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.

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.

Five Micro Stage Plays by Benjamin Niespodziany


The magus reaches into her hat. One rabbit, one gun. One water moccasin. One blunt. “It feels like fighting home,” she says. One stone, one button. “Finding home?” a cast member in the audience asks. The magus does not like that question. The audience member is encouraged to exit. The magus assembles her found objects on stage. “Like a farmer’s market,” she says. “Like a graveyard.” She places prices next to each item and waits for interested buyers that never arrive. “Alakazam,” the magus says, defeated. Her rabbit catches fire. The light guy dies.

Sunflowers and Debt

On stage, the business man is in a cafe. He tries to pay his bill with a bouquet of daisies. The magus is the waitress behind the counter. She is still wearing her tuxedo, but she has a hairnet instead of a top hat. “We do not want a bouquet of daisies,” says the magus. “We want money.” The business man does not have money. The business man is struggling. “I don’t have money,” the business man says. “I’m struggling.” The magus behind the counter walks over and hugs him. Then she stands back and with her wand she lifts the man and shakes him from his ankles. From his pockets there falls but lint and whimpers and dust. The daisies are to the side, thriving in a puddle. “I hate flowers,” says the magus. “I hate money,” says the business man. “The sun above has been above forever,” says the magus. “And yet no one knows its birthday,” says the business man.

Cake vs. Pie

On stage, the business man runs around the kitchen, waiting for his cake to finish. Bereft in mittens he walks in circles. He looks at his watch and he looks at the clock and he continues to walk in circles. “Any second now,” he says. His suit is covered in flour and batter and dough. A cast member in the audience stands and throws a pie. It hits the business man’s face. “A pie?” he says, licking his fingers. “Blueberry.” He smiles, then cries. He opens the oven and blue balloons fill the room. The audience is encouraged to be in awe. “It’s perfect,” he whispers, looking into the oven and climbing inside.

It’s All So Very Polite

On stage, Death knits dinner. Her utensils are yarn and so is her carpet. The pie she provides is made of yarn. She knits plates and napkins. She knits the table. She knits it all. When she is finished knitting a bib for her black cat, a door is brought down through the cardboard clouds. There is a knock from the other side. Death stands in front of the door. Again, there’s a knock on the other side. She sits and hums and knits a gun. It’s all so very polite.

Sitcom Laughter

On stage, the business man and the magus are on a roller coaster, hanging on to the harnesses. They hold hands. They try to kiss but they’re too far apart so they laugh it off. It appears to be a fifth or sixth date. From the sound of the consistent click, the audience knows the ride is climbing. Their feet dangle. “I can see my house,” she says. From the speakers, sitcom laughter is heard. “I don’t like how this feels,” he says. Sitcom laughter. “Maybe we can go to the water park to hide your tears,” she says. Sitcom oohs. “Every day feels like fighting life,” he says. Sitcom awws. “What if I dropped my shoes?” she says. Sitcom laughter. The coaster reaches the top and stops. She looks down and screams. He closes his eyes and prays. The cart behind them is empty. The sun, it sets. The moon arrives. The magus’ confidence and humor fades into fear. “Is this what it means to die?” she asks. “It only makes sense,” he says. Sitcom laughter. A cardboard cloud passes by with seat belts and supplies but the two can’t reach no matter how far their arms extend. “I don’t have my wand,” the magus says. She brings her legs up to her chest and looks afraid. The business man’s feet continue to swing.

Benjamin Niespodziany is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Best Microfiction nominee, and Best of the Net nominee. His writing has appeared in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, as well as in Cheap Pop, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, Tiny Molecules, and various other places. His debut, full-length poetry collection, NO FARTHER THAN THE END OF THE STREET, was released by Okay Donkey Press in 2022.

