Letter from the Editors

It’s documented that in older versions of the Roman calendar March was both the first month of spring and the first month of the year. Whether or not that’s true, March makes an excellent time for the publication of our inaugural issue of The Wellington Street Review.

We’ve been blown away by the quality of submissions we received, and choosing which to publish has been the subject of some interesting editors meetings. The variety of subjects in the poetry and prose featured in this issue is testament to the unique voices and experiences of our writers.

This issue begins with To Wilfred, Edward Ashworth’s address to noted World War One poet Wilfred Owen. Edward captures images in his writing comparable to the skill of his subject, and sets the tone for our conversation with the past. The evocative flash fiction Count Your Breaths, by Northern Irish writer Chris Wright brilliantly captures moments of death and life in fluid prose. Closing this issue, we have Gareth Culshaw’s poem Sick Bay, based on Gusev, the short story by Anton Chekhov. Engaging with pieces of historical work of any form is something we look for, and Gareth’s poem is a vivid and direct response to Chekhov’s original piece.

We hope our readers enjoy the selection we have curated and appreciate the hard work that has gone into each piece. If you’d like to know more about our writers, look for their social media information in their biography underneath their work. Please feel free to let them (and us) know what you think!

All of our writers have given us the opportunity to publish exciting, original work and we thank them for taking the chance on a brand new literary magazine. To everyone that has submitted, everyone that has followed us and everyone that is reading, thank you. This is for you.

Yours,
The Editors

The Sunset Over San Diego | Hollis Rigney

How do I write a goddamn
gay poem! How can I not
write the word gay, where are
the others! Why do I know
one or three names, their queerness
a nail on their fourth finger,
a thing like an earring loose
in a purse, why can I not
claim them, say Hello! You’ve
not been lost! You are mine!
You are ours! You can call
yourself whatever you want!
You can help me write all of
the words you could not!
We can put them in a goddamn
poem together, you & I!

 


Hollis Marguerite Rigney is a non-binary queer poet who lives and works in Orange, CA and San Diego, CA. They have published work under the names of Hannah Teves and Hollis Teves. Their work has previously appeared in Calliope, Sapere Aude, The Messy Heads, Neologism Poetry, Eudaimonia Press, Ghost City Press, Bone & Ink Literary Magazine, and Blanket Sea Arts & Literary Magazine. They are also the editor-in-chief of The Fruit Tree, a literary magazine for LGBT+ writers. They enjoy listening to folk music and snuggling with their kitten, Tofu. Contact them at hnteves@gmail.com or on Twitter @unisexlove.

Sonnet for Gay History | Keaton St. James

Along the crimson threads of history must stand one
of my long-dead gay predecessors: rainwater in his hair,
hunger in his eyes, his mouth shining golden with laughter
as he tugs at me, tugs at me to remember him.

I imagine him seated on a half-dry park bench
near the cobblestone streets, his and his lover’s tailcoat-
clad shoulders brushing as they talked Euripides
under the gaslights. He knew too well how they both

savored whatever quiet touches the public allowed
them. And I imagine how, after he had climbed
into their shared bachelor apartment, my predecessor pulled
his lover close and kissed him hard enough to uninvent

the word indecency. Did loving a man feel as warm to him
as it does to me? Like light bursting through stained glass?

 


Writer’s Commentary

When you’re in the closet, it can be a complex process to eke out a space for yourself where you can have that privacy but also have your pride at the same time. For me, one of the biggest sources of comfort I find as a gay man is to read stories of real-life LGBT history, as well as classic literature featuring non-straight characters. This poem is meant to be a loving speculation on the ways in which gay men of another century may found solace in each other, and how we can find traces of ourselves in the legacies of those who have come before us.


Keaton St. James is an American graduate student studying science who loves to write poetry and prose in his spare time.

Dr. Alan L. Hart, Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission, 1955 | Keaton St. James

The white-haired patient sitting in front of him has three
tiny lesions in her lungs. On the x-ray film they glower at him
like blackbirds poking their heads out of sun-warmed
fields of Oregon wheat. As he prepares to get her the anti-biotics
she needs, she tells him a story of her girlhood, milking
cows on her father’s farm, filling wicker baskets with ripe,
sweet peaches, the back of her neck peeling from sunburn.

What should he tell her of his boyhood? How he crawled
on his belly to reenact Civil War stories and tumbled
back inside with mud smeared all over his heavy jacket
and crusted into his long hair? How he reveled in the sweat
dripping down his back as he chopped wood late into lavender-
tinted evenings, the air crisping as it cooled?

