Three Short Tales by Joshua Jones

Something New

One day, in a park surrounded by skyscrapers, a woman began to float. This was midway through the ceremony. The guests were shuffling and coughing and sneaking glances at their phones. By the time anyone noticed, she was thirty feet up, flexing her toes, paddling the air, kicking until the imitation-glass heels went sailing. One hit the groom, the other the cassocked minister, his face still in his book. The sole made a satisfying clonk against his shiny scalp. The groom—her groom, she had to remind herself—mouthed Why? but she no longer looked at him, no longer looked down at all. From across the park, another white-trimmed figure moved skyward, then another, then another. The brides saw each other and waved, did little twirls. Some pulled their veils free, others ripped at their trains. One by one, they tossed their bouquets to the spectators below. There was a mad scramble.

 

Biology Lessons

It happened when Ms. Robishaw was at the blackboard. The girl, that is, and the frog, a bulbous looking thing that barely fit in the glass jar. It didn’t struggle in its chloroformed stupor but gazed liquidly at the girl. Then came the wet, smacking sound followed by a flurry of giggles and more kisses as the rest of the class took out their specimens and puckered up. By the time Ms. Robishaw turned around it was too late: where once there were frogs, there now slumped the sagging bodies of men and women, all naked. She recognized them all. There was Tony, who once taught PE the next county over, but now was sprawled across the desk closest to Ms. Robishaw. She prodded his belly; it had doubled in size since she’d stopped answering his texts. Two desks over lay either Brad or Brandon, or was it Braydon? He worked downtown, she was sure of that. Was big in something or other, though now he looked, sadly, rather small. And Giselle, who looked so peaceful that Ms. Robishaw felt a twinge of regret until she remembered the yelling, the cutting remarks, the actual cutting, the scars still visible along her thighs. There were no princes, no princesses. At the back of the class, a man began to flutter his eyelids. Garth. He always wrote such earnest poetry. Then threatened to share her nudes on Reddit. He looked better as a frog. Ms. Robishaw clapped her hands, louder and louder, until the class’s twittering quieted. Class, she announced, we’re going to need more chloroform.

 

One Hundred Years

It was over one hundred years ago. The Spindlers’ Guild couldn’t keep up. Prices doubled, trebled, and still people bought the green-tipped spindles—first those bourgeois fawners, you know the type: the ones who doted over the young Aurora, who bought sleeping dresses to match her repose, who outlined strict guidelines as to who could revive them (at least a minor duke; great kisser; no baldies)—but next came the fishwives, the ones who couldn’t give a tit about the royals and some spoiled, sleep-sick princess; they dreamt of a decent night’s sleep, a decent year/decade/century of sleep without grubby hands prodding them for food or favors. Is it any wonder that fights erupted over the last spindle? Or that, to meet demand, the factory foremen mandated fourteen-hour shifts? They threatened the slowest Spindlers with flogging, the prettiest ones with worse. After the Shop Steward complained and was beaten into a coma, half the Spindlers pricked their fingers and swooned right there on the factory floor. The rest walked out, wielding spindles like spears, threatening to jab any foreman who stepped in their way. They picketed day and night while orders mounted up. To Persia, to India, to the Empress of China herself. The town guard was brought in, scattering the picketers with clubs and pikes, cracking ribs, breaking skulls. That night, the empty cobblestones glistened red in the light of the burning factory. Where were the guard, the foremen? Perhaps they nodded off, the strikers said. A prick of the finger is all it’d take. The fire raged higher, engulfing the night. The town slept through it all.

 

Joshua Jones lives in Maryland, and his writing has appeared in The Best Microfictions 2020, The Best Small Fictions 2019The Cincinnati Review, CRAFT, Paper DartsSmokeLong QuarterlySplit Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter or visit his website: www.jnjoneswriter.wordpress.com.

Cavity by Hanna Lauerman

One thing I miss is
losing teeth. It tasted good
somehow. Did you like to yank
it out as soon as it wiggled?
I always waited until it hung
by a thread, so a nudge
of my tongue set it clacking
against its neighbors
in my mouth. Dangling
enough I could twist it
to feel the warm throb
of dying nerve.

