Lifted

[flash creative nonfiction]

I juggle the groceries in my arms: a box of granola bars, a chunk of ginger, an onion, a carton of eggs. I only came in here for the eggs. Ahead of me, a woman juggles her own groceries, plus a ruddy-faced toddler screaming for sweets. The registers in the self-checkout line are all taken.

A handful of hard hats ring up deli-wrapped sandwiches, sodas, and chips, thick fingers fumbling on the touch screen. I realize I have been staring when I make eye contact with one of the men; I shift my gaze to their steel-toed boots, willing them wordlessly to swipe faster, pay quicker, so that we can all be on our way. The mother in front of me, the businessman behind me—we all have places to be, places more important than this self-checkout line. We have done what we came here to do—select our purchases—and our goal now is to pay for them, get in our cars, and move on to the next item on our agendas. On mine: sending a package at the post office, returning a pair of pants that don’t fit right, picking up a book of poetry on hold at the library.

On hold.

That’s where we are, caught in the in-between.

My uncle Eric, a European computer programmer who speaks fluent English, French, Flemish, and code, attended a conference in France about internet privacy. During a conversation over dinner, Mark Zuckerberg asked him why the French were more reticent about adopting Facebook than Americans. My uncle offered his explanation. The French language is built on two verbs: ETRE and AVOIR. To be and to have. All other verbs rely on these. English, on the other hand, depends on a foundation of action verbs. While the French value ‘being’ as the ultimate action, Americans protect their right to do above all else. Waiting in the self-checkout line, we—the mother, the businessman, and myself—are stripped of this fundamental right.

I watch intently as the construction workers retrieve their receipts and lumber towards the exit. The mother and child ahead of me and I take hurried steps to occupy the empty registers. Relieved to be freed from the fetters of waiting, I ring up my groceries with relish. Eggs. Beep. Granola Bars. Beep. But it is while searching for ginger in the system that a strange sound makes me stop mid-swipe. It is a voice, and the voice is singing.

I twist my head to the left, to the right, to the left again, but I find nothing out of the ordinary. I stop and listen. The voice is still singing. It is coming from behind me, this honey-soaked song, a dark spiritual amongst the cacophony of commerce. I turn my body and find its maker.

She is wearing the guacamole-colored apron required of all the grocery store employees; a black visor with a lime green ‘P’ sits atop her close-cropped curls. Her hands are gathered quietly on the podium in front of her, and her eyes watch her hands. Her lips are barely moving, but it is she, without a doubt, who is singing.

The hinges of my jaw soften. My hand forgets the ginger it holds. It is not a song I know, but it’s not a song I don’t know.

There is nothing to be done but to stare and listen and wonder: How often does she sing like this, in the self-checkout line? Did her grandmother teach her this song? Does she sing it to her baby at night? Will her boss reprimand her for this?

My gaze sweeps the faces around me for confirmation that what I am hearing is real. The businessman wearing a crisp dress shirt and navy tie does the same. Our eyes meet for a startled second before our bodies return to the machines demanding our attention. I continue my search for ginger, but my pulse slows. I feel my cells rise and fall, following the intoxicating lilt of this strange woman’s offering, a lullaby made of milk and bone that holds its own against the metal clang of shopping carts and the harsh clatter of cash tills.

Carmella GuiolCarmella de los Angeles Guiol teaches and studies creative writing at the University of South Florida, where she is the nonfiction and arts editor at Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Toast, The Normal School, Spry, and The Inquisitive Eater. You can sometimes find her in the garden or kayaking the Hillsborough River, but you can always find her at www.therestlesswriter.com

Eternally, Jane

[flash fiction]

Dearest Andrew,

I hope this letter finds you, unlike the others which have gone astray. I cannot start my day without writing to you.

With everyone off fighting The Kaiser, Charlotte now helps me roll out the pastries. Despite having to run it by myself, business is good. I have attempted a new recipe with a secret ingredient. People seem eager to buy it, because, I think, it helps ease the heartache of absent loves.

Irrevocably yours, Jane

*     *     *

Treasured Andrew,

Please thank your superior for the note.  How kind of him to take the time.

I am quite busy today. Charlotte keeps pestering me to know the secret ingredient for Heartache Cakes. I tell her only that understanding is better than knowledge. That puzzles her.

Yours, and yours alone, Jane

*     *     *

Most Beloved,

Dad wrote. He is baking away at headquarters, keeping our boys fed. He says he worries about me, but I can’t think why.

The Heartache Cakes are flying out of here on wings. No one can keep their money in their pockets long enough to let me restock.

Ever yours, Jane

*     *     *

My Love,

I received the package today, but have not yet opened it.  Yes, Father Schneider received his.

I apologize for the brevity of this note, but I must return to my kitchen.

Hurriedly, but perpetually yours, Jane

*     *     *

Dearest Husband,

Charlotte’s begun to spend every moment with me, saying, of all things, she worries because I am too cheery. She is a dear, but I fiercely defend my time alone. I feel if I do not write to you, I will wither away.

She is asking more questions about the secret ingredient for the Heartache Cakes. No doubt, she received an offer from a rival bakery.

I pray with every breath that you are restored to me soon.

Yours everlastingly, Jane

*     *     *

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew,

Pardon my poor script. I rather burnt my hand stoking the ovens. This last month has proved terribly difficult. Dad says I should rest, but I cannot with business so strong. Charlotte scolded me about smiling so often. How absurd.

It is ridiculous. You are not gone. The belongings the Army sent are meaningless. The returned letters are a mix up.

Charlotte tells me I do not understand. I told her once she finds true love it will forever fill her heart as yours has filled mine.

Unerringly yours, Jane

*     *     *

My Sweetest Heart,

Charlotte, Dad and Father Schneider do nothing but reproach me. They hound me so.

As soon as I write the letters to you, I cast them into oven. The ash, the steam from my tears and the imperishable emotion rise in the heat. My cakes, which are our cakes, are touched by this and therefore changed.

Everyone who eats them knows as I know: despite the madness of war, love is forever. If something is forever, it is never lost.

With that understanding, I smile again.

Rest assured, I will never stop loving you.

Eternally, Jane

The ninth daughter of a surgeon who accidentally cut off the tip of his own index finger, Virginia Elizabeth Hayes developed a keen eye for the absurd at an early age. She has been published internationally in literary magazines and journals. She is the author of the novels A Saint Nobody’s Heard Of and Welcome to Lamentation.

Bats in the Attic

[flash fiction]

There are bats in the attic. I’m not being euphemistic. There are bats in our attic and they are pushing me to the border of my sanity. The scuttling and whispering of teeth and wings above our heads sets my teeth on edge. Somehow, you sleep, your chest rising and falling with criminal ease. When you finally wake, they’re still. You cluck at me and leave me with a blue pill to help me sleep. They’re quiet once you’re gone.

Every night for a week I lie awake listening to them cavorting smugly in the space above our heads. Every morning you insist it’s my imagination, like those other things that weren’t there, the cries in the night from ghost babies.

Today I wake in the yellow midday, and swallow the three pink pills you’ve left on the counter with cold coffee. I wipe the wet ring underneath the mug with my sleeve and run the faucet until the dishes look clean, then place them on the shelves. I carry myself with dread to the nursery, and continue the awful work of packing it all into cardboard boxes. Tiny booties that have never been worn, rattles, and stacks of cloth diapers. We’ll try again soon, you keep promising. But you haven’t touched me since they wheeled me out of the hospital, stunned, broken ribs and battered face, with no baby. The crash changed everything.

I am nuzzling a teddy bear against my cheek when I hear that familiar fluttering paper sound, wings on drywall. I dial your number, but you send me straight to voicemail.

I arm myself with a frying pan and wool gloves, and tie one of your wispy scarves around the bottom half of my face. Then I ascend the ladder and crawl through the trapdoor. The attic is dark, dangerous terrain filled with mountains and minefields of cardboard boxes and unsupported slats. I creep along the border. My breath, kept close by the scarf, is loud in my ears. They’re louder, fluttering madly. I swat at them with the pan, but they’re fast. They know where to hide. Bats can fit through holes the width of a pencil. I tear open the boxes, howling a war cry. Summer clothes, unstrung tennis rackets, stacks of magazines. I smash them all. Where are you when I need you? I can’t see them but they’re everywhere. I hear them swooping and gliding, stretching their wings aggressively. After a while I start to cry, because this would never happen if you were here.

When you come home, I’m lying in a circle of broken Christmas ornaments.

“Bats,” I say, my heart battering the walls of my chest.

You look at me for a long moment, and I touch my fingertips together and reach for you in a desperate prayer. “Please,” I whisper.

“No bats,” you say in a voice as hollow as an empty grave, and begin to sweep the thin, fragile, colored fragments of glass that surround me.

Dana Mele photo credit: David McQueen

Dana Mele lives in the Great Northern Catskills with her husband and son. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Right Hand Pointing, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Bird’s Thumb, and Mad Scientist Journal, among others. She is currently working on her first novel.

(the danger of becoming small)

[flash fiction]

After an argument that night in the grocery store over the merits of grass-fed cow’s milk, your lug-headed boyfriend told you to keep quiet, to take up less space, to become less noticeable. So you sucked your breath inward, purpling your skin from lack of oxygen and subtracting your sound from the universe. Then you folded yourself limb upon limb, in halves, then halves again infinitesimally, until you compressed yourself into the space of an atom, then you went even further, causing nuclear fission and an explosion more powerful than the heat of a million suns, thus collapsing the space-time continuum. It is in this way you were reborn, upending all of creation, casting your boyfriend and the grocery store into the great void.

G.G. SilvermanG.G. Silverman lives north of Seattle with a very compassionate husband and a very cute dog, whose markings resemble a tuxedo. G.G. has won awards for her short fiction and is currently at work on a short story collection as well as the follow-up to her first novel. When not writing, she can often be found hiking, downward-dogging, and training on her compound bow. She is fairly certain that coffee is what keeps her alive. For more info, please visit www.ggsilverman.com.

Rivka

[flash fiction]

Rivka Borek had plans to become the youngest ever five-time champion on Jeopardy! She told me this our third day at science camp, by which point I was completely in love with her. Rivka had thick curly hair, kind brown eyes, and fuchsia glasses that perfectly matched the brackets on her teeth, but I think it was her insatiable curiosity that attracted me the most—the sense that through Rivka’s eyes, nothing could be irrelevant.

Lacking the courage to put any of these feelings into words, I offered to help her study after dinner. Rivka’s dorm room shared the same scuffed tile and generic wood furniture as my room one floor below, yet for me the space gleamed with the intoxicating mystery of girlhood. Bracelets and necklaces looped through a small metal tree on the desk. The open closet revealed snatches of colorful sleeves. A brush lay on the dresser, bristles densely packed with Rivka’s brown hair.

