Wednesday 30 November 2022

The Last Time by Cheryl Somers Aubin, coffee ‘n cookies

 We never know when it will be the last time, do we? 

            If I had known, I would have paid closer attention to the story mom shared about her acquaintance’s daughter’s friend. I usually listened half-heartedly to these stories she often told. I probably wanted to tell her more about my own life. But that time, the last time, I would have listened, maybe asked a question or two. I’d have leaned into my mother, given her a smile, and taken the time to be completely and fully present.   

            We would have been standing side-by-side in the kitchen making Christmas cookies. My mom would gather the shortening, sugar, brown sugar, and two eggs to put in a mixing bowl. Perhaps I cracked the eggs one at a time into a measuring cup (like I still do today – in case one of the eggs is bad.) We’d mix these first ingredients all together in a mixer.

            Mom would then gather the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. She’d mix all these together in a separate bowl by hand and put a little at a time into the sifter.

            I recall that I would often do the sifting, the metal arms moving back and forth in the bottom of it. Like my mother taught me, I would squeeze the handle and shake the sifter a bit, tapping my hand on the side so that everything would come out. I would watch the white powder cover the dough like an early snowfall.

            After the dough had chilled for exactly 1 ½ hours in the refrigerator, it was time to roll it out and start using the cookie cutters.

            I would flour the counter, then we would take a portion of the dough and put it on top and add more flour. Kneading the dough together, then sifting some of the flour on, then kneading the dough, then more flour. We’d roll it out using an old rolling pin with a cotton cover. My siblings would join us and press our Christmas tree and gingerbread man and Santa and Christmas stocking cookie cutters into the dough. Carefully, we’d use a spatula to lift the cookies and place them on a cookie sheet.

            As the cookies were baking, mom would stir the ingredients of the icing together

 in another bowl and she’d let us put the food coloring in. So beautiful, I always thought, to watch the colors so strong and dark at first, then mixing with the white icing until they were light blue or red or green.

            And then we’d decorate after the cookies had a chance to cool. Along with the icing, we had jimmies and confetti and red-hot candies to put on. 

            We all wanted to eat them right away. It was hard to wait for each baking sheet to come out of the oven, for the cookies to cool, to decorate them, put them on a plate – and then not to eat them.

            I seem to remember that mom would let us have only one cookie, and we’d each grab the largest one - the gingerbread-shaped man. We’d bite off a head or arm or leg and laugh. Later, I’d sneak into the kitchen and take another cookie, carefully rearranging the cookies on the plate so it did not look like one was missing. I doubt I fooled my mom.

            These memories do not include the other times in our lives when mom told me I was “too much” for her. I knew she meant too emotional, too expressive, probably even too loud. Sometimes, and I hope I never told her this, she was not enough for me.

            At one point a few years ago, an aide mistakenly called my number instead of my sister’s from my mom’s memory care home. Mom’s mind had receded, the ability to care for herself had slipped away. Still, when she was told it was me, mom said she was delighted to speak with me.

            ‘You are always so kind, Cheryl, I will always remember that. You are so kind.’ And I knew the memory of our conversation would soon be stolen from her – but it would stay with me always. I stifled a sob and pressed that memory to my heart.

            A year before my mom would pass away, I stood again in her kitchen.

            How do you decide what to take from your family home of 45 years when the time has come to sell the house? I traveled through memories, experienced a profound longing.

            I knew decisions must be made. Everything in the kitchen needed to be taken, given away, or trashed. At first, I could not move my feet, get myself to move forward, but then took a step to a cabinet and opened it. At the very front on the shelf, I saw the sifter.

            It was aluminum, and it was old. There were rust stains and bits of flour on the screen. There was unidentifiable gunk on the outside, too.

            I picked it up and squeezed the handle, heard the swish woosh, swish woosh, of the arms and the metallic click as the inner handle squeezed and met the outer handle. A memory stirred and I held fast to it.

            I brought the sifter home with me, cleaned it up, and it sits on the shelf in my office. I miss my mother so much sometimes I put my head down on my desk and sob.

