Wild Hairs by Tomas Marcantonio

“You see those sparkles on the water? There, where the sun catches the crests of the ripples? They set my blood alight.”

I make an effort with the reaction. Less a laugh and more a heavy exhalation, but it’s polite enough. She’s still looking at me.

“Look at this,’ she says, taking the lighter off the wooden table. She opens a flame, holding it in front of me. ‘Imagine your blood’s laced with paraffin and I hold this to it.’

“It’d hurt,” I say, trying to smile.

She shakes her head. “It’d rip right through you. You could cower and shrink into the corner, or you could charge like a flaming phoenix into the air.”

I smile and thumb at the condensation on my beer glass. I never know what to say when she talks like this.

“You’ve no idea, do you?” she says. She looks back at the water, at the progress of the yachts, sails up before the horizon. “Don’t you wanna get out there? Doesn’t it make you want to do something? Look at that peak,” she demands. I do what she says. The cars are scrolling past on the bridge, the mountain green behind it. “What do you think when you see that peak?’

“It looks good,” I say. I wish I could say more, but I don’t know what she wants.

This time she’s visibly frustrated. “Let’s hike it,” she says, her eyes fixed on mine.

“When? Today? I thought you just wanted to chill.”

She rolls her eyes. “Fine, tomorrow, whenever. I just want to get to the top of that mountain.” She looks away at it. “I wanna rip my way to the top like a clawed beast, then stand there and crow and look down at the water. And then roar, and shout, and throw a frisbee from the peak and watch it sail across the water.”

I shrug. “We can do it if you want.”

Her chin goes down, her jaw clenched. This isn’t going to last. I start to wonder if this will be our last day together. I take a sip of the beer.

“It said on your profile you liked to travel,” she says after a time.

“I do,” I say. “I did. I told you lots of my travel stories already. Africa and everything, remember?”

She runs a finger around the rim of her glass. “And now your wild hairs have fallen out.”

I look at her, but her eyes are on the ocean again. “What?”

“Your wild hairs. You had them, and now they’ve fallen out. Your peacock feathers. You plucked them and threw them behind you like a trail of crumbs, and you think that’s enough.”

I start thinking how I can end this amiably.

“Let’s swim,” she says. “Now, right now. Let’s charge into the water like golden pups.”

I pick up my drink again. She’s been getting more like this every date.

“What is it?” she says. “What’s holding you back? There’s something, isn’t there?”

“You mean why don’t I want to swim? A dozen reasons.”

She smiles. “Wow. You’re riled. I can see that you’re riled now. It’s taken long enough. There’s never more than one reason. Give me the real reason.”

I look around.

“Give me the real reason,” she says again. “Stop making stuff up in your head. Give me the reason you won’t go swimming right here, right now, with the water sparkling like that.”

“There’s all these people here.”

She looks at me and nods. “Yeah. So what?”

“No one else is swimming.”

“Yep. No one else. You a sheep?”

I don’t say anything.

“Can I ask you something, Mark? When did it all stop being exciting for you? When did you start caring so much about what everyone thinks?”

I can’t answer. I can’t answer because I don’t know.

“Goodbye, Mark.”

She stands and finishes the last gulps of her beer, drops it back into the condensation puddle on the table. She walks onto the sand and strips down to her underwear, runs into the water, screaming like a banshee. The people on the other tables are watching her, smiling.

I watch her from the safety of my chair. Wild hairs. Yes, damn it, I used to have wild hairs too. I used to have them all over. I had balls of electricity on the tip of my tongue. Golden fireworks fizzing through my toes. Where did they all go?

Maybe I burned them all out. Maybe I was too pleased with myself, let myself off the hook. Yes. I stopped trying. Trying to scare myself. Scare away the anxiety.

