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  by Lori Bentley-Law


I recently found out I’m a dog. You might think the discovery shocked me, after thirty-five years as a two-legged, pale-skinned girl, but deep inside I already knew. What else could explain my desire to gnaw on a steak bone? And my desperate need to please others? And why would I find joy chasing my cat? And digging... I can’t tell you what deep pleasure that brings.


People look at me strange when I tell them I’m a dog. They scrutinize my asymmetrical face, my slightly larger than normal nose, my charmingly crooked teeth and say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not a dog. You’re no beauty queen, but you’re no dog, either.” I think they don’t realize I’m speaking in literal terms.   


The discovery came last spring while out on my morning walk. I enjoy a brisk trip around the neighborhood, a chance to say hello to the world and my block mates out with their dogs as they search for the perfect tree. I’ve never had a dog. I’m more of a people person.  


Anyway. Just as I passed my favorite corner market, a small Japanese woman who looked old as the world ran out of the store. Her face felt like home. She looked at me and smiled and said, “There is my Happy Girl! Come, Happy Girl!”


I glanced over my shoulder expecting to see someone else on the sidewalk, but no. She made kissing noises like you would to an animal. Crazy old bat. Strange thing, though... I had to fight the impulse to run and jump into her open arms. I smiled, turned away and continued down the sidewalk, hoping against hope she would stay, but—-by God!—she followed me, chattering a weird mix of Japanese and English.


“Happy Girl? What wrong Happy Girl? You no remember me? It’s little Suki,” the woman said as she dragged her tiny feet along the sidewalk.


 I’m a pretty friendly person. I smile and wave at anyone who glances my way, but really... I have very little patience for kooks. Still, I had this crazy desire to run figure eights between her legs. That’s not normal. And I had this bizarre craving for Edamame, you know, those Japanese soybeans? But I ignored all of that.


Even though I hated to be rude, I had to get away from the woman. Just as I decided to sneak away, a darkly handsome man rushed to her side, so I ran my hand through my chaotic hair and stuck around.


“Mama! Don’t do that to me! I hate it when you wander away. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” the man said.


“But Evan... look who I have found! Look deep in her eyes. All these years, and finally I have found her!”


Evan took my hand. 


“Hello. I’m Evan Miller. And you’ve met my mother, Suki Watanabe Miller.”


“Vanessa Canneran. Pleased to meet you,” I said.


He looked me straight in the eye: deeply, searchingly, his angular green eyes burning into my soul. Then he shook his head and apologized.


“Miss, I’m terribly sorry. My mother has mistaken you for someone else. Please forgive her.”


“Oh, don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’m often mistaken for someone else.”


That’s when the woman reached over to pet my shoulder. What joy! What happiness! What am I? Nuts?


She smiled placidly at her son. “But Evan.... How would you know whether or not it’s her? You weren’t yet born when she was with me. But I know. I’ve been waiting 61 years.”


I forced myself to resist the urge to lean into her stroking hand. “Uh, excuse me Evan, what’s your mother talking about? She a little cuckoo?”


“Cuckoo’s kind of strong. Just the oddness that comes with old age.”


The woman’s brown eyes sparkled with sweet innocence, and I loved them.


 “My sweet Happy Girl. My sweet dog,” she said.


My left eyebrow shot up. Dog? Did she just call me her dog? Evan, reacting to my reaction, quickly stepped in.


“Okay. Look. She thinks you’re the soul of a ShiTzu she had as a child. She looks for its reincarnated being in every person she passes. I’m really sorry.”


Mama’s head bobbed with approval. “Happy Girl was good, so pure, I knew she would be rewarded and look! You’re a beautiful American girl! I’m so proud.”


“I’m sorry, Mrs. Watanabe,” I said, “but you place too much honor on me. I’m just a plain ordinary girl, not nearly nice enough to be a dog. Certainly not one named Happy Girl.”


“Oh. You are Happy Girl all right. You just don’t know it yet.”


And with that, Evan led Mama away leaving me to wonder, could she be right?


The rest of the day I felt... well... different. Kind of special. Like a happy girl. I’ve always believed I’m new to this whole human experience. Some people possess deep wisdom and understanding of how the world operates. Not me. Situations shock me. Beauty awes me. Brutality frightens me. The unknown excites me. I look at the world as this great pot of adventures waiting to be dipped into with no room for cynicism or disdain. So I wondered... Could I be Mrs. Watanabe’s Happy Girl?


