Leftovers by Brenda Wolfenbarger

Julianne Perkins stared at the contents of her refrigerator. Leftover turkey, leftover stuffing. Leftover mashed potatoes and gravy. Lots of leftover homemade cranberry sauce with chopped pecans. There was even still leftover pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. She didn’t know what inspired her to make an entire Thanksgiving dinner for herself, but she was regretting the impulse now. How was she going to eat an entire turkey? Goodness, she still felt full from yesterday!

Some of it could be frozen, she guessed. She would put it into partitioned glass containers and make little microwave or oven re-heatable “TV dinners.” Or maybe she’d take some leftovers to her neighbors. That guy in 2C – what was his name? – looked like he could use a turkey dinner or three. Mmm, she’d like to watch him eat it, too. He was delicious looking all on his own, dark wavy hair, pale skin, slender hands. She guessed he didn’t work with his hands; they were so delicate looking. Perhaps he played an instrument, although she’d never heard it.

Julianne wasted a couple of minutes imagining Mr. 2C picking up a piece of pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream and eating it slowly, enjoying every morsel. His eyes would meet hers over the pie and he’d lick the whipped cream off the top with clever curls of his tongue, like a cat. “Good pie,” he’d say, in a husky, rumbling voice. He’d open the door to his apartment and invite her in for a cup of coffee as thanks. Fade to black…

She shook her head to rid it of the fantasy. More likely he’d look at the plate she’d brought, look at her like she was crazy, and inform her that he was a vegetarian, thank you very much. In fact, that might be why he was so pale and slender, he was a malnourished vegetarian! She regretfully decided that Mr. 2C – Andrew, that was it! – would probably not appreciate a plate of leftovers, in that case.

Having settled that she thought of the older couple across the hall. Mr. and Mrs. Stillman. They might like some food; it would save Mrs. Stillman some trouble. They were a bit old fashioned. Mrs. Stillman still cooked every meal except for weekend breakfasts. Often dinner was a tin of fish and crackers eaten while watching Jeopardy! But it was still Mrs. Stillman who brought it to Mr. Stillman while he sat in his recliner with a TV tray. Julianne knew this because she had strategically brought the Stillman’s misdelivered mail at different times of day and had glimpsed their apartment through the door. She found their flocked wallpaper hideous, but it wouldn’t do to say so. Once Mrs. Stillman even invited her in for a late afternoon glass of iced tea, which was nice. Julianne appreciated hospitality; it was sorely lacking these days.

Julianne set about making plates of leftovers for her immediate neighbors. She didn’t use her good plates, of course, but the cheap plastic ones she’d bought for serving burgers on the patio of her apartment. She covered each plate carefully with Saran wrap, which naturally stuck to everything but the plates. She tried to decide which neighbor would receive her largesse first. Her careful decision-making was interrupted by a knock at the door.

Peering out the peephole cautiously, Julianne saw her neighbor from 2A fidgeting in the hallway. What could she possibly want? Did she have mail? Could she want to chat? Miss 2A – Ashley, she thought, but wasn’t sure – never stopped to talk. She always bustled by in the hallway, busy as only the young can be, on her way to Very Important Things.

“Yes?” Julianne opened the door, curious.

“Hi, Julianne, sorry if I’m bothering you. My parents sent me home with so much food yesterday I really don’t know how I’m going to eat it all. I thought you might appreciate some. My mom’s a really good cook.” Miss 2A thrust a large, foil-wrapped plate at Julianne proudly.

 

Brenda Wolfenbarger is a 53-year-old returning student studying English at the Central New Mexico Community College. She enjoys writing and has had her previous work published in the CNM Literary Arts Magazine, Leonardo. She lives in Central New Mexico with her family and pets.

One of Those Days by Molly Thornton

The itch begins on my first right toe
And scrambles up my leg
And I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done

Thick scales replace skin
And I scratch furiously at what was my foot
Now green-gold and clawed

I hope again for salvation
But the change, it does not cease
Chain-link petals run up my thighs

Where once a girl I was
I turn
In the unlikeliest of places

Scanning People from the grocery magazine stand
Eyeing my still pink hands

My loose carrots and their leafy tops
Roll down the black mechanical belt
Cans and jars ride behind them

By the time the cashier asks for my ID
I’ll be unable to prove
Who I was

I react to a surge at the base of my spine
Like a cart was crashed into me
I turn around to give side eye
But there’s no one there

Instead, a tail grows fast and protrudes
Into the aisle

In my last moment of human thought
I remove my glasses
and brace for the screams

God this is embarrassing.