After, there was the
tender spit-flooded gap,
impossible to keep my tongue
off, somehow tasting
so much more raw and alive
than the rest of my own mouth.

Now that I’m older, it isn’t so easy
to grow a pearl alongside my body
and then rip it away,

to bury it under a pillow or in a
velvet pouch in the lowest
layer of the jewelry box,

to let something stronger
grow in its place.

 

Hanna Lauerman writes both poetry and fiction and has been published in Longleaf Review, Folklore, and Grlsquash. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Best American Short Stories anthology. She lives in Boston with her supportive girlfriend and unsupportive cat.

Three Fictions by Sara Nović

Hearing Paired

I turn around too fast and quickly we’re laughing; in a room of low-tide silence, our eyes ignite with the insight that they’ve told us all the same can’ts, though you’ve heard them differently, and not at all.

From Peru you bring Español, a little Quechua, Amaya, the Lengua de Señas Peruana, de Inmaculada, de Sivia, though all that gets you nothing except a seat in the special needs work program. Beside you I’m inspiringly bilingual, but English crushes fat atop everything here—not quality nor quantity, just specificity.

Your hands say mouth-tap-W, with agua on your lips, mine answer back water, mouth-tap-W.

Alone at night on the #66 home, my eyelids start open by another’s hot breath. The man is angry that I haven’t listened, but when he hears my voice, his changes. Sorry, his mouth says, hiss of sympathy. I push the color from my self-conscious cheeks, and think about the morning we spoke three languages at once, understood one perfectly.

 

Hunger Games

Sticks and stones may break her bones, but words make easy work of it: thigh gap, wristbone, collarbone necklace, and other lessons she learned at school. That body would be perfect with a little less body, conscious uncoupling, brittle by design.

She is to be seen not heard, unless she says what we need to hear: she already ate, she ate a late lunch, she’ll eat later, she’s not herself. She’ll feel more herself with a little less self. Mind over matter, matter discarded.

Self-inflicted (if you don’t count the ones who cheered the infliction, nursed the affliction).

Detoxed, flushed, returned to the soil, splay of twigs on the forest floor.

 

Kaddish

“There is no mourning on Shabbat,” the Rabbi said, and a feeling like a laugh came up in my throat. I tucked a stray hair behind my ear; I had not seen myself in a week. The Rabbi didn’t look away, superior the partitionHe strode the aisle between our benches and said it with such certainty all I could think was the nerve, to walk across the shul and lie to our faces like that. As if grief could be governed by calendar squares.

I began to fear the ease with which the words fell from his lips. History of falsehood latticed through the floorboards, or running beneath them like a subterranean river, contaminated wellspring. I wondered what other lies we’d built ourselves upon. But, of course, that’s how I’d ended up here—there was no one on earth left to ask. 

The realization sent the room back underwater: chandeliers’ refractions white-hot and writhing, temple contained in the globe of a tear, the tears that do not exist on Shabbat.

So I fought flood with flood. And there was evening and there was morning on the eighth day.

 

Sara Nović is the author of the novel Girl at War, nonfiction anthology America is Immigrants, and another novel forthcoming in 2022, all from Random House. She has an MFA in fiction and literary translation, and lives in Philly. 

The Goblin King’s Love Language by Rita Feinstein

is gift-giving, and I don’t have room for all this crap.
Psilocybic peaches rotting in the crisper,
crystal balls sticky with grime.

The black snake shriveled to onionskin,
the wedding dress sulking unworn
at the very back of the walk-in closet.

Goodwill stops taking my donations.
My free boxes overflow onto the sidewalk.
There’s a landfill named after me,

a whole shuttle full of glitter-drenched
padded jackets and danger-red lipsticks
to be incinerated in the vacuum of space.

But I accept the love he gives, and I build
more shelving units for it, just as he accepts
my affection has no physical dimensions.

My love language is language itself.
I incant his name into my vanity mirror,
lie that he has no power over me,

then watching him jigsaw the stars
into brand new horoscopes
just to prove me wrong.

 

Rita Feinstein is the author of Life on Dodge (Brain Mill Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Sugar HouseGrist, and Willow Springs, among other publications, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets. She is a graduate of Oregon State University’s MFA program.

