The Stress on Modern Women by Alyssa Asquith

Maryanne had an ache in her stomach. It was a hard ache, like a rock settled there, down where her guts should be.

“Drink more water,” the Doctor advised her.

So Maryanne drank more water. Every morning, she stood at the kitchen sink and drank four tall glasses, one after another.

But the hardness did not go away. Instead, Maryanne could feel it moving upwards, from her stomach to her chest. Breathing grew difficult; she developed a cough. The Doctor prescribed her pills, for anxiety.

“The stress on modern women is enormous,” he explained.

Maryanne took the pills every morning, with her water. She worried less about the hardness, which seemed to continue its progression upwards, from her chest to her neck. When she swallowed, she could feel it resting there, at the very back of her throat.

* * *

One night, Maryanne woke suddenly, tasting blood, gasping for air.

“Take deep breaths,” the Doctor told Maryanne, kindly, when she called. “Have some water—you’re alright—you’ll be fine.”

Maryanne followed the Doctor’s advice. Back in bed, she propped her neck up, using three pillows, and closed her eyes, and tried not to worry.

* * *

The next night, Maryanne woke again, and tried to breathe, and couldn’t.

Something was lodged there, trapped in her airway—not hard, she realized, when she reached back and felt it, but soft, and warm, and wet. Maryanne pressed against the thing with her fingers, trying to force it back down her throat, but it was too big and too stuck and wouldn’t budge. When she ran to the sink, to drink from the faucet, the water came out her nose, burning.

She retched, once, then—without meaning to—and felt the thing move up, very slightly, to sit against the back of her tongue.

It moved again, with a second retch; and then again, with a third; and then again; and again and again; and up and up, and up; and then finally out—tasting of mucus, and blood—and into the sink, where it landed, softly, with a low, heavy slap.

Maryanne took a great, shuddering breath and clutched the counter for support. Her chest felt light, and strangely empty; the feeling of hardness had gone.

After a moment, she reached past the sink and switched on the light.

The thing was about the size of a tennis ball: perfectly round, and quite pink. When Maryanne leaned closer—blinking, squinting through beads of sweat—she could just make out the shape of a mouth, and two tiny nostrils, like poppy seeds.

Maryanne prodded it, gently, with her pinky, waiting for a twitch, or a cry. She prodded it again, and again and again, and then scooped it up, with both hands, and held it to the light. Its eyes were squeezed tight, in a kind of grimace. Its skin was bright with blood.

* * *

The Doctor was very apologetic.

“It’s just that this is not the usual progression of a pregnancy,” he explained to her. “It’s a highly unusual case.”

The baby lay in Maryanne’s lap, wrapped snugly in a woolen sock. It hadn’t stirred yet, or opened its eyes, but something about it felt real, and heavy—like a lump of coal, or a paperweight.

“Of course,” the Doctor said, “There was nothing to be done.” He paused, then said, “You mustn’t blame yourself.”

Maryanne, who had not been blaming herself, looked up from the baby at the Doctor. She had the distinct, inexplicable feeling that he was afraid of her.

“Do you want to be a mother?” the Doctor asked.

Maryanne looked down again at her lap. She shifted the baby, pulling it close, feeling its weight in the crook of her arm.

“But I am one,” she said.

The Doctor forced a smile, then reached over and took Maryanne’s hand.

“Of course you are,” the Doctor said, after a moment. “Of course you are, Maryanne.”

* * *

At home, Maryanne propped the baby up on a cushion and sat there for some time, watching it.

It was, she thought, a remarkably good baby: it did not cry or squirm; it did not cough or fuss; it seemed as happy to be lifted and held as it was to be set down again. But Maryanne held it anyway, and rocked it and bounced it, and put her nose to its head.

She thought again, with some resentment, of the Doctor: his apology; his strange fear.

Was she not a mother? The child had grown in her; the child was still growing. Even as she held it, she could feel it growing—if not larger, then denser—thickening, hardening.

Maryanne spent the rest of the day with her baby. When night fell, she tucked it into a shoebox and slid it beneath the bed, for safekeeping. She checked on it eight times, throughout the night, and each time found it sleeping soundly.

 

Alyssa Asquith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Lit, NEON, Adroit Journal, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She has her MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

How have I made beauty a prerequisite to belonging? by Rachel Stempel

I don’t answer
questions as asked
because I’ve my own
agendas. The dawn birds
wait for me to face the mirror to sing
their aubade—a lament whose ringing
never calms the tremors I’ve brought
to the table from furious
dream logic, the same
fury reddening
my cheeks, and I call it flush
because it sounds more romantic than truth

If I can pluck three eyelashes
              Today will be good

All good things come in threes

but I’ve lost count. Sometimes
you do something bad to prevent yourself
from doing something worse.

