New Stories by Ashlie Allen


We were painting pictures, a bottle of wine glowing in the background. It was too sunny, so we closed the curtains. I guided your hand towards the canvas, helping you create visions. You giggled and said I was awkward. I grabbed the wine and drank heavily, desperate for paralysis. I wondered if you knew what anxiety was and if I looked like the devil. “Please keep painting.” I begged. You were unaware that the paint was black.

When you finished, I jerked open the curtains, wanting you to see your creation. “Where are you?” you cried. “You made a masterpiece.” I winked, though you could not see. My entire body was covered in black. I was your creepy, drunken art.




I’m best friends with my static radio. I sit outside with it, blasting classic music while watching my nieces and nephews play. I wish I was them. They don’t understand why I’m out here every day or why I look so pale. They often ask if I’m sick or just bored. “Give uncle a kiss and forget about him.” I’ll say. Once, when I was a kid, I played without worry. There was just the wind brushing against my skin and the yummy scent of burning leaves. The radio is my soothing breeze and holy incense; it is my Medicine-man.





He complained, did this citizen, to his
Alderman about the injustice of sidewalks,
About the poorer people who wouldn’t
Pay for them the way he had to. The day
Was bright, he stood righteous, while
The Alderman watched and said nothing.
The man discomfited became, as well, silent,
But moved his feet restlessly. Then finally:
‘Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Those people 
Can’t help their state. I should know that.’
And then a woman phoned about those
Same poor people who would benefit
By subsidy housing, habitat for humanity.
‘Why should we be taxed to help that riff-raff?
They’ll ruin this neighborhood, lower the value
Of my house so to trap me with them here.’
The Alderman said nothing. Silence deepens.
Then she wept. ‘I know I shouldn’t be that way.
It’s not very Christian, is it?’ He said nothing.
But he heard the anger behind her tears.
There is no Law in the spaces between words.
There is no Ethics in the clarity before ideas.
There is no Morality in the emptiness of clear
Water no longer muddy. Just a mirror, 
Flawless, reflective, wherein one sees 
One’s own meanness. The Clarity does
Not judge, but requires its reflected self 
To endure its own judgement. The sidewalk 
Discomfits. The man’s feet pace restless;
Shelter of the Other brings on her guilty tears.

LUCY from TALES OF BRIDGETON By Michael Knoedler



I was sleeping on the carpeted floor in Jimbo McPhearson’s bedroom when I first heard the wailing. I rolled over to go back to sleep. Her crying ascended through the heating grate near my head. Lemon Kraig and Jimbo curled up across the floor. I rose and slowly opened the door. Pausing on the stairs. Doc McPhearson’s soothing voice. “I’m just so sorry, Bev. So sorry.”

I peered into the kitchen. Lit by the under-the-counter fluorescent. Beverly Shuster shuddering and gasping. Doc’s flashlight inspecting the naked baby on the table. Lucy. Beverly’s two-month-old infant. On her back, on a turquoise blanket. The movement of Doc’s light beckoned me in. Beverly leaning forward onto the kitchen table. Her arms clutching Lucy’s legs. Stroking them. Pinching them. Lucy soundless. Motionless. A faint greyish-blue. Drawing me closer by her inactivity. Beverly rubbing her belly. Pleading with her. “Lucy! Lucy!”

I stood next to Doc as he consoled her. “She was dead within seconds after she stopped breathing, Bev.”

“I had just nursed her twenty minutes earlier.”

“It can happen that quickly.”

Reaching out to touch Lucy. Doc’s oversized paw enveloped my hand and pulled it back. Beverly noticed me for the first time. She half-smiled. “Hi, Mickey. It’s OK. You can touch her. Here, let me help.”

Beverly came around the table. Held my right hand and we touched Lucy’s fingers. Sliding up her arm. Beverly no longer crying. Whispering. “You can touch her face.”

I looked back at Doc. Jimbo stood next to him. Lemon over Jimbo’s shoulder. Lucy’s eyes half closed, unfocused. Her mouth barely open at the corners. I caressed her velvet cheek with my index finger. My thumb felt no air from her nose. Her flesh losing heat. Beverly singing, “Lullaby and good night” as she lifted my hand away. Scooped Lucy up. Holding her near my face. Then Lemon’s, finally Jimbo’s. “See, she stopped breathing. Just like that.”

Doc McPhearson, very faintly, “Boys,” and we moved to the back wall of the kitchen. Three nine-year olds in white jockey shorts. Lit up by the gray and orange of dawn edging through the kitchen windows. Doc finally escorted Lucy and Beverly away from us, into his office.

We went upstairs and dressed. Jimbo asked if we would stay, but we had to get outside. A photograph of Jimbo’s mother on his dresser. She’d left Doc and the McPhearson boys four years ago. The two older sons had been living with her for the past half-a-year in Tomah. We knew we couldn’t leave Jimbo alone. We walked to the bridge. The Bridgeton Paper Mill was lighting up for the day shift. A few men hustled across the walkway to work. Stared at us in the 5:30 A.M. daybreak. We eased down the dew-covered ladder to the dam. Found a flat rock near       the roaring water of Little Bull Falls and sat there. Lemon asked, “How long had you been there before we came down, Mick?”

“Not long. Maybe twenty minutes.”

“Was the baby still alive?”

