Thousand-year Eggs and Knishes to Die For, a Brooklyn story

The Brooklyn Bridge, seen from Manhattan, New York City courtesy of Postdlf under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Brooklyn was a dream. All the things that happened there just couldn’t happen. It was all dream stuff. Or was it all real and true and was it that she, Francie, was the dreamer?” Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Knishes (knyshes) stuffed with mashed potatoes and fried onions courtesy of koritca under CC BY 3.0 license

At that time, we lived along a treeless street around the corner from the Li’s Chinese Laundry and Saul’s Jewish Deli and a five-minute walk from the neighborhood public school. I used to play with Ju Li on hot summer days when we’d pool our found pennies to buy a giant 5-cent Kosher pickle from Mr. Saul Levy and his wife. The pickles were cold, wet and salty. They were more invigorating than ice cream when the air was humid and temperature hit three-digits.

Eating with Ju was one of my favorite pastimes. I was enamored of the mischievous sparks that shot from the depths of her eyes, especially when it came to Kosher pickles. “Āiya! For once …” she was eating something that didn’t originate in her mom’s kitchen or the school cafeteria.

The Li’s lived above their laundry. Sometimes after school her mom would give us oolong tea and red bean cakes. Ju regularly complained about her mother’s cooking. “Always with the rice,” she’d say, mimicking Mrs. Levy’s manner of speaking. Ju said that to be fully “Americanized” you’d need to eat lots of potatoes: baked, stuffed, fried, or mashed. If Ju was to be believed, Mrs. Li never made potatoes and cooked pork almost as often as she cooked chicken.  Mrs. Levy never cooked pork but she roasted beef in an oversized oven and it was known throughout the neighborhood that her potato knishes were to die for.

Occasionally on Friday when school let out, Mrs. Levy would call to us before sunset and Shabbas and invite us in to eat with Moshe, her eight-year-old son. At school and whenever his parents weren’t around, we called him Moose, which he much preferred. Moose wanted to be a baseball player, but I think the Levy’s had other plans for him.

Mrs. Levy would serve us a roasted beef sandwich, half for each of us along with half a potato knish, a slice of pickle, and a glass of creme soda. My mom would have been upset to know I ate meat on Friday, but I didn’t think Jesus would begrudge me such a meal. After we finished eating, she would close the deli. “Have a good rest,” we’d say politely as we left. “From your lips to God’s ears,” was Mrs. Levy’s inevitable response.

As for my own mom’s cooking, I should first explain that my Sidto, my mother’s mother, was the cook in the family. She and my mom were mad at each other and hadn’t spoken since I was five or six. I do remember though that like Mrs. Li my Sidto was also “always with the rice,” which was typical for a Lebanese.  I remember her bottomless pots of chicken-rice soup scented with cinnamon and carefully ladled into small bowls with pink roses on them. I remember her knobby fingers fussing over stuffed grape leaves and kibby, ground meat mixed with cracked wheat, onions, and seasonings. I remember Sidto’s tart yogurt in quart-sized Mason jars. She’d wrap the jars in a Navy surplus blanket and set them by the dining room radiator to ferment.

At my house we had bakery-bought ghreybah, Lebanese butter cookies, or chocolate chip cookies from Safeway, usually on a Saturday afternoon when my mom was home from work. Once my mom invited Ju for dinner but one look at our frozen dinners and Ju went home to her rice.

In fairness to my mother, I don’t want to give the impression that she didn’t cook. She did! She made tea with honey and buttered Wonder Bread with cinnamon sugar for breakfast. She prepared packaged chicken noodle soup with sandwiches of cream cheese and orange marmalade for lunch.  She made good spaghetti – perfectly al dente – with canned marinara sauce that she topped with cheese dust that came in little green containers. She was great at baking those frozen dinners without burning them. Sometimes she’d make lamb chops in a pressure cooker with potatoes and carrots. There were three seasonings in her cabinet: salt, pepper, and allspice. I’m not sure why the latter. I don’t think Mom ever used it. Throughout my childhood the tin sat untouched, growing greasy brown pimples and collecting miniature dust bunnies. Though I gave Mom credit for what she could and did do, I figured that if I had to live with my mother’s rather stunted culinary repertoire, I better learn to cook in self-defense.