 

Molly Thornton is a queer, LA-based multi-genre writer. Her hybrid, prose poetry manuscript Proof of You was long listed by the 2020 [PANK] and Dzanc Books’ contests. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in The Los Angeles Times, They Said anthology, Hippocampus Mag, Lavender Review, and more, and also has poetry forthcoming in Peach Magazine. She is a Lambda Literary Fellow and WeHo Pride Poet.

How to Escape a Time Loop by Sara Davis

Wake up to the guttural static of your clock radio. One night—you’ve lost track of how many nights ago—there was a power outage, and when the lights came on you reset all your clocks but neglected to set the tuner. Now the alarm clock bursts into a keening whine every morning, sputtering the frequency for a station that doesn’t exist.

Get up. Feed your cat. Open your laptop and shoot off a few emails; you could do this in your sleep. Once again it is a tentative spring morning. Decide to invite your neighbor for a walk. Tell her you think you may be stuck in a time loop. “Girl, me too,” she says. “Is it only Tuesday?” Across the park, a man in a yellow hoodie walks his terrier.

Wake up to the crackling wheeze of your clock radio. Once again it is a fresh spring morning. The orange pixels on the clock face blink TUESDAY. You’ve woken up on Tuesday eight times this week, or so you think. There is nothing special about this Tuesday—it is not a holiday or your birthday, and no one has died that you know of—so if there’s a lesson to be learned, you haven’t. You’ve attempted the following methods to reach Wednesday: repeating everything you did the first Tuesday, in the same way; repeating everything in a different way; repeating everything, but nicer; giving away all your money (this didn’t take long); going as far away from your apartment as you can get (you fell asleep on the train); falling in love (your neighbor did not take this kindly); and now, you simply get on with it. It’s not such a bad day to repeat. There could have been rain.

Wake up to the seething hiss of your clock radio. Notice that wherever and whenever you end the day, you always end up back here: 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, in bed with the cat curled in the crook of your arm. Consider how strange this is. The 24-hour day is a construct: from the perspective of your bed, perched on a planet whirling in space, 7:30 Tuesday does not describe a time but a relationship between celestial bodies. Wonder what would happen if you stayed awake until 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Text your neighbor and invite her to get coffee this evening; you’re going to need a lot of it.

Wake up to the gasping drone of your clock radio. 7:30 a.m., Tuesday. Consider the bright side. Do you even want to resume the normal flow of time? Your friends and loved ones will never grow old. Your cat will never grow old. You aren’t growing old, at least externally, although your soul might as well have aged a thousand years. How many days has it been? Ten?

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

Or don’t wake up. Whatever. Stay in bed forever. Ignore your cat when she mews piteously to be fed—she has an entire bowl of kibble downstairs, same as every morning. Spend a few days, or what passes for days, burrowed under blankets and scrolling on your phone, emerging only to refill the kibble and your water glass. Make online purchases that will never arrive. Watch movies that don’t hold your attention. Google “how to escape a time loop.”

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, you find an online forum frequented by people who are currently or have previously been stuck in time loops. Mostly the latter: as the moderators explain in a pinned post, threads published within a time loop tend to disappear after a day or so. The moderators go by PhilConnors2 and RedNadia; their names appear frequently throughout numerous threads philosophizing how time gets tangled up and how to loose oneself from its knots. The moderators often have to break up strongly worded disagreements; there is nowhere near consensus.

Spend all the sunlit hours of your one wild and precious day scrolling this forum. Wake up and dive back in, feeling found and excluded at the same time. Many erstwhile loopers repeated the best or the worst day of their lives: a career turning point, a milestone birthday, a wedding, a murder. Those survivors believe wholly in the power of making good choices; they do not have much insight for navigating an ordinary day in an unremarkable life. So make it remarkable, your new time-companions type. Save a failing family business. Take risks. Travel. No money, you protest. No debt, they reply. You’re unsure: any day now, you might wake up tomorrow. Who would feed your cat if you didn’t come back?

A small but vocal subset of the forum extols the pleasures of vice without consequence: wine and dine and crime, indulge in brutal honesty, refuse compromise. Infinite resets, no hangover. You can’t quite countenance this. Newly alerted to the existence of other loopers, you realize it’s possible that the supporting cast of your infinitely repeating Tuesday might reset with you, and remember.

Wake up. Check your phone. Your last post is gone; you haven’t posted it yet. Put your phone away.

