Essay from Abigail George

The Science of Trees

By Abigail George

The photograph is of my mother. In it she looks like someone else. Perhaps someone else’s mother. Our relationship is fraught with difficulties. I’m a fat cutout or rather the curator of fat cutouts. Dark water inside of my head. I can hear her voice. She is calling me. Yes, I am coming. She’s my sun.  A slow word. An open and shut release. She’s a mountain covered with light-green foliage. Her hair is cut in the style younger women wore in those days. The expression on her face is carefree. She is not burdened yet with a brilliant, manic depressive husband, and three spoiled but talented children. She is the storage space where I keep all my childhood treasure. I search for the city language of chronic illness. Find it there, the miracle,  staring back at me on the page. My mother is beautiful even though she is the origin of winter to me. She’s taste, and smell. Sight, and sound. My mother is elegant. I feel when I look at that picture, holding the photograph in my hands that I can have a coffee with the girl that my mother is. Perhaps we can even go for lunch. Share a slice of decadent, mouthwatering cheesecake. That’s what girls do. They go out together, and talk, and talk. She will tell me how she met my gentle, and wise father. She will tell me their love story in so many words. She has all that slicked back magical wavy magazine hair. I only exist because of her. She carried me in her womb for nine months. The pregnancy was difficult. I was delivered by Caesarian section. Late at night while the house is asleep I write. I write to reach all of her. I write in code. She’s warm like a good, hot breakfast of French toast, and oats with cinnamon milk. Syrup and bacon. Eggs and toast. Muesli bird food. I remembered when her belly was gravid with my sister. Then with my brother. Perhaps I can even remember when she stopped laughing. The cold shore of her love ruined me for life. I’ve become a dangerous woman. Dangerous to love. I had position once, that giddy moment but now I’m marked in some explainable way that everyone who has eyes can see when they look at me they know that something is wrong with me. Outside my bedroom window. There’s the high school I went to but never graduated from down the road from where I live. The high school where I was bullied. Teased mercilessly for being too smart, too thin, for being invisible as long division, and dust. There’s the hospital I was born in down Stanford Road. The flat where my parents first lived, played house, settled down to raise a family, have that sunny road, have those kids. The flat opposite the library with the Encyclopedia Britannica that is still there locked in a time machine.

My mother is warm, and sweet but only with people who belong to the same tribe she belongs to. Girls and women.

The smell of clean cut grass is in the air. The scent of my mother’s rinsed hair. Salt and light on the open sandy path at the beach as we make our way to the sea. Curled in the foetal position on the bed listening to music played loud to drown out the other members of the family making their way, marching their way through the order of life in the other rooms of the house. Inside my head are waves. Vibrations of energy. Something snaps. Does it have a sound? A round shape like the shape of this blue planet called Earth? Is it circular like the moon calling the tides down an inquisition through a loophole? Is it the circle of the sun that is causing me this hot, dense, heavy abdominal pain? Knots of butterflies in my stomach. Playful moths in the pit of my stomach. The flame that flickers. Shadows of fingers. The sunlight is considered thin. In the afternoon it hovers against the wall, the comfortable sofa in the family room, after a rain showers flecks. The woman in the photograph is my mother. She is wearing a beautiful dress. She looks very elegant. She is smiling or laughing? I do not know this woman. She is a ‘fiance’. She has found herself a husband. She is not tired of life yet. She isn’t not cold towards her daughters. Not yet, anyway. She’s going to be Eve. Made from Adam’s rib. The world makes me go cool inside. In this photograph she does not have any flaws yet. They haven’t collected her from the hospital with me yet. I wonder if the woman in the photograph knew how to love. I knew she knew about loss. Her brother. The accident. She is not wearing her glasses in the picture. She looks lovely. She is too thin. Has she not been eating because of the stress of planning the wedding? She does not look like Joyce Carol Oates. My mother looks like she is a model in a catalogue. Damn! I, on the other hand, look like Joyce Carol Oates, I think to myself. I think to myself all female writers should look like someone they admire terribly. Alice Munro. Joan Didion. Anita Brookner. Marilyn Monroe, the poetess, and not the actress. Jean Rhys. Harper Lee. I know these things instinctively. It’s my brother’s birthday next month. It’s that time of year again. Easter. ‘Pickled’ fish pickled with onion and lashings of turmeric. White fish flaked with raised forks every year. Buttered toasted hot cross buns with raisins for eyes. Chocolate hollow eggs. Rabbits everywhere the eye can see in the mall. Down the shopping aisle.

The writer Anne Lamott taught me style. Technique. Jean Le Roux, a distant relative, taught me that you must marry for love. That to be addicted to silences is the most feminine of journeys. The writer Anne Lamott taught me that if I  follow her writing instructions as if I was following an ingredient list for a recipe will it only be then  that I can call myself a writer in the rod of the mist. This sublimity. This cool sumptuous balancing act of vowels and consonants in ink. The proof of language translated onto the page. Her books with their magnificent, stooping  tumult. Then I think about Susan Sontag’s cancer. Nothing seems to matter to me now in this world. Only chronic illness. Only this city that I live in. My mother tongue. Only the kerfuffle of cancer. Cancer cells growing, growing, and growing with no end in sight. The black sheep of disease.  Ah, the bittersweet art. Promises of it all. Life in writing. Life resurrected in writing. Anne Lamott. My mother. Jean Le Roux. Susan Sontag. The search for a self help kind of calm inner peace has taken over all my brain cells like a duck takes to water. My brain cells are part lofty cargo/part meat country. The craft of my writing is novel to me. The wings of the entire establishment of the camp system inside my head are like the proof of a heatwave. I am a free artist. An androgynous artist with the mystique of bipolarity. There is a link. Timing to the kinks, the links in the chain. Always has been. All my life. I have sought feminist writing. Art in language. A spacious museum that I could visit anytime by opening the pages of journals. Black Croxley notebooks. My mother gave that to me. The sun. There was an ocean behind Sontag’s ‘illness as a metaphor’ and a baptism of sorts for me. I longed to copy her. Write brilliantly without any superhuman effort at all. With the death in the family, with the onset of that came stereophonics of cancer in my head. Once I had a beautiful aunt, Jean Le Roux. A distant relative that passed from breast cancer. Life is not just a kerfuffle or an endless stream of traffic. Life is hungry for streets, alleys, theater, for musical comedy, and the drama, voice, the speech of tragedy, I am quiet. The day is quiet. The body is a flower. So beautiful even with the words ‘chronic illness’ on your lips. Even in the throes of death. My mother was the first woman I knew. My first love. Daughters love their mothers even though we might not admit it all the time. She taught me humility. What she didn’t teach me was how to love others. Was she selfish? Did she want me for herself for all of her life? She did not teach me how to love a man, and keep him. Cook, and clean for him. How to get him to marry you, to love you. She did not teach me to be soft. This paradise to be doe-eyed. She did not teach my lips to be loved. My hands feel creamy. There was always this flightless distance between us. This song. This dance. Madness on my part that once illuminated, and shaped my young adolescence, and adult world. All I want to tell her is this. That I admire her. I have always admired her. Her stylish flesh. Her power, and drive.

