Foodie, or I Miss Every Hometown Cookout by KB

Fuck the presentation, I want the food to taste good. Like chopped
slop covered in barbecue sauce brisket. Like mama’s wing flings
on top of greasy paper towels with a side of somewhat burnt
sweet potatoes. I want the meal to give me -itis I can feel in my tongue;
tums needed to hush up the organs telling me I’ve made mistakes today.
None of it was a mistake, really. The only thing I regret is not asking
for extra hot sauce, extra communion with my niggas over hot plates
while barbed off in backyards with an uncle that has bunions on his toes
hollering, CAN YOU HEAR ME under the Bengay. Today, I hear you auntie.
Swearing I forgot to take the chicken out; making chitlins in a room of people
with my blood or at least best interest in their hearts. I say your name,
spaghetti & fish after a friend has went to pasture. I say your name as I look
at the coffee shop menu, wondering what has a sprinkle of spirit in it.

 

KB is a Black, queer, nonbinary miracle. They are the author of the chapbook HOW TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF WITH A WOUND (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022), winner of the 2021 Saguaro Poetry Prize, and a 2021 PEN America Emerging Voices fellow. Follow them online at @earthtokb.

Transfiguration by Nancy Hightower

You aren’t scared the night he creeps into your room. You know you should be scared, as he stands in front of your bed—hands on hips as if sizing you up—but there are too many things competing for your terror right now. You have to choose wisely.

I heard you crying, he says.

How’d you hear that? you ask because you’re sure he’s lying. You know how to sob quietly into your pillow so your Daddy can’t hear, how to quit early, so Mum won’t ask the next day why your eyes are puffy. Good girls don’t get puffy eyes or nighttime visitors.

You know how to lie, too, now that you’re turning thirteen. This was the week Mum said you could no longer run outside with your brothers. This was the week your hair was pulled tight and tied back in blue ribbons, while a chemise and corset imprisoned your chest and cinched your waist. This is the week you were to learn how to be a lady.

I heard you, Peter says again while his shadow nods in agreement. You don’t think much of that trick. What good is a delinquent boy and his shadow when doomed to a life you don’t want? Tomorrow you are to be fitted with new shoes that includes a little heel. It will angle your back and shoulders for a more ladylike posture, Mum explained.

Come with me, instead, Peter interjects, as if he had overheard the conversation.

Where? you ask, as if there are safe options for a thirteen-year-old girl whose room has been invaded by a boy and his shadow.

The Island, another voice answers. Or possibly many voices, as it does not sound like just one. You look at the shadow, which scratches its head. And then you see someone though a dust red haze standing by the window. If anyone says fairies like pink, know they’re lying because Tink hates pastels. Even leaning against the wall, hands in pockets and head tilted to one side, they are taller than Peter who scarcely seems taller than you. You take in their mass of black ringlets that frame a wide jaw and high cheekbones. You envy their maroon pinstripe suit. You can be anyone you want to be there, Tink adds. Not a girl’s voice, yet not a boy’s either. You can’t tell if they’re sixteen or sixty, and don’t care. Your palms are wet and your heart beats so loud you are worried Peter can hear it, but he just smiles as if he understands everything and says, we leave tonight.

 You want to pack your dresses and shoes and ribbons, but Peter keeps asking what for until you leave it all on your bed. Tink keeps close to the window, as if your room were a prison and to venture too far in might jeopardize their own freedom. When they hold out their hand, you lace your fingers through theirs, watch as they fold the moon into a smooth bright road calling you to another place.

Everyone is still up by the time you arrive. Young and old alike wear whatever they want: off the shoulder dress, slitted skirt, breeches with waistcoat and rainbow tie; their hair in braids or cropped short, while others sport wigs in cotton candy colors as if they were crowns. We’ve been waiting for you, Tia says, pointing to a large table filled with food. You and Tink sit side by side, your nightdress hiked up so that your thigh rests against theirs. Mum would never have approved, but you can’t quite remember her face or voice now. Even your old room disappears in the mist. Where can I get a suit like that? you whisper, but Peter overhears you. Hook will take care of it, he says. He can tailor anything.

