Sleeping Like Pretzels


http://“Story Cubes” Fiction Contest Winner: Gabriella Brand (chan 21492530)


This story won the STORY CUBES prize, August 2013. The underlined words were the “required” words to be included in a 3000 word piece of fiction. The topic was open, but the nine words, chosen by the STORY CUBE editors, had to be woven smoothly into the narrative. It was fun to write.

Sleeping Like Pretzels

“How come you’re acting so funny, Bob?” asked Libby Poole as I began to nuzzle her neck like a sheep. She smelled of strawberry shower gel. We were stretched out on the single bed in Libby’s dorm room.

“Am I acting funny?” I asked, answering in a natural tone of voice to my brother’s name.

I couldn’t imagine what I was doing that seemed strange. I continued to nuzzle.

“Oh, I get it, “ said Libby, with a soft laugh, “You must have read one of those magazine articles. About what women want.”

“Right, “ I said, making a mental note to ask my twin brother if he ever nuzzled Libby’s neck.

Bob and I had both been pretty crazy about Libby Poole since the Orientation Week picnic, where she had found an injured turtle on the banks of the Otter River.

“We gotta take care of this poor animal,” she said, in a mournful tone, to whoever passed by. Most of the freshmen must have nodded compassionately at the beautiful young woman cradling the bleeding creature, but they walked on by towards the games area without stopping.

“Look at this turtle,” she said in a pitiful tone when we approached. “ It must have caught its leg on a fishhook.”

Bob and I glanced at the animal, took one look at Libby, and quickly introduced ourselves.

“Hi, I’m Brett,” I said, “and this is Bob.”

Libby looked at us and her eyebrows started to rise up like two question marks.

When we offered to take the turtle to the Wildlife Center, Libby’s face broke into a smile.

While Bob ran back to the dorm to borrow a bike, I kept Libby and the turtle company, filling my baseball cap with water and pouring it over the turtle’s shell, now baking in the September sun.

When he got back, Bob started to poke holes in a cardboard box with a plastic spoon.

“You guys are terrific,” said Libby, afterwards. She made a point of telling us that she lived in Battell, second floor.

“Come by some time!”

At first Bob and I each urged the other to pursue her.

“Your call, Bob, ” I said, avoiding looking him in the eye.

“No, no, go ahead, Brett, ” he answered, but I knew he didn’t mean it.

Bob and I had been born within minutes of each other, chewed the same pacifier, shared the same cubby in pre-school.   All through elementary school, we had slept together entwined like little pretzels.

“Sleep separately, boys, “ Mother would say after she kissed us each goodnight. “You’ll sleep better.”

And we’d start out that way, but at the first clap of thunder, the first weird shadow, Bob would whisper, “Brett” at the same time that I would whisper, “Bob”.   We’d grab each other, hold our breaths, and fall asleep listening to the comforting tick-tock of the big red Clifford the Dog alarm clock on the night table.

In the morning, our parents would find us locked together like Legos, the red and blue Spider Man sheets knotted around us, the pillows on the floor.

Most people could not tell us apart. We regularly fooled our teachers. We were dressed identically until the day Mother left.

Libby Poole was the first girl to ever get under both our skins, at the same time, completely and deeply. We’d had girlfriends in high school, but never the same girlfriend.

“She’s just a really decent person,” Bob said to me one night. We were coming back from lacrosse practice, walking across the bridge from the gym.

“She’s not stuck up or snotty,” I added. “She’s somebody you can trust.”

“Yeah, and she’s beautiful,” muttered Bob, quietly as if saying a prayer.

“It was great to hear her sing last night,” I said. She’d had a solo.

“Ummm, “ answered Bob, as if he were daydreaming. I knew what he was thinking. Because I always know what Bob is thinking. Out of all the ideas floating around the planet, I can always hone in on Bob’s thoughts.

“Her voice sounds like …..” I wasn’t able to complete my sentence before Bob interrupted me.

“Oh, for god’s sake, Brett.”

“But it’s true, right?”