We sat cross-legged on either end of her bedspread. I held up one side of the flashcard for her to see. Tonight the topic was World Geography, so the card might read “Myanmar” or “Bahrain,” and she would have to come up with the capital city. Or it could say the name of a city or a town, and Rivka would name the country to which it belonged. This was practice she could have easily carried out on her own, and I flattered myself, imagining she had accepted my offer because she wanted to be with me.

I was not the only boy to have developed a love interest that first week. The New York State STEM Advancement Program, colloquially known as “science camp,” catered to the promising scientific minds of middle and high school students around the state. Among the older set especially, the prospect of finding mates was far more exciting than the prospect of expanding their scientific know-how. At eleven, my comprehension of sex was akin to my comprehension of photosynthesis: biological processes whose steps I could list out on command, but which seemed to have little bearing on my daily life. I had the idea that I would like to hold Rivka’s hand, to share a coke out of the same tall straw, yet even these modest goals seemed as unreachable as the moon. Always there were the facts between us.

Did I know the average white shark lost 30,000 teeth in a lifetime?
Did I know the ancient Egyptians believed the world was rectangular?
Did I know Venus was actually the hottest planet in our solar system?

Later, I’d understand that sharing these inane pieces of trivia was Rivka’s way of showing compassion, her attempt to include me in the factual world where she felt so alive. But at the time I only despaired that this avalanche of information was killing the romantic mood.

At eleven, my comprehension of sex was akin to my comprehension of photosynthesis: biological processes whose steps I could list out on command, but which seemed to have little bearing on my daily life.

In desperation, I consulted my roommate, a thirteen-year-old named Stacey Chang, who had a girlfriend back home in Schenectady. I knew because he had decorated his side of the room with a hundred photos of the two of them together, a chubby redheaded girl with her arms thrown around Stacey’s narrow shoulders.

“Let me tell you something about women,” said Stacey. It was 11:30 p.m., well past curfew, but everyone was sprawled in the hallway studying for a physics exam the next morning. “Women are skittish creatures. They must be treated gently. Have you ever had to get a mouse out from behind a piece of furniture?”

I confessed I had not.

“Well,” said Stacey, “you can imagine. You go at it with a broom, it runs to the other end of the sofa. You try to move the sofa, and the mouse moves, too. It requires great patience. Finesse. You’re not gonna get it right your first try.”

After Stacey had disappeared on a vending machine run, another boy, who had been eavesdropping, scrambled across the hall to my side. He was small, wiry, with a crop of whiteheads on his chin. Though he must have been in my physics class, I don’t recall ever seeing him outside this single interaction, and I never learned his name.

“Dude,” he whispered solemnly. “Forget all that. You just gotta go for it.”

And this is what I did. Against all probabilities, utterly flouting my nature as the cautious boy with the color-coded wardrobe and the self-imposed code of foods eaten in a certain order off the plate, the words just flung themselves from my lips: “Rivka, will you go out with me?”

We were walking back from biology lab. The August afternoon was still, the colors brighter than usual. Rivka’s hair had gone crazy in the humidity, fanning out around her like a cirrostratus cloud. She cocked her head. “Go where?”

“Nowhere,” I said, baffled. “Just, you know, out. Will you be my girlfriend?”

She thought about this, raising her eyes skyward exactly as I’d seen her do when pondering the capital of Fiji. We had halted in the middle of the sidewalk. The crowd of students parted and surged around us like water rushing past two boulders. Then it was just Rivka and me, alone beneath a ceiling of low, purple clouds that heralded rain, and suddenly I knew just from the length of the silence what her answer would be.

I don’t remember the exact terminology of her rejection, only that as I was turning away, tearful and humiliated, she reached out with sudden tenderness to touch my arm: Did I know that when two people who were in love gazed into one another’s eyes for three minutes, their heart rates synchronized?

Many years later, after college, I would utter these very words to my then-girlfriend, Sarah. We were fighting—we were always fighting—and in an effort to deflate the tension, I felt myself reaching for that odd fact with its perfect balance of science and sentimentality.

Sarah was not impressed. “Are you kidding me?” she fumed. “Are you actually kidding me with this shit?”

She grabbed her bag and swept out of the room. A moment later, the front door slammed. I fell back in bed and stared at the ceiling fan. At that time I was living in a nice two-bedroom outside Boston. I worked as a software engineer at a cybersecurity company. I had done well for myself. Every so often I turned on NBC to watch Jeopardy! It had been a while, but I was certain I would recognize her face.

Tessa YangTessa Yang is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction writing at Indiana University. Raised in Rochester, New York, she received her BA from St. Lawrence University in 2015. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal and Fine Linen Magazine. When not reading and writing, Tessa enjoys watching baseball, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and yo-yoing.

Wreckage

[flash fiction]

The airplane parts are everywhere. I find the first at lunch with Jane. A little black box floats to the top of my soup and I chew. It sends a metallic shock up through my teeth, rattling my skull. I feel it going down hard. Slicing through my throat and puncturing a lung. Yeah, it hurts, but I don’t think I’ve tasted anything so sweet.

*     *     *

Our dog at home is named Andy. Andy is a good boy. He has that short, wiry kind of hair that pricks you when you pet it the wrong way.

I play with him in the yard and throw him a bully stick. A bully stick, in case you didn’t know, is the politically correct term for a petrified bull penis. He really likes them. I throw it deep into the bushes but he comes running back with a chewed up tire in his mouth. It burns away at his jowls. It still hasn’t cooled off.

He tries to hand it off to me but we just pass it back and forth, sharing the burn. My hand. His mouth. My hand. His mouth. My hand. His mouth. I wish I could tell him I prefer playing with bull penises.

*    *     *

Jane and I lie in bed, when she starts to rub her petite hand between my thighs.

She wears a black and blue nightgown and I can see the tips of her breasts poking out. What are you looking at? she asks.

Your breasts, I reply.

Well don’t do it yet. She runs into the bathroom and says something about wanting to look sexy. When she comes back into the room, the light from the bathroom gives her silhouette a gold halo. From this angle she is only the dim shadow of a woman. She moves closer and I realize she is wearing a flight attendant uniform. It’s torn at the legs. It drips with blood.

I look at the ceiling as she starts to shower my body in hers. I stare long enough and count every single dot I can find, trying to let go, trying to forget that I am more than just a head. When we’re finished, I feel wet everywhere. This is a rescue boat but no one is coming to help.

*    *     *

While at work, I am flooded by a sea of body parts. Decapitated heads and loose limbs unspool around me in long red ribbons. The ribbon pulls tighter around my chest, tighter around my waist. It’s like drowning in an endless Chuck-E-Cheese ball pit, except instead of balls it’s, you know, body parts. I let out a deep moan and my face fills with toxic, black tears of airplane fuel.

My boss finds me shaking underneath my desk. He tells me to go home for the day.

*     *     *

Jane takes me to see Dr. Downey. He has an expansive, open office with five tall rectangular windows, opening up to a sage field and a wide-open sky. The floor of his office is covered in an amalgam of oriental rugs and deep reds. He smiles on his leather couch, legs crossed. He has us take a seat.

So how are you feeling today?

I’m okay.

I heard you had a little bit of an incident at work.

I’m doing better now.

He speaks incomprehensibly for a couple of minutes. Outside the window, a helicopter lowers and three broad-shouldered men lift what appears to be a jet engine. Thank God we found it, I hear one of them say.

So, Dr. Downey says, do you understand me?

Loud and clear, Doctor.

*     *     *

These days, my punctured lung is starting to become a problem. It’s becoming harder to play with Andy. I start taking him out for only one walk a day. Jane now two.

We’re running in the park, when Andy digs up the corpse of a dead squirrel. He plays with it in his mouth, licking up gray globs of pigeon shit and smacking them between his jowls. He bites away at what was once the stomach. He bites away at what was once the heart. There is a trail of mutilated organs behind Andy, as if they are trying to chase him down.

He sees what probably is another animal carcass in the distance and runs away from me. I can’t keep up. My lungs pound in my head as I try to chase him down but then I hear something so loud it feels like a tear in the fabric of the universe. The skeleton of an airplane catapults toward Andy, whirling in the sky, blowing rings of fire and dust everywhere I can see.

I am knocked to the floor where I feel warmth all around. There is a hole inside my body.

*     *     *

Jane’s bags are packed and ready to go. I guess I won’t be seeing much of her anymore. She tells me to take care and touches my cheek with her clammy hand.

She’ll be on an airplane tonight to Houston. Flight 342A. I memorize this number and repeat it like a hymn.

*     *     *

In the mirror, a smooth silver wing stares back at me. It is a perfectly trimmed feat of engineering brilliance. I rub up and down the side of my body and wonder if it could grow feathers, whether I have the ability to lift up toward the sky on my own.

There are so many parts to me now. Some are intricate grids of wires that electrocute my body if they are mishandled. Others are disposed pieces, flaming in the middle of the ocean. I feel a distance between these parts in and out of me, an immeasurable chasm, home to stars and planets and the crisp streaks of cloud that paint the sky in daytime.

I feel it all shifting and I think, it’s a funny word: explode.

Head Shot_Garrett Biggs_Wreckage_Flash FictionGarrett Biggs lives in Denver, Colorado where he is an undergraduate at the University of Denver. His most recent fiction has been published in Corium Magazine, Epigraph Magazine, and The Molotov Cocktail.

Catcher

[flash fiction]

The flashlight was out of batteries, so instead the boy filled a jar with fireflies. Outside at night they were easy to catch, their bodies afloat in the air, lighting up like tiny planes. He cupped his hands to capture them, and watched the insects beat through his skin with an orange glow. He then slid the flies into his jar, sealing it with a lid riddled with holes. As the jar began to fill, the bugs synced to a steady rhythm, shining for a moment, and resting twice as long.

When there was no more light to catch, the boy returned to his house and crept down into the cellar. The ceiling bulb in the cellar had burnt out and the boy’s father had not screwed in another one, but none of that mattered because the bugs did their job. The jar illuminated each step and the boy made his way to the cellar floor.

At the bottom, the boy placed his hand on the unfinished walls, feeling the dusty cement blocks and cobwebs. The smell of wood and dirt filled his nostrils, and he sneezed into the pit of his arm. After the sneeze, the boy heard faint scrapes, the footsteps of his small prey. The noises came from a corner and the boy inched closer, waiting until the jar gleamed to take each step.

