All giant deer kings hail from Limerick by Meg Mulcahy

Beast and bone tower in dead zoos
without fail, each time a skull that housed a heritage, antlers angel wingspan
fractured lines fermented shifting permeance
presiding over dark and crumbled earth, beetle-shelled glint, rotted rain
melted you away in every stride, chocolate carcass left us hollowed eyes of someone who
saw wars and cherry wine flow bitter from the mouths of flies
bolted down through yellowing joints, strung up in a new world and I,
the furthest from magnificence, can only gaze upwards in imagined genuflect,
and in our visits the displaced may comfort the dead.

 

Meg Mulcahy is a writer and poet based in Dublin, Ireland. She copywrites by day and has had work featured in Crêpe & Penn, honey & lime, GCN Mag, and EMPWR. Her blog lives at www.socialseagull.com where she writes about everything from witches to Ariana Grande. You can find her on Twitter @TheGoldenMej and on Instagram @goldenmej.

Ladybird, Ladybird by DeMisty Bellinger

Birdlike. Flitting? Bouncy? Do I float? “It’s that you’re light. You peck at your food. Hollow bones.”

“My bones aren’t hollow.”

“No,” he shakes his head. “No, I know they’re not. But it is like they’re hollow. You know. Like a bird.”

“Avian.”

He shrugs. “Sure.”

I imagine him dying.

I imaging taking one of my chopsticks and turning it away from the deep-fried tofu and towards him. I see myself forcing its dull tip into his chest, breaking beyond errant bones and stringent skin, plunging through to his heart. Maybe both chopsticks? I am diving in and sawing at his heart, using the sticks as knives, picking up juicy bits of his heart.

“Your voice, too” he says.

“My voice?”

“Sing-songy. See, you just asked a question there.”

“Well, I didn’t know.”

“But your voice goes up and down. Like a melody that doesn’t mean anything.”

I put my chopsticks down. Suddenly, I don’t feel like Chinese food. I don’t feel like food. I want to keep eating because I’m afraid that he’d continue the metaphor, but I can’t eat. His heart blood is all over the eggplant and tofu, the steamed brown rice, the noodles, it’s on everything. I can’t tell what’s red pepper and what’s him. I cannot eat this. I say: “You remember that chant? About the bird? ‘Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children are alone’.”

He asks: “Do you want children?”

I think about the term ‘fall out of love with.’ I had always called bullshit. I never believed that people can fall out of love like people could fall in love.

But here I am. Falling as if my wings are clipped.

 

DeMisty D. Bellinger lives and teaches in Massachusetts. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available at Finishing Line Press. She has a husband and twin daughters, but wants a cat, too. Her website is http://demistybellinger.com.

Master of My Domain by Marissa Glover

I do what I want. I’m an American—
no asking if he’s happy, not caring
if she’s satisfied. I make my own way
in the world: Kick off the bed covers
or hide under sheets; stay silent or
scream. Maybe all of this. Maybe none.
In America, we’re taught finishing first
is all that matters. Here, selfishness is
not a crime. You can’t depend on anyone
to make you feel good—this is a fact
you learned early, when your parents split,
when Marc Bowman’s ambition
got him caught in a kickball double-play
to end the inning. So you learned to please
yourself—now both explorer and native
land. Discover what you love most
about creation. It is good. It is good. It is—
Say your own name instead of God’s
as you finish.

 

Marissa Glover teaches and writes in Florida, where she is co-editor of Orange Blossom Review and a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Marissa’s work recently appeared in Mothers Always Write, Whale Road Review, Fresh Air Poetry, The Cabinet of Heed, and Sweet. Her debut poetry collection, Let Go of the Hands You Hold, is forthcoming from Mercer University Press in 2021. Follow Marissa on Twitter @_MarissaGlover_.

Emily, Don’t by Kelsey Ipsen

Imagine if I licked your entire body. I said.

Emily, don’t. Said Steve. I’m working.

I did not want to lick his body, I wanted to be in love. I thought about the different parts of his body and what they would be like to lick. I thought about my tongue in his armpit or on his big toe with its 5 coarse, black hairs standing out against the pale of his foot skin that never sees the sun because exposed toe shoes are for children, Emily. I decided these areas of him repulsed me. I wondered if it was normal for me to be repulsed by them. Maybe licking someone’s armpit and not being grossed out meant that you really loved them. Steve was typing which meant I could watch his hands move, which I liked. His hands were large and soft from an expensive cream he used which I sometimes also used without asking or explicitly not asking. This is all to say that he was very well groomed, it’s not like I would be licking an unwashed armpit, for instance.

