A Lucky Misfortune

“This is delicious,” stated my date, mouth filled, beautiful as ever. I never thought I could be attracted to the way someone ate til now. She’d suggested this place and told me how wonderful the menu options were. We had crossed paths at the local Sunday market; she had been selling her homemade soaps and I bought a hundred dollars’ worth as an excuse to ask for her number. Her name was Susie and she had moved here a couple months ago. A fresh face from the limited stock of women that roamed this tiny town.

Our waitress stopped by to refill our waters, avoiding any eye contact with both of us. Mostly avoiding Susie. The waitress was nervous—or I assumed so—she looked pale, as if this was her first time being a server. She stayed closer to me, acting as if Suzie wasn’t there. Had I missed something or was I just being crazy? I looked around: it was as if every worker was avoiding Susie’s gaze. It was odd. She was beautiful, and, from what she’d told me, she came here a lot.

As the meal came to an end, the waitress delivered the bill, and I handed her my card. Upon returning, she dropped fortune cookies on the table.

“Their fortune cookies are the best; they make them from scratch,” Suzie boasted. I cracked mine open: Beauty is the devil’s best tactic.

No surprise at the random and generic comment given on the tiny paper. Opening the book to retrieve my card however, I noticed a note on the receipt written in bright red ink, Please. Get home safe.

A comment like this from a server wasn’t unusual, but something felt off about it. Suzie peered over, probably wondering what I could be making such a face over.

“Oh, they write that for everyone,” she chuckled.

The multiple beers that I’d consumed during dinner seemed to be kicking in. “I need to use the bathroom before we go,” I said as I rose from my chair. Practically racing to the bathroom, I opened the door and grabbed the closest stall.

I zipped up my pants and proceeded to the sink, adjusting my collar and making sure I still looked decent. Decent enough. As I washed my hands, I noticed a fortune cookie on the corner of the counter. Pretty sure it wasn’t there when I entered, but I had been focused on making it to the toilet, so maybe I missed it? I picked it up and it was still warm to the touch: “freshly made,” I remembered. I unwrapped the still-soft cookie to retrieve the fortune, hoping it would be better than my first.

Unraveling the greasy paper to encounter the same red ink, I read,

She is not who she says she is. Don’t end up like the others.

Missing Ingredient

Caramellic bitterness explodes the kitchen. I’ve turned my back on a saucepan of sugar for a second, and now it’s more tarpit than syrup. Dumping my disappointment down the sink, I re-gather ingredients: shredded coconut, raw sugar, a cup of water, four cardamom pods, resting in the cracks on my countertop, and a teaspoon of ghee. I’m about to mix the sugar into the coconut but freeze. Something’s missing.

I wrap my knuckles on the counter with culinary frustration. This recipe is a letter with no address. How do I move forward?

Nariyal Methai is a simple complexity. Previous attempts were catastrophic. First attempt, forgot the ghee and it fell apart. Second attempt, too much ghee made soup. No more mistakes. I phone a higher power.


– You’re finally getting married!

– Mum, how did you get marriage from Nariyal Methai?

– There’s two reasons people in Fiji make those sweets. Weddings or excess coconuts. And I don’t think coconuts are in season in Shoreditch right now.

– Have you got Dadi’s recipe?

– She never wrote anything down. No schooling. She couldn’t write her name. Why do you need a recipe? You were there when she made it. You were seven. Never left her side as she cooked. … So are you getting married?

– I’ll call tomorrow.


I hang up. Memories trespass my mind. I’m leaning on the kitchen counter, but I could be anywhere. Anywhere on the planet. Anywhere in time. And the river of time takes me back to the tropics.