Casey Who Exorcises People by Eric Rasmussen

Casey performs exorcisms at the desk he rents in the corner, and that’s not even weirdest part about him. The bathroom in the middle of the shared workspace doesn’t lock, so he yells “occupado” whenever he’s in there and he hears us walk past. He surrounded his workspace with heavy velour drapes, mostly green, some burgundy, hung from the industrial girders overhead. Every time he enters or leaves it’s a full-on can’t-find-the-edge-of-the-curtain comedy routine. And he reminds us constantly that, even though he conducts exorcisms in there, he’s not an exorcist. He would need a license to be an exorcist.

Mostly, though, he’s gentle and sweet. He arranged a holiday potluck and gift exchange for the whole floor, and he remembers the names of our family members. Sometimes he stands a little close when he talks, and he’ll refer to our appearances more than he should, but here’s all you need to know about Casey: he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, every day.

One morning, Casey shows up with a guy who looks exactly like him, except twenty-five years older, like a mugshot artificially aged by computers. We guess it’s his dad, and the old man stops at our desks to confirm it.

“Hey there,” says the guy. “I’m Casey’s father. Please allow me to apologize for my kook of a son.” He pauses so we can laugh. “What a weird-o, right? Just imagine trying to live with him.” In that moment we do, and it isn’t so bad, because Casey probably picks up after himself and keeps a lot of interesting books around the apartment. “I’m kidding,” says Casey’s dad. “But once again, here I am. Good old dad to the rescue.”

Casey comes up behind and says, “Is this senior citizen bothering you?” He smiles, but his eye also twitches, which tells us that Casey loves his father but is dying a slow death by a thousand tiny cuts from his old man. It explains a lot.

While Casey’s dad gets coffee from the kitchen alcove, we look him up. He used to be a licensed exorcist, until an incident twenty years earlier when he tried to extract the ghost of serial killer from some famous debutante. The procedure failed, and the girl went on to murder fifteen people, mostly library volunteers and crossing guards. Big deal, lots of press. Now, instead of being an exorcist, he exorcises people. Just like Casey.

“Dad’s here because I need help,” Casey announces to the office, the same way he does when he asks us to quiet down for his sessions or informs us the kitchen is out of paper towels: hands on his hips, eyes pointed at the ceiling, speaking to no one in particular. “Tough case,” he says. “Not sure what to do.”

The “tough case” arrives ten minutes later. A woman, barely five feet tall, with dark hair and skin. Old, but not that old. Big handbag, tan shoes. She shuffles across the floor with her head down. We don’t actually look at her; Casey says it’s weird enough for his clients to get exorcised in a co-op office space without random writers and programmers and graphic designers staring at them. As always, we remain as pieces of furniture, working on our computers.

Casey and his dad gesture the woman back towards the curtains in the corner, then both men bumble around to find an opening (hilarious). They enter, the drapes waft shut, and we hear the murmur of the exorcism. The fabric absorbs their actual words, but only for a little while. Casey and Casey’s dad raise their voices as they try to out-exorcise each other.

“The spirt of the almighty lord compels you to leave this woman.”

“Actually, the unknowable power of the father, son, and holy ghost command that you vacate this mortal host.”

We stay focused on our screens, even though it’s hard.

“Leave this earth forever, evil spirit.”

“Or, plunge forever into a bottomless pit of suffering as punishment for the sins you’ve brought to this earthly plane.”

That’s when things really start to get weird.

The curtains billow, and rays of light escape between the gaps. A low, rumbling voice speaks in some language we don’t understand. Our translation apps don’t recognize it either. Then thuds, thumps, and the sound of furniture dragging across the floor. We start an office email thread: “That’s some exorcism.” “It’s not an exorcism, remember—neither of them has a license.” “Should we be doing something?”

“The love of god will smite you forever.”

And more importantly, your ancient evil will never sully mankind again.”

Ten minutes later the session ends, and the woman exits the curtains. She looks beat up but happy, like she survived an intense massage. A few minutes after that, Casey’s dad departs as well.

