Calling Card

They’d spattered crimson on the piano, but she was playing, indifferent, when he returned with their lily.

“You play?”

She unfurled a minor chord. “It’s relaxing.”

He knelt, avoiding the blood, and wrapped the dead fingers around the lily’s stem.

They were gone before the chord died away.


Je Vois, J’ai Vu, J’aurai Vu

5:32pm. Monday. I’m walking to the subway when she’s struck by a car.

“I didn’t see her!” The driver is frantic.

The woman reaches for me as I kneel next to her. The lab coat she wears is torn and bloody. No one else has come close – they watch from the sidewalk, some taking pictures.

“Please,” the woman whispers hoarsely. “I’m in an accident.”

“You’re going to be all right,” I say, squeezing her hand. “Help is coming.”

“I’m in an accident,” she repeats. Her eyes are wide and stunned, but I feel like she doesn’t quite see where she is, like she’s looking around for something.

Then her eyes aren’t seeing anything at all.


12:04pm. Tuesday. I’m in the grocery store buying a pathetic boxed salad.

And there’s the woman, the one I watched die yesterday. Her basket is full of batteries and she’s frowning at the calculator in her hand. She shrugs and tosses five more into her basket.

“Ma’am?” I ask tentatively. Some hair has fallen out of her bun and she looks exhausted, but she’s alive, her lab coat only lightly creased. I look down and see that she has covers on her shoes, the kind you wear for a realtor at an open house – or in a clean room.

She looks up at me, eyes wide. “Yes?”

“Did you – I thought I saw you –“

“Possibly,” she says wearily. “I’m in an accident. I have to go.”

She hurries with her basket to the self-checkout. I see her leaving shortly after, weighed down with four dozen batteries and her calculators.

I come across her abandoned bags between 12th and 13th, in front of a coffee shop. The reclaimed-wood tables are full of twentysomethings conversing over their phones. If a woman disappeared in front of them, they don’t seem very bothered by it.

I have to get back to work – goodness knows I see weird stuff daily in this city – but I also have to know if I’m going crazy or not. I approach the tables.

“Do any of you know how these bags got here?” I ask. “Did you see the woman who was carrying them?”

They glance, almost in unison, from me to the bags and back. “I didn’t see anyone,” one man says.

“No one’s been by in a while,” a woman adds. “And I’ve been watching – I’m waiting for someone.”

I debate taking her purchases with me – if she can come back from the dead, maybe she’ll find me again – then decide to take them inside and leave them with an employee. There’s crazy, and then there’s anticipating-being-haunted crazy.

I regret my decision before I’m even out the door. I already feel a certainty, like a prologue to déjà vu, that I’m going to see her again. I look over my shoulder, expecting to see her lab coat billowing.

But the sidewalk is deserted.

I return to work.


6:37pm. Wednesday. I was stuck late, I’m hungry, and the crowds going down to the subway seem worse than usual. I have no new texts, no emails worth reading. I’m scrolling through a collection of makeup I can’t afford when I catch white out of the corner of my eye.

It’s her, again, but she looks different: her bun is tidy, her makeup simple but professional, her coat pristine. The shoe covers are gone.

She catches me staring. “Can I help you?”

It’s the icy tone we usually reserve for men being creeps and I look away, flustered. “Sorry. I just feel like I’ve seen you before.”

“You might have,” she says. “I’m in an accident. But I’ll get it fixed, nothing to worry about.”

The train arrives, screaming past us and dragging the first few strands from her bun. Her coat whips against my arm. “The machine just needs more power. I’ll get it fixed.”

We get on the train and she sits, hands folded, calm. It was the last seat; I stay standing and grab a strap. The crowd flows around me, packing the car. I almost don’t notice the usual jostling. What machine? Is she crazy?

Am I?

“Ma’am?” A man catches my eye and points. “There’s a seat if you want it.”

The woman’s seat is empty.

I sit slowly; it’s still warm.

I’ll get it fixed.

The feeling of déjà vu is gone. I won’t see her any more – but I have seen her again, last week, last month, in my childhood.

Then she is gone.

Something Out of Nothing

“Can you see anything?”

The streets are scorched. The buildings we once inhabited are gray shells. The ashes fall lightly on me. I pretend it’s snow.

“There’s nothing to see.”

They knew they were losing, and they couldn’t tolerate us returning to our homes. First they stole our resources, then our people, now our futures.

Our son lifts a case from the rubble: Grandmama’s seed stash, overlooked in its humble box. Inside, the colorful packets aren’t even singed.

“Isn’t that something.”


Won’t You Smile

(a filk to the tune of Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby, which goes way back!)

Won’t you smile for me, lady
Won’t you smile for me, lady
White teeth shine and she sure looks fine
but she’ll never be your lovin’ lady

Won’t you smile, pretty lady
Won’t you smile, pretty lady
Eyes through the smoke so thick you choke
on the curse you wanna tell that lady

Won’t you smile for me, lady
Won’t you smile for me, lady
She’s gone away where the red scarves wave
taking all us unrepentant ladies

In Stock

“She’s getting pretty good at waiting.” Chris adjusted the fraying grip on his baseball bat as we approached the gas station.

