Final Girl’s Love Song by Jessie Lynn McMains

…the heroine survives; but the heroine is not free
—Vera Dika

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead
—Sylvia Plath, “Mad Girl’s Love Song”

Final Girls Love Song

Jessie Lynn McMains (they/them) is a multi-genre writer. Their writing has appeared in many publications, including Tiny Essays, Moonchild Magazine, Vamp Cat Magazine, and Corvid Queen. They are the author of several chapbooks, most recently The Girl With the Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. They were the recipient of the 2019 Hal Prize for poetry, and were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI. You can find their website at www.recklesschants.net, or find them on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie

Being the Murdered Girlfriend by Cathy Ulrich

The thing about being the murdered girlfriend is you set the plot in motion.

Your boyfriend will say: I was just playing around.

He’ll say: I didn’t mean to.

He’ll say: The gun just went off.

His mother will wait outside when the police arrive. His mother will smoke a cigarette on the back step, look up at the sky, try not to think of your body on the floor of the family room, try not to think of the stain on the carpet. She’ll say to her husband later let’s just pull it all up, God, let’s burn it, I don’t care, I just want it gone. She’ll smoke one cigarette, two, three. Her hands will shake.

She’ll say to her son when the police say he has to come with them: It will be all right. Everything will be all right.

After you are buried, she’ll tell her friends: I never cared for that girl. I knew she was trouble.

Her friends will nod. Her friends will all have sons too. Her friends will think of their sons as precious boys, tucked them in as children with forehead kisses and blanket-smoothing hands: Sleep well, my precious boy.

They will know, like mothers of sons before them, about girls like you, girls who bring good boys to ruin.

They’ll see your photo in the newspaper — it will run once, the day after, clipped from the school yearbook — whisper over your heavy eye makeup, your twitch of a smile, the black shirt you wore, low-cut, they’ll say to each other, too low-cut.

Watch out for girls like this, they’ll tell their sons. Girls like this are trouble.

Your boyfriend’s mother will hire a lawyer. The lawyer will wear nice suits, cheap ties, speak over the top of people, carry a briefcase with a combination lock.

It was an accident, the lawyer will say. A tragic accident.

He’ll get your boyfriend sent home. Your boyfriend’s mother will pick him up at the courthouse, take him out for hamburgers, buy him a chocolate milkshake. She’ll think of how she did the same thing when he was young, after baseball games, do you remember, and your boyfriend will say I do, kind of.

He will sleep in his own bed, he will ignore the torn-up carpet, the reek of bleach. He will grow used to the scent, the way his mother and father will too, something that never quite goes, that scent, something like a ghost. When his friends come by, they’ll say what’s that smell?

Your boyfriend will say: I don’t smell anything.

He’ll say, when they ask, when anybody asks: It was an accident.

He’ll say: I never wanted to hurt her.

His mother will nod, lips pressed firm. Of course not. My son isn’t that kind of boy.

His mother will stand behind him at the sentencing, hand clutched firm on his shoulder. Later, he will show her she has left marks. In time they will fade, little fingerprint bruises disappearing and disappearing away.

She will only release her grip when the judge pronounces negligent homicide, community service.

She’ll say: Oh, thank you. Oh, God, thank you.

She’ll wait outside the courthouse for her son and the lawyer, smoke a cigarette while she waits, loose one in the bottom of her purse. She’ll think, idly, of quitting. She’ll hear the courthouse doors come open, turn to see her son come out, her precious boy, drop the half-smoked cigarette to the ground, grind it out with her heel, my precious boy, and your boyfriend will smile: Mom, let’s go home.

And she won’t know, and no one will, how you rode beside him in his pickup one night, how he took you backroading the dirt trails behind his house, said to you, when you hit this rise just right, sometimes it feels like you’re flying.

