Sunday Stories: “The Shorebirds and The Shaman”


The Shorebirds and The Shaman
by Kelly Fordon

Corinne’s husband, Ethan, died in his sleep. Right before bed, they’d had one of their rote conversations—the same one they had every night.

“What time should I get up?” Ethan was sitting on his side of the bed with his back to Corinne, fumbling with the alarm clock on his ancient phone. “Should I get up for yoga or sleep in?” 

“Blah, blah, blah,” Corinne said. “Why do you ask me that every single night as if I actually care when you get up?” Though it sounded awful in the retelling, she’d said this in a playful tone. They chided each other. That was their shtick.

“I’ve read sleep is as important as exercise, maybe I should just rest.” 

“Well, you lucked out, Iron Man, tomorrow is Thursday, they have spinning not yoga.” 

“Bonus!” He set the phone down on the nightstand and lay back down. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week.” 

Six months later, Corinne could count on one hand the times she’d left the house. She worked remotely as a freelance web designer, so getting dressed was optional. She ordered household items from Amazon and food from a local grocery delivery service. She communicated with the shoppers via text and asked them to drop the bags on the front stoop. Days were spent prone on the couch staring at her screen or the ceiling while listening to the Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime,” the song that had been playing when she met Ethan at a fraternity party their freshman year; both anthem and omen, as it turned out.

Their son, Scott, was still in college and he’d reluctantly returned to school two weeks after the funeral at Corinne’s behest. It was tragic to lose one’s 55-year-old father, but Corinne couldn’t think of a better place to drown one’s sorrows than a frat house.  

Good one, Ethan would have said.

Corinne had smiled and spoken in complete sentences while Scott was home and she was still able to muster up a chipper persona every time he returned for the weekend or for a holiday, but she discouraged frequent visits because maintaining the façade made her feel like a windup toy whose key was rusting out. Plus, she had to pretend that she wasn’t smoking. Thank God for the upstairs porch off her bedroom.

The most persistent friend—the only one who was still trying to engage on a regular basis was Anne. Anne was a family therapist who practiced three days a week out of her house. Her husband was high up in his company and had not been seen in the daylight for over a decade. Up until Ethan’s death, Anne had always leaned on Corinne. In fact, the last time Corinne had consulted with Anne on any significant “issue” was back when Scott was a sophomore in high school, when he’d claimed that the pot smell emanating from the basement was Taco Bell takeout. Corinne had been horrified by the pot and the lies and had convinced herself that it was only a matter of time before Scott joined the small band of junkies who hung out next to the highway onramp. When she told Anne, Anne had not talked her off the ledge like a good therapist, she had agreed and handed her rehab pamphlets. It had been Ethan, finally, who convinced her that she might be overreacting by reminding her that she was high the night he’d met her back in college. 

“As I recall, you enjoyed your fair share of Taco Bell,” he’d said. 


The saddest part about Ethan’s early retirement plan was that he’d retired after all those years of saving, saving, saving only to drop dead four months later. And now there was no financial reason for Corinne to ever leave the house again. One morning when she was lying in bed contemplating a mid-morning nap or more accurately, embarking on one, Anne called to see whether she was free to spend the weekend at her cottage on Lake Erie. Because Anne’s daughter had left for Bates in the fall, and her husband remained a phantom figure, Anne was always looking for an escape hatch. She was always onto some new scheme—Paleo diets, 30-day yoga bodies, philosophy seminars, master gardener classes. Her problem was her marriage, but instead of facing it she was like a woman trapped in a dinghy on the high seas lighting one sparkler after the next. 

In the end, Corinne agreed to the trip because the cottage had been one of her favorite places to visit with Ethan. Plus, it would give her something to tell Scott about her life besides the fact that she had burned through seven seasons of The Walking Dead in one week. I may not have risen from the dead, son, but I made it to Ohio.

   What Anne failed to mention was the fact that she had invited other people for the weekend. This was all revealed an hour into the trip when Anne had already passed Toledo. The other participants were fellow therapists, Anne said. The focus of the weekend was a technique called Constellation Work that Anne had decided Corinne might benefit from as well. 

