Yellow Mama Archives II

Elizabeth Zelvin

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Centorbi, David Calogero
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernice
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Koperwas, Tom
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Jen
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reutter, G. Emil
Robson, Merrilee
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snethen, Daniel G.
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Temples. Phillip
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark



Elizabeth Zelvin





In my day, it was Disney. Disney said some day my prince would come. I got over that pretty quick once Otis started courting me. Otis was a hard worker and a good provider. He always took his work boots off at the door so he wouldn't track manure in the house. He'd say, "Ella, I'm a one-woman man."  

My David was no prince either. He married his high school sweetheart. The pair of them were cross-eyed in love like Romeo and Juliet. Only their tragedy was a string of miscarriages. But Sandy was stubborn. She put it all into trying to conceive and had no more success than a mule until finally, when she was forty and ready to give up, along came Janey.

Our Janey was as stubborn as her ma and then some. She never had a lick of common sense. She fell for the some day her prince thing hook, line, and sinker. By that time, Disney had a slew of modern princesses of different skin colors who went on adventures on their own and rowed canoes and carried swords. But Janey loved the originals, the kind that spent half the story fast asleep. Sleeping Beauty. Snow White. From the time she was little, she'd say, "Look, Gran, I'm sleeping! I'm waiting for my prince to come wake me up!"  When I pointed out that her prince better not catch her napping, or she might miss him, she said, "Don't worry, Gran, if it's my destiny, I'll know."  

When Janey graduated from Disney to country music, nothing changed. Those songs are full of beer and whiskey, cheatin', broken promises, and broken hearts. Call it alcoholism, adultery, and domestic violence, it's not so pretty. They can sing about pickup trucks and lonesome trains all they want. But singin' lies so sweet that young girls believe them is somethin' else. Men who are sorry for real. Women whose forgiveness is rewarded. Men who actually stop losin' their temper and usin' their fists when they get mad. Men who give up booze for the love of a woman. Men who come back years after a one-night stand to take care of the woman and their baby.

"Real life don't work that way, Janey," I'd say. "Besides, you know all the boys around here. Where do you think your prince is going to come from?"

"Away, Gran," Janey would tell me.

"Ride up on his white horse and carry you away, huh?" I would ask, foolishly hoping this time she'd see how ridiculous the whole thing was.

"You know better, Gran," she'd say. "White pickup truck."

It was from her favorite song, a No. 1 hit for some singer who'd impressed Janey double by being on Dancing with the Stars on TV on top of her music career. Janey was a born believer. Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, any tale you cared to spin.

"It's a story, Janey," I would say. "It's Cinderella all over again, only some songwriter fixed it up for country music. What have we told you your whole life about getting in a car with strangers?"

"But what if it's your destiny, Gran? We're talking about Prince Charming, not some pervert luring me into his clutches with candy. I tell you what," she'd say, humoring me. "If he offers me so much as a Snickers bar, I won't get in the truck."

"How about candy or no candy, if he invites you in his truck, you invite him in the house to meet your ma and pa and grandma instead. That'll take the measure of him right quick."

"Oh, Gran, you don't have one speck of romance in you. Don't you ever feel sorry for what you've missed?"




Anna Sue


“Suds in the bucket,” Anna Sue said. "There oughta be a law."

“Excuse me?” the police chief said.

“Suds in the bucket.” Anna Sue dabbed at the trickle of sweat on her forehead with a faded blue bandanna that matched her eyes. "Oh, I forgot, you're Not From Around Here. New York, right?"

Anna Sue couldn't help it sounding like, "Not from Our Planet. Outer Space, right?" She felt sorry for that. The new chief wasn't stupid and surely must be better at policing than at understanding the simplest conversation Around Here. From the big O’s of their eyes and the bigger O’s of their mouths, the others letting their breakfast go cold at the diner weren't so sure.

"You don't like country music?" Lily Ann said in her kittens and ice cream voice.

That was simply mean. Lily Ann should mind her own business, which was waitressing and keeping hot coffee coming.

“It's a song,” Anna Sue said. “The kind of fairy tale song that turns the heads of young girls like my Maylene. The girl's in the yard hangin' up the wash, hopin' her prince will come along. And he does! They got no business putting that crap on the radio." She gave a robust snort. "Life ain't like that, right?"

