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Kalamazoo and Beyond
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Talking to Kip Kreiling
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The Editors

Kalamazoo, Michigan (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Kalamazoo is a city in the Midwest with a population of about 245,000 souls. We are in scenic southwest Michigan, 35 miles from Lake Michigan, and at a midpoint of about 140 miles between Detroit and Chicago. What makes this community truly special, however, is our connection to the arts.


Kalamazoo is internationally known for the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and the Stulberg International String Competition. We support the arts with the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo,  the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, ballet, theatre, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, monthly Art Hops, and more, much more. Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and other higher education institutions bring 40,000 students to our community, and with them, new ideas, new artistic expression.


Authors' and poetry readings abound. Our libraries and local newspaper sponsor annual literary competitions, reading programs and book clubs for all ages. With all that focus on literary arts, Kalamazoo has produced a long and seemingly infinite list of talented writers and poets. So many, in fact, that The Smoking Poet has dedicated a page, Kalamazoo and Beyond, to feature our artistic talent and those who sponsor and support our arts-rich community.


Take a bow, Kalamazoo!


Bringing the World to Kalamazoo: Michigan News Agency

by Zinta Aistars

Dean Hauck, owner of MNA, looks up at a familiar sign

When you open the door, jingle the bell, and walk into Michigan News Agency on 308 West Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo, Michigan, you feel like the most important person in the world. And to owner extraordinaire, Dean Hauck, you are. You are—the customer.

She calls out to you, her face lighting up as if she has been waiting all day just to see you. If you have been here more than once, chances are Dean calls you by name.

If you asked about a magazine, even if it is about Chinese photography, chances are she has an issue set aside for you.

If you walk in with your dog, chances are she is already at a trot, bounding down the stairs from her office on the second floor, where she sees all and knows all with a camera lens overlooking all, to give special tussles and nuzzles to your pup.

Creative Endeavor Project

“This is how people in Kalamazoo love each other,” she says, gesturing out into MNA space. It is Kalamazoo, Dean says, that has kept MNA alive and well these many years.

Most everything Dean says centers on community. While many of us may not know the names of our next door neighbors, Dean seems to know not only the names of all her customers, but their particular likes and dislikes and literary interests. Ask once, and your tastes will end up on an index card, filed away into an impressive card catalog on the wall behind the register. Dean has nothing against computers. She has one upstairs to submit orders. Here on the main floor, however, she abandoned the machines and stuck with what she knows—hand-scribbled notes on cards about what customer prefers what publication.

Michigan News Agency stocks only eight newspapers now, but if you want something she doesn’t have, Dean will get it for you. Meanwhile, browse the 6,500 magazine titles—Chinese photography is over there, on the left, middle shelf—or check the 17,000 paperback book titles. Local art news is clipped and pinned to the bulletin board to the right. Keep browsing. No hurry. You’ll find something.


Browsing is encouraged. Books in hand are encouraged. Standing around and loitering and reading in the aisle or seated on the floor is encouraged.

Michigan News Agency came to Dean through the loving hands of “Pop,” her stepfather, Vincent Malmstrom. Dean still recalls coming into the newsstand that first time, being courted along with her sister and mother, and the newsstand a large part of that family-sized courtship. There was a Coke machine, a popcorn machine, and a freezer for ice cream bars. All that and all things print, and Dean had found heaven.

A University of Michigan graduate majoring in English (with minors in natural science and history), she taught English for many years, at times as a second language. She met and married Richard Hauck and had two daughters, raising her girls with the same devotion she now brings to MNA. When the girls had grown into women and were ready to leave the nest, blink of an eye, Dean was back at MNA. When Pop wasn’t around to run it anymore, Dean would take full rein.

“The only reason we stay successful,” she says, “is our connection to the community. We’re here because people want us to be.”

