Category Archives: Sketches

Garrettsville, Ohio: Indian Summer

BY CAMERON GORMAN

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

indian_summerHeat shimmers off of the lake, creating a strange in-between place that catches my thoughts and turns them into prayers for iced tea. The sun falls onto my dark hair, heating it to a fiery length.

I am floating there, suspended in the green-clear water, my legs pumping above the silt that sucks at my feet below. The fish turn in their lazy circles, watching, silent observers to my grandmother’s satisfaction as she turns her head upwards.

The rays catch her gently cragged face as she floats by me, her inner tube’s plastic surface crashing against the translucent waves as a ship breaks water. Her nose is high, it’s the Indian blood. Her hair falls delicately down her shoulders, the stark white of January cooling the stifling air.

I paddle harder against the distance and grasp her hand, slick with duckweed. The light spills over the top of her hair, gilding her expression as her eyes fly open.

I remember when we were both younger. Springtime, Easter, when I still wore dresses and she still painted her nails, dark red like blood. We looked for bones in the forest, muddy and filled with something unpinnable- fast butterfly wings.

She smiles and closes her eyes once more, the water lapping at both of us from the center of the lake. It bubbles up from somewhere underground, the sweet smell of the earth in its core.

It is cool against my body, but our arms extend across the translucent space and ignite.

Cameron Gorman is currently a student at Kent State University in Ohio. She works for the student-run newspaper and spends all of her free time writing. Her work will also appear in Work Literary Magazine in October. 

Elkhart, Indiana: The Long Afternoon

rural-indiana-1428941439jRbBY GARY V. POWELL

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. It’s based on a real unsolved murder that haunted the town of Elkhart, Indiana in 1969. Warning: A graphic sexual assault is detailed in this essay. 

Did her assailant lie in wait, or did Mrs. S answer a knock at the door and welcome a stranger inside? No sign of forced entry the police said, so maybe she recognized the man. On the other hand, she might have left the door unlocked while out shopping, unwittingly inviting danger into her home. People trusted their neighbors in those days, and in a small, Indiana town on a county road, wasn’t everyone a neighbor.

She was allowed time to put the groceries away. She sorted mail, delivered her husband’s journals to his home office, passing photos of her three daughters in the hall—all those girls tall, leggy, and auburn-haired like their mother, fine-featured and green-eyed. All three damaged in their own way by what the oldest daughter, a high school junior at the time, would come to refer to as The Event.

Her naked body came to rest in the kitchen, between the breakfast nook and range, but signs of struggle appeared throughout the house—blood spatter, broken lamps, and toppled chairs. She bore bruises and other blunt-force trauma about her face and head. Defensive knife wounds marked her hands.

The man, some said monster, first violated her over the arm of the living room sofa. Stains from bodily fluids testified to the act. Her underpants, flung onto the back of a nearby wingchair, corroborated sequence and location. A large window, devoid of curtains or other treatments, invited viewing from a herd of Angus cows grazing in Denton’s fallow pasture a quarter mile below.

Authorities suspected that rather than ending quickly and mercifully, her ordeal endured throughout that long afternoon. Dress, stockings, and bra lay strewn room to room. Sheets and blankets twisted and writhed in a damp heap on the bed. The autopsy revealed both vaginal and anal penetration.

Two Coca Colas, each partially consumed, stood mute on a coffee table in the family room, leading some to believe that during a hiatus she attempted to pacify her attacker, reason with and convince him that no real harm had been done—why, having satisfied his lust, he could simply walk away, and she’d forget the entire incident.

The toilet seat remained up, the bowl unflushed. She may have tried to call for help, but the olive green telephone, ripped from the wall, was used to bludgeon, its cord to strangle. Folks wondered why they hadn’t heard her screams.

By the grace of God, friends said, the husband, a well-known banker, arrived home ahead of the girls, all three of whom were involved in after-school extra-curricular activities.

After discovering his wife’s body, Mr. S fled on-foot down the long, tree-lined driveway. He descended the hill to the Yoder residence, rang the doorbell, and blurted out his horrific news.

Suspicion settled first on the husband, but soon lifted when it was learned he’d consulted with clients all afternoon. Further inquiry exposed neither motive nor pathology on his part. Instead, all who knew the banker proclaimed him a devoted and loving husband.

In the months that followed, several patients at a nearby mental health clinic came under scrutiny. As it turned out, these usual suspects tendered either bullet-proof alibis or denials accompanied by a lack of evidence implicating them, forensic science not being then what it is today.

