The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Issue No. 57, Summer, 2019

BWG is happy to announce the winners in the 
2019 Short Story Award

First Place
"Oranges and Roses"
Angela Albertson, Mission, B.C., Canada

This story will appear in the forthcoming anthology 
Fur, Feathers, and Scales: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales
 due out in October 2020

Second Place
"The Spouses Club"
Jeanne Moran, Lancaster, PA

Third Place
Sarah Felsted, Bethlehem, PA

Honorable Mentions 
(in alphabetical order by author's last name)

"Cooper" by Anne Anthony, Chapel Hill, NC
"Take a Cue from the Canine" by Phil Giunta, Allentown, PA
"Stanley the Cat" by Bill White, Allentown, PA

Watch for our Fall issue, where we will publish some of these stories.

Editor's Note

A.E. Decker

Welcome, Roundtable readers!

My name is A. E. Decker. I’ve been a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group since late 2010—going on ten years now. I write primarily fantasy, and have several published novels and short stories under my belt. But just right now, I am very excited to be making my debut as the chief editor of the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable with this, our “ants at the picnic” issue. My predecessor, Carol Wright, deserves all the praise in the world for heading this task since 2011. She’s still working behind the scenes, along with my amazing assistant, Dianna Sinovic, Jerry McFadden, our tech guru, and other editors and hard-working folk who make running this e-zine possible.

Our annual short story competition is closed for the year. The next contest will open on January 1,  2020. Check our contest tab above for updates. You can read the names of the winners of the 2019 contest in the banner above. Congratulations to all! For next year’s contest, we will again be looking for stories featuring animals. Of course, this magazine, The Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, is always open for both poetry and short story submissions. See our Submissions & Contact page for further instructions. We are a paying market.

The Bethlehem Writers Roundtableis also pleased to be debut a new column in this issue, titled Literary Learnings. In this section of the e-zine, a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group will offer an in-depth look at one of their favorite writers or books, taking a historical, literary, or whimsical approach. Often, learning how authors created their work proves just as inspiring as the stories they produce.

Curiously enough, when I was assembling this issue, I was frequently visited by a large, black ant. They frequently appear inside my house when the weather warms, amble about for a week or so, and then vanish, apparently deciding they prefer the outdoors after all. This particular ant liked to show up every morning around eleven o’clock and wander across my desk. She’d frequently pause beside my mousepad and groom herself, much as a cat would. Perhaps some people would’ve squashed her, or at least evicted her to the outside, but I came to enjoy her daily visits. I’d pause in my work to watch her stop beside my mousepad and groom herself, much as a cat would, before continuing onwards. She’s gone now, vanished with other spring visitors, and I rather miss her.

We did no harm to each other. If there’s a wish that I have for you, readers, as these warm summer months unfold, it’s that no harm is done to you, and you do no harm to others. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh produce, splashing in pools, and lazy summer picnics. And if a few ants show up at your picnic…why not throw them some crumbs?

In this issue: Our featured story this issue is “Nothing to Hide” by Salvador DiFalco. We’re very glad this particular tale didn’t remain hidden! Our featured poem, by Laurie Kolp, examines the discrepancies between what we wish for our children and what they decide for themselves. Other work included poetry from authors Lituo Huang, Amos J. Hunt, and Rebecca Suzan Watts, and a work of short fiction by J. R. Nichols. BWG member Diane Sismour interviews Val Mathews, the Acquisitions Editor of Wild Rose Press, and Founder of Exit 271 Studio, an editing and coaching service. Betty Wryte-Goode is here, as always, offering her opinion on the summer months. Lastly, enjoy our first Literary Learning column; a musing on Kafka’s Metamorphosis, written by your truly.

That’s it for this issue, folks! The theme of our next issue, to be published in October 2019, is Family Functions or Disfunctions. I hope you’ll be back for more stories, poems and interviews. Until then, enjoy the warm weather, be kind to one another, and happy reading!

to our

is now closed.

Watch for announcement of the 2020 competition, opening on 
January 1, 2020.

Win cash and publication for your animal story of 2000 words or fewer. See the SHORT STORY AWARD tab above for more information.

Our Mission is to present the work of established and emerging writers. Feel free to submit your work using our 

Our Featured Story . . .   

Salvatore Difalco
 is the author of two story collections, Black Rabbit and The Mountie At Niagara Falls. He splits time these days between Toronto, Canada, and Sicily.

Nothing to Hide

Salvatore Difalco

It had rained steadily for more than ten days straight. Don’t know if it was a record. Probably not. All kinds of records had been shattered during the last decade. All the shit had hit the fan at once.

