The Dialectics of Kissing a Girl

person-holding-red-and-black-snake-34426 2

The Dialectics of Kissing a Girl 

by Joanna Friedman


Ten thirty, and it’s been hours of Benny showing me his golf ball collection, muddy ones, cracked ones, smiley faced ones. There’s even one found in the river that looks like it’s growing fur.

“Doug,” he says, and wipes the dirt off another golf ball, tosses it into a storage container in his closet. “You need to get some life goals.”

“First goal,” I pick up the smiley one. “Figure out why you’re collecting these.”

“Things are happening for me, Doug.”  He pauses shining. “When they put my name next to these at the museum it might inspire, you know, Julia.”

“Julia? Never heard of her.” But of course I know Julia Bernstein, five houses down from him on the golf course, two houses from mine.

“Seriously, do you think getting the exhibit would make her more likely or less likely to want to be my girlfriend.”

“Wouldn’t be a goal if we already knew,” I say.

Text from Mom: Pyth Vader’s out again.

I show him the message. “Look, a goal.” Pyth is on the run. Slithered to freedom.

“That’s not a goal, that’s you not securing his cage.” But he’s grabbing his boots.

Good thing too, because we’re going out on the golf course, in the dark and wind. I text Mom that we’re leaving.

Benny must assume my lack of expression means something deep because he says, “You know how you never worry about anything?”

That isn’t exactly the truth, but I nod as we head for the door.

“That calm will help now, especially when Vader’s getting eaten by an owl, or worse, a rattlesnake.” He grabs a hat and punctuates the whole thing by a final zip of his jacket.

I hadn’t thought about the owls, but the snake eating a snake thing is just horrible. “A Ball Python would never let himself get eaten.” Every other time we’d found him sunning on a rock near the edge of the course, but tonight it’s late. No sunny spots. He could be anywhere.

“Flashlight?” Benny holds one out.

I turn him down.

“Good thinking.” He returns the flashlight to the closet. “Maybe our infrared heat sensing snake vision will kick in.”

“Or we can just allow the rods in our eyeballs to adjust.” I decide not to get into a whole discussion about why we can see better at night without flashlights.

Benny settles things with his parents and we walk out into the dark, to the wooden fence, the boundary between Benny’s lawn and the golf course.

“Don’t you ever wonder what it’s like for Vader? Your huge hand reaching in from heaven–” Benny asks, as we’re climbing over. “Vader’s ready. Drooling. But no. Fail. Just the Frozen Mouse Pop special. No wonder he heads out, he wants to show you he’s a real snake.”

“I take him out, sometimes.”

There’s cold wind thrashing against the trees, wind chimes, the sprinklers. I can barely hear Benny, he talks like a professor while the world is shaking around us. “No, listen. He loves you so he tolerates his cage, but he’s also a hunter, so he escapes. Freedom clashes with love. There’s your dialectic.”

“Dialectic?” I yell.

“Ancient Greek 101, Doug. Dialectics.” He’s stops walking. “Two opposites examined to see if they can fit together to form a greater truth. Hunting versus loving you. Both are in his nature.”

It’s debatable whether snakes can love, but I decide not to mention this.

He places his hand on my shoulder. “Vader’s clear on his goals, and you Doug, need to find yours.”

But all I can feel is the wind blowing from the fairway and heartache thinking about Vader slithering away from his heat lamp.


The houses on the edge of the course create circles of light near the wooden fence. My watch reads 12:05 am. The wind whips the clouds onto the peaks of the nearby mountains. I check Vader’s sunning rock out of habit, but like I suspected, he’s not there.

As we continue down the path, past my house, past Julia’s darkened house, Benny says, “If we get bit by a rattler, I have a contingency plan.” With every step, he’s looking a few feet ahead, picking up the random golf ball.

“Do I want to hear this?” Each fallen branch is large enough for a hiding spot.

“Run faster than you’ve ever run before. Get to the hospital. Get the anti-venom.”

“Brilliant. No one’s ever thought of that.”

The three balls in his basket stop rolling when he stops. Looks me dead in the eye. “If it happens, we’re ready. Coyotes, too. I have a contingency plan for them as well.” Trees bend and sway, creak like they have a soul inside them. “The only thing I don’t have a plan for is if Julia started crying. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

There’s no making a contingency plan for most things in my opinion. “I like to be alone when I cry.”  I toss another golf ball in his basket.  We head half a mile, down two fairways toward the power lines, the end point for mowed grass. Past there, only wild weeds, and billions of places for Vader to hide.

