Now We’re Getting Somewhere by Claire Hopple

We agree to liaise at the apartment building. I picture myself shepherding you through the tour and already feel perturbed before I’ve parked.

We surveille the vestibule and await developments. You hang your arms over the railing and momentarily drop your head.

“This cruelty-free deodorant has turned out to be anything but,” you say.

This three-story brick complex is barbarous and listless enough to suit you. A distant television is the only sound. There are bike tire tracks on the walls opposite the mailboxes. All the trappings of a dwelling you would consider renting. Or at least looting.

The landlord or property manager or whoever arrives. She sedates us with small talk and you politely avert your eyes.

Her precious schoolmarm demeanor has little effect on me and it’s difficult to determine whether I should be proud of this.

She leads us up to the third floor.

“This dining nook is large enough to host a dinner party, if I can muster enough friends to appear,” you notice once we’re inside.

She runs through the floor plan and the numbers with you while I test the plumbing. I go to wash my hands but can’t figure out how to turn on the sink. I pull at things and twist certain parts but nothing budges. I look underneath it, on its sides, flip the wall switches just to be sure. I walk out and remain quiet.

The woman gets a phone call.

“How’s school?” I ask.

You look startled.

“Let’s find somewhere we can discuss this.”

I oblige.

We move into a bedroom.

“First of all, your enthusiasm is becoming a problem. If you must know, school is going okay. I have this…semi-respected professor who’s very complimentary of my work. But it seems as if he’s becoming senile so I can’t really take him seriously. I have to question all of it.”

The woman ends the call and joins us, walking to the far side of the room to open a window. While she’s leaning over to lift one, you focus on my face and whisper “defenestration” like you want me to push her out into the gravel lot below.

“That abandoned car in the ravine down there should be towed by next week,” she says as she turns around.

She gets another call. I wonder if she is some kind of real estate magnate.

“And are your parents still in that, uh, rough patch?” I squint at you.

You tell me about running into your dad at the grocery store and him not recognizing you. How he blamed it on you wearing a hat. That he disclosed he’d kept a secret pet hidden in the garage. Your mom unearthed the ferret behind the bucket of badminton equipment and later hissed at your dad when he attempted to recuse himself. Then how your mother retaliated by purchasing a used lifeguard chair from the internet and planting it in their pool-less backyard to survey the neighborhood and whistleblow at behaviors she observed but didn’t take to.

“Melodrama” sounds like a caramel-based candy bar, not the highly emotive scenes it contains, though both are perhaps equally fabricated, I think.

When we’ve seen everything there is to see, you shake her hand while saying, “Please accept this symbolic gesture.”

I glance back to observe her wiping the hand she shook with on her skirt. She probably didn’t mean for me to see that.

I pick up what looks to be a Girl Scout badge from the grass and pocket it.

You sum things up by saying you haven’t been all too pleased with your own behavior lately, and so, acting as the only adult in your household, you have grounded yourself.

“It’s customary to stay home unless there are prearranged appointments such as these.”

You are learning that adulthood is basically a series of deciding things but never really getting to decide anything at all.

You’ve probably made it back by now and are reheating a bowl of some leguminous dish in your microwave.

I didn’t get a chance to tell you about the trap door at work. The door leads to what may or may not have once been a cellar. Employees regularly submerge their senses there after talking to clients (and each other) all day. The place seems ideal for a cigarette break, but no one smokes, so we end up bringing down lukewarm LaCroixs and standing around with those.

There isn’t a trap door anywhere in my house but I wanted a similar environment so I’ve created what might be a sensory deprivation closet. There’s nobody to escape from in this setting, only myself, and that is plenty.

You probably wouldn’t have a clue what to make of this news anyway, and you’re an adult who’s grounded herself, so what do you know?

 

Claire Hopple is the author of Tell Me How You Really Feel (forthcoming), Tired People Seeing America, and Too Much of the Wrong Thing. Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Heavy Feather Review, People Holding, Timber, and others. More at clairehopple.com.