Sultry is a Suva afternoon. The air is sticky as guava pulp. Cicadas sing incessantly. On a veranda, I sit on the floor and gaze at my grandmother. Dadi’s round as an orange. Her skin shines like molasses. Her sari is a sail, white, and dream-like. Seated on a board with a serrated edge, she scrapes the flesh from coconuts. She can’t speak English. I know no Hindi. We watch each other like chess players. The cruel blade cuts her. I wince. She wraps her hand in cotton and continues as if pain is endured, not healed. A tear escapes her eye. The liquid evacuee falls into the mixture as she stirs and shapes it into balls. She gives me one. Lightness. Coolness. Like snowfall in my mouth.


The mixture grows impatient with my reminiscing. I add a pinch of salt and taste. It does the trick. My tongue remembers Fiji. I shape the mixture into spheres ready for chilling and consider Dadi. She was denied paper and pen, yet her recipes are letters traveling through time. And this dessert, a letter lost now found, brings sweet melancholy. My grandmother fed her family happiness every day of her life. But what of hers? Did she dream of stars, flakes of coconut strewn across the universe? Who would she have been if she could just write her name? I reach for a sweet but hesitate and refrigerate them. I walk away. I feel full.

Giovanni’s Other Room


After the lack of reply to my last two letters, I thought I’d stop writing. Perhaps the prison authorities are censoring my mail. Perhaps you have left Paris. Perhaps—it is a harsh winter—the mail trucks slid off icy roads and burst into flames.

Perhaps I think you are too numb to reply. I can see you leaving my letters on a kitchen table until nightfall, and then reading them while drunk. Afterwards, you slump towards the largest window in the house to stare at the moon and the frost and your own reflection. You think grand, melancholic thoughts about how tomorrow will be “the most terrible morning of your life.” Yet it’s not you the guillotine waits for.

But I have to write, whether my words reach you or not. You once asked me, in disbelief, what kind of a life two men can have together. This I must tell you.

There was a prisoner—Andrzej. He was Polish, and he spoke little French. It doesn’t matter. Where words fail, eyes do the talking—eventually, when you bring yourself to lift them from the bare stone floor. And when you do, you see from across the prison yard that he is handsome like you wouldn’t believe, strong and kind. He was a builder, with hands like two blocks of granite. With these hands, he very delicately brushed snow from his shoulder. With eyes and hands, you can build a language.

Eyes screwed shut: I didn’t sleep; did you?

Slow blink: I love you.

Repeated exchanges, like long-cohabiting lovers saying the same things to each other daily…

Here, there are no secrets. We have no glamour left, no masks with which to seduce. We see and know each other at our worst. The sordid mess of our lives screams and rebounds off the walls.

Did you read about the riot here? (I’m sure they will censor this—but I have nothing to lose.) I didn’t escape, alas. But something happened: Andrzej came to my room—my cell, I mean. We had an hour together amid the chaos and confusion. Amid my fetid sheets, dirty clothes, and lice. Nothing else: just another’s presence, a hand in mine, knowing that, if our lives had gone differently and fate had allowed it, he would’ve liked nothing more than to stay. To mix his sheets with mine, to carve his shape into my mattress, to watch our breaths interlace on the window and make beautiful frozen shapes.

That was Andrzej. He is no longer of this earth, as they say. I hope they will take me soon, that this will be my last letter, for I have nothing else to say to you, David, except that you are no longer in my thoughts. I only hope that, one day, you will put the bottle down, leave the window, stand before a mirror, and not look away until what you have seen is unshakable.

Once yours,



I don’t know where I’m headed, only that I have to go.

Go away from this room with a crackling fire and splintered wooden floors, away from the guests who throw me sympathetic glances. The kind of glances that say, I’m glad it didn’t happen to my husband.

I slip out the backdoor, shoving my feet into his snow boots. They’re two sizes too large, and the only shoes I’ve worn in weeks. The freshly fallen snow crunches under my feet. The air is breathlessly cold, the kind of icy air that buries itself into your chest. The kind of cold no fires, no cups of hot tea can shake.

