that once was my chest, digging through the viscera until his fist closed around my heart. He jerked his arm back, ripping free my still-beating heart and raising it above his head.

……He threw his head back, speaking a word of power to the heavens. 


……I screamed.

……“Jesus Christ, kids!”

……Mom stared at my brother and me from the doorway to his bedroom, a laundry basket pressed against her hip. I sat up and pushed aside the black rubber knife we’d been using, its handle branded with a skull and crossbones that matched the pirate costume we’d salvaged it from. After three solid months of Sam and I using “savvy” as a preposition, Mom bought the costume at Costco. At nine, I couldn’t fit into it, but Sam was three years younger and half a foot shorter.

……“We’re playing Sacrifice,” he said.

……“I’m gonna get sacrificed!” I said.

……Mom sighed and left us to our game, returning to the laundry.

……Sacrifice was our favorite game. It had the highest rate of play frequency when counted with its variation: Wolf Pack. Wolf Pack had the same format, except instead of dedicating each organ to the gods, we’d sloppily consume them. Once every internal organ we knew the name of had been destroyed, we would swap spots and repeat. I always rushed my turn as the priest or the wolf pack. Sam whined about it. He spent too much time dutifully pantomiming the necessary blood spurts while I giggled and screamed. Still, for the life of me, I can’t remember if there was ever a time he refused to play.


……I saw my first horror movie in kindergarten. My best friend across the street (not to be confused with the best friend on the corner, nor the best friend in the house behind me) had a teenage older sister who wore black Doc Martens and listened to Nirvana and was the coolest human being I’d ever seen. One weekend, she let us into her bedroom where we gathered around her 12-inch CRT TV, and she popped in a VHS of Child’s Play. I sat close enough to the screen, eyes wide as I felt the static fuzz tickling my forehead.

……Mom found out that night when I refused to go to sleep unless she threw every single one of my dolls into a garbage bag and triple-knotted it. I fully conceded to her new ruling: no horror movies until you’re old enough to handle them. 

……In fourth grade, I found a battered copy of the Jurassic Park novel on a shelf in Mr. Ramirez’s English class. I asked if I could take it home.

……He shrugged and handed it to me. “You’ll put it down if it’s too scary, right?”

……I had a favorite part before I’d finished reading. The first time I read the scene, I immediately flipped the page and read it again, tracing and retracing the paragraph. Dennis Nedry, stumbling blind as he tries to make it back to his Jeep, the dilophosaurus closing in on him casually, like they know they have all the time in the world.

……He feels a hot slice across his stomach and catches something thick and wet in his hands. Right before the dinosaur takes his skull in its jaws, he realizes he’s holding his own intestines.

……After school, when I followed my mom around the kitchen, moaning and miming my guts falling out like a magician’s silks, she knew the horror movie ban could be lifted.

……It took longer for Sam to get interested. Gremlins had been particularly traumatizing: we had to throw out the VHS cover because he’d cry if he spotted it in the cabinet. With Mom’s permission, we rented a copy of Jurassic Park popping in the movie for him.

……Sam cried when the velociraptors made their way into the kitchen, sniffing the air for Tim Murphy as he shivered under a cabinet. It was okay, though. His big sister saved the day.


……Fake blood is one part water, two parts red food coloring, and four parts corn syrup. There’s no point in giving you a measured out recipe. You could use this for a one-off frat house prank, but you and I both know, deep down, it’s really not fun unless you’ve got gallons and gallons of it.

……And if you plan on having a lot of fun, throw in a third of a bottle of green food coloring and half a jar of Jif chunky peanut butter. 

……I highly recommend you express caution in the level of food coloring you add. It’s difficult to throw off the color entirely, so don’t stress about that. The issue is that too much food coloring stains your teeth and leaves a kind of chemical aftertaste at the back of your tongue. And don’t eat too much of it, corn syrup has way more sugar in it than you think it does. 