She’s lived all of her life while I am frightened of everything to death of the feats of the universe around me. The environment I live in. I am tired. Coping is a half-mechanism. I think of him in Joburg. Director. Winner of international awards. The sweet memory of him is ‘killing me softly’ like the song.

There is always this struggle for creativity in every bit of dust and air. For the ray of light, the driftwood that the beach spits out is imagination. There is always the order and the routine of the day. Make dad’s breakfast. Take medication. Hide the pharmaceuticals away from my small nephew’s inquiring gaze. The day is always the same. As fresh and new as rain. I find myself in tall grass. Hair windswept. I find myself standing in front of a mocking sea.

Insomnia. Fleck. Wavelength. Photosynthesis. Mitochondria. Photoelectric cell. Handsome words that comfort me like time’s place in the world. It travels like a nomad. They taste like sugar on my tongue. There’s no struggle that awaits them. Internal or external. No winter. Nothing objectified.  All too soon adolescence was gone. Then the blues began. I didn’t know what to call it back then. I can hear my mother’s voice inside my head.

She’s talking about my brother. How he’s never going to marry that girl.

Essay from Jaylan Salah

Truth Never Goes Out of Style

Interviewing American Artist Danielle Shorr

Danielle Shorr

You can never expect when you will find a great read. It catches you in the strangest of places. During an Uber ride, while coming out of an educational center, or in the middle of a heated discussion. Sometimes you’re in the movie theater, watching a silly movie and a bored version of you checks your phone only to find a poem, a thought piece, or a short story that attracts your attention away from the mayhem onscreen.

So, when I came across Danielle Shorr’s poetry and her graphic essays, I was mesmerized. She talked about some heavy stuff in a smart, raised-eyebrow manner. Not only did she openly unbandage old wounds and show a vulnerable, raw side of her, but her writing was also quirky, funny, and too smart for our systemized modern world to read sans context.

I googled Shorr and had an Elle Woods moment. This gorgeous blonde is rewriting what it means to be a poet and a creative, with her perfect blonde hair, her hourglass figure, and her cyan blue eyes. I sought Shorr and she generously agreed to be interviewed by none other than your favorite Egyptian author/poet. I wanted to introduce Shorr as a poet but then I noticed her visual essays and realized there’s more to her than met the eye,

“I’d like to say an artist in general. I love writing but also digital art and drawing. I think art can and should be interdisciplinary when possible.”

Slowly, I learned all about her artistic journey, influences, and background,

“My story isn’t anything crazy. I started writing in high school, mostly music, and then I moved towards poetry/essays/etc. College is where I was able to develop my writing more, but when I was eighteen, I won a poetry slam and became a member of a slam poetry team representing Pomona in Los Angeles, California. That’s where I give most of my credit for finding my voice. That opportunity taught me how to speak up and write about the things that matter. I like writing because you don’t need money to write. You need minimal supplies, just a pen, and paper. Anyone can do it anywhere and that’s what’s so lovely.

I have so many artistic influences! A lot of those are my friends and teachers. Poetry-wise I’m influenced by Mary Oliver, Maggie Smith, Frank O’Hara, Yesika Salgado, and many more. [Of the most moving poem she read] I love Good Bones a poem by Maggie Smith. I always return to it.”

Reading Shorr’s powerful graphic essay, My Neighbors Can See my Nipples and Other Observations I immediately connected with a sense of Christmas nostalgia. Being a Muslim girl who was not allowed to own a Christmas tree because of her faith, I was particularly struck by this paragraph,

“Being Jewish, I have never owned a Christmas tree. This is unfortunate because I have always been a sucker for holidays and kitsch. Christmas time as an adult is a special joy for me, as I get to witness the decorations around my town that I so desperately longed to have myself as a kid. “Jews don’t decorate for Christmas,” my mom would remind me”

It never occurred to me that I would connect to a fellow Christmas non-celebrator, not in the US. As a sucker for Hollywood family and teen movies when I was growing up in the 90s-00s, I always assumed that Christmas was raved and celebrated all over America. You didn’t have to be Christian to celebrate it, only Western and enjoying all the festivities, the food, the decorations, and the lights. To hear Shorr’s honest testimonial about her similar Christmas-less childhood, I was inspired,

“I’m so glad my essay resonated with you! Interestingly, Christmas and Christmas decor is so mainstream ingrained and we don’t often realize how alienating it can be to be of faith outside of Christianity during the holidays.”