Some winked and assumed she’d kept a lover, attributing the violence of that day to an affair turned sour. But if she’d been unfaithful in her marriage, she’d been more than discreet. No one recalled her dining or having a drink in what could have been construed a compromising situation. Interviews with friends and neighbors told the story of a woman who when not with family dedicated herself to volunteer activities on behalf of the school, hospital, and church.

Asked if she had enemies, her husband replied that years earlier she’d written editorials to the People’s Forum, excoriating Birchers and KKK that resided and proselytized in the community. She’d mocked their views that Dr. King was a Red and the civil rights movement a mere shill for Communist Revolution. In the weeks following her editorials, she’d received hate mail, but the letter writer was never identified and the threats eventually ceased. Any trail went cold.

Less than a mile away, State Highway 19 ran north and south.  Hitchhikers and other unsavories sometimes strayed onto the county road. Could Mrs. S have been the victim of one of these passersby? Did a serial killer haunt the highway, leaving a trail of death up and down the State?

Dahmer, Bundy, Speck—men like this were out there.

The crime remained unsolved.

Residents of the small town tried to forget, yet found themselves imagining the awful events that occurred while they’d been working, napping, or watching daytime TV. How could this have happened here?

They pretended it hadn’t happened, all the while locking their doors and averting their eyes on the street. They installed motion lights and purchased weapons. Parents called their children in by dark. Women clung together in groups.

No one asked the pretty girls to dance.

Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines and anthologies including most recently the Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction (Eric Hoffer Foundation), his work has placed in several other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard (Main Street Rag Press, 2012), is available at http://www.authorgaryvpowell.com/debut-novel/

 

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MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN: MILWAUKEE PEOPLE

BY ED MAKOWSKI

Screenshot 2016-07-07 11.46.07This poem is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We got

9 inches of snow

after 4 was predicted.

 

While driving home from work

I pulled over to the side,

knowing I’d get stuck,

but a black Chrysler

was beached in the intersection

spinning nowhere.

 

I started pushing on their trunk

then two other people

scampered up to lean in

and soon they were sliding away.

 

You don’t thank the other strangers

who also push a stranger’s

car out of the snow,

more nod and smile

at having completed

an unpreferable task

together.

 

My car was beached

on the 9 inches of snow

so I grabbed my shovel from the backseat

and started shoveling out

underneath my front bumper,

around the front tires,

under the doors.

 

then from behind

I heard a man’s voice suggest

that I get in and try, he’d push.

 

I turned toward the voice, then said,

“Oh hey Tony.”

 

He looked at me for a second,

“Oh hi Ed.”

 

Chuckling into the driver’s seat,

 

while tossing the snow shovel

on the passenger seat floor,

 

that I have the kind of friends

who offer to help

before they recognize you.

 

Ed Makowski is a poet and writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He writes and edits at a nature center and makes drinks at a tiki bar. Ed prefers two wheels to four, but it’s really nice to drive in a car throughout winter. edmakowski.com

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Champagne in the Sour Times

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr Creative Commons

BY TORI SZEKERES 

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I didn’t notice how drunk my coworker Erin was until she fell down for the second time on our way to Summerfest.

Erin and I weren’t friends outside of work. We weren’t friends at work, either. The marketing firm we worked for took its company’s employees to Summerfest on the opening night of the music festival.  We were together in a group walking over from a bar on Water Street. I was one of the old ladies of the company at 27. Many of my coworkers were just out of college, or, like Erin, just 21.

For those of you not familiar with Summerfest, it’s an opportunity for all the bands you love to play on Milwaukee’s lakefront in late June and early July.  What the promotional materials don’t tell you is that it’s a ten-day chance for a million people to party till they puke a river of Miller Genuine Draft under a bridge.

I knew of Erin because she was dating Ryan, who sat in the next cube. He didn’t really talk about her all that much when she wasn’t around.  Nor did he talk to her that much when she stopped by his desk.

He was not walking over with us. I didn’t tell Erin this, but while she was working on the second floor, Ryan would flirt with our boss, Jessica, who seemed interested in learning more about what he had to offer.

We pulled Erin up. We asked if she was okay. We progressed into the south gates of the Summerfest grounds. And then I realized what was happening: Erin was so not okay. She couldn’t walk without falling and it was up to me to ensure she returned home unharmed.  It was okay with me: I knew what could happen if you turned a blind eye toward another woman in need.  And the lineup that night sucked, anyway.

