Poem August 2023

Poem August 2023

Washington as Count Dracula

Tryon Place, 1791

Washington comes in. He is wearing

black velvet with gold buckles at the knee

and foot,

a sword with finely wrought

steel hilt, in scabbard

of white leather,

a cocked hat with a cockade and a feather,

also black. His powdered hair

is gathered in a black silk bag.

His hands in gloves of yellow

clasp extended hands.

Above his head medallions

of King and Queen

flicker beneath dripping wicks, the little flames

in circles on the chandeliers

surrounded by bits of glass, like worlds

in the sky, the telescopes of astronomers.

The crystals like Newton’s prisms split

the flames, blue, yellow, red, violet.

As in the “The Masque of the Red Death”

the dance goes on in rooms, where colors

glint from rubies in women’s ears.

He bows deeply, his corneas

refract ideas: science

dances from tiaras, bracelets, rings.

The battle of Alamance

was lost. The Regulators’

defeat had finished the rebellion,

or so Tryon thought.

Washington’s eyes grow red.

He leads the minuet.

        — Paul Baker Newman

Home Grown

Home Grown

My Greek Tragedy

In which a hero rises from Athens’ ashes

By Cynthia Adams

Seeking a geographic cure after my father’s sudden death, my husband and I booked tickets to Greece during spring break in graduate school. So what if we lacked money, plans and a command of Greek?

The wheels had fallen off our family wagon with Pop’s death soon after my parents’ divorce.

Pop had died of a heart attack while he and a new, visiting girlfriend (nicknamed Lucy Locket) were enjoying an energetic getting-to-know-you session. After his funeral, my brother lured her from our family home with offers of a truck — then cash as a consolation for the diamond she insisted Pop promised her. His risk tolerance left behind unpaid taxes and mortgaged properties — in short, a mess. 

We found in Greece an echoing of my internal chaos. Strolling in an Athens square, we heard a bomb explode nearby. Hotel clerks quoted rates sky high and we felt increasingly stupid and helpless. We ended up in a room with no tub and a shower with a spout at shin-height. At least our feet were immaculate.

Off on a bus to wondrous Delphi and Corinth, we were issued tickets for different rows. On return, a woman with Tourette’s shouted at her seatmate. Mentioning Oliver Sack’s book on the subject, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a young, English-speaking passenger interrupted a conversation with me, saying, “Look, I’ve dealt with all the crazy ladies I can handle in one day.” 

(This tickled me so much I later wrote Sacks, who kindly replied.)

Booking tickets to the nearby island of Paros, we narrowly avoided being shoved off the gangplank by passengers who suddenly arrived like a Zombie horde. 

As the sea heaved that night, passengers heaved, too.

We reached Paros in gale-force winds and staggered on foot to the only open outpost. 

We booked into a convent-bare room with little heat or hot water, no blanket, no radio nor TV, only The Handmaid’s Tale to read. Downstairs we joined rowdy fishermen drinking ouzo while waiting out the storm. There was no menu and few dishes on offer. We ate (excellent, thankfully) spaghetti lunches and dinners on repeat and shivered. 

We rented a car at absurd cost just to see what else was on the island. Nothing but an abandoned marble mine. It shone in the sunlight, blinding us as we wobbled in the wind. We drove back, laughing at the instruction in the car’s dash to “return all ruined rubbers to the trunk.” (Rubbers, it happened, was their translation for tires.)

After five days in Paros, the winds calmed. As soon as we spotted the ferry approaching, we sprinted to pack our things.

But, back in Athens, peril awaited. On the way to the airport, a shrimp dinner literally left us broke after we were charged a usurious price (by the gram) for them.

How would we get to the airport?

Standing on a sidewalk with our bags, trembling with stress, I jumped when someone tapped my shoulder. A smiling woman asked in perfect English if she could help us.

We had been drained of our last cash at the restaurant, I nearly wept. Could she persuade the driver to accept our credit card — our last hope?

“Allow me to get a taxi for you,” the stranger nodded. 

When the taxi appeared, she spoke with the driver. Her voice was firm. She turned to us. “He will take you there. Do not worry.” Would he accept our credit card, I pleaded, my voice shaky.

“It is taken care of,” she said. “Do not worry.” 

We protested — how to repay her? Could we have her address? 

Shaking her head, she shooed us into the taxi.

“I don’t want your last memory of Greece to be a bad one,” she said. “So, think of me.” Flashing a brilliant smile, our benefactor turned, vanishing into the crowds.  OH

Cynthia Adam is a contributing editor to O.Henry magazine.



Fiction by Valerie Nieman Illustration by Jenn Hales

Andi hadn’t been startled awake for several nights, ever since the contractor fixed that foundation problem, but now she sat straight up in bed. Something was wrong. The house, her new home in a new city, remained quiet, all that groaning and cracking having been eliminated by the repairs. It was that other silence — no hum of cars passing on the street, no sounds of a city waking up. And, she realized as she stared into total darkness, no streetlight glow filtering around the blinds.

For a while, she heard nothing. Gradually, light began to show and she heard a chorus of shrieks and whistles — birds? She got up, shuffled to the back door and opened it on a bright dawn, cornfields stretching flat and green in every direction. The rows came right to her steps, tassels waving well above her head. Blackbirds wheeled in huge flocks.

Her house had moved. And she had moved with it.

Even as she tried to make sense of it, speculating that this looked like Iowa — must be, maybe, everyday, common Iowa — nothing to be afraid of, the rest of her brain was rabbiting around the bonkers impossibility of her situation.

She had loved the cottage from the moment the realtor opened the door, but, after moving in, she came to realize there was an uneasiness about it. Day and night, floors creaked and popped without the weight of a footstep. When she reached to put something in a high cupboard, the top of it did not line up with the ceiling. Everything was slightly off one way or another, but that’s the way old houses were. They settled year by year, in a long, uneven conversation with the ground.

She didn’t miss her previous home. It wasn’t that, at all. When her ex abruptly went away (for good this time), and shortly after so did her job, she’d decided she needed something smaller to meet her changed circumstances. Something older, solid, with its own history.

Stay, or go. It hadn’t been a difficult choice. Her former home had no longer felt like home. It just felt like him, his house, cold all the time.

