Madlib by Kim Magowan

Mom, when you were at the FERRIS WHEEL Saturday, Ron BENT the CLOCK, so I couldn’t HICCUP. He put his KNEECAP over my EYEBROW, so I couldn’t even GIGGLE. Then he stuck his ELBOWS inside my EAR. I JUGGLED and JUGGLED. Remember, you asked why my TEETH were so TURQUOISE? I know you MIX Ron is FIZZY, but really, he’s a KANGAROO. Mom, I don’t SNORT you, I know how SUGARY you’ve been, but I fucking CARTWHEEL him. Ron said if I KNITTED you, he would FLY me, and besides, you would never WHISPER me. So, do you SNIFF me?

 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.

Outline by Darrin Doyle

“Please lie down,” the man said. He gestured at the pale sidewalk pocked with divots.

“What for?” asked the boy. Could he trust this man? This stranger?

“I can’t draw your outline unless you’re on the ground, can I?” The man’s lips smiled. His eyes sparkled.

He was younger than the boy’s father. Better looking, slim and athletic. Carried himself with a bright and bouncy step. Dressed in khaki shorts and a blue shirt the color of the afternoon sky. The boy had been reading on a bench in front of the library, waiting for his father to get out of his doctor’s appointment down the block.

“Jack London,” the man said, nodding at the book. “Man versus nature, am I right?”

The boy closed the book, embarrassed. Reading was his own private experience, and he didn’t like talking about it. Not to anyone, not even his parents.

“Man doesn’t usually come out on top in that battle.” The man threw back his head and gave a robust chuckle, as if he’d made a great joke. His blond hair was as bouncy as his step.

“Like I said,” the man continued, “I’m doing an art project. Kind of an experiment, actually. What kid doesn’t like experiments?”

He set his case on the sidewalk. It looked like a suitcase, rectangular, bound in dark leather the color of a storm cloud. The man unsnapped a button. Kneeling, he spread his wares, revealing an extensive collection of chalk. Each piece was strapped individually to the inside of the case.

“My own personal rainbow,” the man said. “Pretty much every color you can think of.”

The boy’s curiosity was piqued. He’d been warned not to talk to strangers, but this man seemed kind. Other people – families – strolled along the sidewalks on this sunny warm day, peering into shops, licking ice cream cones. The boy felt safe and he was enjoying the attention from the man. He didn’t have any close friends. When your parents were both ill, kids didn’t like to play with you.

“Take one,” the man said. “Whichever one you want, it’s yours.”

The boy selected a piece the color of blood. It was nearly as thick as his wrist and as long as a pencil. “I can have this?”

Seeing the boy admire it, the man said, “You won’t find this at the local art supply store. This is special chalk, the only kind like it in the world.”

“Where did you get it?”

The man’s expression was thoughtful but guarded, as if remembering an event he wasn’t sure he wanted to share. “I’ve had it for a long time, put it that way. Got it when I was around your age.”

The man said they needed to relocate so nobody would step on the boy, or bump him while he was tracing. Around the back of the library the two found a square of pavement close to the dumpsters. From this vantage the boy could no longer see the sidewalk.

“Don’t worry,” the man said, noticing the boy’s concern. “Won’t take long.” He opened his case again and slid on a pair of gloves. “Were you waiting for someone?”

“My dad. He’ll be back soon.”

“He left you at the library?”

“He’s at the doctor’s,” the boy said. “Should I lie down here?”

“Looks like a good spot. Nice and clean.”

“I can’t think of a pose.” The boy was sitting on the pavement, suddenly at a loss, suddenly weighted by the inevitabilities and possibilities of life, which he was only now beginning to recognize.

“When someone walks past your outline, what should people think about? Anything you want to be, we’ll make you come alive.”

“Flying, I guess.”

“Wonderful. A common request.”

The boy lay on his stomach. He extended his hands and tried to imagine he was soaring through the sky. But the ungiving cement, rough against his bare arms, made him terribly aware that he was stuck to the earth.

“You thinking about your dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“He sick?”

