How to Wear White to a Wedding by May Hathaway

1.  Open the invitation on a Tuesday, two weeks after it’s landed in your cramped mailbox. You are curled on the couch, stretching your feet out of the tight ugly brown shoes you wear every day and sorting through the credit card statements you’ve been avoiding and Sears catalogs gathered on your coffee table when you see this envelope, large and cream-colored. The paper is so thick it feels like you’re rubbing powder off of it. Your sorority sister Sarah, the invitation says, is getting married. Would you like to attend?

2.  You don’t recognize the name of Sarah’s fiancé. Back in college, she had dated a guy on the crew team. You consider checking “declines regretfully” on the RSVP card; there are better ways to spend a weekend, like organizing your bookshelf by color or feeding pigeons in the park. Calculate the costs: you’ll need to buy a wedding gift, reserve a hotel room, and book a bus ticket; there’s no way you’ll be able to afford airfare, especially at this time of year. It’s okay, though. You’ll do anything for your sorority sisters. You promised them that much when you pledged.

3.  Email your boss to let him know that you’ll have to take off a day or two next month, hoping that the abundance of exclamation points will soothe his frustration. You’re not a particularly good employee, and you know that; you’re lucky he hasn’t replaced you. Still, sometimes when you sit down at your desk and plaster on your customer service smile, you feel a surge of rage. You did everything right—you applied to college, did okay in your classes, made friends. You told men in suits about yourself and described challenging life experiences in rooms with glossy oak furniture. You went on dates with your cousin’s friend and that guy from Tinder and your colleague’s dog-walker’s brother—even if the whole career thing didn’t work out, you could learn how to be a good wife. And still, look at where you are now: you are a receptionist for a dermatology practice and Sarah is a bride-to-be. Can you believe it? She probably hasn’t sent half as many emails in her lifetime.

4.  Sarah’s wedding registry is neat and colorful and expensive; she seems to have gained a taste for silverware. Somebody has already bought a panini press and a food processor. You duly scan the list of available items. You decide to purchase a tablecloth and placemats so that she’ll remember you at every meal. Maybe she and her husband will talk about you over plates of quinoa and invite you to dinner parties, where you’ll brush hands with business executives and women who wear Tiffany wristlets, real ones, and you’ll make casual conversation over cheese platters. You can only hope.

5.  The wedding is in the Adirondacks, which makes your stomach churn. You grew up in upstate New York; you know the lakes and mountains there better than the back of your hand. Sarah grew up in Alabama or Arkansas or Georgia, somewhere decidedly dry and full of non-hikers. And you don’t own the mountains, obviously, and you’re not going to gatekeep a whole territory, but Sarah? The Adirondacks? Really?

6.  You’re taking the Greyhound bus to the wedding when disaster strikes. You’ve left work early, much to the chagrin of your boss and the guy with severe adult acne who keeps trying to flirt with you while scheduling appointments, and you’re beginning to regret it; you get nauseous on buses easily. Your favorite purple minidress doesn’t really fit anymore—it’s loose around the waist and tight at the armpits—but you still went to the effort of getting it dry-cleaned. Everyone looks miserable here, yourself included. When the bus grinds to a halt, you stand up and feel the granola bar you ate for breakfast rising towards your throat. Outside, you spit a few times as people shuffle towards their luggage, trying to get the sour out of your mouth. By the time you’re done wiping your lips, only the driver is left. When you duck under the bus to grab your things, you see a single suitcase left—the duffle bag with your dress is gone. Shit.

7.  You hate the Adirondacks. You hate this venue. They have a small store, like you knew they would, and the dresses are all sold at exorbitant prices, like you knew they would be. The unexpected part is that almost all of their dresses are sold out; more than one guest, it seems, has been forgetful. The only dress they have left in your size is a lacy ivory sheath, and you swipe your credit card without hesitation. It occurs to you to let Sarah know about your new outfit, but you’re so tired after a long bus ride, and it’s definitely not a big deal; she’s probably at the rehearsal dinner right now. Besides, as much as it pains you to admit it, you hate Sarah.

8.  When you wake up in the morning and slip into the dress, you do not feel the expected guilt. You coat your eyelashes in mascara and rub blush onto your cheeks and wait for a pit to form in your stomach, but you’re surprisingly calm. You eat eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and observe how easily they break apart into little nubs. On the way to the venue, you think about all the times you could’ve gotten married, even if it was just to the guy who smiled at you in the parking lot once, and touch up your concealer.

