Wetted Appetites by Molly Gabriel

We date for three months before I agree to go the farm to meet his family. I hesitate because he calls his parents by their first names. He says, “Grey and Judy want to meet you.”

I agree because he cooks for me. Well, dehydrates. Elijah dehydrates vegetables, presses and pulverizes until they almost pass for pasta.

* * *

We arrive at their front door after noon. The air is warm and thick with precipitation. He rings the bell then kicks the door. A teenaged boy wearing a bandana and muslin shorts answers.

“Judy is counting the seconds,” the boy says.

“Blame it on her—she got her period on the way here and had to stop. Twice.”

Elijah moves through the door. My face pinks in embarrassment.

“You’re Amelia?”

“Yes.” I try to collect myself.

“My brother calls you?”

“Lemon.”

“Bo,” he says. He reaches, takes my overnight bag from my hand. “Don’t call me Bowie.”

“Okay.” I follow them through the hall to the living room.

Elijah calls, “Ready?” And throws open the double doors to the farm.

 

An enormous tent flanks the house, looms over their garden. Grey and Judy lounge at a cast iron table at its center. On the table, a tea set stands on a large, handcrafted wooden tray. They’re each beautiful. Serene. Butterflies land and launch from Judy’s hair. Grey’s face is lined from effort and intellect. I believe he seduced many women in his heyday.

Judy rises and rushes to us. She puts her palms at his face. Squeezes.

“The prodigal son,” she says. His eyes drift to me.

“Lem.” He says, still in her grasp, “This is Judy.”

Her hands drop. She turns to me. “Amelia. I understand I have you to thank for the visit.”

“I can’t take credit,” I say. Her glance moves to Grey. He stands to greet me, turns first to his son.

“I thought we agreed you’d call when you got close.”

“No, sir,” he says. “You agreed.”

Bo appears again at the door to the house. “I’m ready.” Grey turns again to me.

“I think it’s time we all ate.”

 

Judy produces a plate of leaves I’ve never seen. No one moves to touch or eat them right away.

“We hear you’re a poet.” Grey says to me. Bo watches hungrily, as if preparing for a hunt.

Judy rearranges the leaves into geometric patterns. The plate takes new life with each configuration.

“She writes hybrid forms,” Elijah corrects. I grab his leg.

“Oh. What about?” Grey asks me.

“My tongue,” Elijah says. He laughs. Grey’s eyes move to me.

I let my hand fall from his leg. “I actually just wrote a series about containment.”

“Containment?” Judy’s eyebrows raise.

“Responses to entrapment—the physical, the self, the soul.”

“How interesting,” Grey says.

“Lem likes to examine feelings of suffering at the hands of others,” Elijah adds.

His parents’ gazes slide to me like sighs.

“That’s true,” I say.

Though, I almost hate him now.

 

A purple and yellow butterfly—a species I’ve never seen with wings the size of hands—flutters softly to the plate. Lazes on the leaves. Blinks its wings open, closed, open.

Judy puts her fingers to its wings. She works her hand over, carefully, then quickly crumples the wings. She lifts the destroyed life to her mouth. She bites. The purple wings stain the open hole of her mouth as she chews. She closes her eyes. Savors. She wipes her lips with a napkin, smiles, reveals teeth stained the color of a bruise.

Below the table, I grab his hand.

Grey continues, “Have you always wanted to study poetry?”

Another large, yellow-purple butterfly hovers around us. Bo snatches it from the air and rushes it into his mouth. He chews vigorously, crunching and snapping.

“Poetry,” I clear my throat. I watch two more butterflies drop onto the leaves, “always excited me.”

Grey picks up a butterfly by the wing, works it into his mouth. Judy plucks another, pinches its wings between her fingers. The body resists, flails. Then it’s gone.

“You two must be famished,” she says. She holds it to us—to him.

Elijah hesitates. His eyes linger on mine before moving away.

“Mom,” he says.

“It’s one.” She holds it closer. Softens. She whispers, “I know you’ve missed us.”

He looks away from me. Opens his mouth, allows her to press it in. He chews slowly.

I let him go.

“Amelia?” Grey says. “Can we get you anything?”

“No. Thank you,” I say. Butterflies descend and drift towards us from the bushes like music notes. “I’ve brought my own snacks.”

I pull the book from my purse. I tear out the first page. I rip pieces the size of butterfly’s wings. “I’m vegan,” I say.