The other women went off into the night, not to be seen again until work the next day.  The 5 foot 8 inch me linked my arms under the arms of 5 foot 2 inch, 98-pound Erin. “I’M GOING TO TAKE YOU HOME!” I told her over the din. “I’M HOLDING ON TO YOU SO YOU DON’T FALL!”

“OK!” she said. “WHERE’S RYAN?”

“DON’T WORRY ABOUT HIM!” I shouted.

And we began our trek toward the North Gate, which would have the ATMs and taxis needed to get us back to my house on the east side, which had my car parked nearby.

Hours seemed to pass.  We were walking against a crowd of 200,000 people who were headed south on the grounds, toward The Fray playing at the Marcus Amphitheatre and the stages with the 10 p.m. shows. Neither of us said much to each other as we stopped at the women’s bathrooms.

But as we got to the midway point of the festival, security guards and other interested parties began to take notice of Erin’s current mode of transport. In response, I got her birthdate and started shouting out “TWELVE THIRTEEN EIGHTY FOUR! I’M TAKING HER HOME!” at anyone who raised an eyebrow.  They needed to know she drank legally tonight.

While we walked, I thought about the boys in my life that I treated like kings while they treated me like an assistant.

The last time I had been as drunk as Erin was August 2003. I called out my then-boyfriend for having an online friendship with a camgirl from his hometown. His lack of concern sent me toward the half-full bottle of Jack Daniels on top of the refrigerator. I intended to add the remaining pills of my Effexor prescription to the whiskey burbling in my stomach, but my parents got home first. I’m not the only one who has ever been treated like she didn’t matter, I thought, looking at the back of Erin’s head.

Erin and I finally got to the north entrance. I noticed there was a First Aid tent, so I thought it would be a good idea to get her checked out before we split. She was trying to convince me to let her call her friend Juan to give us rides back to our residences as I brought her into the tent. I emphasized I would be taking her home.

A medic took Erin behind a curtain and I looked around. There were three crying blonde women in various states of intoxication sitting against the wall. It was like I had entered into an adult daycare before naptime.

I took a breath and made eye contact with the crying girl in the middle of the group. Maybe this was a projection out of Psych 101, but I had an idea from where her tears stemmed. I said, “He’s not worth it.” She stopped crying. She didn’t give me a strange look, so I continued. “He’s not worth it,” I said again.

I also was amazed that there were so many dudes out there treating so many ladies like shit! I thought I was the only one, due to my weight and general awkwardness! I was concerned for Erin, yes, but this realization blew my mind.

“She’s right,” a man’s voice said behind me. “We’re not.” He brought Erin back out and released her to me.  She would be fine once she sobered up.

Tori Szekeres now lives 25 miles away from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs. She enjoys stand-up comedy, graphic design and writing. She emphasizes that the names here are changed to protect the innocent. 

Peterborough, Ontario: Unsettled in Nogojiwanong

BY JANE AFFLECK

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

Otonobee_3After twenty-four hours by train and two by bus, I arrived in Peterborough, Ontario with two suitcases and a backpack weighted with books, laptop, and clothes. I’d have little more to get me through year one of my PhD. September through May, “home” was a furnished house shared with three other students; I’d rented out my house in Halifax, Nova Scotia and put my belongings in storage. Low commitment, I told myself, in case the PhD didn’t work out.

The landlady’s windowsill knick-knacks were relocated to the dining room so I’d have a better view of the backyard and, just beyond, the creek—one of many crossing Peterborough and feeding the Otonobee River, part of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a suture of switchbacking rivers, lakes and and locks running from Georgian Bay into Lake Ontario. Mornings after heavy rain, waiting for my toast, I’d watch the swollen creek tumble; through the winter, I’d guess how cold it was by how thick the ice looked. In spring, sun-warmed snow broke from the banks and dissolved into the current, flowing south-eastward.

End of May, I did too, returning to Halifax to teach an art history course. Reconnecting with friends and family, I rarely thought of Peterborough—not till late August, when Graduate Studies sent emails reminding me to register, which I did the day after I returned, within hours of the deadline.

My ambivalence was puzzling. For second year, I had a one-bedroom apartment with a front garden, and soon, movers would deliver my things from storage: bed and dresser, sofa, oak table and desk, a couple hundred books, and mementos and photographs of my travels across Canada, the UK and Asia. But unpacking boxes, leafing through books, I felt only brief moments of joy; I couldn’t shake an unsettled, even sad, feeling. I joked with friends that it was “buyer’s regret,” having committed to living in Peterborough and doing the PhD. Once I had a routine, I figured, I’d get over it.