"Not in my experience," Chief Neller said. "Maylene is your daughter?"

"Granddaughter," Anna Sue said. "I'm bringin' her up because—well, because." Some things you don't say right out, even if everyone knew them. "You got a girl yourself, don't you? Bringin' her up alone in that big house since Old Man Neller died?"

"Ruthie's only thirteen," the chief said. "So far, so good."  

“Maylene sings that bucket song all the time," Anna Sue said. "Waitin' for a looker in a white pickup truck to come along and whisk her away to Vegas. Only good thing about it is she's willin' to do outside chores. Never was before. They got castles in Vegas? I never been.”

“I know they've got the Brooklyn Bridge,” Chief Neller said, “and the Eiffel Tower and Venice.”

“Naw, Maylene don’t care about none a them,” Anna Sue said. “A nice McMansion where some farmer smart enough to get out sold a couple cornfields, that's what I call a castle, and so I told her. Can't kid her out of it, neither. My Maylene’s got about as much sense a humor as a fence post. Gets it from her grandpa's side. The Garveys never could tell a joke from gospel from an outright lie, not a one a them. Hangin' out the clothes in bitty shorts and a halter top and paintin’ on her toenails so she can put her bare feet up on the dashboard like in the song."

"Out the window," Lily Ann said. "The song says, 'out the window,' not 'on the dashboard.'"

"I told Maylene," Anna Sue said loudly, interrupting Lily Ann, "any man worth a damn will be lookin’ at the road while he drives, not at your toes no matter how you prink ’em up—nor sniffin’ at your cleavage no matter what fancy perfume you spray down it.”

She glared at Lily Ann, who hovered over them with the coffee pot, until the waitress sniffed and stalked away.

“Ms Garvey,” Chief Neller said, “is there something in particular you'd like to tell me?”

Anna Sue's face crumpled. The chief had to lean in close to hear her murmur, "I'm not sure. It may be nothing."

"What aren't you sure about, Ms Garvey?"

"Aw, call me Anna Sue, not Miz Garvey. I may be a granny, but I'm only sixty-one. It's not like I make her tell me where she is every moment."  

"Does she drive?"

"She hasn't got her license. She won't turn sixteen till next month. And the car's there. She can't have got far."

"But you're worried."

"She was just hangin' out the clothes."

"How old is Maylene, Anna Sue?"

"Sixteen. What scares me is she might think she's gone off with someone nice, but she still might've been taken."

"I understand," Chief Neller said.

"You're a mother," Anna Sue said, "so I reckon you do."






Donna thought she'd been stupidly slow to pick up on Anna Sue Garvey's cry for help. At least the conversation in the diner hadn't stopped dead when she walked in. Being the town's first female police chief was one strike against her. Living as a widowed single mom in Kevin's grandpa's house, an ex-NYPD alien from New York, was strike two. Not finding Maylene Garvey, preferably alive and well, would be strike three.  

She started with those who'd known Maylene, which turned out to be every soul in the town. She rode along on every interview. She didn't want any detail overlooked because a potential suspect had been the interviewing officer's babysitter or Little League coach. She used every trick in the book to get each high school junior and senior away from the supervising parent long enough to ask what she really wanted to know. Maylene wasn't sexually active. She was kind of old-fashioned that way. Saving herself for Mr Right, according to her best friend Bette Jo. Maylene was kind, according to Tim, the boy next door. He'd been trying to work up the courage to ask her out. Would a kid too shy to ask a girl for a date have the guts to hurt her? Kidnap? Rape? Murder?

Donna talked to the faculty and staff of the high school on her own. Ms Pierce, the principal, said Maylene wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

"In fact, the whole chandelier could use a good polishing and a set of replacement lights," she said. "The occasional sparkle invariably comes from away, like your daughter, Chief Neller. The home product is lackluster by definition. That said, Maylene Garvey is one of the dimmer bulbs. She'd be manipulated easily, but it would be like shooting a rabbit. Let me rephrase that: a mesmerized bunny."

"Would your teachers tell you," Donna asked, "if they suspected anything bad were going on at home?"

