Iconoclast Orangutan by Adam Lock

The orangutan takes a long deep breath, looks left then right, his plate-shaped face blinking, chin raised, mouth closed. Endangered. An iconoclast.

Using a long stick, he prods a coin the color of his hair across the concrete riverbed. He tilts his head; look how the stick bends where it meets the water.

He should exercise, climb the wooden fort, or swing on the huge tire, maybe work out where they’ve hidden the fruit. He could make another nest, higher up. But what would be the point? Every day there are the same grinning faces, the same pointing fingers, the same clicking cameras.

He flexes his back, rolls his shoulders, thinks about the life and death struggle of past lives.

At night, he climbs the wall at the far end of the enclosure and takes a stroll around the zoo. One day, he’ll set them all free and they’ll march to freedom, all of them, together.

When the moon is at its highest, he knuckle-walks back to his enclosure, climbs the wall, and lies next to his mate in their nest. Revolutions take time to plan, to organize, and they can be messy, can be upsetting for everyone, for both sides.

He rests a hand on his mate’s hip. She’s warm, hazy with sleep, close to extinction. They use the rhythm method; he makes a mental note of her ovulations. Not that he needs to; there’s something in the shine of her hair, the shimmer of her fingernails, the sweetness of her breath.

A gust of wind bends the tops of trees in the forest on the other side of the enclosure. He shuffles his bulk closer to his mate. It’s inside her, life: a swirling nebulae, a nursery of stars, the Pillars of Creation reaching out light years in every direction. Shivering, warm with abstinence, with squandering, he sighs, breathing the orange hair on his mate’s shoulder one way, then the other. Tomorrow, he’ll save his species. Tomorrow, he’ll begin a revolution. For now, he’ll inhale the mammalian warmth of another, and sleep.

 

Adam Lock writes in the Midlands, UK. He recently won the TSS Summer Quarterly Flash Competition 2018 and the STORGY Flash Competition 2018. He was placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had stories appear in publications such as Lost Balloon, New Flash Fiction Review, Former Cactus, MoonPark Review, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Parachute, and many others. You can find links to his stories on his website: http://www.adamlock.net. He’s also active on Twitter @dazedcharacter.

The Sound of Silence by Melissa Goode

Sleep only comes for me now in intervals, in dreams. Tonight, you are as thin as when we met and you are wet. You shine. I hug you—skin and bone. You are cold and smell chemical, institutional. I don’t ask how you got to be so wet.

I say, “Do you know how much I love you?”

You drop your head and smile and all I want is for you to say “yes.”

* * *

You used to call me my darling. It hit every time—hard and fast—an explosion in miniature. And I said it back to you, because we all want to own someone.

* * *

You are nowhere and everywhere.

You are the man in a bank commercial, kicking a football on a luminous green lawn with your kids. A boy and a girl, they make you laugh. You are our lab who treads softly through every room of our house looking for you. Today, I see you lying on our couch, your head on one armrest and over the other your feet hang. You sing parts of your favorite song—you pick it up and put it down again.

* * *

Hello darkness, my old friend.

* * *

In the shower, I tell myself to feel the water fall on my skin, to feel the wet, the heat. You draw me against you. Your hands sear. They start and stop. Start and stop. Your mouth opens wide and your teeth close around my shoulder. I want you to bite hard. You don’t. You don’t leave a mark.

* * *

I close my eyes—your feet are bare beside our bed and they disappear as you kneel on the floor before me.

* * *

At the cafe, you sit beside me. Your leg shakes up and down and your boot beats the floor. I reach under the table and squeeze your thigh, it’s okay it’s okay. The shaking and beating stop. I wish they would start again.

I eat the salted caramel macaroon, my favorite, and yours remains on the plate, strawberry.

* * *

You sip your coffee and hold the cup over to me.

“Do you reckon this is soy? I can’t tell.”

I smile at your voice, your low, beautiful, unbearable voice. You tip the cup towards my mouth, as if I am a child.

I take a tiny sip from the place where you did. “Yeah. It’s soy.”

You sip and say, “I can taste it now.”

“How are you?” I say, but you just shake your head.

What? What? Tell me.

* * *

“The cats were out again last night,” I say. “Screaming and hissing. I can’t handle it.”

I don’t ask—did you hear them too? I don’t want you to tell me that you didn’t hear anything, that you weren’t there.