But as the days passed, my ambivalence intensified; I missed Halifax more than during first year. So I tried to be social, hoping to feel connected, that the scales would tip in favour of being here. In this spirit, I went on the Anti-Colonization Walk-About during “DisOrientation Week” in late September.

A small group was already assembled at Confederation Square, the appointed meeting place. Our guide was a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which had shared this land with the Mississauga before European contact—a fact sometimes overlooked, she noted, by the Mississauga and the government. Both the Haudenosaunee and the Mississauga are Anishinaabe people, whose traditional territories extend in all directions from the Great Lakes. Yet the territorial acknowledgement I’d learned the week before referred only to the Mississauga. I felt a trickle of doubt—not for our guide, but because I’d blindly accepted one version of the story.

Before the walk, our guide led us in ceremony: she placed a lit bundle of sage in a clamshell, wafted the smoke over herself, then passed it around so we could do the same.

We followed her to the edge of the park and a sign describing how “pioneers” had used it as an agricultural fair, then as a cemetery. At the bottom, two sentences acknowledged that remains of “First Nations” people had also been found. We followed her to a grass median in a parking lot and a small boulder with a plaque: “An Anishinaabe lies here. Rest in peace.” Nearby, a larger plaque detailed the life of the settler who’d found the remains. There was no further information about the Anishinaabe.

Indigenous bodies beneath settlers’ bodies; settlers’ words burying Indigenous history.

We followed her downtown. The quaint brick buildings of the main streets now seemed to conceal something, to be on shaky ground that might split open and swallow us up. I felt heavy, as though that boulder was now lodged between my heart and stomach. It was unlike any emotional weight I’d ever experienced—not the garden-variety blues that sometimes settle after several of life’s more trying days, not despair, not even grief. It was embodied—an emotion I was physically carrying.

We stopped along the west bank of the Otonobee. She asked us what we could hear.

A distant bird.

The wind in the leaves of the trees overhead.

Afternoon traffic crossing the bridges.

The constant drone of the ventilation system in the factory to the north.

But not the river.

A hierarchy of sounds; a hierarchy of cultures.

We followed her to a patch of grass for closing ceremony: fingers dipped into a cup of warm water, then touched to forehead, nose, neck, shoulders, knees, and ankles. Our guide’s brother used a feather to “sweep death” from our eyes and ears. It was an oddly intimate gesture, and I wasn’t sure I believed it would work. But opening my eyes, seeing his smile, the lightness of joy replaced the gravity, the lassitude, of that boulder.

Back at my apartment, porch festooned with the vines of ripening beans, a hint of the boulder’s lug returned. Unlocking the door, I was grateful for a quiet place to process the afternoon’s experiences, but more aware than ever that this was not my home, just a temporary place to be.

Three blocks eastward, the Otonobee River flowed on, as it had long before 1615, when Samuel de Champlain conscripted the Anishinaabe, whose knowledge he used to define and delimit the land and the waterways between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, and beyond.

Three blocks eastward, the Otonobee River flowed on, as it will long after I’ve completed the PhD and found another, probably temporary, place to be.

In the meantime, reconciliation: of my feelings of ambivalence about staying for two more years in Nogojiwanong—the Anishinaabe word for Peterborough, meaning “place at the end of rapids”—and through becoming an anti-colonizing settler ally, wherever I am.

Jane Affleck is a writer, part-time instructor at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and PhD candidate in the Cultural Studies program at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario. Her writing (short stories, feature articles and exhibition reviews) has appeared in several Canadian arts and culture magazines, including C Magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to international contemporary art. Her Peterborough “bucket list” (to do before completing the PhD and leaving town) includes visiting the Canadian Canoe Museum and, after a couple of lessons, venturing along the Otonobee River in a canoe.

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Garden City, Michigan: Corner of Maplewood and Hartel

BY AMY KENYON

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

In an unknown world at the edge of Detroit, there is a green diamond ablaze beneath the sky. We, the young ones in this place of little pattern houses, call it the Lighted Field. Year after year, grasping at childhood, we ride our bikes with streamers on our handlebars, whooshing down Maplewood. Meet me at the Lighted Field, we say. Game or no game. Night or blinding summer day when the sun extinguishes the fierce electric lights. Meet me at the Lighted Field.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.40.43 PMBut this night, this 1969 night, burns brighter than sunlight. Sears my memory. Mosquitoes fry high above the infield on white-hot bulbs. Dust flies after base runners. Crowded feet in sandals and sneakers dangle between rows of bleacher seats. Bats pop. Popsicles melt. Top of the ninth. You and I make out behind the clubhouse at the Lighted Field. We run before the inning ends. To Canada.

