The Wallet Lady | By Elizabeth Kadetsky

LandscapeExcuse me, a woman in the hallway calls to us. Do you know where the manager is? I’ve left my wallet in my room and I’m locked out. She carries a sturdy pocketbook, which she holds open for us to show it is missing its wallet. She’s dressed to go out — it’s spring. Miss! Miss! She cries when the aide passes.

You lost your wallet again? The aide is from St. Kitts.

How will I go out?

Terrible. The aide tsssks. It’s not in your purse now?

The woman holds it open to her.

My mother shrugs her SOL shrug and raises her eyes at me. C’mon, honey. We pace to the end of the hall. Where now? She asks.

How about down there? I point to the other end of the hall.

Yeah. Yeah. C’mon. Doopdy doo. She grabs me in an elbow lock and makes a dancer’s kick with one leg for her first step, then the second. I join her. We’re winded by the end of the hall. That was fun. Again?


At dinner, the missing-wallet lady sits with us. She leans forward and cups her mouth in a whisper. I’m terribly sorry. This is awfully embarrassing. I’ve lost my wallet. All my credit cards. I’d meant to treat you.

My mother pats her pocket-less genie pants and gives me an alarmed, private look. Her eyebrows meet in tips between her eyes. She checks the back of her chair. Honey, do you have any… Because… My purse… Do you have keys?

It’s on me, I tell the table, with my magnanimous grin.

My mother sighs in relief. Thank god.

You’re very kind, says the wallet lady. You’re her sister?



My mother is on to the next conversation in her head. She’s staring at a bald man on the other side of the room eating at a table of only men when he starts shouting racial epithets in front of the all-Caribbean staff. All the employees have just stopped everything and started shouting: Enough of that! None of that! You stop that now! They look at each other and some of us and smile and hoot. You don’t say that! Enough of that!

My god, some people have not even a little bit of class, the wallet lady says.

I’ve seen that man before, my mother says, staring at the racist. I feel like I know him. It’s like déjà vu but something else. Do you recognize him, honey?

Yes, he’s always here. He lives here.

What!? No. I mean, it feels… misty… I have a vague memory… like from a past life.

After dinner I sit on the other double bed in her room and she strips off her clothes for no reason and asks when we’re leaving.

I’ll have to go home pretty soon, I confess to her.

You’re taking me with you, right? You have the keys? Her eyes are lost and angry and panicked. Also, she’s topless. Take me home.

There is no home. And you’re not dressed.

Then with you. She slips on a white tunic from the closet. I have to go. We’re leaving. Okay? C’mon, honey. She walks to the door and peaks out, then peers back with the conspiratorial expression. C’mon honey. Now. We have to go.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flickr: “Lunch-Hour Nap in Battery Park, 05/1973,” National Archives and Records Administration.

Elizabeth Kadetsky’s short stories have been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices and two Best American Short Stories notable citations. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her memoir First There Is a Mountain was published by Little, Brown in 2004. She is assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State.


Floor Models | By Elizabeth Kadetsky


Tante Annette was a model at Peck’s, where there’s an L.L. Bean outlet now.

Annette was so tall, Grandmaman used to say.

Oo, ooo la la, my mother said. Tante Annette was my role model, said my mother.

Peck’s was near the mouth of the Androscoggin, just inland from where the Bates Mill gave off its effluent to the river. The Androscoggin, during the mill days, was the most polluted waterway in America. On the town side of the factory, girls called out the windows to the boys from Bates College, my father’s alma mater. Oooo mechant canard — Oh, wicked duck. Alouette, gentille Alouette…— Oh, pretty goose. They made thick, navy wool blankets. I still have one, with a red and white striped satin border and my name on a white label sewn for summer camp.

My mother was a model, too, and she made it out of Maine and went on to New York, where she became the floor model at Lord & Taylor, circa 1976. She walked the main floor greeting people and looking tall, in Charles Jourdan shoes.

Your mother was a floor model at Peck’s, Grandmaman said to me, another time.