A sliver of a moon—Alejandro always could have told me what phase. The stars that twinkle in the velvety black sky remind me of the glitter my niece Emma scatters on almost every painting for kindergarten. It is enough to find my way across our yard, out the wooden gate Alejandro kept saying he was going to replace. I stumble once, twice, but don’t fall.

I use my cell phone light to find the sidewalk. By now I’m shivering, despite Alejandro’s wool coat. The one I always joked made him look like an old man. His scent is already gone—it left the day he did, as if he never wore it at all.

I’ve been visiting Alejandro every day, though my parents don’t know it. I say I’m headed to Starbucks to work on freelance articles, even though I haven’t written a single word since he died.

I wonder how long it will take them—with the guests that they are entertaining, the warm cocoa and gingersnaps—to notice I haven’t returned.

His grave is fresh and new, smooth as a baby’s skin. The thought would make me cry, but I am too numb to cry. I lie with my head against his grave. I press my mittens to the ground, as if I can feel his heart beat just once more. The wind whistles in my ear, a painful, potent reminder that I am still alive.

I proposed to Alejandro on a ski trip. The one and only time I went skiing—and I spent more of it off my skis than on. What if we never make it back? I’d asked, panicked, as he admitted he wasn’t sure what slope we were on. I’d already proposed; he’d already accepted.

Falling asleep in the snow with you, he said, kissing me, wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

They say it’s the shortest day of the year. It is also the longest night. Solstice—a fitting day to return home.

But just as I close my eyes, I feel it.

Imperceptible. A tiny kick. So subtle I think I imagine it.

“Alejandro?” I whisper.

The missed period. The nausea. All of which I labeled as stress, another symptom of loss.

Our child kicks again. Only then do I rise, braving the walk home. Not to Alejandro, but to light.


From a photo album, from behind my cherubic face, a note fell out and landed on my foot. Neatly written. One page. My father’s handwriting.

“I wish,” he said, “that my father had been around to see you.”

It was dated October 19, 1971.

The day I came to be.

There are stories I would learn—

The horse in the backyard.

The watch in the attic.

The flood in the cellar.

His serious, black-and-white wedding photo would sit on our mantelpiece, almost expressionless, as if love were not the reason he was standing there. Like he was in a line to buy something that everyone else in the neighborhood already owned. He was just the last to submit to getting one.

I had never seen the letter before. Tucked there so perhaps it might fall out when I was in my fifties and needing reminders of where I came from. Instead, it fell out in my thirties, when different stories were being told of my grandfather.

The girls in the barn.

The two-by-four and the boy.

The daughters and aunts and nieces.

The basement.

The uncles traveling to Weymouth Cemetery on a drunken night and urinating all over his gravestone.

I held the letter and read it in its entirety, a father of his first son reaching out to a father of his last son. He was on a plane, returning from a business trip, sad that he had not witnessed my arrival, but wanting to share it with someone. So proud in that moment. So free of the truth that half his family knew. The women.

“I wish that my father had been around to see you.”

I glanced at the photo album, at the opposite page. The day of my birth became the first two to three months. The proud father stood at a white marble dish, joined by his wife holding an older child. A daughter. A priest perched between them, all stuffy white robes, stern face. A christening.

Flanked by the family from behind. The patriarch included. Thick as an outhouse. Dark suit. Hands crossed at his belly.

I checked the date on the note again.

I read the first line again.

“I wish that my father had been around to see you.”

And there he was. Seeing me. In moments, holding me. A rough set of lips kissing my bald head. An attempt at a smile for the camera.

Attempts at smiles all around me.

How would a man not know when his father died? Write me a eulogy as if he were…?

All the good encapsulated, insulated in that form, outlasting the other stories.

I folded the note.

I replaced it behind the baby photo.

I closed the album.

