On the Dendrochronology of Gastropod-Shells by Kunjana Parashar

I like it when groups of children visit the river bank
looking for ammonites, echinoids and belemnites:
their ears like a sharp, open-mouthed whelk. To find
lexicon for the old Cretaceous worlds we originated
from, is to find a key to mapping the strange histories
of our bodies: clavicle/drumstick/femur/tendon.
My history has deep gulfs in its narratives, and often
while recounting my traumas I forget how they came
to be. Like a giant whale belly-flopping in my mind,
scattering the rings of data that dendrochronologize
my familial pain: was it the desiccated sap of my mother
that shrunk our house into a stump or was it the towering
girth of my father growing on our backs like an epiphyte.
But what I never forget is that at nights, I would watch them
slipping into that otherness of sleep: grief wrapping their
ancient-bodies like the exoskeletal shells of gastropods.

 

Kunjana Parashar is a poet from Mumbai whose work appears or is forthcoming in Lammergeier, UCity Review, Riggwelter, The Hellebore, Barren Magazine, The Rumpus (ENOUGH Section), and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @wolfwasp.

Bob Ciano by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

Each day I reach into our wardrobe to get dressed, all my shirts jostle. Some of them move forward; jealous of my favorites, they try to jump in line. They argue that if only I’d actually see them, they could finally unrumple and be touched by sunlight. They could pick up the scent of my body, soften (even if only slightly), be complimented by everyone who sees me. They crave flattery, the complete stranger saying, “Is that new?” or “Where did you get that?” or “That’s so gorgeous!” I’m drawn to paisleys, pearl buttons, designer labels on the sleeve so anyone shaking my hand would know someone’s spent money (even if it wasn’t me), rich colors, headache inducing patterns. “Change your life, wear a different shirt for once!” the frustrated shirts all cry.

Other shirts hide. They’re ashamed: they think I’ll notice their missing buttons, the memory I no longer wish to remember, the little hole where the decal meets my breastbone, the way they strain a little since I’ve gained weight. Maybe I’ll put one on and my wife Mary will laugh, and that will be that, straight to Goodwill. Or else they’re just as beautiful as the ones I always wear, but they’re afraid of this world, the marks and stains that come from living in it.

The wardrobe rocks back and forth; neither of us can sleep. So Mary says, very loudly, “Your friend Bob, he only wears black button down shirts, right?”

“That’s right,” I say, “and he only needs five of them.”

“I bet he sleeps like a baby because he never has to wonder what he will wear,” Mary says.

“Perhaps we would be happier if we followed his example?” I say.

The wardrobe settles down immediately. But when I reach inside the next morning to get dressed, all my shirts are damp with tears.

It takes three loads to wash the salt out of them and get them dry, and they squirm as we try to fold them. Eventually we put them all back in the wardrobe, more or less neatly folded.

I make promises to treat my clothes more fairly, to rotate my outfits and not wear the same favorites all the time. We’ll repair the shirts with missing buttons; the shirts with holes will be saved until we have use for them in art projects.

I feel terrible because I never keep those sorts of promises. I am lazy: I grab the shirt on top; I play favorites, I’m always on the lookout for the next beautiful shirt whenever we go shopping, and who has time to sew? We initiate cycles of sin, guilt and forgiveness; we think we’re enlightened people, but we’re always doing laundry. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

I think of the cruelty Bob Ciano practiced when he chose to only have five black buttoned down shirts, and got rid of everything else; I wonder if it’s better to just do one terrible thing, or to perform the same awful little actions over and over again.

 

Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in Gravel, Sand, Grimoire, Joyland, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review, and Pank. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press in 2019. He is the chief steward of the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts, SEIU 1021.

seasonal cephalopodic self-improvement by Natasha King

in spring i’ll unfurl new growth |
exercise | learn an instrument | achieve life goals | spread my twenty-foot tentacles |
wait | what? | oh my god | why do i have tentacles |
is this | self-actualization?

i am | rolling with it | i guess in spring |
i am a squid with large moonglow eyes | and a murderous beak |
i guess in spring | i live in the abyss | with my squiddy brethren and sistren |
i guess in spring | my blood has quickened | also, it’s blue, and
copper-based | i am a little freaked out but i did say i wanted | a change

alright squids and girls | it’s spring |
and i will eat so many fish | yes | raw |
i will duel the sperm whales of the deep | i will rise at night like a spark of silver fire |
is it | the solstice already? i hadn’t noticed | i’m sorry,
but i am too busy squidding around | to have resolutions this year.