That was Annette, I say. Mom worked at Lord & Taylor.

She was so tall and pretty. Jolie. Mon dieu, Grandmaman said, crying, drinking straight from her bottle. Why was Grandmaman crying? Why did she ever cry? Life, joy, remorse. Her second baby died of a disease. Congenital, or environmental, perhaps.

It’s my mother who worked in New York, I repeated, and she looked at me and said, You’re so pretty. The bottle was Grandmaman’s pollution.

After 1917, every mayor in Lewiston was French. Grande-grandmaman Léa came by Grand Trunk Rail in 1895, a middle child among nine. Féline, her sister, worked at the mills. No one else in the family worked in the mills, said Grandmaman, only they did. The family talks, instead, about the cousin who also became mayor, and how Léa made magnificent hats for Anglos and was tailor to the wealthy of Auburn, across the frothy Adroscoggin. She rode in a carriage with her hair piled high wearing tailored dresses. They talk about Grand-grandpapa Philippe, who died early, of meningitis or some other toxin, possibly alcohol.

My mother talks about how she used to be the floor model at Peck’s.

No, that was Tante Annette, I remind her. You were the floor model at Lord & Taylor.

Oh, Annette. I loved Annette. She was so elegant. Who did you say?


Ohhh. My mother peers off. Who’s Annette? She looks round. We’re at a family reunion, hosted by Cousin Roger with the Gallic chin and Vichy mustache. Tante Terry is here, and my mother’s childhood best friend, Cousine Raimonde, who lived with the family in Lewiston. Tante Simone, Tante Annette, Tante Fleurette: they have all passed on by now, of old age. Oncle Roger, he died jumping from a train near a lumber farm outside Montreal. Oncle Raymond, who never got over World War II, they say alcohol took him as well.

My mother takes my hand. She never drank, never worked in the mill. What was her toxin? Who are all these people? She asks me. They keep hugging me and asking How do you do? She is very slim and her hair is dark and dramatic, and she is beautiful so people hug her.

They’re your cousins. Remember Raimonde? You called her Taffy.

Taffy, my mother says. The past is there before her, across a spray of water.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flickr: “Foam on the Polluted Androscoggin River, Seen from the North Bridge at Lewiston, 06/1973.” Photograph by Charles Steinhacker, National Archives and Records Administration.

Elizabeth Kadetsky’s short stories have been chosen for a Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices and two Best American Short Stories notable citations. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, and elsewhere. Her memoir First There Is a Mountain was published by Little, Brown in 2004. She is assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State.

Wave | By L. S. McKee


That day, the water bent the sun like radio waves. We’d learned it was how voices reach across distances. In class, when we asked how things worked without wires, Mr. Jones outlined in chalk what sound would resemble if you could see it—not like a tide’s in-and-out or an elevator’s lowering, but like the mountains’ undulations, their ridges mumbling at dusk.

At the pool’s edge, I closed my eyes. But I could hear nothing except the gulp of the surface divided, the splash of a cannonball, a tangle of boys vying to hold their heads above water. The ones who lost snotted out chlorine and punched at the surface as if it would hold.

I wonder how far the ruckus traveled—if our fathers could hear our yelping in the rooms of the mountain. Over the coughing shovels. Or veins crumbling in their hands.

We practiced their curses, the work-shirts of their language, even the voices we couldn’t remember—like Billy’s dad who was somewhere in France, buried by the only ocean he’d ever seen. His son swam the hardest, demanding race after race until he collapsed on the bench. His face turned away from the chain-link fence.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Wikimedia Commons – “Miners Memorial Swimming Pool, West Virginia, 1946,” Photograph by Russell Lee, National Archives and Records Administration College Park.

L.S. McKee’s work has appeared in Gulf Coast, BODY, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, New South and elsewhere. Originally from East Tennessee, she lives and teaches in Atlanta.