The golf balls roll in his basket. “But then how does that work.? I love her, but she’s alone and crying? That doesn’t seem like loving someone.”

The wet seeps into my sneakers and socks, and the wind is messing with my hair. “How about you hug her, or kiss her? Usually that makes people feel better.”

He finds a muddy ball and brushes it off. “You know, if a coyote came toward us, I’d just give him room to pass or kick him in the jaw.” A blooming magnolia stands near the edge of the course. “But if Julia was crying-” Fallen petals, lit by a flood light from a nearby house, splay in a circle around its base. “I wouldn’t know what to do.” 

“You’d kick a coyote?” Sometimes Benny’s ideas just didn’t make one bit of sense. “Wouldn’t we just run away?”

“No, we’d have to show him we own the golf course.”

“Good thinking. Kicking someone in the jaw proves everything.” The green stretches out ahead, a broken sprinkler keeps rotating into a trash can. Billions of microscopic droplets turn into a creature, a hollow vibrating creature waiting in the mist.

Benny nods, “Yeah, but I don’t think Julia likes violence much.”

The wind is attacking my jacket. It’s tearing through trees.  Somewhere ahead, there’s a chopping helicopter sound.

About ten balls roll around in Benny’s basket when he says, “I mean if Julia’s crying I could kiss her.” He pauses, swallows. “Yeah, I really want to kiss her, but I want to figure out this sadness thing. Because if the sadness continued, like if someone’s died or something, the kiss wouldn’t work.”

We chew on the possibility of infinite sadness as we near where the power lines swing. “When she ripped up her knee playing tether ball, she kept going. Like nothing happened,” I say.

The foothills rise in both directions, and I follow the power lines to where they disappear. The tower rises above, metal spikes along its frame making it impossible to climb. I imagine it anyway, the view from the top.

Benny grimaces. “You know, you really need to secure Vader’s cage better.”

Why don’t I? A gust snaps at a nearby tree and one of the lines makes a strumming sound, like a giant, or God himself playing the world’s largest guitar. Another gust, the tree bends. Branches crack and break. Golf balls fall out of Benny’s basket as the tree sways onto the power line. It’s sparking and sizzling, threatening to fall. Threatening to snap the line.

Benny’s a way up the green, screaming, “Doug, move. Move-” The wind washes out the rest.

But he doesn’t need to remind me, because my legs are moving, my blood fizzes with adrenaline, reminding me about life and death and the reason for fear. The tree just died, but if it had landed a few feet over, it could’ve been me. I’m okay, just like Vader is safe somewhere. The house lights in the distance are out, it’s pitch black at three a.m., but my eyes have adjusted and see just fine.

I tell Benny, “I’d let my instincts kick in. That’s what I’d do if a girl cried. It’s what I’ll do about my goals. Listen to my gut. Trust the snake eyes.”

Benny’s crying as I hand over the golf balls. “That was freaky. So freaky.” He counts as he drops them in his basket.

I can tell he’s kind of embarrassed, so I say. “I think you’re ready for Julia. I think girls like it when guys cry.”  


We wander the course for a while, down to the river, past the Magnolia tree. The sky turns light gray. Lights come on in Julia’s house. Benny tosses one of the golf balls into her yard.

She slides the glass of her patio doors, her pony tail bounces as she picks it up. “Can I have it for the maze?”

There are hundreds, and they’re lined up in all sorts of curvy rows in her garden. But it’s incomplete.

“Here have these.” He lifts the basket over her fence and hands over everything he’d just collected. “I have a bunch more at the house I can bring over later.”

Her eyes turn wide. “From your collection?”

He turns pink, takes off his hat and bows. “Until then.”

That’s so corny, Benny. But Julia giggles before going inside, and I think how it might not be the worst move anyone’s ever made.


The sun’s starting to come up over the edge of the mountain, and by the time we make it back to Benny’s house the first rays beat down on Vader’s rock. There, extra full, round and happy, warming in the sunrise, he’s curled up and sleeping.

Benny says, “You see there’s the dialectic, Doug. One life continues, the other has ended. Life and death. Happy and Sad. Right there, on that rock.”

I touch Vader’s skin, and say, “Maybe that’s why I don’t secure his cage so tight.”


Sonnet II: Trip to Set the Course



Sonnet II: Trip to Set the Course

Love’s tears they fall and add more song to rain.

