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Almost Last Words by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

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On her deathbed,
oxygen 24/7,
sliding in and out of awareness,
Mother blinked her green eyes
up to mine.

Daughter, she whispered
in a scratchy, unused voice,
I love you so much –
and you drive me crazy.

I blinked my matching green eyes
full of wet shimmers and said,
I know, Mom.
I feel exactly the same.

We both sniffled, then laughed,
she held up her wasted arms.
I fell into them, carefully.
We blended our tears
on our smiling faces.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

I Sit at a Table for One by Bella Cirovic

I sit at a table for one. I order a drink and settle in while listening to the conversations around me. I wonder how many people have sat here before me and how many will come after.

I remember one Friday night I had a group of women gathered around my table talking about everything from weight loss and gain, to love, to lost love, to friendships and relationships gone good and gone sour, to where we all find ourselves now in our life journey. We had champagne cocktails and little bites of different cheeses, crackers, almonds, fig spread, salamis, and our staple: blue corn chips and salsa. The spread felt extravagant in a way. The oracle cards came out. We went deep.

In both scenarios, alone or in a group, I do fairly well. I believe it’s because I possess the qualities of both an introvert and an extravert. I also have a kind of confidence that has come a long way since my 20’s minus the bravado or aggressive need to let my presence be known. Silence speaks volumes. So does a smile.

Side note: I smile more often now at strangers. I make conversation with the elderly at stores and lunch spots. It makes their day (and mine) and they have the best stories to tell. This you must try at least once.

There are so many different flavors of people. We adjust our seasonings to fit how we want to feel in our daily life, in our skin, and who we want to become next. We evolve. We change. It is a blur of onward motion, a train that keeps moving. Some people stay on for the ride, some jump on or off when they need to, and some just fall away because they’re comfortable at a different pace.

I so get this now.

I used to wonder if it was just me. What was wrong with me?

Gathered around my table (and for the sake of all that is good, I have been gathered in circle around many fires but have never GOT THIS) I realized that I am not the only one who goes through these achey growing pains. We’re all moving at a pace that is right for us, going through our own evolution, experiencing what our light and shadow looks like.

My daughter is inside of her own evolution. She is going back and forth on decisions around school and life choices. She is thriving in both theater and music. She wants to couple those skills with a degree in education and see where she lands with it. She’s driving and working and living the typical teenager life.

Mine, right now, requires massive amounts of space. My home needs tending. My body needs some love. My spark has reignited and I am ready to do great things but my body wants to move slow. So I listen.

I sit at a table for one. I listen to the stories that swirl up into the ethers. I tune in, absorbing the details. I feel less alone in my own life when I’m privy to hearing what others are going through. I don’t find that creepy if I find myself alone within earshot and I am NOT an eavesdropper. Well. I may be.

I sit at a table for one and pour out my heart and soul to the person sitting across from me. I let the tears go. I wonder if anyone is listening or if my release just floats on up into the celestial bubble above me.

And still, I feel blessed. Because it doesn’t matter. I know what I need and I allow myself that so that I might level up. It opens up a big amount of space within me for more salt, more mercy, more love.

About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

Direct Hit by David Bontumasi

This was trouble. The front lobby door was locked and it had just started to rain. Douglas wasn’t due back for another couple of hours – two maybe – and I would lose my light by then, anyway. I stood on the small step at the base of the doorframe and leaned my shoulders flush against the door, trying to stay dry. The overhang above the door was short, and water dripped from the corners in streams as steady as the rain. Across the street and into the park, the rain glinted and shimmered in the deep black night. It hadn’t even sprinkled, the sky opened and it just started coming down. Hard. I watched the rain and tried to catch my breath. I could hear a woman’s laughter above me, from an open window somewhere in the building, in conversation with a man whose words I couldn’t quite make out. Sounded like the guy next door. Big mouth, big talker. I’m sure he was telling some stupid lie of a story — his hands tied, fighting a tiger in the African plains with only two toes on his left foot and his manly wits. I heard her giggle and moan as I watched the drops spear the night. The night sky was ugly and wet. I just hoped Douglas has his key this time.

