The Right Light by Janelle Bassett

I eat my lunch in the park, because a televised doctor told me to. I should experience the outdoors for at least twenty minutes a day, so my eyes can take in a non-screen light source. He said this letting-in-of-the-right-light will help me sleep more soundly, make better choices at the vending machine, and defecate in shapes that seem to please Mother Nature herself, based on the recurrence of such shapes on land and underwater.

The park near my office has a lone picnic table near the playground and a pavilion housing six more picnic tables. I choose the uncovered table, so I get max sun and don’t have to worry about looking unlovable, as a single soul under a roof for forty tends to look.

I always bring the same food—a bag of tortilla chips, a cheese stick, and a banana that I slice as I eat, so it lasts more than three bites. I chew one chip at a time and peel the cheese into strings. I eat slowly, so it’s clear I’m here to eat which I prove true by spending the entire time eating. If I gobbled, here I’d sit, unlovable with my wrappers and my peel.

As I make my food last, I watch the playground children fall and cry and hide and seek, and I think about the nature of nature. A skinned knee gets you a patted back. A “tag you’re it” gets you some respect and personal space, which you give away as soon as possible. A kick in the head from the patent leather shoe of a swinging girl gets you a glossy lesson in who deserves what.

I squint at all of it, because sunglasses would only diminish the very light I’m seeking. If I gave in to sunglasses, I’d have to make up for the lost exposure by drinking my coffee on my front porch in that first-light sun. I prefer to spend my mornings cooking dinner, so when I come home from work I have more time to watch television in the dark. When I am tempted to shield my eyes with coated plastic during lunchtime, I think of my precious after-work hours—meal warmed, blinds drawn, bra thrown, feet tucked, laugh track, auto-play, no one. It’s perfect, those hours spent with people who cannot see me. Undoubtedly worth the time squint.

Today there were only two playground children: brothers who came to the park to find new, non-sibling playmates – ones whose breakfast bowls levels they didn’t have to eye to ensure equal filling, ones who didn’t make triumphant faces when they got a hug from mother. When no one else was at the park, the brothers went directly underneath the rope bridge and began slapping at the bare skin across from them. Their mother said, “Well, we can do this at home” and loaded them back into the car.

I squint at their car leaving and wonder which of the brothers she secretly sides with during their quarrels. Half of the slaps smart her own arms, while half the slaps sting her own palms.

I cut myself a big hunk of banana. Why make it last when there’s no one here? Plus, doing a lunch-based one-woman-show for no one would make me appear unlovable to the sunshine and the trees. I’m chewing the gummy hunk when I see a woman walking through the grass, past the pavilion, and toward the park’s monument. The monument is an old military cannon that must have some local historical significance. The cannon was shot by or shot at someone who once lived around here and now we must consider this past projectile while we picnic and kite-fly and monkey-bar.

The woman has a duffle bag. I slow down my chewing to accommodate her presence. She sets her duffle down on the monument’s wordy plaque, slides off her sandals, and puts them in the bag. The fabric she wears seems smooth and light. It looks like one long piece has been cut into a tank top and shorts, seamless. The woman looks like a chic monk. I squint at her haircut, blunt.

She touches the cannon right where the hurt comes out. I don’t know the term—its trunk. She keeps her hand over it, blocking any emissions. Or taking the brunt of them. Then she takes her hand away and starts walking. She’s circling the canon. I realize I’ve stopped eating.

The woman has done two laps and is still going around. Now she’s walking with her arms up. Is this tai chi? Now she’s pumping her raised arms. Is this a protest? She is keeping a steady pace. Is she counting? Is this a meltdown? I’ll keep watch.

She goes around so many times I stop feeling surprised. Instead, I feel increasingly upset. This is not how we behave. We walk with purpose, one-way, arms down, toward what we want. And if we must pace, we do it at home while talking on the phone about the steps we are taking to get out of the funks we’re in.

Her face is neutral, which makes sense because she has nothing to look forward to. She’s headed to a spot she has just been—doesn’t even have a tail to chase.

The wind blows her silky top and the two flags above the monument. She walks against the wind and then with the wind, over and over, and I feel all wound up. Is she condemning me somehow? Are her movements calling me a sit-stiller and a know-nothing? Can she tell that no one loves me? Is that why she circles the monument instead of circling me?

I break my focus, look away from her rotations and back at my rations. They were planned and she was not. I hold a tortilla chip and make it go around and around what’s left of my cheese stick. This is calming. I choose it. I say when.