It’s an agreeable spring morning; you and your neighbor get iced coffee. “I think I’m stuck in a time loop,” you remark. “Me too, girl,” she says, trying and failing to jab her straw through the lid. You glance away and notice a child reading quietly on a bench. Ask your neighbor, “Is it only Tuesday?” It is, it always is, and yet this Tuesday seems different—or possibly you are? No, the yellow hoodie and his terrier are not in the park. But you’re hopeful: in this arc of infinite Tuesdays, variations are emerging.

Wake up to the warm hum of electromagnetic signals from space. You, too, are buzzing with potential. Decide to live this Tuesday as though it is Wednesday. Decide to live every Tuesday as if it is merely a snarl in the thread that binds you to conventional time. You must be gentle but you cannot let go.

 

Sara Davis (@LiterarySara) is a recovering academic and marketing writer who lives in Philadelphia. Her PhD in American literature is from Temple University. She has recently published flash in Cleaver Magazine, Toho Journal, and CRAFT Literary. She currently blogs about books and climate anxiety at literarysara.net.

Stones by Hilary Sideris

Gabriela cancels the lesson,
says she’s in agonia

sharp dolori in the lombi
Google says loins.

You don’t question her pain,
only her use of agonia,

which meant death throes
in your San Lorenzo youth.

People also ask: How do our
bodies store bile? Do we need

a gallbladder? Why does Google
Translate suck so much?

What do you know about
her dolori? A gastrointestinal

surgeon spooled my cistifellea
through my navel, sent a video.

 

Hilary Sideris has published poems in The American Journal of Poetry, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Mom Egg Review, Poetry Daily, Room, Salamander, Sixth Finch, Sylvia, and Women’s Studies Quarterly, among others. Her most recent book, Animals in English, Poems after Temple Grandin, was published by Dos Madres Press in 2020. She is a co-founder of the CUNY Start program at The City University of New York, where she works as a professional developer.

Missing Link by Mike Keller-Wilson

It was the memories that did it: My nap-heavy head on an impossibly wide chest. Dark curls—thick as fur—my toddler hand tangled in their sleepy heat. A wild, lumbering voice—a real voice, not a growl or a grunt—almost human. Fresh shampoo—lilac and lavender—and, below that, creek mud and wet leaves. Denim overalls—soft with wear—a poor, if durable, disguise. A steadying palm and a tickle of hair blanketing my back.

I’m not interested in finding Bigfoot; I want him to come back on his own. I want him to come back because he misses me, misses Mom. Isn’t that what any kid would want from their dad? That’s what brought me out here in the middle of the night.

Even if Mom won’t say it right out, I know he’s my dad. She doesn’t want me blabbing, attracting attention. I know better now. I learned my lesson last year—when I was only ten. I told Seth, my (former) best friend. Six months of answering to “Wookie Boy” was more than enough to teach me silence.

I’ve grown up since then: Mom’s doctor visits, selling the house, moving to an apartment across town. We’ve had a hard year. Lately, I can’t stop wondering what would happen if I let something slip and some scientist got to Dad first? What if I was the reason he got caught and caged? Stuck with needles and turned into some experiment? I’d never say anything now. I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

In the first place, I don’t think Mom meant for me to find out about Dad at all. When I asked her, it was supposed to be a joke. I’d gone to the basement for a Freeze Pop and caught her crying on the couch. It was those little choke-sobs, the ones that force their way out no matter how hard you hold them. She was watching “Bigfoot: The Missing Link” (a History Channel miniseries that I’ve now seen nine and a half times, mostly by sneaking the iPad after bedtime). I’d forced a grin, pointed at the screen. “Is that Dad?” Cheering her from her funks was my little-kid job, as I saw it then. I thought she’d laugh—snort through her tears and tell me to quit being a goober.

Instead, she kept wringing the edge of the knit blanket across her lap. She looked away and shut her eyes as if she was afraid of what might spill out. She didn’t make room or pat the open cushion at her side. She turned back to the TV—opened her eyes and fixed them to the screen without saying a word—I realized I’d found what hurt and I knew I’d never have the heart to ask again.

Still, I had to be sure. This wasn’t Santa or the Easter Bunny. I had to do my research. Ms. Knowles let me use the library computer, though I think she knew it wasn’t really for a school project. I found half a dozen sasquatch sightings reported to The Chronicle right around when I was born. One of them was just up the street from our house—in the woods behind Dollar General.