He found the grey mouse in the corner, motionless except for tiny quivers of breath. It was no larger than a grown man’s thumb. The boy set the jar down without a sound. Now came the tricky part. He would only have a second of light. The boy bent down close to the ground and held his hands apart, ready to close in like he did with the fireflies. When the bugs burned, he came at the mouse from both angles. The mouse stutter stepped to the right, and then spun around, running to the left, just as the light faded. The mouse was quick, but the boy’s instincts prevailed. His left hand grasped the rodent’s underbelly, squeezing fur and clinging claw. As the mouse squirmed and wriggled free, the boy’s right hand swept across the darkness and put an end to the chase, clamping down hard.

Inside his palms, the mouse scratched and bit, but the boy was ready this time. He would not drop the mouse again, no matter the pain. He squeezed harder and waited for the light. The jar and the bugs responded with a flash, giving him enough time to rush to the cellar steps. From there, he stumbled his way to the top, wincing with each sting the mouse gave. Eventually, the mouse resigned and the boy felt hot liquid between his hands. His blood. Or the mouse’s urine. Or both. It didn’t matter. The boy caught a pet.

Out of the cellar, the boy raced to his room and kicked open an empty shoebox. He dropped the mouse inside and watched it scurry into the walls of the box, trying to climb out. The boy placed the lid onto the box, and then used a kitchen knife to carve holes into the top so the mouse could breathe. Afterward, he washed his hands and face before falling asleep.

In the morning, the boy awoke to the sun beaming from his blind-less window. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and rolled off his bed. When he opened the shoebox, he found the mouse stiff and dry on its back, its eyes glazed over and mouth agape. The boy knew it was dead, but he still stared until his father yelled about catching the school bus.

The boy put the lid back on and got himself dressed. He brushed his teeth and washed his hands again. While scrubbing away at the red teeth marks embedded in his skin, the boy remembered the jar in the basement. He sprinted down the cellar to the caught fireflies. He grabbed the jar and shook. The bugs buzzed around inside the glass container. They were alive.

He took them outside and unscrewed the jar. The boy watched each and every lightning bug fly away. They flew as a giant clump at first. Then one by one they separated, scattering into the sky. The bugs looked darker in the sun, and no matter how hard the boy squinted, he could no longer see their light.

Headshot_RobertAlexander_FlashFiction_CatcherRob Alexander is a former swimmer and swim coach from Columbus, Ohio. He currently teaches Composition and Creative Writing at the University of South Florida and is also a fiction and poetry editor at Saw Palm: Florida literature and art. His work has appeared in Columbus: Past Present and FuturePerceptions Magazine of the Arts, Pithead Chapel, White Stag, and was recently nominated for the 2015 AWP Intro Journals award for Fiction.

Plastic Cups & Burnt Snow

[fiction]

Plastic Cups

One night I dreamt about eating raspberry pie—a moist, succulent slice with flaky crust and way more butter than my cholesterol level demanded. I awoke to find a pebble-sized object in my mouth. Turning it over with my tongue, I tasted a burst of raspberry and butter. I stuck out my tongue and pinched the object stuck to its tip. I held the little pebbly thing between my fingers and rolled it around, dispersing the saliva pool so I could examine the object. Upon this inspection, I saw it was a full piece of pie—shrunken to miniscule proportions of course—but its shape was that of a carefully cut slice fit for a rodent. I probably should’ve saved that piece of tiny pie in some Tupperware, but instead I popped it back into my mouth and let it dissolve with one delicious rush of flavor.

I tried to call my wife—she’d probably be the only person who would believe the story—but her cell phone went straight to voicemail. I’d have to wait until her excavation was over to tell her about the strange little piece of pie. She always got terrible reception when she was on a dig.

After breakfast, I tried to tell my neighbor about the pie only to get called a liar while the neighbor’s interminable pit bull barked. People always say that pit bulls get a bad rap—and maybe some of them are cute and friendly—but this one deserved any ire it received. It was a piece of shit dog that laid piece of shit shits all over my yard, and last week it bit the mailman, who was in turn suing my piece of shit neighbor. I don’t know why I bothered to share the pie story with him in the first place—maybe I just missed my wife or needed somebody to talk to or something. Piece of shit.

That night, I dreamt about the pit bull. I awoke to pounding on my front door. My neighbor was there, blubbering about his pit bull, crying so much that his whole face was sticky with a viscous mixture of tears and snot. He asked if I’d seen the dog. I said no. After I deadbolted the door and shut the curtains, I spat the infinitesimal dog into a plastic cup. It wasn’t breathing—it probably drowned in my saliva.

I checked out some books at the library on dreams. I tried lucid dreaming for a couple nights, but I couldn’t figure out how to actually do it. I spent hours immersed in those books, but my mind was so preoccupied with research that I just dreamt about reading. After each failed dream, I woke up with another shrunken lucid dream book in my mouth. I saved the books in a second plastic cup as proof that I hadn’t lost the books, but the librarian wasn’t buying it. She thought the little books were cute, even going so far as to ask about buying some—apparently she wanted to glue magnets to the back of them and put them on her refrigerator. But despite her interest and my insistence, she fell short of believing that these miniature replicas were the books I had checked out. The replacement fees were starting to add up.

Later that week, I read a book that talked about the recency effect and dreams. When I thought about the previous week’s dreams, it made sense. Apparently, some people dream about whatever is on their minds at the end of the day. Those last thoughts are the ones that ooze into unconscious slumber—be it pies or dogs or books.

So that night, I took a sleeping pill, shut my eyes, and concentrated really hard on gold bars. I imagined a whole stack of them. And it worked. I awoke with miniature gold bars in my mouth. I wasn’t sure how much each pebble-sized bar of gold was worth, but I was sure that over time I could amass enough pebbles to make a sizable dent in the mortgage. So I kept this up night after night, stockpiling little gold bars in another plastic cup. Soon, my wife and I would be set for life. I couldn’t wait to tell her.

She arrived home at the end of the month. I was going to show her the gold later that evening, after a romantic roast duck dinner, a bottle of wine, and the whole rose petal trail to the bedroom thing. But as soon as she crossed our threshold, she dropped her bags and pounced. Not even bothering to close the front door, we fell onto the sofa and unleashed a month of pent-up urges. A soft breeze pushed through the door, cooling our sweaty bodies and blowing the fresh scent of sex through the house, mingling with the duck and the roses. We fell asleep in each other’s arms, and I had a terrible dream where we made beautiful love.

prose_section_divider

 

Burnt Snow

She came from the south. Her footsteps burned the snow. Not melted. Burned. The white crystalline flecks went up like pine needles. Whoosh! Flame. Smoke. Cinder.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked her. “It’s below zero out here.”

“No,” she said, motioning to the flames. I offered a blanket anyway.

She sipped hot chocolate and dried her charred, sopping wet flip-flops by the hearth.

“Where are you headed?”

“North,” she gulped from her mug and blew smoke rings.

“What’s your name?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“I’m Alan.”

“I’d rather not know your name.”

I cooked some pheasant, rice, and potatoes while she knitted. The yarn was luminous, and it reminded me of sun reflected on snow. The strands glowed brighter with each pluck of her knitting needle until they lit up the entire room. “What’s that yarn? Why is it glowing?” I asked.

“I’d rather not say,” she said.

We ate in silence.

“Why do you live out in the middle of nowhere?” she asked while I soaped up the dishes.

“I’d rather not say,” I said with a chuckle. She didn’t look amused. “It’s a joke. Lighten up.”

She did not lighten up, so I composed myself and answered her question. “I used to do the rat race thing. But I couldn’t stand it. And when my parents passed away, I suppose I didn’t have any reason to stay in the city. I prefer it out here. I like simple living.”

“It doesn’t seem so simple,” she said. “In fact, it seems rather complicated. It’s freezing outside, and you huddle for warmth around a centuries-old hearth. And what about food? Do you hunt? Is there a town nearby? And what could you possibly do for entertainment around here?”

I was surprised that this mysterious woman cared about frivolous things like entertainment. “I gas up the generator and play some video games.”

“You have Internet out here?” she asked. “I haven’t checked my e-mail in days.”

“No, I don’t,” I said. Since when do women with burning footsteps and glowing yarn check e-mail?

“So you play offline?”

“I prefer to keep to myself.”

She laughed and shook her head. I didn’t see what was so funny. I finished up the dishes while she knotted the ends of her luminous yarn. She slid the finished product off her needles. It looked like a scarf made of pure light.

“Do you play video games?” I asked, hoping to restart the conversation.

“No. They’re childish.”

I’ll admit, that hurt my ego a bit, but I tried not to let it show. I smiled and asked, “Well, what do you do for fun?”

“I’d rather not say,” she said.

Are you kidding me? What’s her deal?

She rubbed charcoal on her skin and wrapped the luminous scarf around her head like a turban. “You’d better close your eyes for this,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’d rather not say. Just do it unless you want to damage your retinas. It’ll be like looking into the sun.”

I did as commanded. After all, who was I to argue with some supernatural wanderer? I kept my eyes closed for what seemed like forever. Nothing happened. Not a sound. No heat. No nothing. “Hello,” I asked. She didn’t respond. “Hello?” I opened my eyes, and she was gone. I ran outside to look for her. A trail of charred earth extended away from my cabin. A few smoldering clumps of snow glowed into the evening, dotting her path like those little pellets that Pac-Man eats. I followed these pellets until the charred earth was reclaimed by snowdrifts.

I spent months searching for her in the north. I searched villages, igloos, and even caves. I had to find her. I knew that when I found her, she’d remember me, and she’d thank me for the hospitality, and she’d explain her quest, and then we’d make love, and the universe would brim with luminous threads, and she’d knit, and knit, and knit. In time, maybe I’d knit too.

But when I finally found her, she was dead, naked, and buried in snow. Bits of charcoal surrounded her corpse. Her turban sat in a nearby snowbank, drained off its luster. I pocketed the unassuming rag. I interrogated people in the nearby village. They all said she was crazy. “You didn’t see what she could do. She was magic!” I said. In time, they declared me crazy too, and they forced me back onto the tundra.

With nowhere else to go, I journeyed home and looked at the rag under a magnifying glass. I found nothing of interest in its fibers, but I knew I had to take it south. On my southward quest, I told everybody who would listen about the enigmatic woman with the mysterious cloth, but nobody believed me. In time, I learned to keep to myself. I began echoing the woman’s distant words: “I’d rather not say.”

I pushed onward. I was certain that someday I’d find a place where fire and lava could create snow, and birds crawled and mammals flew, and everybody knew how to knit clothes made of light. I’d meet other women and men who could finally teach me to knit. They’d tell me all about their legends and gods. They’d explain why the woman was on her northward pilgrimage, and I’d tell them about her fate, and they’d thank me for my candor, and we’d mourn her together. And in this place, the dirty rag would glow once more.

James R. Gapinski_headshot_(2)flash fictions_Plastic Cups_Burnt SnowJames R. Gapinski holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, and he’s managing editor of The Conium Review. His fiction has recently appeared in Juked, NANO Fiction, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.

