Hard Winter

[fiction]

Cheryl’s bones cracked as she leaned back into her chair, the bent wood snapping and sagging under worrisome weight. John hadn’t come up the back stairs yet, leaning himself on the peeling, metal railing as he dragged his lumbering feet. She had listened for those familiar footsteps, straining her good ear in the direction of the door, the fading sun falling on her cheek through the cracked window. He hadn’t rung either. Everything was still and perfect and she sat, aware of the high pitch of the television turned low. The faces on the screen kept her company, but that was all.

They’d run out of meat before—many times, in fact. It wasn’t hardship, exactly, but this time the cellar had been overrun with rats, and their root crops were destroyed. They had used the last of the food stamps for Christmas dinner so that each of the seventeen grandchildren packed into the house would have a small trinket underneath the tree to open.

“Maybe up north I’ll find some game,” John said one evening, looking sallow underneath the glare of the bulb that hung from the tacky ceiling. “Elks got to be somewhere.”

“Ain’t that season,” she’d said, but knew it was no use. He’d be gone when she woke the next morning, having set out before dawn with his rifle laying in the back of the Model B. He’d park down-road, go out, crawl in the underbrush and wait out the land. But the land was fickle and possessive and he wouldn’t notice the landowner or the shotgun until he felt it at the back of his head.

Cheryl got up and pressed the pillows in his chair, taking them gingerly and hesitantly, afraid to handle them too harshly. She placed them back in the same place and listened with her good ear as if afraid of that something would fill up the sound of his absence.

 

Laura Young earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa, where she was in the undergraduate Writers’ Workshop, and an MA in education from California State University. A recipient of the New York Mills writing residency, she has had short stories published in Cold Creek Review, the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, Ordinary Madness, Parent Co., and Mr. Judas. Her story, “What We Can’t Talk About,” has been nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net 2017.

Photo by Youngbell Photography

She Is a Battleground

[fiction]

Twelve-year-old butter boys face the old Chinese woman they call Baboochka. Imagine: the eighty-year-old woman on their apartment’s shared front stoop, the silver moon caught in her tousled hair, her yellow sweater vest, her milky-white Velcro E-Z Steppers. She jostles grocery bags from one hip to the other as she digs in her pockets for keys. She grumbles about the checker at the vegetable market pocketing her change, about her arthritic fingers too weak to open jars but too strong for the wet lettuce bag, about the bus driver that did not hear her call out for a stop. And now, the butter boys on her stoop who whistle for sesame candy, beg to see inside her bags, throw dirty leaves in her hair when she refuses.

The old woman knows that in two years the boys will become teenage fools: lanky legs, smelling, soiled underpants, an erection when someone taps their shoulder or sloshes in a puddle or fires a gun. It doesn’t take much. The fools will come home from school and find the old woman weaving long green blades of grass into her house slippers like laces, her purse filled with acorns, resting against her stockinged feet. The fools will laugh and point their sticky fingers at Baboochka, some so close they leave fingerprints on her eyeglasses.

And the old woman will choose to fight back. In her own true myth, she is not a corny grandmother, soft like a pillow. She is not Mother Dear. She is not Lady Khorosho, just waiting to become a ghost. She does not weep and cry and mumble. No.

She is a battleground. Lui yun is her real name, she will tell the fools, Go and puk gai. She is a person. She is sex. She is useful poison. She is a survivor of wars. She is a dream. She is a sarcastic beast. She is the skeleton key who understands little criminals. She will yank the fools’ earlobes with joy, grab handfuls of shirt and rip them a new hemline.

And the arrogant snots will call her mad, crazy, a shithead, a starry buttock, a whore. But the old woman will laugh and laugh, howl like a bolshy dame. The sound, quick, scratching, the sweetest noise you’ve ever heard. Like an ancient drug, with chipped teeth like tin bells, a tongue like a rake, a fighting drive to live, a horror heart in woolly slippers.

 

Nancy Au

Nancy Au is a queer bisexual writer, artist, and teacher living in Oakland, California. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, The Pinch, Beloit Fiction Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Word Riot, Liminal Stories, Foglifter, Forge Literary Magazine, and Midnight Breakfast, among others. She was awarded the Spring Creek Project residency, which is dedicated to artists and writers inspired by nature and science. She has an MFA from San Francisco State University, teaches creative and science writing at California State University Stanislaus, and is cofounder of The Escapery.

“She is a Battleground” is a Best Small Fictions 2018 winner, selected by Aimee Bender. Congratulations to Nancy Au!

Sleight of Hand

[fiction]

You’re walking home from Chester Park Elementary School, where you have the happiness of being in the sixth grade. As you’re passing the windowless flank of a multistory parking garage, a four-eyed classmate of yours named Dresner steps out of the doorway he’s been skulking in.

—Check this out.

The small volume he produces for your inspection has a black leatherette cover. Nothing is printed on it. It reminds you of the sort of book found on the backs of pews. You’re reluctant to touch it.

—What is it?

—Open it.

Before you can, it’s snatched from your hands by another classmate of yours—Falk, his name is. A gangly lout with a face like the Big Bad Wolf’s, he flips through the pages under your nose, while you try but fail to contain yourself.

—That’s disgusting!

—Where’d you get it?

Dresner, used to being ignored by Falk, is thrilled to be admitted to a conversation with him.

—In my father’s closet. Hey, what’s the idea? Come back with that!

Falk laughs at him over his shoulder.

—Or what? You’ll tell your father?

That Dresner doesn’t dare to pursue him as he saunters off can only be due to the fearsome reputation enjoyed by Falk’s headlock. You have to hurry to catch up with him before he reaches the corner.

—You should give it back.

In the shadow of the parking garage, Dresner has sagged down onto his pudgy hams, as if the wind’s been knocked out of him. He looks so stricken even Falk can’t help feeling for him.

—All right, here.

Grudgingly he surrenders the book and disappears around the corner. You make sure Dresner isn’t watching when you slip it in your pocket.

 

Stephen BailyStephen Baily is the author of three novels, ten plays, and short fiction that’s appeared in some thirty-five journals. His novel, Markus Klyner, MD, FBI, is available as a Kindle e-book. He lives in France.

Disco

[fiction]

The Bank of Michigan gave my grandfather a banquet at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac
Island in the late seventies. While my parents watched television, I snuck out of the hotel room
to explore. Almost immediately, I found myself locked out of the fire escape seven stories up.
At seven years old, I pounded on the glass, kicked at the molding, and wept so loudly that the
napping woman in the adjacent room woke up, opened the door for me, and let me inside her
room until I cooled off. Later that night, at the disco party, I ran into her, and she told the entire
story to my parents in full detail—the whimpering, the snot, the shaking, my face in the pillow,
and how long it took for the pillow to dry. But I didn’t let her get away with it. The next day I
broke into her room, rifled through her belongings, and stole her checkbook. During the next
school year, I sometimes took the checks to class and showed them off to friends. We would
scribble in vast sums and then set the paper on fire. Every so often, even twenty years later, I’ll
write out something small. Ten or twenty bucks. Just enough to go unnoticed.

 

Tim FittsTim Fitts is the author of the short story collection Hypothermia (MadHat Press, 2017) and The Soju Club (Loupe). Fitts teaches in the Liberal Arts Department of the Curtis Institute of Music and is a frequent guest on the Painted Bride Quarterly’s “Slushpile.” His fiction has been published by Granta, The Gettysburg Review, Faultline, Shenandoah, CutBank, among others. His story, “Sand On Sand Yellow,” is available on Amazon, free to Kindle users. Follow Tim on Twitter @timfitts77.

 

Switzerland

[creative nonfiction]

Silly girls. We were two American college co-eds, surrounded by big, jovial mountain climbers from Norway. Or Sweden. We couldn’t understand them. The young bearded men were heavily into their schnapps and laughed as they tried, with hand gestures and broken English, to convince us to join them in a shot, or two. There was nowhere to go, as we were eight persons squashed into a cable car that left Zermatt, Switzerland with a sudden, hard jolt. My friend’s and my mouth fell open simultaneously in shock, which caused our companions endless amounts of entertainment. They theatrically clutched at each other, mimicking our facial expressions and laughing uproariously. We couldn’t help but giggle; okay, we looked stupid and we knew it.

The view! The famous Alpine view that really and truly took our breath away. We gazed down and saw a Disney movie set; a Currier & Ives Christmas card. This was too perfect to be real. So many cozy peaked houses with plumes of sweet-smelling smoke puffing up from their chimneys. No cars, no vehicles of any kind were allowed here. Pristine. Surrounded by powerful mountains and snow and ice. A haven within a brutally beautiful countryside. It would be a completely different picture in the late Spring, when all the alpine flowers would be in full exquisite bloom. Picture-postcard perfect.

We soon exited the cable car at Furi Station, laughing and hugging our new “friends” goodbye, only to board a larger cable car for the trip up to Trockener Steg. We weren’t done with the transportation quite yet. There was a price to pay to achieve a view that would stay within your mind for a lifetime. So, we followed the crowd and boarded another cable car that would take us all the way up to the infamous Matterhorn. Then, there was one more lift that delivered us closer to our goal, the viewing platform. We had been told by countless friends that if we did not make this trip, we would regret it forever. Those were strong words and so we obeyed. Stepping off the lift, we were finally on solid ground. Looking around, we spotted the steep steps to reach Valhalla, Nirvana, the Top of the World. As we made it to the uppermost observation point, out of breath, we discovered that we were above the clouds! This was nature’s church, and we were awed by the perfect peace. During stressful times, I still conjure that incredible serenity that wrapped around me like a grandmother’s hand-knit shawl. And the silence was so complete that you could hear the glaciers across the valley, miles away, quietly melting, the tiny rivulets of water splashing down to join a waterfall. It was cold up there, but it was a wet cold because of the clouds. And it did not bother us in the least.

