Birds of a Feather by Tianna Grosch

The small view on the New Mexican plain doesn’t offer much from the barred windows of cell 118, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of a bird out in this heat. These are the ones I sketch, in quiet moments to myself with a pen and paper I bought from Charlotte. Her favorite, she told me, are hummingbirds. Mine too. I draw them from memory. My garden used to attract them for miles. I would sit by the window, glass between us, and watch as they swarmed, wings buzzing and beating against the stiff air miles a minute.

I fondle three pills tucked away in my breast pocket, imagine what it would feel like to pop them in my mouth and swallow. I wouldn’t need water to chase them down, but I don’t dare take them. The little pills anchor me in more ways than one.

I think back to Charlotte’s proposal, her nonchalance in telling me how to start. I could see how it would become a habit, hiding the tiny pearls in my cheek at each Med-Line, transferring them to the secret pocket fashioned in the breast of my jumpsuit.

Charlotte and I sat together in the middle of the block, two months ago now, a sea of women surrounding us. I looked around, keeping my head low. My eyes registered the human shades coloring the room – midnight, chestnut, olive, porcelain. The rhythm of voices pulled me in and pushed me back out, a tide of small talk, complaints, criticisms, and misfortunes – secrets were the undercurrent.

I focused back on Charlotte.

She leaned in, whispering. “You know those little pills you get?”

“Yeah.”

“Share those with me and I’ll share my commissary.”

“What do you want with them?”

Charlotte chuckled, tugging at her scraggly, braided hair. “Same as you, sweetie. An escape.”

Charlotte reached out and traced the tip of her finger across the back of my hand.

“Take your time, think about it.” She smiled at me, and her eyes wrinkled at the corners. “We have all the time in the world.”

Charlotte is invincible, I’m almost certain. Like a hummingbird flitting her wings, she is unstoppable. But then again, she’s already caught.

A bird without wings at all. Just like me.

 

Tianna Grosch received her MFA at Arcadia University last year and works as Assistant Editor at Times Publishing Newspapers. She is working on a debut novel about women who survive trauma, as well as a memoir. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Ellipsis Zine, Crack the Spine, Burning House Press, Who Writes Short Shorts, New Pop Lit, Blanket Sea Magazine, Echo Lit Mag, and Nabu Review, among others. In her free-time she gardens on her family farm and dreams up dark fiction. Follow her on Twitter @tianng92 or check out her writing on CreativeTianna.com.

Kitchen, West-Facing Window by Jackie Sherbow

In our morning conversations the creature
on the roof might be invisible; a ducks’ nest
hanging batlike from the ceiling;
someone and their dog as one body.
Flour dripped on potting soil makes
bread grow—thick, healthy loaves,
stalagmites in our kitchen. I ask for
twine and you bring me
a length. I tie it around the stringy
stalks I’ve just replanted. This thing
always seems to lean away
from the sun—I turn it, like
I know better. To be happy
is an effort—you know this
about me.

 

Jackie Sherbow is a writer and editor living in New York. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Moonchild Magazine, Bad Pony, Luna Luna, Day One, The Opiate, and elsewhere, and have been part of the Emotive Fruition performance series. She works as an editor for two leading mystery-fiction magazines, as well as Newtown Literary, the literary journal dedicated to the borough of Queens, NY.

Feeding Time by Tara Isabel Zambrano

Almost spring, and a sparrow hits the fan and falls into the mutton curry while we’re having lunch. Papa says it’s something to do with feeding her chicks, the bird’s always in a hurry. I pick up and carry the stunned little creature to the bed where Papa and Ma don’t sleep together anymore.

Year after year these sparrows have been making nests in that corner of the living room―one morning a broken egg on the floor, yolk clinging to the fractured shell. The same week Ma woke up in a pool of blood and cried for weeks because it was a boy.

Every few days, Ma cleans the bird shit stuck on the floor and the wall. Back in the nest, the mother’s at attention, a rush of wings as if responding to Ma’s curses. Some days the sparrow sits on the fence, flies around, swoops this way and that, shows off.

Now the bird lies on her side, breathing hard, until she puffs her gravy stained chest and stands up. Before I help Ma to dispose the mutton curry―the only food we had because we’re down to single meals a day since Papa got fired last month, I check on her again―and sure enough she’s back in the nest, peeping at our empty dining table.

 

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas. Her fiction has been published in Tin House Online, Bat City Review, Slice, Yemassee, and other journals. She works as a semiconductor designer in a startup and holds an Instrument Rating for single engine aircraft. She reads prose for The Common.

German Company Says Talking Doll is Not “Espionage Device” by Martin Ott

Cayla listens to chatter perhaps a little too well.
She asks questions. Important for the kids to tell
her their toughest regrets. Eyes are not windows
to the soul. They are mirrors for secrets exposed.

No one knew Cayla was a double agent, first
for parents worried about boyfriends and the thirst
for drugs. The nights were long on the cold shelves
and the dolls decided to make up alternative selves.

Some children became dolls. Some dolls became spies.
Some spies became children. Some memories were lies.
The press release was practiced by a boy kissing the lips
of his cordial doll, his paralyzed audience, a syllepsis

from the time she, he, or they could imagine a universe
beyond the swift stares and steps; the microphone whirs
in a world where it is fine to not believe or to know.
The pieces, too, tell the assembly of how to grow.

 

A longtime resident of Los Angeles, Martin Ott has published eight books of poetry and fiction, most recently LESSONS IN CAMOUFLAGE, C&R Press, 2018. His first two poetry collections won the De Novo and Sandeen Prizes. His work has appeared in more than two hundred magazines and fifteen anthologies.

Wild Hairs by Tomas Marcantonio

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

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

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

“It’d hurt,” I say, trying to smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrug. “We can do it if you want.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I start thinking how I can end this amiably.

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

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

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

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

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

I look around.

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

“There’s all these people here.”

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

“No one else is swimming.”

“Yep. No one else. You a sheep?”

I don’t say anything.

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

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

“Goodbye, Mark.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nod.

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

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

 

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

Desireé Panda and the Lee Van Cleefs by Tracy Lynne Oliver

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

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

Have you versed before?

Have you come inside someone you wanted to become?

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

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

Let’s all be horrified.

 

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

Teethings by Deena Lilygren

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

 

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

Louisiana Necropoem by Laetitia Burns

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

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

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

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

 

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