I stand. I feel the eyes on me. My heart’s going like a damn stampede. Horses’ hooves churning up the ground with their lucky metal shoes. I usually try to slow them down, herd them into the shadows, sling on their blinkers. But maybe I’ve been hiding too long. I close my eyes for a moment, imagine pulling out the starter’s gun. Hold it into the air. Bang. Now they’re thundering into the home straight, and I’m riding every damn one of them. Standing on their backs with my hands in the air and my wild hairs on end. Yes, it’s been a while.

I charge into the water. Dive, and the cold engulfs me. Crystal awakening, a rebirth in ice. I feel the salt on my lips, the sting of the sun in my eyes. Too damn long.

She swims over to me, hair plastered over her face. We float, face to face. She has the mountain behind her, the sea, and I want it all. I want to gobble it all up and tear it to shreds.

“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” she says.

I nod.

“It’s not my job to put you together again.”

I nod again. And smile. I lick my lips and taste the salt on them. It tastes much better than I ever remembered.

 

Tomas Marcantonio is a fiction writer from Brighton, England. He has been published in various journals and anthologies, most recently Ellipsis Zine, Firefly Magazine, Storgy, and The Fiction Pool. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom.

Desireé Panda and the Lee Van Cleefs by Tracy Lynne Oliver

A murder dinner for beckoning. Let’s have a grave way with phonics. Let’s tangle bright inside one another. Holding forks, holding knives.

Come out from behind my mother’s skirts. Take a bow between us. We’ll hold hands like she’s not even there. Like how she’s never been there. Be my kind. Be what I have been.

Have you versed before?

Have you come inside someone you wanted to become?

In a special way, you have visited me; an errant balloon, a dusty seascape, a scraped knee with edible scab. I have yearned to taste your footskin, too full on my own. Let’s rub each other’s heads in the dark. Let’s torture a young boy together. You go first, and then I will go first.

In a leftover summer dark where I don’t matter, you will get mud-wet with drown. I will take my feather petticoats into the depths for you. I will scoop you with my arms. I will embrace your travesty, lay you before your mother, kiss your gloated, dead mouth barfing fish.

Let’s all be horrified.

 

Tracy Lynne Oliver is attempting to make a new name for herself in this writing game. Check out her website: tracylynneoliver.com or just follow her on Twitter @T_L_OLIVER.

Teethings by Deena Lilygren

I’m on my front lawn, undressing Barbies and exposing their breasts to passing cars. I’m the neighborhood pervert, but no one notices. Ten years later, a more advanced neighborhood pervert will expose himself to me on the street and I will be scolded by the police officer for laughing as I run away. That’s exactly what he wants, the officer will explain, and now, my laughter has encouraged his penis. Do I understand? I will think about my own disappointment when the cars had not gone careening off the road, or even slowed for my peep show and will tell the officer I do understand. Neither of us will be punished.

In fifth grade, I meet another neighborhood pervert, one of those sad latchkey kids from the news, born from worldly mothers and lacking discipline. She takes me down to her basement and teaches me about strippers, how they work on a pole and how their job is to take their clothes off very slowly. This is all news to me—thrilling news, to learn I’d had the right idea on my front lawn, after all—and I sit on the concrete floor watching her spin around the load-bearing pole, inching her shirt up over her bra. I don’t have a bra yet, so when it’s my turn I start with my belt, a clunky thing with a childish magnetic clasp. I leave the belt behind and later on the school bus, with the sunlight glinting on her Sunkist-colored hair, I’m reluctant to bring it up. I’m punished for the lost belt, but not the stripping.

***

I’m in my twin bed, kicking at Mother. Nightly, I wake just before midnight and yell out all the violence that’s collected in my body during the day. When my parents rush in, they’re frightened by the serrated edge of my screams. With that weapon, I savage the household peace. In the morning, they all hate me and I have to drink my juice from the glass with the Hamburglar on it, which Mother used to trap a spider that time. Father takes me to Pastor, who says a special prayer just in case.

