Adversity is the Parent of Virtue (in Bed) by Stephen Cicirelli

Sex was different when you had to. He had to. One morning she said, “There’s mucus.”

He was in bed, still waking up. “You’re sick?” Through the crenelated elephant trunk of the CPAP mask, his voice was vapor.

“Down there. My book says morning is the ideal time. Your testosterone levels are their highest. Your sperm have had a chance to regroup.”

He removed his mask, his face striped red, to get ready.

“Is mucus the right word?” he said. “It’s kind of gross.”

“Grow up.”

They had sex that morning and again that evening. All the while, his CPAP machine chugged on the night table. He enjoyed himself. It had been a while. She, on the other hand, was all business. When they were done, she pulled her knees into her chest, and had him put clary sage oil on her belly. Her stomach had sagged a little since their marriage.

She read books, and before bed, drank a special tea. Mugwort was now a word he knew. They had a special wedge pillow, his-and-her thermometers. He also read her books.

The next day they had sex once, and quickly. He had a work call. He was moving up in the company. Men above him had only good things to say. He was a team player, they said.

The next day he had trouble performing.

“Do you want me on top?” she said.

“Maybe if you talk to me?”

“Talk to you? Like dirty talk? What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know. If I tell you what to say, it won’t be sexy. It’ll be like me talking to myself.”

“You masturbate,” she said. “That’s you having sex with yourself.”


When they were done, he lay there silently. His CPAP machine blinked on the night table.

The next day they had to stop. He’d been thinking about college. Back then, they did it anywhere, anytime. She was on the pill, but he’d buy condoms, just in case. Sex was magical, dangerous, never the same. Like good art, it existed only for itself. It meant what they wanted it to mean, and they did it because they wanted to.

The next day he wasn’t proud of himself. He imagined an ex from high school. She wasn’t half the person his wife was, but, sexually, she was all-knowing. She never made Honor Roll, but she knew what he wanted before he did. She was small in ways his wife would never be. Once at the municipal pool, she took him, dripping wet, behind the ice cream truck. That morning his wife noticed a big difference. She asked what had changed; he lied, of course. He was a team player. He said he’d followed one of the “Tips for Men” in her fertility book.

“Good work.”


The last day he imagined Carmen again. They were in the back seat of his Jeep. It was the summer before he’d go to college and meet his wife. Carmen was staying in town to tend bar. They’d try long-distance. His wife was pleased but, afterward, contrite. She stood in front of their bedroom mirror, looking at her eyes and breasts and hair and stomach. Everything was reversed. She touched a stretch mark. It was darker in the mirror.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” she said.

“Having kids?”

“I won’t know whether it’s the right thing until we’ve done it,” she said, “and by then, it’s too late. Nothing scares me more than having a kid and realizing I shouldn’t have.”

“You don’t think we should?”

“I don’t want to be my parents,” she said. “I wonder if all this stress is why I’m not getting pregnant. My mom was fertile because it never crossed her mind that she shouldn’t be a mother.”

“I don’t think it works like that.”

“It’s in the book,” she said. “Did we wait too long?”

“It could be me,” he said. “I smoked weed in high school.”

“You did a lot of stupid shit in high school.”

The next month, she went to the bathroom to pee and shower, and was in there for a long time, testing. He called to her. She didn’t answer. He listened, waited. He heard the shower stop. He heard crying, drawers opening and closing. What kind of crying was it? He heard his own labored breathing.

The door opened.

She walked back into their bedroom, got in bed with the test and covered herself. He joined her in his work clothes.

“Well?” he said.

Stephen Cicirelli has his MFA from Columbia University. He is currently a full-time lecturer in the English Department at Saint Peter’s University. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Quick Fiction, Eunoia Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, 100 Word Story, and the anthology Nothing Short Of (Outpost19 Press). He and his partner currently live in New Jersey. Read more at Follow him on Twitter @SteveCicirelli and on Instagram @stephen_cicirelli.

In Response to Question No. 3 by Susan Barry-Schulz

I would be green of course I would
not emerald green
not Kelly
not sea foam green because obviously that would be the worst
not mint
not sage
not Granny Smith apple although I do appreciate the refreshing tartness of this variety
not lime
not Celadon
not forest although we must act now to save the rainforests
not jade
not moss
not the neon green of the slouchy socks I paired with canvas Tretorns back in 1985
not artichoke
not seaweed
not Malachite
not juniper not pine nor pickle
the green I would be
would be soft & deep
a heathered olive
flecked with specks
of copper & smoke
the same shade of green
as the pearl-buttoned vintage cardigan
I hung on a hook before clocking in
that summer—and never saw again—
the exact shade of green
you can never get back
once you’ve lost it.

Susan Barry-Schulz grew up outside of Buffalo, New York. She’s a licensed physical therapist living with chronic illness. Her poetry has appeared in Barrelhouse online, Bending Genres, B O D Y, Gyroscope Review, Harpy Hybrid Review, Kissing Dynamite, Nightingale & Sparrow, Rogue Agent, SWWIM, The Wild Word, and other print and online journals and anthologies.

Near the End of Their Lives, Barbie and Ken Question Their Existence by Jo Withers

They had driven to the beach again. They’d left the bubblegum pink convertible at home and were sitting in the petal pink hatchback at the lookout gazing over the crystal waters. They sat for a while, occasionally sipping from the plastic coke cans which were permanently wedged into the cup holders between them.

“Why do we always end up here?” Barbie asked as Ken sat smiling beside her. “Whatever we talk about doing in the afternoon, we always end up here instead.”

“Perfect spot for a picnic,” Ken winked, as he did on every beach trip. He hit a button under his seat and the boot opened, a perfectly prepared plastic picnic popped out.

