Dog Years by Michael Grant Smith

“Pete, would you please fetch me another extension cord?”

Mom vacuumed the front sidewalk twice a week. In my childhood she paid me an allowance of $2 per month if I caught Dad’s cigarette ashes before they hit the living room carpet.

“As a bonus, every time you extinguish one of your father’s fires, you’ll get to choose a treat from the bowl of root vegetables in the kitchen.”

When I thought about meteors at all, probably never, I considered them vast craters looking for a place to call home. The biggest were someone else’s problem: trailer park residents in Arkansas, reindeer foraging on a Siberian tundra. But the lesser ones — who cares?

My parents gave me a dog although not until I was nearly fifty. Dad kept the motorhome running, handed me a leash, and laughed because he knew the gift would slip my brain out of gear. Told me the dog was special, could sniff out meteors.

“You can’t see shooting stars if you stare right at them,” said the old man, Marlboro number sixteen-billion stuck to his lip. “It’s a blind spot. Just let old Hutch find them for you.”

Mom leaned out of the passenger-side window. “You’ll find he tries very hard,” she said. The dog and I stared at each other. My eyes narrowed. His tail wagged. To whom did she refer?

Dad backed out of my lane because there’s no room for turnarounds in relationships. I bent to touch the dog, who flopped down and showed me his belly. His pink-leather tongue dangled sideways. The armpits — turns out Hutch loved to have his armpits scratched. His breed? I suspect he was spawned from saliva and felted fur.

“Who’s a good dog?” I said in the over-earnest voice people use while pleading for sexual intercourse or when they talk to pets. “Who’s the best boy ever?” All conversations with pets are rhetorical.

At that time, “Pete sees a burning rock” had its own page in the brochure of things I hadn’t done. I would’ve assumed meteors were cartoonish red balls of flame trailing long, slow, fiery tails across the sky. Hutch knew better.

In fact, most fingerquote typical meteors end-fingerquote are brief needles of light whose visible journey can be hidden by your upheld hand. They fade in two blinks of an eye but my Hutch still found them. The outstanding ones drag accordion pleats of atmosphere. A wake of constellations, clouds, birds, the occasional airplane. Truly a fan-folded fun-factory. If you’re an admirer of plummeting celestial crap, you’d swoon if you experienced for yourself a meteor’s leash-dragging gravitational attraction.

The mutt and I stalked darkness. Clear weather was best, obviously, but Hutch tracked his prey no matter the conditions. Purpose swelled within me and my ears rang with it. Even during long sunlit hours spent on the porch, when I lounged in my skivvies and painted portraits on raw rice grains, Hutch barked and whined to alert me about incoming fireballs.

Most humans are smarter than canines, and opposable thumbs will carry you far, but our principal advantage over dogs is longevity. It hadn’t occurred to me I would outlive my dog.

There came a night when Hutch grew agitated, which I assumed was due to incandescent flying objects. I took him out to my front yard and he laid down in the chickweed and clover. No skyward-pointing nose, no sniffing, no howling; he simply curled up as if on a hearth and closed his eyes.

I was unaware of the convergence until later, but my parents, both of them, passed away the same night as Hutch, almost to the minute, except they expired in their Winnebago parked at a Walmart in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to a small, smoldering fire.

Their attorney phoned me. She’d defended my Mom and Dad all three occasions I sued them.

“Their final wish was for you to straighten up and fly right,” she said. “I’m a lawyer, not a genie, so in this matter there’s no specific legal action I can take.”

I thanked her for the information and then we chit-chatted. She was a professional wrestler trapped in a jurist’s body. We’re dating now, but not each other. Every evening, I wait for sky-towing meteors. If one were to bounce onto my property I am bound to throw it back.

 

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, Unbroken Journal, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

John, Your Beard by Cyndie Randall

for John Blase

I lock eyes with it when I need more breath,
more earth, more wood for my fire.
I cheer for it.
Stretch your legs! I say.
Grow new but be familiar.
Your beard, heart papoose.
Your beard is a boy fishing on a dock.
Why your words come out like two friends on a bench.
Caramel in the oven and the whole house waits.

Do you remember the hatchling’s story?
How he stumbled from thing to thing, asking,
Are You My Mother?
Your beard would have carried him home.