He settles on the pocketknife collection kept under his bed
in an emptied Ovaltine can. He doesn’t mention how he carried
them in skirt pockets, doesn’t mention how his mother
reminded him, her voice as smooth as cold cream, “Maybe
young girls shouldn’t carry those things.” And yet
there they were anyway, the weight of them thumping
through linen against his legs as he ran.

Later, after the clinic closes for the day, he’ll drive
home in his sputtering Chevy, put potato soup on the stove
to heat, and take his wife’s storm-damp coat for her
when she comes through the door. He’ll kiss her blushing
cheeks, her soft jaw, the side of her neck while she laughs,
sound of it as golden as light glimmering on a lake.

And later still, when grasshoppers croon from the moonlit
Hartford meadowsweet and his wife sits up in bed
reading Dickens, he’ll be at his desk, testosterone syringe
clutched in hands. The needle will sink into cleaned,
exposed skin: sharp pinch in the thigh, push of the plunger,
synthetic hormones oozing into the muscle. Evidence,
like the hysterectomy scar on his abdomen, of how far he
journeyed to build in himself this river-swell of confidence.

Then, hormone treatments finished and cleared away,
he will change into candy-striped pajamas, take his place
again at his desk. Rain will gavotte on the roof to autumn’s
burnished music. His typewriter glows with a waiting
page from a half-drafted radiology lecture, and he wants
to stay up working on it.

 


Writer’s Commentary

Dr. Alan L. Hart was an early 20th century radiologist whose pioneering research on the use of x-ray technology to detect tuberculosis would go on to save thousands of lives. And in 1917, he also had the distinction of becoming one of the first transgender men in America to have a hysterectomy. He had to fight to be seen, enduring transphobia, harassment, and being outed in the struggle to be recognized as his true self. But through it all, he remained passionately dedicated to his work, confident in himself, and so generous and kind. As a trans man myself, his story helps give me the pride to stand up and be who I am today, so I wrote this poem in honor of him.


Keaton St. James is an American graduate student studying science who loves to write poetry and prose in his spare time.

DEPRESS | Hollis Rigney

Just tell me I am brave! Just tell me
I am good for going on as long as I have.
Rub circles on my back this time.
Am I not better than Christian soldiers?
Am I not better than pilots diving for
the fish? Because I have stayed here,
because I have remembered the
small divot I have made in your bed
to come back to. Am I not brave for
how long I have remained, dull as I am?

 


Hollis Marguerite Rigney is a non-binary queer poet who lives and works in Orange, CA and San Diego, CA. They have published work under the names of Hannah Teves and Hollis Teves. Their work has previously appeared in Calliope, Sapere Aude, The Messy Heads, Neologism Poetry, Eudaimonia Press, Ghost City Press, Bone & Ink Literary Magazine, and Blanket Sea Arts & Literary Magazine. They are also the editor-in-chief of The Fruit Tree, a literary magazine for LGBT+ writers. They enjoy listening to folk music and snuggling with their kitten, Tofu. Contact them at hnteves@gmail.com or on Twitter @unisexlove.

Génératrice | Elspeth Wilson

The hall of mirrors
is not the place for me

I already see
myself drawn
a million times over
in other people’s faces

Caged but still singing
my mind prances within its confines
knowing enough to know
that I am contained but not to know how to traverse the boundaries
or to look for holes to shoogle through
one tendril at a time

A palace can be a prison
the opposite can be true
for if I was able to let my body rest a while
unnoticed, locked away
my mind would seize the freedom of the unobserved
and trill from heights that this flesh will never see.

 


Writer’s Commentary

The bodily and performative reflections of the hall of mirrors made me think about gender now and in the past. A place of such pride and status where you cannot escape your own self-image gave me pause to consider the ways that we can become trapped in our bodies through societal expectations of and projections onto the corporeal. It is often easy to regard history as a clear line of progress but writing in a voice that is somewhere between the past and present made me think about how some of the more fluid aspects of different eras and places are overlooked in an attempt to fit narratives around gender and sexuality into a sanitised, linear arc. Seeing myself over and over again is one of my worst nightmares and yet thinking about reproduction, of the image, the self, the body, made me feel connected to those dotted throughout the past whose bodies have been weaponised against them, just as we struggle to live in small, uncomfortable boxes now.


