The Ghosts Inside by Erik Fuhrer

There is a ghost living under your tongue. Every time you open your mouth, smoke trembles on your teeth.

My ghost lives in my eyelids, so all I see is fog. Everything looks like the opening pages of Bleak House. The cat in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Portland.

When people pass me, I wonder where their ghosts live. Sometimes the ghosts are so buried in the body that they are invisible to the eye. Ribcage ghosts. Lung Ghosts. Even ghosts that wrap themselves lovingly around spleens.

These ghosts mean no harm. They are just looking for warmth. A different perspective. Word is there is even a ghost living in the legs of a cockroach somewhere, scuttling across kitchen floors with bliss.

 

Erik Fuhrer is the author of not human enough for the census, forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. His work has been published in Cleaver, BlazeVox, Softblow, and various other venues.

Strange Furniture by Lannie Stabile

Strange Furniture.jpg

 

Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, often says while some write like a turtleneck sweater, she writes like a Hawaiian shirt. A finalist for the 2019/2020 Glass Chapbook Series and semi-finalist for the Button Poetry’s 2018 Chapbook Contest, she is usually working on new chapbook ideas, or when desperate, on her neglected YA novel. Works can be found, or are forthcoming, in Glass Poetry, Kissing Dynamite, Monstering, The Hellebore, Honey & Lime, and more. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of MMPR Collective. Twitter handle: @lanniestabile

Dead? Yes, Dead by Amy Stuber

Ellen grew up in a Colorado town where her mother cleaned people’s vacation homes, where Ellen and her brother spent off-season afternoons breaking in and drinking the beer of strangers, while snow piled up on decks and driveways. She didn’t do much better as a college student at a weird little high plains school. She sang in a band, but was bad at it. She regretted all her tattoos. She almost never talked to her mother. She dropped out and moved in with a man in Boulder who built lutes (productive), but also did meth (not). Her brother took a job in Bangkok. When he called it was noisy and disjointed, and she hung up feeling worse and looking out at the mountain that pushed up to the sky. Was she depressed? Sure, usually. Did that make her special? No, not at all.

So in the summer of 2018, Ellen left her life completely. She was 23, unbeholden to anyone, tired of the people she knew, the servers, the skaters, the punks, the trust funders, the post-grad-schoolers, the drum circle assholes, all of them, and maybe herself most of all. Her hair was a faded Manic Panic turquoise, and she shaved it in a gas station bathroom halfway between home and somewhere else. In the rippled mirror, she looked altogether new.

Ending up in Newport, Rhode Island was a fluke. Her high school English teacher once told the class, “Newport is the most East Egg place in contemporary America,” while he fanned himself with a copy of The Great Gatsby. Not all of Newport, Ellen learned. Not the narrow streets where tourists wore lobster bibs and dripped butter. Not the harbor where junk boats were bogged down by seagulls. But, yes, the cliff walk that divided the mansions from the ocean, where on her second day she found a dead bird on the path, not just a bird but a duck, not just a duck but a hooded merganser. Her grandfather hunted. She’d gone with him on weekends wearing the gear and sitting hidden until he would startle her with a series of shots, and then there would be a dead animal on the yellow hillside.

The dead duck fit into her backpack. She’d drained and plucked birds before, so handling a dead animal wasn’t new to her. But there was a delicacy to taxidermy that differed from preparing an animal to be food. In the room she rented from a single mother and atop a shower curtain liner she’d stolen from the shared bathroom, she spent hours on the duck, partially mangling it and then filling it with cotton batting she pulled out of a novelty pillow she found in the closet (“You got this, girl,” needlepointed onto the pillow face).

The woman’s son, Theo, a strange nine-year-old with inexplicable bruises on his forearms who upon first meeting Ellen announced that he had two loves, Robert Caro’s LBJ books and astrophysics, showed up at Ellen’s door with random objects that he put right into her hand. On that night, it was silver sequins Ellen sewed into some of the duck’s feathers, so the bird, when held aloft, actually shone.

She found a dead pigeon by the trash at the back of the house a few days later, cleaned it, stuffed it, and implanted a series of tiny screws in its neck. They almost blended into the feathers, but not completely. Collar, ill-placed stigmata, she didn’t know.