Danielle Shorr

It was downright ridiculous not to bring up her looks. Women are prone to judgment and scrutiny based on how they carry themselves around. And a woman in the arts had to have a certain air around her, or else her talent would be questioned and sometimes doubted. Looking like a Hollywood babe and writing thought-provoking poems and essays, I had to ask Shorr how that experience affected her creativity,

“That’s such an interesting question. I think I have met my fair share of people doubting my writing abilities/teaching abilities because I do value aesthetics in how I look. I think it’s so important for people to learn and see that your sex appeal does not diminish the quality of your work, that you can be hot and sexy and confident and that doesn’t detract from your talents/skills. I think it’s important to emphasize that valuing your appearance doesn’t make you any less of an artist/creator/educator, etc.”

Shorr surprised me with every answer she had to offer. Her artistic mind was calculated and yet sensitive and vulnerable. She carried her fragility like a swan, and that’s what made her shine inexplicably with vibrant, unexpected answers to my inquiries,

“I think there is this idea that artists are always filled to the brim with ideas they have to express and in my experience that hasn’t been true. For me, the urge to write comes and goes, and sometimes I’ll go weeks or months without writing. But I don’t stress about it because I know it’s something I’ll always have and that the stories and words will come to me when they’re ready.

Sometimes feelings drive me to write but sometimes it’s also an idea! For that essay, it was something I said to my fiancé and thought it would be an interesting essay title. I sat down to write not knowing where it was going and it naturally just went in the direction of vulnerability. That’s not always how my process goes but it just kind of developed authentically from there.”

As a fellow trauma survivor and a writer interested in exploring the impact that PTSD and depression has had on her creative journey, I had to ask Shorr how she perceived navigating trauma from a healing perspective versus exploring the traumatized side of her through art,

“I think writing can help navigate trauma but it shouldn’t be the driving reason behind it. I think it’s good to have a certain distance from trauma before writing about it, or else it can be all-consuming. I opted to draw this essay because I thought the visual element would help set the tone for it. I love giving readers a variance in the form and I think images can be effective and helpful in breaking up the monotony of a standard essay.

I think certain kinds of art can romanticize mental illness but fortunately, we as a society are moving towards more honest depictions of what living with mental illness is like. It’s important to write your truth as honestly as possible because although it might not speak for everyone with that, it will likely connect with many. I’ve found that the more honest/vulnerable/personal you are, the more people relate.”

In a critique of one of my guilty pleasures, a movie titled Frankie and Johnny starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, the female -quite a shocker to me- critic disliked how Pfeiffer was cast as a lonely, physically abused woman. She as well as many other critics mentioned that she was too young and too pretty to play a lonely, down-on-her-luck waitress whose chances at love are scarcer as days go by. Not only did I find this ridiculous, but also sexist, as if beautiful women should only be presented as Amazonian winners who always get what they want. I’m glad these critics do not exist in a time where a gorgeous woman like Nicole Kidman plays a battered, sexually abused wife who abandons a successful law career to “wipe runny noses and organize playdates” in Big Little Lies. I mimicked the ignorance of 90s era critics and asked a gorgeous Shorr what she thought of the concept, writing about physical abuse herself,

“I think anyone is vulnerable to toxic relationships, and that unfortunately, nobody is exempt from potentially falling into physically and emotionally abusive relationships. Abuse is so calculated that even if you know your worth, you can still be taken advantage of. I have been with partners who have not been good to me, and in retrospect, good enough for me, but because they were able to make me doubt my worth and what I knew to be true, I stayed. I think a lot about the role of withholding in abusive relationships, and what that can do to a person. When a partner is withholding affection/attention/or love from us, that is a form of emotional abuse. I know now because of the healthy relationship that I am currently in, that a good partner will never make you feel like you’re starving.”

Shorr was a mystic creature, quartz that eludes your definition and defies your expectations. Her admiration for poetry slams stems from the adrenaline, the connection with the audience. She has never been a competitive person so slam was the exception, but beyond the competition aspect, it also gave her a sense of community and confidence. Her favorite literary world to exist in was memoir because -in her words- truth never goes out of style. If she could exist as a poem she’d be a haiku, short and sweet. Her interpretation of how artists perceived the artistic process was too interesting to miss,

“I think it depends on the person honestly. I appreciate the connection aspect of writing but I don’t need recognition or fame to feel satisfied with my work. I do however really value connecting with individuals through art.

I do think a lot of people create for recognition but I also think many simply create for themselves and their sanity.”

By the time our conversation came to an end, Shorr expressed interest in reading my translated work and her affection for works by non-English speaking writers,

“I’ve loved translated poems. Pablo Neruda’s work for example. I think translations can be so powerful and that art can cross cultural boundaries. Some parts of human existence truly feel universal and poetry/art, in general, is a great method of communicating that.”

Danielle Shorr is a force of nature and the world will be her stage someday, just waiting for her to shine.

Final installment of Z.I. Mahmud’s thesis on David Copperfield

Preferences Recommendation To Read Dickens’ Great Expectations As Biographical Victorian Classics

Review questionnaire, documenting experiences beyond memoirs journal entries within the novel, stylistically, thematically or in context comparison, drama rehearsals, photography illustration scrap book exhibition and quotation journal fascinates the readers, critics and the classroom environment. Pandemic outbreak disruption unprecedented radio and television learning experiences will flourish with the reading of the text. Public readings from extracts of magazines by Victorian Era’s Charles Dickens can happen in modern times but virtually through online workshops and seminars or symposiums to maintain physically social distancing. Moreover, Miss Havisham’s cleansing symbolizes redemption or salvation of atoned body and purity of soul depicted in the fire: driving beetles and spiders and destroying the faded bridal dress. [Bridal dress symbolically significance of imprisonment]. Magwitch reunion with Estella cannot be evaluated with subtlety since he doesn’t meet her physically but is reminded of her news that she had been alive. Ending of chastened Estella and readers’ guesses can be the subject matter of another great thesis…Pinnacle of elegant society courtship with the periphery of sub urban community.            