“It’s an alternative therapy,” Anne explained. “Somewhat unconventional, but very cathartic as a grief management tool.”

“Are you kidding me?” Corinne’s rage was so intense she felt like she might eject from the passenger seat and catapult into space.

“I knew you’d say no if I told you up front. You have every right to be angry. I promise you don’t have to participate, I just want you to think about it. You can take part in the workshops or, if you don’t feel like it, just hang out on the beach or take some long walks. Scott and I talked and we decided we needed to do something drastic to get you out of the house. I’m well aware that I am crossing a line here, but we both want you to recover.” 

After Anne’s speech, Corinne could not even speak. Anne had been talking to her son? On the phone? So much for appearing cheerful during his visits. Apparently, he had not been fooled by her fake smiles. He had found his mother pathetic.

When they arrived at the cottage, Corinne headed straight out to the deck to smoke a cigarette as a fuck you to Anne who had posted “no smoking” signs on every available surface at her house and cabin. 

The lake was crystalline. Not a cloud in the sky. A line of shorebirds was stationed on the rusty old boat launch. She and Ethan had signed up for a shorebird identification class the year before on Belle Isle in Detroit. Now she peered down at the shorebirds and realized all she had retained were random names: plover, peep, snipe. She could never parse the identifying characteristics: short bills, short legs, short necks, who knew? If Ethan had been there, he would not have been able to help her either. After the second class, he’d turned to her and whispered “these birds are as indistinguishable as snowflakes.” During the coffee break, they’d snuck out of the class and headed to Rose’s Diner for breakfast instead.

Way off on the horizon, a freighter glided by slight as a fingernail file. Back in Detroit on Lake St. Clair, freighters passed so closely, you could see the people on deck. Corinne took a long drag on her cigarette. Ethan had loved visiting Anne’s cottage. Last summer, they’d kayaked all the way to a nature preserve two miles to the east, ignoring Anne’s warning about storms blowing up unexpectedly on the shallowest of the Great Lakes. On their return trip, they’d battled fierce waves. As they were struggling through a particularly brutal stretch, a drone had appeared over their heads, someone on shore checking their precarious status. When they realized what it was, Ethan had been so annoyed that he’d swatted at it with his oar. “Is it here to record our impending demise?” 


When Corinne returned, Anne was standing in the driveway talking to two women who had just pulled up in a white Ford Explorer. A tall skinny woman with spikey white hair and black glasses held out her hand and said her name was Bryce. The small portly woman in the grandma sweater and sturdy shoes introduced herself as Gretchen. Anne asked how they had heard about the event and Bryce said they were “constellation groupies.” They had just opened a center for LGBTQ youth in Cleveland and they believed constellation work might help the kids who had trust issues, which is, Bryce added, just about all of them. 

“You don’t even know these people?” Corinne hissed into Anne’s ear as they headed inside. 

“It’s a workshop,” Anne said. “They signed up for the workshop.”

“You made it sound like they were coworkers,” Corinne said.

“They are “fellow therapists,” Anne said. “Doesn’t mean I KNOW them.” 

“I would never do this to you,” Corinne hissed. “Never.”

Anne didn’t respond for a second. “I would hope that if I was sitting on my couch for six months straight and you had tried everything from yoga to barhopping to antiquing and nothing worked, you would not give up on me. You would come up with a plan to save me no matter the cost to the friendship. At this point, I am more concerned about your wellbeing than anything else.” 

  Before Corinne could respond, Anne called out to Bryce and Gretchen to follow her up the back staircase. Corinne sat down at the kitchen table. 

 “I hope you don’t mind twin beds. That’s all we have in this house,” Anne said to the women, as they disappeared up the dark stairwell. 

“I wish we minded, but sadly, its not a problem at all,” one of them said.