“A demon of the old world,” he says. “Those are tough ones. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take up residence in your microwave.” We look toward the kitchen alcove. ”Just teasing.” He laughs. “They don’t actually do that.”

After his father leaves, Casey comes out with his head in his hands.

“How’d it go?” we ask.

He tells the whole story as if we hadn’t heard it ourselves. When he’s done, he tries to smile, but he fails. “And I’m sorry about my dad. He can be awkward sometimes.”

Poor Casey. We try to help. “It sounded like you could have handled it on your own. You probably didn’t even need him.”

“Probably.”

Casey’s such a good guy. Does anyone ever tell him that? “You’ve clearly got what it takes to be an exorcist,” we say. “You should get your license.”

“Maybe.” Casey shrugs. “Alright. Back to it.” He fumbles with the curtains again. The microwave makes a strange groaning noise. We wonder if it’s time to start working from home.

 

Eric Rasmussen serves as fiction editor for Sundog Lit, as well as editor for the regional literary journal Barstow & Grand. He has placed short fiction in Fugue, Gulf Stream, Pithead Chapel, and South Carolina Review, among others. Find him online at theotherericrasmussen.com

The Milliner by Shannon Austin

A teleporter walks into a bar & walks into a bar & walks into a bar &
stop me if you haven’t heard this one.

A teleporter walks into a bar & a brothel & a beach &
never enters the same place twice.

Tides reflect more than the moon’s arousal:
place & name, their cartography. A needle starts its life

as a sword yet still knows its way to blood. Place & name:
two different landmarks. Where you are & what you could be.

I know her arms from a photograph that tells me
they existed. What she made in felt & flesh, lace &

latitudes. The planes of a face, hers and hers and mine.
Teleportation requires the traveler destroy herself

to be built in a new location. A needle also knows
its way to mercy. Its potential for pain.

A teleporter walks into a name that is and isn’t hers.
The potential to be a holy war or a small victory.

A teleporter walks into in two. A door named
for its intentions. If you’ve been waiting

for the hatmaker: she’s been standing in this
doorway, replacing screws with stitches.

 

Shannon Austin is a writer from Baltimore, MD, with an MFA in poetry from UNLV. Her work has appeared in Drunk Monkeys, After the PauseAmerican Chordata, and elsewhere.

How to Wear White to a Wedding by May Hathaway

1.  Open the invitation on a Tuesday, two weeks after it’s landed in your cramped mailbox. You are curled on the couch, stretching your feet out of the tight ugly brown shoes you wear every day and sorting through the credit card statements you’ve been avoiding and Sears catalogs gathered on your coffee table when you see this envelope, large and cream-colored. The paper is so thick it feels like you’re rubbing powder off of it. Your sorority sister Sarah, the invitation says, is getting married. Would you like to attend?

2.  You don’t recognize the name of Sarah’s fiancé. Back in college, she had dated a guy on the crew team. You consider checking “declines regretfully” on the RSVP card; there are better ways to spend a weekend, like organizing your bookshelf by color or feeding pigeons in the park. Calculate the costs: you’ll need to buy a wedding gift, reserve a hotel room, and book a bus ticket; there’s no way you’ll be able to afford airfare, especially at this time of year. It’s okay, though. You’ll do anything for your sorority sisters. You promised them that much when you pledged.

3.  Email your boss to let him know that you’ll have to take off a day or two next month, hoping that the abundance of exclamation points will soothe his frustration. You’re not a particularly good employee, and you know that; you’re lucky he hasn’t replaced you. Still, sometimes when you sit down at your desk and plaster on your customer service smile, you feel a surge of rage. You did everything right—you applied to college, did okay in your classes, made friends. You told men in suits about yourself and described challenging life experiences in rooms with glossy oak furniture. You went on dates with your cousin’s friend and that guy from Tinder and your colleague’s dog-walker’s brother—even if the whole career thing didn’t work out, you could learn how to be a good wife. And still, look at where you are now: you are a receptionist for a dermatology practice and Sarah is a bride-to-be. Can you believe it? She probably hasn’t sent half as many emails in her lifetime.