I lay a piece on my tongue. I can feel the acid of the page dissolving. And I shiver.

 

Molly Gabriel is a writer and poet from Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, and Barren Magazine. She is the recipient of the Robert Fox Award for Young Writers. She has been selected for flash readings with Bridge Eight Literary Magazine and the Jax by Jax Literary Festival. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and toddler. She’s on Twitter at @m_ollygabriel.

10 Facts About a Winter Day, 2021 by Hallie Nowak

On this winter day in 2021, there were many things happening.

1) Bees were officially classified as extinct. The final bee’s body was being kept in the museum of All the Things That Died and Could Never Be Born Again. The last bee’s wings were pinned with care in a small glass case. The glass case was labeled “The Beginning of the End: Here Flies Forever the Final Bee of Planet Earth.”

2) Although it was winter, it hadn’t snowed at all. In fact, not one fleck of snow had come down. This was the first time in the history of the Northern United States that the temperature stayed above 50 Degrees up until December. No one could predict if it would actually snow or not. Most people assumed it wouldn’t. Many people didn’t care or pretended that they didn’t.

3) A girl was born with no face. She was born in North Dakota. Her parents wept not out of sadness, but out of frantic elation. At one week old, the faceless, nameless girl was shipped from North Dakota and placed in a glass box with two holes in it. The box resided in the same museum as the dead bee. Her face was labeled, “Do Not Touch Me.”

4) Hannah sat and drew a picture of her best friend with her skull cracked open and her brain exposed. She was careful in drawing the thin, pink membrane that peeked beneath the fractured whiteness of her best friend’s head. This was not unusual. It was based around the lyrics to a Radiohead song. There was no other reason that she would have done this.

5) A human body is capable of surviving three days without water and three weeks with no food. After her small, fluttery veins rejected the IV drip keeping her tiny body lukewarm and alive, the girl with no face and no name died two weeks into her exhibition at the museum. Nobody knew how to feed her.

6) There was no funeral for the girl, but if there was, the only person who would’ve wanted to come was the janitor of the museum. After hours, he would place his weathered hand against the cold glass of her box and watch what looked like faceless slumber.

7) When Hannah was seven years old, she often swung on her aunt’s swing set. On a winter’s eve several years before this one, she wandered out into the rare snow and swung. The hornets that miraculously survived winter fell onto her lap in a heap, still in their nest made of holes. As a result of the stings, Hannah couldn’t open her eyes for two days. She didn’t cry.

8) The night before this one, Hannah had a dream that bees were crawling into her mouth. This dream was also in close succession to her losing her virginity. She woke and wondered if the two things were somehow related. She wondered if this is how it felt to be in love.

9) After a very short intermittent period of emptiness, it was decided that the empty box of the faceless girl was to be filled with all of the found carcasses of dead bees that civilians had collected per government-issued command. The bee box was a sold-out spectacle. Everyone who had taste went to see the big bee box. One small boy, who pressed his rosy face to the glass, even suggested that each bee should have a name. All the other little boys agreed and their parents laughed in agreement.

10) At this moment, some ways away, Hannah hangs the portrait of her best friend on her bedroom wall. Hannah didn’t have plans for her life, and that was okay. It was okay, and she told herself so. Isn’t it possible to make things happen by simply telling yourself so? She turns off the lights with the flick of her wrist and leaves the room.

 

Hallie Nowak is a poet and artist writing and residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she is in pursuit of her undergraduate degree in English at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She is the author of Girlblooded, a poetry chapbook (Dandelion Review, 2018). Her work can also be read in Back Patio Press, Honey & Lime, Okay Donkey, and Noble/Gas Qrtrly where her poem, “A Dissected Body Speaks,” was awarded runner-up for the 2018 Birdwhistle Prize. You can find her on Twitter: @heyguysimhallie and on Instagram: @hallie_nowak.