9.  You are in the Adirondacks wearing white to a wedding. Everyone is staring at you. Everyone hates you. Everyone includes yourself, but more importantly, everyone includes Sarah, whose face is blotchy despite her heavy layers of makeup. She is screaming, you think. Specifically, she is screaming at you; the words are coming in chains of how could you wear that and how are you so stupid and you’re jealous of me, I’ve known since college and today is my day, mine. From her latest stream of vitriol, you have learned that her fiancé’s name is Mark. You wonder if he’s going to calm her down, but he stands there, useless, like most men. Sarah, you think, is having some sort of psychotic break. She is unwell. She needs help. It is not until Mark takes a step towards you instead of towards Sarah and places a hand on your arm, firm in an entirely uncaring way, that you realize that you are screaming too.

10.  In one of the most humiliating moments of your life to date, call your mom from your hotel bathroom. You called an Uber from the venue after Mark hauled you onto the grass, where you stumbled in your heels—it seemed like an appropriate time to splurge. When she picks up, you are crying too hard to get the words out. For a good minute, you are gasping for air while your mom asks you what’s wrong over and over again; each inhale feels like your chest is cracking open. Stop blubbering, she says, and you steady your lower lip long enough to tell her that you need money to book a ticket back home. She starts yelling, just like Sarah did, and snot leaks onto your white dress. I didn’t even do anything, you say quietly between sobs. I didn’t even do anything. After hanging up, you crawl onto starchy sheets of the hotel bed and think about how difficult it is to be loved. The deposit lands in your bank account three hours later.

 

May Hathaway is a writer from New York City. Her work is published or forthcoming in Hobart After DarkPANK, and Vagabond City Lit and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National YoungArts Foundation. An alumna of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, she will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

op-ed from the balloon that escaped the trunk of my mom’s car in 1989 by Catherine Weiss

all balloons should be shaped like balloons / not letters / do not espalier a balloon sentence to a wall / for any reason / even to be inspirational do not do this / it is a cruel abomination / the only message a balloon should introduce is the concept of loft / tension / desire / for elsewhere / & beyond / & before / this is the inherent dignity of a balloon / also do not fill a banquet hall with balloon bouquets / or a living room with mylar minnie mice / do not be cavalier with the balloon / nor take the scarcity of helium for granted / do not photograph a balloon / without her express permission / balloons are the provenance of mystery / specifically childhood / & accumulated dust / never allow a balloon to expire / exhausted on the pantry floor / without proper ceremony / and if you tire of a balloon / do not tell / your beautiful friend / big & yellow & covered in stars / that you do not love her anymore / instead / consider your commitment / a green ribbon tied around your wrist / rekindle what you can / smell that good rubber-skin smell / touch the balloon with the flat of your tongue / please / i urge you / do not let her go

 

Catherine Weiss is a poet and artist from Maine. Their poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Fugue, Birdcoat, Bodega, petrichor, Counterclock, Freezeray, and elsewhere. Catherine was the 2017 Grand Slam Champion of Northampton Poetry and has competed at the National Poetry Slam, the Individual World Poetry Slam, and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. Their manuscript “unlove” was selected as a finalist in the 2019 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. More at catherineweiss.com.

You’re Still You by Anna Vangala Jones

My earlobes were the first thing I touched after waking from the brief coma caused by the accident. I was glad I could rub them between my fingers, unharmed and unbloodied, so different from the rest of what remained of my face. It was comforting and cozy to pinch and pull on them like saltwater taffy when surrounded by the doctors discussing me and my case each morning during rounds. I could hear with my ears and also escape into the texture of them.

Reconstruction makes you as unrecognizable to yourself as anyone else. They wanted to prepare me for what that first look in the mirror would be like after the surgery. They didn’t believe I was excited. You should be proud, I told them, not afraid to reveal your intricate and elaborate work. I joked to the attending that I would be like Frankenstein’s monster when they were done.

“You’re still you, Jane,” one of the residents called out. I remember staring at her, that young and eager doctor in training, long after she’d finished interrupting. I wanted to catch the soft flesh of her earlobe in my teeth, feel the tickle of that light peach fuzz on each bud of my tongue.

My nurse then said that my parents and brother were waiting to see me and could they come in now? But I told her I was tired, so maybe later.

Now the surgery is over and I am awake, looking at a face in the mirror they say is mine.