Dean at the cash register

That’s truth. If Dean can’t be found at MNA, she is probably at some local art event. She brings her printed wares to literary events, selling books. Being there, everywhere, is just an extension of MNA to her, bringing the newsstand, increasingly a local bookstore, wherever she goes.

She is not just interested in meeting local authors and artists, she is also interested in connecting them to each other, acting as a conduit. “Have you met …?”

Quietly, almost secretly, Dean writes, too. She bemoans the lack of time, understandably, but her drive for perfection may also be at fault. “Writing is not therapy for me,” she says. “I can’t sink into it. I can’t get lost in it. I must balance on the creative edge and keep a distance. Writing is my desire to understand.”

Even while she is so deeply involved with her business and her community, Dean Hauck keeps that something to herself, perhaps for her own written words. In all that cheerful chatter with customers, she rarely strays from two topics: weather and sports.

“These are two of my languages,” Dean says, “Weather and sports. I listen. I listen to my customers, and they can talk to me about their private lives, but we all need to keep a private self. There is escapism in talking about sports and weather, people come out of themselves, and I will talk to people about these two things.”

Private moments can be stolen when the newsstand is running smoothly in the care of the college students Dean hires. She goes upstairs, then, where her husband might be working on the business books, and where Dante awaits her.

She Who Comes snuggling boss cat, Dante

“I am She Who Comes,” Dean says, snuggling the big white tom against her. “That’s my name in Cat. I am owned by Dante.”

Sitting down to process orders, Dean leans into the glowing screen, and Dante weaves around her ankles, purring in approval.

“I won’t ever retire,” she says, not looking up from the screen. “We all need a mission, a sense of place, a home. A community center.”

Hard to say—is that community center Michigan News Agency? Or Dean herself? The two are bound together, seamlessly, and the community of Kalamazoo likes it that way.



Michigan News Agency

308 W. Michigan Ave.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., 365 days a year

Phone: 269.343.5958


MNA on Facebook





Banjo string theory


by Lynn Pattison

(Kalamazoo, Mich.)



Next time memory won't play so many tricks.



It would be a waste of our time to measure—your furlong

would be my hand, fathom. 



I think what spins by must be significant; I record

our grocery slips, the birth of each new star, changes

in the dog's pee, the number of each World War.

                                       Water leaves the bowl clockwise, or not. 



Cardstock fiddler crabs on their Styrofoam rocks teach us wisdom.



If you meet the Buddha on the road, flatter

him, show off a little: speak French and flash

your jewelry. Fuss over his basket

of fish, buy him a drink.          

                                        Introduce him to your daughter.



Count on a light at the end of the funnel.



Stare at anything long enough, it becomes you.

Think of the worst that could happen, then raise it to a higher power.

If you'll be here for a while, I could use an assistant.  How

are you with sponges, narrow ledges, ruthless glee?



Lynn Pattison's poems have appeared in The Notre Dame Review, Heliotrope, Rhino, Diagram, Dunes Review, Controlled Burn, and Poetry East, among others, and been anthologized in several venues.  The author of two chapbooks:  tesla's daughter (March St. Press, 2005); Walking Back the Cat (Bright Hill Press, 2006) and a book, Light That Sounds Like Breaking (Mayapple Press, 2006), she's been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize.  Pattison is currently seeking a publishing home for her second book, Banjo String Theory.  In addition to leading occasional creative writing workshops, she is a board member of Friends of Poetry, Inc., and a member of The Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. 




Parti-colored Standard Anniversary


by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

(Kalamazoo, Mich.)



A poodle be what our love resembleth,

not the overly-groomed pompon type

that hath a light bulb for a tail and stupid

fright wig and embarrassing pink skin

taut on its nervous legs, and not miniature.

Our poodle standeth not still to allow some

stranger to arrange its haunches for a Milkbone.

