Samantha Moe



There stood the freezer, frosted blue, filled with meat, hooks, red flowers, wolves the hired chefs carved out of ice. A bucket of brine, mint leaves, snow-sugar maple leaves, iced coffee, clams, tubs of ice cream. Anna fingered the cling wrap coating a bin of apple cider, wanted badly to peel the plastic off, drink the juice, eat the red snapper raw. She wanted slightly burnt hot dog buns and rich, sweet chocolates cased in hard sugar, wished she could eat in front of her colleagues but the anxiety, leftover from her childhood, had never fully eased.

–I’m going to a stress support group and you should go, too, her mother said earlier on the phone. Small dogs barked in the background, Celia Cruz playing on the radio. ¡Callate!, she shouted.

–I am perfectly fine, Anna replied.

–I know, my baby, but it’s your hiding that’s the problem.

Anna didn’t correct her mother. She didn’t want to discuss how talking to strangers in public made her heart grow cavities; her lungs turned into wings, fluttered so harshly, on the verge of a panic attack during each interaction; Anna transforming her tone to match her colleagues’; Anna pretending to have the same interests; Anna the fawn.

This didn’t stop at dinner, though she hoped to transform one day, to be able to eat in front of others. Days were spent hiding her food under the table, ducking into abandoned classrooms to finish her lunch, picking at her salads at dinner, only to later eat stuffed quahogs while cross-legged in the low refrigerator light, convincing herself again this was normal, she was certain most people didn’t like to eat in front of each other, they only did it out of habit, and weren’t things easier when you did what your scared little heart told you?

Her mother didn’t have a gallbladder.

–You’re going to put that in one of your stories, aren’t you, she’d said before they hung up.

–Of course not, Anna had replied.

They’d never talked about what writers owed their family members. Her mother read memoirs from mothers and ex-wives whose own mothers and ex-husbands were deceased, the fathers were gone, the siblings were never there to begin with. She doesn’t know what it’s like to write while everyone is still alive, doesn’t understand what it means to be in Anna’s shoes. When Anna’s panic attacks first started, her mother rushed her to the porch, telling her things would be better this way; she’d remember how to breathe with all the trees around her providing abundant oxygen. On these particular evenings, New England chilly, back lawn coated in deep frost, Anna wasn’t wearing shoes, she’d been perfectly comfortable inside the house until she wasn’t, but what about her shoes, honey, you’ll be fine. And, with one swing of the door, she was locked out of the house until her panic attack stopped, or until she could mimic the behavior of a non-anxious person, whichever came first.

The freezer door swung open. In came tangerine cologne, one scarred hand clutching a lobster roll, the other grasping the doorway. Vance looked like he wanted to devour Anna in one bite, the lobster roll a placeholder, a light dessert snack.

–Well, if it isn’t our newly minted faculty member, he joked, even though this was true, she was new, recently on the job market, white-knuckling every interview until she landed the job she wanted.

Her friends asked why she returned to New England if she knew her mother’s ghost was a cloche over Boston and all the surrounding towns. Why return to the scene of the crime, to the woman who once told her if she died that was her prerogative, to the fist fights in the forests, and the boys who didn’t know when to stop.

–I can’t help myself, Anna recalled saying. It was a brief moment, when the puppet stopped its show, and she was herself once again. She wasn’t drawn to the pain, but the absence, the mother wound, how she’d started to see her face reflected in ramekins of lemon juice, once her mother’s name appeared in the frosting on her birthday cake. Indra, whispered the sugar before promptly dissolving the letters into edible confetti and dark chocolate pearls.

At night, she prayed to her ancestors to protect her. Nuestro padre, que estás en el cielo, always stopping after santificado, unclear what came next beyond. Por favor, protect me, forgive me, ayúdame. On rain-soaked nights when she could feel her past crawling through the window, she’d light dollar-store Christ and Mary candles, only once did she find a Saint Jude, everyone’s names braiding together into one story. She was never religious, but her abuelita was, always walking around their old apartment clutching a bright blue Virgin Mary statue, knuckles pink with exhaustion, prayer, indented pockets the size of seeds from clutching the rosary beads too hard.