……Please put it in your mouth. It’s one hundred percent edible. I think it’s even gluten-free. You can make it organic or non-GMO or whatever you want it to be. If you like Reese’s Cups or Alfred Hitchcock, you can add some chocolate syrup to the fake blood. It works if you’re going for a viscera, mid-decay effect, usually applied to the recreations of Romero-era zombies. I’d even put it on ice cream.

……Sam’s blood is so thin and bright red you would think you put too much food coloring in. He bleeds faster than he should. It’s not the slow, viscous crawl of blood from the first kill of a slasher film, when the cops are searching the empty house for the single murdered body. It’s more like Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street.

……In elementary school, the sight of Sam’s blood always came with an event to be celebrated. He skinned his knee the first time he rode a bike without training wheels. He scraped his arm when he finally made it to the highest tree branch with me. He was spitting out pink froth after we’d tied a wobbly tooth to his bedroom door (I got to slam it shut). Once he ripped open his palm on a rusty fence when he tried to follow my cousins and me into a graveyard. Our uncle poured whiskey on it and wrapped it with duct tape before we helped him over the fence and chased him around the headstones.

……He gets nosebleeds. Not the type where you have to pinch your nose for thirty seconds and then maybe hold a tissue to it for a bit. It’s the kind where you have to get him a fresh shirt. And fresh pants. And fresh socks. 

……They can be triggered by a rough sneeze, a change in altitude, or a slight impact. I’ve caused them more times than I can count. The hardest part is trying not to laugh. It usually happens when I’ve tackled him or accidentally head-butted him during a wrestling match, and since we’re tangled up to start with, all of his blood gets on my face. His blood has this tendency to run down his face in a kind of jet-stream formation, so it looks like he’s just taken a bite out of a fresh corpse, and most of the time, any soccer parents or Chuck-E-Cheese employees who might be observing us tend to freak the fuck out. They’re concerned that they’ve just seen two siblings murder each other because at this point, I’m covered in as much of Sam’s blood as he is, so I have to be very careful not to laugh while they contemplate calling 911. I can’t laugh, of course, because I have to keep my lips carefully sealed since Sam nose blood is way grosser than other types of Sam blood (it’s warmer and saltier) and there is no way I’m willingly letting it get in my mouth.

……There was a special kind of excitement when the two of us set off real fear. It was the best kind of attention. It was the satisfaction of knowing we’d outsmarted the grown-ups, tricked them into a frenzy. It was something primal and new at the same time. It has to be the reason horror movies make millions on a hundred dollar budget or why people shell out their hard-earned cash to be chased by costumed killers at a theme park. There’s the adrenaline, sure, but at the same time, there’s a sense of superiority. When we’re the ones covered in blood, we’re separate from the rest of the world. We were a morbid alternative to society, and no one else was allowed in the club. It was just Sam and me, aching, giggling, and bloody.


……When I hit ninth grade, it was the first time Sam and I didn’t share a school. Even in kindergarten, his daycare was attached to the naval base’s elementary school. When we were in elementary school, I’d wave to him in the hallways. On Fridays, when the school had a bake sale, I’d buy him a chocolate cupcake with the quarters Mom had given me while we waited for her blue minivan to pull up.

……The summer before his first day of middle school and my first day of high-school, Mom told us we were moving from Miami to Orlando for the better schools and Dad wasn’t coming with us.

……I had this idea that Sam and I were going to band back together. I pictured us like The Outsiders, sitting together on concrete steps (an image I must have stolen from a movie; we never lived in a city). We’d been starting to drift apart in interest. I’d brought chapter books to his baseball games, and sometimes I forgot to look up to see him run the bases. I was convinced that with the divorce, we would have to rely on each other and develop this magical, unbreakable bond that would continue into adulthood. Then, when the inevitable zombie apocalypse came, we would fight back-to-back, taking on the planet with a pair of sawed-off shotguns.