***

I’m eating scrambled eggs. It’s Saturday morning and I am remarkably unpunished. My sisters are suspicious of this rare desegregation. They feel they are receiving mixed signals about my place in the family and stare at me as they chew the crust of their toast, searching for answers. Mother doesn’t answer questions. She neither gives time-outs nor instructs me to think about my choices. I am simply punished. Dr. Dobson says the adult must always win a power struggle and she has the stamina of a woman who as a girl carried water from a well and used an outhouse. I have the stamina of a prisoner in possession of a sizable library. The problem is that we’re too evenly matched. But she has the book with my name on it: STRONG WILLED CHILD.

***

Mother has news. She has read something interesting in Redbook magazine about how to more effectively discipline her children. Father is also intrigued. They are the two most dangerous people I know.

***

I’m whispering in class with Jenna, the kind of child punishments are made for. The very idea is a deterrent. She would never choose pain, or shame, or conflict. For me, punishment is always on the table to be weighed against the thing I want to do.

I watch out for Jenna because she seems younger than the others. She has a gray tooth and her hair is boy-short, brushed with vanilla. These shortcomings aside, she is eager to learn the roller skating routines I’ve choreographed. Verisimilitude is important to us both. I’ve heard about Olympian gymnasts’ harsh Eastern European coaches and she lets me scold her the way I imagine they do. I pinch her when she misses a turn and leave thumbprint-sized smudges of purple on her bare arms. But today, we are in school and Teacher is tired of our talking, so here we go to the front of the room to make a record of our behavior on the chalkboard. Jenna doesn’t bear this classroom disgrace nearly as well as she bears my abuse.

***

I’m in the kitchen corner, taking my punishment. The rule is that no part of my body touches any part of the wall. I begin with twenty minutes and Mother will add five minutes each time I ask about the time. This is the trick: I can’t stop asking. Soon, my sentence has swelled to twenty, forty, fifty-five. The timer only goes to sixty. With only the wallpaper in my scope, I am convinced that at my back the world has changed. My family has been raptured away and gangs of godless cannibals are casing the house right now, wiping their bloody handprints on my bedspread. Or worse, Mother is still here, and the stovetop timer has stopped. I’m growing like Alice. My shoes are beginning to pinch. They will discover me months too late, dressed in rags, shriveled in the kitchen corner like a dead cricket.

At one point, I’m left alone in the kitchen for two years.

***

I’m listening to Mother and Father discuss how to best punish me. The problem is the church. Mother wants me to go and learn how to be better, but Father doesn’t like how fun they have made things for children. When he was a child, church was being hung by a rope until your prayers became real. Sometimes, a snake was involved. They compromise. I go to church but am kept in the sanctuary to suffer through long, adult sermons I survive because Mother’s parenting, it turns out, has a loophole. Books, she believes, are written by men like Father, to improve and instruct mankind. While Pastor drones on, I think about the things I read in the books I’ve acquired: all the places women are willing to pull up their skirts—civil war-era plantations, suburban schools, apocalyptic compounds—the ways a witch might curse and then bless another witch, always with blood, the things men to do wind up in prison, and what they do once they’re inside. I never once look at the clock. I am becoming unpunishable.

***

Mother has read something else. She tells me that she has learned about night terrors from Reader’s Digest. How funny, she says, for such a misunderstanding to have occurred. It all makes sense now, she says, her voice light with relief. She has done a fine job, after all. Dr. Dobson didn’t account for night terrors. She will write him a letter in the morning.

***

Part of it is that I’m getting older, which means people, even Mother and Father, are more careful about discipline. Now that I’m older, I’ve discovered the double life of everyday objects: feathers, leather belts, almost any kind of fruit. This, of course, is how the concept of prison came about. The only way to punish sinners of a certain age is with boredom. Corporal punishment is too exciting.

Jenna doesn’t know about any of this. She’s been saving up. She’s hoarding bad behavior, as though she can hedge the future with twenty years of obedience. Obedience isn’t the same as sweetness, and I’m convinced that her one gray tooth is discolored with repressed screams. She’s never pledged me any kind of loyalty, but she has mine. I need to see how this ends. How terrible to be so unpunished for so long, forever waiting for the belt to strike.

