A Gun in the First Act by Scott Garson

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Early Intervention by Colleen Rothman

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

 

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

Last Night in Antsville by Sharon Suzuki-Martinez

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

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

 

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

 

Escalator by Dan Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Ganymede by Chelsea Harris

Daddy bought a trailer in Leisure Woods Mobile Home Park when I was a freshman in high school. The owners before us were in their seventies, stabbed in the heart and the neck by a couple high on junk, looking for money. Daddy got it for a steal. They replaced the carpet before we moved in. He said, Baby I know it’s not much but it’s something. That’s what everyone says in Leisure Woods, I know it’s not much but it’s something, as if something, whatever it is, is enough.

The walls are stacked with wood paneling. There’s a chip in the refrigerator door, right by the handle. I didn’t even know a fridge could chip. There’s a futon and a mattress on the floor, a Lay-Z-Boy in the corner by the TV. Daddy buys top ramen and Busch Light and fudgesicles. Daddy tells me he’ll take me clothes shopping one of these days, trade out my Faded Glory for something from the strip mall.

I pull a pop from its greasy sleeve and toss the wrapper on the floor. The TV is on, always. When I was a kid I’d pretend it was my momma. When we’d make gifts for Mother’s Day at school, folded sheets of construction paper with lopsided hearts strung on their covers, booklets of coupons labeled with UNLOAD DISHWASHER and PUT AWAY THE GROCERIES, necklaces laced with clay beads, I’d give them to the TV. I’d lay them on the carpet at its feet, place them on its head, try and stick them in the VCR. I’d say, I love you, Momma. I’d say, Happy Mother’s Day. The TV would flash, would shine its gritty, pixelated teeth.

Outside the trailer there’s a rusted bike, a molded canopy, an old grill smothered in bits of charcoaled scraps, in gallons of grease. There is also a boy. He lives next door. The first thing he said to me was, Did you know that the Ganymede moon is the largest moon in the solar system? We play planets every day after school now. Sometimes he lets me be Ganymede. He says they named it after Ganymede the Trojan prince. He was gay, he tells me. He scrunches his face into a zit and we don’t talk about it again for a long, long time.

We’re on my daddy’s mattress and she’s touching me all over. Her name is Carmela and she’s two grades above me and lives four trailers down, three over. Afterward, we count the pockmarks in the ceiling. She turns to me and scans my face, says, I gave up after eleven. I don’t know if she’s talking about herself or the ceiling. I knew them, she says. She sits up, tosses the sheet off her legs. I think one of them died in here. I knew this wasn’t true, but I let her have it. Sometimes that’s the nicest thing you can do for someone.

Turns out Ganymede wasn’t gay, just pretty. Tonight I am Venus. We’re sitting on top of the kitchen counters. Daddy hasn’t been back in days but I’m not worried. The boy says that there is life on Mars. That he wants to be Mars. I rub my finger on the splintered wood beneath the lip of the countertop. A shard stuffs itself inside my skin, like sheets in a dryer. It is a part of me now, the wood, and I don’t even flinch.

 

Chelsea Harris has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Portland Review, Literary Orphans, Grimoire, and Minola Review, among others. She is the co-curator of Wallpaper Magazine and received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago.

The Lazarus Questionnaire by Ted Mico

Please list the ways in which our concept of death might be improved upon:

The sin of living, the sin of not dying: which is the greater sin?     

Would peacock cremation be the best way to jump-start the phoenix population?   

Did you meet the dead animals you’d killed in your first life? How’d that go?

To the best of your recollection, what was the average wingspan of a seraph?

Were they beautiful? If yes, did you feel judged by this loveliness?  

Did you hear the Cocteau Twins coming or going?  

Was there forgiveness? Was there?

Did you hear the crows peck open the field above you?

The regret of going, the regret of coming back: which is the keener?

Do you feel you’ve stopped living or stopped dying?

To the nearest decimal point, please count your blessings:

When you examine a Lichtenstein self-portrait, do you see a self?

Do you feel you’re the victim of a father and son magic act?

Do you consider earth your new birth mother?

Describe your feelings toward God the Father and his apprentice son:

How many times a week do you now have sex with your wife?        

Is this more or less than before?           

Define the traits you have in common with a) a seraph, b) a peacock c) a phoenix

Do people see you as coming or going?

Please use the space below to tell us what you want to see the next time:

 

 

Ted Mico began his writing career in London as a critic for the weekly music paper Melody Maker. Since then, he has edited three books, written columns for places such as The Guardian and Huffington Post, and had his poetry published in journals such as Caesura. He is now based in Venice, California.

 

The Flat by Michael Alessi

I’m changing a tire with my father when his hands fall off. There’s no blood, though they wiggle in the heat, palm up, like two helpless crabs kicking on their backs. My father continues to twist at the lug wrench with his arm stumps. His face continues to sweat and groan because wrenching is hard work, even harder without hands. Good thing we prepared for this, he says, meaning, I think, the flat. While this is happening a hawk swoops in between us and snatches one of the hands off the ground. Do you want me to call someone? I ask. He grunts, meaning, I think, that I have a job already. It’s to pocket the lug nuts and not lose them. I lift my father’s remaining hand out of the dirt and dust it off as I might a worn leather glove. Maybe this is a hand’s true purpose: to grasp nothing. Maybe because the rest of him is sweating nearby, it’s easy to believe he still controls its grip, the way it seems to tirelessly wrestle mine for the surest hold, always slipping. Does it hurt? I ask. My father juts his chin as if to say yes, as if to say this is the only question that can link us; enough to let me know his answer, before he speaks it, will be no answer at all. This one’s starting to give, he says. He moves his arm stumps as if to choke up on the wrench. Overhead the hawk becomes a dot and then a hawk and then a dot again.

 

Michael Alessi received his MFA from Old Dominion University. His work has recently appeared in Mid-American Review, Passages North, The Pinch, the minnesota review, Paper Darts, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. A native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, he currently lives in Chicago.