We both knew who Libby reminded us of.   Mother had had the same mid-western cadence to her voice, the same perky vowels, the identical way of saying “Shure” for ‘sure.”

Increasingly, our lives started to revolve around Libby Poole.

It all happened naturally without planning it.

By the end of the fall semester, it felt as if Libby were part of our mouths. She could have been the little membrane between our toes.

As the first Vermont snows started to fall and the Green Mountains turned white, Bob was thinking ahead.

“Maybe, for spring break, I should invite her to come home to Connecticut with me. I mean, with us?”

“That’ll be a hard sell. She’s already talking about someplace warm. Belize or Costa Rica. Even Florida.”

“Really?” he asked. “When did she bring that up?”

“The other night.”

A few days later, we were jogging out towards the Otter Creek, which was just starting to freeze. Bob had gotten to spend the previous night with Libby. We’d worked out a good schedule.

“You know, Bob “ I said, “maybe we should tell Libby the truth.”

“No way, “ he replied. “She’d be disgusted with us. And we’d lose her.”

“Maybe she’d find it cool, “ I countered, but we both knew I was merely spewing wishful thinking. Like that time I told Bob that Mother would come back.

“Dad won’t let her go far,” I had said with false confidence, as we hugged each other in the dark bedroom, the red clock with Clifford the Dog on it ticking like a bomb in the night.


Libby Poole went with both of us to the Carnival Dance, although of course she thought that I had no date and had spent the evening playing billiards in the Rec Center. Bob and I switched in the men’s room, then switched back later in the night, twice.

“You’re indefatigable, “ whispered Libby, pulling me closer to her under the quilt.

“Not really,” I said with complete honesty.

“Are you sure you’re not some kind of alien, with super-human powers?”

“Not that I know of, “ I replied, “I’m just a regular guy.”

“No, you’re not. You’re a twin. That’s pretty special, “ said Libby, unaware of just how special it was.

As the semester progressed I couldn’t let go of the idea that Libby should know she had two men in her life, not one.   Bob continued to feel that it was best to keep Libby in the dark.

“We could tell her slowly. Like maybe asking her how she feels about threesomes,” I suggested.

“She’s from Wisconsin, for god’s sake,” protested Bob.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” But we both knew what it meant.

And in fact, Libby would have none of it.

“You know the other day, Bob, when you asked about, you know…threesomes, “ she said to me with a gulp. “ I don’t judge people who do. But it’s just not my kind of thing.”

“I understand what you mean, “ I answered.

“Not that I haven’t looked at, say, Brett, “ she said with a laugh.

I caught myself just before I said something stupid.

“Well, I mean, he’s the spittin’ image of you. How could I not imagine, you know…?” Libby continued. She said “spittin’ image”, with just a bit of a twang.

“Right,” I said, feeling ridiculously flattered, in spite of everything.

“Brett’s looked at you, too,” I said, quite truthfully.

“Really? I guess you two don’t have a lot of secrets from each other, huh?”

“Nope, not too many. I mean, we don’t look through the keyhole when we’re on the john, or anything weird like that.”

“Yeah,” agreed Libby, “That would be weird.”

The semester worn on. Snow, more snow, a slight thaw. More snow.

“We gotta just tell her the truth, about our switches. We gotta do it quick, like taking off a band aid, ” I would say periodically.

“It will scar her for life, “ Bob protested.

During February and March, each of us took long walks with Libby across a white world. The Battell hallways smelled of wet wool and boots.

Talking about spring became an obsession. Bob was planning the sleeping arrangements for when we brought Libby home.

“Should we give her the daybed in the study?” he had asked.

“I guess so, “ I said, “ And we can sleep in our regular twin beds and ….um…pay her visits, right?”

Bob nodded. We both grew silent, each thinking about the daybed in the study.

We were ten years old. We had gone to a church picnic. Mother spent that day scurrying around cheerfully with the other churchwomen, serving potato salad, occasionally bursting into song, “Don’t Hide Your Light”. Dad and the other men played baseball. Reverend Pelton had a trick knee, he said, so he didn’t play. He just sat on a webbed lawn chair, being waited on by the church ladies.