 

Deena Lilygren lives, writes, and indulges her many obsessions in Louisville, Kentucky. She is an Associate Professor of English at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College. Her work has appeared in LEO WeeklyNew Southerner, and 94 Creations.

Louisiana Necropoem by Laetitia Burns

I float dry through the wet grave
a grief boat in the rain my dry eyes
polka dotted with flowers gray green gray
till they reach the bottom of the blackness

a grief boat in the rain my dry eyes
digging the narrow house, water rises
till they reach the bottom of the blackness
I mistake for an alligator by the pond

digging the narrow house, water rises
to tan carpet, mosquito hawk, troglodyte
I mistake for an alligator by the pond
I wonder if she went smoking to hell

on tan carpet, mosquito hawk, troglodyte
polka dotted with flowers green gray green
I wonder if she went smoking to hell
I float dry through the wet grave

 

Laetitia Burns has been writing poetry since the age of ten. She lives in Los Angeles and is the assistant of a famous Hollywood comedy writer. Her poetry is forthcoming in Tin House.

A Gun in the First Act by Scott Garson

I saw him working on his bicycle, and I watched from the window above. Just for no reason. Not because I was worried about him. Not because I was a person who might be sensitive to the parts of a moment for which there was no direct gaugethe parts, for example, which might have opened some door to premonition. I just happened to be there. In the window. I happened to see. He was doing some work on his bike, as I’ve said. The bike was upside-down. A wheel of the bike spun free in the air near his hand, tickety-tick. I don’t know if he didn’t know how to proceed or if there was something he lacked, but progress had ceased. He was out of solutions, for now. He circled the problem of the bike. I watched as he made of his thumb and two fingers a weaponhammer and barrel. I watched as he raised it. Steadied it, fired it into his temple. He made the hand jerk and recoil with the force of what it had accomplished. He made his mouth gape. It was like the mouth was the hole, and the sound coming outI knew there was soundwas just air, the gentle, hushing sound of air when it flows in new spaces.

 

Scott Garson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best of Small Fictions annual, The Three Penny Review, Conjunctions, The Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, and others.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “communist” as “one who speaks with ghosts” by Brian Dau

From their high places, the hawks stalk
toddlers and leer down at the ghost
of Marcus Aurelius screeching and
bubbling mad purple geometries,
chanted scars etched into young brains:
“I’m cicadas swarming, I’m flame,
I’m a four-and-a-half-hour erection!
I’m a rotted oak filigreed with vine,
I’m asteroid impact, I’m astral projection!”
He’s like this all the time. He pretends it’s falling
into water that shuts his eyes. The hawks
unblinking and him watching them back.
He gnaws a stalk of wheatgrass. He says
“Being dead is as stoic as you can get,”
and the way he says it sounds like a threat.
The raptors chorus and pick
off the smallest and sickly
as the children riot and disperse.
See? Things are never as bad
as they seem. They are worse.

 

Brian Dau is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Three Line Poetry. All income from his poetry contributes to replacing his body with robot parts.

Early Intervention by Colleen Rothman

Six days after my son was born, I started to worry. Though my body was exhausted from having carried him for twelve months, the memory remains as clear to me as the deepest waters of the still ocean. He opened his mouth as though to babble, but all we heard was a pop of his jaw. For weeks, he swam in my slipstream, emitting only these soft pops that sometimes sounded like cracks, depending on how they refracted through the pool. Over time, we’d learn it was how he’d show us he wanted to be left alone. Our stubborn firstborn, swimming on his own wavelength from the first week of his life.

The other parents in our pod swore he’d vocalize soon, but each day passed without so much as a click. Instead, he developed other ways to communicate. A slap of his tail against the water’s surface meant he was angry. A flick of his flipper meant he wanted to play. Sometimes it meant he wanted another fish. It all depended on the look on his face, which I alone could interpret. His father only guessed right half the time.

