They Are Kind

They Are Kind
by Michele Herman

Her fingers smell of fish oil, and she brings them to her nose and sniffs the sardine stink and tries to make it better, because she is a solver of problems. So she conjures the beach from here in St. Paul where she has just punctured the skin of the omega III capsule with a pin because when she tries to swallow it whole it snags on the side of her throat and scratches the soft pink tissue back there.

She conjures sandy toes and blue horizons. In St. Paul almost all the snow melted yesterday and they were gaining on nature. The forsythia by the schoolyard across the street came to a yellow boil. Today, five inches of snow. So she sits with her fishy hand wrapped around her Fitzgerald Theater mug and has a vision of the ocean. Any ocean will do. In St. Paul nothing waves but the friendly natives, and they wave with just their fingers.

I did what I believed was best, she says out loud, and the cat looks up thinking she’s speaking to him. I loved him. I love him still. I married him. I moved inland to be with him so that he could be with his people. They call family “people” here, and they call soda “pop,” as if it’s people too. They call her on the telephone and talk in their voices that make her think of scalloped edges and rick rack, things that dip only to rise back up. Maybe this is their way of making an ocean. She bobs on their surface. She drifts, still believing in the decisions she made, still trying to belong.

They want her to be one of them, while they tolerate and understand and humor her Eastern ways. Her sisters-in-law, all four of them, call her on the phone and spill cold vowels at her. Good cheer is their only narcotic. Jan, they say. We’re going to the Border Waters. We’re getting our nails done for Easter. We’re going to the mall. Come with? They are smart women. They don’t press too hard on the pedal. They understand that something about them makes her hard, something that would remain soft like caramel in the sunshine turns to brittle here. She appreciates their effort and their inclusiveness. They believe in diversity with all their hearts. They are kind. But when they wave, it’s a “hi there” or a “toodleoo.” She longs to hear a crasher smash jagged rocks and split them. In Minnesota the snow falls with its finger to its lips.


Michele Herman’s first novel, Save the Village (Regal House 2022), was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prize. She has published two chapbooks with Finishing Line Press: Just Another Jack: The Private Lives of Nursery Rhymes (2022) and Victory Boulevard (2018). Her work has appeared recently in Ploughshares, The Sun, Literary Mama, The Hudson Review, The Artisanal Writer and LitHub. She has been a finalist for the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize (2023) and the Jack Grapes Prize (2021).

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