4.  Sarah’s wedding registry is neat and colorful and expensive; she seems to have gained a taste for silverware. Somebody has already bought a panini press and a food processor. You duly scan the list of available items. You decide to purchase a tablecloth and placemats so that she’ll remember you at every meal. Maybe she and her husband will talk about you over plates of quinoa and invite you to dinner parties, where you’ll brush hands with business executives and women who wear Tiffany wristlets, real ones, and you’ll make casual conversation over cheese platters. You can only hope.

5.  The wedding is in the Adirondacks, which makes your stomach churn. You grew up in upstate New York; you know the lakes and mountains there better than the back of your hand. Sarah grew up in Alabama or Arkansas or Georgia, somewhere decidedly dry and full of non-hikers. And you don’t own the mountains, obviously, and you’re not going to gatekeep a whole territory, but Sarah? The Adirondacks? Really?

6.  You’re taking the Greyhound bus to the wedding when disaster strikes. You’ve left work early, much to the chagrin of your boss and the guy with severe adult acne who keeps trying to flirt with you while scheduling appointments, and you’re beginning to regret it; you get nauseous on buses easily. Your favorite purple minidress doesn’t really fit anymore—it’s loose around the waist and tight at the armpits—but you still went to the effort of getting it dry-cleaned. Everyone looks miserable here, yourself included. When the bus grinds to a halt, you stand up and feel the granola bar you ate for breakfast rising towards your throat. Outside, you spit a few times as people shuffle towards their luggage, trying to get the sour out of your mouth. By the time you’re done wiping your lips, only the driver is left. When you duck under the bus to grab your things, you see a single suitcase left—the duffle bag with your dress is gone. Shit.

7.  You hate the Adirondacks. You hate this venue. They have a small store, like you knew they would, and the dresses are all sold at exorbitant prices, like you knew they would be. The unexpected part is that almost all of their dresses are sold out; more than one guest, it seems, has been forgetful. The only dress they have left in your size is a lacy ivory sheath, and you swipe your credit card without hesitation. It occurs to you to let Sarah know about your new outfit, but you’re so tired after a long bus ride, and it’s definitely not a big deal; she’s probably at the rehearsal dinner right now. Besides, as much as it pains you to admit it, you hate Sarah.

8.  When you wake up in the morning and slip into the dress, you do not feel the expected guilt. You coat your eyelashes in mascara and rub blush onto your cheeks and wait for a pit to form in your stomach, but you’re surprisingly calm. You eat eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and observe how easily they break apart into little nubs. On the way to the venue, you think about all the times you could’ve gotten married, even if it was just to the guy who smiled at you in the parking lot once, and touch up your concealer.

9.  You are in the Adirondacks wearing white to a wedding. Everyone is staring at you. Everyone hates you. Everyone includes yourself, but more importantly, everyone includes Sarah, whose face is blotchy despite her heavy layers of makeup. She is screaming, you think. Specifically, she is screaming at you; the words are coming in chains of how could you wear that and how are you so stupid and you’re jealous of me, I’ve known since college and today is my day, mine. From her latest stream of vitriol, you have learned that her fiancé’s name is Mark. You wonder if he’s going to calm her down, but he stands there, useless, like most men. Sarah, you think, is having some sort of psychotic break. She is unwell. She needs help. It is not until Mark takes a step towards you instead of towards Sarah and places a hand on your arm, firm in an entirely uncaring way, that you realize that you are screaming too.

10.  In one of the most humiliating moments of your life to date, call your mom from your hotel bathroom. You called an Uber from the venue after Mark hauled you onto the grass, where you stumbled in your heels—it seemed like an appropriate time to splurge. When she picks up, you are crying too hard to get the words out. For a good minute, you are gasping for air while your mom asks you what’s wrong over and over again; each inhale feels like your chest is cracking open. Stop blubbering, she says, and you steady your lower lip long enough to tell her that you need money to book a ticket back home. She starts yelling, just like Sarah did, and snot leaks onto your white dress. I didn’t even do anything, you say quietly between sobs. I didn’t even do anything. After hanging up, you crawl onto starchy sheets of the hotel bed and think about how difficult it is to be loved. The deposit lands in your bank account three hours later.

