Country Song Erasures by Kit Armstrong

ARE WE THERE YET

        After Toby Keith, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”

When dead sleep lay down my
lost eye, until the day my mother,
happy in the nation, has fallen from somewhere,
soon as our black July feels wide, when
you’ll be your name, when you hear
the whole world raining.

 

DODGE CITY

        After Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses”

Somebody’s somebody, a son, a
        man, to answer for the rope in a
                round street. For the people that justice boys
to Gunsmoke, a tune against singing, crime
        of the maker. Bet the saddle against horses,
                the one thing you always got hard against whiskey

 

Kit Armstrong is a lifelong denizen of the American West (Denver, Los Angeles, Boulder, and—someday—San Junipero) whose work has appeared at Hobart, Vagabond City, The Indianapolis Review, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and elsewhere. They are on Twitter and Instagram at @uraniumsweater.

Ordering Fries at Happy Hour by Christopher Gonzalez

O.K., we’ll get fries, it’s done, it’s easy, the menu offers lemon-parsley for $6 and $7 for truffle, so why don’t we get the truffle, it’s only a dollar more, a goddamn steal in this city, a hallelujah for the wallet, never mind that I had to hoist myself up onto the barstool, the seat of which couldn’t hold a personal pan pizza let alone my entire ass, and nevermind that when the fries finally come out you’ll look them over and say some shit about how we shouldn’t be eating this, that fries are truly so so so bad, I guess we’re being bad today, before mentioning that article from The Atlantic about the proper portion size of fries and suggesting that we should only take six fries each, which would leave behind a whole fucking basket, and then you’ll laugh about the ridiculousness of it, the idea that anyone could stop at six, and then I won’t laugh while shoving six fries, maybe seven or eight, ten if I can manage, into my mouth, and I wonder if fries have feelings, if it’s cozy in my mouth the seconds before I grind them into paste, and do they feel safe in there from think pieces and Twitter threads and fat-shamers and coworkers who love happy hour but hate food, who never allow themselves to disappear into a bite, and do fries crave more than their salty graves, because sometimes I think, damn, what a joy it must be to live the short lifespan of a potato, and I think about their purpose, all that unlimited potential—we can mash or fry or bake or twice-bake or roast them in a hot oven or drown them in cheese—and if I were a potato, the best part is, I must believe, I wouldn’t have to listen to you and the waitress argue over the chipotle mayonnaise you’re ordering, whether it’s an aioli or a remoulade, and I wouldn’t have to hold back from finishing the fries before your dip arrives, or I wouldn’t have to pause to count how many I have eaten, whether the six or eight or ten were that many more than the number you ate, if I got greedy, if I was being too much me again, or if you’d even notice, and there would be no waiting over who should eat the last cold fry, no, they would stay hot and crisp, and the oil on my fingertips would be a blessing, anointing my tongue with every lick.

 

Christopher Gonzalez serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. His stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions 2019, Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, Wasafiri, Third Point Press, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Cleveland-raised, he now lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY and spends most of his free time on Twitter: @livesinpages.

Wound Study by H.E. Fisher

Wound Study

 

H.E. Fisher is a cross-genre writer, whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Tiny Flames Press, The Rumpus, The Hopper, JMWW, Hip Mama, and Centennial Media’s Inside the Female Mind issue, among others. She is the 2019 recipient of The Stark Poetry Prize in Memory of Raymond Patterson, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Barren Press Poetry Contest. Helene is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. She currently lives in Rockland County, NY.

Lizard Meat by Carina Martin

All the same day, I find the eviction notice taped to my front door and skim a lizard out of the bleach. “Well, it’s good manners to clean up the apartment,” my mother tells me over the phone, “before you hand in your key.” The lizard body sprawls, empty as a balloon, on a pile of tomato skins. Until flies coat the faucet like anguished rust, I don’t realize how little I do around here.