Elspeth Wilson is a researcher and writer interested in all things gender and sexuality related. She is a big believer in blurring boundaries between ‘art’ and ‘academia’ and always looks for creative ways to approach research. She prefers to write poetry, essays and short stories and is currently working on a project about the experience of pleasure post-trauma which you can see more of @propleasurable.

Beneath the Hawthorn | Alastair Brady

It was spring when I first laid eyes upon him in that way, this particular way, his oat blonde hair glowing in the sun like honey swept back in a neat wave, trimmed tightly down the gentle slope of his strong neck until it reached the crisp white of his collar. Those deep russet eyes, lowered at their outer corners, flicking between soft faces and lacy dresses; his pearly smile, those delicately carved features of David unbound by stone, had the village girls swarming like hopping finches.

I had seen James Everleigh like one sees a ghost since I was a boy, from the dusky framed window of the bakery at the centre of our village as he passed by. It was as though he was the subject of a painting I could only enter in my most fantastical dreams, subdued in waking life to mere observance. Some days looking up from the dough my father gave me, I half expected to see him clothed in white crowned with a halo, followed by some vast feathered wings, floating across the cobblestones in my windowed work of art. And all the while, I was begging for this portrait of a young man to step forth into my realm; perhaps if I was lucky, I would be offered a chance to be allowed inside the recesses of that frame which had trapped him for so long, to see him in the flesh.

And that lovely spring day was the first time I saw him outside the captivity of his own canvas. The lush sage walls around us, towering oaks speckling light upon the grass, blushes of peonies and hollyhocks, ivory washed tents and trays of silver, tiny china cups and dainty cakes, alabaster suits and stark white gloves: at long last, his painting had consumed me, made me a part of it. And from the moment his eyes locked with mine across the Earl’s garden, my life unfolded into an enchanting, dreamlike haze.

He perfumed the air with the fragrant scent of roses as though he carried some hidden bouquet; the raw freshness of an entire garden somehow embedded itself into his skin. And it was roses all the same which soon guarded us as we sat for hours amid the leafy sanctuary on a fountain, whose lily-padded water rippled in crisp rings while dappled sunbeams sprinkled us with bronze. His gentle voice was warm as day, tender and smiling, quite apart from the ostentatious prattling far beyond the foliage.

It was here when we fell in love.

Like the painter enraptured by the divine subject of his canvas, I fell deep into the depths of his eyes; swept away in the brush strokes of his hair; the earthly, delicate March palette that was James Everleigh. Feathery touches across my fingers linger still, the tap of his knee ebbing at my own, the way our heads drew closer as we laughed until I could feel the soft wisps of his locks brush mine. Steadily we grew quiet, allowing a silence to settle between us like that of a petal floating down.

My lashes fell by the gentle puff of warmth against my cheek; the last thing captured before that moment was nothing but the profound brilliance of a young man and the glow of his enamored face surrounded by a garden which remains to me so vast and enigmatic, I could only think to close my eyes to feel what I simply could not describe. There, far from the village party, I felt the tranquil lips of James Everleigh against mine. And never again was I to forget them.

*

Days later, I learned the flowery scent anchored to his clothes pursued him from the flower shop at which he was employed. I visited him there, and James came to visit me, quite to my mystified wonder as he deviated from his usual window-framed path and entered the bakery. I felt a sense of privilege to be in his midst. Soon, it was just about every day.

We would often take long walks down the rivering white road, columned with trees woven above our heads to the lake not far from the village. Cascading each other in magnificent splashes of water radiant against the summer sun, we would swim for hours in the water within the arborary refuge, between the banks overflowing with green, the canopies teeming with birdsong. With the water gently lapping at our smooth, glistening chests with so little space between us, our curious hands would explore the other’s skin as if in the dark, breath wavering, captivated by the sheer presence of one another. And presiding above this haven was a tremendous hawthorn, under whose braided trunk James and I sat against, gazing up at the great, verdant branches meandering towards the sky. Here, I would nestle myself under his arm so he could lay kisses to my cheek. Other times we read aloud from books, imagining what it would be like to have a place of our own; even once or twice I wove him a crown of the fresh white blossoms.

This tree became a place of solace for us both, far away from the inescapable confines of provincial society, blind to the threats of ignominy. Here nature forced no such commandments, asked nothing of us, provided shelter from the outside world with God the only witness to my worship of the saint whom I deemed most worthy of my devotion. From the leaves drawn in light, to the dimples in the soft white fabric of James’s shirt, nature itself was magnified the way I picture it would appear before one dies; this amplification to all the details of existence.