Three different construction dates — 1921, 1927, 1928 — were listed variously on deeds, descriptions and reports. It made no sense. A house was completed or not in a certain year. The cedar-shake cottage had been moved sometime in the 1970s and new sections had been added, a porch, a deck. Extensions that almost seemed to buttress the square main building, pushing out on three sides.

Andi had become fascinated by the idea of house-moving. It wasn’t unusual, of course; houses were moved out of the path of development all the time. Even lighthouses were raised up on rollers and carried inland, away from the encroaching sea. She remembered reading about a town in Minnesota that was hauled away from mining damage by horses and tractors and a steam engine. Elsewhere in North Carolina, the former village of Avalon had been moved when its mill burned down, the little houses incorporated into the neighboring textile town of Mayodan.

History was like that, for a house or a person — gaps in the record, mysteries.

The recommended contractor came within a week — the benefit of a small town, Andi supposed — and rang the doorbell with his ball cap off, gripped in his hands like he was entering a church.

“Miss Andrea?”


“Miss Andi. I am pleased to meet you.” He paused and glanced inside. “What were you needing done?”

“I’d like you to look at the foundation.” It sounded too — something — to say she heard strange noises. “I understand the house was moved. Is it well supported? The home inspector didn’t mention anything.”

“Well, you are spot on about the move. I remember when they did it. Quite the show, with traffic held up and all. They put an office building where it used to be.” He kept talking as she led him back to the utility room and the trap door to the crawl space, wondering if a man that old (he had only a fringe of white hair around a polished dome) was agile enough to get around under the joists. But she needn’t have worried — he was quickly out of sight, banging around beneath the floor, and it wasn’t long until he came up out of the hole.

“Found your problem.” He turned off his flashlight, dusted off his hands. “The main support beam, a steel beam at that, has been cut in two.”

“What?” That sounded terrifying, as if the house might bend at the center like a cardboard box and fold itself flat.

“Yep. Might have been part of moving it, I don’t know.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“No, no, there’s plenty of support pillars. Just . . . strange.”

She hadn’t been able get the vision of a collapse out of her mind. “Can you put it back together?”

“I can do that, sure. Have to come back with some tools, bolts and such. And good steel.”

And so it was done.

Two mornings after the cornfields appeared, she awoke to the mooing of cows.

She hadn’t ventured into the tall corn, featureless as a sea. Now she looked out on new fields that rolled away over little hills, fields bounded by hedges instead of fences. Brown and white cows. She looked out of windows on each side of the house. Far away she could see a steeple and what appeared to be a castle.


The house did not move on a regular schedule. It stayed in the same place for days, even weeks, then she would hear the wind moaning from a new corner of the eaves and look outside to see — what was that?

She was cautious. When the house set down in a populated area, no one seemed to notice. People apparently could not see the house, but once she stepped off the porch, they could see her. The first time she’d tried, somewhere under a hot, pale sky, black-haired children clamored at her and she ran back inside. They stood for a moment, wide-eyed, letting the stones drop from their hands, and fled.

Did she appear suddenly, popping into view? Was she floating in a bubble like Glinda? No way to tell.

The movement of the house in space and time became wider and wilder. One day she might look out on a Japanese seaside town with little boats and a pagoda, and a couple days later, she’d be in the United States, far to the north, in a logging town at the edge of a redwood forest. The house, severed from a permanent base, had no utilities, but Andi did have a large supply of candles. And a rain barrel that had been strapped to one of the additions.

I am resourceful, she thought. I am doing fine.

Turn and turn and turn again.

The days were long and the nights longer in the wandering house. She missed her friends, especially Nicole, a coworker who had stayed close through both the divorce and her early (forced) retirement from their employer. Nicole had always teased her for overly careful preparation, cautious decision-making. What would she say about this?

Andi even sort of missed her ex. He had been a familiar problem, at least.

She learned how to gather food in exotic places, covering her foreignness with a long, hooded cloak, a souvenir of her role in a college Shakespeare production. Where there was a store, a souk, a market cross, she waited and watched, moving in when the crowds had thinned and the leavings were cheap. The smell of cooked meat made her ravenous.

She could barter jewelry and small items to merchants. Gestures were pretty much universal. As her hair grew unruly and her scrupulously kept-up color faded to salt-and-pepper, with her head down and a hand upturned, she could sometimes gather alms from passersby. No need to speak. Maybe she couldn’t any longer.

Andi fell asleep with the house settled someplace that was high and cold and empty, a steppe. She woke to find it beside a long lake clasped by dark-forested mountains. Well down the shore was a cluster of thatch-roofed cottages.

Hunger drove her to the village and, as she looked for someplace to get food, she was relieved to realize the people were speaking a sort of English. It wasn’t market day, but a house displayed a bush over the door. That meant beer was available, she remembered from a long-ago advertising class.

She nodded to the woman inside, dressed in a bodice and full skirts, her hair covered.

“Beer,” she ventured.

The woman, stout as one of her casks, looked oddly at her.

“Ale?” Andi mimed drinking.

The woman responded by shaking a bucket at her.

Ah. Medieval takeout. She had no pitcher, bucket, anything with which to carry the beer away.

Andi put her hand on a pottery pitcher and indicated that she would buy it. She produced a piece of jewelry she’d brought to trade, an alloy ring decorated with the figure of a nude dancing woman.

The woman backed away, eyes wide, and whispered something that sounded like “elf.” Or “help.”

A man came from outside and she pointed to the ring where it lay. He picked it up and turned it in his dirt-caked fingers, squinted at her, and then spoke to the woman, who hustled off to get someone, a priest, a soldier, someone that Andi didn’t think she should meet.

She gathered up the skirts of her cloak and ran.

The house didn’t move that night, or the next, or the next. She wished it would.

Andi did not go back to the village, fearing people who feared her. Andi imagined the townspeople might think she was something supernatural, in league with the Devil. She also considered that maybe the stylized figure of a naked woman on the ring had offended them. People went past the house, on their way to fields or driving herds of sheep along, without even a glance.

Then a man as dark as a devil stopped right in front, turned and stared into the window.

“I spy a lass, through the window,” he said.

She hid behind the curtain.

“There thou be, though how this house came hither I dinnae ken.” The man began to walk away, and she thought he’d gone until he emerged from the other side, having circled the house. He stepped up onto the porch and came to the door.

“How can you see this house?” she asked, almost whispering into the gap between the old door and the frame.