The Art of Pivot and Flit

Dear Septimus,

I’m certain you’re surprised by this letter, but an extraordinary revelation has reached me, and in part it is thanks to you. Yesterday evening, as my sister Rachel placidly embroidered and described her day, I found I heard the songs of moths that danced above the mantelpiece. Their bawdiness is inexhaustible. Whilst a pair warbled obscene duets, a third flapped vile wings and swooped towards my pompadour. My hand slapped up a second too late, creating an updraft that drove the creature into my ear.

The little thing’s scream vibrated my cochlea. I shook my head, hoping to crumple her antennae, but that only prompted shrieks more deafening.

Aware of Rachel eyeing me askance, I hissed at the moth to calm herself.

In response, she rudely spat, “Wing spreader! Soul spiker!”

I had no doubt she referred to my pastime of collecting butterflies, which some believe to be souls of the deceased. She muttered of the net she’s seen me carry. To feel her dread, you’d think it a blood-soaked sword.

Rachel asked with concern after my health. I lied that I was perfectly well and excused myself to bed.

Eager to placate the insect in my ear, I vowed to henceforth indulge my passion for lepidoptery only in pursuit of butterflies, never moths. At that, her fright did subside.

In the darkness, I listened with intrigue as my moth detailed the freedom to be had if I learnt to exploit my femininity. She sighed of love, of lust, of things I’ve never dared consider, and described flirtations – the art of pivot and flit, not to mention the alluring power of fragrance.

And I recalled you, the chorister I adored who betrayed me. For seven years you moaned my name as though it scorched your mouth but turned to others to sooth the burn.

That’s enough to sour any woman.

What if I were to collect men as I gather butterflies?

It’s a shocking idea, yet one that makes my heart waltz. Having experienced your callousness, I’m certain a man would be just as agonized to be dallied with and abandoned.

My moth has taught me I have that power. At that thought, I confess, I feel a dizzying thrill.

My dreams last night brimmed with nectar-rich blooms and sweetly rotting windfalls.

When dawn came, I woke to find my moth gone. I would mourn her if it wasn’t for the glimpse of one shadowed wing beyond the windowpane.

I fold this letter to resemble a moth’s wing and hope it will reach your hands and heart. Too many I’ve sent you without response – surely all cannot have been lost!

Today I vow no more letters to you and no more moths for me. Instead I shall seek pleasure in studying butterflies and pinning the hearts of men.

I owe you deep gratitude for contributing to this plan.

Yours in earnestness,

M. F.

Choose your letters carefully

Whenever I walk into a room, he leaves. We exchange no words. Not even a glance in each other’s direction. After several weeks, this dance has become second nature to us. He now sleeps in the spare bedroom. Our teenage kids no longer ask questions.

On Friday morning, the sun creeps in slowly through the kitchen window, making promises it won’t keep. It shines on the sink, piled high with dirty dishes, food encrusted on the once smooth white surface of the plates. Crumbs and coffee stains speckle the countertop. I can’t bear to look. For too many years, I’ve been expected to do everything. I stopped when I realised I had become the maid.

I eat breakfast quickly, cleaning my own bowl before returning it carefully to the cupboard. Walking into the hallway, I’m unable to stop myself from robotically straightening the rug. As I reach into the cupboard for my coat, something falls to the floor, and I momentarily contemplate leaving it there. Bending down, I pick up a tub of magnetic letters, long since abandoned by my fifteen-year-old daughter. Their bright, enticing colours bring a forgotten smile to my face, and I’m eight years old again. Returning to the kitchen, I attach the following letters to the fridge door: clean the dishes

That evening, I’m home later than usual. The house is unusually peaceful. He is out. The kids are at their friends. I walk into the kitchen. The dishes are still piled high in the sink. I turn and see that he has added words to the fridge door—your turn

Annoyed, I instinctively I lift my hand, ready to send his letters scattering. But I stop myself mid-swipe. Glancing towards the tub of leftover letters, I smile and reach my hand inside. My fingers swirl until I find an “o” tangled amongst a raft of consonants. I lift it out and place it carefully under his “n.”

your turn


That night, I sleep better than I have in years.