Sometimes, I would say, “James, what will happen? As we grow old, how shall we live? Will I be forced to leave you?” for the thought worried me greatly.

And James would always say, “This world brought us together, and it shall not tear us apart. But if it does, I promise I will follow you and in every life, I will love you, again and again, until the world will let me call you mine.” And he would place a kiss upon my temple, the roses instilled within his skin intoxicating me, subduing all uncertainty.

Then the war came.

*

I remember the world fragmented piece by piece, falling away like brittle and rusted leaves. I felt I clung to James harder then, while slate grey suits turned to rough khaki wool as the beast of war lured young men marked by tall tales to its claws; flashy scales and hell-red eyes, an inferno erupting seven levels down. Flags flapped on every corner, paste stuck the horrid words to every stone and day by day, we watched them all march blind away. James and I vowed at our hawthorn never to join, my slender form encircled by his embrace shrouded by the old tree, vainly hoping nature might keep the beast at bay

It did not.

*

That November, we were whisked away in carriages packed full of village boys barely outside their schools or their mother’s arms, faces deepened from laughter as incessant as the engine roaring down the tracks. Under a bag I held James’s hand, the passengers all too careless to see as I watched our village shrink further and further behind me.

Then came the camp, the sergeants so severe, driving their lessons deep within our brains, screaming on while the bayonets plunged deep within the burlap, the stultifying marches wearing down the soles of my cumbersome army boots. Our bodies ached each night they grew stronger and leaner. Even the hand of James with which my fingers were intertwined, bridged across the space between our beds at night, felt calloused and rough. And though his body grew hard and sinewy, his mild eyes persisted in their compassion. One could always recognise the kindness still laden in his smile no matter how much of that ardent youth was stripped from us during those habitual, dreary days.

It wasn’t long until those jagged pewter waves embossed with foam thrashed against the sides of the vessel slicing through the sea, England now a distant memory lost somewhere in the phantasmal fog beyond the rails.

And despite knowing of our destination – James was so beautiful then –  the way his hair whipped errantly about his face turned towards the bow, the iron sky billowing behind his finely traced, fair silhouette.

As the water gave way to sand, the land dipped to drab fields and tiny stone cottages peppered across the countryside. James and I rocked and swayed with the other boys venturing down the uneven road in the back of the ragged little military motorcar on our way to a camp not far behind the frontlines. It was there when I saw for the first time the devastation ravaging the landscape, torn asunder from the craters impaled into the flesh of the earth, the trees like spindly, black veins jutting up through the mud devoid of all life; my stomach became twisted as another portion of my reality, painted in the works of James and our time in the village in a dizzy spell of green and burning white, succumbed to disillusion. It felt as though my nightmares had bled from my mind, having crept along the barren terrain and consumed all in its path.

No amount of our singing and comradery could account for the horror we could feel rising like the tide, growing closer each night. Not even the bare, knotted tree James and I found ourselves under from time to time could offer the same sort of security as our mighty hawthorn skirting the edge of the corrugated lake, its naked arms powerless to the rain which would pour down upon us. In a feverish yet sweet attempt to recompose familiarity, James and I wrote each other letters which we read aloud to the boys sometimes, saying they were from girls back home. Those nights were always enjoyable around the fire, the men hooting and whistling after we finished, telling us how lucky those girls were to have us.

How different would it be, we wondered, holding each other’s gaze through the whipping flames, if they knew the writers of such things sat across from one another? How happy for us would they be then?

Suddenly, a rhythmic stampede of feet. A long streak of khaki, dotted by ashen, metal olive. To the ears of birds there came songs never heard in this part of nature, untouched by the hands of man and were now echoing down the sombre road like the melody of ghosts.

Oh how my memory muddied like the maze of trenches we lined, backs to the sludgy walls, James’s clammy hand gripping mine all out in the open, bits of dirt already freckled on his cheeks, his pitch brown eyes boring into my own. He said not a word, but I could tell what he was thinking for he squeezed my hand once, then twice. I clenched my jaw, spit becoming thick, my throat made tight as if by a stone. Our helmets softly pinged together in these few beats of stillness.

Then came the solitary whistle, piercing the air with a fearsome shrillness. And in one swift movement, we were clambering up the ladders to the hellacious sounds of rapping guns scything down our lines, the singing shells bulleting through the air and striking down against the black earth in monstrous blows of fiery smoke.