–How are you, Vance?

–Oh, you know, not my circus. Sofia is drinking again and telling some story about killing mule deer with her bare hands. Frankly insufferable, so I came downstairs to inspect. The question is, what are you doing down here?

Anna didn’t know how to explain she saw the ghost of her abuelitita, her Wita—slang for littlest grandmother, great grandmother, floating down the staircase like an emptied nightgown. Her aura was lilac, hair still in curlers, skin taut, necklines exposed. She was cackling. Anna wanted to know what was so funny.

Vance smiled down at her, and Anna felt the shadow of the animal she was awaken, frightened, ready to bash his head with one of the ice sculptures if he took a step closer.

–Shall we? he asked, plucking a half-frozen Heineken off the wall.

–That beer slushie looks good, she joked.

–You want some?

He placed the cap between his teeth and twisted. Anna winced, preparing herself for the chipped tooth, late-night dentist visit. Vance flashed his hungry white mouth, all teeth intact, as if to say, see? It’s safe. You, too, can command things with your jaw.

She took the beer, grateful for an excuse to use her hands, turned away to take a sip. The froth was delicious, leaving a cold, empty feeling on her tongue.

–Thank you.

She handed him the beer bottle. There he went, smiling again like all was fine in the world.

–Any time, angel.

It was unclear if this was her new pet name or if he’d forgotten already who she was. There were so many people upstairs, so many faces she still didn’t recognize. She’d been following around the Chair as she uncorked bottles of rosé, plum-nosed Cabernet Sauvignon, looking over her shoulder every few seconds to make sure Anna was still there. It was unclear if this was endearing or irritating.

When Anna had someone to cling to, the rest of the room became invisible, a blur of strangers, drinks, and dessert plates, scented candles flickering in every window; the theme of the house was farm animals. In each of the cabinets were plush cows, the rug in the dining room had a moose crocheted in the center, even the appetizers had come from the local farm down the street.

Outside, wind whipped the trees into a frenzy. There were guests on the porch, cigarette cherries barely visible through stained glass, their argument seeping in through the dog flap. Something about another colleague who was pissing them off, a man, they said, who was irritated about someone’s performance, something-something grinds us down, more muttering, then a name she barely caught, dissipating into the cold night air.

Vance abandoned her for a cluster of psychology professors. Anna floated towards a table of seafood, slipping whole soft-shelled clams in the pockets of her grandfather’s blazer. His name was emblazoned on the innermost pocket, Jorge, in cursive, the thread as gold as the sun.

Amongst the steamers stood heated shot glasses of pourable butter, bone broth, stuffed clams coated in green pepper slices, lemon juice, paprika, diced garlics in a glass bin, lobster rolls in a neat pile, bright yellow corn, crab legs, and an unclaimed glass of milk at the edge of the table. Anna plucked a stray piece of bacon from the surface of a roux and chewed it, savoring the rubbery, half-cooked center. She licked her fingers, still facing the cabinet filled with trinkets, observing lambs made of blown glass, a farmer sculpted from clay reaching for a bucket, his kind winking face turning towards hers, smiling and waving. Anna waved back.

–What are you up to? came a playful voice at her side.

–Oh, I was just . . . examining the farmer, I guess.

Maisie Silver, a full professor in the English department, bumped her elbow into Anna’s. Her face filled with heat. She sensed the clams were leaking in her pocket and pulled one out, swallowing its contents in one bite.

–Did you just pull that out of your pocket?

Anna turned to explain herself, but Maisie’s eyes were full of laughter.

–I hate eating in front of these people, she said, leaning so close to Maisie’s ear she could feel her warm breath. Do you want to go outside for a smoke?

