Tag Archives: South 85 Journal Ten Year Anniversary

Someone to Clean

by Walter Cummins

When the hospice nurse came down into the living room to tell Mason that Virginia had died, his first thought was to call Lila and ask her to clean.   Even as he followed the nurse back up the steps to the guest room, he wondered why of all things that notion came into his mind when he had to inform his children, some friends, and then the funeral home.  He hardly knew Lila, rarely saw her during the ten years she had arrived once a week to scrub and polish for Virginia.  She had been there the past Monday, sitting on the edge of Virginia’s bed, speaking softly.  From the hallway, Mason, working at home, had watched Virginia gaunt and ashen, barely nodding.  Then the nurse came, and Lila left without even dusting.

The nurse was a sturdy woman, hair cropped short, reading glasses dangling from a chain. At the doorway, she touched his arm, eyes soft with sympathy, but said nothing, just gestured toward the bed where she had pulled the covers up to Virginia’s chin. His wife’s mouth was open, jaw contorted as if she had made one last gasp for breath and froze in the midst of it. Had she wanted him to call Lila? Were those her last words, gasped to the nurse because he wasn’t there to hear? He shook his head, aware that he was being foolish.

Mason phoned the children, miles away, forewarned and awaiting his message.   He called the two daughters and a son in the order of their ages, the way he always did in an attempt not to pick favorites.  They had visited separately a month ago, spending time alone with their mother, saying their goodbyes, and Mason gave them privacy.  But despite the doctor’s predictions Virginia had lingered, and Mason put off sharing his own farewell, wanting more time as he rehearsed the words in his head, not believing he would ever have to speak them.

This night the conversations with his children were brief, his gulp of hesitation and then, “She’s gone.”  Soft sobs from both daughters despite the inevitable.  He could feel them squeezing their phones, groping for words.  He promised to give them details about the funeral tomorrow.  “All right,” they told him, both of them speaking in the same tone of voice.   It struck him how alike they had always sounded.  His son asked the exact time his mother had died, and that struck Mason as odd.  He hadn’t thought to look at his watch.  The nurse would know.   She was writing on forms in the next room, giving him privacy, but he could hear the tap of her pen.

While he waited for the undertakers, alone, the nurse gone to make another visit, he wondered if he really should call Lila, this stranger whose name had popped into his head. But she wasn’t a stranger to Virginia, who spoke of her often, recounting their weekly conversations, shaking her head at the endless series of miseries in Lila’s life. For all those years the day Lila was due to clean, his wife had left her work at the shop for an hour to unlock the door and talk over coffee before Lila began her chores.

“Do you consider her a friend?” he had asked Virginia once.

The question seemed to surprise her,  “I never thought of it that way, but I suppose she is.”

The word “suppose” echoed in Mason’s memory as he opened a kitchen drawer and searched through Virginia’s address book, realizing he didn’t know Lila’s last name.  But there was her number, under L, as if Virginia had not known either.

Delta Summers

by Cody Smith

Summer 2016

So much of those summers scraped against cypress groves as we
paddled the pirogue and prayed against storms. The mud-bogged
Catahoula Lake bank would swallow James Larry’s pickup like
an egg in a snake’s throat. Days ended the same: heat showers,
catfish pliers and fillet knife in my hand, my father in his work
shop fumbling the knobs of an acetylene tank, him trying to talk
to me through the blue-pointed whirl of blowtorch, hunkering
down to his work, hood pulled over his face, his flame gutting
metal, labor and whatever wisdom I didn’t hear sifted through
the chokecherry, lifted crows from their perch in the red oak,
folded wasps and dirt daubers back into their nests while
momma and grandpa cooked yesterday’s catch in the fry shed
out back, the sizzle of cornmeal hitting grease, wet air battered
by fish musk, fried okra, the wild jasmine vine that ran the front
porch posts, and the lit citronella candles calling the dusk home.

Cody SmithCody Smith is a Louisianian studying poetry in the Northwest where he’s an MFA candidate at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers. He spends most days lamenting creole food, sea level, and humidity. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Louisiana LiteraturePermafrost, Glass Mountain, Cactus Heart, Belle Reve, among others. He is the editor-in-chief at The Swamp Literary Magazine.

It’s Not Just the Cat

by Jessica Barksdale

Fall 2013

You find yourself lost in a city block, the same streets
where you ate hamburgers with your teenaged boys,
the greasy taste still on your tongue,
their boy teases, their young laughter in your ear.
And then you are idling at a stoplight in another city, in another block,
and you are pushing a second-hand stroller
up toward the grocery store to buy the food
you can barely afford.
Then you are speeding
in your 1972 Volkswagen squareback, the window open,
you laughing against the rush of air,
your friend speeding alongside
you in her Datsun, both on your way to the college
you will later flunk out of but now teach at,
the same road you drive on now,
window closed.
Here you are again, an unhappy,
married woman nearing middle age,
staring up at the Eiffel tower, not wondering how it was constructed,
but how you will leave your marriage.
The circles push you out and away,
pull you back,
you on a bench on the first platform,
Paris spread out like a picnic blanket,
a new husband beside you.


Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and The Instant When Everything Is Perfect. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Mason’s Road, The Coachella Review, So to Speak, and Salt Hill Journal. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.

Remnants

by Holly Day

Summer 2019

The snail shell lies on its side on the ground
empty save for a few dried curls of flesh, the weight
of something solid somewhere deep inside.

I place it in the middle of my palm, feel that sad, solid weight
what’s left of a snail tricked out of the shadows
by afternoon thunderstorms and cool, summer nights.

Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in Plainsongs, The Long Islander, and The Nashwaak Review. Her newest poetry collections are A Perfect Day for Semaphore (Finishing Line Press), In This Place, She Is Her Own (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), A Wall to Protect Your Eyes (Pski’s Porch Publishing), I’m in a Place Where Reason Went Missing (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.), and The Yellow Dot of a Daisy (Alien Buddha Press).

In the Beginning

by Susan Ludvigson

Fall 2019

Could it have been the very day we met?
It was, walking a long path through
the woods until the sun was down
and we talking, talking, words pushing
against each other softly, like nudges,
until it was wholly dark, long past
supper, past bedtime, before
you told me things I didn’t know how
to hear, before the shocks of your war
began to shade into horror.  But that day
turned night we made our way to a pool.
Shedding clothes in the dark,
as we entered, the elements
seemed to collude, water became
the warmth of air, and when
we became a single body,

it was what the diver I read today
described–ocean as vast as outer space.
The coral reefs he clung to might have been
ledges on planets, as close as he could come
to drifting among the stars, the way light
moved and flashed, and bright-hued fish,
plants swaying iridescent into his vision,
a kind of brilliance he hadn’t known
in any other realm.

Susan Ludvigson has published eight collections with LSU Press, received Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEA, and Rockefeller fellowships, and has published in Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Ohio Review, Atlantic Monthly, and others.  Wave As If You Can See Me, her new collection, comes out from Red Hen Press in Fall 2020.