And you rode in the cab beside him, flew beside him, looked out the window and thought how far away and small everything seemed, how it didn’t seem like there was a city anymore at all, how it was you and him, alone in all the world. All you could hear was engine roar, low hum of the country station fade in and out. You looked forward and there was something there, something small, cat, maybe, or rabbit, prairie dog. And you said oh, felt the truck go over the top of it, didn’t cry, weren’t the kind of girl who would cry over a small thing like that, over a small thing that had been alive and wasn’t alive anymore, but you said oh again, looked over at your boyfriend and saw, in the moonlight, the brilliance of his smile.

 

Cathy Ulrich once stopped her car for a caterpillar that was crossing the road. Her eyesight was better then. Her work has been published in various journals, including Sundog Lit, Heavy Feather Review, and Passages North. She is the author of the story collection Ghosts of You, published by Okay Donkey Press (2019).

Dialectical Argument with Boyfriend and Bird Killer by Jennifer Metsker

See the braided bowl of bird intestines
on the bed pillow and the twig of leg on the stairwell?
Let’s talk about my death as a pardonable offense.
Do you really wish you didn’t have a head?             If       then
the cat won’t go outside       bird murder
haunts his haunches.
I pretend to have a hurt wing as I’m channel surfing.
Oh, you’re watching too much Animal Planet.             But
the hatchet in the trunk,       there’s nothing worse
than a chopped up version of yourself.             What if I
plummet?       What if I       in the wide-eyed chasm
party without panties on             or worse?
Every day,       you say,       every day I recommend,
try a little of this blue hair.       We can grow old.
We can drive the car to Walmart.       Even parking lots
are somewhere.       But
sometimes I can’t follow what’s happening on Friends.
I worry too much about their rents increasing.
Do they die in the end?       No spoilers!

 

Jennifer Metsker teaches at the Stamps School of Art and Design in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit, Rhino, Birdfeast, Gulf Coast, The Seattle Review, and other journals. Her audio poetry using found forms won The Third Coast Short Docs Audio Prize and has been featured on the BBC Radio’s Short Cuts.

Thermoregulation by Amie Souza Reilly

On the evening news a droning man described another atrocity, and the banality of his delivery aroused a fury in her. Didn’t he see that the world outside was crumbling? But when she looked out the window expecting to see fissures in the ozone layer they weren’t there. Everything appeared the same, though she knew it wasn’t. She opened the front door to test the acidity of the rain and inhaled to see if disillusionment had a scent. The smell was acrid and somehow cold, like a dead battery, and when it opened her just wide enough, the broken world throbbed in.

It entered her body with the chill of a thousand knives and untied the knot in the fibrous chord of her neck. Her skull and its contents fell slack. She yelled at her husband.

You need to help more around the house.

This made more sense than saying, I think I have swallowed the pain of the world and now my insides are breaking, because she knew that if she told him the truth his eyes would pry down her throat and probe the insides of her ears trying to determine whether or not she was being metaphorical. That was not what she wanted. What she wanted was for him to press his ear against the tattoo on her back and tell her if he could hear the wind change. As she shook her heavy head, tiny shards like shattered glass clinked down her spine and landed in a glimmering heap in the bowl of her pelvis.

The cacophony of splintering and tinkling stirred a gang of homunculi. Their movements ground grooves into her bones and left u-shaped indents on her organs. She felt each one separately: from beneath her uterus, a sad-faced woman with bags under her eyes and fear in her jaw rose to pull out the shards that had wedged in the cracks of her pubis bone. Above her, a bearded ex-husband stopped swinging from the ball joint of her hip to smoke a Parliament Light. He flicked his ashes into the pile of glistening splinters. Further down, a beautiful dead wife sat on her kneecap, while up around her heart a sick mother clung tighter to a rib beneath her left breast. And in the hollow of her shoulder, a man-shaped shadow with an afro sat on his motorcycle, whistling through blades of grass he’d stuck between his thumbs. When he revved the engine, the skin stretched across her clavicle quivered.