Bibliography and Further Reading Or Works Cited Or Reference Guidelines

1. Critical Fortunes of Great Expectations, Richard Dutton, MA (Cambridge), Ph.D (Nottingham), is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Lancaster.

2. A Teacher’s Guide To The Signet Classics Edition of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Series Editors: W Geiger Ellis, Ed.D, University of Gerogia, Emeritus, and Arthea J.S. Reed, Ph.D, University of North Carolina, Retired. (Laurie Calvert, North Carolina National Board Certificate Licensed Educator Teaching Middle and High School, 2002 Penguin Group USA)

3. UK Essays Website Analysis of Charles Dickens Great Expectations

4. Death And Inscriptions With Respect To David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Charles Dickens, Anna Foley’s thesis submitted in partial fulfillments of the requirements for the Degree of the Master in Arts in English in the University of Canterbury, 2003.

5. The Analysis of Pip’s Characteristics In Great Expectations, Sinchuan University of Arts and Sciences, Dazhou China, Sino Us English Teaching, June 2016, Volume: 13, Issue No-6, Pages no: 499-504

6. Tamai, Fumies, Great Expectations: Democracy and The Problem of Social Inclusion, The Japan Branch Bulletin of the Dickens fellowship, No. 25, October 2002.

7. Studying Great Expectations, Andrew Moore, UK Coordinator of the European Network of Innovative Schools [acknowledged with the epitaph of “Universal Teacher” from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Forst in May, where the poet recalls his own sterile and punitive education as a boy and hopes for something lucrative for his offspring] *This information of Andrew Moore is extracted from The Guardian’s obituary of “Andrew Moore” by Barbara Bleiman and Julie Blake Wed 12 Apri 2006 21:35 EDT.

8. Criticism of Society In The English Novel Between The Wars, George Orwell’s Essays in Criticism

Poetry from Mahbub

Poet Mahbub
The Music of Pain

The music of pain springs from my face
Everyday every moment the rosy brightness fumbles
My fly ball dream crumbles
I die and hover in the darkness
Oscillating to the light or shade
Eyes fixed at the faraway ancient days
Through the wafts of flowers in the morning air
Once we walked together the long line side by side
Hand in hand
Eyes into the eyes
All on a sudden my soul mate slipped away 
Dashing me into this grave state of mind 
I would like to find out the answer  
Why and how?
Again and again I get back in silence  
No reflection from the waves of the river Padma or Mohananda
My eyes dropping as the rain from the sky 
The music of pain springs from my face 
Everyday every moment the rosy brightness fumbles
How scorching the sun of the noon!

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

Good Bye - Saint Martin

Gazing out at noon I turn back again and again 
Through the window of the ship on departure  
My loving travel spot I'm leaving - breathing sad on the flowing waves
How wonderful the sky! How wonderful the blue water!
The ocean blowing the same like that time
When I came here a few years ago
How change I look to follow
The Resort Buildings, the schools, the madrashas or the bushes, the corals, the shops, the life of the people, the palm and other trees  
Thinking all suddenly my eyes caught up three ocean birds over Saint Martin right at the point where water and the land joins, just one or two kilometers distant water The Three Heavenly Birds welcome me flapping their wings, soaring high and getting down once for all.
Where I go, where I come, I do not find the destiny
I look out the vast sky, the vast water and look on me
O Birds, Can't I reach you?
I don't possess the wings to fly to thee, my love.

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

Love Streaming in Rain

You are not that rain
Touching my face flies away soon
A gust of wind leaving me alone
Can you, dear?
I know, you can't
You are my rain pouring in torrent
Drenched in love, the land with its glow 
The new blades of grass and seeds  
In every season and out of season
The flowers blooming in the sun
Bestows in happy ending.  
Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

The Paharpur Buddhist Vihara

Thousand -year- history hidden in every brick bond
O Paharpur Buddhist Vihara, the rock in the moon
The light you spread once all over the South-East Asia continent
Still now flowing on waves of the ocean 
Standing still with the glory of the long past
Kissing the shore of the Bay of the Bengal 
The magnificent building and the lofty head over time
All the sacred gods and deities preserved so nicely in the protective glasses
The museum surrounded with the beautiful garden beside the monastery
The World Heritage Site -people from all over the world
Visit and sigh - for all its religious practice, education and astronomy 
Other sectors of secular arts, culture, science and wisdom   
Really even at this time when only its skeleton lives
A place now fully rural but then a kingly state
Shines the kingly body, the gigantic brilliance    
Aristocratic, splendid and grandiose -it was as it were a dream
The king Dharmapala established this kingly monastery (c.781-821)  
A center for the saints, teachers, bards, and many other fans and followers 
Pilgrimage as it was, it gained the cultural value with its teaching-learning process
The Great Buddhist and the two scholars- Silabhadra and Atisa Dipankara 
Among many other renound teachers enlightened its atmosphere
Every brick and the dilapidated structure seem to cry for the glorious past
You stand so high; the pinnacle wants to kiss the sky
Tourists come; tourists go but the waves of the vast ocean 
Never stops to flow.   

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

The Kusumba Mosque

Bees are swarming over head
To enter inside the mosque through the arched door 
I startled at the sight of the honeycomb 
Here and there one two three four in this way 
They are flying and buzzing before my eyes
I went through and looked into the time 1558 AD. 
The reign of Ghyasuddin Bahadur Shah, one of the Afgan kings of Bengal
Built by some Sulaiman following the name of the village, Kusumba
The interior isles, bays and the half round domes can enchant anyone visiting the mosque
The surrounding stones blaze the tradition to generation after generation
The large pond in front of and the trees around with the sweet note of birds
I think of present and past for those who would come to pray
And collect the golden nectar praying to Allah      
Bees are swarming over head - honey filled in the honeycomb
My mind fringed with light and strength.