Our poodle be unkempt and matted and rolleth

in mud and briars, and eateth cheese until it

farteth comically and slobbereth on the Bible

and probably hath gingivitis. It will never

pranceth in a show as a stout woman trotteth

by its side in sensible shoes.  Our poodle humpeth

chair legs and pant legs and smiles with no lips

and be not always tame.


Elizabeth Kerlikowske's work has appeared in many venues, print and online, including, most recently, SLAB, New Verse News, The Ambassador Project, Blazevox, and the Dunes Review where she was the winner of the 2010 Shaw Prize for poetry. In 2008, she was the winner of the Binnacle’s Ultrashort Fiction Award. Kerlikowske was also the Kalamazoo Community Literary Award winner for poetry in 2010.  She says, "I’m obsessed this summer with making chairs out of found wood and will end my sabbatical by returning to teach at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan."




Bird at the Window II


by Elaine M. Seaman

(Kalamazoo, Michigan)


He bumps his feathery chest, wings,

his sharp beak, his claws against

our bedroom window in a slow slide

against glass until he has to regain

his composure quick and land

on the rocks below, upright.


He wants to come into my space.

Or he wants out of the outside

and into limitations like mine.

I want to tell him the air here

is cornered, only so much can fit.

There is no blue sky. Then I want

to discuss desire with him.


Tonight I will leave the window

open so tomorrow as daylight adds

shape to the trees, he will come in

and see the wallpaper, the polished

wood, the worm-less carpet and

he’ll hurry to fly out. And I’ll follow.



Say each bird is a poem


     squat with personality

This one bright and grinning

That one red and brash and urgent

This one somber with the gaunt

     look of death and mourning

     like a dove

And that one wren-like in its simplicity

     but elegant in its song, upswept tail

That one parrots other birds, this one wears

     my mother’s turquoise dress

     as she lay in her coffin


They crowd each other for attention

     bumping butts, showing tail


This one blurs the line between breast

     and wing; that one has fish on its chest

This one all blue, full of happiness or sadness—




Elaine M. (Koren) Seaman grew up in Mt. Carmel, Iowa. She received her degree from Iowa State University. She has lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, since 1978, where she taught quilting for years. The National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, has one of her quilts in its collection, as do many private collectors. Many of her poems have quilt titles, including Bird at the Window II.

Her first collection of poetry, Rocks in the Wheatfield, was published in 2004 by Finishing Line Press. Her second collection, Bird at the Window, will be published in 2010 by March Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in The MacGuffin, The Ledge, Driftwood Review, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Cottonwood, Chiron Review and Cloudbank.





Come Together

A Short Story by David W. Landrum

(Allendale, Mich.)


When Sossity Chandler came to sing for children at local hospitals, she often saw her old friend Pamela Revard.  Pamela was a nurse.  Sossity had known her in high school and remembered her for the way she always misinterpreted, or misunderstood, song lyrics.  Once the two of were sitting in Sweetland’s, a candy shop on Plainfield Avenue.  Sossity had bought a bag of juju balls.  Pamela purchased jellybeans.  Sossity held two of the red, serrated candies in front of her eyes.

“Juju eyeballs,” she said, “just like in ‘Come Together’ by the Beatles.  Remember?”  She sang, “He got juju eyeballs, he’s one holy roller.”

She popped one in her mouth and slid the other to Pamela.

“Is that what that means?” she asked.

“What did you think it meant?”

“I thought it was ‘Jew-Jew eyeballs.’  I thought he was making fun of Jews.”

The idea that John Lennon would have an anti-Semitic reference in one of his hit songs struck Sossity as an amusing mistake based on an outrageous assumption.  She watched as Pamela ate the juju ball.

Another time, Sossity had finished singing “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”  They were at her house, Sossity working on songs for a concert at a coffee bar the next day.

“What was that one line you say they sang?” Pamela asked.  “‘Down to the’—what was it after that?”

“Down to the bits,” Sossity answered.  She strummed her guitar and sang:

                        I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down    

                        Down to the bits that I left uptown . . .