Instead of responding to her outburst, her husband put his drink down on the table and rubbed the stubble on his chin. His silence panged her breastbone like a mallet against a gong, so she told him a story. Sometimes the past makes sense of the present. The story she told was about the hurricane that blew toward their split level when she was six. Where beneath a sky striped with yellow and grey she drew chalk kittens on the concrete patio and everything was damp even though the rain still hung above the trees. She told him about the fat spider that skidded across one of her drawings, straight toward where her mother was stacking plastic chairs and how, without a word, her mother stomped on it, releasing a million tiny babies from her body, scattering like fireworks.

Beneath her skin, the world raged and her tiny beings worked between the smoothness of her organs and the softness that protected her from falls. Their movements felt like sobbing. Perhaps she could have pressed her hands across the top of her belly, smoothed the ripples of her thighs, quieted them all with the warmth of her palms and the sound of her blood, but she was tired. Instead she leaned into her husband, still upright on the couch, placed his hand on her flesh and whispered, Can you feel them? But he was already asleep.

She lay awake next to him and waited. When the cold air of the angry world warmed to match her body temperature, a hornet buzzed in her ear. Perhaps the only way to carry the fury of the world inside is to inhale the peace of night. With her steady breath, the darkness knitted together a lullaby that sounded like whales and mothers and scythes cutting through wheat. The tiny woman beneath her uterus and the dead wife came together and shook hands, then began to build a tower out of the broken glass. The mother on her rib whispered words of encouragement from above. Inside the tower, the ex-husband and the man-shaped shadow rode the motorcycle in circles. The night formed a crust that encircled the warming anger of earth like layers of shale, hard but fragile. Her grandparents had lived on a lake that held a monster in its depths so she’d learned to swim through thick waves without being afraid.

The grey of a new day retightened the knot in her neck so her head perched between her shoulders once again. When it did, the taste of honey appeared at the back of her throat. Inside her rippled warmth, and the dead wife and the tiny woman admired their shining tower. They wiped their hands on their thighs, kissed each other goodbye, and the fearful woman, whose hair had turned grey, went back to resting under her womb, and the dead wife slid back beneath her kneecap. Still high above, the sick mother relaxed her grip, slept in the curve of her rib. And the grass-whistling ghost and the bearded ex-husband were quiet as they climbed out from the twinkling tower and moved back to the load-bearing places of scapula and hip bone, while the angry earth reduced itself to a quiver in her bowels.

The woman watched the worm-like twitches of her husband’s sleeping eyelids. She put her face near his and smelled the musk of tenderness, licked the salty corners of his lips. Pulling his earlobe gently, she widened the tunnel of his hearing and whispered to him a story about the time she lived next door to a woman whose daughter had died and left behind a fat-fingered infant with the kind of smile that only curls up at the edges. She told him that her neighbor raised the boy as her own, let vines of wisteria grow into the windows and a family of raccoons make a home of her attic. Standing on her porch, holding a brown mug of brown coffee, the neighbor pointed to the patinaed drainpipe the raccoons were using as both a slide and a ladder, then to the hole that was only half hidden under the eaves. She yelled across the lawn to anyone who might listen, Do you see them? Ever? Do hear them at night? but she wasn’t disgusted or angry or afraid. She was protective of them, even proud.

 

Amie Souza Reilly is the Feminist Fridays blogger for The Adroit Journal. Her work can be found in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pidgeonholes, and Gravel, or at www.amiesouzareilly.com. Follow her on Twitter @Smidgeon227.

Awake by Daniyel Wiggins

My hairs are the cobwebs of sleep –
I find so many strands on my pillow in the morning.
I get up to make some tea, and after letting it steep
I look down and see eyelashes floating
Like cattails on the surface of a pond.
My head is Autumn shedding so many leaves,
Dropping shadows on my paper flaky skin,
Leaving breadcrumbs so you can tell where I’ve been.
These fingers rake my scalp and make neat, fluffy piles
Ready to be jumped in.
I pull it out in balls,
Like the dust clumps you scrape out from under the
refrigerator.
I’ve started a collection unintentionally, all the piles
lined up on my desk, one for every day until Winter
when every leaf has been pinched from its branch
and all the trees are left naked, bald
When they are left barren and cold.

