Misunderstanding and Misinformation in the Recorded History of Identity Storytelling by Pat Foran

Like It Is

At a funeral, a man is spinning yarns about the many funerals he’s attended. There’s the one about the helicopter, the FAA, and a misinformed truant officer. The night the organist went rogue. That time a gun moll with a book deal made a mess of things.

Now, the man’s telling the one about the three women — sisters, the man believes — who approached the widow of this guy they were having a service for.

The three sisters asked the widow if they, the three of them, could go up to the casket — “it’s open, mind you,” the man says — and sing to the deceased.

“That’s sing to him as in sing right into the coffin,” the man says, sliding into the characters’ voices.

“What song?” the widow asks.

“‘Had You Told It Like It Was It Wouldn’t Be Like It Is, Oh No — Not Like It Is’ by The Rationals,” the sisters say.

“Okay,” the widow says.

 

Like a Bird

I’m in Monterrey, Mexico, to write a story about a company that’s in the process of “reimagining” itself. A young woman is driving me to my next interview.

She tells me she’s being groomed to be the first woman engineer in this company’s history. She keeps her eyes on the road, driving into the silver-gray day in this steel-belted-radial city.

She turns on the radio. A Nelly Furtado song is playing and the engineer-to-be hums along.

The sun peeks out from behind the silver-gray and the engineer-to-be starts to sing, softly, stopping when Furtado reaches the chorus:

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is 
I don’t know where my home is

“Almost there,” she says, her eyes on the road.

 

Ghost Town

At dusk, a bunch of us went to the local ghost town. We packed up our things and took the dirt road as far as we could take it.

When we got there, we saw broken houses with broken windows. A broken car on the side of the road. A broken weather vane. Broken glass broken flowers broken sky. We saw a man who was broken, too.

“Is this the ghost town?” we asked.

“This is the sundown town,” the man said, frowning at a broken dog. “The ghost town’s south of here, a couple towns over.”

We took our things and headed south.

 

A Tapered Thread

I had long hair, the longest in school, and my Mom took me to the barber for what I thought would be a trim.

Want it tapered? the barber asked. I didn’t know what “tapered” meant and I wasn’t good at talking to people and I panicked — Okay? I said — and he started tapering. Soon, my hair in the back was tapered, razored, gone.

I slid down from the chair and zombied over to where Mom was waiting. That looks … nice. You okay?

I put on my Oakland A’s cap, pulled it down as far as it would go, ran to the car and skidded into the front passenger seat.

On the way home, I tried to focus on the guard rails and the mile markers and the red-wing blackbirds, but I saw a reflection of my face, no longer framed with a longer-than-a-mop-top mop of hair, in the window: This is me? I touched the razor tingle on the back of my neck.

 

The Certainty Promise

I opened an email. It was a press release. Something about a company rolling out a new brand identity.

“We now deliver integrated solutions that ensure certainty of outcome,” the company’s executives said in the prepared statement.

The executives said they were excited about the new direction and the new opportunities on the new horizon, adding they were proud of the new position the company would hold in the firmament of new brand identities.

“We know who we are, and we are prepared to deliver on the certainty promise,” the executives said. “We’ve never been more filled with wonder and never been more certain that there’s a crying, desperate, yip-yip-yipping need for all we provide for our clients, who conduct themselves honorably, invariably and with a sense of style across four continents, 17 countries, nine military outposts, six unincorporated townships, three dead-letter offices and one polar ice cap. They toil in an array of market sectors, including search engine optimization services, off-the-power-grid energy consulting and innovative bowling alley solutions for this brave new world.”

 

If We Were Okay

I answered the phone. It was my Grandmother. Arthur? Arthur? she said, no she didn’t say it she screamed it. Arthur is my Dad. I gave the phone to my Dad.

Something had happened to my Grandfather. My Dad left in a hurry to go to my grandparents’ apartment.

Everybody said my Dad took after my Grandfather. Everybody said I took after my Dad. I didn’t think my Dad took after my Grandfather, but I wasn’t sure.

A couple hours later, the phone rang. Mom answered. Dad told her my Grandfather had died.

That night, my Dad poked his head into the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. He said he’d been worried about us. He asked if we were okay. We’re okay, I said.