Within a week, she accumulated ten birds. It was surprising how you could find dead birds when you were looking. When Ellen finished, each bird was messy, but had its own small shock: the sequins, one hawk talon affixed to the spindle leg of a chimney swift, the red plastic tips of push pins just surfacing from the eyes of a starling.

She mounted each to dumpster plywood onto which she transcribed full chapters from The Great Gatsby. On the wood below the starling’s dangling feet, she wrote the final line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” which was pretty melodramatic if you thought about it. But for once Ellen wasn’t beating against any stupid current. Her life to this point had been a series of nothings and ridiculous internal monologues. Should I masturbate while my roommate is out? No, I’m too tired. Maybe I shouldn’t eat any more Oreos? Never mind, I’m eating them. But in these Newport weeks, she didn’t overthink. She just did.

She borrowed Theo’s mother’s ancient Fiat and rolled around town with Theo and a drill and affixed the already rotting birds to light poles, or the sides of buildings. She liked imagining the shock of people coming upon them. She and her brother had once watched a documentary about outsider art, and her brother had scoffed when experts raved about its primitive qualities. “The fucking condescension,” her brother had said. But Ellen delighted in her clumsiness. She loved that there was no polish or practice to her work.

As they hung the last bird, the boy, Theo, lectured her about the multiverse: “I mean, obviously, there’s not just one universe. How presumptuous would it be to think that?” At night, they lay on the concrete patio and looked at the stars. For once, she was maybe content.

There were several ways this could end:

A) Rich people want the birds for their walls. Out of nowhere, Ellen’s an artist. They don’t want just one bird. They want a collection, a flock, a show, because apparently only amassed in a grouping is artistry significant. The street in front of the gallery is beautiful. A trombone player plays “We Will Rock You.” A homeless man sells newspapers for a dollar, and for once everyone buys them.

B) Ellen holds Theo at the edge of the cliff. She wears giant wings she’s made from mop handles, sticks, cardboard, and actual bird feathers. Maybe the mansions are in the background, and maybe they stand at the edge wearing the wings and step forward. It should be beautiful. Flying and future.

C) Ellen puts Theo in the front seat of the Fiat, and they drive west where she once saw a cadre of turkey vultures balanced on a water tower and waiting for the dead. Ellen and Theo drive until no one in Rhode Island can see them, until his bruises fade, until they are air, they are afterthoughts, they are gone.

 

Amy Stuber’s fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, Wigleaf, Joyland, New England Review, Triquarterly, and elsewhere. She’s an Assistant Flash Editor for Split Lip Magazine. She’s on Twitter @amy_stuber_ and online at www.amystuber.com.

Manila Folder by Alejandro Ruiz del Sol

During a
very important business
meeting, I excuse myself

Excuse me They mock
I say in earnest. I walk
away – take the elevator down,

unbutton my blazer, find my
manila folder I keep hidden
behind the trash receptacle.

It contains the leaves
of my childhood. Buses
and bills. Roads and

nights. Smells of
maple syrup and bread,
chili chicken and pinesol,
clay, gasoline.

I can be a businessman and
keep this here a secret. I know

I didn’t waste my life.

 

Alejandro Ruiz del Sol is a Floridian who is thriving as an MFA candidate at New Mexico State University, where he is Assistant Poetry Editor for Puerto del Sol. He has been previously published in Barren Magazine and The Shore Poetry.

Misunderstanding and Misinformation in the Recorded History of Identity Storytelling by Pat Foran

Like It Is

At a funeral, a man is spinning yarns about the many funerals he’s attended. There’s the one about the helicopter, the FAA, and a misinformed truant officer. The night the organist went rogue. That time a gun moll with a book deal made a mess of things.

Now, the man’s telling the one about the three women — sisters, the man believes — who approached the widow of this guy they were having a service for.

The three sisters asked the widow if they, the three of them, could go up to the casket — “it’s open, mind you,” the man says — and sing to the deceased.

“That’s sing to him as in sing right into the coffin,” the man says, sliding into the characters’ voices.

“What song?” the widow asks.

“‘Had You Told It Like It Was It Wouldn’t Be Like It Is, Oh No — Not Like It Is’ by The Rationals,” the sisters say.

“Okay,” the widow says.

 

Like a Bird

I’m in Monterrey, Mexico, to write a story about a company that’s in the process of “reimagining” itself. A young woman is driving me to my next interview.