……I thought I was right when Mom drove us to Orlando. We were staying at a friend’s river house. The heat haze made the front yard uninviting, so Sam hooked up his PlayStation to play the newest WWE game. I watched him set it up, the heavy metal music blinking on with the title screen. Without looking at me, he selected “Single Player Mode.”

……Over the next three years, we would go days without speaking more than a couple of words to each other. He usually had an insult to toss out when he passed me in the hall. I’d whine to Mom about him, making passive aggressive comments when he was in earshot. If we spoke to each other for longer than fifteen minutes, it always broke into a fight.

……There was no sass or humor to color insults. The fights were pure heat, breaking into physical attacks more often than not. We fought mercilessly. We didn’t pull punches, and we didn’t hold our tongues. We’d scream and swear and start again until Mom would send us to opposite ends of the house. 

……He made me cry constantly. It’s not that he deserves all the blame—I gave as good as I got. Once he called me a bitch and I bit him on the shoulder. He was only as vicious as I was. Actually, I might have been more vicious. “Dumbass” was his go-to insult, but seeing as I was in Advanced Placement courses, it didn’t really hit home. And I knew he usually wouldn’t hit me too hard. I never got sucker-punched, which I honestly might have deserved a couple of times. But I would cry after every damn fight. I felt cheated. There was no apocalyptic team-up. One summer, we were left to venture to a new town, a new school, and a new life without each other. I watched horror movies on Netflix after everyone else had gone to bed.


……When The Babadook was released in New Zealand, every horror blog I followed was raving about it. It would be months until it got a European release and even longer until it reached the States. Even then, the film wouldn’t have the budget for any kind of marketing. About a dozen arthouse theatres would be showing it in America, so my best bet was to find a digital copy as soon as the embargo broke. I scrubbed through websites until I found a high-definition version and the date was settled: Friday night.

……I connected my laptop to the living room television while everyone got comfortable. Mom and her boyfriend of the time curled up on one end of the couch. My best friend, another horror addict, sat on the recliner. Sam was stretched out on the carpet, a bowl of popcorn at his side.

……He was fourteen and a foot taller than me . He didn’t say anything to me as I started the movie. He didn’t say anything to me at all, usually, unless it was a passing insult.

……I grabbed a blanket and pulled myself onto the other end of the couch. Mom turned off the lights.

……Half an hour in, my best friend climbed under the blanket. The movie had David Lynch-levels of atmosphere with a New Zealand indie film budget. It was the type of movie that makes you stare at the edges of shadows too long just to double-check that they aren’t moving toward you. Mom and her boyfriend scooted in, making sure they can hide under the blanket.

……Onscreen, Mister Babadook slid into the woman’s house, crawling across her floor and scratching at her walls. Three knocks shuddered through the house and an unearthly voice spoke as the woman shivered in her bed.


……“Oh, fuck that,” said my mom.

……Flashing, the fastest the monster had moved the whole film, Mister Babadook crawled onto the woman’s bedroom ceiling.

……“Nope,” Sam said. He rushed from his spot on the floor to the couch, nudging me aside to grab the edges of the blanket. He huddled against me, breathing hard and hiding half his face under the corner of the cloth. 

……We stayed like that for the rest of the film, pressing against each other as the woman shifted into a New Zealand Jack Torrance. I hadn’t realized how big he’d gotten, somehow. Behind my back, my scrawny brother had shifted into a linebacker’s build. I leaned against him, his torso solid and warm. We both cursed and shrieked when the woman strangled her dog and took a knife to her son’s throat, holding our breath for the movie’s ending.

……The credits rolled.

……“Jesus,” he said. “That’s some scary shit, Hannah.”

……“Yeah, Sam. Some scary shit.”


Hannah Melin is a writer working out of Dallas, Texas. Her nonfiction writing has been featured in “Big Muddy,” “HCE Magazine,” “Heart of Flesh,” and “Whispering Prairie Press.” Her fiction has been featured in “Monkeybicycle,” “Night Picnic Press,” and “The Metaworker.”