“I’m not hungry,” Barbie shook her head. In fifty years of beach picnics, she couldn’t remember eating a single thing.

* * *

That evening, Barbie reclined on the sofa in her gold lamé ball gown watching Botched. She wished she had something more practical to wear or somewhere more interesting to go. Ken sat cross-legged on the chaise lounge in his vintage velour tracksuit reading Proust. Beauty, the Afghan hound, lay at his feet, nudging his leg gently in the hope of being petted.

“Why do we always get Afghan hounds?” Barbie commented as the T.V. doctor discussed a particularly disproportionate body part. “I don’t like long-haired dogs; I’ve always wanted a Staffordshire bull terrier.”

Beauty padded across the floor towards her, nuzzled her ribboned ears against her hand. Barbie pulled her hand away, signaled the dog to lie down.

“I’ve never liked this house either. I don’t want a pool on the roof or an entirely open front so all the neighbors can see into every room, and I hate having to go down a slide every time I want to get into the kitchen. All I’ve ever really wanted is a little cottage in the country, a thatched roof and a rose garden. I’ve worked hard all my life, I’ve been a doctor, a ballerina, a rock star and a paratrooper… is a little comfort really too much to ask?”

That night, Barbie lay against the scallop-edged, silk pillows in her four-poster bed, struggling to sleep. Ken lay peacefully snoozing beside her in his paisley pajamas and sleep mask. Barbie looked at the bedside cabinet, the row of family photographs – Ken leaping to catch the beach ball, Skipper riding her bike, Ken relaxing by the pool, Skipper riding her pony. She shook Ken awake. He sat up in bed, pushed the sleep mask up in surprise.

“Do you remember my mother?” Barbie asked fitfully. “Try as I might, I can’t remember the slightest thing about her. I don’t remember yours either. Isn’t that strange?”

“I love you,” Ken said, as he did every night before falling asleep. He rolled over and pulled his sleep mask down again.

“I don’t remember anyone,” Barbie said to herself in the dark. “There’s only Skipper and you. I wonder whether I look like my mother or father? I wonder how they met and how old they were when they had me? I wonder… if they loved me?”

* * *

The next morning, Barbie woke up late in an empty bed – Ken would be flipping blueberry pancakes in the kitchen as he did every morning. Barbie decided not to go downstairs. Instead, she dressed in her diamanté jumpsuit and walked to the west wing of the town house, to the room she rarely visited. Hours later, Ken found her sitting on the floor in the pastel pink room with her head in her hands. Around the walls rabbits and ducklings danced playfully, a cot sat near the window and a raspberry pink rocking chair occupied the corner.

Ken placed a hand on Barbie’s shoulder, “Your pancakes are going cold.”

“Did we plan to have a baby once? Why did we stop trying? How did we just forget about it when it was all that ever mattered?” Barbie tried to push out real tears. She swallowed hard and placed her hand over the empty pit of her perfect size two stomach. She reached for his arm.

“What happened to the future we planned? Sometimes, I feel like my whole life, I’ve been picked up and positioned without ever having any choice in the matter,” she said.

He stared knowingly at her and for a moment she thought he was going to say something profound. Finally, he stroked her cheek then stammered quietly, “I love you… your pancakes are going cold.”

He never offers me any comfort, she thought. It was like there was a pull-cord at the back of his neck and he could only summon a dozen inane responses.

* * *

That afternoon, Barbie gripped the steering wheel tightly as she drove towards the beach. She had decided to take the pink convertible today. As they approached the turn for the lookout, she steered the car into a sharp right instead and drove straight down onto the sand.

Ken gasped as Barbie kept driving, ploughing through the biscuit-crumb beach into the twinkling blue ocean. Ken’s fixed blue eyes seemed to grow wider, and his moulded lips parted into an almost ‘O.’ He swiveled his head sideways, looked at her in a way he hadn’t in years.

He took her paddle-shaped hand in his, kissing it softly as the convertible careened into the wisp-white waves.

“Perfect spot for a picnic,” he said as they began to sink below the gleaming water, the currents engulfing their beautifully bronzed bodies as salmon pink crabs scuttled merrily on the sand.


Jo Withers writes short stories from her home in South Australia. Recent fiction appears in Flash Frog, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, and the charity collection FUEL, edited by Tania Hershman to raise money for fuel poverty in the United Kingdom.

stop by Naa Asheley Ashitey

Content warning: sexual assault.


[ stop ] (definition source from

verb (used with object), stopped or (Archaic) stopt; stop·ping.
        1. to cease from, leave off, or discontinue
        2. to cause to cease; put an end to

        to stop kissing me


verb (used without object), stopped or (Archaic) stopt; stop·ping.
        3. to come to a stand, as in a course or journey; halt.
        4. to cease moving, proceeding, speaking, acting, operating, etc.; to pause; desist.


        Please stop.
        You can stop, please.
        Why won’t you stop?


        5. the act of stopping.
        6. a cessation or arrest of movement, action, operation, etc.; end:

        the thrusting came to a stop after he released.
        The nightmare finally came to a stop; the physical part at least.



Naa Asheley Ashitey is a writer and aspiring physician-scientist from Chicago living in San Francisco. She’s a 2021 graduate from the University of Chicago where she received her B.A. in Creative Writing with Honors, specializing in fiction and with a minor in the Biological Sciences. She is a PROPEL Post-Bacc Scholar at the University of California, San Francisco where her research centers on cancer immunology. Her work has been published in Soul Talk Magazine, Blacklight Magazine, and Euphony Journal. She’s passionate about increasing the intersection between the humanities and STEM, and advocating for making academia more accessible and equitable for historically excluded groups in higher education.