End of Summer

I was 21 and I wore bell bottoms and peasant dresses. I listened to Cat Stevens and James Taylor. I read “Henry IV, Part One,” “Motivation and Personality,” and “The Female Eunuch” by Germaine Greer. At parties, I drank Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, smoked pot, and ate chips with French onion dip. In the Student Union, I hung out in the Carnation Room with the other theater majors. I drank coffee, puffed Virginia Slim Menthols, and laughed, performing my part in the show.



I got a temp job waiting tables at the Dutch Pantry Restaurant, costumed in a pinafore apron and white winged hat. I served vacuum-packed meals revived in boiling water  — meatloaf, pot roast, chicken and dumplings. Fake fresh food.”

I shared a one-bedroom apartment with Donna and Kathy and walked six blocks to campus, the acrid, red odor from the Heinz Tomato Factory stewing in the air.

In my journal, I wrote “I’m determined to be the real me.”

I played Paula Frothingham in “End of Summer,” my hair coiffed in a 1940s style that Donna said looked like a rat sitting on my head. The theater majors dubbed the show “End of Theater.”

I auditioned for “Hail Scrawdyke.”  Rejected. And “Henry IV.” Rejected again.

I played the daughter in “Tomorrow Through Any Window.” In a bed downstage left, I simulated masturbation and orgasm. I’d never had an orgasm. The theater majors said it was my best work ever.

I declared a second major in psychology because I was no longer sure I wanted to be an actress because I was fascinated with the world of the mind because I was fascinated with my Personality Theory professor because I was afraid to graduate two quarters early and face the “real world.”

I applied to grad school in theater because I did want to be an actress and was afraid to face the “real world.”

I decided to be an actress and a psychologist. Or, at least to marry a psychologist.

I had a fight with Donna and Kathy about who knows what and didn’t speak to them for weeks.

In my journal, I quoted Germaine Greer: “. . . emotional security . . . is the achievement of the individual.”

I fell in love for the first time with a future rabbi even though I’d rejected Judaism and knew he was moving to Israel. I fell in love for the second time with a PhD student in psychology even though he was married. He was unhappy, he said, and I hoped he’d leave his wife. I almost fell in love for the third time, with the Personality Theory professor. In his office, I sat on his lap and smoked his cigarettes, my hands shaking. “You should think about the control you exert in our relationship,” he said. He was 49 and also married.

I had sex in the wood-paneled family room of my parents’ house with the first man I loved; on the floor of the living room of my apartment with the guy who played my brother in play number two; in the apartment of a PhD student in philosophy who said I looked like Barbra Streisand and convinced me to study Transcendental Meditation to calm my mind (it didn’t work.) I had sex in the Holiday Inn with my married lover and sex with him in the sublet I rented for the summer, so I could be close to him until I left for grad school.

My insides burned from acid reflux.

I couldn’t sleep.

I wept and wept and wept.

I tried on experiences as if they were new clothes on a rack.

In my journal, I wrote “I wonder if anything means anything.”

I got a temp job waiting tables at the Dutch Pantry Restaurant, costumed in a pinafore apron and white winged hat. I served vacuum-packed meals revived in boiling water  — meatloaf, pot roast, chicken and dumplings. Fake fresh food. When I refused to work late one night because my love affair was crashing, and I was crashing, and I wanted only to go back to the apartment and wait for my lover to call — to PLEASE CALL — the manager yelled, “You’re fired.”

I didn’t care. The job was shit. My relationship was doomed. I was flying to grad school in three weeks, conflicted or not. I whipped off my apron and threw it at her. The customers watched. I stomped out — a grand exit.

I didn’t stick around for the reviews.

Sharon Goldberg is a Seattle writer whose work has appeared in New Letters, The Gettysburg Review, The Louisville ReviewCold Mountain Review, Under the Sun, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Dalhousie Review, Gold Man Review and three fiction anthologies.
Photo by R. Mac Wheeler




The Good Creek

There is a creek running under the bridge at the end of our street. It owes its existence to runoff from the steep, wooded hills of the Mt. Tamalpais watershed. In the rainy season, it can be a rollicking torrent and in the summer, it’s often completely dry.



… after my blast of x-rays, I would go to the basket and pick a stone and we’d walk to the bridge, stand there for a moment or two looking down into the glittering but barely moving water, and I’d toss it in.”