Nonfiction Feature: “Memorial Day” by Anthony D’Aries

The men are on the roof, cleaning out the gutters, backpack leaf blowers blaring. My sons stand beside their playground, mouths agape, and gaze up at them like they’re astronauts. 

…….“They’re on the roof, Otis!” Tucker shouts. “How are they on the roof?”

…….“But, Dad,” Otis says, frowning, “they’re killing our tomato plants.” 

…….He means the mysterious green vines that had sprouted out of our choked gutters. Almost a year’s worth of rotted leaves. Clogged arteries. I tell the boys this will be better for the house, that now the rain has somewhere to go. A rush of relief watching the debris blow into the air and fall like black snow. The relief of a long-overdue job completed. The relief of I need to get to that and I should really take care of that, the months and months of pulling into the driveway and looking up at the sagging gutters, wondering how much more they could take.

…….After the men climb down their ladders, load their trucks, and back out of the driveway, the boys get to work. They dismantle the multicolored hoses from a water toy and wrap them around their backs. They climb to the top of their playground. For the next half hour, they pretend to blow the leaves. 


Is anyone hurt inside?

…….The cop stood with one leg up on the curb outside our apartment. He chewed gum and watched me. He didn’t stare or squint as some cops do—he wasn’t looking through me—he watched like a cow beside a country road might look up and gaze at passing cars, mouth full of grass, chewing in slow, wide circles. He worked with clarity, precision. He was a surgeon knowing where to cut, which piece of the body to remove. 

…….The EMT put my shoes on. She shined a flashlight in my eyes and asked me what I took. Why? Why did you do this? What did I say? I remember the ambulance ride so clearly. I was relieved to be on the stretcher, buckled in, each limb fastened and secured, this stranger holding my hand and telling me she’s a widow, that her husband killed himself two years ago. And I was crying, in bursts and gasps, trying to talk through it and not recognizing my voice, unable to control the shape of my mouth, and it was a relief, overwhelming, frightening relief, an open valve, a sandbag slashed and emptied. 


“People Are Strange” by The Doors echoes from around the corner. It gets louder. Closer. A man on a motorcycle—the kind with trunks and antennae and a big, black wraparound windshield—roars up the street. Wicked, unwanted. Nine in the morning. A Tuesday. Day whatever of quarantine. This man in black is the only one on the road.


There’s a sewer pipe in our basement with a jagged crack in it. My father pointed it out to me the last time he was here. We made plans to fix it, before being in the same room became dangerous. All the materials are on the workbench—a stretch of PVC, rubber gaskets, a Sawzall and fresh blades—but I remember that day, years ago, when we had a party at my parent’s house, and their sewer pipe burst and a torpedo of gray water blasted my father in the chest. 

…….When I take the laundry out of the dryer or bring up another one of my kids’ toys, I look at the crack, certain it grows longer and wider while we sleep.


Tucker wakes at three in the morning and calls for me.

…….What’s the matter, bud?


…….I’m here.

…….Something was trying to kill you.


That same morning, both boys walk into our bedroom, sweatshirts wrapped around their backs, empty sleeves aimed at me and Vanessa. In their deepest voices, they say, “We’re here to clean your gutters.”


The House on Sunset Hill sounds like a Robert Redford movie. It was one of the first houses Vanessa and I saw, so perhaps that had something to do with it. Our feet still planted in our apartment—the leak in Otis’s ceiling or the radiators that banged so loudly in the night (only the night), like a crew building a railroad in the basement. And it wasn’t ours. We wanted to own something. 

…….Step back in time in this charming circa 1700s antique farmhouse.  

Thick wood beams. The sewing studio on the sunporch. The writing nook in the attic. Come on. 

…….“And the barn would be yours, too,” the realtor said. 

…….We’d watched enough HGTV to know there had to be a catch. No asbestos or lead paint? No radon? Too good to be true. Go with the Flow, the sign said in the bathroom. A wooden whale nailed to the wall. 

…….We made an offer. 

