Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2017    poetry    all issues


Cover Marija Zaric

Mary Lucille Hays
Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

Anne McMillan

Faith Shearin

James Hanna
Tower Duty

Nektaria Petrou
Black Lace

Rebecca May Hope
Coyotes from Kazakhstan

John Maki
There Are No Angels Singing

Lisa Michelle
A Happy Birthday

Alison Turner
Actresses Auditioning

Brian Beard
Problems in Poultry Farming

Liz Bender
The Hypnotist

William C-F Long
Pet Hive

Wendy Dolber
Charlotte's Plan

Emily Holland
Something Cool

Writer's Site

Winner of $1000 for 1st-place-voted Story

Mary Lucille Hays

Tribute in Black, White, and Gray

The party was in honor of some visiting artist, and Ruth hadn’t told her husband, David, that she didn’t want to come. She liked parties. At least she liked the vegetarian hippie parties her friends had, the kind where people sat around on the floor or on cushions and talked easily, and laughed. If anyone wanted to smoke they went outside, and there were candles—a lot, to make it friendly. She could wear whatever she wanted without feeling like a pumpkin. Ruth was sure that nobody else at this party was pregnant.

The moment they arrived, Ruth began to wish that they had stayed home after all. The back of her throat felt scratchy, her nose still raw and sore from a cold she had caught from Ya—which he had picked up at playgroup—and she sneezed the moment she got inside. Ruth felt clumsy all over. She had worn the wrong dress; it was too tight around her arms. Pregnancy had bloated her whole body—her face, her ankles, even her fingers—were puffy. Her skin felt too small.

David helped her as she shrugged heavily out of her woolen coat. Then they slipped through the crowd, between conversations and under curtains of smoke to deposit it, with David’s winter jacket, on a heap in a bedroom.

David’s black hair was freshly washed, and it floated behind as he walked ahead of her back out to the front room. Ruth felt a sudden stabbing attraction to him. She reached for his hand, but just managed to brush his fingertips. He turned and smiled at her. His eyes were a bold green this evening. Their color varied in shades of hazel, green, and grey, depending on his mood or the lighting. They had once lived on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, and Ruth was surprised to find that some days it was the clearest blue and some days a rocky grey. She finally figured out that the sea reflected the sky and so was always changing. David’s eyes were like that.

Here everyone was standing. Ruth looked for someplace to sit. She glanced at the sofa and the two easy chairs placed tastefully around a low wooden table.

“You want to sit down Ruth?” David steered her by the elbow to one of the chairs. A woman came toward them, smiling at David, and he let go of Ruth’s arm.

The woman wore a black sleeveless dress with a short tight skirt. Her straight hair was cut above her ear on one side of her face, then slanted down, almost to her shoulder on the other side. Her dark hair and her dark dress were sharp against her pale skin, and Ruth thought she must keep herself out of the sun.

“David. I’m so glad you could come. Listen, you have to meet Paul.” The woman exuded a feline self-satisfaction as she pulled David by the arm toward a cluster of people. She didn’t look at Ruth, but David turned back and motioned for her to follow. Ruth shook her head and indicated the sofa. David shrugged an apology as he allowed the woman to lead him across the room.

Ruth made her way to the sofa and sat down. She wondered if David felt so out of place when they went to the parties of English grad students, who also smoked, but not as much as the art students, and at least they went outside to do it. She looked around. Most of those people that she recognized by name were painters. She knew some of the others by sight but had never been introduced, although David seemed to be acquainted with most of them. They were all unique in the same way, dressed in black with sophisticated haircuts and avant-garde jewelry. They seemed pretty comfortable in these costumes, in this setting. Ruth looked down at her dress in earth tones—dusty colors, with a high bodice that even had a ruffle. She felt countrified.