“It’s ‘bits’?”

“Right.  The lyrics are printed on the inside of the album—my Dad has the old LP.”

“I thought it was ‘Down to the bitch that I left uptown.’”

She had always remembered these two instances of Pamela’s ability to get words all wrong.  Her ineptitude at understanding lyrics amazed Sossity, but she would reflect how her tin ear grew out of her general outlook on life.

Pamela Revard was a cynic.  Her variety of cynicism was not the typical flippant kind so popular in contemporary culture.  Pamela projected a relentless, grinding nihilism that Sossity had always found both annoying and disturbing.  Her cynicism conveyed an assessment of life that said everything was absurd, good did not exist, hypocrites governed in every sphere, and everything claiming moral or ethical value amounted to a false hope that only naive, gullible people believed.  In Pamela’s view, all ethics were a sham.  She maintained, like Nietzsche, that claims of truth were in fact plays to gain power.  The world was a jungle, she often remarked, and she was merely one dog intent on eating the others dogs before they effectively devoured her.

Pamela and Sossity were on the track team and spent a lot of time training together, during and after school.  Their junior year they dated brothers, had several classes together, saw a lot of each other and so, despite Sossity’s chagrin at Pamela’s incessant cynical pronouncements, they became friends.

Sossity went on to become a successful pop singer (after six years on the road looking for her big break).  Pamela became a nurse.

Through the years, they saw each other from time to time. In all that time Pamela’s attitude never changed.

They got together for dinner and drinks when Sossity returned to live in her old home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  When they were a little drunk, Pamela let go with one of her cynicisms:  “I read something really funny the other day.  It was so good I memorized it.  A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments, soccer games, romances, best friends, location of friend’s houses, favorite foods, secret fears, and hopes and dreams.  A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.”

            This stung Sossity.  Her husband, David, did not fit Pamela’s description.  He had cherished and nurtured their two children, and the children looked to him for encouragement, comfort and solace, perhaps more than they did her.  Even when he betrayed her with his unfaithfulness and precipitated their divorce, she still could not deny her children’s emotional dependence on him.

            After the divorce, she avoided Pamela, thinking she could not endure the remarks she would probably make about David.  When they did finally see each other, enough time had passed that Pamela’s remarks seemed mild.  And she surprised Sossity by mentioning that she had developed an interest in the writing of Wendell Berry.

            “Ever read him?” she asked.

            “I read a little of his poetry in high school.”

            “I’m into his philosophy big-time,” she said, her eyes bright with adulation.  She launched into a long—and completely non-cynical—description of Berry’s ideas:  localism, the need to be attached to the land, concepts of community, hospitality and covenant, marriage as an analogy for social ethics.

            “Wow,” Sossity said when her friend had finished talking.  “I’ve never seen you so enthused, Pammy.”

            “With all the crap going down these days it’s nice to find someone who’s really on to something good,” she replied.

            Besides being an ardent reader of Berry, she had bought shares in a farm up around Algoma.  She tried to buy locally and belonged to an organization that promoted localism.

            “You ought to come with me to the Farmer’s Market,” she said.  “Get a little taste of Grand Rapids localism at its best.”

            “I’d love to, but people mob me when I go out in public.  As crowded as the Farmer’s market gets, I’m afraid someone might get trampled.”

            “Maybe you can come with me to my co-op farm sometime.  Chad Sterling runs it.”

            “Chad Sterling,” she laughed. “The guy who thought he was God’s gift to women?”

            “He went for a Ph.D.,” she defended, “and came back to teach here in town.”

            “What’s the Ph.D. in?”

            “Philosophy.  That’s how he got on to Berry.  I saw him at Hop Cat one noon; we got to talking.  He’s born again now.”  She mentioned an evangelical college in town where he taught.

            “I’ll believe that when the Devil comes to me and says Chad’s not on his team anymore.”

