Our love will stretch to cover this in time by Jeni De La O

There are
tests, after I
have gone. This morning it
was a last minute invite to
breakfast.

Dang. Her
pancakes are my
blueberry dreams. When I
bring in groceries I make just
one trip.

Twenty-
six bags and a
cantaloupe hang from my
forearm, digging a needless farm
of red

hot welts
I hide under
an old black cardigan.
There are essay questions on how
I can

reduce
the hard echo
built of my empty room.
I wish I could freeze us before
we strain

against
the framework of—
when I made pancakes I
always flipped the cake before time
and made

a mess;
and here I have,
again—something tender.
We ate them anyway, back then
pancakes

were still
butter-girlfriend
sweet; but now my hunger
is a sticky syrup on her
fingers.

 

Jeni De La O is an Afro-Cuban poet and storyteller living in Detroit. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Obsidian, Rigorous Magazine, Fifth Wednesday, Gigantic Sequins and others. Jeni founded Relato:Detroit, the nation’s first bilingual community storytelling event, which seeks to bridge linguistics divides through story. She is a Poetry Editor for Rockvale Review and organizes Poems in the Park, an acoustic reading series based in Detroit.

The Circus Comes to Town When You Die by Liz Wride

The last drops were squeezed from my childhood on a sun-drenched afternoon, when my Mother decided to tell me the honest truth about death. I was at that odd sort of age, where adults were constantly pulling at the corners of the world, unsure of how much to reveal to me. With her face and apron creased, she crouched down to my level.

The previous Summer, I had taken the Santa revelation well. I had just been glad that the Naughty List wasn’t real. Now, as my Mother’s brown eyes met mine, I got the feeling that she was about to tell me something she believed in wasn’t real.

“Your Uncle Joe will come stay with us for a while. He should get here tomorrow, but he’ll look a little different.”

“Will he have his beard?”

I remembered my Uncle Joe, a bear of a man all checked-shirts and bushy beard. He taught me how to juggle with oranges in the grocery store and watched the Super Bowl with me, shouting “Touchdown!” He’d share his nachos and dip with me during half-time.

My Mother hesitated. “You know how when people die, they are in the cemetery… the way Grandpa is?” She screwed her face up, like she’d been sucking on a lemon. “That’s not true. When people die… they become animals.”

My brain was citrus-sharp with questions: Did Uncle Joe get to pick what animal he’d be? What animal would I be when I died?

“Who did Bucky used to be?” I asked.

“Nobody – Bucky’s just a dog.”

“Your Uncle will be with us tomorrow, I’m told…” There were tears in her eyes.

* * *

With tomorrow, came animal control and a huge truck. For a moment, I thought the circus had come to town when I saw a crane haul the huge cage, covered in a huge sheet, out of the back of the truck. There was a deep, low growl.

“Who gets to decide what we’ll be once we’re dead?” I asked my Mother. She looked to my Father for answers, but he had none.

“I think it’s decided already.” She said, quietly. “I think we are that animal, deep down inside, even when we are alive.”

The crane dumped the cage in the backyard. What was surprising, was that folks never came out to look.

Men in high-vis vests and animal control officers with darts did a strange sort of dance. They moved their arms and stopped, they circled the cage…

There was another low growl.

“Please don’t dart him, officer. He’s had enough needles stuck in him when he was alive…,” my Mother said.

Eventually, they ripped the covering off the cage, and there, on it’s hind legs, stood a huge, brown grizzly bear. It’s jaws were open and it looked like it wanted to eat me.

I hid behind my Mother, even though I thought I was too old to hide behind anyone.

“Uncle Joe?” I asked, to nobody in particular. My Mother was already encircling my head with her arms. I didn’t see, as our neighbors twitched their curtains and peeked out from behind their blinds.

There was talk of diet. My Mother mentioned grasses, honey. My Father mentioned baby deer. The Animal Control guy mentioned the salmon in the National Parks. He had a jovial sort of sadness about him. I didn’t realize as a kid, but it’s the same sort of day-in-day out stoicism that people in the Emergency Room have.

My Mother said something along the lines of “We’ll think about it,” and the circus of animal control, with their high-vis and their trucks left with no fanfare.

Now, it was just us and the bear.

* * *

Once, when I was quite young, my Uncle Joe had been watching the Super Bowl with me. He’d lifted me up and then dumped me on the sofa, shouting “Touchdown!” along with the game. I laughed – but my Mother got angry and said he was being too rough.