Ruth looked up and saw Tristan, smiling at her from across the room. Every time she saw him, he wore a different pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Tonight’s were round and tiny, sort of exaggerated John Lennon. He had told her once that he bought old glasses in antique shops and had his prescription put in them. His hair looked just slightly wind ruffled. It was thinning a bit, and made him look older than he was, ever so slightly professorial. Tristan was a painter like David, though his recent pieces didn’t have too much paint on them. She had watched him progress from paintings on canvas to more three-dimensional collages. He prowled the junkyards for scraps of furniture and old cast iron and wire and shoes. Ruth liked his work, earthy and quirky. His pieces often had punch lines.

At Tristan’s opening last month, Ruth had loved a stairway-shaped sculptural work made from dresser drawers and chair backs and railroad spikes. The wood was roughly stripped by wind and weather and so had a maritime feel to it. But her favorite that night had been a wooden piece shaped like a harp without strings. It was immense—taller than David even, and delicately constructed. She felt it must be hollow, and she wanted to bang on it like a drum to hear the sound it would make. Tristan had pasted pages all over the surface. She read a few snatches and discovered the words were from “The Wasteland.”

She was reading parts of it aloud to David when Tristan approached.

“She likes this one, Tristan.” David indicated the sculpture with his drink, red wine in a clear, plastic cup.

“I love it.” Ruth looked up at Tristan, who was blushing, and brought his own wine cup to his face, hiding his smile.

Ruth turned back to David. “The more I look at it the more I find. Listen to this part.” She bent down and cocked her head, pointing to a page pasted sideways at waist level.

“The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale

Filled all but the desert with the inviolable voice

And still she cried, and still the world pursues,

‘Jug Jug’ to dirty ears.

And other withered stumps of time. . . “

David laughed. “And just who is this ‘barbarous king,’ Tristan? Anyone we know?”

But before he could answer, Ruth chided, “Come on, don’t you know your mythology?” Ruth told him how King Tereus raped his sister-in-law, the lovely Philomela, then cut out her tongue and locked her away, so she couldn’t tell the world. But when his wife—Philomela’s sister, discovered the treachery, the two women cut up the king’s son and served him to him for supper.

“Wait. They killed his son?”

“Her son too.” Ruth was absorbed in reading the words and didn’t look at David. She walked around the other side of the piece to read more pages. Tristan was drinking his wine and nodding. His face was a little flushed.

“Nice folks, all of them.” David turned to Tristan, grinning. “But if she couldn’t talk, how did the sister find out?”

But again, Ruth answered for Tristan. “Philomel wove a tapestry that told the whole story. You remember this, David—I wrote a paper on Eliot one semester. Philomel was an artist too—Hey,” she interrupted herself, “a stringless harp and tongueless Philomel. I get it now. Is that what you meant?” She looked at Tristan, pleased that she had found the connection.

“Sure.” Tristan sipped his wine and winked at David. “How astute.”

“So, it’s about feeling inarticulate?” Ruth felt the sudden flush of understanding, and her buoyant heart opened to both men, then to everyone in the gallery. “I can’t say I ever got that entire poem, but I know a big part of it—for me anyway—is about women being silenced, by force or circumstance or whatever.” Her words grew louder as she grew more excited. “And Philomel had to find another way to communicate since she was mute, and so she must weave her story into a tapestry—” Ruth’s hands made weaving motions in the air as she got more animated—“and this harp had to find another way to sing, so it has Eliot pasted all over it.” She turned back to Tristan. “Is that right?”

“Exactly. I’m so glad someone gets this piece.”

David was snickering, and Ruth shot him a look, but continued.

“So, where does the Prufrock fit in?”

“The what?”

“The Prufrock. You have ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ pasted all over down here.” She pointed to the base of the sculpture.

“What do you think it means?” Tristan tipped his head down and looked kindly at Ruth over his glasses.

David snorted, and then Tristan was laughing.

“What’s funny?” Ruth looked from David to Tristan and back again.

“Can’t you tell he’s bullshitting you?” David was laughing now too.

Ruth quickly looked back at Tristan. “No.” Her eyes narrowed. “He wouldn’t.”