Soon, your draft notice will land in the family mailbox, but find no soldier boy there to enlist, because of small acts across our childhood years. Chase games, hiding games. A red crayon Valentine slipped through your locker door. Secrets. Blushes. Whispering, camping in the backyard, our homemade tent cloaked in suburban sprawl. Beach towels and transistor radios at the lake. Warm sand coating our skin. Until tonight’s game. Wet, frightened adolescent kisses send us flying for your life. All the way to downtown Detroit in your old Ford, along Michigan Avenue, past the big stadium aglow, right turn to the River, through the Windsor Tunnel and out the other side.

Top of the ninth. Years too late. A summer afternoon, I park my car on Hartel and find a place on the bleachers at the Lighted Field, baking my bare, outstretched legs in the sun. Unknown, unknowable world at the edge of Detroit. There is the clubhouse where you and I used to hide and scheme and make out. Then you went to Vietnam.

No one recognizes me anymore. I watch the game. Until the day of my own death far from this place, if my old mind flickers to the green diamond beneath hot sun or beneath tall electric lights and black sky; or if the words, Lighted Field, flash and then go dark, then one last time, my heart will race and my throat tighten with grief.

A historian, writer and photographer, Amy Kenyon was born in Dearborn, Michigan and spent her childhood in suburban Detroit. She is the author of Dreaming Suburbia (Wayne State University Press) and Ford Road (University o Michigan Press).  

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Manistee National Forest, Michigan: The Bear

BY FRITZ SWANSON

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

5ACBD117-2B08-4EFC-A3DC-1C9D7EDAB3A7The Sunday after the memorial services, we all went morel hunting.

Sara found two more morels in the front yard of her mother’s house. I had found one the day before, amidst dead wood along M-55, where lumber trucks barreled out of the Manistee National Forest. With three morels found, even though the season was long over, we decided to take the kids and grandpa out into the forest to hunt for more beneath overcast summer skies.

We drove a few miles west and pulled off at a sign (erected in 1983) celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of a Civilian Conservation Corp camp that had toiled in the woods during the Depression. Beyond the first tree line, in the clear path beneath new power lines, Oscar (age 5), stumbled along in the grass with his hands outstretched. Abigail (age 2), toddled after her ‘buther’.

“C’mere, little cabbage moth,” Oscar said quietly, his hands moving up and down, following the loping, drunk flight of the small insect.

Beyond the second tree line, along fallen poplars, we found cup fungus, white shelf fungus, and richly colored sulphur fungus. But there were too many pines, and so we marched west were we saw more beech and oak leaves.

As we ascended a sandy hill, we found angled iron set in old, crumbling concrete.

“What was here, Dad?” Oscar asked.

“I guess it was part of the old camp for the men who worked here years ago,” I replied, uncertain. We found several stout concrete posts arrayed around a large cone of concrete almost as tall as me, with a bent and rusting piece of rebar atop it.

“A toad!” grandpa called, happily, and Oscar and Abigail ran over with me following. The toad hopped amidst the shepherd hook sprouts of fiddle head ferns, hiding beneath maple saplings. All across the forest floor, sprouting from the leaves, were tiny mushrooms and white star-flowers.

Oscar chirped as he raised his cupped hands. And inside, frightened but safe, there was the tiny form of a gray tree frog with his yellow inner thighs pulled close against his white belly.

Oscar carried him deeper into the ruins of the camp while Sara and grandpa looked under fallen logs for morels. Abigail wrapped her hand around one of my fingers. “I looking for river,” she said to me seriously. I picked her up and carried her on my hip. She whispered in my ear, “You can find a big river, and,” I leaned close to feel her lips against my cheek. Then she said, “and I find a teeny tiny river.”

Beyond the ruins there was a huge treeless bowl between two hills. Down the eastern slope of the bowl, as we descended, we found crumbling shingles, maybe from the camp, maybe dumped years later.

“I think,” Oscar said, stumbling across the shingles, “that a house sank here into the hill.”

We really didn’t have any better explanation.

But then he fell and landed on his cupped hand.

“Is the frog okay!” Sara asked, concerned. “Are you okay, Oscar?”

We examined Oscar, and the frog, and found that both were okay. Oscar took the frog back up the hill into the wet leaves beneath the trees and released him by a corner of exposed concrete.

The clouds drew close, and the air was cool.

“Maybe it rain,” Abigail said, toddling out into the treeless expanse of the open bowl. At the northern end of the bowl was a high mound built by aggressive black and red ants. At the southern end there was the curled over gray stump of some long dead tree.