At that, Corinne was hit with another memory of her last visit to the cottage. She and Ethan had stayed in that very same room at the top of the back stairs. It was a small room; a former servant’s quarter. In the middle of the night Ethan had tiptoed over to her bed. 

“Just like college,” he’d whispered. When the ancient bed creaked and moaned threatening collapse, they’d burst into a fit of giggles. At one point, Corinne had slipped down between the bed and the wall and Ethan had to hoist her back up.


Corinne stared out the kitchen window. Perhaps there was a hotel nearby. She could take a cab and wait out the weekend there. Or she could rent a car and just drive back home. 

While she was considering her options, someone knocked on the kitchen door. She opened it to find a tall, bald man with thick black glasses standing in the vestibule. His cheeks were pink and round. He looked like a silly putty with glasses. Like the lesbian couple, this man, who said his name was Gerard, appeared to be closing in on seventy. Because Anne was still upstairs with Bryce and Gretchen, Corinne had no choice but to converse with him. As he talked, he stooped with his head cocked to the right, possibly to remain in closer proximity or look sympathetic, Corinne wasn’t sure. He said he spent a majority of his time counseling sex addicts and he’d signed up for the weekend because he was burnt out.

“People get stuck,” he said. 

Did he mean the therapists or the sex addicts? And what do sex addicts get stuck in? Ethan would have come up with a zinger for that one. She’d been the straight man; he’d been the comedian. And what is a straight man without a comedic sidekick? A blank slate. 

“Very true,” Corinne said. 

“You’ll be really surprised how moving this is,” he said. “Last time I did this Constellation Work, I cried nonstop.”

Two hours later after the rest of the guests had arrived, Anne announced that it was time to get to work and one by one they all traipsed up the stairs to the second floor great room. The far wall of the great room comprised floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake. Anne had positioned a dozen dining room chairs and folding chairs in a circle in front of the window. 

The therapists fanned out: Bryce and Gretchen sat in the farthest corner, followed by Gerard, Anne, Corinne, a young therapist in her early 30s named Ruby, and an older grandmotherly therapist named Estelle, who worked in a halfway house for opioid addicts in Cleveland. Corinne had followed everyone upstairs because she couldn’t think of a way to politely decline and she was curious to see how this all played out. After a decent interval, she planned to say she had a headache and retreat to her room.

The group leaders, Dan and Oona Marks, introduced themselves. They were young, close to Scott’s age. They looked like people who either exercised for a living or lived to exercise. Both wore black yoga pants and matching black tops, stomachs iron flat. Oona’s blonde hair was cinched back into a ponytail that threatened to splinter her face. Dan reminded Corinne of the hirsute barista at her local Starbucks, the one who looked like he was trying out for a part on Little House on the Prairie. One time, when she and Ethan were in Starbucks and she’d dropped a dollar in the tip jar, Ethan had said, “Soon he’ll have enough for the butter churn.” 

Oona and Dan had moved their chairs directly in front of the picture window as if they were deliberately trying to block the view. Beyond them on the rusty dock, the shorebirds continued their vigil. Out of nowhere, Corinne remembered the only fact she had retained from her shorebirds class. Shorebirds congregate on the shores of Lake Erie before migration because they are working up the nerve to traverse the long stretch of open water. “It’s the fact that they can’t see across the water that stymies them,” the instructor had said. “It literally stops them in their tracks until they’re so cold they have no choice but to brave it.”

Dan said he would like to go around the circle for introductions. “I’ll start,” he said. “Oona and I have been married for five years and we just started discussing kids. I expect that discussion will take another five years.” He looked at Oona and she rolled her eyes. Everyone half-laughed.

Dan explained that constellation work is a tool for uncovering unhealthy family dynamics, which sometimes span generations. It was created by a German man named Bert Hellinger, who had modeled the technique after a tribal ritual he’d witnessed in Africa. 

“Essentially,” Dan said, “it’s role-play. Just think of it as a way to work through your relationship problems via us.” He got up from his chair and began walking slowly around the circle with his hands clasped behind his back. “Now, I can’t promise everyone will get a turn, but I will try to be fair. Why don’t you all tell me a little bit about your issues.” 