For the past few months the father had been having dizzy spells. It was hard for him to take deep breaths. The boy’s mother had an advanced case of M.S. and couldn’t walk or move well. She’d been suffering for years, since the boy could remember. The boy tried not to think about what would happen if he lost his dad.

The man began chalking. The boy could feel the pressure of the man’s hand against his ribs, wiggling back and forth as he drew a thick line. The raw scraping of the chalk sounded small and lonely. The concrete was cool against the boy’s cheek. He imagined the man cutting a hole in the world. The boy would drop through it, leaving a space in the shape of him. He wanted to experience falling. He wanted to be pulled toward something terrible and permanent where bodies didn’t exist. “To Build a Fire” was the story he had just finished. The man froze at the end. It was sad, but everybody dies.

That’s what the boy read.

The man worked without speaking, a steady pace, as if completing the outline was both necessary and urgent. It was a strange and unfamiliar sensation, someone working so diligently for him. It gave the boy a feeling in his stomach he’d never had before. The man progressed around the boy, doing the arms, hands, and head. The boy breathed in the man’s body: rich, salty sweat mixed with the dust of the chalk. Pressed against the pavement, the boy became aroused. Before long the man’s hands were positioned inside the boy’s thighs: back and forth, back and forth, jiggling the boy slightly but persistently. His erection strained. A powerful surge rushed through him. He gasped, feeling his own hot breath as he kissed the pavement.

“All done,” the man said. “Let me help you up.” He extended a hand.

The boy stood on his own. Wetness on his belly. He hoped the man hadn’t seen, didn’t know. The man’s face gave no indication. The boy slid the gifted chalk into his pocket.

The man stepped back a few feet and looked hard at the outline, as if searching deep water for something he was certain lay just beyond his vision. “What do you think?”

The boy was shocked by what he saw: “It’s me.”

The man had used vibrant colors, lines weaving through each other, intertwining in a braid. The effect was of a pulsing energy, like a force field in the boy’s shape. The boy couldn’t believe how big he’d gotten.

A faraway voice called his name. The boy ran to his father without looking back, the blood-red chalk nestled firmly against his thigh.

 

After graduating from Western Michigan University with an MFA in fiction, Darrin Doyle taught English in Japan for a year. He then earned his PhD from the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of the novels Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo, and the short story collection The Dark Will End the Dark. His short stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Harpur Palate, Redivider, BULL, and Puerto del Sol, among others. Currently, Darrin teaches at Central Michigan University and lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with his wife and two sons.

A Wrinkle in Grief by Savannah Slone

whitewater rafting in molten silence,
a blunt abstraction
to distract yourself from your own humming of
insufficient hymns
melancholy was served as an appetizer
with a dirty glass later filled with water
with mostly melted ice cubes
that day
and it didn’t matter
because how could anything matter
when you’re mending your soul
lacerations with patches of anointed amnesia
sewn tight with silver seams but the
light still invades through the slits
since you’re not very good at sewing
wounds, your flux repairs an attempt worth giving up on

 

Savannah Slone is a queer writer who is completing her M.F.A. in the Pacific Northwest. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in, or will soon appear in Heavy Feather Review, Boston Accent Lit, The Airgonaut, Ghost City Press, decomP magazinE, Maudlin House, FIVE:2:ONE, Pidgeonholes, TERSE Journal, Glass, and elsewhere. She enjoys reading, knitting, hiking, and discussing intersectional feminism. You can read more of her work at http://www.savannahslonewriter.com.

On the Point Between You and Infinity by Chloe N. Clark

I had a dream that you submerged my body in the lake. My husband told me this, as he washed dishes after breakfast. He was so careful with the plates, slowly turning them in his hands as he washed away the remnants of French toast and syrup. I almost didn’t hear him, he spoke soft as he stared out the window. I wondered for a moment if he meant to speak aloud at all. His gaze was out the window, focused on a distant point—maybe the tree that grew on the hill behind our house, he was always looking at that tree. But then he turned to me, looked me directly in the eye, and asked, why the fuck would you do that?