Would you lick my armpit? I asked, even though I knew he got annoyed when I talked while he was working.

Could you not? That’s not even a sensible question.

I sort of wanted to leave, then, even though I mostly agreed that the question wasn’t sensible. Instead I scrolled through my phone while actually looking around the room to think about all the things I hated in it, until Steve clicked his laptop shut. Right, another day done. He said. He sounded even older than he was when he said things like that.

What would you like for dinner?

We could order something, it’s pretty late. I imagined the grease from a burger glistening. I imagined salt from fries glittering across my fingers.

No, no, I’m sure I can find something.

I’m pretty sure Steve frowned upon ordering out. He’s never exactly told me this but I have noticed that he never gets takeaway. Sometimes I feel an urge to get something delivered and act like I’ve cooked it, slaved away at it for hours, especially for him. I will never actually do this, though I enjoy thinking about it.

* * * *

We made carbonara. While the water boiled I watched his reflection in the darkness of the window and admired his beauty. I was jealous of his eyelashes, his cheekbones, his skin that was prone to neither oiliness nor dryness. He touched my back and it thrilled me. I leaned in to him. We had plated the food. We left it on the bench steaming. We fucked on the couch. How do you want it? His voice sounded like it was coming from a much deeper space within him. I felt his hands light upon my body and wished I felt them more, I was sick of feeling like I was disappearing. Put your hands around my neck. I said. Really? He asked. Just do it. His hands felt hotter and heavier the longer they were on me. I imagined him squeezing tighter. I looked into his eyes then changed my mind and focused my eyes on his cheeks. Die, I thought as I came. When he shuddered above me I noticed the outline of the couch button, red on his thigh.

* * * *

The carbonara was cold and felt like glue. Steve groaned with pleasure at it. I thought I’m 22, what am I doing here. I had had this thought so much it was no longer a question, just a mantra of sorts. I imagined my best friend telling me that just because something looks like what you want, it doesn’t mean it is what you want. I did not have a best friend. I sat at the table until Steve was finished.

We can watch that movie you’ve been going on about.

I’ve got to go home. I told him.

You know I don’t like sleeping alone, Em.

I shrugged. I picked up my things and also slipped Steve’s hand cream into my bag. The jar was the perfect weight, it was so beautiful it made everything else in my bag look beautiful too.

* * * *

When I arrived at my apartment it felt small and like I didn’t hate anything in it. I needed to vacuum but I kept putting it off for one more day, every day. A few months ago I had downloaded a dating app just to see if anyone would match with me. For my description I wrote that I liked takeaway and movies. It took me 30 minutes to come up with that. There was one girl on there that I had been messaging. I told her right away that I didn’t actually like girls like that, I was just lonely. She was funny. Her name was Laura and she lived within 1km of me. She had curly hair like I’d always wanted. I brushed some old crumbs off my couch/bed and sent her a message.

I tried to do something different with my boyfriend, like you said.

Good girl, did it work?

Not really.

🙁

Do you want to come over and watch a movie?

* * * *

I picked at some fluff on my cardigan and hoped Laura wasn’t actually an old, pervy man. When my doorbell rang I wondered if I needed to puke. I hadn’t ever had a friend over, all my friends were not actually my friends but Steve’s friends. They made jokes about me being still in university as if it were comparable to kindergarten and I pretended they were witty like ha ha yeah silly me being my age instead of yours. Laura’s hair looked even better in real life. Laura had bought a gigantic pack of popcorn with her. You’re fucking cute. She said. I felt happy and not weird. I have wine. I offered. The movie wasn’t that great. It took itself too seriously but that meant we got to giggle over it which made it enjoyable anyway. We quoted the worst bits of it back to each other, adjusted the lines slightly. I couldn’t possibly live without a man, said Laura. As I laughed I spilled some wine on the carpet, I rubbed it in with my big toe. I love you. Said the man on screen. I felt a dumb tear roll down my face so I lifted my hand to it like I was itching my cheek. I needed something to say to distract me from whatever was happening to me. Have you ever licked anyone? I asked Laura.

Sure I have, it’s basically all I do. Hey are you crying?

Sorry. I said. I felt sure she would go home and I wouldn’t have any friends again.

Laura paused the movie.

