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.