top of page

Breath & Shadow

Summer 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 3


written by

Shannon Connor Winward

The lobby door slid open with another gust of wind. Flyers flapped like wings. A garland of children's hands fluttered from the archway.

Mora re-checked the time. Oh, for... They were two minutes late, though she'd done nothing but stand there with an armful of purple coat, waiting for two o'clock.

She turned to find Amber already returned from the hunt.

"Mom. They have the new Parker's Place so I grabbed it. And a flower book, and one about drawing cats. Also—"

Mora took the stack of new finds. "Yup, got it. Club is starting. You're late. Go."

As Amber spun toward the Children's Room, Mora watched one red mitten fall from her jumper pocket. "Wait! Why do you have your mittens?” she called, picking it up from the floor. “Where's the other one!?" Amber shrugged, already elsewhere.

"Is it in your other pocket? It's not in her pocket," Mora muttered. "Do I have it?"

Mora unloaded on a bench: coat, purse, books, comic books, two hats and just the one red mitten, the mate of which was not in her purse nor any coat crevice.

Most likely, she thought, thinking backwards, it was somewhere between FICTION Aa-Ch and PERIODICALS.

Mora gathered their things and began to retrace her daughter's bibliophilic zigzag. Passing under potted ferns and gleaming laminate signs, she breathed in the library's singular odor; that shared canned-air smell that took her back to her own childhood. And, by association, her own mother.

Mora's chest tightened with one of those blindsiding pangs of grief that she was still learning to navigate. She recalled her meditation podcasts.

"Do it mindfully," she thought.

"Acknowledge it...

Hello, old friend... then let it go."

Drifting through the labyrinth of stacks, one part of Mora searched for the missing mitten while another—five, six, seven years old, newly hooked on the drug of reading—skipped ahead, soaking up the colors and the come-ons of title spines. The only thing that separated them was everything, plus thirty years.

Mora stopped in PSYCHOLOGY to knuckle away a tear. She eyed the row of books before her.

Five Stages of Grief.          Life After Life. Learning How to...

Picking at the rough edge of a torn plastic cover, Mora thought suddenly of a book she'd once loved as a little girl; a children’s book about death, a topic no grownup ever wanted to talk about but that had fascinated young Mora long before she’d had to face any actual, personal loss. She must have taken that book out a dozen times, trying to understand what was so unsettling about those glossy black and white pages of unscary things. A dove in a cigar box. A grandparent sleeping.

Mora twitched Amber’s mitten against her lips, thinking, a red flower in a pot. One colored photo in the whole grayscale book.

Mora paced the library perimeter, casting about for another spot of red.

The layout was all different, of course. Back in the '80s the kids' section was in the basement; now off-limits to the public. They'd gutted an entire wing in the Clinton-era, redid all the windows, made everything modern. It was barely recognizable as the same place Mora’s mom used to bring her, the smell notwithstanding.

Maybe all libraries had the same aura: magazine perfume ads, city water in steel fountains, newsprint, shoe leather, old glue, and the collective shellac of grime left by the free-roaming hands of generations.

Mora reached the Children's Room. She could see into the classroom where Amber waved scissors and chirped with a friend over the construction-paper nests they were making. The clock above the door gave them just a little more time, so on a whim, Mora ducked into juvenile non-fiction.

She passed one Dewey Decimal map after another, not realizing she was reading them until she reached the 150s. Dragging her finger down the shelf, she imagined the backbone of a giant mythical beast, like those she'd read about once, under this roof.

Even as she traced the titles, Mora did the math in her head.

The people in those black and white photos wore bellbottoms and turtlenecks. The book must have been culled years ago. It was magical thinking, to imagine it... Oh.

Well. Hello, old friend.

Mora slid the children’s book from the shelf. As she cracked it open, young Mora sighed.

This one again? Why are you so morbid, her mother laughed.

Wrapped in the cool silence of the library, they turned the pages together, breathing in the scent of something long-ago forgotten, yet deeply missed.



Amber waited at the end of the aisle, shuffling her feet.

Hands empty. "Yes, right. It's time.” Mora returned the memory to the shelf where she’d found it—no, not lost. Still there with her, just where it had always been.

“Oh! And I had my mitten with me the whole time, Mom.”

“I never doubted it,” said Mora, after the child who had already bounded off to the next thing.

Shannon Connor Winward was once the author of the Elgin Award-winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her full-length collection, The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press) was published in 2018, while Shannon was teaching and performing as an Individual Artist Fellow in Literature for her home state of Delaware. After closing out that epic year, Shannon collapsed from complications of a congenital disorder (family curse). Despite many invasive procedures on multiple coasts, neither the king’s horses nor his men could put the poor dear back together again.

Shannon’s written relics still linger in places like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Analog, Star*Line, Lunch Ticket, Literary Mama, Deaf Poet’s Society, a feature in Poets & Writers magazine, the annals of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, initials and a hand-print in cement, and here and there a Review. For now Shannon’s mind lives in the broken down tower of her body in a blue room, where she writes madly against the gods and the clock, and otherwise edits Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal.

bottom of page