The forest behind us had been a mix of pine and poplar and oak, but the forest up the western slope of the bowl was entirely deciduous, and it was there that we marched to look again for mushrooms.

“Look, here are two!” Sara called out. But when we came closer, we saw that the mushrooms had gone black and peeled back at the head. They were days old and had gone bad.

Oscar and Grandpa marched steadily further west, out onto a lumber road, where they played hey-batter-batter-swing with sticks and stones.

As Sara and Abigail and I searched, we found clumps of morels every ten or fifteen feet, all at the same level, half way up the western slope of the bowl, beneath rotting logs or against ancient trees. But every time, the morels had gone bad, turning black, melting back into the sandy loam of the hillside.

And along with the morels, a little further of up the hill, we kept finding the heavy odorless scat of brown bear. Abigail was getting tired, tumbling down into the leaves, whimpering a little.

“I don’t like the look of that,” Sara said after we found the third pile of bear scat. The bear had been marching around the western half of the bowl for quite a while, staying up along one level of the hill, drawn here for some reason.

Abigail pulled down the top of a fiddlehead fern to inspect the curled end. “Worm,” she said to me, indicating the curled up head of the fern.

At the end of it all, we had found ten rotting morels.

Defeated, we marched back down into the bowl. Abigail, exhausted, cried into Sara’s shoulder. And in the dead center of the bowl, on the flat sandy ground beneath ferns and atop star flowers, we found a skull.

“Is it a deer?” Sara asked.

But it was too stout, a deer skull usually stretching  out at the snout.

“No,” I said tentatively, “I think it belonged to a bear. Maybe a juvenile.”

It was missing its canines, so it was hard to tell, but that’s what I think rested in the middle of the great open bowl in the forest.

I scooped up Abigail, and as she wailed, I marched back to the car.

Oscar, holding Sara’s hand, paused over the skull.

“Are you scared,” Sara asked.

I crested the hill, almost jogging along the old concrete left behind by the men who had restored this wild place after a century of heavy logging.

I heard Oscar say, “No, Mom. I think I’m just a little sad.”

Fritz Swanson is the Director of Wolverine Press, the letterpress studio for the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. His writing has appeared in such places as McSweeney’s, The Believer, The Christian Science Monitor and Esopus.

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Franklin Island, Ontario: Georgian Bay Wild

Wendy4-1

BY JANN EVERARD

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

My voice takes on that peculiar tone of warning, low to start, pitch rising, two syllables made out of a one-syllable name. “Jim.”

He’s ahead of me on the narrow path. Before I’ve even closed my mouth, he’s turned and started back, eyes on my face. He doesn’t run, doesn’t even pick up his pace. One twitch from me and I know he’ll ditch his pack to free his movements. With his back to the danger, it’s a matter of trust. But we’ve been through this before. I keep my eyes on the bear. It watches my husband’s retreat but doesn’t move.

We backtrack along the path. “Big or small?” Jim asks.

“Adult,” I say. “But I’m pretty sure it was alone.” With that, the tension recedes a little. Our first close encounter with a bear took place more than twenty years before on another island—Vancouver Island. I had our infant son on my back when the three of us somehow came between a cub and its mother on a narrow trail in dense bush. We made it back to camp safely, but the memory of our fear—the other possible outcomes our imaginations conjured up—still sticks with us.

I glance back. The bear is eating. Blueberries, I suppose, although it’s late in the season. “Wait it out by the water?” I ask, as if we have any real option. We’ve pulled up our canoe at the start of the portage to avoid rounding a windy point. The spot is boggy and breezeless, rife with whining mosquitoes.

“I guess,” Jim says, testing the wind with an upraised finger. It’s clear he wishes we’d pressed forward on the water, despite the westerlies. It’s me that’s afraid of the rollers and opted for the safer route. Back at the boat, I scrabble through a dry-bag and hand him a granola bar. “We’ll give it ten minutes,” I say, “then try again.”

The pinkish-grey rock where we sit is warm and smooth. We swat bugs as we eat. We’re delayed, yes, but not dissuaded. The bear will move on and the hard part of the day is over. We’ve packed up and left the city three hours behind, manoeuvred through the busy harbour, and paddled the open-water crossing. Already our skin has the sun-toasted smell of late, late summer. The susurrus of white pines has replaced the background track of traffic. Simultaneously, we exhale deeply and lie back to sunbathe while we wait.

But soon I pop up, my mind less willing to relax than my body. “Did you remember the rope to hang the food,” I ask.