Short, Unhappy | By Imad Rahman

5008809952_a7ee933d8c_o1971. You are born. It is Pakistan, and it is hot. Ceiling fans hum overhead in the small, cramped rooms and small, cramped corridors of a small, cramped hospital. There is a war on. Move, they say, we need storage space for the dead. Spend a week in the home basement while outside planes swoop and weave in the sky. Someone sings you to sleep, an androgynous croon.

1975 is just like 1974.

1979. Riots in the street. At school, a girl tells you a ghost story and you believe it. Gummy worms snake out of stumped arms in your dreams. Next day, refuse to go to school. Lie, say you miss your mother. Realize right away it would have been better to have just told the truth, mama’s boy.

1983. Move, Karachi to Kansas with your father after your mother disappears – supposedly there’s been a plane crash. Your new town is all strip clubs and churches, the geometry of sweaty desire bisected by loud faith. Later, you learn she is still alive and living in Amsterdam under an assumed identity. At school they have a hard time with your name. Your father, of course, is a liar, but your mother is crazy.

1987. First kiss, at dusk, leaning up against the crumbling white brick wall of a café known for loose meat sandwiches. She can’t pronounce your name either. Don’t care. Your father has found religion. Arguments ensue. Your mother shows up. Legalese ensues. You hang out with others displaced, others dispossessed, drift into the second kiss. Then the third. Every time you look into someone’s eyes you feel empty.

1991. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving. Get money wired to you for a root canal and spend it on a flight to Amsterdam. One night, lose your virginity to a prostitute. Like you, she is from someplace via someplace. Your bicuspids, once sturdy, start to hurt.

1995. Get a job.

1999. Go back to Amsterdam. Take money from dad’s wrongful death settlement, invest in a bar called Café Kansas. It is big and made of brick, which reminds you of both a church in Kansas and of your mother. In 2006, all potential immigrants of Pakistani origin will have to demonstrate fluency in Dutch. Lucky for you this is 1999.

2003. They mispronounce your name.

2007. There is a woman. The color of your skin turns her on. The color of her skin turns you on. She has firm breasts and sings unfamiliar songs in unfamiliar languages in bed before the lights go out. A ceiling fan whirs. The woman has a husband with powerful arms. You have an upset stomach. He works construction. You do yoga. Find yourself in an unfinished construction site suspended from a great height, the wind slipping through the hollow cavity of your body in great furious swoops. As you fall, imagine yourself swooping and weaving. When you drop, think nosebleed. Below, concrete closes hungry, like an unexpected lover.

There is no 2011.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flickr – Wonderland Arcade, 1200 Grand Ave. Kansas City, Missouri, 1968,  National Archives and Records Administration.

Imad Rahman is the author of I Dream Of Microwaves, a book of connected stories. His stories have appeared in One Story, Gulf Coast, The Fairy Tale Review, Willow Springs and Chelsea, amongst others, and in the anthology xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths. He currently teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University.

Cut the Cables | By David Hamilton

LandscapeIn a theatrical moment during the 1854 New York Exposition, Elisha Otis, a Vermonter with a checkered past, mounted an open elevator cab, hoisted himself above the assembled crowd, and, with a flourish, cut the cables. Otis dramatically failed to die, as the car plummeted downward just six inches and jolted to a stop. Patents followed, and cities were reshaped into the vertical skyline we now regard as inevitable and desirable.

Otis invented neither the concept nor the basic technology of the elevator. Rather, he contributed a device to assure passengers that they most likely would not perish on the way to work, having ascended hundreds of feet above the ground in a trice, an act of technological magic made mundane.

The introduction of Otis’s brake loosed the floodgates, enabling the vertical growth of New York and Chicago that we now see as natural. Half a century later, the automobile began to exert a horizontal pull on the city. In the twentieth century, good roads and airbags pulled suburbs out, while elevators and fire departments pushed towers up, in a dynamic opposition that has confounded great minds of urban planning on both sides.