I didn’t ask him if he was okay and I didn’t know if I took after my Dad. I thought about why I didn’t ask him and I thought about other things.

 

Hurricane in a Pimp Glass

The man had chained himself to a beam in the nearly torn down Isaac Hayes Night Club & Restaurant in Memphis.

“This man won’t leave,” the building inspector said.

“This man has to leave,” the wrecking crew foreman said.

“This man is going to leave and he’s going to leave now,” the policewoman said.

The man had done a good job chaining himself to that beam.

“Care to explain this?” the policewoman asked.

The man said he’d had a first date here, the first with his future fiancé. Here, they sampled Isaac’s herb-roasted chicken, tasted the sweet potato pudding, and shared a hurricane cocktail in a Pimp Glass.

“We used the same straw,” the man said. “It was the happiest night of my life.”

“For your wife, too?” the policewoman asked.

“The two never married,” the man said.

“Gladys despises me — ‘Fuck you and everybody who looks like you’ is what she tells me every chance she gets,” the man said. “But for a moment there, a moment here… ”

 

Probably Possibly Maybe

I started to write a letter I was sure I’d probably possibly send to you. Probably possibly maybe.

I started the letter this way: I don’t know how to love you but I do. As in: I do love you, but I don’t know how to love you.

I’m aware I was confusing the lyrics of two songs: “I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do” by Clarence Frogman Henry and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” the version Yvonne Elliman sings. Not unlike if I were mixing metaphors. Which I do, I know I do that. I know I do it a lot.

And, yes, I took the “why” out of one of the titles and put in “how,” even though that really doesn’t work, either. But it’s absolutely not about why it’s never been about why it’s never ever about why. Yes, I could give you a list or something, but that wouldn’t tell you why.

Why and how and probably and possibly and maybe and I don’t know. I never thought I’d come to this. That we would. That it would. “What’s it all about?” Sing it, Yvonne. Sing it pretty.

 

Mistakes Made Interesting

A musician talks about a mistake she’d made.

“One time during a session, I played the wrong chord,” she says. “This other musician played some notes that somehow corrected my mistake. She made things right. To her, my mistake was interesting.”

“As long as the chord resolved,” one of the musician’s students says.

“As long as it was interesting,” another student says.

 

If It Could

We named our city If It Could and we talked about it on Effin’ Twitter.

We said: Our city is high enough to make fun of the Damn Yankees’ song “High Enough” without us worrying about hurting anybody’s feelings. It’s wide enough to preclude ogling. Deep enough to welcome neo-Panamax ships.

We said: We’re a city of prayers. We pray for things. Sometimes we see ourselves praying for things in a booth at the Pizza Hut down by the cove. Or in a glass bottom boat in a sea of green. Or at the bottom of the sea.

We said: We try to do things in If It Could, we really do try, and sometimes we can’t get them done. Maybe it’s because we can’t make sense of things. Not always and not right away. Not in this city. But we believe we can.

 

Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. His work has appeared in Milk Candy Review, Little Fiction, WhiskeyPaper, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan.

you again by Monique Quintana

My mother’s dead uncle showed up to dinner. We thought death would have turned him bad, but he was as kind as ever. He brought us capirotada from the land of the dead. It’s late, however there’s still soup, my mother said. But when he ate, the carrots sliced our uncle in two. My mother hadn’t made it with love enough. Of course, she wasn’t expecting her dead to come to dinner and judge her soup.

 

Monique Quintana is a Xicana writer and the author of the novella, Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). She is an Associate Editor at Luna Luna Magazine and Fiction Editor at Five 2 One Magazine. She has received fellowships from The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, The Sundress Academy of the Arts, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House, Winter Tangerine, Grimoire, Dream Pop, Bordersenses, and Acentos Review, among others. You can find her at www.moniquequintana.com

The Present Moment by Kim Magowan and Michelle Ross

“There is no such thing as the present,” the guy I’m sleeping with says. He tilts my head back as though my neck is a box he’s opening. He traces lines back and forth along my trachea, like he’s looking for an invisible latch.