I look back at the chic monk lady and I choose her as an experience to have. You. You don’t stop. That’s something to opt into. I try to instruct her, telepathically, to switch directions and walk counterclockwise. She doesn’t vary, but I am with her now in spirit. Watching her is not that different than watching my nightly TV. The chic monk, the sitcom characters—none of them turn to look at me while I watch them not stop.

The more circles I see her complete, the more I need to see her circling continue. I’m pulled in. I’ll defend her to anyone. If she were making money somehow this display of hers wouldn’t seem odd. If she were wearing a MATTRESS BLOWOUT sign no one would stare. I eat a fistful of chips. She raises her arms straight up and spreads her fingers, but she doesn’t look up to see the sky through the spaces she’s made. Her gaze is soft, front-facing. If I could look into her eyes, I feel like I could see the laps she’s done and the laps she’ll still do and see that they are all one lap.

I am lulled into considering that this woman is engaging time instead of fighting it. She’s inhabiting time. Look, she’s become part of the breeze. Her movements remind me of the squirrels who run across my roof, zipping for the sake of it—because there’s empty space and because they have the legs to fill it.

I wonder why we aren’t all pacing.

I look at my phone. I have about twelve minutes of my lunch break left. I bet you really know a minute when you spend it pacing, when you’re in lockstep with the seconds. Twelve minutes of trying not to look as unlovable as you feel goes by in a snap. This whole past decade of my life feels like two Mays, one three-day-weekend spent in the car, a month inside a bathroom stall, and six back-to-back Christmas dinners.

The TV doctor who talks about the right light also says, “How you do something is how you do everything.” I hadn’t understood what he meant. I thought he was talking about posture—if you stoop in the office, then you stoop often. But now I get his meaning: This is it, buddy. The present is at hand constantly and what are you going to do with it? How you wait in line at the post office is the whole shebang. The way you behave at the buffet counter is a full indictment of your entire being, so scoop your baked ziti accordingly. So how I spend my remaining twelve minutes is how I live my life. I let the word now make the rounds inside me. Maybe the word now even pumps its arms.

I stand and stuff the rest of my food back into my lunch box. I take one step and then another until I’ve gone completely around the picnic table. Yes. I keep going. It’s such a tight track, I’m always turning. The walking and the turning become a trance. To move without the burden of progress. Going nowhere while being here. My throat feels looser. The ground feels harder. I keep my focus hazy, but I can sense her movements while I complete my own. We feel like the same speed and the same animal, and I understand moments for the first time—now, now, now, this here. I choose it all and the moment swirls around me. I am the axis. She is the axis. We keep going. And the light I’m taking in no longer feels prescribed. The light is being received.

 

Janelle Bassett’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Slice Magazine, Longleaf Review, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s on Instagram @jbknows.

The Ghosts Inside by Erik Fuhrer

There is a ghost living under your tongue. Every time you open your mouth, smoke trembles on your teeth.

My ghost lives in my eyelids, so all I see is fog. Everything looks like the opening pages of Bleak House. The cat in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Portland.

When people pass me, I wonder where their ghosts live. Sometimes the ghosts are so buried in the body that they are invisible to the eye. Ribcage ghosts. Lung Ghosts. Even ghosts that wrap themselves lovingly around spleens.

These ghosts mean no harm. They are just looking for warmth. A different perspective. Word is there is even a ghost living in the legs of a cockroach somewhere, scuttling across kitchen floors with bliss.

 

Erik Fuhrer is the author of not human enough for the census, forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. His work has been published in Cleaver, BlazeVox, Softblow, and various other venues.

Dead? Yes, Dead by Amy Stuber

Ellen grew up in a Colorado town where her mother cleaned people’s vacation homes, where Ellen and her brother spent off-season afternoons breaking in and drinking the beer of strangers, while snow piled up on decks and driveways. She didn’t do much better as a college student at a weird little high plains school. She sang in a band, but was bad at it. She regretted all her tattoos. She almost never talked to her mother. She dropped out and moved in with a man in Boulder who built lutes (productive), but also did meth (not). Her brother took a job in Bangkok. When he called it was noisy and disjointed, and she hung up feeling worse and looking out at the mountain that pushed up to the sky. Was she depressed? Sure, usually. Did that make her special? No, not at all.

So in the summer of 2018, Ellen left her life completely. She was 23, unbeholden to anyone, tired of the people she knew, the servers, the skaters, the punks, the trust funders, the post-grad-schoolers, the drum circle assholes, all of them, and maybe herself most of all. Her hair was a faded Manic Panic turquoise, and she shaved it in a gas station bathroom halfway between home and somewhere else. In the rippled mirror, she looked altogether new.