But my ears rang terribly as if I were underwater, drowning in soil and the grey, heavy fumes lurking along the desolate stretch of mud. With my weapon raised, I found nowhere to shoot, the strange fog having engulfed the battlefield and beside me, boys dropped liked flies with a spray of crimson. Everything seemed… slow… and languid, sounds and shouts all muddled together in one eerie, capricious roar. And as I dragged my face to look at James beside me, I saw he was yelling, about what, I didn’t know. Taking his rifle in one hand, he trudged towards me, grabbing clumsily at my side during which I dropped my gun, helplessly trying to make sense of his words.

He yanked up the bag at my side, fumbling for the buttons. Only then, as my eyelids pulled back in horror was I finally able to make sense of one dreaded word.

Gas.

James crumpled to the ground like a ragdoll, his blood splattering against my discoloured webbing, and I lurched for him, one hand still clutching my tube helmet now sticking to my palm, the other frantically grasping for my love writhing in the mud. I could see the hole in his hand, the wound in his leg, caught in the tail end of machine gun fire. His name escaped in one sharp cry before I too was ripping the mask from his own bag as I began to cough and hack, my eyes growing blurry, my head spinning from fear, his hands still weakly struggling to fit the cloth over my head, and my hands trying to do the same for him. And suddenly, all at once, I collapsed, fainted, shadows beginning to swirl around us.

And a mantling silence consumed me.

*

I remember waking up to darkness, feeling my eyes open, something soft against my hands and my head. Gradually sounds came back; the gentle voices of women, the murmurs of men. But the blackness sent me into a fit of terror and I began to shout out, shrieking first for James, floundering atop the cushioned surface, until a hand caught my own.

“Victor!” it said breathlessly. It squeezed my hand once, then twice.

“James,” I mumbled, my voice breaking.

Carefully, I took hold of his arm, my feet just grazing the cold, stone floor, and wrapped my heavy arms around him, felt the heat of his chest and his warm breath.

I knew I was alive then, for I could feel hot tears pouring out of my eyes and smearing under whatever cloth was wrapped across my face, the thump of his heart drumming firmly against my ear.

*

Days later, the two of us were discharged from the hospital all the way back to England, hands guiding me this way and that, but I always knew James was near for I knew his own touch against the small of my back. Of course my family was happy to hear I was home, safe and sound, though blinded. My sight never did return. It was recommended I stay with my aunt, my uncle having died in the Boer War, and was told she would take good care of me. But I wanted nothing more than James.

And so my wish was granted. My family purchased a tiny cottage near the lake for the both of us—minus the innumerable visits from my mother and sister—the almighty hawthorn just visible from the front door, or so James described to me. He described everything to me, from our home to trees, while seasons passed us by. The trickling of rain beading down the windows; the colours of flowers he would bring home from the shop, that scent of roses following him again. And as I grew older, he described more things to me. How London changed, how the world was changing, and how it was remembering the boys who never returned home. But I knew of the things he wasn’t describing to me, too. About the people who stared at me and those like me, marked by the consequences of war, with antipathy as I walked blindly through city streets. About people bloodthirsty for revenge against those who stole their sons… and about the tears in his eyes when we would lay in bed at night, saddened I could no longer see the gorgeousness of life. But with a strangled smile, trying to see the light in all, I would always tell him the world seemed all the more beautiful with him to describe it to me, how love felt all the more powerful when one could not see, for the most profound things in life can only be experienced when closing one’s eyes.

And one spring evening, just before the sun was set, James and I decided to have a walk to our hawthorn tree, as we did less those days in my later age. So I took up my cane in one hand, my other in his, and we walked down that rivering white road columned with trees woven above our heads.

And upon reaching the tree, he helped guide me down to the plush grass beneath those twisting braches now blooming with the fresh white blossoms. I leaned my head against his shoulder so he could press a kiss to my temple.

As I closed my eyes, I wept at the image of his handsome face in my memory, still surrounded by the garden, the one whose light speckled face laughed with me among the roses, whose face I always remembered the same way. The one whose face never changed, the one who never grew old. Whose body I was forced to leave an ocean away.

And as my frail, quivering fingers traveled down his body, tracing over his words from all those years ago embedded deep within the stone set between the aged roots of the old hawthorn winding through the grass, I could feel his soft lips fade from my skin.

“I promise too,” I whispered.