And then I heard the sound that I can hear just as clearly today: the tinkling of cow bells that traveled up through the thick white clouds like sacred music. It sounded right in my ear. I should have been able to reach out and touch the cows, but they were miles away. There was not a drop of air pollution to interfere with the sound waves bouncing off mountainsides. I couldn’t see the gentle animals, but I could picture them. Brown and white dairy cows carefully climbing the steep mountainsides in their search for a mouthful of dry grass under the snow.

I do not remember ever leaving that spot. We breathed deeply trying to capture the moment, the perfect, pure happiness that radiated from our hearts. Decades later, and in times of need, I am easily transported back to the top of the mountain.

 

Susan Weidenbaum Goldstein has relocated to well over fifteen cities in her lifetime; it is fake news that she is in the witness protection program. Her work has appeared in Mothers Always WriteSilver Birch PressMamalode, and JustBe ParentingComing up later this month: Sammiches and Psych Meds and Hyland’s, “A Mother Knows” campaign, to be featured on their social platforms. Follow her blog, Seriously? Life is too short, and so am I at www.very-seriously.com

Photo by Forever Studios, Boca Raton, FL

1964

[fiction]

The first boy she ever kissed was actually two. Behind the heavy velvet curtains on the stage at the community center. It was summer; they were counselors who ignored their campers, who smoked the dried-up weed she had found in her brother’s dresser, smoked it behind the dumpster during lunch, crouching to avoid the hot, wet sun. Then inside, the coolest darkest place at the back of the gym. Was it a dare? Or the truth: suddenly she had a power over them she had never imagined existed.

One boy was dark, the other fair, with hair on his chin so light it was almost translucent. She wanted to run her finger over it, but didn’t know how to ask. The first boy had broad shoulders. His forearms were tan and smooth. Like melted caramel. The second moistened his lips. Their breath. Their hands.

They sat on a dusty couch, covered in a white sheet like a body would be. She between the boys. Her brother’s army shirt over her new red bikini top, his dog tags cool against one sunburned breast. The wall behind them was a painted scene from a play. Some dark-green, leafy place. Another world. There was no fear. No thought yet for her reputation. Only anticipation. Curiosity. And a sense of the future stretched wide.

Boy number one leaned in. His hair fell over one eye. He smelled like smoke. Then grape jelly. His lips were rough and hot. His kiss was a dry brush like a moth flying by, but his hand shook where it cupped her ribs.

Then the pale boy stuck his tongue in her mouth. A wet muscly fish. She bore it for a minute then pushed his forehead back with a laugh. He ducked his head.

Was that all there was to it? Two whole boys, both hers.

She was fifteen. It was summer. A satellite took pictures of the craters on the moon. A radio out in the gym sang, “As the present now / Will later be past.” And her world opened up like a flower, like a bomb.

 

Claire T. Lawrence is a professor of creative writing at Bloomsburg University. She has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in numerous journals and anthologies, including Literary Mama, Tri-Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, and The New Earth Reader. She lives in flyover country with her husband, two children, and their Pekingeses, Mushu and Kung Pao.

Bitch-not-Witch

[fiction]

I’m just appreciating what’s pleasing about Trent when it all goes wrong. He phones me, his voice less sweet and friendly than it was an hour ago. There’s a crackle of anxiety present now.

“Den…” he says.

After he’s spoken my name there is a sharp little silence. I break it with a sigh.

Trent has called me three or four times today already. He is working on his article but is afraid he’s going to miss the deadline. The pity word blows through me each time he rings. It’s my immediate reaction. My legs lurch forward as though they’ve been programmed to run to him. But wait a minute. Is this not the method he always uses to get people, by which I suppose I mean women, to do his bidding? He is writing a piece about myths and legends. I’m fully aware he wants me to go through the material on his desk but he doesn’t say this. He expects me to offer. Out of sympathy. We are lovers, after all. And once upon a time, fairy tale like, I would have. If I don’t help I will have been the cause of the suffering he is going through now. This is bad; it is more than bad. It’s unthinkable. In the once-upon-a-time way of seeing, I would have been a witch because I am responsible for his pain. And there are plenty more witch role models than assertive women in the stories, aren’t there.

“Den,” Trent goes. This time there’s a feeble whiny something in the way he says my name. “Do you want to come over?”

He makes it sound like an invitation. But his voice isn’t inviting in the least. Bitch is the put-down he’s throwing together behind the words. I can detect it. If I refuse, that is. Bitch not witch. This is the now-alternative. Dirty doglike but with very little power attached.

“I’d love to but I can’t today,” I tell him, hanging tightly on to whatever power I have. It isn’t much perhaps. There’s a distant urge in me to run to his rescue but, no. I stop myself. I’ve done this so many times before. Never getting so much as a thank you.

“I have to go now,” Trent tells me curtly. And I get the impression he’ll be phoning someone else. “Do you think I ought to ask Julie to give me a hand?” he says next minute, still on the line to stick the knife in. He digs in the reminder that he has others. I’m not the only one and I better believe it. He doesn’t say this but he might as well.

“Do what you have to do,” I tell Trent in a firm undaunted voice.

“Thanks,” he says, a cutting edge now sharpening his tone.

So yes, I’m a bitch pure and simple. There’s no supernatural side to me but you know what, I am big and bad enough to live with that. Less is more.

 

Jay Merill is published in Cheap Pop Lit, Entropy, Epiphany, Hobart, The Literateur, Matchbook, Prairie Schooner, SmokeLong Quarterly, Thrice Fiction, and Wigleaf. She is a current Write Well Award nominee, Pushcart Prize nominee, and winner of the Salt short story prize. She is the author of two collections published by Salt, God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies.

 

The Walt Longmire of IT Guys

[fiction]

Kolarov started watching Longmire on Netflix last winter while engaging in half-hearted workouts on the bike trainer. The show has begun to own him. Kolarov is an IT guy, the dude you see in the office wearing a blue polo shirt and khaki pants, pushing a cart loaded with computers. That was before Longmire. Now Kolarov wears Lee jeans and flannel shirts. People have noticed—he feels them staring at his back when he enters the server room. The shoes have changed as well. The Sperry boat shoe is standard issue in the IT world, but now Kolarov has switched to the Timberland Chukka, which is almost a boot. He’s not brave enough to go full cowboy boot so the chukka will have to do. It’s close enough.

Kolarov is deep into season three of Longmire and the lead character’s detective tendencies are now part of his daily routine. A typical conversation with a staff member used to involve the person barging into Kolarov’s cubicle and demanding immediate help. Kolarov would avoid eye contact while mumbling something about resetting a password. Now, when an irate staff member arrives, Kolarov offers a chair that isn’t there—they need to pull one in from the next cube. He looks the person directly in the eye, Longmire style, and asks a series of questions. The cowboy hat is missing, which is a shame. On the show, Longmire holds court in a shadowy, lamplit office, slouching in his desk chair and peering at various suspects from under the brim of his Stetson. Kolarov has to get by with fluorescent overhead light and a concerned grimace that looks more like a dude struggling on the toilet. Most people look at Kolarov like he has two heads during these Q & A sessions, but he doesn’t notice.

Kolarov has found his Vic as well, the alluring female lead in love with the much older Longmire on the show. Kolarov’s Vic is also much younger. From time to time, she sends him an email with a question about how to do something in Microsoft Word. In the past, he would answer via email. Now when she sends a message he goes right to her desk and leans over her shoulder, working on the problem like a real detective; a bold, powerful, six-foot-two-inch muscular detective. The physical presence part is a bit difficult for Kolarov, he’s only five-foot-eight and weighs maybe one hundred fifty pounds after dinner. He’s been doing pushups and sit-ups every night in order to better fill out the baggy flannel shirts, but there’s no guarantee this is making any difference. She may or may not notice.

When the day is done Kolarov arrives home and does not change clothes as quickly as he used to. His wife thinks she knows what’s going on, but she doesn’t say anything. His son passes him in the hallway and says, “Nice shirt, Dad.” There’s not a lot of Longmire work to do in this house on a weeknight. Most of the action is centered around dinner preparation, homework, basketball watching, some sort of exercise.

But a recent Wednesday night brings changes. Just after dinner, as Kolarov is preparing to go downstairs and hit the trainer, his wife receives two phone calls in quick succession from a colleague at work. Each call is from a different number. Kolarov’s wife checks voicemail and says, It’s weird, Gina sounds upset. Kolarov starts in with the questioning: how are things at home? Is her husband normal? Do they fight? You better call her back, we may need to intervene. Fifteen minutes later Kolarov is grinding away on the bike trainer watching Longmire rappel down a mountainside using a length of rope routed through handcuffs connected to his tough-guy cowboy belt. Kolarov’s wife comes downstairs and says her friend is fine, she was just trying to line up a substitute teacher for her upcoming vacation. Kolarov wants to know why the second phone number. His wife laughs and says the friend first called from her cell phone, and then from the school phone. Kolarov turns back to the screen and picks up the pace. Someone’s not telling the truth, he can feel it. Hopefully they won’t read about it in the paper tomorrow.

 

John Meyers

John Meyers’s poems, stories, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications. Over the past year, his work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Louisville Review, Fiction Southeast, Thrice Fiction, Easy Street, and the Jellyfish Review, among others. John lives in Maryland and once worked for Ringling Bros. Circus. He can be found online at www.hammeredinmetal.blogspot.com.

