His username is Monkeyballs69. Tammy knows it’s a crazy name but he looks kind of cute and she probably shouldn’t, but she swipes right. It turns out he’s studying for his doctorate in French Renaissance literature. Or he’s a guy who does sound effects for films. A Foley artist, he says, but nobody ever knows what that is. He and his mom listened to old radio shows when he was a little kid. Clomping footsteps, creaking doors, phones ringing, the sounds filled him with awe. Or maybe Monkeyballs owns a fleet of ice cream trucks. They’re painted in pastel pictures of frozen treats, rainbows, bubbles. And happiness, he says. If a kid can’t pay he lets them have one for free. He drives a truck himself when he has time, although, sadly, he says, most days he’s too busy with the business end of things. He studied engineering at MIT but gave it up after doing ayahuasca. No, not ayahuasca. That’s trite. He did shrooms with friends one weekend at a cabin in the mountains. Commonplace maybe, but not trite. After that he tried micro-dosing out of curiosity and rekindled his childhood love of the ice cream truck. He embraced his passion, he says. Opted for joy.
Tammy sits alone on her navy-blue Ikea pull-out couch in the living room that doubles as her bedroom. She lives in a studio apartment because rents are so high in the city. Other than the fact that she’s lonely, she wants a boyfriend to share expenses. And now, rather than simply say she’s lonely, I’m supposed to show how she’s lonely. Is it enough to mention her melancholy as she swipes left and right while idly eating the take-out salad she gets every evening on her way home from work? She notices the compostable cardboard bowl is empty and realizes she missed her dinner again. Damn, she thinks, I need to be more mindful, promising herself she’ll pay attention tomorrow. It’s dusk and the evening shadows slant into the room like a David Hockney painting. Trite, but true. Also, there’s supposed to be a theme and tension, leading to a climax and resolution. People are always asking, where’s the arc? What’s the purpose? Our lives often have no arc. Days, weeks can go by. Arcless days. Why does there have to be a big deal purpose? My purpose is to look gently into tensionless, resolution-devoid life. Modern takes on the mundane that teeter on poignant. Almost funny, but not quite. How, in a pinch, we grab a pair of pants from laundry mountain on the floor and we’re dressed. Or when we’re out of clean underwear we turn them inside out and give them life for one more day.
I imagine Monkeyballs69 would do that, the laundry mountain part. The underwear, not so much. He knows a lot of random facts. He shares them often, like one of those people who constantly comes up with puns. In the beginning, Tammy is charmed by his impromptu discussions about Asian giant hornets, immortal jellyfish, chickens’ earlobes. When they eat sushi, he points out that the wasabi is probably dyed green horseradish. When her friend has a baby, he shows her how much it looks like Danny DeVito and they laugh. One day Tammy will think his fun facts are weird segues, that everything he says is a non sequitur. She’ll ask him why the hell he named himself Monkeyballs69. There will be tension because that’s what happens in relationships. Maybe she’ll leave him. Maybe they’ll stay together, get an apartment with a bedroom, have a baby that looks like Danny DeVito. But today, they lean into each other on her navy-blue couch. She enjoys his facts, laughs at his jokes. They eat snacks, drink red wine and watch Grace and Frankie. That should be enough.
Moss piglets, aka water bears, aka tardigrades, often are called the most resilient creatures on the planet. I can’t speak to Moss Piglet the magazine’s resiliency, but I can definitely say that it is one of the most delightful publications on the planet.
an art and literary journal
The truck has ladders strapped to the side, huge sign on back – “Tired of ugly roof stains? Don’t replace it. Clean it.” Pictures illustrate dirty, unsightly roofs magically transformed into pristine, sparkling ones. People replace their roofs if they’re dirty, I wonder?
How did he get here, this enterprising businessman? An idea concocted at halftime watching the game? Hatched over pitchers of beer at the lanes? Dreamed up at four a.m., searching for his passion? Did a career coach test to determine his competencies? He scored high on lack of fear of heights, comfort driving a truck, love of silence.
I imagine him perched high up near the peak, alone in the quiet drinking his coffee. He uses a real thermos, metal with a glass lining. Lois got it for him at a thrift store. Lois loves “discarded treasures.”
Lois is on a health kick, making him give up sugar, flour, cow’s milk. No bologna and cheese on white for lunch anymore. Now it’s hummus and julienned vegetables she learned to make in her cooking class, bread with millet and poppy seeds.
He hates his lunch. Hates picking seeds out of his teeth. Lukewarm coffee with almond milk and agave. Lois says estrogens in soymilk are bad for his gonads. But, it’s okay. Sitting up on the roof just about anything is okay.
He loves Lois. Loves the notes she leaves in his reusable sandwich bag – stuff to pick up on his way home; reminders of things they have to do; or simply “I love you.” signed L.