            “That’s not fair to say, Sos.  He really has changed.  You won’t believe how he’s changed.  Anyway, he told me about his farm and about Wendell Berry.  I got one of Berry’s books out the library and pretty soon I’d read almost everything he’s written.”

            “I have one question.  If Chad teaches where you said he teaches, what was he doing at Hop Cat?”

            Hop Cat, a restaurant/bar on Ionia Street, specialized in exotic beers.  The school where Chad taught had a non-drinking rule.

            “He was getting a burger,” she defended.  “They have really good food there.  He wasn’t drinking.”

            Sossity smiled and held up her hands.

            “Okay, okay, don’t go ballistic. I was only joking.”

            “Anyway,” Pamela continued, “I support his farm.  He and some other people have a discussion group on Wednesday.  We talk about Berry and localism.  You ought to come sometime.”

Sossity had a tour lined up that started in two weeks.  Before she left, however, she bought three titles by Berry and read them flying to concert venues and during dead hours waiting in hotel rooms.

When she returned, she mentioned her reading to Pamela, who lit up and wanted to know what she thought of the author she had come to venerate.

“I like a lot of what she says.  I like what he says about the value of belonging to a certain place.  That’s why I decided to live in Grand Rapids instead on in L.A. or New York or Nashville.  On the other hand, I think he’s a little strident at times.”


“Strident?” she echoed, her face hard with disapproval.  “How is he strident?”

“He’s calls people he doesn’t approve of plunderers, exploiters, destroyers.  He talks about health and disease—but in his viewpoint, health means his outlook on life and disease means the viewpoint of anyone who disagrees with him.”

“That’s not true,” Pamela said, her face almost angry.

“I think it is.  He excludes anyone who disagrees with him.  He doesn’t try to understand their views or answer their objections; he just calls them names and writes them off.”

“You won’t think that when you read more of him.”

Sossity read more and did not change her mind.  Berry, in fact, seemed to grow more judgmental the older he got.  She found the rhetoric in his recent books more volatile than what he had written in earlier decades.

Once she did go to the farm with Pamela.

They drove to the co-op, some twenty miles north of Grand Rapids.  Sossity enjoyed watching the picturesque rural landscapes go by.  Pamela played one of her CDs, sang along, and got the lyrics wrong, as always.

“Pammy,” Sossity told her, “that’s Cloud shadows passing by, not ‘Cloud shadows crashing by.’”

“I thought it was a song about thunderstorms.”

“No.  That one is almost as bad as when you thought ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was ‘Strawberry Beatles Florescent’ and thought that song by Dobie Grey I perform as an oldie every now and then said, ‘Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul.’  You need to listen to things a little more closely.”

“Maybe I do.”

They pulled into a farm tucked away on a quiet rural road.  Sossity saw a small house, a barn, and gardens all around the house.  Beyond that lay a large field that looked fallow.  A tractor and two trucks sat on a circular gravel driveway.  A dog lying in front of the barn wagged its tail.  Chickens pecked further back on the property.

They climbed out of the car.  In a moment, Sossity saw Chad Sterling walking up to greet them.

He had changed a lot since high school.  Mainly he had put on weight—a lot of weight, she noted.  His face was ruddy, cheeks full, chin double.  He had developed a large paunch, made more noticeable by the overalls he wore.  He smiled and waved.  In high school, Sossity recalled, he had a reputation as a seducer.  She had not particularly liked him and never dated him.  Pamela had and was probably among of his many conquests.

A few feet behind him, smiling and waving, Sossity saw Luanne Carvella. 

“He married Luanne?” she asked quickly, before Chad got there.  “You didn’t tell me that.”

She shrugged.  Pamela and Luanne had been rivals and enemies in school.  Sossity noticed two children, boys five or six, hurrying along beside Luanne.

Chad greeted them gregariously.  He gave Luanne a quick embrace and clasped Sossity’s hand.  He heaped lavish praise on her, congratulating her on her success as a singer.