“Yes. He would. He told me last week that he used this book because he failed a Lit class in college. He wants to make another one out of a physics book.”

“Whatever.” Ruth shook her head. “Why did you guys let me go on like that? Nice joke.”

“Oh don’t get mad. We all do it.” David tipped his head back and drained his wine cup. “We paint something, and everybody’s got to find some grand meaning in it. Nobody believes you if you say ‘I made this part green because I ran out of brown paint.’ They want everything to be symbolic.”

“Besides,” said Tristan, “if you found all that meaning in my piece it must be there, whether I planned it or not.”

But Ruth was already walking away. “No need to patronize me, Tristan. I’ll just go fill up on crackers and cheese now.”

Of course they came after her to apologize, and David was especially conciliatory, but Ruth felt that earlier, expansive understanding spoiled, like a broken paper kite.

Now, at the party Tristan was coming toward her. He wore a bulky, grey sweater with two wine-colored stripes and random speckles in between them.

He sat down beside her on the sofa. “Are you still mad at me?”

“Not mad, Tristan. Disappointed.” Now it was Ruth’s turn to have fun at his expense.

He looked at her sideways. “Oh?”

“I can’t believe you failed Lit.”

Tristan threw back his head and laughed his hearty belly-laugh. “Touché. I’d clink glasses with you, but you don’t have a glass. You want me to get you some wine? It’s really bad wine, but it’s wine.”

Ruth remembered how much she liked Tristan and laughed with him. “No, thanks. I’m not drinking these days.”

For a second, Tristan looked puzzled, then nodded.

“Oh, that’s right. You have one in the oven. How’s the little nipper?”

Ruth put her hand on her belly. “It’s pretty active. Always stepping on my kidneys or bladder or something. I’m perfectly aware of the miracle that’s taking place in my body, but can I just complain for a minute? Look at my hands.” She held them out for him to see. Her wedding ring was cutting into her finger. “They look like sausages.”

Tristan took her hand and patted it. “Oh, you’ll be back to your svelte self in a few months.” He gave her hand a squeeze, beaming at her, his face just slightly flushed with the wine and the warmth of the party. “And where’s Ya tonight?”

Ruth always had their five-year-old, Ya, in tow when she stopped by the grad student studio, an old house on the east end of campus. Ya liked Tristan’s studio best, which was next door to David’s. Tristan’s room was filled with antique toys and shoes and odd blocks of wood. He had mounted insects—a preying mantis and a Madagascar hissing cockroach—in frames on the wall. A hammock was slung across a corner of the room, and Tristan was good-natured about letting Ya climb into the hammock and chat with him while he painted.

“He’s at my mom’s. Ya is easily bored with stuff like this.” Ruth swept her hand in front of her to indicate the cocktail conversations surrounding them. She looked for David too, trying not to be too obvious about it. He was in a corner of the room, still talking with the slant-haired woman. David laughed at something she said, and the woman reached up and flicked a piece of lint off of his shoulder.

“Who’s that with David?” Ruth kept smiling and indicated the direction with her eyes. She could hear David in soft conversation, though she couldn’t understand what he was saying.

Tristan looked over his shoulder. “Oh that’s Loren. This is her house. Didn’t you meet her?”

“Almost, but when she breezed by and grabbed David, he sort of forgot to introduce us.” Ruth felt jealousy bubble up like a panic. She thought she’d done a good job of modulating her voice, but when Tristan looked sharply at her, she wasn’t sure she had.

“Don’t worry about Loren, my dear. She’ll drop him like a hot potato in, oh . . . twenty minutes.”

Ruth laughed. Tristan had a way of relaxing her. Now she wanted to change the subject. “Nice sweater.”

“You like it?” He held out his arm and looked down at the sleeve. “I just finished it.”

“You knitted that? I didn’t know you could knit. It’s really nice.”

“Thank you. I’m pleased with it.”

“Did you use a pattern?”