In dreams, when I was a child, I’d get lost for days, weeks, once even for my entire lifetime. My mother called me “her good dreamer” and other mothers marveled at the way I would nap anywhere—the limbs of trees, the backs of cars, under tables at neighborhood birthday parties. In my dreams, I’d always be going somewhere else, I could never stay in one place. Sometimes my legs ached when I woke up, from all the trudging through forests, the swimming through oceans, the walking through cities I’d never been in before. But I’d never submerged anyone in a lake. So I turned to my husband, what are you talking about?

I don’t mean you, like in reality, I mean the dream you. Why would you push me under the water? He turned back to look out the window, hands returning to the work of dishes. His back turned to me reminded me of the first time we’d met. I’d been lying on the river bank, elbows spread wide so my hands could clasp behind my head, staring at the sky to watch clouds. I liked to find the shapes that I knew weren’t there—it was easy to say what a cloud might look like, much harder to figure out what it could never look like. I heard a splash and turned my gaze earthward, to a man at the river, who was trying in vain to skip a rock across the surface. As if you could do that on such a moving surface, there was something so hopeful in his foolishness. I’d yelled out, I don’t think they’ll skip. He’d turned to me, one hand going to shield his eyes so he could see me through the sunlight. I’m not trying to skip them, he said. I’m just throwing them.

Maybe I was mad at you? I ask him. I tried to imagine the stream of dream events that would lead to me wanting to sink him like a stone. He shrugged, I don’t think I’d done anything. He has moved on to drying the dishes, to the slow movement of towel across plates. Well, what happened before the submersion? I stood up from the table, walked to him, put my hands around his waist, tucked my head into the crook between his head and shoulder. That was the beginning, he said.

About a month after we were married, he’d told me that when he was a child he had used to sleep walk. His mother would find him halfway across town, some nights. His parents had rigged up bells, alarms, ways to make sure they heard him or he walked up. He told me that the strange thing was that he never dreamed of movement, he was always still in his dreams, removed as if he was watching a movie of someone else’s life. And then one day he stopped doing it, he started dreaming as himself. He never woke up again, outside, staring up at the night sky peppered with sharp stars.

Well, what was the end then? I asked. He stopped drying the plate in his hands, set it down, turned so we faced one another, his hands now on my waist, my hands again on his. Outside the birds in the trees were singing, the crickets were chirping, such sounds. He pulled me a little closer, let our bodies sway together to the sounds. Our hearts beating to the same tune for a moment, and then he spun me out into a single twirl. He said, I think you pulled me back out.

 

Chloe N. Clark’s poems and fiction appear in Apex, Future Fire, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out now and she can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.

as a love story by Gervanna Stephens

I think I’m dying
for my heart forgets its job
to circulate blood.
There’s a fluttering in my chest.
An incessant flapping. Maybe
my heart remembers being a butterfly. Maybe
my heart remembers itself a false start
shooting off before the trigger
stalling along the way. Maybe
my heart remembers a past life
yearning for completion. Maybe
these butterflies will choke up
my throat, scrape pink
vomit heart from chest. Maybe
my heart sputtering is only
lack of use and not failure. Maybe
the ba-dum-dum-dum of my chest is louder. Maybe?
but I still think I’m dying
loneliness a persistent suitor
visits me every morning, reminds me
the sheets are cold
no one can fit in the house of my chest
laid bare a naked flame
ready to ignite everything
but my passions are dying
which are me right?
I think I’m dying
heart failing turned jelly
feet heavy but present
persistent in their opposing move
black goes first in this game
pawns protected by king’s castle
weak held dainty
toes after polish locked
skeletal to protect this path
this need to love, my heart
forgets I was once a martyr
dying. There’s a buzzing in my chest.
An untiring humming and drumming
a ba-hum-bug of forgetting. Maybe
my heart remembers being real
feeling and breaking down like a widow
old wood and weathered rock. Maybe
my heart thinks it’s dying
love an old cracked thing
weightless and priceless
flowing and steady.