The Blessed Bangle

[fiction]

A lady of leisure, Leela spent most of her time reading novels and literary magazines. She sat on the terrace, gazing at the white sailboats in the sapphire waters of Bay of Bengal, drying her long, lustrous hair in the bright sunshine, bantering with her sisters-in-law. Leela never went downstairs for breakfast until after nine in the morning—she needed her beauty sleep. When she did arrive, in a crisp cotton sari and her hair neatly braided, she was usually greeted by one her giggling sisters-in-laws. “What! Ho! Leela, another late night, huh? Poor thing. You must be worn out after all that…”

Leela was not unaware of her mother-in-law’s consternation. That she failed to get pregnant. That she failed to produce an heir. Even after four years of marriage. That she might be barren or something. That the clan might not progress beyond the eldest son.

Seeking divine intervention, the matriarch dragged Leela to a few famous temples in the South to pray for a child. Astrologers and purohits, seers and swamis were consulted, and pujas and homams performed. Anything to boost Leela’s fertility. Though she mentally scoffed at such superstitions, out of respect for her mother-in-law, Leela went along.

During those tense times, Leela blithely ignored the matriarch’s tedious barbs—about people who had too much free time, people who did not fulfill their duty, people overly concerned with their looks.

The mother-in-law—Kamala, as fertile as the Godavari delta, got pregnant at the drop a hat, not once or twice, but six times. Leela shuddered at the thought of what such frequent fecundity might do to her shapely figure. She was in no hurry for the ugly stretch marks and the pendulous, milk-filled mammaries.

*     *     *

Kamala said, “We tried everything—well, almost everything, nothing seems to work. Leela, wear this bangle, you must wear it all the time. This is not just any regular bangle, it is The Blessed Bangle. This bangle was blessed by a famous seer in the foothills of Himalayas and shipped all the way to the South. I just got it, delivered by courier. The wearer is assured of spiritual wellbeing and prosperity and will banish all the evil spirits that seem to prevent you from conceiving. Let’s hope that this bangle will do the trick.”

Leela wore it dutifully, day and night. Every day, during the morning puja, under Kamala’s strict supervision, Leela slipped the bangle out of her dainty wrist and placed it in front of the gods and goddesses.

During the tension-filled weeks (the tension was all Kamala’s, Leela was very cool, cool as the waters on the sandy beach), Kamala’s prayers became more and more fervent. Many cups of “Tension Tamer” and “Calming Chamomile” tea did not live up to their name.

*     *     *

Kamala was ecstatic when Leela, at long last, got pregnant. It seemed as though her prayers finally bore fruit. Now that her dreams had finally come true, there was nothing to curb her enthusiasm. She anticipated the arrival of her first grandchild, her eldest son’s first baby, which she hoped would be a boy, with great anxiety.

The bangle’s fame was known to near and dear and far and wide. It was only a matter of time, requests to loan the bangle to infertile women across the state came pouring in. Kamala charged a nominal fee to cover the shipping costs. If a woman got pregnant she was requested to donate generously to Kamala’s favorite temple. If a woman did not get pregnant, Kamala took no responsibility, wrote it off as one of those cases where the blessed bangle could not override Saturn’s evil eye on the unfortunate woman’s fertility. Each woman was given a month and then the bangle should be sent back, ready for the next woman in line. When not in transit, the bangle was placed in the puja room, under the watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses.

*     *     *

Sitting on the sunny terrace, Leela contemplated her baby bump and enjoyed the fuss everyone was making about the imminent arrival of the scion (yes, a boy, as per ultrasound). She knew very well that Kamala would be horrified that the bangle had nothing to do with her pregnancy.

Leela simply stopped the Pill.

 

Rudy Ravindra lives in Wilmington, NC. His fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Ginosko Literary Journal, Chicago Literati, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. Learn more at rudyravindra.com.

Walmart Holiday Shopping

[creative nonfiction]

List in hand: canned kitty food, hair color stuff, ribbon, Blue Plate’s Greek Lite Mayonnaise with Yogurt. Two names in the corner: Shaun / Elijah.

The two names off to the right are the two you buy presents for each year. Only these two. It’s hot. Grab a cart.

Pause to type a poetic thought to Notes on iPhone: “If I may retrace your voice to the root, arrest the fine salt of your skin for a magic ring, I’ll bring you back, resurface you from the deep black of the long-watery hour.”

In public places, I’m often brought close to tears by an old woman lingering. Today one is in the soap aisle. White hair page-boy cut, like my mother’s. Mine wore faded stretchy headbands. Her shoes were always scuffed. There’s something about the way this one leans in to read the price. She could be leaning over my crib, or my anxiety-sick face when I was eight. Last time I saw Mom was in the garage of the house I grew up in. I didn’t want anything from her then. As I drove away, I should have noticed how small she really was, next to the garage that used to seem big.

Shaun will get fleece pajamas, a book (The Untethered Soul), and a Yankee Candle. He no longer calls ten times nightly when he knows I’m sleeping. He calls me “Mom” again. Thirty-four and unmarried, sometimes he texts things like: “I feel ashamed for existing,” and I remember saying that to myself at twelve in that not-so-big-anymore garage.

Winter is a strange thing. “Up north” it’s frigid. Swept-white snow across fields and all glass looks dangerous. In Orlando, near me, it’s warm, “temperate,” and dangerous to dance in nightclubs. I grew up North but have been South for decades. All carbon-creatures must die and I don’t want to see bare trees.

I have a cart with one crazy wheel but navigate the aisles despite this adversity.

Elijah is my Cousin Jerry’s daughter’s son. He’s in first grade and I struggle. What do I get the son of my goddaughter who hung herself in a bedroom closet at her parents’ house six years ago? Jerry, fresh with grief, spoke of putting Elijah up for adoption. I said nononononono, don’t do that. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.

I pick a game called “There’s a Yeti in My Spaghetti” and a box of “wizard’s tricks.” I’ve never met Elijah, who lives in Wisconsin, and haven’t seen Shaun in sixteen years. They mail me a photo every year.

I’m tiring of the grocery-getting. It seems there’s so much else to do, but here I am in the pain-reliever aisle. Here I am trying to find a packet of firm toothbrushes. Here is the egg aisle. Lift the lid. So many are cracked. Guilt floods for closing the lid on the imperfect ones. In the soap aisle here is the old woman I will become. Blue-black maps under her skin; my road.

I take for granted I’ll make it safely to my car, arrive home and cook dinner. My spouse will be home at five. This won’t go on forever.

Small-talk with Janie, the best cashier, and I’m done for this week. In the breezeway, a carpeted liminal space, between “Exit” and “Entrance,” an elderly woman ahead walks like a tall white heron. White hair, white skin, white handbag. She’s rigid like white bark. A white-birch limb moving. She’s with a liver-spotted man on a motorized cart. He’s beige: Beige jacket, loose beige slacks, a beige hat tilted against the sun.

“Where are we?” the white woman asks. They’ve paused before the last set of doors. The beige-man peers across the parking lot like uncharted savannah.

“I don’t know. Out there somewhere.”

Isn’t this where I’ll be?

I imagine Shaun burning the candle. Reading the book. Wearing the fleece on cold dark-early nights. A Stanford line recalled: “I’ll just bleed so the stars can have something dark to shine in.” God bless Frank Stanford.

I hear Shaun’s voice asking me not to leave him alone with his father, see the salt-sweat stains of his baseball uniforms. At night I drift the northern field across from where he lives, in my dead-mother’s house. He takes my frightened hand. We float above overgrown prairie grass until the golden moment rises like thick cream, and the flick of the ear from hard winter’s wheat is all the sorrow there is.

 

Judith Roney has won a Prism Review and Pioneer Prize for poetry, a Pushcart nomination for a memoir piece, “My Nickname was Frankenstein,” and Waiting for Rain is a finalist for the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.

 

 

Screaming in the Heisenberg Wind

[fiction]

He was dead-drop Zen with eyes of Sufi swirling; smoking, a catch for any NLP-savvy, Nietzsche-Kant gal, but if you looked a little closer you could see the dark, Goethic shadow hidden behind that tan, well-defined Qabalah. He was ad hoc but never half-cocked and everything he coined wore shades.

She was a tall drink of retro-punk with wild Borges hair, screaming in the wind over a Heisenberg mind that saw the world in fractals. A tight Buddhist bodice barely contained her theosophical auras. She wore short skirts to show off a long, unconscious Jung that wouldn’t quit and left psychic disarray of Gödel proportions over the landscape of men as she walked.

She spoke in shadow tones laid flat on the floor, hiding cotton-candy dreams from synapses newly born, dancing over cliffs, too young to see. Her loose sinews and string theory cells contracted, feeling spooky action at a distance while she said prayers to God with eyes wide as the sun.

His long, strong hand smelled of coffee and musk. He held it out as a bridge so her toes wouldn’t trip. She picked up the scent of leather when he watched and felt the rain in his oasis behind plywood, duct tape, and two layers of muddy steel beams. Her train of thought careened dangerously 360 degrees mph around the curve, but he was straight as the marrow, maintaining a flurry of calm in opposition so balance remained on the same page—that one page of matter.

He had skylights in his attic. She had portholes in the basement, but somehow his wx1 interlinear wave brushed against her out of phase x2 angle and they came to meet, a rhapsody in blue-violet and could name that tune in five notes or three goddamns depending on the mood.