The next day the thought of being the reincarnated soul of a ShiTzu overwhelmed me. I had to know more. I returned to the market to find out where I might locate the Watanabe-Millers. The clerk directed me to Evan’s architecture firm on Marsh Street three blocks away. I went to his office and we lunched at a trendy restaurant where he fit in perfectly while I, as usual, stood out like a sore thumb. No matter how hard I tried, I always looked like a neophyte.


“So what makes your mother believe I’m her dog?”


Evan looked at me like he had the day before and I melted. “Because you have a purity and kindness in your eyes she’s seen only in Happy Girl.”


Wow. Purity? Kindness? I fell in love on the spot. “But don’t you think that’s a little odd? I mean, the whole concept of one    soul finding its way into another life? I don’t know. It just seems so.... Shirley McClaine. Not that I think she’s wrong, it’s just hard to fathom.”


“Yeah, I agree, but as a Buddhist, that’s what my mother believes. And to her, finding Happy Girl has been a lifetime goal.”


“Why? I know people love their pets, but don’t you think that’s going a little far?”


“I’ll give you a history lesson, than maybe you’ll understand.” Evan laughed and put his hand on top of mine. I’d like to think it was a romantic move, but it was probably to keep quiet my nervous tic of rattling the fork against the table.


“My grandparents moved here from Japan shortly after they were married in the 1930s and bought land. They were so proud their children were first generation Americans. They worked hard and prospered... until the government put them in internment camps in 1942.”


“Your family was part of that? How awful.”


Evan shrugged. “We persevered. Anyway, when they were taken from their home, Happy Girl had to be left with an elderly neighbor. It broke my mother’s heart to watch her little dog cry at the gate as they walked away.”


I’d like to say some keen memory crashed into my brain, confirming my identity, but sadly it didn’t.


“That’s terrible,” I said.


“Don’t look so heartbroken. Like I said, my mother’s family survived and after their release, they worked hard, saved money and were able to buy land again. They recovered. But the neighbor had passed away before their return, and no one knew what happened to Happy Girl. My mama never saw her little dog again.”


We finished lunch, although every bite of food stuck in my throat.  “May I visit your mother?”


He looked at me amused. “You don’t actually believe any of this, do you?”


I shrugged. Of course there was no way to ever prove one way or the other that I was her pet, but I did know this. I wanted to be Happy Girl, not only for my own sake, but to provide some solace to an old woman, for her to know her beloved dog was reasonably successful as a human being. And for me, it would be a great excuse to explain some of my inexplicable behaviors.


Evan agreed to my visitation with his mother. As we got up to leave, I turned circles looking for the purse hanging over my shoulder, knocked over a chair, stepped on a woman's foot, and still people smiled at me. Oh yes. I am most definitely a dog.


Bio: Lori Bentley-Law is one of a scant number of female television photojournalists in the country. Through her award-winning work for NBC, she is able to tell stories with pictures and sound instead of words, all under daily deadline.  She has  used that talent and experience to create full-bodied landscapes of scene and action.  This is her first published short story.

