Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Water by Elizabeth Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley has contributed to Underwater New York, Salon,, and Gothamist. "Water" is excerpted from her new history, "New York," by permission of Reaktion Books, London, England (please note Anglicized spelling throughout). "New York" is available for purchase here

Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as ‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

It is tempting to suggest that circumnavigating the island is the best way to enjoy its coasts. How else can a visitor be sure to see the fabled ‘Little Red Lighthouse’ perched on Jeffrey’s Hook just under the George Washington Bridge? Or catch a glimpse of the mysterious and deadly East River strait of Hell Gate, made famous by the stories of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper and by HMS Hussar, a British frigate that sank there in 1780, supposedly with a cargo of gold that has never been recovered? For the intrepid, the non-profit group Shorewalkers hosts an annual ‘Great Saunter’ around the island every spring: 32 miles, rain or shine, extra socks encouraged. But Manhattan’s shores are easier than ever to discover in smaller increments, thanks to Hudson River Park, a 550-acre park that runs from 59th Street south to Battery Park and includes every possible amenity from batting cages and a carousel to rock climbing and a trapeze school. It also includes the busiest bike path in the United States, which pedestrians cross at their peril. Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the other side of the East River, compresses some of the same programmes into a much smaller footprint: 85 acres in the shadow of the bridge, including public boating, a restored 1922 carousel in a Jean Nouvel-designed acrylic-and-steel hangar and artisanal lobster rolls. Unlike Hudson River Park, on the Brooklyn side visitors can actually dip their fingers (and their feet) in the salty estuarial water of the East River, thanks to several pebbly bays scattered throughout the park, and when a passing barge or ‘booze cruise’ sends a wake towards the shore, the gentle waves breaking on the shore might briefly be mistaken for an oceanfront beach – briefly.

If circumnavigation still appeals, there is a smaller, more verdant island that can satisfy the most ardent shorewalker without risk of blisters. That is Governors Island, the former military base, now partly open as a public park and easily covered on foot or by bike (after a quick ferry ride to the island from Brooklyn or Manhattan). But for visitors hoping for a chance to do their best On the Waterfront, New York’s coastline offers plenty of challenges, minus the longshoremen. Begin by canoeing with the Gowanus Dredgers on the Gowanus Canal, a nearly 2-mile-long waterway that has just been designated a Superfund site by the u.s. Environmental Protection Agency. The canal, which still serves as a shipping channel for deliveries of gravel and scrap metal to industries located on its banks,is noteworthy for the opaque, grey-green colour of its water, its noxious odour (stronger in warm weather) and its near- complete lack of animal life. No birds float on the surface of the Gowanus, and the only animals that have been spotted swimming in it are those that have made a wrong turn from New York Harbor into Gowanus Bay. Still, the canal intrigues residents and visitors as much as it alarms them. Despite its peculiar hue and stink, the Gowanus suggests something romantic and vigorous in Brooklyn’s past – and it looks quite beautiful in the moonlight. The canal’s Superfund cousin, the Newtown Creek, divides Brooklyn and Queens and has a more noble purpose: it is home to New York’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and the plant’s spellbinding, stainless-steel ‘Digester Eggs’, which look as though they were taken straight from an MGM lot to the plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Digester Eggs are open for public tours once a month, but reservations are required, and the waiting list is long. Closed-toed shoes are a must.

In lieu of a Superfund site or two, true devotees of New York’s coasts take to the beach – in particular Coney Island, in Brooklyn, which is more famous today for its amusements (including the shiny new rides of Luna Park) than its narrow seashore, and Rockaway Beach, in Queens. The Rockaways, as the skinny Rockaway peninsula is known, comprise a diverse set of communities, from public housing projects to single- storey beach bungalows to private, gated communities, surrounded on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by the calmer waters of Jamaica Bay. The Rockaways, and their neighbouring island of Broad Channel, were all but obliterated by Hurricane Sandy in the autumn of 2012, and the turn-of-the-century character of some of the older neighbourhoods may never be fully restored. But the A-train subway service has been restored, and with it comes one of the most peculiar of New York summer traditions: surfing the Rockaways. It is not unusual to see Manhattanites board the A-train to Far Rockaway with a longboard tucked under their arm, prepared to take public transit to the only legal ‘surfing beach’ in the five boroughs. For boarders, or those who wish to rub (wetsuited) shoulders with them, the ideal place to end a day at the beach is Rockaway Taco, a brightly-painted tin shack just off Beach 90, famous for its surfer cool, even in the face of hurricanes. The boardwalks may not yet be completely replaced, but the fish tacos are definitely back.


Black Sails from Barbary by Ben Greenman

OBJECT: Shipwrecks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways 


World of the usual kind. Sunset on the widest of oceans. The Captain was eating supper with the crew down below. The mate notched a piece of wood and his action was rather brilliant. Edwards watched the water. He was not accustomed to these pleasure cruises for the rich, to the beautiful strong-jawed ladies and the men concerned less with those ladies than with their own pocket squares. It was above all a comfortable business, and Edwards had said to himself “With these people the sea’s more a bed than a grave.” It was not a remark that interested him. He was equally uninterested in the remarks of other men, and history, and parliamentary politics, and Lily who he had married the year before, and the goods of the earth. Nothing stuck to him so long as the whole business remained so comfortable. This was an atrocity, really, to make of the sea something safe. Didn’t they know what was down there, the serpents that could wrap around a woman’s leg and drag her to the ocean floor, the massive bivalves that could swallow a man whole? When Edwards had first come to the sea he had lived for those moments of fear, when the enormity of it all would expand to fill him. But he grew older, learned to affect a certain calm, met Lily, bought a bed, hung up his boots.

For a while he had lived that way. He worked a series of jobs and then settled into a management position at a small grocery. He smiled in the morning and let himself go to Lily’s smile in the evening. The two of them talked about starting a family, conversations that lasted late into the night, and the talk frightened him enough that he was secretly relieved when it did not happen. Then a woman he had known in his youth saw him in the street and told him that he had become “sealed.” It was a strange word and he parried with what he thought was wit: “Envelope or coffin?” But she did not answer him. She turned her back and walked away. He called at her door that night but she would not let him in, no matter how many times he said her name. The next week he answered an ad in the newspaper to crew on an ocean liner. Over dinner, he told Lily he was shipping out. He thought she might cry but her broad pale face broke into a sad smile. “I know where your heart has always been,” she said, and tapped her own chest, which confused him. 

Edwards was not senior crew. He had been away from the ocean too long for that. He was assigned to work as a weather scout. It was what he knew more than he knew anything else, to read the sky for signs. He stood at the stern of the boat and watched the sun disappear into the water and counted the wisps and whorls of clouds and smelled the air for moisture and tried to figure whether the storm was moving toward him or moving away. He stood there for a long time, marveling at the vastness of the water.  The sense of isolation was majestic. It was then that he saw the black sail in the distance and a single word escaped his lips: Pirates.

As they drew nearer Edwards saw that the ship was not what he suspected. It was not fearsome, not even intimidating. It was not much of anything. Though its sail was black, it was no more than twenty feet from bow to stern, and the only people aboard were one man and one woman. The woman had one gold tooth that gleamed in the evening light. The man carried a big flat sword and seemed to be attempting a beard. The woman was slight, dark, and quick. The boat drifted within earshot.

“I’m going to tell them to prepare to be boarded,” the man said. He was threading a rope through one of the stern cleats.

“Avast,” the woman added.

“Not avast,” the man said. “That’s what you say when you want them to stop doing something, or when you’ve given an order and you want to rescind it and give a new order. 

“Oh.” The woman turned her head and Edwards caught sight of a fine profile. She had a small nose and an equally delicate chin; her mouth wore an expression of amusement. “So I should say, ‘Trim the sails,’ and then say ‘Avast’?”

“You should say nothing,” the man said. Edwards could see now that he was younger than the woman. “You should let me do the talking. We don’t want to be comedy marauders, do we?” 

“I’m not familiar with that term,” the woman said. “Your mastery of the technical language of this job is intimidating to me.”

“Shut up, Nancy,” the man said.

“Don’t you mean, ‘Avast’?” she said. “And please don’t call me Nancy. You know we had an agreement, Howard.”

It was then that the woman looked up and saw Edwards, who realized that he had not sounded any alarm or even alerted the mate who was on watch. The whole thing had the feel of an amateur theatrical. The woman smiled at Edwards, and because she was a pretty young woman the smile seemed sweet at first, but it quickly sharpened into something vicious. 

“Prepare to be boarded,” the man said.

“Yes,” Edwards said.

They were on the deck in a moment and into the society of the boat.  The man went straight for the mate and made him kneel and stabbed him right there and then, once in the shoulder, hard enough that the blade disappeared entirely into flesh. This got Edwards’ attention. He ran for the Captain, who came up with food still on his face. “We are pirates,”  Howard said, and the Captain fainted dead away. Howard went on, speaking loudly to the fainted Captain. “This ship is ours now. You’ve been sailing pretty until now. You’ve had some nice and merry living. But now you have to get acquainted with the dead. Do you know this man?” He pointed at the mate with the toe of his boot.