“Uh-huh,” Jim mumbles, already halfway to sleep.

Of course he remembered. After dozens of these trips, we don’t forget the essentials. I settle back on the rock. This is how another weekend on Franklin Island begins.

*

Franklin. One of thousands of islands in Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. It’s a popular spot for canoeists and kayakers, novice and expert. We’ve been coming here for three decades, sometimes with our children, more recently by ourselves. As Crown land, it has the dual advantages of being uninhabited and accessible. Over the years, we’ve circumnavigated the island, clockwise and counter-clockwise, and used it as a jumping-off point to paddle to smaller, more remote island chains farther offshore when the weather’s been right—the Minks and the McCoys. On occasion, we’ve been lazy, paddling no farther than the first unoccupied campsite we’ve come across, quick to sling a hammock and uncork a bottle of wine. When a weekend opens up on short notice, or we just need to get away without much planning, Franklin has been our go-to place.

Experience has shown that the shoulder seasons—spring, or September-October once school resumes—guarantee the best choice of campsites and greater solitude on the water. Our favourite site is at the base of a deep, wide bay on the western side of the island. There’s a large plate of rock, the same runnelled granite that is found throughout the Georgian Bay islands. A patch of sandy beach is just big enough to land a canoe or air-dry on a towel after a swim. The lichen here ranges from a brilliant pumpkin colour to saffron; the sky and water gleam shades of cerulean blue. Storms and wind buffet this place and so the trees lean inland, some bare of branches on their exposed sides. Any one of them could be a model for a painting by the Group of Seven.

On our next sortie down the portage trail, the bear is gone. We pitch our tent on a spongy bed of needles. The day is relaxing but night is best on Franklin, the moon a slender white paring amidst a fizz of stars. We watch the sun set, the clouds settling in inukshuk shapes against a crimson horizon. The scent of resin clings to my hands; my hair carries the perfume of woodsmoke. We snuggle into our fleeces as September warmth is edged back by autumnal chill, listen to the rustles of small nocturnal creatures preparing for winter ahead.

*

Two summers later, we’re back, our favourite campsite unchanged. It’s a comfort to know that other people who enjoy this place treat it with respect and pack out their garbage. The ring of rocks that mark the campfire is tidy. No cigarette butts mar the miniature beach.

“Lunch, then a dip?” I call out, as Jim deposits the last of our dry-bags by the door of our tent. This trip, the weather is perfect and we’ve paddled around the island’s often-dicey southern point. Shoulders ache pleasantly.

We chow down on bagels toasted in bacon grease, on raw carrots and apples. Eager to swim, we toss our clothes on the sand, leave lunch cleanup until later.

Mid-stroke, I look up at our site. The sun glints in my eyes as a large, black shape ambles across the rock towards our makeshift table.

Like a repetitious bird, I sing out the same familiar song. “Ji…m.”

Jann Everard of Toronto, Canada, is a writer and part-time health administrator. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in literary journals, newspapers and anthologies including The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, Grain, Whitefish Review, The Los Angeles Review and Coming Attractions 15 (Oberon Press, 2015). Jann is a frequent traveller and an outdoor enthusiast. Please visit her at www.janneverard.com 

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Bluffton University Nature Preserve, Ohio: Winter Liminal

Bluffton_natureBY DAVE ESSINGER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

The snow in the fields is crisscrossed by finger-wide tracks, and otherwise pristine.  One might imagine sticks dragged by wandering wraiths, absent-minded visitors from the other side, but with no other marks at all, at first I can’t guess what really made these traces.

Eventually it dawns on me that the tracks are made from beneath the surface and not above: mice moving under the snow.  It’s another “other side,” a real other realm, and a reminder: not everything we register at the interface of our world originates there.

The mouse-trails wind and cross and begin and disappear, and show up in any depth of snow, but they never break the surface that I can see.  I imagine furry mouse-submariners pawing and digging, navigating by scent and temperature and pressure and dead reckoning, never breaching periscope depth.  I wonder if lazier mice re-use others’ tunnels or, lacking that kind of foresight, they just go, honeycombing the snow, and with each new errand, extending.  We see only the most peripheral capillaries of a vast temporary circulatory network.  Mouse-bodies moving like blood, pushed by the beat of a heart bigger than them, bigger than any of us.

My own blood pushes up beneath my exposed skin, a constant heat-exchange, a one-sided streaming toward entropy.  It’s five degrees below zero, and I’m not dressed for contemplation.  My eyelashes bead and freeze from my breath.

