Country Song Erasures by Kit Armstrong

ARE WE THERE YET

        After Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”

When dead sleep lay down my
lost eye, until the day my mother,
happy in the nation, has fallen from somewhere,
soon as our black July feels wide, when
you’ll be your name, when you hear
the whole world raining.

 

DODGE CITY

        After Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses”

Somebody’s somebody, a son, a
        man, to answer for the rope in a
                round street. For the people that justice boys
to Gunsmoke, a tune against singing, crime
        of the maker. Bet the saddle against horses,
                the one thing you always got hard against whiskey

 

Kit Armstrong is a lifelong denizen of the American West (Denver, Los Angeles, Boulder, and—someday—San Junipero) whose work has appeared at Hobart, Vagabond City, The Indianapolis Review, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and elsewhere. They are on Twitter and Instagram at @uraniumsweater.

Ordering Fries at Happy Hour by Christopher Gonzalez

O.K., we’ll get fries, it’s done, it’s easy, the menu offers lemon-parsley for $6 and $7 for truffle, so why don’t we get the truffle, it’s only a dollar more, a goddamn steal in this city, a hallelujah for the wallet, never mind that I had to hoist myself up onto the barstool, the seat of which couldn’t hold a personal pan pizza let alone my entire ass, and nevermind that when the fries finally come out you’ll look them over and say some shit about how we shouldn’t be eating this, that fries are truly so so so bad, I guess we’re being bad today, before mentioning that article from The Atlantic about the proper portion size of fries and suggesting that we should only take six fries each, which would leave behind a whole fucking basket, and then you’ll laugh about the ridiculousness of it, the idea that anyone could stop at six, and then I won’t laugh while shoving six fries, maybe seven or eight, ten if I can manage, into my mouth, and I wonder if fries have feelings, if it’s cozy in my mouth the seconds before I grind them into paste, and do they feel safe in there from think pieces and Twitter threads and fat-shamers and coworkers who love happy hour but hate food, who never allow themselves to disappear into a bite, and do fries crave more than their salty graves, because sometimes I think, damn, what a joy it must be to live the short lifespan of a potato, and I think about their purpose, all that unlimited potential—we can mash or fry or bake or twice-bake or roast them in a hot oven or drown them in cheese—and if I were a potato, the best part is, I must believe, I wouldn’t have to listen to you and the waitress argue over the chipotle mayonnaise you’re ordering, whether it’s an aioli or a remoulade, and I wouldn’t have to hold back from finishing the fries before your dip arrives, or I wouldn’t have to pause to count how many I have eaten, whether the six or eight or ten were that many more than the number you ate, if I got greedy, if I was being too much me again, or if you’d even notice, and there would be no waiting over who should eat the last cold fry, no, they would stay hot and crisp, and the oil on my fingertips would be a blessing, anointing my tongue with every lick.

 

Christopher Gonzalez serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. His stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions 2019, Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, Wasafiri, Third Point Press, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Cleveland-raised, he now lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY and spends most of his free time on Twitter: @livesinpages.

Wound Study by H.E. Fisher

Wound Study

 

H.E. Fisher is a cross-genre writer, whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Tiny Flames Press, The Rumpus, The Hopper, JMWW, Hip Mama, and Centennial Media’s Inside the Female Mind issue, among others. She is the 2019 recipient of The Stark Poetry Prize in Memory of Raymond Patterson, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Barren Press Poetry Contest. Helene is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. She currently lives in Rockland County, NY.

Lizard Meat by Carina Martin

All the same day, I find the eviction notice taped to my front door and skim a lizard out of the bleach. “Well, it’s good manners to clean up the apartment,” my mother tells me over the phone, “before you hand in your key.” The lizard body sprawls, empty as a balloon, on a pile of tomato skins. Until flies coat the faucet like anguished rust, I don’t realize how little I do around here.

* * *

While I’m brushing my teeth, God comes into the bathroom and starts polishing the bathtub taps. “Please don’t do that,” I say. It’s embarrassing when your bathroom taps are so groggy that God shows up. “I can take care of that.”

“I don’t mind,” God says. “Cleaning is a special hobby of mine. But I wanted to talk to you about my favorite lizard.”

* * *

God uses the thin disinfectant wipes that leap from the container like spring lilies. “It was a really beautiful lizard,” I say. And it was: wet black and blue, its scales as neat as the arch of cards at a casino. “It was an accident.”

“Did you at least eat it?”

“I didn’t,” I say. “We don’t really eat reptiles here.”