* * *

While I’m brushing my teeth, God comes into the bathroom and starts polishing the bathtub taps. “Please don’t do that,” I say. It’s embarrassing when your bathroom taps are so groggy that God shows up. “I can take care of that.”

“I don’t mind,” God says. “Cleaning is a special hobby of mine. But I wanted to talk to you about my favorite lizard.”

* * *

God uses the thin disinfectant wipes that leap from the container like spring lilies. “It was a really beautiful lizard,” I say. And it was: wet black and blue, its scales as neat as the arch of cards at a casino. “It was an accident.”

“Did you at least eat it?”

“I didn’t,” I say. “We don’t really eat reptiles here.”

“I can’t believe you would let it go to waste like that. It’s unnatural. And that was the last one. So I would have preferred.” God leaves the Clorox wipe draped over the bathtub tap, and I let it harden there. By the next morning, I have a scrubbing brush.

* * *

I call my mother to ask what kind of dishwashing liquid God would use. “Cascade,” she says right away. “Cascade, but the old-fashioned powdered kind. That’s what I use.” Then she says, “Are you at the store now?”

* * *

“Why that one?”

“It had a good mating dance. There was a little colony north of Phoenix that I would visit in the winter. You could roll over a rock and see a dozen of them lying there really still. Then you buy margarita mix, you watch them mate, you fall asleep. It’s like my version of tarot. If this one lizard I picked mated, I would stay there for the winter. And if it didn’t, I would head to Las Vegas, or what was there before. Every year they changed the dance a little. Moved faster or flicked their tails around. And all you could come up with,” God says neatly, “was The Bachelor.”

* * *

“Make sure you get behind the bed,” my mother says. God calcifies my private garments with bleach. “You got to be sure to vacuum behind the bed. That’s the one place I always forget.” I open the dresser to find underwear: clattering like nautilus shells, coiled around an absent finger. Inventive with grief, God pollinates my toilet bowl with yellow acid scrub. I understand why lizard tails, lithe as live power cables, fall away from their bodies so carelessly.

* * *

I split the second lizard with a paring knife. Its meat is as taut, and then lax, as a rubber band. “Allow me,” God says to the dirty dishes. “I brought my own gloves this time. Afterward, God leaves them gutted in the sink. It’s only a minute before flies turn their fingers, opaque and precious as onionskins, into gangrene. Meat always burrows deep into your teeth, even if you are in charge of a lot.

* * *

“Your door was open,” God says. “Do you mind?”

“Sort of.”

“I am with you when you sit down, and when you stand up,” says God, pointing to the toilet and the shower in turn. “I wanted to talk to you about our dinner last night.”
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” I say. “So don’t be mad at me. I just wanted to keep getting along.”

“It’s like that joke,” God says. When the cap comes off, God’s bathroom cleaner smells like artificial lemonade and a finger up your nose. “There’s a taxidermist and veterinarian who share office space. And the sign out front says: Either Way, You Get Your Dog Back.”

* * *

“You have a nice home,” God tells me. God purchased this pack of organic unscented sponges at the corner mart.

“I liked living here, but I got evicted a while ago,” I say. “It’s a lot cleaner than it used to be. So. Thank you.” Submerged in hot water, the sponges flake as obligingly as tree bark.

“This,” God says, holding up a sponge, “is just how your soul soaks up your body. But how the hell did they know?”

* * *

“Your last day?” God says.

“I signed a new lease last night.”

“A nicer place?”

“A cheaper one.”

“Not nicer.”

“Similar.”

* * *

Again, God pulps the lizard on the kitchen countertop. God’s fingers grasp its neck like pincers around soft glass. The lizard starts its dance, twisting its throat and flinging its sticky toes against the Formica. Its body is a white radio scream that nobody can quite hear. “A little too slow,” God says. “We’ll try again.” Plate by plate, I fill the dishwasher. I’m prostrating myself in front of the sloppy dishes, over and over, and pantomiming grief for news I haven’t yet heard. “Did you know you have a fly problem?” God says.