“L” feels weird to him at first “Lois, why don’t you sign your name?” he asks. She says L is more intimate, loving. He tries to wrap his head around that. He figures she’s right. She usually is.
The Bright Side
Mother’s Day this year was amazing. Several months ago, I couldn’t have imagined life outside my cocoon. Then, I was dealing with long-Covid. I had a false sense of functionality that served me well. Maybe not well, but good enough. Most mornings I put on the same clothes, went directly to the computer to join zoom groups throughout the day. On good days I walked on the beach. Also, on good days I forgot that good days were scarce. My daughter, Julia, said I had the memory of a goldfish.
Then, there we were, Mother’s Day, Kristara, Jerzy and I, out in public. We got lattes. We strolled on the common. We went to the movies. The first time in over two years! Later that night Jerzy started feeling sick. The next morning, still not well, she tested positive. My heart sunk. Surely I didn’t catch it again. Five days later I pulled out a test kit, reminiscent of at-home pregnancy tests I used years ago. I watched apprehensively as the control line became solid red, the test line thankfully blank, the opposite of my hopes from those other tests in the past. Gradually the line morphed into a faint, ghostlike grey. I called Julia to let her know. “So sorry,” she said, “but on the bright side, you’re in good company. I bet a lot of moms got it for Mother’s Day this year.” The bright side indeed.
Fiery Scribe Review, DUST, September 2022
Avery hated dust. She wasn’t a hater of most things. She loved the beach, lukewarm coffee and old suitcases. Pens, black socks and a freshly sharpened #2 pencil. Cameras of any vintage. And ashtrays, antique-store ones from all over the world. Just about anything, as long as it was old. Unfortunately, these things loved to accumulate dust.
The worst culprits were dust mites. Someone showed her enlarged photos of microscopic, bulbous, crablike creatures that poop in your bed, images that got stuck in her brain. She didn’t have a dust mite allergy, more like an aversion. A powerful one. She changed the sheets religiously, the closest she got to religion of any kind, to avoid the build-up of nasty pooping monsters in sleeping quarters.
She named her restaurant Stardust and, ironically, referred to it as The Dust. That’s like someone who hates dogs naming it Puppy Heaven. Stardust was a labor of love and a dream come true after decades of working in restaurants and bars. Undercapitalized, but the many friends she’d amassed from years behind the bar and under a tray helped get it off the ground. They lent her money, painted bar stools, scrubbed the kitchen and remained avid and loyal patrons. Stardust died before she did, but only after several years of sheer joy for all – staff, customers and us.
I can’t remember how she chose the name, although I suspect it was because of the song Stardust, an old one, a famous one, written in 1927. It definitely wasn’t because she believed in anything otherworldly. Scientific stuff, yes, but mystical, no way. Astrology, near death experiences, reincarnation, she took no interest in any of that. I’m sure she’d scoff at us if she knew how we think we get messages from her in the form of dandelions, moths and dragonflies.
Scientists say we’re all made of stardust. The particles in our bodies have been in existence for billions of years and will continue long after we’re gone. All of our atoms, our DNA, come from the energy that powers the stars.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Avery would have said, “Where did that saying come from? We don’t start as ashes. We begin as a zygote, the union of an egg with a male gamete, sperm.” She would have known that. What she couldn’t have known is that she did become ashes. I’m certain she would be delighted that they live in my closet.
When I was 19, I dropped out of college, wrote my parents a letter that I was going to go to the school of life and moved to New York with my boyfriend. I thought he was older and wiser and that I’d landed a great catch. He had a big fancy job. I had none.
It wasn’t long before my boyfriend and I broke up. I was upset when he gave me crabs so I told him to move out, hoping he’d ask for a second chance. He moved out. A few weeks later, I demanded his keys back, hoping he’d ask to keep them so he could continue to come see me. He gave them back. I was broken hearted. But, I was young, single and living in New York. Life was good.
One day walking with a friend on Broadway between 115th and 116th Streets, I saw a “Help Wanted” sign in a store window. I walked in and talked with the owner. I was hired. It was a hip women’s clothing store, a boutique, directly across from Columbia University.
The owner introduced me to his humorless, non-talkative, old aunt. She took charge of the cash box. We were instructed to call her Auntie. I never did learn her name. My coworker, Amy, a skinny young woman from Ohio who came to New York to be an actor, was always reading Backstage magazine. She told me stories of what she did on the “casting couch” to get parts. She rarely had work.
I sat in a tiny chair across from Auntie when there were no customers. One day she rolled her sleeve up revealing faded numbers tattooed on her inner forearm. She saw me see them. She rolled her sweater back down. I would never see those numbers again. But I could never stop thinking about them.
One day a young woman, undoubtedly a Barnard student, as were most of our customers, came in to buy a dress. She asked me how it fit. Clearly she wanted me to tell her it wasn’t too small. The pleats gapped in the back. She could see that in the mirror as well as I could, but buying the dress in a size too small was what she wanted. Gaping pleats and all.