We could tell he was on a different path from other calves. I tried not to compare him to the brood. Still, we expected his signature whistle by his first birthday. The year came and went, in the alternating flurry of activity and mundanity that any new parent would recognize. Our ears remained open, but we heard nothing.

***

At fifteen months, the trainers intervened. There were tests, followed by his first report card. They deemed his motor skills advanced, like an eighteen-month-old calf. His language skills, both receptive and expressive, were that of a newborn. It was hard not to interpret this as a failure, not on his part, but of mine. I swam in circles, my mind on a loop. If I worried enough, I could pinpoint where I had gone wrong. Faulty milk, perhaps—a lifetime of too much mercury, or endless jumping through hoops. His father shrugged it off, the news washing over him like an oil slick. He blamed the trainers and their crude instruments. As a calf, he’d never been much of a test-taker, either.

My mother suggested it was an outgrowth of coddling, a life that had known nothing but the pool. She’d heard chlorine stunts brain development. I dismissed the thought. If captivity’s the reason, shouldn’t it affect all the calves equally? I didn’t tell her I stayed up late worrying about invisible wave transmissions from the deep end’s night-vision camera. Maybe that had something to do with it. I asked her if I was a late babbler, too. She said I clicked the day I was born.

***

Three days ago, I heard him squeak. We were eating lunch; frozen cod, like every other Tuesday. Usually we float together in silence, or rather, he’s silent as I vocalize, rambling in hope that he’ll repeat something back to me. That’s what one of the trainers suggested. He has to learn to imitate before he can speak on his own.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard him make a sound. He’s done it before, then stopped—coasting on a verbal plateau before descending back into his silent bubble, the one in which I’ve feared he’d be trapped forever. This time, I could tell from the look on his face that the squeak meant something. He squeaked again, louder this time, and angled his nose in my direction. Mama. The squeak meant Mama. My heart could have burst. I wanted to hug him.

***

Two strokes forward, one stroke back. He hasn’t squeaked since. Maybe he’ll do it today, or tomorrow. Or never again. Either way, we don’t have much time left. His baby-dark skin has lightened, and he’s almost as long as his father. Soon he’ll be ready to anchor his own show.

I berate myself for wasted years. Couldn’t I have enjoyed those quiet moments, instead of willing him to speak? Our interventions seem so futile. I take a deep breath through the crest of my forehead. My thoughts cycle back to wanting to hear him whistle, once, before he leaves me. I want a cute anecdote about something he said to share with the other parents in the pool. I want to know he’ll be okay when they haul him into a holding tank, awaiting a destination I’ll never see. But what I want no longer matters, and I don’t get to decide when the story ends.

 

Colleen Rothman grew up in southern Louisiana and currently lives in the Chicago area. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Atlantic, Jellyfish Review, MUTHA Magazine, and Chicago Literati. You can find her @colleenrothman.

Last Night in Antsville by Sharon Suzuki-Martinez

Overheard: “I crawled my way out of the dirt, and by God, I will crawl my way back into the dirt.”

“I never asked to be born,” was my older sister’s favorite response to our mother’s nagging. We were finishing our roadkill chicken dinner when mom brought up college again. Antoinette, my sister, stormed out to piss the evening away at the barrelhouse, as always. Her best friends, Antonia and Antigone, worked at the local venom factory, so that’s where she planned to go after high school—end of story. Sobbing, mom grabbed the dirty dishes with her mandibles and smashed them against the wall. As always, I helped clean up the mess in silence. Nobody knew I was leaving this hole tomorrow for Hollywood. Maybe forever this time.

 

Sharon Suzuki-Martinez’s first book of poetry, The Way of All Flux, won the New Rivers Press MVP Poetry Prize in 2010. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle, South Dakota Review, Duende, Dusie, Clockhouse, and elsewhere. She created The Poet’s Playlist, a music/poetry blog, but now mostly photographs and writes about little-known animals at sharonsuzukimartinez.tumblr.com/

 

Escalator by Dan Sanders

“They took the candy store away,” Peg said, waiting her turn. She started the conversation into the air, turned at a forty-five-degree angle, not looking down the escalator or up at her husband, but across the chasm to the empty space where the candy store had been. It was not polite to stare and she did not want to embarrass the fallen woman. Peg said it loud enough, so people could hear her over the crying baby.