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

Screenplay from Chimezie Ihekuna

Title: Christmas Time
Adapted from a book by Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben)
Screenwriter: Robert Sacchi

Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben) Young Black man in a collared shirt and jeans resting his head on his hand. He's standing outside a building under an overhang.
Chimezie Ihekuna

Genre: Drama/Family

For reviews, production consideration and other publicity, please contact us through the email addresses below:


Christmas Time! Is a collection of short stories that reflects the mood of the season-Christmas-as it affects the lives of people who have appreciated its worth. From children to young adults, it mirrors, in the form of stories, the ordeals people go through to observe the yuletide but the encouragement they get, the courage they summon, the inspiration and the motivation they receive leave footprints of happy endings-celebrating the season in delight.

“A Christmas to Remember” tells a story of a certain couple, Frances and Sean, whose over-the-years Christmas celebration routine was cut short by the inability of Ron, Sean’s long-time friend, to pay back his debt as at the time stipulated at the time. His whereabouts weren’t known, and this subsequently brought hopelessness to Sean (though he had some ‘belief’ that something would happen) until the eleventh-hour miracle…barely two hours before Christmas-the 25th day of December. His twin daughters witnessed it!

Chapter Two shows the sudden end of a relationship that existed between Sandra and Grace when a skater, disabled in physique, hit Sandra on their way coming home from a shopping mall, after the purchase of their favorite clothes, Grant’s Designer’s Blouse. This was seven days to Christmas. Grace’s sudden departure from Sandra’s life paved way for James, the skater, whose life experienced a meaning…seven days to Christmas. It continued afterwards…

Chapter Three’s “I Love Christmas” portrays the boy-in-a-man figure in Mr. Ted whose ‘boy-child’ manner was inspired by the statement his five-year-old son, Grant, made, ‘I Love Christmas’. . The way Mr. Ted and his wife celebrated Christmas as their son had fun with his peers, was a scene to behold!

“Your Christmas View” is a play depicting how the long-held ‘tradition’ (yearly hosting of the event-twenty four hours before Christmas and at their various apartments) by Yates and his friends not only ensured the proper view of Christmas to readers or listeners but enabled him and his wife, Michelle, to be in the ‘business’ of putting to proper perspective the view of Christmas in the life of their twelve –year-old daughter, Jasmine using what we recorded the last time the event was hosted- ‘Your Christmas View Hosted by Yates’.

The feel of realness in the stories harmonizing with their messages, and the unveiling of the article: “Christmas: Recognizing its true worth” birth…Christmas Time!

Final installment of Christopher Bernard’s story The Ghost Trolley

The Ghost Trolley: A Tale for Children and Their Adults, by Christopher Bernard: The Conclusion

Chapter 16. The Tower

         The tower loomed tantalizingly in the distance, the two children leading the way, the two parents hobbling weakly after. Many of the fires had died away from lack of fuel, and they made their way cautiously through the smoking remains of the camp. The ruins reminded Sharlotta of the wreckage of her home, and a dark wave of hopelessness crossed the young girl like a shadow, but she tried not to think about that now. She tried to keep herself focused on the tower, and on escaping the camp. Today must be rescued for there to be any tomorrow at all. Tomorrow would have to take care of itself. She felt herself growing up, fast and hard.

         The smoke around them was slowly dissipating; the main fire had moved elsewhere in the camp, where most of the Korgan soldiers had gone to fight it. Those they passed paid no attention to them; they had far more important things to worry about than a small bedraggled band of escaped, defenseless Paonas or their allies.

         Petey tried to get Sharlotta to explain what had happened at the fork, but she told him to be silent about it within earshot of her parents; she would tell him later, after they escaped. Petey, feeling puzzled, acceded to her request. “But don’t forget!” he whispered. “I not forget,” Sharlotta whispered back. “Now stop to talk!”

         Sharlotta’s mother glanced at the two as they bickered, and felt herself smiling through her anxiety and exhaustion. She whispered to her husband as she helped him walk. “I think Sharlotta find her hero.”

         “The lucky fellow find his, I think,” her husband smiled painfully back.

         It was early evening, the sky a deepening green, like lime Jello (thought Petey) or an enormous emerald (thought Sharlotta). The four had almost reached the tower and rested in the shadows, waiting for the others, at the edge of a parade ground behind an overturned cart near a row of the tanks with the tall, narrow turrets.

         They had been looking out, for long minutes, unsuccessfully, for Miua and the two little ones. At the far side of the ground a gang of Korgan soldiers were dragging off debris to create a fire break (the fires still seemed far from this end of the camp).

         Then the evening camp lights, on an automatic clock, turned on, flooding the shadows. The four found themselves at the dead center of a cone of blinding light.

         Simultaneously, as they raised their arms to protect their eyes, they heard the distant shout of a young boy.

         “Paonas!” came the cry. “Paonas! Firebugs!”

         It was Bang Bang. Petey was the first to see him at the far side of the parade ground.        

         There was a pause, then: “They killed Orgun Ramora!

         The soldiers, who had ignored Bang Bang at first, looked up.

         Bang Bang started running toward the four in a kind of demented fury across the parade ground, then Petey heard an even higher pitched shout coming from the base of the tower less than a hundred feet away. Sharlotta was the first to see Miua Blue Moon, in full battle cry, racing to meet Bang Bang.

         “You are a li-arrr!” Miua cried. “I killed Orgun Ramora!” and within moments she had thrown herself upon him, pulling him to the ground, and they rolled through the dirt like two enraged cats.

         The four snuck behind the cart, huddling together out of the light as the two young Korgans gave each other no quarter.

         The little ones must be near the tower’s base. Sharlotta peered up at the guard’s nest atop the tower. It was empty.

         The row of tanks led to a fence near the tower, and, as the two fought, Sharlotta led the rest, dashing, one at a time, with the parents coming last, hobbling slowly. Once at the fence, Petey caught sight of Beely and little Johja hiding behind one of the legs of the tower and gaping at the fight with enthralled fascination.