I shook my head. I should have known better. I should have never let myself get into a situation like this. Seriously. I was old enough to avoid shit like this, I had told myself countless times. I’m too smart for this. No cell phone, no connections to family, and having a roommate at the age of thirty-nine with a tiny apartment in a rundown neighborhood on the far southwest side, drinking too much, spending too much time alone — not wise moves. Hell, I knew that.

It wasn’t until after midnight that I realized the rain wasn’t going to let up any time soon. No Douglas, no apartment key and I was stuck. I was wet, angry and a little drunk. A losing combination, I know, but it was a fact I couldn’t change. Not then. The streets were relatively free of cars and besides an errant city bus plowing through the black puddles, the only foot traffic was couples, crouched under their own outstretched coats or umbrellas, moving between the lights. My head pounded. The sound of the rain was deafening, an echo so loud that I had to close my eyes to concentrate. My brain wouldn’t move and I had to roll it and knead it to get it going again. I pushed my thumbs against my temples, rotating, erasing any errant thoughts. Who else had a key? Who had a key and how could I get it? I needed it now. Right now. Fuck man, no one had a key. It was useless. I was clean now and part of being clean is trying to control the flow of people in your life as much as possible. So I had made a point of that – no friends, no family, no one beyond Douglas Mac, and even he didn’t have a key half the time. He was useless, though his name was on the lease.

I saw Kaz Kajinski out of the corner of my eye, a solid black figure coming down the street. He had a way of walking on his toes, almost bouncing, that always made me leery. It was as if he couldn’t wait to get where he was going and he was ready to pounce, left or right, once he got there. He didn’t seem to care that it was raining. His hands were shoved into his front pockets, and he held his head up, letting the rain drip along his cheeks. I could not hide, the doorway was too shallow, and besides, I was sure he would see me anyway. And he did.

“Hey Curtis, man, whatcha doin’?”

“Nothing,” I said, defensively. “Hey Kaz. What’s up, man?”

He stopped and faced me. The rain poured over him, falling from his eyebrows, water streaking around his cheeks and under his chin. He stood in the night with a glow encircling him, like an apparition. Or a god. It freaked me out. I hunched my shoulders and started to shiver as I wrapped my arms tighter across my chest.

He cleared his throat and cocked his head a little. He asked if I had seen any action tonight.

“No, man. I haven’t been looking though. I’m done, man, you know that. I’m doing well, feeling good.”

His eyes flickered and he shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said and I could tell he was high. His eyes darted around and his head bobbed, repeatedly. I knew he was anxious to keep his groove going. The first lesson on the streets is that a junkie can’t be a junkie on his own. It was all about “keeping the next high close by.” You had to know who to know, and which cluckers could get you in contact with some good stuff. Quickly and safely. I used to have great connections, and junkies knew that. I was never a junkie. I used, yeah, of course, but I wasn’t a junkie. I didn’t have the same needs they did. I brought people together, bridging the gap between those in need with those who had the goods to fill that need. But everything can change in three and a half years, man. Two years in prison was bad enough but, I’m telling you, you lose everything on the streets when you try to go straight. You may as well be dead. You’re like a man with no arms. Kaz knew that. He scratched at his shoulder, and looked right through me like I didn’t even exist.

Kaz gazed down the street and then turned and looked up, past the dimly lit shops to my right. Man, he was geeked. He was searching but nobody was coming to save him, no quick fix suddenly appeared. I could feel his rhythm, and I knew that feeling. The high was just starting to come down and the panic was kicking in. He had to score quick to continue to ride. He had to reverse the slide and he had to do it quick. His panic fed my own. I could feel it. I could feel my skin tighten, my veins beginning to jump. I had an itch all over my body.

“Yeah, you try Peanut?” I asked, running the back of my hand against the small of my back.

“Huh?”

“Have you seen Peanut? He usually has something.”

“No. No, last time I saw him,” he started shaking his right hand, down near his side, flipping it from side to side. “No, he fucked me up, man. He went bad. Zoomer and shit. And when you do that shit, it comes back fast. He fucked up way too many people. He’s probably dead by now, anyway, for all I know.”