Salt and pepper constellation blazing,
it bears witness to age and to sprawl,
to the days you hike lavish foothills and
hold daughters in the glory of the sun.
Your beard is The Prodigal’s party –
its smile, a stretched out CELEBRATE sign.
That beard is a museum
of blood and sweat and tears,
a collector of time.

It tightens for toddler kisses.
Shatters the lock on my spirit.
Pulls one finger through air to say,
C’mere, you darling girl.
I am the baby bird.
Five years old again.
(I would’ve asked for a father.)

You should know, beloved man,
if ever I find you on the Colorado trail,
I will offer my hands in thanks.
Betcha they’ll land on your blanketed face.
Betcha they’ll pat pat pat my question.

John, your beard will know just how to answer.

 

Cyndie Randall holds a B.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry and an M.A. in Counseling. Her words have appeared or are forthcoming in Love’s Executive Order, Kissing Dynamite, Ghost City Review, Yes Poetry, Boston Accent Lit, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere. Cyndie works as a therapist and lives among the Great Lakes. Find her on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com.

Your Countdown to New Year by Riham Adly

One hour left: The Dream.

I had a dream about a tooth I lost. I wanted it back so bad, I almost forced it back into its socket, but the tooth looked smooth and perfect like a first-timer bride’s wedding gown. I could see pearly root-canals under the translucent sheen of its surface. The ache in my jaw was unbearable, but I couldn’t bring myself to put back the freed tooth.

 

Forty-Five minutes left: The Mad Mailman.

The Madman Mailman bangs at my door. I open the door. There’s this vague familiarity to his wavy curls, cinnamon scented cologne mixed with the whiskey smoke of his breath. He’s not a mailman, a madman maybe. He has a package nestled under his armpit. I wonder if I should invite him to my home/dental office. He hands over the package that now smells of his whiskey sweat, he wobbles and nearly throws up. I close the door behind him after I extract a confession. Someone bribed him to deliver my package, or was it You in another of your camouflages. You’ve always loved your masks, your masquerades.

 

Thirty minutes left: X-raying ghosts.

The package is a slim gift-wrapped box. I wear sterile gloves with the intension of untying the ribbons, but first thing first. I give it a good shake, hear the unmistakable clatter inside. Was there a note, too? I hold the rattled package like a baby, and look for the proper-sized film to place on top. I hurry backward after I position the film right; press the button on the extension cord and beep! In the Darkroom’s nightmarish light, I remember how you used to x-ray everything: jaws, molars, books, flowers, condoms. To capture the aura, you used to say, the soul of things. I wondered if I was going to find You inside.

 

Twenty minutes left: Xerox-ing thumb-sized break-up notes I’d like to think of as suicide notes.

I place the thumb-size on my copier and select the Enlarge/Reduce button. Should I enlarge or shrink the words to non-existence?

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

 

Ten Minutes : X-in the X or is it an X-out?

And then there’s another note on the other side of the note.

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

This one should have been better.

 

Five Minutes: ___________.

In the box there’s also your third molar, that wisdom tooth you let me cut and keep, the one you stole when you left me for the starlit adventures in your mind, for the untamed ardor you decided I lacked. I was only worth your hand-me-down sympathy, your loveless I-can’t-live-without-you love notes. You disappear in a heartbeat, come back in hailstorms, you die and undie over and over and over.

 

5…4…3…2…1…

Under the mistletoe I kiss the tooth of my dreams, touch its satiny wedding-dress color; wedge my nail in the empty cavity in its crown, and the feel aching absence in my jaw. This is the part of me I really wanted to keep…

Before I leave I place the tooth outside our no longer home/work doorstep.

 

Riham Adly is an Egyptian writer/blogger. Her fiction has appeared in journals such Bending Genres, Connotation Press, Spelk, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Volney Road Review, Five:2:One, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Gingerbread House Lit, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Anti-Heroine Chick, Danse Macabre, and @Fewerthan500, among others. She was recently short-listed for the Arab-Lit Translation Prize. Her translation of author Tareq Imam’s “An Eye” was recently published in Arablit Quarterly. Riham lives with her family in Gizah, Egypt.

Humanity’s Bargain with the Birds by Eric Lochridge

Red robin preening in the road,
pacing in a slight impression,

my front driver side wheel careens your way.
I see you, but I do not brake.

We have a deal, a covenant
unbreakable, perpetual as evolution.

You may stand in the street, sipping
welled rain, slurping a worm or two.