After waiting for my sobs to fill the room, the doctors leave upon seeing my anticlimactic reaction. I say, thank you but I would just like to sleep.

My beautiful resident closes the door and stays inside. “You don’t have to pretend to be so strong.”

“I’m not pretending. I don’t mind. I wasn’t attached to the old face.” I sound sure and therefore I probably am.

She makes her way to my bedside. “Does it look very different?” She looks so sorry.

“Yes.” I don’t hesitate or dress the truth up prettier than it is.

“We do our best, but when the damage—” She talks in that sweet honey singsong I’ve enjoyed so much, even as it’s made her colleagues roll their eyes when she speaks with confident authority. I stop her though I like to listen to her. The music of her.

“You don’t need to do that. I know. I’m not upset with you.”

 “It’s my fault,” she says, but I sense the words before I hear them. “I’m new at getting to assist during the procedures. And my hand—I got so nervous, it shook, and I’m so sorry.”

She’s breathing too fast for language to keep up and I place my hand on hers, the one she indicated had been the guilty party during my surgery. I can feel it tremble now beneath mine. I reach for her arm, to pull her closer to me, until I feel the rigid tension in her small frame start to lessen and then she’s seated on my bed as I want.

“It’s the only way you baby doctors can learn,” I tell her with a smile I mean genuinely even if it looks false, like a stranger’s. “Besides, they wouldn’t have let you do anything too important.”

She laughs with tears in the notes. “You’re not the one supposed to be comforting me.”

“Maybe. But you’re upset and I’m not. So this way makes sense for now, right?”

“What are you, a saint?” She notices the fixation of my eyes on her earlobes and the mood in the room shifts. I know she’ll probably leave any minute now and I’ll let her. Then it’ll just be me and the mirror. Alone.

“Sad that being understanding and decent qualifies one for sainthood now,” I say, but I keep my tone light and playful as I release her hand and readjust my body against the pillows behind me. I’m not looking at her anymore and I think she knows she’d better go. She stands and I focus on the wrinkles and creases of her turquoise scrubs, so I can unmemorize her face.

“You’re very nice to make me feel better, but I am still sorry,” she says.

“You’re forgiven.”

She seems to be going and is almost gone. But then she turns around and leans back against the door and nods at me. Something in her expression reminds me of the warmth intermingled with pity I could read in the faces of all my loved ones the first time they saw me after it happened. It was maybe not as painful as it would be if they’d physically recoiled, but somehow it felt like they had anyway. I haven’t let any of them come back inside my room since before the surgery. I’m told they took turns showing up just in case for a while, only to be rejected outside my door. Each day, my nurses would remind me that they were there, in the waiting room, poised and ready for when I’d change my mind. Until I didn’t and the nurses stopped saying they were there. I can’t ask now even though I wonder and need to know. Because what if they’re not anymore? I hate my doctor for staying.

“Don’t look at me.”

She stares out the window instead. Then she waits until I start to cry. Once I do finally begin, it’s hard to stop. I rub and scratch at my left earlobe so fiercely and savagely that my nails nearly draw blood. I don’t know why I seek to destroy my own pacifier, but I want to claw my earlobes until they resemble the pulp of a blood orange, like I imagine my whole face did in the back of the ambulance that night. When she wrestles my hands away from my ears and hugs me, I almost ask—did any of them wait for me? Are they still here?

 

Anna Vangala Jones is the author of the forthcoming short story collection Turmeric & Sugar (Thirty West Publishing, May 2021). Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, Wigleaf, HAD, and AAWW’s The Margins, among others. Find her online at annavangalajones.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17. 

At the Bottom of the Ocean You Weigh One-Third Less by Camille Ferguson

I.
Stiff in early morning the floorboards curse
beneath me, my bones crack like glass, drag behind me
like anchors. I shuffle to the sink;
I yawn warm-stink & I want
to shatter each and every
sauce-stuck wet-mush dinner-platter:
residues of my ravenous.
My hunger permeates.

II.
At the wishing-well I plead to be satiated, filled with grace–
then I swallow the whole lot of dreams.

III.
I think tons                           about tons
        about the act of         sinking.

How dreams weigh you down.

About large, and beautiful, ships greening
with moss in the dark, shiny bodies swimming in & out
of bodies.

About dreams way down.