 

Natasha King’s poetry has appeared in Glintmoon, Lily Poetry Review, Oyster River Pages, and others. She lives in North Carolina and reserves her spare time for writing, prowling, and thinking about the ocean.

The Sad Song in Every Story by Mileva Anastasiadou

This is a story about a story that wants to be a song. It could be a song about trees. Or falling trees. Or falling. Or it could be about winds blowing hard, like tornadoes and hurricanes. This could be the intro, some kind of tender, inviting mumbling or scattered notes, slowly playing before the melody starts.

*

North wind was blowing hard, goes the verse.

Just to be clear, the North wind is described as such for the sake of the story, or the aspiring song. The winds were Northeast all the time, or non-existent sometimes. On New Year’s Day we woke up to a fallen tree blocking our front door. We both knew that the year didn’t start well. It was a combination of strong winds and shallow roots. It’s now already summer, the path all cleared, pieces of the fallen tree still beside the door, for I’m too lazy to arrange them in piles and stock them for next winter. They’ll probably be useless by then, he claims and I can’t help but agree.

He never argues when he’s mad. I’d say he never gets mad either, yet I now know him well enough to claim otherwise; he gets mad all the time, only he’s good at hiding it. Until he feels safe enough to explode. He’s an endless, recurrent bomb. Never tired of exploding, when the time is right.

*

South wind was blowing hard, goes the second verse.

“My mom called,” he says.

He speaks in a voice most people use when commenting upon the weather. He always has that attitude; as if he constantly gives the world the middle finger, grinning, saying “fuck you world, I fooled you”. Bombs don’t care for the outcome. He’s now walking ahead of me and I follow, as we walk in the park, among tall trees, which seem taller than when we walked side by side, still immersed in blissful ignorance. He walks blissfully like he’s in heaven while all I see is flowers about to wither, soil eager to be fed with decay, bugs buzzing in search of pray, and he claims I’m always so negative and I wonder how he does that. I’ve been hearing the cracks in my face lately, the wrinkles forming one after another, every time I laugh, or smile, or cry. So I try to remain emotionless, or at least not express emotion, if I can’t avoid feeling it.

We are no longer a couple. He left me after he found out I’d cheated on him. We had never argued before. Until that day, when he exploded.

*

East wind was blowing hard, goes the third verse.

“I don’t feel like speaking to her.”

Of course he doesn’t feel like it. He’s the king of denial, the master of the art of procrastination. I’ll have to pressure him to call her back, only he won’t call until he’s ready.

When he found out about my cheating, he didn’t mention anything at first. He went to the kitchen and prepared some soup. He offered me the soup, feigning tenderness as if I had been naughty and he was gentle enough to forgive me. I was definitely offended that night. In hindsight, I realize that had been his intention: to humiliate me with an act of kindness. He had the moral high ground and enjoyed it. The soup was tasty as hell, I have to admit. I didn’t know then, because he had never made a soup for me before, but the soup was a the final warning before the bomb exploded. That soup is what I mostly missed of him when we finally broke up.

Are you over him? he asked. I nodded hard, as I couldn’t even recall how it was with that guy, for I was drunk and exhausted and vulnerable. But he took it the wrong way. He said I was trying too hard to be convincing. He looked me in the eye, as if trying to read my soul, only he couldn’t see through my eyes, he claimed and I blamed those fucking wrinkles again which made me expressionless.

*

Incomprehensible mumbling during a guitar solo comes next.

“I’ll call her back later. Nice weather, isn’t it?”

He’s doing it again; agreeing with me to avoid conflict. I know he won’t call back.

Instead, he’ll only change the subject.

A few days after that tasty soup came the explosion, following an insignificant disagreement. I think Camus killed himself, I told him, and he looked at me perplexed. I’m well aware that’d ruin it all, his work, his theories, everything. So he faked a car accident. He put the train ticket into his pocket, making sure someone would find it and point the irony. Camus was my age when he died and he was tired. Sick of fighting the plague, sick of coffee and soccer and writing. It wasn’t fun anymore and life’s supposed to be fun at core and then everything else. I’m also sick of fighting the plague. Sick of fixing what’s broken, only to repeat the fixing the very next day.

Then followed a stupid fight over the dishes. He packed his things the very next minute. I removed a pillow from behind my back only to realize how more comfortable sitting on the sofa felt without it. I was that pillow to him; not too annoying, yet his life would be much more comfortable without me.

When I realized my cheating was the issue at stake, only he’d chosen a different subject which felt safer to him, it was already too late. In his mind I had started the war, yet he chose the time and place of the final battle.

*

Instrumental bridge:

“Cold, but nice,” I reply.