In the end, the research wasn’t what convinced me, what finally brought me out here, clutching my stack of handmade posters in the backwoods moonlight an hour’s walk from the nearest county road.

You can argue facts, but there’s no use arguing with memory. They’re clearest on the restless nights. The ones when Mom goes to bed early, sleeps late. Those nights, it’s like I can grip each memory by the edge, hold it to catch the starry light framed by my bedroom window.

It was the memories on those long nights that got me thinking: What if he’s still out there? What if he had to leave so I didn’t blow his cover? What if I let him know his secret’s safe with me? What if he came back?

“Dad, come home.” That’s what the posters say. It took a whole library afternoon to make them all. By the end, I was dizzy from the fumes off Ms. Knowles’s fat-tipped sharpie. At home, I spent half an hour looking for a staple gun, finally tucked the junk-drawer hammer and half a pack of nails under my pillow.

The night is colder than I thought, too cold for just jeans and my Mothman hoodie. Somewhere along the way, I walked through a burr patch. One pant leg has a string of them scratching through the denim. Still, it’s the quiet that’s most uncomfortable. That country quiet: silence filled with cicada screams and a barn owl in the distance. Son of Bigfoot, I whisper like it’ll help me feel at home. While hammering the first poster, I nearly drop the rest before tucking the stack under one arm. I do drop them when a wide swing misses the nail entirely and bashes my thumb against the pine bark.  From then on, the pages all have one muddy corner.

By the time I finish, the sun is nearly up. I tuck the hammer’s head in a pocket and wrap cold fingers around my still-throbbing thumb. Between the trees, I can glimpse my handiwork: white paper, corners curling over in the damp. I should’ve brought more nails, should’ve used two per poster. Still, it’s something. I think of Mom, tired in her bones. She’ll still be proud of what I’ve done. For a moment, I think it almost doesn’t matter if he sees them, almost doesn’t matter if he comes back.

 

Mike Keller-Wilson lives, writes, and teaches in Iowa City, Iowa. He is a founder & co-editor-in-chief of the newly-launched Vast Chasm Magazine. In his day job, he teaches writing and dad jokes to a captive audience of 7th graders. Find him on Twitter @Mike3Stars or at mikekellerwilson.com.

Mēkro Wahvé by Audrey Reyes

The manual should say, simulate control
by sneaking in a second and defuse the tolling
before it wakes everyone within a mile radius.

The manual should say, heat up a packet
of popcorn once and the stench will inhabit
your machine until its time for a new one.

The manual should say, you’ve been
saying it wrong. You will never be as sophisticated
as Nigella Lawson.

The manual should say, this may empower
your late-night confidence to binge on loneliness,
and oh, leftovers meant for tomorrow.

The manual should say, it shuts off
and assumes a slumber you will envy—
unlike your worst thoughts, plaguing.

 

Audrey L. Reyes (she/her) is a Filipino poet, writer, and former early childhood educator whose favorite workplace activity is raising hell. Her work has been featured in QUINCE Magazine, NECTAR, Marias at Sampaguitas, Hecate Magazine, superfroot, and Porridge Magazine (forthcoming). She resides in Manila, Philippines.

Untrue Things by Cezarija Abartis

Agnes thought Sherisse was the smartest person in her eighth-grade class. The prettiest too, with her shiny yellow hair. Agnes’s own hair was mouse-brown. When she grew older, she figured she would dye it, maybe red, but her mother wouldn’t allow it now, “You’re not a slut.”

“Girls who dye their hair aren’t automatically sluts.”

“The next thing they want is tattoos of hearts and motorcycles and skulls. They want their tongues tattooed.”

Agnes swallowed hard. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“Oh, yes. It’s a fact. Now go wash the dinner dishes.”

Agnes slumped to the sink. Outside the window, as the sun was setting, she could see all the signs on the lawns for Nixon and on one lawn a sign for Hubert Humphrey. She wasn’t much for politics.

“Your father and I raised you to be a good girl, a lady, and someday a scientist, or an artist.”

“I don’t even like art.” But she sort of did. She rinsed the plate under the faucet, which hissed when she first turned it on. The remnants of the pigs-in-the-blanket had some of the colors of an Andy Warhol painting. Her mother used Campbell’s tomato soup for the sauce. The cabbage strips slipped off into the strainer. She’d have to clean that later when it became yucky sludge.

“Or a musician.”

“I hate practicing piano.” The lady across the street bent down to pet her dog. “Woof,” Agnes imagined him saying. The trees had lost most of their leaves.

