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Snow Pack

August 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , , ,

The first time Merylee heard the tune, she listened out of curiosity. The single had popped up in her YouTube feed, which any other day would have suggested Taylor Swift or maybe Billie Ellish. She clicked on it just to find out what the song sounded like. Old, she thought, way old, but haunting. A band her mother probably loved when she was in college; her mom now just past sixty-five.

Photo by Yasmin Gomes on Unsplash

The next time she heard it, Merylee was driving to her mother’s, at her sister’s snippy urging. 

“Mom needs help with sorting out her bills,” Lauren said. “Since the mini-stroke, she’s getting more forgetful. I’m worried, but I can’t get over there with everything else going on.” Everything else meaning the dumpster fire that was her sister’s life.

Scanning the stations in her battered Civic, Merylee caught the song playing on an oldie’s station. She listened for a few moments—the singer was Stacy? Susan?—and then kept scanning, finally hitting on a Taylor Swift song. She sang along until she pulled into the grocery store lot near her mother’s house. 

 In the self-checkout lanes, Merylee placed yogurt, bananas, English Breakfast tea, a loaf of multi-grain bread, and three vine-ripened tomatoes in her cloth grocery bag. At the kiosk next to hers, a guy in a Tales from the Crypt T-shirt was humming that tune. Not again.

Ten minutes later, she was putting the groceries away in her mother’s kitchen.

“Mom, did you ever like Fleetwood Mac?”

Her mother sat at the kitchen island, watching Merylee at work. “What?” She frowned as if concentrating on words that were just beyond her comprehension.

“Fleetwood Mac,” Merylee repeated. “A band from . . . the Eighties? Did you ever listen to them? I keep hearing one of their songs. Something about snow-covered hills.” She kept her tone light, but cringed inwardly. I see what Lauren means.

“Nineteen seventy-six.” Merylee’s mother had come alive, her eyes bright. “Gregory bought tickets to their concert.” She smiled and closed her eyes. “We’d been dating for, oh, maybe seven months, but that concert sealed it for us.”

“In Philly?” Merylee tried to imagine her mother and father all those years ago, at a concert. Dressed in . . . bell bottoms? Tie dye? 

Her mother nodded. “The Spectrum.” She paused, her eyes looking at something only she could see. “It was between acts. We were there with Phil and Justine and Paula.” She glanced at Merylee. “You never met them. All of us impatient for Fleetwood to come onstage. I don’t even remember the other bands. And Gregory . . .” Again, she lapsed into silence, the memories seeming to accelerate. “He proposed.”

“You never told me this,” Merylee said. She slipped onto the stool next to her mom. When she reached out to take her mother’s hand, the older woman shook her head and rose to her feet.

“Let me find it,” she said and left the room. 

Merylee heard cabinets and drawers opening and closing and almost stood up to follow, but then her mother was back, holding a small, blue velvet box topped with a white bow. 

“Here,” her mother said. She took her stool and pushed the box toward Merylee. “He gave me a ring, of course. It was a cheap, dime-store ring because he didn’t want to lose the real one in that crowd. But he also gave me this.” She nodded at Merylee. “Go ahead. I wound it in the other room. Open it. I’m Stephanie, too, you know. That’s why.”

Puzzled, Merylee carefully opened the lid. The tinkling from the music box mirrored the same tune she’d been hearing over the last few days. Stephanie . . .  StevieThat was the singer she’d been trying to place.

“Where did Dad find this?” Merylee cradled the box. Even in her forties, there were so many things she still didn’t know about her parents. And half of the pair was already gone—five years now.

“He never told me,” Stephanie said. “Those friends, Phil and Justine, they were musicians, too, and they played it at our wedding. It was ‘our’ song.”

Suddenly envious, Merylee hugged her mother. “You must really miss Dad. I know I do.”

Stephanie gently detached herself from Merylee. “I’ll be fine. I am fine. I have some rough patches from time to time, but I’m okay.” She patted Merylee’s hand. “It’s you I worry about. Don’t listen to your sister. She’s a landslide waiting to happen.”