Anna had never wanted a smoke more in her life before. She’d never had one, but there was no time like the present to start. Oh, to be one of the cool kids on the back porch, elbow holes in blazers, duck boots, and whiskey on the rocks, everyone smelling like weed and nicotine.

The porch wrapped around the house. They exited through the side, Maisie holding the door open for Anna before closing it gently behind her.

Anna wanted to ask if Maisie had grown up in a quiet home, stopped herself. She recognized other adults with terrifying parents by how softly they walked across the floor, whether or not they turned the knobs of doors, gently–or harshly–shut. It was written in the way Maisie carried her body, always folding her arms into her chest, but smiling, please love me, likely willing the others not to hurt her. It was the way Anna felt at all hours of the day. They needed no introduction, the villains from her past, the way they’d rewritten her body from scratch. Maisie handed her a joint and soon Anna was wrapped in sweet-tasting marijuana laced with nicotine.

Anna coughed so much she saw spots in her eyes. Maisie offered her a sip of wine, which she happily accepted. The wine, too, made her choke, but it tasted good, like blackberries and hay.

–I always skip these things, Maisie said.

–I’ve noticed. I mean, I didn’t see you at the last party.

Maisie nodded, taking a long drag. Her fingers were painted forest green, and she had rings on each of her fingers.

–Are you feeling at home yet?

The question startled Anna. So far, all anyone had asked her was whether she’d settled, if she felt like things were falling into place, as if her life were a semi-complicated puzzle to be solved in the quickness of an evening.

–Home is a complicated thing. I suppose I’ve never really felt at home, even in my childhood. I think home for me is wherever my body doesn’t feel like it has to cower in fear. Oh my god, I’m talking so much, I’m sorry.

Maisie tilted her head back, hair a mixture of burnt orange and dirty blonde, cackled.

–It’s all good.

But Maisie didn’t share back. Perhaps Anna had been wrong all along; Maisie had grown up in a stunning farmhouse with two parents who loved each other. Maybe they went to bed with their animals, even the chickens who had salmonella, and no one was ever sick, everyone tucked into the same double-king sized bed as snow haloed the house. There were probably dogs with expensive collars and clean fur, cows napping on the futon, blankets printed with onions, and celery purchased from an antique store.

A figure could be seen beyond the stained glass, angling for the doorknob.

–Trust no one, Maisie said, stubbing out the joint as the door opened to reveal Vance, newly buzzed from his third glass of Johnny Walker Blue.


Maisie’s hands placed on his shoulders, gently ushering him into the house.

Anna watched her breath curl in the air. Beyond, forest, beyond forest, a lake, the calls of birds not yet South for the winter, the threat of half-asleep bears, copper-hued squirrels and rabbits with long gray ears. At the edge of the porch, Wita, relighting the joint.

–Que buena noche, she said.

–De verdad, abuelita.

Wita inhaled deeply, blew out perfect smoke rings. Her neck was still layered in rosary beads, more than when she saw her on the staircase, more still from when they observed her body in the open casket, lined with lilac silk, her grandmother amongst the mourners, crying into an embroidered cocktail napkin.

Fungal spores bloomed, curled beneath the banister of the porch. Bluefin tuna had been painted onto the wood, a baby eel sliding up the wood, king oysters and puffer fish, in the center of the wood, splashes of smoky butter, dried lemon slices, sesame seeds and perfectly circular prosciutto slices. Wita tugged at a doorknob in the floor, revealing not the fresh green lawn below but a black staircase with gray spotlights.

–Anna, she said, her voice crackling like bonfire logs. Ven pa’ acá.

Anna’s cheeks felt cold, mascara crusted together, shining like jewels. Wita’s hand was cold, a magical promise, she felt almost like a character in a fairytale, but fairytales always ended in hungry, waiting jaws.

