The Masters Review Blog

Jan 18

What We Read in 2018

We asked our volunteer readers to share some thoughts on the best thing they read last year. Although 2019 is almost a month old, we needed the time to decide! From Her Body and Other Parties to Convenience Store Woman, Falconer to The Great Believers. Read on below to find out a little more about the eclectic tastes of our readers.

 

Cole Meyer — For the first time, I kept a chronological list of all the novels, anthologies and short story collections I read for the year. I entered 2018 reading Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and ended with Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh. When the year began, I had a 45-minute commute both ways by train for work, and so for about an hour and a half every day, I was left (mostly) alone with my music and a book. It was often the best part of my day. I was able to finally tackle some books which had been on my shelf for years, like Kafka’s Complete Stories, as well as new releases like Florida by Lauren Groff. But the best for me was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. The collection floats from fable to gothic horror to police procedural. Its opening story, “The Husband Stitch” is an adaptation of a classic horror story – many might remember a children’s version from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories – but it sets the tone for the rest of the collection. The story opens with narration instructions: “(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices: ME: as a child, high-pitched, forgettable; as a woman, the same… ALL OTHER WOMEN: interchangeable with my own.)” As former TMR anthology judge Kevin Brockmeier says, “Carmen Maria Machado is the way forward.”

Ross Feeler — John Cheever’s Falconer is a bizarre, dream-like story about a fratricidal heroin addict who, while locked inside novel’s namesake prison, shows readers a deeply fallen world that is nonetheless magical and worth inhabiting. I suggest pairing the novel with Blake Bailey’s excellent biography, which includes Cheever’s remarks upon receiving National Medal for Literature: “A page of good prose,” Cheever says, “seems to me the most serious dialogue that well-informed and intelligent men and women carry on today in their endeavor to make sure that the fires of this planet burn peaceably.” Every page of Falconer illustrates this literary ideal.

In addition to Falconer, I was also blown away by Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, Marilynne Robinson’s What Are We Doing Here, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, Joy Williams’ The Changeling, Nick Pyenson’s Spying on Whales, and Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays.

Terri Leker — Sam Allingham’s short story “The Intermediate Class” was as moving, funny, and thoughtful as any fiction I read in 2018. Set in an Adult Ed German class at a community center, the story explores communication, the limitations of language, and what is lost or perhaps gained in translation. At the beginning of each class, the instructor rings a bell to indicate the point from which only German is spoken, transporting Kiril and his fellow students into an unfamiliar and slightly helpless realm. The story’s stakes are not particularly high; tension arises in part from omission, such as the disappearance of a classmate, the limited vocabulary with which the students can describe themselves, and the mysterious “secret” language that is neither German nor English.

Lisa Folkmire — I think the best book I read in 2018 was The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi. The book is an exploration of South-East Asia’s history and culture as told through the eyes of a young man searching for his lost father’s bicycle. Sections are broken up by diagrams of bicycles and brief histories of each one. The book reads more or less like a travel log merged with a bicycle encyclopedia. Part war novel, part magical realism, part family history, the book leads hardly any detail out. And the details–of the world’s oldest elephant, a young woman who made art out of butterfly’s wings, a tree of soldiers, all make the story a standout.

Melissa Hinshaw — Fear & Trembling by Amélie Nothomb: I think this got published in the 90s but I checked it out this year when I was looking for books about boring office life. Hearing someone so simultaneously compliant and irreverent was refreshing to the point of giving me the perspective and energy boost I needed to up and change my whole career. Also a good cultural study: it was written in French about being in Japan.

Certain American States by Catherine Lacey: Someone called her the “female Don DeLillo” so of course I bit and I’m glad I did. A little bit more breakup-ey than Don DeLillo but spot on in terms of the way her narration feels domestic-ish and then all of a sudden changes your soul? Slay me. I miss that in writing.

Lynda Montgomery — Of all the books I read in 2018, the one I foist most often on others is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This beautiful novel has something for every reader. If you want the complex story of a love relationship, read it. If you want a parable about home and migration, read it. If you want to read amazing sentence after amazing sentence, read it. I loved it for all those reasons and more.