Hide me, my soul, from hiding me in you.

The echoes of a sinking ship remain . . .  

. . . no love. Oh love, you plan Love’s fateful coup.


We dock where sea mud seeps between our toes

a fling and sting, on sun burnt skin, we catch

a breath of chimes, waves crash, throw down our clothes

for tempest furies won’t destroy our match


Clocks off, rain too turns off, no time, your eyes . . .

blue notes, a journey song to start the dance . . .

fingers unwrap the wrapping of the guise,

your skin, my skin, the map for mapping chance.


Let loose silk sails undone by Love’s strange storm.

We spin the wheel for lands where waters warm.

hot air baloon

Poet’s Notes: Inspired by love, my writing group  at The Prose Stylist, and Yeats.

Special thank you to Lorraine City, Sabine Hasicka, Douglas Hill, and Rob Santana for their excellent critique guidance. Thank you, as always, to my Scribophile friends.

The Roadkill Keeper

phone booth

The Roadkill Keeper

Walter eased his moving truck into the rest stop. He rolled down a tinted window once he knew no humans were around to notice that no one seemed to be driving the truck. His nose and whiskers twitched with the scent of skunk–the one that had just been killed across the highway. In eighty two  seconds the city clean-up guys aka the Shovel Masters would be at the site, and he needed to get to that skunk before they scraped him up for the incinerator. But another smell, light chocolate, cut through his thoughts, made his racoon nose twitch. Distracted him.

His damn nose, even death hadn’t tampered with that. “Focus. The kid’s soul depends on it.”

Lifting the carcass into the bag without raising alarms about a dead skunk floating in midair,  that was always the trick for Walter. He stepped out of the truck. Red, blue, green M & M’s were scattered on the rest stop picnic table. It wasn’t his stomach that made him pause, but an instinct reminding him of who he’d been. A scavenger. A racoon. Ten seconds is all he would have needed to eat them, but the squeal of the garbage truck, still in the distance, meant the ten seconds were needed. What was an M&M compared to eternity for a dead skunk anyway? Everything. If he didn’t get to the incident site before they did, time would run out on eternity. Goodbye M&M’s.

The cars moved through Walter like wind on garbage day. The skunk lay splayed in the middle of the road. He began the peel, but he had to be careful, couldn’t make it look obvious. He needed the surrounding drivers to think it was the wind lifting patches of fur. The volume on the squeal of the garbage truck meant he had about ten seconds. If he didn’t move fast, he’d lose his chance.

Oh not now. Not now. Skunky’s soul rose, hovered next to his body, his eyes darted everywhere. Walter wished he had time to explain a few things, like the wavering solids around them, same as heat off the pavement on a summer day, except it was cold. There were formulas and complicated answers about afterlife, which needed explaining. For now, Walter reached out his paw to greet the skunk, but too late. The truck with its ‘We Kill the Roadkill’ motto stopped in the emergency lane, a few feet ahead.

The Shovel Masters, with noses covered, frowns on their faces, began scraping fur and skin. The skunk’s small body hung off the  shovel. Walter would’ve loved to pull it away, but he couldn’t. He had to wait until they weren’t looking, and since they were looking all the time, he could only watch  as they dumped the little body into the pile of junk in back of their truck. The skunk’s confused soul sat on top of it all, looking around.

Curse those M&M’s. That distraction now meant Skunky traveling the maze of eternity without his guidance. Damn, he hated his nose.

The truck hissed and its gears squealed into motion. Walter’s gut tightened in determination. He wasn’t letting this one go. Skunky was his. A few hops through traffic, back to the rest stop, and the door to his moving truck squealed open, keys turned in the ignition, windows rolled up. He jammed his paw on the extension attached to his accelerator and with a lurched forward, the moving truck sped out of the rest stop in pursuit.

Trees, wind, and sky rushed past. In the rearview mirror,  his golden eyes, amidst a bandit face, set on his target. A right turn, a couple of swerves, acceleration to sixty miles per hour as he weaved  in and out of traffic, and he was on their tail. They exited, paused at a light. A few feet in front of him the kid lay on the junk. If he tried to grab him now, the Shovel Masters would see him. The light turned, Skunky sat on top of his dead body, touching it, looking like he had no idea about anything. Hang in there Skunk boy, I’m not losing sight of you now.

On the next stretch, Walter pulled up close to their bumper, then into the right lane. He honked until the guys glared. Next stop light, Walter pulled up, rolled down the tinted window and one of them yelled, “What the what?”