“Metal calls to me, shaped in some cantrip-time.”

Andi opened the door but stood behind the screen as though that bit of protection would be sufficient to keep out this brawny man. A blacksmith, she realized, his skin and clothing darkened by the smoke of the forge.

“The house moves,” she confided. “It was cut apart underneath and then, when it was fixed, it began moving.”

He cocked his head as he listened, the way a dog turns its head as it tries to tune in its person’s unfamiliar words. “The house is magiked.”

She nodded.

“Gie me leave then to see?”

Andi opened the flimsy door and stood back. The whiff of fire and charcoal came with him. He looked around the room, bemused (What did he make of the black slab of the television, photographs on the wall?) then followed her to the access. Like the old contractor, he moved with the assurance of someone who dealt with problems all the time, physical problems that could be addressed with tools and skill.

He was quickly back up, head and shoulders out of the trap door. He tried to explain the situation, and now she was the one who couldn’t put all the words together. However, she came to understand that he had found the steel beam bridged by the contractor’s plates and bolts.

“Can you fix it?”

“Fixt? Your house is scarcely that,” he said, a smile opening his sooty face. “I’ve a gift from the Fair Folk to forge steel that will nae break nor blunt at the bite. Aye, I can do this task. A wandering heart can be put aright, house or lass alike.”

He heaved himself out of the crawl space. She pulled back, away from his seared hands and leather apron.

“If you do, if you fix — unmend — it, what will happen?”

“The heart was cut in twain to end the wandering. If I take away the clampar, ’twill rest again.”

She thought about the various recorded dates of the house’s construction. Had it skipped from year to year, somehow, appearing and disappearing until it was tamed?

“But where? Where will it be?”

“Why, here, lass! I canna make it skip the sea from one shore to another like a stane from the hand of the giant Benandonner,” he said, laughing. “Here this house stays, and thou with it, or else be ever a-wandering like Will-o’-the-wisp.”

She looked out at the dense forests and the long silvery lake. She was aware of the interest in his merry eyes. And the able heft of the man. Solid, he was.

“My folk will thee like. There’s much eerie hereabouts, m’self not least, though we’ve never seen a lass sa conveyed.”

He offered his fire-marked hand.

“Andi,” she said, as she took it.  OH

A former professor at NC A&T State University and editor for the Greensboro News & Record, Valerie Nieman lives and writes in Rockingham County. Her novel, In the Lonely Backwater, won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for 2022.

Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory

A Wilder Bond

A friendship rooted in fiction is formed

By Cassie Bustamante

While reading is generally a solitary activity, it invites us to feel less alone in this world. Books connect us to writers and the characters they create, to other places and times, real or imaginary. And in the very best situations, they bring us closer to our family and friends, and, sometimes, even help us make new friends.

It’s August of 2022, and I’ve signed up my youngest, Wilder, for “Bugs, Bees & Butterflies” camp at the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum. My husband, Chris, has been tasked with day-one drop-off, which he reports as being tearful and traumatic — mostly for him. I am used to being the parent who handles first-day-of-anything jitters.

But then he says something that makes my ears perk up: “There’s another Wilder in his group.”

“What?” I ask, astonished. I’ve given each of my children, Sawyer, Emerson and Wilder, a literary name because I wanted to put my hard-earned English degree to use somehow. But even more so, I chose uncommon names. I have to know who this woman is that named her son Wilder.

That afternoon at pickup, I wait to see who signs out “the other Wilder” and make a mental note to strike up conversation with her the next day.

As I wait in line for the camp door to open the following afternoon, I see her approach. Never one who has suffered from shyness, I say, “Hi! So, are you the mom who also has a Wilder?”

She’s wearing a mask, but I can see her smile reflected in her blue eyes, which sparkle against a thick mane of auburn hair. “Yes,” she answers cheerfully. “That’s me!”

I introduce myself and discover her name, Mallory, and learn that their family recently moved to Greensboro from California. And more importantly, I find out that my son is three weeks older, so I named my child Wilder first. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit I feel a little victorious knowing that. Our friendly chatter breaks up as we head our separate ways, but I’ve already decided that this person is someone I might really like to get to know. But there’s just one question I want answered first.

“How did you come up with the name Wilder?” I ask her the next afternoon while we wait for our kiddos to be released.

Mallory looks at me a little sheepishly and replies with another question. “Have you ever read White Noise?”

White Noise by Don DeLillo!?!” I exclaim. “It was only my favorite book of my college career!”

I don’t recall too much of the actual book — just that I loved it — because it’s been over 20 years and the Netflix movie hadn’t premiered yet. I certainly don’t remember that there was a character named Wilder. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen a peek into Mallory’s soul by knowing what books she reads.

In return, she asks how I settled on “Wilder.” I explain that Laura Ingalls Wilder was a favorite author of mine as a child. Though from very different sources, both of us selected book-fluenced names.

One year later, our friendship is going strong. Our sons lovingly refer to one another as “the other Wilder.” We meet often for wilderness walks and park play so that the boys can explore and do what kids do, while Mallory and I carry on deep — though often interrupted —  conversations. We half-jokingly dream of writing our own series of children’s books based on our outings called “The Adventures of the Wildest Wilders.” And maybe, if we’re lucky, one day those books will become the root of someone else’s beautiful friendship.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.



A Case of Mistaken Identity

It’s not a baby hummingbird at all

By Susan Campbell

I am waiting, just waiting, for the first call to come in from someone who has seen a “baby hummingbird.” Although this is the time when young ruby-throateds are appearing at feeders and flowers across the state, the first report of the year is usually from a very puzzled observer. Not only has he or she spotted a very small hummer, but it looks to be of another species: The color pattern is very different. So, what is it?

The answer is always the same: It’s not a hummingbird at all, but a moth. Indeed, these insects hover to feed from brightly colored flowers and appear to have a long bill, but they are insects. The giveaway is the long antennae but, on such a small, fast flier, the antennae and three pairs of legs are easily overlooked. The odd behavior and body coloration are what grab one’s attention. The confusion is so common that many bird identification guides depict these moths on the same page alongside the details for ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Here in the North Carolina Piedmont and Sandhills, we have at least three kinds of so-called hummingbird moths, all of which are in the Sphingidae family. Two are “clearwing” moths: the hummingbird clearwing and the hummingbird hawk-moth. We have white-lined sphinx moths in late summer as well. They are all exclusively nectivorous, feeding from many of the same blooms frequented by hummingbirds. With their long proboscis, they can reach down into the tubular flowers of impatiens, fuchsias and assorted salvias, to name a few.