Peter started the tradition, I help with the transition, Tink explains, as they take off their jacket to reveal a pair of razor-sharp diamond wings. Hook can sew, but no one cuts a pattern as well as I do. A shiver of fear and joy runs through you as Tink leans in, puts their hand on your lower back. Don’t worry. I can wait

You change your name from Wendy to Wen to Wendell, as Tink shears off your hair little by little, and the wind at the back of your neck feels like freedom. Peter gives all his future grown-up selves to keep the island invisible. Some days he can’t fly, because magic like that demands balance, courses through his muscles and joints like lightning. Tink makes a special tea to help him sleep through the night. Sometimes he takes too much and pretends he’s Queen Victoria. These are your favorite nights, even though the next morning is rough. Peter remains young and weary and welcomes all those cast out of their houses. Year after year they come to find a banquet awaiting them. Some weep at the sight. Others are surprised into laughter at such tenderness. Hook gives a fashion show every Spring to show his new line and you take up woodworking, surprising Tink with a rocking chair made for two.

One day Peter doesn’t wake up.

You feel the shift in the wind, watch the tides grow stronger and wonder what ships might accidentally find this harbor now. Some take a boat with Hook in hopes of finding a similar haven. Others travel deeper into the forest where Peter said there were caves to build a fortress, if ever the need came for it. Everyone knew Neverland was made on borrowed time. You and Tink remain in the house you built together, a stone’s throw from the green mound where Peter sleeps. Tink’s wings, beating back the tide each night, shrink with each new moon. Their glorious ringlets have started turning gray and shed with each new rain. Every evening you ease Tink out of their clothes, massage each sore muscle with hands, lips, and tongue. They moan with exhausted pleasure and lay curled up between you and Peter’s shadow, sleeping. You take turns holding them as a new storm moves in and the nightmares descend. One day we won’t need an imaginary island, Tink whispers. They kiss you for a second, an hour, an entire year, extending your life with each breath until you are an old man sitting with his shadow on a white sandy beach, dreaming it all true.

 

Nancy Hightower has had work published in Joyland, Gargoyle, Entropy, Washington Post, HuffPo, NBC News Think, and elsewhere. She is the author of Elementari Rising (2013) and The Acolyte (2015).

Puffy Little Pink Heart by Hannah Grieco

It’s not you, it’s me. It’s not that I don’t feel this, it’s that how I feel doesn’t matter. It’s not that I don’t like you, didn’t want this to happen, didn’t plan to get that drunk and sit in your lap and, okay, maul you in a Burger King booth in front of that family with their four small children. It’s that I really am too old to do those things and also I have two small children of my own and a husband and I can still taste the fry oil in the back of my throat and it, and you, are giving me heartburn. It’s not that me sleeping with you was symbolic of who I used to be and the way I used to act, it’s that I’ve been trying desperately to not turn into something symbolic, something comfortable, something that fits easily on a key chain, something that everyone recognizes when they see it, something sticker-like and shiny, but not too shiny, like maybe a puffy little pink heart sticker on the back of a Mother’s Day card. It’s not that me sleeping next to you wouldn’t remind me of uncomfortable, brave, unrecognizable experiences and feelings, it’s that I don’t get to do uncomfortable, brave, unrecognizable things anymore. It’s not that you aren’t pretty, because you’re so pretty, so pretty I scooted next to you on that bench and asked for one of your fries, the only vegan thing on the menu, which was why we went there in the first place, and I’d been making fun of you all night for being vegan, but actually I find it so appealing, so beautiful that someone cares that much about anything anymore. It’s not that I wouldn’t cast this all away in a minute, because I would cast this all away in a minute, in a second, so fast my entire life would be an intertwined blur of the past rapidly decomposing and you and me driving down the highway in my runaway minivan, Indigo Girls and Dar Williams and KD Lang on your shitty old iPod shuffle, your hand on the back of my neck, my hand on your knee, above your knee, the part of your knee that tickles if I squeeze even a little. My hand on your knee and my heart in my throat.

 

Hannah Grieco is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C. You can find her online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.

Not a Lump by Greta Hayer

I would have known what to do if it had been a lump; instead, in the mound of my left breast was a hole. At first, it was hardly more than a dark pore, like a pinprick, but after a few days, it was big enough to hide a button in.

I called my brother’s husband. “Honestly,” he said. “I don’t know that much about breasts.”