              Today I am a white horse caked in rouge, hellbent
on seduction

 

Rachel Stempel is a genderqueer Ukrainian-Jewish poet and PhD student in English at Binghamton University. They are the author of the chapbooks, BEFORE THE DESIRE TO EAT (Finishing Line Press), Dear Abbey (Bottlecap Press, 2022), and Interiors (Foundlings Press, 2022). They currently live, laugh, and love in New York with their rabbit, Diego. You can find them at www.racheljstempel.com.

The Lesbian’s Guide to Making a Baby by Jax Cassidy

1. Make sure you and your wife are in a comfortable position.

You both love each other and are ready to start your family. But keep in mind, having a child is a big step, one you both should be ready for. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding in the end. You’ll not only need to be financially stable enough to afford the expenses that come with a baby (formula, baby clothes, crib, car seat, etc.), but since neither of you are biologically male, you also must find alternative methods of conception that will come at a cost. Luckily, this method is the least invasive and the least expensive. We’re honored that you’ve chosen us for this special moment.

2. Decide on the sex of the baby. Set the temperature accordingly.

Of course, you won’t impose traditional gender roles on your future child. You’ve already discussed this with your wife. You will love your child no matter their orientation or gender identity. However, this method of conception requires a “starting point,” if you will. For a boy, set the thermostat to 60° Fahrenheit. For a girl set it to 88° Fahrenheit.

3. Open the seed packet included with the BabyGroTM  Starting Kit. Plant the seed 12 cm in the soil.

Plant your seed in a ten-inch terracotta flowerpot and keep indoors for best results. Keep in front of an east-facing window, in direct sunlight. If your windows do not face east or let in sunlight, we recommend purchasing a solar lamp. Light bulbs are available on our website, lamp not included.  Make sure you bury your seed deep enough into the soil for your baby to grow to a healthy size. After two weeks, you should start to notice a sprout. If no sprout appears after two weeks, call our Parental Support Line at 555-BABYGRO.

Note: If you requested our Twins Pack, we recommend planting both seeds in the same pot to emulate the bond that twins form in the womb. The flowerpot must be at least twenty inches wide, double the size recommended for the Only Child Pack.

4. Combine eight fluid ounces of water with the included packet of BabyGroTM Fertilizer. Water daily.

It is imperative that you water your baby every day. Water acts as their daily nourishment, much like how nutrients are passed from mother to child in the womb. Mix one teaspoon of BabyGroTM  Fertilizer with one cup of water to help your baby develop healthily. For best results, water around midday, when the sun is at its highest.

Nourishment for your baby can also come in the form of love and care. Even though your baby is still growing in the soil, they can hear you. Sing to your baby. Read to your baby. Play classical music, preferably Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, for your baby. Refrain from cursing or using foul language around your baby.

5. Perform the Full Moon Ritual.

Make note of what phase the moon is in when you plant your seed. When the cycle reaches the Full Moon, bring your baby outside when the moon is at its highest point in the sky. You and your wife must both participate. Greet the Moon Goddess. Tell her your names. Recite the prayer included on page four of this manual. Raise your baby to the sky. Ask the Moon Goddess for her blessing in the birth of your child. If she chooses to bestow her blessing, silver light will shine down on your baby. This means you can expect a healthy birth within five to seven days. Thank the Moon Goddess. Leave an offering in the form of menstrual blood.

6. Prepare for the birth of your baby.

The time has come. Congratulations! You and your wife will make wonderful parents. Once your baby has flowered, pull your baby out of the soil by its stem. This will not hurt your baby. As soon as the baby has emerged from the soil, she will begin to cry. Cradle the baby. Wipe off the excess dirt from her skin. You will notice the flower sprouting from your baby’s head. Trim the flower and replant it, then bring it outside as a sign to the Moon Goddess that the ritual was successful.

Your baby will not resemble or act like biologically born babies. Do not be alarmed. Your baby is just as human as the rest of them. You will notice the greenish tint to her skin. This should fade within the first two months. Feed your baby as you would any other baby, starting with formula, then moving to baby food. You may notice an affinity for plant-based foods as she gets older. Your child will accelerate in growth and development faster than normal babies. By age three, she will have the ability to read and form full sentences. You will refer to her as “gifted.” Your child will prefer to spend her time outdoors. Embrace her wild side. Let her get dirty. She will find comfort in the same environment she was grown in.