Century egg, also known as thousand-year egg courtesy of Kowloneese under CC BY-SA 3.0

In those days, I only ate tidbits. Nonetheless, food had a habit of drifting through my imagination and my dreams: roasting beef a la Mrs. Levy, making chicken soup like my Sidto, and cooking the exotic Chinese dishes I imagined Mrs. Li did. Āiya! What, I wondered, were thousand-year eggs and bird’s nest soup? I prayed out loud from my lips to the Jewish God’s ears, silently at Mass on Sunday to Jesus and Mary, and in bed at night I whispered to Ju’s mysterious Buddha. I need to learn to cook, I told them. Please! 

Then, early one September when I was nine, hope arrived in the person of Ju. She came around to our apartment with our first invitation to dinner at her place. It was for Sunday. The dinner would be to celebrate her parents’ newly acquired citizenship, but really it was all about me. I could think of nothing but watching Mrs. Li cook so I could steal her culinary magic. Her English was poor and I didn’t speak Cantonese but in our melting-pot world we were skilled at listening for the few words here and there that we might understand, watching facial expressions, hand gestures and body language, and taking context into account. In this way, we managed to communicate across cultures. And, well, you know, food has a way of speaking on its own. Sights and smells. Sizzle and crackle.

On our way home from noon Mass that Sunday, Mom picked up a congratulations card and a tray of baklava for us to take to the Li’s. At Mass, my mind had already eloped somewhere with bird’s nests and thousand-year eggs, but as we climbed the Li’s stairs, I was startled out of my imaginings. I shot a questioning glance at my mother. Something was wrong. No scent. No scent! No cooking? Slowly, I trudged the rest of the way. We were met at the landing by Mr. and Mrs. Li’s big smiles and warm welcome with their arms outstretched and ready hugs for me. They were nodding their heads, proudly drawing us inside to see a room filled with neighbors and relatives and a “real American dinner.”  There were sandwiches and salads – potato and macaroni – and a platter piled high with knishes from the Levy’s. A fruit bowl and two apple pies sat at the end of the table and a punch bowl and glasses were on the kitchen counter next to a bowl of fortune cookies.

Ju ran up to me. “Do you believe it? Potatoes! Potatoes in the Li household.” Moose caught my eye, nodding at me from around the end of the buffet, munching on one of his mom’s knishes. He eyed the salads with longing but didn’t dare touch any with his parents there. The salads were probably from Mr. Bjornstad’s. He was given to putting smoky bacon in almost everything. He said it was his signature touch.

Mr. Li was calling to us. “More news,” he said, pulling Ju next to him. He patted her head. “Now better known as Judy.” Well, I thought, so much for Thousand-year Eggs and Birds’ Nest Soup, but how could I begrudge my friend her happiness. There she stood with her mouth full of potato salad, a new American name, and stars in her eyes. Well, I thought, somewhat dejected on my own account until my eyes landed on Mrs. Levy. Schmatz and gribenes. Chopped chicken livers. Potato knishes to die for. Prayers began afresh from my lips to the Jewish God’s ears, silently at Mass on Sunday to Jesus and Mary, and in bed at night I whispered to Ju’s mysterious Buddha. I need to learn to cook, I told them. Please! 

© 2019, Jamie Dedes

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Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Five by Jamie Dedes, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019)
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review (July 2019)
Upcoming in digital publications:
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 2019)

A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraireRamingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, HerStry, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander CoveI Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale PressThe Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. Among others, I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.

Email me at for permissions, reprint rights, or comissions.

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Horror at the San Mateo Library 2018; an interview with horror and romance writer Emerian Rich; Horror Addicts, Call for Submissions for Horror Anthology

Jason Malcom Stewart, Sumiko Saulson, Trinity Adler, Emerian Rich (front), R.L. Merrill (back), Loren Rhoads, E.M. Markoff, Mercy Hollow

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” Stephen King

Thursday evening eight San Francisco Bay Area horror authors read samples of their stories (and poems, Sumiko Saulson) for the San Mateo Library Second Annual Tales of Horror, which was organized by author, artist and speaker Emerian Rich in collaboration with members of Horror and library staff. What a fun way to kick-off Halloween celebrations. Horror is not my genre but I find it a good occasional escape and certainly so at this time of year.