He felt the same pleasure every time he heard the response.

“There’s no one driving that thing?”

Walter whispered, “But I’m here.”

The guys got out, all doors open, the two of them peered into the weird moving truck that had just been chasing them.

“Lucky they took off,” the larger Shovel Master adjusted his pants.

This was the moment, his last chance. Walter slid past and  crawled onto the pile of junk on top of their truck. Stepped on metal, tree branches, and all variety of debris.

The small body weighed almost nothing, the ghost of it lingered near. With a roll, a turn, and three swift leaps he made it to the back of the moving truck. One pull, and the latch lifted the giant door up to the roof of the cabin. He gently placed the skunk’s body inside with the others.

Before he could shut the door, the skunk ghost said, “What is this place?”

Walter watched him stare at the pile of bird carcasses; wings, feathers, beaks. The other animal spirits floated inside the cabin of the moving van.

“I know it don’t look pretty now, but next stop, the Great Racoon. He’ll explain it all to you.”

The others nodded, but the skunk ghost still wanted answers.”Who are you?”

“Just a knight of the road.”

That shut the kid up for a bit. He’d need some quiet to make sense of things.

truck for Roadkill

The Break-Up Artist



Girls dated Brian not because of the initial attraction– Caroline typed the opening to her article on break-ups. She had to give it to the  guy, at least he knew how to do it right. Not like she and James. Forget James. They were off for now and she’d like to keep it that way. Maybe Brian could teach her. Funny thought. She tapped her phone and listened to the rest of the interviews.

Gina: “Oh My God! A million rose petals falling out of my locker. It was kind of embarrassing, but cool at the same time, you know? No guy just does that, so it didn’t shock me too much when the note fell out. I mean I knew about him. My eyes were wide open.”

Caroline: “What did it say?”

Gina: “I wish you a lifetime of roses and love . . . only without me. Brian.”

Caroline: “Wow. That is both corny and romantic. And Sad. Thank you.”

It didn’t add up. A small lanky guy, without much sense of fashion; green wooly sweaters, mustard corduroys, had the highest track record for dating. Thirty girls and thirty break-ups in two years. Impressive. Why would he go to all that trouble? Why would any girl put herself through it?

Her heart skipped to the next interview.

Megan: “So we’d been together a month and I kind of knew it was coming. His hair’s all messed up – but cute as he drives up in his convertible with his Songs for Megan playlist on. Right? I mean he made one just for me.”

Pause. What songs would he put on a Songs for Caroline playlist? She shook her head. Focus. Play.

“He’s kissing my neck. We’re making out at each stoplight on the way to the Overlook. All the while the love songs are playing, until the last song. We park. The bay lights around us, motor boats zipping by, and get this, he says, ‘The End.’ Nothing else, just the Smiths singing I Know it’s Over and his words. Like in the fairy tales, but messed-up version. I barely cried, it was so sweet. Classy.”

Caroline felt something she desperately wished she didn’t – the wish that maybe he hadn’t met the right girl. Ugh! That was not the right place to go with these interviews. No. Stop. “So, what happened? ”

Megan: “Nothing. Not with Brian. No kissing or talking or anything after. I never had to worry we’d have one of those relationships like you and James–by the way are you guys on or off these days? Because if off I wouldn’t mind . . .”

She didn’t mean to smile again, but it happened, another smile. Who gets away with that sort of thing? All these girls, knowing he’d break up, still lined up to date him? She had their perspective but now it was time for his.

She texted him: I’d like you to take me through one of your break-ups.

Three dots circled in a wave with his name beneath, then: I thought you’d never ask, but shouldn’t we date first?

Caroline: No! Just an interview. You know for the College Website?

Brian: Well who am I to stand in the way of good journalism. Where shall we begin?


They began in a restaurant but ended at Ruins State Beach. On the steamed up front window of his car, Caroline drew a heart. The phone kept recording, her notes held by a single paperclip. Inside the heart, he drew a girl with a crown. “You should have been an artist instead of a journalist.”

Next to it, she traced the lines for his body, his head, and a lopsided crown. “All food for my artistic soul.”

“And we shall feast tonight!” His hand raised in proclamation. “And I shall take this–” He pulled the paperclip off her notes. “–and release you from the bonds of objective reporting.”

“I don’t need any releasing.” But the sheets of paper were loose now and the paperclip was in his pocket. Cold steam wet her fingers as she wiped away the scribbles. “Back to the questions. Is the beach your next big move? Readers want to know.”