When your child inevitably asks you where she came from, or why she is different, you will tell her, “You came from wishes and prayer. You came from water and sunshine, from the earth and the moon, as do all beautiful things.”

 

Jax Cassidy is a queer writer living in New Orleans. They recently obtained their MFA in Fiction from the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. In 2019, they received their BA in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Their work has been previously published in Sonder Midwest and Metafore Magazine, and was a finalist in the River Styx Microfiction Contest.

Edible Maladies by Angie Kang

my mother calls the day after the shootings, but
            between us: a fence of teeth. firewall

of bone. this shared red tongue, coated with
            papillae of yellow stars

we’ve knotted into a nest of fragile
            domesticity. here, in the frozen umbra

of new news, our tongue
            does not know how to contort

to discuss it. instead, it ribbons.
            my mother asks: what is this tune?

and then a tinny hum. vibration around
            our useless appendage. the melody dark

and angry. I never knew anything
            to hold so much blood.

as I listen to my mother’s quivering
            voice, I worry my square incisors

with my tongue. when I got my braces
            off, this metal cage, my dentist

shaved off two millimeters of enamel,
            and when I got home my mother

cried. a week of calcium silence.
            mourning what she created and

could no longer protect.
            my lips are pursed as I listen,

trying to place her unfamiliar tune and give
            the yearning a name. together my mother

and I try the impossible: grasping at something
            out of reach, an answer that might

offer relief, satisfy us if only
            for an instant.

 

Angie Kang is a Chinese-American writer and illustrator living in San Francisco, CA. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Believer, The Rumpus, Narrative, The Offing, and others. She enjoys playing online chess, swimming in the ocean, and separating quarters by where they were minted. She can be found online at www.angiekang.net or on Instagram @anqiekanq.

Chickens by Harsimran Kaur

Before: I see grief speeding past my black Toyota Camry on the 29th intersection in the funny, stupid little town called Poppy. I have been living in Poppy for the past twenty-five years—this is where I met my chickens. There are twelve of them—all so ripe—I like them so much that I always want to adorn them. Neat. Put glitter under their eyes, pierce their strong hands (you’re supposed to pierce your hands, and not the softies on your body, left wasted like an ugly Christmas sweater, driven out of existence, lost into the cabaret.) The wolves in my backyard are in love with my chickens. I guess, everyone in Poppy is in love with my chickens—it’s as if their bodies are a magnet. It’s natural for anyone to fall in love with them. When I turn my neck back once again, I don’t see grief disappearing like a cloud of smoke, I don’t see it running in the opposite way anymore—not jolting itself into a corner. I see it turning back. When it’s eighty meters away, I sigh. My first thought is chickens. Perhaps grief is in love with them, too.

After: I come back home, and drop to my knees. The chickens are gone. All twelve of them. Not even a trace. I ask the wolves. I call the cops. I thought grief wouldn’t do anything. But it did. It took my chickens away, I say to Mr. Brad, the detective. A year goes by, I wait, wait, wait. I am so hungry… and they were so ripe. I wonder if they wouldn’t have disappeared without a trace if I fed them to the wolves in the backyard. At least I would have gotten something out of them—a ribcage, for example. A void in my living room—the ribcage. I am so sad. I wish they would come back to me. I would cut them into pieces. They were so ripe. They were like chemtrails over a country club. So present. I really would have eaten them—made them a part of me I would have always adored.

 

Harsimran Kaur (she/her) is a recent high school grad from Punjab, India. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, BULL, In Parenthesis, Big Windows Review, Milk Candy Review, JMWW, and elsewhere. An alumna of The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, her work has been recognized by The New York Times. She loves clementines and Lana Del Rey, and works as an editor-in-chief for The Creative Zine. She tweets @harsimranwrites.

On the night my uncle dies i sing a little song by Alyssandra Tobin

I dance a little dance. I let the Jersey Devil talk me down. I listen for the sound of that big voice in my head and find it loud. I pray before the altar of see you laters. I scoop poison out of our rivers. I plant trees in our cities. I think it is no small thing to die and yet it’s also the most ordinary. And what of it. I click my heels and I’m in a smaller world again. One where fewer people who loved me as a child are still here to love me as a bigger child. It’s the vanishing I can’t stand. The sudden jolt of empty stair. The switchback to nowhere. All of it’s got to mean something. What if I told you I had an uncle once named Harry Tacelli? You don’t care. And why should you. I care tho. I’m gonna care until they finally get me. You know, the ones who get everybody, in the end.