“Of course. That’s Loomis. He was the mate." 

“I am going to dump Loomis overboard,” Howard said.

“What?” Loomis said.

“I thought you said acquainted with the dead,” the woman said.

“Please,” the young pirate said. He sounded desperate. 

“I have a better idea,” Nancy said. “Why don’t you put Loomis in our terrible little boat and then blow a hole in the hull? It’ll sink and he’ll sink with it. He can be Captain for once.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Howard said.

She turned to Edwards. “Who else is on board?”

“Lots. It’s a liner.”

“I mean what other guards.”

“One always mans the safe. Most of the others patrol corridors.”


“Hallways,” he said.

“I know what corridors are,” she said, kicking out at him unexpectedly. “What I meant was that it’s good that they’re off patrolling, and that you should take me to the one who mans the safe.” Edwards did not know how he could possibly have been expected to understand what she had meant.

“How was I to know that?” he said.

This time, her kick landed on his shins. “Shut up,” she said.

Edwards could not. “I can’t,” he said.

“Can’t shut up?”

“Can’t take you to the safe. I don’t know where it is. Loomis knows.” But Loomis was unconscious again. “It was stupid to stab him.”

The woman’s eyes widened. Edwards wasn’t provoking her. He hoped she understood. It was just that he always said what he was thinking, and he never lied. Lily always told him that his life would be much better if he could just say something that wasn’t true every once in a while. He thought about what Lily would say if he told her that he had been captured by pirates. “Good,” she’d say. “You’re learning.”

Nancy produced a gun, a small stub-nosed thing, and stuck it in the Captain’s back. “I’ll take him downstairs and get the engine room squared away,” she told Howard.  

Howard moved quickly with Nancy gone. He hauled Loomis over the side, onto the pirate boat, jumped back onto the liner, and then cut the rope that held the two boats together. The pirate boat slowly drifted out to sea. “In ten minutes, that thing’s going to blow, and then it’s hello, bottom of the ocean.” Edwards could think of nothing to say to this.  

Nancy reappeared, gun still in her hand. “I found the Captain’s guards and then I gave them all a shot.”

“You killed them?” Howard said. His voice rose hysterically. 

“No, I didn’t kill them. What do you think I was doing this morning when I packed the syringes and the sedative? Did you think it was for me, in case I got so excited listening to your stories about robbing banks and needed to calm myself down so that I didn’t jump you right then and there?”

“Now my stories about banks bore you?”

“Let’s not fight,” the woman said. “I did my job. I sedated them and tied them up. The captain got a half-dose so that he can steer the ship. Now do what you’re supposed to do. Introduce us to the nice man.”

“Okay,” Howard said. “I’m Carter and this is Dowling. Those are our last names but you don’t need to know our first. We’re pirates. What’s your name?”


“Last or first?”

“Last,” Dowling said. “There’s no one whose first name is Edwards.”

“I knew a guy once,” Carter said.

“What was he in prison for?” Dowling said.

Edwards thought Carter would laugh it off, but he struck Dowling on the arm with the flat of his sword. “Ow,” she said. “That really hurt.”

“Next time I’ll cut it off.”

The woman smiled appreciatively.

“Now take Mr. Edwards downstairs and give him a shot of that sedative." 

Edwards followed Dowling downstairs. He briefly considered trying to overpower her but then he remembered that she had a gun. She led him past a berth, where he saw the captain and the crewmen tied up. Then she pulled him into a small berth and slid the door shut. “Look,” she said. “I’m only going to give you a half-dose too. I didn’t bring enough. Also, I don’t think I’m going to put tape on your face because you have a beard and it won’t really work. That good for you?” Edwards nodded. “Before I load up the syringe, just tell me one thing. Tell me that Howard didn’t kill the only person who knew exactly where the safe is.”

“I don’t know. I was a late addition to the crew. There’s one guy, Symons, who probably knows. He’s easy to spot. Tall and bald.”

Dowling took out the syringe and turned it in her hand. It reminded Edwards of Lily, and the way that she held a pen. “Elegant,” he had told her when they had first met, but the truth was that it was belabored, as if she was aware that she was being watched. He wasn’t certain if that made it less elegant, but it made it less compelling. Compelling was the way the lady pirate was holding the syringe, not looking at it or even near it, aware of it by touch alone, sensual with ease. Her fingers danced as if she were playing an instrument. She caught him looking and gave him the shot, not as nicely as she might have. “We’re going to make our getaway soon enough, and I want to make sure that we can do this quickly and quietly.” She jabbed Edwards again. “Soon, you’ll feel kind of heavy around the eyes and mouth. You might nod off. When you wake up, there’s a decent chance we’ll still be here, on account of the half-dose. But don’t worry. We’re not going to hurt anyone else. The one, Loomis, we’ll have to write off to Howard’s personality. He isn’t much under pressure.” She smiled, and this was the reverse of the smile she had given before: it started out sharp but softened. “Howard’s only mean because he cares too much. You know how people are: a flower in a garden where metal spikes are the rule.”

When the woman began to hum a lullaby, Edwards figured that he was hearing from inside the sedative. He let his eyes close and went to sleep. In there, he dreamed water, dark and lovely.


The Day the Ocean Turned Our House Inside Out by Marna Chester

OBJECT: Hurricane Sandy

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways

4 in. square / sand, nails, wood, foam, mulch

Artist Statement

When Hurricane Sandy struck, my childhood home in the Rockaways was hit. Left in charge to clean it up, I experienced an overwhelming torrent of emotion. The storm not only ravaged our homes and belongings, it turned our guts inside out too.

Marna Chester is a multidisciplinary artist, arts administrator and native New Yorker. She holds a BFA from Alfred University and an MPS in Arts and Cultural Management from Pratt Institute. With years of professional experience as a window dresser and prop-maker, Marna’s interests lie at the intersection between art and public engagement. She currently works as a donations coordinator at Materials for the Arts, NYC’s oldest reuse center.

Ode to Far Rockaway by Nicole Cirino

OBJECT: Hurricane Sandy

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways


It seems they don't look at the ocean here,

have maybe gotten used to the smell of brine 

as it wafts over gasoline and fried things

and the rumble of the shuttle,

the tired meandering of silver

against the blue of the sky,

of the sea.


That sea that rushed

past the dunes, over planks

of split wood, into the streets,

into their homes, their tv's short-circuiting,

seeping up through floor boards

and into closets and beds.


It sat, that water, for days,

for months, warped wood

and left walls ashy with salt,

everything a little bit white,

everything a little bit green, 

and then black, as the mold

moved in and grew over

all the things bought or given,

and then left on the side of the road

to be hauled away with the trash.

Nicole Cirino is a New York native, a Brooklyn resident, and an educator. Her varied background in Sociology, Writing, and Child Development informs her current work as a preschool math coach for a research project aimed at improving the lives of children living in poverty in New York City. She is an alumna of Sarah Lawrence College and is honored to share a piece inspired by Hurricane Sandy on its one year anniversary.

Duwand Works for Good Humor, Inc. by Lashon Daley

OBJECT: Ice Cream Trucks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways

Duwand wasn’t the most disgruntled employee at Good Humor, Inc.  His position as a Quality Control Inspector at the conveyor belt had its benefits. He was never asked to lift anything like the stock boys who wore back braces, nor was he ever blamed for anything– his supervisor was held responsible for all of his mistakes and those of the other 19 employees just like him.

Duwand’s job description stated 2 things: 1) Verify that Good Humor, Inc. is properly spelled and punctuated on each ice cream sandwich package wrapper and 2) Notify your supervisor when it is not.

From the age of 14, Duwand worked for Good Humor, Inc. at the conveyor belt. Since 1929, when the company opened its New York distribution center, Duwand read and re-read the words Good Humor, Inc. 5,980,003 times. He could spell it backwards in 4 seconds. He created 213 words from the letters and composed several different jingles based on its spelling. My ice cream has a first name, it’s G-o-o-od…

So after forty-three years of uneventful service, it caught all of Good Humor, Inc.’s 147 New York employees by surprise when Duwand drove a fleet of Good Humor, Inc. ice cream trucks off of a pier.

He entitled his operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck When I First Asked” and underlined it using a green plastic ruler and an black ink pen in his leather-bound pocket notebook. It took Duwand eighty-six-and-a-half days to plot his revenge. His plan was scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 13, 1975–almost fifteen years after he had received the first of many rejection letters denying him the opportunity to become a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineers were the envy of most of the factory workers, especially Duwand. Since 1950, when Jack Carson starred in the featured motion picture, The Good Humor Man, Duwand felt cheated out of the role, stating in his letter to upper management: “It was unbeknownst to me that auditions for this role were happening. I would have made an excellent Good Humor Man.” Ever since then, whenever Duwand would see their freshly pressed white uniforms and police-style hats, he became even more dissatisfied with his ill-fitting factory uniform. “It’s downright unfair and foolish,” he continued in his letter. His oversized hair net and baggy white jacket made him feel so small. He had a nice frame, he thought, and it deserved to be showcased. Plus, the opportunity to drive a brand-new Ford truck (despite it solely being used to sell ice cream) was the icing on the cake. If Duwand had ever had his heart set on anything, this was it.