“No. I get dyslexic when I try to read those patterns. My mind doesn’t work that way. I don’t see how anyone could knit by looking in a book. You knit too, don’t you?”

“A little. I’ve been knitting booties again for this baby. I had some I knitted for Ya, but I can’t find them. I do use a pattern.” Ruth laughed. “In fact, I taught myself to knit from one of those books.”

“You’re kidding. My grandmother taught me. God, she was knitting all the time. I don’t think her kids ever wore a sweater that she didn’t knit herself. I still have a pair of slippers she felted for me when I was little. They don’t fit anymore, but I still keep them.”

Tristan went on to tell Ruth stories about his grandmother, how she raised a hog in her basement when Holland was occupied during the war. When she couldn’t get wool to knit socks, she knitted them out of newspaper.

“Newspaper? How in the world did she do that?”

“I don’t know. She spun it somehow, and knitted it. I suppose she had to do stuff like that. She had nine kids—Hi, David.”

Ruth looked up. David was handing her a glass, and she reached for it. “Thanks.” She took a sip, then looked down at the glass. “What is this?”

“I don’t know,” said David. “Loren didn’t seem to have anything without alcohol on the refreshment table—so I raided the fridge. It was this stuff or water.”

“It tastes like Hawaiian Punch.”

Tristan snorted. “Hawaiian Punch? Loren has Hawaiian Punch in her fridge?”

“Fruit Juicy.” She smiled.

The three of them talked together for a long while and laughed irreverently about artsy affectations until Loren came up and began gushing about Tristan’s show. She still didn’t appear to notice Ruth, but when she led Tristan away to meet the famous Paul, David remained at Ruth’s side, and she was sorry that she had felt so neglected before.

Later when David went back to get their coats Ruth found Tristan talking to Loren and Paul and another man with short brown hair bleached white at the edges.

“What was her name?” Ruth asked Tristan confidentially, during a lull in the conversation.

He sipped his drink absently. “What was whose name?”

“Your grandmother.”

“Oh, her. Liesbeth.”

Leesbet,” she repeated slowly, trying to get the accent right.

After the party they stopped at Ruth’s mom’s to pick up Ya. David carried the sleeping boy out of the dark house, and together they buckled him into the child seat in back. Ruth put her hand on his cheek and smoothed his hair, and he pursed his little lips. She got in the front seat and looked back at him, feeling content. Now she felt the baby moving gently, turning over.

“Baby’s moving,” Ruth said sleepily.

“Let me feel.” David reached across through the dark and laid his hand on her belly.

“I don’t feel it.”

“Press harder. Right . . . here.” And she guided his hand to where the tiny elbow rippled across her belly from the inside.

“I felt it that time.” He smiled out at the dark road.

Ruth leaned back into the bucket seat, closed her eyes and rested her head. She felt soft and luminous and round. Even her cold felt better. “It’s funny how fast my moods change.” She was thinking about David’s eyes and the sea again.

“Mmmmn,” said David, still smiling.

Ruth began to think about knitting newspaper. She imagined ripping it into strips and twisting it. You would have to crumple it first, she thought, to soften it. Then it would be more like fabric. Maybe she really could do it. She wished she had asked Tristan how long a newspaper sock would last. Did his aunts and uncles wear holes in them, and did Liesbeth then darn them with more paper?

Now she wanted to try it herself, and she saw in her mind a series that she wanted to make and put on the wall in honor of Tristan’s grandmother. The first piece would be a square of knitted newspaper, like Ruth used to practice when she was learning to knit. The second would be a flat piece knitted in the shape of a sock. The third, the same, only knitted with Sunday morning funny papers, and the fourth, an actual three-dimensional sock that someone could wear.

Then she thought that the first three ideas were dumb, and that she’d seen too many pretentious art shows. Maybe she should just make the sock. But she decided to try the others while she was learning to use paper. If they looked good she could call them a series, and if not, she didn’t have to show them to anybody. She liked the idea of recording the process of learning, so she might as well try it.