"You mean abuse?" Ms Pierce tossed her ably coiffed head, flicking hairpins to her shoulders and thence, bouncing, to the floor. "Domestic violence? Impossible. Not in general. I'm not such a fool as to deny it wholesale, but in Maylene's case, the family dotes on her. The father is a fine man." Bending to retrieve her hairpins, she said, "He has contributed generously to our building fund—we hope to have enough for a new, modern gym in two years—but that is irrelevant to my commendation. I speak as I find."

Donna took that with a grain of salt. Might a passionate heart beat within Ms Pierce's cameo-pinned breast? Might Maylene have seen something she shouldn't? She'd dig deeper with Mr Garvey. She'd interview all the teachers, ask them about relations with their students. A nice ambiguous word, "relations." It would be interesting to see who got defensive when she used it.

In Manhattan, stranger murders made sense. Most encounters of any kind were stranger encounters. Here, she couldn't help viewing the town as one big dysfunctional family. How could they help it, rubbing up against each other day after day from cradle to grave? If they wanted to see strangers, they had to drive to the nearest mall, ten miles away. No wonder Maylene dreamed of Prince Charming driving up to her door.

After Kevin was killed in the line of duty, Ruthie had been glad when Donna quit the Job. She hadn't made a fuss about leaving New York, and Donna made sure her daughter had as much counseling as they could afford before they moved. Donna knew that she mustn't make Ruthie into a little adult to meet her own emotional needs. Ruthie thought that was crap.

"Mom, I understand about boundaries," she said. "But I'm thirteen! I'm supposed to want to want to grow up as fast as I can. Talk to me."

"Oh, yeah? About what?"

"This case. Are you getting anywhere?"

"I can't discuss the case," Donna said.

"Everybody else is," Ruthie said. "Maylene Garvey going missing is all they talk about at school. C'mon, Mom. If a serial killer is targeting teens, it is my business."

"We don't know Maylene has been killed. And she's the only person missing. So there is no serial killer."

"Thanks, Mom."

"Dammit, Ruthie."

"Who else have you got to talk to? I bet everyone who works for you is no more than two degrees of separation from Maylene. Pretend I'm Dad. You always talked with each other about your cases. I miss Dad so much. Don't you?"

"Yes, lovey, all the time," Donna said. "Come here."

She held out her arms, and they took what the New York therapist called a grief break, crying some and murmuring things like I miss him and It's okay to cry to each other.

"Everyone in town has an alibi," Donna said, blowing her nose. "No one in town saw anything. So far, the police are baffled."

"Dad would say alibis can be broken," Ruthie said, "and people lie all the time. Mom, do you think that Maylene's dead?"

"I don't know, lovey," Donna said. "I'm trying to get her back before that happens. Her grandma thinks someone driving by lured her away."

"A hot guy in a pickup truck, I suppose," Ruthie said. "It's all this country music they listen to."

"That's what her grandmother says," Donna said.  




And maybe not


There were other possibilities. Maylene could have crossed the path of a sex trafficker or a pedophile operating on the Internet. Romantic fantasies aside, she was still a child. If Donna were still in New York, she'd have a vast network of experts at her disposal. She'd sent Maylene's laptop away for analysis. The family hadn't objected

"Any clue must be good, right?" Anna Sue said.

The Garveys realized by now that Maylene might be dead. But when Donna asked about chat rooms she might have visited, they had no idea how such things worked and couldn't tell her anything about Maylene's Internet use. Sex education at school? Information about how to deal with online sexual predators? Mr Garvey was on the school board and a deacon at the church, and if any such thing were suggested, he'd be the first to vote it down. Donna hoped she'd never find a "clue" in the form of Maylene's image on a porn site.

If she had a body, she could ask the state police, who did have resources, to take over the investigation. If she had two bodies, she wouldn't have a choice. She did what she could. She sent her officers to the mall ten miles away to show Maylene's picture to every person who worked there and everyone they could find who admitted to being there within two weeks of the girl's disappearance. She had them check every security camera they could find within a thirty mile radius for anything suspicious, anything at all. She gave a speech at the high school assembly and another at the community board meeting appealing to the whole community to contact the police if they thought of anything, however small, that might help them find Maylene. If they knew of any other girl being away from home, even if nobody thought she was missing. If they heard anyone talking about meeting or getting to know a stranger.