“Oh shit,” I said. “Well, what about Barrio? You seen him lately?”

“No, no,” he mumbled. He stopped shaking. “Barrio? No, man.” He ran his fingers through this hair and squinted. “Barrio? Is he still around?” He looked at me and then up at the rain, his expression taking in each drop. He ran his hands over his face.

“Shit, man. It’s fucking raining. I am on an inter-planet-ary mission and it is fucking raining on me. All I know is that I need to score some jum. I need to score now.”

“Yeah.”

I could feel the itch, his need — that’s all he was thinking about. I missed that feeling of going from high to high, connecting the dots, keeping it going, never touching down. Of knowing what you needed, even if the need quickly escalated to desperation. When you’re clean, you don’t have the same drive, that singular goal – just score some scratch, some money, somehow, and keep your bedbugs close by, keep the next hit skin deep. It was all you had to think about, all you had to do. Being straight was hard, man. I hated to admit it. It was really hard. I missed having that focus.

The rain continued to fall in sheets beyond Kaz and I felt my skin tighten with a dampness that went deeper than my pores. Christ, I wish I could slide past this door, climb those stairs and get into my apartment, climb into my bed. I thought of my couch, two floors up. Comfortable and dry. Well, it wasn’t a couch, really. It was the backseat from some old car but it was warm and dry and that was what I was thinking about when Kaz leapt at me. His right forearm jammed into my chest and his right fingers gripped my chin and cheek. The weight of this illiterate meatball forced me back, the force slamming me against the door.

“I need to score, man! I need it now!” he cursed into my cheek.

I tried to push him, but his full weight was flush against me and I couldn’t get my arms in place. I couldn’t budge him. He was much further gone than I thought and I remembered what my old man used to say, “Never fight with an ugly man, he has nothing to lose.”

This man was not only ugly but this man was high and this man was desperate. And he had me pinned, my back against the door. I don’t know what my old man would have said about that. I had no intention of fighting but I didn’t want him passing out on me either or throwing up or totally freaking out. I couldn’t keep him away from me, instead he collapsed on top of me. I couldn’t budge this dumb fuck, not an inch.

“Kaz, come on, now, man, I know what you want, I know what you are going though man, but I’m trying to help you, man. I tell you, I ain’t got nothing. I’m clean now.” I tried to push again but he was still too heavy. “Shit man, get off me.”

“I’m trying to help you think of someone. I’m on your side, man.” I had to keep talking, saving my strength. “Okay, what about Peterson? Peterson, little black guy over on Longrove? He’s good, he usually has something. C’mon man, I’ll take you. Let’s go, c’mon, get off me. You gotta move if you wanna groove. That’s what Mac says, right?”

Kaz took his weight off me, and I lightly pushed him the rest of the way back. His lips were curled, his eyes were closed and his face was contracting in a wince. The liquor in my body was beginning settle and I sensed his high was stating to slip away too, literally oozing out of his pores.

“Ah fuck,” he said, without moving his lips. He rocked back on his heels, his arms at his side.

Something was not right. I didn’t know what was wrong with him or what he wanted. He seemed to have given up.

“Ah, man.” His eyes opened just a sliver. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

I looked down and saw that his right hand was covered in blood, all the way up his arm, over his sleeve. Kaz stood in front of me, his body weaving softly left and right, his face in a pained grimace.

When I looked to my stomach, it too was drenched in a red so deep it was black. The stain spread up my shirt in a definitive line like ink, and yet, there was a softness to it, soaking the fabric, inching its way up to me, welcoming me to sleep. I hadn’t felt the knife at all, but knew instantly what had happened. I couldn’t understand it. Why now? I’m clean now. I’m doing good. Why now?

Kaz turned quickly and ran down the street, disappearing in a sheet of rain and darkness, as I slid down the front of the door, my butt resting on the stoop. I tried to just breathe. My lids got heavy and the sky turned light. I closed my eyes.