When they came together, the empty words they tossed bred symphony. He repainted the roof as proof that reality changed and reminded her not to wear a face in continuum. “I was a zeitgeist once,” he said, and she changed her clothes with ceremonious seriousness.

She promised to eat the past and never spit it out and he promised to keep rose-colored glasses and no roads closed so they settled down in the undercurrent unfettered by words or worlds or the space between them, sparking, sparkling, darkling hecklers sharing dreams in the motions of return.

Sex luminous in no light; pain playing on the planes.

Their cosmic bang created a continuous wave G, outdoing A, B and C, so that the universe became slightly queasy at all the motion this bundled baby borealis blew, but was satiated in the rafter glows. The bundle itself blew over and through to dimensions unknown looking for Om but sent musical interludes to the stars when strummed.

They stopped time and spent their momentous making models from the quantum material, watching themselves play in a nice piece of oceanfront reality, souled by the best agent ever, working on omission.

 

K.D. Rose

K.D. Rose is a poet and author. K.D.’s book, Inside Sorrow, won Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal for poetry. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have been published in Word Riot, Chicago Literati, Poetry Breakfast, BlazeVOX Journal, Ink in Thirds, The Nuclear Impact Anthology, Stray Branch Magazine, Literary Orphans, and others. Publication is forthcoming in Eastern Iowa Review, Lunch Ticket, Santa Fe Literary Magazine, Northern Virginia Review, Hermes Poetry Magazine, Maintenant Contemporary Dada Magazine, Slipstream, Wild Women’s Medicine Circle Journal, The Offbeat, and the 2016 Paragram Press anthology. She also won an honorable mention in the 2016 New Millennium Writings poetry contest. Her last release was Brevity of Twit. Her new book, DreamPoem, will be out in summer 2017. She has a BS in psychology and a master’s in social work. Member: Poetry Society of America, Poets and Writers, Academy of American Poets.

Scrap Art

[creative nonfiction]

When a new recycling shop specializing in crafts items opens near me and requests donations, I decide it’s time: I gather up my years’ worth of hoarded Altoids tins, Mason jars, fancy gift boxes, barely crinkled tissue paper, and a jar full of the orange and magenta ribbons from the handles of boutique shopping bags, too pretty to toss, still flirtatious, raring for reuse.

Opening the shop door wafts up the smell of dust and balsa wood and faraway hints of cedar. I wade into bins of bins, tubs of tubs, boxes of boxes. A barrel of baskets nuzzles one of old cookie tins, 10¢ apiece. Computer letters unmoored from their keyboard beg to become words. There are boxes of crayons and crayon nubs for 1¢ apiece, perhaps because the school year ran out before the crayons did, or maybe the kids just moved on to new crayons when the old ones lost their sharp point. There’s a giant bowl of cancelled stamps, 1¢ apiece, waiting to be rehomed in scrapbooks. Paint and glue tubes, popsicle sticks, corks from wine bottles, wine bottles de-corked. All “rescued from the landfill.”

In the heavily packed back of the store, my gaze snags first on the one-eyed head of a broken doll who hexes me with her singular stare. Then I see the severed ceramic doll parts all around her: cracked heads staring open-eyed. Arms reaching across each other, grabbing blindly. Feet and legs lined up, bodiless, at 25¢ apiece. My hoarder longings stir: I want to make something of these bits and pieces, some sort of found art to showcase their unrecognized beauty, to give them meaning, to redeem them.

But I see now that this display is itself, already, the found art I would make. No other re-assemblage could better capture this left-behind condition in a land of instant obsolescence than this array of unseeing eyes on heads looking for bodies, these corks climbing each other’s backs, and these tins tinkling and clanging against each other’s solid hollowness. No art better than those arms, nudging without elbows, grabbing without grasp. None more articulate than those torsos rolling limbless and unanchored amidst a limbo of limbs.

 

Deborah Thompson Deborah Thompson is an associate professor of English at Colorado State University, where she helped to develop the master’s degree in creative nonfiction. A Pushcart prizewinner, she has published creative essays in venues such as Briar Cliff Review, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, and Upstreet.

Blan-Manzhe with the Taste of Pear and Cream

[fiction]

Her husband had said of the last bonbon, “These are not bad.” So, Victoria saved the green wrapper with the drawing of pears and a few weeks later, back at the Russian grocery, showed it to the cashier. “These were a part of last month’s assortment.”

The cashier disappeared in the back. Victoria picked up some farmer’s cheese, herring, a package of roasted buckwheat groats: the staples. Waiting for the cashier to return, she contemplated the bonbon selection.

Her husband, born and raised in American suburbia, couldn’t fully comprehend the difference between the supermarket cottage cheese and the farmer’s cheese that she bought at the Russian store (he did enjoy the syrniki she made with the farmer’s cheese). The buckwheat was fine as a side to steak, but for breakfast it couldn’t compete with his oatmeal, regardless of its nutritional advantages. He had no interest in herring—far too salty. The bonbons, he wanted to like. They brought disappointment upon disappointment. Too sweet. Too gummy. Not enough chocolate. Too much liquor. “Must Russians ruin even their sweets with vodka?”

The cashier appeared, smelling of cigarette smoke. “Come back next week; we should receive the next shipment by then.”

The next time Victoria got to the store on a Sunday evening. At the end of the weekend, the candy bins were down to the last few hard candies, the sucking caramels. Nothing remotely related to pear.

In retrospect, she should’ve recognized this as a sign of trouble. When does a Russian store forget to restock sweets? On her following trip, a big sign in the window announced the store’s closing. While Victoria contemplated the sign, another customer arrived. An elderly woman with bright orange hair. “This figures. The owners were losing money,” the woman said. She looked at Victoria with a disapproving mien. “You kids are growing up all-American. You want brand names.”

Victoria looked for the candies online. Blan-manzhe, it turned out, was Russian for the French blanc-manger, spelled as blancmange in English and described as being similar to panna cotta in taste and appearance. Poet Alexander Pushkin, she read, had been fond of blanc-manger with chocolate sponge. Victoria couldn’t remember any such dessert in her mother’s repertoire, but she’d been seven when her family emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Once in the United States, her mother came to rely on frozen cheesecake.

Studying the wrapper, Victoria found in fine print the name of the factory in Russia. She visited the factory’s website, and eventually, slowly parsing the Cyrillic alphabet, clicked through to the page with the list of their assortment. Three hundred grams of the blan-manzhe candies sold for the price of fifty-one rubles, in selected areas, which did not include distribution outside of Russia. A phone number was provided for the international distributors. Victoria called that number and listened to several minutes of dial tone before giving it up.

The factory, she learned from the website, was a part of a conglomerate that united eighty-three sweets factories in Russia and controlled the market. The conglomerate, in its turn, was owned by a holding company that also owned a bank, a real estate developer, and a boutique hotel chain. The man behind the holding company had amassed more than six hundred million dollars and was on the list of top one hundred wealthiest men in Russia. Victoria kept reading. One website claimed that this man had started his career as a pickpocket and a strongman in Novosibirsk, that he’d served twenty years in jail, and moved to Moscow just in time for perestroika. At the time when Victoria’s parents decided to leave the Soviet Union, he’d made his fortune by swindling people like them out of the privatization vouchers and gained control of one factory after another.

She looked at the grass-green wrapper with the drawing of pears, one whole and one halved. Her husband didn’t seem to mind that the white chocolate shell coated the mouth with the taste of vegetable oil and the gelatinous neon-green filling looked like a biohazardous waste.

“These are not bad at all,” her husband had said, unwrapping that last bonbon and sliding it into his mouth. He gave it three chews and chased it down with beer.

 

Olga Zilberbourg is a bilingual author; born in St. Petersburg, Russia, she calls San Francisco her home. Her third book of stories was published in Russia in 2016. Her English-language fiction has appeared in World Literature Today, Epiphany, Narrative Magazine, Santa Monica Review, J Journal, and other print and online publications. Olga serves as a co-moderator of the San Francisco Writers Workshop.

Photo by Maria Zilberburg

Cyclone: a biography of inheritance

(flash creative nonfiction)

 

“Cyclone.” Original score by George Bassman & George Stoll, 1939.

“Cyclone.” Original score by George Bassman & George Stoll, 1939.

[Fix]

The one time I met Dad’s dad, he pissed in Mom’s closet. Grandpa George liked speedballs—cocaine and heroin in the same syringe. He liked prostitutes—the power of purchase was the one he abused most readily. But most of all Grandpa George liked Music—and Music liked him back, God knows why.

[Catalog]

Grandpa George composed for Hollywood. He was the cyclone that whisked Dorothy to Oz, from black-and-white to Technicolor. He was chanting monkeys beating their filthy wings. He rode the high country. He got sentimental over you. He was into both guys and dolls. Passion without compassion fueled his compositions. It spilled into his Music from a pool deep within him—the rest of him withered, or perhaps was always dry.

[Mercy]

The kindest thing my grandfather did to my father was neglect him. I shudder imagining what might have happened if he’d raised him.

[Fetch]

The worst was already over before the beatings began: “Go get my belt,” George would whisper. My father delivered his abuser the instrument of abuse. The pain didn’t matter—the shame was in the submission.

[Inconvenience]

When you became inconvenient to George he sent you to live in the Neuropsychiatric Institute. Indefinitely. First went his wife. Then his daughter Leslie. Then David—his son, my father—at age thirteen. No diagnosis was necessary. A rich man’s word is binding.

[Independence]

The fifteen months Dad spent in the psych ward were the best of his young life. He found love in kindred spirits. He found real education, found rebellion and counterculture. It wasn’t unlike a cyclone, hurling him from black-and-white into color.