“Nope. Just Beverly wanting her to be.”

“She know you, Mick?”

“She helps my mother clean house once a month. She’s just nineteen. Her aunt kicked her out when she got pregnant. Living alone now.”

Jimbo looked up. “She stayed over last night after she made us supper. She often does when Dad’s running late. Lucy must have died in my old crib.” We could hear him crying.

The river turned from sheet metal grey to dirty blue. The fat orange of a sun rose in the hazy morning in front of us. We scampered over the boulders to the path below the dam. Our sneakers and pants soaked by a battlefield of mullein coated with river dew. Until we reached the sandbar and the beach. Stripping and swimming in the shallow tannic waters a mile down from the dam. Waiting for Jimbo to be able to go back home.

Three days after Lucy’s funeral, we rode our bikes to Beverly’s two-bedroom house on Snyder Road. Her lab-mix, Pancho, barked and ran to us as we rode up the long driveway. Jimbo dropped off his bike and petted Pancho. Beverly came down from the front porch. “What are you boys doing here?”

I thought Jimbo would tell her. It was his idea. But he looked away. I spoke up. “Mom thought you could use some help.”

“Doing what?”

None of us knew. “Maybe some cleaning?”

She laughed at me. “Mickey, you can’t even keep your underwear out of the dust bunnies under your bed.”

Red-faced as Lemon and Jimbo giggled. Lemon eyeballed her vegetable garden. “Your butter beans need picking. Everything needs weeding. We can do that.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I help Dad take care of ours. He sells down at the market.”

“You know what’s a weed?”

Lemon nodded and Beverly said, “OK.”

She handed Lemon a bucket and left us. Lemon showed Jimbo and me how to reach under the bushes and pick the yellow pods without pulling up the plants. He pulled the crabgrass alongside the rows. Directing us as he scooted around in the garden. Clearing the plantains and chickweed from her peppers and butternut squash. After we picked the three rows, he showed us how to freshen up the grassy mulch underneath her tomato plants. Careful not to knock the yellowish-green baseballs off the lower branches. Beverly came back with a shovel and sheets from cardboard boxes. “Pull the pigweed along the fence and put the cardboard down. Cover it over with dirt.”

This time she sat on the splitting block nearby watching her chickens scratch for beetles. “Lemon, you know how to pick eggs?”

He nodded.

“There’s a bowl inside the pen. Give ‘em some water, too. Jimbo and Mickey can finish up with the weeding.”

We watched her go back up to the house. Jimbo dug the dirt while I covered the cardboard mulch. Lemon was running water near the chicken coop. We washed our hands and had a cool drink. Beverly sat on the front porch pushing Lucy’s bassinet back and forth. Lemon set the bowl of eggs down, “One of the hens has a broken claw.”

She rolled her eyes like she already knew. Jimbo walked up the porch steps and knelt alongside the bassinet. Rubbed his hands along the carved rails. “Used to be yours, Jimbo. Doc gave it to me.”

Jimbo nodded and started crying. “Did Doc tell your brothers yet?”

“They won’t want to know. It’s why they left.”

“Maybe they’ll come back now. I never meant for them to go away.”

Jimbo had never talked about it. Mom either, but I heard her arguing with Dad about Beverly several times. I thought it was about the money.

We got on our bikes and waved goodbye. Doc’s red sedan roared up the driveway. Doc stopped and got out of the car when he reached us. “Jimbo, what the hell are you doing here?”

I didn’t think Jimbo would cry again. Couldn’t stop himself. Beverly rushed over. “Leave him alone, Doc. Jimbo’s not like his brothers. He’s hurting, too.”

Doc eased off as Beverly continued. “They were helping out. Took care of my garden.”

Doc looked at Lemon and me. Understood we were part of it now. “Then it’s OK. Thanks, boys.”

We biked back toward town. Turned in at the cemetery. Stopped at Lucy’s plot. No gravestone had been laid. Lemon and I waited for Jimbo to cry again. He surprised me. “I used to touch her face like you did, Mick. Held her while Beverly cooked me supper.” He knelt down in fresh dirt. “I could have left with my brothers midyear. Mom wanted me to. I told her I would when school ended. Then I fell in love with my sister too much.”


Two Poems by Kelly Cherry


He’s old, and tired of his own pomposity.

Will he do what he says he will do?


I don’t think so. Habit makes fools of us.

Habit slaps a ticket on our windshield,

Letting everyone know how far we are

From perfection. Even from acceptable.


The Statesman has spent his life being stately.

He’s visited states all around the world.

At home, undressed, he lets his fat fall out,

Reads newspapers extolling his speeches, the speeches


Written by somebody else. Then he climbs

Into bed, glass of water on his night table,

Pulls the sheets up and goes to sleep dreaming

Of childhood, when nobody asked anything of him


and left him free to swing on the swing all day

or join the kids building buildings with clay.




As an actress she was invincible.

She had quite

a few abortions.

She knew what she wanted to do

And she did it with flair.

She fought for her career,

To have it go the way she wanted it

To go. Fierce, determined, with

A kind of confidence I wish

I’d had, played many roles

And won both fandom and respect

But she smoked, and smoking

Killed her. Not her husbands,

Not her films:

Smoking. Would that we’d known

Back then how cigarettes kill.


I think she must be still,

In afterlife, dramatic as

An actress with free will.