Flash Fiction: Apartment 22

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer, Chicago, IL.

Jorge climbed the stairs of the tenement apartment building whose walls were as thin as whispers. He heard snippets of each family’s life as he ascended. His feet bowed the worn wood making them groan and creak.The dark hallways were scattered with mouse droppings and smelled of decay. Garbage cluttered the corners, broken toys scattered across the dirty floors like orphans.

The death of sounds was common here. No one cared where they went or who made them unless it disturbed their sleeping habits. It wasn’t unusual to eat lunch with gunfire or hang the clothes in the apartment to dry, listening to the sound of fists contacting a face. 

He lamented the fact that life took away their compassion and left them numb to the atrocities in their own backyards. But this place was what he could afford on his meager pension from the mill.  He couldn’t do better than this. It gave him pause, his head hanging for a moment.

On the fourth floor, he stopped. From apartment 22 came a noise he wasn’t accustomed to hearing. It drew him closer to the door with its peeling burgundy paint and lopsided, black metal numbers. 

It was music.  

Tender and passionate, he hovered at the door, fingers just grazing the paint. The space around his body filled with his own excited warmth. He leaned in with his ear pressed to the jamb forgetting about the building’s filth, forgetting many would sooner shoot you than look at you if you came close to their doors. He couldn’t draw away… not yet.

Jorge held his breath to not miss a sound. His entire body set afired right there in the dirty hallway. His cock twinged between his legs the louder the music got. For the first time in years, he felt like a man. Jorge wandered through thoughts of his youth and the nights spent with women clutched in his arms. How he’d slide into them deep, enjoying the musk of their bodies. Their mouths betraying the music of their sex.

Notes escaped from the cracks around the door spilling into the stale, heavy air. They were sweet melodic effluvia that danced in the air, kissing his face, and Jorge knew at once it was a woodwind. He listened carefully as the woman, yes….he was sure it was a woman playing, blew into the instrument. 

A flute.

He imagined the delicious pout of her lips pursed over the curved hole. The deftness of her fingers flew over the padded keys pressing them into the silver body. As she covered the holes the air stretched into music. Jorge heard the sole of her show tapping the hardwood, imagined her graceful neck and slender fingers. 

Jorge closed his eyes and drank her in imagining the swell of her breasts as she inhaled to put strength behind the notes. He wanted to run his hand up her knee while she played a melody for him and watch her body stiffen at his touch.

His body betrayed him. His face flushed. Jorge’s body trembled and he was hard as stone, standing like a lecherous old man at a young girl’s door. The landlord lumbered up the stairs and his heart froze.

She was drunk and Jorge smelled the stale alcohol pouring from her skin from where she stood at the top of the stairs. Her body swayed and she held herself steady with the railing. The look in her eye devious as a vultures.

“What the hell are you doing over  there?” she slurred.

“Nothing…eh…nothing ma’am,” Jorge said, looking away.

“By the looks of the party in your pants, it doesn’t look like nothing, Jorge. You’re a dirty old man leaning against the door, huddled in the corner stroking yourself like a peeping Tom.” The landlord scolded, “I should kick you out, or better yet post  your sad face in the lobby as a pervert. But you pay on time so I’ll just remember this. You will owe me.”

Something in the way she looked at Jorge made his stomach sick. He wanted nothing to do with being under her thumb or any other part of her body.

“I’m going now, up to my apartment. Sorry. I meant nothing. The music put me in a trance.” Jorge tried to explain, but the landlord just looked at his pants with a grin of a wolf.   

She licked her lips and smiled, showing her poorly kept teeth. Another wave of her pickled insides came toward him as she spoke. He held back the vomit in his throat. Jorge looked down to see the pleats of his trousers tented like the pants of an adolescent, a wet spot forming there like a lewd death for everyone to see.

Jorge’s excitement faded and wished his cock would shrivel back into its cotton grave. He wanted nothing to do with this weak excuse for a woman and her wasted life. He wanted the dove behind the door, wanted to kiss her skin and please her….take her from this wretched place. But he said nothing more as he looked at the door again.