I’m Beautiful

[flash fiction]

Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste, I remain floating, distant. I shall not wake up. I shall stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft-sleepy music lifting me up through the roof, through the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. I shall keep rising, like a froth of cloud.

I want to see my face, my not-face, my face he’s snatched from me. I want to know how much damage a cup of liquid can do, a Venti-sized, green-and-white plastic cup of liquid, all that burning afterward, the hot needles of burning in each pore of my cheek, my forehead, my throat, breasts, stomach. I thrash and snatch at the bandages, so they tie my hands, for my own good, they tell me, and put me upon this cloud. I’ll stay here in this cotton-wool cloud, see them when I can open my eyes better. The important thing is, they say, you still have eyes, we can save your eyes. Now, sleep.

I shall not face it, I have no face to face it with. He’ll come and finish me, I want to tell them, no use these tubes and covers and kindly voices. He has erased me, I don’t exist.

*     *     *

Two months since I lost my face.

You’re doing well, they say, you’ll go home next week. And don’t worry about him, he’s in jail, you’re far out of his reach.

I have seen it. I’ve seen the black mask. I’ve seen one eye glued shut, and the other, unblinking pupil. I have seen my teeth, no lips, two gaping holes instead of my nose. The head, peeling strips of skin. All the golden hair, gone. Nothing a wig and some make-up can’t fix, they say, you’ll see. I throw things at them. I throw words. Bad words. I want to throw the bed at them, the room.

Shush, honey, they say, hush, we’ll bring you back your face. Promise. They pat my face with creams and oils, with words and smiles, with soft looks, with the love of my parents. They bring me my dog, who knows me. Licks my face. Tickles me. Makes me laugh. Laugh. Laughter.

*     *     *

Look! How beautiful you look, Frieda, darling, they say, holding a mirror. Two years gone, but I have a face.

I look as they bid, and I see their hands, their laughter, their love, their tears, their sleepless nights, their hands holding mine, their starched white uniforms, their lab coats, the stethoscopes, the bedpans, the tubes, the jars of ointment. Two years.

I have eyes, I have a nose, I have lips, I have cheek, chin, throat. I have hair. Not my hair, but still, hair. The main thing is, they have given me a face.

No hiding now. I smile, and they smile with me. You’re beautiful, they tell me, and I say, yes, thank you, so are you.

Damyanti Ghosh_headshot_I'm Beautiful_flash fiction

Damyanti’s short fiction appears or is forthcoming at Griffith Review, The First Line, Ducts.org by New York Writer’s Workshop, and other journals in USA, UK, Singapore, and India. She’s featured in print anthologies by Twelve Winters Press, USA, and by major publishers in Malaysia and Singapore. Her one wish is to have a body double to do the chores, leaving her free to read and write fiction. She’s now wrestling with her first novel.

We’re So Lucky

[flash fiction]

She likes her son best when he’s sleeping. At night, she sneaks into his bedroom, sits on the edge of his twin-size bed and watches his little chest rise and fall below the sheet. She places her lips on his temple and kisses him softly. It’s one of the few moments in the day when she feels tenderness toward him.

Each day at 3:35 p.m., her son jumps off the bus and bounds through the front door, bringing a mess of chaos and chatter with him. He is like a little tornado, interrupting her solitude. And all the bags: backpack, lunch box, soccer bag. In the mornings she neatly consolidates them, a feat he cannot recreate at the end of the day. She nags him to put his things away: the smelly soccer socks in the laundry, his half-empty lunch containers in the sink, his scuffed shoes in the cubby. He almost always forgets all these things.

Over Christmas break, he left a half eaten sunflower butter and jelly sandwich in his bag. You can’t send your kids to school with peanut butter anymore. When she found his sandwich in January, it was covered with green mold. Her husband tried to spin it as a fun science experiment, as if growing mold inside a backpack was educational.

She is not one of those mothers who enjoy volunteering in the classroom or sitting on committees or helping with homework. The truth is she could care less about any of those things. She spends her days alone, doing nothing, and prefers it like that. She had quit her job as a legal secretary to stay home with her son. She imagined trips to the library, pulling him in a red wagon behind her, and baking cookies, his little hands rolling out the dough with the miniature rolling pin. That was nine years ago. Nobody told her how hard it would all be.

She did not look for work when her son started school but told her husband she did. She didn’t want to go back to work—donning pantyhose and skirts and blouses only to trade serving her son for serving some other master—fetching coffee, scheduling depositions, transcribing letters while wearing a headset that had previously nestled on some other secretary’s head.

“All those years out of the work force and now nobody wants me!” she said night after night until her husband stopped asking.

The truth is she thinks she deserves these years of daytime silence after what she endured: his red-faced screams day in and day out, the sleepless nights, the way she existed for the sole purpose of feeding him, followed by months of opening cabinets and drawers, making a mess of everything. And the time he opened the bottle of Rogaine stored in a bathroom drawer and she rushed him to the emergency room. No, she didn’t know if he drank any of it. Was she supposed to watch him every god damn second?

All those trips to parks and playgrounds, both indoors and outdoors. Sitting on benches or leaning against walls while he ran and played, coming back to her only when he wanted juice or a snack, which she was expected to have endless supplies of in the diaper bag—the bag that marked her as a mother.

And all those mothers at the parks and playgrounds, glowing with the joy of it: how they loved it all. We’re so lucky, they murmured to each other, as if repeating it could make it true.

She’s not sure why she ever thought she could be like those mothers, why she ever thought she could be a mother. She had watched her own mother with a mixture of wonder and confusion: aprons tied over poufy skirts, baking muffins and pies day after day as if there was no greater pleasure.

She pretends as well as she can. For years she made small talk at those parks and playgrounds, murmuring along with the others—yes, we’re so lucky—feeling sorry for the childless and the working mothers, the ones missing out on all this. She kissed his skinned knees and translated his nonsensical babble for strangers. She sang lullabies and pureed squash. For a while she’d almost convinced herself. That she was like her mother, that she was like those other mothers, one of the lucky ones.

And then he was suddenly in grade school and his feet were almost as big as hers and his chubby cheeks were long gone and she read a study online that boys are now entering puberty at an average age of ten. One year away. How long until she finds Speed Stick and pubic hairs in his bathroom? How long until this long-limbed boy is a man? How long until her work here is done?

Shasta Grant is the winner of the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Epiphany, cream city review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a prose editor for Storyscape Journal.

The Known Unknowns

[flash fiction]

1.

What do we know about her, a retired social worker, wife to a stubborn sonofabitch who refused to evacuate when the big one finally came? What does it say about the sonofabitch that he teaches conservation law, that his eyebrows go untrimmed, that he jogs in day-glo short-shorts each evening along the flooded path of the streetcar line? What did it mean when he struck his youngest with an open palm that same sweltering summer, when he tucked the boy into bed later that night in his softest hand-me-down shirt—the one from the marathon that blew his knee out—and then sat cross-legged in a chair in the hallway, his fingers working little chunks of paper from the pages until the boy was asleep? What does she say to him when they speak to each other in French, their voices tense but volume capped somewhere just below shouting, each with one eye on the children wheeling their plastic dump trucks in the garden? What words does she recite when the sun sets and he still hasn’t returned from canoeing in the swamp, when she knows he purposely tries to get lost, just a little more earnestly each year, even as his body thins out, dries up, crackles like tinder when he walks? What kind of love knows that he truly lives to be alone?

2.

We might think she’s chosen to be the stitches for a man bent on unraveling. We might make easy metaphors about a city and its people, each duty-bound by momentum to raise the stilts and keep going. Some questions likely don’t have an answer beyond the fact that he suspects, in ways he wouldn’t articulate to himself, that he is himself still a child, that striking his boy proves he will always be one, and although this suspicion is a source of dread for him, it is also a strange and bitter reassurance. He likes, for instance, that they’d made a game of speaking French to each other around the kids, taking something originally meant to hide their fights and using it to talk about the things they’d otherwise lost the words to say.

And when he’s gone, alone in the woods or the swamp, no calls past dark and the empty driveway visible through the open front door, she will say a few of those words like a chant over a mug of tea. For her kind of love is only sentimental at the surface—hand-holding after dinner, a weekly picnic on the river levee when summer heat gives way to fall. The core of her love is pragmatism. Let it be quick, she’ll say to the tea. Let it be quick, and let him be alone.

3.

Tomorrow New Orleans will bulldoze one hundred vacant homes. Three people will be shot, and a car fire at the I-10 onramp will stop traffic from mid-city all the way uptown, a line of honking cars that he will bike past on his way to work, still sleepy from making it home late, his mind still on the blackness of the water at sunset, the canoe still atop their battered station wagon, duckweed and a film of sulfurous mud still caked to his shins. She will walk the dog, past the neighborhood trees that survived the storm, past the toy figurines from her sons’ toy chest that she’s left in their branches as talismans, and home again to their sunwashed kitchen for tea, a check of weather, and a long, unquiet silence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGabriel Houck is originally from New Orleans, and studies in the creative writing PhD program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has MFAs in writing from the California Institute of the Arts and the University of Iowa, and his work has appeared in Drunken Boat, Flyway, Spectrum, Sweet, Western Humanities Review, American Literary Review, Grist, PANK, The Pinch, Moon City Review, The Adirondack Review, Fourteen Hills, and Mid American Review, where he was lucky enough to win the 2014 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize. He is currently working on his first short story collection, along with a nonfiction manuscript about a creationist museum in Kentucky.