The evening was dominated by welcome and expected thrills and chills and more than a soupçon of laughter and sweet treats. I venture to say, it was enjoyed by all, fans and authors.

If you are reading this in an email subscription, you’ll probably have to link through to the site to view the slide show included here:

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We writers tend to be introverts, often resistant to the necessary survival skills of self-promotion and marketing. It’s always interesting to me to see how other writers are marketing themselves: imaginative business cards, fanciful post cards, small bound copies of an excerpt from a chapbook (Loren Rhodes), and little bags of Halloween tchotchkes along with a business card (Sumiko Saulson). Take note in the interview below: Emerian Rich leaves time in her schedule for marketing. Bravo!

EMERIAN RICH (The Official Website of Emerian Rich) is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights. She also writes the Sweet Dreams Musical Romance Series under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. Her novel, Artistic License, mixes both horror and romance. She’s been published in anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. Emerian is the podcast horror hostess of She is the Editorial Director for the San Francisco Bay Area based magazine, SEARCH.

JAMIE: Have you always written in this genre and what is the attraction for you … and for readers?
EMERIAN: I have written in many genres. I love Horror because it just has a special calling to me. It’s like the whisper of a ghost in the hallways of my soul. I also write Romance under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. I have a New Adult series called Sweet Dreams Musical Romance and I have a few Regency Romances out as well as a modern rewrite of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey coming soon.
JAMIE: What’s the special attraction of steampunk?
EMERIAN: I think people like the mixture of the past with new technology that could have been discovered back then had history taken an alternate course. It’s the draw of… What would our ancestors do if they knew what we knew? Also, the fashion is just cool.
JAMIE: Do you have a “day job”?
EMERIAN: I am a writer, artist, and voice actress full time.
JAMIE: What is your writing schedule/routine like?
EMERIAN: I get up and write/blog/market/network just like anyone with an office job, only I get to do it in my PJs most of the time. 🙂 However, I work harder than I ever did when I went to an office. I usually work from about 7am to 5pm every day – and on weekends. If I’m on deadline, I will work again from 8pm to 12am, or 2am, or whenever I am done or fall asleep on my keyboard. HA! I try to take one day off a week, but it rarely happens.
JAMIE: What is your best advice for aspiring horror writers?
EMERIAN: Write, write, and write more. Don’t dwell on one book for too long. Write a story and edit it, but don’t pin your hopes on one book. Once you get published you’ll have much less creative time and more demand for your work. It will be nice to have a closet full of books and stories available to pull out and tighten up.
JAMIE: Please tell us about HorrorAddicts.Net.
EMERIAN: is a podcast, blog, and publisher for Horror Addicts, by Horror Addicts. We strive to cover the whole lifestyle of horror fans. Not just movies and media, but also books, fashion, lifestyle, and news.
JAMIE: There are a lot of activities going on at Horror Adicts. When it comes to writing competitions or other calls for submissions, what qualities separate the wheat from the chaff?
EMERIAN: Last year we held the first ever Next Great Horror Writer Contest where the best new horror writers competed for the chance to win a book contract with Crystal Lake Publishing. It was a tough competition where the authors had to fulfill thirteen challenges and their accumulative score would win them a chance to be in the final and be published. It was great fun and we met a lot of new writers that have since gone on to brilliant careers.
Our winner, Jonathan Fortin, is off to a great start and I expect to see great things from him. He’s already been published in several anthologies and his novel will be coming out in 2019 from Crystal Lake.
We are deciding whether to hold another Next Great Horror Writer Contest next year in 2019. You can keep up to date with that by subscribing to our blog. We will make announcements as soon as we know.
Also, every year we publish an anthology. This year, it is titled Kill Switch and the theme is tech horror. The submission guidelines can be found online and it closes October 31st, so pretty soon we will have tons of stories to read! How we make the decision on who gets published is with a panel of submission editors. We read all the stories, giving them a score between 0-5. Those with the highest scores are considered in a second round and then we create a well-rounded anthology that our readers will enjoy. For a story to be chosen, it must meet the theme and submission requirements as well as being scary and telling us a story we haven’t heard before, or at least in a new and different way.