The day had been perfect for us kids. We played tag and Frisbee and nobody fussed over how many hotdogs we ate. When night came, we knew there would be marshmallows and fireworks. At one point, as dusk settled in, we were chasing each other towards the back end of the picnic area.   Just as we rounded the shadowy area behind the bandstand, Bob and I stopped in our tracks. We could make out the shapes of Mother and Dad, facing each other like two warriors. Dad was shouting.

He was talking about playing with fire and people getting hurt. We thought he was worried about the firecrackers. We feared that he would keep us from even holding innocent sparklers by the tail. We stopped and listened.

Mother gasped when she realized we were right there, but Dad continued to shout.   He reached out and shook Mother hard by the elbows, then abruptly let go so she lost balance. He spit on the ground and turned away.

That night, Mother slept, for the first time, on the daybed in the study.

Soon afterwards, Mother ran off with Reverend Pelton.   Dad started spending long hours down in the basement, the radio full of static, an empty six-pack on the floor.

First Presbyterian got a new minister, but Dad had long since stopped attending. He let us sleep late on Sunday mornings, watching cartoons and letting soggy bowls of cereal accumulate on the coffee table, until Grandma moved in.

Towards the end of the long cold winter, talk about Spring Break reached a frenzy. Libby seemed to have a wistful look on her face as we passed a little clothing shop down in Frog Hollow. The sign in the window said…”Here comes the sun!!” The mannequins were wearing flip flops even as we trudged through six inches of slush.

“Are you thinking about someplace warm and tropical?” I ventured.

“Of course, “she answered. “But I’m sure Connecticut will be, well, interesting

The next day, I made Bob an offer.

“I think you should just take her to Florida. You know, by yourself, “ I stated.

“What the hell, Brett? And what about you?”

“I’ll go home to Dad and Grandma. I’ll let you have Libby all to yourself,” I replied.
“But that doesn’t seem fair,” answered Bob.

“It’s fair to Libby. I’d rather see her happy on some beach with just you, than miserable in Connecticut with both of us.”

The old Sunday School story about the baby and King Solomon kept playing in my head.

Two women argue over a baby and the King’s solution is to slice the baby in two. The real mother prefers to see the baby go with the false mother than suffer such a fate.

Bob’s face darkened as he read my thoughts.

He ran towards me and tackled me hard, pushing me into a snow bank. We both started to roll around, pounding each other, sliding back and forth on the icy surface like two large hockey pucks.

Finally, out of breath and frightened of our own strength, we stopped.

Bob looked at me and said, “Are you saying that you care more about Libby than I do?”

“Not at all, “ I said, but neither of us believed me. We helped each other up and limped back to the dorms.

Libby never did come to Connecticut. She broke up with Bob right before exams. Only later did we learn that she went to Jost Van Dyke for spring break with a really rich senior who drove a BMW.

When we came back after spring break, Bob and I started jogging even more furiously, up and around the College and out along the road leading to Cornwall.

At night we took to sleeping, once again, like pretzels, in a small twin bed, alternating between our single rooms.

At the beginning of junior year, we found a big red Clifford the Dog clock on the Internet. A vintage item. We tossed a coin. We ended up hanging the clock in Bob’s room, with the understanding that the following year, the clock would hang in my room.

Sometimes one of us had a hook-up with a girl. On those nights, the date-less one got to sleep in the room with Clifford. The red glow was kind of comforting, even then.

Complines at Lower Saranac


The Blue Line -The Magazine of the Adirondacks published its 35th Anniversary Issue in 2014. My poem “Complines at Lower Saranac” was included in it.

Read it here:

Complines on Lower Saranac Lake

We bid our hosts goodbye, then tie

the flashlight to the bow and paddle perfect j-hooks,

vowed to silence like Trappists, our vessel

cupped by the black surface of the Saranac at midnight.

Neither of us speaks in the night made holy by the prayers of loons and

the vaulted ceiling of constellations.