The Recluse by Jose Hernandez Diaz

A writing residency, at my kitchen table, where I wake up at 4 a.m. because of insomnia from meds, and write a poem about a skeleton in a maze, and no one is around to say it’s cliché, so I publish it in a book called: One Hundred Days of a Recluse.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Huizache, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Southeast Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of a collection of prose poems: The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020).

to grasp by Tyler Barton

Van could make this move easy: just pack the collection’s sixty-two thousand specimens into rubbermaid bins and rent a box truck. But instead he pitches a big museum shuffle.

“I smell local news!” Marianne, the CEO, says over the Panera she’s eating at her desk, the desk that Van will one day put his feet on, after he usurps her. “Vanny, pass me the dressing?”

Van assembles hundreds of museum volunteers—snake-handlers, taxidermists, ornithologists, the assholes with the loupes, community services students, cleaners, fundraisers, pencil sharpeners, bee-keepers, artists, ten year old boys obsessed with for some reason caves, and those purple-lensed planetarium operators. It’s Monday and they’ve formed a long, winding line of hands leading from the museum basement to the loading dock of the Ex-Salvation Army on Locust Street. The TV crews arrive as hoped, as do print media, and even the museum’s dormant Twitter springs to life as the minerals start swimming down the line of gloved hands.

“Remember your training!” Van says, holding a clipboard. It’s one of the great joys of his job, the clipboard—how he can grip and wrench it and nobody but Van sees the stress leaving his body. The new museum, Van remembers for motivation, will be air-conditioned.

Nine minutes in, an envelope-licker drops a cow skull and its long teeth scatter into the street. Furious, Van hurries over, smiling, and invites the man to head home early.

“It’s the sun,” he says. “Just keeps coming in and out of clouds. It won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Van says, no longer smiling, “bye.”

Luckily obsidian is so hard, because no damage is done when it slips from the botanist’s hands and slams the sidewalk. Regardless, Van asks her out of the line. And pretty soon Van stops asking, and it becomes: Go the hell home! This isn’t practice, people. This is the game!

Each time someone drops a specimen, or is seen chatting to their line partner, Van ejects them. He doles out Adderall illegally and screams at people who look distracted. In this way, the line stretches thinner and thinner, until Person 1 has to lean to reach the outstretched hands of Person 2, which results in more drops—until Person 1 has to lightly toss the item across to Person 2, who does not always have game-ready hands, and the line becomes less dotted with volunteers, and the camera crews have all gone home, and the sun is blinking out, and Marianne has stopped waving her support from her corner office window, and it’s just Van and a handful of others with nothing going on in their lives but this, throwing specimens to one another across empty, ten-yard gaps, until it’s midnight, and the drugs haven’t helped anything, and Marianne is home in bed with a novel, and Van rolls up all 20 feet of the anaconda skin, tucks it under his arm like a football, and mounts the back of the Parasaurolophus. “Take us to the Salvation Army,” he whispers to the life-size though not-alive Dino model. They go nowhere. Parasaurolophus doesn’t have ears. It picked up sound via vibrations in the air. Okay, fair enough, then why can’t it hear the amethyst sailing through the cool dark toward Van’s face?

This is what happens in the coma: Van lives and relives and re-relives his first day on the job, the first time he said his boss’s name out loud, when he did not say his boss’s name, but in fact called her, “Marinara.”

 

Tyler Barton is a cofounder of Fear No Lit, home of the Submerging Writer Fellowship. He’s the author of The Quiet Part Loud (Split Lip Press). His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, NANO Fiction, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. “to grasp” is one part of his connected microfiction manuscript, To Work, which focuses on the absurdity and dread of modern work. He lives in Lancaster, PA, where he works in a Nature Museum and teaches free writing workshops to residents of assisted living facilities. Find him @goftyler or tsbarton.com.