The clearwings are named for the transparent midsection of their wings. The rest of the body is frequently reddish but may be a shade of blue. They are active during the day, flitting from plant to plant in search of a sweet meal. Typically clearwings are not intimidated by human activity, probably because four-legged mammals do not prey on moths in our area. That means one can usually approach these beautiful creatures very closely. If you have the patience as well as a fast shutter speed, you may be able to get some excellent shots of these very photogenic insects.

Sphinx moths are large, striking and interesting. Unlike the clearwings, they are creatures of the night. They can be abundant at the same flowers hummingbirds use during the day, but most people are totally unaware of their existence given their nocturnal habits. It’s the caterpillar of this group that is more familiar. Typically called a hornworm (given the yellowy head projections), they are voracious pests on a variety of plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco. However, not only are the adult sphinx moths eaten by bats and small owls but, as caterpillars, hornworms are sought out by tiny braconid wasps. The eggs of the wasp develop under the skin of the caterpillar. Once they pupate, they attach themselves externally and are mistakenly thought to be the eggs of yet more caterpillars. When the caterpillars are in this state, they have very little time to live and are no longer a threat to the plants.

Keep your eyes peeled around the yard this summer. You may be lucky enough to spot one of these “baby hummers” hovering among the blooms.  OH

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at susan@ncaves.com.

Simple Life

Simple Life

Let There Be Darkness

In defense of the dark side

By Jim Dodson

During a business trip to a remote part of New Zealand last winter, I was reminded of the staggering beauty of the night. Stepping out of my bungalow just after midnight, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere took my breath away. There were untold millions of them arching overhead, blazing like white diamonds on black velvet.

Because it was summer down under, there were also vivid sounds of calling night birds and insects murmuring in the fields and forests around me. I sat down on a wooden rocking chair and just listened for the better part of an hour, a perfect bedtime lullaby that reminded me of my daily wake-up routine back home in North Carolina.

Well before sunrise most days, I take my coffee outside to sit beneath a grove of old trees and wait for the first songbird to herald the breaking day. Save for an occasional passing train or distant siren that briefly mars the silence, it’s the stillest part of any day, the perfect moment to think, meditate, pray or just be.

I’ve captured the first birdsong many times on my handy Cornell Lab Merlin Bird app. In my neck of the suburban woods, it’s usually a Carolina wren or eastern towhee that breaks the serenity of pre-dawn. Sometimes it’s the northern cardinal or melodious song sparrow who takes lead solo. Every now and then, a great horned owl or brown thrasher cues the chorus. Whichever one starts, as sure as night is dark, a chorus of a dozen or more birds soon joins the songfest, including gray catbirds, mourning doves and American crows.

I never tire of this avian awakening, finding a sense of true gratitude for my tiny spot on Earth as a new day begins.

And yet, I worry.

Last year, a report from National Audubon on the state of birds reported that the U.S. and Canada have lost 3 billion birds over the past half-century. The same report notes that half of America’s bird populations are in decline, prompting more than one expert to warn that we are already in the early throes of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

Global warming, loss of natural habitat, various forms of pollution and the fact that the night is no longer as dark as it used to be are cited as primary contributing factors to the decline of thousands of species of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals, roughly half of which hunt, mate, feed and travel by night. Disappearing forests accelerate this decline.

Historian Jill Lapore echoes similar concerns in a recent New Yorker essay titled “What We Owe Our Trees:”

“Even if you haven’t been to the woods lately, you probably know that the forest is disappearing. In the past 10,000 years, the Earth has lost about a third of its forests, which wouldn’t be so worrying if it weren’t for the fact that almost all that loss has happened in the past 300 years or so. As much forest has been lost in the past hundred years as in the 9,000 before. With the forest go the worlds within those woods, each habitat and dwelling place, a universe within each rotting log, a galaxy within a pinecone. And, unlike earlier losses of forests, owing to ice and fire, volcanoes, comets, and earthquakes — actuarially acts of God — nearly all the destruction in the past three centuries has been done deliberately, by people actuarially at fault: cutting down trees to harvest wood, plant crops and graze animals.”

So what is an ordinary, suburban nature-lover and bird nut to do? That depends, I suppose, partly, at least, how you grew up.

I sometimes joke that I grew up in darkness.

I had the privilege to grow up in a succession of sleepy Southern towns, following my dad’s itinerant newspaper career. From the coast of Mississippi to the Carolinas, Yeats’ proverbial “The Stolen Child,” with an imagination fired by nature, I explored woods and creeks, bringing home frogs and injured birds. The rule was, I had to be home by “full” darkness. Many an evening, I lingered in the twilight just to watch the fireflies come out and listen for the sounds of crickets, bullfrogs and night birds. In those days, the streetlights in these quiet rural towns were few.

I’m not speaking, mind you, of the metaphorical darkness showcased by everything from the Bible’s rich imagery of light and darkness (good and evil) to modern cable TV’s endless news loops of crime and disaster. There’s a perfectly good reason why depression is rightly called a “dark night of the soul.” Anyone who has experienced it might be forgiven for believing that the world is coming apart at the seams.

Thirty years ago, in an effort to give our children the benefits of a quieter, natural world, my wife and I built our house on a coastal Maine hilltop surrounded by a dense forest of beech and hemlock, where the nights were deep and woods teemed with animal life.

The first thing I did when we moved back to my hometown neighborhood seven years ago was plant 20 trees around the property. Today in summer, our house sits in a grove of beautiful trees. The neighborhood is called Starmount Forest, after all, and most residents appreciate the giant oaks, maples and poplar trees that still arch like druid elders throughout. Living up to the name, these trees provide home to a rich variety of birds and insects. They also give us welcome shade in summer and showcase the stars on winter nights.

Turning down the lights at night strikes me as one small but sensible act of kindness to nature, encouraging the living world around us to rest, so moths and other nighttime creatures can pollinate plants, fertilizing the start of the world’s food chain.

In her lovely spiritual memoir Learning to Walk in the Dark, theologian Barbara Brown Taylor points out that most of the monsters we fear in the dark are simply phantoms we create in our anxious, sleep-deprived minds.

