She Is a Battleground

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nancy Au

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

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

Sleight of Hand

[fiction]

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

—Check this out.

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

—What is it?

—Open it.

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

—That’s disgusting!

—Where’d you get it?

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

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

Falk laughs at him over his shoulder.

—Or what? You’ll tell your father?

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

—You should give it back.

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

—All right, here.

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

 

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

Disco

[fiction]

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

 

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

 

Switzerland

[creative nonfiction]

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Photo by Forever Studios, Boca Raton, FL

1964

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Bitch-not-Witch

[fiction]

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

“Den…” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The Walt Longmire of IT Guys

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

 

John Meyers

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

The Blessed Bangle

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

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

*     *     *

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

Leela simply stopped the Pill.

 

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

Walmart Holiday Shopping

[creative nonfiction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know. Out there somewhere.”

Isn’t this where I’ll be?

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

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

 

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

 

 

Screaming in the Heisenberg Wind

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

K.D. Rose

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

Scrap Art

[creative nonfiction]

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

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

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

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

 

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

Blan-Manzhe with the Taste of Pear and Cream

[fiction]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Photo by Maria Zilberburg