[Burden]

Decades passed. Piss in the closet. Having blown the fortune his son would have inherited, George came begging for the money that was meant to buy my diapers. Later he pled ignorance when the dealers came pounding on our door.

[Altruism]

Weekly my father would buy his father a hot meal, even though his father never fed him. He would put his father up in a motel room, even though his father had locked him in a nuthouse. And he would tell his father about how he was raising his son.

[Death]

“Bassman’s later life was marred by tragedy—his personal life involved three marriages, and the last had a duration of scarcely a year. He was cut loose from his career, and he later fell in with the wrong people. He died forgotten by his profession and alone in Los Angeles in 1997.” (“George Bassman,” Wikipedia.)

[Legacy]

Is my Music “mine” then? My own? Is his Music mine now? What is left to inherit from an empty man?

[Spite]

Dad was forbidden to play the piano. Grandpa George couldn’t stand the sound of amateurs. A lesser narcissist would want to spit his own image onto a vicarious heir. But George denied his son every piece of himself.

But I have come to claim my inheritance.

[Portrait]

“George Bassman.” Original photo by David Bassman, c. 1969 Photo of photo taken 2015.

“George Bassman.” Original photo by David Bassman, c. 1969
Photo of photo taken 2015.

nicholas-bassman_optNick Bassman writes songs, stories, poems, essays, Facebook rants, and weird lyric nonfiction pieces like this one. He hails from Los Angeles and currently studies at Oberlin College in Ohio. Nick writes for the Oberlin Review and co-created the quarterly art zine California Salmon Chronicle with Malcolm Gottesman. This is his first poetic publication. Find music from his band, Flowerteeth, at https://flowerteeth.bandcamp.com and his personal ramblings at https://www.facebook.com/ackbasswards.

 

Passage

(flash fiction)

As a girl of seven, she was told to pretend the stranger was her father. Fake passports and stories to match, enough to fool an inquisitive customs officer. At first, she’d wondered whether coming to America meant she’d get a different father. A father who was there, not just a name to put to a framed picture in the living room. And now, outside the terminal, was this what an American father looked like—younger and in a jean jacket? She memorized his birthdate, the color of his eyes. He complimented her for being such a smart girl. She remembered it still, his hand on her shoulder, his comforting nod to her mother. He was a ghost that remained with her; a shadow longer than a promise. Sometimes in the shower, trying to cum after a long day at work, her unguarded mind would falter upon his gaze. Something about his heavy eyes, conveying a belief certain as an anchor. After all these years she remembered how he had said her name. He’d been the first to pronounce it in the Anglicized syllables she had later come to identify with herself. A milky glaze drizzled over the delivery. The softer R, an easy roll over the first A. It had all started with him, the doors and life and existence that formed her now as much as that birthing Portuguese village faded behind yellowed curtains of hovering dirt. A fake father was all it took to come to America. After the flight and the questions and the suitcases he disappeared into a cab and she was back to being someone else’s daughter.

Hugo Dos SantosHugo dos Santos is the translator of A Child in Ruins (Writ Large Press, 2016), the collected poems of José Luís Peixoto, and a recipient of a Disquiet International scholarship. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications in the U.S. and Europe, including upstreet, Queen Mob’s Tea House, DMQ Review, Public Pool, and elsewhere. He is the author of ironbound – a blog.

 

Smoke and Mirrors

(flash creative nonfiction)

I found a fledgling in the yews in the side yard when I was eight or nine. He was covered in bird lice, and shit down my arm as I washed him clean with the hose. I still remember the heat of it. His big, dumb eyes blinking in the light. He didn’t seem to know he was pitiful, and that itself was a kind of magic. My mother made me put him in the tall grass beyond the swing set. She made up stories about his wonderful adventures.

My brother got pooped on by a white dove at a magic show. He was small enough still to sit on our father’s lap in a gymnasium full of metal folding chairs. The magician popped a big red balloon with a straight pin and the bird it contained startled, arced out over the audience and let fly a great white splash of poop before settling in the rafters. The entire audience followed the dropping with their eyes and I remember them gasping in disgust as it hit my brother’s leg. The magician doffed his top hat and insisted it would bring my brother luck.

But a magician’s gift is misdirection. My brother has never known what hit him. Then and now and all his life. Smoke and mirrors, the bared arm and the nothing up the sleeve, rabbits kicking against the air, and doves that disappear against the sky with a flap of desperate wings.

There are those days lost to memories. They pour out endlessly like silk kerchiefs from the head: The bright bouquet of his fortieth birthday, harsh and plastic. The candles winking out. There is the collapsible top hat of his never marrying, the dangling legs of the pretty girl cut in two. The risk of lives not being put back together. There is the sword that pierces the heart like loneliness. There is the flourish of the black cape and the tap of the wand. There are the false bottoms, the trap doors, the hidden compartments. There is the way he laughs at you using nothing but his eyes. There is his smile twitching midair. There are the hours with their circular flight. There is a brother you can’t quite believe in. There is a brother who disappears before your eyes.

Brent FiskBrent Fisk is a writer from Bowling Green, Kentucky. His work has appeared in Rattle, Fugue, Folio, Cincinnati Review, and Prairie Schooner, among other places. He is taking time off from his day job to finish several book-length projects and perfect his mid-range jump shot.

Trouble with GobbledUp

(flash fiction)

Hi!

Thank G-d I’m a busy writer, wife, mom, and grandmom. I joined GobbledUp several years ago. During that entire time, I elected not to take advantage of the many freebie upgrades you’ve offered me because of my high number of connections. Truth is, I’ve also been too busy to learn all of the needed technology.

Anyway, some time ago, you, i.e. GobbledUp, asked if you could access my Hoo-hoo email address book. I said, “Yes.” In that list are various folks in the publishing profession. I don’t know most of them, personally, but I have had professional, tangential contact with all of them.

Weird stuff happened thereafter. I continue to get “accepted” invitations from people I never met. What’s more, few were in the publishing industry. Albeit, the military logistics folks were interesting, but annoying, while the gamers were annoying without being particularly interesting. Nonetheless, that latter group, those computer athletes, helped me to promote my most recently published fantasy book. To wit, I received better sales on that title than I did on many of my others.

No matter. Until recently, I mentally shrugged at each new notice GobbledUp sent meI am truly, blessedly busy filling multiple book contracts. However, now you, GobbledUp, have put restrictions on my ability to send out connection invitations. I am exasperated. I repeat: I am exasperated.

I gave GobbledUp permission to riffle my Hoo-hoo address list, yet I’m getting penalized for giving you that permission!!!! I was nice enough to be “out there” for you, for your military members, and for your military enthusiasts, and made no complaint about the vast number of strangers filling my GobbledUp mailbox. Yet, your gratitude to me got manifested as restricting my privileges. Let me repeat: I am exasperated.

Recall: I have no time these days to seek new contacts, except for the handful of writers or publishers with whom I need to communicate. Recall: as a result of allowing you to access my Hoo-hoo address file, I’ve become an unwitting mentor to many aspiring writers (I’m happy to be their guide, but would have preferred to do so on my own terms). Recall: I’ve been a good sport, never registering, until this moment, a complaint with you.

At your first convenience, please fix this situation. That is, please restore my ability to connect with folks at will. If that means GobbledUp no longer has access to my Hoo-hoo email list, so be it; it has not proved to be cost-efficient to be a “good citizen” in the GobbledUp world.

If I don’t hear from you within the week, I’ll have to consider an alternative recourse. Some of my new gamer friends are hackers. Some of my new military friends are confrontational, that is, are physical “hackers.” A few of those new military friends are based roughly a half-hour from your headquarters. They’re expert at breaking and entering, especially the breaking part.

Sincerely and Never Meekly,

Petra Gram, Granny Writer

KJ Hannah GreenbergKJ Hannah Greenberg’s whimsical writing buds in pastures where gelatinous wildebeests roam and beneath the soil where fey hedgehogs play. Her newest books are a collection of poetry, A Grand Sociology Lesson (Lit Fest Press, 2016), and a collection of short fiction, Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2016).

Lily

(flash fiction)

Because the white boy had saved me from drowning, my father invited him to dinner.

He brought his six closest friends with him and three newcomers—including a girl. I’d never seen him with a girl before. She floated like a cloud by his side, pale as the moonlight by which we dined, and just as devoid of heat. He turned not once to look at her.

As the meal began, she was whisked away to the kitchen with the other women. Only I remained, my father’s favorite and his heir, to observe the men as they ate and smoked and sang.

The white boy’s friends were dressed, as always, in animal skins—full hides, heads and all. And the white boy himself donned a war bonnet though we were not, to my recollection, at war. They spoke of us, and to us, in words we hardly even used: how, squaw. They affected our accents. And they, in their pomp and belligerence, dressed as they were in carcasses—they called us savages.

And we—wary of this tentative treaty, knowing that, should we object, we would only be seen as the antagonists of the tale, then and in all future reimaginings—we said nothing.

I said nothing.

I sat between my father and the white boy as they smoked together—each putting his lips where the other had put his lips, breathing the same breath, pantomiming intimacy—and I dared not speak. About how their love of our customs didn’t feel like love at all. About hard work and ritual and what it actually takes to earn a place at the head of this circle. I watched the youngest of them slap war paint on his teddy bear, and still I said nothing.

Forgive me. I was only a girl then, and did not yet know the grown-up words to express my discomfort.