We survived the explosion, unlike most of his relationships. We’re now friends and as a friend, I’m supposed to insist on his talking with his mother. They haven’t spoken to each other since she left his father. Yet I don’t. I’m a caring person most of the time. Until I’m too overwhelmed to care. So now I don’t. I only focus on the sound that’s coming from an open window. It’s either ‘Electricity’ or ‘Enola Gay’ by OMD. It always takes me a while to tell them apart, since they sound similar at the beginning. And I hear the familiar buzzing of the intro and that’s how electricity sounds. The bomb is not about to fall yet.

*

West wind was blowing hard, goes the final verse.

“I have some soup left, come over,” he says.

His face is cold. He doesn’t mean it, yet he looks at me as if he hates me. I feel angry inside, yet I still smile. I can’t relax my facial muscles enough to look angry or mean. My resting bitch face looks awkwardly compassionate. My angry face is still made of smiles and fake understanding. It feels as if I have no control over my facial expressions, while his emotions are all over his face. He’s trying to hide behind words and acts of kindness, but I can feel his anger building up as he discovers the sad song in every story. He’s in a-minor mode, while I’m already singing the chorus in c-major, like it’s a happy song, for it’s happy interludes that make the path, or the story, or the song, worthwhile.

He considers himself a winner, as I consider his soup too tasty to leave behind. That soup is the symbol of the beginning to me, the opening kick-off before the battle to him. This battle feels better than his love. I pretend that winning is of no importance. That what matters is that I don’t have the skills to make a soup tasty enough to comfort him. Nor the skills to confront and deactivate the bomb. I hear the crack on my face again. Another wrinkle formed. Another emotion escaped. Another happy interlude before closure. My resting bitch face never looks mean enough; it takes a while before I notice I still smile, while I accept the invitation.

*

We are now the Hollow Men, waiting for the world to end. Or the story. Or the sad song (bound to be hidden) in every story.

I can’t handle it anymore, I say.

I can’t handle it.

I can’t.

With a whimper, not with a bang, ends the song. Most songs end with fading out.

 

Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in many journals, such as Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Sunlight Press (Best Small Fictions 2019 nominee), Ghost Parachute, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Litro, and others.

Tidal by Andrew Hahn

My grandmother once told me she was a mermaid,
that she had given up her life in the water for love
on land, that if I told anyone, she would crumble
into coral dust, and the waves would pull her away.
At school, I accidentally told a friend. In the cafeteria,
I cried hysterically. Now that she owns
an aging body, I feel responsible for tending
to her softening bones, these legs she learned to walk on
ache at the fins of her ankles. I want
to mark her medications in her calendar and reach
for things on top shelves, watch
reality TV and gossip about the neighbors.
Skeptics claim mermaid sightings are manatees floating
near the surface. They say a manatee’s shape
resembles a woman’s, but this is only for the shadow
of the tail undulating beneath crystal waters.
I left her to live with a man on Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal.
I sit on the curb under a streetlight and watch the boys
on The Drive walk from bar to bar, sometimes
drunk, sometimes fingering the waistband
of another boy’s sequin shorts, sometimes
in the arms of whiskered, gray men who teach
their bodies opening to the past can be painful, and
whisper that sometimes leaving someone to find
a home looks like abandonment. But
the sea never leaves, instead it pulls away
just long enough for you to remember
its absence, to remind you that it’s in
your blood, to beg you to run toward it.

 

Andrew Hahn’s work has been featured in Crab Creek Review, Pithead Chapel, Rappahannock Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Yes, Poetry, among others. His chapbook God’s Boy is available from Sibling Rivalry Press.

We Feed Them to the Lions by Paul Thompson

Nine years old, with parents distracted, a boy falls into the lion enclosure.

It looked more like a jump, his sister says.

The boy lands safely, in the artificial lake beneath him. He swims to the shoreline, to his new home. Murals of the savanna and non-native plant life.

Background noise played through speakers. The stare of an audience above him.
The lions protect him from rescue. Surround him in tight circles. Brush their hides against the hair on his arms. Give him a name in their tongue.

Satisfied that his care is adequate, his parents leave him with the pride. Make arrangements for extended visiting hours. Make plans for social time with one less child.

The boy teaches the lions to swim in deep water, to sleep in humanoid positions.

He shows them his fingerprints, his double-jointed thumbs. Over time, his parents forget his birthday, his age now measured in animal years. Other children jump down to join the herd, parents happy with the care provided.

The hybrid exhibit becomes an attraction. Children themed merchandise in the gift shop.