Estelle said she was working with opioid addicts and she was weary of “the endless loop.” Gerard admitted that he was tired of his sex addict patients, who made him feel profoundly lonely. “I’m old enough that sex has lost it’s appeal, which doesn’t help,” he added. “I just keep thinking just get over it already.

Gretchen and Bryce said they thought witnessing each other’s constellations would help with some of their long-term relationship issues as well as connect more with the LGBTQ kids at the center. 

Anne said she needed to know how to cope with her workaholic husband. 

Ruby said she wanted to cast off the shadow of alcoholism in her family. “I may be the only one who doesn’t have it,” she said, and then, in an ominous tone, she added, “Yet.” 

When they turned their attention on Corinne, she said she was Anne’s guest and she was just there to observe. Everyone nodded. Corinne couldn’t tell if they were nodding to say this was fine and they would let her be, or it was fine for now, but they would make it their mission to draw her out. 

After the introductions, Dan patted the rectangular box in his lap, then opened it and produced a small crystal, which he placed on the floor in the middle of the room. 

“To ground us,” he said. 

Corinne fought a smile. She looked over at Anne, but thankfully, Anne was turned the other way. 

After he had circled the room a couple of times, he stopped suddenly in front of Ruby. “I think I’m picking up something right here,” he said, using his pointer finger to draw a circle in the air in front of Ruby.

Fearing she might laugh, Corinne fixed her concentration on the window. Another freighter had appeared along the horizon, everyone on board oblivious to this absurdity.

Ruby said on top of the legacy of alcoholism, she couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for her patients some of whom were suicidal. She was afraid her ennui might prove fatal, if she didn’t get it under control.

Dan bobbed his head as Ruby explained that her mother had often cut her down when she was drunk and when she wasn’t doing that she ignored her. 

Bobbing is a feature of the solitary sandpiper, Corinne suddenly remembered, surprising herself with a second shorebird factoid. “Score!” she wanted to yell. If only Ethan were there to give her a high-five.

“Can you pick someone to play her?” Dan said when Ruby was finished dismantling her mother. 

Ruby pointed to Anne. Dan asked Anne to join them in the center of the room. 

“Just place your hands on Anne’s shoulders and lead her to the place in the room that you want your mother to occupy,” Dan said. 

Ruby put her hands on Anne’s shoulders and steered her over to the far right corner of the room as far as Anne could go without toppling down the staircase. Then she turned Anne around so that she was facing the window, her back toward the room. 

Holy Cow. Corinne thought. Ruby must really hate her mother to corner her like that. Scott had gone through a similar phase in 10th grade. Every time she opened her mouth, he’d hiss, “Don’t talk to me!” Now, Corinne realized that the same dynamic might play out ad infinitum, decades after high school. Great news.

“Now, pick someone to play your maternal grandmother,” Dan said. 

Corinne tried to avoid catching her eye, but Ruby homed in on her anyway. 

When Corinne didn’t move, Dan said, “I should have mentioned at the beginning, people who are chosen to be in the constellation can always say no.” 

Corinne looked at all of the therapists staring at her. How could she say no? She was stuck with these nincompoops for the entire weekend. Reluctantly, she got up from her chair. 

Ruby placed Corinne at the opposite end of the room as far as she could possibly be from Anne/mom. And unlike Anne/mom, Corinne/grandma was allowed to face the group, instead of the window. She would have preferred to scan for shorebirds than stare out at the circle of therapists, who stared at her beady-eyed, a little like the wake of vultures that lined Anne’s deck railing some mornings scouting for carcasses.

Bryce was picked to play Ruby’s father and Ruby positioned her in the middle of the room like the Washington Monument. Gretchen was given the role of Ruby’s maternal grandfather and she was stationed to the left of Bryce. 

Typical, Corinne thought, putting the men in the middle.

“Now choose someone to play you, Ruby,” Dan said. 