Take your pick of “cars” – automobiles or elevators – or combine them until you end up with the basic parameters of the built environment we inherited from the twentieth century. The most humble safety inventions drive us out of town or send us floating above the streets. Maybe the fear of death – or, rather, our ability to allay that fear on the everyday level – is substantially more motivating than abstract ideals like “population density” or “decentralization.”

Welcome to the future. It probably won’t kill you.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flikr – “Elisha Otis’s Elevator Patent Drawing, 01/15/1861,” National Archives and Records Administration.

Trained as an architect, David Hamilton is a homebuilder and developer. He also writes and lectures on urban design and economics. Most recently, he is the co-author, with Prof. R. Peiser, of Professional Real Estate Development.

Freefall | By Stephanie Austin

Imperial Valley, May 1972.

The doctor is running late this morning, and my stomach has pushed my heart into my throat. The nurse—a tall, thick white woman named Joe—talks about jumping out of a plane for relaxation. As she sets up the ultrasound machine, she tells me about slicing through blue sky and feeling her body become weightless. The gray room makes her red scrubs look like optimism. She goes up twice a month, she says. Her friends tell her they think she has a problem.

A skydiving addiction sounds better than a meth addiction.

When the doctor finally enters the room, she apologizes and says there’d been some emergency. Above us, the big TV screen lights up, and she begins to count the blobs outlined in white. She gets to 18. We like high numbers, she tells me. That means your ovaries are in good shape, egg wise.

The Cycle Day 3 test happens on the third day of actual flow (AF in infertility message board lingo). Coupled with a blood test, it measures your body’s reproductive potential. The doctor counts your immature follicles. The lab measures your hormones. It also takes into account your age. At 34, I’m told I’m on the cusp. The results of the test give you the odds. You have a good chance or a poor chance of producing a viable egg. It doesn’t offer condolences or explanation for the last 16 months of your life.

Blood work will be back in two weeks, the doctor says, and leaves me.

When I get off the table, tiny red blooms cover the thin paper on the exam table; they’re small bits of this month’s failure. Joe offers me tissues to clean up. I tell her thank you, and I hope she has a nice weekend. She tells me she’ll be in the sky, which is where she circles again, talking about the rush of the freefall. I try to close my gown behind me and nod along with her. While she talks, I imagine the broken landscape within my body. Looking down, I see the lovely red lines followed by the nothing colors, the evidence of the drought, the earth turning in on itself. I’d stand at the edge of the plane, clinging to the side, being eaten alive by fear. I’d look into the horizon, watch that yellow fog get closer, watch the Earth, that impossible thing, move farther away from me.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image: Imperial Valley, May 1972, photograph by Charles O’Rear. National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Stephanie Austin’s short stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, American Short Fiction, the South Dakota Review, and Washington Square Review, among others. Her creative nonfiction has appeared most recently in Used Furniture Review.

Calming the Chickens | By Kristin Fitzsimmons


“Why on the ceiling?” I yelled at my grandfather over the sound of the drill. I had both hands on the ladder, keeping it steady. At my feet, a small boom box, circa 1998 with CD player and tapedeck. Powder blue.

“It used to calm the chickens,” he said. “Hand me that thing, will ya?”

“I don’t get it.” I lifted the boom box up to him.

“Well,” he said, “when my daddy had a chicken farm, we used to play music for the chickens to calm them down when there were people in there—feeding or cleaning.”

I didn’t ask him any more questions as he continued to work. He’d been kind enough to let me stay with him since my parents and I weren’t getting along. He hadn’t blinked an eye when I basically moved my entire bedroom into his attic, which, as it happens, had been my father’s childhood bedroom. He retreated down the ladder, stepping back and admiring his handiwork. “Well, whaddya think?”

The boom box was suspended on four hooks, two close together under the handle and two further apart attached to the handle by cables so that they had the visual effect of tearing the boombox apart. The set-up looked sturdy and a little unreal.

I squinted at it. “Why the ceiling?”