            But when I look over at the sifter, I am back in the kitchen with mom, and we are baking. I hear the sound of the sifter, feel the dough in my hands. Mom’s telling me a story and I pay close attention. And this time I lean in. I just lean in.

 About the author


Cheryl Somers Aubin has an MA/Writing from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of The Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story. She has been widely published and is the former nonfiction editor for the Delmarva Review. Cheryl teaches memoir writing and speaks at writing conferences and workshops. 


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Tuesday 29 November 2022

A Heartfelt Dream by D.J.J. Mitzi, a chai latte


The stars twinkled and sparkled like faraway candles in the night sky. A cool breeze brushed against his skin and whispered untold secrets into his ears. Secrets of love. The emotions they evoked were sea blue, wobbling and stirring and emanating with nostalgia. Softly, the grass pushed up against his skin and gave him a pleasant itch. He sat up, only now noticing the beautiful city alive before his eyes, glowing magnificently. The waves lapped gently against the shore and sprayed light foamy water onto his bare legs. The scene before him was life-filled and mysterious. It made him think longingly of odd memories from long ago. For a moment it seemed as though this dream would last forever. But as sweet as it was, no dream will ever last forever. Yet that doesn’t stop you hoping that you’ll have the same dream the next night. You never do, though. Nor do you the night after.

He opened his eyes, to the sound of his alarm beeping loudly, but then closed them again without going back to sleep. His thick quilt had kept him warm and cosy throughout the cool night, and that warmth was there still, calling for him to melt back into his soft mattress and go back to sleep. Unable to resist that call, he hit the snooze button and drifted off without actually dreaming. The alarm went off ten minutes later. He hit it again. And again. He snoozed his alarm three times before he actually got out of bed, and he only resisted the temptation to snooze it a fourth time out of fear of being late to work. As it was, he would be cutting it close. He had a shower. Ate breakfast. Buttoned his suit, buckled his pants, locked the doors and then caught the bus to the train station, and the train to work. He already felt ordinary, but everything about his life made him feel even more ordinary. A thousand people, if not more, he passed in a day. And every one of them just like him. Ordinary.

His office job was no different. Mundane and boring. The sound of tapping keyboards and formal dialogue filled the space. His trousers were tight and his blazer was uncomfortable. Every day was the same. No better. No worse. And in no way was it like his dreams; the exotic, mystical, fantastical escape that awaited him at the end of a long day.

Time passed dismally. At ten o’clock he got a message from his mother. Just checking in, hope you’re okay. Stay safe. He waited till one o’clock before he took his break and went down the street to get some food from the shop down the road. When the clock hit three, he stopped working and began playing minesweeper. He got back to work after five minutes. At four he placed a pile of reports on his bosses’ desk. At five he shut down his desktop computer, pulled his bag over his shoulders and farewelled his co-workers with a wave and a laugh. He walked down the hallway until he came to the thick steel double doors of the lift. The down arrow on the side lit up green when he pressed it. A few moments passed before a loud ding sounded and the doors of the lift opened.

He gasped. The lift was empty, except for a young girl with long dark brown curls that had been tied up into a ponytail with a scarlet ribbon. Her eyes were sky blue, and her lips were red like a rose. She wore formal attire, and carried a bag by her side. The company he worked for was quite large, with many different teams and sections and many people he’d never met. And he was sure that he’d never met her before. He would have remembered if he’d had. He stood frozen for a moment. But quickly recomposed himself and stepped into the lift beside her.

There was another ding as the doors closed and shut with a thud. A hearty silence settled between them. The girl turned a little, she looked up at him, and he looked down at her at the same time. He only just managed to catch her awkward half-smile, which was as warm as a clear summer’s day, before she looked away. He opened his mouth to speak, but felt his heart begin to beat abnormally fast and decided not to. Her cheeks reddened slightly in the silence that followed. The lift began its descent. Floor 12. Floor 11. Floor 10. They both stared ahead at the silver doors in front of them. Floor 9.

