My Grandfather’s Ghost

by Barbara Fischkin

My father David Fischkin and my mother Ida Siegel Fischkin at their wedding at the Rockaway Mansion, Livonia Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. February 23, 1936

Again, I thought about changing my name.

I dreamed about publishing essays under a new byline. I tried out pseudonyms for my next book. I wrote down alternate names, said them out loud. A name change would make introductions easier. Now, when I extend my hand and say “Fischkin,” people look at me funny, as if I might be holding live bait.

I can live with Barbara. As a first name, it is dated. But Barbara will come back in style. First names do. I was almost named Benita. Benita Fischkin. Think of that. My mother loved that name, until a friend said a cute nickname for me could be Mussa—close enough to Mussolini.

That was all my mother Ida Siegel Fischkin had to hear. She was a passionate supporter of the State of Israel, a lifetime Hadassah member and a child survivor of an antisemitic pogrom. Benita went down the drain. As a little girl, bored with Barbara—too easy to spell—I asked my mother if she had ever wanted to name me something else.

“Benita,” she said. My mother hid little from me.

Wow, I thought, wishing she had gone through with it. A name like that dripped with fame, fortune and beauty.

Benita as a baby name for a newborn girl must have been making the rounds of pregnant mothers in our Brooklyn neighborhood, circa 1954. Very odd since this was less than a decade after World War II. My guess: When it came to villains, Hitler was the main event. I bet no one ever said: “For a boy, how about Adolph?” Read more »


by Ethan Seavey

Photo by Ethan Seavey

You know this feeling. The formation of words to open the conversation, the gravity of this dull walk with your father. The deals you make with the devil inside yourself: tell him by the time you reach the end of this street, the middle of this bridge, and definitely before you reach Sainte-Chapelle.

You’re coming out, because you’ll collapse if you don’t. And when the words are about to boil over on your tongue, you’re cut off by your own voice pointing out a French bus with the word «Toot» on it.

You’ve done this before. It’s harder, now.

A few years ago you went on walks like this one all the time. You’d structure the beginning of the conversation over and over, memorize it, say, “Dad, I need to tell you something important: I’m gay.” Even in your mind the last word would come out as a raspy quietness.

Today, these are the words you rehearse like a pop song echoing in your head: “Dad, I think I need to get help. I don’t know how to manage my mental health anymore. I deal with daily anxiety, and I’m really struggling with the idea of spending the next year across the world from everything I know.”

The parks are bigger here. And the people speak too quickly a language you can just barely understand. And their crows are blacker; and street smart like your pigeons. The fathers here smile wider as they run, pushing their children on scooters. The hot is mild and so is the cold, and the rain is only falling dew. Read more »

From a Men’s Therapy Session One Afternoon

by Thomas Larson

It’s Monday, 1:45, and six men and I sit in a circle with our German-trained psychotherapist, an imperious woman who reminds us that she is here to help only if we get bogged down or offer guidance and that we men need to find our own way through our turmoil, which is the point of the group and the point of each of us paying $3000 per year. I’m fairly new, so before I speak, I’m seeking some level of comfort or commonality among us, and every week I come up short. I’m not yet adjusted and unsure what I should be adjusting to.

Obviously, I don’t know these men. And I doubt I’d associate with them outside this forum or be in a social situation where we’d meet. Case in point, the tanned man (our real names cannot be shared). The tanned man has the time-clocked sadness my father had at fifty-five, the greying hair above his ears, the loyalty to a global corporation and the ease of leveraged investments about him, a man who regards his goldenness as some golf-cart anhedonia, with his deck shoes, and his velour pullover, and his browning legs and white ankles and baggy, bluish shorts, and his marriage run aground, whose chassis has been scraping the gravel for a couple years now.

He says everything he’s tried won’t move the needle, that is, between him and his wife. The strangely placid woe he wears into our sessions I find disturbing; he always sits in the room’s lone hard back chair, best, he says, for his sofa-ruined back, telling us, as he did last Monday, that he’s still sleeping on the leather couch in the basement where she sentenced him (hard-on in tow, an adolescent bit of humor) and where nailed above the foot of the stairs a little plaque reads, I’m not kidding, “Man Cave.”

His tortured spine is no better, he says, even after a beach-walk and the treadmill, and yet he seems relaxed becoming, I presume, accustomed to us commiserating with his fraught condition, we his brethren therapists, though there’s wariness and worry in how often his legs cross and uncross as if this is a job interview: Why do I notice all this? Why can’t I concentrate on my own shit? I’ve got plenty of it, guy-wired in me and my partner, a problem with medications. Read more »

What Remains

By Jenny White


My grandmother’s kitchen had a single window that flung open in one great wing of glass. It looked out over the tiled roof of the apartment building in which she lived, down onto the slices of soil allotted to each resident, then into the valley beyond where a church steeple rose from the heart of the district. Over by the river, vineyards clambered up steep hillsides, their flinty soil the source of Franconia’s famously dry wines. Unlike her neighbor who let his allotment run to grass, my grandmother’s garden was neatly divided into beds that alternated flowers and vegetables. A rabbit hutch, much used during the war, now housed tools. A metal drum acted as a well, filled by a tap rising up mysteriously from the soil. When I submerged the tin watering can, it gulped the water, becoming heavier and heavier as it filled. Hauling the full can at last from beneath the surface of the water was both difficult and satisfying. Above the garden fence, you could see the back of the grade school I attended and through the big mullioned windows watch the children on the climbing bars in the gymnasium. The view in spring was partially blocked by a radiantly blooming cherry tree that my grandmother had planted when her youngest daughter was born fifty years earlier — after the war, when joy might have seemed appropriate again. Pigeons gathered on the tiles before my grandmother’s window to eat the crumbs of stale bread she spread for them. They murmured and cooed, their toes skittering on the clay.

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