“You’re a surgeon.”

“I’m a foot surgeon.” He sighed, breathing into the mouthpiece. “Besides, I’m usually the one making the holes.”

Not what I wanted to hear. “How’s Mike?”

“Tell me you’ll get that looked at by an oncologist or something.”

“It’s not a lump. Cancer is a lump.”

When we hung up, I looked at my chest in the yellow light of the bathroom. The hole looked up at me, as wide as a dime. Inside, I only saw blackness, maybe a pinkish tone to it. I leaned closer to the light, shoving my chest over the sink and pressing hard against the cold porcelain. Inside, I saw a shiver of movement. Had something burrowed deep within me, or was I merely seeing my own heart?

I called my doctor, who asked if it hurt. It didn’t. Since it didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t a lump, he figured what was there to worry about? I nodded, though we were on the phone, and he couldn’t see my assent.

I went out. I started the night with a trio of friends. Not good ones, not friends who discussed something a precious as our own mortality. Besides, they were perfect, flawless versions of the female form, and certainly, none of them bore a hole in their chest.

I lifted a glass of wine to my lips, and for a moment, the world was only a pungent red sea and a clear sky. When I lowered the glass, my friends were gone, easing their way into the crowded bar, fitting into circles of conversation and pockets of secrets.

The bartender waved at my empty glass.“Another one?” 

“I guess. It’s not a lump.”

His face broke into a grin. “Then, you’re celebrating.” He poured a pair of shots. “My mom’s a survivor.”

His mom? How old was he? Not so much younger than me. Or maybe a lot younger. I couldn’t tell the ages of people younger than me anymore; maybe that was a symptom.

I grinned shallowly, but threw back the whiskey. The heat of it traveled down my neck, pooling like liquid fire in my chest.

My shirt dampened. A dark pool gathered above the hole, leaking whiskey onto my top.

The bartender noticed, pointing with an elbow as he poured another patron a drink. “Looks like you spilled.”

I shook my head and tried to cover the seeping wetness with a hand. I felt the eyes of everyone in the bar, gawking. My friends were nowhere, or maybe they were among the strangers staring. The liquor trickled down my chest, under my bra, past the waistline of my pants. I was dying. I had to be.

In the ER, the doctor checked my breathing and shook his head. He pressed the stethoscope to my whole breast and shook his head. “Your vitals are fine. Bloodwork is negative.”

I covered myself as best I could with the papery hospital gown. “What’s wrong with me?”

“I suggest you go home, sleep it off.” The doctor was already moving toward the door. “At least it’s not a lump.”

I touched the edge of skin around the hole, sticky with the remnants of the alcohol. It was big enough that I could probably insert my pointer finger. “Yes,” I said, nodding and smiling vacantly. “So lucky it’s not a lump.” 

 

Greta Hayer received her MFA at the University of New Orleans and her bachelor’s degree in history at the College of Wooster, where she studied fairy tales and medieval medicine. Her fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Luna Station Quarterly, and Maudlin House and her nonfiction has appeared in Booth and Flint Hills Review. Her column, “In Search of the Dream World,” can also be found in Luna Station Quarterly.

Arroz Con Leche by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

When I get lonely—I want my mother. I want her to cut my belly open and pull out a newborn version, toss away the bloodied carcass of an unrecognizable self. I want her to dive into my chest, fight the grip around my heart, and proudly proclaim my heart belongs to her. I want her to find the mouth of the river inside, threatening to burst and drown me, and sing until the waters still. When I get lonely like this, I want my mother; but I am afraid to ask for her. Afraid my longing for motherhood will create too large a ripple, waves exposing unscabbed wounds. Afraid neither has learned to swim in the vast ocean of our grief. Afraid voicing my desire for her will reveal the chasm between us as too deep, too wide, to find each other again, or, for the first time. Today, I am lonely, and I want my mother without her knowing I need her. I speak to her in a language safe for both of us: cooking. Madre mía, how do I make arroz con leche? Her carefully crafted instructions and a mándame foto, her offering. A photo of the overly sweet milky rice, my offering.