Duwand knew the rejection letter by heart, but read it all the same when he found it for the last time in his employee mailbox, addressed as always to his home, but never mailed there.

Dear Mr. Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company.  Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success.  As a result, we regret to inform you that we cannot fulfill your employee transfer request.

We strive for continuity and consistency and as a result believe that it is better for our employees to remain in their current positions until otherwise promoted by management.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good Humor

Duwand folded the letter and almost placed it neatly back in the embossed envelope as he had with the fourteen that came before it. Then, suddenly, he balled it up and stuffed it in the crotch of his uniform pants. He stood a little taller walking back to his work station.

By day eighty-three of Operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck,” Duwand knew the Sunday schedule of every Good Humor, Inc. employee. Sundays were his days off and during his three months of planning, he clandestinely had sat in his hot car outside of the factory’s gate monitoring the entrance and exit times of each employee.

He had noted that there was only one manager on duty, an assistant manager at that, in comparison to the four that were on duty during the weekdays. His Sunday counterpart’s name was Sue-Yang, but everyone called her Sue. She had worked at Good Humor, Inc. for at least five years now, but they had never met. She was strictly a Sunday worker. Duwand especially noted that there were two supply truck drivers who alternated weekly. The chubby one, who Duwand nicknamed Tub, for “tub of cream,” was always late for his deliveries. He sometimes ran up to thirty-nine minutes late to distribute the ingredients Good Humor, Inc. needed to meet their ever-growing demand for ice cream in the Tri-State area. Pick, short for “toothpick,” was always late as well, but never by more than twelve minutes. So, Duwand had picked a Sunday that Tub was working, counting on the distraction he would cause as the factory workers rushed to help him unload the supplies.

The morning of his revenge operation, Duwand went to church as usual. He dressed himself in his best suit and hat and drove 2.3 miles to First Baptist Church of Mary’s Holy Name Christian Fellowship with the Sunday Gospel Radio Show turned up just a notch louder than usual. During service, he worshipped the Lord fervently, feeling giddy like a child running down a hill.  He shouted amen at just the right moments during the sermon about the Resurrection of Christ and left before the after-service prayer had begun. He had work to do.

Duwand parked in the employee parking lot, swiped his employee card to unlock the side entrance and went into autopilot. He dressed himself in the men’s locker room, where he started off every morning at the factory changing from his civilian clothes to a clean uniform picked out of the large bins labeled “pants” and “jackets.” He grabbed one of the hundreds of hair nets from a torn cardboard box to cover his balding head and then placed the required disposable shoe covers over his Sunday best. By the time he walked out of the locker room, Duwand had forgotten it was Sunday.

“What are you doing here,” he called out to Sue Yang. For forty-three years, Duwand had completed the same preliminary tasks to start his day. Seeing someone else in his chair and at his work station was unprecedented. Had he been replaced? Had management finally had enough with his transfer requests and fired him without notice? He was only a few steps away, but with the hum of the machines and the earplugs in her ear, Sue hadn’t heard him until he was standing right next to her. His mouth opened slightly, waiting for an answer. She had no idea who this man was and wasn’t going to take her eyes off the conveyor belt. She had work to do and was only interested in doing just that.

Her look of disinterest set off something inside Duwand. He was twice her age and deserved respect, if not for seniority, then at least for being a senior. Who does she think she is, he thought to himself. This was his workstation and she was violating it.

Duwand felt powerful screaming at the top of his lungs about how he had given up his youth and dreams to work for Good Humor, Inc. How dare they replace him? He was the best Quality Control Inspector they had and he could prove it, which he tried to do by starting to recite the 213 words he created. But he could only remember the first seven.

From the corner of his eye, Duwand could see the assistant manager leaving his office to rush downstairs to see what all of the commotion was about. Out of fear, Duwand got louder.

Unsure of how to continue his rambling, Duwand began quoting the Ten Commandments and started to use large gestures to get his non-point across. He only got to commandment number three before he was wrestled to the ground by two security guards. They dragged him kicking and screaming into the parking lot and out the gate, where the assistant manager was hoping to get an explanation out of him.

Duwand sat on one side of the chain-link fence, sore from the tackle. He could feel the muscle throbbing high on his right thigh and knew that in a few hours there would be a bruise. He took in quite a few shallow breaths before he began  apologizing for his misconduct, while the assistant manager and security guards stood on the other side of the fence. They were unsure of what to do next. Duwand looked manic to them. They knew him as a quiet fellow and figured he was just having a bad day. The factory could do that to you, they told him, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

When Duwand finally settled down, they helped him up and took him through the back entrance to the offices where he could relax a little and get some water before he felt good enough to drive home. Plus, the assistant manager wanted to file an incident report for precaution.

The brown polyester couch looked brand-new, but smelled old to Duwand as he plopped himself down. He rested his head against the back and slouched with his legs stretched straight out. He was exhausted and disappointed in himself for ruining his own plan. But before he could wallow any more in shame, the supply truck arrived and just like he had once anticipated, the assistant manager hurried out of the office, leaving Duwand alone.

He sat for a minute before taking the clipboard off of the assistant manager’s desk. He looked at the form and what had been written. He felt compelled to write something profound to mark what he was about to do. He pulled out his leather-bound notebook from his uniform jacket pocket and read a few of his favorite movie quotes. “If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working,” he recited from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. “Do you want to dance?  Or do you want to DANCE,” he uttered from The Thomas Crown Affair. But in the end, he found them all to be insufficient. Then he thought about some of the social justice chants he had come up with over the years like “Ice Cream, Yes!  Factories, No!” and found them to be insufficient as well. It was then that he realized he had neglected to prepare one of the most important parts of his plan: the note. Whether it was written for a ransom or suicide, or just a short letter passed between friends or lovers, the note was often used to symbolize the beginning of the end. The note was the catalyst that set flame to the conflict and here Duwand was without his match.

He put down the pen and quickly moved to the key box, removing 15 keys–one for each rejection letter he had received. He placed the keys in a small canvas bag and into his work jacket. He rushed to the door to check on how much time he had, then quickly sat back on the couch and picked up the pen.

Dear Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company. Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success. As a result, we are accepting your transfer request and are making you a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Congratulations on your promotion! Enclosed, you will find 15 truck keys for your use. Have a wonderful time driving them off the pier and be sure to notify us if you need any assistance.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good “Dirt Bag” Humor

Lashon received her M.F.A in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2008 and plans to be an author when she grows up.  With a B.A. in English and a background in dance, she hopes to one day combine the two, somehow. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she moved to New Orleans after graduating with her masters, hoping to get her hands dirty, to write some stories and to do some good. She now lives in California.

East River of My Devotion by Lindsay Sullivan

Watch video of Lindsay and her collaborator Doug Keith performing this song at the American Folk Art Museum here



I took the sea to the C

searching for ghosts at Dead Horse beach

a ship appeared to me

I swam out so I could see

"Come aboard my darlin

it's the last time I'll be callin

come aboard and sail with me."

We sailed along the water's edge

Brighton Beach over Dreamland

cut right and towards the bridge

first Brooklyn then Manhattan.

"It wont be long my darlin

until you are drownin

and you belong to the sea."

Then the wind began to blow,

lightning struck and hit my boat.

I swam hard but fell below

I sang out to the River, don't let me go.

"You are the waves to my ocean,

East River of my devotion

I'll drink your salt

I'll breathe your sea."

I sunk down onto my knees,

Threw my head down to Her Sandy feet,

I begged Her please to let me breathe,

one breath of Her Salty Sea.

"You are the waves to my ocean,

East River of my devotion

I'll drink your salt

I'll breathe your sea."


And I became the River Bed,

Dead Fish, Stripped Cars and Soda Cans.

River City below Manhattan,

Piano Keys, Submarines and The Princess Ann. 

I am the waves to Your Ocean,

East River of our Devotion.

I drink Your Salt and 

I breathe Your Sea.

Yes I am the waves to Your Ocean,

East River of our Devotion.

I drink Your Salt and 

I breathe Your Sea.

Lindsay Sullivan is a student, yoga and meditation teacher, singer, songwriter and piano player living in Los Angeles. In 2008 she released her debut LP, Long Road Home with her band Clair. 

Once (Always) by Kate Overgaard

OBJECT: Ice Cream Trucks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways

Lost boy,

Shipwreck in my life.

When your little hand found mine,


We were home,

You and I,

Meant to be

Tied with a seemingly tenuous knot,

Not of blood or biology,

But meant to be.

The current

Dragged you under and away

And—eyes closed—

My fingers released you.

Leaving me to drown in the loss of you,

Never to utter goodbye to you.

A rusted reef of ice cream whispers

In the depths of the Rockaways,

Cradled in the cool waves

Around my beating heart,

Still drowning.

Kate Overgaard is an English teacher who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in New Jersey.

Songs for Underwater Ice Cream Trucks by Michael Hearst

OBJECT: Ice Cream Trucks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways


Listen to Michael Hearst's composition "Songs for Underwater Ice Cream Trucks." 