“Well, honey,” Grandpa said, brushing his dusty hands on his pants, “chickens ain’t too clean sometimes. They also can’t fly.” He chuckled to himself. “Couldn’t wreck a radio on a ceiling.”

We stared at the suspended boom box with our arms crossed as if we were in a museum. “But I’m not a chicken, Grandpa. And I’m twenty.” Next thing you know the old man would be bringing a crib up here.

He looked at me and winked.  “I know that. I just thought you might want a radio in here.” He reached into his back pocket and handed me the remote, then snapped the ladder shut. “You wanna help me carry this downstairs?”

That night, I spread a sheet out on the twin mattress and switched off the light. It was only ten and Grandpa was already asleep. One stipulation of my stay was that I wasn’t to go out on weeknights. I lay on my back and stared up at the boom box. It stared down at me, two speakers for eyes, gaping tape deck mouth. I reached over and felt my iPod on the floor and the hard plastic of the stereo’s remote next to it.

I pressed power and Louie Armstrong’s deep voice sang out The odds were a hundred to one against me. I tapped down the volume but the sound still filled every corner with sound. He’d set it to the same music he’d listened to as a boy, helping his dad on the farm. I closed my eyes, imagining the rows of chicken cages, the volume lowering from squawks to gentle clucks as Ella Fitzgerald’s voice came on, a duet, asking who’s got the last laugh now?


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives. 

Image via Wikimedia Commons – Caubles Egg Factory; radio suspended from ceiling is for quieting chickens at feeding time, 1937, National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region.

Kristin Fitzsimmons lives in Minneapolis, where she is a recent graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota.

A Complaint | By Bradley Bazzle

Stacked Cars In City Junkyard Will Be Used For Scrap, August 1973.

Dear Fortress Plus,

I write with not-so-good news. The Car Wall 4.0 I ordered is rusting more quickly than advertized. Your salesman, Herm C—, who’s a very nice fellow so I don’t want to cast aspersion on him, said that the wall would last “ten lifetimes, plus!” More specifically, he referenced the Great Wall of China and said that because Car Wall 4.0 is made of metal it’s twice as strong as that one, which is made of stone. It made sense at the time. But then I saw the rust, and also how the 1963 Chevy Impala was sagging from the weight of the 1963 For Fairlane directly above it, and so I did some online research and learned that metal doesn’t fare well under compression, which is why the pillar things under bridges are made of stone. Other bridges are made of metal but those are suspension bridges, so Herm was kind of wrong when he told me to think about the Golden Gate Bridge and how strong it was. Maybe correct him. Don’t fire him, though. He’s a really nice guy. The anecdote he told me about protecting his own family homestead from marauding meth-crazed looters using Appliance Rampart 3.0 was deeply moving. Which brings me to another point. Several of the cars, e.g. the 1957 Plymouth and 1959 DeSoto Adventurer convertible, are faring extremely well. Barely rusting, barely crushed, and the grills are kind of nice to look at, like faces. Would it be possible to have more recent and flimsier models, such as the aforementioned Impala and also the 1967 Pontiac Catalina and 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa, replaced by models from the fifties? Also—not to be piling it on—but there’s something beneath the 1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, in what the owner’s manual calls the Seventh Quadrant, that looks kind of not like a car. Is it the undercarriage of a bus or something? Like, folded over? I ask because, while it’s actually pretty strong, it isn’t very fun to look at. That’s it. Whew! Except, well, it would be kind of neat if I could turn on the headlights from time to time, just for effect. Herm said that that was in the planning stages, possibly to be featured in Car Wall 5.0. Sign me up, if so, because I consider myself a lifelong Fortress Plus customer, despite the circumstances. Yours is a company that looks towards the future, because, I mean, where are all the dead cars going to go otherwise? Junkyards? Pretty soon there’ll be more cars than people, and every grave will have a car on top of it, maybe sideways. At least that’s what Herm said. And I believe him.

Yours Sincerely,

Bradley B—


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flickr “Stacked Cars In City Junkyard Will Be Used For Scrap, August 1973,” photograph by Dick Swanson. National Archives and Records Administration College Park. Part of the Documerica project.