"He'd probably be somebody kind of interesting," Donna said at the grownup meeting. "He might not even be that much of a stranger. Maybe just Not From Around Here. Like me."

That got a laugh, so the evening wasn't wasted in terms of community relations, even if it didn't help her investigation.




Sharon Rose


"Good mornin', miss."

Who was this guy leaning his elbows against the fence all casual? He was a bit old but plenty hot. He wore a white cowboy hat tipped over his eyes and a fancy pair of cowboy boots that looked like they'd never done a lick of work around cows. His long legs knew how to fill out a pair of jeans. 

"Hey," she said.

"Those wet duvet covers look heavy," he said. "Want a hand with them?"

"No, thank you."

"Why don't you take a break, come talk to me a while?"

"My mama told me never talk to strangers."

"Once we have a conversation," he said, "we won't be strangers. What's that book you're reading? Say, I've read that book. Which sister would you rather be? I bet you've thought about it. Any girl would, 'specially if she was smart and pretty and sometimes made a bit a mischief too."

"You've really read it?" He thought she was pretty! She hoped she wasn't blushing.  

"Sure thing, miss—what's your name? Now we're in the same book club, it's only fair to tell me."

She couldn't help laughing.

"Sharon Rose."

"Sharon Rose! Now isn't that the prettiest name!  Miss Sharon Rose, are you blushing? Aren't you somethin' else! I've got a book I bet you'd like. If you think your mama wouldn't mind, I'd be pleased to lend it to you. Let's knock on that door and ask your mama's permission right now before I say another blessed word about it."

"No, that's all right." Talking about books like that, he didn't seem like a stranger. He would never have offered to meet her mama if he meant her any harm. Anyhow, she wouldn't get into the truck. "Let's see this book of yours."





They found Maylene's body and those of two other girls in a gravel pit forty miles away. Donna took off for the scene the moment she heard, her most experienced deputy in the passenger seat. Will Bradley could handle the sight of dead young girls and tolerate what Kevin used to call her crisis driving better than the rest.

"Do we really need the siren, Chief?" Will asked as the speedometer edged toward eighty. "They'll still be dead when we get there."

"In ancient Greece," Donna said, "they used to hire women to tear their hair and moan at funerals. Rip their clothes and howl."

"Feel like that about it, do you?" Will said. "Hmm. I reckon I do myself."

It took a while to identify the other two girls, Jane Lessing and Sharon Rose Marcus. While all three had lived within a forty-mile radius of the gravel pit, each of them came from a different county. Different jurisdictions. Similar devastated families. Same taste in music.

"Mind if I turn on the siren?" Donna asked Will as they started back. "As hired mourners go, she's got a lot of heart. And I can't stomach country radio right now."

Of course the state police took over, now they had a serial killer with cases in three counties. Except they didn't have this serial killer, and Donna couldn't stop thinking about him.

He wasn't stupid. Clever enough to look for a girl hanging out the clothes. Hanging laundry was boring. It took time, one clothespin at a time. If she was hanging sheets, a fellow who stopped to say good morning would be hidden from the windows of the house. He might even offer to help. "Suds in the Bucket" might have given him the idea. But he wouldn't be fool enough to use the same white pickup truck every time. He'd vary the color. He'd change the license plates. He'd use plates with different numbers, plates from different states. Next time, he might not even be driving.  And he'd be smart enough to stay far away from where he'd been before. Most likely, he'd already left the state. If he ever came back, she'd be ready for him. She'd have micro spy cameras strung up on every clothes line in town and a GPS tracker down every teenage girl's bra.




Smooth-talking son of a gun


"Kick those shoes off, darlin'," I said. "Put your pretty little feet up."

I gave her my patented sideways grin and cut in in front of a poky eighteen wheeler, slick as can be. She flirted those dewy eyes at me. Probably practiced in front of the mirror at home. No books for this one.

"Now isn't that more comfortable?" I shivered with anticipation. Those bare feet got me every time. "Where are we going, milady?"

She threw her head back when she laughed. Probably practiced that too when no one was looking. Smooth little throat, slim little neck.

"Gee, I don't know. I get to pick? Gosh, how'll I choose?"

Adorable. Old enough to run away with Prince Charming, too young to cuss.