See the (shaky) video of Michael Hearst Underwater at the UNY launch party on board the Lightship Frying Pan here, and video of Michael Hearst at the Word for Word reading in Bryant Park here

Michael Hearst is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, writer, and producer. He is a founding member of the bandOne Ring Zero, which has released seven albums, including the acclaimed literary collaboration As Smart As We Are, featuring lyrics by Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Dave Eggers, and Neil Gaiman, among others. His most recent works include the solo albums Songs For Ice Cream Trucks and the forthcoming Songs For Unusual Creatures, the website Songs For Newsworthy News, and the soundtrack for the movie The Good Mother. As a writer, Michael’s work has appeared in such journals as McSweeney’sThe Lifted Brow, and Post Road. He hosts a podcast series with Rick Moody called 18:59 and is a producer for the website Cassette From My Ex. Hearst has performed and given lectures and workshops at universities, museums, and cultural centers around the world. He has toured with The Magnetic Fields, and performed with The Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall. Hearst has appeared on such shows as NPR’s Fresh Air, A+E’s Breakfast With The Arts, and NBC’s The Today Show.

You Will Not Find Her at the Bottom of the River on Whose Shores Your Life Has Been Squandered by David Hollander

Well then down you go.  Spiraling into darkness with the regulator hissing and the funk of the Hudson clinging to your suit like rime, the spotlight held at arm’s length and advancing its bad joke into a slurry of black mud and pollution, the bubbles racing from your mouth toward a theoretical surface as you penetrate deeper into that living darkness which cinctures the earth and makes a mockery of your personal ephemera, of the husband you no longer recognize, of the advanced degrees that belie your fecklessness, of the psychotropic prescriptions that mediate your pain, of her empty crib with its bone-white spindles, of the lewd smile of the young man at the dive shop, of the dappled morning sunlight outside your bedroom window and the ferocious joy it has occasionally instilled, of your fear of spiders and your fear of bridges and your fear of stained glass cathedrals—the darkness making a mockery of love.

Your heart punching at the wetsuit as you sink to the bottom of this urban river on whose shores your life has been squandered, this river which preserves that original conundrum from which the entire cosmology was birthed in an unfathomable instant of fire, pushed from some icy womb of Nothingness so as to spread out virus-like and then die its slow death.  The depth gauge glows green in the murk, fifty feet, then sixty and then yes, as promised, here is the oily bottom rising up to meet you and you lay your belly down in the earth’s black blood, indulging in the deep gulps of air you’ve been counseled against taking, your body hot and electric within the suit as if the neoprene enclosed only pulsing organs and circulatory twine.  You peer out across the riverbottom and down a corridor of visibility above which the particulate matter hovers like smoke in a housefire, then you kick hard once and glide out above the planet’s bottom where creatures deformed by metropolitan poisons live out their sorry half-witted lives.

You sail into a strange dreamscape, as if the Hudson were articulating the collective remembrances of those countless cadavers drifting through the roiling current, skeletons and zombies conjuring up a limbo of fantastic design: Here a freight train ten cars long, half buried in the mud yet still endowed with illusory motion by the visibly streaking current, the penumbral forms of phantom hobos slithering back within the enormous cargo boxes as your spotlight rotates.  Here an ice cream truck whose former delights are yet promoted on a side panel, Ice Cream Tastes Good!, alongside a grisly portfolio of the truck’s one-time wares, treats now betumored by bulbous mollusks that shrink eerily beneath the light.  Here a collection of ten-foot ivory worms attached—at their gaping mouths—to a wooden beam weighed to the bottom by a thick iron chain, the worms stretched taut and wavering like the stripes on some wind-stiffened flag and each thick as a thumb.

She can’t be that sick.  Just look at her. Oh but she was, goddamn you all, she was even sicker than that.

Here now a grand piano, squatting perfectly upright in the black mud and so you pause at the keys, adjust your buoyancy, one hand holding the light and the other reaching slowly through the water, fingers splayed to tap out the opening bars to Fur Elise, and though no sound issues forth you nevertheless hear the notes as played by your own mother whose warm smile and warm heart only served in the end to foster those illusions to which the river is antithetical.  You push gently back from the instrument and the keyboard’s perfect teeth seem to smile grotesquely and something silver flitters in your periphery, reminding you of your own alienness and of the demons that lie in wait for those who would search out angels here in the darkness of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.

Here now an old muscle car, a painted eagle splayed across the hood and a small spiny fish behind the spiderwebbed windshield.  Here a formica dinette, several chairs upset in the mud as if an aggrieved family had only just departed, their accusations already regretted, their long-pent rage now spent on internecine resentment.

She can’t be that sick.  Look at her.  It’s impossible. Sleeping peacefully among a menagerie of stuffed animals whose dead eyes stared back at you with an absolute detachment that you would remember later, when she was in the tiny casket with her own eyes sewn shut but surely aghast beneath the tiny lids and you ran your hand over that dead face and found yourself unable to make the connection between this pale corpse and the little girl asleep in the white crib who could not be that sick just look at her it’s impossible and already there before the casket you were thinking of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered, because she had asked you from her hospital bed if this meant she wouldn’t get to go paddling with you, Mommy can I still go when I get better?, and even then you knew that you would make this one and only dive and that you would tell no one, not the doctor nor the university colleagues nor the husband you no longer recognized, down you’d go into darkness just as your own father had those many years ago and you had seen the man swim,Captain Tuna, his navy buddies had called him, and men like your father did not succumb to rivers though they might choose them.

And now the wreck of the Princess Anne, just as they’d promised at the dive tutorial, a 350-foot side-lying behemoth with an enormous iron smokestack embedded in the slime like the barrel of some doomsday weapon.  You peer into a cabin porthole half expecting an ulterior world to fashion itself from the ship’s debris, your breath hissing and the bubbles racing upward toward a surface you remember and long for and despise. What accompanies your exhalations and dissipates into this idiom impervious to language?  What will remain of you to drown?  And is she after all at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered?  Is she here where the dream symbols incubate, where the dead are born and the living perish?  Is she here among the refuse of a city that never gave a goddamn about you, that inflicted its own tidal erosion upon your soft and ill-prepared heart, that wore away at your every desire before destroying the one thing it could not take by simple attrition?

Maybe you ought to have climbed our tallest remaining skyscraper instead, scanned the windows as they rushed past for some fleeting glimpse of her brown-blond hair.  Or you might have searched the expression of a subway conductor as you hovered before his brighlit onrushing cockpit in one last, enduring caesura, looked there for meaning or for forgiveness.  (The crunch of bones, the explosion of light and blood.)  Or you might have done what the others do and just endured, the way he was enduring, you might have lived with her ghost always just outside your periphery, always waiting for you to alight upon the secret spell that would drive the marrow back within her phantom bones so that she could again embrace your legs and giggle, and fall, and laugh with a joy that ripped your heart in two.

You push now within the hull-split wreck.  Ruptured plates and once-inhabited cubbies.  Horizontal movement through the ship’s vertical layers. You take enormous breaths.  Your thoughts race for the surface of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  Her tiny body on a tiny bed.  Tubes and wires.  Monitors with their bright peaks and valleys.  Her blood a poison to itself, her blood not unlike this dark river in whose downdraft you now coast.  Up there on earth there were people moving about, surefooted and unapologetic.  Up there they ate and drank, they laughed and made love, they suffered and died.  The river does not care.  You hear it now… Fur Elise… drifting toward you on a wave of pure light, an anti-oblivion that will preserve you—as if in amber—here at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  You turn back toward the wreck’s sundered hull and you see the colors rush toward you, a many-hued brightness with the notes spinning visibly within the blinding quanta and the river now an empty channel through which this deadly beauty flows and you, down here, sorry at long last that nothing, not even this, will restore you to yourself.

The sleeping child in your arms, her warm breath on your neck, you turn to face the crib with its bone-white spindles and you suck in her smell and you hold it deep within your aching lungs and you do not exhale, you will choke on it, goddamn these goddamn people who never lost a thing.

David Hollander is the author of the novel L. I. E; his short fiction has appeared inMcSweeney’s, Post Road, Unsaid, Swink, and Best American Fantasy.

Hog Island by James McCloskey

OBJECTHog Island

BODY OF WATERThe Rockaways

In 1893 they were already hurting. Boss Tweed had died of pneumonia down in a jail cell on Ludlow Street fifteen years earlier, and even though the Tammany Machine still had plenty of juice to it you could feel them losing their grip: Charles Parkhurst was making noise from the pulpit and the Lexow Committee was gearing up, and they weren’t fucking around. Not to mention a new Grand Jury investigation and all the so-called “reform candidates” making a fuss.

The island wasn’t even really an island, nothing more than a glorified sandbar really. A barrier island, sandy, low to the water and flat, like poured gold. Some said it was shaped like a pig and that’s how it got the name. Other said that way back when the Poospatuck had raised hogs there and farmed. Either way the Indians were long gone and the name had stuck by the time the War Between the States was over, and then some of the boys came home and took it into their heads to turn that little useless spit of sand into a resort – the same idea was working over in Coney Island, so why not Hog Island too? Wasn’t the city full enough of people looking for a quick close getaway? Even the most average of average men could afford the train fare and ferry ride.