I say, “We were never ever going to sleep in separate beds. Do you remember?”

* * *

The waiter plants the check on the table and says, “Is there someone I can call for you, ma’am?”

The couple at the neighboring table stare at me as do the other patrons. They stare and then turn away.

“No. God. I’m fine,” I say. “Can’t a woman have her coffee in peace?”

I wrap the strawberry macaroon in a paper napkin and place it in my bag with the others.

* * *

I sit in our car and I cannot turn the ignition to drive home again. I rest my head against the steering wheel and close my eyes—your feet are bare beside our bed and they disappear as you kneel on the floor before me and take hold of my hip. You keep me standing. I say, more my darling more come on come on come—

 

Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Split Lip Magazine, Forge Literary Magazine, FRiGG, and matchbook, among others. Her story “It falls” (Jellyfish Review) was chosen by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books). She lives in Australia. You can find her at http://www.melissagoode.com and on Twitter @melgoodewriter.

Call Me Judy Tonight by Kathryn Hummel

Here I am playing
Judy Garland
circa sometime
in the circus
making love to
a nail-cracked pill
as booze burns
from cut crystal.
Satin eiderdown
absorbs the spillage:
rage directed
at everyone outside
for not noticing
my beguiling tint
for not recognizing
how brilliant
my hard-won
qualities.

 

Dr. Kathryn Hummel is a writer and researcher whose diverse creative and scholarly works have been published/presented/translated/anthologized/recognized in various parts of the world. Currently, within Australia, she edits non-fiction and travel writing for Verity La. Kathryn’s 5th volume of poetry is forthcoming with Singapore’s Math Paper Press and her 6th and 7th with London’s Protex(s)t Books.

Hello There, Talk Show Host by Nicholas Grider

One reason we are blessed that Talk Show Host graces us with his slate-blue metallic sheen, the color of a luxury object that has a price but no name, is this: Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit. Talk show host lets his electric charisma trail behind him on the ground like the filthy wedding dress of an excited bride thrilled to have been jilted, running through gravel streets singing of flames and liberty. And yet here he is, our Talk Show Host, more than willing to waste himself on us, spread thin across the world’s screens, smooth-skinned and often benevolent.

We love Talk Show Host. Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit.

Or: Talk Show Host might actually give a shit, but how are we to know? Do we know what evils lurk in the small, green heart of Talk Show Host? Perhaps.

It takes more work hours to care for Talk Show Host’s lustrous hair gleaming under benevolent stage lights like an avenging raven or similar dark-hued bird than there are actual feathers on an actual bird bigger than an avenging raven, a bird such as a grudgeless emu.

Talk Show Host stares into the lens and asks if he were to smile a little lopsided and whisper to us that a moth is actually a form of bird, would we maybe give the idea some thought? Baby bird, Talk Show Host whispers, smiling, before slapping his long, powdery hands shut like a cartoon jail door, clap!

Talk Show Host wants you to know that love is a renewable resource but you have to pay for it anyway. Do you nestle your love behind your heart, Talk Show Host would like to know, and if not, what do you nestle behind your heart, and is it warm there, is it a place a nice young Talk Show Host may spend a long weekend tweaking his regimen?

Witness Talk Show Host’s shit-eating grin before the unsuspecting special guest accidentally speaks the secret word. What is the secret word, Talk Show Host? Why is it secret? Is it the key to a hidden door or a building full of hidden doors?

In Missouri there is a museum consisting of doorknobs that are or once were personally important to Talk Show Host. He holds a special ribbon cutting ceremony there in which he slits the ribbon down its spine so that it is thinner and seems delicate but, even still, none may enter, only glimpse or be told about the mysterious treasures of the museum in small-font sections of glossy magazines that want you to know all men probably look perfectly nice in plaid suits, not just talk show hosts and male models nursing sadnesses for so long those sadnesses no longer have a name.

Talk Show Host extends his hand toward the lens because he wants to get to know you better––is it a trap? If it is a trap, is it a good kind of trap, like service-economy capitalism? Will you tell us what good means and what it no longer means if we take you by the hand, Talk Show Host?

The different ways the Talk Show Host can smile number in the thousands and have yet to be comprehensively cataloged.

The set is deserted, the band is quiet, the stage is dark––but here is the Talk Show Host, and he wants to talk to you while your parents are in the other room pointing at translucent documents and bouncing a harsh whisper back and forth between them.