"Pick someplace you've never been." 

"I've never been to Vegas." She flirted her eyes at me again.

"Vegas it is."

I passed another slowpoke truck, this one packed tight with battery chickens.

She was thinking wedding chapels and wondering if I remembered that was the second best known business in Las Vegas. We wouldn't get within two states of Vegas. But it's best to let them feel as if they're in control at first.

So many dreaming girls. So many clotheslines. So much suds in the bucket.






by Elizabeth Zelvin



"I love to watch you eat," he said.

I sat naked on the bed, devouring a hero from Faicco's in the Village. He lay propped up on one elbow admiring me. We had just made love.

A drop of golden olive oil escaped the sandwich and dribbled down my breast. He leaned forward to lick it off.

"You eat like a longshoreman," he said. "And you look amazing."

I took a big bite of crusty soft bread piled high with spicy deli meats and cheeses, roasted peppers, lettuce and tomato, and dressing. I moaned with pleasure. I managed not to swat away the hand he put on my thigh at the same moment.  

"Do you want to go again?" he said.

I managed not to snarl, I'm eating! "Maybe after I finish my hero."

"You're going to eat the whole thing?" He chuckled.

 I suppressed a growl and chewed faster. 

Sometimes sex will dissipate the anger.

"What do you love best about me?" I asked as we lay side by side in the aftermath. Say: my wit. My irrepressible energy. My virtuosity with a computer keyboard. Don't make me make allowances.

"I love the way you can eat and never gain an ounce," he said. "You must have the metabolism of a hummingbird."

"What if my metabolism stopped working?" I said. "What if I started gaining weight?"

"That's ridiculous," he said. "Your metabolism can't change. Could it?"

"Did you ever fall for a fat girl? Hook up with one, even?"

"Don't be ridiculous. There's nobody but you."

"Before me," I insisted. "Ever. Could you love a fat girl?"

"Of course not," he said. "What a disgusting thought."

So, fat girls are disgusting, and a rapid metabolism is lovable. You are dancing on the edge of the abyss, buddy.

"Do you know what bulimia is?" I asked.

"Yeah, isn't it that sick thing that girls do where they pig out and throw up like the ancient Roman emperors?"

"What do you think of bulimics?" The question came out smooth as ice cream going down.

"I'm supposed to have an opinion?" he said. "I don't know. They're sick, I guess, and kind of pathetic."

"Why do you think they do it?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know any bulimics. Why are we talking about this?"

"Never mind," I said. "I made us dessert. Brownies for me and blondies for you, because you don't eat chocolate."

That's right, I knew all along it was going to end like this. It always does. I could have watched as he ate the blondies laced with rat poison, but the brownies were calling my name. It's complicated. Bulimia is two addictions: compulsive eating, and compulsive vomiting. They say addiction has no Why?. But there is a Why?. We keep hoping if we're thin, maybe we'll be loved.


Elizabeth Zelvin


Judy now

Judy looked down at Gary for the last time. He looked unfamiliar, as if they hadn’t been growing into their lived-in faces day by day for forty years. The best embalmer money could buy couldn’t limn that quirky character on a corpse. She was glad he’d never dreamed he wasn’t the love of her life. She was glad now that she’d come back after that perfect weekend in the English countryside with Charles, glad she hadn’t taken the unthinkable step of leaving not only Gary but her precious little Danny, who was now a man of thirty-five with children of his own. In those days, mothers almost always got the children in a divorce, but Gary would never have let her take Danny out of the country. She’d have lost him, and the whole world would have condemned her. Even for a perfect love, it wasn’t quite enough.


When she realized she couldn’t bear to let Gary touch her, she thought briefly of killing herself. But then Danny would lose his mother. She considered killing Gary. But you couldn’t look up poisons or buy a gun on the Internet in those days. So she endured. And in the end, she got over it. In real life, a passion that never dies doesn’t last forever, not unless it’s nourished. Charles never answered her letters. He never called. No email, no texting, no Skype or FaceTime back then. No social media. She couldn’t even stalk him. In the end, she stopped pursuing him. In time, the pain faded, and she got on with her life. She got used to Gary again, almost forgot that she’d stopped loving him. But that weekend still glowed in her memory as perfect.