 

May Hathaway is a writer from New York City. Her work is published or forthcoming in Hobart After DarkPANK, and Vagabond City Lit and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National YoungArts Foundation. An alumna of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, she will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

op-ed from the balloon that escaped the trunk of my mom’s car in 1989 by Catherine Weiss

all balloons should be shaped like balloons / not letters / do not espalier a balloon sentence to a wall / for any reason / even to be inspirational do not do this / it is a cruel abomination / the only message a balloon should introduce is the concept of loft / tension / desire / for elsewhere / & beyond / & before / this is the inherent dignity of a balloon / also do not fill a banquet hall with balloon bouquets / or a living room with mylar minnie mice / do not be cavalier with the balloon / nor take the scarcity of helium for granted / do not photograph a balloon / without her express permission / balloons are the provenance of mystery / specifically childhood / & accumulated dust / never allow a balloon to expire / exhausted on the pantry floor / without proper ceremony / and if you tire of a balloon / do not tell / your beautiful friend / big & yellow & covered in stars / that you do not love her anymore / instead / consider your commitment / a green ribbon tied around your wrist / rekindle what you can / smell that good rubber-skin smell / touch the balloon with the flat of your tongue / please / i urge you / do not let her go

 

Catherine Weiss is a poet and artist from Maine. Their poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Fugue, Birdcoat, Bodega, petrichor, Counterclock, Freezeray, and elsewhere. Catherine was the 2017 Grand Slam Champion of Northampton Poetry and has competed at the National Poetry Slam, the Individual World Poetry Slam, and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. Their manuscript “unlove” was selected as a finalist in the 2019 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. More at catherineweiss.com.

You’re Still You by Anna Vangala Jones

My earlobes were the first thing I touched after waking from the brief coma caused by the accident. I was glad I could rub them between my fingers, unharmed and unbloodied, so different from the rest of what remained of my face. It was comforting and cozy to pinch and pull on them like saltwater taffy when surrounded by the doctors discussing me and my case each morning during rounds. I could hear with my ears and also escape into the texture of them.

Reconstruction makes you as unrecognizable to yourself as anyone else. They wanted to prepare me for what that first look in the mirror would be like after the surgery. They didn’t believe I was excited. You should be proud, I told them, not afraid to reveal your intricate and elaborate work. I joked to the attending that I would be like Frankenstein’s monster when they were done.

“You’re still you, Jane,” one of the residents called out. I remember staring at her, that young and eager doctor in training, long after she’d finished interrupting. I wanted to catch the soft flesh of her earlobe in my teeth, feel the tickle of that light peach fuzz on each bud of my tongue.

My nurse then said that my parents and brother were waiting to see me and could they come in now? But I told her I was tired, so maybe later.

Now the surgery is over and I am awake, looking at a face in the mirror they say is mine.

After waiting for my sobs to fill the room, the doctors leave upon seeing my anticlimactic reaction. I say, thank you but I would just like to sleep.

My beautiful resident closes the door and stays inside. “You don’t have to pretend to be so strong.”

“I’m not pretending. I don’t mind. I wasn’t attached to the old face.” I sound sure and therefore I probably am.

She makes her way to my bedside. “Does it look very different?” She looks so sorry.

“Yes.” I don’t hesitate or dress the truth up prettier than it is.

“We do our best, but when the damage—” She talks in that sweet honey singsong I’ve enjoyed so much, even as it’s made her colleagues roll their eyes when she speaks with confident authority. I stop her though I like to listen to her. The music of her.

“You don’t need to do that. I know. I’m not upset with you.”

 “It’s my fault,” she says, but I sense the words before I hear them. “I’m new at getting to assist during the procedures. And my hand—I got so nervous, it shook, and I’m so sorry.”

She’s breathing too fast for language to keep up and I place my hand on hers, the one she indicated had been the guilty party during my surgery. I can feel it tremble now beneath mine. I reach for her arm, to pull her closer to me, until I feel the rigid tension in her small frame start to lessen and then she’s seated on my bed as I want.

“It’s the only way you baby doctors can learn,” I tell her with a smile I mean genuinely even if it looks false, like a stranger’s. “Besides, they wouldn’t have let you do anything too important.”