And a mantling silence consumed me.

 


Alastair F. Brady is an aspiring illustrator and writer of early 20th century fiction for adolescents and adults and has had numerous recognitions for his moving and imaginative pieces of art and literature. Alastair is currently working on a full length novel as well as illustrated young adults’ books. He is also a WWI re-enactor and freelance photographer.

He can be found on Instagram at @alastaircreates.

The Posture of Trees | Judy DeCroce

unexpectedly, a year has spilled
its worn days along the path

breaching a stand
where years lay
where colors shuffle
autumn tags beneath and above

like the posture of trees
I stand as straight as I can
feeling taller
going on

 


Writer’s Commentary

Tough times can bend you but persistence and pride can weather anything.


Judy DeCroce, a former teacher, is a poet and flash fiction writer.

She has been published in Pilcrow & Dagger, Amethyst Review, The Sunlight Press, Cherry House Press- Dreamscape:An Anthology, and many others.

She is a professional storyteller and teacher of that genre. Judy lives and works in upstate New York with her husband writer/artist Antoni Ooto. She can be found on Twitter @JudyDeCroce

Authentic Love Letter From Angel to Saffron | Harley Claes

Angel,

It’s a matter of letting go of any prior preconceptions, fears, and anxieties. And is it so easy letting go of that fear? Are we starting over or beginning from the ruins that were left to us?  ‘Love should be a safety net to fall into, comfort-like.’ I think I indulge in that fear more often than not that it has become my poison. I don’t want to be scared of what an us can do to my heart. Cause if it’s as true a love as we believe it is, we need not fear an end, never completely.

I love you like I feel your sentiment left on every place you’ve touched, like your perfume stains the cavern of my heart and soul, love like a thought that never ceases, and tick tick ticks at the back of your head. And it’s terrifying. But it shouldn’t be.
We need to fight for the highs and the lows and every limbo in between. I have the courage, it just has to be unraveled from its bundle and nursed truly. I know you feel much the same.

I’m ready to hold your hand as we step away from the inferno into the eternal light.

With love like a revolution, forever and always, Saffron

 


Writer’s Commentary

Authentic Love Letter from Angel to Saffron was written as a thread to reassure one another of the genuine love between them. A man had come between them and threatened to bust their love up. There was the fear of social backlash and the man’s physicality that kept their bodies apart but their minds tethered.


Harley Claes is a prose poet, perfume maker, and novelist from Detroit, Michigan. Her work is oftentimes anachronistic, mystical, philosophical and holy erotic. She also happens to run the Beat-inspired press ANGELICAL RAVINGS. Her first self-published anthology is titled ‘Pity The Poetics’ and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 30+ literary journals. You can find her at harleyclaes.com

Collage | Harley Claes

image2


Writer’s Commentary

This piece depicts the Sapphic and tumultuous relationship between two women, addressing the feigned consoling and fear of connection due to traumatic ties with men in the past.


Harley Claes is a prose poet, perfume maker, and novelist from Detroit, Michigan. Her work is oftentimes anachronistic, mystical, philosophical and holy erotic. She also happens to run the Beat-inspired press ANGELICAL RAVINGS. Her first self-published
anthology is titled ‘Pity The Poetics’ and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 30+ literary journals. You can find her at harleyclaes.com

Wind Chill | Rosey Lee

“Chef, the guests at Table 5 asked if you would stop by,” the hostess said.

Free was the hottest new restaurant in Atlanta, and Chef Maymie was used to guests requesting special time with her. Her innovative approach to the chef-driven dining experience was unexpected in Atlanta, and people couldn’t get enough of it or her creations. Diners interacted directly with her and the kitchen staff instead of waiters, but there was always one table too impatient to wait for her to come by at the end of the meal. She appreciated the excitement around her largely plant-based take on Southern favorites, so she took entitled guests in stride.

“Okay, tell them I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Chef Maymie said. She finished her check-ins with the line chefs and headed to the dining room, grabbing a massive basket of fresh cornbread muffins to distribute in place of the assigned commis chef.

The restaurant was filled to capacity, and the energy was palpable in the 125-seat dining room. The kitchen door flung open, and a group of local culinary students burst into applause as Chef Maymie approached their table with the muffins. She tried to quiet them, but the rest of the room joined in. She made a mental note to send the students an amuse-bouche assortment.