The sea grass glinted green and white when the wind blew, and you could pick up dry, pristine sand and let it run through your fingers while you looked back at the coal soot hanging over the city. The smoke from the Sag Harbor Branch. The Central Railroad of Long Island.

One restaurant opened up, then another. Then a bathing house. Then a casino, and another restaurant. Just the average Joes taking the ride out at first, but then, who knows how these things happen, the pols starting arriving. They’d touch their fingers to their bowlers or straw boaters, flip their nickels to the ferry captains and wink and ride on over for the day.

Women tiptoed daintily into the water in their bathing gowns, weights sown into the hems to prevent lifting. They’d shiver in the cold Atlantic while on the beach the men smoked cigars, itchy and hot in their long wool swim trunks, talking about the next election. About graft. About politics.

Patrick Craig’s place was the one they all ate at. The Irish Saratoga, they called it, though that wasn’t its name. At night when paraffin lamps were mounted on drops hanging from the ceiling and the oysters and steaks were eaten and the bellies full, as the last of the liquor was sipped and calmly made its way down the men’s gullets and back up their spinal columns, you could meet just about everyone you had to, if you were so inclined to a career in that direction. Robert Van Wyck, Lewis Nixon, a young Charles Francis Murphy. Even Richard Crocker, heir to John Kelly and Boss Tweed’s throne, though not half the leader of either if you asked some, privately. They talked politics. They murmured, they muttered, they grumbled. Susurrations low and quiet and steady as a heartbeat.

“Look, Roswell Flower is up in Albany, and while that ungrateful Presbyterian pussy certainly isn’t going to do anything to stop the Machine he sure as shit isn’t going to stand up to the troublemakers down here, either. Can’t count on his support if the shit really starts to fly. No, no, it’s up to us city boys, up to Crocker, and he is a tough old Mick. You can count on him. Keeps his finger thoroughly on the pulse of the city, that one does. Knows who gambles, knows who visits whores. Hell, the man owns the owners of half the brothels south of Central Park! He knows every secret you need to know to run the big town and that is what is important. Once the Panic is over and the Democrats have an edge again, Tammany will be right back where it ought to be: in control.”

The men of the machine leaned back in their chairs and stuck their thumbs under their suspenders. They blew smoke in powerful, languorous clouds. In their hearts they knew Crocker wasn’t up to the job, not really. But the Machine had been through tough patches before and they believed this one could be rode out, too. Out in the dark of the night, just beyond the reach of the lamp light, the waves shushed-shushed on the smooth sand.

News started coming up that morning, the wires humming hot with cables from Norfolk, D.C, Baltimore. They called it a Class Two hurricane, a gale, a cyclone. It was a Wednesday and lucky for that: most everyone was back in the city.

At two in the afternoon the clouds came in dark and low from the south. Lighting  silhouetted the Statue of Liberty. At eight that night the storm hit. It hit hard. In parts of Brooklyn and Queens surges of up to thirty-feet were recorded, covering homes and apartment buildings. Dead police horses floated through the streets. Dozens of boats along the banks of the Hudson sank, and hundreds of sailors with them. The East River crested its seawall for the first time in memory. One newspaper dubbed the storm “The West Indian Monster.”

On the Hog, whitecaps hit the shore and you could almost see the beach disappearing, getting pulled back under, grains of sand dispersed in the ocean like dandelion spores on a stiff wind. Scattered and insignificant. When the rain hit Caffery’s Cosmopolitan the roof sprung a thousand leaks. Water came through as if it was nothing more than a sieve. Nearly everyone abandoned the island.  Packed themselves into small rowboats, tiny rafts not meant for those waves, but they fought their way through the surf to the dunes of Rockaway, then stood and turned back and looked. Watched as flashes of lightning revealed the crumbling casino and restaurants. The Irish Saratoga washing away. The Atlantic gorging itself. They watched. The rain stung their faces. The politicians were in the city. Crocker himself huddled by a fireplace in his townhouse just north of Hell’s Kitchen and, after the storm, sent a pittance to Patrick Craig to “help him get back on his feet.” A fucking joke, really. A sum of money so small it might as well have been an insult for all the good it did.

Generally speaking, in life things are here and then they’re gone, and any attempt at transcendent meaning is nothing but a lie. Still and all, it makes you wonder.

Within a year Tammany Hall’s chosen man Tommy Gilroy would lose the mayoral race to that hick on the Fusion Party ticket William L. Strong. Seth Low, a Republican of all things, would win after that. Crocker retired and went back to Ireland to raise thoroughbreds and nothing was the same, or so it seemed.

The New York Times said that the chimneys of the businesses and handful of homes on Hog Island “were tossed down like playthings,” that the telegraph wires “fell like cotton strings.” After the storm you could hardly call the island an island: it was more of a spit, something children could walk to over sandbars at low tide. By 1902 the island had disappeared entirely. Boats might get caught up in the shallows where it used to be but from the looks of the surface it might as well have never existed.

And every now and then someone will find an old, cheap porcelain plate, or a bottle with a stamp on it – “Trenton Glassworks, 1884” – embedded in the sand on Edgemere, and maybe they’ll think about it for a moment. Maybe they’ll turn it over in their hands. Run their fingers over the date. And then forget about it entirely.

Bio forthcoming. 

The Last Days of the Princess Anne by Claire Shefchik

On February 2, 1920, the Princess Anne, en route from Norfolk, Virginia, ran aground off Rockaway Beach while entering New York Harbor. After sending a distress call, all 175 passengers aboard were evacuated safely. The crew, however, insisted on remaining aboard until they could be allowed to retrieve all luggages from below decks. For nine days, thePrincess Anne sat in the harbor with the crew aboard before the hull began to crack, and they at last agreed to be rescued. The site of the wreck remained undisturbed until 1957, when a dive team recovered not only the little remaining luggage but a journal describing the nine days previous, left behind by the registered shipboard nurse, a Miss Agnes Channing (a.k.a. Mrs. Charles G. O’Shea, Jr.), 26, of Queens Village, N.Y. and lately a Red Cross veteran of the Italian theatre.

Day One

We made the decision to stay behind actually rather quickly. Less breezy was the consensus about how to pass the time.  Certainly, the motionless steam-hulk under us gave up a certain post-apocalyptic feel, and indeed, a percentage of us voted to act as if we’d motored to the end of the world. Others were keen to evoke the air of an officers’ club, in the Rue St. Denis perhaps, one glimpsed through the slatted-wood doors but whose mysteries never had been revealed; the purple smoke and pinkish satin of its milkmaid-prostitutes, spread over the banquettes at the height of their art for one.

I for one, felt compelled to give in to my own drive to craft a parallel world. But I also recognized the weight of my civilizing influence, was just about the men’s sole anchor. Thus I proposed a rotating schedule, to begin today, in appropriate east-meets-west fashion, with tea-parties and sewing circles, taking turns with chiffon handkerchiefs and cricket games, our repertories drawn from the church picnic songbooks at First Presbyterian of Queens Village. The crew promptly concurred.

Afterward, in the forecastle I explained my reasoning to the barkeep, the young Virginian Mr. Freddy Heatherton. I suspect that we shall find scarcely a minute, as this strange sojourn lags on, between all the accompanying rum raves, bourbon blasts, whiskey socials, happy hours, pig-and-whistles, nightcaps, pub games and grog nights, for the enactment of stimulating exercises and revues, for the edification of us all.

Day Two

Mr. Donald McTavish, working in the telegraph room and listening from behind his embroidered eyepatch, informed me this morning of a cable received from Capt. Herbert Dirk at Old Dominion Line headquarters, which included a reproduction of an editorial published in this morning’s New York Herald:


NEW YORK – Sixteen crewmen remain aboard the steamship Princess Anne, which ran aground yesterday less than eight nautical miles off Rockaway Beach, Old Dominion Line Capt. Herbert Dirk told the Herald today. The vessel’s captain, Richard Seay, behaved admirably in conducting a swift and efficient evacuation of all 175 passengers aboard, who were safely delivered to land an hour later aboard the tugboats Griffith Parker and Charles Miles. However, the greedy crewmen had other plans, knowing the valuable treasures that still lay aboard in luggage belonging to our fine city’s most prominent families, returning from Christmas holidays in Virginia Beach, intending to hoard and pilfer them like a clan of mountain trolls.  It is the opinion of the Herald’s editorial board that if these covetous tars are left to starve or die of exposure aboard the stranded vessel, it is just as well, and that no public resources be expended to reward them for this behavior. City Hall should take note.

Predictably, these cowardly gadflies on the Herald editorial board went on to make further preposterous claims, which I won’t dignify by reproducing here. I promptly sent a single cable back, decrying the arrogance of bureaucrats and the press leaping to question the crew’s commitment to duty, having no firsthand knowledge of the terrifying situation in which they suddenly found themselves yesterday.

However, I also noted that as the sole certified medical professional aboard I serve in quite a separate capacity from that of the rest of the crew, and, furthermore, have taken on the responsibility of using my liberal education in the arts and sciences to ameliorate and ensure proper deportment of the crew at all times.