“Look what happened to Mrs. McDonald’s Roxane.”

“What?”

“She broke her arm.”

“So?”

“She won’t be able to play until it heals. But you’re lucky. You can practice right now.”

Agnes glanced toward the living room, where the upright spinet with its battered and peeling veneer sat. “I hate the piano. Hate it. Hate it.”

“People that play the piano live longer. Look at Liberace — he died at the age of one hundred and five.”

“He’s still alive.”

“And Picasso, too, the artist.”

“I would hate to do something I hated for one hundred and five years.”

Her mother put a chipped plate into the dishpan. “Your father works in a factory. Would you like to do that? Breathe hot fumes all day long? He loves you and works hard for you, so you don’t have to work in a factory. You’re lucky you’re a girl. You won’t be sent to Vietnam.”

“And here I thought they needed piano players.”

“Don’t be such a smart-off.”

Agnes smoothed her hair, but her hand was wet. “Someday, I would like to have red hair, or blond hair. Like Sherisse.”

“That girl is not who you want to be.”

“She is, she is.”

“Her mother had an abortion. I heard the baby wasn’t the husband’s.”

“You don’t know that. How do you know that?”

“Mrs. Nilson told me.”

Agnes waved her wet hand. “Mrs. Nilson also believes the world is flat.”

“Even so, she could still be right about some things. A person isn’t one hundred percent one thing. One hundred percent stupid about everything.”

“I wish people wore signs that said what percent they are. Fifty percent honest, twenty-five percent kind, twenty-five percent hardworking.” Agnes rinsed a plate.

“Honey, you’re all those things.”

“But nobody asked me to the Halloween Dance. Some of us girls had to dance with each other. No boy danced with me.”

“They’re shy. They will. You wait and see.”

“Jimmy asked Sherisse to dance.”

“When I was your age…”

“I don’t want to hear about how you didn’t have a car, you cleaned out the stalls, you twisted the heads off the chickens.”

“That’s not what I was going to say. I was going to say I dreamed about having a family, falling in love, and having a baby girl, just like you. Someone kind, pretty, smart.”

“I’m none of those things. I hate myself. Sherisse is beautiful and smart.”

“You are too, honey. You’ll be a famous journalist, or lawyer and deal with facts. You’ll see I was right. You’re our Cinderella.”

A dish slipped from her fingers in the lukewarm water. “I should have never been born.”

“Don’t you dare say that.” Her mother leaned into Agnes and put her cheek on her cheek. “What would your father and I do without you? How could we live?”

“You could get a dog.” Across the street, the neighbor lady walked ahead of her schnauzer.

“Untrue things can be true sometimes.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“The world is flat. But, of course, it’s not. And yet it is. We don’t fly off the planet. But we do fly above it. Although I’ve never been in a plane.” Her mother said this wistfully, took off her apron. “I know you will. Children go farther than their parents. And that’s good.”

“I’ll live here forever in this kitchen. I’ll be an ugly old maid.”

“I’m telling you truths to live by. Someday you’ll be thankful.”

“Someday. Someday.” Agnes dried her hands on the towel, patted her damp skirt. Across the street, the schnauzer trotted joyfully. “Someday.”

 

Cezarija Abartis has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press) and stories in Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Her flash “Sisters” was selected by Amber Sparks for Best Microfiction 2021. Recently she completed a crime novel.

Pleocyemata by Tara Tulshyan

Mama said I was born in July, lucky
                enough for a child who was
missing a bellybutton. July – one month

                before ghost month, and one
month after she could no longer harvest
                butong and java plums. She told

me that the day her legs had gone stale,
                she salted her mouth with their
seeds so she could expect a smart child.

                I came out plump instead, arms
tapered into my fingernails that looked
                like dactyls and toes that burst

whenever cradled. My scalp burned
                black — the only lucky
feature mama found where all the fish

                eyes she hollowed and stuck a bone
through was worth it. The aunties said I
                would be prickly, a child with

a mouth where claws grew out from, that
                could not be fed nor rinsed. They
couldn’t nip me into a wife, or pluck a husband

                that could. Mama said I would die
near water, in a glazed shell where my body
                would orange in the heat until dry.

Mama said it was because I was born
                in a month named after a sickness,
where even the hermits bury themselves.

 

Tara Tulshyan is a sophomore currently living in the Philippines. Her works have appeared on or are forthcoming in DIALOGIST, Ilanot Review, and The Temz Review, among several others.