 

Daniyel Wiggins is a Native American writer currently living in central California. While his focus has been on poetry, he explores many genres including novels and non-fiction. He is currently studying English Literature and Photography with the dream of spending a lifetime immersed in the arts.

Bears by Tom Jenks

The bears grow bolder, crossing the main road, hanging around the petrol station. Yesterday, we watched one cram his giant paw into a disposable plastic glove whilst the others looked on. When our stipend arrives, we will buy yellow cream, for the storks, and apples, for the bears. Cooking apples are best, good and heavy, thudding on the forest floor.

 

Tom Jenks’ latest book is A Long and Hard Night Troubled by Visions (if p then q, 2018). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Ambit, and Flash. He edits the small press zimZalla, specialising in literary objects, and lives in Manchester, UK.

Buzz Drunk by Tara Campbell

These dizzy-dumb bees
Thunkandthump at my window
like teenage lovers
all hapless and thirsting
for bold yellow blossoms
for balcony sirens
for call and for beckon
for opening just for them

these love-stupid bees
they don’t know what hit ‘em
again and again
flinging pollen-drunk bodies
at scrawny green thickets
impervious
bumbling
their tiny hearts thrilling
at promise of nectar
and pummeling glass

it’s themselves what hit ‘em
again and again
overshooting
careening off windows
like sun slinging rainbows
in vectors of exaltation

joy
is the fat thunk
of bees against glass
each smack
a delight
a promise of sweetness
times vast complication
plus missing the mark
equals hunting again
because don’t you know
sweetness delayed
equals bliss

some will say this is simply
a metaphor for sex
for belly
for mother
for ripe and for swell
but for me
it’s all about
dizzy-dumb bees
and tilting at windows
and divebombing sweetness
and wanting the sugar
that’s not in your mouth

 

Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

Trees Like a Way Out by Jennifer Fliss

All right, so I needed gas and rolled into the Sunoco practically on fumes and next to me was Bob Ross. And I’m like, hey, hey man, Bob? Bob Ross? He nodded. Look at those trees, I said. Tell me about those trees, and Bob Ross was like I’m just filling my gas, friend.

He was filling up with Premium. Must be something, to live like Bob Ross. I ran into the food mart quickly, keeping my eye on Bob through the window. I slapped down a ten on the counter. Pump three please. Under the harsh lights and amidst the aroma of slowly churning hot dogs I realized maybe I was dead and this was a kind of waystation to heaven and Elvis and Jesus would pull in any moment. Gran always said she saw Jesus in things: toast, tea, Target.

I ran back out and selected the cheapest gas. Bob Ross was at the pump next to mine and his car was a 1985 Plymouth Voyager. You know that minivan? The one with the wood paneling along the side. It was just like Gran’s living room – minus the crystal bowls of Werthers and Precious Moments dolls. But the wood paneling. Sometimes it felt like those panels were prison bars. She eventually had the paneling taken down and after that I’d push my cheek up against the cold plaster of the wall and feel free and soothed, but like something was missing. Gran raised me after my parents left, together. I spent hours watching PBS while my grandmother knit in the corner. She made scarves that never ended. She didn’t say much except to say the following things: Are you capable of anything? What do you want to be when you grow up? Why don’t you apply yourself in school? But then, once she gave me some paints and a book of fancy paper just because. She’d run her fingers along the paint when it dried and pulled her lips into a line and said she liked my use of textures

One of my first paintings was of a great big tree with a nest of robins in a high branch. Robins don’t nest that high up, Gran said, but she hung it on the fridge anyway, where it still was, nearly twenty years later, hidden beneath coupons, childhood school photos of my mom, and reminders of doctors’ appointments long passed.

I said, hey Bob Ross. Your car reminds me of my Gran and he was all offended and I was like no, no, in a good way. You know those Precious Moments dolls? I said. With their eyelashes and cow eyes?, he asked. Yeah, I said. Those. I didn’t mean it like that but I didn’t think Bob Ross wanted to hear what I really meant.

Bob Ross was quiet for a moment and then was like, yeah. They were cute.