“When you played at school dances and in coffee bars around town, I used to listen and think, She’ll make it big—I know she’ll make it big.  Now look at you!  I’m really happy, for you, Sos.”

She smiled.  Chad was charming.  He had always been charming—too charming. She disliked and mistrusted him for this very reason.

By that time Luann had come up to them.  Unlike her husband, she had not put on weight.  Sossity thought she looked prettier than she had looked in high school. Blonde, open-faced, friendly, her blue eyes large and striking, she greeted both Sossity and Pamela with kisses and introduced her two children.  Sossity remembered she had been a Latter Day Saint and wondered if she had converted upon marrying Chad—if he really was a born-again Christian now (she thought Pamela might be as inept at knowing religions as she was a understanding song lyrics).

They went into the house.  Luanne served them coffee and drank some herself.  Sossity noticed a bulletin for Ada Bible, a megachurch on the other side of Grand Rapids, taped up on their refrigerator door—a standard evangelical practice—along with pictures of missionaries and drawings by her two sons.

A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house and hopes and dreams.

Over coffee and carrot cake, they talked.  Luanne served the coffee and drank some herself.  Sossity remembered how, in high school, she would not touch caffeine and always drank Sprite and herb tea.  Obviously she had forsaken, or at least modified, her old Mormon faith.  Luanne and Chad expressed their amazed happiness that Sossity Chandler, their old classmate, had become a pop celebrity and that they heard her songs on the radio, as movie themes, and on television.

            “I remember when you used to play at the open mics the school would host,” Luanne said. “Once I requested ‘Sweet Baby James’ and was amazed you knew it.”

“I remember. You were the only person that night who tipped me.”

“A dollar!  I wished I’d had more to throw in your case.”

“Shows how musicians get screwed by everyone,” Pamela put in.

Chad explained how the farm operated.  People bought shares and then got a portion of the produce.  He had forty shareholders.  Shareholders helped with planting, weeding, and harvest.  In summer, he made weekly deliveries of produce and free-range eggs.

“I’ll have to buy a share next year,” Sossity said.

“Would a superstar like you get out and grub in the dirt?” Paula asked, smirking.

“Of course I would.  My Mom always had a garden and I loved to work in it.  It would be a nice diversion from my usual life.”

Chad took them on a walking tour.  The farm was not large.  He took them through the barn, the extensive garden with its rows of squash, beans, tomatoes, kale, and peppers, through a stand of sweet corn beyond which stood three apple trees.  Sossity climbed one and found three decent apples (he did not spray them and many had spots and wormholes).  Heading back to the house, they chomped the apples, talked, and laughed.  After spending more time in the kitchen, Sossity and Pamela headed back to Grand Rapids.

“So what do you think?”

“It’s great.  I see what you mean.  I can see why you’re so into it.”

“You’ll have to come when we have a gathering. We help plant, weed, harvest, and then we eat together.  It’s community—something we don’t have much of these days.” She paused then said, “Isn’t Chad awesome?”

“Awesome?  Well, maybe in what he’s doing running a farm—but I bet he’s put on a hundred pounds.  Remember how trim he used to be?”

“That’ shouldn’t matter.  Who cares how he looks?”

“He should.  It’s not healthy to be that big.”

Paul made a disapproving noise.  They switched the subject of their conversation.  Pamela mentioned a rally and fund-raiser for the Local Always organization.  Would she be interested in playing?

“Sure I would, as long as it doesn’t conflict with something else.  Let me know the date.  I’ll check my performance schedule.”

 She saw less of Pamela the next few months.  In fact, she hardly saw her at all.  Nothing conflicted with the date for the Local Always rally, and she agreed to do a fund-raiser/benefit concert for them.  The organizers were elated.  When Sossity finalized things, she mentioned to the president of the organization that Pamela Revard had first asked her to play.