“I can’t believe you would let it go to waste like that. It’s unnatural. And that was the last one. So I would have preferred.” God leaves the Clorox wipe draped over the bathtub tap, and I let it harden there. By the next morning, I have a scrubbing brush.

* * *

I call my mother to ask what kind of dishwashing liquid God would use. “Cascade,” she says right away. “Cascade, but the old-fashioned powdered kind. That’s what I use.” Then she says, “Are you at the store now?”

* * *

“Why that one?”

“It had a good mating dance. There was a little colony north of Phoenix that I would visit in the winter. You could roll over a rock and see a dozen of them lying there really still. Then you buy margarita mix, you watch them mate, you fall asleep. It’s like my version of tarot. If this one lizard I picked mated, I would stay there for the winter. And if it didn’t, I would head to Las Vegas, or what was there before. Every year they changed the dance a little. Moved faster or flicked their tails around. And all you could come up with,” God says neatly, “was The Bachelor.”

* * *

“Make sure you get behind the bed,” my mother says. God calcifies my private garments with bleach. “You got to be sure to vacuum behind the bed. That’s the one place I always forget.” I open the dresser to find underwear: clattering like nautilus shells, coiled around an absent finger. Inventive with grief, God pollinates my toilet bowl with yellow acid scrub. I understand why lizard tails, lithe as live power cables, fall away from their bodies so carelessly.

* * *

I split the second lizard with a paring knife. Its meat is as taut, and then lax, as a rubber band. “Allow me,” God says to the dirty dishes. “I brought my own gloves this time. Afterward, God leaves them gutted in the sink. It’s only a minute before flies turn their fingers, opaque and precious as onionskins, into gangrene. Meat always burrows deep into your teeth, even if you are in charge of a lot.

* * *

“Your door was open,” God says. “Do you mind?”

“Sort of.”

“I am with you when you sit down, and when you stand up,” says God, pointing to the toilet and the shower in turn. “I wanted to talk to you about our dinner last night.”
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” I say. “So don’t be mad at me. I just wanted to keep getting along.”

“It’s like that joke,” God says. When the cap comes off, God’s bathroom cleaner smells like artificial lemonade and a finger up your nose. “There’s a taxidermist and veterinarian who share office space. And the sign out front says: Either Way, You Get Your Dog Back.”

* * *

“You have a nice home,” God tells me. God purchased this pack of organic unscented sponges at the corner mart.

“I liked living here, but I got evicted a while ago,” I say. “It’s a lot cleaner than it used to be. So. Thank you.” Submerged in hot water, the sponges flake as obligingly as tree bark.

“This,” God says, holding up a sponge, “is just how your soul soaks up your body. But how the hell did they know?”

* * *

“Your last day?” God says.

“I signed a new lease last night.”

“A nicer place?”

“A cheaper one.”

“Not nicer.”

“Similar.”

* * *

Again, God pulps the lizard on the kitchen countertop. God’s fingers grasp its neck like pincers around soft glass. The lizard starts its dance, twisting its throat and flinging its sticky toes against the Formica. Its body is a white radio scream that nobody can quite hear. “A little too slow,” God says. “We’ll try again.” Plate by plate, I fill the dishwasher. I’m prostrating myself in front of the sloppy dishes, over and over, and pantomiming grief for news I haven’t yet heard. “Did you know you have a fly problem?” God says.

 

Carina Martin is a nonprofit professional, a fiction amateur, and a 2018 graduate of the creative writing program at Houghton College. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a cat named Sophie and a menagerie of houseplants.

At the Airport Kiosk by Benjamin Niespodziany

I sell dolls
dressed like flight
attendants and fighter pilots.

One doll is made of moon
light, another designed like
a pocket watch, another a horse.

I spend my lunch
breaks watching lovers pull apart
arms, bracelets, braids of hair.

My boss coughs jet
fuel, flirts with workers selling
souvenirs. A mug, a can of chowder.

Mothers wrap daughters
in strings of pink balloons so as to not
lose them before the gate.

Everyone wants to feel
secure before curving
through the sky.

I hold up a doll, my favorite
doll, the one that looks
like a crash landing.

The doll looks like everyone
is safe but the plane
is in flames.

With this doll, the slide
has to be used. Everyone
wants to use the slide.

It’s the most expensive doll
we offer and everyone
asks its price.

 

Benjamin Niespodziany works in a library in Chicago and runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas]. He has had work published in Paper Darts, Cheap Pop, Fairy Tale Review, and, ahem, Okay Donkey last year.