About the Author: David Bontumasi

David BontumasiDavid Bontumasi’s short stories have been featured in several publications, including HyperText Magazine, The RavensPerch, Black Mirror Magazine, ETA, The Deadline and Back to Print. His novella Of This Earth, set in Sicily and Michigan in the 1920’s, was published in 2015. He is hard at work on his second book, a collection of short stories. Originally from Flint Michigan, David now lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons.

A Small Matter Gone Swimming by John Grey

I tried to drown my anger in the Pacific Ocean,
in the shadow of my favorite sweeping dunes.
I figured that, waist deep in water, my irritation would feel misplaced.
Or replaced. Like my footprints, now foaming white.

My anger was knocked down by waves.
Its nose flooded with salt.
A jellyfish, proponent of that most alien of stings.
stole its virulent thunder.

Digging in sand, I startled a tiny crab.
Fuming as I was, I didn’t crush it.
It zigzagged away from me and anger doesn’t do that.
Rage is so linear. It spreads wider but it doesn’t turn corners.

Finally, the sun took aim and blow-torched whatever remained.
At dusk, I strolled the beach, a movement anathema to anger.
Ocean and horizon, long shoreline, pale sky:
It’s the job of abundance to make a man’s fury small.

About the Author: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

Still Life with Sid Vicious by Robert Beveridge

for Jeanne Volpe

“I mean, once started, I
can’t not be with you.”–Chris Stroffolino, “Kiss and Run”

Could I be sure
is what I’m askingl
what I want to know
could I be sure
that you wouldn’t run off
with the neighbor’s cat

or eat all the cajun sunflower seeds
before you come up to bed?

The garlic
at dinner last night
was delicious
spinach and cheese

but the cat didn’t like it
so I had you for another night
without too much fear
of losing you to your ex
at least temporarily

it always seems
like that cat, Sid Vicious
with the stubby tail
noses around where you grow
those Mexican sunflowers
where you like to take me
and taunt me with your body
show flashes of breast in public
as if on the beach where you can
just drop the top of your bikini

I could take you to Nassau
and just forget to buy
the tickets home (this
would get you away
from your ex)

but you insist
we take Sid Vicious
and they don’t allow cats
on that kind of white-sand beach
and where else would we live anyway?

We sat on your back porch last night
and drank whiskey from your roommate
Roxanne’s most expensive green glasses
you cuddled the cat and kept
your nipples hidden

the flowers weren’t up yet
so I just sat and stared
at the view of I-95
you like so much

if this were a drug
it would have to be methaqualone
’cause things
move just too damn slow
around here

you look sexy in advice
it tends to shower you
in white like Nassau sand
but I can still reach through it
and touch your skin

so please
get that cat off your lap
and that mind off your ex
come sit down with me
and let me tell you
all about the garlic plants
I grow with my spinach
and sunflowers in Nassau

and how nice the weather
is down there
this time of year

About the Author: Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Borrowed Solace, Dodging the Rain, and Twyckenham Notes, among others.

The Smell and Taste of Things Remain Poised a Long Time by Pat West

After a line by Marcel Proust

Winters my mother stirred her rustic root vegetable stew
in a kitchen dizzy with steam. The aroma of rosemary
and turmeric saturating the entire house.

That scent of sawdust circled my grandfather.
A man who used lathe, grinder, chisel, plane
and rip saw. A man with hands rough as a rasp.

A summer evening in Kentucky
visiting my sister. Glasses of Shanghai silk
merlot, savoring black cherry, currant, cedar
and green olive, still so clear on my tongue.

Damp air, heavy with seawater,
sunlight cathedraling through a torn place in the clouds.
My husband and I on the north cusp of Pike Place Market,
where we shared Etta’s Dungeness crab cakes
with tomatillo cocktail sauce, tangy yet sweet.

The smell of fresh-cut grass that June evening
we spread a blanket in the backyard,
under a sky whose wide-apart edges
would spend all night coming together.

On mornings when my muscles harbor a rusty ache,
my husband’s old, blue sweatshirt feels like a hug.
Even though he’s been gone twenty-five years,
and it’s been washed hundreds of times,
I inhale his cologne, fresh, spicy oak moss.