 

Gervanna Stephens is a Jamaican poet and proud Slytherin with congenital amputation living in Canada. Her work has appeared in magazines like 8 poems, TERSE. Journal, WusGood.black, Whirlwind Magazine, Enclave, 12 Point Collective, and Anti-Heroin Chic. She hates public speaking, has two sisters who are way better writers than her and thinks unicorns laugh when we say they aren’t real. Tweets @gravitystephens.

Bear by Shayne Terry

You think it could never happen to you, and then it does. You are attacked by a bear.

It happens on vacation. You decide, what the heck, you’ve been talking about Yosemite all these years. You pack your sleeping bag, your work boots. They’ll do on a hike. You load up the wagon and make the drive. It’s long and the AC craps out, but you’re seeing a goddamn national park. People lived in the heat for so long. People lived!

The price to camp in the park is extortion. You pull into the Jolly Kone in Bridgeport and order a malt. Tomorrow, you’ll leave the wagon and walk. Tonight, you’ll sleep in the backseat. You’ve slept in your car before. So little in this world comes free.

At dusk, you have to piss, so you cross a field in the dim pink almost-night to get to a gas station. The whole world smells like rock and diesel.

An old man loiters at the nearest pump. You are an old man. An older man, a man with a chicken gizzard. You aren’t afraid of old men.

The bathroom is locked.

“Need a key,” the old man calls. He puts a hand on his invisible truck.

You are gearing up to go inside when you feel a shadow from behind like a plane overhead and you find yourself in the grip of a bear.

It begins as a bear hug, but he gets you on the ground quick. His fur is wet and thick like a pelt of moss. He has been rolling in sweet grass.

You expect a beating, to be paddled around. But the bear drapes himself across you and lies there, heaving into your ear. Your right cheek flat against the gravel, you spot the Velcro sneakers of the old man.

“Help,” you call. You would scream, but your ribcage is compressed by the bear. “Help me.” You haven’t heard your own voice in months and it sounds weak, even considering the circumstances. You always hoped you’d be able to muster strength in a dire situation.

A pair of snakeskin sandals emerges from the gas station.

“Would you look at that,” a woman says.

“Tell me about it,” the old man says.

“He’s playing nice,” the woman says. Then she calls, “Good bear! Good boy! Good bear!”

Upon hearing these encouraging words, the bear nuzzles into you. His weight chokes your breath. “Help,” you try to say again, but nothing comes out.

It seems the bear wants to bore a hole in your back with his chest. He rolls across you and moans, plants his snout in your hair and sniffs. You have been driving all day in the heat. You don’t smell pretty, but the bear seems to like it. Maybe your pheromones speak bear. Maybe somewhere way back in your ancestry there is a bear enchantress.

With your one unpinned arm you wave at the sneakers and the sandals. You mean to express that you are frantic, but they interpret your wave as fun and games.

“Yes, hello,” the woman says. “You’ve met our friend. He looks smitten.”

“He doesn’t encounter too many strangers.”

“Sure doesn’t.”

The bear places his paw over your hand. You are submerged, swimming in his musk. The pad of his palm is soft like old, loved leather.

You think of Virginia, who always wanted to see the West, but never made it past the Mississippi. It never seemed like a good time to pick up and go. Still isn’t, apparently. Here you are trapped under a bear. Better than other kinds of being trapped, she might say. At least you can feel the life in this thing, feel it when the bear breathes in, a temporary release of the crush of your spine. Feel it when the bear breathes out, a heaviness that threatens to sink you into the ground.

You try to match your breathing to the bear’s, but he has astounding lung capacity. You shouldn’t have smoked all those years.

A pair of boots arrives, kicking up the gravel.

“Sheriff.”

“Sir. Ma’am.”

“Sheriff.”

“What do we have here?” The boots circle you and the bear, exiting and reentering your line of sight. “Looks like he’s nodding off.”

And indeed the bear grows heavier. He lets his cheek rest on the side of your face. A fly that formerly buzzed around his ear takes up residence on your brow as your temple is pressed into a rock like a crushed flower. You blink the fly away. The pink of the sunset gives way to the yellow light of the gas station and the dark beyond. You will not be saved.

“Good bear,” says the Sheriff. And then to the sneakers and the sandals: “I’ve been trying to teach him to be gentler.”