The fallen woman was a few feet in front of Peg. Peg had even politely waited a moment so the woman carrying a baby and a bag of shopping could use the escalator first, and the woman hadn’t noticed, mistimed that tricky first escalator step and had stumbled, fell back and sat down hard. The woman’s bags slammed against the rubber railing and her baby, jostled but not dropped, began to cry. Everyone was tacky and gasped. Peg composed herself and offered up her candy store observation as the stairs continued to flow.

A line had formed in the few moments while the stairs slid under the fallen woman, their metal teeth trying to grip her back, her legs and her bags. She’d tried to fight it, but didn’t try hard enough and she eventually just let herself be swept away. Peg thought it best to look away, not because it was too much to handle, but to not participate in the fuss, and instead search for and find something else to focus on.

The candy store was only open a year, maybe not even that. A bright purple storefront, big looping letters, candy by the pound and never a soul inside. A chain, but what’s wrong with that? Peg’s husband Tom did not enjoy the mall, found flaws in everything, and did not think it was nice that there were still candy stores if those candy stores were part of a larger chain. It didn’t count.

She enjoyed their visits to the mall because they were at an age when they were able to walk, but no longer at the same pace and so it gave them time to be together but also to be apart. He’d been ten steps behind her when the woman fell and had given her a good reason to mention the candy store so loudly, over the sound of the child. She offered up her voice to everyone, so they too could have a reason to look away from this woman and her flailing. It was courteous. She hadn’t meant to sound quite so distressed, as though she’d personally owned the candy store and some evil had come up behind her, grabbed it from her, and left her to float down the escalator alone.

Peg’s voice locked her into the decision not to help, and left her clear headed enough to make a proud and careful selection of her escalator step. She hoped her husband saw her do it, saw how capable she still was, especially compared to this younger fallen woman and even himself, with his knee that he never took proper care of and which left him dependent on railings, her kindness, and someday soon a cane. Peg claimed her stair and thought for a moment that she wouldn’t hold the rail out of spite, but did, out of wisdom and spite.

Helping was inappropriate. The lord helps those who help themselves, but she was stubborn besides and once she’d changed the subject to the candy store she didn’t see how she could change it back to the fallen woman. Even if nobody heard her, not even her husband, who never heard anything, hadn’t noticed the fall and seemed always to be concentrating intently on something else. The moment to help had passed and she was beginning to feel the weight of it lift, somewhere between the second and first floor, and started to feel annoyed for being forced to even have these thoughts in this place.

She wouldn’t want help herself, so why offer it. She was no hypocrite. She’d never accepted help from anyone, thought it was rude. “I’m fine,” was something she said reflexively, if someone startled her, or tapped her on the shoulder, or asked for directions. A two-word shield against a world that seemed to be endlessly aware of her. She was just fine, thank you very much.

Peg’s parents were quiet, miserable people who enthusiastically encouraged her to marry a stoic and maybe stupid man, because he owned his own failing business. At his insistence, she dusted off his poorly-kept books and rescued him, his business, their home, and their marriage time and again.

It was Peg’s solitary and relentless effort in life that made it so that she could afford to retire and enjoy the mall on a Tuesday afternoon to walk for exercise in reasonable, but fashionable, walking shoes through this climate-controlled eyesore that she railed against in city council meetings. She hated most the things that she enjoyed. She was certain, becoming only more certain as they descended, she would have slapped the hand that offered help. What a shame for that woman to be so helpless, not to mention the baby, to be saddled with such a mother, born into the kind of life that was ruining this neighborhood.