…….“Before we move forward,” the realtor said, “there’s something you should know.”

…….The previous owner shot himself in the barn. He was a carpenter. He’d built the barn and the additions himself. I thought about the circular saw blades, still tipped in sawdust. 

…….He was married. I don’t know if he had any kids. For a moment, the writer in me thought: Maybe this is fitting. Maybe we can breathe new life into this house. Maybe Vanessa’s sewing and my writing and Otis’s and Tucker’s laughter can redeem this home. 

…….We withdrew our offer. We couldn’t afford it.


Is anyone hurt inside?


So many podcasts. So many voices in my head. I’ve listened to Marc Maron’s show for years. I find his neurotic, angry, self-reflective rants entertaining, inspiring, gut-punching. Today, his girlfriend, Lynn Shelton, is sick. Not “it.” Not the virus. Something else. Strep throat perhaps. That night, on her way to the bathroom, she collapses in the hallway. The ambulance comes. A day later, she dies. 

…….I listen to the last show before Lynn’s death. Then the first one after. A different man’s voice in his throat. 

…….“I don’t even know if I should be out in public talking. But this is what I do.”


Tucker is still in Vanessa’s stomach and Otis is too young to remember. They unload groceries at the back door of the apartment. My laptop is open. My cell phone is beside the sink. Only my shoes are missing. 

…….For years after—sometimes still—I read into Otis’s questions, wonder if he’s trying to tell me something.

…….If Daddy dies, we’ll just get a new one, right?


Years before the virus, the workers in the hospital hallway tighten their respirators. One of them picks up a big spool of wire and carries it up the ladder. He rests it on the top step, removes a section of ceiling tile, and stands up straight. The other worker does the same. Their muffled shouts, their heavy breathing—two blue-collar Darth Vaders arguing about measurements and time.

…….“Should we be wearing masks, too?” I ask. 

…….The clinician tucks her clipboard under her arm. “What was your name again?”


…….“Anthony.” She nods and rips off a nametag from the stack in her hands. She glances at the workers and smiles widely. “I’m sure it’s fine. They would have told us if our health was in danger.”

…….I nod and smile and say OK. She walks down the hall; I wait until she’s in Group Room 1 before following her. One of the workers pokes his head out from the ceiling, his respirator and hair dusted white. I fill out my nametag against the cinderblock wall and stick it on my shirt. When I walk into group, I can still hear the men arguing through their respirators. 

…….I fill out name tags three days a week for months. When I get home after the meetings, I peel my name off my chest and throw it out. And then one day, after wheeling the garbage cans from the curb to the side of our apartment, I see my name stuck to the inside of the can. Upside down, smudged, but legible.


Otis’s and Tucker’s pet caterpillars enter their pupal stage. They crawl to the top of the canister and hang like little thin bats. The boys fight the urge to handle the canister, shake it. 

…….“Are they dead?” Otis asks. 

…….“Yeah, Dad,” Tucker says. “They look dead.”

…….I shake my head. “They’re changing.”


The logo on the plumber’s truck matches the insignia on his mask. His tan, bald head reminds me of my father. He walks into the basement and glances at the pipe, the crack now running the entire length of it. “Piece of cake,” he says, a smile in his eyes. 

His son, in a matching mask, helps him. They work in silence. An hour later, the father hands me a carbon copy of the receipt. 

…….“Just labor, pal. You had all the right materials.”

…….I had all the materials. I just needed help.


Rose, bud, and thorn. A game we play with the kids during dinner. Tell us something you loved about today, something you’re looking forward to, something you didn’t like. Their roses are Cheetos or SpongeBob or that we’re all together as a family. Their buds are Cheetos or SpongeBob or when we can go to the water park again. Their thorns, for the last three months, have been the virus. 


So many passwords. I make them all the same, turn them into daily mantras. 