She tells me she’s being groomed to be the first woman engineer in this company’s history. She keeps her eyes on the road, driving into the silver-gray day in this steel-belted-radial city.

She turns on the radio. A Nelly Furtado song is playing and the engineer-to-be hums along.

The sun peeks out from behind the silver-gray and the engineer-to-be starts to sing, softly, stopping when Furtado reaches the chorus:

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is 
I don’t know where my home is

“Almost there,” she says, her eyes on the road.

 

Ghost Town

At dusk, a bunch of us went to the local ghost town. We packed up our things and took the dirt road as far as we could take it.

When we got there, we saw broken houses with broken windows. A broken car on the side of the road. A broken weather vane. Broken glass broken flowers broken sky. We saw a man who was broken, too.

“Is this the ghost town?” we asked.

“This is the sundown town,” the man said, frowning at a broken dog. “The ghost town’s south of here, a couple towns over.”

We took our things and headed south.

 

A Tapered Thread

I had long hair, the longest in school, and my Mom took me to the barber for what I thought would be a trim.

Want it tapered? the barber asked. I didn’t know what “tapered” meant and I wasn’t good at talking to people and I panicked — Okay? I said — and he started tapering. Soon, my hair in the back was tapered, razored, gone.

I slid down from the chair and zombied over to where Mom was waiting. That looks … nice. You okay?

I put on my Oakland A’s cap, pulled it down as far as it would go, ran to the car and skidded into the front passenger seat.

On the way home, I tried to focus on the guard rails and the mile markers and the red-wing blackbirds, but I saw a reflection of my face, no longer framed with a longer-than-a-mop-top mop of hair, in the window: This is me? I touched the razor tingle on the back of my neck.

 

The Certainty Promise

I opened an email. It was a press release. Something about a company rolling out a new brand identity.

“We now deliver integrated solutions that ensure certainty of outcome,” the company’s executives said in the prepared statement.

The executives said they were excited about the new direction and the new opportunities on the new horizon, adding they were proud of the new position the company would hold in the firmament of new brand identities.

“We know who we are, and we are prepared to deliver on the certainty promise,” the executives said. “We’ve never been more filled with wonder and never been more certain that there’s a crying, desperate, yip-yip-yipping need for all we provide for our clients, who conduct themselves honorably, invariably and with a sense of style across four continents, 17 countries, nine military outposts, six unincorporated townships, three dead-letter offices and one polar ice cap. They toil in an array of market sectors, including search engine optimization services, off-the-power-grid energy consulting and innovative bowling alley solutions for this brave new world.”

 

If We Were Okay

I answered the phone. It was my Grandmother. Arthur? Arthur? she said, no she didn’t say it she screamed it. Arthur is my Dad. I gave the phone to my Dad.

Something had happened to my Grandfather. My Dad left in a hurry to go to my grandparents’ apartment.

Everybody said my Dad took after my Grandfather. Everybody said I took after my Dad. I didn’t think my Dad took after my Grandfather, but I wasn’t sure.

A couple hours later, the phone rang. Mom answered. Dad told her my Grandfather had died.

That night, my Dad poked his head into the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. He said he’d been worried about us. He asked if we were okay. We’re okay, I said.

I didn’t ask him if he was okay and I didn’t know if I took after my Dad. I thought about why I didn’t ask him and I thought about other things.

 

Hurricane in a Pimp Glass

The man had chained himself to a beam in the nearly torn down Isaac Hayes Night Club & Restaurant in Memphis.

“This man won’t leave,” the building inspector said.

“This man has to leave,” the wrecking crew foreman said.

“This man is going to leave and he’s going to leave now,” the policewoman said.

The man had done a good job chaining himself to that beam.

“Care to explain this?” the policewoman asked.

The man said he’d had a first date here, the first with his future fiancé. Here, they sampled Isaac’s herb-roasted chicken, tasted the sweet potato pudding, and shared a hurricane cocktail in a Pimp Glass.

“We used the same straw,” the man said. “It was the happiest night of my life.”

“For your wife, too?” the policewoman asked.

“The two never married,” the man said.