“I know.  I’ve been trying to call her but she’s always gone.  Never home.  I guess she spends a lot of time up at Chad Sterling’s farm.  She’s practically lives up there.”  He smiled.  Sossity thought she detected a slight leer in his expression.

She attempted to call Pamela but always got her answering machine.  She never returned Sossity’s requests for her to call.  Finally, when she visited a local hospital to sing for a child in Make a Wish, she ran into Pamela in the lobby.

Her friend was tanned, her hair bleached with the sun.  She had on green scrubs and looked tired.

“Pamela.  Finally!  How are you?”


“You look a little worn out.”

“I’m working a lot—I got an afternoon shift as a surgical nurse—3 to 11—not the greatest hour, but it frees me up to be on the farm a lot.  Now that it’s fall, there’s a lot to do.”

“I can imagine.  Why don’t we get together for lunch?  My treat.”

“I don’t know.  I’m really busy.”

“Busy?  You look like you’re about to drop from exhaustion.”  Sossity moved closer to her.  “Pammy, I’ve know you long enough to know how obsessive you can be.  I think you’re overdoing the farm thing.  Maybe you need to back off from it a little.”

Chad needs a lot of help.  He teaches too, you know.”

Sossity insisted on a lunch date.  Three days later Pamela did not show up at the Cambridge House on Monroe Street.  Sossity called her.

“Where the hell are you?”

“I’m home.  I was just getting ready to call you.  I can’t make lunch.  I’ve got to go to the farm.”



“Pammy, are you screwing Chad?”

A long pause came.

“I need to go,” Pamela said.

“I’ll drive out to Algoma and drag your ass back here.  We need to talk.  Or maybe I should call Chad and ask him about it—or Luanne.”

“Sos, don’t.  Please.”

“Then you get over here, damn it.  I mean it, Pam.  I’ll call him.  Be here in fifteen minutes.”

Pamela showed up.  Sossity pointed to a chair.  Her friend sat down, folded her arms and crossed her legs.  Sossity leaned toward her so she would not have to speak loudly.

“It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.  I remember Luann saying she worked and had her kids in daycare.  And I remember Chad saying he had all his classes on Tuesday and Thursday so he could have the rest of the week free to work on the farm.  And you’re on an afternoon shift so you have most of the day free.  Easy to go out behind the barn with a set-up like that.”

“This is none of your business.”

“I’m making it my business.  I’m concerned.”

“About what?”

“About you, mostly.”

“I don’t need you to take care of me.”

“Besides that,” Sossity went, ignoring her comment, “I’m concerned about Chad. I always thought he was an asshole, but he seems to have settled down and found his niche.  If you break up his marriage, a lot of people will be hurt:  her, him, those two adorable boys they have; if it comes out that he’s having an affair he’ll lose his job at that born-again college where he teaches—which means he’ll lose the farm because he doesn’t make enough off it yet to support himself. And let’s come back to you.”

She paused.  Pamela maintained her hostile look and posture.

“I can tell just by looking at you that things are not right.  You look like you’ve lost weight—and, unlike Chad, you don’t have any weight to lose. And you look like you’re about to collapse from exhaustion.  What is it, Pam?”

She looked down, sighed, and then looked up.

“He wants to break it off—for all the reasons you gave.”

“That would be better for everyone.”

“Not for me.”

“I disagree.”

“You disagree,” she repeated in a mocking tone.  “Hell, you’ve been married.  I’ve never been married.  And, yes, I know things didn’t work out for you and David, but at least you had someone;  you have kids.  I’m your age, heading rapidly toward forty, and I don’t have anyone—not even a boyfriend.  After high school I never did—just guys who wanted to screw me and dump me.  Why was that, Miss Know-It-All-Superstar?  You seem to have all the goddamned answers.”