José Martí in 2023 by Chip Livingston

José Martí shakes off a 127-year dead sleep as he wakes up on Calle José Martí, according to the street sign. José Martí checks his thin pigskin wallet for his national ID to confirm he is still José Martí. Revolutionary sycamore trees stretch from the sidewalk, shade cloud-scraping brick apartment buildings. The street’s concrete is cut in curves from iron trolley ruts, sloping to a city beach too brown to be Caribbean. Hijo de puta, the poet mutters to himself. Estoy muy lejos de los platanos. “Where am I? When am I?” José Martí asks a man walking nine canines that shine like a starburst, him the wiry stem of their dandelion. “You’re right there,” he tells the poet but is quickly pulled up Calle José Martí by the harnessed manada. “Where am I?” José Martí asks a woman overacting an enthusiastic power walk in tight and colorful elastic. She removes white metal plugs from her ears, presses her finger against a dark glass square strapped to her forearm. Pauses. “Perdón, I didn’t hear.” “The date, the year.” “You’re not from here,” she says. The poet offers her his Cuban cedula. “Oh dear,” she says. “This is not my island,” José Martí says. “This is not your island.” She shakes her head. “But you’ll certainly be a guest of honor. We take our poets and our revolutionaries very seriously in Uruguay in 2023.” La republica oriental. Dos mil veintitrés. Further away than I thought, José Martí thinks. José Martí smooths his mustache and tips a hat he doesn’t wear. “I hope I’ll see you again.” “I need to keep running, but I’d like to have you sign my first edition.” The poet smiles, a little less lost, a little less lonely. Not because he has a street named after him. But he, José Martí, has more than one edition.

Chip Livingston is the author of three books of poetry, a novel, and a story/essay collection, and editor of LOVE, LOOSHA: The Letters of Lucia Berlin and Kenward Elmslie. His short prose and poetry have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Subtropics, The Cincinnati Review, and on the Poetry Foundation’s and Academy of American Poets’ websites. Chip teaches in the low-rez MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, and lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Swallowing Teeth by Zhu Yue (Translated by Jianan Qian and Alyssa Asquith, and Illustrated by Jianan Qian)

Link to PDF: Swallowing Teeth with Illustrations


Zhu Yue has published three short story collections, The Blindfolded Traveler, Masters of Sleep, and Chaos of Fiction. In English translation, his work has appeared in Litro Magazine, The Margins, Paper Republic, The Portland Review, and The Washington Square Review, among others.


Jianan Qian and Alyssa Asquith are graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with an MFA in Fiction. Jianan is a staff writer at The Millions, and her work has appeared in Granta, Guernica, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, among others. Alyssa lives and works Iowa City, and her stories have appeared in The Adroit Journal, The Atticus Review, The Molotov Cocktail, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and elsewhere.

Bury Me with My Delicate Injustices by Alexis Jamilee Carter

The cemetery I’m touring is entirely out of my price range. Still, I let the realtor show me around. She’s a lovely woman. All her corners are polished clean, and her skin is pulled taunt against each sharp angle. Her name is Monica Hanson, and she’s introduced herself to me five times in the last hour. Monica’s smile is blindingly perfect.

We stand in front of a hole, three feet deep. Clumps of dirt give way when we stand too close to the edge. There’s already a name carved on the tombstone, but Monica assures me that roommates can’t be helped in this economy.

“Just look at this open floor plan,” she says. “And the view, you can’t forget about the view.”

The bright sunshine is making a mockery of what would otherwise be fantastically morose surroundings. Monica assures me that the weather is overcast normally. She tells me to picture the potential of the place, ignore the inconvenience of a little sun.

Potentially, it does have the prospect of gloom. We passed a willow tree on the way in that seemed to infuse the atmosphere with just the right amount of melancholy. Ivy grows rampant on every surface. The atmosphere could be fantastically morose. It’s the kind of place you imagine haunting for years to come. I don’t even mind sharing the plot. This is the city, after all. Privacy is an antiquated notion.

“The neighbors, how are they?” I ask.

“Quiet, for the most part. You’ll have such a restful time.”

Then she quotes a price.

Her nails click against the clipboard as she watches me. Her nails watch me too. On each one there’s an immaculate eye painted. Even they seem to realize that there’s no bank in the world that will loan me enough for something as whimsical as a comfortable afterlife. They swivel upward to ask God for patience in dealing with people who haven’t been pre-approved. That smile flashes.

“Why don’t I show you some more affordable options? There’s a charming little spot in a converted warehouse if you don’t mind your ashes getting mixed into concrete.”

She’s starting to wander off, but I don’t follow. I’m staring at the three-feet hole in the ground that I can’t afford. The tombstone has a name on it, but it’s nothing I would recognize. The only thing I can read is the ‘Dearly Beloved.’ I wonder if you can be beloved to yourself.