From here, I could run out on the ice of the lake, above slumbering fish in the grave-cold muck, their own suspended dimension.  The ice could be a bridge to tiny islands I only see from shore in summer.  It also might break beneath me—there’s no knowing its thickness.

No one knows I’m here.

Suddenly, right at my feet, here is a new trail being made: a raised line, a mouse meandering, a drawing tracing itself.  I watch the snow lift as the mouse burrows along.  The arched roof of the tunnel lasts for a while, and I imagine the light shining through, blue-white, the snow holding its dome in the wake of the warm mouse bullet body that made it.

Some trails must end in a scuffle: there are foxes, owls.  Prowling cats.  I could excavate the one in front of me, crash its ceiling, let in annihilating light with my shoe.  Untouched, it will end in silent powdery collapse—and then vanish with wind, or melt, or new snow.

I’m in a moving mandala, traces on a membrane that draws and erases itself.  Already, I’ve stood still too long, the cold grasping for me across all these liminal boundary layers.

No one knows I’m here.

Dave Essinger’s recent work has appeared in Mud Season Review, Sport Literate, Quarter After Eight, and elsewhere, and was listed as a Notable in The Best American Sports Writing 2014. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and now teaches creative writing and edits the literary magazine Slippery Elm at the University of Findlay. He’s shopping a novel about ultrarunning, which was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award. 

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Walker, Minnesota: Old Haunts

paul_bunyanBY MICHAEL O’NEILL

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We had postponed this trip for six years, but now it sped toward us. Mom’s foot a balancing act on the pedal, ever so lightly pressing down as her own sinews pushed back. We sat in the backseat calculating her trepidation by the number of times she turned the radio down or adjusted her grip on the wheel. The mid-model Ford teetered, accelerated then coasted to the rhythm of so many years rushing through her head. This was always Pete’s vacation spot – a tiny row of cabins in Minnesota, in a town which no one cared to remember the name.

If it wasn’t for the screened-in porch we would have been eaten alive by mosquitoes every day after sundown, and it wasn’t worth it to complain to the site manager that the air conditioning never worked  – didn’t then, didn’t now. I pulled the windows open, turned the ceiling fans on high and lugged the crushed ice from the car to the coolers, hoping to stave off the sweat already running down my back.

It wasn’t so difficult for us. In fact, my sister Ann and I looked forward to it. As a family we had driven the 8 hours here every summer when we were younger, staying a few weeks with Uncle Pete and his kids, Tommy and Louise, and getting away from what Mom called “the hazards of the city.” Chicago was nice, yeah, but it seemed like there was salvation in those days spent among the trees, mimicking the calls of the loons as they glided atop the lake.

We were located in what was called the Paul Bunyan State Forest, and the locals had a 40-ft tall replica of Bunyan himself to make sure the point came across. The first few times we made the trek up this way it was somewhat of a tradition to pose for pictures in front of the statue, and we were each sure to pack at least one flannel to do our best lumberjack impression.

When Pete died the cabin remained, occupied by other families drawing the same joy from the getaway as we once did. And it no longer made sense to Mom to make the trip with Pete gone, which she chalked up to work and the economy. In truth, it was too hard on all of us, but in time, Ann and I were able to exact the memory of our uncle from the cabin itself, dividing our hearts into tiny compartments that stored the traces of his image behind tightly shut doors.

Mom had seen him drink himself to death, however. We were too young to detect his trembling hand,  his patchy skin, the extended belly; each summer it got more noticeable, but since we only ever saw Pete once a year she knew there was nothing she could do to stop him. Six years ago he stopped himself, passing out on the floor and never rising again, discovered by his daughter several hours later.

The cabin sat on Benedict Lake, but we always called it Leech Lake because twice I had come out of the water with leeches attached to my legs, hurdling toward the adults to scrape them off. I don’t know how much blood was taken from me, but I know Mom and Pete threw their heads back in laughter at the sight of me waddling like a duck fearing my legs would have to be amputated.

The real blood loss came when Pete passed away. Though there was no physical stain, there was a slow trickling of life that left us all, seeping from the veins we shared.

Our first time back, I let Mom open the door and walk in alone.

She scans the eggshell walls, counts the slacks in the wooden floor, positions the ghost of Pete in the recliner he used to sit in, and pieces together a life she had avoided for some time.

For her this was a baptism, and for us it felt like home.

Michael O’Neill is a fiction and poetry writer residing in Chicago. His work has appeared in Nanoism, Literary Orphans, Unbroken Journal, WhiskeyPaper and the Journal of Microliterature, among others.

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