Jen Dupree — Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is my favorite novel of 2018. Makkai spans two eras: Chicago in the 1980s, when a group of young men begin to receive diagnoses of AIDS; and the aftermath of those who survived in 2015. The chapters set in the 80s are of course heartbreaking (despite my crazy wish that Makkai would invent a cure and we could walk away unharmed), but they are also stunningly hopeful. The modern chapters focus on the repercussions of the disease through time, what becomes of the left behind, how do they cope when they’ve seen so many die? This was both a novel I read with compulsivity, and one I felt I needed to read.

Kim HendersonConvenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata, will snap you out of your reading routine. The perspective, that of an oddball lifetime convenience store worker, makes commonplace social norms seem unfamiliar and even strange, and it brings to life mundanities most of us pay little attention to. I found it refreshing to read about a character who gained deep satisfaction and meaning from the everyday intricacies of working at a convenience store, who felt full and whole in her monotonous job and her simple routine life, without a husband or family or any of the things she was expected to strive for. To me this is both a love letter to a convenience store and a quietly bold social commentary on Japanese society.

Courtney Harler — In The Friend, Sigrid Nunez writes, “Am I talking to you, or to myself? I confess the line has gotten blurred.” Though I read many well-crafted books in 2018, many of which were also finalists for the National Book Award, it’s Nunez’s winner that keeps reverberating in my mind, keeps blurring the lines of thought and feeling. For a short, darkly funny novel that reads almost too quickly, Nunez manages to examine an extensive array of evocative topics: suicide and grief, the question of the self in relation to social mores, life’s cross-purposes and inherent loneliness. The content is hefty, but made accessible through Nunez’s chosen style, which is part love letter, part writer’s journal, part expository essay, part teacher’s lament. Others might call The Friend a “writerly” text, but it’s—in its intimacy and immediacy—more than “readerly,” too. Like many great novels, The Friend succeeds by authentically aligning the writer with the narrator and then the narrator with the reader. The reading in and of itself is fully immersive, both challenging and comforting. Nunez’s narrator surmises, “Maybe he [Apollo, her adopted dog] understands that, when I’m not feeling so great, losing myself in a book is the best thing I could do.” Honestly, losing myself in Nunez’s book was one of the best things I did last year.

 

 

 

Jan 16

Book Review: Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Today, Amelia Brown reviews Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, out last week from Riverhead Books. “These are sad stories,” Brown writes, “about women who know that their lot is to be abandoned, men who know their lot is to abandon, and children who are powerless to change anything.”

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Samanta Schweblin is a writer of impatient stories. Mere seconds into “Headlights”, the first story in her new collection, we meet a woman in her wedding dress, learn that she has just been abandoned by her groom at a restroom by the side of the highway because she took too long, and while we are still processing that, we meet a second abandoned woman who demands to know whether the bride will wait for her man to return. “Look,” this second woman says, when the first woman, still reeling, doesn’t answer, “I’ll make this short because there’s really not much to it. They get tired of waiting and they leave you.”

I imagine Schweblin might have muttered that line to herself while writing—an admonition to keep the reader’s attention. But it is also something of a thematic signpost for everything that is to come. Hurry up, Schweblin commands in story after story. Look where I’m pointing before it’s too late.

Read more.

Jan 15

New Voices: “A Portrait of a Virgin” by Rachel Cochran

Join us in celebrating today’s new story, “A Portrait of a Virgin” by Rachel Cochran, the second-place winner of our Summer 2018 Short Story Award for New Writers! Rachel was awarded $300 and agency review for this philosophical tale. Now, follow along as the men travel to the home of the tortoises.

I sit among the men, holding my cards and desperate to ignore how the tortoise presses in against my leg. Its gentleness, its trust, its innocence—all are too much for me to bear.

“There is no such thing as a portrait of a virgin,” Ramesh tells us over cards, after we have fattened ourselves on a dinner of salt rice down in the hold. The night sea sluices and ripples past us at the speed of a rushing snake; in the starlight the water is dark as old blood.