We’re in my tiny apartment kitchen. I’ve just uncorked the wine he brought, poured our glasses. I’ve broken so many wine glasses now that I no longer have a matching pair. His glass is the large one with the very thin bowl. It’s my favorite glass, but it’s safer in his hands.

He says, “I am not the guy you are sleeping with. I am the guy you have fucked and the guy you will fuck again in the future.”

“But this moment,” I say. “Your fingers on my skin. You standing in my kitchen. This is not the past or the future.”

He smiles at me like my sister smiles at her little girl, Juney, when Juney insists something ridiculous, such as when Juney said she was going to marry their cat and give birth to a litter of half-cat, half-human babies.

He says, “It’s something I heard on a TED talk. I know it sounds crazy at first, but think about it. As soon as my mouth pronounces a word, that word becomes part of the past.”

I notice for the first time that his right eye is slightly smaller than his left eye, like my right breast is smaller than my left breast, and now I’m picturing his eyes as tiny gelatinous breasts, his pupils their smooth, Sharpied-on nipples.

I say, “But during the pronouncing, when your mouth is making the shape of a word, that is a present action.”

“Or, to use your other example,” I continue, “What if we go to the bedroom right now and start having sex? Then you are not just the guy I have fucked and will fuck. You become the guy I am currently, at this very moment, in the present, fucking. Because otherwise, every nanosecond of fucking is a separate fuck. If we fuck for ten minutes, we’d have to say we fucked a trillion times.”

That look of certainty shakes from his face. Watching it drop away, I realize that the reason I am, have been, and maybe will again sleep with the guy I am sleeping with has to do with that particular expression of assurance. When he first asked me for my number three weeks ago, back at The Lone Palm, he was wearing it. And even though he wasn’t really my type (he’s lean to the point of angular, and has messy, voluminous hair), I said, “Sure, okay.” And he had that same expression the first time we had sex, and I thought, wow, maybe I could fall in love with this guy.

I realize all these things— the existence of that expression, and that it had real significance in the past— only now, when I see that element that made him something more desirable than his essential self slip away. It’s my own philosophical mini-epiphany. I say, “Whoa.”

He says, “Actually, before we fuck, I’d like to drink some of this wine.”

I study his formerly-smug-and-now-uncertain face, trying to sort out whether he wants wine because he’s now not that into me, or because he has a drinking problem (now that I think about it, every time we’ve had sex he’s been buzzed), or because he knows I’ve exploded his silly “there is no present” pseudo-philosophy and he’s one of those dudes who needs to feel superior to the woman he’s sleeping with, or even creepier, because he was gaslighting me, and his claim that “there is no present” was merely the first step in a series of insane falsities that will eventually unhinge my reason and turn me into a madwoman.

I’ll grant him this: the present is as elusive as a good man. It’s difficult to be in the moment when I’m already seeing what lies ahead.

On the other hand, I recognize that this is the moment when I know that I am no longer sleeping with, and will not in the future sleep with, the guy I was sleeping with.

 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) is out now from 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapelwww.kimmagowan.com

 

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Pidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. Her story “One or Two?” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is Fiction Editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com

Corrections by Charles Rafferty

She returns again to the Dali painting where the insects have only four legs each. She can almost forgive him these tiny ants, but even the grasshopper is missing the middle pair. Are four-legged insects the same as melting clocks and burning giraffes? The proofreader in her doesn’t think so. She waits for the guard to step away, and then she adds the legs in with a smuggled pen. It is no different than correcting the typos in one of Hemingway’s posthumous works, she says to herself. The world can always be improved. Just yesterday, for example, a storm toppled the trees around her house to tell her the stars still burn.

 

Charles Rafferty’s most recent collections of poems are The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017) and Something an Atheist Might Bring Up at a Cocktail Party (Mayapple Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, O, Oprah Magazine, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. His stories have appeared in The Southern Review and New World Writing, and his story collection is Saturday Night at Magellan’s (Fomite Press, 2013). He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, as well as the 2016 NANO Fiction Prize. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College and teaches at the Westport Writers’ Workshop.

Martin Moves In by Ellen Rhudy

It was the morning after their third date. Jenny woke with an odd heaviness on her stomach, as if someone were sitting on her. To stand she had to first roll on her side, levering herself towards the edge of the bed. A pinching at her crotch: a sheet of notebook paper rolled into a cigarette emerged, mucus stringing from one end.