YIELDS:

4-6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup (128g) of washed rice 

2 (256 g) cups of water

2 whole canela sticks

3 cups (384 g) of milk

1 can (397 g) of Lechera

2 fistfuls of raisins

INSTRUCTIONS:

Wait until loneliness has settled in your belly, carved your lining and made itself a home. Bring water with the canela sticks to a boil and notice your heart’s palpitations as the waft of the spicey scent envelops you. Pour washed rice into boiling, canela sweetened water, and allow the mixture to simmer until you recall how often your mother makes arroz con leche only because you love it. Throw raisins in the rice pot so they soften like a heart before the hurt. In a separate pot, combine milk and lechera and heat, but do not let it reach a boil. Pour warm lechera milk over rice and stir as you imagine your mother serving you arroz con leche after being away for so long. Her warm smile, her tired eyes welcoming you back. To garnish, tuck your yearnings for your mother between the soft rice and the sweet milk. Eat until full.

 

Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal, No Tender Fences: Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, Longreads, Lost Balloon, Reflex Fiction, and Strange Horizons. Sonia’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction. Sonia lives and teaches in New York City.

Five Things I Admire About Tudi by Olivia Post

1.   Tudi cannot be humiliated. This is not unusual for a dog, but it’s notable because my love language is cruelty. I tell her that she’s funny looking. I tell her that her face looks like a boiled potato that got dropped on the ground. She’s got that stupid Shih Tzu profile, where her protruding eyes fit snuggly between a leathery monkey nose. Sometimes her face, full of adoration and need, makes me so mad. I mock her in private and in front of others, but I always cast a smile on her after. I love her oddity—her goblin face, the way her fat ass waddles from room to room, how she’s unhurried like she has already decided where she’s going. I love her so much it spills out as contempt. I admire that she knows the difference between derision and love, and that it doesn’t affect her self-esteem.

2.   Tudi makes eye contact with everyone she meets and that makes people smile. And when someone tries to bend down to pet her, she’ll trot away knowing that she doesn’t owe them anything. This is admirable, because I’m so eager to please and rarely do. Sometimes she’ll make sustained eye contact with a man, and he’ll smile at her and then say hi to me. I’ll say hi back and notice that my voice doesn’t quite work, because I haven’t talked to a human in a long time. Tudi doesn’t talk much either. When she barks, which is usually at cats, she seems surprised by her own voice.

3.   Tudi has no friends except me. This on its own is not admirable, but she’s so satisfied with only one friend. In reality she’s my only friend too, and that thought fills me with a frantic loneliness. I wish I were more like Tudi.

4.   Tudi doesn’t have any ambitions and that doesn’t bother her. She sleeps twenty hours a day and only moves long enough to eat, or find a different place to sleep. I don’t have any ambitions either. I just get out of bed and go to work because I have to. Tudi doesn’t need to work and I wish I had her life. I do wish she would contribute though. I ask her to tip her server after meals (me). I ask her who will pay the bills. At sixteen, my mother started demanding rent money. She’d call me a lazy, fat slug in front of her friends. She’d call me useless and then give me a private little smile. When I ask Tudi for rent money, she looks interested, but then sticks her whole back foot in her mouth. I tell her she’s choosing to do nothing with her life, parroting my mother. But she doesn’t care.

5.   Tudi exudes a quiet joy and shares it with me. I named her Latuda after the anti-depressant my insurance wouldn’t cover and she’s exactly that. I call her over, telling her it’s time for my medicine. I call her CEO of Snuggle Corp. and demand a shareholder’s meeting. I admire her emboldened cheerfulness, how she’s immune to my criticism. My inner voice has mutated into a crueler version of my mother’s. “You stupid, fat ass,” I think to myself when I do something not quite right. “You’re pathetic.” I don’t think Tudi has an inner voice, but if she does, it probably doesn’t say that.

And One Thing I Don’t

1.   She terrorizes the neighborhood cat who often lurks outside our door. The cat is only a little smaller than her and hides under parked cars when Tudi approaches. At first, I thought she loved this cat, but her behavior doesn’t look like love. She barks and lunges, pulling at her leash with an unfamiliar fury. I can imagine her saying, “Get a job, you lazy, fat ass. Do something with your life,” as if she’s learned from me too well that cruelty is more admirable than the softness in small things.

 

Olivia Post currently lives in New Orleans, where she is working on her MFA in Fiction at the University of New Orleans.