 

Alyssandra Tobin is the author of PUT EYES ON ME NOT LIKE A CURSE published by Quarterly West in 2022. Her poetry can be found in Poetry Northwest, Bennington Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

The Dar-Ron Motel by Julia Strayer

The doctor says I should spend the night nearby, just in case, and now I think I’m crazy for doing this so far from home. I find a cheap motel with free TV. It looks better at night when sunlight can’t get to it. Or in a fog when the edges are blurry. But by the light of day, it’s the kind of place I’d drive by without turning my head.

The sign says Dar-Ron Motel and I know a couple named Darla and Ron run it without even asking. Or maybe Darren and Ronda—without an H, because her mother wanted her to be special, the kind of person who wouldn’t grow up to own a rundown motel. Either way, Dar and Ron probably aren’t even together anymore. Maybe it’s just one of them—Darla with a new man who now helps her keep up the place, even though the sign still says some other guy’s name. Maybe the new man resents Ron. Maybe he’s grateful. Or maybe it’s just Darla because no man will stick around long enough to make changing the sign worthwhile.

The night clerk’s a gum chewing teen with red lipstick and hair that’s black on one side, white on the other. I wonder how much thought went into deciding which color would look best on which side. That’s the sort of thing that would prevent me from doing that sort of thing. I envy her. She’s probably the kind of person who’d never change herself for some guy making promises he’ll never keep just to get in her pants, eventually saddling her with a smaller, needier version of himself, unless she’s the one who finds a doctor far from home.

If I owned the motel, I’d name it The Francine because it’d be all mine. I wouldn’t cut up my name and share it with some guy, because that only leads to heartache and dead unicorns. At Halloween, I’d go all out decorating the place, and people would come from all over to see it. Halloween makes everyone equal—visible and invisible at the same time. I’m safe because I can see the masks. It’s easy to tell who’s pretending.

My motel would have a lounge where the lonely people who are missing persons from their own lives could feel like they’re part of something and like they have a home. Maybe they’d rent a room and maybe they’d even meet someone. And they wouldn’t care if the room came with free TV, at least not right away.

Julia Strayer has stories in Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf, and Atticus Review, among others, including the Best Small Fictions anthology. She teaches creative writing at New York University.

rabbit’s foot harvest by Robin Gow

we must take control
of our own luck. in the graveyard
we look for rabbits recently returned
from their convening with the dead.
pick a set of rules & believe in it.
slaughter on fridays. on fridays
when it rains. on friday the 13ths.
i had a friend once who had a purple rabbit’s foot.
she wore it as a keychain on her backpack
& told me there was a rabbit limping
in the yard, watching her, waiting
to steal the charm back. aren’t we all
waiting to take a limb back?
soon it will be a full moon or
a new moon. soon there will be
a cross-eyed man to do the deed.
shape-shifting witch who walks
along the edge of the cornfields
with only one hand. what does it mean
to steal from another’s body to keep our own?
all i want is assurance that tonight
the world will not swallow me.
i want to eat oranges. i want to sleep heavy
& easy so i create a ceremony from which luck
will fall like a dead tree.
shot with a silver bullet. the rabbit
always running from the meanings
of her skeleton. hiding in her hollow
& counting her legs. one, two, three, four.
sometimes my eyes fill with fingers
& i am also a rabbit with four feet
for the taking. then, limping in my friend’s
front yard. once bones are taken they are
never our own again. i put my finger bones
in a box & set it on a porch.
the house was full of rabbits.
apologies almost always come
too late. it is not a friday. the moon is
thin & haggard. we buried the purple foot.
did not cry in front of each other
but later wept in our homes
thinking of the animal circling the house
craving the body she once had.
maybe luck is always something taken.

 

Robin Gow (they/he/ze) is a trans poet and YA/MG author. They are the author of several poetry collections, an essay collection, and a YA novel in verse, A Million Quiet Revolutions. Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Washington Square Review.

Nails by Julia Kenny

I finally stop biting my nails when my seven-year-old shames me into it. Don’t bite, stop doing that, a gentle slap against the back of my hand. Are you embarrassed by my hands? I ask her, and she kind of shrugs me off. Her silence speaks volumes. So I dig out the clear polish and get to work. I wince as I paint over a broken cuticle. For the first day or so I marvel at how much worse they look with the shiny lacquer, at their vulgarity. If my daughter notices, she stays quiet. I worry about what she’ll find next. My chipped tooth, mottled skin. I try with all my might not to talk about my body in front of her, not to obsess. But she’s always listening when I least expect it. The other day, I hissed fuck under my breath and she called out from the other room, is everything okay?