If we cannot trust you, Talk Show Host, whom may we trust? Is belief in Talk Show Host analogous to belief in God as defined by medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, i.e. “There’s no way of knowing, so just go for it”?

Talk Show Host, what is the difference between belief and trust, and how do you part the two as neatly as your hair is parted on late afternoons five days a week while your lithe yet muscular back is turned away from the approach of night and you eat measured amounts of small, brightly-colored food items while squinting at the new kind of news we have now?

Talk Show Host will save us from the news, and from turning into our parents, and from hidden fees.

Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit, whistles while he works, invites you to follow him to his cold, clean, many-windowed home where he may or may not massage whichever of your cold joints aches the most before gently laying you on a cold, clean marble slab so you may take a record-setting nap while Talk Show Host departs to wander impossible meadows and say convincing things about strategy to skeptical woodland creatures.

Talk Show Host, where will you go after the hour of saxophones and velvet has arrived and it is time for sleeping and dreaming and the quiet nervous knitting done by the immune systems of quiet, nervous children?

When the lens that loves you waits in the dark for your return, does it still somehow gleam and reflect you?

Talk Show Host will help us figure out whether to fear death or chaos more, and reassure us with in-jokes that death and chaos are not the same thing.

Talk Show Host shrugs and tells us terror is a mockery of awareness, and therefore comical.

Talk Show Host, it’s election season midnight once more, will you pretend to rescue us by telling us we won’t notice the difference, will you smile, will you leave silently in your dark gray suit and apple-green tie and never return? Will you be generous and leave behind for us just one of your thousands of smiles so we may always remember that sometimes stupidity is even better than sleep?

When Talk Show Host arrives at the end of his arduous journey, he will know what home is because there are some things all Talk Show Hosts must know, and knowledge is a form of grief, but we must never speak of it, not even to our pets.

We are the children of secrets, Talk Show Host, we are ambiguous birds. If you don’t give a shit, if your contract forbids it, who will teach us what a journey is and how long to linger here on the shag carpet and when, finally and with the majestic calm of a distant ocean, to go?

 

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object) and his work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Collagist, Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, Guernica, and most recently Midnight Breakfast, as well as X-R-A-Y and Electric Lit (under the name Simon Henry Stein).

How to Love a Monster with Average-Sized Hands by Jules Archer

If I could marry a myth it would be monstrous, but not monstrous like frightening. Monstrous as in a monstrous love where I’d be prouder than a Phoenix in plumage, and hotter than a poker. I’d swing on Cthulhu’s feelers. Take a water-slide ride down the tail of Godzilla. I’d let a Wendigo eat my heart and put a ring on it and drive me out to our small town’s overlook where he’d insist I’d wear protection and let me finish the rest of my wine. Loch Ness monster, more like Loch Bless monster, because every night you come to me in bed is another day I fall in love. Instead of calling the cops, my father would shake hands with Cyclops, and call him the son he never had, because if your face were a little more lion and a little less wolf we’d have a magically monstrous love on our hands, but instead I am stuck with you, you, and you are no creepy cryptid but a mere under-the-bed boogeyman that sends me screaming only that’s what I get for having married a monster with average-sized hands and not looking out the front door before answering it.

 

Jules Archer writes flash fiction in Arizona. A Pushcart-nominated writer, her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, The Butter, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She likes to smell old books, drink red wine, and read true crime tales. Her chapbook ALL THE GHOSTS WE’VE ALWAYS HAD is out from Thirty West Publishing.

L’Humaine Condition by Lily Wang

When one person is chosen everyone is chosen. Each life is random and must be taken as a whole, thus illuminating life from all directions, thus there can be no darkness.

Montaigne pulls out an alien. He knows his life is over.

He pulls out the alien from the hole in the ground and they both lay panting on the grass. Montaigne panting for the both of them, Montaigne panting for the world. He is disappointed. He trails the fleshy-pad of his fingertip along the surface of the alien, so brave already, waiting for the nick. It never happens. The alien is smooth and rectangular, not opal but quartz, with mirror flecks. He has seen counter-tops like it, he is awed.

Augustine is the next to arrive. Montaigne and Augustine do not know each other, or if they know each other they have never mentioned each other. Augustine is penetrated by his own seeing of the alien and loses his appetite immediately. He takes his position some five feet away and begins to speak at an even tone. His English is plain and intermediate. The feeling he arouses in the alien is a kind of compromised purity.