“Mr. Butler? Ms. O’Hara-Butler?” Chef Maymie asked, approaching Table 5. For the first time since she opened the restaurant, Chef Maymie felt out of place. She reminded herself that she and her therapist had prepared for this moment. She followed her therapist’s advice and spoke to her fear. “I have overcome. God is with me. It’s healthy to hold others accountable for their actions. There is strength in forgiveness,” Chef Maymie thought.

“Yes, lovely to see you! It’s been so long,” Ms. O’Hara-Butler said, hugging Chef Maymie as Mr. Butler shook his head. Chef Maymie paused and then eased away.

“Scarlett, honey, calm down,” Mr. Butler said to his wife. “Chef Maymie, she’s been looking forward to seeing you all week. No one took care of our daughter like you. Cat had lots of babysitters over the years, but you were our favorite.”

“I’m not sure I remember being your favorite, but that’s okay. Things turned out pretty well for me in the end,” Chef Maymie said.

“Yes, we’re so proud of you!” Ms. O’Hara-Butler boasted. “And the restaurant is gorgeous. When I read about the grand opening in the newspaper, I knew we had to come see you and try your famous cornbread muffins. By the way, I love the way you’re spelling your name these days. You’ve really reinvented yourself.”

“I didn’t reinvent myself. I’m still the same person I always was. My name is still spelled M-a-m-i-e on legal documents. I added the y for everyday use because I got tired of being called Mammy. You know, the kind of Freudian slip that has no place in the twenty-first century,” Chef Maymie said coolly.

Ms. O’Hara-Butler recoiled. “Oh Maymie, I apologized for that. I didn’t mean anything by it. We loved you like family,” she said.

“Actually, you never apologized,” Chef Maymie said. The situation had haunted her for years, and she felt empowered speaking up for herself now.

“I am sorry. Please forgive me,” Ms. O’Hara-Butler said.

“Thank you,” Chef Maymie said. As she turned to signal for one of the commis chefs to finish passing out the muffins,  she saw someone familiar exiting the restroom. “Is that Cat? She’s all grown up.”

Ten years had passed. Chef Maymie hadn’t seen Cat since the day Ms. O’Hara-Butler had called her Mammy. It had been the worst time to quit her babysitting job in the palatial mansion in Buckhead, one of the wealthiest communities in the country. She was just about to finish her master’s degree in food science and start culinary school. She really needed the money.

“Maymie! ” Cat squealed, running toward her.

They held each other in a long, rocking hug, their customary greeting when Chef Maymie picked up Cat each day from kindergarten.

“This is the most excited Cat has been all week,” Ms. O’Hara-Butler said. “She doesn’t talk to us much anymore. You know how teens can be.” Cat rolled her eyes at her mother and slid into the booth. “We’ve been trying to get reservations forever,” Ms. O’Hara-Butler continued. “I even left several messages, but I figured you didn’t get them.”

“No, I received them, but you know how chefs can be,” Chef Maymie said, winking at Cat.

“I had the hardest time believing you were a chef because you told me during your interview that you couldn’t cook,” Ms. O’Hara-Butler said.

“I never said that I didn’t know how to cook. When I said ‘I can’t cook,’ I meant that I had no plans to do it as part of my babysitting job. You wouldn’t even pay me minimum wage. But I slipped Cat a few of my homemade treats every now and then,” Chef Maymie said.

“See, Mom, I told you!” Cat hissed at her mother. Cat pivoted toward Chef Maymie. “I told her I remembered eating a cornbread muffin like the one pictured in the newspaper article about you, but she didn’t believe me. She thought I was just trying to make her jealous.”

“Chef, they need you in the kitchen,” interrupted the commis chef as he relieved Chef Maymie of the basket of muffins.

“Okay. I’ll be right there,” Chef Maymie said. She turned to her guests. “I’ve gotta run. I hope y’all enjoy your meals. But, Ms. O’Hara-Butler, I have to know, did it work?”

“Huh?” Ms. O’Hara-Butler asked.

“Did it make you jealous that you’d never tasted any of my food?” Chef Maymie asked.

“It did.” Ms. O’Hara-Butler sighed, her cheeks reddening.

Chef Maymie smiled and walked away. “Bless her heart,” she said under her breath.

 


Rosey Lee is a New Orleans, Louisiana native who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Bending Genres, Barren Magazine, Turnpike Magazine, and elsewhere. Her flash fiction chapbook, Beautiful, Complicated Family, will be released in late 2019. Follow her at roseyleebooks.com and @roseyleebooks on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.