Besides, I offered as incontrovertible evidence the fact that the crew were so attentive to the precious cargo aboard that even before the hit at 8:25 a.m. yesterday, they had seen fit to remove as many eight or twelve steamer trunks from the first class staterooms to watertight safety in the crew’s hold. It is for these which all of us, including myself, continue to offer the most vigilant possible stewardship. I offer as an example the 24-karat princess-cut diamond and emerald necklace belonging to a Mrs. T.L. Hartwick of Manhattan, of which I have taken such acute personal responsibility that I have resolved to keep it fastened to my person at all times.

No response from headquarters immediately elicited.

All subsequent cables discarded unread.

Day Three

Those questions settled, then, we resolved today to soldier on bravely with our shipboard diversions. From civilized pastimes we alternated to the red, and an inaugural burlesque fantasy enacted under tantric-looking red-velvet Christmas gowns, pinned and flounced over one of the unused lifeboats on the starboard side, and whose conception was all mine. My dear friend Mr. McTavish and Mr. Toray, the able-bodied young Filipino lookout, were more than willing to don the unfortunately abandoned caftans and pheasant feathers of Col. N. Yarousso of Brooklyn Heights and pose as my Egyptian slave-boys, lifting me up on their shoulders while I sang, and our game musicians, formerly of the Cotton Club of Harlem, played “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Lemonade made the round of the audience in a decanter, spiked with bitters and gin. I myself have developed a taste for the mint julep, which was all the rage at Newport News and Virginia Beach and that Mr. Heatherton, that dogged boy, has waiting for me in the dining room every ten past noon, having made the switch from our morning menu of orange juice, champagne and vodka Bloody Marys.

Day Four

Mr. Heatherton, I feel compelled to note, is a rakish young faun with a blondish pompadour and a filigreed pince-nez, and has proved, not for the first time, to possess skills extending beyond even those of his current position. I found him just this afternoon sitting on the afterdeck sketching an array of strange leaf-shaped figures interlocking like a jigsaw puzzle, while perched on a deck chair behind his erstwhile companion, a 30-year-old Glenfiddich on the rocks. This was raided from the locked liquor cabinet he could manage but never afford on a barkeep’s pittance. As the result of an injury at the Marne (of which McTavish, not he, informed me), favors his left leg and walks with a loping stride, unable to stand for long periods. On the second night of the voyage, I asked Mr. McTavish, who had known Mr. Heatherton in Virginia Beach, to introduces us, for some reason it seeming unfitting to do so myself. Curious, during the evening I sat before him and watched him, shaking and stirring with dizzying aplomb, gin to rye to brandy, though never moving more than a few inches in any direction. In the interests of safety, I said very little at first, though we’d been introduced by Mr. McTavish the second day of the voyage, with the explanation that he’d hoped we’d all three be able to trade war stories. The subject hadn’t come up, yet; Mr. Heatherton’s reticence took its lead from my own. But since I’d found himself foolishly agreeing (after he’d foolishly asked) to put the last of the glasses in the cupboard and accompany him on deck before we retired to our respective cabins, the promised war stories could no longer wait. And just as the result of his own was self-evident, my own outcome was not to be seen.

“You see,” I blurted, “I’m married.”

His expression was one of astonishment, as I might well have expected. “That’s hardly a handicap,” he said.

“Many men would beg to differ,” I said. Feeling as if I owed more explanation, I continued. “It was during the war,” I said, “rather clandestine. I couldn’t use his name then, so I never became accustomed to it.”

“He’s not aboard the ship?”

“No, not aboard. He’s…abroad, now. In Italy.”

“An officer, then?”

“For the Italians. A lieutenant.”

“A real hero,” Mr. Heatherton said.

“Yes,” I agreed.


“It’s as if I’ve been hypnotized,” I told him today, staring over the sketchpad on which he’d been drawing intently for the past three-quarters of an hour, and in place of replying he pointed over the deck of the Princess Anne. Leaning down over the rail, I was able to discover the identity of the sitters. Silhouettes of thousands of cownose rays had been passing under the hull of the ship as we spoke, their fins interlocked like autumn leaves dropped on the surface of the water as they passed Rockaway Shoals and out into the Atlantic, plowing their way south to Bahia.

I told him I doubted very much the likelihood of seeing such a migration ever again.

“I always keep a record,” he said, folding the sketch and giving it to me. There we stood there watching them, side-by-side in the sprayless harbor, for a good while, though I become indignant and retired when he refused to remove his hand from underneath the peacock-blue embroidered Chinese silk robe belonging to a Mrs. A. Herschiser of Larchmont.

Day Five

Mr. Heatherton found his way to my quarters today, despite the fact that of the men, I’d informed only Mr. McTavish where I’ve chosen to make my home. Tapping on the door to the captain’s bridge with his snake-handled walking-stick, I sensed a visitor and, diving below, constructed a barricade of cushions. I’d intended to do this earlier in an attempt at some modicum of feminine modesty, but had been distracted by more pressing concerns, such as the lack of fresh lemons for garnish.  Mountains of burgundy brocade and sateen wedged themselves against the door, in the cavernous boudoir I’ve made of Capt. Seay’s bridge, surrounded by a china cabinet full of antique decanters and a locked cherrywood chest underneath. It wasn’t until I had already let him inside that it occurred to me that he oughtn’t to be there at all. I find it’s been far too easy lately to forget to comport myself as a properly married woman, with a devoted husband overseas.

“Probably where he keeps the cat o’ nine tails, eh?” Mr. Heatherton asked me, breezing in as  comfortable as could be, if a cripple could be said to breeze. “A hypothetical – that or keelhauling?”

“How positively barbaric.” I shook my empty glass expectantly, and he filled it with from the shaker, and I myself added three olives, on which I have been keeping a liberal supply Capt. Seay’s icebox, along with an array of frosted devil’s-food cupcakes and assorted fruits and nuts. “Keelhauling. I’m a strong swimmer, in fact.”

“Not a chance,” he said. “You wouldn’t fare any better than I would with a leg like this. Of course, before the war would be a different story. Growing up on the beach, learn to swim before you can walk.”

“You’re from Virginia Beach?” I asked, somewhat startled. “My husband was born there, you see.”

“I was born near Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and then my father left us to go west. My mother and I moved there when she remarried.”

“To think,” I said, “there was a time when the finest British gentlemen came of age at sea.”

“Nowadays, we’ve the trenches, of course,” said Mr. Heatherton, his tone bitter. “It’s remarkable how every generation finds some way to undermine its progeny.”

I ate all three olives off the skewer in one bite, and stabbed at the icebox for more.


The kitchen is not nearly as well-stocked as the bar.  The crew spent the better part of an hour yesterday trying to determine whether it would be feasible to construct a lobster trap from the onboard rigging and the scrap wood in the hold, though the idea was eventually discarded when the ship’s cook Mr. Moreno, who has skillfully and generously continued to provide his full services to the Princess Anne’s remaining inhabitants, expressed ambivalence about his capacity to boil anything alive, crustacean or otherwise.

Since boarding, I found the nurse’s quarters unbearably stuffy, reminiscent of the Red Cross hospital outside Venice where I spent the last days of the war, and which I would be just as inclined to strike from my memory altogether. Thus I have bequeathed the room to our chambermaid Miss Callie Carnes. However, I note with not a little angst that Callie, an industrious but naïve adolescent Negro girl, was spotted again this morning emerging before dawn from the first class staterooms. I remark with a detached distaste that the crew has gradually strived to enact an anarchic jungle, apart from reason and their better natures. They have swamped their hammocks and cheap cardboard pornography for four-poster feather bolsters and pornography of a much more civilized execution, in which the girls are as coddled as dairymaids and wear something other than torn taffeta and bruises. In fact, the staterooms have come to resemble a particularly tawdry officers’ quarters I once observed in the Osteria Milano, which I suppose is no less than what I should have expected. The crew made it quite clear that this is all they know of luxury.

As for Miss Callie, I was never her employer and am not yet her friend, so there is no more I can see to do for her but give her Miss Constance Johnson of Richmond’s coyote-fur wrap and what counsel I can, and trust that my influence on the company of the sailors-turned-officers will provide her the social betterment for which all of us aboard continue to strive.

Day Six

I fear I have offended Mr. Heatherton, and his visits to my quarters at the bridge will end as soon as they began. Several evenings ago, I was lucky enough to be able to glean from the trunk of Mr. B. Calhoun of Manhattan the original draft of the score for Vincent Youmans’ No, No Nanette. I had treated Mr. Calhoun earlier for seasickness, during which he’d talked to me at length about his executive role in Vincent Youmans’ production company, answering all of my eager questions about the show and in every giving his blessing for my later appropriation of the score from his trunk, for which I have appointed myself director, star and chief production coordinator. We onboard are scandalously lucky to be the first company to produce this remarkable show by Mr. Youmans, whom I feel certain will be remembered, in the future, as the greatest Broadway composer of our time.