Merylee backed out of her mother’s driveway, car windows open to the late August afternoon. Across the street, with his feet propped on a porch railing, a young man noodled on his acoustic guitar. She stopped to listen. This time, the now-familiar tune made her blink back the sudden dampness in her eyes.

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Dianna Sinovic

Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna Sinovic has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.

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Dry Run

July 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , ,

What was July but sun and heat and more sun? Terina wiped the droplets from her forehead and wished for the crisp days of October. Grunting slightly, she pushed the wooden cart forward. In the noon warmth, she wanted to simply lie down in the shade beneath it and nap the afternoon away. But she was due in Ladenville before dark, to set up for the next day’s festival.

It had been more than two years since she’d attended the festival, and she didn’t recognize the harsh landscape that surrounded her: the dry grasses, the trees whose leaves were mostly wrinkled and yellow, the dusty creek beds. It should have been a verdant season, but a drought had sucked the life out of the countryside.

Her own hamlet, miles back, was a lucky oasis still green and lush.

Had the townsfolk of Ladenville not spoken to their resident merlin? Bade him summon the rain beasts?

A man carrying a burlap bag over his shoulder approached Terina on the path. Sweat soaked his shirt. He nodded at her and she nodded back.

“Sir, can you spare the time for a short question?” Terina wiped her forehead again.

“Aye,” the man said, but stood away from her, cautious.

“I am several years away from this land, headed to the Brine Festival. Why such dryness?”

The man frowned and spat at the ground. “Our merlin passed on more than a year gone now, and no one left has the knowledge to call the rain.”

Eyes wide, Terina tried to imagine such a scenario. “The Fates are often fickle. My sympathies, sir.”

He nodded again and went on down the path. 

Rummaging in her pack, Terina pulled out a flask of water and sipped; the aridness made her thirsty. She contemplated her next steps: Maybe the Brine Festival was a bad idea. Drought made people irritable and less likely to spend their coins. When she slipped the flask back into her pack, her hand brushed the bottle of elixir.

Uncorking it, she sniffed the sweetness of ripe berries. She knew only a brief sketch of the rain ritual—not being a full-fledged merlin, but it was worth a try. She held the bottle above her head, letting the desiccating breeze lift the scent upward.

Iniye ab-wo neq,” she recited. There was another step that she tried to remember. A tuft of sedge? A handful of creek mud? The small rill that crossed her path contained neither. Every creek stone she turned over yielded only hard, cracked earth.

Digging again in her pack, Terina located the peach she’d squirreled away for a snack. Soft with ripeness, the fruit might work. Holding the peach aloft as she had the elixir, she squeezed it until the juices ran down her arms and dripped to the ground.

She repeated the incantation and waited several moments.

In the deep blue of the sky, the smallest of cumulous clouds popped up. 

She waited again, this time for the cloud to spawn more clouds. But the cumulous remained solitary.

With a sigh, Terina cleaned the juice from her arms and closed her pack. Pushing hard against the cart, she persuaded it to roll onward, to the north and east, toward Ladenville.

Behind her, as her one step became ten, and then stretched to a quarter mile, the water vapor in the blazing heavens condensed. Thunderheads mushroomed and spread, cutting off the sun. And the rain beasts rumbled long and low.

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Treasured Objects

June 30, 2023 by in category Columns, Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,
Photo by Garreth Paul on Unsplash

When Ryann’s neighbor called her with the news, she hurried the two doors down. It was actually the daughter of Mr. Mallory who summoned her. The elderly Mallory had not been in the best of health for years. And now he was dead.

“I wanted you to have first pick of Dad’s stuff,” Jody, Mallory’s daughter, said when she ushered Ryann into the house. “You took such good care of him over the years.”

Ryann smoothed back a loose strand of hair and waved a hand to deflect the praise. “All I did was fetch his mail for him, and make a grocery run every now and then.” 