 

Carina Martin is a nonprofit professional, a fiction amateur, and a 2018 graduate of the creative writing program at Houghton College. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a cat named Sophie and a menagerie of houseplants.

At the Airport Kiosk by Benjamin Niespodziany

I sell dolls
dressed like flight
attendants and fighter pilots.

One doll is made of moon
light, another designed like
a pocket watch, another a horse.

I spend my lunch
breaks watching lovers pull apart
arms, bracelets, braids of hair.

My boss coughs jet
fuel, flirts with workers selling
souvenirs. A mug, a can of chowder.

Mothers wrap daughters
in strings of pink balloons so as to not
lose them before the gate.

Everyone wants to feel
secure before curving
through the sky.

I hold up a doll, my favorite
doll, the one that looks
like a crash landing.

The doll looks like everyone
is safe but the plane
is in flames.

With this doll, the slide
has to be used. Everyone
wants to use the slide.

It’s the most expensive doll
we offer and everyone
asks its price.

 

Benjamin Niespodziany works in a library in Chicago and runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas]. He has had work published in Paper Darts, Cheap Pop, Fairy Tale Review, and, ahem, Okay Donkey last year.

Dog Years by Michael Grant Smith

“Pete, would you please fetch me another extension cord?”

Mom vacuumed the front sidewalk twice a week. In my childhood she paid me an allowance of $2 per month if I caught Dad’s cigarette ashes before they hit the living room carpet.

“As a bonus, every time you extinguish one of your father’s fires, you’ll get to choose a treat from the bowl of root vegetables in the kitchen.”

When I thought about meteors at all, probably never, I considered them vast craters looking for a place to call home. The biggest were someone else’s problem: trailer park residents in Arkansas, reindeer foraging on a Siberian tundra. But the lesser ones — who cares?

My parents gave me a dog although not until I was nearly fifty. Dad kept the motorhome running, handed me a leash, and laughed because he knew the gift would slip my brain out of gear. Told me the dog was special, could sniff out meteors.

“You can’t see shooting stars if you stare right at them,” said the old man, Marlboro number sixteen-billion stuck to his lip. “It’s a blind spot. Just let old Hutch find them for you.”

Mom leaned out of the passenger-side window. “You’ll find he tries very hard,” she said. The dog and I stared at each other. My eyes narrowed. His tail wagged. To whom did she refer?

Dad backed out of my lane because there’s no room for turnarounds in relationships. I bent to touch the dog, who flopped down and showed me his belly. His pink-leather tongue dangled sideways. The armpits — turns out Hutch loved to have his armpits scratched. His breed? I suspect he was spawned from saliva and felted fur.

“Who’s a good dog?” I said in the over-earnest voice people use while pleading for sexual intercourse or when they talk to pets. “Who’s the best boy ever?” All conversations with pets are rhetorical.

At that time, “Pete sees a burning rock” had its own page in the brochure of things I hadn’t done. I would’ve assumed meteors were cartoonish red balls of flame trailing long, slow, fiery tails across the sky. Hutch knew better.

In fact, most fingerquote typical meteors end-fingerquote are brief needles of light whose visible journey can be hidden by your upheld hand. They fade in two blinks of an eye but my Hutch still found them. The outstanding ones drag accordion pleats of atmosphere. A wake of constellations, clouds, birds, the occasional airplane. Truly a fan-folded fun-factory. If you’re an admirer of plummeting celestial crap, you’d swoon if you experienced for yourself a meteor’s leash-dragging gravitational attraction.

The mutt and I stalked darkness. Clear weather was best, obviously, but Hutch tracked his prey no matter the conditions. Purpose swelled within me and my ears rang with it. Even during long sunlit hours spent on the porch, when I lounged in my skivvies and painted portraits on raw rice grains, Hutch barked and whined to alert me about incoming fireballs.

Most humans are smarter than canines, and opposable thumbs will carry you far, but our principal advantage over dogs is longevity. It hadn’t occurred to me I would outlive my dog.