I may drive these highways
without slowing, without swerving,

sipping an americano, singing along
to a Counting Crows song of my choosing.

The terms require you to flit away, or hop,
as you prefer, before my tire might make

a bony wind chime of your head, before
I might wing you, so to speak.

I have trusted in that promise,
put my faith in our pact.

Today, old friend, what happened?

 

Eric Lochridge is the author of three chapbooks: Born-Again Death WishReal Boy Blues, and Father’s Curse. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in SlipstreamDIAGRAMMojave Heart ReviewHawaii Pacific Review, and many others, as well as anthologies such as WA 129 and Beloved on the Earth. He lives in Bellingham, Washington. Find him on Twitter @ericedits.

My Eyelids Think They’re Something Else by Len Kuntz

But first I should tell you that my eyelids are known to tell lies. They say, We’re schizophrenic, dyslexic and corrosive. They say, We provide shelter from the storm. They say, We have killed a number of random hitchhikers and buried them in the desert where they’ll never be found.

My Ex liked to lick them, my eyelids, with her serpent’s tongue, so long and scaley, like a sundried salamander without legs. Sometimes she slathered my pupils with bubbly saliva. Other times, she nibbled my eyelashes off. She deemed such acts erotic. “The wetter, the better,” she said. And since I was a virgin, I never balked at her proclivities, never thought them odd in any way.

My new wife no longer looks me in the eyes, no longer notices the strange strength residing in my eyelids. I try to surprise her in the morning, leaning over her side of the bed, hovering there, waiting for her to wake, but she’s onto me and now wears an eye mask under an eye mask, both of which are overlaid on top of two Band-Aids.

I plan on giving my eyelids to science. In fact, I have them right here, sealed in this Mason jar filled with disinfectant. The challenge will be getting them to the lab in time. I can hear my wife in the other room, on the phone, her corrosive voice trembling as she says, “Hurry, please.”

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

Lion’s Maw by Lisa Folkmire

Lion's Maw

 

Lisa Folkmire is a poet from Warren, Michigan. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she studied poetry. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Up the Staircase Quarterly, Atlas & Alice, Glass, Gravel, Anti-Heroin Chic, Occulum, and Timber. She is also a reader for The Masters Review.

The Angle of Depression by Patricia Q. Bidar

Mignon, as always, wants to know what I’m thinking.

I’ve finally agreed to meet her in person, at the Berkeley Art Museum. The new one, with its blinding white walls and tomato-hued doors and echoey stairwells. A basement café with wine and salads of watermelon and feta and mint.

“Meat time,” Mignon called it.

But by the time we finish viewing the Peter Hujar photos in the lower gallery, I’ve formed the view that no one, ever, should visit an art museum in the company of another person. I want to stomp in the metal stairwell.

Yet here we sit in the museum café, emptied splits of champagne before us. It’s hot and my hair is heavy, redolent with horsey-smelling henna. Everyone else is in camisoles and shorts in ice cream colors. Last night I did my hair — yes, for “the occasion”– and it came out too bright.

“I liked the ones of the wrecked cars,” I say. “And that glum man with the giant penis.” What I am really saying is what I am always saying at museums. “You don’t know me! You don’t know my taste!”

I met Mignon online. Our exchanges have been filled with nuance and shy disclosures. Once, I related the details of a violent crime to which I’d been victim. Mignon confessed she’d once driven into a kid on a bike. Another time, we’d negotiated logging off to cry, after confessing to each other the depth of our loneliness.

But in person, Mignon emits a river of combat and insecurity. Just like everyone else around here. What band/bistro/hiking trail am I obsessed with, that no one else has heard of? Who eats the local-est, grass-fed-est food? Who’s vacationed in the farthest-flung place?

I gaze at the office supply store across the street with its industrial carpeting, balm of greenish light and wide aisles.

“It’s annoying how Hujar framed his subject in the middle of the shot.” I say.

Mignon brightens, pouring the remaining champagne into her flute. “He learned a way of composing called the Angle of Depression,” she explains, eyebrows raised self- importantly. “See, it’s the idea that the viewer’s eye takes this angle — technically this diagonal line ends below the bottom edge. There’s something we don’t see.”

She continues, telling me how Hujar’s last name would be pronounced in Spanish, if he were Spanish, which he probably is. How the British television show, The Office, was modeled after a David Foster Wallace story about working for the IRS. Then she shyly adds that she puts away a bottle of wine every night before allowing herself to open her computer to see if I’ve written.