“I don’t have all the answers, but I can answer that one. No guy wants a bitter, cynical woman.  For Christ’s sake—who in the hell would want to marry someone like that?  You think any guy envisions living with a woman who doesn’t believe anybody is sincere, any love is true, and who spends all her time sneering and making sarcastic remarks?”

Pamela sat silent a long moment.  Sossity thought her words had gone home, but the ugly look returned to her friend’s face.

            “So that’s what you think of me?  Of course I’d expect that from you—you’re prettier than me and now you’ve got everything in the world going for you.”

“Prettier than you?  Hell’s bells, Pam.  You’re ten times better looking than I am.  You beat me out twice for Prom Queen, damn it.  Don’t you remember that?”

“And if I didn’t go around sneering all the time maybe guys would like me, hmmm?”

“You said it.”

She stood up.

“Fuck you,” she hissed, and left.


The break-up did occur.  A mutual friend to whom Chad had confided informed Sossity about how Pamela relentlessly pursued Chad until he caved in.  After an affair that lasted four months he ended it, saying he had violated the principles of his religion and betrayed his wife.  Pamela threatened to tell Luann and the school where Chad taught.  Later she relented, kept quiet, and stopped going to the farm.  Sossity saw her at the benefit concert.  She stumbled backstage and spoke as if she were drunk or stoned.

“Sos, thanks for doing this,” she said, speech slurred  Her eyes were dull and she looked weary and exhausted.

“Sure thing, baby.”  Sossity took her aside.  “Are we still friends?  I’m sorry for how I acted at the Cambridge.  I was way too harsh with you.”

“You were exactly right,” Pamela replied.

“Can we get together and talk soon?”

“We can.  I’ve got to go.  I need to see someone.”

The next day Pamela Revard landed in the emergency room from a drug overdose.

Sossity went to see her when she was out of danger. She looked wasted, her face thin, her mouth sagging, eyes hollow and weary from fear, pain, and exhaustion. She tried to smile.  The muscles in her face were not working right.

“Pammy.  Thank God you’re all right.”

“I’ll pull through, I guess.  Thanks for coming.”  Her eyes filled up with tears.  “I’m sorry, Sossity.  What I said to you at the Cambridge”—

“Don’t.  That’s not important now.”

“It is.  The reason I acted the way I did that day was because what you said hit home.  I didn’t want to admit it.”

“We can talk about that later.”  She pulled a chair up beside Pamela’s bed.  She kissed her friend’s forehead.

“I’m just thankful you’re doing okay.”

“I’m doing okay. How are you doing?”

“Good.  I’ve got Cheryl and Brett for the next three months.”

“Must be nice.  They’re adorable kids.”

“You’ll have to come over and see them.”

Pamela looked up at the ceiling as if to collect her thoughts.  She turned her haggard eyes to Sossity.

“I died,” she said. “My heart stopped twice.”

“They pulled you through.”

“Yes, but I’m screwed.  They’ll fire me at Saint Mary’s—can’t have nurses who overdose on crack.”

“Maybe you can come and work for me.  I need a nurse to administer our health care plan and take care of medical scheduling for my employees.”

“Normally I’d say no—out of the fact that I’ve been such a jerk to you.  But I’ll be out on the street without a job.” She paused again and looked thoughtful.  “You know, Sos, the reason I got so caught up in that whole farm thing, the philosophy thing too, was because I thought I’d finally found something that I could not be cynical about—something I saw as a kind of sanctuary, I guess.  I really believed in it.  I really thought it was something I could value. I went after Chad because I wanted to be with him and share in all of that.”

“There are other things you can value,” Sossity answered.

She did not reply.  Sossity looked out the window.  November snowflakes, small and sparse, floated through the sky.  She would have Pamela over for Thanksgiving.  She would help her get back on her feet.

The snow swirled in the wind as they continued to talk.


David W. Landrum teaches literature at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. His fiction has appeared in 34th Parallel, Monday Night, and Amarillo Bay. Landrum edits the online poetry journal, Lucid Rhythms.





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