My Life in Nine Obituaries by Ann Levin

1 – Philip Pearlstein, Whose Realist Nudes Revived Portraiture, Dies at 98 The other day, I found the New York Times obituary for Philip Pearlstein in a folder with the extremely unhelpful file name “Miscellaneous.” It was jammed in next to an article titled “Five Easy Exercises to Strengthen Your Abs.” Why I put it there, I don’t know. In the moment, I think I’ll never forget these things, but five minutes later, I do.  I’ve always read obituaries in the morning with my coffee, after dividing up the paper and giving the front section to my husband, Stan. He…

Life Uprooted by Janice Post-White

The stately burr oak stood deeply rooted in the center of our backyard, high up on the hillside. It shaded the patio from the midday summer sun and provided the perfect hideout for backyard games. I took its steady, reassuring presence for granted for the thirty years we lived under its canopy.  When the tree’s bark started to peel, the young, lithe arborist led the way as we tromped through wild grasses and ground cover draping the steep, compact backyard. “It’s dying,” he said as he tugged at a strip of peeling skin. “Something damaged its roots.”  “Dying?” I echoed,…

Head, Heart, Belly by Jennifer Lang

 חָרִיף Haifa, 1989 Philippe drizzles a greenish, garlicy hot sauce on his falafel. Between the torrid temperature and cayenne pepper paste, he is on fire. Watching him bite into the fried cumin-infused balls causes me to salivate. The thought of his thick, fleshy lips on mine creates inner heat.  “Délicieux,” he says in his mother tongue. Beads of perspiration form on his forehead and trickle down his face. “Spicy food,” he says, “makes me sweat.”  My senses are on high alert. Men and women, young and old, race to shop for Shabbat at the souk before stores close midafternoon. Stalls…

Wolf at the Door by Peter Pendras

The guest-room wallpaper has a muted shine like expensive gift wrapping. The bed—which has been pushed to the back wall—is covered with bulging white pillows and a hand-hooked cotton coverlet. It is a feminine room, nicely appointed with dried flowers in pottery vases, vague and colorful prints on the wall, psychology books on a low shelf. Everything is as it should be except for the hospital bed, which dominates the limited floor space. This is the room where my brother lives now; sixty-one-years-old and a guest in his own house. It is the hand-holding room and the whispering room, the…

Christmas at Dotty’s by Heather Campbell

The winter of 1989, it snowed on our yearly pilgrimage to Dotty’s. My grandmother, Dorothy, had asked me to call her Dotty years ago.  “I am too young to be a grandmother,” she said in her smoker’s drawl. “No one would believe you. You may as well call me Dotty so as not to confuse anyone.”   My mother and father begrudgingly made the trip despite the fact that Dotty despised my father for not being the rich man she wanted her daughter to marry. Our trips there were infrequent, but we always went on Christmas Eve. That was Dotty’s holiday,…

NONFICTION: A Map for Living by Elizabeth Amon

Bleached bones, picked clean by a lion, are left to bake under the East African sun, says the reedy-voiced British narrator on the nature film I watch from beneath a mound of covers. The abandoned bones stop the elephant matriarch in her tracks. She raises her trunk to trumpet a call of distress across the plain, lamenting the death of one once part of her herd. Elephants can remember more than 200 individual, extended family members and recognize them by smell or call, as well as sight. An elephant never forgets. From my sickbed, I watch the matriarch fondle the…

Remission by Patricia Contaxis

It is Easter morning, one year after Brianna’s life-saving neurosurgery. We are standing in a pew at the congregational church in our hometown, to which we had walked that morning. Long banners hang from the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary proclaiming Alleluia, and pots of tall lilies surround the communion table. The choir and congregation are mid-song, a big, glorious Easter hymn.  Wild sopranos careen behind me: “Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!”  All this shouting about triumph over death is making me nervous. I read the hymn, but I don’t sing the words.  We woke this morning…

On Maintenance by Kristin Kovacic

I hold in my hand a passbook for a savings account my father opened with a $30 deposit on October 26, 1960. You may have to be at least as old as I am now—60—to recognize a bank passbook and remember its purpose. This one looks like an American passport, which my dad had yet to acquire, with a somber blue cloth cover embossed with the name of the bank and its branch—Pittsburgh National Bank, Bloomfield Office—in gold. Palm-sized, ideal for slipping into a man’s top pocket. You pulled out your passbook as you entered the bank, where a teller…

Memento Mori by Drew Dotson

1996 My mom picked me up from school early for a doctor’s appointment. Soon we were on the interstate, headed to Atlanta to see the pulmonologist who treated my cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease known for the havoc it wreaks on the lungs. As a kid, I wasn’t trepidatious about these visits. Already a people pleaser at 10 years old, I relished the praise I got when my lungs sounded clear. I would go home satisfied, and life would revert to normal until it was time to return three months later. That was the routine—until today. After the visit,…

Everything Helps by Steve Mulligan

“Of course your back hurts,” my wife said. “That’s what you get for doing CrossFit.” For the first time in fifteen years, I was back at the gym on the regular—swinging kettlebells, doing burpees, jerking and contorting. I had just turned forty, and all this exercise seemed like a mild midlife crisis. When the doctor escorted me to the front of the ER waiting room, bypassing crying kids, broken bones and a couple flesh wounds, I realized it was a whole other kind of crisis. Why was I getting the VIP treatment? A grapefruit-sized tumor in my back. How the…