The following morning, at precisely two minutes past eight, I peel back the duvet, exposing my bare skin to the cold air of the room. I lay silently, basking in the joy of doing nothing. Half an hour later, when I enter the kitchen, the dishes are still putrefying in the sink, and the letter “w” has appeared on the fridge.

your turn



Days ago, I would have been livid. But not now. I take my time selecting more letters, pulling apart those that have magnetised together. After caressing the solid shapes between my fingers, I add “hat” to our ever-growing crossword puzzle.   

your turn


               what It may be childish, but I’m not backing down. My heartbeat quickens as I leave the kitchen, pleased that these letters have found a new purpose after being abandoned by my children’s sticky, wet fingers. It just goes to show that there’s a second life in all of us, even when we think there’s not.  

time stops in midwinter

She goes northwest in the winter.

It is tradition after all. I, ever your loyal ally guarding these far marches of your kingdom, and you, crowning your great mountain, defying the long dark. When else should we meet?

She cradles the wooden box from the train to her bed, where she waits for the jetlag to lower her head to the pillow.

The journey was treacherous. Too many horses, too many men—lost to the snows, the fell squirming things under frozen soil, the clawed hordes haunting tree and cave. Who among us could ever find sleep?

Fires are lit, songs are sung, programs watched, and a feast prepared for the holy day.

This day, the shortest of them all . . . we should have sung the lays of treasure-seekers beneath the sea and lovers that leaned down from the stars to kiss these great peaks. Would that we may have been in such songs. We know their pain well, but the wine we drink is more bitter.

The letters had been found in the box, inside half a stone arch, in a ruin in the woods. It had been eaten by rain, wind, and the soil of sliding land. It seemed strange that time should reveal the box, rather than bury it. Rather than held reverently in her young hands, the letters should have been broken down to dust-motes, caught in the old gold sunlight of the dying year.

But we, undying as we are, simply carry our stories and our time, do we not? We shoulder them and pray that we will add a new chapter with each year, and ours should have been a book never-ending. Yet what I found here was a ruin. After these centuries, the siege finally broke. Your banners carried the day—but could not carry you.

She fancies the letter writer is a man, and that he is a captain. Something in the slant of the letters, perhaps, though her older sister tells her that’s superstition, not science.

She fancies he is not human—why should he speak of not dying, of centuries of war? Her grandfather has answers to everlasting life that he doles out so close to the holy day, but something tells her that this isn’t what the captain meant.

She fancies the writer may not even be of this world—or his world may be long lost. There are no towering hills recorded here. She has checked every map in the local library and antique shops. Their mountains are low now, old as time, and sinking back into the earth. She sits before the fire, clutching the final page of the final letter while her loved ones are in the other room. She fancies the captain loved the king, too.

I go to your pyre now, our life committed to these pages. I bury them, to be fed to the roots of the mountain. Unseen, yes, but alive forever. Perhaps, year on year, they will grow back up to kiss the stars.

Message in a Bottle

When we were young, we wrote a message in a bottle and launched it into the future. You fetched an old Coke can from the loft where you slept and a scrap of paper for us to scribble on. I don’t remember what we wrote, but we must have thought it was important. You signed it with your old name, the one you didn’t keep. Now it feels like a foreign object on my tongue.

We gathered on the bridge to drop it over the cleft of the waterfall. We watched it float downstream together, away from your grandfather’s cabin and my grandmother’s farm. We imagined it catching in a tangle of tree roots alongside the riverbank, or being swept out by the current to Long Island Sound. We envisioned it finding different countries, different shores. For years, I inspected every stray piece of litter on the beach. I never found it. I didn’t know it would be one of the last times I saw you. You changed your school. You changed your name. Our lives spun away from each other like a bottle bobbing adrift on the current. But I know that like our bottle, you’re just around the next bend in the river. If I wanted to reach you, I know how.