“But you were here for him, and I appreciate that.” Jody beckoned to Ryann to follow her farther into the house. “And my brothers won’t know what’s missing. They were never around, always too busy to drop by, Dad said.”

They traipsed through the living room, dim with heavy window drapes, and into the dated kitchen. Ryann had been this far in the house to deliver Mallory’s groceries. The tired décor and dim lighting never enticed her to linger when she visited. She might be a widow, but living alone did not mean one had to stay stuck in a time warp. 

“Anything catch your eye?” Jody turned in a circle in the kitchen, arms outstretched.

Ryann shook her head. “I have everything I need, but thanks.” 

“Then you’ve got to see what I found upstairs. I know you love art, and this is right up your alley.” 

Without waiting for a reply, Jody climbed the stairs to the second floor, Ryann close behind. It was true that Ryann collected art, and proudly displayed several local artists’ works on her walls. Mallory had hung only cheap framed prints of animals and exotic beaches, as far as she had seen. Whatever lay upstairs was likely just a continuation of the mundane.

The two women passed three bedrooms and a bathroom. At the fourth door, Jody pushed it open and entered another bedroom, empty save for a double bed frame holding a set of springs (no mattress) and a brass floor lamp. She picked up a picture frame covered in black cloth, and with a flourish uncovered the art beneath.

“What do you think?” 

Ryann stood speechless . It was a still life, a real painting; she could see the brush strokes. Oil, she guessed. But it was more than the fact that it was not a print: The painting itself captured her interest. Excellent design and color. Clever choice of objects to feature in the setting: a goblet that glinted gold, an exquisite folded cloth, a filigreed chain, a small tiara with a cluster of diamonds across the top. A plate on the frame offered the title: Treasured Objects.

“It’s … astonishing,” Ryann stuttered. 

Jody smiled. “I think so, too.” She held it out to Ryann, who backed away.

“I can’t accept this,” Ryann said. “You should keep it … or take it to an art dealer. I’m sure it’s worth a lot. More than I could afford to pay you.”

Shaking her head, Jody stepped to Ryann. “Dad did not splurge on things. I’m sure this is a yard sale special, so I’m not giving up a fortune by making it a present to you.”

Still Ryann hesitated. She knew the piece was valuable. 

“Okay,” she finally said. “I’ll take it, but I’ll get it appraised, and if it’s worth what I think it is, I’m giving it back to you.”


Ryann propped the painting on the sideboard in her dining room and in the busy-ness of her life – volunteer work, grandkids to babysit, friends to visit – she forgot about it for almost a week. It was when she was tidying up after her daughter’s toddler twins had left that she paused to look at it again. 

 I wonder what it’s worth.

She turned away and then turned back. A hand that she swore hadn’t been there previously lay casually within the still life. The unknown model’s hand and arm faded off to the right in the picture. The artist apparently wanted a hint of something live within the assemblage of inanimate objects on the table.

Why hadn’t she seen that before?

And then the hand moved. Just a twitch. A moment later the hand turned over, palm up.

Ryann fled the house. At Mallory’s front door, she rang the bell and pounded her fist on the panel.

When Jody opened the door,  Ryann tried to compose herself, taking deep breaths.

“Tell me,” she gasped. “If you don’t mind my asking, what did your father die of?”

Jody wiped her hands on her jeans, dust in her hair and grime on her cheeks. “Forgive my appearance,” she said. “I’ve knee-deep in cleaning up this old place.”

“Please,” Ryann said. “It’s none of my business, but I need to know.”

Stepping out onto the porch, Jody closed the door behind her. “We’re not sure,” she said. “How he died, I mean. No one’s found his body, but he doesn’t appear to have left. It’s been over a month since anyone has seen or heard from him, so the family assumes he’s dead.”

“Come with me,” Ryann said. “I think I may have found him.”

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Room with a View

May 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , ,

The top floor of Brindle Hall overlooks a grove of red maples, the crowns of the trees only a few feet below the windows. Nyla smiles at the leaves in motion below her. It would be like living in a treehouse. A bit, anyway. 