When I finally drag my eyes from what could have been my final resting place, if it wasn’t for something as damnable as my credit score, Monica is almost out of sight. She’s bobbing between tombstones. Her heels sink into the soft ground a little deeper with each step, and I can hear her talking from here. I’m certain she just introduced herself to the willow tree. It doesn’t seem impressed.

A skeleton burst from the plot one headstone over. Loose dirt and dust stain my cheek. I try to brush it away subtly, like I would if an older aunt accidentally spit on me. There’s no sense in being rude. These things happen.

“Touring or grieving?” the skeleton asks me. Their jaw clicks with each word. The grin they offer is garish without lips. They lean on their headstone, but it must be hard to look casual when the bare bones are all you have to work with.

I try to read the name before I answer, but the only thing engraved on the stone is a pair of hands, praying or pleading. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two. I don’t want to ask their name either, in the unfortunate case that they have forgotten the heavy syllables that used to weigh on their tongue during introductions.

“Both,” I say instead. “Any pest problems?”

“Rats, but only until the flesh is gone.”

That seems reasonable in the way that terrible things seem reasonable once they’ve become familiar. I try not to let the image of rodents burrowing into my organs invade my subconscious. The valiant effort for that is not rewarded.

When I turn back around, the skeleton has been joined by a corpse. She must’ve only been in her forties when she died. Whoever dressed her for her funeral stuck her in a mauve dressing gown that could only be described as a punishment from beyond the grave. She looks furious, and I think that I love her for that alone. From some invisible pocket, she produces a half-empty pack of cigarettes. I watch the one eye that she still has left bounce from the cigarettes to me. She doesn’t offer me one, and I don’t hold it against her. I think I prefer the dead ignoring me.

“They’ve started digging up bodies in the east end,” she rasps to the skeleton. “Bastards are just dumping them in the river.”

The skeleton turns their faceless skull to the sky. They drown themself in sunlight, and I wonder if they can feel the warmth. I hope they can.

“A change of scenery might be nice,” they say.

“For fucks sake, we deserve peace.”

“Do we?” the skeleton asks. “Sometimes, I think I remember guilt.”

She crushes her cigarette under her heel. The embers flare longer than I expected them to.

“And? I still deserve the sanctity of death.”

I don’t notice the guy behind me. Not until he slips his hand into mine. The coolness of his skin does not shock me, but I flinch anyway. I wrench my hand from his, politeness is never something I can fake for long. I take a step away from him then I take another. He watches me. There’s no recognition in his gaze, and I shiver. He does not blink. His eyes are brown.

The skeleton speaks to me softly.

“You know how it is. The freshly deceased take a while to acclimate.”

I take a couple more steps back, toward the gate and the willow tree and the crowds beyond on the busy streets that I can hear even now. It’s lovely here, but I’m not ready to stay.

“Don’t you have more questions for us? Don’t you want to pry and prod until your sick curiosity is sated? Don’t you want to know how the maggots fester?”

She lurches forward more with each word, until her nose is inches from mine. There’s a stench. It’s no use thinking about it, but the tilt of her chin makes me think she’s daring me to mention it.

“I think I’ve learned enough for today,” I say instead.

She grabs my coat, twists the material in her fist, and I pretend I can’t feel her bones.

I try to turn away, but her grip doesn’t loosen. I don’t like knowing the strength of the dead’s convictions.

“No, you wanted to hear from your prospective neighbors. Tell me, what is it you want to know? Let me tell you how it floods in the spring, how the coffins float to the surface. Your family will weep when they see your living conditions.”

The skeleton is pulling on her shoulder, but she’s not finished. They don’t have a homeowner’s association here yet, but I know she’d thrive in a position of obscure authority.

I try to turn away again, and the newly dead guy’s brown eyes are searching mine. I just know he’s going to try to hug me. There’s no escape and my optimism for mortality isn’t holding up well against their tirade.

My savior appears in the form of Monica, the realtor. She descends on the group, introducing herself with stiff handshakes and a barely superior tone. I’m not surprised that she can sense when a property’s value is in danger of plummeting. She’s offering business cards and a last cursory plot appraisal. And then we’re walking. 

“You’ll have to pardon the locals,” she says. “They do take some getting used to.”

I ask her for more options. Some place with a little more square-footage and a little less potential of wildlife absconding with a femur or two.