“The sounds scare her.” My shotgun was loaded; the ammo belt was starting to feel light, but this minimart looked promising. “I think she’s beginning to figure out why we make her wait, you know?”

“Had to happen eventually.”

“But we’re not teaching her to shoot yet.” We crouched behind a bullet-pocked concrete barrier across the street and squinted at the minimart.

“Jane, she’s got to learn sometime. It’ll be safer in the long run if –“

“Think they have binoculars in there?” I interrupted.

Chris sighed. “A new set would be nice, yeah.”

I looked over my shoulder. The top of Lena’s lime-green hood was barely visible over the bramble we’d instructed her to hide in. Guns may have taken on a new necessity that I’d had to reconcile with my gun-averse upbringing, but I wasn’t ready for our six-year-old to learn to handle one.

“Let’s go.”

We darted across the weed-choked parking lot. The gas pumps had been emptied, later smashed; most of the shop windows were shattered. I went first, shotgun ready, with Chris at my back. Our footsteps crunched over broken glass. We checked between the ransacked shelves, in the bathroom, the storeroom and the musty office: the place was deserted.

I returned to the entrance and whistled, our signal to let Lena know it was safe. She popped out of the bramble and ran, the fluorescent green parka bouncing like a laser pointer against the gray afternoon. She leapt into my arms, giggling, and I spun her around.

“Gold star for hiding, baby girl.”

“Thanks, Mommy.”

I let her slip to the ground – she was too heavy to carry these days. “What do you want to find in here?”

“Umm…” She tapped her chin, an adult gesture of thoughtfulness she liked to mimic. Finally she looked up at me, brown eyes sparkling. “Peanut butter!”

“Peanut butter?” I teased. “Boring! I want to find a pony…or a unicorn.”

“Or a dragon!” She freed her hand from mine and flung her arms out like wings, growling.

“Hold hands, please,” I reminded her. I could hear Chris in the storeroom sorting through boxes. I collected what little I could find out front: a few protein bars past their expiration date but still sealed, boxes of raisins, two cans of beans that had rolled under the shelves.

“Careful,” Chris said as we entered the storeroom. The beam from his headlamp danced over us. “Chopped liver in the northeast corner.”

The storeroom was almost pitch black aside from our headlamps, and I was relieved I didn’t have to see what Chris had found. ‘Chopped liver’ was our code phrase for something unpleasant, usually human remains, that we didn’t want Lena to see. Luckily, the box Chris was searching through had her distracted. I looked over his shoulder and saw a tangle of wires, batteries, remotes, and other electronic parts that had been obsolete even before the collapse. Looters had overlooked it, but I could see what Chris was after: hidden underneath was some fairly sophisticated survival gear.

Lena’s chubby fingers gripped the edge of the box as she strained to peer inside. Her eyes widened. “Are those from the 80s?”

Ever since we came across a Pac-Man machine in the back of a laundromat, Lena had been obsessed with the decade of her parents’ birth. Any technology she didn’t recognize from before – chunky flip phones, shop-vacs, PCs – must have originated in the 1980s, the furthest back in time she could imagine.

“No, sweetie,” Chris chuckled, “this is new stuff. Look: flashlights, a solar charger…”

He didn’t point out the taser, but handed it silently to me to pocket. We also took a fresh pack of batteries and an unused first aid kit. Chris had already found some canned chicken and, amazingly, peanut butter. We packed it all into our still uncomfortably light satchels.


My heart pounded – I thought she’d found the body. But Lena was crouched over a soggy cardboard box.

“Toys!” She held one up: a superhero figure still in its packaging. Relieved, I knelt next to her and helped her rummage through.

“Lena, look!” I held one up. “A dragon!”

She gasped, delighted. I pried it out of its packaging and swooped it into her hands, like playing airplane with her baby food. Holding it aloft, she ran out of the store, roaring into the daylight.


Lay out the bowls –
the largest fits cupped in your palm –
smallest to largest,
a bit like planets.
Place a very large bowl
at the end.
Pour in the flour, scooping and leveling
so as
not to
compress it.
Fill the others with
baking soda, cocoa,
sugar, baking powder.
Let the gravity of the largest
draw them, one by one,
glucose and alkalinity
and calcium and magnesium
and carbon dioxide
all activating
like primordial life when you
Add salt: a sprinkle
of minuscule asteroids
cratering the powder.
A second bowl, not as large.
Combine eggs, oil, and milk.
In the first bowl, make a well
and then there is water,
and it is good.
Pour into pans and
Breathe in the fragrance.
Creation takes time.
Allow it to cool.

(inspired by these ancient poem-recipes)

Chaos Terrain

“You’re serious.”

“Of course I am.”

He wouldn’t take the pamphlet from her hands. She folded it to her chest.

“It’s one-way,” he said. “Why would you go?”

Her footprints in iron oxide dust; her name writ in discovery’s legacy; new stars, herself among them.

“Because,” she whispered. “It’s Mars.”