The bear stirs briefly on the brink of sleep, then relaxes his full weight into you. You try to live on a little less air.

The boots approach you under the slumbering bear, stop a few feet short of your face. They are scuffed with a silver heel.

The Sheriff crouches and peers at you. His face is lined like yours. He has had to make hard choices like you have. He has half-trained a bear.

“Passing through?”

You blink twice.

“You know, you’re pretty close to Yosemite. You make it there yet?”

You blink once.

“Too bad,” the Sheriff says. “It’s beautiful out there.”

 

Shayne Terry is a Midwestern transplant living and writing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in American Chordata, (b)OINK, and Wigleaf and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was a contributor at the 2016 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and is the recipient of a 2018 residency from the Vermont Studio Center. Shayne is a member of the Rumble Ponies Writing Collective.

Delayed Lightning by Benjamin Niespodziany

My parents bought me a ladder after I suggested a canoe. Offered to hold the legs as I climbed up their roof. The ceiling caved in last spring, a mean tornado, and they were proud of it, kept it open, wanted me to take a family portrait from up above. Something without me to frame on the wall. Grandkids and all smiling in the rubble, looking up through the wreckage of an Oklahoma cyclone. My brother-in-law said, “If you do this for us, I’ll pay for your guitar lessons.” I shook my head. All I wanted was a lawn chair or a burlap hammock, anything to make the treeless summers less frantic. “I’ll do it for free, don’t sign me up for anything.”

* * *

Following my second guitar lesson, I tripped the pilled out musician when he invited me to the largest bar made out of chicken wire. “They call it The Phoenix,” he said, rising to his feet and wiping off his knees. After a few joints, he told me how his braids talked to him in swift whispers. “I can’t sleep.” I never saw him take a sip but he always described the size of his hangovers, told me one was bigger than a school bus engine, another “larger than a muffler.” During one of his lengthy bathroom breaks, I took his guitar case and filled it with used combs and bad poems. “I’m allergic to my car ride home,” he confessed after he swallowed gallons of water, spilled most of it on his chest. He resembled a shipwreck and I tattooed the word ‘Driftwood’ onto his lower back, apologizing to him for everything by cannonballing on his couch, a pounce that opened the floor where the rats surfaced, took over.

* * *

I’m a changed man now. More bow ties. More cheesecake. Saved and bought a kayak. I hold a telescope made out of jealous bones and shuffle cards at senior centers. Three cities over, I juggle four snoring jobs. To craft a happy ending is to sing on a green hill with a box of tissues. I twirl forgiveness, turn into sawdust, and healpatch the wounds of my enemies. It takes a typhoon to befriend a meadow sneeze. Once asleep, I examine the scabs of every oil tycoon through used microscopes stolen from a lab in Galveston. My arms are overgrown with vines and leaves but no one speaks on it. When my parents call, they say how the wind makes their skyholes scream. Sweet humid trees, I mail them palms and say to layer the roof when it rains. “Humid Trees,” my postcard scribbles again, “it’s what we’ll call the band.” That or Thunder Parade. Turn left right here. I know a camel that can show us the rest of the way.

 

Benjamin Niespodziany is a night librarian at the University of Chicago and is really bad at kayaking and playing the guitar. He runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas] and has had work published in Ghost City Press, Occulum, formercactus, Five2One, and a batch of others.

Lottie’s Husband, Out of His Skin by Nick Black

I was tossed twenty, thirty feet into the air, without, I noticed, my body coming with me. My mortal remains, below, stood a second or two, then dropped like a pile of kicked-over books.

Mourners rushed over, no trace of decorum, blocking my view from above…

…where I hang suspended, high above the plot where, moments ago, I’d been officiating the funeral of Saul Rubinstein.

Now I’ve never felt entirely comfortable around Rubinstein – Rubinstein whose shadow only darkened my shul on High Holidays, and only then to pass his business card around, not that this is so rare, Rubinstein who’d shoot me looks that could slice salmon if I even glanced at his wife (his second, a convert half his age, if that) in passing on the street, Rubinstein who shuffled like a thief in his oversized shoes whenever I went with Lottie to buy a nice dress in his shop – but I’d thought burying him at least would be easy.