“Honey, I’m stepping out for a few hours.”
   My partner, Candace, already looked washed out. Don’t know why she wanted any part of that deluge. The metro was down. Midtown completely flooded. People were getting around in plastic canoes. She said a friend was driving her but didn’t specify.
    “Bring the big umbrella,” I said.
   “You know it’s broken.”
   “Buy a new one. Even bigger this time.”
   “I’ll manage.”
   “Where you going?”
   “To fill my asthma prescription and run a few errands. I’ll be back later this afternoon. Check the monitors if you need to know where I am. I’ll be with—”
   I didn’t hear the name she said, and I wondered if this was deliberate. She’d been acting cagey lately. “I think all this rain has f***ed up the smart dust,” I said.
   “Really?” she said.
   “Screens are wonky.”
   The microscopic sensors monitoring and processing all our data at a molecular level with powerful algorithms had effectively—and mercifully in many respects—alleviated humankind of privacy. What would happen if they failed was anyone’s guess.
   “I’ll message,” she said.
   “Only if you want to.”
   She smiled. “It would be weird, eh? Being out of touch for a few hours.”
   “I’m comfortable with it,” I said.
   “Really? You mean, you won’t worry?”
   Upon reflection I wondered what she meant by worry. I noticed her clingy black outfit. “Who are you getting dolled up for?” I asked, with a joking tone so that she wouldn’t mistake the utterance for jealousy.
   While privacy eradication had the predictable benefit of laying bare an entire strain of mendacious and corrupt behaviour, including sneaking around, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, embezzling, blackmailing and so on, people had not stopped committing crimes, even petty ones. But they could no longer get away with them. Criminal investigations had become a thing of the past. Punishment was usually meted out on the spot.
   That said, violent crimes were on the rise. Climatic and economic upheavals had put people on edge. The violent offender islands in the Pacific were bursting at the seams and breaking budgets. Some authorities cynically prayed a tsunami would level them. In the meantime, they had air-lifted out all security staff, letting the prisoners police themselves, and had already made the islands a “smart dust free zone,” guaranteeing zero external surveillance and no repercussions for criminal acts committed on the islands.
   “Just be safe,” I said, kissing her cheek as she exited. I smelled a new perfume but kept mum about it.
   “Love you.”
   “Love you.”
   As far as I could tell, we kept no secrets. All our closets had been emptied of skeletons long ago. The smart dust made monitoring your absent partner simple and de rigueur. I’d probably monitored her more than she’d monitored me. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps a touch of insecurity after my recent issues. I’d been forced to take a temporary leave from my position with the civil service—after a nervous collapse at the workplace. It had been building for some time, I guess: mindless routine, meaningless work, boredom.
   I dumped some trash in the incinerator unit and carbonized it. Counterintuitively perhaps, recycling had become thing of the past. Not cost effective when all was said and done. Nowadays everything was fuel. I checked the weather screen, intermittently cutting out: no change in the forecast. Authorities urged people in low lying sectors to seek higher ground. Given the smart dust malfunction, that proved to be a logistical nightmare.
   Finally, all the screens went dark. I waited and wondered what would happen if the rain persisted. Would micro-surveillance and data collection cease altogether? How would that impinge our lives? What if I started having a heart attack, for instance? Would I have to call for an ambulance myself, or get myself to hospital? I thought about being surveillance-free, that is to say, free of quantification—the very idea filled me with dread. If every moment wasn’t recorded, what would become of that moment? Human memory is a weak and often unreliable data storage system.
   People of the past had obsessed about personal freedom. Puzzling. Humans are nothing if not social beings. It flew in the face of solidarity not to be an open book. Without blanket surveillance, human mendacity would once again rise to the surface.
   “Nothing to hide, nothing to lose,” was a mantra bandied about in the early days, after the global Reset. Candace used to repeat the phrase whenever she caught me fibbing. I did not consider fibbing or telling a white lie a great sin or crime, though some in the Collective would have argued that fibbing and white lies were the termites that weakened from within the edifice of truth. That was probably true.
   So no one was watching over me: perhaps for the first time since the Reset. I performed a little dance in the middle of my living room, flipping the bird to unseeing sensors. How novel! How exhilarating! This was what privacy felt like. Admittedly it was exciting. I continued dancing about foolishly, whirling and twirling, flailing my arms, laughing, until I winded myself. I sat down on the sofa. That was fun. And yet, the moment would be lost forever. My brief blast of physical virtuosity had gone unrecorded.
   The doorbell gonged. I wasn’t expecting anyone. No one ever came to visit unannounced and untracked.
   When I checked the peep-scan, the visual, somewhat obscured by an unidentifiable white substance, presented a bearded man of dark countenance, but offered no identifying information on the data read-out.
   “What do you want?” I said into the mic.
   The bearded man stared into the camera but said nothing. I could make out nothing around him because of the white goop interfering with the image.
   “I’ll ask you one more time and then I’m calling security. What do you want?”
   The man turned away from the camera but pushed himself close to it, so that I could only see an aspect of his shoulders. I was going to hit the panic button. A private security firm—Black Dove—handled disturbances in our sector. Its operatives were quick and brutally efficient. People who lost control weren’t given much of an opportunity to correct it or make amends. That was the harsh reality of the late 21st century.