Monica sighs. It sounds like it comes from the very depths of her real estate agent soul.

“Look,” she says, drawing me closer and whispering like she’s known me for years, “These anti-social tendencies of yours are going to make finding you a final, peaceful resting place very difficult.”

I wish I could sigh with the same convention, agree with her assessment, and maybe try therapy. But Monica isn’t the type for daydreaming nonsense. She’s already taking long strides toward the gate, but she stops with only a quiet beseeching of patience from the cloudless sky and waits for me.

“Have you considered a nice, old-fashioned burial at sea?” she asks, almost entirely to herself.

She knows who’s in control of my death, and more importantly, she knows my price range. Monica grips my fate in her impeccably manicured hands.

I have no choice, but to bear my inescapable financial deficiencies and follow her to my next afterlife option.

Alexis Jamilee Carter is a software engineer in Denver, CO and holds an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She wants to create, in every sense of the word and as much as possible, but writing has always been her home. Her work has also recently appeared in The Diamond Line and Runestone.

Daddy Issues by Aileen O’Dowd

My dad is a ghost, but he’s not dead.

On my twenty-third birthday, he appears.

I consult with an exorcist. She does not understand. She tells me it is not possible to be both spirit and body, and suggests I’m making it up. “For attention,” she says. “Common behavior in women with daddy issues.”

I consult with a therapist. His specialty is Daddy Issues. He holds a notepad and a pen. “How does this ghost make you feel?” he asks.

“Scared?” I say.

“Of abandonment,” the therapist says. He writes abandonment over and over again, across the page.

“Actually, abandonment is the goal,” I say.

The therapist tells me to come twice a week.

Dad’s translucent body trails behind me.

* * *

At the salon, Dad calls me a harlot.

“It’s just highlights,” I say.

He hovers over my chair with a disapproving face.

Later, he spills wine on my date in an unfortunate location.

I go home.

Dad watches The Addams Family on TV. Drinks beer on my couch. It seeps through his ghost body onto the cushion.

Dad and I used to watch The Addams Family every Friday. Before he disappeared. And left our family for a new one.

* * *

“How did that make you feel?” the therapist says.

“Embarrassed,” I say, “by the cliché.”

The therapist waits for more.

Dad sticks his head through a diagnostic textbook, pretending not to hear.

* * *

At my tiny kitchen table, we eat Salisbury steak dinners.

Dad inhales his uncut beef, like a dog. “Shrinks blame fathers for everything,” he says.

I push my fork through powdery potatoes.

“Why are you here?” I say.

Dad levitates a spoonful of corn into his mouth.

Kernels float across his skinless chest, blinking over his heart, like stars. A yellow Ursa Major descends into Dad’s bowels before shooting onto the floor.

“Excuse me for wanting to spend time with you,” he says. “You complain I wasn’t around. Now I’m here, and you want me gone.” Dad shakes his head.

His words collect in my stomach beside the undigested meat.

He takes a sip of milk. “You know, I did my best.”

Milk drips through him like tears.

* * *

“I cannot watch The Addams Family without crying,” I say to the therapist.

“This is not surprising,” the therapist says. “It reminds you of your childhood—when you watched it with your father.”

“No,” I say. “That’s not it.”

The therapist writes this down. “Gomez and Morticia Addams were a father and mother in love,” he says. “Gomez never tired of Morticia. In fact, his love grew stronger every day. Gomez loved his children, Pugsley and Wednesday, very much. He was active in their lives. It makes you sad to see what you did not have.”

“No,” I say. “That’s not correct, either.”

“You feel like Lurch, the Addams family butler,” the therapist says. “He was like Frankenstein’s monster, unable to fit in. Trapped in a house with a family he did not really belong to. He kept his words bottled up inside of him until they escaped as unintelligible groans. I can see how this plays out in your life, through your emotional constipation.”

“I have never had an issue with my digestive faculties,” I say. “And I would not consider myself a monster.”

I hear Dad laughing in the corner behind me.

“We’re at the end of our session,” the therapist says. He writes DENIAL in red block letters on a post-it note. “Next week, we’ll talk about Uncle Fester.”

“What about Thing?” I say.

The therapist taps his watch.