Ruth realized that they were almost home, and she was no longer sleepy. She needed to move, so she opened her eyes and stretched.

“David,” she said. “I’ve just thought of a piece I want to make.”

“A piece?” He kept his eyes on the empty highway.

“Yeah. Tristan told me this story about his grandmother. She used to knit socks out of newspaper.”

“Why would anybody want to do that?”

“It was during the war. I guess she couldn’t get regular yarn.”

“You mean she wore them?”

“I think her whole family wore them.”

David snorted. “I’d rather go barefoot.”

“In the snow?” Ruth asked. “I think it’s beautiful that she did whatever she had to do to keep her family warm. She was a survivor.”

David rolled his eyes.

“Well you can make fun. I’m going to try it.”

“Try what?”

“I’m going to knit a sock out of newspaper.”

He looked at her, and then back at the road. “Hmmn, that’s an idea.” He turned to her and smiled. She could tell that he was suddenly interested, and she smiled back. The party hadn’t been so bad after all. She felt a scintillating contentment with her family enclosed in the little car, her plan for the sock rolling around in her mind.

“What a great idea, Ruth.” He looked back at the road, still smiling. A car turned toward them and flashed its high beams. The lights lit up David’s face and he shielded his eyes with one hand and clicked off his own brights. “If you knit a sock,” he said, “I’ll use it in a piece.”

“What?” Her eyes smarted from the sudden light. When the spots cleared from her vision she said firmly, “It’ll be my piece if I make it. I was thinking of a series.”

“You want to make a piece?” he asked. “Where would you show it? You can’t get into a gallery with one piece.”

“That wasn’t really the point.” Ruth stared out the window into the night, then turned to him. “Why can’t I make a piece of art if I want to? Why can’t I hang it on my own walls? And if I do it will be for me and for Liesbeth. Not for you.”

“Who’s Liesbeth?” he asked, but she refused to answer.

The following day was Sunday. David was painting in the attic studio, preparing for his upcoming show. Sunday was supposed to be their family day, but today they each had their separate concerns. Ya was building a spaceship with his Lincoln Logs. Ruth was trying to finish a book she was reading to review for the school’s journal, but couldn’t concentrate with Ya’s whining every time the spaceship wings collapsed. She discovered it was way past naptime and put down the book. Ruth sang Ya to sleep and then sat down to knit on the hat she was making for the baby.

After knitting a few rows she realized that she was thinking again of the newspaper socks. She set aside the hat and got some papers from the recycling bin. When David came down later to get something to eat, she was sitting cross-legged on the living room floor next to a pile of strips of newspaper. She had one long knitting needle anchored under her right arm while she slowly twisted the paper. She pulled too hard and it broke off in her fingers. Three or four stitches were looped loosely over the needle, and she picked up another strip of paper and began twisting it to the broken strand.

“What are you doing?” asked David.

“Casting on,” she said. She did not look up.

Ruth worked steadily until she felt a headache coming on. She had knitted only two rows and already her fingers were black from the ink on the paper and sore. The knitting itself was lumpy and stiff, like homespun yarn when it’s knitted on needles too small. It was disappointing—not at all like she imagined. She put it aside and went into the bedroom. Ya was up from his nap and David was showing him a book of Chagall prints. Ruth loved that book: the bright colors, the floating people, the chickens and goats. David looked up from the bed.

“Did you make it? Let me see.”

“Well, I did a couple of rows. It’s out in the living room. I’m just trying to figure out how she did it.” She showed him her hands. “I didn’t think about the ink.”

David got up off the bed, and he and Ya went to the living room. “I like it,” he called to her. “It’s got a neat texture.”

A few days later Ruth found David sitting in the living room. He had her newspaper knitting in one hand and the baby’s hat in the other.

“When are you going to finish this?”

“I don’t know. I got kind of discouraged. It isn’t nearly as easy as I’d imagined. And I have a lot to do to get ready for the baby. I still want to try it though.”