Tumblers by Sara Lippmann

When Geoff’s out of town, it rains through our ceiling. Plinkety-plink, the sound a direct hit, but it takes me a minute to place and another to rise because lately attention and effort are in short supply. Could be anything, I tell myself, leaky sink, ambitious toilet. Rain – it’s not where my mind is. I add ice to my glass. Geoff got all these tumblers for his birthday, Princess Lea, Chewie, Willie Nelson, like the collector sets they used to sell at Burger King to offset the paper crowns which tore through every coronation. Who doesn’t love stamped on faces? (Hand wash. Don’t run the machine unless you want melted images; there are levels to fragile.) I don’t do dishes when Geoff’s gone, so we’re down to lowballs, invisible Bowie. It’s a quiet rebellion. I chew ice. Kids! Crunch! Clink! They are in the shower, one after the next, which is reassuring: water comes from somewhere. I set out rain catchers in the form of buckets, sauce pots, a soup tureen, but the drizzle becomes a downpour, the crack widens, saturating the plaster, which starts to flake in puzzle-shaped chips, my ceiling peels like a boiled egg, a cranial dissection of fetal pig. There’s no keeping up. Any second my kids’ spongy feet will poke through the sheetrock. Turn it off! I holler. Household emergency! But they either ignore or don’t hear me. Teenagers shower for hours, and still, they smell ripe and alive like they do. That night, I dream of being swallowed by flood. In the morning the water has receded but the crack has gashed open; it’s Cesarean. I call Geoff who says call someone. There’s a breach in my ceiling, I say. Don’t worry, someone answers, and I feel marginally better; Ma’am, he says, and I feel marginally worse. Help’s on the way, but the way isn’t today, and tomorrow’s the weekend, so now my ceiling’s a crater. Piece of cake on the phone becomes holy mother of God in real life, which is often the case with me. We thought it would be easy, help says. Only it’s never easy. A hole this size? It’s going to cost you. I know, I say. You’re lucky the roof hasn’t collapsed. Can you still fix it? Can’t be sure until we go in; the damage may be irrevocable. How old did you say your house is? When they step out to their truck I pee with the door open because it’s urgent, because who can be bothered, which means I’m scrambling when they return with headlamps and tools and assure me there’s nothing they haven’t seen. That’s when the objects start dropping. Rusted flatheads, faucet necks, newspapers from the Carter administration, a wig of red hair (mermaid not clown.) Support beams snap like kindling. They shine their lights in the dark. It’s a burial ground up there, they say, bona fide, as if otherwise I might not believe them. Have you found the body? I deadpan. Holy Grail? Other shoe? But it’s not even cute. Excavation takes time. They need to locate the source. Can’t just slap a patch on the problem. Guitar strings, dusty maps, a bicycle pump, ceramic dog with a chipped hind leg, an empty bottle of quinine, carousel of smoking pipes, torrent of swirled marbles, first edition of Arabian Nights, my mother’s valise, my misspent virginity, the balloon I swallowed in Florida, a shissel of sand, set of clothespin people, a boogerish round of rubber cement, and a terrarium of sea glass, leaf litter and bitter root. All day I watch things tumble and fall. How graceful, their descent, like apple cores from a window. Like ballerinas without heads. When I first came to New York, I’d sit on my grandmother’s terrace listening to opera on public radio. Boats passed beneath the Verrazano-Narrows. Princess Di had just died and a sinkhole threatened to devour her street block. Never in my life, she said, but I was young, then, riding the express bus in my discount blazer and happy hour bloat. Before the ceiling broke, I tried telling Geoff about the decline of scent, a global problem, thanks to extinct perfumes, lost correspondence, ossified insect wings, how I read once they’re gone you can’t get them back. He said I’d be better reading the news. When the men break for lunch, my home becomes mine again, so I lie on the rug beneath the pit, sleep drunk, like a fat black cat curls into a favorite spot and waits and waits for the sun.

 

Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collection Doll Palace. She was awarded an artist’s fellowship in fiction from New York Foundation for the Arts, and her stories have appeared in Berfrois, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Split Lip, Midnight Breakfast, and elsewhere. She teaches at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and cohosts the Sunday Salon. Find her on twitter @saralippmann or online at https://www.saralippmann.com.

Stones Are Heaviest When Swallowed by Jen Julian

There is a girl who has ended up in the belly of a wolf. At first, she doesn’t realize that’s where she is, doesn’t remember the sequence of actions that led to her being devoured. She just knows that it’s dark and the walls are hot and sting-y and spongy, and they smell like blood and bog water. When she starts to figure it out, she’s more annoyed than anything. One minute she’s on her phone, wolfing down gifs and Riverdale fanart on Tumblr, the next she has been wolfed.