It had started fine: in the prayer hall, tears, wailing, everything good. Things done the way they’re always done. It’s not the best part of being a rabbi but I’m told I give a good funeral. “They’re queuing up to be buried by you,” Lottie would tease. “Because you sound like Paul Robeson. If he came from Manchester. Or even…,” and she’d bump her eyebrows up toward the ceiling, once, twice, until I poked her to be more reverent.

After the service, we went out to the graveside, the less steady attendees catching a ride on the back of the groundsman’s buggy. It rattled off between the gravestones, passengers clutching each other, risking death and mutilation. Nevertheless, a beautiful day, rows of wet marble sparkling in the sunshine. There must have been rain in the night.

A few minutes to get to the plot, then wait for the stragglers. This place is always expanding but people won’t stop dying. “I’m glad we didn’t get lost,” I said to the widow. “It wouldn’t have been the first time.” She smiled at me, and wouldn’t look away, and I didn’t want to be rude, so there we were, staring at each other, until finally she said, “You want to carry a sat nav around widya,” in her Irish accent and laughed. It’s actually not such a bad idea.

Everyone finally gathered, I was just about to say some words, my head dipped, the crumbling mouth of the grave in the corner of my vision, when suddenly I heard five loud raps against wood.

And that’s when I seemingly leapt out of my skin.

* * *

I don’t like this.

“I don’t like this!” I cry, no Paul Robeson now. Nobody looks up. Can they not hear me? Or see me? (I’m not a small man.) Is a six foot three rabbi hovering in the air a thing to ignore?

I flap, I flail, to no avail.

Looking down at the mourners crowded around my body, I wonder can they not hear Saul’s banging either? Who knows what sort of mood he must be in, almost choking to death on a fish supper, then waking up to find he’s being buried alive?

And I think I’m having a bad day.

* * *

My mind, as it’s wont to do, begins to fret.

My late wife, Lottie, may her memory be a blessing, I drove crazy from the first day we met with my thoughts and doubts. “What if we’ve been wrong all these centuries?,” I’d ask, four in the morning. “You think Jesus will forgive us?”

“I know,” another time, “The Lord gave us Free Will so we must actively choose the right path, but couldn’t He have at least given us a nicer nature with it?” For four hours in this vein. That one got me banned from drinking coffee after 7 pm.

Our daughter Simone was even worse, all big black eyes and bad nerves from birth. Her night terrors would have her paw the paper off the bedroom wall, that when we could wean her out of our bed and into her own. We’d talk to her, “What are you so frightened of, darling? You’re such a good girl, we love you ‘til our hearts burst” – not a good thing to say, it turns out.

I’d watch “The E.T.” with her, over and over, she loved that one, we must’ve worn the video tape thin, and Lottie would radiate with amusement to see how it wet my face, every time.

Lottie said Simone had an overactive imagination, something she’d outgrow. (“Don’t you worry,” she’d whisper, stroking hair off Simone’s forehead. “Don’t you worry about her,” she’d whisper, doing the same with me, hours later.) Now Simone lives in Tel Aviv, and takes medication against “panic attacks.” She should know the morning Saul and I are having, she thinks she has anything to panic about! Of course, she should never know such a thing. My little girl.

Her husband Yoshi Muginstein is a giant. Even I, at six three, have my face pressed into a wall of chest when he insists on embracing. “Let him be,” Lottie would say when I’d complain. “He’s a warm man, and he makes her feel safe.” Reading my mind: “Most the time.”

I wish he were here now, the giant Yoshi, to reach up and pluck me from the sky.

I wish Lottie were, even more so.

A handsome young man, seeing the waving-around arms and poor Mrs. Rubinstein, the young widow, is sprinting from his service to ours, leaping over headstones, skullcap clutched to his head with his right hand so it doesn’t fly off. The huddle around my body breaks to let him in. I hope he’s a doctor and not just nosey.

* * *

I’m still here.

Turning somersaults.