Flooding is not unusual in our part of the San Francisco Bay Area, but according to old-timers here, our creek floods farther downstream, never at our end of the street. The banks by the bridge are 15 to 20 feet high and from one side of the bridge to the other, it’s probably about 40 feet. This year there’s no danger of flooding here or downstream. It’s been another winter of little rain, and we are all worried about what that bodes.

In the fall there were cataclysmic fires not far from here, because trees and grasses and wild shrubs were parched to tinder and kindling after a long, hot summer after a winter of record rainfall in these parts.

In February, the creek was very shallow and flowed only lackadaisically amongst the small boulders and over the stones and pebbles that pave the stream bed. Some of those stones were put there by me and members of my family.

Just before I embarked upon the grim slog through radiation treatment for cancer in my neck (after radical neck dissection), my wife and I took a walk into the nearby woods and gathered thirty stones, ordinary rocks with nothing remarkable or particularly beautiful about them, just good, hard-working, proletarian stones. We brought them home and arranged them in a large, flat basket on the dining room table, one for each day of my impending treatment. Then, when the treatments began, we would return home after my blast of x-rays, and I would go to the basket and pick a stone and we’d walk to the bridge, stand there for a moment or two looking down into the glittering but barely moving water, and I’d toss it in.

As I watched the arcing trajectory of each rock, I said a wordless little prayer to nobody in particular. Then we’d walk the couple of minutes back to our house and I’d take a nap while she kept our small boat floating and on course. My sister came to visit for a few days and before she left, I asked her to throw a stone in. Our daughter who lives in Germany came to stay for several weeks, and she threw a stone as well. My wife threw the last one.

The treatment was a terrible grind. Who’d have thought it? A few minutes each day getting zapped. No big deal. It was, however, a very big deal. I lost my sense of taste, my energy, and lots of weight. The beard on one side of my face came out in handfuls, and I got terrible burns on my neck. I was indescribably, unutterably exhausted, weary down through my bones and deep into the ground. And all the while there was a sense of foreboding, of dread, as that most terrifying of words thumped and rattled around in my cabeza – cancer. But our daily trip to the creek always gave me a moment’s peace, when I let my mind inhabit the flying stone and rest in the still waters beneath the bridge.

At the end of my treatments, a PET scan found no evidence of cancer anywhere in my body. I have checkups with oncologists and surgeons every two months and they assure me that I’m doing well. I can taste again, I’ve gained back all the weight I lost (and more) and enough of my beard returned so that I don’t look like a discarded slipper that some dog has lovingly chewed.

Every time we go for our hikes in the watershed, we pass over the bridge and I pause for a moment to look over the railing down into our creek – the one that was there for us during our difficult and painful ordeal, receiving our prayers; the one that has been flowing for, who knows? Thousands of years? The one that droughts caused by climate change could dry up; the one that reminds us of our obligations to the natural world.

Cancer is a villainous egotist; it thinks only of itself, merrily performing its mad, maniacal tarantella of replication without regard for anyone else, unlike our bodily systems that have understood from the beginning the beautiful necessity of cooperation. It is not far-fetched to compare cancer to the carbon-grubbers and their ilk among us whose unhinged replication of profit trumps all other human endeavors. If left untreated, the cancer in our bodies will likely kill us, and so will the cancer that infects our world.

I would like that good creek up the street to be there for another ten thousand years, playing a small but vital role in the earth’s circulatory system, rising and falling with the seasons, and giving rest to the weary.

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s poems have appeared in many print and online journals.  His most recent books are To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World, and Cancer Cantata.  He co-produced the award-winning documentary film “Outside In” with his wife and the MIRC film collective and made the film “Por Que Venimos.” His interviews with soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were made into the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. He lives in northern California.
Photo by Matthew Sleeper



September, California

In the late afternoon, everything is hot in my parents’ backyard. My aluminum chair; the stucco house behind me. The cement walkway where my mother in her homemade apron is looking for the old cat. She makes the clicking sound we all do when around our animals, then her own exclamation of pleasure when the cat emerges from the blackberry bush for its dinner. My mother’s back is soft and rounded now, her gait uneven. Nearby, my father is watering the pots of tomatoes, although the leaves are yellow and crumbling. His hands are scarred from skin cancer. He’s taken to wearing a big hat. My parents move before me in their daily rituals, uninhibited in the way people are when they’re with family. With them I leave off being a wife and mother, becoming their child again. We have had forever, but it is nearly gone. My metal seat reminds me of the beginning, when I would burn my thighs on the slide in our first backyard. Once I was locked out of the house. My mother appeared at the glass door, opened it, and embraced me. I wrapped myself around her brown legs like a feline, like a vine. I held on. One day, when my parents are gone, and their house sold, I will be a daughter no more. But for now, I have them and all that is before me — the last warmth of the day, a sun that hasn’t yet set.