   With the smart dust kaput, I could not expect an automatic dispatch if the man proved to be maleficent. Bearded men were rare, and from my experience out of touch with contemporaneity. More importantly, all the rain had made some people erratic, unhinged, as though water had shorted out their mental and moral circuits, and I suspected, from the look in the man’s eyes, that he fell into this category.
   “I’m calling security,” I said.
   He looked into the camera again and shook his head.
   “They won’t come,” he said.
   “Wanna bet?”
   “They won’t come. A riot’s broken out in the adjacent sector.”
   “A riot?”
   “People have lost it. Let me in. My boy needs help.”
   I hit the panic button but nothing happened. The red light didn’t come on; nor the alarm. Likely something to do with the smart dust. Damn. It had to happen now? And this bearded dude, what the hell was he going on about, a boy? What boy?
   “What boy?” I said.
   “My son. He’s right here. He can’t stand. His legs ...”
   His voice faded and he disappeared from view.
   I killed the peep-scan and retreated to my bedroom. I opened the closet and removed from it a stun rod from my military days. I was good with the stun rod. I’d won a merit award during rod training and had successfully used it for riot control during the uprisings. It couldn’t kill someone unless you applied it for more than a few minutes. But it could immobilize anyone with a touch.
   I heard banging and yelling. I returned to the peep-scan.
   “Hey,” I said. “Stop whatever you’re doing. Just stop it.”
   “I need help.”
   “Yeah, you said. Explain the problem with your boy.”
   The man spoke but turned his face away from the camera again and I couldn’t make out his words. I squeezed the handle of my stun rod.
   “Let us in,” the man beseeched, looking into the camera with tortured eyes.
   Even though a gut feeling told me he was not to be trusted, armed with my stun rod I went down to the foyer and unlocked the front door. I hesitated before opening it. I listened intently but could only hear the rain drumming down.
   I opened the door with the stun rod ready. The bearded man stood there, alone, sopping wet, his eyebrows and beard dripping.
   “Where’s your boy?” I asked, about to slam the door shut.
   The bearded man nodded over his shoulder. “He’s behind the tulip tree over there.”
   I glanced over to the tree, defoliated and silvery in the downpour, and detected movement behind the trunk. When I stepped toward the tree, a group of slick teenaged boys suddenly appeared from the shadows, all wearing the latest impermeable reflective unitights and sneering with open nostrils.
   “What do you want?” I asked, stepping back and showing the stun rod.
   The bearded man smiled. “This isn’t what you think,” he said. “That is to say, we aren’t going to hurt you, nothing like that. Relax with the stun rod. Those damn things hurt. Look man, with the smart dust out of commission we thought we might see what we can steal or loot, however you wish to put it.”
   “You mean, you want to rob me?” I said, astonished he would state his mission so straightforwardly. “Why me?”
   “Why not you? You’re well off. You’re in the civil service.”
   “We don’t do as well as you think,” I said, though I knew that to be a lie.
   “Nonsense,” said the bearded man. “Look at this place. You live well, my friend.”
   “What if I resist?”
   The bearded man glanced at the boys who murmured and tittered under breath. They must have been from the projects. None were individually imposing, but there must have been eight or nine of them and their youth and vitality trumped me, even with my stun rod. I had considered taking out the bearded man immediately, severing the head as it were, but something feral in the boys‘ eyes told me this would have only triggered them.
   “So you understand?” said the bearded man.   
   “I do. But I don’t like it.”
   “You have insurance, right?”
   “I do,” I admitted; everyone in the civil service had insurance.
   “Bing bang,” said the bearded man, swiping his hands together. “Once we clean house—and it’s a real nice place let me say, real nice—you file a security report and the insurance company will fix you up posthaste. Meanwhile we walk away with the loot and no one’s the wiser.”
   I glanced at the boys, who all blurred together like a school of silver fishes.
   “I’ll be able to identify you,” I said.
   “Will you now?”
   I looked at the boys; some were smiling faintly, some frowning. I could smell their testosterone in the damp air.
   “What do you want?” I asked.
   “Just your valuables. Things we can carry on our persons. We took public transit here. We’re taking it back to our sector.”
   “Public transit?” I said with surprise.
   “The light transit trams are still running. And with the smart dust out, no worries about surveillance, route tracking and so forth. We can get away with this.”
   The boys began to stir. I couldn’t tell one from the other. They were all gangly and fractious, their restlessness mounting. The downpour continued. The entrance canopy shielded them for the most part. But everything was wet.
   “Tell them to take off their shoes,” I said.
   “My partner will kill me if there’s a mess.”
   “Boys, do as the man says, and take off your shoes. And proceed in an orderly fashion. Remember, only portable valuables.”
   I watched as they filed into my house. It was f***ed up, admittedly. I still held the stun rod in my hand, but with no surveillance and thus no enforcement it seemed pointless to use it. I couldn’t take them all on. And if I tried? Let’s say I stunned them all; what would I do with them then? What the hell would I do with a bunch of inchoate teenagers and their bearded leader? No one was coming to take them off my hands.
   “Don’t break anything!” I warned, but one of them had already knocked over Candace’s cut-glass curio and all its delicate knickknacks. I would have thought they’d see some value in those porcelain odds and ends she had collected over the years, but no. She’d be devastated.
   They went for the jewels, of course, pilfering Candace’s gold and silver necklaces, broaches, rings and bracelets. Someone tore into my personal closet and helped himself to six pairs of rare vintage Jordans. I almost started weeping. When a second thief relieved me of the remaining four pairs I did weep.