This wolf though, he’s not necessarily a bad person. Even though he’s a predator, it’s in his nature, and he really can’t help himself. Right now, he can feel this girl—nowadays, she’s a grown woman in her thirties, in case that matters—and she is heavy as a brick in his belly. She sits cross-armed and sulking in the folds of his stomach lining, and he can tell she’s going to be in there for a long time, like raw cabbage, difficult to digest. He tries reaching out to her. They might as well get to know each other.

“So you like Riverdale,” he says. “That’s a fun show.”

Minutes pass, and she sits there silent.

“That Jughead, what a dish, am I right?”

She gives him nothing. This wolf, who prides himself on having a generally charming personality, tries not to feel rebuffed and carries on with his day. But as he trots the shady, gravelly paths of the woods, his belly becomes bloated and pendulous. It’s hot out. He’s beginning to feel sick.

“I think they went off the rails with this latest season though,” he says. “Too many cooks in the writers’ room, you know?”

Inside the wolf, the girl is flushed and scalded. In the face of discomfort, she retreats into her head. She thinks in cartoons.

The wolf, by contrast, thinks in fairy tales. He’s remembering another story about another wolf whose stomach is sliced open and filled with stones and stitched back up, all while he’s innocently sleeping, and when he wakes he feels wretched, heavy, dry as dust, and when he drags himself down to the river to drink, he falls in, sinks to the bottom, and drowns. What a horrible thing to do to someone. Most fairy tales are horror stories to wolves.

By the end of the day, the girl still has not said a word to the wolf. Nor does it seem he has made any progress in digesting her. He gets home and flops onto the floor, exhausted.

“You know,” he says, “trying to talk to you is painful. Like pulling teeth.”

The girl has not had very strong feelings about the wolf until now. When she hears the accusation in his voice, she’s at first fearful, then resentful. She is digesting a little bit after all; her skin is turning lacy, little pockets of red jewels. One day, maybe tomorrow, she’ll no longer have skin. She’ll be fully undressed, down to the bone, and who knows what will happen to her then.

In light of that, she musters her courage and replies to the wolf with the chill and precision of an injection: “I don’t like feeling pressured. I only respond when I feel compelled to respond.”

“Well, that’s a bit selfish,” snarls the wolf. “Conversation goes two ways, you know, you selfish child.”

He wants to say something else, but a cramp seizes him. He moans and rolls onto his back, massaging his lumbar muscles, struggling for relief. The girl rolls back and forth with him, rocked in the cradle of his belly. Maybe I am like a child, she thinks, because this rocking feels very nice. After a minute or so, the motion calms her fear and resentment and sends her back into the cloudland of her mind, all bright colors and sparkling anime eyes. Even in the fanfiction she writes, there is virtually no confrontation.

The wolf, by contrast, boils with conflict. The ridges of his cavernous mouth are sticky and taste of tar. His throat burns with bitter acid. Outside his house and down the hill, he knows he will find a clean, bright river. He would like nothing more than to go down to the river and slake his thirst. But he doesn’t dare. Oh no. He knows exactly what will happen.

 

Jen Julian is a transient North Carolinian whose recent work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, JuxtaProse, and TriQuarterly Review, among other places. She have a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and an MFA in Fiction from UNC Greensboro. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Young Harris College in the mountains of Northern Georgia.

Alice in Voreland by Lauren Friedlander

To eat my love the way she always dreamt, either she had to get smaller or I bigger. Porn she liked was big broads, fifty-footers sort of big, queen kongs, skyscraper-legged and black-hole-mouthed to hoover up lovers the size of mites. Porn I liked was—no matter.

Decided was we drew straws. The straw decided: I, Alice, Bigger.

I could not dwell. I swallowed quickly pride, and pills, overnighted from a site (Amazons) that specialized in such sexual bents.

My love said Trust me. What choice had I?

These strange effects took no sweet time. I bigged all right, hundredfold. Broke the house on through! Right arm filled the master bath, left leg wrecked the drive. Skull met with reclaimed beams where the sun beat in, plaster like confetti down my hair the mile long. I stood, and thus standing, darkened the town. 

At spurt’s end—was it end? Would it ever be?—my love marveled me up and down and fairly. I was a thing to marvel. Straddling my pinky nail, her chirp demanded from a great distance: GO! and IN!