Forgive me. I was only a girl then, and feared that if I’d spoken up, the men might have laughed at me, shamed me, even banished me from my place at their party, sent me to the kitchen with the other women. From whence, I now noticed, the white girl was watching the reverie, her eyes drawing the small wooden dagger from its place in the white boy’s belt and shooting it back at him as he continued to forget her.

At him? No. No, I realized as I sat there in silence, watching the men, watching the girl—she was shooting the points of her blue eyes at me.

Forgive me. I was only a girl.

And he had saved my life.

And I had, in that moment of being so poorly drawn by a room full of white men, something to prove. I had to prove something.

I kissed him.

Without pretense or permission, I turned to that boy in his ostentatious feathered headdress, grabbed hold of his shoulders, and put my lips right where his lips were. I gave him a kiss he’d never get from any mother.

His mouth felt fresh like the wind and the rain, tasted soft like surprise and imaginary cake. The mane of feathers shrouded both our faces for a moment, and when we emerged, the whole world went red.

The boy’s friends, embarrassed by the public display.

The girl, jealous and raging—finally a little spark in her skin.

The moon, grown bold with the promise of harvest.

The fire at the center of the circle, leaping and dancing and licking the air in a way I hadn’t known it before.

At that young age, who knows what love feels like? At that young age, this is exactly what love feels like.

And the boy, so kissed, reddening from suede tip to copper top, believing that the blush on him could make us kin. But I can blush too, boy, in a shade of earth so rich, it’ll ground you in your tracks. Go ahead and make me.

We danced together, he and I, until the party burned to embers.

And then, at the end of the night, he left with the white girl after all.

Things were simpler that way.

marie-marandola_optMarie Marandola received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She now lives in San Diego, where she remains in the habit of picking up bits of fallen trees and giving them to people.

Now Serving Fresh-Baked Cookies

(flash fiction)

I’m making cookies from scratch and I’m confused. But I’m here, cookbook in hand and flour in bowl, pretending to be something I’m not. Because I’m in love with a boy and I’m losing him. He likes girls who cook from scratch, who are serene, who have ponytails that bounce when they walk. And he used to love me, even though I’m a different kind of girl; the kind of girl who curses when she trips, who orders takeout so often the delivery drivers say “what’s up” when they see her at concerts. The kind of girl whose hair is so curly, ponytail holders roll up and away from her hair and fly through the air like a hornet hopped up on nectar. But now when he looks at me, he sees what he’s missing and not what he’s got. And so I will make him love me again by making him cookies. I brought the cookbook with me into the grocery store and spent twenty-two dollars on exotic ingredients like baking soda and vanilla extract. Piling the contents of my cart onto the conveyor belt, I ignored the raised eyebrow from the cashier at the checkout. The one who knows me and knows my typical grocery cart holds makings for sandwiches, cheap wine, jars of spaghetti, and frozen lasagna. Now I am a domesticated tiger, embarrassed to be caught jumping through fire when I used to bite those who tried to tame me. Yet here I am. In love and in the kitchen. The cookies come out of the oven at the exact moment the doorbell rings: the boy is here. A kiss, followed by a hug, then I lead him by the hand to the kitchen. I’m making you cookies, I say. And he smiles the kind of smile you can’t ignore. His grin starts in his heart and dances in his eyes before it comes to rest on his face. He is happy, and he’s happy with me. I am his now, and he is mine and I am not quite myself and I know this and he knows this. But I want to be the kind of girl who is wanted by the kind of boy who now stands in my kitchen. And so I am, and so he does, and so we eat the cookies and so we stay in love for a little while longer.

erica-gerald-mason_optErica Gerald Mason is the author of the poetry collection i am a telescope: science love poems. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming in Silver Birch Press, Blue Lyra Review, Lunch Ticket, Zoetic Press, The Found Poetry Review, and HIV Here & Now Project. She blogs at www.ericageraldmason.com.

The Temperature of Islands

(flash fiction)

After her heart attack Barbara returned to the island. She knew very well that the helicopter—if available—would take twenty minutes from the mainland. She went straight to the stoned guy on the beach who did winters in India, and bought a purple sarong.

Barbara sunbathed nude, it was heartening—heartening!and her ropey body soon gleamed. Friends passed. Emmanuel and his poodle-headed partner Nadine from Paris. They were already seamed and brown. The northern Italians with their glorious sons. A waddling Greek woman whose rear was a lopsided adjunct and whose breasts moved as though they were gourds filled with water.

They all asked her how it had been, this first year without Hervé. Did she have plans to move? Had the children been supportive?

Barbara replied that she had had a heart attack. A smallish one—not at all like the one that had thrown Hervé to the ground when he was sitting at Roula’s pouring back raki—but a heart attack nevertheless.

At that, her friends remembered the clumsy display of Hervé’s dying, the useless propping of his head, the lack of final goodbyes, and Roula’s extinction of the music. Barbara watched each of them recompose after this.

But— 

They wanted to say, But are you not afraid? But the helicopter? Do you not remember that drive to the heliport in the dark? The way those imbeciles had almost tipped Hervé’s body onto the rocks?

In fact Barbara did. She smiled at them and rolled over and tanned her bottom.

*     *     *

Barbara dragged herself up to the heliport. This was where she had seen the life leaking out of Hervé, vanishing from his livid face. It was true, the paramedics had levered him unevenly so his body almost slid to the ground; one young bearded man had looked at her apologetically. The other had not.

She stood at the rusty chain wire fence that had been tossed over by the seasons. Growth burst through the concrete slabs, mostly relieved of their colored paint. This was where she had realized Hervé was leaving her. This where she saw that life would blaze through each of them, leaving carcasses and flickering shrines. Barbara thought of Hervé the day before, elbow on the table, trying to entice Emmanuel to invest in the faded discothèque on the hill, or at the least hire Manolis’s fishing vessel that afternoon—when Hervé knew very well that Emmanuel would never leave Nadine alone on the beach. And then, Barbara saw the two of them on their separate beds in the room, each shrouded in greying sheets, Hervé’s farts uncontained.

Barbara’s heart attack had happened on a train crossing Germany. With discomfort, she had stood up to move down the carriage, but found herself wading in water, blind in all but the centre of her eyes, crashing into headrests and shoulders, and landing with an injured face in one man’s lap. At first, they had thought of terrorists, and police charged through looking for youths with knives or guns, until Barbara, whimpering, was surrendered.

Barbara rattled the chain wire fence. She kicked a stone. There were wells on the mountain tops with wooden planks laid over the openings, and these were held in place by abrasive stones. There was a temple of loosened rocks with a font made of a burning black substance that Hervé had said was certainly from a meteorite. There was a white church several peaks away where there were candle stubs on a stand and a powdery square of carpet, and an icon of Saint Gabriel sweeping across a gold frame.

Catherine McNamaraCatherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe, Australia and the U.S.A., in reviews including The Collagist, Literary Orphans, Flash Fiction Magazine, Ambit, Structo, Litro, Wasafiri, Southerly, Two-Thirds North, Short Fiction and Trafika Europe. Catherine lives in Italy.

 

Emoticon

(flash fiction)

I knew Nick before we had words. Our mothers met in childbirth class. They were seated next to each other in the circle. They struck up a conversation and had such a good time talking they almost forgot the solid forms of their husbands, who sat behind them, legs spread, each supporting his wife’s body with his own.

I have pictures of Nick and me as babies snuggled into the same playpen, and shots of us riding the carousel as our mothers held us in place. The story is he spoke first. Never an innovator, Nick’s first word was “da.” I spoke later. I said “ba ba,” as I waved my hand goodbye.

We were best friends through grade school and then went our own ways in middle school. In high school, I was horrified to recognize my growing attraction to Nick, who had seemed more like a brother than a boyfriend. We dated all through college, sometimes barely speaking, feeling more and more like our pre-verbal selves.

Nick and I never spoke in our post-college days. We sat side-by-side in coffee shops and bistros in Paris, Milan, and Geneva, and stared at our phones. Correction: He sat hunched over his phone and I watched passersby, elegant women dressed in black, teenagers in ripped jeans, working men with scruffy beards, all looking at their own small screens. Dogs peed on light poles and birds flew like winged drones through the sky without anyone watching.

Every so often, Nick would send me a text. I knew it was him because after the ping I could hear him let out a small sigh.

How r u?

He’d stare at the screen waiting for my response. I wanted to type bored, but instead I’d type F for fine. He’d go back to texting.

I watched a father and son sit side-by-side on a bench, both staring at their phones. After a while, the son nudged the father, but he never looked at him. The father nudged the son back, his face glued to the screen. They pushed at each other, not seeing the smile on the other’s face.

We went to museums. I watched Nick take pictures of the art we were standing in front of. His images were one-dimensional. I looked at the canvas noticing the layered swirls of paint.

It was only at night, lying in bed in some cheap hotel, that he looked me full in the face, his eyes unfocused, his body moving against mine. When he was done, he gave that same satisfied sigh he gave after texting.

We had a month left in our trip before we looked for jobs, faced the future. Lake Como was our last stop. I’d seen pictures of the still lake, mountains in the background, buildings the color of parchment paper. Lake Como was beautiful, but it was the smells that intrigued me, the dank scent of the water, the sweet bougainvillea, the sharp espresso. I took it in, watching Nick’s fingers dart back and forth as he played a video game.

Our waiter looked at me and Nick appraisingly. I looked back and shrugged. He brought me a plate of cookies I didn’t order. I wrote my phone number on the napkin and slipped it into his breast pocket. Nick’s phone trilled—high score.