         They all watched as the young Korgans kicked, screamed and clawed at each other under the bright lights. Even the Korgan soldiers had stopped to survey the spectacle. The fight was epic, like a playground brawl to end all playground brawls, as the two rolled and leaped and struck in a whirl of legs and arms, knees and elbows, fingers and teeth, and jabbed and kicked and screeched and pounded, and shouted words at each other so nasty they made even Petey blush.

         Sharlotta was worried: if Blue Moon lost the fight, even if Bang Bang didn’t find them, how would they escape?

         The fence near the tower was like a wall that, tantalizingly, gave a view of freedom outside without showing any way to reach it. There must be a way through it the Korgan girl knew, but it could be anywhere, and there was no time to find it on their own. The parade ground lights didn’t go as far as the fence, which was already beginning to darken in shadow. The sun was setting, the hour of the stars would soon be upon them, a deep green dusk was beginning to suffuse the sky.

         Bang Bang was getting the better of the fight. Blue Moon had more passion, but Bang Bang was taller and stronger and more ruthless. Eventually, thought Sharlotta with dismay, as she watched them slug it out, shouting and yelling in frustration and rage, he must win.

         Then Petey sniffed something.

         He looked behind him and gasped.

         The fire had snuck up to within a dozen feet of them, quiet as a cat. It was beginning to eat its way along the fence. This wouldn’t be any help to them, as the fence was made of iron chain links; where the fence broke, melting in the heat as the flames leapt and gnawed and clawed away at it, the fire stood tauntingly between them and escape. And it was moving swiftly toward them.

         The rest were too intent on the fight to notice.

         Then, just as Petey was opening his mouth to alert them, he saw it. At first he was certain his eyes were playing tricks on him. His teacher in far away Howtiz (how he longed to be back there now!) had recently been teaching the class about optical illusions, and he thought this must be one of them. A great, vague form seemed to be shaping itself in front of him in the flames – a leaping, dancing, shapeshifting form of white and yellow and the black of the smoke, in fluid stripes, with great green eyes – like a huge tiger made of fire, but continually changing its shape, sometimes vast, sometimes small, sometimes like a lion, sometimes like a gazelle, sometimes like a falcon, sometimes like a bear, but always returning to the shape of a tiger – constantly metamorphosing, like the flames Petey watched during winter nights in the chimneypiece at home. And it seemed to be moving toward them out of the fire.

         At first Petey was frightened, and almost cried out. But the tiger of flames seemed to warn him, he didn’t know how, not to say anything, as it advanced silently out of the flames.

         Then, as it moved toward Petey a step of its giant, flaming paw, it was gone.

         And in its place, moving lightly over the ground, was a tabby cat – a cat that looked just like the one Petey had last seen at the black tent, and that he had first seen when he saved its kitten from being tossed about cavalierly by the Korgan children outside the camp.

         She stopped, looked up at Petey, and blinked, then turned and dashed along the fence a dozen yards and slipped out through a crack Petey would never have seen on his own. Then she looked back on the other side of the fence, as if to make sure he had seen.

         “Hey!” Petey cried out. “I found it!”

         “What found?” whispered Sharlotta. “Quiet be . . . !” Then she noticed for the first time the fire moving steadily toward them. Her parents turned to see it too.

         “The way out through the fence!” Petey said, pointing, though of course nobody but he could see it clearly from where they stood. “The cat just showed me!”

         “What cat?” asked Sharlotta. “What you talk about?”

         “Didn’t you see it?” Petey asked, impatiently. And the words came tumbling out, somewhat incoherently, “It came out of the fire and it was as big as a tiger but it turned into the tabby cat that was inside the black tent whose kitten we saved from the kids who were throwing it around like a beanbag outside of the camp and it’s come back and showed me how to escape through the fence!” And Petey ran over to the fence where the cat had escaped and pulled a strip of it back, revealing a gap just big enough to slip through.

         Sharlotta turned to her parents, who had heard and seen all of this, though of course without having any idea what tabby cat Petey was talking about, and certainly not having seen a tiger walk out of the fire, though of course all of them now saw the fire. And the open gap in the fence.

         “Get Beely and little Johja!” her mother commanded Sharlotta over the sudden roaring of the flames.

           “I’ll go,” Petey volunteered and was off like a shot. He ran, close to the ground, to the leg of the tower, gathered up the little ones, who at first resisted, as they both wanted to see the outcome of the donnybrook that seemed to be reaching its shrieking climax, but he grabbed their hands and, using the magic formula – “I’ll take you to Mommy!” – successfully unriveted them from the fascinating spectacle and dragged the pair over to the fence.

         The mother held back the strip and all four children slipped through, then the father insisted on holding the fence for his wife, who gave him a quick smile, then managed to scrootch through himself.

         Twilight was beginning to gather, and they scurried across a cleared strip of land to the forest edge.

         Sharlotta stopped and started back toward the fence.

         “Sharlotta!” her mother said in a loud whisper. “What you be doing?”

         “Something there be that I must see.”

         Sharlotta went up close to the fence and peered through. She just had time to see Bang Bang brutally stomp on Blue Moon with all his might. Then Bang Bang gave her a parting kick, said something Sharlotta couldn’t hear but must have been terribly insulting, then stalked arrogantly away. Blue Moon lay motionless on the ground.

         Sharlotta was stunned. Was Blue Moon – was Miua – dead? This Korgan child who had, for mysterious reasons, saved them, fought her father’s torturer, Orgun Ramora, maybe even killed him – for Paonas! For (Sharlotta suddenly gulped) – for her. Was it a mystery she would never solve?

         Then she saw a sign of movement in the young girl on the ground – first her arm, then her head, then she slowly pulled herself up.

         “Miua!” Sharlotta whispered as loudly as she could.

         Miua Blue Moon looked toward her. Thinking that maybe she could see her, Sharlotta waved.

         “Me thanks to you,” Sharlotta whispered softy.