The expected outcry follows this comment: Of course there are portraits of virgins! we have seen many drawn, displayed in diverse conditions, locations, and styles! why, Prabin’s virgin bride-to-be just sat for a miniature, which he has with him tucked within his breast pocket! But Ramesh only clucks at us and shakes his head, repeating that there never was a portrait done of a virgin. Begun? perhaps–but completed? never, not once.

“How can you say this thing?” asks Prabin, clutching his cards in one hand and his breast pocket self-consciously in the other. Ramesh agrees that he will explain himself under the circumstances that Prabin’s hand trumps his own, and we all hope that this time, just this one time, Prabin will unseat Ramesh the Champion so that all our curiosity might be sated, but it is not to be, and Ramesh crows wickedly while sweeping our modest pile of coins into his pouch, and we all go to our hammocks, his statement still racing through our minds.

The next morning, we make land at the home of the tortoises.

To read the rest of “A Portrait of a Virgin” click here.

Jan 11

Last Chance! Call for Readers

Our Call for Readers closes TONIGHT. If you love literary fiction and nonfiction, and three to four hours of reading submissions a week sounds like fun, we encourage you to apply. Our readers work remotely and can set their own schedules. This position begins in February and involves a commitment through July. PLEASE NOTE: readerships are unpaid and on a strictly volunteer basis.

|||APPLY HERE|||

If interested, please send cover letter, resume, and at least one writing sample by Friday, January 11. We look forward to hearing from you!

Jan 10

Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest Winners!

Here they are, the three winning entries for our Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! We’d like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to every writer who submitted to this contest. We loved reading every single submission. The winner will receive $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All three of our winning stories will be published on the blog.

Winner:

How to Spot a Whale” by Jacqui Reiko Teruya

Second Place Story:

Two Kinds of Neighborhoods” by Neil Cooney

Third Place Story:

Rieb Kear (to Marry)” by Adam Nazaroff
Jan 9

New Voices: “A Country Where I Am Beautiful” by Patty Smith

We are excited to begin sharing the winners of our Summer 2018 Short Story Award for New Writers! Today, we have our third-place winner: “A Country Where I Am Beautiful” by Patricia Smith. We were drawn to this story’s commentary on body image and beauty. Evelyn is in Senegal, far from her family and home in Milwaukee, and finds herself desired by men at every turn.

            “I meet you tomorrow at four o’clock.  Here,” the man said.  He glanced at the slip of paper.  “Evelyn,” he said, but he pronounced it Evleen.

            I’m in a country where my name is beautiful.

Evelyn met the men everywhere.  At school.  Getting her electricity and water turned on.  In the bank.  She met the men walking the dusty red streets on her way to market, swatting flies, staying clear of pigs who roamed freely.  She met the men driving cabs.  At the newspaper kiosques.

“Miss, I am wanting to know you,” they all said.  This time a dark, skinny man with glasses and bad teeth said it from behind the single window in the run-down post office where Evelyn had to pay bribes to pick up packages from the States.  “I am wanting to know you very much.”  He held Evelyn’s slip of yellow paper in his long slim fingers the color of dark roast.

Evelyn wasn’t expecting a package.  Not from Marta who had just sent two more remaindered novels.  Marta felt sorry for the writers and bought their books, gave them as gifts, and now sent them, weekly, to Evelyn.  Marta had recently begun sending cassettes, too—”Prairie Home Companion,” taped from the public radio station so Evelyn would feel at home.

“You are from States?” the man asked.

“I’m from Milwaukee,” Evelyn said.  She pronounced each syllable as if elongating the name would make clear where she was from.  “Wisconsin,” she added.

The man smiled and Evelyn could see gaping holes and blackened half teeth.  “Los Angeles?” he said.  He pronounced it Angelease.

It was what foreigners knew. California and New York.  The rest, what was in between, didn’t matter, didn’t exist.

“No,” Evelyn said, but the man looked away.  Evelyn waited, her leather backpack heavy on her shoulder.  Just thinking of Wisconsin here in this dingy post office where the paint peeled and the room smelled of mildew, where the one-eyed man sold stamps outside beneath a banyan tree in the courtyard, gave Evelyn the beginnings of a headache.