Later, I watched as Nick walked dangerously close to the water’s edge, texting. That evening, we sat in the town square, I watched the passeggiata, the evening walk. The waiter, now in jeans, approached and extended his hand. I took it. His hand was warm. We walked slowly away from where Nick sat on the bench, his face peering at his screen.

“Ba ba,” I called to him over my shoulder. I didn’t look back.

ellen-birkett-morris-headshot_optEllen Birkett Morris’s fiction has appeared in Great Jones StreetShenandoah, Antioch Review, Notre Dame Review, South Carolina Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Upstreet, among others. She is the 2015 winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for flash fiction for her story “May Apples.” Her story “The Cycle of Life and Other Incidentals” was selected as a finalist in the Glimmer Train Press Family Matters short story competition.

Impasse

(flash fiction)

These Alcatraz cells have ovens and sinks. Refrigerators. No ice inside Father’s, just time, chilling the rations. Past the bars, Father’s new captor paces. She is a child. Her blue ice skates have frayed against her ankles, but she sharpens the blades at high noon each day anyhow.

Father sleeps on the top bunk, the furthest he can get away. The bed below him stays made up, though he once shared this cell. In the nights, the girl hoists herself up. Atop Father’s mattress, she balances on two hands.

Father sleeps on his back, his neck a vulnerable target.

The girl’s skates, poised for the incision: one drop, feet first, she will fit her nails into the slash, use her fingers to make two soft flaps that she can pull open. Inside, she will look for something, she does not know what, but she knows he keeps it inside of himself.

This is the girl who once groped for his hand in the darkness, then pulled a finger from its socket. This is the girl who swapped flowers for weeds, who helped build Alcatraz, her hands shedding baby skin into its base. This is the girl who stutters whenever it is time to cut.

Father hears the crack of her blades on the concrete floor, her knees and hands smacking when she falls. He sleeps again. In a dream: the ice skates, new, slip onto a child’s feet, his own hands tie the laces. In the waking hours, the girl settles back into her post.

Alcatraz moon lays low. Prison stones drip drop into pools of viscous bloody rust. A rowboat lurches. If they escaped, there’d be a thousand buckets to bail, just to get an inch of water out.

Eshani SuryaEshani Surya is is a current MFA student in fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she also teaches undergraduates. Her writing has appeared in Ninth Letter Online, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, First Class Lit, and Minetta Review. Eshani also serves as a reader of fiction at Sonora Review. Find her on Twitter @__eshani

 

Do You Think I’m Beautiful

(flash fiction)

If I were a hostess in Japan, I’d be the favorite of an overweight salaryman. His wisps of hair would be spread across the top of his skull. He would smell sweet, like ginger and molasses.

Before our shift started, the other girls and I would get ready together. We’d tease our hair and fix our makeup. We’d pucker our lips and check our teeth. We’d admire our reflections in the mirror.

Do I look pretty? we’d say. Am I beautiful?

If I were a hostess in Japan, my overweight salaryman would buy me glasses of orange fluffy drinks. I would suck on them with a twisty green straw. I would smile when he smiled. I would imitate his gestures. He wouldn’t realize I was doing it on purpose. He would think it was just our connection.

He would call me by my genji-na, which would be Sakura, for cherry blossom.

It’s such a common name, he’d say.

I’d laugh like he’d made a very funny joke. I’d put my hand on his arm.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I wouldn’t let my Japanese boyfriend visit me at the kyabakura. Because I would have one: a Japanese boyfriend. He’d have black hair and eyes that were so dark it would be like gazing into nighttime.

The other girls wouldn’t have boyfriends.

Who’s got time for that, they’d say.

They’d take me along with them after work to the host clubs. Everyone’s favorite would be Tanigawa, with his bleached hair and Armani suit.

He’s so authentic, the other girls would say, and fix their makeup again before we left for the host clubs.

They’d say: How do I look?

If I were a hostess in Japan, the other girls would tell me to beware of the Kuchisake-onna.

She used to be a hostess like us, they’d say, but one of her clients disfigured and murdered her, and now she’s a terrifying yokai.

She hides her slitted mouth under a surgical mask so you’d never know it’s there. And if she asks you am I pretty and you say yes, she rips the mask off and says how about now, and then she cuts your face like hers.

If you say no, she’s not pretty, she cuts your face.

They’d say: There’s no escaping her.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I would know they weren’t supposed to employ me. I would know about the hostesses who had been murdered, girls like me, foreign. I would know their names. I would have copies of the newspaper articles. But it wouldn’t matter. I would be American and invulnerable and take my payment under the table.

If anyone asks, you do the cleaning, the manager would say.

If I were a hostess in Japan, I wouldn’t do the cleaning. I would let the wrappers from the twisty green straws in my orange fluffy drinks flutter to the floor, and leave them there. I would touch my overweight salaryman on his arm and laugh at his jokes. I would tell my Japanese boyfriend: I don’t want you coming here. Please. I would follow the other girls to the host clubs when our shift was done.

It’s much easier this way, don’t you think? they’d say, while we shared a bottle of champagne with the tanned hosts. No strings.

No strings, I’d agree, but I would excuse myself early, before Tanigawa sang Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki. I would leave alone, to hail a cab back to my twelve-tatami apartment and my Japanese boyfriend.

On the street, looking for a cab, I would hear a voice: Watashi kirei? Am I pretty?

And I wouldn’t know if it was the Kuchisake-onna, or one of the dead foreign girls, or one of the other hostesses, or if it was even myself.

I would close my eyes and cross my fingers.

I’d say: Hai. You’re beautiful.

Cathy UlrichCathy Ulrich always picks up her straw wrappers. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including The Airgonaut, Monkeybicycle, and Literary Orphans. Her humor writing can be found at Hollywood Hates Me.

Bikini Wax

(flash fiction)

Rosalina is Mexico pulled inside-out. A striking woman, smooth as an olive, with a firm bun of brown hair. Desire on legs, whether she’s pussyfooting between the rooms at the Salon or she’s doing a Brazilian on a client under stark, fluorescent lights, patting the pussy, waking it up.

When I arrive after three months of growth tangled between my thighs, Rosa is busy with another client. I don’t mind waiting. Other attendants pass by. I hold their faces for a moment. Nice girls. Girls waiting for someone. A man or a woman, doesn’t matter. Not Rosa. She’s here even when she isn’t.

When the door opens, a twenty-something girl walks out. Rumpled hair and flushed cheeks. I walk in and Rosa hugs me, the smell of her lavender shampoo tickling my straight bearings. She replaces the sheet, sprays the room with Lysol, and adjusts the TV. A busty Latino is singing.

“Long time.” She sticks a towel between her breasts and helps me undress. A layer of wax glistens over my pubic bone like molten gold. I tell her my husband is traveling again, the last trip to India seemed so long and my swimming lessons are going well, as if I have promised to disclose all the details of my life. She talks about her ex-boyfriend whose last name was Ali. He was a carpet weaver from Iran who liked to have burritos and pancakes for breakfast. They had sex every single day when they were together. Sometimes even three times a day. One morning, the immigration authorities took him away. He never came back. She presses the strip and pulls hard.

“Shit.” I bite my tongue.

“He coming soon?”

“Who?”

“Your husband? You have someone else?” She laughs and the luster in her eyes deepens as she wipes the exposed skin and applies moisturizer, slowly circling from my navel to my clit. I see her arched eyebrows, sweat trickling down her neck, her frame oscillating between hurt and pleasure, and I feel words rolling on my tongue and falling back, sticking in my throat.

“Take your time.” Her voice cracks. She pats down my pussy, her fingers groping the flesh for reassurance. I try not to think of my vacant home, my absent husband, the swimming lessons I don’t go to, and the vacation that never happened. I’m wet, maybe even smelling. The room is like a void, nothing but a knot of excitement in motion. This is the real thing. I repeat it quietly. I’ll never come here again. I’ll come here again and again and again.

The girl on the TV is still singing.


Tara Isabel ZambranoTara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Moon City Review, Parcel, Juked, Necessary Fiction, Gargoyle, and others. She likes to read three books at the same time and is an electrical engineer by profession.

At the End of Hope

[flash creative nonfiction]

Every once in a while, I dream of the impending apocalypse. I dream that I am watching it swallow Manhattan from the shores of Brooklyn—a transmogrified landscape where the outline seems more distant but provides an uninterrupted view from a row of dilapidated brownstones and the “beach” of Kent Ave.

No fences, no condominiums—just grey skies (fire & foreboding) and the abyss of forever, rocked gently by the soft waves of the East River.

—and somehow I am on hope street but not Hope Street because I am by the water. I am surrounded by mutations of its memories: just bricks and gravel and the smell of weed and spray paint and beer and the endless cigarettes, hand rolled and unfiltered (a small circular piece of cardboard at the tip).

In my dreams, my past is now. Breeze carries his machete underneath a Confederate handkerchief and Fumiko and Nozomi make tea in the kitchen and someone somewhere in the loft is inevitably fucking some stranger no matter the time or day. When we paint an angel on the wall, Morgan’s smoking Vinny’s weed and I’m drunk and we’re surrounded by girls with foreign accents, who accessorize and apply bright lipstick for doomed parties on the other side of the L, their matte lips like B&T passports.

In their room, Someone is spending Eternity singing or painting or writing or filming or sewing or crying or memorizing lines or faces or moments in time. The models sit in awkward poses with their eyes burning holes through the lens. Joe organizes them in clean, white lines. We’re all playing like bored children, like we’re all important now.