Lynn Mundell’s work has appeared in apt, Bird’s Thumb, Fanzine and Permafrost. Her stories have been recognized on the “Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions” long lists of 2017 and 2018. Lynn is co-editor of 100 Word Story and its anthology “Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story.” Learn more about her at lynnmundell.com.
Photo by Lars Blankers




I had an extraordinary hangover and wanted a shower, but the water in the dorm came out brown and rusty.

The bath was an organism pumping liquid into organs: salt bath, hot whirlpool, showers, cool water tanks, and a heart beating in the back: the sauna.”

While we shared kefir and moist poppy seed bread in the park, one of the locals I met scoffed at my complaints. Many people here dealt with bad water or no showers at all, she explained. Locals planned a visit to the banya once a week for their weekly bathing session. It was summer and I was in St. Petersburg, Russia studying poetry.

A few fellow writers and I spent ten or fifteen dollars at the door for a bunch of birch branches, which the bath attendant threw into a bucket to soak. We were also given oversized washcloths as towels. It was awkward at first, dipping into a lukewarm salt bath with women I barely knew, but things soon turned hazy.

The bath was an organism pumping liquid into organs: salt bath, hot whirlpool, showers, cool water tanks, and a heart beating in the back: the sauna. As we reached it, we were handed our soaked branches, for self-flagellation. We sat in the sweltering heat, shyly striking ourselves. I didn’t want to hurt myself and didn’t know what I was doing.

The striking is meant to increase blood circulation, and when the sauna workers saw us weakly beating ourselves, they grabbed the branches and took over. I surrendered, watched the portly woman beat me from all directions. The broken branches clung to my skin like tea leaves.

They didn’t hurt, the branches, which might have been due to the heat: flames danced in the corner and a topless woman stood there, waving a thick blanket to make the flames grow even higher. Suddenly, I felt as if I would pass out and was guided toward the door. We were then instructed to jump into a slender tank of cold water. My toes instinctively sought for the bottom of the tank and water inched above my head. I sprung to the surface, gasping, slithered down the ladder and crouched on a bench, settling to room temperature like a boiled potato.

At this point, the tiny towel was no longer a concern. We were naked and laughing, daring the heat by climbing higher up the colosseum seating, whipping ourselves, retreating into our cool pods.

As I showered afterward, I noticed that my skin was very pale and sloughed off with a few scrubs. I floated toward my locker, clean and euphoric, hovering above the puddles.

Dressed and thinking it was over, we coasted through the final corridors of the banya like cars in neutral nearing the end of their wash. Spat out into a little courtyard of cinderblock, Astroturf, silk flowers and plastic patio furniture, I was met by a woman and her plexiglass display, which read:

Cigarettes, candy or vodka?

Natalie Tomlin’s recent poetry and nonfiction appears or is forthcoming in CanaryDunes Review, J Journal, The Hopper and Midwestern Gothic.  She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Photo by Sime Basioli




Cicero’s Hands

My sweetheart and I argue about checkmarks. A lot. More than any couple’s therapist might think normal.

She says my checkmarks are written backward. Her tone suggests that this crime in notational marginalia is not just physical, but intellectual, even moral. It’s true that I do make checkmarks with the shortened barb facing the text, not outward towards the margin. I see it as a more precise way of identifying the line or word I want to note for later reference, as if the shortened barb were securing the line in place like a fish hook.


… what I found there startled me. All of my checkmarks had been crossed out. Not just crossed out, but blotted out with heavy black ink. It looked like a classified government document with impenetrable redactions. You could see the fury in these violently hooded checks.”

I read a lot of books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, calendars and television schedules and with so much information to keep track of, I believe that I have developed a more efficient method of processing that information. The outward-facing checkmark is often ambiguous in placement, leaving the reader to guess if it’s noting any one of three possible lines of text. Such precision is vital, I would argue, especially in this era of rampant fake news and inflated pronouncements flooding the world of print.

The Romans invented the checkmark. They used a “V” for veritas (true) to confirm items on a list including, one imagines, sacks of grain to feed starving citizens, lions imported for the circus games, and rival senators proscribed for execution. Like all autocratic empires, Pax Romana appears to have conquered the known world with meticulous record-keeping as well as hardened Legionnaires.