We look back at our friends’ campsite nestled high on the lumpy island.

The embers of their fire twinkle,

the scent of roasted corn, like incense, is suspended in the air.

Arriving back at our own island, we pull the canoe up and turn her over

on her stomach, like a baby, patting her with gratitude.

Tomorrow night, for dinner, our friends will row to us,

visiting our damp triangle of a tent, admiring the view,

walking the fifty paces around our little sanctuary.

They’ll bear blackberries for dessert and nootkatone for the no see’ums.

And so it goes, back and forth, a short sweet week

in the quiet, borrowed neighborhood

of a sacred lake.

The High Stakes of Summer

High stakes of Summer

The High Stakes of Summer

We watch the yellow rays of July
splaying across our bedroom floor,
playing poker with our vacation,
cajoling us out onto the porch,
gambling on thunderclouds,
living high on the hog,
bluffing us down to the beach,
hiding, seeking, upping the ante.

But some days hold the promise of a royal flush:
a small hummingbird hovering over the hollyhocks,
fresh raspberries dotting the morning yogurt,
enough wind to suck out the sail on the Sunfish,
grilled vegetables curling into dinner
fireworks dropping deep into the night.

The Wild Turkey Gang

Switched-on-Gutenberg published The Wild Turkey Gang in issue 19.

Read it below or check it out here:

The Wild Turkey Gang

There are nine or ten of them, with their

mottled feathers slicked back, sullen and shifty-eyed,

loitering on the planted patch near the highway tunnel,

watching the cars go by like a bunch of

teenagers with nothing to do.

Now and then, one of them pecks the grass

and sways slightly, as if he’s stoned and mellow.

The leader, gobbling orders,

bobs his neck in time to a hidden rhythm,

like heavy metal drifting up from the

roadway, clanging raucous into tiny turkey ear buds.

Motorists gape, but the birds stand with practiced

indifference. They only care about gang rules

and working on their strut.


Cordite Poetry Review is Australia's leading poetry magazine. My poem "Pirate" appeared in its pages in 2013.

Check it out online here:

or read it below:


No one saw who did the deed,

No one saw who pushed the giddy counselor

off the ledge of the dam towards the

copper-bottomed lake down below.

Male staff simply guffawed as the top of her two piece

floated on the water like a green duck,

while the pretty victim, herself, resurfaced in a daze,

her left cheek shaved raw

where it had scraped the rough stones.

Was she twisting her shoulders to hide her bosoms bouncy and pink?

We little girls stood stock still, peeing into the chilly water

suddenly made warm with fear.  Would we be pushed next?

We watched the big, hairy college boys now scrambling

down from the heights of the dam, whooping like pirates, pleased with their prank.

We waited for them to swoop down, heron-like, and snatch one of us away, like a fish, grabbing us from the shallow safety of the red and white ropes and the dog paddle lane.

We held our breaths and stretched our flat little chests out onto the water, holding ourselves still and stiff, hoping to be taken for dead,

just as the swimming instructor had once advised.

Concerto for the Cat’s Tongue

In 2013 The Mom Egg (now known as The Mom Egg Review) published an issue with the theme “mother tongue’.  My prose piece “Concerto for the Cat’s Tongue” was included.

I had opportunity to participate in the launch reading which was held at Le Poisson Rouge in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Image0205Concerto for the Cat’s Tongue

There was no special class back then. Michelina made her way among the American third graders as best she could. The English language was a like a large jigsaw puzzle. Each day she turned over new pieces of it and wondered where they belonged. She imagined the finished puzzle looking like the map of the United States that she had seen on a restaurant placemat in New York City when she first arrived.

When she read English, there were dozens of silent letters that needed to be slipped under the tongue, like a communion wafer. Even the word laugh could almost make her cry. Why did it rhyme with calf? In the classroom, she read aloud in a barely audible voice, fearing that her classmates would mock her mistakes. The teacher was patient. Her name was Miss Dingman. Miss Dingman sometimes called the girl students “honey” even though they might really be named Melissa or Jennifer. Honey came from bees. Michelina knew what it meant. But Miss Dingman called the boy students “Buster”. What did Buster mean? Michelina didn’t know.