…….After years of group meetings and dosage adjustments, after seeing Otis meet Tucker for the first time, after leaving the apartment in the city for a house in the woods, after learning that pipes don’t have to burst and sandbags can be moved, I use a different password: 



…….The butterflies hatch. They cling to the side of their netted cage. The boys leave them orange slices. After a few days, we take the cage outside and set them free. 

…….One butterfly doesn’t want to leave. Otis reaches in, guides it up the side of the netting. He holds it up high, on the tip of his finger. The butterfly flexes its wings but doesn’t fly. 

…….“He’s scared,” Otis says, more to the butterfly than me. 

…….“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Maybe he’s scared of the virus.”

…….Otis turns toward the house, and by the time he looks back at his hand, the butterfly is in the air, flying drunkenly across the yard. 


Vanessa orders masks for all of us. Soft, thin cotton. Green and black stripes. We tell the kids we’re ninjas. 

…….We stand on the front lawn, this family of ninjas, holding signs. Honk for Otis! Otis holds a sign that shouts, I’m Six Today!

…….A parade of strangers beeping and waving. Motorcycles revving engines. Tractor-trailers blowing air horns. A construction worker pulls over, puts on his ninja mask, and leaves a ten-dollar bill. “Happy Birthday, Otis,” he says. We never learn his name. 

…….Then the grand finale. The slow police cars and fire trucks, lights flashing, officers, firefighters waving. And a two-fingered salute from the EMT, drifting by in her silent ambulance.


Anthony D’Aries is the author of The Language of Men: A Memoir (Hudson Whitman, 2012), which received the PEN Discovery Prize. His work has appeared in Boston MagazineThe Literary ReviewSport Literate, and elsewhere. He currently directs the M.F.A. in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University.

Nonfiction Feature: “The Baby in Her Arms” by Patricia Feeney

……My mother’s touch was reserved for the baby in her arms. Caring for eight children restricted her contact to the latest arrival. She carried that infant, endless loads of laundry, and the weight of childrearing with an absent father whom she loved beyond reason.

……I watched infants calm in her sweet caresses and longed to take the baby’s place. I longed for my mother to swallow me with her arms. I imagined her touching me in the way of mothers on Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, and Father Knows Best: running her fingers through the bales of my knotted hair or patting down a cowlick. I wondered what it would be like to be the child of a mother with generous hands.

……I learned to feel her hands by proxy. The third child and her first daughter, I held her babies, ironed my father’s shirts, and tracked her footsteps to the basement laundry room.   


……As an infant, my son shunned my touch. He had no interest in contact except to stand on my legs and clutch my shoulders, stiff-armed, while he ran surveillance of the room. I was a look-out tower. In preschool, he resented terms of endearment and nicknames, insisting I use his given name. He never adapted to the tousle of the hair, glaring at me if I breached his boundaries. When my son was a toddler, I spent hours with him on the family room floor, moving cars, ambulances, and firetrucks along a plastic roadmap that led to homes, schools, churches, and hospitals. Together, we wove stories about the lives of the people on these roads, and I learned who he was.

……When my teenaged son devoted hours to playing Halo, I read the game’s book-form trilogy and appreciated the magnetism of this imagined world. Though he accused me of caring too much, he cared for me in a surprising way: shoulder rubs, which I took greedily, knowing he would never let me reciprocate. He kneaded my muscles, mothering me as I drifted, drunk with comfort as he eyed the stuffed backpack on the family-room floor, ready for take-off back to his college dorm.   

……My son, now grown, was surprised to hear my recollection of his early years. He remembered running to me, my “warm smile,” and sleepy mornings “curling up like a cat” on my blue bath-robed lap. When he told me this, I hid my tears at his forgiveness for my imagined failings.

……He was my first-born, the child who made me a mother, an indelible gift. He was the child who taught me to love as a mother: to offer what is needed, not what I had hoped to give. 

……My daughter craved my touch. My infant girl lolled in my lap so lazily I feared her growth was delayed; it was not. As a toddler, she rested her head on my shoulder and slid her hand inside my blouse, spreading her fingers on my beating heart and nodding into sleep. In grade school, she nestled against me as we watched SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey Arnold!, and Lizzie McGuire. We held hands as we walked malls and cuddled as we listened to Britney Spears. I braided her hair as she fantasized about her future as a pop star. 