I told her it looked great. As she admired herself in the three-way mirror, I amused myself by whistling, as I often did.
She stopped. Stared. “Is that Mozart? Were you just whistling the lo non chiedo aria?" she asked.
I thought for a moment. What had I been whistling? “Yes,” I said, “I suppose I was,”
“Imagine that. You’re whistling Mozart. An aria. Amazing. Just amazing,” she said in disbelief.
Apparently, I was a simple shopgirl, a college dropout, who would never have been suspected of knowing an aria.
Eventually I left New York, returned to college, earned advanced degrees. Grew up. It’s been decades but I love to think back on those magical times. How I reveled in the simple joy of my twenty-five-block walk up Broadway to work on spring days, stopping to grab a hot bagel from Zabar’s along the way. Getting high with neighborhood friends at night, meandering the few blocks to Pic’n’Pay at 2 am, enduring the glare of the bright neon lights, to grab snacks to quench our munchies.
I remember the numbers on Auntie’s arms; the hopes and unfulfilled dreams of a sad girl from Ohio; and the condescending words of a young college student.
My Three Cows
A lovely book by the late Thich Nhat Hanh is How to Relax. It’s tiny, not much larger than the palm of your hand, as if to say, don’t fret, relax, I’m small. Most of the instructions are short, some less than a hundred words. One entry, “Naming Our Cows” begins “Each one of us has to sit down with a piece of paper and write down the names of all our cows.” He talks about how we struggle and suffer. He says we should “Let go so that happiness, joy and peace can be possible.”
I sat down with a piece of paper to write my list. It was short.
Hannah came with a friend, a palomino horse, whose name I forget. Let’s pretend it was Kevin. I agreed to keep Kevin and Hannah until their owner, whose name was Sally, found a more appropriate living situation. We made a paddock for them by stringing electric fencing on posts. The hard part was having to test it to see if it was live. It was. Hannah didn’t like it inside. She routinely disregarded the shock and muscled her way out to lie in the grass outside her enclosure. She didn’t want to go anywhere. Just not be inside, except when I attempted to ride Kevin. Then she’d moo bloody murder, break out, and chase after us, running as fast as her cow legs could carry her. We’d wait for her, Kevin and I, knowing our ride was over, as Hannah ran circles around us, like a Border Collie rounding up her charges. When Sally came to get them, she hopped up on Kevin and the three of them rode off together, Hannah trotting along behind, screaming all the while.
Rosebud was so named because of a swirling bit of fur on her forehead, a cowlick. Ironic, right? A cowlick. If you squinted and tried really hard you could imagine it looked like a rose. Her brother’s name was Big Mac. I didn’t name either one of them and don’t know what became of him. I always hoped his name was joke, not a prophesy.
Rosebud was young when I got her, but as she grew older, as cows tend to do, she became large. And she grew horns, and although they were short and stubby, she routinely tried to impale me on them whenever I entered her enclosure. Another thing about Rosebud, inconsistent with her obvious desire to kill me, was that when she wasn’t in her paddock, she loved company. Whenever I’d come home she’d moo boisterously for attention. She loved to be scratched between the ears, and demanded it often.
I’d always check on Rosebud as she grazed in her field when I left the house. One morning, I glanced over and noticed two white beehives at the far edge. I was quite certain that I was not a beekeeper and that those hives had not been there the previous day. Faced with beehives magically appearing on my property, however, I experienced a moment of doubt. Am I a beekeeper? Have those hives always been there? It would be several days before I spotted someone tending to the hives. It was Paul, the son of the family who owned the grocery store in town. Paul had spotted the red clover growing in my field and thought red clover honey would be lovely. Who was I to disagree?
Paul came from a long line of beekeepers. He told me stories about tracking bees through the woods over the course of several days to find their hives. He’d snag the queen and thousands of bees would swarm onto his arm, and he’d gently guide them into a basket. His grandfather was known for intentionally knocking hives over in order to get stung to cure his arthritis. He was hospitalized more than once for his shenanigans. His arthritis prevailed.
Paul’s family also kept cows, so naturally, I introduced him to Rosebud. They hit it off right away. He knew just how to scratch her and she appeared to have no interest in killing him. When I moved away, Paul was the obvious choice to give Rosebud to. As it turned out, Rosebud wasn’t like any of their other cows. None of them mooed at the top of their lungs when he came home. Rosebud did, no matter how late at night. He tried everything, including parking his truck down the street. Once he went so far as to take off his boots to sneak by quietly in his socks, but she always knew it was him. That was some bovine love right there.
If I ever get another cow, I will name her Sally. I’ll write her name on a piece of paper.
And I’ll smile.