To read the rest of “A Country Where I Am Beautiful” click here.

Jan 7

Final Week: Call for Readers

Our Call for Readers closes Friday, January 11th. If you love literary fiction and nonfiction, and three to four hours of reading submissions a week sounds like fun, we encourage you to apply. Our readers work remotely and can set their own schedules. This position begins in February and involves a commitment through July. PLEASE NOTE: readerships are unpaid and on a strictly volunteer basis.

|||APPLY HERE|||

If interested, please send cover letter, resume, and at least one writing sample by Friday, January 11. We look forward to hearing from you!

Jan 4

New Voices: “A New River” by Dominic Desmond

In today’s addition to our New Voices catalog, Jake, an ironworker, copes with the death of his coworker, Moe, who fell from the bridge they were working on. In a voice reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, Desmond guides the reader through the forest and fog of West Virginia. Join the currents of “A New River” as it explores the natural beauty and fragility of life.

Jake reached for a newspaper there on the counter and looked at the front page. Big letters. No words. But, in the lower left-hand corner of the page, he saw the semi-bold letters: IRONWORKER DIES IN FALL. He pushed the newspaper away.

It had been Jake and his supervisor, Andy, in the manager’s trailer. The top three buttons of the manager’s flannel were undone. Jake could see his brow shiny in the light.

Jake heard murmurs among the men outside the thin-walled trailer.

“Like a watermelon.”

“Pop.”

Andy looked at the manager.

“You should make that call, Al,” Andy said, putting his stickered helmet under his arm.

“I’m trying to think of what to say,” Al said, putting his palms to his ears and then going up with them into the air.

“You tell her there was an accident,” Andy said.

Jake looked at the typewriter on Al’s desk.

Andy moved towards Al’s desk.

Jake heard laughter outside.

Joist.

Joy.

Welding.

Visor down.

Moe’s there.

Torch out.

Visor up.

Turn around.

Where’s Moe?

No more Moe.

“Moe fell, Al,” Andy said. “Now make the call.” Andy looked down at the rotor phone.

To read the rest of “A New River,” click here.

Dec 29

January Deadlines: 12 Prizes With Deadlines This Month

It’s a new year, filled with new opportunities. Make a resolution to share your writing with the world, and then get started by entering one (or more!) of these contests!

FEATURED! Winter Short Story Award for New Writers

This one is our own contest, and it’s featured for so many good reasons! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 7000 words, written by emerging writers who have a way with words and a love for language! The winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Judged by the fabulous Aimee Bender! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

Poetry and Fiction Prizes

This is a compilation of Bayou Magazine’s two wonderful awards, the James Knudsen Prize for Fiction and the Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry! Fiction entries, judged by Marcy Dermansky, should be less than 7500 words, and poetry entries, judged by the titular Danielle Pafunda, may include up to three poems. The winners will both receive $1000, and all entries will be considered for publication. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 1

The 2019 MR Prize

Awarded through Mississippi Review, this prize is available to writers and poets alike! Winners receive $1000 and publication for the categories of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Prose entries should be 1000-8000 words, and poetry should be less than 10 pages, but there is no limit on the number of entries! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: January 1

Glimmer Train Family Matters Contest

Only occurring once a year, this is the annual installment of Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest! It’s open to all writers, writing about families of all configurations, and entries can run from 1000 to 12,000 words. The winner receives $2500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 10 copies of that issue, while the runner-up receives $500 and the possibility of publication. Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $18 Deadline: January 2

Steinbeck Fellowships in Creative Writing

The Steinbeck Fellows Program of San José State University, endowed by Martha Heasley Cox, is looking for emerging writers of any age and background! Their creative writing fellowship accepts work in fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and biography (but not in poetry). Accepted fellows will receive a $15,000 stipend, interaction with other writers and faculty, and monthly readings. Each application needs to include a prospectus, resumé, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: January 2

Desert Writers Award

Established to honor the memory of Ellen Meloy, the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers is devoted to creative nonfiction work about the desert. The Fund provides support to writers whose work brings deeper meaning to the body of desert literature, awarding $5000 every spring! To be considered, entrants must include the completed application form, a biographical statement, a project proposal, and a 10-page writing sample. More details here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: January 15