Until one day late in the autumn, when an adult jumps in and tries to join them. Moving with speed they tear off his limbs and play with his torso, before returning to sleep with the lions.

 

Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, and The Cabinet of Heed. His work also recently appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2019.

Pro re nata Christmas by Elyse Hart

i took a pill at noon instead of nine
so an astronaut blew up in space on christmas.
a child let go of a red balloon
then my mother planted marigolds
next to begonias.

we are what we eat we are where we sleep—
a boy ate one jellybean on christmas morn’.
i took a pill at nine instead of noon.
if jingle bells is a love song then call me dasher
dancer prancer and vixen.

space landed in the garden
so my mother moonwalked to the pharmacy
with a bunch of begonias,
which exploded tinsel.
i took a pill at ten instead of two.

a balloon took hydrogen, not helium
and my head came off,
floated and blew up in space.
wassail rained out the remaining neck.
smithereens of jawbone were found in the alley
behind Rite Aid with my mother’s flowers.

i took a pill straight in the gullet.
those still with their heads
caroled as needed.

 

Elyse Hart is a poet, songwriter, and composer residing in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Nervous Breakdown with work forthcoming in The Los Angeles Press. Her first chapbook will be released by Subphonic Press in 2020. Find more of Elyse’s work on Instagram at @elysehartpoetry.

The Mechanical Bird Crafts an Email by Caroline Chavatel

The mechanical bird crafts an email
and we are surprised by its length and wit.
The store has gone dark in its after-
houred mood, so the cameras reveal
his behavior to us. The local news
has reported the unmatched intelligence
of our flocking friend, his beak hammering away
at the keys like a pianist and he makes music,
CC’s the regional manager.
It didn’t always use to be this way—
once he never dreamed of roaming
the local forests, calling out to mates
in syllables we couldn’t sound.
Last week, he almost got swallowed
into a hurricane, up into the nature
of the sky and once, before, he had no
other name. The news had stopped
reporting on him before the email,
had grown tired of his de-
mechanicalization and emergent attitude.
I’m writing to say he is worth noting.
I’m writing to let you know he is here.

 

Caroline Chavatel is the author of White Noises (GreenTower Press, 2019), which won The Laurel Review’s 2018 Midwest Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in Sixth Finch, AGNI Online, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cosmonaut’s Avenue, and The Journal, among others. She is editor and co-founder of Madhouse Press, and co-founding editor of The Shore. She received an MFA from New Mexico State University and is currently a PhD student at Georgia State.

Fur by Kathryn Kulpa

You don’t have to wear the lion head any more, she imagined him saying. You can just be you.

He’d never said this. There was no reason to think he would. Inside the mask her breath felt thick and meaty. Her eyes swam in a humid backwash of sweat and pepperoni pizza. Their fingers touched through velvety paw-fleece. Only below the waist were they human.

“Faster, Nala!” His voice came through muffled, scratchy, but with an artificial high pitch. He never took off his own lion head either.

They’d met last year at the Providence Convention Center, at Comic-Con. Nala, meet Simba! Too fated to be anything else. They had lunch in the food court. He floated his plastic utensil from his chest to hers. “Sporks flew,” he said.

She worked in the Disney store in the mall. He worked in a bank, lived with his mom in Pittsburgh. He fooled everyone, he told her. Looked normal, worked hard, made decent money. But this is who I am, he said, pointing with his lion paw to his lion head. This is who I really am.

And she nodded, because she knew. Being Nala made her something more than the hardly-know-she’s-there girl, the girl who sat in the back row and made B’s but never A’s, who dropped out her junior year of college without a single professor noticing or asking why. The girl who went home every day after work and changed sheets, cooked meals, washed clothes, washed dishes, put her brother to bed. Because after the accident there was no one else to do it.

After the con they texted and Skyped, and then he found this other con in Albany and she drove 300 miles to meet him for the weekend. It was never enough, but it had to be enough.

Because nobody wanted a boring girl who took care of her disabled brother and worked some dead-end job, but everybody loved a cute, little lion cub.

The heat inside the costume made her dizzy, wild with fever. She imagined clawing it from her body, watching stripes of polyester and latex shred away, leaving bald, pink human skin.

But Nala wasn’t who she was either. Not a cub. Not a toy. She felt her muscles bunch. Her nails extend. Laughing, she tore off his head and her own, drank in the rush of cool air. She could smell the blood pulsing in his throat, so close to the skin. Felt his body arch under hers, in terror or in ecstasy.

The lioness threw her head back and roared.

 

Kathryn Kulpa (@KathrynKulpa) has work published or forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and leads a veterans writing workshop in Rhode Island.