In the staircase beneath the porch, everything smelled of warm bread. The stairs themselves were soft as cheese. Anna fished in her pocket for the shells, finding their forms changed into navy-blue mussels. Forth, she pulled fresh pasta, tarragon, oyster roast and small sauvignon blanc chillers. There were twists of rosemary, compound butter cubes, hothouse tomatoes and fresh jalapeños. Wita opened her own fabric in the front of her dress to reveal shrimp, potatoes and polenta, clear tubes of unlabeled seasoning and a refrigerator the size and length of her arm.

At the bottom of the staircase they had a picnic. They ate with their hands, laughing as butter and grease dripped down their chins. Provolone flecked her rosary beads. Wita’s hair, normally curly, now filled with streaks of paprika and celery kernels. Parsley in her ears, the folds of her dress, her dress which had begun to regain some of its bright hues.

Above, the party continued. They observed, as if through a television screen, guests on the porch. Maisie on her hands and knees searching for a loose earring, her lips formed into a gentle smile, eyes occasionally catching Anna’s. It was unclear whether she could see Anna in the hidden staircase realm, or if she were smiling at the memory of the two of them on the porch. Her earring had fallen down the staircase and shimmered in the gray light, a singular pink pearl in the shape of a star. Anna always hated pearls, disturbed by strangers’ hands digging around the gums of innocent creatures, hated the women who harvested pearls in different shapes, forming conditions that led to pressure, hated her own teeth for being so imperfect. Instinctually, she raised a hand to her mouth after eating a particularly juicy shrimp.

Soon, wintertime. The department would throw more parties, decorate the insides of the school to commemorate New Year’s Eve, the start of a new semester, a woman named Star who finally earned tenure after years of attempting to publish her manuscript. There would be lemon-flavored martinis, hyper-reflective tinsel, and thick blazers. Someone started bringing squid ink pasta to all the dinners, someone continued to drink all the wine, spilling interdepartmental secrets to the others in the hushed light of the powder room.

Anna awoke in the Chair’s guest room, her outfit covered in butter, neck weighed down by hundreds of rosary beads. The door was locked from the inside, likely done by Anna when she’d crawled, tearfully, away from Wita in search of a comfortable place to nap. Outside, the evening was late, the party carried on. It was unclear if days, weeks, or months had passed. There was a small bowl of yellow rice on the nightstand next to her head. Anna rolled over, absent-mindedly picking at the pieces of rice, longed for chicken, beans, sauce. She wanted messy dinners with her family, who now hated each other, her mother slamming doors and screaming at her own mother, a chain of mother wounds and mother hearts banging around the dining room in a storm. They would throw overripe plums at each other, poach the air with butter knives, an aroma of grief and love later putting the family under a sleepy siege.

Those were days Anna woke covered in sweat and blood. Whose? She couldn’t recall, only remembered hunting many-legged animals in her sleep, later draping sheets over her windows after Wita told her el diablo está aquí quando lloviendo. And that word, lloviendo, hard double l’s reminding her of Jesus and jackfish, jaws, jewels and jellynose fish curling around the half-closed mouths of underwater volcanoes. During witching hours, the devil was rumored to climb through the mirrors of daughters when they least expected it.

Someone had taken the blanket from downstairs, copper-hued and covered in brightly stitched snakes, draped it over the mirror hanging above the bureau, tassels attached at the edges, bundles of bright green and amber, the snakes traveling in circles, alive. Anna continued working at the rice. When she arrived at the bottom of the bowl, there lay a perfectly oblong maduro, heavy as a bar of gold, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Anna plucked the overripe plantain out with her fingers, placed it on her tongue, swallowed whole.



Sam Moe is the recipient of a 2023 St. Joe Community Foundation Poetry Fellowship from Longleaf Writers Conference. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Whale Road Review, The Indianapolis Review, Sundog Lit, and others. Her first full-length collection, Heart Weeds, was published with Alien Buddha Press (Sept. ’22) and her second full-length collection Grief Birds was published with Bullshit Lit (Apr. ’23). Her third full-length Cicatrizing the Daughters is forthcoming from FlowerSong Press.