   “Hey,” said the bearded man, who had a bunch of my finest shirts and ties draped across his arm, “don’t take it so hard. Everyone loses everything in the end. That’s just the way it goes.”
   “But my Jordans?”
   “Hey, that’s one of the few pre-Reset things still coveted by youths. Take it for what it is. You’re sharing a piece of history with the next generation.”
   One of these morons took all of Candace’s lingerie, including a rubber suit she’d wear on occasion when adopting a dominatrix persona. The bastard even took her paddle.
   The his-and-her golf clubs went, and I did not lament their loss as I was a mediocre golfer. Candace relished having her way with me on the greens, and then liked to goad me for days afterwards. Surprisingly, someone took our sanitation bot, Maurice. That was a mistake, I believed, as Maurice, temperamental at the best of times, would have certainly made anyone who wound up with him regret it. Last year, when we brought him to the Bot Source for his annual tune-up, a two-day affair, he managed to escape and return home during the night. While they insisted the sanitation bots weren’t sentient, Maurice never ceased to amaze me.
   It went on for, I don’t know, twenty minutes? I mean, how much stuff could they have hauled away without a truck or whatnot?
   As the laden fellows departed, the bearded man reached out his hand free of shirts and offered it to me. I shook it.
   “This has been strange,” I admitted.
   “And bloodless,” he said. “That’s the beauty. And remember, after you file a complaint with security, report it to the insurance company. And forget me. Forget what I look like, forget the sound of my voice. Just forget this happened the way it did.”
   He departed. I locked up after him and stood in my foyer uncertain what to do next. Having lived a rather sanitary life, a little danger had aroused me. But the point made was simple: the thieves—or anarchists—would get away with the crime. When was the last time someone had gotten away with a crime? Before the Reset of course.
   When Candace returned, she looked flushed, her hair tousled.
   “Did you go to a tanning salon?” I asked.
   She scoffed. “That foyer is a muddy mess,” she said, surveying the jumbled living room and spotting her toppled curio. “What the hell happened? Did you have company?”
   “I had no company,” I said. “Not really.”
   “Not really?”
   “Um, it’s a long story.”
   “Maurice!” Candace shouted. “Maurice!” She thinned her eyes at me. “Where the hell is Maurice?”
   I shrugged. How could I explain without coming off as deranged?
   “Did something happen to Maurice?”
   “Why are you flushed? Did you play squash or something?”
   “Tell me what happened to Maurice.”
   “They came and they took—they stole Maurice.”
   “Who is they?”
   “Does it matter? The smart dust has been down. You didn’t even text me, did you?”
   “You didn’t text me.”
   “I was busy.”
   “So was I.”
   “You were gone for what, five hours? You weren’t getting your asthma prescription filled for five hours.”
   Candace stomped off to the bedroom. After a moment I heard her moving things around and cursing under her breath. When she came out again she was even more flushed.
   “They took my lingerie?”
   I nodded. “And all the jewelry. We’ll have to file a report. Insurance should cover most of it.”
   She glanced at the stun rod, lying by my feet. “And you let this happen?”
   “The alternative—well, who knows what the alternative would have been. The smart dust is down. Security’s not answering. Those bastards took advantage of that. Thank god I averted violence.”
   “Averted violence? They took all our valuables, you idiot! And Maurice!”
   I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I should have defended my property more forcefully. Maybe I had grown soft after years of being handheld and led through life by the state’s surveillance and security apparatus.
   “What are we going to do without Maurice!” Candace cried.
   The reality of the moment hit me like a sheet of glass. What had I done?
   “I’m really sorry, Candace. I messed up.”
   “You messed up?” She blinked hard. “No, honey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You didn’t mess up. You’re on stress leave, after all. Right? Your nerves. Brr. Your self-esteem. Brr. All that. Don’t sweat it. Insurance will cover everything.”
   She paused and smiled at me in a way that made my legs weak. I looked at the floor. She slowly picked up the stun rod.
   “Be careful with that, Candace. It’s fully charged.”
   She waved it to and fro like a sword and examined it with great interest. Her cheeks were burning, her eyes avid. She released the safety.
   “The smart dust’s still down, eh?” she asked, as if she needed to ask.
   “You know it’s down.”
   Without warning she touched the stun rod to my cheek. I collapsed to the floor, my central nervous system zeroed. I could see and hear perfectly well, but my fluttering muscles were unresponsive. Candace stood over me, legs spread, her grin savage.
   “Wanna know why I’m flushed? Did some rassling this aft. Remember Jerry from the golf club? Yeah, babe. We rassled. We rassled good. None of it caught on camera.”
   I tried moving but only managed to wriggle my fingers. Candace, ever observant, gave me another touch of the rod, utterly paralyzing me.
   “Look what I brought home, asshole?” she said, fumbling with a black cylinder. I heard a click and a whoosh and a giant black umbrella opened up over me. “Is that big enough for you!” she cried. “Is it? Answer me! Answer me, you wuss!”
   Drool ran from my mouth. My muscles went into violent spasm. I blacked out.
   Don’t know how long I was out, hours likely. A whirring in my ear awoke me. Something was pushing me across the floor, not quickly, but I was moving. I opened my eyes. The room was dark. My muscles were still seized. I looked to my right flank and saw the metallic green shell and ocular pads of a sanitation bot: Maurice! He had somehow made his way back home! Good old Maurice. Even in my dark state this elated me. He was
full of surprises. And he was efficient, if not swift. He efficiently continued pushing my body toward the incinerator chute, none of it caught on camera.

