Category Archives: Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Telephone by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Locked in the bathroom, all the pale woman could hear was his snoring and her own heart thumping. She scratched the pink polish off another nail and looked at her phone again. This time, there was a signal. She called one friend, then another. No one was picking up. She scraped the polish off her last nail, touched her bruised right eye, and tried again. This time, there was an answer.

Mike, Mike! You’ve gotta come get me.

Nina? I can barely hear you. The connection’s bad.

Mike, listen, you’ve gotta come pick me up. If you don’t, I’m gonna . . .

Honey, I can’t understand you, and it’s three in the morning. Call me back at a civilized hour?


Nina sobbed. Then, she took a deep breath, unlatched the door, and opened her knife.

Moments later, the man stopped snoring. The flat’s front door opened and shut. Feet in the hallway sounded like dancing.


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Dream Boats by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The Inauguration Day Windstorm had blown out half the downtown lights to celebrate its twenty-first birthday. Two old friends flecked with gray snow and white hair sat on the boulders that kept the Sound from sweeping away Myrtle Edwards Park.

Look at all the branches floating around, he said.

When I was a little girl, at summer camp, we used to glue shells and a candle to driftwood. We called it a dream boat.

He laughed. Great name.

She blushed. Awful name! But our counselors said our wishes would come true if the candle burned out before it sank.

Did it work?

I live alone in an effiency studio and work at Tully’s. What do you think?

You still paint; I don’t have time anymore.

I’ve never had a show.

You do art walks.

Amateur hour in Edmonds. The truth about the dream boats is that they were teaching us to let go of our dreams—literally, physically.

Not a bad skill to have. I thought I’d be famous by now, but . . .

You gave up.

I like my life.

But don’t you ever wish you could be more?

He reached out to her, but she kicked off her shoes and slid down into the water. A minute later, she scrambled up the rocks, carrying a dream boat.

I’m going to re-light it when it dries.

What if the person who made it doesn’t want his dream anymore?

Dreams are all I have.


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Watching the Clock by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Benjamin did everything by the clock. He ate when the little hand pointed to five and the big hand pointed to six. He danced when the little hand pointed to three and the big hand pointed to seven. He slept when they both hit twelve.

To be more precise, he did everything according to his copper pocketwatch. It was hand-wound, and it ticked too slow as it ran down, and it ticked too fast when he wound it back up. Benjamin never tried to set it aright.

His friends called him spontaneous. He’d consult his watch in the middle of a movie and stand up, asking if they wanted tacos. He’d sleep on the beach, on a bus stop bench, in a French restaurant with his head in his plate. His relationships never lasted long. Neither did his jobs. Fortunately, Benjamin was a good enough writer to make a living beginning an article every time the big hand passed four.

One day, his watch stopped and wouldn’t wind. Benjamin thought about getting it repaired but knew it wouldn’t be the same. What had he lived for all these years?

He packed a can of kerosene in his rucksack and made his way to Westlake Station, where he watched the giant terracotta clock.

—When the big hand passes eight, I’ll douse myself and burn.

Then he realized he’d forgotten his lighter.

For the first time, Benjamin was lost.


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Linda Vs. Sound by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Normally, after her shift, Linda would make herself a latte, untie her apron, and study at one of the tables. That evening, however, KEXP kept playing songs with grating guitar riffs, and loud laughers were everywhere. She chugged her coffee, burning her tongue. Then, she dashed out the door and down Olive Way.

Once downtown, she marched straight to the library. The bottom floors buzzed with schoolchildren and the un(der)employed, but Linda had planned for that. She knew she had to take the escalators past the glass encasing the bookstacks and make her way to the top floor with its glorious views of the Sound and the lights. More important, to her, was the reading room. For fifteen perfect minutes, she had it to herself. Then came the announcement: the library was closing.

Fucking budget cuts.