I swallowed her, most specialest pill, as she begged of me in dreams. Her final act: the happy shriek of eatenness, the last of her. She tasted of, well, nothing. Not teatree shampoo, not chicken. Within the day I’d passed her. She exited the other side in a cocoon of waste, dead of course but smiles all over, as ever, ever on this rictus in the muck. Her fantasy so quickly wrung, most happiest death. Wasn’t it? What she asked of me? Didn’t I?

I remain. Here. My days of largesse pass like velvet curtains ever-parting from a play without end, and I unaudienced. And there she, joy voided in the earth’s commode—happy? Oh, dear, what choice had I. With bloated fingers thick as blimps I mark her little spot to ward off urinating dogs and reckless kids, though already all steer clear of the lone giantess of the plains. Clumsily—but hopefully!—as I now maneuver all my days—I plant this pack of seeds. I water, tend, and hope; so as not to galumph, defile, or barge. Come spring, with any luck at all, my hyacinth girl.

 

Lauren Friedlander is a writer from Kansas living in Brooklyn. She was a recipient of the 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and has fiction published or forthcoming in Catapult, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a novel. www.laurenfriedlander.net.

 

Ladybird, Ladybird by DeMisty Bellinger

Birdlike. Flitting? Bouncy? Do I float? “It’s that you’re light. You peck at your food. Hollow bones.”

“My bones aren’t hollow.”

“No,” he shakes his head. “No, I know they’re not. But it is like they’re hollow. You know. Like a bird.”

“Avian.”

He shrugs. “Sure.”

I imagine him dying.

I imaging taking one of my chopsticks and turning it away from the deep-fried tofu and towards him. I see myself forcing its dull tip into his chest, breaking beyond errant bones and stringent skin, plunging through to his heart. Maybe both chopsticks? I am diving in and sawing at his heart, using the sticks as knives, picking up juicy bits of his heart.

“Your voice, too” he says.

“My voice?”

“Sing-songy. See, you just asked a question there.”

“Well, I didn’t know.”

“But your voice goes up and down. Like a melody that doesn’t mean anything.”

I put my chopsticks down. Suddenly, I don’t feel like Chinese food. I don’t feel like food. I want to keep eating because I’m afraid that he’d continue the metaphor, but I can’t eat. His heart blood is all over the eggplant and tofu, the steamed brown rice, the noodles, it’s on everything. I can’t tell what’s red pepper and what’s him. I cannot eat this. I say: “You remember that chant? About the bird? ‘Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children are alone’.”

He asks: “Do you want children?”

I think about the term ‘fall out of love with.’ I had always called bullshit. I never believed that people can fall out of love like people could fall in love.

But here I am. Falling as if my wings are clipped.

 

DeMisty D. Bellinger lives and teaches in Massachusetts. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available at Finishing Line Press. She has a husband and twin daughters, but wants a cat, too. Her website is http://demistybellinger.com.

Emily, Don’t by Kelsey Ipsen

Imagine if I licked your entire body. I said.

Emily, don’t. Said Steve. I’m working.

I did not want to lick his body, I wanted to be in love. I thought about the different parts of his body and what they would be like to lick. I thought about my tongue in his armpit or on his big toe with its 5 coarse, black hairs standing out against the pale of his foot skin that never sees the sun because exposed toe shoes are for children, Emily. I decided these areas of him repulsed me. I wondered if it was normal for me to be repulsed by them. Maybe licking someone’s armpit and not being grossed out meant that you really loved them. Steve was typing which meant I could watch his hands move, which I liked. His hands were large and soft from an expensive cream he used which I sometimes also used without asking or explicitly not asking. This is all to say that he was very well groomed, it’s not like I would be licking an unwashed armpit, for instance.

Would you lick my armpit? I asked, even though I knew he got annoyed when I talked while he was working.

Could you not? That’s not even a sensible question.

I sort of wanted to leave, then, even though I mostly agreed that the question wasn’t sensible. Instead I scrolled through my phone while actually looking around the room to think about all the things I hated in it, until Steve clicked his laptop shut. Right, another day done. He said. He sounded even older than he was when he said things like that.

What would you like for dinner?

We could order something, it’s pretty late. I imagined the grease from a burger glistening. I imagined salt from fries glittering across my fingers.

No, no, I’m sure I can find something.

I’m pretty sure Steve frowned upon ordering out. He’s never exactly told me this but I have noticed that he never gets takeaway. Sometimes I feel an urge to get something delivered and act like I’ve cooked it, slaved away at it for hours, especially for him. I will never actually do this, though I enjoy thinking about it.