The Top Ten 

Favorite Sicilian Words

By Salvatore Difalco

Azzizzari—A buzzy word that means to embellish or dress up—it has Arabic roots (aziz, precious, beautiful) and, like so many Sicilian words, reflects the polyglot and multicultural mosaic of Sicilian history.

Babbiari—A word with Latin (babulus) and Spanish (babieca) roots, it means fooling around, or messing about, and leads to the word babbu, which can be very useful describing or addressing a fool.

Sabbinidica—Younger Sicilians consider this formal address to an older person antique, but it has a ring of respect that has not grown old to my ears and still garners warm smiles when I use it to address a Sicilian elder.

Mammanchi—This means, very simply, “I miss you”, but when spoken by a Sicilian (particularly to someone overseas, as was often the case during the Sicilian diaspora) it often has a deeper, melancholic note of yearning.

Puma—In standard Italian apple is mela, quite a contrast from puma with its Norman/French origins. The Normans conquered Sicily in 1061, and left a remarkable genetic, cultural and linguistic tradition that persists to this day. If you ask a mainland Italian what a puma is they will likely look at you with complete stupefaction.

Bedda—This is the Sicilian variant of the Italian word, bella (or bello for masculine) which generally means “beautiful” but also comes in handy as a term of affection without necessarily romantic or aesthetic connotations.

Babbaluciu—Another sonic mouthful, it translates to snail, with Arabic and Greek origins. How can the mouth not like a word like babbaluciu?

Vatinni—I love this Sicilian word, which means “Go away!” or more like “Get the hell out of here!” Probably of Latin origins.

Camurria—Another word I love (with a subtle onomatopoeic quality) and that my parents often used to describe the commotion my cousins and I would create during family occasions. It means annoying.

Scrozzu—Which means not well developed, is another one of those buzzy Sicilian words with foreign provenance. This time its roots appear to be Teutonic—from the Old High German word for short: scurz. Yes, even the Germans (Swabians) made it to Sicily.