“Gladys despises me — ‘Fuck you and everybody who looks like you’ is what she tells me every chance she gets,” the man said. “But for a moment there, a moment here… ”

 

Probably Possibly Maybe

I started to write a letter I was sure I’d probably possibly send to you. Probably possibly maybe.

I started the letter this way: I don’t know how to love you but I do. As in: I do love you, but I don’t know how to love you.

I’m aware I was confusing the lyrics of two songs: “I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do” by Clarence Frogman Henry and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the version Yvonne Elliman sings. Not unlike if I were mixing metaphors. Which I do, I know I do that. I know I do it a lot.

And, yes, I took the “why” out of one of the titles and put in “how,” even though that really doesn’t work, either. But it’s absolutely not about why it’s never been about why it’s never ever about why. Yes, I could give you a list or something, but that wouldn’t tell you why.

Why and how and probably and possibly and maybe and I don’t know. I never thought I’d come to this. That we would. That it would. “What’s it all about?” Sing it, Yvonne. Sing it pretty.

 

Mistakes Made Interesting

A musician talks about a mistake she’d made.

“One time during a session, I played the wrong chord,” she says. “This other musician played some notes that somehow corrected my mistake. She made things right. To her, my mistake was interesting.”

“As long as the chord resolved,” one of the musician’s students says.

“As long as it was interesting,” another student says.

 

If It Could

We named our city If It Could and we talked about it on Effin’ Twitter.

We said: Our city is high enough to make fun of the Damn Yankees’ song “High Enough” without us worrying about hurting anybody’s feelings. It’s wide enough to preclude ogling. Deep enough to welcome neo-Panamax ships.

We said: We’re a city of prayers. We pray for things. Sometimes we see ourselves praying for things in a booth at the Pizza Hut down by the cove. Or in a glass bottom boat in a sea of green. Or at the bottom of the sea.

We said: We try to do things in If It Could, we really do try, and sometimes we can’t get them done. Maybe it’s because we can’t make sense of things. Not always and not right away. Not in this city. But we believe we can.

 

Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. His work has appeared in Milk Candy Review, Little Fiction, WhiskeyPaper, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan.

The Oxford Dodo by C. Line Beston

Used to be more than a shrunken head. The scientific specimen to crowd and measure and wonder. Bird-brain: empty skull extinct-ed by its own stupidity. Bird-brain dreams of waddling on velvet sand in a tourist’s snow globe souvenir. Wings, but can’t fly. Gorge on fallen rotten fruit.

Bird-brain has a nightmare: Tourists came on wood-ship cruises, scurvy included, no additional cost. The birds low-hanging fruit. Run but can’t hide. They took its body over the sea and stuffed it, cooked the plum-flesh in formaldehyde. And year by year muscles fall away: fruit left in the sun, on the beach. Flies drift in.

Daylight, daydream. Blue gloves take Bird-brain out, We keep it humidity-controlled here in the lab. Bird-brain imagines opening its beak, taking a small chunk of finger to taste it burst like a berry. We suspect that the bird was going extinct on its own; several travelogues support this theory.

Bird-brain hopes and dreams one beautiful, singular egg – almost soft-boiled from the sun, baking a new bird. If the academics peel back the leather fruit-skin flesh, crack the skull with the back of a spoon, a fledgling will emerge.

 

C. Line Beston grew up on the edge of the woods in northern Delaware and currently works and writes in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has previously appeared in Smokelong Quarterly.

you again by Monique Quintana

My mother’s dead uncle showed up to dinner. We thought death would have turned him bad, but he was as kind as ever. He brought us capirotada from the land of the dead. It’s late, however there’s still soup, my mother said. But when he ate, the carrots sliced our uncle in two. My mother hadn’t made it with love enough. Of course, she wasn’t expecting her dead to come to dinner and judge her soup.

 

Monique Quintana is a Xicana writer and the author of the novella, Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). She is an Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine and Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine. She has received fellowships from The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, The Sundress Academy of the Arts, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House, Winter Tangerine, Grimoire, Dream Pop, Bordersenses, and Acentos Review, among others. You can find her at www.moniquequintana.com

Mine Own Will Toledo by Niyanta Patel

6:00 pm
                In a turn of events that surprises no one,
                I am already late, and Will says,
                                It’s all good.

6:01 pm
                Curls of skin are peeling
                                off Will’s lips.