There was no one left except the old woman, Estelle. When Ruby motioned to her, Estelle stood up and shuffled out onto what Corinne had started to think of as the stage. Ruby placed Estelle directly in front of Bryce. 

Dan directed the real Ruby to sit back down on the couch, then he made his way from actor to actor peering into their faces, before moving on to the next person. 

“The first thing I notice is that Dad here,” he pointed to Bryce, “is in the middle of the room. He’s taller than everyone else and he’s the only one looking out over the whole gathering. He’s the epicenter. Granddad is here to his left, almost as powerful.” 

“Pop,” Ruby said from her chair. “We called him Pop.”

“OK. Remember no interruptions,” Dan said to her. 

He turned back to the actors. “We have Mom over in the corner just looking out the window, kind of disengaged. She can’t even see what’s going on. Grandma is way over on the other side of the room and here’s Ruby. Ruby is here with the men. She’s put herself in a powerful position.” 

Dan went over to Anne and said, “How are you feeling, Mom?”

Corinne heard Anne’s voice falter. “I’m just so sad over here staring out the window. I can’t see my mother. I can’t see my daughter. I can’t see anyone. And for some reason knowing that my husband is in the middle of the room is making me absolutely furious.”

“Interesting,” Dan said. 

Corinne glanced over at the real Ruby. She was sitting on the couch cross-legged with her mouth open.

Dan walked over to Bryce. “How are you feeling, Dad?” Dan asked. 

“Well, I’m in charge. I’m feeling pretty powerful here in the center of the room, but I can’t help feeling sad too. Everyone is so far away except for Pop here.” Bryce pointed her thumb at Gretchen. 

“How about you, Pop?” Dan said. “What’s going on with you?” 

“I feel like my wife doesn’t love me. She’s standing behind me way over there in the corner of the room and she’s just staring out the window.” Gretchen’s voice wavered as if she was about to cry.

“That’s not your wife,” Dan said. “That’s your daughter. Your wife is pretty far away, but she is looking at you.”

“Right,” Gretchen said. “Well, I’m still pretty ticked off. My daughter won’t even look at me. My wife is looking at me, but I can’t reach her.” At that, she burst into tears. 

Corinne looked over at Ruby. Her mouth was still open, tears were running down her cheeks. 

Gretchen stood in the center of the room, swaying back and forth, crying silently. 

This has got to be a joke, Corinne thought. 

Even though she tried to will him away, Dan approached her next. “How are you, Grandma?” he said. 

“I keep thinking what in the world am I doing here?” Corinne said. 

Dan nodded his head. “At some point in life, that’ a question we all ask ourselves, don’t we?” 


Next up on the constellation rotation was Gretchen who had to deal with her religious mother who was played by Anne. Then Estelle, whose daughter wouldn’t speak to her. Estelle positioned her daughter, played by Corinne, in front of her mother, played by Anne, and her grandma/Ruby, like a long line of dominoes.

Corinne’s mother had not wanted her to marry Ethan. When Corinne told her that she was getting married, her mother had refused to acknowledge the announcement. Ethan lived in Detroit and Corinne’s mother couldn’t imagine Corinne leaving New York City. Why would anyone in their right mind leave New York? And leaving New York had been hard, her mother was right about that. But Corinne had been happy in Detroit, mostly because of Ethan. Now that she could move anywhere she wanted, she didn’t think location would make a bit of difference. All the greeting cards were right: “Home is where the heart is.” How sappy and sad was that?

  When Dan finally made his way over to Corinne, she said, “Thank you no. I don’t have anything to work on today.”

“But I have the feeling you are in pain,” Dan said. “Perhaps we can try a different technique?” 

He turned to Oona. “Would you be willing?” he said, tilting his head.

Oona sighed, and made a face as if to say she would if forced.

“I think you lost someone recently,” Dan said to Corinne. 

Corinne looked over at Anne. Anne shrugged and shook her head.

“Yes,” Corinne said.

“Oona is a shaman,” Dan said. “She may be able to reach….” He paused and raised his eyebrows.