Horror Submission Call direct link HERE

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” Stephen King


This weekend in Sacramento, CA

For the horror genre lovers and writers among you, join and authors Mercy Hollow, Emerian Rich, E.M. Markoff, and J. Malcolm Stewart at Sinister Creature Con. Look for them at a vendor table in the Main Hall, 6151 H St, Sacramento, CA 95819


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

Off the Trail of Consumer Capitalism, flash fiction by Michael Dickel

This is an except from the September issue of The BeZine, themed social justice. It is another example of the quality of work we share there. It’s also an important story at this time and Michael explains why.  / J.D.

Michael Dickel (c) 2018, Photo credit Zaki Qutteineh

Off the trail

Author’s note: Originally written in July, 2013, this piece seems even more relevant and urgent 5 years later. It originally appeared here, on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play. A revised version appears in my flash fiction collection, The Toad’s Garden after The Palm Reading. This version has been slightly edited, most significantly to add the word “consumer” to modify capitalism, as the term “consumer capitalism” has come to my attention as one bandied about in place of democracy as the essential system of the United States (and promoted by some on the so-called “Christian” Right, although from my perspective, that political group seems neither Christian nor right…). The line about the great purges goes back to 2013, but we now see something like them beginning to form…


By chance I learned that they planned to crucify the married couple for honeymooning off the grid and outside of the mainstream consumer economy. The couple backpacked along the Appalachian Trail, using second-hand equipment, carrying home-prepared dried goods for meals , which friends provided to them as gifts.

The followers of Christ, Consumer-Capitalist, found such sacrilege untenable, especially in light of the anger it would cause the Corporate Lords of the Boardrooms.

I overheard my editor on his cell, assigning someone to cover the Meeting of Judgment where the sentence would be pronounced. When I understood that the other reporter wouldn’t be back from her current assignment in time, I sauntered in and asked what Ed had for me, like I didn’t know anything.

“The Reverend called to request we send someone to this meeting, give it coverage to send the message out. Work, spend, play inside the economy.”

“Got it. Keep the money flowing to oil the consumer capitalism machinery of wealth.”

I knew the catechism, but didn’t believe it. I’d sent dried lemon peels, home-made penne (dried to preserve it), a chunk of parmigiana traded on the underground market, and a sealed container of pesto for them to make a backpacker’s lemon pasta.



The Meeting of Judgment followed the usual pattern of these religious courts. A minister of the Reverend’s flock read out the charges. Two other ministers sat on either side, listening gravely. They conferred briefly. It didn’t matter that the accused even now were somewhere hiking in the woods.

As per custom, the ushers served cups of tea to the witnesses of the Meeting. We remained silent. I sipped a sad orange-pekoe until the lead minister announced the decision.

Crucifixion. It had come back in style around 2020, shortly after the great purges that deported, jailed, or enslaved first the non-Christians, then the wrong-type of Christians.

I had not seen a crucifixion. Up to now, it had been an advantage of a rural assignment.

“What are you going to do?” The man I knew as Germaine asked me. He’d popped up out of the crowd as I pushed out the door.

I’d seen Germaine at several social gatherings of people like me. My circles went along with the Reverend to a point, that is, enough to survive, and no more. We kept to ourselves, and tried to avoid the scrutiny of the Reverend and his ministers.

“Do? I’ll write a story about the Judgment, the reasons for it, and watch to see how many hits it gets on the Screens.”

I didn’t know Germaine enough to be baited into saying something damaging. Besides, that was what I planned to do.

“No, about them. We can’t let them get caught.”

“You could get crucified yourself for getting involved. Even what you said is a crime against Christian Consumer Capitalism.”

“What is Christian Capitalism? Something made up by corporate overlords who overeat from our consumption. There never was such a religion.”

I walked away. I considered whether he might be an agent provocateur, meaning I should report him before he denounced me for doing nothing. I decided that I didn’t want to get involved, and would invoke my sometime role as investigative reporter should he accuse me.