(with distance, I’m not sure if some things are memories or dreams)

If we’re lucky, at night, we will go to some dark show in the first floor of a warehouse and we will be surrounded by art and candlelight and bodies and bodies of strangers for our beds, for our own art—to make something with our tongues and with our hands. Something “real,” a truth uncovered—all while waiting for the end to reach our island; to wash us, the memories of us, all away.

Picture1

photo: Joseph Clement

Jesi Bender

Jesi Bender is an artist from upstate New York. Her writing has appeared in Zouch Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Chicago Literati, and Winter Tangerine among others. www.jesibender.com.

Remember, Remember

[flash fiction]

The Barrow, the Nore and the Suir. Three rivers. Sister rivers. I remember. Three coins in a fountain. Gallia in tres partes divisa est. A new fountain pen for Christmas. Father was proud of my best copperplate. Miss Quiller pointing to the blackboard. Speak up, child. I emancipated the slaves. Who am I? 

What is this place? Why are my hands so mottled?

Those children slouch and mumble. They appear to be lost. Speak up, child; who am I? I do not understand what they are saying. That woman has no control over them. Belfast was known for linen and shipbuilding. I wish she wouldn’t grasp my hand so. She mistakes me for someone else. She seems a little unstable. Like that woman in the bathroom with the bedraggled hair. She should tie it up.

Tears.

I can taste salt. Tomorrow I shall gallop across the sands on Reuben. My hair will unfurl behind me; my skirts will billow in the wind. Mens sana in corpore sano. Mother will chide me for being unladylike. For wearing my hair untied.

I do not know this room.

Breathe. One, two. In Mississippi, out Mississippi.

I remember my bookshelf. Huckleberry Finn and Shelley. “O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being.” That is Shelley’s most famous opening line.

She sells sea shells on the sea shore. Reuben is a joy to ride now that he has been brought to bridle. Was I unbridled? But Aunt Kitty presented me. How odd to think one would be among the last of the debutants. The newspapers blame it on the Suez business. Be precise, child. Yes, Miss Quiller. 1958, Miss Quiller. My duchesse silk gown is coral pink with side panels of ruching and unique pearl embroidery on the bodice. It was a triumph. Mother would have loved it.

Aunt Kitty knew W. B. Yeats. Or so she said. He used to come to her salons.

So she said. She said he was a womanizer. She always wore a cameo brooch. There was a strand of hair on the inside of the brooch. From one of her lovers. Did it belong to Yeats?

My arm is bruised. Syringes. I want to go home. Who am I? 

Home is where the heart is. Sisters at heart. Three sisters. Rivers. Who am I?

Of course. Abraham Lincoln. I remember. The 5th of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot. I remember.

Carol CaffreyCarol Caffrey is a native of Dublin who now lives in Shropshire, England. At various times a professional actor, teacher, and full-time mother, she now concentrates on writing in between touring a one-woman play written by renowned Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan, called Music for Dogs. Carol’s stories and poems have appeared in the literary magazines Bare Fiction Magazine, The Fish Anthology (Flash runner-up), Ink Sweat and Tears webzine, and the Wenlock Poetry Festival Anthology 2016, where she supported the headline poets Lemn Sissay and Daljit Nagra. She is delighted that her work is appearing in Lunch Ticket.

Centaur

[flash fiction]

I’m standing outside under a streetlamp, waiting. I’m not supposed to go in there. First, I am an alcoholic and I can’t go near a bar. I turn into a liar within two drinks, spreading gossip and promises, and hinting at extraordinary, eccentric hidden wealth. Two more and I am a beast, busting glass and wood, spurting blood, waking up later with rocks in my head, remembering nothing. Also, I’m a man of faith and I shouldn’t be in those places—places where ladies take off their clothes for money—and third, I’ve been banned. But Amber is inside there, so I stay. Check my watch. Count the time to when her shift ends.

The side door fills with light and she appears. She pulls her coat collar around her long neck, looks straight ahead, then walks down the alley. She wears sunglasses, a defensive act meant to insulate her from sloppy regulars, men who stuff her garter with crumpled ones and fives. I want to tell her it is dangerous after dark. That she needs to be aware of the dirty Lapiths who walk the night. She crosses Main and Whistler then passes the pool hall and the 24-hour Laundromat. I follow, like I do every night.

I’m not a perfect man. I’m veiny and thick and not pleasing to look at, plus I did a two-year bit for something I’d rather not talk about. I wasn’t violent. At least I wasn’t that violent. The guy had it coming. I was headed for worse until two weeks in de-seg, where I met my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What I learned is that some of us are meant to straddle the world between good and evil and that God has made me a protector of the innocent. I have a purpose now. My purpose is her.

She steps into Bogie’s. She’ll order a burger and salad, steamed milk and Jello. I count to thirty, then go inside, slipping into the booth behind her. I order black coffee and cherry pie. Then I hide behind the newspaper and wait. When I look around it, she’s no longer there. She’s slipped away. My heart sinks.

She slides into my booth and says, “Why are you following me?” She is sharp-faced, suspicious. Her neck is thin and fine. I see tendons and ribs of trachea, a pulse fluttering under the skin. I say nothing.

“I see you every night, you know. You’re not that good at this.”

“I’m not trying to hide anything,” I say.

“Then why are you following me?

“Not following,” I say. “Guarding.” This is the truth.

“Why? You don’t know me.”

“It’s my job,” I say. “I protect the innocent. You’re an innocent.”

“I’m not,” she says. “You know what I do.” She cuts her eyes sideways.

“Everybody has a sin nature. Sometimes you can leave it behind, sometimes you have to live with it. Doesn’t mean you’re not precious.” I sip my coffee and look in her eyes for the first time. They are amber, like her name.

“I’m precious,” she says, the doubt catching in her throat.

“You’re precious in my sight,” I say. “Got a problem with that?”

“I don’t know,” she says, but she stays. Tucks her hair behind her ear. Takes a bite of my pie. Sits back.

Dawn DavisDawn S. Davies (www.dawnsdavies.com) has an MFA from Florida International University. She is the 2016 recipient of the Arts and Letters Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction, and her essay collection, Mothers of Sparta, received the 2015 FIU UGS Provost Award for Best Creative Project. She was recently featured in the Ploughshares column, “The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week.”  She had a notable essay in the Best American Essays 2015, and a Pushcart Prize special mention for nonfiction in 2015. Her work can be found in The Missouri Review, Fourth Genre, River Styx, Brain, Child, Hippocampus, Cease, Cows, Saw Palm, Ninth Letter, Green Mountains Review, Chautauqua, and elsewhere.

Bases Covered

[flash fiction]

He is nineteen, American, and devout. Today, he wears a backward baseball cap in place of a yarmulke for the first time. This might lead to long, uncomfortable conversations when old, Protestant men chastise him at dinner tables. He decides this isn’t a legitimate concern. He mostly eats with Jews, and such men don’t care about ball caps at the dinner table anymore.

Jaimie Eubanks

Jaimie Eubanks lives, works, and writes in Minneapolis and Miami. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Florida International University. Her work can be found in Buried Letter Press, Literary Orphans, Thought Catalog, and Word Riot. To read more of Jaimie’s writing, visit www.jaimieeubanks.com.

Cloud Glitches

[flash fiction]

We see a glitch in the sky that looks like a pixelated cloud. It bursts into rain, soothing the drought-ridden rainforest, then it implodes.

More glitches appear, raining all over the unusually dry continent. Summer vacationers welcome refreshing relief from sun. Farmers rejoice.

A hacker releases a video taking credit for the rainclouds. She wants her own tropical island in return for saving the country. She gets it.

The source code is released, and others make cloud glitches hail, snow, and change colours. One sells rainbows on demand for events.

Meteorologists and climatologists warn against the use of artificial clouds. One cluster turns into a tornado resembling chaotic Tetris.

Once crops and lawns are green again, people lose interest in rain glitches. The sky returns to natural blue, with wild fluffy clouds.

S.KayS. Kay zaps one tweet at a time on future and fact. She is the author of Reliant, an apocalypse in tweets (tNY.Press Books, 2015), Joy (Maudlin House, 2016), and Spambot Psychosis (2015). Follow her at blueberrio.tumblr.com and @blueberrio.

a little saw

It was the first time she let a man touch her face like that. She wanted a soft warm glow of a room, but instead got clinical. A light bulb shot to her eyeballs. The man’s white fingers were bone delicate. His hands, they swept up the dark strands of her hair, and he looked at her ears. Then he touched them. She could feel herself shiver in far off tiny places.

She never wants to wear her hair up, her mother told him, She’s self conscious about them.

Maggie watched the swirl of photographs on the wall. The office staff had made a collage of their families. Wives and babies and children with smiling faces. The doctor took a fat black crayon and marked on her ear. He said, This is where I would cut.

He explained the procedure. All this could be done during her summer break, if she’d like. She could start junior high new.

Maggie could feel her own self lying on a cold steel table. The knives’ happy blades. Open flap of tangerine skin, and they’d wrap her up. A sterile prison of bleached white gauze.

What about her nose? her mother said.

The doctor held the small of her face, but did not look in her eyes. He marked slowly down the slope of her nose with his black crayon.

This is where I would cut, he said again, and this is where I would cut.

Maggie felt his words like precision. She could feel the blade on her bone. A little saw. He turned her head, so her mother could see. Her profile. He said that it would be lovely. She could have a coin of a face.

MoMonique Quintananique Quintana is an MFA in Fiction candidate and president of the Chicano Writers and Artists Association (CWAA) at California State University, Fresno. She is a Squaw Valley Writers Fellow, and the Senior Associate Fiction Editor of The Normal School literary magazine. Just like all her characters, she was born and raised in Fresno.