Come Spring & Articulation

[flash fiction]

Come Spring

A teaching job plucked us from the city, planted us gingerly in a town literally surrounded by corn. We bought a small house, two bedrooms, one bath because it was compact, updated and affordable. It would not require my attention. My wife was consumed in great gulps by the baby, and I was peering into and trying to fit within academia’s dollhouse. The yard was huge, magnified further by the fact we’d never had one. My wife murmured in her dreams to children not yet conceived, children inventing new ways to injure themselves in the great green expanse. She wanted six babies, and was in the thick, heavy cream and honey daze of easy motherhood. Our second baby would snap her out of this, keep her awake for days, miserable until the sixteenth specialist diagnosed our son, Max, unhappy Max. But this was when Trina was an infant, sleeping, and my wife plump and smelling of yeast, sleeping beside her. My loaves of bread, I’d whisper, kissing my wife awake. I was prepping spring courses when I began thinking of a garden, perhaps raised beds, but soon it was gargantuan and too overgrown for my skull, its near wilderness demanding ground, purchase in real life. I had never grown anything beyond a bean sprout in fourth grade science; the bean wrapped in a wet paper towel within the green house of a plastic freezer bag. Soon, I found myself trolling the Internet, then cordoning off half of the yard, renting a tiller, staying up until dawn choosing heirloom seeds from the stack of catalogs in the bathroom. I spaced fruit trees in the front yard, already drunk as a bee on their imagined canopies and harvests; plums and pears and apples and cherries. I imagined six children hanging from their knees, their chins always sticky, then clambering to the top of the trees—to the branches that bent, scrambling for the last wet handfuls of cherries. Now, I spend most of my life waiting to return to the place I grew out of my imagination. The place I wore the knees out of my jeans and forgot myself, half convinced I could disappear in the raveled vines of green beans, happily go to my death in the dappled dark where the slenderest, bite tender beans are. After Max, I had a vasectomy. It was a decision made jointly in voices that strained under the weight of exhaustion. It was only when I was planting the last garden, Max a baby that cried unlike any baby the parenting books described and never slept, never slept, never slept, it was only when pushing the seeds down into the soil did I think of it differently, did I think of my own seed, rendered dead. In the deciding, my wife so skin pressed by the writhing Max that she couldn’t bare a touch that required any more of her, it seemed a pruning—clipping with finality the heaviest branches so they would not fell from the trunk. But afterward, my fingers in the dirt, it seemed a death. We suffer our own winters. Yet, even in autumn or dead December, the garden lives as surely as it did in thick August. It takes root in the base of my skull, then sprouts and tendrils until come spring I am lovelorn and homesick with wanting. But by the time final grades are in mid-May, my wife needs a rest, and Max, Max requires constant care and attention. Tending to. There is no time to garden, although I would surely choose the garden, if I had a choice. Max sits upon my knee, his head cocked like a wren, listening to something I can’t hear. He doesn’t have the words yet to articulate whatever it is that tortures him so. What can he do? He wails. I imagine the sounds he makes as living, growing, wild language. Language that can’t be tamed in measured rows. Language that bears no discernible harvest.

prose_section_divider

Articulation

I was a delicate child, susceptible to illness, and this worsened when I turned ten, after my father’s suicide. My mother was frail too, and so pale I could map the veins at her neck and wrists. I was old enough to know some things and not others, but when I explained, as my mother tucked me in, that father stood in the darkest corner each evening as we listened to the radio, simply watching, as still as a lamp post and glowering in the way he had, she gasped hard enough that I knew sobbing galloped behind. The next morning when I woke, a suitcase sat resolutely by the door and Fritz, my mother’s friend, drove me three hours to Aunt Betsy’s farm. It was 1939. Mother could not bear good-bye.

It was truly Uncle Douglas’ farm, but everyone knew he lived in his office, reading and writing, smoking and drinking, and Betsy ran the farm. Where my mother was pale and slight, blonde hair and gray eyes, Betsy was windburned and loud with large hips and copper frizz that frothed about her head and shoulders and turned up in her meals. Her body was tall and wide, hard in places, soft in others, and she seemed to live within her body in the same way Uncle Douglas lived within his office. Her bosom was enormous. Later, in my studies, I would see images of fertility figures and think of Betsy. She was lusty all about, and not in a dirty way, but in a way that made some uncomfortable. Some people couldn’t look her vitality head-on.

I was given one chore. At the end of each day I was to walk out with the shepherding dogs and bring in the sheep. They were a pack, and I had never seen animals move as one, then scatter like starlings, only to bring in the sheep. My job, really, was to watch them and take wonder in their way, and to come to understand that they were known to one another, these four dogs, in a way I was not known to any one and in a way that I did not know any other living person. The dogs seemed to like when I buried my face in their necks, or gently pulled the brambles from their long coats. They turned with great inquisitive looks when I whistled. They turned in the same instant, with similar faces, their wet noses glistening in that deep blue dusk. When the sheep were in, I would see Aunt Betsy’s face in the kitchen window, and it would halve itself in a smile, meant just for me.

They could not have children. Betsy had lost three, early on in her pregnancies, during that first decade of my life. She absorbed loss like a wall, at least in the telling of it to me. She’d point to the cows and chickens, the pigs, and say that nature was that way, rougher on some than others, but it never felt a judgment to Betsy, just a fact. Just the way it was. “We’re all animals,” she said, and she expected us to take a moment of silence before each meal, considering what had been given and given up, so we could eat. At home, my mother had said grace, each word clipped like a toenail, so the prayer sounded like a bullion cube of dissatisfaction. Betsy once told me, “Words are good, when you need them. But silence, silence is a room to carry with you. Some things you know without words. Some things you can’t put words to.” I would watch the dogs corral the sheep and I would consider my father, what he could not say, and what I could not say now to my mother. Silence with Betsy was a room made of windows, the radiance a buttery balm. With my mother, silence was a root cellar at the end of winter.

I remember most the light of that summer, whether it was light being born as dawn set upon us, or the light of the honeyed July moon, so pregnant seeming, I imagined six small moons nursing at that moon’s teats like the barn kittens. And in late August’s evenings, the corn drying, it fell pink and golden across fields like silk. In the course of the summer, I had become strong and brown. Betsy had cut my hair in a pageboy and my legs were scratched and bruised from coming to know the woods. My neck wore the beads of bug bites. I cast off shoes, and my soles were callused.

Betsy did not tuck me in. She crawled into bed with me, and read each night until my eyes closed. She let me fall asleep to the cadence of her chest rising and falling, her hair sticking to my bath fresh cheek. Some love cannot be articulated.

And one September morning, I watched the dust kick up in a gravel cloud before the car materialized as if from a vapor. I could make out Fritz’s profile, and beside him, mother in her hat, one hand holding it in place. The dogs barked and gathered at my heels as I ran to the house. Perhaps I always knew my mother would return for me. Perhaps I didn’t. I was ten, and did not know what a child I still was—what I still did not have words for.

Panting in the kitchen doorway, it was clear Betsy knew, and the knowing had collapsed something in her. She sat at the table in a man’s shirt, unbuttoned so I could see where her cleavage began. I begged, on my knees, at her feet, to let me stay. Then she reached for me. I could hear Fritz knocking, the thin voice of my mother calling out, but I had buried my face in Betsy’s neck. She was cradling me like a baby. Betsy was crooning, “Hush, my child.”

B. Harroun HeadshotBarbara Harroun teaches composition and creative writing at Western Illinois University. Her work has previously appeared in the Sycamore Review, issues of Another Chicago Magazine, issues of Bird’s Thumb, Prairie Gold: Anthology of the American Heartland, Requited Journal, Festival Writer, Red Wolf Journal, and Catch & Release. It is forthcoming in I-70 Review, Sugared Water, Per Contra, The Riveter Review, Pea River Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Mud Season Review, bioStory, The Lake, Emerge Literary Journal, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, and San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly. Her favorite creative endeavors are her awesome kids, Annaleigh and Jack.

 

Perry and Vega

[flash fiction]

Thinking about cunnilingus in the elevator is hardly a cause for concern. That was what Dr. Wendy Savannah told Vega while they were having lunch this afternoon. It’s every time I ride the one at work though, replied Vega. I think it’s because my husband won’t do it right. Dr. Savannah looked out the window and said, perhaps a therapist would be more appropriate for this matter. Will you do it right? asked Vega. Now she’ll be seeking a new physician, too.

Vega wants to tell her husband about the woman in the elevator. There’s a young attorney you should know about, Perry. I want to rip her blouse open and shove her face up my skirt right there and not stop, even when the bell chimes to let other people on. Let them watch. And she thinks, maybe that image will get him to do it right. It’s higher, she told him once. His face reddened deeply and they stopped right there. It’s not a Gin Gin, she said another time. Perry left right then and came back soaked in blended whisky. Just explain to him why that sort of satisfaction is important to you, suggested Dr. Savannah. Then maybe he’ll be willing to learn. She is a good doctor, thought Vega, now on the metro home. She is sound. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I should have said Perry does many, many, things right and I should have said it defensively, to let her know I love himto reassure myself that I probably won’t leave him.

At home, Perry is doing one of those things he does right. He isn’t watching TV or looking at his mobile phone. He isn’t masturbating or looking at his mobile phone while masturbating. He is reading a novel in the dim, late afternoon light coming in through the street side window. Ray Bradbury, it looks like. He does that right too, thinks Vega, as she greets her husband. Tell me something good, says Perry. He throws the book on the couch and Vega swings her leg over to straddle him. That works, he says. And then he kisses his wife.

It’s all okay if you don’t cheat, said Barry, back at the bar. It’s all allowed. Perry wasn’t as sure as his friend was. He felt guilt for lusting all the time. I would never cheat on Vega, he said to Barry, maybe more to reassure himself than to state a static truth. That’s what I mean, answered Barry. Everyone knows that. Vega knows that. So what if your eyes linger a second longer at the way the bartender fills her blousemy god how she fills that blouse. So what, Perry? You take inches where you can to keep the balance. Marriage is a long time, he said, and sipped his beer. It’s better to think of these moral strictures like rubber bands, not wrought iron fences. Trick is not to let them snap and send you running.

I guess it’s pretty characteristic of a married man, thought Perry. On the one hand, he agreed with Barry and didn’t think that telling Vega—telling her how there isn’t a room, restaurant or bar that he’s been to in Chicago where his eyes haven’t caught a pleasant stretch of jean here, or a black stocking creeping up a thigh there—would be much of a blow. So what, she might say. Are you fucking them or are you fucking me? Only ever you, Perry would say. But the fact that you’re just like other men, he thought—the fact that your eyes wander like the rest of these assholes—wouldn’t that wilt some flower inside Vega’s heart, some fragile thing worth holding on to?

Oh Jesus. Perry looks down at the page and realizes he hasn’t processed a word in some while. The light is growing dim off the street, and Perry squints to find the last sentence that registered in his brain before he started thinking about all the things he sometimes thinks about. Now Vega is coming in, bundled up for the cold the way he likes, wearing her scarf and jacket and leather boots. God, he thinks, watching her mouth a hello and a how-are-you-doing. He throws Bradbury to the couch and watches how she takes off her coat, the way her shoulder blades glide as she unwraps her scarf. She steps out of her boots and walks over to him, her hips swinging like they’ve always swung. You are the book, he wants to say to her, but she is on him now. You are the book and nothing will ever keep me from returning to the page. That’s good, Vega will say. That’s fine, Perry. Now shut up and put me in your mouth.

Anthony MartinAnthony Martin (@pen_tight) is a mutt whose favorite word is subtext. His work appears, or is forthcoming, in WhiskeyPaper, Mojave River Review, Cheap Pop, and pacificREVIEW.

 

Did You Know That Witches Speak With Their Vaginas?

[flash fiction]

It started when she was thirteen. It started because she was always cold. When she was cold her knees would knock echoes down the mountains. The sound tested avalanches. It was a thing that was sistered to womanhood. A movement from within, like the beginnings of an itch.