         Miua stopped and gazed toward Sharlotta for a long moment. Then (or so it seemed – it was hard to see in the deepening dusk) she raised her hand in a little wave.

         Sharlotta couldn’t stay. Her parents were calling her from the woods.

         Miua knew they had escaped – that was what mattered now.

         Sharlotta ran over the clearing into the forest.

Chapter 17. The Yellow Trolley

         They stood at the top of the low rise where they had climbed from the wood above the encampment. The camp spread before them in the deepening twilight, most of it now a vast, smoking ruin, with here and there a few remnants of the conflagration, bursts of yellow and red slowly burning out. In the far distance Petey could see an enormous black smudge across the landscape, but, uncannily, it was moving. And he realized it was crowds of surviving Korgans leaving the camp and moving in a mass toward the mountains.

         Sharlotta’s father raised his voice to speak, leaning against his wife. “The Korgans of Ramora be defeated,” he said. “The Paonas of Steed and their friends be safe.” There was a pause before his wife added, quietly, “For now.”

         “Now we must go to our home,” the father said. “And build anew.”

         “Deddy,” Sharlotta said, hesitantly.

         “Yes, Sharlee?”

         “I know how the fire start . . .”


         And she looked slyly at Petey.

         “Yes. Petey . . .”
         It was at that moment that Petey, who was standing a little way from the reunited family, heard in the distance three faint rings of a bell coming from down the slope away from the camp.

         Petey stared into the gloaming. It couldn’t be what he thought it was – but it couldn’t not be either.

         “That’s my trolley!” he exclaimed, unbelievingly. “I have to go! I have to get home! Sorry!” He looked pleadingly at the small family, worn and weary after their ordeal. They looked at him sadly, but understandingly. “I can’t stay! I have to go! I have to . . . ”

         And with a wave, he set off at a run down the slope toward the sound, stumbling and falling in the dusk only once, then pulling himself up and dashing ahead.

         Sharlotta, after only the slightest hesitation – glancing at her mother, who understood what Sharlotta was feeling and gave her a small, encouraging smile – dashed after him, setting her feet with greater care than the headlong boy, with her family following more slowly after.

         Just past a wall of brush, shadowy and bristly in the darkness, and a staid row of hickory-like trees, Petey found, to his amazement, a pair of trolley tracks running through a cutting in the forest, and there coming toward him, not a hundred feet off, was a yellow trolley, clanking and squealing, its single headlight like a small surprised, brightly lit face.

         Soon Sharlotta was beside him, slightly breathless.

         “But I thought it was blowed up!” Petey said.

         “There be two yellow trolleys between Howtiz and Otherwise: one that come,” Sharlotta said, “and one that go.”

         Above the windshield a row of lit-up block letters read “2 HOWTIZ.”

         As the trolley came toward them, Petey remembered something.

         “You told me you’d say how you did that at the clock . . .”

         Sharlotta looked at him quietly before speaking.

         “It be what I hear my father tell my mother the night before the Korgans raid our house,” she said. “If you know exactly where you be, and exactly what time it be, and exactly what you be thinking when you make the important decision, and when you say the right words in the right way to the right person, you maybe go back and make it happen ‘otherwise.’ Maybe!”

         “So it was the Spell?” said Petey, though he felt just as confused as before.

         Sharlotta said nothing.

         The trolley clanked noisily up to them and stopped; the doors opened. Petey stood staring at this strange little girl standing in front of him, with the honey brown eyes and the soft, cocoa-colored skin. She reminded him more than ever of the little African American girl in the other fourth grade class who he had such a crush on. But not maybe anymore . . .

         “Here,” Sharlotta said. In her hand was a little key.

         “Thank you,” said Petey, not looking at the key. “What is it?”

         “It be a key, silly.” And she put it into his hand.

         Petey stared at it.

         “But what is it a key to?” he asked.

         “Are you getting in, young man, or not?” said the driver with a humorous smile. “I can’t wait all day, now.”

         Petey got up on the first step and looked back, questioningly.

         “What is it to?”

         But Sharlotta only stared up at him and slowly and solemnly shook her head.

         The doors closed and Petey scampered up and put in his token (hoping it was usable in Otherwise – apparently it was, since it slid into the fare box without causing any alarms to go off) and, still grasping the key, sat down in the seat across from the driver.

         As the trolley moved off, Petey stuck his head out the open window and looked back at the receding family, lit faintly by the trolley’s back lights. They were standing beside Sharlotta, who seemed to be talking to them while watching the trolley leave) – her father and mother suddenly looked toward Petey and began waving, as if they only now knew how he had helped save all of them, Beely stared round-eyed, and little Johja watched with a look of wondering amazement, and Sharlotta raised her hand and slowly waved, with a sad smile, reaching higher and higher with each wave, as if she wanted to touch the sky.

         The mysterious eyes in a small face watched as the trolley rode off through the twilight. The wings fluttered calmly, and another pair of eyes appeared nearby, then another, then another. There was a sound, like a low, quiet “who? who?” that sounded oddly satisfied, as if they already knew the answer. Then their wings fluttered again, and they rose, one, two, three, more, into the gathering night.

          Petey, unaware of any of this, watched and watched until Sharlotta and her family vanished in the darkness of the shadows of the forest as the trolley moved away.

“Are you new here, young man?” the driver abruptly asked him. He was a plump, jolly-looking fellow, a bit like a big frog ensconced on the trolley’s throne. He smiled easily at Petey. On his shirt was embroidered a name: MR. CUTTLEBACK.

“Yes,” Petey replied at last. “I’ve only been here since this morning.”

“So, now you’re going home to Howtiz?”

“Yes,” said Petey, with a sigh.

“Just as well,” said the driver with another chuckle. “Howtiz definitely has its charms. I like to go to Howtiz whenever I need a nice rest. Sometimes just thinking about Otherwise makes me dizzy!”