Where else could she find quiet? Her roommates would be home by now. Then she remembered that the Pike Place Market would be closing. She ran down Pine and across the brick road. She squatted on concrete that reeked of lavender and salmon. As she was about to take out her books, she heard the rhythmic clunk of traffic on the Alaska Way Viaduct, which some asshole poet years before had taken for “Puget Sound sounds”.

I give up.

She trudged up Pike to the Bartell Drugs and bought earplugs. Thus fortified, Linda survived a bus ride home beside a teenager with Lady Gaga leaking from his headphones.


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The Arctic Express by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Sky: Snows, turns dark.

Street: Freezes. Remains on a hill.

Traffic: None on this block.

Two: Did I miss the bus?

One: You either missed it, or it didn’t come.

Two: Hasn’t come.

One: One or the other. Which one?

Two: I don’t know; I asked you.

One: I meant which bus.

Two: ST220X

One: I’m ST325.

Two: How long have you been waiting?

One: Holds up a wrist well-layered with gloves and sleeves, drops it before exposing anything. I don’t know. My watch froze.

Two: Since you’ve been waiting?

One: Since I’ve been waiting.

Two: You’ve been waiting long.

One: Have I? I don’t know. My watch—

Two: Froze.

One: Right.

Four Hands: Rubbed together, stuck in pockets, pulled back out and breathed upon.

Two: Is that a bus?

One: Headlights anyway.

Traffic: A white bus swirled with ambiguous blues and greens takes ten minutes to traverse a block.

Bus: Stops. Opens door. Displays no number.

Driver: Get in fast. The brakes can’t hold for long.

One: Bounds onto bus, flashing pass.

Two: Which bus is this? Where are you going?

Driver: Everywhere we can get. This is the Arctic Express; get on.

Two: Steps away.

Bus: Begins to slip.

Driver: Your loss.

Bus: Closes door. Crawls away. Disappears after five minutes.

Two: Must be fog. Maybe they’ll let me sleep in Starbucks.


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King Street Station by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Despite the newly bright bricks and the working clock, Cassie couldn’t help but take a deep breath before entering King Street Station. She had always tried to hold her breath when her family cut through it on the way to Mariners games but had never succeeded, not even the summer she was disqualified for staying underwater too long at the start of the 50 fly.

This time, she didn’t breathe until she passed the Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out The Watchtower. They had never been there when the station smelled of mildew, feet, and piss. They came with the scent of paint, bleach, and plaster.

When she passed through the mahogany doors into the waiting room, Cassie inhaled again but sharply. The restored ceiling reminded her of Rome, where she and Angie had gone to celebrate leaving the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

—Mormons, she whispered, fuck it.

She was still staring at the ceiling when Angie embraced her from behind.

—You have no idea how glad I am to see you.

—So Salt Lake wasn’t great?

—The lake was fine. My family . . . well, you warned me.

—You won’t be going back then?

—No, I think my conversion’s complete.

The two women held hands as they passed through the Compass Room, discussing where they should have dinner.

—I’m fine as long as they serve booze, said Angie.

Outside, January’s first rain had begun.

—And hot drinks, she added.


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Rash Reading by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

I got a rash under my wedding ring. I took it off and filed for divorce the next day. Mike begged me to stay. But when you can’t trust your judgement, you have to trust the signs.

Mommy had a rash like that. I used to see it in the shower. People think it’s strange we washed together until I moved away, but when she stood behind me and shampooed hair, I knew daddy hadn’t broken anything important. Was it wrong? I can’t trust my judgement.

At university I dated a man with long dark hair, but my roommates said he treat me badly, so I never spoke to him again. They set me up with a man who took me to LDS ward meetings. If I wanted to sleep in late instead, he would yell. But everyone said he was nice, so I stopped complaining. When I dropped my favorite mug one morning, I should have known it was a sign.

The next week, I had the flu and couldn’t get up, so he beat me. I called an ambulance after he left. I never went back to his dorm, and my roommates kept him away from mine. Then I met Mike.

After I left, the rash spread to the palm of my hand. Mike took me back and bought me hydrocortisone cream. The rash went away. When you can’t trust your judgement, you have to trust the signs.


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