“Ethan,” Corinne said. “But no, thank you. I don’t need to reach him.” 

Oona stood up and walked over to them. “It might help, to be able to speak to him.”

“What do you mean speak to him?” 

Oona tucked her tiny black t-shirt back into her black leggings. Her legs were as spindly as a sandpipers. “Sometimes they come through. Sometimes they don’t. But we can try.”

Everyone was staring at Corinne. 

“Fine,” Corinne said. If worse came to worst she’d have a good excuse for belting this woman and, at the very least, she’d have a funny story to tell Scott. 

Oona motioned her over to the middle of the room. She sat down on one side of the crystal and told Corinne to sit down on the other side. 

“Please don’t disturb us,” Oona said to the group. “I need to remain completely focused.”

Oona took Corinne’s hands and closed her eyes. Corinne stared at her. It would be awful if she started to laugh. Luckily, she didn’t feel like laughing exactly. She didn’t know what she felt. A bit of anger perhaps. Anger that the thought had crossed her mind: What if this works? Anger that this woman was offering her such false promise. Anger that all the needy people in this room were being duped.

Suddenly Oona wobbled; her eyebrows fluttered; she gave a full-body shudder. Her head lowered and her mouth fell open. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes. It looked like she was stoned.

“What’s going on?” she said, blinking slowly. “Where am I?”

If nothing else, Corinne was impressed by Oona’s acting job. She had managed to misplace some inner light; she looked as vacant as Corinne’s grandmother when the dementia set in. 

Corinne glanced around the room. Anne was perched on the end of her seat as if watching a tennis match. She nodded encouragingly to Corinne.

What was Corinne supposed to say? 

“Ethan?” she said. 

“Yes,” Oona said in a breathy whisper.

The fact that Oona had answered yes to Ethan’s name knocked Corinne flat. The nerve of it. This was such an awful thing to do to a grieving person, this charade, but when Corinne glanced around the room everyone appeared enthralled. It was truly unbelievable! How unhinged would you have to be to buy this crap? If she got up and walked out, would she crush these people? What did she owe them anyway? How long did she have to play along? Out of frustration or anger—she wasn’t sure which—Corinne’s eyes started to seep. She swiped at them with her thumb.

“Ethan?” she said again.

“Where am I?” Oona said, continuing with her heavy-lidded gaze.

“You’re dead,” Corinne said. It took everything out of her not to add faker

“No, I’m not,” Oona said, shaking her head slowly. “I’m having trouble waking up this morning. It’s too early.” 

“You’re not asleep,” Corinne said. As she said it a hiccup came out. She put a hand up to her mouth. “Excuse me,” she said. 

“Excuse you,” Oona said with a spaced-out smile. “Why didn’t you set the alarm?”

“You always set the alarm,” Corinne said. It’s a big deal. It involves a lot of discussion.

“So, why can’t I get up today?” Oona said. 

“Because you’re dead! You’re dead! You’re dead,” Corinne hissed. “You died in your sleep. You never woke up!”

From one of the chairs, Corinne heard a gasp. 

“I died?” Oona said. 

“Yes. You finally got to sleep in! Isn’t that great news? No more yoga!” Corinne laughed, and even to her the laugh sounded hysterical.

Oona shook her head slowly, as if she couldn’t quite accept this or she was not hearing correctly or she didn’t know what to say next. Of course she doesn’t know what to say next; she’s a fraud.

 “At least you don’t have to get up to exercise anymore, Iron Man,” Corinne continued. “At least you’re done answering to The Axman. At least you don’t have to squeegee the second floor windows this spring. At least you don’t have to pay for that roof renovation. And just think–no more kale.” 

Oona nodded slowly. “True,” she smiled. “That was gross.” 

How long could Oona remain unflappable? Corinne decided to kick it up a notch. 

“You can eat whatever you want. You can wear your poodle pants all day long. I won’t force you to learn the rhumba. M & M heaven, am I right?” 

“My poodle pants,” Oona nodded and smiled. 