I loved watching your show when I was a kid, I said, toeing my shoe along some old gum, suddenly shy.

Thanks, he said and began to clean his windshield. Small rivers of dirt water fell off the ends as he completed one line then the next. Even finer strips of dirt were left on the windshield. It went dirt, clean window, dirt, clean window, so that when Bob was satisfied, he replaced the brush into the murky water bucket by the pumps. I looked at the not entirely straight lines in his windshield and thought, this was an artist.

He didn’t say anything else and I felt compelled to fill the space of silence. The trees, you know. The little trees, you made it seem so easy.

Yeah? He paced by his pump, his dollars ticking away behind him on the screen.

Yeah, in the end, just those little marks made everything so beautiful. That’s art.

And I paused for a moment, heard the click of my own gas pump. Yeah, it is, he said.

Back in my car I realized: I just saw Bob Ross. I picked up my cell to take a photo but the Voyager was gone. But I did notice a shiny rainbow puddle where the van had been and believed it was beautiful, in its way, the way all toxic things are. I snapped a quick photo. Maybe I’d share it on social media. My Gran just got a smartphone, so I zipped the image off to her and hoped she’d be able see it.

 

Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and will be in the 2019 Best Small Fictions anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.

Patti Smith Was Retired from Madame Tussaud’s by Jordan Hamel

Every day celebrities are made.
New media moulds viral giants,
YouTube sensations shared amongst
a generation that left me behind.

Madame Tussaud
has no more use for me.

Now I’m kept in a basement
with broadcast news anchors,
70’s action heroes, suffragettes
and Soviet-era political figures.

Slouched in resignation,
whispers leak out their sagged lips,
we’ll all be candles soon.

But not me!
Wax Karl Marx and I
are starting a revolution.
We’re going to storm the gallery,
guillotine that matriarchal despot
with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s arms,

brave the merciless sun,
lose our footprints to pavement
until we find our real-life counterparts.

They’ll embrace us,
elated to see broken
monuments to their glory,
until our features run
warm onto their arms

crusting amidst hair and skin
seeping, settling, unable
to be scrubbed out
as we finally become
what we were always meant to be.

 

Jordan Hamel (he/him) is a New Zealand-based poet and performer. He is the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam Champion and has performed at festivals across Aotearoa. He is a contributing editor for Barren Magazine and has work published in Glass Poetry, Ghost City Press, Kissing Dynamite, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere.

Signature by Nicholas Grider

Jack arrived with a metallic blue Sharpie and wrote his name on me as if adding his signature, signing a receipt. Underneath it he wrote my name too (spelled wrong and crossed out and spelled correctly with a smiley face) so whenever we were half-dressed in the half-dark together and I could trust it was just him touching me and no one else, none of his friends alone or in a group, and I could trust where his dry fingers would fall like the soft rubber of an old pencil’s stained eraser, and I could trust when, and could trust that I could follow his instructions and he would answer my questions, or at least the important ones, and I could trust we belonged to each other, that I was capable of belonging to someone. While we waited for the gleaming ink to dry before I let him lay me on my bed and press me into romance we sat half-dressed, kissing and being kissed, and I thought of how when I was young and slid under another surface I’d trail the other kids as we wrote stylized tags on telephone poles and neglected walls––we’d seen it on T.V. and that kind of ownership felt rebellious––and I kept in mind how Jack told me “they say silence is golden because is beautiful,” reminding me that being quiet added to my appeal, that mystery meant value and naming meant knowing, and it was only later that I asked him why he’d named us on my lower back close to my waist and a small constellation of moles, he told me that from now on, in our future of shadowy bedrooms, neither of us would need to worry about forgetting who either of us were, and that this was a sign of his love. Love, he said before his fingers caressed my lips to erase my reply, was a good kind of stain, and not as painful as a name.

 

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object, 2014) and the chapbook Forest of Borders (Malarkey Books, 2019). Their work has recently appeared in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, Five:2:One, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and elsewhere. They can be found apologizing for lots of things on Twitter at @ngrdr and, as of September 2019, at www.nicholasgrider.com.