Huevos coming, written in clumsy block letters she didn’t yet recognize as Martin’s. iPhone charger.

Jenny held the note a moment before laying it on the bedside table. She squatted with one hand on the mattress for balance. She bore down, imagining she could see with the pads of her fingers. This was not so different from recovering a stray tampon, she thought. She felt for a foot, for one of those damp hands that had grasped her own just the night before. Nothing emerged but another note: Nice try.

An hour later a GrubHub deliveryman arrived with an order of huevos rancheros, which Jenny ate. The next day an Amazon package addressed to a Martin Penderson, containing a phone charger and a pair of blue earbuds. Order pizza, said the note pressing into her underwear that night. Did my package come? Low batt. The block letters didn’t connect cleanly and it took her a few minutes to decipher his meaning.

You can have your package when you come out, Jenny texted. Order your own pizza. She appended a dozen dancing cat gifs and imagined his cries as his battery drained. Her back was so stiff that she felt as though her spine had been removed, knotted in two, and planted back beneath the skin.

She cancelled plans with her friends that night. Cancelled a date for the following day. Martin pummeled the inside of her stomach, his fists pressing against gleaming white marks shot across her skin. At times he settled on her bladder or pressed an elbow against her kidney; other times he went exploring, his fingers grasping for something he could never quite locate. He would come out when he was hungry enough, she thought, though a week passed with no movement.

When she’d used all but one of her vacation days she called her ex-girlfriend Sam, a doula. “Well fuck,” Sam said when Jenny opened the door to reveal her distended stomach, Martin’s elbow visible through her t-shirt. “You could try giving birth, if he were open to it,” she said as she pressed her palms on Jenny’s stomach, “but I wouldn’t if I were you.”

“You wouldn’t…?”

“It’s dangerous enough to have a baby, and he’s a full-grown man.”

Jenny stared at her stomach. She’d spent the morning laying on the hardwood floor, knees bent. She could feel her spine compressing into itself. “What about a c-section?”

A fist billowed against her stomach. Jenny watched Sam inspect its shadow. “There’s a support group for this,” she said before leaving. “Down the community center. That’s the best thing.”

That night Jenny tried to convince herself she wasn’t alone though she had not received a note in almost two days. She touched her stomach, felt the bulge of Martin’s head beneath her palm. She imagined the enveloping comfort of being inside a body that was not her own, of curling in the pliable constraints of a stranger’s womb. She inserted string cheese and slim jims as though they were tampons, then plucked free their empty wrappers with hesitating fingers. She snaked in the end of the iPhone charger and Martin pulled it like a lifeline, so fast that the square plug popped off and clattered to the floor. Jenny felt something like a bee sting, and ten minutes later her phone pinged.

I don’t like the cheese. As she stared at her phone a light began to dart across the floor, streaming from between her legs. Martin’s hands groped as though he was searching for some part of Jenny she hadn’t yet found herself. She emailed the support group leader, who wrote back, Yr body is a life-giving vessel, it is a home, you are a miraculous being. Hope 2 C U Wed at 8. She imagined this placid woman rubbing a gleaming parchment-thin stomach broken only by purple veins and the shifting contours of the body it held. On Wednesday night she jumped up and down in her living room, Martin laughing. She ran a bath and raised minor waves as she lowered herself, lay a towel across her stomach so she wouldn’t have to see his face pressing against her skin. Watching her limbs distort beneath retreating bubbles, she recalled reading that people loved water because it reminded them of their first lives.

Jenny took a deep breath and sank below the surface. Distantly she heard water splashing to the tiles. She waved her hands, stroked the smooth walls of the tub. She would have liked to turn over, to feel the rippled flowers on its floor. It must be nice, she thought, to float – to just float, and nothing more. To feel yourself held so secure. A damp bitterness would grip her when she emerged from the water to find her back still pinched, pain radiating around her left hip, feet crushed by the doubled weight of her body, but for this minute – she could have this minute. What’s the harm in her one minute, when Martin has all the rest?

 

Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, cream city review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and Monkeybicycle. You can find her at www.ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.