She mostly listened.

““You’re as quiet as a mouse,” Miss Dingman would say to Michelina, “Does the cat have your tongue?”

Michelina wasn’t sure what the teacher meant.

Everyday there were surprises. Peanut butter was not butter. Cooties were bugs. The Mississippi River could be used to tell time. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. On the recess field, the other kids chattered and chased each other and said “Noc-noc, Who’s There?”   Michelina followed after them, trying to smile. She hesitated to speak. The air always seemed to be filled with question marks, and grinding noises, like someone polishing stones.

It was only when Michelina came home that the music started again in her head.

Even before she opened the front door, she could hear her mother’s cantata of welcome. Her father would hug her as if he hadn’t just seen her that morning, calling her piccolina and dolcezza.   Over dinner, she would rattle on to her parents about a game called tether ball, or a man named Paul Revere, or a tribe of Indians known as Lenne Lenape.

“They sound Italian, “ her mother would say, and they would all laugh.

Mostly she loved weekends, when company arrived in a burst of lipstick kisses, everyone trilling the old dialect like a flock of birds.

Visitors brought bakery boxes filled with zabaglione, biscotti, little cookies covered with pine nuts, purchased at the local Italian-American bakery. All the goodies smelled like the old country. Michelina would lick her fingers and breathe in, far away from the geography of Miss Dingman’s classroom.

Even as Sunday afternoon gave way to evening, people never stopped talking and joking. Michelina enjoyed the wit and teasing. Every once in a while, someone would use an English word, a word with no equivalent, like driveway or donut. They would drop the word self-consciously into the bubbling sea of Italian. It would stick out like a hair in a soup.

Michelina always waited for the moment when a visitor would coax her mother into singing an aria from Donizetti or telling a joke. Then it would be her turn.

“And now let’s hear from the Little One,” someone would say.

She’d recite the rhyme about fireflies, or they’d ask her to repeat the tongue twister, “Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa.” Sometimes she’d belt out La Bella Tartuga and everyone would clap to the rhythm and her parents’ eyes would shine.

“Tomorrow’s Monday,” her mother would eventually say. “The Little One has to get to sleep.”

Sometimes she begged to stay up a little later, reluctant to lose her voice.

“No, figlia mia, “ her father would say. “You need to rest so you can do the American school.”

Reluctantly, Michelina would mount the stairs to her bedroom, where she would lie awake for a little while, her eyelids thick and heavy, but her mind running like water. Now and then a punch-line or an idiom would rise above the muffled conversations in the rooms below. Rocked by the lullaby of her mother tongue, Michelina would eventually fall asleep.

Cerebellum Plural

Waterhouse Review is a British literary magazine. In 2012 they printed my short story entitled Cerebellum, Plural.

Cerebellum Plural

Dillon started to chew the nail on his index finger while he was waiting for his lunch date to show up. Twenty minutes went by. Half an hour. He sat there, mouse-like, gnawing and waiting. Then, when the woman finally phoned to say that she’d be there shortly, he suddenly felt the need to check his outfit one more time. The last woman had suggested he iron his shirt. This time, he had even sent the shirt to the dry cleaner. He had polished his shoes. He thought he had better make sure his fly was zipped. Just as he lifted his head up, the lunch date walked by the restaurant window, heading for the front door. She was tall, with loosely curled brown hair, and she was wearing the agreed-upon green jacket. She looked even more attractive in person than she did in the photo she had posted on the We’re So Smart dating website, a matchmaking service restricted to graduates of elite universities.

She looks like a Fragonard, thought Dillon. Or maybe a Watteau. He had taken art history as an elective, but he always confused those two.

“I went to the wrong place,” said the Fragonard look-alike, breathlessly, as she approached his table. “I had it in my head that your email said, “Sergio’s” not “La Tarantella.”