* * *

Dad stuffs himself with ice cream. I watch mint chip roll through his body, then onto the rug. He snaps along to the beat of the opening credits. Lurch plays the piano and Wednesday frowns, her tiny braids falling down her shoulders, like snakes.

And there it is, the disembodied hand, the Addams family handservant—Thing. The lump returns to my throat, but I swallow it. I do not want to give in. It’s just special effects, I tell myself. Thing pours Morticia a cup of tea from the center of the breakfast table. It’s not real. But my sadness does not care. I am flooded with the same intrusive thoughts every time I see it.

Dad looks at me from the side of his eye. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.” I wipe my face, casually, with my sleeve. “I just hate that Thing,” I say. And I do. How terrible it would be to be a Thing. A hand without a body. No anchor to ground it. No heart to warm it. No stomach to feed and nourish it. Just a random, dismembered appendage. No one to love it.


Aileen O’Dowd lives in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in Peach Mag, Maudlin House, Rejection Letters, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere.

Skeletons in the Closet by Rina Olsen

I found some skeletons in the closet the other day, when I was moving back into my childhood home. There weren’t many, just a few, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to find them. But that’s the thing about skeletons, they come out when you least expect it.

So, of course, I sat down to sort them out.

The one on the very top was gilded with gold, pennies in its eye sockets, nickels for teeth, dimes lined up in a spinal cord. Its fingers were curled around a restaurant receipt. I tugged on it but the skeleton wouldn’t let go. I could see the tip: $100.00.

It was from the summer of freshman year, when I was working as a waitress. The tip was actually for Janice—Janice Quarl, my best friend since the days of nap time and sippy cups.

Cynthia, can you take over my tables? The customers are just about leaving, I promise.

What could I say? She’d wanted to go to the movies so badly. With her other friends, not me. Too bad it was during work hours—but of course, there was always Cynthia to fall back on!

Afterwards, she found me in the bookstore. “That’s a lot of books, Cynthia.”

I shrugged, lugging a plastic basket that swung with the weight of more than ten paperbacks. “Guess so.”

“Did you get a big tip or something?”

I clutched the basket tighter. “It’s my money. I get to use it however I like.”

There hadn’t been much she could say to that. But when she left, neither of us was very satisfied with the other.

I pushed the skeleton away to find another beneath it grinning. It shone with the metallic sheen of candy wrappers: Almond Joys for a rib cage, Twix bars for a pelvis, pumpkin seeds for toes, skull grotesquely round like a jack-o’-lantern. In its jaw was lodged a McIntosh apple, its green flesh sporting a gradual blush.  It looked like the apple Janice had stuffed into the mouth of the seventh grader dressed as Snow White, on the Halloween of our sophomore year. Snow White had stumbled back, her mouth an O around the fruit, and I’d snatched her bulging trick-or-treating basket. Her tear tracks glistened on chubby cheeks in the lamplight. We cackled as we ran off. Happy Halloween, Snow White!

Later, as we were strolling home, I wondered if we’d really had to use the apple on her. “Maybe we were meaner than we should’ve been.”

Janice jostled me, hard. I stumbled. “What’re you talking about? The apple was for her costume—no Snow White is complete without an apple. Besides, I don’t know why you’re feeling so bad. You’re the one who has better experience stealing.”

She took her share of the candy home, while I took mine. It wasn’t like the old days anymore, when we’d dump all of the candy on her bedroom floor, when we’d shared secrets and basked in guilt and glory together.

I pushed the skeleton off. That was Janice’s skeleton, not mine. I’d only done what she’d told me to do. I didn’t know what this skeleton was doing in my closet.

The third skeleton wore a glittery black prom dress. My breath caught in my throat. Janice, again! This was hers. I was about to take it off the skeleton when I was hit with the stench of rotten eggs. I scrambled back, pulling my shirt collar up to my nose.

That smell.

After Janice had turned him down to go to prom with someone else, her boyfriend had recruited several of us: she needed a reality check. She couldn’t do that without consequences.

That night, her dress sparkled in the shade of her porch as she peered out to see if our approaching van was her date’s car. The headlights cast her in a ghastly yellow, set her dress ablaze, forced her eyes into slits. I don’t think she even saw the eggs sailing out the windows until it was too late. But she must have seen me, my face bobbing in the van’s dim interior.

