To him, it’s as if his daughter eloped with a cretin, for though they sent her to college to become a nurse, she now calls herself a writer. She loves fiction! She loves writing! And so, this afternoon, he follows her email link and reads one of her stories, recently posted in a minor online journal. The final line: “At the woodpile, we lingered as a young flame licked the cabin windows, and I prayed the structure would burn before our father woke from the drugs and started to scream.” The language is overwrought, he thinks, but he cannot bring himself to offer such a blunt critique in a response. The story is unoriginal, he thinks, but he cannot bear to break his daughter’s heart, despite his inner turmoil. She is proud of this accomplishment, of a stranger saying that her prose is good enough for publication. How to reply! He brews a pot of tea. Walks the dog. Settles on a compromise. Returning to his desk, he opens a new message and types the following: Did you learn about sedatives during your medical training?

Benjamin Woodard is editor in chief at Atlas and Alice. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and teaches English. His stories have appeared in Hobart, jmww, Atticus Review, and others.

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