* * * *

We made carbonara. While the water boiled I watched his reflection in the darkness of the window and admired his beauty. I was jealous of his eyelashes, his cheekbones, his skin that was prone to neither oiliness nor dryness. He touched my back and it thrilled me. I leaned in to him. We had plated the food. We left it on the bench steaming. We fucked on the couch. How do you want it? His voice sounded like it was coming from a much deeper space within him. I felt his hands light upon my body and wished I felt them more, I was sick of feeling like I was disappearing. Put your hands around my neck. I said. Really? He asked. Just do it. His hands felt hotter and heavier the longer they were on me. I imagined him squeezing tighter. I looked into his eyes then changed my mind and focused my eyes on his cheeks. Die, I thought as I came. When he shuddered above me I noticed the outline of the couch button, red on his thigh.

* * * *

The carbonara was cold and felt like glue. Steve groaned with pleasure at it. I thought I’m 22, what am I doing here. I had had this thought so much it was no longer a question, just a mantra of sorts. I imagined my best friend telling me that just because something looks like what you want, it doesn’t mean it is what you want. I did not have a best friend. I sat at the table until Steve was finished.

We can watch that movie you’ve been going on about.

I’ve got to go home. I told him.

You know I don’t like sleeping alone, Em.

I shrugged. I picked up my things and also slipped Steve’s hand cream into my bag. The jar was the perfect weight, it was so beautiful it made everything else in my bag look beautiful too.

* * * *

When I arrived at my apartment it felt small and like I didn’t hate anything in it. I needed to vacuum but I kept putting it off for one more day, every day. A few months ago I had downloaded a dating app just to see if anyone would match with me. For my description I wrote that I liked takeaway and movies. It took me 30 minutes to come up with that. There was one girl on there that I had been messaging. I told her right away that I didn’t actually like girls like that, I was just lonely. She was funny. Her name was Laura and she lived within 1km of me. She had curly hair like I’d always wanted. I brushed some old crumbs off my couch/bed and sent her a message.

I tried to do something different with my boyfriend, like you said.

Good girl, did it work?

Not really.

😦

Do you want to come over and watch a movie?

* * * *

I picked at some fluff on my cardigan and hoped Laura wasn’t actually an old, pervy man. When my doorbell rang I wondered if I needed to puke. I hadn’t ever had a friend over, all my friends were not actually my friends but Steve’s friends. They made jokes about me being still in university as if it were comparable to kindergarten and I pretended they were witty like ha ha yeah silly me being my age instead of yours. Laura’s hair looked even better in real life. Laura had bought a gigantic pack of popcorn with her. You’re fucking cute. She said. I felt happy and not weird. I have wine. I offered. The movie wasn’t that great. It took itself too seriously but that meant we got to giggle over it which made it enjoyable anyway. We quoted the worst bits of it back to each other, adjusted the lines slightly. I couldn’t possibly live without a man, said Laura. As I laughed I spilled some wine on the carpet, I rubbed it in with my big toe. I love you. Said the man on screen. I felt a dumb tear roll down my face so I lifted my hand to it like I was itching my cheek. I needed something to say to distract me from whatever was happening to me. Have you ever licked anyone? I asked Laura.

Sure I have, it’s basically all I do. Hey are you crying?

Sorry. I said. I felt sure she would go home and I wouldn’t have any friends again.

Laura paused the movie.

You can leave if you want.

Laura leaned forward and licked up the trail of my gross tears starting from my jaw right up to under my eye.

I don’t need to leave.

I touched my face where she had licked me. Laura unpaused the movie and let her knee bump against mine like a drumbeat, like we were in a marching band that was going to walk all over the world. I thought about all the times I had imagined hanging out with some one cool who actually gave a shit about me.

When she left I gave her Steve’s hand cream.

 

Kelsey Ipsen lives in France with her husband and half-wild cat. She can be found working on her first novel or at www.cargocollective.com/kelseyipsen. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small fictions and some of her other stories have been published, or are forthcoming, in wigleaf, PANK, Hobart, and jmww.

playing twenty questions with past lifetimes by Quinn Lui

20 Questions

Quinn Lui is a Chinese-Canadian student who has a tendency to collect too many mugs, then dry too many flowers, and then run out of mugs to store them in. Their work has appeared in Occulum, Synaesthesia Magazine, Augur Magazine, and elsewhere, and they are the author of the micro-chapbook teething season for new skin (L’Éphémère Review, 2018). You can find them @flowercryptid on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, or wherever the moon is brightest.