“Could you teach me to knit?” David looked up at her like a little boy.

“Why? Are you going to steal my idea?”

“Sure.” He smiled. “It’s a great idea.”

“But I want to do it.” Ruth heard a whining quality in her voice, and she felt suddenly and irrationally ashamed to talk like that in the baby’s presence, as if the baby could hear her from the womb and understand not her words, but her tone.

“So we’ll both do one,” he said. “They won’t be the same.”

“No, they won’t be.” Ruth felt the whining turn to anger, and her voice began to rise. “Yours will be ‘art’ because you’re an artist. If I make one they will say I copied your work. Who will believe that it was my idea, even if I do it first? You’re the real artist.”

“Don’t yell at me.” David’s voice was calm and even, contrasting with her own frenzy. His eyes were a cloudy grey. He stood up and put her knitting down.


“Come on, Ruth. Don’t be mad. Artists always steal ideas. Hell, didn’t you steal the idea from Elizabeth, or whoever?”

Ruth hadn’t thought of it that way. She wished she could get her feelings straight. First she felt like a logical argument had been proven. David was trying to take her idea. QED. But then, like the sea changes colors when a cloud clears the sun or the surf churns up detritus from below, she discovers it isn’t so simple. She sort of had stolen the idea from Liesbeth.

These thoughts gave David time to smile and put his arm around her. “I wouldn’t steal it if it wasn’t a great idea.”

He began nuzzling her hair, and she leaned into his warm weight. Maybe he was right. They could both do it. Maybe even work together on it.

“Will you teach me?” he asked. But something about his smile made the sea change once more, and she pulled away.

“Here’s the book I learned from.” She drew it from the shelf and tossed it at him. He flinched as he caught it, and she walked out of the room.

The next Wednesday Ruth picked Ya up from daycare and found David with the book propped up on the kitchen table. He was hunched over in concentration. The knitting needles looked absurdly delicate in his heavy hands. He was wrapping green yarn around the needle so tightly that he couldn’t pull the old stitch over it.

She laughed at him. “David. Relax. Your body’s too tight and your stitches are too tight. You’re going to bend my needles pulling the yarn like that.”

He straightened up and rubbed the back of his neck. Suddenly he looked to Ruth like a little boy. “I keep messing up.”

Ruth began to roll over the problem in her mind, like she would turn the baby’s bootie this way and that, looking for a dropped stitch that had thrown off the whole pattern. Liesbeth had grown from a character in Tristan’s story to become someone important to Ruth, but Liesbeth wasn’t knitting for art’s sake. No. The socks were originally knitted from a place of desperate need. From a place of danger. Now Ruth thought she could knit some kind of connection to this courageous woman, to honor her. Or was it to honor her own self? Liesbeth’s idea had inspired Ruth, just as Ruth’s idea had delighted David. Maybe they were all part of the same thread. What would Ruth be sacrificing if she helped David now?

“For starters, you could use some bigger needles. Those are too small to learn on.”

She got out a thicker pair of needles and sat down next to him. She showed him how to knit and how to purl. She explained that knitting patterns were just different sequences of those two basic stitches. With her there to demonstrate and correct him he picked it up very quickly. Soon he had produced a little knitted rectangle.

“Good,” she said. “Now you need to work on keeping the tension of the yarn even. Knit ninety-nine more of these and you can make an afghan.”

“Forget the afghan. Will you show me how to make a sock?”

“There’s a pattern for socks in the book.” Ruth felt suddenly heavy, and braced her legs to lever herself up from the sofa.

After that David picked up on his own where Ruth had left off in the science of knitting paper fibers. His latest two paintings remained unfinished, and Ruth missed the fresh paint smell when she came home. After putting Ya to bed they spent the evenings knitting together, she on a new sweater for the baby, and he on the sock.

He had given up on using newspaper. He said it had too much acid and would yellow and fall apart. Instead he had torn out pages from a Bible. She resented that at first. She had always intended to read the Bible cover to cover, but he pointed out that she wasn’t even religious, and they had two or three other copies around somewhere.