Judy then


The Cavendishes lived in a country house, like the ones in all those English novels. They were friends of Charles’s parents. He’d known Phoebe since they were both in nappies. Diapers to Judy, who was endlessly delighted by the British words she’d only encountered in books until that weekend. Judy had flown to London as a courier for Gary’s firm. She had begged for the job as a breath of air, a brief respite from her mommy role. Charles, whom she and Gary had met in the South of France on vacation, holiday to Charles, when they were trying to get pregnant, invited her down for the weekend.


What do you do during an English country house weekend when there is no murder? Judy asked herself. The answer was obvious. You fall in love. Of course Judy fell in love with Charles. He had just finished art college and was already an immensely gifted painter. He’d started late, because he had a child, a little boy one year older than Danny. There was something wrong with the mother. Judy guessed it must be drugs or mental illness. With authentic British reserve, they never quite came out with it. But Charles fought for custody of George when he could have walked away. His sense of responsibility was part of his perfection, along with his intelligence, his talent, his breathtaking good looks, and the way he tucked his prepositions neatly in at the end of the sentence.


George was living at the Cavendishes’ as well as Charles. He was a lovely child with perfect manners for his age and that enchanting British accent. In a way, George was one of the biggest reasons Judy didn’t stay. How could she abandon her own son to bring up someone else’s? Not that Charles asked her. But surely he would have if she’d given him enough encouragement rather than pouring out everything she felt, including her ambivalence, because such a consuming love must include perfect trust.


All the Cavendishes were there, because the grandfather, Sir Henry Cavendish, was dying. He was a knight, not a baronet, they explained to Judy, which was why Phoebe’s father, Mr Cavendish, was not Sir Julian. I’m in a fairytale, Judy thought. Then she scolded herself for thoughts that were inappropriate at a time when the whole family had gathered to attend Grandfather on his deathbed—Cavendish aunts and uncles and Phoebe’s older sisters, who were all married with husbands and children in tow.  It was moving to see the loving family rally around the patriarch, the wellbred English behaving just as they were supposed to. It filled her heart to bursting with love for them all.






The weekend was a disaster from start to finish. He should never have invited Judy down.


But she’d made it so evident she was longing to be asked. He’d never been any good at saying no. There was too much going on to play the good host properly, with George to mind, Sir Henry dying, and Charles himself under pressure to make decisions that would affect his whole life. Now he’d finished art college, won all the prizes, done all he could to please them, he was ready to stop faffing about and be a painter. Instead, thanks to one of his own family’s ghastly financial messes, they wanted him to be a teacher. Once in, he knew he’d never break away. He’d become one of those Sunday painters his most idolized mentor despised.


He was expected to comfort Phoebe, who was in a twit about how poor Sir Henry was lingering. Charles kept reassuring her that he felt no pain, his best guess at what she wanted to hear. He always tried not to disappoint people, though his good intentions often fell short. Phoebe wanted to go up to London, get a flat, and write. Unlike him, she wisely had told no one else of her ambition. All the world knew he had to paint or die, and they all had an opinion.


He couldn’t sponge off the Cavendishes forever. Phoebe, as a girl, could live at home until she married. He suspected that was why both families were so keen to prod him into supporting himself. They’d made that match when he and Phoebe were in their cradles. They had always been like brother and sister, but everyone would be so pleased.


George missed his mother. He expressed it in night terrors and anal retention. This made it awkward to be attentive to Judy during the night. The moon was full, the curtains were blowing, the soft night breezes carried the scent of roses in from the garden. And he couldn’t tell her that the tender scenario she imagined turned to farce when he heard George’s cries from the other end of the house and found his son red-faced and howling, stuck firmly on the potty. Judy must have thought the cries were an owl or a fox. George took a long time to soothe. Judy was asleep when Charles returned. He didn’t tell her what had happened. He barely thought of her at all. She was going back to America and not important in the overwhelming scheme of things.


On Sunday afternoon, after seeing an effervescent Judy off on the train, he sent off the teacher certification papers. He submitted to the unendurable congratulations, rigid with misery. Old Sir Henry finally expired, and the rattling of documents, the will being the most crucial, succeeded the death rattle. Even Phoebe started joking about their children, his and hers. To escape from the hubbub, he went up to the attic, which had a high sloped ceiling and good north light. Here, he felt at peace. His latest painting, finished shortly before the American arrived, stood on the easel. It was dry now. He took a long, critical look. Did it need a touch of white here? A couple of shorter brushstrokes there? No. It was perfect.