A simple name, Joe. I’ve always planned on something more exotic, at least two syllables, preferably three. I imagine picnicking in a park in Barcelona or Milan with Renoir or Constantine, wine, bread and romance. Joe, one syllable, barely any letters. I’m not meant to marry a Joe.
It’s a perfect September day. Tourists have returned to the city, the beach uncrowded, wide open. Bare feet, playing chicken with the waves as they reach the shore, daring them to soak us. Casually, he leads me from the water’s edge onto dry sand. It’s nothing like in the middle of the summer when it burns like hellfire. This feels like a hug, a tickly warm sand caress.
He kneels, and I think, wait, am I being proposed to? It’s not like I need a dancing flash mob, strangers applauding under the arch in Washington Square Park, or graffiti on the overpass. But this is a surprise. I suppose being proposed to on the beach, feet cradled by warm sand is pretty much as good as it gets. Other than his tiny name, there isn’t anything wrong with Joe. In fact, there are many things right.
Pros: He doesn’t watch football, ensconced on the couch staring at the television all day Sunday in a pile of greasy junk food crumbs. He’s kind, funny, quirky. He loves my cat. The first time he spent the night, when I came to get in bed, my cat was kneading and drooling on his chest. He doesn’t have a pet of his own so we can get a dog. Or more cats. I figure he’d be a great dad, so good with my cat, imagine him with a human of his own. He keeps the knives hidden in the cabinet. He’s a grown up. He washes his whites and darks separately. He seems to love me, so much so that he’s about to ask me to marry him. I wonder where he stands on picnics?
Cons: He uses thick, fluffy toilet paper. The roll runs out so fast I use practically half of it for one poop. It’s embarrassing, like I’m a huge pooping toilet paper hog. Also, it leaves linty white stuff on my cooch and I don’t shave down there so it gets all stuck. He doesn’t mind that I don’t shave. (Pro) Does he buy it because it's fancy or because it’s cheap? Maybe he grabs whatever’s on the shelf without a thought. Can I marry a man that I don’t know something this fundamental about?
Neither pro nor con: He plays video games. He almost always wears a hat. Usually a baseball cap, but sometimes a fedora. He’s not even bald, like he has a full head of hair. The hat can stay, but it is a confusion.
Will he fight me on baby names? I’ve got my ideas. If it’s a boy, so far I’ve got Lucien, Alistair and Rafferty. Rafferty because it means one who will prosper, not because I like the sound of it. I kind of like Jasper, known as the supreme nurturer, one who brings tranquility and wholeness. I’m not sure though. It sounds like he’s the butler instead of the mansion owner.
For a girl there’s Evangeline, bearer of good news. Angelique because it’s awesome. Justine, because, just because. Picking out names is the fun part of being pregnant. I don’t know if there are any other fun parts, except sometimes walking down the sidewalk, or in the mall I think, huh, I’m pregnant and I feel special.
My first night at his house, I wanted to surprise him with my fancy oatmeal for breakfast. He had everything – organic oats, cinnamon (also organic), Himalayan pink salt, raisins, and almonds. When I searched for cinnamon I found his spices, bunches of them. Cumin, coriander, basil, oregano. He even had bay leaf and arrowroot. What the hell does he do with arrowroot?
I couldn’t find a knife so I bit the almonds into pieces. He loved the oats, or at least he said he did. I never told him about biting the almonds and he never asked. I still make oatmeal. It’s our thing, a ritual. I bring my Swiss Army knife to cut the nuts. My dad gave it to me for my 16th birthday. It has everything – tweezers, scissors, a corkscrew. My prized possession. I can see him doing that, giving our kid an amazing knife.
I’ve always thought co-parenting seemed appealing though. Parents get time off. Freedom. Summertime at the beach without, “I have to go to the bathroom.” the minute you get there. “Pee in the ocean.” “I can’t, it’s poop!” Nope, he’s got the kids and you’re lying under an umbrella with a cooler of beer, extra spicy salsa, and guac and chips. No worries about losing your kid in their polka-dot bathing suit that blends in with the thousands of others. But he doesn’t want to co-parent. He wants us to be married and raise this kid together.
I make a mental list of things to discuss: 1. Toilet paper. 2. Hat. 3. Picnic. 4. Arrowroot. 5. Almonds?
I look up. How long has he been there on one knee? A nanosecond? An hour? I want to say yes, but I can’t choke it out. Sure doesn’t seem earnest enough. Finally, I look into his eyes. They’re hazel. (Pro) Maybe our baby will have hazel eyes, or even better, green. “Of course,” I say. He smiles, and I’m pretty sure lets out a sigh. Toilet paper is negotiable, hat, arrowroot can wait. Almonds, maybe forever. “On one condition,” I say, as he visibly clenches. “You go on a picnic with me.”
Honored to be included in the Seventh Anniversary Issue of