They had their argument behind the closed door, and all I heard was the odd word, about blame and who was wrong.

I wondered now if Uncle Joe and I could still play our touchdown game, but I saw his big bear claws, and I knew we couldn’t. I was too scared.

That night, when I heard the sounds through my open window: critters going through bins, or owls hooting, I wondered whose Mom or Grampa or Dad they used to be. Mainly I thought about Bucky, at the foot of my bed, and what would happen to him when he died, being just a dog.

* * *

I woke up in the middle of the night, to the sound of a sudden scream and Bucky barking. My father’s frantic footsteps on the stairs. The sound of something scraping against metal.

He had mauled her.

In the darkness, I couldn’t see, but I knew Uncle Joe had killed my Mother. There was that odd sort of stillness that happened when I was in the house with my Father, and she was at the grocery store. The bated breath where we all just sat and waited for her to return.

In the dead of night, my Father called animal control. They had their argument behind the closed door, and all I heard was the odd word, about blame and who was wrong.

* * *

The next day the truck turned up again. The neighbors lined the street this time in a quiet sort of reverence. The only words I remember hearing were “Yellowstone.”

* * *

My Father told me that when people die, we want to keep them with us. But really, we have to let them go. He said all this, while preparing straw bedding for my Mother’s cage, trying to make the grey rabbit she’d become comfortable. As he spoke, he passed me handfuls and handfuls of straw. He didn’t want to put his hand back into the cage, because he’d tried to pet her but she’d bitten him.

 

Liz Wride writes short fiction and plays. Her work has appeared in The Ginger Collect, Empwr, and Mantle Arts Anthology’s Beneath the Waves. Her work has been shortlisted for the ELLE U.K. Talent Awards and Liar’s League. She is an administrator by day and a writer by night.

This is our dog by Emma Cairns Watson

This is our dog. We do not love him any more.
Not after all the things he has done.
I am sorry to have to relate that his ears are the color a brass doorbell turns
at the home of a family with many friends. Their texture
is reminiscent of the bristle-back stroke
of a Eurasian boar. This is not to mention his talent
for walking long distances saucer-eyed on his back legs,
which look like drumsticks of a kind you would not want
to find in your bag coming home from the store.
There is not much we can do about these because they are attached
to our dog, whose nose tapers to a fine matte point like
the very furriest and most hopeful of doorstops, and whom
because of persisting difficulties such as these, in addition
to the importunate amber of his eyes and the peculiar tufts of black whisker
that he has sent out mutinously from the underbelly of his very long chin
like tusks, and the snack-sweet scent of his white-tipped paws
on winter mornings when he otter-undulates his
hairy and cunning way into our bed, we do not love any more.

 

Emma Cairns Watson coordinates university conferences on Egyptology and Armenian art by day and inhales other people’s poetry by night. Her work has appeared in Barrelhouse Online and Menacing Hedge and is forthcoming in RHINO, Half Mystic, and Ninth Letter. You can find her on twitter @EmmaValjean and (more importantly) her dog on instagram @the_durg.

Sales Call by James Gapinski

I arrive bright and too-early for my new sales gig. Turns out I’m selling cubes. Slick, black cubes that are warm to the touch. I think they have something to do with next-gen technology. Something cutting edge. Brand new. Everybody in the call center has the latest smartphones. Post-iPhone prototype stuff, with peripherals and floating screens like in a sci-fi flick. There is a training seminar set up. But there are no other new employees, so it’s just me and Training-Guy in a large conference room. He says business-jargon things like synergize and innovate. He smiles at me with these big fake teeth the whole time. Super white teeth. Practically glowing. He probably goes to the dentist twice a month.

I ask a few questions, but each reply includes inter-dynamic-matrix-accessory-code or some shit like that. It’s all gibberish, and I worry that any follow-up might cost me the gig. I need money. The mortgage is past-due.

Training-Guy brings out a product sample. He touches the slick cube, and it turns blue for a second. He plays a confusing video that shows people laughing and drinking Coca Cola around a cube, and I still have no idea what the cube does. The company also sells black spheres. I think the spheres are premium products, because Training-Guy makes a point of telling me that I won’t be selling spheres for at least six months.