“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light,” she writes. “Things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

I was reminded of this fact one morning at summer’s beginning while awaiting my woodland wake-up call. Savoring the pre-dawn stillness beneath the trees, I suddenly realized that the fireflies had returned, magical messengers of hope that would be nowhere without the night.

As August passes over us and the days grow shorter, the darkness grows.

I say, bring it on, dear neighbors, and sleep well.  OH

Jim Dodson can be reached at jwdauthor@gmail.com.

The Omnivorous Reader

The Omnivorous Reader

Heavy Mettle

Three mothers of tenacity appear in a debut novel

By Anne Blythe

Mother’s Day has come and gone this year, but Sara Johnson Allen’s Down Here We Come Up offers a unique and complicated tribute to the grit of motherhood, not the roses and candy of a Hallmark holiday. This debut novel from a writer with Raleigh roots shows the depths to which three mothers will go for their children despite the blunders and foibles that accompany the rough-and-tumble lives that bring them all together under one roof in a “creaking, rotting bungalow” outside Wilmington.

In rich, vivid, sparkling prose, Allen’s page-turner explores tough topics: socioeconomic divides; the realities of immigration often skirted in today’s hot-button debate; the shadow economies of the illegal drug trade, and human and weapons trafficking.

Kate Jessup is the protagonist. She’s in her mid-20s, “movie-star beautiful,” and the wistful mother of a daughter whose soft skin she could still smell even after spending only 48 hours with her before handing the newborn over to a Boston couple in a “closed adoption.”

Kate’s a twin who is almost as street smart as her brother, Luke, is book smart. They’re the children of a sassy single mother, Jackie Jessup, who showed her twins how to live by hook or crook as they grew up near Wilmington. They learned early in life that “there was a thing’s market value, the perceived value, the true value, the if-the-buyer-was-drunk value.”

Jackie, readers find out pretty quickly, “could con people into anything because she saw ahead of everyone else by several moves,” Allen writes. “In a different set of circumstances, Jackie might have been a great chess player, someone who could beat the fast strategies of the men playing outside the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square where Kate later followed her twin brother Luke when he received enough merit and need-based scholarships plus loan money that it didn’t matter he had no actual money.”

Settled near Harvard Square with her professor-boyfriend in a multi-million-dollar Victorian home he’d purchased from his father for a dollar, Kate gets a call from Jackie that shakes her out of the aristocratic world she had joined.

“Mama, I’m at work. What do you want?” Kate asked while ducking down between the rows of plants she loved to tend in the greenhouse where she worked.

“ . . . Look, I need something,” Jackie said between drags on a Kool 100.

Jackie wanted Kate to “get someone’s children,” and to entice her daughter, she added: “I have something you want.” Kate had been emotionally hollow when she left the South and her mother to be near her brother in New England. Most of all, she wanted to know where the daughter she’d given up for adoption was. Though she tried to tamp down those questions, they were never far from the surface.

Against her brother’s advice, she had even gone to the home where she thought the adoptive parents lived, just to get a glimpse of the life she had brought into the world. But there was no sign of the couple or a little girl who would, by then, be close to 8 years old.

Jackie’s phone call, and the chance that her mother might truly know where her daughter was, leads Kate back to the house where she grew up. She leaves Boston, taking her boyfriend’s Audi without his permission or even telling him she was going. Memories of a life she thought she had left behind flooded back.

“She knew driving south would be like letting poison seep into the well,” Allen writes. “She could taste it, bitter and sharp on the sides of her tongue, the menthol smoke, the chemical air freshener, a variety of aftershaves of strangers in their house, all of it.”

Once home, Kate found her mother deathly ill, “a skeletal, yellow-grey version of herself.” The bungalow was filled with people she didn’t know, travelers from south of the U.S. border who were there because of Maribel Reyes, a former teacher and mother of three who fled Mexico to build a better life for her family.

Maribel had moved into the Jessup home, taking on a daughter-like caregiver role for Jackie. More than that, she had created a safe house for migrant workers who made stops in southeastern North Carolina as they carved new paths in a foreign and sometimes unwelcoming land.

Maribel, Kate and Jessie may have converged in this place from different circumstances for an array of reasons but they shared a powerful bond. They were mothers who knew too well the pangs of being separated from their children. Each was willing to go to great lengths to narrow that distance, often bending the rules to achieve that greater purpose.

As the women plot the trip to get Maribel’s children out of Mexico and across the Bridge of the Americas from Cuidad Juarez into El Paso, Texas, Allen shows her deftness at describing places. You can almost feel the hot weather of the inner coastal communities. “Kate knew heat,” Allen writes. “She knew it up and down like the motion of a paper fan in a closed-window church. Blot-a-cloth-against-your-sweaty-forehead heat. Waving-up-from-the-asphalt-like-a-mirage heat. Wet heat.”

You can visualize what the coastal community looked like before the new housing developments cropped up on old farmland and forever altered the landscape. The sounds and smells of the changes hang heavily in the air — new languages among the rural Southern accents, the chilaquiles and memelas served in kitchens where biscuits once were the main fare.

Amid all the calculating, heartbreaking and serpentine storylines of survival are moments of triumph, jubilation and humor. Allen has her readers cheering for her characters, rallying for them to forgive themselves and others and longing for new beginnings.

“Follow anything back to the beginning, and you will find a mother,” Jackie says at one point.

From start to finish, Allen will make her readers think about motherhood, how to define it, and the joys, messiness and sacrifices that come with the job.

Author Alena Dillon describes Allen’s first novel as “a literary mic drop.” Let’s hope it’s not the end of a performance, but the first of more stories to come. She’s off to a great start.  OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades covering city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

Fiction by Brendan Slocumb     Illustration by Mariano Santillan

He smelled like the cake factory: frosting, the yeasty stench of batter and butter, but more than anything else, sugar. Baked sugar, tangy and sweet, that coated the back of his tongue and the inside of his eyelashes. Leaving the factory at the end of the shift, he could feel the sugar aroma around him like a coat or a fog, always moving with him. Of course, his friends started calling him Bon Bon. He’d hated the nickname, but by now it had hung on him so long that he didn’t mind it.

He ordered another beer and checked his watch. His buddy, Tig, was late, as usual. Meet me at the bar at 6:30 and DONT BE LATE, Tig had texted him. SERIOUS!!!