Call Me When You Need Me by Marisa Crane

will you brush my teeth for me? is the question tossed about this house at night
while bats flap their wings outside, not knowing the myths they carry
it’s healthy to learn to trust people
that’s what all the therapists & self-help books say
I know a thing or two about the teeth in my jaw
attachment theory says we need consistent love from our caregivers
for the inconsistent times, we have stuffed animals & blankies
we have our wings to wrap around our cold quivering bodies
it’s the moments like small gods stacked on top of each other in a trench coat
it’s you smiling through a foamy mouth while I decide what to read in bed
we go looking for molars with just the right crunch
the right break-you-open-&-see-what’s-inside
but we never look in the most obvious of places
(the loneliness of an underwear drawer off its track)
earlier there were the too-full grocery bags, the list, the spilt blueberries,
the you watching me watching you eat a meal I made
the dog follows us into the bedroom
he tells stories with his eyelashes, their snowflake linger
I should be listening but I can’t stop thinking about a baby bat
hanging upside down hugging a teddy bear

 

Marisa Crane is a lesbian writer and editor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pigeon Pages, Pidgeonholes, Drunk Monkeys, among others. She currently lives in San Diego with her wife. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org. Her Twitter handle is @marisabcrane.

The Jackalope in Economy Class by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom

The jackalope couldn’t believe she’d gotten a middle seat again. She had tried to book her flights early, but the WiFi in her Wyoming bungalow was spotty at best, and it took so long to get tickets that almost all the seats were taken. If she had been a Pegasus, she wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing. She could’ve flown to Scotland herself.

But she was stuck being small and terrestrial, so she dragged her suitcase to join the herd of irritable passengers waiting at the international gate. When the line finally moved, the jet bridge stank of airplane fuel that rose in hot breaths from the gap between the platform and the door.

The jackalope found her seat in the last row between a teething baby and a Bigfoot who was already snoring at the volume of a small chainsaw. The overhead compartment was full, not that the jackalope was tall enough to reach it—why can’t Bigfeet ever be awake when you need them? A flight attendant wrestled the suitcase out of her paws and stashed it away. Defeated, the jackalope flopped into the middle seat and buckled her seatbelt. She tried vainly to smooth her rumpled whiskers.

It was a nine-hour flight to Scotland, and the baby would not stop screaming. Judging by its robust size and lung capacity, maybe it was the Bigfoot’s child, but the jackalope was not an expert on babies. Thank goodness she brought earplugs. After a series of garbled announcements over the intercom, the jackalope dozed off.

She woke to the sensation of the baby gumming her antlers and drooling onto her fur. At least it meant the screaming had stopped, so she resigned herself to being used as a teething ring. Her antlers had survived worse before.

All the jackalope really wanted from this trip was to take a picture with the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie was so popular you could book a whole vacation themed around her, stay in a charming cottage with lake views, ride a trolley painted with greenish-black scales, and go out on pleasure boats to hope for a sighting.

In comparison, what little fame the jackalope once had from tall tales had faded. She owned her bungalow in the Red Desert, but she could barely afford to pay the utilities with the dwindling royalties coming in from jackalope merch and the tell-all memoir she wrote in her thirties. She’d spent the last of her savings to book this trip.

What about other jackalopes? She was the last one, as far as she knew. The whole reproduction process for her species was pretty mysterious, something involving lightning strikes and clashing antlers, and she couldn’t remember ever having a mother or father. She had searched the internet, social media and message boards and dating apps, but every lead to find other living jackalopes turned out to be a fake. She’d stopped getting her hopes up.

But this time was different. It had to be. The jackalope fantasized that she and Nessie would hit it off. They probably had a lot of things in common besides being cryptids. For example, the jackalope’s favorite drink was whiskey, and Scotland was known for excellent Scotch. Maybe they would go out for drinks at a lakeside bar, someplace with a floating dock so Nessie would be comfortable. They would share stories about where they grew up, discover they were both bullied in high school, quibble over the best episodes of their favorite TV show. They would talk until they were a warm, euphoric kind of drunk. They would talk until last call. Maybe they would start to fall in love? No, that was the kind of thing that only happened in movies.