The last skeleton lay on the carpet. Words crawled along its pristine polished bones, like tattoos running up its legs, hips, arms, shoulders. On its rib cage, over where the heart should go, was stamped: THESIS STATEMENT. On its sternum was typed the name: JANICE QUARL.

In our last year of high school, Janice and I both interned at the community women’s clinic. We both planned to study to be OBGYNs. Even so, she rarely looked at me when we arrived, when she passed in the hallways, when we crossed paths in the bathroom. But I was struggling with my college application essays—I simply didn’t know what to write. I’d done what Janice had done all my life. So why could she write an essay about herself with ease while I struggled to form the first sentence?

At last I worked up the courage to ask her for help. Janice studied me. “Help?”

I took a deep breath. “All I need is some insight. I’m not asking for much—just tell me how I should write it, or what you wrote about, or….”

“So you want me to help you,” she said slowly.

“Yeah.” I proffered a small, hopeful smile. “Is that okay?”

She sent me a folder of her essays. One look told me I would never be able to write like that. She was good. So good that I highlighted her name with the cursor and typed in my own.

What else could I have done? What the admissions officers didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. What my parents, who were counting on me to get into a good school, didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And what Janice didn’t know definitely wouldn’t hurt her. But after we’d graduated Janice called and asked to see the essays that hers had helped me with. I said I’d lost them. I didn’t expect her to go to my mother, who’d saved copies.

Janice didn’t need to rat, to get me kicked out of school. I hoped that she, at least, was happy with the mess I was in.

I pressed my lips together and shoved the skeletons back into the closet. I’d visit Janice later, just as my parents had been telling me to. I needed to apologize, to mend our relationship. I wanted to ask, What relationship? When had I ever had a choice in the decisions I’d made?

I closed the closet door. I’d go and pay her a visit. She’d have skeletons in her closet too. All I would have to do is go and pull them out.


Rina Olsen is a Korean-American teen writer living on Guam. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 101 Words, Dreams & Nightmares, Emerge Literary Journal, The Hopper, Jellyfish Review, Nanoism, and Write the World Review. She is a general editor for Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine. Her debut novel, Third Moon Passing, is forthcoming from Atmosphere Press in late 2023.

Like Real Women Do by K.B. Carle

Mama says real women bleed. Between their legs just as much as the blood being pushed through their veins. She says real women wear tampons. Pads for emergencies. Both when their allergies get bad and they gotta sneeze. Mama says real women get caught foolin’ but doesn’t say what “foolin’” means. Only that Aunt Tessa got caught and got the belt and, when she bends over, folks can still see grandad’s buckle stamped on her legs. Mama says real women work, like her and Aunt Tessa, before any foolin’ happens. That real women know how to treat a man so he’ll cover up, though she doesn’t say what that means either. Real women aren’t afraid of the pain and, mama says, there’ll be pain at first but I’ll get used to it. Some women like the pain while some, like Aunt Tessa, never learn to. I ask mama if that’s what foolin’ means and she says no. Says that foolin’ is what got me my cousins, Rochelle and Azriel. What she means is Aunt Tessa likes to love real women. Not like loving mama and me and her babies. But the women she takes to the back of our trailer, letting them trace grandad’s belt buckle brandings with their tongues. Mama says that, now I’m a real woman, I can ask them to do that to me too. I ask who “them” are. She says whoever I want. As long as, if they’re men, they cover up so no foolin’ happens. I ask if I have to see “them” like she does and she says no. Then she says yes. Just not as often. Real women make sacrifices and she tells me sacrifices are food and clothes and this trailer and these babies and, since I’m a real woman now, I have to help with all of that. Real women know how to keep quiet like Aunt Tessa leading another real woman to her room. Like mama holding hands with two men and leading them to her room. A man comes up behind me, rests his hand on my shoulder. He says something I guess real women like, but I can’t figure out what his words mean. He offers me money, like I’m a real woman. I listen for my mama, my Aunt Tessa, try to hear what real women sound like, then remember real women get real quiet behind closed doors. I unzip my pants, but I don’t pull them down. Peek inside my underwear, make sure the man can’t see. Check if I’m still bleeding, like real women do.

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her flash has been published in a variety of places, including Good River Review, HAD, Waxwing, Bending Genres, and No Contact and have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Her story, “Soba,” was included in the 2020 Best of the Net anthology and her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at or on Twitter @kbcarle.