Dillon smiled and told her not to worry, but then he could think of nothing else to add. Nothing. Even though he had practiced that very morning, while shaving, many of the conversational “ice-breakers” proposed by We’re So Smart. He rose slightly and fumbled to shake Miss Fragonard’s hand, then realized she had already tossed off her green jacket and seated herself so that his outstretched hand practically brushed her left breast. He felt his face grow warm. She was wearing a scooped neck blouse, with the straps of a camisole exposed at the top. From her earlobes dangled small jade earrings. He quickly sat back down and gulped.

He told himself to make eye contact, to resist the urge to stare at the tablecloth. The last person he had met through We’re So Smart had observed that his eye contact was a little sketchy. She had actually used the word sketchy, which Dillon had first taken as a compliment. Sketchy like a Durer print, he had thought, until she explained what she meant in one final caustic email.

Dillon clamped his eyes onto Miss Fragonard, or was it Miss Watteau? Blue. Her eyes were blue, he told himself. Not quite periwinkle, but definitely towards that end of the spectrum. Pervanche. No, they were Cornflower. Kornblume, as the Germans say. Or azul. What exactly was azul? Dillon’s mind flittered here and there among languages. Then he began to wonder how his own eyes appeared. Were his glasses clean? Perhaps they were smudged. Hadn’t he wiped them this morning?

He still could think of nothing to say aloud.

The woman looked directly at Dillon with her bright blue eyes. She smiled. Then she gave a toss of her head, and glanced around the restaurant.

“This looks like a nice place,” she said, cheerfully, as the waiter dropped off two menus.

He agreed.

She mentioned her fondness for Italian food, which led her to describe a trip to Milan last spring, where she had given an academic paper. Dillon managed to nod and acknowledge that he, too, enjoyed Italy. He had gone once to Florence during university and then again three years ago, right before his thirty-sixth birthday. The trip was a gift from his parents. Miss Fragonard/Watteau raised one perfectly arched eyebrow, and asked if Dillon still lived with his parents. He assured her that he did not.

The waiter reappeared at the table wondering if they were ready to order. The woman asked the waiter to describe the house salad, in detail. Dillon couldn’t take his eyes off the perfect row of white teeth which were visible when she said the word “insalata”. The waiter, his pen poised, turned to Dillon. In all this time, Dillon had not even looked at the menu. He quickly zeroed in on the first item he saw printed at the top of the page. Scungilli Rusticana. Only much later did he remember he was a bit frightened of squid.

“Oh, you’re adventurous,” she said. “I’m just going with what I know. “

Dillon grinned, thrilled to be called adventurous. He stammered out a protest, but she continued.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you like adventure. You must go on a lot of digs, in exotic places. That’s pretty wild.”

He had never really thought of his work as adventurous. Most of it took place in dusty libraries or in the caverns of museums. But she maintained otherwise.

“It’s a quest, right?”

He had to agree.

“And what exactly did you say your specialty was?” she continued. “Neo-Sumerian history?”

Dillon was delighted that she recalled this bit of information from his written profile. A good sign, he told himself. It means she was interested. In him. In his work. He asked, hesitatingly, if she had ever heard of Tappeh Sialk. She shook her head. He wanted to tell her all about his research. But, suddenly, all he could think about was his thinning hair. He wondered if he should have parted it on the other side. Was his male pattern baldness that obvious? Would she take it as a sign of his virility? His mind whirred. He had been an archeological historian for fifteen years, but he couldn’t even come up with the names of the two Frenchmen who had excavated Tappeh Sialk. For some reason, he found himself talking about archeological brushes. When he realized he wasn’t making a lot of sense, he grew silent.

“May I have a breadstick?” she suddenly asked, breaking his reverie. She leaned over to take one of the breadsticks propped up in a pottery mug. He caught a whiff of her perfume, or maybe it was her deodorant. She smelled like a field in Provence, or maybe just like the lavender sachets his mother used to stick in her bureau drawer.

“You had mentioned something about the ziggurat at Tappeh Sialk, “ she continued, delicately snapping the breadstick with her perfectly white teeth.