The next morning I had coffee with Frank, someone I thought I knew enough to trust under most circumstances. He told me that Germaine had been arrested for sedition, blasphemy, and heresy as a result of spouting the Devil’s own socialism.

“I’ll be damned.”

“Probably,” Frank said. “To tell you the truth, I thought he was a spy.”

After Frank went off to work, I looked for a screen-story on Germaine, but didn’t find one. I wondered how Frank had heard.

I read my own story on my screen, instead. It played well, several hits, re-posts, and praiseful comments.

It bored me. No, more than that, it sickened me.

I didn’t believe any of it. I knew the young couple, knew they loved the woods, knew they couldn’t afford a resort honeymoon because they wanted to buy a house and the downpayment would take everything they had.

They actually wanted to fit in and had no revolutionary or irreligious intent. They wanted to get along, but to also live their lives and not be pulled under the tide of consumer debt.

Just then, I realized that the Reverend and the ministers didn’t care. And maybe Frank didn’t read about Germaine on a screen.



The Reverend wanted to make a statement, keep people scared, keep people trying harder than ever to feed the economy and concentrate power and wealth into the Corporate Lords, who ran the Reverend.

Or maybe the other way around, the Reverend ran them. It doesn’t matter now, I realize.

Frank wanted me to play along and keep away from people like Germaine. It was almost a friendly gesture. It could have been a warning, even.



And that’s why I find myself sitting in a deer stand along the Appalachian Trail. The newlyweds should pass under it sometime today, if they haven’t yet been waylaid.

When they do, I’ll wait to see if they find the package I left out.

It has printouts of the screen story I wrote. It has a copy of the Judgment Decree. It has a map of little-known trails that cross this path, and what cash I could withdraw without getting stopped by a minister.

I thought that I would watch them pick it up and wait until they were gone, then make my way home after a few stops to justify my travel, should I get checked.

Now, I’m thinking maybe I’ll ask if I can walk with them a while when they go off the trail. I’ll cut out after a few days, find my own way.

I don’t know why I’ve decided to do this. I just don’t feel like writing another story I don’t believe in, I guess.

—Michael Dickel ©2018, 2017, 2013



MICHAEL DICKEL a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the United States. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs appear in print and online. His poetry has won international awards and been translated into several languages. His chapbook, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism came out from Locofo Chaps in 2017. Is a Rose Press released his most recent full-length book (flash fiction), The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, in 2016. Previous books: War Surrounds Us, Midwest / Mid-East, and The World Behind It, Chaos… He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36(2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and arc-24. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. He is the former chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. Meta/ Phor(e) /Play is Michael’s blogZine. Michael on Social Media: Twitter | FaceBook Page | Instagram | Academia


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded. I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, Second Light, I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.

Charlie’s Legacy, a short short-story for the day

As he settled near me on the park bench, I caught his scent: whisky, unbrushed teeth and unwashed clothes. Dirty nails poked through the frayed fingers of his wool gloves. At first he just sat there, happy for the company, enjoying the muffled sound of foghorns in the distance and the rhythmic music of waves hitting the seawall below. “Snow’s coming,” Charlie said, more to himself then me. He freed a bottle from his jacket pocket, opened it and drank. Except for knowing it wasn’t good for him, I didn’t mind his drinking. Charlie was my friend.

He asked what I was reading. It was part of our ritual. I pulled the book from my schoolbag. I thought it was just a girls’ book, but he’d read it too. That was Charlie. Was there anything he hadn’t read? I wondered. He quizzed me, another part of our ritual. “What does Johnny’s singing represent? Why was reading and writing important to Francie?” Charlie would go on and on like that with a cascade of questions about every book.

“Now you want to be a writer,” Charlie said one day, in affirmation not question. It was huge that I could talk with Charlie about my big dream, something I would never dare share with my parents. My mom and dad said they wanted “stable” careers for their kids. I was sure that writing wasn’t stable and that stable meant boring. Writing seemed to hold the promise of freeform and full of surprises. Besides, there’s nothing better than a good story.