She hoped Nessie would invite her to crash for the night. They’d go out for brunch the next morning. Maybe, if things went really well, the lake monster would invite the jackalope to come on as a sidekick in the tourism gig. The jackalope would ride on the back of her neck so it looked like the serpent had a magnificent set of antlers. The visitors would eat it up. The documentarians would arrive in droves. The conspiracy theorists would flood their YouTube channels with annotated videos. She could see it all so clearly.

The jackalope didn’t know how to swim, but she could learn. She could learn anything if she tried hard enough. She would change herself to fit whatever the monster needed her to be.

 

Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom’s flash fiction appears in Jellyfish Review and CHEAP POP, and her other work appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Juked, PANK, and elsewhere. She’s a queer, disabled writer who was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

The Witch of Maurepas Calls the Swamp to Hand by Jack B. Bedell

Slow, whole notes draw the swamp’s pulse
right up to her lap. Skinks and grasshoppers
crawl across the grass, baby squirrels

and rabbits come out from the woods,
and mosquito hawks float in the air
around her shoulders. Even eagles

dive out of the sky to be near her song.
She sings as if her pitch could
feed the whole swamp, as if

the breadcrumbs she offers, could
heal all need. Her melodies stoke
the breeze and pull the tides

toward her heart, and all the eyes around
blink in rhythm with her blood.

 

Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Southern Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Shore, Pidgeonholes, Cotton Xenomorph, EcoTheo, The Hopper, Terrain, saltfront, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

Growth by Ben Segal

The tall guard who watches our building is growing. A few years ago he was unremarkable, but now he is enormous. He towers. Now he bends deeply just to shake hands or open a car door, as he often does for our building’s many guests

When I began to work here, the man was hardly memorable. He was a little gangly and his face was the kind of lean and acne-scarred that made one think, unfairly, of methamphetamines. His suits, already inexpensive, looked cheaper for draping his body. Yet there was something winning about him, a sweetness, a slight and almost pitiable magnetism.

He remains ungainly, but now he is impossible to miss. He grows perhaps an inch every three months and has just crossed to the other side of 8 feet.

I too am growing inexplicably. I gain almost a quarter-inch each year. It is not a noticeable phenomenon. Or, at least it’s not to most. I notice it. My mother thinks my posture has improved. For everyone else, the change is too slow to register.

But one day, when I am very old, I will be enormous. I will age into a stooped seven-footer and I will walk slowly past strangers who will imagine I was once a professional athlete. It will be nice, in that future, to lie about my feats of strength.

The guard, however, will not grow old. A body cannot grow like his and survive. His heart will swell and fail. He will die by nine feet, maybe a little past. This is a year away at most. He must know this, as we all do, but still there he is, opening doors, checking guests into the building. He is bending and smiling for pay.

We should not make him come any longer, I think. Surely it is a cruelty. Surely a building such as this – its teeming staff, its endless polished surfaces – can allow the man to stretch out peacefully on his own schedule.

Then again, why does the proximity to death make each hour worked that much more obscene? Perhaps it does not. Perhaps the entire bustle of this building is a slow atrocity. The same fraction of all our lives is wasted. The building is a stack of cruelty with clean bathrooms and packaged snacks.

I watch the giant pull open a glass door and can think only of a general strike. He holds the door open and we nod to one another. I ride the elevator to my office, and I am silent, and I am basically mostly good.

 

Ben Segal is the author Pool Party Trap Loop (Queen’s Ferry Press), co-author of The Wes Letters (Outpost 19), and co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Lit Pub Books). His short fiction has been published by or is forthcoming from The Georgia Review, Tin House, The Collagist, Tarpaulin Sky, and Puerto del Sol, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

When His Surgeon Called and Asked If I Had Questions by Jacqueline Hughes Simon

I had no questions
After three days all I knew

was how beautifully thin
I was My pants slunk

from my hips which
jutted out like wings

My ribs were sharp
and caught on corners

My torso long and ropy
with no respect for my neck

It rained I wore boots
and had thigh gap

In the cafeteria
my pretty nails

brittled onto the tray
Talking with doctors

my teeth loosened
My elegant cheek-

bones split my skin
My golden hair fell

out and I knit it into socks
I couldn’t shit or

remember who I hated
I was magnificent

 

Jacqueline Hughes Simon is a writer living in Berkeley, CA. Her work has appeared in Written Here – The Community of Writers Poetry Review, Poecology, The Cortland Review , and others. She is currently an MFA candidate at St. Mary’s College, California.