A single moment. It was now or never.

‘Courage dear heart,’ he said aloud without even thinking.

She looked at him again, this time with quite a puzzled manner, but then her face lit up as she suddenly realised he had recited a quote. She noticed The Great Divorce was sticking out of her bag awkwardly because she hadn’t zipped it up properly.

‘You’re a fan of Lewis?’

He unzipped his own bag, pulled a thin book out and held it out to show her. Narnia.

She laughed and her face reddened even more this time. She opened her mouth to keep talking, but then the doors of the lift opened. The girl peered up at him, as if she was about to say something else, but then her gaze fell down and she walked out of the lift. The doors closed and his heart sank. The lift was hardly moving again before he noticed she’d dropped something. The Great Divorce was lying on the lift floor, half open. He picked it up. Her full name was written on the inside of the first page. He stood up straighter, with a heartfelt smile drawn over his face. He guessed he would have to return it.

He never had the same dream twice, except for those two nights. Once again, he was lying on the soft grass, in front of a glowing city with the foam of the waves splashing gently upon him, and a beautiful voice beside sending dazzling notes floating gently through the air. And when he woke up it was like the dream had never ended. After he’d found her name, it wasn’t hard to get in touch with her. His company’s email addresses were all the same. First letter of the first name and last name. He received a reply to the email mere minutes after he hit the send button.


Glad you picked it up. Can you meet me somewhere during my lunch break? And maybe, if you’d like, we could get some coffee while we’re there.

Indeed, today was not an ordinary day. 


About the author

D.J.J.Mizzi is an avid writer and has been writing for as long as he can remember. His favourite genre is fantasy. His writing can be found on


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Monday 28 November 2022

Sharp Struggle by Mike Lee, Sambuca,

 These days the traffic in the Village is almost back to what it was before. Not quite the same, but then again, nothing ever is anymore. Wood and metal sheds cover much of one side of the street in front of the restaurants, and with winter’s arrival, most spaces heated; the indoors bustling with customers socially distanced. Business in the neighborhood seems to be doing well until one sees the closed places. Hardly anyone notices this anymore.

I frequented an old Italian cafe for years, finding comfort and escape from isolation in that room. Before business picked up, it was primarily quiet, except for the college professor, the crime writer, the graduate student working on his dissertation, and Roberto.

The latter is the only person who engaged in conversation, usually about radical left politics or our mutual respect for the writings of Victor Serge.

We became friends, talking most Saturday afternoons over brunch and cappuccinos. Afterward, we take long walks. Roberto would point out obscure historical facts, such as the line of shops on Bleecker Street, the subject of an Edward Hopper painting, and the gated courtyard that the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft used for a setting.

He reminisced about the neighborhood. Someone would drive up from Pennsylvania every Fourth of July with a truckload of fireworks.

After the load was emptied, there would be a raffle. The winner got to drive the truck to the docks. Then, a crowd would gather to set the vehicle on fire and push it into the Hudson River.

Roberto was one of the few Marxists I had met with interests beyond politics. The world to him was more than how many sharp struggles the working class had to engage in. While important, existence is also predicated on the urge to create.

Regarding politics and art, we both identified with Serge, mainly because we were more than outsiders; we were rebels against the rebels. Serge was an anarchist who allied with the Bolsheviks and constantly got in deep trouble for his efforts. 

Roberto waits outside the door, pulling slowly on a self-rolled cigarette. He is cheap by nature and old school about it. He lives on his teacher’s pension—living like it is Paris in the 30s—as he says on occasion—living in one of the last rent-controlled apartments in the neighborhood.

Though I never visit, Roberto’s apartment is a two-bedroom and has been in his family for three generations. He pays 300 a month. The landlord is a cousin and takes the loss, but Roberto knows the cousin is waiting for him to die.

“Just avoid taxis,” I joked once, referring to Serge dying in one in Mexico City.

Roberto gave me a pained expression.

Roberto has the face of granite, defined by the toughness of growing up in the neighborhood and working in the most challenging schools in the Lower East Side during the bad old days of the 70s and 80s. Also, he once belonged to one of the multitudes of Trotskyist groups that formed after splitting over things as mundane as dinner checks or whether space aliens were actual Socialists. There is a book published recently about these groups.

Roberto married years ago. Divorced. No children. Moreover, I say little about myself beyond outlining broad experiences associated with my work with trade unions. 

I avoid sharing the past, preferring to make pronouncements of the now. I have reasons.

In the café, we mainly talk about literature. Still, when other subjects close to personal enter, the conversation string concludes with a coda from Roberto, “We all do things we always regret. Just wrap it in a handkerchief and carry it in your pocket. My father said that, usually looking guilty.”

Our favorite table is still available. We sit and immediately order while discussing the personal events of the day, which is our usual. We woke up, puttered around, and wrote some. Both of us are writers, though I publish more than Roberto does. Nevertheless, Roberto goes for the major literary magazines. He got into The Paris Review and New World Writing.

I found it understandable that he wrote about being a schoolteacher and the neighborhoods he worked. I never asked why he never published anything about his experiences in the Village growing up and now getting old.

As for me, I am content to go for anyone who will take my work.

We talk about Serge again over omelets and ham, with large cups of cappuccinos, about the desk drawer where his novels had lain until long after his death. As for books, Roberto wrote three. I wrote five, all ensconced in a hard drive, though several bound drafts of my first book were in a closet. We each had at one time an agent making promises later unfulfilled. We do not talk about that today.

Instead, it was again about Serge, his vision to recreate painful memories and tell a story, knowing that more than a few pairs may never see each book of eyes. He also wrote so many letters and polemics. He was the true idealist, distressed at what he witnessed in his career as a revolutionary. In the end, that career was only death in exile—one which, from birth, he mostly had lived.

“You think about all that Serge had seen,” Roberto said. “The saddest was that his son sketched his father’s dead hand resting on the morgue slab.”

He pauses to pull off his glasses and wipes his face.

Roberto stares down at his right palm. “I have no one who will sketch mine.”

I glance at my hands surrounding the oval plate. I struggle to say something personal.

Instead, I nod and say, “I am sorry.”

After our plates are taken away, we order Sambuca and sip them in silence.

About the author

Mike Lee's work appears in or is forthcoming in CafeLit, Drunk Monkeys, and others. In addition, his story collection, The Northern Line, is available on online bookselling outlets. 
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Sunday 27 November 2022

Finding Purpose Again by Judith Skilleter, a whisky mac on cold miserable days

Mary has recently had to take early retirement. No, that’s just not true. Recently she had, brutally, unexpectedly and unprofessionally, been made redundant from a job she loved. A job she had loved for twenty-five years.  It had been decided that the amazing job no longer fitted in with the future of the organisation, it was no longer fit for purpose, and, therefore, in the view of her employers neither was she.

Mary had been distraught, and experienced all the pain of a huge and significant loss following this decision. It had been a job she adored, it gave her purpose and value. It made her think. She had never been reluctant to get up on cold and horrible mornings, and working late had never bothered her.  The strains and stresses of running a team did not phase her. Work had been a joy. Now it had gone and she hated the fact.

Her feelings were not helped when she rang up ex-colleagues and was told that the person who replaced her, with a new job title and job description so that the possibility of constructive dismissal could not be considered, was total rubbish and not a team player and that the work was not of the same high standard as when she, Mary, had been in charge.

Her husband Ted also no longer worked but his time was filled with golf. He played off scratch, which Mary believed meant that he was a decent golfer. He played 3 or 4 times a week, usually after a lazy breakfast where he also read his daily paper from cover to cover and did the puzzles. He called it keeping his brain active and didn’t get down from the breakfast table until all the Sudokus and crosswords had been completed. Ted was particularly good at cryptic crosswords and he used to time himself. He was vexed if he had not completed all the puzzles by 10.30am in time to tee off at 11.30am. Ted’s days were filled to his great satisfaction. Mary could no longer say the same.

Mary had tried to do cryptic crosswords in order to fill her some of her excessive and unwanted spare time, and she even read a couple of books about how to do them, something about kneecaps and Pat and Ella but, no matter how hard she tried, her brain just could not understand how the answers were reached.  Puzzles therefore did not last long as a time filler

Before her redundancy Ted had taken all responsibility for their evening meal and he was not willing to give up this role now she was home so much. When he returned home after golf he went through recipe books and found interesting and tasty meals that were always a cosy part of their evenings together. Both Mary and Ted had always enjoyed these times but, now, when Mary had time on her hands she wished that perhaps Ted could let her help now and again. But no, supper was Ted’s responsibility. “Keep out of my kitchen” was printed in large bright letters on his apron – and he followed this rule absolutely.

It would have been so much easier had she and Ted had had children. But, children had not come along. Those were the days before IVF and the clever tests that they do nowadays.  She imagined that had there been children, and now young grandchildren, her time would have been filled with looking after them, helping out generally and taking them for treats and outings. Mary and Ted have nieces and nephews but they are all fit and active parents who are themselves helping out with the next generation grandchildren. They have no need for Ted and Mary. And, anyway, they all live too far away for Ted and Mary to be any use. 

A few weeks after the redundancy and when the aimless days were really starting to get her down, Mary had a chat with a friend who had grabbed retirement with both hands and wouldn’t let go. She loved it.  Mary had asked her how she spent her days. The reply was “Well, I just potter and before I know it it’s tea time.” Mary thought about this answer and asked “Well, what about when you have finished pottering, say about 9.30 am.” Mary had worked out that her own daily tasks and chores were easily done by 9.30am, after which she was at a loss as to what to do next. Her friend just shrugged and shook her head. It had not been a helpful conversation.

So Mary decided she had to try new things, to find things to do that once again gave her purpose and value and that she enjoyed. She did not just want time fillers – she wanted to feel that her days were filled usefully, just like when she had been working.

She tried baking and loved it, especially baking bread.  A bread-maker was bought and Mary and Ted enjoyed fresh home-made bread every day with thickly spread butter and, Mary’s favourite, lemon curd. But then Mary found that her clothes were fitting less well and Ted asked if his best golfing trousers had been accidentally put through a hot white wash. Of course it was all these excess calories that had led to spreading waistlines and the baking had to stop.  The bread maker went to a charity shop.

Mary was a reader, an impatient reader. By that I mean that she was too impatient to wait for her favourite author’s books to come out in paperback. Most weeks would see another Amazon delivery leaving her a pristine hardback just waiting to be enjoyed. Ted suggested she join a book club where she could share her own book knowledge and meet other keen readers. She did so. The book club idea lasted for two sessions. First of all Mary did not like being told what to read, reading was too personal a joy to be spoiled by other people’s choices. But mainly she didn’t enjoy her book club experience because the critical discussion of the chosen book only lasted about 10 minutes. Mary also found that most of the members had not bothered to read the book and the meeting became very quickly became a scone and cake competition and a sharing of tales and photos of children and grandchildren. Neither of these topics were Mary’s choice of conversation. And so the book club was dumped.

She tried art and bought a pad of special paper and a case of special pencils to help her settle in and hopefully progress.  It was OK, Mary enjoyed her time with these very talented people who were always very kind and encouraging. But Mary never got rid of the feeling that there was a breakdown in communication between her brain, which was very clear about what it wanted on the paper, and her hand with the pencil. What appeared on the paper was always a mess, an awful mess. Art lasted four sessions and the special pad and special pencils were now used for shopping lists.

Learning Spanish was a more successful venture. She and Ted were shortly going to Malaga where Ted would play golf and she would potter and have fun until he was back from hitting little balls into little holes. Yes, golf had been a hobby suggestion but Mary could not see the point of it and she did not want to embarrass Ted with her lack of ability. She enjoyed her Spanish lessons and always did her homework so that when they were in Malaga she would have more to say than Please, Thank you, Good Morning, and two beers please. But the course only had two weeks left and there would be no more for six months.

Another attempt to fill her days well was a walking group. She bought the requisite walking boots, backpack and waterproofs and set off with a lively group of couples and singles. At first it was great fun, she enjoyed the exercise and the chatter but walking came to an end when one of the other walkers, a recently widowed gentleman, started paying her more attention than she felt comfortable with. He always insisted on walking next to her, consequently preventing her from chatting to the other walkers and when they stopped for drinks he always bought her a cup of tea and a cake and he wouldn’t take any money.  Mary’s attempts to make him stop all failed and she could see that the other walkers were aware of his actions and her embarrassment. Their attempts to draw her away from these unwanted attentions were very kind but unfortunately unsuccessful. The whole mess made her feel very uncomfortable and so she said goodbye to another initiative,

When she told Ted what had happened she burst into tears. These tears were not just the result of another failed activity but her unhappiness that she might be thought of as “available” in whatever venture she tried. Ted had been her first boyfriend, there had never been anyone else, and she found the idea of someone muscling in on her wonderful relationship both hurtful and insulting. Ted was reassuring and comforting and as understanding as he could be given that he wanted to talk about the hole in one he had managed that afternoon.

After more frustrating failed attempts at useful and enjoyable activity, Mary eventually found purpose and value in a totally unexpected area. Her local hospice was advertising for volunteer help and she thought she had the qualities they needed - she was friendly and she was happy to work hard.

But despite thinking she had the necessary qualities Mary was reluctant to apply as she thought that hospices were miserable places where people went to die, went in through the front doors and exited through the back doors. She thought they were places where there was no hope and therefore no job satisfaction. She could not have been more wrong.

At the induction process, where she met some delightful, warm and friendly people, she learned about the vital work the hospice did. She learned about the comfort and care the hospice staff gave to not only their patients but also the families and loved ones of their patients. She learned about the importance and quality of life for as long as possible and how patients were encouraged to “live” until they died. And she learned that death, which would inevitably come to all of the patients, need not be frightening or painful or undignified.

To her great delight Mary was accepted as a volunteer and initially she was asked to work in a hospice shop which took in and then re-sold donations. from people who did not need or want them anymore. Some of the things, especially the clothes and books, were as if they were brand new.  Mary’s role was to get these marvellous gifts ready for sale and then be behind the counter re-selling them and, of course, these sales contributed towards the vital funding of the hospice.  All these small sales added up to huge amounts of money.

After not too long, Mary once again felt she had a role in life. She had a purpose and this purpose was helping others, helping others to live a happy and pain free life for as long as possible. It dawned on Mary that this was so much more fulfilling than her previous work. Mary adored her new role. She was happy and contented once again. But she wanted more.

She heard so many hospice stories from those who came into her shop and she felt that she was helping these delightful people when she listened to their experiences.  A huge untapped reservoir of care for others, a reservoir that had so far been reserved entirely for Ted, was suddenly released. Mary decided she would like to be at the heart of things at the hospice, she wanted to be on reception at the hospice to be closer to the staff, the patients and their loved ones. She wanted to give more of herself as well as her brain. She discussed this with her boss at the shop and he was very complementary and said he thought she would be very good in this new role – but he would be very sad to lose her. Wow – this gave her so much delight, it had been a while since she was praised for what she did.

Mary also discussed this move with Ted. “Of course, if I am successful and have to do afternoon and early evening shifts you will have to keep my supper warm”. Ted was slightly miffed at this as he really enjoyed their evenings together but then he realised he would be free for lovely long summer evenings on the golf course so perhaps the prospect wasn’t so grim after all.

Mary applied for a receptionist post she then learned to love her work on reception even more than in the shop, even though a lot of sadness came past her desk. Anything she could do to ease and support that sadness was  her aim for every shift. Her life was once again good – full of purpose and worth and she was contributing to helping others in what be the most difficult times of their lives. In fact in a most unexpected way life was once again very very good.


About the author 

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with three grandchildren.


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