She laughs with tears in the notes. “You’re not the one supposed to be comforting me.”

“Maybe. But you’re upset and I’m not. So this way makes sense for now, right?”

“What are you, a saint?” She notices the fixation of my eyes on her earlobes and the mood in the room shifts. I know she’ll probably leave any minute now and I’ll let her. Then it’ll just be me and the mirror. Alone.

“Sad that being understanding and decent qualifies one for sainthood now,” I say, but I keep my tone light and playful as I release her hand and readjust my body against the pillows behind me. I’m not looking at her anymore and I think she knows she’d better go. She stands and I focus on the wrinkles and creases of her turquoise scrubs, so I can unmemorize her face.

“You’re very nice to make me feel better, but I am still sorry,” she says.

“You’re forgiven.”

She seems to be going and is almost gone. But then she turns around and leans back against the door and nods at me. Something in her expression reminds me of the warmth intermingled with pity I could read in the faces of all my loved ones the first time they saw me after it happened. It was maybe not as painful as it would be if they’d physically recoiled, but somehow it felt like they had anyway. I haven’t let any of them come back inside my room since before the surgery. I’m told they took turns showing up just in case for a while, only to be rejected outside my door. Each day, my nurses would remind me that they were there, in the waiting room, poised and ready for when I’d change my mind. Until I didn’t and the nurses stopped saying they were there. I can’t ask now even though I wonder and need to know. Because what if they’re not anymore? I hate my doctor for staying.

“Don’t look at me.”

She stares out the window instead. Then she waits until I start to cry. Once I do finally begin, it’s hard to stop. I rub and scratch at my left earlobe so fiercely and savagely that my nails nearly draw blood. I don’t know why I seek to destroy my own pacifier, but I want to claw my earlobes until they resemble the pulp of a blood orange, like I imagine my whole face did in the back of the ambulance that night. When she wrestles my hands away from my ears and hugs me, I almost ask—did any of them wait for me? Are they still here?

 

Anna Vangala Jones is the author of the forthcoming short story collection Turmeric & Sugar (Thirty West Publishing, May 2021). Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, Wigleaf, HAD, and AAWW’s The Margins, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17. 

At the Bottom of the Ocean You Weigh One-Third Less by Camille Ferguson

I.
Stiff in early morning the floorboards curse
beneath me, my bones crack like glass, drag behind me
like anchors. I shuffle to the sink;
I yawn warm-stink & I want
to shatter each and every
sauce-stuck wet-mush dinner-platter:
residues of my ravenous.
My hunger permeates.

II.
At the wishing-well I plead to be satiated, filled with grace–
then I swallow the whole lot of dreams.

III.
I think tons                           about tons
        about the act of         sinking.

How dreams weigh you down.

About large, and beautiful, ships greening
with moss in the dark, shiny bodies swimming in & out
of bodies.

About dreams way down.

IV.
I wonder at the bulging debt of my gut. I abase the
full-moon shape; soft-
ness of my jaw. I dream it cuts like glass.
In the ceramic blue wash-basin swims
my sharpened willingness to diminish,
like a circle longing after an oval.
  What an odd desire: to pare myself down
with my silver like a sculpture,
carve myself to a spire.             Something nice to sea:
the thin line of horizon.       Sinking, I see
my crystal whiskey glasses,
the dainty crescent lips of the decanter.
How long before the sediment
of my rancor settles? Before I am acceptable
                                                             & digestible?

V.
With my mutilated fingers
in the foam water washing I wonder how long before
these small knives smooth over, turn to sea-glass, pennies
swollen with the ocean’s blue-green.
O, to be buoyant, foam sliced from wave;
the difference between
solid, & gas. I wish on every used-up penny
I could float, on air, or through life,
like a small beautiful thing.
O, how I wish this were an ode
            to the weight of the whole ocean.
            Instead, I know that
at the bottom of the ocean          you weigh one-third less.

 

Camille Ferguson lives in and loves Cleveland, Ohio. Camille recently graduated from Cleveland State University where she received the Neal Chandler Creative Writing Enhancement Award. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Ligeia Magazine, Rabid Oak, Madcap Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Memoir Mixtapes, among others.