6:15 pm
                Will Toledo looks best in a Target parking lot,
                                head on his car seat
                                on his carseat head
                                on his seat resthead
                                head car on his seat
                                car headrestcar seat.

6:16 pm
                Will forgot everything
                that happened three years ago.
                Will is a name from history.
                Will is something Roman and lovely and dead,
                                something aurum, imber, aequinoctium.

6:25 pm
                Will plays me a ditty he wrote
                in a Target parking lot
                                He pulls the tiny toy drum set from under the seat,
                                tiny toy hihats jangling

6:30 pm
                I watch him lick a forgotten
                french fry off the floor.
                                Sitting in the car, in the Target parking lot,
                                just me and Will Toledo.
                He tells me he misses my midnights with me.
                He crawls into my frontal lobe.

 

Niyanta Kunal Patel is an emerging Indian-American poet and artist from Nashville, Tennessee. She currently studies neuroscience, chemistry, and creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on twitter @temporalsplendr.

The Present Moment by Kim Magowan and Michelle Ross

“There is no such thing as the present,” the guy I’m sleeping with says. He tilts my head back as though my neck is a box he’s opening. He traces lines back and forth along my trachea, like he’s looking for an invisible latch.

We’re in my tiny apartment kitchen. I’ve just uncorked the wine he brought, poured our glasses. I’ve broken so many wine glasses now that I no longer have a matching pair. His glass is the large one with the very thin bowl. It’s my favorite glass, but it’s safer in his hands.

He says, “I am not the guy you are sleeping with. I am the guy you have fucked and the guy you will fuck again in the future.”

“But this moment,” I say. “Your fingers on my skin. You standing in my kitchen. This is not the past or the future.”

He smiles at me like my sister smiles at her little girl, Juney, when Juney insists something ridiculous, such as when Juney said she was going to marry their cat and give birth to a litter of half-cat, half-human babies.

He says, “It’s something I heard on a TED talk. I know it sounds crazy at first, but think about it. As soon as my mouth pronounces a word, that word becomes part of the past.”

I notice for the first time that his right eye is slightly smaller than his left eye, like my right breast is smaller than my left breast, and now I’m picturing his eyes as tiny gelatinous breasts, his pupils their smooth, Sharpied-on nipples.

I say, “But during the pronouncing, when your mouth is making the shape of a word, that is a present action.”

“Or, to use your other example,” I continue, “What if we go to the bedroom right now and start having sex? Then you are not just the guy I have fucked and will fuck. You become the guy I am currently, at this very moment, in the present, fucking. Because otherwise, every nanosecond of fucking is a separate fuck. If we fuck for ten minutes, we’d have to say we fucked a trillion times.”

That look of certainty shakes from his face. Watching it drop away, I realize that the reason I am, have been, and maybe will again sleep with the guy I am sleeping with has to do with that particular expression of assurance. When he first asked me for my number three weeks ago, back at The Lone Palm, he was wearing it. And even though he wasn’t really my type (he’s lean to the point of angular, and has messy, voluminous hair), I said, “Sure, okay.” And he had that same expression the first time we had sex, and I thought, wow, maybe I could fall in love with this guy.

I realize all these things— the existence of that expression, and that it had real significance in the past— only now, when I see that element that made him something more desirable than his essential self slip away. It’s my own philosophical mini-epiphany. I say, “Whoa.”

He says, “Actually, before we fuck, I’d like to drink some of this wine.”

I study his formerly-smug-and-now-uncertain face, trying to sort out whether he wants wine because he’s now not that into me, or because he has a drinking problem (now that I think about it, every time we’ve had sex he’s been buzzed), or because he knows I’ve exploded his silly “there is no present” pseudo-philosophy and he’s one of those dudes who needs to feel superior to the woman he’s sleeping with, or even creepier, because he was gaslighting me, and his claim that “there is no present” was merely the first step in a series of insane falsities that will eventually unhinge my reason and turn me into a madwoman.

I’ll grant him this: the present is as elusive as a good man. It’s difficult to be in the moment when I’m already seeing what lies ahead.

On the other hand, I recognize that this is the moment when I know that I am no longer sleeping with, and will not in the future sleep with, the guy I was sleeping with.

 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) is out now from 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapelwww.kimmagowan.com

 

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Pidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. Her story “One or Two?” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is Fiction Editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com