You can leave if you want.

Laura leaned forward and licked up the trail of my gross tears starting from my jaw right up to under my eye.

I don’t need to leave.

I touched my face where she had licked me. Laura unpaused the movie and let her knee bump against mine like a drumbeat, like we were in a marching band that was going to walk all over the world. I thought about all the times I had imagined hanging out with some one cool who actually gave a shit about me.

When she left I gave her Steve’s hand cream.

 

Kelsey Ipsen lives in France with her husband and half-wild cat. She can be found working on her first novel or at www.cargocollective.com/kelseyipsen. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small fictions and some of her other stories have been published, or are forthcoming, in wigleaf, PANK, Hobart, and jmww.

playing twenty questions with past lifetimes by Quinn Lui

20 Questions

Quinn Lui is a Chinese-Canadian student who has a tendency to collect too many mugs, then dry too many flowers, and then run out of mugs to store them in. Their work has appeared in Occulum, Synaesthesia Magazine, Augur Magazine, and elsewhere, and they are the author of the micro-chapbook teething season for new skin (L’Éphémère Review, 2018). You can find them @flowercryptid on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, or wherever the moon is brightest.

A Rupturing of Light by Suzanne Grove

He reads: A glass of orange juice after a glass of water, hospital ice, peas, two (only two) green olives, Polish vodka chilled in the freezer.

We are playing a game for adults with our maybe-friends who live in the planned community two-hundred yards from the sunken curve of our backyard. We own the renovated farmhouse. Outside, our Norwegian dogs stretch the long tendons of their rabbit-like hind legs. From our back porch, shaded and silent save the slow scooping of ceiling fan against August air, we can see the interstate run its horizontal line towards West Virginia. Twenty miles in the distance, it forks away, dips low into a coal-gutted town near the Ohio River.

These maybe-friends, six in total, own homes with alternating shutter colors. Navy, tan, red. But with names like Oxford Glacier and Tawny Hide and Midnight Vermillion. They selected them from decks of alternating shades at the home design studio. They repave their driveways every five years, build thick brick and slatestone mailboxes. Hang wreaths that change with the seasons.

For this round of the game—for the list that has just been announced—we were told to write down five things we like to consume. We were welcome, the instructions said, to get naughty.

We take turns guessing who owns each list. Nearly everyone’s list contains booze. Someone wrote nipple. We discuss the word consume. What does it mean, exactly? Someone mentions the Oxford English Dictionary. We think we’re smart. Their kids will go to college. We don’t have any kids, just the dogs.

Orange juice. Olives. Vodka. I look at my husband.  He does not like olives. He eats them in salads I make to accompany our dinners on most nights. But he does not stand in the kitchen like I do, plucking them out of the jar with my fingers. And, peas? No. He orders Manhattans when we go out, likes bourbon and not vodka.

But, Amanda—Amanda with autumn tones burnt into her hair, a soft gloss over the strands, a chemical resuscitation of the follicles she purchases for an additional $45 (she’s offered me a referral to the salon; suggested I try the treatment); Amanda with her hard little knuckles and slim fingers and real gold chains doubled up and crossed and doubled again high and low on her neck—she guesses Adam right away.

Yes, my husband exclaims.

They high-five.

I have a sad score, second to last. We pause to refill drinks. Adam turns on the television mounted high in the corner of this room the other women call a Florida room, but I call a covered porch. Someone changes the channel to a baseball game. I call the dogs inside with me for water, for rest.

When I return, I think about how this summer, our second summer here, the wood surrounding our exterior doors hasn’t bloated so that every open and close necessitates a slamming that echoes throughout the house.

At night, sometimes, I hear the bending of grass blades beneath feet through the window of the guest room where I often sleep because Adam snores.

Out in the direction of the interstate, we have an additional detached garage, four stalls. A workshop where Adam plans to start wood working. Maybe, he tells me at dinner, he’ll take up blacksmithing, too. Inside the fourth stall is an old plaid couch my mother gave me when she redesigned her living room. And a lamp I’ve had since college.

Most nights when I hear the bending grass, I wait. I go to the bathroom and drink water over the sink. Before I shut out the lights, before I climb back into the twin day bed with its brassy frame, I peel the blinds apart and see that fourth stall shining at me, a rupturing of light.