If she’d fallen, she would prefer it if everyone looked away, looked at their phones, or dispersed like a shot had been fired. She would also have had the dignity to not continue to ride the escalator seated, she would have had the strength and humility to stand. She would not have sat there in a heap, demanding attention, generating pity, radiating her pain into others. She would have thrown her bags into the penny fountain below and forced her child to stop wailing. That child deserved to learn a valuable lesson about self-reliance, minding your step, making better choices.

Peg made relentlessly good choices and to the best of her memory had never once fallen down.

Peg and Tom did not have children, though she couldn’t remember the exact circumstances of how they came to that decision. Sometimes she remembered that there was a matter-of-fact doctor’s visit, and sometimes during a night of drinking and listing regrets, her husband saying something about barely surviving their own past and not creating more burden. He would take it away from her, she would try to pull it back and they’d argue over their non-child until they wondered why they were talking about it.

She was certain that she once knew the exact moment they made the decision, she memorized it so she could deflect criticism from her parents, or when Tom became stricken with regret. She remembered remembering that there was one conversation when decisions were made and when they chose this life over that and they were done with it, put it away forever. She dusted off her hands whenever she thought about it, even now, on the escalator. But it was a long time ago now, long enough that it seemed like a reasonable thing to forget. She was deciding not to be worried about the forgetting.

Tom had been hinting that she’d been getting chronically forgetful lately, and agitated, angry. He liked to scare her, and she had decided to let herself resent him for scaring her, as he did about her knee-nagging. Resenting each other gave them something to do. She kept a list of the things that he said she’d forgotten and looked at it every day. Forgiveness was hard, required too much reflection, which she thought was haughty.

They were at the age now when their children would have forgotten about them anyway, so it had all sorted itself out. They’d have non-grandchildren by now. They’d be ignored by two generations and they’d still have just wound up here, trying to ignore each other and this woman at the end of the escalator, her adrenaline wearing off and finally allowing herself to cry about the fall.

Peg took the appropriate caution and planned her dismount as the stairs flattened out to merge with the floor and accidentally locked eyes with the crying woman. Her baby was cooing, coming down from her emotions as the crying woman was ramping up. Peg looked away and up, deciding that the cooing reminded her of the summer birds that would become lost and fly overhead, trapped in the giant expanse of the mall.

The birds would nest in the rafters under the fake sky painted on the arched ceiling, or perch in the big fake trees in the food court, living on stepped-on french fries, or occasionally, bravely swooping down after someone holding one of those giant food court pretzels, or chase each other through the open air above the atrium fountain. She wondered if they didn’t know the difference, if they were born in the building and didn’t know there was an outside world, or if they knew but didn’t care and they knew that they were safe and good enough was good enough, and made the smart decision to stay.

Three people helped the woman up from the floor, and held her baby as she limped to a bench between two potted plants, which Peg knew to be fake. She stared at the baby, felt the five empty stairs to the bottom of her husband’s feet and from the last stair, she called back over her shoulder. “Did you hear what I said, I said they took the candy store away.” He hadn’t heard, and she took his hand, and they guided each other around all the unnecessary commotion.

 

Dan Sanders is a writer in Pennsylvania. His writing has appeared in Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, The Daily Dot, and elsewhere.

A Seal Skull Seems To Be a Wolf Skull by Erin Rice

Its boneheadedness its bark
texture – they are both trees
when you get down to it. Upside down
a sculpture with a cliff face to hang
onto for fun. What about the children
who could get lost in the nostril cavern.
A warning should be posted to the mothers:
          the ear, nose, and throat wells
          are the most fun for pups
          and the most diseased.
Repelling down the bridge is a good family
time but climb back up
before you reach the caves or –
If you were a skull,
seal or otherwise,
don’t you think your best rest would be bobbing
postpartum in a walled sea of parts? The sockets,
the departed mandible, the furry stitching
between plates, pairs and pairs
and a funny one here and there.

 

Erin Rice currently lives in San Antonio with her dog, Dewey. She got her MFA from the University of San Francisco and is now studying immunology.