But perhaps most notable is the casting. I was informed by Mr. McTavish, whose business it has long been to discover these things, that he was known as Virginia Beach’s own Prince of the Charleston. I convinced Mr. Heatherton had been convinced to star in the dual role of Jimmy Smith, opposite, of course, my hastily-rehearsed but virtually-perfected Nanette Smith. For aside from being an unusual artistic talent, At once delighted and dismayed that such a treasure was in my reach and yet at the same time so cruelly beyond it, I (perhaps mistakenly, looking back) insisted to Mr. Heatherton over his resistance that his handicap should in no way should prevent him from participating at least to some extent in the elaborately-choreographed soft-shoe numbers required for the production, and that as a registered nurse I would personally ensure that all necessary accommodations would be made, such as instructing the stagehands to push the grand piano in front of his legs at strategically-determined moments, &c, &c.

That settled, the men set about immediately constructing an imposing set, adapted mainly from our previous construction of the courtyard of Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner’s residence from our Day Four revue of numbers from the Gilbert and Sullivan songbook, and that would imitate more or less precisely the glamorous Atlantic City boardwalk, with the natural backdrop of Lower New York Bay proving the production almost without flaw.

I may note that everything up until that point, Mr. Heatherton’s performance in particular, was splendidly organic and tuneful, the thousands of bare stars above us serving as a brighter and more appreciative audience than a hundred or so downtown dandies flipping their perfume-soaked Playbills to and fro would likely have been. But for reasons in which, I acknowledge now, my own bitter delusions played no small role, Mr. Heatherton had agreed to perform a slightly modified version of the dance for the reprise of “Tea for Two,” at my urging. I had a vision, perhaps after all impossible, but a clear vision nonetheless, in my head of the two of us dancing side-by-side, hand-in-hand, then embracing in a moving tableau of ragtime romance, and he, dear boy, strived to do his best to humor me. We’d rehearsed together three times a day since I’d obtained the script, although we’d only rehearsed the kissing scene once (twice counting the dress rehearsal), since I firmly maintained that any more than that, for a married woman, might be considered untoward. By and large, we buoyed our hopes that  on the day of the performance, everything would be as I (not to mention Mr. Youmans) intended. But unfortunately, this particular penultimate scene is marked by the abrupt entrance of Nanette’s adopted mother Sue, as portrayed by Donnie McTavish in Mrs. Hartwick’s feathered satin evening gown and auburn bobbed wig.

“Nanette, noooo!” cried “Sue,” and whether startled by McTavish’s grotesque appearance (despite my having warned him about his penchant for the excessive use of rouge) or whether his weakened lower body was simply unable to handle the strain, Mr. Heatherton’s legs folded and crumpled, sending him, and in quick succession me, against the rather (in hindsight) ill-placed piano.

“You worthless cripple!” I shouted at him, as we lay in a heap on the deck, my crinoline skirts up around my waist and the carefully-coiffed blonde wig of Mrs. B.B. Dantès of Westport lying in an undignified tangle.

Of course, by the time it took us to regain our footing and composure, we were already four measures behind the music, and tramped through the few remaining scenes uncoordinated and shaken; our hands cold and reluctant to clasp. Afterward, even though we had intended to unwind with a candlelight post-performance soiree, complete with impossibly clever “Chickadee Cottage”-themed orange Curacao cocktails on the afterdeck, Mr. Heatherton broke from the curtain call immediately to retreat to his stateroom, leaving poor Mr. Moreno to his own devices with his the cocktail shaker.

I need hardly say that this is an issue that will require much ironing-out, both onstage and off, and I intend to begin on it at once, and certainly well before rehearsals begin for The Threepenny Opera.

Day Seven

I have been over several different options to make it up to Mr. Heatherton, for I do feel certain of words need to be said. I knew I’d reminded him of what all of us who had stayed aboard had inexplicitly agreed to put out of mind. I rehearsed them this morning on deck, pacing back and forth before the bridge. My stream of thought, however, was soon interrupted by the entrance of my dear telegraph operator, Mr. McTavish, whose one seeing-eye, in the airy light of the harbor, regarded me with incandescence.

“Don’t look at me like that, Donnie,” I said, turning my head. “My apology will take place the minute I settle on something to say.”

“Perhaps you should first decide what, exactly, you’re apologizing for,” he said.

“Would you enjoy being called a worthless cripple?” I demanded.

“In the right context, you never know,” he said. “But I don’t deny that my case is exceptional.”             “Well, say it,” I said expectantly. But Mr. McTavish remained silent.  That I resent Freddy not because of his handicap, but because he’s still alive, and Chip isn’t?”

“I’m not going to say anything, love.”

“Oh, you’ve always been like this, Donnie,” I sighed. “Ever since your first day as a medic at Isonzo, when you stood behind me watched me suture a laceration the wrong way round and didn’t tell me until afterward. And this was when you had two eyes.”

“Come now, Agnes. You know as well as I that his handicap couldn’t be swept under the rug like so much dust on the parlor floor.”

“I would have assumedbe treated like regular person. Isn’t that what we all want?”

“As if Chip were the only one killed. Thousands of men were. Had been already. Don’t you think I had to have known that when I chose to marry an officer, in Italy of all places?” I gave a bitter laugh. “Not as if Freddy could never understand, anyway. After all,” I said, “he only came back with a bum leg. I came back with nothing.”

“Agnes, he doesn’t understand because he doesn’t know. And he doesn’t know because you haven’t told him. In fact you lied to him.”

“Wrong. I would never lie to him. I am married; we made vows before God. That’s eternal. I only left out some details. Besides,” I added, “isn’t it your job to take care of these things?”

“Agnes, I took care of everything. I practically delivered Freddy right into your hands.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We met at a hotel in Virginia Beach, shortly before the voyage, and I persuaded him to take the bartender’s position on the Princess Anne. He probably thought I was trying to seduce him.”


“Which I was, at first. A little. But really I was hoping that you would gravitate toward each other. Of course, things didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped. Namely, since you never told him about Chip, he’s never had the opportunity to speak about him, either.”

“But Chip served in Italy, and Freddy in Belgium. They – “

“This was before the war.”

“What, were they school chums? Cousins? Gangsters? Baseball teammates? What?”

“You might say all of the above. After Chip’s mother died, his father, Charles Sr., married Freddy’s mother, Rita Heatherton.”

“And Freddy’s father?”

“In California somewhere, grabbing at gold. He told me he was never in his life; his mother scarcely more.”

“So they’re brothers, of a sort,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell me? And more importantly, how could I not have known?”

“To be fair, they don’t look much alike,” said McTavish. “Considering they’re not actually related. Besides,” he added, “the whole point was not to tell you. I wanted the two of you to get to know each other, and let it come out naturally. In its own time. I didn’t anticipate, however, that you two would continue to dance around the topic like a couple of off-Broadway hoofers.”

“Nice turn of phrase, Donnie,” I said. “Well, this changes everything.” I clapped my hands together. “Thank you again.” I blew him a kiss as I started below decks, to the first-class staterooms where Freddy had lately retired.

“Agnes, now wait a minute,” he called, and I spun around. “If you really want to make it up to Freddy, this is all I can tell you, love: make it up to Freddy.”


But I didn’t make it up to Freddy, at least not immediately. Instead I went to the bridge and began to write.

The experiment in keeping this journal, as I conceived it originally, I meant to be a fair and unbiased chronicle of my time aboard the ship while she sits here in the harbor, in the selfless interest that future maritime historians might find value in it. I am not journal-keeper by nature, nor am I inclined to speak at length about myself or inflate my own accomplishments or virtues. And when it comes to war stories, you see, I am as blind as McTavish; blinder, even, for he at least had once been able to see.

It was October. The Italians had succeeded in keeping off the Austro-Hungarians up until that point, not always skillfully but competently. Chip and I met at the base in Milan, but we’d been married by then for only about three months. About the ceremony, we informed only his commanding officer, and that only so I could accompany him on his reconnaissance missions in the Alps. The two of us went, along with three other men. Donald McTavish was one of them. We were stationed in a shepherd’s hut above the banks of the Po; it was getting late in the year but already it felt a hundred times colder than any winter I had spent in Queens as a girl. Rations were scant, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who spent time in the trenches. But Chip went out hunting goats and hares and bring them back for me to stew, standing in a kerchief like an Italian peasant wife, and skied and skated on the Po and drank wine and made love and kept each other warm and all in all it was feeling less and less like a war all the time, but rather like some cold, drunken Christmas in Chamonix that I would never have been able to afford, and we were two rich old eccentrics with no family who didn’t care a whit.

As to what happened to throw the wrench, I’m still not sure to this day, nor have expended any time in trying to find out, having no patience any longer for war historians and their borrowed accounts and crumpled evidence. I think it likely that the Germans intercepted the cable warning us to retreat. The line at Caporetto, apparently strong enough for the Austrians but not for the Germans, had been sacked and thrown into disarray, and we only found out long after the Germans had already begun to advance toward our base. We didn’t know that almost half of the Italian forces had been taken prisoner at Caporetto. This would have likely been our fate, if we’d left even an hour or so later.