Whenever I was with Charlie I lost track of time but as the chill in the air deepened and the sky began to go dark, I realized it was getting late. It was Friday and my mom thought I was at the library, which closed at four-thirty on Fridays. “Don’t worry your mom and dad,” Charlie said, suggesting that I leave for home. As I left the park I turned to look back at him. He was watching me. He smiled and I smiled and waved. A wash of sadness passed through me. I shrugged it off to the cold air whispering of transitions. Summer over. Fall passing through. Winter on its way.


Our apartment back then made me think of railroads. The rooms were laid out in sequence on the left of a long hallway. My parents’ room came first and the bathroom next. These were followed by the bedroom I shared with my older sister, Serena, and Mighty Manfred, our ancient Yorkie. Then came my mom’s alchemical kitchen and finally our living room, which had windows on two sides, left and back. At night the living room doubled as my kid brother’s bedroom. With the addition of folding card-tables and chairs, it morphed into a dining room when we had company.

During the day my dad sold appliances and two nights a week he went to college on his GI loan. When it wasn’t a school night, he was home for dinner and encouraged us to talk about our day. With Joey it was all science and math and with Serena it was religion. For me it was English. My dad knew I was reading and getting ready to write a report on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. He asked me almost the same questions that Charlie had. Every year Dad would read all the books on my required reading list. If it happened that he’d already read them, he’d read them again “to refresh my memory,” he’d say. He would grill me on the fine points. He was relentless.

For my mom’s part, she turned budget-wise groceries into food good enough to tempt even my minimalist appetite. All that summer and fall, I’d been stealing from her stash of leftover dinner rolls, tortilla Espanola, fruit and whatnot to take to Charlie. He loved the way my mom made potato salad with a lemony dressing and minced red onions and celery, bits of red and green peppers and oily black olives. “Nothing trite about that salad,” Charlie would say. He smiled over the small Tupperware bowls filled with left-over gazpacho, one of mom’s summer staples to this day.


Monday came round again and after school I waited at our bench for Charlie. He never arrived. He didn’t show on Tuesday either, nor Wednesday or Thursday. I held my breath for Friday. No use. Days and weeks passed. A month. Two months. Midterms. By Thanksgiving I was tortured with worry. I struggled to get up the courage to tell my dad everything and ask him to help me find Charlie. Despite my anxiety, I kept loosing that battle.

The year Charlie disappeared was the same year a blizzard hit our region in mid-November. Thanksgiving, always celebrated at our place, arrived on the wing-tip of a too-early winter. That year my Aunt Tessa brought her new boyfriend for us to meet. His name was Brian James O’Connor, a musician. The guests came dragging in the crisp and cold out-of-doors. It sat on their hats, coats and boots and mingled with the steam hissing from the radiators and the warm scented air from my mom’s kitchen. Warm and cold met in a silent crash that turned into fog on our windows.

Aunt Tessa brought her not-world-famous-but-it-should-be New York cheesecake, “guaranteed to win her a husband,” my dad said. Nana arrived with her monster wooden salad bowl full of vegetables, cheeses, salami, olives and seasoned croutons made from her own homemade bread. Gramp came with his signature ear-to-ear grin and two bottles of Spanish wine, one white and one rosé.

Dad and Joey had already retrieved the tables and chairs from our basement storage locker. I’d pressed the folds out of Mom’s white damask and Serena decorated the tables, which we pushed together in the middle of the living room. Serena had a gift for styling things and had gone early to the park to dig branches and pine cones and other nature gifts out of the snow for a centerpiece. She popped my mom’s little blue votive candles in it here and there. It looked more like Christmas peace than Thanksgiving gratitude, but that was okay.

Joey was crazy about “horsey doovers” and there were lots to munch on as we visited and waited for dinner. I thought of Charlie. I was worried and wished I knew where he was. I’d bring him some of my mom’s turkey and a piece of my Aunt Tessa’s cheesecake.

Finally Mom and Aunt Tessa brought on the big feast. Dad carved the turkey. Nana dressed the salad. Gramp opened the wine. We prepared to go from nibbling hors d’oeuvres to eating in earnest. We were passing the platter of turkey and bowls of mashed potatoes and yams when Aunt Tessa said to my dad, “Diego, didn’t Charlie Aldofierio go to Eisenhower High with you?”