“Hmm, the readers want answers, do they?” He helped with her sweater. Goosebumps rose on her neck as she felt his fingers adjusting her collar.

Outside the car, a DANGER: Land inaccessible at high tide sign stood posted at the head of the boardwalk.


Past the marshy creek, white foamy waves of moonlight crashed on the beach. Crashed again. Her skirt needed straightening – but why did it matter? She was just feeling what the other girls must have felt. She let him guide her outside, let him kiss her on the cheek. A friendly kiss, but it stirred her waves.

A wooden walkway wove through the reeds. Frogs croaked, while she asked, “So what’s the deal with all these break ups?”

“Don’t you have your own off and on again thing?”

She needed an elastic to catch her hair from misbehaving in the wind. “I guess James and I will always love each other, but you know how it goes-” She tied her hair into a knot. A tight one. “-but then, maybe you don’t?”

“Ahh, the slow and steady break-up. Purest form of torture known to man.”

“And woman.” She snorted when she laughed, and covered her face. Leaned against the wooden railing of the boardwalk. “This isn’t how interviews usually go.”

His shirt was rolled up at the sleeves. He touched her hand. “How do they usually go?”

Man, were his eyes blue, intense. “Right. Other thoughts on break-ups?”

“How about we pretend, like we’ve been dating for a while.” His fingers on her shoulder.

“Yeah, what would be happening at this stage?” The seagulls fighting the waves.

He leaned in, and she felt his lips. The stubble on his chin against her chin. She pulled an inch away. The interview. He was only showing her his ways. The bridge stood above the marsh. “If we start something it won’t end well, will it?”

“Only the full moon knows.” He tried to pull her in again, but the word ‘full’ had sounded like ‘fool’ and it was enough to snap her to attention. She stepped out of the space they’d created and onto a path of towering sea oats.

“What happened to you, Brian? Did you get hurt in a relationship or something?”

He kicked a flat rock into the marsh and it skipped once, twice, and sank into quiet.


Out on the beach, salty wind and waves lapped around them as they paused every few feet to pick up a shell, sand dollar, sea glass. Ahead of his silhouette stood a partial turret, buckling from centuries of high tides. The peninsula leading to the ruins grew thinner with each wave.

She had waded in further than planned and cold ripples circled her knees when he asked, “What was your first break-up like?”

“Typical. No call back. Then, Instagram posts with another girl. Yours?”

He grimaced, reached out for her hand. First it felt cold, he’d been picking through wet sand – but combined, hands holding, his warmth eventually came through. “There wasn’t one because  she didn’t realize we’d been dating.”

“So you weren’t really together then?” She wished for their feet to sink deep, deep enough to keep them in this spot. Forever.

But he walked on, and the castle  towered only a few hundred feet away now. She caught up. “So what’s the next big plan? The I Love you, but . . . written in sand or something like that?”

“Hmm, not a bad idea.” He fumbled with the paperclip and pretended to jot down something in a note pad, before he turned to continue their walk toward the castle. “You, Caroline, deserve scrolls filled with love sonnets, not just words dissolving into waves.”

The stairs of the half-submerged patio; sandy and slick beneath her feet. Eight barnacle encrusted columns towered over the patio. Snails clung to the bottom, waiting for high tide.

“Do you like it?” His echo among the fallen rooms. Rooms, she imagined, had once been used for dancing.

“What is this place?” The walls repeated back to her.

He hopped onto the step of a broken stairwell. “A Dad-type of king built it for his beautiful Mrs. Queen once, but when they argued about the colors on the walls, or shade of carpet, all fell to ruin. Their kingdom, the castle . . . ”

Behind her, through the remains of a window, dark waves now covered the thin strip of peninsula. “Why didn’t they just divorce? It doesn’t have to be everybody’s fate.”

“The only option out of marriage was death. So, on a moonlit night, as they danced up on the balcony–” He pointed up to where an empty door frame stood in the wall, pieces of its stone lay around them. “–the king let her fingers slip out of his hands. She fell into ocean. Her body swept away while his spirit was dragged out by the tide. Only their heir, a prince, remained in the castle.”

“That’s a horrible thing to live through.” Caroline shivered. “So what happened to the prince?”

“He dated one girl but only in his dreams.” He glanced at her, eyes wide quietly when he said, “Until one day she was with someone else. Off than on, and off. I think his name was King James or something..”