There came a night when Hutch grew agitated, which I assumed was due to incandescent flying objects. I took him out to my front yard and he laid down in the chickweed and clover. No skyward-pointing nose, no sniffing, no howling; he simply curled up as if on a hearth and closed his eyes.

I was unaware of the convergence until later, but my parents, both of them, passed away the same night as Hutch, almost to the minute, except they expired in their Winnebago parked at a Walmart in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to a small, smoldering fire.

Their attorney phoned me. She’d defended my Mom and Dad all three occasions I sued them.

“Their final wish was for you to straighten up and fly right,” she said. “I’m a lawyer, not a genie, so in this matter there’s no specific legal action I can take.”

I thanked her for the information and then we chit-chatted. She was a professional wrestler trapped in a jurist’s body. We’re dating now, but not each other. Every evening, I wait for sky-towing meteors. If one were to bounce onto my property I am bound to throw it back.

 

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, Unbroken Journal, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

John, Your Beard by Cyndie Randall

for John Blase

I lock eyes with it when I need more breath,
more earth, more wood for my fire.
I cheer for it.
Stretch your legs! I say.
Grow new but be familiar.
Your beard, heart papoose.
Your beard is a boy fishing on a dock.
Why your words come out like two friends on a bench.
Caramel in the oven and the whole house waits.

Do you remember the hatchling’s story?
How he stumbled from thing to thing, asking,
Are You My Mother?
Your beard would have carried him home.

Salt and pepper constellation blazing,
it bears witness to age and to sprawl,
to the days you hike lavish foothills and
hold daughters in the glory of the sun.
Your beard is The Prodigal’s party –
its smile, a stretched out CELEBRATE sign.
That beard is a museum
of blood and sweat and tears,
a collector of time.

It tightens for toddler kisses.
Shatters the lock on my spirit.
Pulls one finger through air to say,
C’mere, you darling girl.
I am the baby bird.
Five years old again.
(I would’ve asked for a father.)

You should know, beloved man,
if ever I find you on the Colorado trail,
I will offer my hands in thanks.
Betcha they’ll land on your blanketed face.
Betcha they’ll pat pat pat my question.

John, your beard will know just how to answer.

 

Cyndie Randall holds a B.A. in Creative Writing/Poetry and an M.A. in Counseling. Her words have appeared or are forthcoming in Love’s Executive Order, Kissing Dynamite, Ghost City Review, Yes Poetry, Boston Accent Lit, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere. Cyndie works as a therapist and lives among the Great Lakes. Find her on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com.

Your Countdown to New Year by Riham Adly

One hour left: The Dream.

I had a dream about a tooth I lost. I wanted it back so bad, I almost forced it back into its socket, but the tooth looked smooth and perfect like a first-timer bride’s wedding gown. I could see pearly root-canals under the translucent sheen of its surface. The ache in my jaw was unbearable, but I couldn’t bring myself to put back the freed tooth.

 

Forty-Five minutes left: The Mad Mailman.

The Madman Mailman bangs at my door. I open the door. There’s this vague familiarity to his wavy curls, cinnamon scented cologne mixed with the whiskey smoke of his breath. He’s not a mailman, a madman maybe. He has a package nestled under his armpit. I wonder if I should invite him to my home/dental office. He hands over the package that now smells of his whiskey sweat, he wobbles and nearly throws up. I close the door behind him after I extract a confession. Someone bribed him to deliver my package, or was it You in another of your camouflages. You’ve always loved your masks, your masquerades.

 

Thirty minutes left: X-raying ghosts.

The package is a slim gift-wrapped box. I wear sterile gloves with the intension of untying the ribbons, but first thing first. I give it a good shake, hear the unmistakable clatter inside. Was there a note, too? I hold the rattled package like a baby, and look for the proper-sized film to place on top. I hurry backward after I position the film right; press the button on the extension cord and beep! In the Darkroom’s nightmarish light, I remember how you used to x-ray everything: jaws, molars, books, flowers, condoms. To capture the aura, you used to say, the soul of things. I wondered if I was going to find You inside.