He hung his head as he walked past the landlord avoiding her intentions. Now he would never know the beauty behind the door. Reluctant, Jorge left the woman of his dreams with her music, her body of grace, her answer to the reawakening of his heart, and trudged past more death, to his own.

Book Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

What attracted me to this book was its title and cover. The collage feel is something very personal to me and I enjoy smashing images together to make a whole new visual. I also enjoy, weather. 

Based on these ideas, I chose Weather by Jenny Offill.

As a general rule, I don’t read jacket information, nor do I read reviews before picking up a book. (Shakes head as she writes this review). Not that I don’t go to websites that review books. I only look at the suggested covers and make a decision that way. It spices life up, trust me. As a writer, it continually reminds me of how important cover art is in capturing an audience’s attention.

After finishing the book, I see it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list and that it gets a lot of stars on Goodreads. For me, this book did not hit the mark. Maybe my enjoyment of this novel would’ve required me to read the hard copy rather than listen to it. In the audio book this is the rambling of a woman in a stream of consciousness about the coming political climate surrounding a newly elected president with a mild overarching story about her family. It is possible the arc of the story was more poignant and relevant, but the delivery was so distracting that I kept looking to see how much longer until the book ended.

The primary character Lizzie feels cynical and wry. Her brother Henry is a hot mess of a man whom she has to care for even at the expense of her own family’s happiness. The interesting parts of this story were when Lizzie interacted with other people and drove the novel forward. The rest of the time you’re stuck in her head. I have my own ADD brain to deal with and that is misery enough.

I could be wrong about this book and once the library opens back up, I might give this title another try to see if reading rather than listening is the winning form for Jenny Offill’s words. As it stands, I’m giving this book a solid…. meh.


I am happy to announce that I have a poem published in Issue 5 Spring of POETiCA REViEW called “Jackson Pollock/The Deep, 1953.” I am thrilled that there are folks out there willing to take a chance on ekphrastic poetry as it combines my love of poetry and art together.

There are some names of poets I recognize in there such as Jack Henry, Dan Provost, Mitchell Grabois, and Brian Rihlmann. I’m excited to read work by those that are new to me as well. Pop over and have a read.

The Big Windows Review: 2 Poems

There are those moments when you Google yourself that it pays off. In all of this pandemic time slip, I had forgotten the date when my poems “Kai” and “Frank Stella/Moultonboro II, 1974” were to be published. My deepest apologies to The Big Windows Review for dropping the ball on this one. I’m over a month late.

These poems appeared in their online magazine and will also be included in Issue 19, Spring 2020. Head over there and read some of the wonderful selections they have in Issue 18 which is currently available. Thanks for reading.

Book Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I have to tell you I am thrilled to not have to drive a cumulative nine hours back and forth to work, but it has hampered my consumption of audio books. I was listening to about one a week and I’m lucky if I can fit in two a month now. Sheltering in place has taken an effect on it too.

We’ve been inundated by shitty weather in upstate New York, which has made hiking and individual outdoor activity harder to do. It slows the mind down. After an entire day of rain, it finally stopped, and I took this as an opportunity to take a long walk and listen to a book. I needed revitalizing.

Recently, my kid and I have been watching episodes of Universe which has been interesting. I have always loved astronomy and the principles of physics, but was never smart enough to crush the math. As I scrolled through the available audio books through my library, there it was. The answer to my first world problems.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I will not tell you with any sliver of intelligence about the key principles of astrophysics and I will not try. This is more a review that puts the seed in your head that you should listen to this book. You could read it, but then you won’t get to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson say “Holy Shit” while talking about astrophysics. I was walking by the swollen river when this happened and literally was laughing so hard. He’s just a guy, but a smart one. It took me off guard.

I think what I loved about his book was that he made the ideas of astrophysics easy to understand. He spoke about them with intelligence but referenced them to images and ideas that we might grasp as lay people. He talked about how often people feel depressed when learning about astrophysics because it makes them feel insignificant, but he states that he still feels excited and full of wonder. Space and the universe makes him feel this way because human beings discovered it all. It feels like an infinite possibility instead of being irrelevant.

You have four hours of time, less than four hours actually, to listen to this book. You can feel smart and maybe childlike about the wonders of space and how regular people learned to do amazing things.