Training-Guy points toward my workstation and sends me a call list. The list is an attachment that my flip-phone cannot open. I ask Training-Guy to e-mail it to me. “Old school! I love it. No worries,” he says. My workstation makes a high-pitched chime. It takes me a minute to figure out that the computer activates via voice command. Training-Guy’s e-mail contains a few dozen names, a few dozen phone numbers, and one sexually explicit gif—at least I know that I can count on a hostile workplace lawsuit if my commissions don’t add up.

I call the first number. “Hello, is Mr. Gavin available?”

“Speaking.”

“I’d like to tell you about an exciting new product.” I stare at the sample cube on my desk, wondering how I’ll sell something that I don’t understand. Mr. Gavin hangs up before my anti-knowledge becomes an issue. I slide my finger along the edge of my cube. Red lines shoot across the black surface.

I dial the second number. There is no answer this time. The third number connects me to a police dispatch center. I think that this number is intentionally near the top of my list, and maybe the cube is something that local law enforcement could use. The cube could be for surveillance. High-tech stuff is often used for surveillance, I think. I check my yellowed teeth in my computer monitor’s reflective surface, making sure there is no spinach and my gums aren’t bleeding—I want to look good for the Big Brother onlookers. A few minutes into the conversation and the dispatcher says “So this isn’t an emergency?”

“Not unless you consider missing out on the best deal of the century an emergency,” I say. I smile in the general direction of the sample cube, hoping that the police/F.B.I./C.I.A. can see me even though they haven’t purchased the cube yet.

“This line is for official police business only.” She hangs up.

I call the fourth number, and my daughter answers. “Dad? It’s early here. Why are you calling? Is Mom okay?”

“Yeah, Mom’s fine.”

“Well, what’s up?”

“I was just wondering if you needed a cube.”

“What? You’re not making any sense.”

“I mean money. Do you need money? How are you doing in L.A.? Are your classes difficult?”

“Dad, I’ve been done with school for almost a year now. And this isn’t a good time.”

I want to say It’s never a good time anymore, but I don’t. Instead, I declare “I’ll send you a check tomorrow.”

“Sure, whatever Dad. But I really don’t need it. You know that, right? I have a full-time job.”

“Okay, goodnight sweetie,” I say, but the line is already dead.

I take off my headset and wander the office. I find Training-Guy, and I say “Hey, where did you get this call list?”

“It’s all personalized to your unique sales profile. Trust me, the algorithm knows what it’s doing,” Training-Guy pats an oversized sphere sitting near a sleek, expensive-looking copy machine breezing through something like a hundred copies.

“Okay, thanks,” I say.

“Wait,” Training-Guy says. “Before you go, check this out.” He hands me one of the photocopies. It’s somebody’s ass cheeks pressed against the copy machine.

I don’t respond. Instead, I fold the photocopy neatly and go to the supply closet. I grab an empty manila folder. At least I think it’s a folder. But given the other next-gen items in the supply closet, it could just as easily be manila-colored LCD film. I write Lawsuit on the folder in big bold letters. I put the photocopy inside.

Training-Guy relocates to the watercooler area. He polishes his Rolex and eats a heap of caviar from a Tupperware container. He winks at me. In reply, I offer a slight wave.

Back at my workstation, a woman hovers over my desk. She’s doing something with the black cube.

“Excuse me,” I say.

She turns around. She’s beautiful. She looks like my wife, except different. There’s just something about her that’s wife-like without quite being my wife. As if my wife’s face has been copied, then run through some Photoshop filters and repurposed on this woman’s face. “Sorry, I was just doing some calibrations.”

“What does the cube do?” I ask. Perhaps her similarity to my wife has disarmed me. I don’t feel as sheepish about exposing my ignorance.

She laughs and says, “You’re funny.” She touches my arm like my wife used to. She writes a phone number on an LED tablet the size of a sticky note.

“I’m married,” I say.

“So am I,” she says. “This is for your call list.” She saunters over to Training-Guy and kisses him. He gives me a thumbs up and then makes a gesture that I do not recognize. I make a mental note of it because I’m sure the gesture is obscene—I must remember to research it for my lawsuit folder.

I call the number. I recognize the voice, but I can’t place it. “Hello?” the person repeats, over and over. “Is somebody there?” I touch the cube again. It’s no longer warm.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I say. I can hear the person crying on the other end.

“Really? It’s really you?” the person says through sniffles.

“Yeah,” I say. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll buy whatever you’re selling.”

 

James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press, 2018) and the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in The Collapsar, Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. James is managing editor of The Conium Review and an instructional specialist at Chemeketa Community College. He lives with his partner in Portland, Oregon.