She started like her mother and her mother before her and before her and before. It lived in her bloodline too far back to map. Like all things it must have started somewhere. It has something to do with the myth of her saint. The saint all women of her family share. The saint that changed her mind in the middle of the book of Kings and became something she was not supposed to be.

It started with her the way it starts with other women. But that is where the sharing ends. Her blood continues until it is a gushing, trailing path. Blood exiting a body at that rate changes the expected color of it. Close to her lips it is a cobalt. By the time it reaches her knees it is something else.

By the time she is fourteen she can control it. She knows when it is coming and can predict its mood. Her mother teaches her how to harness its power. And soon it is clear that she is a natural talent. She begins with the scripts her mother assigns but is quickly able to converse with her saint freely. When the saint stops visiting her mother and instead chooses to remain with the girl they know it is a sign.

Before the saint lived in the woman of her family’s wombs she had a vision. This was before the book of Kings but after the book of Esther. The vision was of a young girl that was able to commune with the spirits through her openings. Her intimate conversations will pull the moon closer and change the path of the seas. We will know the girl by the color of her blood and the tenor of her voice. The women of her family think that she is the girl from the saint’s vision.

The woman of her family will not tell her what they think they know. They will think that telling her will keep the vision from coming true. It is a superstition. The women of her family can feel her difference by how the blood comes to them. By the time she turns seventeen the thoughts will turn into certainties. The girl has known from birth who she was going to be but kept it to herself like all the women of her family do.

Dana Green HeadshotDana Green is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Denver. She holds an MFA from The University of Massachusetts. She has a pet. He is a cat.

 

Run All Day, Run All Night

[flash fiction]

At Gaffney’s, we feed the jukebox and dance with pool cues like they’re bolted to the ceiling until the men in town for the races buy us drinks we’d never order for ourselves. Rum Punches. Tom Collinses. Whiskeys with unpronounceable names. Theater majors, we thank them in thick accents—Russian, Spanish, German—trading some touchless flirting before melting into the crowd.

“Sure and begorah,” I say, rolling r’s like marbles as Mr. Striped Shirt hands me a dishwater-dirty martini.

He pulls out a chair, pats the seat. My best friend Tina stands behind him Frenching her hand, but I don’t crack. Stripes has two fluffs of hair—pale blond—arranged over the tunnels of bare skin at his temples.

“What stunning eyes,” he says, leaning close enough to ripple my drink. They’re colored contacts. I tell him all the women in my family have them, violet at night, blue in the morning.

“Stunning,” he says, again. “I bet your boyfriend loves them.”

Sipping from the funnel of my glass, I wink and he grins, rubbing knuckles down the creases of his khakis.

“So, what do you do?” I ask, looking past him to Tina in the corner where she flirts with the guy from Econ that I invited out tonight. He’s got curly hair I want to wrap around my fingers like an old-fashioned phone cord. In the shadows, Tina half-turns and points at me, then leans against Econ-boy and laughs.

“Gamble,” Stripes says, listing his tips for tomorrow as if I’m planning to bet my student loans. The horses’ names are bad puns: Life Foal of Joy, Pony Up, Unbridled Danger. I nod until he falls quiet. “Well, cheers,” I say, lifting my glass. “Lots of luck.” It’s his cue to give up gracefully, but he holds up a hand plump as a rubber glove full of water. His hotel is close, he says. He thinks I’d love the view.

“Thanks, but no,” I say, dropping the “h,” and stretching the “a” like the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

Stripes pouts like a child, fat lower lip punched out, but when I stand, embarrassed for him, he grabs my hand. “At least point me in the right direction.” I don’t know why I follow him to the door and push into the night, steamy like it can get upstate. Outside, I point up Caroline to Broadway.

He nods, then pins me against brick, bites at my lips, says, “Violet eyes, be sweet to me.”

“They’re really just brown,” I say, turning side-to-side, forgetting my brogue.

“Fine,” he says, pulling back enough to produce his fist of a wallet. “What’ll it cost?”

Under the streetlight, I see the bar’s dimness was kind. His hair is white, fine, spare.

When he starts extracting bills meant for trifectas and places and wins, I shake my head. No, I think, stop. Not for any amount you can name.

But then why do I say nothing, do nothing, except watch the bills mount between us?

Headshot - CorteseKatie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has recently appeared in Carve, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Cimarron Review, and The Tusculum Review, among other journals. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University, where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.

We’ll vanish in a blind spot portal

[flash fiction]

I’ve wanted so badly for so long to tell someone about the triangles, the ones I see when I close my eyes and sit in stillness, or as still and silent as my monkey mind allows. One day, I’ll work up the nerve to tell a coworker over sandwiches in the break room about them, how I sense them with my third eye, suspended in a haze like fog settled between mountaintops. She’ll have just taken a bite of her cucumber and hummus on seven-grain and raise her eyebrows, put her fingers to her mouth, too excited to finish chewing before shouting, “Oh my gosh! I totally know what you’re talking about.” She’ll wear her wavy auburn hair in an adorably disheveled topknot and tilt her whole torso back when she laughs. The only makeup she’ll wear is blue-black mascara on her lashes and Rosebud Salve on her lips.

One Tuesday morning, she’ll stop by my cubicle with her hands wrapped around a steaming mug of chamomile tea, and we’ll whisper about how we both saw a metallic blue Buick in our rearview mirrors on the way to work. But when we went to merge into the left lane, it was gone, vanished into a blind spot portal. My phone will ring, and she’ll smile and walk back to her cubicle, leaving behind the warmth of her coconut hand cream.

We’ll share a cigarette in the parking lot after work and fantasize about what’s waiting for us through those triangle portals, plan a road trip to go there together over Memorial Day weekend. We’ll decide to rent a more reliable car, take turns driving, but not even book hotel rooms along the way, just go, a real adventure.

One day, when we’re the only ones in the break room, she’ll pull out a bridal magazine and show me an earmarked page with photos of mason jar flower arrangements she’s considering for her wedding in the fall. I’ll tell her that they are “perfect, so rustic, but so romantic.”

She’ll smile and slide her hands out to me across the table. “Michelle,” she’ll say, and we’ll be holding hands so tight I can feel her engagement ring pressing into my fingers. “I want you to be my maid of honor.” And I’ll say, “Of course!” and we’ll squeal and hug, and her silver bracelets will sing.

After she walks back to her cubicle, I’ll linger over my carrots and kale dip, alone at the table, listening to the copy machine receive an order and start sliding out pages of someone’s monthly report. I’ll imagine her wearing a purple full-length gown covered in triangle-shaped rhinestones, light beaming in all directions from the dress like rays from little pyramids, like that hotel in Vegas with its searchlight scanning toward space.

The time will come for our trip through the portals. We’ll put our overnight bags in the trunk of the newly washed white Chevy Aveo. I’ll offer to drive first. We’ll get in and turn toward each other after buckling our seat belts. She’ll take a deep excited breath, let it out with a sigh, which will make me drop the keys on the console and giggle, which will make her laugh with her eyes wide and her teeth showing; and we’ll take each other’s hands and hold tight. My hands are cold even though it’s summer and I’m beyond excited. Hers are sweaty, filled with energy.

“Here we go,” I say, and we close our eyes and wait.

MichelleMcMahonMichelle spends most of her time in alternate universes created by memories, where she writes short stories and poems. Some of the places her work has appeared are Shelf Life, Wheelhouse Magazine, River Walk Journal, Getgo Magazine, SHAMPOO, and Hot Whiskey Magazine. She lives in Southern California with two sons and a husband.

Snow

[flash fiction]

“Promise to tell me . . .” I can almost feel your breath in my ear. If you were standing here with me tonight, I wouldn’t say a word—and I wouldn’t have to, knowing you. You’d scoop it up like birdseed in your palm and blow it away, laughing. Your laughter, I love it—you make me laugh even when I don’t want to. Like our last night together.

You wouldn’t stop giggling as you slipped off your sandals and curled your legs around mine. You complained that the boulder we leaned against was too cold and insisted that we should snuggle under our picnic blanket. I sweated rivers. From across Lake Atitlan, the hotel lights in the Piedmont looked like a broken string of pearls scattered on black velvet. I didn’t want dawn to come; Javier would be driving me to meet the coyote at the Mexican border. You knew I didn’t want to go.

“Look for me here,” you took my hand in yours and pointed to the stars above us, “and know I’m with you.” I glared at the lights across the lake. There, the tourists danced; their night would never end. Here, the moored boats moaned; the fishermen were never late.

“Eliseo, what’s rattling around in that co-co of yours?” you messed up my hair, giggling. The lights in the distance—your hand in mine—the black water beneath us.

“Samabaj,” I mumbled.

You didn’t say anything. I don’t think you heard me. I found you tracing the constellations with your finger. I raised my hands to my lips. In the distance, the heavens slowly dissolved into red. The fishermen dropped their rods into their boats.

“Promise me something?” You rested your head on my shoulder.

Did you even have to ask? I’d promise you the world wrapped with a ribbon. But I didn’t say a word—and I didn’t have to. Of all the things to make me promise—I always laugh to think about it. On nights like this, I wander the streets, wondering what to tell you about snow.

Snow’s light but heavy.

Walking through snow has made my calves like Pele’s. After the first few dustings, I thought all the stories about blizzards were nonsense—snow didn’t stick to concrete, snow left a chalk outline around everything and, by ten in the morning, it was all gone.

One day in October, I called you from a pay phone to tell you but your line was busy. Since November, storm after storm of this stuff disappears, flake by flake, on your tongue crippled by this monstrous city.

The sidewalks were packed with jagged, icy footprints. The curbs were edged with mountains. The streets were slippery with slush. I called again and again in November and December, but each time your line was busy. One day in January, I found a huge park covered in a landslide of snow. When I called to tell you, your line was dead. I kept walking.

Snow’s cold but hot.

It doesn’t matter if its day or night, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy—it’s always freezing here. I learned early on to bundle up for my commute from Pilsen to the Loop; somewhere beneath a wool cap, vinyl gloves, woven scarf, thermal underwear, down coat, Columbia boots, goggles, and layers of Blistex was skinny me. As it got colder, I began to keep a flask of whiskey in my coat. I was insulated from the cold and the snow. Sure, sometimes I’d feel the flakes on my beard, and sometimes me and my roommates would have snowball fights, but I’d pack my snowballs with gloves on. But I never really felt snow until one Friday night in early February. I’m ashamed to say, I called you from a pay phone, drunk. Roberto and Donnie came from behind, pulled my pants down, and threw me into a snow bank. The remaining twelve blocks home, I cursed them—my backside burning. Nights after that, I’d try to get them back after we left the bars. I even devised a brilliant plan to get them. I shared it with you in my last letter. A few days ago, I found the letter in my post office box with a strange stamp. A friend at work called the post office and told me that your address no longer exists. I was going to put it with the rest but decided to make a crown out of it for my walk tonight, my ears burn.