Now it was 6:49, and he’d finished the first beer and ordered a second. Why Bon Bon had believed Tig that this time actually was urgent, Bon Bon didn’t know. He’d shown up in his work clothes without changing back into his street clothes, the King Arthur Brand cake flour misting up from his pant legs every time he shifted on the bar stool. 

“You makin’ me hungry, buddy,” Alan, the bartender, told him for the third time. “What do you think of carrot cake? You a big fan?”

“I figured you for a chocolate cake man,” Bon Bon said. “That was your wife in the shop the other day, wasn’t it? She bought the 14-inch and the 18-inch. Double chocolate.”

“Wife loves them,” Alan said, buffing the bar and looking away. His A-shirt, with dozens of stains on it — bourbons, whiskeys, wines — barely covered his paunch. Seemed like Alan loved those chocolate cakes, too.

Bon Bon nodded politely, tried to squeeze out a smile and looked again at the door.

“You must get sick of cakes,” Alan said. “All them sweets. That vanilla confetti cake is my favorite.”

“Never touch the stuff,” Bon Bon said. “I only eat salty stuff. You got more of these?” He pushed the empty dish that had contained pretzels and peanuts towards Alan. The first few months at the factory, Bon Bon had eaten so many pastries that he became nauseated by the sight of anything with sugar in it. 

He looked at the clock. It was 6:54. If Tig didn’t show by 7, Bon Bon was out of there. Home, out of the sugar-stenched clothes and into the shower. He imagined hot water sluicing over him, the powdered sugar circling the drain and disappearing. He fumbled in his pocket for his wallet, looking for a ten, when a familiar voice said behind him, “You stink like the inside of a fat woman’s purse, you know that?”

Tig. Of course. “What?” Bon Bon asked him. “What does the inside of someone’s purse smell like? And where were you?”

“They keep cake in them,” Tig said. “The ladies.”

“Nobody keeps cake in their purse,” Bon Bon told him. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard you say.” And he’d heard Tig say plenty of stupid things over the years.

“Come on, let’s go.” Tig was already heading toward the door.

“Go where?” Bon Bon said. “Why did you want to meet here? Now we’re leaving? What’s going on?” Bon Bon grabbed a handful of the peanut-pretzel snack from the newly replenished dish, thanked Alan with a wave and trotted to keep up with Tig, who was already outside

By the time Bon Bon caught up with Tig, he was almost to his car, a beat-up dark green Chevy Malibu, whose passenger door had gotten side-swiped years ago and was missing the side mirror and most of the chrome trim. Tig was what Bon Bon’s mother referred to as “a character.” Overalls, sleeveless shirt, dirt-and-oil-coated John Deere trucker cap, Reebok tennis shoes so faded and stained with oil and dirt that their color would forever be a mystery. 

“Get in,” Tig said.

“Where are we going? When will we be back? I can’t just leave my car — ”

“GET IN,” Tig said, almost an order this time.

Bon Bon never knew why he got in the car that night. Maybe because he’d done other stupid things with Tig in the past and this was just par for the course. You wouldn’t believe what Tig just did, Bon Bon imagined texting his friends later tonight. It would be fodder for conversation for days to come.

The car stunk of cigarette smoke and chaw. A spit cup sloshed in the dashboard console. Bon Bon shoved McDonald’s wrappers, Entenmann’s boxes, Dunkin’ bags and miscellaneous trash off the seat, and got in. Before he could even buckle his seat belt, Tig spun the tires and headed out of the parking lot toward the highway.

“What’s this about?” Bon Bon repeated, swallowing the last of the pretzels.

Tig smiled. Drove for a minute, enjoying the power. Then, dramatically, he said, “I’m about to make us rich.”

“No,” Bon Bon said.


“OK,” Bon Bon said. “Let me out. Turn around. Stop this piece-of-crap and let me out. I told you before. I’m not getting involved in any of your messed-up money-making — ”

“It’s guaranteed cash and you’re already in it,” Tig said without missing a beat.

“Stop the car. I mean it.” 

“Too late. You’re going to thank me in about 12 hours.” 

“What the hell are you talking about? Twelve hours? What did you do? What are we doing?”

“I just made you 23K. I get 27K, you get 23K.” 

“For what?” Bon Bon asked. Frustration and fury boiled in his gut the way it often did when he had to deal with Tig. “You just handing me 23K for sitting here?”

“For coming with me, yeah,” Tig said, darting a glance at him. Bon Bon couldn’t decipher it. “All you gotta do is drive when I get sleepy.” The highway spooled out before them, the endless ripple of white lines bisecting the night. Few cars were out this late, and all seemed to be going in the other direction.

“Hell no. I don’t know what kind of craziness you’re getting into, but I’m out. I gotta work in the morning. Turn around. Take me back to my car.”

Tig laughed. “Bro, they won’t miss you at that cookie house. Besides, in 12 hours, you’ll have enough money to quit that job and do something that doesn’t leave you smelling like a giant cupcake. Lose that dumbass nickname. Grown man named Bon Bon. I’m doing you a favor.”

“Screw you. Dammit, I knew I should have just gone home.” 

The car banked around a wide curve, then through a series of up-and-down humps in the road. If you drove fast enough, it was like riding a roller coaster. For an instant, you could lose your stomach as you crested the rise.

On the descent, a thump came from the trunk.  

“What was that?” Bon Bon looked in the back seat, stacked neatly with big square boxes: Macbook Air, read several. UN3481, read others, with the logos of a battery and a flame. They were all laptop computers. The back-seat floor was the usual sea of fast-food wrappers, napkins and trash. Nothing moved.

The thump came again, as if whatever was back there shifted back to its original position.

“What’s going on?” Bon Bon asked. He couldn’t hide the note of nervousness now in his voice. “What’s in the back seat? Is that stuff stolen? You raid an Apple Store or something?” He tried to imagine how many laptops would be worth $50,000. There’d have to be at least twenty-five, maybe more.

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” The car was going faster now, well over 80 mph. 

“I knew it. I freakin’ knew it. What did you do? I’m not dealing in stolen goods, Tig. Stop the car.”