Crazyhorse Prizes

These are actually three contests offered by Crazyhorse, looking for exceptional writing and outstanding poetry! The judges are Erika Meitner for poetry, Lily Hoang for nonfiction, and Rick Bass for fiction. Submissions may be up to 25 pages, or a set of 1-3 poems, and the winner of each contest receives $2000 and publication. Make sure to select the correct contest for your submission! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

Lamar York Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction

Georgia State University sponsors these prizes, through The Chattahoochee Review, and awards $1000 and publication to the winners in fiction and nonfiction. There are no theme restrictions, but entries must be under 6000 words to qualify! Fiction is judged by Kevin Wilson and nonfiction is judged by Adriana Páramo. Details here.

Entry Fee: $18 Deadline: January 31

Montana Prize for Fiction

Whitefish Review and judge Rick Bass want your best fiction – stories with beauty and  attentiveness, and stories that include loss – and they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is! The first-place winner will receive $1000 and publication, but all stories will be considered for publication. The absolute maximum length for these entries is 7000 words, but authors have final authority on any changes before publishing. Do it!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

New Millennium Awards

There’s a little something for everyone in this contest, presented by literary journal New Millennium Writings! Writers can send in submissions for poetry, fiction, flash fiction, or nonfiction, with no restrictions on style or subject matter. Fiction and nonfiction must be less than 6000 words, flash fiction must be less than 1000 words, and poetry may include three poems less than five pages long. First place in each category receives $1000, a certificate, publication online and in print, and two copies. Select finalists may also be published and receive complimentary copies. Don’t wait!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

The Big Moose Prize

If you’ve recently finished writing a novel, here is an opportunity to get published! Black Lawrence Press is awarding this prize, and it’s open to new, emerging, or established authors. The winner receives $1000, book publication, and 10 copies of their book. Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: January 31

The Iowa Review Awards

In this threefold contest offered by The Iowa Review, contestants can submit entries for fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Rebecca Makkai is judging fiction, Roxane Gay(!) is judging nonfiction, and Kiki Petrosino is judging poetry! Prose submissions may be up to 25 pages, and poetry submissions may be up to 10 pages. The winners in each category receive $1500 and publication. Choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

by Kimberly Guerin

Dec 21

Happy Holidays from The Masters Review

Happy Holidays! We are narrowing down our selections for the Summer Flash Fiction Contest and will announce the results in early January. We are still accepting submissions for our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers judged by Aimee Bender. Details here. We hope you all are looking forward to the new year as much as we are!

 

Dec 19

A Year in Review

2018 is coming to a close. What better time to reflect on the remarkable work we’ve published on The Masters Review this past year? From playwrights to mock patrols, from slaves to “Spies,” from “Birth Stories” to stories about death. This year, we covered it all. We are so excited for the careers ahead of these emerging authors. Join us today for a look back through our 2018.

The Front Line by James Walley (December 2018)

Flight by Jennifer Jacobson (November 2018)

The Road to Damascus by Michael Broida (November 2018)

Ebenezer, Ebenezer by Ariel Chu (November 2018 – Spring Flash Fiction Winner!)

Out of the Fields by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw (October 2018 – Spring Flash Fiction Winner!)

Spies by Timothy Schirmer (October 2018 – Spring Flash Fiction Winner!)

Heitor by Chaya Bhuvaneswar (October 2018 – Featured Fiction)

You-You by Grayson Morley (September 2018)

Edged by Casey Guerin (September 2018)

Trash by Lindsay Reid Fitzgerald (August 2018)

The Dumpling Makers by Kristina Ten (July 2018)

The Art of Ending by Olivia Parkes (July 2018)

My History With Careless People, and Other Stories by Christian Winn (June 2018)

Luces by Ran O’Wain (June 2018)

The Visible Spectrum by Carlee Jensen (June 2018)

Drop Zone Summer by Nick Fuller Googins (May 2018 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

A History That Brings Me to You by Katie M. Flynn (May 2018 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