“How much is the lease?” She’s sure the price is beyond her budget, but she has to ask.

The agent names a price that’s a stretch, but the trees outside the windows are calling to her.

He promises the key and the paperwork by tomorrow. She can move in the following week.

Later, sitting on the couch she’s temporarily commandeered at a friend’s house, Nyla considers the floor plan of her new place. Two tiny bedrooms, a kitchen/dining room combo, and the living room with the balcony overlooking the maples. It must do.

Sam helps her move, but not without grousing. “You have too much stuff.”

“You mean books.” She knows that’s where she overbuys and shrugs. “I can’t help myself.”

They load box after box of books onto the handcart and take the elevator up. When he departs, after a feast of carryout pizza and chocolate chip cookies she had stashed for emergencies, she sits on the floor amid the boxes, which take up much of the living room.

She reaches into one of them, lifts out a volume, and opens the cover. Through the sliding glass door to the balcony, the maple leaves rustle. 

Nodding, she checks her phone.

Almost time.

An hour slips past, as she reads several chapters. The darkness of the evening deepens beyond the windows, and Nyla switches a floor lamp on low. 

After emptying her pockets, she lays her phone on the kitchen counter and places her shoes next to the fridge. On the balcony, she gazes down to the sidewalk that runs along the front of her building, four floors down. It’s empty and quiet at this hour.

Overhead, clouds drift past a waxing crescent shining in the east. A slight breeze brings the odor of diesel fumes and—as her nose morphs into a beak—mice and a wandering housecat. She can hear the rodents skittering in the alley. She shakes out her wing feathers, russet brown and soft, and swivels her head to check herself in the window. Her ear tufts stand out against the night’s backdrop. With a brief hoot, she hops onto the balcony railing.

One push up and she’s airborne, skimming above the maples, and then over the nearby streets of the town. 

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A Bone to Pick

April 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing

Claire was lost in her thoughts when Mason crunched on something in the weeds. 

“No.” Claire tugged at the leash, trying to pull the Lab back to her side. “What have you got?”

The dog kept his head down, not allowing her to reach the object, and growled.

“Mason? Give it,” she commanded. But still the dog worried the thing.

Whatever it was, it couldn’t be alive, she decided. Most likely a bone, but you never knew with a dog. She didn’t want a mess back home, when the object Mason had disagreed with him.

“Let’s go.” Claire tried again to separate the dog from his newfound fetish. Mason lifted his head and shook it, then responded to the pull of the leash. He wagged his tail as if to say, Aren’t you proud?

Protruding from either side of his jaws was a length of deer leg, stripped mostly of fur and skin. A strong whiff of decay floated up, making Claire scrunch up her nose.

The trail through the woods behind her house often crossed paths with the narrow routes made by white-tailed deer. It wasn’t unusual for Mason to flush out a doe or even pounce on a fawn hidden in a clump of wild grasses. 

“No,” Claire said. “You can’t bring it.” 

The dog pranced around her, and each time she tried to snag one end of the leg, he moved away from her. 

Giving up, she turned toward home, and the dog followed, still grinning in that canine way with his prize in his mouth.

It was a lot like her brother, Duane, and his endless stories about their childhood, unearthing a past she had done her best to bury. A past now thankfully down to the bones and a little skin. The meat—the core of what had happened—had rotted away, as long as she didn’t go looking for it. 

Duane knew only the good side of their father. And with the funeral in two days, she would steel herself to listen to the well-wishers and keep her mouth shut. Let her brother do all the eulogizing. She’d told him she didn’t like talking in front of a crowd, and he’d believed her.

Back at the porch steps, Claire pulled her house keys from her coat pocket and bent to unclip Mason’s leash from his collar. The dog dropped the deer leg into the flower bed and looked up at her with a whimper.

“Good dog,” she said, and dipped into another coat pocket for a biscuit. “We’ll leave it out here.” Mason trotted onto the porch with her, eyeing her hand for another treat.

If only discarding the past were that simple, she thought. Still, she could try.

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