Do. It. Again.

I’m an essential worker. I’m a nurse in this time of pandemic. I’m an introvert who relishes in brief periods of extroverted pleasure. I am still suffering the loss of socialization in meaningful ways. This is important to note. I miss the exchanges that cost me or pay me nothing. I miss the human condition.

The other night I was scrolling through a page where poetry is posted. I’m trying to keep up with the world through the eyes of poets because the media makes me question humanity. There was a post for a drop in workshop at the SF Creative Writing Institute which was facilitated by the man who gave me my first ever poetry reading gig, Paul Corman-Roberts.

Photo by William Taylor Jr.

In 2007, I flew out to SF for a weekend to read in a lineup of amazing women. Kathy Acker’s Dangerous Daughters.  Mission District. Fucking San Francisco! On the plane all I could think of was: why did he ask me?

I am not dangerous. 
I didn’t know who the hell Kathy Acker was.
I wasn’t pretty.
I wasn’t known.
I was scared out of my mind.
I was a small town girl full of city dreams.
I had traveled but been nowhere.
I didn’t think I was good enough.

I performed at the reading. I remember the first poem only because it was the longest one I’d ever written. Because it was trauma. Because it was painful. I remember trembling, heart racing, and quite sure I’d pass out. It was a large room of strangers who had a steady diet of great poets at their fingertips. This was so much to live up to. After the first few stanzas, I noticed something amazing. The crowd, all of them, leaned forward in their seats. This moment made me understand the power of words. They were listening to my trauma. Not only listening, but hearing it.

That weekend I hung out with some SF legends, drank pitchers of margaritas, went to City Lights, had drinks at Vesuvio, slept on a poet’s couch, and saw the most amazing art exhibits at the MoMA. This trip changed my writing life.

So, when I saw Paul Corman-Roberts was promoting a workshop on poetry, I decided to sign up. It didn’t matter that I had to wake up at five thirty in the morning for a nursing shift or that I was already completely exhausted from the day. It was placed in front of me for a reason. The poet teaching the class was Tongo Eisen-Martin. I had no idea who he was. A poet that my friend knew. Good enough for me.

Tongo was ill with stomach problems that night but he stayed with us for three hours teaching the anatomy of a good line, how to push off writer’s block, and how to read a poem. At the end, he asked us all to find a line of our own work. He asked for a volunteer. The zoom room was silent, so I went first. I didn’t want to, but hell, he was sick and trying to show us something. I was raised with manners.

I read my line without any flourish. I had to read it bare and then he wanted me to give each word its own space. A long space. A painful when-is-this-fucking-going-to-end sort of space. The breathing trick irritated me. Nope. Do it again. Nope. Longer. Do it again. No. Read the next word only when I point at you. No. Stop thinking about the next word. Again.

The entire time, my Fitbit is capturing a heart rate of 130 because it feels like I’m being punished. It feels like he is telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’m wrong, that I’m not teachable. That is my reel. Not his. And this is sort of what he was getting at. We read fast because we are afraid. Because we worry what people will think we look like, sound like, and act like. But why are we there? For the poem. For the words.


I paused and looked away from the screen. I thought about why I chose each word in this poem even though they are only getting the first line. They know nothing about the poem’s full meaning. They have no idea it is a love letter to my child who has struggled with gender identity, anxiety, and depression. They do not know it is a poem about my failure as a parent or how sometimes there are moments when I feel like I didn’t ruin them. They get one line out of context.

I read the line, slow and with each word serving its purpose, and got it right.

I haven’t been able to think about much else since that class. I looked up Tongo after it was over because I couldn’t sleep. My blood pumping and my mind flying circles around the room. Whoa. He’s pretty accomplished and acclaimed. I’m sort of glad I didn’t know anything about him, because then I wouldn’t have gone first, or at all. I would’ve lost a beautiful moment I now get to keep forever. I received a lesson in trust. A lesson in voice. A piece of truth.

Micro-fiction: Immolation

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

Years ago I was challenged by my friend Joseph Bouthiette Jr. to create what he liked to call 55’s. These are pieces of fiction with exactly 55 words. He is obsessed with the number five. I have no idea why. He had invited me to be a part of an anthology that was made up entirely of 55 word stories. All the numbers moved around by five.