Corinne glanced over at Anne. Anne was frowning. 

What in the world were poodle pants? And Ethan despised M & Ms. His little sister had choked once on a peanut M&M. He was the one who’d signed up for the rhumba class. He loved dancing. If he’d been in the room, he would have been howling, but Corinne did not think any of this was funny.

“At least you won’t get caught again,” Corinne continued.

“Say what?” Oona said.

“You remember—when the maid caught you in the bathroom with those girlie magazines?”

Oona’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times like one of Ethan’s giant goldfish, the ones who continued to persevere despite abject neglect. 

“I think I see something,” Oona said, finally. “It’s a light coming at me.”

“That might be the light from the maid opening the door. Remember when she walked in? You were so embarrassed but you shouldn’t have been. It’s natural. Well somewhat …maybe not the scissors. Maybe not the cheerios and the toothpaste.”

Oona nodded. “But I think I have to go now….I think I should go into that light.”

“Lots of people have outlandish proclivities. There was the man who taped himself to a light pole and the one who liked to hang upside down from the rafters like a bat. The old notions of sin are a thing of the past. I don’t think St. Peter’s going to block your way. I don’t think you should be frightened.”

“I was a little frightened,” Oona said. 

Oona said this with such intensity, that Corinne was jolted briefly out of her game. 

“When?” she said.

“When I died.”

“I thought you said you were asleep.”

“I was afraid when I couldn’t wake up in the morning. It felt like a really bad morning when you just can’t drag yourself out of bed. And then suddenly I realized I couldn’t move.”

“Huh,” Corinne didn’t know when she had ever been more furious. “You’d think after all those downward dog’s…. Hell, I’m the smoker. I’m the one who can’t hold a plank for five seconds. I’m the one who should have dropped dead. Not you, Iron Man.” 

Oona nodded again. “You’re joking,” she said, gravely. “You do that.”

“We do that,” Corinne said, pointing her finger back and forth between them, jabbing it at Oona and then at herself. “We do that! Or we did anyway.”

Oona nodded again. “I think I should go now,” she said.

“Bye-bye,” Corinne waggled her fingers. “See you on the flip side.”

When Corinne returned to her chair, Dan suggested they all take a couple of minutes to meditate. The other participants closed their eyes; possibly trying to block out the light.

“Let’s hold hands,” Dan said.

“You know what?” Corinne said. “I need some air.” 

When Corinne reached the dock, she lit a cigarette and stared out at the water. The shorebirds hadn’t budged.

“You’re going to have to move on at some point,” she yelled. A couple of the smaller birds flapped their wings at the noise, but in the end they remained nonplussed.

It had all been so ludicrous, but strangely, she did feel a bit better. Sitting across from Oona, the Shaman, with that crazy, empty look on her face, it had occurred to Corinne that she and Ethan had been like two shorebirds in a long line of shorebirds—on the surface it would have been impossible for Oona or anyone else to pick out a characteristic that set them apart. But she knew all the identifying features, all the behavior. Their thing—whatever they’d had—it was a worth a whole class. It was a worth study. She took a few more drags and then crushed out her cigarette. 

She felt energized. She would go back inside and ask for her turn doing the constellation work. She would place every single one of the therapists on the stage. One would be Ethan peering out the window and one would be Ethan standing like a monument in the middle of the room and one would be Ethan toppling the other dominoes and one would be the Ethan who was just sitting on the couch laughing along with her. 

She imagined circumventing the room pointing to Bryce and Gretchen and Estelle and Ruby: 

You be Ethan and you be Ethan and you be Ethan. 


Kelly Fordon is a poet and fiction writer whose latest short story collection, I Have the Answer, is published by Wayne State University Press. Her novel-in-stories, Garden for the Blind, was chosen as a Michigan Notable Book, a 2016 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Finalist, a Midwest Book Award Finalist, an Eric Hoffer Finalist, and an IPPY Awards Bronze Medalist in the short story category. She teaches at the College for Creative Studies, Springfed Arts, and InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit.

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