The ziggurat. Of course. Considered, by some, the world’s oldest ziggurat. In Iran. A special site. But when he thought of the word site, his mind went back to the dating site where he had found her. We’re So Smart. He started to think about the logo, two cerebellums entwined around two hearts.

Then he suddenly remembered one of the We’re So Smart guidelines: Conversation should be like ping-pong, going back and forth.


He realized that he needed to ask her about her own field.


She was happy to describe her work. “Although I’m not married to it, “ she said with a laugh. She described her doctoral thesis and then her research. He nodded vigorously, but he had to admit that he had forgotten a lot of advanced chemistry. He had only a vague idea of what she was talking about. When she mentioned that her particular interest was recyclable carbohydrate polymers, his mind again went elsewhere. To carbohydrates, plain and simple. The kind he ate. In great quantity, too much of the time. Chips. Biscuits. Chocolate Box Cake. He couldn’t stop thinking about his paunch, flopping its way over the top of his chinos. Had she noticed when he stood to greet her? He tried to suck in his stomach, but gave up when he realized that his belly was now quite hidden by the table itself.

When the main course came, she dug into her insalata and Chicken Diablo. Dillon watched her lips grow redder with blotches of tomato sauce. He took his fork and moved the rubbery scungilli around on his plate.

“You’re kind of quiet, aren’t you, Dillon?” she asked, sponging up the last of the sauce with a slice of ciabatta.

He wanted to assure her that he would talk more once he felt comfortable. But he couldn’t think of a way to say it. He made a brief comment about still waters running deep. Did that sound haughty? Was it too much of a cliché? He hoped it didn’t come from the Bible. No, surely it didn’t. He lowered his head and studied the dessert menu in silence.

Neither one ordered coffee. The waiter left them to split the check, as We’re So Smart suggested. He watched her reach for her purse. The jade earrings swayed like little pendulums. Penduli. Latin I, prep school. Neuter noun. Dillon suddenly could see the declensions in an old textbook, right next to a drawing of a naked Roman goddess, over which some previous student had declined the word “boobs” in indelible ink. Plural. Feminine. Boobae, boobarum,boobis,boobas, and so on.

He wondered if he should ask her about going to the movies. Or to a concert. For their next date.

She got up, pulled on her jacket and buttoned it across her chest. He looked down at his own hands, noticed the bitten off fingernails, and stuck his hands in his pockets. Then they walked to the door together. It had started to rain, so they lingered a minute under La Tarantella’s pink canopy while she took a fold-up umbrella from her bag. She shook his hand, and ran off, her long legs deftly avoiding the puddles.

Later she emailed him, “I don’t think there’s any chemistry here (I’m a chemist, I should know LOL) but it was really nice to meet you. I wish you the best of luck with your research and your search.”

Dillon thought back to her last comment about his being quiet.   He knew that he should have given a better answer. He should have said that he was actually quite talkative, a regular moulin à paroles, as the French say. A windmill of words. He should have told her that he was restraining himself so as not to overwhelm her. Then he might have aced the date.

Dessert Time

If you are hungry, or if you have a sweet tooth….don't read this!  This poem was read on NPR's The Faith Middleton Show in October 8, 2011.


Dessert Time

Are the old desserts lonely these days?

The Chiffon Pie, the Southern Ambrosia?

Do they talk among themselves, sweetly reminiscing,

or are they plotting revenge, counting the hours

when the come-back cupcakes of the moment

will lose their appeal like aging movie stars?

Think about the brief flame of Crêpes Suzette,

the meteor shower of baked Alaska,

the volcano of Chocolate Molten Lava.

Where are they now, those desserts abandoned,

the Boston Cream Pie masquerading as cake,

the sopranic Peach Melba, silenced by time?

Has any one seen, lately, the magic inversion of

Pineapple Upside Down

all woozy with brown sugar?

I wonder if Tiramisu is still standing upright?

Or has she taken a seat, like a wallflower,

next to the Blondies that once flirted

as if there were no tomorrow?

Who remembers Nesselrode Pie,

gooey charmer of yesterday?

