Artwork © Robert Fleming


Listen to Your Mother, Damn It!

A few months after my mother died, she warned me not to get on a plane to Holland. I was excited to be going on my first European book tour, but she apparently had other ideas.

I heard her voice as clearly as if she were by my side one afternoon while I was walking my two West Highland White Terriers down their favorite shady street (maples, oaks, blue spruce).

“Don’t go!”

I knew what she meant. But I wasn’t just shocked to hear her, I was surprised that this voluble, highly educated woman could be so terse. Maybe she only had limited minutes on her Contact the Living Plan. My supportive husband of many years said “Don’t go if you don’t want to,” but didn’t comment on whether he believed my mother had contacted me or not. He’s like that nonjudgmental especially when I contemplate stepping off any kind of cliff.

The warning from her was like having my hair pulled, but I didn’t think I could tell my German publisher that I couldn’t do the tour because a ghost told me to stay home.

The trip over from Detroit was excruciating. Someone puked in the aisle close to my narrow, non-reclining last-row narrow economy seat. The nearby toilet door whooshed a vile chemical miasma every time it was opened and closed. And we had to turn back over the Atlantic to land in Newfoundland after a few hours because the captain announced someone had fallen ill and needed a hospital.

Our Canadian detour meant that I was so late I had to run through crazy Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to make a later-than-planned connecting flight which got me to Berlin with less than an hour before my reading. Sweaty, dazed, I had just enough time at the hotel to wash my face, spritz some cologne, and meet my minder downstairs to be whisked off to the venue.

En route, I waited for my mother to hit me with “I told you so,” on the worst fucking day of my writing career, but I guess she figured I’d been punished enough already.

The next morning in the breakfast room I said “Guten Morgen” to the scattering of suited men in deep conversations but they stopped when my husband called to see if I was okay and I was so relieved to hear his voice, I cried.


Lev Raphael is living his childhood dream of being a publisher author and manages to make through the bad patches thanks to a college mentor he’s still in touch with. His work has appeared in fifteen languages and been taught at universities in the U.S. and abroad–which means he’s been homework.

Robert Fleming is a gay-man, word-artist, and scientist born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada who emigrated to Lewes, Delaware, United States. Robert follows his mother as a visual artist and his grandfather as a poet. In 1986 he published the second psychological research study on gay men’s response to AIDS in United States. Then, in the 1990s he was a contributing member of the District of Columbia’s Triangle Artist group. Now Robert is a founding member and contributing editor of Devil’s Party Press’ Old Scratch Press.