Mignon meets my eyes then. She picks up a ball of melon and tucks it into her mouth. Meaningfully, it seems.

“Will you excuse me?” I said, then glide to the women’s room. A pullover youth with pimples around their mouth enters behind me.

Determined to act casual, I attempt a “selfie” in the bathroom mirror. My russet hair smolders nicely in the recessed lights. Then my bag slips into the sink, setting off the automatic gush from the faucet. My legs fly from under me. Fucking hell!

I consider staying down for a day or so. Who would know, other than half-in-the-bag Mignon and now this waif currently attempting to exit their stall.

“Hi! Help!” I say, rolling aside. The waif’s sweater as they easily lift me smells of fabric softener.

They ask if I’m all right. “You betcha!” I say, and the waif toddles off.

I gingerly settle back at the table. I feel like I’d been attacked by a javelina. My flank throbs. I swear to fucking god the infant is coming back with a fresh split of champagne.

“You know him?” Mignon asks. “He’s so… frat boy.”

“No frat boy uses Downey.”

“You have an awesome day, ma’am,” the waif says, their mouth a hard line.

Why did  I wear these ridiculous heels? And why does this pain feel good and right and deserved?

Mignon snaps her fingers, as if an idea has occurred to her, or maybe just to capture my attention. How long have I had my nose pierced? Because she recently removed her nipple ring, which she got in her thirties “because of National Geographic.”

“I could give it to you!” she says. “I just have the one…”

“Oh! I guess I always thought they came in twos, like earrings. Or, you know, none,” I say.

“… although I have been wondering how much I could get for it, like, at a We Pay Cash for Gold place…”

Meat time. Who needs it?

Let’s say I summon the courage of my convictions. Soothe myself by purchasing pencils and notebooks across the street. A squishy strip to soothe my wrists.

Or more dramatically, I could emulate the mountain lion in that recent news story. Remember? The one where the two cyclists did all the things we’re told to do: holler real loud, make themselves appear larger. If I could be that magnificent beast, I’d rake Mignon with my claws and let the pimpled waif go, to tell the tale.

But that isn’t the way the story went. Remember?

In real life, it was an elderly couple. The lady neutralized the mountain lion by jabbing it in the eyes with her ball-point pen. She saved herself and her mate.

See, in the end that you can do everything you are supposed to do, and fate really doesn’t give a hoot. Me, Mignon, the cyclists. The mountain lion. The waif from the woman’s room. Even beautiful Peter Hujar, with his portraits of the famous, the abject, the endowed, and the ruined cars.

“I like people who dare,’ Hujar famously said.” Yet here we are frozen, cast in our living roles. I am lonely as hell, and that is no lie.

I split the bubbly between our glasses and say, “To meat.”

 

Patricia Q. Bidar is a California-based writer with family roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. An alum of the UC Davis Graduate writing program and a former fiction editor at Northwest Review, Patricia’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, ellipsis…art and literature, Litro Online, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, and Riggwelter, among other places. Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.

Email to My Boyfriend When Rent Is Due by Micaela Walley

My sweet,

Remember the first time you went down on me
in your mother’s house, when I knee’d you in the chin but you still kept going?
Remember how after we got tired of touching each other, we’d go outside
to lay on your trampoline after you’d swept all the sticks and thorns
off? That black polypropylene material never felt so soft and warm
between the holes of my socks. I felt the heat rising off our bodies, blending into
the world around us as we basked in the sun, a new kind of hot.
Those were the best afternoons. I loved you the most as you’d sync
your jumps with mine, letting me go higher and higher, until I hit my head
on the edge of your roof and we laid down to take another break. I asked
you if it was bleeding and you said no. I asked you to check again, and you did,
and you still said no. I can never pay you back for things like that,
or things like this, when you take the brunt of what I can’t face alone.
I know on days like today, you forget those kids on the trampoline,
sticky with sweat and sex and a little blood. I know how often I forget
them too. Do you think they’d be proud of how far we’ve made it?
Do you think they’d let us lie down with them and stare into the sun?
I don’t think they’d even notice we were there.

All my love,

 

Micaela Walley is a graduate from the University of South Alabama. Her work can be found in Gravel, Occulum, and ENTROPY. She currently lives in Hanover, Maryland with her best friend — Chunky, the cat.