……Once, when she was nineteen, my daughter draped her reedy body across my lap and referred to me as Marmee, the mother in Little Women. I stroked the silk of her long mane and massaged her temples. I called her Boo.

……I wondered what it was like to be the child of a mother with generous hands. But I didn’t ask. Her body, pressed against my beating heart, was enough.  


……As my children assume their adult lives, my mothering days grow distant. I think of my mother, twelve years gone, and wonder what she thought of me as she grew old. Did she think she failed me? Is that a mother’s curse? Swamped by the bodies of so many, was she unaware of a child’s need for a singular touch?

……Some nights I dream of the mother of my childhood, images that follow me in daylight. Her athletic body, the lines of her young, unflawed face, her smile lit like candles. I remember the hint of Colgate toothpaste below the scent of interminable cups of coffee. Her voice that shed compassion on even the most unforgivable characters in her life. Her arms cradling an infant.

……I can almost feel her touch.



…….Patricia Feeney lives in St. Louis, MO, and teaches in Lindenwood University’s MFA program. She is a member of AWP and a founding member of the Crooked Tree Writers. Feeney’s work has appeared in the Muse Press anthology, Shifts; The Lindenwood Review; Inscape; Windmill; Adelaide; and Bayou Magazine.


Nonfiction Feature: “there are things that your privilege will not let you see” by Jola Naibi


……….like the woman in church who asks me a question like I should know the answer because my skin is a certain color & when I tell her that I do not know the answer she tells me she likes my accent & asks me where I am from originally & I tell her that I am Nigerian & there is no originally in my story & I am still from there & she gasps & tells me that she has heard about the girls & how lucky I am to come to this country & to get an education & what a shame it is what is going on in that part of the world as if she is immune to that sort of thing & I think she believes that because she knows some trending news story she knows all about that part of the world so I tell her that I did not learn to speak English in these United States nor did I attend school here & I went to an all girls school in Nigeria &  my mother went to an all girls school in Nigeria & her mother went to an all girls school in Nigeria & we were never kidnapped & what happened with the girls is sad & unfortunate & can happen anywhere in the world when things start to fall apart

……….even here

……….& I can see that she is taken aback & I am taken aback because she is taken aback & I am taken aback because she is unable to see beyond her own privilege

……….like the man who spends six months in Cape Town & begins to parade himself as an expert on Africa & takes offence when someone points out that Africa is not a country & he is adamant that he is African now & I want to tell him that I have lived in his country for more than a decade & I am still called an alien

……….but I remain silent because I am too hurt to speak & I know that if I open my mouth I will unleash a torrent of anger that will be misunderstood & I remain silent because I know there will come a time when I will talk

……….& that time comes when the children are separated from their parents at the border & a man says to me that he does not know how any parent would put their children through that sort of thing in the first place & I ask him if he thinks the parents are deriving any pleasure in taking their children through such a perilous journey & I share with him the poem home by Warsan Shire in which she says that

……….no one leaves home unless home chases you

……….fire under feet

……….hot blood in your belly

……….no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



……….run away from me now

……….I don’t know what i’ve become

……….but i know that anywhere

……….is safer than here


……….& I remind him that the families at the border are not any different from his that the children at the border are not any different from his two sons and one daughter & that if he was in that position he would do the same thing & that we are all vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life

……….& he looks down in silence & I hope I am getting through

……….I hope I have been able peel back the layers that have made him blind to certain things

……….I hope that I am able to let him see the things that his privilege will not let him see


Jola Naibi was raised in Lagos, Nigeria, studied in the U.K., and now lives in the U.S. Reading and writing fuel her energy, and her first book, Terra Cotta Beauty, is a collection of short stories set in Lagos, which was published in 2014. She writes as she remembers.