Snow sparkles.

The park is empty at this hour. Here there is a clear view above. The tips of black branches caress the clouds, pregnant with snow. Does the view really matter in the city? Even here, I’ve never seen stars. But the other night, I made a discovery: when I searched for my flask in the snow bank, I couldn’t believe it—the purple blanket of snow sparkled under the park lamps. And there they were: your constellations. But when I traced them, they disappeared beneath my fingertips.

Tonight, the silhouettes of snowmen stand over the rows of angels the children left. The winds funnel from every direction, howling, carrying the horns of taxis and the siren of an ambulance, whipping the crown off of my head. The clouds are black. The angels have all but disappeared under the fresh snow. My laughter sounds strange in the hollow of the park. Today, the consulate told me about Mayor Esquina’s decision.

I feel your breath in my ear.

Tonight you know about snow and I know you’re with me.

Padilla photo“Snow” is from an upcoming collection of fiction entitled Si Dios Nos Presta Vida by Jesse Paul Padilla. Mr. Padilla’s work has been published by National Public Radio, Reed Magazine, and the Marquette Journal, and has earned Honorable Mention and Semi-Finalist recognitions for short-short fiction from New Millennium Writing.

Superman

[flash fiction]

We stop for our morning atole—that thick crushed corn drink con chocolate, de los Indios. Hot, hot, hot. Like cereal, so much better than the gringo café, just makes me want to poop. All morning. Standing in la basura—la basura—reaching past my knees. I try not to look at it, but now, I begin to smell. Like basura.

The guys are my age. Sixteen. Seventeen. We’re lucky to have a job, and maybe someday, I’ll drive the truck. Instead of standing in stinky basura. I’d rather wash cars and make more pesos, but mi Mama says this job has a future. Driving la basura, maybe. The first stop, CLANGING metal, that’s my job, people come running with their pinche basura. Plastic containers, large, and small—some with worms crawling—spread it all evenly on the truck floor. Stomp with feet, us young guys. Los gringos bring their basura in neat, black bags, smiling. I take them, rip them open to spread evenly on the truck floor. To my shoelaces. But the gringos put tips in the can dangling with wire—I smile, “Gracias.” Maybe enough for tacitos for us all. Some rich Mexicans tip too—“Gracias,” I smile. “De nada,” no smiles, but more pesos. No me chingas.

I wonder how they got rich, fancy cars, fancy boots for women. They look like las gringas, tight jeans, bright lipstick and skinny, no hips. When mi hermano, Jorge, calls from Los Angeles, where he says there are no angels and laughs. We gather at la gringa’s casita where Mama cleans and cooks, to talk to him, even see him on el Skype. He tells me I should come, el otto lado, the other side, before I get every disease in el mundo from everyone’s pinche basura. He tells me he shares a nice casita with a bunch of guys—cooks, waiters, busboys. That las gringas would love me, give me their phone numbers when they pay.

I clang the metal and the next group runs toward us lining up, containers and black bags full. Plink of pesos. “Gracias,” I smile.

“They wouldn’t give me their number, Jorge. I’m not pretty like you,” I laugh, knowing he’s watching me from the place with no angels.

“Oh, you’re the rugged type, Andres, they’d like you even more. You’ll start out as a bus boy, like I did. Then, the waiter with all the gringa phone numbers,” he smiles widely. “Is Mama there?”

“She went back to cooking for la gringa.”

Jorge pitches his voice low. “You can even become their boy friend, and they pay for everything, buy you nice clothes. The one I’m seeing right now wants me to move in with her, crazy but beautiful gringita.” He laughs his wild man laugh.

“Are you going to do it or what?’

“I’m thinking about it, chico. Even if it’s for a few months. Why not? Don’t tell Mama. You know how she is, her y la Virgen and all the saints,” Jorge smiles. “Come and join me, chico. Get your nalgas out of that chingada basura. I”ll send you plane fare, just get a visa, and you’ll never go back.”

“Las gringas won’t like me, Jorge, like they like you. Do you ever look for Papa up there?”

“He could be anywhere, chico, and I’ve stopped looking, el cabrón, leaving Mama with everything to care for.”

“The money you send us really helps, but it’s time for me to work, no more school for me. I think I could be a poet, Jorge. I’m not kidding. I write them and save them,” I almost whisper, my secret.

“Next time bring one and read it to me. And get that visa. Then, I’ll send you the plane pesos, and before you know it, you’ll be a waiter with a gringa girlfriend.”

I’ve promised myself to go to the Consulate and get the chingada visa as soon as Jorge’s boss at the restaurant writes me a letter saying I have a job. In Los Angeles where there are no angels. Jorge’s going to be a cook, but he’ll probably miss all the gringa phone numbers.

I smile, clanging the metal, everyone lining up with their stinking full containers with worms. But, I’m not pretty like Jorge, and I’m not a smoothie like Mama calls him, laughing. Mama’s English is getting better with la gringa, and I’m glad I took those free lessons. I could be a bus boy. Give people water, clean the tables. But, I’m probably not smooth enough to be a waiter. With a gringa girlfriend.

Now la basura is up to my ankles. Pesos clinking in the can. I look up smiling, “Gracias.”

“De nada,” a beautiful, blonde gringita smiles right into my eyes.

“See you next time, cutie,” she says laughing.

“Okay, bonita,” I manage. She laughs louder. Tinkly.

I look up to a roof where a small doll is perched. Something red waving in the wind. Someone wedged it between pieces of metal. When the red moves, it looks like the doll is flying. And then I realize, it’s Superman. His red cape. Flying. Wedged in the metal on that roof.

I take the final containers of rotting basura, spreading it evenly on the truck floor. The driver finds a ranchera on the radio, full blast, starts the truck toward the next block. The next people waiting with their rotting, wormy basura. The driver does a loud grito to the rancheras. The usual topic, love. And the guys and I laugh, stamping la basura flat with our feet like we’re dancing.

I look at Superman as we drive away and almost tell my friends, but decide he’s mine. He’ll give me the courage to go to the Consulate, el otro lado, where there are no angels, and maybe even be a waiter with gringa phone numbers. The beautiful gringa’s blue eyes, laughing. I wonder if Superman has blue eyes?

Villanueva photoAlma Luz Villanueva has taught fiction and poetry at Antioch University, LA’s MFA for sixteen years, with so many marvelous students. Her fourth novel, Song of the Golden Scorpion, has just been published, and her eighth book of poetry, Gracias, will be published in 2014. She lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Christ v.

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

DISTRICT OF SAN FRANCISCO

JESUS CHRIST,

Plaintiffv.

JOHN DOEs, JANE DOEs, and

THE HOLY SEE, THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF AMERICA, THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF AMERICA, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, LAUGHING PANDA INDUSTRIES, et al
Defendants

 

Civil Action No.

COMPLAINT

Preliminary Statement

1. This is a suit for defamation, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement, unlicensed use of likeness and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Summary of Plaintiff’s Claims

2. In or about September, in the year 5 B.C.E., Plaintiff Jesus Christ was born.

3. Subsequently, in or about November, 29 A.D., Mr. Christ was crucified by order of the Romans.

4. He suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures.

5. Subsequently, in late November or early December 29 A.D., Mr. Christ ascended into heaven, where he was, among other things, seated at the right hand of his father.

6. Since that date, numerous individuals, groups, organized religions and nations have used the unauthorized likeness and endorsements of Mr. Christ without his express permission and without just compensation.

7. Mr. Christ seeks damages for the continued and rampant use of his likeness and name without his permission. Pursuant to federal and local statutes, it is also explicitly clear that related causes of action may be pursued under the federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125 (a), for example, for unauthorized use of a person’s identity in order to create a false endorsement. Mr. Christ is entitled to damages and pain and suffering after the continued use of his name in such a manner that it creates an implied and sometimes explicit endorsement which has been continually and intentionally used to recruit, retain and financially benefit the above-named organized religions and nations.

8. The California Civil Code – Section 3344 – 3344.1 [Astaire Celebrity Image Protection Act] permits the use of a person’s likeness once 70 years has passed since the time of death provided that heirs do not obtain a claim to continued exclusive use of that likeness (Mr. Christ has no heirs). However, we submit as evidence proof of Mr. Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, March 31, 2013. Because of this holy resurrection (“The Second Coming”), Mr. Christ is once again a living human being and as such entitled to all rights as they relate to his name and likeness. These rights revert immediately back to Mr. Christ upon his resurrection and he is entitled to just compensation for proceeds and licensing fees related to the use of his likeness in the intervening 1,984 years.

9. Mr. Christ is also seeking an injunction against the municipality of Corpus Christi, Texas for using his name without permission for financial gain. This has affected Mr. Christ financially, as this was the name of a proposed resort community on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that Mr. Christ was an investor in.

10. Mr. Christ would like back royalties and licensing fees from Laughing Panda Industries, the American importer of Chinese-made “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)” wristbands and the “Jesus Bobblehead” and “Holy Action Figure” toy lines as well as other items fully catalogued in the addendum including but not limited to votive candles, prayer beads, rosaries, velvet paintings, crucifixes, breath mints, playing cards, poker chips, statues, garden gnomes, coloring books, flags, scarves, communion wafers and leather sandals.

11. Additionally, Mr. Christ is seeking an injunction against the Roman Catholic Church, the Pentecostal Church, New Life Urban Ministries, et al, for defamation and libel against his good name in portraying him and his beliefs as racist, nationalist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic (Mr. Christ is a practicing member of the Jewish faith), Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, prudish and intolerant.

Count I

Unfair Competition

12. Plaintiff incorporates herein by reference all of the averments of paragraphs 1 through 7 with like force and effect as though set forth in full herein.

13. The defendants intentionally infringed on the plaintiff’s rights to protect, defend and establish his likeness, endorsements and other trademarks in order to pursue monetary and other considerations and compensations for such endorsements.

14. The conduct of the defendants has been sufficiently outrageous as to entitle plaintiff an award of punitive damages.

Count II

Misappropriation of Name or Likeness

15. Plaintiff incorporates herein by reference all of the averments of paragraphs 1 through 9 with like force and effect as though set forth in full herein.

16. Defendants did knowingly and without remorse misappropriate the name and likeness of the defendant for their own material gain and without any consideration for compensation or redress of the plaintiff.

17. The aforementioned misappropriation was so rampant and unmitigated that the plaintiff’s likeness is now considered the 14th most recognizable brand on Earth, following such other noted marks and likenesses as the Nike “swoosh”, the McDonald’s arches and the name, voice and likeness of Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana.

Count III

Defamation

18. Plaintiff incorporates herein by reference all of the averments of paragraphs 1 through 10 with like force and effect as though set forth in full herein.