Who wouldn’t root for her embrace,

or at least a brief buss on the cheek?

Life being short,

sweetness is needed,

if only to woo us silly at the end of the meal.

Bring on the Mont Blanc, the Bavarian Cream.

Don’t we all deserve another chance?

R.U. There, Marcel Proust?

My essay entitled “R.U. There, Marcel Proust” appeared in The Christian Science Monitor in December 2011.…/2011/…/R-U-there-Marcel-Proust


Memory triggers, à la Proust, are going the way of the daguerreotype. Or the Polaroid. Even as we marvel at technology, we might wonder about the future of “Madeleine moments”. So much of our world appears in the same resolution in the same format on the same screen. What unique stimuli will grab us and take us back in time?

I looked at one of our old family photo albums recently. Maroon leather, black pages, and those little paper corners to hold the photos in place. Just touching the worn cover, I am brought back to a day when I was about seven years old. I had tiptoed into the inner sanctum of my mother’s bedroom, where the album was kept in a trunk at the back of the closet. My mother is sitting in front of a mirrored vanity, scenting herself from an atomizer of Shalimar. My mother gets up. I can still hear the creak of the hinge when she opens the trunk and takes out the precious album. She folds me into the crook of her arm as we turn the pages.

As an adult, I keep our family photos organized by date and subject into “albums” and “events” on my computer, synchronized with my smart phone. Kids at Halloween. Trip to Turks and Caicos. Always available. There are literally thousands of digital images, but few of them tingle my senses. None of them is etched into my mind in the same way as the three (!) sepia-tinged, girlhood photos of my mother, all taken at a photographer’s studio.

And what about maps?

“Time to look at the map,” my father would say, on our annual car trip to visit cousins in New Hampshire.

“ Do you mean the map with the coffee stain around Nashua or the other one that’s missing part of Massachusetts? “ I would ask. I took my job as navigator seriously.

“Either one, “my father would answer. Even today, just seeing the words Rand McNally can evoke the soft gray upholstery of my father’s 1956 Packard. Sitting between my parents on the wide front seat, I’d reach over to the glove compartment, pungent with the smell of the anise-flavored Pine Brother’s cough drops my father kept there.

Will our grandchildren fondly recall the voice of the GPS system stating “You have arrived.”

My mother in law’s recipe for brownies was typed on a little blue Aerogram. I had asked her to mail it to me when I was first married and living abroad. My husband was nostalgic for American brownies, the super fudgy kind.

I came across that Aerogram recently in a bulging file of recipes. It has chocolate fingerprints on it. My own and my children’s. Upon holding it in my hand, I breathe in and immediately recall the damp smell of our Swiss apartment, the yellow ceramic baking pan in the kitchen, the sound of the landlady beating her rugs.

I keep a lot of recipes now on my computer. It’s neat and convenient. But these perfectly alphabetized recipes don’t take me on any surprising journeys into the past. Not one of them compares to finding scribbled directions for Clafoutis, written by a neighbor in the middle of a book club meeting. Or the mimeographed recipe for Pumpkin Tea Bread which was provided by my son’s Kindergarten teacher and used every Thanksgiving since.

I won’t even talk about letters. Onion-skin missives from my beloved older brother, scrawled hastily while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force. I find one in a box in the attic. The return addresses come back to me in a flash. Or postcards from my first boyfriend with views of Cornell University and Lake Cayuga. Turning one of those over brings me back to the summer before that sweet young man left for college. His lips were chapped from working in the hot sun as a golf caddy. His neck smelled of soap.

Today I text my own granddaughter and she responds. “C U SOON, GRAN.” My message back is “personalized” with a photo and my electronic signature and LUV 2 U. She knows that I miss her, but she doesn’t know about all the other epistolary things I miss.   Children’s notes written with waxy crayons, exotic postmarks, cartoons and dried flowers stuffed into envelopes.

When Proust’s narrator tasted the Madeleine, he was transported back to Combray. But what about a photo of the traditional cookie, compressed into a JPEG, reproducible at 300 pixels per inch, would that have done the trick?