 

Twenty minutes left: Xerox-ing thumb-sized break-up notes I’d like to think of as suicide notes.

I place the thumb-size on my copier and select the Enlarge/Reduce button. Should I enlarge or shrink the words to non-existence?

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

 

Ten Minutes : X-in the X or is it an X-out?

And then there’s another note on the other side of the note.

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

This one should have been better.

 

Five Minutes: ___________.

In the box there’s also your third molar, that wisdom tooth you let me cut and keep, the one you stole when you left me for the starlit adventures in your mind, for the untamed ardor you decided I lacked. I was only worth your hand-me-down sympathy, your loveless I-can’t-live-without-you love notes. You disappear in a heartbeat, come back in hailstorms, you die and undie over and over and over.

 

5…4…3…2…1…

Under the mistletoe I kiss the tooth of my dreams, touch its satiny wedding-dress color; wedge my nail in the empty cavity in its crown, and the feel aching absence in my jaw. This is the part of me I really wanted to keep…

Before I leave I place the tooth outside our no longer home/work doorstep.

 

Riham Adly is an Egyptian writer/blogger. Her fiction has appeared in journals such Bending Genres, Connotation Press, Spelk, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Volney Road Review, Five:2:One, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Gingerbread House Lit, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Anti-Heroine Chick, Danse Macabre, and @Fewerthan500, among others. She was recently short-listed for the Arab-Lit Translation Prize. Her translation of author Tareq Imam’s “An Eye” was recently published in Arablit Quarterly. Riham lives with her family in Gizah, Egypt.

Humanity’s Bargain with the Birds by Eric Lochridge

Red robin preening in the road,
pacing in a slight impression,

my front driver side wheel careens your way.
I see you, but I do not brake.

We have a deal, a covenant
unbreakable, perpetual as evolution.

You may stand in the street, sipping
welled rain, slurping a worm or two.

I may drive these highways
without slowing, without swerving,

sipping an americano, singing along
to a Counting Crows song of my choosing.

The terms require you to flit away, or hop,
as you prefer, before my tire might make

a bony wind chime of your head, before
I might wing you, so to speak.

I have trusted in that promise,
put my faith in our pact.

Today, old friend, what happened?

 

Eric Lochridge is the author of three chapbooks: Born-Again Death WishReal Boy Blues, and Father’s Curse. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in SlipstreamDIAGRAMMojave Heart ReviewHawaii Pacific Review, and many others, as well as anthologies such as WA 129 and Beloved on the Earth. He lives in Bellingham, Washington. Find him on Twitter @ericedits.

My Eyelids Think They’re Something Else by Len Kuntz

But first I should tell you that my eyelids are known to tell lies. They say, We’re schizophrenic, dyslexic and corrosive. They say, We provide shelter from the storm. They say, We have killed a number of random hitchhikers and buried them in the desert where they’ll never be found.

My Ex liked to lick them, my eyelids, with her serpent’s tongue, so long and scaley, like a sundried salamander without legs. Sometimes she slathered my pupils with bubbly saliva. Other times, she nibbled my eyelashes off. She deemed such acts erotic. “The wetter, the better,” she said. And since I was a virgin, I never balked at her proclivities, never thought them odd in any way.

My new wife no longer looks me in the eyes, no longer notices the strange strength residing in my eyelids. I try to surprise her in the morning, leaning over her side of the bed, hovering there, waiting for her to wake, but she’s onto me and now wears an eye mask under an eye mask, both of which are overlaid on top of two Band-Aids.

I plan on giving my eyelids to science. In fact, I have them right here, sealed in this Mason jar filled with disinfectant. The challenge will be getting them to the lab in time. I can hear my wife in the other room, on the phone, her corrosive voice trembling as she says, “Hurry, please.”

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.