“That’s not the point,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right.” Just because she wasn’t a believer didn’t mean she couldn’t take sacred texts seriously. “It would be another thing, if you were doing this to honor Liesbeth. But I don’t think she would have used the Bible.”

“And who’s Liesbeth, again?”

The thin pages made a much finer, more delicate fiber to work with. And when his sock began to take form, it had much more fluidity than her first sample.

Ruth gradually got over resenting the project and even suggested that he twist a cotton thread along with the paper to give it strength. It was a good idea and cut down on breakage.

The sock itself was an elephantine thing, out of a Dr. Seuss book. It was the exaggerated, stylized type that people hang up at Christmas, and it was massive. Ruth thought that David was right: It was nothing like the sock that she would have made. But in spite of herself, she began to like it. There was a sweetness about him when he sat hunched over the sock. He looked childlike and vulnerable. And when he finished it two days before his show opened, she celebrated with him.

“What should I call it?” he wanted to know.

“I don’t know. What about . . . ‘Persistence’?”

David rolled his eyes.

“Too corny?”

“Too something.”

In the end he put it up without a title. “Let people figure it out on their own,” he said.

For the opening Ruth made bread and cut up melon and pears and cheese. She made a punch, and there was apple cider too. The gallery provided a few bottles of wine, but she always wanted at least a little bit of a spread. She fussed with the refreshment table for a while, then walked around talking to people. They had invited a lot of her friends who were only connected to the art crowd through her and David. She always felt freer to have an opinion about a painting when there were other people around who weren’t looking at the art through an MFA.

She loved seeing David’s paintings displayed in a proper gallery. Of course she had seen them all at home, had seen them as they were evolving. But they always looked like different images when they were illuminated and hung up on a white wall. There was so much space here. In David’s studio you couldn’t just look at a painting—there was such a jumble of tubes of oil colors and photographs and brushes and crumpled paper towels, all claiming your attention.

At one point she walked alone around the gallery, sipping cider and pausing at each piece. As always it was as if she were seeing the work for the first time and she kept finding things she hadn’t noticed before. She paused in front of one of his latest paintings. It was the self-portrait he had just finished a few days before, as soon as the sock was done, gouache on paper. She had seen it, had helped him carry it in here. Dancing along the outer edges were scribbles, painted lightly in black. But now she saw that what she had thought was random embellishment was the outline of the sock.

The sock was painted over and over, surrounding and celebrating David’s figure. And suddenly Ruth was angry. David had no connection with the sock, not with what it was really about. She remembered how he was excited by the idea, but made fun of the story behind it.

She turned and looked across the gallery at the sock. At the moment, no one was looking at it, and almost without realizing it, she crossed the room and stood in front of it. She wanted to pull it off the wall and run outside with it. It didn’t belong here. It belonged to her. She thought about holding a match under it. It would catch slowly, then burn furiously, leaving smoke and a blackened place on the wall. People would cry out in startled tones, dropping their glasses. Someone would take off his jacket and beat at the flame.

She held her fists close to her sides. David and Loren came up and stood next to her, gazing at the sock.

“I love this piece,” said Loren. “Maybe I’ll buy it,” she teased. They stood in silence, Loren looking at the sock and David watching Loren.

“It’s wonderful, just wonderful,” she said finally. “What’s it about?”

“I’m not sure.” David turned to Ruth and smiled at her for a long moment. His eyes were as blue as the sea. “What’s it about, Ruth?”

Mary Lucille Hays lives on a farm with her husband and writes about the Prairie. Named for both of her grandmothers, she teaches writing at the University of Illinois. Her MFA is from Murray State University. “Tribute in Black, White, and Grey” is from her yet-to-be published novel, Ruth Harris: Under the Prairie Moon. Other stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Short Fiction Break, Quiddity, Short Fiction Break, and Broad!, and Coal City Review.

Dotted Line