Birth Stories by Sarah Harris Wallman (May 2018 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

The Deca-life Crisis by Jessi Lewis (April 2018)

The Monsters by Paul Crenshaw (April 2018)

Last Bridge Burned by Ron Rash (March 2018 – Featured Fiction)

If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This by Jill Rosenberg (March 2018 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Lepidomancy by Maria Lioutaia (March 2018 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Together, Maureen by Amanda Emil Anderson (February 2018 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Mistakes of Thought by Youmi Park (February 2018)

Night Vision by Glori Simmons (January 2018)

Private Affair by D.S. Englander (January 2018)

Dec 17

New Voices Revisited: “Bay Rhum Christmas” by Frances Key Phillips

Today, we are pleased to return to “Bay Rhum Christmas,” by Frances Key Phillips, originally published on The Masters Review in 2015. In this story, a woman visits her daughter’s home for the holidays and comes to terms with the realities of her grown family. Phillips offers a narrative about love, memory, and life, examining the ways in which it fulfills and disappoints us with direct and touching prose. We are excited to return our attention to this great story for the holiday season.

bay rhum creative

“I warm the rum before pouring it over,” Bronwen says, smiling. “Helps it burn.” It’s a bit of a cheat, but this last resort is called for, considering all that has happened.

Bronwen isn’t greeted by anyone at the door, though she knows she can be seen through the house’s large front windows as she walks up the path. A carrier bag holding two boxes of gold-foil Christmas crackers swings from her forearm. She is hardly surprised at the oversight: Carys’ household always gives off a hectic air, despite there being only two adults and one docile child living in it. No one ever sits down, or at least not when Bronwen visits. But she does not feel unwelcome. She is arriving at precisely the time she has been told to arrive, just as she will leave at precisely the time she has said she will be leaving.

Blinking against the morning’s fine snow, she lets herself in and hangs up her winter coat in the hall closet, sliding her cap-toe pumps in small circles on the putty-colored carpeting to dry them.

In the kitchen Carys taps the side of a sieve and powdered sugar drifts over a plate of mince pies, blanketing them. Condensation, like that in a terrarium, clouds the corners of all the windows. The house’s warmth creeps up Bronwen’s neck. Carys has the same dogged look she got as a child whenever she was concentrating on something beyond her easiest grasp.

Nadolig llawen,” Bronwen says from the doorway after waiting to be noticed becomes tiresome. She looks forward to holidays and birthdays, when she can resurrect the Welsh of her childhood without her children pulling faces.

“Merry Christmas to you, too.” Carys pushes her cheek out for Bronwen to kiss. She smells like frying oil and onions and her hair is cinched back into a thin tail. Greasy strands snake along her shining forehead like scribbles from a pen.

“You’re just in time, Ma. Can you do the custard? Marged’s done it once already but it seized. We’re both hopeless at it.”

“No trouble,” Bronwen says. “I’ll just get an apron on.” She will show them how it’s done. This time, make them write it down. “Should I put these on the table?” Bronwen asks, holding the bag of crackers out.

“Paul can help Sally to set them out. She’ll like to help.” Carys hands Bronwen a stiff holly-patterned bib and she slips it over her head, pulling its stingy strings tight around her hips.

Bronwen bites into one of the mince pies. Shards like mica shatter onto her front. Carys has done them nicely, their elegance not betraying the cook’s anxiousness. Until a couple of years ago, Bronwen handled the whole Christmas meal herself, the girls helping out here or there and Trevor seeing to the wine—opening bottles to air them, putting Champagne on ice—and the music—popular holiday music to start and later a loop of carols, hymns and Gregorian chants. Bronwen never let any of the day’s labor get away from her: any fluster she felt was hidden from the rest of them.

Marged, Bronwen’s younger daughter, comes in holding a bottle of Pellegrino in each fist. “There you are. Come and open your presents, Ma,” she says, leading Bronwen by the elbow to the living room so the task can be ticked off Marged’s list.

“I was just…”

“That’s all right. We can do that later, can’t we?” They leave the kitchen before Carys can answer.

To read the rest of “Bay Rhum Christmas” click here.