Wordsworth's  Diary
         by Melissa Lowes
****William Wordsworth is dying, and has given his friend, Thomas de Quincy, a key with no explanation.  Is the gift simply a dying man’s madness, or is it a key to the truth behind the poet himself? Set in 1850, Wordsworth’s Diary  is told through the perspective of the poet’s longtime friend.
I sat in the drawing room, staring into a smoldering fire.  The house was quiet, save the distant rumbles and creaking floorboards overhead.  I’d been in the room a dozen, probably hundreds of times before, but now it was different.  Death occupied the house, and as I glanced out the window there was no sign of the fine spring day I had left outside.
I had longed to befriend him; his Lyrical Ballads meant a great deal to me.  I first met Coleridge, who in turn introduced me to William, and we became immediate friends.  I am of course speaking of William Wordsworth, in case you were in doubt.
I was startled from my thoughts as footsteps entered the room.  I stood from my chair and approached William’s sister.
“How is he, my dear Dorothy?”
“Oh, Mr. de Quincy, I fear…” Her eyes lowered as emotion overcame her.  I knew then, what I had feared all along, my dear friend was dying.
Dorothy gently touched my hand, and then stepped outside for some fresh air.  It would be hardest on her.  Harder than his wife, harder than anyone else.  Dorothy loved William more than anyone else in the world, and he her.  It would be hardest on her.
I watched Dorothy meander through the gardens.  The sound of approaching footsteps drew me from my observation.  I turned as William’s wife approached me.           
“He would like to speak with you – alone.”  I nodded.
“There isn’t much time, much time at all.”  She turned her head to the side and sniffed away her tears. “You ought to see him now.  Be strong, you must be strong, for William.”
I passed the physician on the way upstairs.  I didn’t look at him, or utter a word.  My heart was pounding too loudly.Each step toward his chamber seemed like eternity.  I felt like twenty years passed in seconds.  When I reached his closed door, I felt as if I might be an old man.
I didn’t knock; instead, I gently parted the door, which hadn’t been closed all the way.  I stared at my friend, lying flat on his back in bed, or what I knew to be my friend.  I could see the life had nearly left him, and a shell of a man, as white as a ghost, was left behind.  I had seen death before, as had William.  We both witnessed Coleridge’s decline, and his terrible end, which affected both my life and work.  William’s passing would wound me greater.  I admired William as if he were my own father, though loved him twice as much.
I approached his bed on my toes, fearful of any noise harming him further.  As I stood beside him, he opened his eyes, turning them in my direction.
“My dear Thomas,” he murmured weakly, “dear, dear Thomas.” 
“William, do not speak, you need your strength to recover.”  I said these words, as one was required to speak of recovering when one is gravely ill, even when it was obvious a recovery was impossible.
“But I must!” He said with all his strength, prompting a coughing attack.  “I must, I must. I cannot leave his earth without giving you something.”
“You have given me much.  Friendship, inspiration, and…”
“This is my last gift to you.” He said, as he extended a shaky hand to me.  I swiftly grasped his hand, and realized within was a key. 
“A key?” I questioned.
“It is yours, my friend. It is…” He paused with a cough. “It is yours to keep.”
I examined the key now in the palm of my hand. “What is it for?”
“You must know I did it for her. It was how she wanted it, and because of my love for her I did as she wished.”
“Who?  What are you talking about?”
A coughing fit followed, worse than any I had witnessed before.  He rose up, then collapsed back on the bed.  The physician rushed into the room as I was ushered out without a response to my questions.  He was not to be bothered again, the physician warned.  Still, I lingered some twenty minutes longer outside his chamber, hoping I could speak to him further.  My hopes were dashed when I learned the physician had given William a hearty dose of potent elixir, prompting immediate slumber. 
The left the house with a feeling.  I feared my friend would be dead before nightfall.
I was silent during his funeral.  I didn’t like to be right about death, but like I said I’d seen it before and knew when it was coming.  My mind was so preoccupied by the key in my pocket, and its meaning, I didn’t hear the words spoken over his body, or the cries surrounding me.  I didn’t know what the key meant, and feared it was simply the madness of a dying man, and held no significance whatsoever. Still, I kept patting my pocket to assure it was safe.              
An hour later, I was sitting at the Wordworth’s cottage with a cup of tea upon my lap.  Conversations were about me, though I didn’t hear a word anyone said.  It was all the same anyway.  Lost a great mind, etcetera, etcetera, sentiments we all felt.  I did notice the expression of shock on Dorothy’s face.  How will she do it, I wondered.  How on earth will she survive without him?
A few moments later, Dorothy stood and made her way toward the door.  I watched as she walked outside, and down a garden path –the same path I had walked myself hundreds of times.  I was sure she was headed toward the swing William had built for her years earlier.  
I stood, with the intention of joining Dorothy outside, when William’s wife approached me. 
“We must speak,” she said.
I followed her into the library.  She turned her back on me, took something from the bookshelves, and turned back around with a wooden box in her hands. 
“William wanted me to give this to you.  He didn’t tell me what was in it, only that you were to have it.”
I accepted the box from her, and attempted to open it, yet it was locked.  I suddenly remembered the key in my pocket, and as my nerves heightened in anticipation, I at once realized its purpose.        
I thanked her, and eagerly returned to the inn I had been lodged for the past two days.  There, in the privacy of my rented quarters, I opened the box.  Inside, I found a book, and upon opening realized it was no ordinary book.  It was in fact Wordsworth’s Diary.
I returned to the house a day later.  I hadn’t slept all night, nor eaten a bit since I left the house the day before.  One might suppose I was weak, though I was not.  Something was coursing through me.  I think it might have been disbelief, or perhaps sorrow.  I was saddened by burden of my departed friend.
I didn’t knock, but instead went directly to the garden, where I trusted Dorothy would be.  My assumptions were correct as I found her swinging amongst the lilacs and hydrangeas.
She turned and looked at me, and I could see she had been crying.  I approached her and took her hand in mind.
“Dear Dorothy.” I said softly.
She looked up at me from the swing with wide, tear-filled eyes.  “I do not know how I will go on.” She said. “He was my world, you know.  The only one who ever truly loved me.”
“And love you he did.”  I sighed.  “He left me something.  Some may call it a gift, others a release of conscious.  I myself do not know what to make of it.”
She looked at me quizzically.  It was then that I revealed the book.  She looked down at it in my hands, and at once took it from me.  She thumbed through the pages, and then looked up at me.
“It was you, always you.” I told her. “He writes it was all you. You wrote everything.  You were the one.”
“No, it’s not true.” She said with a discernable quiver in her lips.  “I helped him, that was all.  William was the poet, not I.”  She glanced down at the diary in her hand.  “This diary is simply the ramblings of a dying man.”
“You did it for him.  You wanted it for him.  It’s truly one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever heard of.”
She shook her head and stood from the swing.  “No, you’re wrong, Mr. de Quincy, you’re very wrong, indeed.”  She turned and walked away, with the diary in her hand.
I tried to reason why William would have given me the key.  Perhaps, it was some sort of deathbed confession, a clearing of conscious before he left this earth.  Perhaps, he knew I’d never tell a soul.  Perhaps, I was the only one he could trust with his secret.
I don’t know what happened to the diary, though I must assume that Dorothy burned it, or perhaps buried it.  It didn’t matter anyway.  It was embedded in my brain, haunting me, and would until the day I died.  Every time I closed my eyes, there it was, with its deliberate words and painful confessions.  Wordsworth’s Diary.
Bio: Melissa Lowes has a degree in Literature, and an MFA in Creative Writing, during which she began a novel set during the Boer War. She has published several critical essays, and her short fiction has appeared in Skive Magazine and Orchard Press Mysteries. A California native, Melissa currently resides on the east coast with her husband and son.