Now she felt him watching her steadily. She felt heat rising to her cheeks. “But how did that lead to . . .  ”

“Maybe he hoped that she’d finally notice the skinny guy in the corner.” Waves washed over the stairs, and her feet. He leaned against the brick wall, smiled but without moving his eyes away. “Plus, she needed to learn how to properly end something.”

“Well, maybe if a girl’s with the right person there doesn’t need to be an end.” She had wanted to ask in her neutral, journalist’s voice, but the words choked out. “I know you have your reputation and all, but why don’t I scrap the article for the paper.”

He touched her chin. “We’d ruin it though.”

“Ruin what?”

The waves boomed in the hollow stone room. Whispered on retreat. Boomed again.

“You hear that?” he asked.

“The whispers?”

“The king and queen, still arguing into eternity.”

“Show me the break-up then. Let’s just get it over with. We can head back before high tide takes over the beach.”

“It’s not how it’s supposed to happen.” He inched his hand down her arm. “There’s a tower room upstairs . . . “

He pulled her up the staircase to a room which had a balcony years ago, but now looked out onto moonlit ocean. They stood in the door frame, the beach completely gone with no way back toward civilization.

Down on his knee, he reached for her hand. “Caroline, will you forever be my perfect memory; never to be shattered by arguments over boring conversations, forgotten birthdays, or badly worded texts.” He slipped a ring made of sea glass and paperclip on her finger.“Promise, you’ll agree to break-up and let our love live forever.”

Caroline felt the ring slip on her finger. “I will-”

The smooth glass touched her skin. The End? But he was standing. Leaning in. Kissing her and whispering, “Interview over.”

Her phone slipped from her fingers and into the waves below.



Leila vs. Santa: A Correspondence on the Truth


From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 10 December 2018 10:30 pm
To: Santa <>
Subject: My Christmas List: I want nothing.

Dear Santa,

I think it’s time we ended this facade, don’t you think?


From: Santa <>
Sent: 11 December 2018 2:36 am
To: Leila
Subject:  How about a CD by that guy you liked in the Christmas special?

Dear Leila,

Can you for once make things easier? (So I can cope better when Ms. Claus makes them harder.) My delete button seems broken.

I do want to be more honest with you, with Mrs. Claus. You’re smart. Beautiful. Just like her. I’ll put it in your hands: Would you rather know everything?


From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 20 December 2018 1:05 am
To: Santa
Subject: My Clue List

Dear Santa,

No one ever cares about what I want. You know what you’re great at?  Making everything like a 100 times more complicated. Why don’t you talk to Mrs. Claus about your Truth Problem.

Clue: I’m twelve.
Second Clue: I’ve never listened to a CD, but then it’s not me clinging to the past.

BTW I told Dad I liked his new apartment, even though it stinks like wet dog. It made him happy. So no, lying doesn’t bother me.  If it’s all the same to you, how about you keep me on the nice list and I’ll be on the lookout for the red and white lights of your sleigh.

Thanks for not listening.

P.S. So are you dropping off my presents at Mom and Bill’s or Dad’s house?

Third Clue: Please get Dad a housekeeper or share one of your elves. He doesn’t even have a tree.

From: Santa <>
Sent: 24 December 2018 4 am
To: Leila
Subject: Not the Big Truth but some unpleasant ones

Dear Leila,

Ho Ho Ho! Do you know how much money it costs to hire a housekeeper? I know for a fact your Dad’s cleaning at 3 am when he’s up thinking about your Mom. Maybe he’s not as tidy as her, but I guarantee you there’s no dust on his soul. Also, fifty bucks for a tree that’s been cut out of its home environment is not my idea of a happy holiday. As for speaking with Mrs. Claus she isn’t picking up calls.

Your list?

From: Santa <>
Sent: 25 December 2018 4 am
To: Leila

Subject: Your Gift

Attached: Macy’s Gift Card

Go buy yourself something good.


 From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 25 December 2018 2:30 pm
To: Santa
Subject:  Getting nothing would’ve been better.

Bill thinks we should put our gift cards together and buy Mom something extra nice. She’s been kind of bummed lately. Dad’s been sitting in front of the television eating cheese doodles all day. Which BTW he should share with me instead of saying they’re bad and then eating the whole bag. I doubt he’s taking me to the mall.

Mrs. Claus probably has good reasons for not calling you.


From: Santa <>
Sent: 26 December 2018 3:30 am
To: Leila
Subject: Tell Bill to mind his own business.