Tig groped in the driver side door. Bon Bon thought at first that Tig was looking for his wallet or maybe a soda bottle. But after a moment Tig retrieved a small triangular object that seemed to absorb the dim lights from the dashboard before it resolved itself into a gun. It glittered as if alive. Tig gripped the handle and then the muzzle was pointing, impossibly, at Bon Bon himself. 

“T, what the . . . ” 

“Just shut up,” Tig said. “I’m doing you a favor. Nobody is getting hurt. We walk away with more money than either of us has ever seen.”

Bon Bon had only seen Tig this erratic once before. It ended with Carl Simmons walking with a permanent limp and Tig spending three years in prison for aggravated assault. Bon Bon stared at the dark muzzle of the gun. His mouth had gone dry, the pretzel crumbs turned to gooey dust on his tongue. He wiped his hands on his pants and could feel the flour and sugar coating his palms. He wanted to scream. Instead he took a deep breath, looked out the window into the dark, trying to ignore the feel of the gun staring at him. “OK man, just tell me where you got all these computers from. And what we’re going to do with them.” 

“The less you know the better,” Tig told him. “Get some rest. You’ll take over in six hours. We gotta make the drop by 8 a.m.” 

Bon Bon had heard that Tig had gotten into some shady business while he was in prison. This whole scenario was making more sense. Tig, and now Bon Bon, were driving stolen electronics over state lines. He wondered if $23,000 was worth getting caught. If the police pulled them over —

Tig turned on the radio with an aggressive punch of his forefinger. Kellie Pickler’s “Red High Heels” deafened them. Bon Bon turned down the volume.

 Over the next two hours, Bon Bon sat in silence, thinking. Tig couldn’t be reasoned with, that was pretty clear. Bon Bon could wait till Tig fell asleep and turn the car around, but what would happen when Tig woke up? Bon Bon glanced down at the gun again, resting lazily on Tig’s thigh, and looked out the window. He could grab his phone and try putting it on mute and dialing 911, but the phone’s light would turn on and Tig would see it for sure. Bon Bon’s palms felt chalky from the mixture of sweat and cake flour dust. The damp, sugary smell from his trousers made him want to retch. 

“Hey,” he said when lights from the next exit glimmered on the horizon. Signs for gas, food, lodging. “I didn’t get dinner when I was sitting there waiting for you, and I’m starving. Do we need gas?” He pretended to stretch and stifle a yawn.

Tig kept his eyes on the road, but his grip tightened for an instant on the gun, then relaxed again. “OK,” he said after a minute. “I am, too. All right. I’ll pump the gas and you get us some food.” Tig took the exit too fast, the car almost on the berm before he overcorrected. Again came the thump from the trunk. “And don’t try anything, man. I’d hate to kill you, you hear me?”

The gas station was a half-mile down the road, its fluorescent lights bright and disorienting. No cars were parked at the pumps. A single beat-up Honda sat tucked against the building. Bon Bon had been hoping for a late-night police cruiser, an RV, anything.

After the car had come to a halt, Bon Bon got out, making sure his movements were slow and casual. He could run in, tell the attendant to call the cops, who could be here in minutes. He glanced over at Tig, who was staring hard at him. He looked away, pulled open the glass door. He could feel Tig’s eyes on him, even in the snack aisle. 

He picked up several bags of  Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, hot chili and roasted lime Takis, jalapeño Kettle potato chips, and honey barbecue and hot mustard pretzels. Then went to the refrigerators on the wall and pulled out four bottles of Pepsi.

At the cash register, Tig’s gaze brushed his shoulders as Bon Bon paid and the clerk stuffed everything in a plastic sack. Again and again, he contemplated saying something but then imagined Tig leveling the gun at them, the bullets spider-webbing the glass.

The door behind them jingled, and Bon Bon jumped. “You almost done, man?” Tig called in.

“Yeah,” Bon Bon said. The clerk put a handful of change on the counter, and Bon Bon swiped it into his palm. “You owe me 18 bucks,” he told Tig as he brushed past him out the door, out into the cool night and the waiting car.

“Oh you’ll get that and more soon, buddy.” Bon Bon could hear the relief in Tig’s voice. “You feel like driving now?”

“Yeah, I can take over,” Bon Bon said. “You eat up. Did you check on the trunk? On whatever fell over back there?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine,” Tig said. 

Bon Bon pulled out of the parking lot as Tig tore open the purple bag of Takis, stuffing a handful into his mouth. “Damn these are good. You want some?” 

Bon Bon shook his head. “In a sec.” He took a sip of Pepsi.

“These things are spicy,” Tig said, playing on the word spicy. “Whooo-eee.” He cracked open his Pepsi and drained half of the bottle. Bon Bon took a sip of his.

Tig didn’t tell him where they were going, just directed him once to turn south, toward the highway running to the coast. Tig broke into the potato chips and Bon Bon munched on pretzels. They passed city after city, and a rest stop in three miles.

“I’m thirsty,” Tig said when he was halfway through the Honey Barbecue Pretzels. “These pretzels are making me thirsty.”

Seinfeld,” Bon Bon told him without looking over. He checked the rearview mirror. The boxes sat primly on the backseat, giving away nothing.


Seinfeld,” Bon Bon said. “That was a running joke on Seinfeld.” The rest area illuminated the road. “Remember, George said it about 200 times during that show?” They passed the entrance, kept going.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You got more to drink?” Tig said. 

“There ain’t no more. We drank it all.” 

“That ain’t funny,” Tig said. “I’m seriously thirsty. We gotta stop.”

“OK,” Bon Bon told him. “Next place we see. I need to take a piss, too,” he added.

They passed a sign. “Next Rest Area: 28 Miles.”

“Damn,” Bon Bon said. “Another half-hour.”

“We can make it,” Tig said, staring out at the darkness. But after another 10 minutes he said, “I really gotta go.”

“So do I,” Bon Bon said. “Bad. I’m going to pull over.”

He eased the Chevy onto the shoulder, put on his flashers. “What the hell you think you doin’?” Tig said, spraying pretzel crumbs onto Bon Bon’s shirt. 

“What? You want me to piss myself in the driver’s seat? I didn’t shower after work because somebody wanted me to meet them at 6:30. So now I smell like cupcakes and if I piss myself I’ll smell a lot worse. That is not a good combination. So you’ve got a choice. Either stop yapping in my face and let me pee, or you can drive the rest of the way in a wet seat.” 

He hoped Tig would be too preoccupied to suggest that he pee in the Pepsi bottle. Tig was. 