It seemed like a daunting task at the time as I was not a big fiction writer and had spent most of my time dealing in poetry. I had played around with flash fiction, but to be able to cut a precise piece of story out of the air in 55 words is exhilarating.

This challenge led me to write them all the time and honed the fiction I produce now. There was talk of another book, but it seems like his publishing days are on hold. Here is a story from what was supposed to be the final book in the collection:


I am haunted daily by his memory, knowing each thread was built on well crafted lies made to create a marble statue in his likeness. The truth has not set me free. Honesty has not made me stronger. Independence doesn’t feel courageous. Ghosts linger rattling chains made of spiderwebs. I should set myself on fire.

Poem (PAD 2020): Sound the Alarm (5:32 am)

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

So this month’s poetry prompts have come to me late at night. Normally I collect lines throughout the day and see what I can string together when my friend finally pushes the prompt into the light. He was still writing his poem very late and I was tired, but he gave me a hint: a mule that lost its shoe.

What? No really, what? He wanted me to write about a donkey?

As it happened that day, I had not written any lines because I was at work and tending to things after so I had to go into it cold, not that anything I would have gathered could have prepared me for the prompt. I went to sleep and my body woke at the same time it does for work, but without the alarm. Half asleep, the poem came to me. I can’t guarantee it is worth much, but I wrote a poem with a donkey. I did it. That bastard!

Sound the Alarm (5:32 am)

The journey we are on is long
and ensconced in the pages of books, 
their history just dreams that seed 
fantasies we are unable 
to cleanly separate in time. 

I am the Sanchez to your Quixote, 
following your moves across the landscape 
on a donkey named Dapple. 
Adding light to the path as well as laughter. 

At times my steed disappears, 
much like my meaning in this world 
and reappears without a shoe 

as we limp along together 
in our lameness, unashamed.

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Photo: property of original artist

I have been putting off writing a review on Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for a few weeks now. It was the last audiobook I completed since leaving a job that had me driving two plus hours a day. I finished this one at the end of orientation for my new job which has a shorter commute and little time for consuming audiobooks. It’s the end of an era of listening for me. Maybe I’ve been mourning the loss of the ritual.

I can’t say enough about Neil Gaiman in the first place. I have his rules of writing taped to my bathroom mirror. I read them everyday. They’ve propelled me forward. I can’t lie though, I only discovered his work in the last year, making me extremely late to the party. I am a firm believer in the idea that we find writers when we need them the most. Gaiman made me want to finish a novel I started ten years before. He made me want to complete something.

Norse Mythology is a collection of stories about the creation and ending of the gods, giants, and their interrelationships through history. You have to listen to this book rather than read it. Trust me. Neil Gaiman could read the dictionary and it would be interesting. But besides that fact, the stories of Odin, Loki, and Thor, along with lesser characters I never knew about, deserve to be heard in the oral tradition.

Remember back to when you were a child and your parents read you bedtime stories from a book, or your grandfather spun a yarn for you on a summer day in the backyard while you ate ice cream. How good did that feel? It is magical to have someone take you on a journey in that way. You should go on this journey with Gaiman.

I’m not going to really review this book in detail as it is a collection of stories I feel you have to go in cold to really enjoy. It might change the way you think about Norse mythology in general, especially if you only have very basic knowledge of the tales from what you may have gleaned in comic books and movies. They are fantastical stories about the things of dreams. Give Norse Mythology a listen.

Poem (PAD 2020): The Meaning of Existence

Photo by Aleathia Drehmer

Another soul gone from the pandemic, 
a day spent running, chasing our tails
with no time to be scared of anything.

The knowledge we could die, present and real,
surround us but no more than any other day.
We dig our graves one shovel at a time.

I leave an hour late, my body aching
as I remove the mask I’ve worn
for thirteen hours.The air has never 
tasted so sweet.

Drawing in deep breaths as the wind
brushes strands of hair across my face,
I stop to listen to the peepers by the pond.

I realize it has all been taken for granted.
Every thought, every kindness,
every heartbreak, every kiss.