Dear Leila,

For the record your dad does not ‘eat cheese doodles’ all day. What about when the two of you listened to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by the Carpenters? Of course, he’ll find time to take you to the mall.

How’d your mom like that holiday card your Dad gave her?

Love you always,

From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 27 December 2018 10:05 pm
To: Santa
Subject: I’m not putting my faith in anything ever again.

Mom opened Dad’s card and crumpled it up. Bill slithered in to kiss her. He told her to forget about it. I rescued it from the garbage though. It’s a one-of-a-kind. Could be worth a lot one day.


From: Santa <>
Sent: 27 December 2018 10:05 pm
To: Santa
Subject: Leila’s gift, take two.

Dear Leila,

Look in the front door mailbox.


From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 29 December 2018 11:00 pm
To: Santa
Subject: You are so messed up, but thank you.

Dear Santa,

I’m putting the photo next to my bed. Mom says it’s the last good moment we had together before everything went south. Dad and I were looking up at flashing lights of what looked like a plane, but he said it was Santa’s sleigh. I used to be a dreamer like him, but now I’m more of a realist.

So these emails are just from you, right Dad?


From: Santa <>
Sent: 30 December 2018 9 am
To: Leila
Subject: The Truth Revealed

Dear Leila,

Your Mom said that about the picture? Your ideas on realists and dreamers, IMHO, stink. Even if your dad has a few things to figure out, he’s right about the sleigh.

Truth #1: I will refer you to the “from” portion of the address for an answer to your question. (Plus does your Dad write these kinds of letters?)

Truth #2: I love your mother, more than anyone else in the world. I hope that doesn’t sound too weird.

Love you,

From: Leila Harrison <>
Sent: 31 December 2018 11:45 pm
To: Santa
Subject: Thank you for stating the obvious.

Dear Santa,

No, my dad does not write these kinds of letters. So if you don’t go into some sort of  deep slumber after the holidays I’d like to keep e-mailing. Is that okay?

And yeah it is weird what you wrote about my mom, especially because you’re already married, but I’ll work with it.


From: Santa <>
Sent: 1 January, 2019 12:01 am
To: Leila
Subject: Yes

Dear Leila,

Happy New Year!

I’d love nothing more than to keep talking with you, kid.




Sarah the Creepy


Baby brother’s been crying three months straight. Colic they say, but she knows different. Sarah calls him Blobby. He’s unhappy about something. She’s unhappy too. Her mother and father check on him. They can’t stop him. They don’t know how. They don’t know him.

A pumpkin burns in her window. Sarah admires the sharp teeth she’d cut. The mouth is extra wide, wide enough to swallow a baby. It’s midnight and Blobby cries on. His screeching howls in her ears. She needs sleep. She needs to rip out her ears but that would hurt. That would be weird. But it’s Blobby who’s making her weird and on Halloween it’s okay to be crazy. On Halloween a creepy girl could do anything.


Bacon smile and eggs for breakfast. Blobby’s eggs shake when he screams. Sarah turns her plate upside down, the frown being the important part. She cuts the yolk eyes and they ooze dark yellow. Blobby throws his eggs, reaches out for hers. Screams a Wolf-Man howl.

Mother wipes up the mess. “What’s my gloomy teenager going as this year?”

“A murderer.”

Quiet. Sizzling meat in the pan. Tea kettle whistles.

“What kind of murderer?”

Sarah holds up a picture in her phone. Long black hair tangles against the model’s pasty skin. Black lipstick and hollow eyes.

“Aha, a Creepy Girl. Fun,” Mother thinks she’s still a princess.

Blobby pauses with the screaming. Sarah practices the face. The one where she smiles only in the corners of her mouth and makes psycho eyes. He reaches out his hand toward her. Mother shifts and glances at Blobby. He widens his eyes back, reaches for Sarah’s still face. Keep reaching Baby Brother. “I need a headless baby.”

Her mother pauses before chewing. “And where do we get one of those?”

Sarah lets her smile fade. “I will have to find a doll and . . . ” She slowly draws a finger across her throat. Lets her teeth show. Blobby copies the movement and screams.

“Why don’t you look in the garage, in the box with your old dolls. If you see something to distract Bobby bring that out too.”

Something to make him quiet. Her mother doesn’t want to hear about what would actually make him quiet. Sarah shrugs her shoulders. She will play along anyway.