As it was, before we knew how close the Germans were, we’d planned to flee together, but McTavish, gentleman and hero that he is, wouldn’t allow me to do that. In the end Chip and I fled downriver, while McTavish and the men stayed behind to hold them off, hoping to give us a head start. Chip armed me with a Mannlicher identical to his own and off we went, just the two of us, over the mountains and out of German sightlines, hoping to rejoin Chip’s unit at Venice, if they’d made it that far.

We thought we’d have a chance if we made it down the Po and covered our tracks; we supposed the Germans didn’t know that any troops had been there. But a three-day trek through the Alps was not something any of us had been outfitted for or could endure, the weather so crisp in front of our eyes that the very air shivered. Nearly out of rations, we took shelter in a cave and huddled in its dark, hand on hand, fearing bears more than Germans.

Of course, when day broke, we awoke a chorus of Achtungs from a pair of men. Chip managed to knock out one of them, but he wrestled with the other one, whose gun went off as they scrambled up the side of an icy incline. The shot alone might not have killed him if he hadn’t fallen, breaking through the ice of Po, entangled with the German until the end.

I remained there, numb in the cave, preparing to die, until some Italian peasants discovered me and brought me back down to the hospital in Venice, where I met McTavish, who’d lost an eye to shrapnel trying to hold off a German platoon above Caporetto; the only survivor of our three compatriots in the Alps.

We remained at the hospital until Armistice. There, I knit scarves and changed bandages; while somewhere else, some place I didn’t know or care to think about anymore, the war ground to an end. That time became a bare oasis, whose sole quality was the complete and utter absence of plans. What little landscape I did see outside my window served only to remind me that if it weren’t for the war, or for Chip, I wouldn’t be seeing it: the snow on the church steeples or the young doves, steeped, already old, in Venice’s auburn light. I became convinced that something had gone terribly wrong, some break in the gears of divine intention. Thus I had the responsibility to carry the standard for the meant-to-be, to go on living as if this marriage existed; as if Chip existed. No one else had lived who could prove that history wasn’t a dream; as, in time, they would grow to look more and more alike.


“By the time we came to Marne, I already knew he was dead,” said Freddy, slumped in an armchair in the first-class stateroom he’d claimed, while I curled on the Persian rug at his feet, listening to the story he’d begun soon after I’d offered mine. “I didn’t know how it happened, but I did know this: both of us couldn’t die. So I didn’t.”

“You can do that?” I asked, clutching my glass with two hands. Freddy did not have nearly the private stash in his stateroom that I did at the bridge, so I nursed my triple gin buck for all it was worth. “You can decide not to die?”

“I don’t know if you can,” he said. “But there isn’t any other good explanation. Most of my company was wiped out. Not that,” he said, tapping his leg with his snake-headed walking stick,”I didn’t pay a price.”

I looked away, gulped and downed the rest of my glass.

“Can I get another drink here?” I said, looking around frantically. Freddy laughed and pulled out his bottle of Glenfiddich from under the ebony nightstand. I grabbed it before he could even pour.

“Where have you been?” I said to it after a long swig from the bottle. I refused to look at him, or speak further. It seemed that I had played too long with fostering the neverending, and now I could never end.

Tentatively, he took my hand and placed it on his knee, where I let it remain gingerly, over the dead tissue, the iron that remained, harder than bone, that which I had gone great lengths to avoid touching or even looking at, ever since I first watched him walk out from behind the bar.

“Admitting that I can’t dance now, doesn’t mean I never could,” he said. “What happened to you, Agnes?”

“Well there was frostbite, of course, quite horrendous frostbite. Try to scorch my big toe with your lighter. Go ahead, I won’t feel a thing.” He flicked it as a joke, but wouldn’t let me deflect the question. “But the reason wasn’t that.”

I put my hand to my belly, swathed in a delicate green chiffon frock from a suitcase whose tag had fallen off.

“Freddy, there was no hope for it. The baby. Whether the malnutrition, the cold; take your pick. Who knows? I lost it within the month.”

Freddy said nothing right away. I clenched my teeth, feeling less and more like a mother than I ever had. “Chip hunted goats?” he asked.

“Yes,” I breathed, with a sigh and laugh. “He developed quite the trigger finger. But try figuring out how to fit those legs into the stewpot.”
He laughed. “Down in Virginia, we always used to make fun of him for being gun-shy. Got sick at the first sight of a dead possum. Of course I was happy, since it took the heat off me for taking tap-dance classes. They always said war does things to you, but I never thought that. Gee,” he said, looking back at me, “I would have made a damned good uncle.”

“Well, as long as she didn’t ask to learn to dance.”

“Oh,” he said. “She’d learn.”

“Oh would she?”

“She would indeed,” he said. “I’d ask you to go up on the deck now, and dance,” Freddy told me, putting down his glass, “but I’ve decided not to do that anymore. So,” he said, “do you want go up on the deck and stand?”

“I simply adore standing,” I said, taking his hand and helping him up. “Besides,” I said, “Chip never could stand worth a damn.”

We stand still because the trenches of Flanders have killed us, as they have not killed our masters: the captains, the producers and presidents. While they box the ears of their chambermaids and curse at each other, trading amputations, hungering for something to move on from, we — the sailors, the Queens Villagers, the peasant wives, the bartenders – breathe and keep the fields, keep the Theatre.

In another life, Freddy Heatherton would be intact and lately out of Duke, where he captained the cross-country team, same as his father had, before marrying Rita, his wife of twenty-five years. Every Friday night, after returning from his job in the county surveyor’s office in Virginia Beach, we might have danced the Charleston at the union hall till two, and drunk our lime rickies on the porch swing of the seaside cottage my father had scraped up the money to rent, content in knowing the apocalypse had already come and gone away.

Day Eight

I was awakened earlier tonight by a fearsome rending noise, and knew at once that the nails had popped in the hull. Donald McTavish was already in the telegraph room by the time I arrived, cabling at last (that which we’d avoided since Day Two) to Old Dominion that we were in imminent danger of life and limb, and would promptly give up the game whose rules we had, over the course of eight days, invented.

And I went immediately to the stateroom where Mr. Heatherton slept, only he wasn’t asleep. And together, the two of us went to the deck.

“You knew along I was a widow,” I said, trying out a word I’d never even whispered to myself. An honor I’ll have to admit to earning, a badge caked with grief used and worn. Maybe it even had a kind of spindly beauty, but that wouldn’t show, not for me, not yet. “Just not whose.”

Freddy nodded, unsurprisingly. He named every constellation that Chip had known. I, though, who had ever been fortunate to see a single star from the roof of my father’s brownstone in Queens Village, knew those I knew only because I had been in the Alps. And because I hadbeen, I felt the mountains whisper their cold tattoo again on my skin, and thought of their atmosphere which, despite the war below, was crystalline then, and is still, for all I know.

Day Nine

Freddy is not here with me on the bridge now, nor is Donald McTavish, or Cpl. McTavish, as I first knew him and sometimes still refer to him. They stand on the bow with much of the rest of the crew, chewing over our fate. So for the moment I am free to write, and continue the record-keeping that I began nine days ago, in an effort to catalog our social and artistic development aboard, though the journal I now fill will never leave the ship. The harbor shall be its library, for certainly, I have come to believe, there are things that have no real place in the world.

So here, in the last pages, I only speculate how it might be to be boarded, and shipped to shore like so much luggage ourselves. Out the Captain’s picture-window, I see our sister shipPrincess Mary arriving, her black smoke visible before the vessel herself. The case of meager belongings I myself had brought aboard are packed and waiting by the door, and a small selected handful of delicate robes, frocks and accessories, less those which I had offered to Callie the now-ex-chambermaid, a gold and peridot necklace and light cotton frocks and bird-of-paradise feathered fascinators, which if serviceable at Rockaway Beach could certainly find some use in the Philippines, for that’s where she told me she is bound along with young Mr. Toray, to whom she became engaged this morning, and including Mrs. Hartwick’s diamond necklace which I had worn up until three minutes ago, replaced in quite a different suitcase, from whose objects I will strive valiantly to reunite with their rightful owners, and if that proves impossible after exhausting all available resources, I shall ensure that they are well looked-after until the day they can be reclaimed

I open the door of the captain’s cabin. But I can’t help thinking, just for a moment, as I pause and listen to the hull begin to crack asunder and make my way to the rail for the last time (and this, I stress, is whether or not Freddy Heatherton chooses to accompany me) before we reach the pier that I might dive, with an elegance befitting the Old World as it was before I knew it: an English Marchioness yachting like a figurehead on the Channel or a Roman water-nymph dipping toward the banks of the Tiber, to remake beginning at the beach at Rockaway, forever &c, &c. But it’s an idea, only. And even then, it seems that to care is all I will ever know.

Claire is a writer, editor, and ghostwriter with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, over five years' professional experience, and a natural eye for the written word. Her short stories and reviews have appeared in national print and online literary journals, including MAKE, Rain Taxi, and Compass Rose, and her nonfiction in major publications like USA Today, Mashable, The Budget Fashionista, and PopMatters. She was a finalist for the Million Writers Award and the Literary Upstart competition sponsored by The L Magazine. As an editor for Amazon CreateSpace, she helped dozens of writers make their manuscripts razor-sharp and ready to sell.