I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a love letter to my depression

I open your body and observe

the wasteland—dirt, reduction, and poison

with barbed-wire breath more comforting

than your empty heartbeat. In turn,

you open mine and search for a word

that means my worship. Tell me,

you say. Your body is a ravaged battlefield

of unspoken prayers. Your body

imposing mycelium. Your body enveloping mine.

I say, revival. I whisper, loneliness.


Shades of black. The most beautiful

darknesses you were. My skin shivers

from your familiar touch, the stomach

snaking deeper into itself in blurry

recoil. Bones house the horrors

ringing in the crevices of the hollow—

we made love too often

for my own taste. Our habit was

to keep the window open so that

we both could breathe the autumn

atmosphere of dusk remnants and colder

whispers. In that, I mean

you were always such a tease,

a metastasizing fear of falling

further into insanity until

only the shell remained. Blood

turned to liquid shadows. Heart

turned to stopwatch. The outside

turned to a smallness I’ve only

known in the worst dreams,

the most careful of nightmares.

The Call

He’s three years older than her. If they were grownups, three years would be nothing. But he is thirteen and she is ten. At that age, three years is something. But he’s runty, looks a lot younger than he is. And he’s kind of a loser. He still likes to play make-believe. She really doesn’t think of him as older, certainly not as a teenager. Teenagers are people who sit outside the Arby’s and smoke and suck face. She doesn’t mess with teenagers. But he’s not like that, so it’s OK. 

Her mother, when she thinks about it, is uneasy with the friendship. But he’s so small and sometimes, when they have him over for dinner, he holds out his plate for more and is such a little Oliver Twist type her mother forgets to be uneasy. Her father is at work a lot, so he hasn’t even noticed the friendship. He eats dinner in his den after everyone goes to sleep. Their friendship isn’t on his radar.  

His parents are glad that she is his friend. They are glad he has any friends at all. They are so glad, in fact, they have taken the two on an adventure— all the way to the giant swamp, the Everglades, where they will see alligators and egrets and frogs that make sounds like wet rubber soles on linoleum.  

He is psyched because he’s just watched Manimal for the first time and he is certain that he too is part man, part animal and the jungle atmosphere of the Everglades is all it is going to take to finally unleash his true, inner self. On the trail, he paces and makes growling noises. He is calling to the panthers; he can sense their presence. It is the kind of behavior that keeps him in the school counselor’s office and his parents awake at night.  

She is a little embarrassed by his behavior and a little excited. Secretly, she likes the way he still plays make believe because it makes it okay for her to play along, even though ten is way too old for such games. She will never tell the girls at school about this trip. She will say she went to the mall and got her ears pierced even though the earrings she will wear will be clip-ons and she won’t really get her ears pierced for another three years. She will only tell her mother that she had a nice time and yes, she thanked his parents and yes, she wore sunscreen.  

In time, they’ll lose touch. He will go to college or join the army or die. She won’t ever know. She’ll grow old. Her joints will ache. She’ll wither. She won’t remember the boy’s face or his last name. But sometimes, late at night, she will lie in bed and her skin will vibrate with the memory of being a panther, of hearing the call of a kindred creature and answering without hesitation. 


I often wonder why I cry.

Is it me or is it just a lie,

to feel sorry for myself

for going through things it seems matters to no one else?

Or maybe it is my body’s way

of releasing the pain

I try so hard to hide away,

but it becomes so much to bear,

that even my body seems to care,

though I walk through life with a blank stare.

After a while it all comes to roost,

like a prisoner who has just been loosed,

running to find the best protective shelter,

seeking the help of the unsuspecting,

all the while neglecting,

eventually I will get caught.

Caught with raw emotions,

erupting and setting off like an explosion.

Then I will be left in shock,

as if I never had the notion,

that my pain and feelings start taking over me, creating an erosion.

I wish there was some relief for my pain,

like a magic potion,

but then again, I rather feel something than just go through the motions

of masking my pain, when healing has become my devotion.