“Yes! He did. Haven’t heard from him in a couple of years though. He disappeared after Daisy and the kid died in that accident. Poor guy. I should make an effort to track him down.”

“You didn’t see his obituary then. It was in last Sunday’s paper. He died the night the storm hit. They found him huddled in the doorway of Baracini’s.”

Something was buzzing.

It started in my ears. It spread to my brain and filled my eyes and all the room.

It took my breath away.

Suddenly, the world was spinning and just as suddenly there was nothing.


The apartment was almost silent. It still smelled like Thanksgiving but it didn’t feel like it. Mom had her arms around me in bed and Dr. Kowalski was sitting on the edge and holding my hand. He looked down at me with a frown. “How are you feeling, little girl?” I looked at him, confused. Then I remembered about Charlie. I started to cry.

I barely noted the looks that passed between my parents. “Yuilia,” my dad said, “Sweetheart, how did you know Charlie?” I told them. I told them how I met Charlie at the park one day last spring when he asked me what I was reading. I told them how we talked four or five times a week and became best friends. I confessed to wanting to write and apologized for disappointing them. It all came out in a jumble of tears and hick-ups and nose blowing. I even confessed to stealing food for Charlie. I heard my mother sigh. She knew about the missing food and puzzled over my apparent need to steal and sneak. She wasn’t mad that I took food to Charlie. In fact, it seemed my parents were glad that I did.

At some point, Aunt Tessa came in with a hot cup of tea. My dad just sat there, his brow furrowed with worry. I think Dr. Kowalski gave me something to sleep. When I woke up again, Serena was fussing with my cover and Daddy was sitting in a chair by the bed. I stayed inside for the rest of the holiday. I didn’t go to church on Sunday and missed the first two-or-three days back to school.

The family hovered. My mom fed me chicken soup with bitter greens and potatoes and lots of onions. My dad talked to me about Charlie and his wife and about the little girl who would be just a few years older than me. Serena read me the rest of Tree. Joey sat at the end of my bed and shared his books and toys, even his much-loved fire truck. Except for food and walks, Mighty Manfred lay glued to my side. His eyes filled with worry and woe.


My dad did a little digging and connecting and found that no memorial service was organized for Charlie. All that was left of his family was his father, Charlie senior. With Mr. Adelfiero’s permission, Dad and the others who’d graduated with Charlie organized a memorial that was held at Charlie senior’s house. Another storm hit on the day the memorial was scheduled. It didn’t keep anyone away. They arrived, school friends, war-time comrades in arms, neighbors and people from church. They arrived in singles and in groups, from a few blocks away and from out-of-state.

Mom, Nana and Aunt Tessa had organized a potluck and Aunt Tessa’s new boyfriend, Brian, volunteered himself and friends to provide chamber music. Raymond MacLaine, also a fellow graduate and by then a Jesuit priest, officiated. One-by-one people shared their memories of Charlie and his wife and child.
Finally, at the end, it was Charlie senior’s turn and mine. Charlie’s dad couldn’t talk for his pain. I took his hand in mine the way I thought Charlie would like me to. I told everyone what a friend Charlie was, how he gave heart to my dreams even though, as I now knew, his own heart was broken.


That was a long, long time ago. Charlie the elder is gone now. So is my dad, my grandparents and my Aunt Tessa who did marry Brian. My mom lives with me and still feeds me from her budget-wise kitchen. Serena is a nana several times over and Joey, a math teacher at Eisenhower High, is getting ready to retire. Several more pups have stolen our hearts since Mighty Manfred’s days. And, as you may already know, I am the author of twelve mystery novels and countless short stories.  I teach writing classes at adult ed too. You won’t find me on any best-seller list but I have built a life and made a living around stories just as I dreamed of doing. When I look back across the years of the slowly flowering ambitions I first shared with Charlie Adulfiero, I know he was more than a friend. He was the patron saint of a skinny little girl with a passion for stories.

This is a fiction and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is coincidence.

© 2017, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved