Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2022    poetry    all issues


Joyce McCown

Kristina Cecka

Jeremy Glazer

Richard M. Lange
Night Walk

Eleanor Talbot
The Calamitous Consequence of a Small Thing That Gets Big

Christopher Mohar

Nicholas Darmody
All Those Not Seen

Darcy Casey
A Hard No

Weston Miller
Dystopian Lit

Chelsea Dodds

Michael Sadoff
The Day I Saw Janis

Jeannie Morgenstern

Jeremy Glazer


My older sister Becky called me out of nowhere to tell me that Ruth, my niece, was working at a law firm downtown. Becky asked if I’d meet up with Ruth for lunch sometime since her building was just a few blocks from mine.

“She’s a lawyer already? Jesus, Beck,” I said, even though I wasn’t really surprised. This had been the plan the last time I’d seen Ruth, when she was 16, and it was clear even then that the girl was headed for big things. She had confidence and poise leaking out of her tiny pores.

“Nah,” Becky said, and then paused. Even though we were on the phone, even though it had been almost ten years since we talked, I could tell she was doing that quick double head shake of hers. Our dad would do that when he was trying to chase an idea out of his head. “Ruth hasn’t even finished college yet. She hit a few bumps in the road, so for now she’s just working. But we’re hoping she goes back soon.”

I chewed on that “hasn’t even finished college” for a second because I haven’t even finished college either. Not that anyone expects me to at 41, but still. Becky heard my silence.

“I didn’t mean . . .”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ll call her.”

I’ll admit, at first, there was a little bit of schadenfreude when Becky told me that Ruth wasn’t some big success already. I was happy to know that everything hadn’t gone swimmingly for Becky and her family without us in their life.

I love that word, schadenfreude. Dr. Koretz, my history professor at community college, used to say it over and over. He had a few special foreign words like that, which he’d always say in what sounded like the right accent. He would drop them in the middle of one of his droning lectures about the Ottoman Empire or whatever, and it was always like hitting a sugar pocket in a muffin—a little explosion of flavor that would perk me up for a minute in class.

What I loved most was that Dr. Koretz would actually take the time to explain the words to us. My other asshole professors didn’t seem to care whether we understood anything at all. Koretz told us these were words we didn’t have in English, so he was gifting those words to us for the rest of our lives.

I use schadenfreude as much as I can. Kintsugi is the only other one I really remember. It’s the Japanese word for the idea that things are actually better broken and repaired than when they are new. Dr. Koretz explained it by telling us about some special Japanese pottery that can actually get stronger if it cracks and you re-glaze it. He cupped his hand like he was actually holding a bowl when he was telling us about it, and I swear I could see it, like he conjured it up. Like magic. Those two crazy words are about all I got out of my year of college. The rest was just way beyond me.

Anyway, my schadenfreude disappeared as soon as I first saw Ruth in the lobby of her building, where we’d agreed to meet when I called her. She was swimming in the shoulder pads of her dress, and she looked bird-fragile, like a little girl dressed up for career day. She still had those big brown eyes I used to know. I may have been vindictive enough to enjoy my sister’s misery, but I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my niece.

“Aunt Marie?” she said.

“Just Marie,” I said. “Look at you, you’re an adult.”

That made her look down and blush.

We chit-chatted on the way to a sandwich place. Or, at least, I did. Ruth didn’t say much, and I thought she was just being shy because it had been so long. Then, we got to the restaurant and I was waiting behind her to order. This is Philly so you have to use your elbows a little to do anything, but Ruth just stood a few feet back from the register, biting her nails while other customers streamed in front of her. I finally asked her what she wanted and shouted our orders to the woman behind the counter. After we got our food and sat down, I spent the next hour drawing Ruth out, little by little, as she looked around the place with jumpy, squirrel energy. I’d ask a question, get a two-word response, then she’d twitch a little. Another question, then a three-word response, another twitch. Next question, back to two words. This was not the Ruth I remembered at all.

The whole thing was bad enough that I figured it would be a one-and-done deal, but when I was dropping her off at the building, she asked if we could meet again the next Friday. So, every week for the last two months, Ruth and I have had lunch. We go on Fridays because it’s summer and that’s when most of the partners in my office are gone down the shore anyway so no one cares if I’m there or not. I’ll walk over to Ruth’s building, a few blocks away, and we’ll sample one of the restaurants around the square. Each week, her shell is opened just a crack wider. She’s told me more and more about her job, a little about college. Nothing earth-shattering, just a few descriptions about ladies in her office and a story about a fire in the dorm she lived in her freshman year. Three weeks ago she even ordered for the two of us, which seemed like real progress. I started to feel like a proud big sister. I didn’t say anything to mom about it all, though. Becky is one of the things mom never talks about, and so I figured the prohibition extended to Ruth as well.

Last Wednesday, Ruth emailed me to make sure we were on for Friday. I knew that meant something was going on, and she was a little weird when we met up—quiet, like she was at the beginning of the summer. She was doing a whole medley of her tics, looking down, twisting her hair around one finger, biting her lips. I could tell some fight was going on in her head, and she must have vowed to herself that she’d say something before we started eating because as soon as our food came and I forked some salad, she spoke.

“Can you come to a hearing with me next week?”

“Sure,” I said. “Of course, honey. When?”

“It’s next Tuesday at 12:30. It’s downtown. Close by. These things usually take a few hours so you may have to take time off.”

“This coming Tuesday? Not a problem,” I said. And then she let a long, slow breath out through her nose.

We ate silently for a while. I’ve learned to just let this girl just swim out with the line and not try to jerk her back in too fast.

“Do you want to know what it’s for?” she asked

“Sure,” I said.

And then she spit it all out. All of it. She wanted me to come with her to the parole hearing for her rapist. She told me that some guy had raped her, some guy from the shitty video store here in the city she worked in the summer after her freshman year. He actually went to her ritzy college too, but they didn’t know each other up at school. Ruth tells me she and everyone else at the video place thought he was nice enough. Quiet, but nice. And he was so thin and wispy that he looked like you could blow him over, she said. One night, one of the other clerks scooted out a little early, so it was just Kyle and Ruth at closing. That was his name. Kyle. She locked the front door and went to the bathroom, and that’s where it happened. Kyle trapped her in there. I didn’t say anything, but I don’t care how thin and wispy a guy is, I’d never let my guard down like that.

Anyway, Ruth didn’t offer many details about the whole thing, but she mentioned a knife. She’d been staring at the wall behind me the whole time she was talking, telling the story like it was some speech she had rehearsed, but then she looked right at me.

“It felt like sandpaper, you know,” she said. “I mean, when he . . .”

And I winced and nodded because I could feel it inside.

It turned out the owner was in the back office while the whole thing was going on. He heard the commotion and busted in while it was happening. He pulled Kyle off and knocked the knife out of his hand and beat him up a little. Then he locked him in his office and called the police. Ruth said the owner was nice, said he’d pay her salary for the next six months, free and clear, no work or anything. But then he kept calling Ruth, asking her if she’d go to lunch with him or get a beer so he could make sure she was OK. She said it felt like he was imagining her half-naked when he asked, the way he saw her that night, so she stopped answering his calls. The paychecks kept coming, though.

There was no trial. Kyle pleaded guilty because the owner had agreed to testify and it was open and shut anyway. He got sentenced to three to seven. Ruth tells me he’s been in jail for six years now. After the first three years, she got a call from the prosecutor’s office. They told her that her rapist was up for parole and that Ruth needed to come to the hearing so he wouldn’t get released. It worked. She spoke at the hearing and he got denied, and Ruth says she went to another hearing the next year and another the year after. She says she usually gets a call from the prosecutors about a month before. They like having her there. They say it helps a lot.

“Mom used to go with me, but I can’t keep taking her. You know how protective and unforgiving she is . . .”

And here Ruth trailed off like I was supposed to know what she’s talking about, and I thought “protective”? That’s not a Becky I know. Unforgiving for sure, but definitely not protective

The next week, I meet Ruth in the lobby of her building. I don’t hug her—we aren’t huggers in my family—but I put my hand on Ruth’s arm, like I’m claiming her. It’s sturdier than I thought it would be. She’s got guns, as my dad would say. “Show us your guns,” he’d tell me and Becky when we were little, and we’d puff out our chests and flex, and then pop our hips sideways. Combination body-builder and cheerleader pose. I’m not sure who started it, probably Becky, but then she stopped when she actually got hips and a chest. That was right around her twelfth birthday. I know that because I remember Dad joking that those were her birthday presents. After that, she’d just get quiet when my dad would ask for the guns. I’d still do it, though. Anything to get him to smile at me, to get him to like me more than he liked Becky.

Ruth twitches a little when I touch her arm, like maybe she wants to shake me off, and I realize this is the first time I’ve touched her in years.

She’s wearing this pretty black dress, a little form-fitting, even, and when I see it, I wonder for a second what it’s like to have to decide what to wear to face your rapist. I figure that thinking about what to wear for these hearings must make her remember the sandpaper and everything else. I wonder how many other things make her think back on all of it, how many times a day she remembers, whether she thinks about it every time she walks in a store bathroom alone, every time she walks by a place that’s closing up for the night. I wonder what it’s like to walk around with a memory bag of horrors like Ruth has.

We go out the revolving door onto the sidewalk. The courthouse is only like a half mile, an easy walk. I take my hand off of Ruth when we go through the door and then I want to put it back because she looks a little unsteady when she walks, her ankles wobble a little because she isn’t used to high heels, maybe. She’s walking fast, though, and I can’t figure out how to get my arm back on her casually.

When we’re outside, I realize it’s one of those in-between days, a fight between the sun and the clouds, so the street is bright for a minute and then goes dark. Just like the sky, the crowd hasn’t decided whether it’s summer or fall yet. Some people are in shorts and others are in jackets, almost like they’re in different cities even though they’re on the same street, so everything seem a little more chaotic than usual. I keep looking around, combing the street with my eyes, for what I don’t know. I feel like Ruth’s body guard, which I know is dumb because we walk down this street all the time together. But today feels different.

I have a lot of questions about how the hearing is supposed to go, but I don’t say anything, just speed up to match Ruth’s pace. She’s walking with purpose, like one of those diviners heading straight for the underground spring no one else knows about. We get to the courthouse, go up the steps, and wait in line for the metal detector. I follow her through, putting my purse on the conveyer belt. She looks back to see that I’m still with her, and then we get on the elevator and get off on the third floor and we pass by the arrows along the wall that say courtroom. We go in the big wood door marked 3-104. Ruth still hasn’t said a word to me.

The courtroom isn’t fancy, no columns or high beautiful ceilings like on Law and Order. It feels more like my middle school cafetorium. When Ruth and I walk in, there’s a hearing in progress, so I realize they probably do a bunch back-to-back. The judge is listening to one of the lawyers. She’s in a black robe, like on TV, but she looks frumpy and in a bad mood. She’s scowling at the lawyer while he talks and then she turns and scowls at his client, who’s in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hair in braids.

We sit down, and I look back and see a handful of cops in dark blue uniforms standing against the back wall. One group of three is having a pantomime conversation. The short cop in the middle is wagging his index finger, doing that no-no-no sign, and the two cops he’s with are chuckling silently. Next to that group, a tall cop has his beefy oven mitt of a hand on another cop’s shoulder and he’s leaning in, whispering. Collectively, they look like the bad kids in the back of the class, messing around.

I can feel Ruth facing forward, so I stop looking at the cops and start paying attention to the audience sitting around us. Audience doesn’t feel like quite the right word. It’s not like we’re going to break into applause or laughter or anything.

“These are the victims and families,” Ruth whispers, waving her arms towards our side of the room where there are a couple dozen people in dark clothes, looking like a crowd at a funeral. “And those are the criminals.”

On the other side of the room, separated from us by an aisle, the first two rows of seats are filled with guys in orange jumpsuits and there are guards stationed on each side. I try to figure out which one might be Ruth’s rapist, but they all look the same from behind. Maybe that’s the point. A few rows back are some guys in civilian clothes, and I see a few neck tattoos and scars, which makes me think they were in jail and now they’re out on parole. I wonder if someone makes them sit on that side, behind the jumpsuits, or if they just feel like they have to.

Then, the lawyer at the front starts packing up his things, and the guy in the orange jumpsuit with the braids walks back to a seat with the others. I’m not sure what happened. I look at Ruth, confused.

“It’s a continuance. They’re going to have to come back next month,” Ruth says. And she starts to do that through the next few rounds, giving me the color commentary so I understand what’s going on. This is the Ruth I remember from way back. She’s talking freely, explaining. No tics.

During each of the next three hearings, a different cop gets called up from the back wall.

“We’re usually just the appetizers for the cops,” Ruth tells me. “We go first. The prosecutors tell us to play it up a little. Not that we have to fake anything, but they want us to make sure that what we’re showing on the outside matches what we’re feeling on the inside. That’s how they say it. Make the outside match the inside. Then they bring in the cop for the kill.”

I see why right away. Outside, in the real world, I don’t like cops. They always have a little bit of menace for me, like all men with too much power, particularly the ones who are supposed to protect—cops, priests, doctors. I remember one day realizing the word menace starts with men. I told one of my girlfriends this and she said I should make a T-shirt.

But in the courtroom, something comes over me. Those cops at the back wall are completely transformed when they get on the witness stand. They’re all business. Square jaws and crisp nods and “your honor” this and “your honor” that. They say things like “two five street” instead of “twenty-fifth street” and it makes them seem like scientific dispatchers of information. The whole package is powerful—the uniform, the fact that three years or six years or ten years after a crime a cop comes back to court to make sure justice is done. I find myself totally on their side when they get on the stand no matter what else has been said. I’m like a chameleon, and I change to whatever color they are.

It reminds me of watching TV with dad on the couch when my mom was working nights. Just him, Becky, and me. Always in that order. If he laughed at something, we’d know the show was funny and that we were having a good time. If he didn’t, if he was sullen or angry or drunk, like he was most of that last year before she left, then neither of us would laugh either. My sister would tense up on nights like that right before bedtime, and when I felt that, my own stomach would start to hurt.

The next hearing is a guy in for armed robbery. The defense lawyer calls up a character witness, a woman who had taught him in prison.

“Lester has shown a real interest in literature. He finished his bachelor’s degree this past semester and now says he wants to do graduate study when he gets out. He really has turned his life around,” the woman says.

I actually start to hope for mercy for Lester, especially because no victim appears. But then, the prosecutor calls up one of the cops, and after he goes through the details of the crime—assault—I change sides. The judge does not. Lester gets paroled.

There’s a five-minute recess called after that round. The judge gets up and goes out a door I hadn’t noticed right behind where she was sitting. No one in the audience moves.

“Do you have to think about what you are going to say beforehand or, like, rehearse?” I ask Ruth.

She’s looking straight ahead, which is where she’s been staring most of the time. I thought she was watching the judge, but the judge isn’t there anymore, just an empty chair. Ruth is sitting up straight and I realize that we’re almost the same size.

“I don’t care what happens to him anymore,” Ruth says to me. “That’s what I’m going to say. I’m done. This is my last time. It’s over.”

“Oh,” I say. I’m not sure how to respond. I know I’m not supposed to argue with her. I know it’s what Ruth wants that matters, but it feels strange. I mean, to have that happen to you. To come all the way to court, too—that’s not easy. I know it wasn’t far, but we had to take time off and everything and she had to pick out her black dress and put herself in the same room with him. It feels weird to me that she’d go through all those steps just to say it doesn’t matter to her. I’m not sure if that’s the outside matching the inside.

I realize her mom must not know she’s going to do this and that’s why Ruth asked me to come. It makes me uncomfortable all of a sudden because I flash back to the last time I knew something that Becky didn’t. Dad had taken me to McDonald’s by myself for a treat. Our little secret, he had told me. Don’t tell Becky. But I did, because I wanted her to know he liked me more. She got really jealous when I told her, just like I thought she would. It was the night of their big fight. The night she left.

I’m startled by the gavel. Recess is over and the judge is back and she calls the next name and I can’t really hear it, but I feel Ruth stiffen so I know it’s him.

A mousy guy comes from the second row of jumpsuits and stands at the defense table. He looks like a weak little asshole, the kind of kid everyone picks on in high school. Prison must have been something for him. He looks shaky, defeated. I see him steal a look around the courtroom searching for Ruth. When he sees her, his eyes fall.

The judge asks the prosecutor to speak, and he goes through the information—convicted rapist, sentenced to three to seven, has served five so far. They still believe he’s a threat to the community. He ruined a promising woman’s life. She has only recently been able to work full-time again, though the prosecutor implies that the job she got is pretty dead-end, which doesn’t make me feel too great because she basically has the same job I do. The prosecutor says the victim is in the courtroom and willing to speak.

The rapist’s defense attorney goes next and says the rapist has had a rough time in the Albion facility and that, as the judge well knows, Albion is notoriously hard on sex offenders. The judge gives a little nod, and it’s hard to tell whether or not she’s bothered by this fact. The other lawyer objects, says that the prison conditions are not what’s at issue, that the issue is whether or not the convicted man has paid his debt to society. The judge shakes her head, allows the defense attorney to go on. He says the rapist want to begin a new life, says the rapist has expressed remorse, has expressed interest in a newly-established restitution commission that works with victims and their abusers so that the victims can restore their own feelings of power, that the rapist understands the victim does not want to engage in this process but he is willing to do so if she ever changes her mind.

The judge asks how many speakers, and the prosecutor says he has two. The defense attorney says none.

The prosecutor calls Ruth up and she goes to sit in the chair.

“Ms. Randolph, what would you like to say about the convict’s petition for parole?”

“I don’t care what happens to him. He’s taken enough of my life,” Ruth says, just like she told me she would. The prosecutor’s head pops up. He had been looking down at his notepad.

“You have no feelings about him being released?” the judge asks.

“I don’t care what happens to him.”

You can see the prosecutor is pissed. The rapist’s lawyer is pleased, though. His face gets a little softer, his brow unclenches, and he looks down so we almost can’t see him smile.

It makes more sense to me, what Ruth is doing, now that I see the guy. He doesn’t look scary or like a rapist, which is strange to say because that’s for sure what he is. He just looks like a guy who’s gone through a rough road, has that hangdog look my dad had towards the end after Becky was gone and after Mom kicked him out. And the rapist must look double like that to Ruth, because she knew him before. And I think how maybe she feels guilty about it, about what’s happening to him.

The judge says thank you and Ruth comes back and sits next to me and I put my hand on her arm again. She doesn’t twitch or shiver this time, just leaves it there. I thought what she said would mean the hearing was over, but then the prosecutor calls the cop up next. Ruth is looking away, but I see the cop walking past us, giving her a stare. She doesn’t see it, but I do. I glare back at him.

“Officer,” the prosecutor says, once he’s seated. “What can you tell us about this case?”

“This man is a danger to the community,” the cop says. “After we apprehended him, we searched his apartment and found an alarming amount of violent pornography. This is a potentially serious sex offender we’re talking about here. We cannot definitively link him to any other cases, but it would not surprise me if there were other victims who never came forward. And if he’s let out, there may be more. He’s a badguy, your honor”—badguy is said as one word—“and my job is to lock up badguys. I know what they look like, what they act like. And I can tell you, this one is a badguy.”

The defense attorney is objecting through this whole last part, but the cop finishes his sentence and then just smirks at him. The judge thanks the cop and dismisses him and he walks back towards the wall with the other cops. I hear Ruth sigh next to me, like a tire letting out air. I want to be on her side, but I think she’s doing the wrong thing.

“I’m going to refuse the request for parole at this time,” the judge says. “You may try again in another year.”

Ruth gets up and I follow her out.

“I’m sorry,” I say when we’re in the elevator.

“You don’t have to be sorry. I really meant it. I don’t care one way or another. He’s in, he’s out. Whatever. No more thoughts for him,” she says.

I want to ask her why she came if she didn’t care, if it really didn’t mean anything at all to her, but this isn’t a game. I’m not trying to catch her out. People do things that don’t make sense sometimes. I know that.

“Do you want to go somewhere? Do something? Or I can take you home?” I say, as we get out of the elevator into the lobby.

“No,” she says. “Work is probably best. Maybe we can just get something to eat real quick and then go back to the office. If I do something meaningless for a few hours, I’ll feel better. I won’t think.”

It’s the second time today I’m reminded that my job is worthless. We leave the courthouse and go left instead of right. I’m following her, wondering if we’re ever going to talk more about the whole thing, and then we’re in the middle of all the fast food places downtown and Ruth steps into a McDonald’s. I haven’t been in one since that time with my dad when I was twelve. I’m standing next to Ruth in line and watching the people and looking at the menu. All those pictures, the meals, the combinations. I’m trying to figure out what to order, and I look down at the floor, at those tiles that are trying to look like wood. I remember standing, staring at those the last time we were there while he was holding my hand in line. I start to tremble a little and Ruth puts her hand on my shoulder. That was the night Becky got so mad. In my head, she was jealous, yelling at him outside my bedroom. I had heard my doorknob squeak, like someone was opening it, then I heard “Stay away, you disgusting sonofabitch.” And they fought. A physical fight. I heard it. She got thrown against the wall. And then she was gone. Maybe she wasn’t jealous. Maybe she was protective, like Ruth said.

“Are you OK?” Ruth asks, and I know I have to hold it in because it’s her day, so I tense up. But then I’m crying silently, no tears, no sound, and it takes all my focus. It’s like being drunk and pretending you aren’t.

I’m clenched and trying to stop shaking and trying to stay quiet. And I’m thinking about how I have to talk to Becky. And then I realize Ruth’s hugging me, patting my back, and maybe she knows what I don’t.

“It’ll be OK, Aunt Marie,” she says. “It’ll be OK.”

Jeremy Glazer is a writer and educator. His fiction has appeared in Tablet, Bellevue Literary Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Hobart, and on the public radio program WLRN Under the Sun. He lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Rowan University. He’s working on a collection of short stories in and around schools.  He can be reached at jeremyglazer(at)

Dotted Line