 

How I Learned About Evolution by Michelle Ross

Dad wouldn’t let me go to school with the other kids in town. He said school was for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t think for themselves. Other things that were for such people: the internet, greeting cards, and breakfast cereal, to name a few.

Dad worked as an inspector for a sports sock manufacturer. His job was to check socks for imperfections—holes, loose threads, and whatever else went wrong with socks. He had an eye for flaws and took pride in finding more defective socks than any other inspector. Officially, Mom was my teacher. She didn’t have a job outside the house, though she did have laundry and dishes and a toilet to scrub. Unofficially, they split the curriculum pretty evenly. Mom taught me rain with a silver metal colander. “See how the water pours out of all those holes?” Dad taught me sun with a yellow flashlight. “It turns on for day. It turns off for night.” He flicked the flashlight’s chunky switch. Mom taught me Earth with a buttermilk pancake. “We’re about right here,” she said, pointing just off-center of the middle. Dad taught me birds with a helium balloon. “It’s filled with flying gas.”

Dad was an inventor when he wasn’t inspecting socks or overseeing my education. Perhaps he thought of himself as an artist. He didn’t apply a word to his tinkering in the shed with scraps of metal and wood and string. He built countless useless things. Over the years, these things proliferated in our yard and our home, crowding out everything else. Grass yellowed then crumbled because sunlight no longer touched it. Trees became stunted, gnarled. I bruised and scraped as I made my way to the bathroom in the dark of night.

Mom never spoke a disparaging word about Dad’s creations, but she navigated our house gingerly, as though any step could set off a booby trap. Sometimes I found her staring worriedly at one of his hunks of metal like she had at the trail of ants that had entered our house from a crack in the wall above the kitchen sink one dry summer or the lone earwig she’d once found wedged between bristles of her toothbrush. When she saw me, she’d return to her cleaning or cooking or mending. She’d smile, the worried look flicked away like a speck of grit from her eye.

Then one day, Dad erected a thing so enormous, so hulking, I said, “It looks like a dinosaur.”

We were out near the shed. It was dusk. He’d been teaching me fireflies. “Like the sun, only smaller, and on and off faster,” he said. “They have to blink off frequently or else they’d burn alive.”

When I glimpsed the shadowy, towering figure through the shed’s darkened doorway, my spine tingled.

Dad’s expression quickly sharpened. “Dinosaur? What do you know about dinosaurs?”

I told him Mom had taught me that humans were why the dinosaurs went extinct. We overhunted them.

“Extinct?” he said. “What do you know about extinction?”

When Mom emerged from the bathroom after taking her nightly bath, Dad and I were waiting for her in the hallway. He was squeezing my arm too hard, as though he were trying to crush whatever was inside.

He said, “You believe in dinosaurs?”

Mom’s hair was wrapped in a red towel that sat upon her head like a lampshade. She was silent for a long moment. Then she said, “I saw a footprint of one once. In Utah. When I was her age. It was the size of a toddler.”

Dad said, “A footprint? You mean a shape carved in dirt?” He shook his head in disgust.

Mom said nothing, but I saw with my eyes how her face shifted.

Another lesson I’d learned via pancakes, though this one I’d acquired without either of my parents’ instruction, was irreversible change—how some transformations, such as gooey, drippy pancake batter cooking on a hot griddle, can’t be undone. When a pancake wrinkles around the edges, a signal that it’s cooked on bottom, you better flip that pancake fast before it scorches, before it’s ruined. There isn’t any starting over again. Hardened batter is no longer and never will be batter again.

 

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 appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Pinch, and other venues. Her work has been selected for Best Microfictions 2020 and The Wigleaf Top 50 2019, as well as been a finalist for Best of the Net 2019, among other awards. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. You can find her at www.michellenross.com.