Bradley Bazzle’s story “Gift Horse” appears in NER 31.4. Other stories he’s written appear in The Iowa Review, Epoch, Phoebe, Bad Penny Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in Athens, Georgia, where he’s working on a novel and a PhD in English.

They Drove | By Sean Hill


It’s 1973 and they’re young and newly married. They grew up in the same small town in Georgia. He’s seen a little bit of the world—Tennessee, Alabama, and—framed by airplane windows—Alaska, Mt. Fuji, and the Philippines. He has Polaroids of these places that he mailed in letters to his momma, sisters, and wife while he was away—show them a very little of what he’d seen. There’s been a war going on, and he enlisted before they could draft him and tell him where to go.

When he comes back home to Georgia, on leave to visit family and pick up his wife for the long drive back to Fort Lewis in Washington state, they learn quickly to wake him slowly. Though he doesn’t much talk about it, he does say it wasn’t as bad for him as some of his buddies. He’d kept helicopters airworthy over there. He and his wife, they drive across the country in his ’65 Chevy Chevelle SS four-speed—American muscle. They take the southern route—through Texas out to California and up the coast to Washington—and they see more of America on this trip than most in their families have seen or will see in their lives.

This morning, as they check out of the motel in Flagstaff, a postcard catches his eye. He points it out to her. What looks to be an old English village with a towering bridge behind it and mountains in the distance behind that. They read the fancy script: London Bridge Lake Havasu City, Arizona. And she wants to see it; it’s only twenty miles out of the way. He wants to see it too. What’s the bridge doing here?

A rich businessman and land developer, looking to build an oasis in the desert, bought it from the City of London two years before—had it taken apart, the pieces carefully numbered and brought to Arizona to be put back together on a peninsula in a new manmade lake on the Colorado River. The land was dug from beneath the bridge to let water flow and create an island—a reason to cross the bridge—a destination in this landscape of sand and buttes. Take an old stone bridge and seed a new desert vision. A bit of out-of-place past to build the future in this country to prove anything’s possible.

They have dreams and will soon have a family of their own. It’s 1973 and it matters, but matters differently every day, that they’re Black and the rich businessman is white—things seem to be getting better.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.

Image via Flickr  “London Bridge–brought from London to Lake Havasu City in 1971, May 1972,” photograph by Charles O’Rear. National Archives and Records Administration College Park

Sean Hill’s first book, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, was published by the University of Georgia Press in 2008. His second collection of poetry, Dangerous Goods, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in early 2014. He’s currently a visiting assistant professor in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. More information can be found at

Japanese War Balloon | By Jill McDonough


During WWII, Japanese schoolgirls were called out of school because of their nimble fingers. They brushed root paste on washi paper and layered it, pasted pieces to pieces across sumo halls, courtyards, school auditoriums. They made paper balloons like this one.

The balloons carried bombs over the Pacific to here. They figured out what’s a jet stream, used to it send bombs up and off and aimed toward the Pacific Northwest.  They landed in Thermopolis, Wyoming, and Santa Monica. In Lame Deer, Montana and just outside Detroit. About 300 turned up.

But when the jet stream works, the Pacific Northwest is wet and cold. So hardly anybody died.  Except at one Oregon church picnic—a pastor’s wife, a group of children. The pastor dropped them off and went to park. The wife was pregnant, wasn’t feeling well. She found one of these in what was left of the snow, and walked toward it with the children, calling: Look what I found, dear.


Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives. 

Image via Wikimedia Commons – “Japanese War Ballooon, collapsed balloon on ground, close up of various parts of balloon & mechanism,” 1945, National Archives and Records Administration Central Plains Region.

Three-time Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough is the recipient of NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships.  Her books include Habeas Corpus (Salt, 2008), and Where You Live (Salt, 2012).  She directs the MFA program at UMass-Boston and 24PearlStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center online.