Matthew Curlewis offered sessions on May 10, 12, 16, 18 and 26.
Since growing up in Australia, Matthew Curlewis has worked as a performer-designer-copywriter on three continents. At Amsterdam Writers, that he founded in 2009, Matthew runs Writers’ Stretch & Tone, Storytelling for Academics, and Elements of Screenwriting workshops. His short film Brilliance, is available on Lesflicks, the world’s largest streaming platform of lesbian film content. Matthew’s stories and articles can be found in publications including The Guardian, Time Out, and Blume Illustrated.
Jump to Leanne Nelson’s piece.
Jump to Brenda Jacobsen’s piece.
Jump to Cope Cumpston’s piece.
Jump to Susan Wingert’s piece.
Jump to Sharon Bissell’s piece.
A Winter Walk in the Woods by Leanne Nelson
Snow was falling steadily in and through the woods around Lila as she walked through the white world the mile out to the mailbox. She doubted the mail carrier would come today. Of late, he’d been skipping snow days driving the ten unpaved miles up the Mina to their place and the ten more to the county line. Skip was getting perturbed by this. He was missing his Netflix videos. And he knew the County plowed all the way to Humboldt, even though he, himself, hadn’t started the tractor to plow out to the road in two days of constant snow.
It was winter break for the schools down in Round Valley, so Clara, their tenant in the powerless and waterless cabin a football field’s length from their own place didn’t have to go to her teaching job down the mountain. Their house had running gravity fed spring water piped in, and solar panel and battery run electricity. Plus an Amish cook and heat stove that had a hot water storage tank rigged up to attached water pipes.
A twig snapped to Lila’s left and she looked into the once quiet woods to see two smiling, wet and panting dogs emerge. One, Lily, looked like a cow, with her brown and white pitbull markings. Her sidekick, and offspring, RJ – Ripper Junior, wore the tan coat of his father dog Ripper, who was silently keeping pace at Lila’s side. Ever since she’d saved Rip’s life a few times, doctoring on the recalcitrant dog who had a penchant for chasing down bears, he’d decided she was his person. And his closeness on their walks was his way of swearing allegiance, even as they walked through these woods so cold breath was visible with every exhale.
Young boy seated beside a stranger on a plane, waiting for takeoff, the child does not know he has been abandoned by Brenda Jacobsen
This plane is huge. I can’t wait until we take-off.
How old are you?
Where are you heading?
Mom said, just stay on the plane Junior and when it arrives in Florida I will find Mickey Mouse
and all things Disney.
You seem kind of young to be flying alone.
I’m not alone. I have my favorite stuffed bear with me.
You got family meeting you in Orlando?
Mom said, there are kind people everywhere. And people will look the same in Florida. Even
dressing up as action figures.
What about your Dad? You got cousins, Aunts , Uncles?
If I do , I haven’t met them. Mom says the Lord on high will watch over me.
What’s your mom’s name?
Nancy. She’s a waitress at night. She sleeps a lot when she is off so I get to do whatever I want.
Do you miss her?
I wonder why she didn’t come. She said she always wanted to visit Disney. Guess she is into
Roderick, her boyfriend, more than me.
Our plane has been delayed. Did you hear the announcement?
Last night a man showed up at our door in a uniform with a gun.
We may be sitting here awhile. The weather is getting worse.
One time I sat on a plane all day. I have to get to Florida. I have to take this trip.
I am not the pilot. I don’t make the rules. I will make sure you get back home if our flight is
cancelled the man said, placing his hand as a father would on the boy’s knee.
You don’t understand. If you take me back home my mom will turn red. She will throw shoes
and dirty plates at me. Please, please don’t take me home, the boy cried, squeezing his hands
tightly around the neck of his soft bear.
Untitled by Cope Cumpston
I was immersed in a focused and intent binge in my brother’s apartment in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I’d left my afternoon job as a secretary down the street. The job that delivered me from the uncertainties of lectures, dorm life, and simply being me, a freshman hopeless lost and invisible at Harvard. At my job I was safe behind a typewriter. I knew what I was doing and could do it well.
I have no idea why Hank had given me a key. He was my big brother, a college junior down the road. I was brand new at college life, bumbling my way through a chaotic and overwhelming year. 1968. Turmoil in Cambridge. Turmoil across the globe. Turmoil in my adrenalin levels. Turmoil in my coping mechanisms. Hank didn’t know about all that but he gave what care he could. I was thrilled to have the key, but he didn’t know what that meant.
I’d made a strategic stop at a convenience store and settled in at Hank’s somewhat dark and dank bachelor’s apartment. He still ate off the hideous puke-green plastic plates he and Bill had bought for their last apartment. I was midway between a gallon of cheap vanilla ice cream and a full bag of potato chips, reading newspapers I’d grabbed out of the lobby of Hank’s apartment building. Any pretense at doing something while I was consumed by the act of eating, eating, eating, all the forbidden delicious things, stuffing down the anxieties of life with mindless mechanical pleasure.
A key turned in the lock.
How could it be? Who could it be? How could I possibly explain the table cluttered with half empty bags and cartons? I had no time to plan any strategy whatsoever.
Bill came through the door – the co-instigator of those plates I was now using. What on earth was he doing here in the middle of the afternoon? How many keys had Hank shared?
Bill was as surprised to see me as I was to see him, but he had nothing to hide. Surely no one else had as unacceptable a secret as I did. A secret so disgusting, so totally inadmissable.