 

Suzanne Grove is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and received the J. Stanton Carson Grant for Excellence in Writing while studying at Robert Morris University. Her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adirondack ReviewThe Carolina QuarterlyThe Penn ReviewPorter House ReviewThe Raleigh Review, and elsewhere. She received honorable mention in Farrar, Straus, & Giroux’s June contest for her short fiction piece “Shift Work” and was recently a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly flash fiction fellowship. She currently serves as the short fiction editor for CRAFT literary magazine.

tell me i’m prettier when i smile by Danielle Rose

because i do not desire to be a road pocked with potholes / but these scowls gouge the path ahead like too many pecking crows / & this is entirely a dream i can wake from if i can just find the right phrase / like i am a kiln & i become a burnt orange / the sounds stretch & yet i am still dreaming / & this stretching does not decide for me it is a lesson in constraint / like when gps coordinates turn out to be wrong / or how i want to build rhetorical arguments from childrens’ balloons / i want to watch them soar & disappear & become just another dot of clear sky / tell me i am like the sky / & lie to me / tell me i am expansive & clear / i need to hear that joyful clouds reach their hands into my chest / because i can feel them inside of me / storming / telling me i am pretty when i smile / i want to be a set of cascading conditions / like a logical proof or the way i am always sneaking away from my fear / tell me i am prettier when i smile / tell me / become a cloud & tell me that when i am pretty / it is impossible to be so empty

 

Danielle Rose lives in Massachusetts with her partner & their two cats. She is the managing editor of Dovecote Magazine & her work can be found or is forthcoming in The Shallow Ends, Barren Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Empty Mirror, Homology Lit, Turnpike Magazine, Kissing Dynamite & elsewhere.

Underwater Cabbage is Happy by Sean Pravica

She drew an octopus. It had a bulbous body/head. The innermost legs were thin and curled up around the body/head. It had a red smile.

Another low art grade. According to her teacher, it lacked proportion. Also, octopuses are not purple.

She must have liked the smile, though.

 

Sean Pravica is a Californian writer and author of Stumbling Out the Stable, a story about mischief, authority, and occasional intoxication. His next book, Hold Still Fast, is a collection of 200 stories 50 words and under and is due out in May by Pelekinesis. He also enjoys climbing rocks and spending time in the desert with his life partner.

Don’t worry about returning it by Devaki Devay

I’ll lose everything, eventually.
I’ll leave my phone on a restaurant table
the night before I fly out. Someday
I won’t recognize the number. Listen,
I left my notebook full of secrets under
one of the chairs in the lecture hall. Now
someone’s heels are brushing against
my newest molestation. It doesn’t bother me,
I lost my headband between the cushions
of a bus, I fell asleep chest up, once I managed
to imagine it was the Earth moving fast
and not our wheels. I’ll lose my wisdom teeth
without ever realizing; I’ll wake up
with pulsing memories of metals at my jaw,
fingers in my mouth,
blood seeping soft in cotton balls.

 

Devaki is a community college transfer at UC Berkeley studying rhetoric, as well as a reporter for the student paper. Their writing, which has appeared in Entropy and Royal Rose Magazine, centers around childhood trauma, loss, and the South Asian diaspora.

B is for Balls by Kara Vernor

In high school, when a boy threw a ball and another boy caught it, I banged two pom-poms together a few times.

When a boy caught a ball behind the end zone’s white line, I banged two pom-poms and kicked a leg. My crotch was wrapped in blue.

There were thirteen of us who bounced and banged.

When the boys gathered on a field mowed for Friday night, the townspeople mobbed the border. These watchers sat on seats called bleachers because boys could throw balls for three hours with the break they took halfway through. When the throwing of balls exhausted the boys, they resorted to their butts like watchers on bleachers, but not we. We stood and shouted and danced and banged for three hours, sometimes more.

On days when boys threw balls, we covered our butts in mini skirts. We recognized the relationship between our nakedness and their confidence, and it was said frostbite was not worse than Nair. While our legs encouraged boys to throw their balls, the townspeople enjoyed the school-sanctioned opportunity to see the whole lengths of our allegiant legs. They appreciated our legs for their service.

School officials otherwise required taller skirts. Short skirts were a violation and declaration unless worn for ball-throwing boys and the townspeople who ran their eyes up our flagpole limbs. It was true, townspeople needed more than strictly boys and the balls that flew between them, but not we. We had never been served by need.

 

Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Ninth Letter, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship, and her writing has been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, Best Small Fictions 2019, and Golden State 2017: Best New Writing from California. Her flash fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.