Stepping back for a moment to fix the viewpoint on—a squirrel, who adventures to the farthest end of a branch and paws at its own head, then lays flat on its stomach beneath the sun, then, maybe a fluff floats past.

No one is interested in the squirrel because that would be too easy.

The alien asks to be held. Montaigne replies, I am already holding you. Augustine stops speaking. The alien wants to know where the baseball game is. You have it all wrong, Montaigne continues, looking to Augustine for the first time. They notice blood in each other’s left eye, but for some reason neither man informs the other of this symptom. Perhaps there is no point. There are no doctors around and there are no tissues.

Augustine makes a lunge for the alien. I am only thinking of her, he says. Montaigne has no interest in fighting and gives up the alien at once. Look at yourself, Montaigne says. His sound is modest and ironical. You are dull and round, he says to Augustine, who is dull and round next to the alien. My only daughter is sick, Augustine says. You can save her, you can do something, can you not? Montaigne hears this and changes his mind. He grabs at the alien, causing it to slip from Augustine’s arms. You are not thinking, he whispers to Augustine. Their eyes are quickly filling with blood.

The two men glance around. They miss the resting squirrel entirely, but so does time, and so the earth. There is no net for the squirrel. There is no language for its history. They look down at the alien who is writhing in the grass.

Am I wrong?

Am I right?

It is no longer clear who is saying what.

The encounter is anticlimactic for everyone, and together the two men return the alien back to its hole. Go back to where you came from, they say in unison. The alien whimpers and makes suckling noises, a long tentacle lashes out and seizes Montaigne’s neck. GO BACK, Augustine says, and the alien asks, where? Where?

There is only here, there is only this, there is only me, there is only you.

The three fall to the ground. An hour has passed.

I can see my blood, Montaigne says.

Yes, says the alien.

I can see my blood, Augustine says.

It is the same blood as your daughter’s, says the alien.

Augustine stands up, then Montaigne follows. They walk off together, keeping a safe distance between each other, like strangers. Awaking from its nap the squirrel falls and lands on the alien, and begins to eat.

 

Lily Wang is the author of the poetry chapbooks Everyone In Your Dream Is You (Anstruther Press, 2018) and Oh(!) (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is the founder of Half a Grapefruit Magazine and you can read more of her work in Peach Mag and Cosmonauts Avenue.

Thunderbird by Wanda Deglane

the smallest ocean lives between / my lungs
and kidneys / the tiniest door holds back
the grief living inside my heart / give me
a word for / the uneasy unfamiliarity of finally
being okay / but only if it stings / on its way out /
show me the moment the trauma finally killed me /
spat me out purple-skinned and suffocating / but
newborn / my body is crawling with insects / my
reality is crashing / into blood-red suns / lollipops
from banks flying out of car windows / and smashed
pineapple on scorching sidewalk / with my name
written all over it / we’re sitting on thunderbird’s
wing / drunk on dew drops / i ask you why
this healing / only makes me feel sicker / you say
the moon’s made of paper / and we’re all just
lit matches / getting closer and closer.

 

Wanda Deglane is a Capricorn from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, and Yes Poetry, among other lovely places. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018), Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019), Venus in Bloom (Porkbelly Press, 2019), and Bittersweet (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019).

A Quick Word About My Life by Tiger Blair

Ever since they opened up a falling club in our town, there’s little else that Theresa will do. After her daily shift at the ball bearing plant, she drives to the large, lime-stained building that used to be a Toys R Us, where she falls into foam pits, backwards, as though she’s a concertgoer in a mosh pit or a toppled statue of a despot. Like a gym, it has its members and regulars and Theresa remembers everyone’s names. Over dinner, she tells me about Dan who falls because he has a stressful job as a 911 operator or Janet who has three children to feed and thinks that any day her husband will get fired. I hear about Becki who sleeps with night terrors and Greg who can’t sleep at all. And while she’s telling me that if she falls enough she will one day earn a spot in the platinum level, which is the old stock room, and get to step off backwards from an even greater height, I wonder what she tells Dan and Janet and Becki and Greg about her own life or about me, or why, for example, when she leaves work to drive to the falling club, she passes our house without stopping, without looking up at the window to see her husband standing there.

 

Tiger Blair is a Boston-based writer, and this is his first published short story. You can find him on Twitter at @yestigerblair.