It wasn’t done to say that Grandfather was an unconscionable time a-dying, but everybody thought it. The weekend was the last straw, with everybody scheming and bullying poor Charles and making plans for his future. She felt sorry for the American girl. She heard Papa say crossly, “Charles, why couldn’t you take her to a hotel?” more loudly than his deafness would excuse. The poor thing was obviously besotted with Charles. It would do her no good. Phoebe would get him in the end. But first, she would do exactly as she wished. Gramps had promised. He had shown her his will a week before he had his last stroke. So during the morning, while everyone was fussing over breakfast or taking the dogs out or being polite as the American said her goodbyes, because whatever one thought, one never forgot one’s manners, Phoebe went upstairs and put a pillow over Sir Henry’s patrician nose. The girl who sat with him was in the loo, so no one saw her. It was the perfect murder.





by Elizabeth Zelvin



poet and painter, after forty years of silence

exchange memories, disentangle old mistakes

walk barefoot a few steps on ancient embers


I’ve set up one of my paintings, he says

in a dark room, lit by a single candle

before you leave, he says, you must look at it

then write a poem describing what you see


in my poems, she says, the description is the setup

the heart of the poem is the feeling it evokes

I don't want a poem about feelings, he says


he says, seek images as you would in clouds

ignore the shadows, focus on the light

the candlelight limns space around bold splashes

of indigo, violet, and saffron. she looks, and   

after a moment, the shape of things emerges



by Elizabeth Zelvin



At 61 my favorite niece becomes my nibling

my ex's brother's eldest, the one I got in the divorce

the blind hang glider and Appalachian Trail hiker

who's been an actuary and a ballerina

and hates being called an inspiration.

Non-binary, okay, but why Andre?

I never fit in with the schmoozing women

laughing and talking a mile a minute

I thought it was because I was blind.

Now they're a guy, people treat them differently

they get a friendly buffet on the arm

instead of having to avoid sly brushing, rubbing

they get to take up more space.


when my ex dies, at the Zoom memorial service

my son says, Hi, Andre, my nephew says, Hi, bro

their sister and all the cousins say, Hi, Andre

only their mother peers at the screen and, puzzled, says

Who's Andre?



by Elizabeth Zelvin



I thought the swim would be the main event

August water finally warm, the current benign today

indolent surf, high tide poised to ebb

I came prepared for perfection

not for jellyfish small as seed pearls

inviting me to bathe in tapioca


reading on the beach, I surfaced from my book

to cries of Whale! a plume of spray

a waving flipper whiter than a sail

a vast gray cetacean body heaving halfway out

of the swell. As far as humans know, whales breach

because they can. The humpback  

flings itself aloft for sheer delight

for half an hour this showoff swam

parallel to its audience on the shore

the bright flipper rose and fell, the tail flirted

the great body glided back and forth


I didn’t blink or look away  

I couldn’t stop smiling

they say to meditate is to aspire

to exist in the moment, with long practice

to approach it for a trickle of time

to achieve it for a matter of breaths  

I can live in the moment only in the ocean

sailing weightless over the rollers

cool silky water caressing my limbs


but ah, the whale! there’s a creature of the now

no anxiety, no regret, a vast serenity

in the greater vastness of the sea

singing while we moan about how to fix it all

swimming parallel to our troubled world  


Elizabeth Zelvin is the author of two books of poetry, I Am the Daughter (1981) and Gifts and Secrets (1999), and recipient of a CAPS award from the New York State Council on the Arts. During the Second Wave of the women's movement, her work was widely published in such journals as 13th Moon, Heresies, and the anthology Sarah's Daughters Sing. Recent poems have appeared in Yellow Mama as well as in anthologies of work about COVID and in support of Ukraine. Liz also writes short and long form fiction, including the Bruce Kohler Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga.


Elizabeth Zelvin, multiple Derringer & Agatha awards nominee  

The Bruce Kohler Mysteries

The Mendoza Family Saga

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