The School Yard

              by Terry McKee

When we walk into the school yard, my brothers and sisters run to their friends, leaving me alone. Oh, they wish me a good day but I know better. The dread starts in my stomach and before I'm half way across the parking lot, it's reached the back of my throat. I swallow hard to push it back down and pray no one sees me. Taking up residence at my usual place, the wall over by the statute of the Mother Mary, I watch as the other girls come into groups with their friends, forming the little cliques that govern their world.

All the cool girls are in the mean clique and vice versa. They're always picking on somebody. No one is spared. It's obvious they've selected Rachel to sting today. They take turns looking over their shoulder at her, then turn back to the knot of their friends, whispering and giggling. As if by some divine insight, Rachel catches on to their less than subtle attack, causing her and her friends, not only wondering why, but to be equally as cruel.

Mean girls can be so fickle; it's a challenge to figure out why they pick on someone. Main clothes are out of the question, Catholics are big on uniforms it's the accessories that are the killers. Is her hair the wrong color, are her shoes not the right style or is it because she wears braces? Sometimes it's easy to guess but then it takes forever for the bell to ring and I hate when that happens. That's what I dread.

Today it's easy, too easy; Rachel has different socks on, one black and one navy blue, so it doesn't take long before I feel the burning of their stares. It's my turn. The little hairs on my neck rise and my nerves prickle with angst. I pretend not to notice but I can't help sneak a peek. I don't know what they're laughing about but it's the same thing everyday. Mom doesn't always get to the laundry, so sometimes I feel as if I have a big stain in the form of a big 'I', for insecure idiot on my regulation buster brown shirt. I check but there's no stain. Out of the corner of my eye, I see them huddle closer and laugh behind cupped hands.

I can't bear to think about what's so very wrong with me, so I do what I always do, lie to myself, pretend Margaret, Donna, Susan and Sabrina are really my friends, the friends that I've always wanted. It begins with me finishing some homework, because I was on the phone far too long last night. In my own world, I venture from the wall, suddenly invisible to the rest of the kids, and fantasize about my dreams.

"Did you understand the math homework last night, because I didn't," I ask Donna because she's the best at math.

She laughs gently and says, "Sure, it was easy. Why don't you come over to my house after school and I'll help you."

"Thanks that would be great." I smile back at her.

Then Margaret asks if I want to sleep over her house on Friday night.

"Sorry Margaret, I can't. Sabrina's already invited me. What about Saturday?" I reply.

With my friends around me, I bask in the euphoria of my wish until the bell rings.

Bio:  Terry McKee has  had numerous stories published both online and in print, including Skive and Skylines magazines and Lidbits, The Green Silk Journal and the Hiss Quarterly. She resides in south Florida with her husband, three dogs and a horse.