About the Author: Pat West

PatWestBio

Pat Phillips West lives in Olympia, WA. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher, San Pedro River Review, Slipstream, Gold Man Review and elsewhere.

Same Old Casserole by Bernie Brown

Thanksgiving Dinner

“Aunt Sissy isn’t going to bring that tired old broccoli and rice thing with Cheez Whiz, is she?” Phyllis’s daughter Marin asked her as she snuggled her cell phone between her chin and shoulder. She plunked a Keurig coffee pod into place and set the machine in action. “We’ve got free range turkey and organic vegetables and she brings freakin’ Cheez Whiz, for Pete’s sake.” Marin continued her plea.

“Well, I’m not telling her, if that’s what you think. That casserole is one of her proudest creations. She takes it everywhere. It’s Thanksgiving after all. Thankfulness is in order, not snobbery.”

“Yada. Yada. Yada. Please, Mom. You know she worships you.”

“She worships me because I let her bring her broccoli and Cheez Whiz any place she darn well pleases. And you should, too, young lady.”

Marin laughed with the confidence of a daughter who got just about everything she ever wanted. “Please, Mommy.”

“Okay, I’ll think about it, but I’m blaming you.”

“Coward.”

“Yeah, look who’s calling who a coward.”

***

Phyllis loved Sissy. They’d stuck together during their parent’s divorce, during both their husband’s deaths, during the trying years of squalling infants, stubborn toddlers, and smart-ass teenagers. Besides, Phyllis kind of liked the broccoli casserole. The dreaded free range turkey was dry as dust and didn’t have much more flavor. Give her a Butterball any day. Looked like the day of thankfulness was turning into an exercise in diplomacy even Henry Kissinger would find challenging.

She might as well stop stalling, she knew she’d do whatever Marin asked. Pressing the home button, Phyllis called forth Siri to help with her dirty work. “Call Sissy cell,” Phyllis said with resignation.

“Hi, Phyl, what’s up?” Sissy’s voice was chipper, making Phyllis’s job even tougher.

Phyllis paused, thinking how to begin, but Sissy knew her too well, the pause gave Phyllis away.

“Okay, little sister, what gives?” Sissy didn’t wait for an answer. “You won’t go with me to that Tupperware party. I know you hate that kind of stuff. ”

Phyllis jumped in. “Marin wants you to bring something instead of your casserole to Thanksgiving.” There, the cruel words were spoken. She almost heard Sissy’s feelings get hurt right over the phone. A moment’s uncomfortable silence, and Sissy said, “Thank God. I’m sick of that old thing, too.”

Had Phyllis heard right? Sissy was faking it. “Oh, come on. You can’t fool me. You feel bad and you’re just being noble. Come on, make me feel guilty. I deserve it.”

“You think I can’t be all trendy? I’ll bring something with keeeenwhaaaa in it. I bet Marin will even ask for the recipe.”

***

On the big day, the decorating at Marin’s house did Martha Stewart proud: bowlfuls of fall fruits and vegetables spilled out artistically on the sideboard and the coffee table. Pumpkins in descending size marched down the front steps in puddles of fall leaves; and place cards sat in tiny branches covered in berries.  Not a fold out Hallmark tissue paper turkey in sight.

“Mom, Aunt Sissy, Happy Thanksgiving!” Marin gave them each a sweet-smelling hug and a smile as real as her decorations. It was easy to see why people went out of their way to please her. Her husband Bill, a handsome guy whose brilliant technical mind hid inside a guy who was happiest playing touch football with the kids, relieved them of their dishes.

Sissy whispered to Phyllis, “I bought it ready-made at Whole Foods.”

After a few glasses of wine, Marin announced the turkey was served. Sissy and Phyllis sat next to each other prepared to boost each other’s courage in the face of a tough bird.  The platter circulated, and Phyllis put the smallest piece she dared on her plate. The quinoa followed, and again Phyllis served herself a dainty portion. When the mashed potatoes she had brought made their appearance, Phyllis heaped a small mountain on the bare expanse of her plate. Let Marin believe mashing potatoes with the skins on was brand new, Phyllis knew differently. Her grandmother used to do it to save time, saying, “The skins are where all the vitamins are, anyway.”