“What . . .” Petey asked hesitantly, “. . . what really is Otherwise?”

“Ah!” said the driver, with a bit of a frown. “That’s a hard nut. Let me think . . .” And the trolley rattled ahead for a time while the driver seemed lost in thought. “Did you ever wonder what would have happened if you had turned left at the corner rather than right when you were taking a walk that time? You might not have met that bully who always makes your life so miserable! Or if you had said anything but what you said to your mother that morning last week? . . .”

“Yep,” Petey said with a sigh. “I sure have.”

“Well, that’s where Otherwise is.”

Petey gave him a perplexed look. “Huh?” Though he was immediately ashamed of how dopey that sounded.

“It’s the place where all the choices you didn’t make, you do.” Which only made Petey look even more perplexed. “Otherwise is where everything that might have been comes true. If you had done your homework rather than played the latest computer game – and got an A rather than a C on the last test of the year! If you had told the truth rather than spun your mother a fairy tale – and gotten off with a heck of a lighter punishment than you did when she found out what really happened. If the wind had blown all those leaves across Mrs. Simpson’s porch rather than into Mr. Howard’s windshield, startling him and making him drive right into Mrs. Simpson’s living room – however small the difference, a whole world would have resulted that would have been, well, Otherwise. There’s no one Otherwise, there’s lots and lots of them, an infinite number, at least in theory, because more are being created every day, every hour, every moment, with everything that might have happened.”

Petey, startled, looked around him, half expecting to see new worlds spinning out all around him made up of everything he might have done but hadn’t in the last few minutes. What a crazy idea! What a scary idea! What an amazing idea . . . Mr. Cuttleback glanced benevolently at him.

“But not to worry! Howtiz will stay as it always has. Howtiz is the world, Otherwise is the world’s dream. Howtiz is what it is. But Otherwise is infinite, just as dreams are. Every time you visit us,” he added, “if you care to visit us, that is, you’ll find another world that might have been.” The bus driver chuckled. “After all, there’s just too much that would be left out if there were only one world. The universe must work out every possibility. That” – And he gave the boy a wry look. – “is the whole point of it.”

         After what Petey had just been through, he could understand at least something of what the driver meant. What Sharlotta had told him about the clock at the fork in the lane was almost beginning to make sense. Though the driver seemed a little too complacent about the stability of Howtiz: from what he had learned about the Korgans, there was more leakage, and a lot more peril, between the two than the driver seemed to realize. Maybe Howtiz was not so stable after all!

         Petey looked down at the key Sharlotta had given him. It was made of bright, new copper, with an oval head and little wavy notches. Even if he didn’t know of any locks it could open, it would be an excellent lucky charm. A good replacement for the rather too dangerous matchbook!

         He slipped it into his pocket, then turned back in his seat just in time to see the sun, a vast blaze in an emerald-green sky, sink to its resting place in the east. He suddenly felt overwhelmed with fatigue after the turbulent day.

         I guess that means this Otherwise happened when the earth bounced left rather than right? No! Because it rained east, not west? No! Because the moon went to New Jersey? No! Because . . .? he thought confusedly as, as the sound of the trolley’s wheels seemed to say, over and over again, “could have been otherwise, could have been otherwise, could have been otherwise, could have been  . . .”

         “Petey Stephenson! Wake up! We’re at school!”

         Petey suddenly woke, dazzled by the blazing sun just rising in the east in the early winter morning.

         Priscilla Li, the pretty girl in the class across the hall from Petey’s, was shaking him roughly by the shoulder. She must have been sitting next to him on the trolley ride to school after getting on while he was asleep.

         “Okay,” said Petey, trying to smile and yawn at the same time, which he discovered was a difficult thing to do, it seemed to turn his whole face into salt-water taffy, and he pulled himself together, with his lunchbox and his backpack, with his homework inside it, and his smart phone, he had really missed his smartphone – so the trolley hadn’t exploded after all!

         “Priscilla!” he said, excited, and still groggy from sleep. “You’ll never ever believe the dream I just had! I was in a land where everything happens that could never happen and there was a war and there was a big fire and we saved a family and . . .”

          He suddenly felt a funny lump in his pocket he didn’t recognize. Hey, where were his lucky matches? . . .

         He stopped, pulled it out and stared at it.

         It was an bright, new key, with an oval head and curvy notches.

         “Hurry up, Petey! You better come now!” Priscilla called out sternly through the half-open window. She had scurried outside while he was gaping at the key. “Otherwise you’ll be late for school. You don’t want to be suspended, do you?”

         Suspended! He’d almost forgotten. Now that was a possibility he was sure he didn’t want to happen, ever. Miss Marigold would never believe his story – would she?

         He saw her towering over him with her terrifying glare.

         “’Howtiz’? ‘Otherwise’? I’ll show you how it is, Petey Myshkin Stephenson, and there’ll be no otherwise about it!”

         The little boy, never having felt so young or so vulnerable in all his life, hastily slipped the mysterious key back into his pocket, then jumped from his seat and scrambled in a panic out of the yellow trolley.

         “Promise you’ll tell me your dream,” Priscilla called out as they passed through the entrance.

         “Okay!” said Petey, “I promise!” And he ran as fast as he could down the hall to class.

         Though maybe it hadn’t been a dream after all.

To be continued . . .       

Poetry from Hazel Fry


Translate her into a storybook 
with yellow illustrations, children’s 
fingers humming as they gaze in jealousy. Translate her scraped knuckles 
into bandaids drowned in flavorless pink. Rip out the pages where her control 
whimpers inside splintering chains, 
choking, gagging in alleyway shadows 
where a man breathes too close. 
Peel away the part where she draws her knife. Tear the paper. 
Don’t show the children how she fights back. Scribble over his body in her succulent soil and the diced red peppers 
she swallows without crying. 
Freeze the little girls mariating in envy 
as they scroll through their storybook. 
Tighten their yellow bows. 
Translate her.