A Rupturing of Light by Suzanne Grove

He reads: A glass of orange juice after a glass of water, hospital ice, peas, two (only two) green olives, Polish vodka chilled in the freezer.

We are playing a game for adults with our maybe-friends who live in the planned community two-hundred yards from the sunken curve of our backyard. We own the renovated farmhouse. Outside, our Norwegian dogs stretch the long tendons of their rabbit-like hind legs. From our back porch, shaded and silent save the slow scooping of ceiling fan against August air, we can see the interstate run its horizontal line towards West Virginia. Twenty miles in the distance, it forks away, dips low into a coal-gutted town near the Ohio River.

These maybe-friends, six in total, own homes with alternating shutter colors. Navy, tan, red. But with names like Oxford Glacier and Tawny Hide and Midnight Vermillion. They selected them from decks of alternating shades at the home design studio. They repave their driveways every five years, build thick brick and slatestone mailboxes. Hang wreaths that change with the seasons.

For this round of the game—for the list that has just been announced—we were told to write down five things we like to consume. We were welcome, the instructions said, to get naughty.

We take turns guessing who owns each list. Nearly everyone’s list contains booze. Someone wrote nipple. We discuss the word consume. What does it mean, exactly? Someone mentions the Oxford English Dictionary. We think we’re smart. Their kids will go to college. We don’t have any kids, just the dogs.

Orange juice. Olives. Vodka. I look at my husband.  He does not like olives. He eats them in salads I make to accompany our dinners on most nights. But he does not stand in the kitchen like I do, plucking them out of the jar with my fingers. And, peas? No. He orders Manhattans when we go out, likes bourbon and not vodka.

But, Amanda—Amanda with autumn tones burnt into her hair, a soft gloss over the strands, a chemical resuscitation of the follicles she purchases for an additional $45 (she’s offered me a referral to the salon; suggested I try the treatment); Amanda with her hard little knuckles and slim fingers and real gold chains doubled up and crossed and doubled again high and low on her neck—she guesses Adam right away.

Yes, my husband exclaims.

They high-five.

I have a sad score, second to last. We pause to refill drinks. Adam turns on the television mounted high in the corner of this room the other women call a Florida room, but I call a covered porch. Someone changes the channel to a baseball game. I call the dogs inside with me for water, for rest.

When I return, I think about how this summer, our second summer here, the wood surrounding our exterior doors hasn’t bloated so that every open and close necessitates a slamming that echoes throughout the house.

At night, sometimes, I hear the bending of grass blades beneath feet through the window of the guest room where I often sleep because Adam snores.

Out in the direction of the interstate, we have an additional detached garage, four stalls. A workshop where Adam plans to start wood working. Maybe, he tells me at dinner, he’ll take up blacksmithing, too. Inside the fourth stall is an old plaid couch my mother gave me when she redesigned her living room. And a lamp I’ve had since college.

Most nights when I hear the bending grass, I wait. I go to the bathroom and drink water over the sink. Before I shut out the lights, before I climb back into the twin day bed with its brassy frame, I peel the blinds apart and see that fourth stall shining at me, a rupturing of light.

 

Suzanne Grove is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and received the J. Stanton Carson Grant for Excellence in Writing while studying at Robert Morris University. Her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adirondack ReviewThe Carolina QuarterlyThe Penn ReviewPorter House ReviewThe Raleigh Review, and elsewhere. She received honorable mention in Farrar, Straus, & Giroux’s June contest for her short fiction piece “Shift Work” and was recently a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly flash fiction fellowship. She currently serves as the short fiction editor for CRAFT literary magazine.

Underwater Cabbage is Happy by Sean Pravica

She drew an octopus. It had a bulbous body/head. The innermost legs were thin and curled up around the body/head. It had a red smile.

Another low art grade. According to her teacher, it lacked proportion. Also, octopuses are not purple.

She must have liked the smile, though.

 

Sean Pravica is a Californian writer and author of Stumbling Out the Stable, a story about mischief, authority, and occasional intoxication. His next book, Hold Still Fast, is a collection of 200 stories 50 words and under and is due out in May by Pelekinesis. He also enjoys climbing rocks and spending time in the desert with his life partner.