“Whatever. Don’t do nothin’ stupid.” Tig got out of the car, slammed the door. Again the thump from the trunk, and then another. 

The car’s headlights beamed into the nondescript grass as Bon Bon climbed out, went around the front of the car. As he reached the berm, he stumbled, tripped, and fell. Then got up, close now to Tig.

“Clumsy idiot,” Tig said, laughing, transferring the gun from his right hand to his left, unzipping. “Next rest stop we’re gonna get something to drink. I’m really thirsty. We got how many miles? 15 or — ”

Wham. The rock that Bon Bon had just picked up struck Tig perfectly, right on the temple. Tig dropped, soundless, so quickly that Bon Bon thought for a second that he was pretending. 

But he wasn’t. A moment later he groaned, reaching for his scalp. Bon Bon lunged for the gun, grabbed it and sprinted back to the car.

In a moment, cinders flew and he was back on the highway, heart in his throat, going 70, 80, 90 miles an hour.

After a couple of miles he slowed slightly, pulse still pounding. The thump from the trunk came again. Bon Bon pulled over, popped the trunk, went around back.

Inside, a young boy lay wedged against tires and fabric, his hands and feet bound with zip ties. His eyes were bigger than any eyes Bon Bon had ever seen, with such terror and misery that Bon Bon couldn’t speak for a moment as he loosened the gag. The boy struggled away, a panicked bird.

“Hey, it’s OK,” Bon Bon said. “That piece of garbage can’t hurt you.”

He looked in the front seat for a knife, scissors, anything to cut the ties, but could find nothing. So he carried the boy to the front seat, tried to make him comfortable.  

“I’m taking you to the police,” Bon Bon told him as he adjusted the seat belt. “The bad man won’t hurt you anymore, OK?” He tried to sound as calm and nonthreatening as he could. 

“You smell like a cupcake,” he told Bon Bon accusingly, voice rough.

Bon Bon laughed. “Story of my life,” he said. “I get that a lot.”

The little boy eyed the bag of pretzels, tucked in between the seats. “Can I have some?”

Bon Bon reached past him for the pretzels, fed him a couple at a time.

“These are making me thirsty, “ he said.”

“Do you like Seinfeld, kid?” Bon Bon said as he pulled out his phone and dialed 911.  OH

Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb is a graduate of UNC Greensboro with a degree in music education. He is the author of The Violin Conspiracy and Symphony of Secrets. He is currently working on his third novel.

O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

Swing to Life

A tired play set oscillates a passerby’s perspective

By Mallory Miranda

I can’t stand the sight of it: The metal and plastic swing set in its sun-faded primary colors. It stands conspicuously in a neighbor’s yard.

I can almost hear its creaking joints.

One word flashes across my mind’s eye as I approach: eyesore.

I bind my dog’s nylon leash around my knuckles, determined to pass it quickly.

It’s the sort of swing set friends had in their yards in the early ’90s. Thirty years ago, these swing sets were more brightly colored, but, displeasingly, they creaked then, too.

I recall two swing sets in particular. One was in the yard of our neighborhood Girl Scout troop leader. Let me just say, I don’t have fond memories of my time in this troop. The other swing set was in a much happier backyard.

Any fond memory of my time as a Girl Scout is tarnished by the unpleasant troop leader. I’ll confess I often misplace her actual face in my memory with that of Miss Agatha Hannigan, the boozy, little-girl-loathing head of the orphanage in Annie. You get the picture.

Did anyone actually play on that swing set? Or was it just for show, a way of proclaiming, halfheartedly, “Our child is beloved. See — we buy her things!”

Shortly after her stint as a Girl Scout troop leader, the woman and her husband dropped their daughters off at a relative’s house for an indefinite visit. Then, they bought a Harley and rode off into the dust together.

Is their old swing set still rusting in their backyard now, wheezing in the wind?

My dog yanks her shortened leash. She hasn’t gone “number one” yet. Judging from the tension on the leash, she’s ready.

I release some slack. As she sniffs for her perfect spot, I wait at the curb of the swing set house, grateful to my oversized sunglasses for concealing my condescension.

I see a motley mix of terra cotta pots and old plastic margarine containers that form a boundary around the yard. All of the pots and containers are overgrown with a vibrant variety of plants. The grass is freshly mowed.

Another yard comes to mind: my grandmother’s.

Particularly, it’s the repurposed plastic containers that remind me of her abrasive voice, scolding me across time, “Aye, Mija! Don’t throw away that perfectly good Tupperware!”

My grandmother was the neighborhood babysitter, her yard always littered with a mix of toys she collected over the years. Many were leftover from former clients whose kids had outgrown them. And, yes, she had a swing set just like the one I’m trying not to stare at. It and all the other toys were faded and dated, but everything sparkled anew when it hit her lawn.

“Waste not, want not.”

My grandmother’s yard of hand-me-down toys, creaking swing sets and messy children is all cleaned up now. She’s too frail to lift a small child, let alone have one or more running wild in her yard.

My dog kicks up grass with her hind legs, signaling she’s done.

A screen door opens and a pair of chubby legs bursts through it. A stout little toddler flings herself onto a hard plastic seat, joyfully propelling it into centripetal motion, while a woman looks on.

With the spark of child’s play, the swing set is magically restored to its vibrant glory.

I smile and wave to my neighbor. She nods in return.

And as my dog and I amble down the street, the swing set creaks loudly, as if it’s laughing.  OH

Mallory Miranda is a resident of Greensboro. She is currently writing a play.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(July 23 – August 22)

No surprise: You’re in the driver’s seat this month, kiddo — just the way you like it. Control is a clever little temptress. With Venus retrograde in Leo until September 3, you can expect more than a few obstacles to arise in relation to an old flame. Navigate wisely, resisting the urge to make any brash or sudden detours. Clarity will return. In the meantime, crack the windows, crank up the tunes and celebrate this wild and precious life with lionhearted exuberance.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

To thine own self be kind.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

There’s a balm for that.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Don’t let the muck get the best of you.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Finish what you started.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Lather, rinse and repeat.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Keep the kindling dry.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Big feelings? Release them with paint.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Someone needs a time-out.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

The irony won’t be lost on you for long.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Inaction speaks louder than words.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Does “toxic productivity” mean anything to you?   OH

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla.