Lizz Schumer


Hail, holy Queen. Mother, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor abandoned children of Eve. To thee do we send up our cries, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. 

We say the rosary at the start of every vacation, mom with the circle of beads she keeps on her keychain, dad with the wooden string that dangles from his rearview mirror. Me with my fingers, because there's a rhythm in everything. This is our rhythm: The Apostle's creed, one Our Father, three Hail Mary's, one Glory Be, then five decades of ten Hail Mary's, one Our Father, one Glory Be and Hail Holy Queen. Because religion always ends with a plea to someone. No one worships for free.

These rosaries are competitions, dad quizzing us on which intentions are next. Sundays are the Glorious Mysteries, Fridays are Sorrowful. Those days are clear, but the rest are anyone's guess, and we do. The person to guess which mystery comes next leads that decade, a game and a test, like all games seem to me. There's a winner for everything and conversely, a loser for everything, too. I think too much, too slowly. So I'm usually left wondering, or wandering, and the two seem awfully similar to me.

Adults do this. They test us on everything from how to tie our shoes to who the president is, to our multiplication tables. Every question has an answer, and behind those are the shadows of a million wrongs. A multitude of ways we can disappoint each other, if were not careful. If we're not right. The world is an endless march of rights and wrongs with one shining pillar of Yes in the middle that everyone, all of us, is always trying to climb.

It glows so bright, it frightens me. I'm terrified of ideals, because I know none of us can ever reach high enough.

"And the next decade of the Joyful Mysteries is ..." My dad's face appears in the rearview, his eyebrows raised expectantly. I stammer out my answer, but I'm wrong, and I face the window as the rhythm of our voices comforts me. The four of us rise and fall like waves cresting over the road we travel, carrying us safely toward our destination like the rhythm, the yellow lines and the ever-pacing sun combine to make one incantation.

We're living a tenuous dance between desire and deprivation. As people, we want things. We're always chasing the next best, the buzz, the burn or the escape from both. But religion taught us to savor the hunger. The world is supposed to be a barren place, a place where every pleasure is a sin and every pain is one more point on our credit line for paradise. Prayer, that staticky call to heaven, is supposed to be our one pleasure. Those chanting hours on our aching knees, with incense drifting toward the ceiling like it carried our words with it, those are supposed to be our only joy. But it never felt that way, to me.

Once, as a toddler, I fell into the crack between my bed and the wall, cradled by my blankets from reaching the floor. I awoke from a terrifying dream to find myself stuck in my first taste of limbo, immobile and frightened. I cried and cried, sure I'd be stuck there forever, as primitive visions of fire and brimstone danced through my head. It was my first taste of what hell must feel like, stuck in a place of discomfort, crying for relief to deaf ears that would never come to my rescue. My dad did come, of course. After what felt like eternity, his strong arms lifted me out and he soothed me against his chest until my tears dried against his shirt. But I never forgot my first sense of hopeless dread, and that's the image that comes to me, save us from the fires of hell

But hell and earth, our exile, sound to me to be much the same thing. Separated from our father, who art in heaven, kept away from the safety of his arms, seem one and the same and I wonder if we aren't in hell already. If maybe we aren't praying to stay out of hell, but to get rescued from that dark place between the bed and the wall where we're all stuck, crying for our father to rescue us from evil. 

Parents share with their children the joys they were denied, but in doing so, often impose their own longings on their offspring. My father was one of five children, growing up in a two- bedroom house on a treelined street where the trees were the swing sets and lawns their playgrounds. He cultivated his imagination instead of his organized athletic abilities, his interest in library books instead of camp arts and crafts. There wasn't money for much, he told my brother and me sternly, although we'd never dare complain about the luxuries afforded us. He wasn't able to go to summer camp or soccer practice, and certainly didn't get music lessons.

My brother and I were enrolled in piano lessons before we started school. The books taught us the notes by numbers. Assuming we could count to seven, we could play, the author reasoned. I remember the floppy pages and the washed-out watercolor illustrations through squinted, watering eyes because more often than not, piano practice was a punishment.

"Go practice for 15 minutes," I remember mom yelling, when I smacked my brother for stealing a toy of mine, or teased him until he smacked me back. I sat on the piano bench, crying tears of indignation, staring at the page until I wanted to tear it up with my fury. But I knew better.

"Piano lessons are a privilege," dad said, if we ever complained about sitting inside our teacher's stuffy house on a perfect summer day. It smelled like cats and stale tea, the curtains yellow with age and the cigarettes she swore she didn't smoke, although her voice creaked with nicotine. "Do you know how many kids would give their left arm to play the piano?"

"Be hard to play without it," my brother whispered. I giggled under my dad's stern gaze and just like that, fifteen more minutes of practice time for me, young lady.

Dad meant to share something he never had the chance to do himself, but his joy became our penance. Children are not, by nature, empathetic creatures. They live in the here and now,
entirely absorbed by their own wants, needs and small injustices. I remember sitting on that bench, my legs swinging inches above the pedals, with my arms crossed defiantly in front of the keys. I glared at the ivories like little rotten teeth that would tear out my fingers if I dared plunk a single note. My mother would threaten and finally, cajole, to get me to spend my practice time the way it was intended. The penalties for failing a lesson were worse, after all. But I couldn't see that far in advance; couldn't project my own sense of injustice even a week down the line.

"It's good for you. You'll see," she'd say, when I whined about hating the piano. "You'll be thankful when you're older."

But I wasn't. The second I was allowed, I stopped playing piano, abandoning it for an instrument that could torture my parents as they forced me to play: The violin. The only thing worse than a beginning violin player sawing away is a cat being slowly murdered in the living room, and most days, I think they preferred the cat.

I still can't play the piano. I know the notes and can read the score, but my fingers won't cooperate on the keys they hated so much in my childhood. And my mom was right, to some extent. I didn't see the value then, but now that I understand what my father meant, I've wasted all his good intentions.

Praying for heaven seems the same, sometimes. The priest tells us there's something better, that our reward is waiting just beyond the pearly gates. But denying ourselves the pleasures we have, in anticipation of hazy uncertainty goes against our baser instincts, and at our core, we're momentary creatures.

Lead us not into temptation, except we need no impetus to go. I think of that, every time I commit some unforgivable sin, at least once a day or more, and my mind is that petulant child, staring at a watercolor of a little girl and her dog as if her eyes can burn holes through the page. I can't see past my earthly desire to the wonders above, and if I could, I wonder if they'd be worth it. If I'd choose a bird in the hand, because the now means more to me than forever and I'd rather spend the life I've got in ecstasy than bet on one as incomprehensible as the sky. 


Lizz Schumer is a writer, journalist, photographer, and artist living and working in Buffalo, N.Y . Her work often focuses on the interstices between the personal and universal experiences as manifested within our shared and individual cultural context. "Rosary" is a meditation on the effect of parents' upbringing on the way they raise their own children, including the religious inclinations and how those may be perceived by a child. Lizz's first book, Buffalo Steel came out in 2013, and her work has also appeared in Minerva Rising, Manifest-Station,, The Cronium Review, Connotation Press, The Rampalian, LYR, Breath & Shadow, Wordgathering, XOJane and many others. She can be found online at, @eschumer on twitter, @lizzschumer on Instagram and 

Jeff Wilbur

The 11 O’Clock Blues: A Rendezvous Thanksgiving

BUZZZZ! Then again – BUZZZZ! The front door to the Rendezvous Bar & Grill swings open. But only after you get ‘buzzed’ in. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the buzz is coming from –the door, the busted Schaeffer Beer sign or the soused patrons. It’s early. But since it’sNovember, it’s dark out. Just about six-thirty, in the p.m. Just dark enough. This ginmill has seen many ups and downs since the end of Volstead, and many owners. They used to serve food: I- talian. Nice sandwiches. Now it’s just bad eggs and crackers. Back in the day a woman would not be allowed in unescorted and a gentleman had to remain such no matter the level of his consumption. That was the birth of the buzzer – only the select few were allowed to enter. Not so much anymore. Now it’s used to keep the unknown riff-raff out. The known riff-raff, well, they’re always welcome.

Right now, 1963, seems to be a less than favorable swing of the pendulum of time and taste. Johnny, the cheapest bartender in the known universe, stands behind the chipped mahogany, rubbing his puckered hands on his apron. This has become his vocation – and the apron’s prime regret.

One of the patrons bellows, “Johnny! The TV!”

Johnny trots over and bangs the smoke stained black and white TV that sits above the phone booth with a broomstick until the picture and sound are right again. Sadly, whenever the phone is used, or jostled, or thought about, the channel inexplicably changes. Hence the sign – NO PHONE CALLS DURING THE FIGHTS – EVER! But the TV, usually off, except for the fights of course, has been on every moment the bar has been open since the 22nd. Ever since they killed Jack. Killed the president, in that God-awful place, fuckin’ Dallas.

BUZZZZZ! Like that famous dog to that famous bell, the men at the bar snap their gazes to the door at the sound of the buzzer – always wondering who might come in. Mayor Kowal? Lana Turner? Elijah? Always hopeful, ever disappointed. And, tonight, even more so since it was just Mitch. Mitch, the stevedore, and his seven-year-old boy. Mitch nods to the fellas and they nod back. Not a lot of hats on those heads. Only a couple. Not a lot of men have worn them since Jack chose to forgo his. Yeah, JFK did to the fedora what Gable did to the undershirt way back when he made “It Happened One Night”.

Johnny ambles over, “The usual, Mitch?”

“Sure. And a pop for the kid”

Johnny begins to mix a Kessler whiskey with some ice and soda water.“Needed to get out for a bit,” says Mitch.

“So you bring the kid with you?”

“Had to. He wouldn’t let me leave without him. Pitched a fit.”

“This him? This the famous One Nut Wonder?” “Not tonight, Johnny.”

Johnny nods, contritely.

“Sorry, Mitch. Been sour for days now.”

Mitch understands. So has he. So has his city. So has his country. So has most of his world.They’ve all been sour since fuckin’ Dallas.

“What’s your name, son?” asks Johnny as he hands him the pop.

Mitch nods to the boy, giving him the go ahead.

“Lefty. ”

The men smile, as if it were a new exercise. They’ve had very little reason to do so – as of late and for most of their lives.

Johnny looks to Mitch, “Have a good day?”

“My wife’s family came over.”

“Jesus! As if you weren’t suffering enough.”

“Wasn’t that bad.”

But it was. Mitch downs his drink, Johnny goes for the refill.

One of the fellas down the bar demands the attention of the crowd, banging on the bar and pointing frantically to the TV.

“He’s talking! Turn it up!”

Everyone looks up and Johnny trots over to do just as demanded. On the TV is the black and white image of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the thirty-sixth president of the United States of America. And has been for less than a week.

“All of us have lived through 7 days that none of us will ever forget. We are not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be, what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts.”

“Who is that?” asks the boy.

“That’s the president.”

“I thought J.F.K. was president?”

“We talked about this, son. The president was killed last week.”

“I know. I remember. But why is he president now?”

Mitch looks to Johnny.

“This kid. This kid and his questions.”

“Pipe down!” says the lush down the bar. They all turn their attention to Lyndon. “Let all who speak and all who teach and all who preach and all who publish and all who broadcast and all who read or listen-let them reflect upon their responsibilities to bind our wounds, to heal our sores, to make our society well and whole for the tasks ahead of us. It is this work that I most want us to do: to banish rancor from our words and malice from our hearts; to close down the poison spring of hatred and intolerance and fanaticism; to perfect our unity north and south, east and west; to hasten the day when bias of race, religion, and region is no more; and to bring the day when our great energies and decencies and spirit will be free of the burdens that we have borne too long.”

Mitch, choking on his own life and losses, looks down at his son, and then lifts him onto the bar. He looks deep into the boy’s eyes and whispers with urgency.

“I want you to remember this week, son. I want you to remember everything about it. What you heard. What I said. I want you to remember your mother crying. I want you to remember the nuns praying at school. What the father said at church today. This is, this is important. All of this.”

Mitch points to the TV.

“I want you to remember.”


“Again, with the questions. Because, son, this is when everything changed.”

“But why did someone kill President Jack?”

“Because some people want to kill hope. And Jack, he was hope. He was nothing but hope.”


This, coming from Hank, one of the regulars. One of the drunks. He battles on. “Notin’ but a load of hooey! Lyin’ to the whelp like that, Mitch. Why not tell him the truth! Kennedy was justanother stinkin’ politician!”

There are angry rebuttals from all. But that don’t stop Hank.

“Don’t matter which side of the aisle they come from, they all just want to serve themselves theprime rib and line their pockets with our dollars. God-dam crooks! The lot of ‘em. And thatKennedy! Worst of the bunch! A thief from a family of thieves!”

Hank pushes himself up off the bar, totters towards a wary Mitch and his son as Johnny teeters on the edge of jumping over it.

“Keep your trap shut, Hank.”

“Free country, at least for now. Just tellin’ the kid the truth.”

Johnny, reachin’ under the bar for his Louisville, moves closer.

“Take it home, Hank. We don’t want that here. You’re scarin’ the kid.”

“Fine, the hell with you all! And the kid, he should be scared. All this hope hooey!”

Hank stops in front the boy, waggling his raw finger in the boy’s face.

“Mark my words, kid. Hope, like your dad was talkin’ about, is just about as rare, and asdangerous, as an honest politician!”

Mitch has had enough! He pushes Hank away.

“Get going, Hank. Now.”

Hank, knowing Mitch could use him as a bar rag if he had to, shrugs, ambles to the coat rack, puts on his hat and coat, then reaches for the door. Before leaving he has to have one more word, of course.

“The hell with ya all. Bunch of Little Lord Fauntleroy’s, you are. Surprised you ain’t niggers andspics and kikes! Just like Kennedy liked ‘em.”

And he’s gone.

“You okay?”

The boy, shaken, looks up to his father.

“Dad, why, why was he so mad?”

Mitch cant’ answer that, even though he knows. He just doesn’t understand it. And he hopes he never does.

“Watch the president, son.”

The boy nods and they look back at the TV.

“Let us today renew our dedication to the ideals that are American. Let us pray for His divinewisdom in banishing from our land any injustice or intolerance or oppression to any of our fellow Americans whatever their opinion, whatever the color of their skins--for God made all of us, not some of us, in His image. All of us, not just some of us, are His children.”

Johnny lifts his glass, “To Jack!”

Everyone in the bar complies. Then...


The heads swing, Johnny hits the button, the door opens and in walks the affable and ample Mickey holding a brown paper bag.

“Saw Hank mumbling through the parking lot. What’s with him? Anyway, got the turkey sandwiches! Who wants one?”

Mitch looks down at the boy, seeing the want of turkey in his face.

“Didn’t you have enough at home? Oh, for the love of... Mickey, one for the boy!”

Mickey tosses a sandwich to Mitch and Mitch passes it to the boy who smiles and rips open the wax paper, digging right in. Mitch looks at his son, the mish-mash of humanity around him, down at his scared stevedore hands, then the image of LBJ on television, realizing...something.And he smiles, for the second time in a week. An ironic smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, son. I was wrong.”

As bits of turkey spew, “About what, dad?”

“Hope, son. There’s always hope.”

LBJ comes to the end of his address.

“On this Thanksgiving Day, as we gather in the warmth of our families, in the mutual love andrespect which we have for one another, and as we bow our heads in submission to divine providence, let us also thank God for the years that He gave us inspiration through His servant, John F. Kennedy.”

With that Johnny, finally, turns the TV off.

Jeff Wilbur writes, occasionally. Drinks copious amounts of coffee. Smokes some cigarettes now and then and rides his vintage Honda 750 religiously. After 20 years in Hollywood, 15 of which he worked as a TV writer, he moved back to Buffalo where he currently works in a drug and alcohol detox – a step up in terms of the quality of folks he encounters on a daily basis from his former place of residence.

Benjamin Brindise

Cold War

Eventually they ask how I got the scar on my chin and if I’m being honest, I usually don’tknow what to say. There is a simple answer. It’s short, and it’s cold, and it’s quick, and it’s not wrong. But that’s always been my problem with simple answers. They leave so much out.

At first they ask about the weather. It’s what people do. They want to talk to someone, anyone, and they go to the weather, or to sports, or to any other topic they read about in the morning paper. They just want in. And I wouldn’t blame them or anyone who did it. Some people spend their whole lives trying to get in.

So they start there and they move to where I work, what part of the city I stay in. Part of me wishes I could enjoy these bits of it. It’s nice to feel interesting, to be asked about. As if what part of the city I stayed in mattered to anyone.

I’m used to it. It usually comes a few questions after the job. They wait until they thinkthey’re in, as if that makes it a little bit less awkward, but it all comes down to the same thing:how’d you get that scar?

What maimed you?

What put you in the position you’re in and just how horrible was it? I want to know so I can feel lucky it wasn’t me.

Half of me tries to act like I don’t hear them because most people won’t repeat a question that was ignored. The other half of me kind of wants to tell it. Sometimes, when you’re different, all you want to do is explain why. People like me say it’s not about pity—the want to tell—and I believe it’s not for the most part. But there is something relieving in sharing the bad that happened to you—in being heard. If the thing that changed you made you feel like any less of a person, then having someone understand it made you feel more like one. Simple as that.

So I start with the simple answer: it was a dog.

More often than not that’s the end of it. They nod. Sometimes they say I’m sorry. And then they move on. They go about their normal day. They feel like they got their right foot in, their right foot out, and then they hokey-pokey the hell out of there.

They don’t want a long story anyway. They want a buzzfeed article. Man gets bitten by dog, but just wait until you see what happens next.

Long stories are complicated and tied up with strings. They include footnotes because you can never really say it all, and they contradict themselves from time to time. They’re hard to figure out and sometimes along the way the good guys and the bad guys get hard to tell apart. They’re life, in other words. And when you’re looking for a little escape, the last thing you want to do is end up staring life in the face.

So I start with the simple answer and more often than not, that’s the end of it. But sometimes it isn’t. And when it isn’t I walk the balance beam between lightening my load and feeling a set of dogs teeth sink into my chin again. Time heals all wounds. They never said anything about scars.

You can never tell how it will go, but occasionally I tell the story about me and my friend Rodney and his foster Dad and their dog. It takes a while to get going. I don’t want to bother anyone with it. But they asked, didn’t they? Even after I told them it was a long story, they still asked.

So I tell them.

I was about nine. I had this friend Rodney who lived in the same neighborhood as me. He was a foster kid, but he kept his fosters happy enough to get him a dog.

I don’t tell them I never kept my own parents happy enough to get me a dog. What’s the point? It just makes it worse.

I liked that dog. Its name was Hogan, like the wrestler, so we always called him Hulk. He was this big black Labrador that always licked your face when you came into Rodney’s house. When you came into my house most of the lights were off and you tried to be as quiet as you could. Hulk made it different. I liked it.

Rod and me, we used to play this game, Army Dodge Ball. You throw the ball at each other and if they hit your arm, you can’t use it. Hit your leg, etcetera. We played it a lot. It’sgreat at making the game last longer when there aren’t a lot of kids in your neighborhood. Rod and me were lucky to know each other for as long as we did.

The last time we played it, the sun was out high up. I’d gotten two of Rodney’s arms and they were tucked in his shirt and I was chasing him across the front lawn. It was summer and there were people all up and down the street watering their grass or drinking beer on the porch or grilling or whatever and there’s this chatter. I can still hear it, like a radio station just out of range.

Rod was screaming his head off because I had the ball. He had no arms and all I had to do was get his back or chest for the win. That was when Hogan came down the street withRodney’s foster dad behind him. He’d let him off the leash. It was a gorgeous day and the Hulk was good with kids. Any other time, any other way and it doesn’t happen quite the way it did.

So Hogan, this big old lab who’s licked my face, pressed his big wet nose against my cheek when I came over, he comes charging at me, but I don’t notice. I’m too focused on winning. No matter the game, I never won much and I had him in my sights. Rod turned around the side of the yard in a mad attempt to get away, and that’s when I see Hogan. He’s coming at me like a black bullet in a Mario game. All I can see are the slits of his eyes and the sharp white teeth.

In hindsight, it’s really not anyone’s fault. It’s not foster dad’s fault for not having him on the leash because that’s what they always did and it’s not Hogan’s fault because I was chasing
his screaming boy around. It was just one of those things: the bad ones that just happen.

He got to me before anyone could get to him and I swear it really is like in the movies. When your time is short, or you think it is, things will slow down on you. I saw him coming and I saw his mouth open and honestly all I could think about was where he was going to get me. It looked like the throat, but I must’ve moved without realizing it because all he got was a chunk of my chin. It bled pretty bad for a while, but when they got him off me I ended up all right.

I don’t tell them that I often think of the things I could’ve had if Hogan hadn’t taken a chunk of my face. A prom date, a girlfriend, a family, a job where people didn’t give you pitiful looks and offer to set you up with their husbands sister—the one missing her right arm up to the elbow. I don’t tell them that I still wonder what became of my old friend Rodney. We didn’t see each other after that. Foster dad was afraid of my parents suing him, I guess.

And I don’t tell them that for a long time I was happy about what happened to Hogan; that they had to put him down. In some odd way it made me feel like I won. Dog for a chin.Hammurabi’s code. But after a while I started to realize that while life may be a zero sum game, that doesn’t mean it will ever even out for you. Our lives are too short to see the benefits of balance. Often no one wins.

Like I said, the ones like me, we tell stories to make ourselves feel better, to lighten our loads. Sometimes it works. This has not been one of those times.

Benjamin Brindise (b. 1987) is an American writer of fiction and poetry as well as a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. He is a PSI certified spoken-word poet who qualified to compete in the 2015 and 2016 National Poetry Slam. He has been a guest speaker and workshop facilitator at multiple institutes for higher learning throughout New York State and Canada.