19. The defendants made outrageous, indefensible and untrue claims about the plaintiff including their continued insistence that he “hated homosexuals,” “hated Jews,” “damned fornicators,” and “wanted a Republican in the White House.”

20. The defendants’ conduct, as described above, was intentional and reckless.

21. The defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous. The defendants intended to harm plaintiff Jesus Christ and besmirch his personal beliefs.

22. The defendants’ conduct has caused severe emotional and physical distress to the plaintiff.

23. The conduct of the defendants has been sufficiently outrageous as to entitle plaintiff to an award of punitive damages. In addition, the plaintiff would like a notarized letter of apology, on official letterhead, from each of the parties named in the above complaints.

YAWEH, NINEVAH AND GREEN LLP

                                                            By: ________________________________

Harvey J. Green, Esq.
14 Temple Square
Suite 7777
San Francisco, CA 94102

Driving with Fire Sauce

[flash fiction]

The color red possesses terrific power. Take a pair of scissors and cut something open: a pillow. Even though pillow stuffing is usually white, if you cut with a certain style and vigor, you will see red. Put this into a political context. Assuming you’re dealing with people who aren’t color blind, senile, or impotent, you can make quite a statement simply by donning a ruby red tie. If you speak with the right amount of zest, any tie you like can turn red right before their eyes. Meanwhile, in the bedroom, everything is slightly tinged red during passionate moments, even in the dark.

Nicodemus K. Bhatt bought his first red car when he turned 18. This purchase was altogether innocent. It involved his parents’ money and he didn’t even want a red car. He just wanted a convertible. When he found a used Volkswagen Cabrio, it fit the bill: it was cheap. It was also dazzlingly, brilliantly, bloodily red. His mom was suspicious but his dad conceded approval, vaguely laying the matter to rest in stating that Volkswagens have good engines.

One day, while waiting at a red light, Nicodemus caught the eye of the driver in front of him when she glanced into her rear view mirror. Over the next fifteen seconds, he caught her eye three more times. At first, he wondered uncomfortably if he had instigated this little exchange. Thinking for a moment, he realized that, in fact, she had started it. Still, was he the perpetuator?—Again, no! Every time, her eyes jumped up first!

And so he decided to follow her. Why the hell not? Maybe that’s what she wanted. Alternatively, maybe it’s what he wanted. Even better!

For the rest of the afternoon, he dedicated himself to following anyone who looked at him funny. This turned out to be quite an extraordinary number of people. They weren’t just women, either. Queer looks came from everyone: men, children, whole families, police officers, dogs … and he followed all of them, one after the other until the chase became boring or unbearably awkward.

Calling it quits after a few hours, he was sitting in the drive-thru line at Taco Bell when the driver behind him caught his eye. This time, the role was reversed: he was the clear instigator. It took him three glances into his rear view mirror to realize and appreciate: the car behind him, a newer model Honda Civic … was red.

“Any sauce?” asked the girl at the fast-food window.

“Yes, please.”

“Mild, Hot, or Fire?”

“Fire, thank you.”

During his drive home, he couldn’t help checking his mirrors frequently and with unusual concern. Red cars kept appearing out of nowhere. He spilled hot sauce all over his jeans and wiped it up and down the steering wheel. Fully aware of the irony of the situation, and totally against his better judgment, he swore he was being followed at every turn.

Peter ClarkePeter Clarke studied psychology and philosophy at Western Washington University and recently completed his law degree at the University of the Pacific. He currently plays in rock bands and writes while trying to not be a lawyer. His short fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Curbside Splendor, Western Press Books, Hobart, Elimae, The Legendary, Zygote in My Coffee, and elsewhere. Native to Port Angeles, Washington, he presently resides in Sacramento, California.

Letter of Resignation

[flash fiction]

To:
Doctor Galen Alber
Dean of the Occupational Sciences Department
Ledford University

Doctor Alber—

I do not regret to inform you that I refuse to work with you any longer on your repulsive project. No need to lecture me about the consequences of this decision; I’m happy to withdraw from my research appointment in addition to the University. While my career prospects would be much better with a degree earned under your tutelage, you’ve crossed the line.

Doctor Alber, you have no conscience, so you won’t care about the reasons I’m quitting. I include them because I have a conscience.

  • It’s one thing to pump small quantities of mint aroma into an office building’s air supply. The research has concluded that it’s harmless. However, I can no longer fudge the numbers to justify our work on the development of airborne amphetamine.
  • Mass-producing a melanine-activated memory blocker to make people forget their children during daytime hours? That’s just evil.
  • I agree: computer solitaire is a time-drain. Shame on you, however, for using aversion therapy to force people to break the habit. The Taser-equipped laser mouse used to deliver the charge is a yoke that no worker should be forced to bear.

You’ve said so many times that the Project will change the world by increasing worker productivity, but I have my morals. I won’t take another dime of your dirty money. The worst part is that you think you’re such a good employer. Just because you make coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning doesn’t make you our friend. You brag about your recipes, touting the benefits of the “secret ingredient,” but everyone agrees that they taste just like anything you can get at a Starbucks or a grocery store. None of us would even be able to tell the difference!

I QUIT.

Right after I spend the next few weeks finishing up the double-blind Loyaltrex® human trials.

Well, then I need to figure out what’s wrong with that bladder-strengthening enzyme that eliminates the need for employer-subsidized bathroom breaks. (After all, those mice really shouldn’t be dying; and the look of horror that distorts their faces as they expire could be a PR problem.)

Oh, and I’ll have to clean the laboratory bathrooms properly before I leave; I think I left a spot in the rightmost sink last time.

With anything but respect,

Jessica Rademacher

Kenneth Nichols earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Ohio State University.  He teaches writing at two colleges in Central New York and is the creator of the writing craft web site Great Writers Steal, accessible at www.greatwriterssteal.com.

Mad Dog

[flash fiction]

I believe God thinks in numbers. Most of what I know best can be described with an equation, numbers predicting an outcome, relating the position, velocity, acceleration and various forces acting on a body of mass, and state this relationship as a function of time. And isn’t that what we are, what everything is: accelerated particles in space time?

And this velocity of motion is what creates gravity and holds everything together. But what creates the motion? I think about this shit all the time. Until I feel like I only know one thing: nothing.

I sat out on the grass and opened a bottle of Mad Dog 20-20. Drank it to the bottom, sucked it in like a black hole swallowing light. Alcohol goes through the brain in stages, first the cerebral cortex, the thinking brain. A friendlier, more daring person emerges, and becomes ever more creative, imaginative, as the drug continues deeper into the brain. Last to go is the limbic brain. That’s when you go numb.

I got ultimate this night, left the past, present, and flew into my future. It was brilliant, until in the morning, when I stared into the eyes of a cop. I realized I had evolved, I was homeless. Passed out on the lawn, I had merged my present into my future and lost the past. I had become what I refused to change. There are no corners in a round expanding infinite universe. But I had turned one.

David SwykertDJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Alpha Wolves, and The Death of Anyone. You can find him at www.magicmasterminds.com He is a wolf expert.

The Fur of My Insecurities

[flash fiction] 

It happened in a chocolatier in Barcelona called Xococ or a word equally as distressing on the jaw. We were selecting caramel squares like they were prayers or baby names. Glossy chocolate squares stuffed in a satin-lined box.

My mind draws a blank of the next four or five minutes. I know we were halfway to the register when our purchase was interrupted.  You wandered off, in search of a bathroom or a bottle of water, or to stretch your legs—I can’t recall which. It had to have been for water. We never left each other’s side during vacations, but I nodded okay.

Moments later, I found myself circling a plaza, killing time, stifling my panic. After eight empty minutes of skimming the crowd, my face started to tense, hot vulnerability pooling in my eyes. This was our last vacation, but it wasn’t in the cards for you to leave me so unceremoniously in Spain. Three years together could not end with almost chocolates—promises abandoned in a jewelry box. The names of our children rotted with sugar and our carelessness.

We didn’t carry phones abroad nor had we created an emergency plan. I didn’t have a hotel key on me and my fragmented mind could not recall our hotel name or the direction back. If you returned, I vowed to ask for a key, to never be this helpless again.

Four times I passed a bare flagpole, frowned at the green elephant graffiti marking a wall, and bargained with a fictitious deity. I was parched, too, but I would never have wandered off, alone.

I had time to purchase postcards but I feared you’d never find me if I ducked into a shop. Rectangular pictures depicting happiness could wait for another time. The bang of my loneliness echoed against the flagpole; my fraught face transposed itself onto a scribbled green elephant. The dyslexic sign of the chocolatier intimidated me—a word my tongue and brain could not team up to pronounce. The shopkeeper, her hand resting on our selections, peered at me through the window as I lapped around the pavement. We’ll be right back, I almost insisted to the wind. The word we mutating into warped jeers. I scanned the sparse crowd for your flyaway black hair, that outward gait of yours, but everyone’s legs excluded me, turned inward in their own monogamy.

Finally tired of pacing, I leaned against the flagpole. Cold metal greeted my spine. Teenagers in high-tops laughed at each other, jangling coins and belt chains. My breathing hopscotched with questions of how long I could stand here or stand still. From behind a nun’s habit, your carefree smile came into focus, your llama expression of ease. I told myself to stay quiet, not to call out to you in desperation, not to spill my soupy tears. You approached me nonchalantly and asked me where to next. I tilted my chin toward you and suggested the Picasso Museum. Chilled from the pole, I’m sure you noticed the quiver in my answer. Sure, you said. But first you suggested I pose by the elephant graffiti. You were new to me then, aiming a camera as I posed by the scrawled animal outline. My lipstick photographed as a berry, ghostly ring and I v-ed my fingers into the peace sign.

Almost immediately we slipped back into our normal selves in Picasso’s presence, discussing his pencil sketches and planning our evening meal: oysters and foreign soda. At nightfall we meandered back to our hotel, enjoying the air of a new city while ignoring the ominous echo of our boots on cobblestone.

In a month, I’d find you sleeping on the floor of our living room back in New York. Straddling your chest, I’d arc my face inches from yours and end our relationship. You’d refuse to believe me at first and later I’d refuse to accept how quickly you found my replacement. I had to break my own heart, arrange the words like impossible koans, because you had no idea my attachment to you. You regarded me loosely like a fleeting whim, but in Barcelona I could hardly wait out your brief intermission for water.

Ursula Villareal MouraUrsula Villarreal-Moura was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in CutBank, Emerson Review, NAP, Toska, Black Heart Magazine, Van Duzer, and elsewhere. She contributes book reviews to The Fiddleback, Necessary Fiction, and Nib Magazine and is an assistant editor for Cream City Review. Follow her on Twitter: @ursulaofthebook.