Though I think I’m managing to slow now, thank HaShem. I was only trying to reach down, wave for attention… The spinning’s made me dizzy. Like a hamster wheel, round and round! Oy gevalt, I hope it stops entirely soon…

This reminds me of the night Lottie and I tried to help Simone with her P.E. phobia. Ha! Never a small-boned creature, she’d come home from primary school sobbing, drained, her face like putty, “Please write me a note that I never have to do P.E. again!” So Lottie and I, and we weren’t young parents, Simone was a late and unexpected blessing, like with Abraham and Sarah, we dragged all the furniture in the living room to one side and we were all three of us practicing forward rolls on the carpet, my legs and feet crashing into the side tables, Lottie toppling sideways, bottom over head. Oh, we ached and hurt afterwards, but for the laughter, it was worth every bruise. What the congregation would have thought to see us, rolling about. We could probably have sold tickets.

* * *

The young grave-hurdler is performing CPR on me. Some of the mourners are getting restless. They see enough medical drama on television. Stray members begin to drift off.
My gaze falls upon a girl in her forties on the edge of the party. Lottie always complained that I had an eye for the ladies, and I cannot, floating above holy ground, deny this girl’s a beauty, her eyes, under her hat, huge and dark like prunes soaking in water. A healthy figure, too, but I’m not dwelling on that, Lottie. I’m noticing that, hand raised against the sun, she’s got her back to everyone else, and is looking around.

Can she see me? Did she spot a foot, dangling down, black polished shoes shining in the sun?

Someone calls, and she turns. She’s walking towards an older couple and the three of them are striding away, to the car park. So maybe not.

Then suddenly she stops and turns again, touches the older woman’s arm… What’s she pointing at?

Quieter from up here but tap, tap, tap…

He’s behind you!, I want to shout. Could I sound more like a pantomime?

Tap, tap, a couple more.

I turn…

And in the far trees see a tiny woodpecker.

I’m floating in the air, a blimp, because of a farshtinkener woodpecker.

If I wasn’t probably already dead, I’d die of shame.

* * *

A short time later, and Mrs. Rubinstein’s hugging the young man. Men are hugging him. They’re queuing up now to hug him, to pat his shoulders, bank notes are being stuffed in his top pocket to his protests.

All the while, I’m drifting down, slow as tree fluff airborne on a hot summer’s day. My face is a few feet below me, the eyes still closed but there’s colour in my cheeks, egg yolk in my beard. Why didn’t I notice that before leaving home? The least of my problems.

Not too decrepit looking, from a certain distance. Would you still take a dance with me, Lottie?

Before I even get there, my old dry lips start to part in a smile.

 

Nick Black manages two small public libraries in North London. His writing has been published in lit mags including FlashBack Fiction, Entropy, Jellyfish Review, (b)OINKzine, the Lonely Crowd, Open Pen, Train Lit Mag, and Funhouse, He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.

 

Eryx and Hypatius by Ray Ball

Before the stoning
before the council
condemning those who claimed
there was a time when He was not
as heretics, Hypatius
charmed a snake.
The serpent coiled in the emperor’s treasury
like a dragon guarding the royal gold.
The bishop of Gangra arrived,
wielding his staff as a weapon. Perhaps,
as the legends say,
he beat the snake, striking its mouth repeatedly, until wearied,
the giant reptile surrendered its free will
and slunk after the saint to be sacrificed at the pyre.
But perhaps,
that is only
a story we tell
ourselves
about good and evil patterned too simply to tell
wisdom from venom. The shape of the staff
matters when a holy man
comes to hook a snake, when the snake sheds
its skin in the marketplace
and winds on as if resurrected,
when something nearly extinct,
like the sand boa,
reappears.

 

Ray Ball grew up in Oklahoma and Texas and received her PhD in History from Ohio State. She is currently a history professor based in Anchorage, Alaska. When not in the classroom or the archives, she enjoys running marathons and drinking bitter beverages. She is the author of two history books and her creative work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Breadcrumbs Mag, L’Éphémère Review, and The Cabinet of Heed. She tweets @ProfessorBall.