Phyllis watched as Sissy cut off a minute piece of turkey, and said, “Wish me luck. Here goes.” And she put the bite on her tongue. Her wary expression turned to surprise.  “This is delicious. How did you fix it?”

Marin said, “I thought it was kind of dry last year, so I Googled this honey mustard marinade.”

The platter passed a second time and had to be refilled half-way round.

Phyllis watched Bill take a bite of quinoa, and with a full mouth, he said, “Good work, Aunt Sissy.” Phyllis followed his lead. Not bad. Kinda nutty. The funny name had made her suspicious, but quinoa was really pretty non-threatening.

“I’ll have to get your recipe,’ Marin said.

At that, Phyllis and Sissy sputtered and elbow-nudged. Sissy nearly choked, suppressing her laughter, and reached for her water glass.

To their utter bewilderment. Marin served Pepperidge Farm heat-and-serve rolls with her   chemical, preservative, additive-free feast. Sissy and Phyllis and even Bill shared a look, the women rolled their eyes, and Bill refilled their wine glasses to the brim.

Marin and Bill’s three boys, who had shared their own table, cleared the plates under Bill’s supervision. They returned from the kitchen walking as carefully as if on a high wire bearing dessert plates holding cranberry clafouti with real whipped cream. Both Sissy and Phyllis knew that clafouti was just a French name for cobbler. They also knew it would be to-die-for, and were grateful it was not the rubbery pumpkin pie their own mother had always served.

Bill placed cups of coffee next to each place, and they all nibbled and sipped like bears preparing for hibernation. Bill shooed the boys into the family room, the women into the living room, and he insisted on tackling clean-up duty on his own.

Amid the clatter and splash of cleaning up, the women heard the announcer and crowd noises and Bill’s occasional cheers and curses while he watched Vanderbilt’s game on the mini flat screen in the kitchen. His clean-up offer had included a scheme to catch up on his alma mater’s game.

Phyllis, Sissy, and Marin collapsed on the living room’s comfy furniture. The sisters told Marin about the Caribbean cruise they planned to take after the holidays.

Marin listened carefully and then, her eyes twinkling, she smiled and said, “Well, I hope you’ll both be around in May. I’m going to need your help.”

“What are you talking about, Marin?” Phyllis asked, a little concerned in spite of Marin’s smile.

Marin pointed to her stomach, holding up four fingers, she said, “Number four.”

Phyllis and Sissy gasped, then all manner of tears and hugs and laughter broke out. “Another baby. Oh, I love babies. Of course we’ll help you, honey. We’ll be your slaves.”

Bill picked that moment to join them, and the three boys came crashing through the room with toy laser weapons, shouting, “Pitchoo, pitchoo,” The youngest fell behind and climbed on his grandmother’s lap.

Phyllis gave him a cuddle and a kiss. “Didn’t your mommy fix the best Thanksgiving dinner ever?” she asked her grandson.

“Yeah, it was really good, but where was that Cheezy Wheezy stuff? I wanted some of that.” Then he hopped down and ran off in search of his brothers.

Marin looked surprised, then caught her aunt’s eye, and blushed. Phyllis and Sissy did not hold back their laughter this time. They exploded. Bill joined in, but seated himself on the arm of his abashed wife’s chair. He put an arm around her and pulled her close.

Marin buried her red face in his shoulder, and then joined in the laughter.

Phyllis watched her much-loved son-in-law plant a kiss in her daughter’s hair, and knew she had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

And Henry Kissinger got the night off.

About the Author: Bernie Brown

berniebrownI live in Raleigh, NC where I write, read, and watch birds. My stories have appeared in several magazines, most recently Modern Creative Life, Indiana Voice Journal, and Watching Backyard Birds.

I am a Writer in Residence at the Weymouth Center, which is the perfect spot to work on my novel-in-progress.

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