Friends come over for dinner. She watches them kiss and races up to them. I saw you, I saw you! You saw us kiss? the woman says. We kiss all the time. My daughter giggles and does a dance. I’d bury my face in my hands if I wasn’t trying so hard not to bite my fingernails. My husband arrives home from work with a bag of groceries and we say hello. I went shopping in the morning but I’d forgotten nearly half of what he needed. I help him unpack the bag in our tiny kitchen. Almost immediately, the counter is again a wreck. I rub his back and feel him tense up ever so slightly.

All during dinner, I see my daughter’s eyes darting back and forth between us and the other couple. The other woman smiles a lot. She’s in a very good mood. Her laugh is light and comes easily. Her nails are short and tidy, a subtle crescent of white hovering just past her fingertips. I look down at my own hands, clutching my glass, so much fingertip exposed. I’m distracted and I try to reinsert myself into the conversation. They’re talking about politics while I was sure they were still on TV, and I make a joke that confuses everyone. My husband gives me a sheepish smile and shrugs and my ears go hot. I refill everyone’s drinks and let their chatter swirl around me, nodding along when it seems appropriate, grateful that no one brought dessert.

They finally go home and my daughter heads to bed. Once she falls asleep, I devour her. Her room is just barely lit up by a nightlight, and I study her in all her sleepy perfection. Gone are any angles, her face now slack, all eyelashes and tufts of unruly hair. Later that night, when she inevitably shuffles into our room, I’ll sneak back into hers. I’ll spread my limbs out across her tiny mattress, no one else to knock up against. I tell myself that if I get enough sleep, tomorrow will come easily. I’ll be light, I’ll smile and laugh. 

In the morning, she wakes up like a whirling dervish, full of questions and jokes and stories. I grimace. I’m tired. My husband makes breakfast while I brush her hair, beg her to get dressed a little quicker. I could take her, he offers, when I snap at her to get her shoes on. I glare at him. I’ve got this. I show her how to tie her laces, but she can’t seem to grasp the first step. She gets frustrated and asks for daddy, who swoops in. I move toward the front door, waiting. I check my phone. Within minutes she’s beaming with pride. She’s tied them herself. They hug and I tap my foot impatiently, loud enough that they both turn to look at me, disappointed. I overdo it on our way out the door, embrace him and give her a cookie for the walk, her eyes wide, watching.

Don’t bite, she says, on our way to school. With her backpack on my shoulder, I bring one hand to my mouth, while the other holds her cold hand, her gloves once again misplaced. I pull her soft fingers to my lips and kiss the dimples on her knuckles. For a moment, I feel a weight come off. Then I worry that the teachers will admonish me at the end of the day. We’ve also forgotten her hat. I bring my longest nail, my right ring finger, to my teeth and bite down, relishing in the familiar sting. I start again.

 

Julia Kenny’s fiction has appeared in The Greensboro Review. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Poem in Dismemberment by Marina Greenfeld

Late morning again, and I haven’t bloodied
the grass, haven’t said I miss you. I search

for clover, though I’ve yet to see any
in this new yard. Hunting not out of hope
of preservation, to seal my own mutated luck

between pages, but for the release of a spring
after struggle. Ever have I popped the heads

gone to seed, slung them into fertile afterlives
with a noose of their own necks. My mother calls
and thinks she wakes me, but I was waiting

for the clover. I cannot hear her over windchimes
and her whining dog, survivor of eight hours

in the cab of a truck with a dead man. She came out
like the rest of us, clean but missing pieces. Cries
at a shut door, barks when we hug. She bites me,

but her teeth hit only my ringed finger. Off my hand,
the silver pinched into a crooked heart. She knows

I didn’t want to keep her, that I sold the truck.
Let me show you how to shoot the clover. Let me
tell you while we plan our next move, a city

with no clover, a city you’ll change your mind about
after I’ve already arrived. Clover won’t scatter

when you ask; it waits, then launches whole—
catapult, weapon, nothing to be wished upon.

 

Marina Greenfeld is a poet and editor from southwest Florida and North Carolina. Her work has been published by 86 Logic, Brooklyn Poets, Plainsongs, Product Magazine, and The South Carolina Review. She is a poetry student in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.