Ending up in Newport, Rhode Island was a fluke. Her high school English teacher once told the class, “Newport is the most East Egg place in contemporary America,” while he fanned himself with a copy of The Great Gatsby. Not all of Newport, Ellen learned. Not the narrow streets where tourists wore lobster bibs and dripped butter. Not the harbor where junk boats were bogged down by seagulls. But, yes, the cliff walk that divided the mansions from the ocean, where on her second day she found a dead bird on the path, not just a bird but a duck, not just a duck but a hooded merganser. Her grandfather hunted. She’d gone with him on weekends wearing the gear and sitting hidden until he would startle her with a series of shots, and then there would be a dead animal on the yellow hillside.

The dead duck fit into her backpack. She’d drained and plucked birds before, so handling a dead animal wasn’t new to her. But there was a delicacy to taxidermy that differed from preparing an animal to be food. In the room she rented from a single mother and atop a shower curtain liner she’d stolen from the shared bathroom, she spent hours on the duck, partially mangling it and then filling it with cotton batting she pulled out of a novelty pillow she found in the closet (“You got this, girl,” needlepointed onto the pillow face).

The woman’s son, Theo, a strange nine-year-old with inexplicable bruises on his forearms who upon first meeting Ellen announced that he had two loves, Robert Caro’s LBJ books and astrophysics, showed up at Ellen’s door with random objects that he put right into her hand. On that night, it was silver sequins Ellen sewed into some of the duck’s feathers, so the bird, when held aloft, actually shone.

She found a dead pigeon by the trash at the back of the house a few days later, cleaned it, stuffed it, and implanted a series of tiny screws in its neck. They almost blended into the feathers, but not completely. Collar, ill-placed stigmata, she didn’t know.

Within a week, she accumulated ten birds. It was surprising how you could find dead birds when you were looking. When Ellen finished, each bird was messy, but had its own small shock: the sequins, one hawk talon affixed to the spindle leg of a chimney swift, the red plastic tips of push pins just surfacing from the eyes of a starling.

She mounted each to dumpster plywood onto which she transcribed full chapters from The Great Gatsby. On the wood below the starling’s dangling feet, she wrote the final line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” which was pretty melodramatic if you thought about it. But for once Ellen wasn’t beating against any stupid current. Her life to this point had been a series of nothings and ridiculous internal monologues. Should I masturbate while my roommate is out? No, I’m too tired. Maybe I shouldn’t eat any more Oreos? Never mind, I’m eating them. But in these Newport weeks, she didn’t overthink. She just did.

She borrowed Theo’s mother’s ancient Fiat and rolled around town with Theo and a drill and affixed the already rotting birds to light poles, or the sides of buildings. She liked imagining the shock of people coming upon them. She and her brother had once watched a documentary about outsider art, and her brother had scoffed when experts raved about its primitive qualities. “The fucking condescension,” her brother had said. But Ellen delighted in her clumsiness. She loved that there was no polish or practice to her work.

As they hung the last bird, the boy, Theo, lectured her about the multiverse: “I mean, obviously, there’s not just one universe. How presumptuous would it be to think that?” At night, they lay on the concrete patio and looked at the stars. For once, she was maybe content.

There were several ways this could end:

A) Rich people want the birds for their walls. Out of nowhere, Ellen’s an artist. They don’t want just one bird. They want a collection, a flock, a show, because apparently only amassed in a grouping is artistry significant. The street in front of the gallery is beautiful. A trombone player plays “We Will Rock You.” A homeless man sells newspapers for a dollar, and for once everyone buys them.

B) Ellen holds Theo at the edge of the cliff. She wears giant wings she’s made from mop handles, sticks, cardboard, and actual bird feathers. Maybe the mansions are in the background, and maybe they stand at the edge wearing the wings and step forward. It should be beautiful. Flying and future.

C) Ellen puts Theo in the front seat of the Fiat, and they drive west where she once saw a cadre of turkey vultures balanced on a water tower and waiting for the dead. Ellen and Theo drive until no one in Rhode Island can see them, until his bruises fade, until they are air, they are afterthoughts, they are gone.

 

Amy Stuber’s fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, Wigleaf, Joyland, New England Review, Triquarterly, and elsewhere. She’s an Assistant Flash Editor for Split Lip Magazine. She’s on Twitter @amy_stuber_ and online at www.amystuber.com.

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.