Over time, the “V” evolved into the truncated slash mark with the barbed tip we all recognize now, as harried list-keepers with inventories massive (see grain for restless mob) and selective (see endangered senators) shortened the left prong. This abbreviation resulted, too, from rudimentary ink pens that needed space on a papyrus scroll to warm up before leaving a mark.

So, it appears that the checkmark’s shortened, outward-facing barb became the universal posture through administrative practicalities and design flaws in writing implements, not some sacrosanct principle of correctness.

But try telling that to her.

She argues that, for her, the problem is not one of efficiency or accuracy, but one of neurology. My backward checkmarks scramble her brain and make her eyes hurt. I’ve yet to see any medical studies documenting this condition, and if I had, you can bet I would’ve noted the relevant data with my surgically precise checkmarks which would just prove my point about the need for graphic accuracy.

You may wonder why she feels the need to comment on my checkmarks. Reading is, after all, a solitary practice, not a collaborative project that requires group planning and compromise. But, we live in different locations and share reading materials on occasion, and I admit that it was presumptuous of me to litter one of her books with my medically-risky checkmarks. So, out of respect for her sensitive brainwave patterns and because I consider myself a supportive partner, I agreed to refrain from defiling her books with them.

Wasn’t that nice of me?

But no, it wasn’t nice enough. She started complaining about nonconformist checkmarks in my own reading material. Rather than change an entrenched and comfortable habit built over decades of reading, I refused to give in. I’ve been flipping my freaking checkmarks for as long as I can remember. I did a little research and discovered evidence of this habit stretching back at least to my college days. A copy of The Iliad from my Classics Lit course has more rebellious checkmarks than Trojan arrows shredding the skies. If I were to change now, after nearly a lifetime of this writing habit, what damage might I be incurring for my own neurological welfare?

The solution was a simple one, of course: I refused to lend her any more of my books. That might sound petty and vindictive, but I would argue that there’s a larger principle at stake here: censorship. Oppressive, controlling censorship.

But I’m a reasonable man. Things came to a head when we agreed to share the cost of a subscription to The New York Review. I was going to let my subscription lapse when it got too expensive. I often shared ideas taken from its pages during our dinner conversations, which my sweetheart appreciated because her job was so demanding that she had trouble keeping up with national and global news, and the latest book reviews. Therefore, she generously offered to split the cost of the subscription renewal. Under one condition: No more delinquent checkmarks.

It was an egregious case of domestic and journalistic blackmail! She was taking advantage of my journal addiction. At first, I refused, even when she wrote a check for half the amount and dangled it in front of me. My checkmark usage was particularly important, even crucial, in this particular journal, as I liked to preview the table of contents and mark the articles that interested me. Regardless, I caved when she threatened to tear up the check. I confess: I sold out my graphic principles.

But not right away. The habit was so ingrained that I continued using backward checkmarks without even thinking. It was just automatic. Then one evening, I was at her house, flipping through a recent edition of The New York Review that I’d passed on to her after reading it myself, per our agreement. I was looking for an article with a quote I really liked. I went to the contents page and what I found there startled me. All of my checkmarks had been crossed out. Not just crossed out, but blotted out with heavy black ink. It looked like a classified government document with impenetrable redactions. You could see the fury in these violently hooded checks.

That got my attention. To be honest, it scared me. I felt like one of those Roman senators who discovered his name on an enemies list of targets. The famous orator Cicero was put on such a list by the conniving triumvirate of Octavius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus for daring to oppose their power-grab. His assassins cut off his head and hands, a final insult for his habit of making dramatic hand gestures while giving a speech. Antony’s wife, Fulvia, hated Cicero so much for having suffered his scathing wit that she had his tongue pierced with a needle.

As a result of this disturbing alert, I’ve made a concerted effort to retrain my checking habits. But it’s hard. Really hard. I have to force myself to concentrate, squeezing the pen like a first-grader learning penmanship. After just a half hour of reading and checking, my hand starts cramping, and then I get resentful. But a few deep breaths and some hand flexing calms me down, and I remind myself that over the course of a long, committed relationship, one must make compromises. As Shakespeare says, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments; love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds.”

It’s still a struggle to flip my checkmarks, but whenever I catch myself backsliding, I see Cicero’s dismembered hands hovering over the page, a bloody index finger tapping a recalcitrant slash. And when I get an urge to renew the argument, I bite my tongue, which I figure is a lot less painful than a needle.

Tom McGohey is a retired professor who taught composition and directed the Writing Center at Wake Forest University and lives in Newbern, Virginia. His essay published in Fourth Genre was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Photo by Aquachara