Her dolls; pretty, dressed up, smiling. Smiling like they’d never heard a baby cry in their life. Buried among her dolls the unicorn. Cuddles she’d named him. She hadn’t felt Cuddles since Blobby arrived. She could cry tears and make them spill into a box of dolls and unicorns but she knows cuddles or tears won’t make Blobby stop. Best to close up the tears. Tape them shut in a cardboard box. Her dolls have no idea about stopping babies. She’d have to find an old weathered one, like the ones at a garage sale or thrift store. A doll who’d seen things, one that didn’t matter. For now, sacrificing Cuddles would have to do.

Here Blobby, here, does this unicorn make you smile? From his high chair, he grabs the unicorn’s hair, rips it out. Stuffs it in his mouth and screams. Mother frowns, lifts him, and gives her a look because animals with fur aren’t right for babies. “He could choke. It could get caught. It could strangle him.”

But Sarah isn’t bothered. She knew it wouldn’t work. She’s not bothered because now she knows something that will. She’s formed a plan. A plan to bring back the quiet and the still.


 The thrift store smells like the cemetery. Clothes squished into rows of metal racks. Down the middle aisle a row of toys. At the end is a bucket of plastic dolls. Arms entwine with legs, dirty dresses, and blonde and brown haired heads stare at the ceiling. Their bodies spill over the rim. At the bottom lies a naked one-armed doll with patches of blonde hair missing. Her blue eyes are painted on. Sarah rocks the baby. Its mouth opens and makes a sound, like a sheep bleating. She fingers the plastic neck. A girl loved her once, but ripped her arm off,  gave her away. Now she’s alone. Maybe she doesn’t like that feeling. Sarah smiles her killer smile. Holds the doll by her neck. One twist should be enough.


Halloween night. Sarah stands next to her bed. Black fake hair grazes her hands. Her hands hold the doll. Her right hand looks extra white when it grips the head. Sarah thinks of the girl who loved the doll and if the girl misses it. There’s a small bleat when she lifts her. Reminds her of Blobby. The crying. Somewhere in the house he’s crying now.  That girl could spare a doll. The plastic feels hot between her fingers. Twist the neck. Once.

A knock on the door. Blobby’s crying right outside. “Sarah, could you take him just for a sec, so I can warm up a bottle?” Mother walks in and Blobby’s red from crying. Mouth set. Mother eyes the doll but  Blobby screams and she leaves him with Sarah.

Blobby’s tensed tight. His body hot and sweaty. His curls sticky against his head. He points  his hand toward the doll’s hollow eyes.

“You want her?”

He puts the doll’s face in his mouth. Bites. Let’s his drool cover her face. Mother rushes in with the milk and halts halfway across the room. “Don’t let him suck on that. God knows where it’s been.”

Blobby startles. Screams and tenses in Sarah’s hands. Mother takes him back.”Great.”  The door stays open and Sarah shuts it quietly. There’s only one way of stopping Blobby. They all know that.

The doll’s head, wet now. Blobby’s drool slips down her neck. Sarah feels the wetness between her fingers. One pull and the neck would break. Twice.  She feels the neck loosen between her fingers. It’s just practice.

She turns out the lights. Sits in the dark holding the body. Feels the spot where the neck is attached. Sarah’s no longer a girl. She’s someone capable of murder. The sound of Mother shutting Blobby’s door. Wait. Wait out his crying. Wait until he cries himself to sleep. Sarah won’t wait. She walks toward his room. The neck between her fingers. Blobby’s screaming bloody murder and she needs all of them to sleep. He needs to be quiet.

Sarah stands over the edge of the crib. She lifts the doll’s body, head first, toward him. He reaches for the hair and grabs hold of the head, tugs, and screams. A pop. The head rolls off the body, out of his fingers, and onto the bed. The body no longer a doll. A creature. She holds it out to him. His fingers slide inside the hole made by the neck.

A soft quiet “dah,” sound escapes from his mouth. And a laugh, like she’d never heard. A horse loud laugh, over and over again, as he lifts the body and pulls it close. Squeezes it. Sucks on where the head had been. He yawns. Laughs again. The creepy doll tight in his fingers, next to his body. Blobby squeezes it, smiles at it and Sarah, before his breathing settles into a quiet rhythm. Her mother will say he likes the doll because it soothes his teething. But Sarah knows better and can’t help smiling, not just with her lips, but with everything, with her heart, because they have a new game. We can play some more later, baby brother. Lots more. It’ll keep everything quiet.