“Oh hello Cope – I’m just stopping by to pick up a book Hank offered to lend me.” Bill must have seen how preoccupied I was, and completely flustered to have him walk in on me. I bumbled through some response, some deflection, some furtive attempt to turn newspaper pages to cover the half-eaten plate of pastry next to the carton of ice cream. My stomach was alarmingly full, piling that discomfort on top of my panic. Somehow I faked normalcy and acted like everything was fine.
If Bill hadn’t walked in, everything would be fine in that moment. It was the only time in the day when the whirling thoughts in my mind quieted, the anxiety gripping my insides relented. Here was my escape in the reliable comfort of eating. Eating the food that was forbidden if I wasn’t to get fat and reveal to the whole wide world how out of control I was. I’d found my magic solution in purging. Hank had given me the perfect refuge, away from roommates, away from having to mask the sounds of vomiting in the bathroom, putting the faucet on full blast while I waited for the mess in the toilet to disappear.
I might have to flush twice, three times. There was nothing worse than a toilet that simply gurgled and left a spiral of swirling detritus. A few weeks ago I’d been at a friend’s parents for Sunday dinner and froze in panic when I realized there was no way the floating bits of lettuce and beef stew and everything else I’d regurgitated would disappear down the toilet. I’d had to frantically scoop handfuls out with Kleenex and throw them in the trash. Keep running the faucet and be away from the table too long while I made my desperate attempts to erase the evidence. Of what I could explain to no one, including myself. Certainly not my brother. Certainly not Bill.
He thumbed through the shelf, found the book, and quickly left. I sat frozen at the table while I waited to hear his steps down the two flights of stairs and the slam of the front door. I looked furtively out the window to be sure he was on his way down the street. Yes. Around the corner, and gone. After some moments, my hands stopped trembling and the adrenalin quieted.
Then relief in the bathroom. The emptiness after purging. With years of practice it was easy. I stood, relieved, and pushed down the toilet handle. Ice cream swirl sucked down in a disappearing spiral. I was safe. Almost.
I returned to the table. It wouldn’t be the same again, if Bill could come in any time. I couldn’t risk him telling Hank something was up.
But for now, finish the binge. Then the afternoon at the library. Dinner in the dorm, two helpings, perhaps three, no one would notice. Brief bathroom stop. Then later check how much cash I had and plan a trip to the grocery. Hold the bag carefully against my side so no one could see it when I came in the dorm door. Then into the bedroom. Close and lock the door. Safe. For now.
Untitled by Susan Wingert
There should be a word in the English language to describe the feeling when winter lifts its dreary hold, and spring casts its tentative gaze upon the barren, battered land.
When the cold, dull sky unleashes rain, and not snow, cleansing the streets of salt and sand—dull, grey, and weary—releasing a smell so sweet and pure that it demolishes the fortification that staves off longing.
A word that describes the sensation when cells of the eye, long relieved of their duty, first register green after its seasonal hiatus from the world.
The quiver of hope that spring has finally taken up residence once more when the red breasted robins return to scour the newly thawed ground for worms, barely roused from their slumber.
But alas the eager robin has arrived while winter’s tendrils still linger, and so they sit fat and dour in the trees, wondering, like all of us, why they ever came to this godforsaken place.
There should be a word for the marvelous day you finally hear the robin’s triumphant song tweet tweeting over and over again, marking the end of life exiled.
Only then is it time to pack away the winter boots and coats, clean the closet of muck and mess, dutifully move the shovels to the back of the garage, and be reborn again in the feeling that there is no word to describe.
Untitled by Sharon Bissell
Her mother languished in the adjoining room between sheets now soft. The doctor had said that it could be any day now, but Sarah didn’t believe it. And so she got the shaman, and the shaman said what she wanted to hear: it was a simple obstruction, something her mother was having trouble passing. She watched him push his thin hands into her mother’s thick abdomen, through the folds of flesh abandoned years ago. “Fire” he whispered looking into the dark room as if in a trance, “air.” Elements working against the water that should be flowing with ease throughout her mother’s tired body.
Sarah led the shaman out of the room and pressed a bill into his hand before he stepped out into the night to find his way home. He would stop by in the morning, he said. The warm compresses should alleviate some of the pain, and if she broke into a sweat, this would be a good sign of tincture working. Sarah should not fret.
Weary, Sarah melted into the plush armchair at the foot of her mother’s bed and clicked the standing lamp on, the light just dim enough that she could see the shape of the bed without waking her mother. She settled her head against the back of the chair and went through the events of the last week. Scenes of the family, her brothers and sisters who had come to visit but scurried back to their offices and sprawling homes on Sunday afternoon, preparing for their busy work weeks and leaving Sarah to take care of the matriarch. It was Johnny who came with the most love, petting his mother’s hair as if she were a cat. He paid for the fancy doctor who brought news of unfathomable complications, bacterial infections seeping from one organ to another requiring replenished white-capped bottles of colorful pills to be administered according to a schedule that coincided with the grandfather clock in the entryway. And so she couldn’t tell Johnny of the shaman’s visit, the cloudy water she had given her mother, lifting her head to encourage her to take small sips of the bitter liquid. These thoughts, with their vivid, recently lived images, lulled Sarah to sleep, a small sliver of saliva escaping from the left corner of her loose mouth. Into her slumbering dream sauntered the sounds of the room around her, the dog turning on his mat, a car driving by on the wet pavement, and then, the muffled sound of a lengthy, robust fart escaping from under the heavy quilt whose contour she had been so carefully monitoring.
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