IV.
I wonder at the bulging debt of my gut. I abase the
full-moon shape; soft-
ness of my jaw. I dream it cuts like glass.
In the ceramic blue wash-basin swims
my sharpened willingness to diminish,
like a circle longing after an oval.
  What an odd desire: to pare myself down
with my silver like a sculpture,
carve myself to a spire.             Something nice to sea:
the thin line of horizon.       Sinking, I see
my crystal whiskey glasses,
the dainty crescent lips of the decanter.
How long before the sediment
of my rancor settles? Before I am acceptable
                                                             & digestible?

V.
With my mutilated fingers
in the foam water washing I wonder how long before
these small knives smooth over, turn to sea-glass, pennies
swollen with the ocean’s blue-green.
O, to be buoyant, foam sliced from wave;
the difference between
solid, & gas. I wish on every used-up penny
I could float, on air, or through life,
like a small beautiful thing.
O, how I wish this were an ode
            to the weight of the whole ocean.
            Instead, I know that
at the bottom of the ocean          you weigh one-third less.

 

Camille Ferguson lives in and loves Cleveland, Ohio. Camille recently graduated from Cleveland State University where she received the Neal Chandler Creative Writing Enhancement Award. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Ligeia Magazine, Rabid Oak, Madcap Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Memoir Mixtapes, among others.

Dorothy Grows a Beard by Joy Guo

Dorothy decides to grow a beard. If she doesn’t do it now, she never will.

Not just a wispy mustache, or a goatee that traps sweater fuzz and cat hair. She goes for the full Bandholz, as depicted in the top right corner of the CDC beard and mask infographic.

It doesn’t take long to fully materialize. Dorothy drinks plenty of water, takes her vitamins, makes sure to get 10,000 steps in every day, activates the meditation app on her phone, cuts out alcohol and smoking, slips into bed at 10 PM sharp. She tracks the rate of hair growth closely, proud of the lush plumage her face is acquiring. Certainly makes putting on makeup a whole lot simpler – now she only needs to worry about the upper half.

As soon as she wakes up, she runs her fingers through it, amazed at how bristly it is, how rubbing against it produces friction, like she is touching someone else. She tends to it as if it were a finicky plant, snipping at the edges every two days. If left to its own devices, the beard could turn her into Gandalf.

Her colleagues don’t seem to discern what’s going on or, if they do, don’t care. Working remotely from home makes it so that a certain level of frivolity is tolerated and even appreciated. Like the green-screened backgrounds of various movie landscapes or the toddler that pops up randomly in the corner, her beard prompts a few chuckles, at most a joke that every day is Halloween for Dorothy, and then the focus of attention shifts to matters more important.

At the store, where shoppers scrounge for the last reserves of flour and toilet paper, Dorothy goes completely unnoticed. 

“You have a CVS card? Cash or credit?” The cashier flicks his gaze up at her, sees nothing out of the ordinary compared to the maelstrom of bizarre things he sees on a daily basis, and hands the bag over.

On the weekends, Dorothy sinks into a lawn chair facing her mother’s living room window. Ellen prattles on and on about the extinction of cruise ships, how the local elementary school keeps opening and closing every two weeks like clockwork, the neighbor’s teenage son who wanders around with his nose and mouth fully exposed.  

“Wait just a minute,” Ellen says, squinting through the screen.

Out of habit, Dorothy props her hand over her jaw. She used to do this all the time, in meetings, on dates, sitting alone on her couch, until the beard showed her a different way. She braces herself. 

“Is that a new scarf you’re wearing? Where’d you get it?”

Her father, God rest his soul, would have noticed as soon as Dorothy got out of the car.

One morning, on a jog, Dorothy spots another woman with a beard. Dorothy flags her down. Standing a few feet apart, they take off their masks, revel in each other’s visage, and exchange tips on grooming and eating without looking like a total mess.

“I have to say,” the woman enthuses, “I’m so glad I took the plunge. I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like.”

“Me, too.”

The beard lends a hand with various aspects of Dorothy’s life. She thinks, I can do this, so what else? She throws out clothes that are too big, too small, too otherwise different from how she is at that very moment. She reaches out to acquaintances to whom she has not spoken in years. She lets the scale under her bed grow furry with dust. She bakes loaves and loaves of banana and sourdough bread, eats them joyfully. She starts the first sentence of the novel she’s always wanted to write. She meets leering gazes head-on. She feels big and magnanimous, even towards the twenty-somethings huddled together at makeshift bars on sidewalks, their masks askew or tucked under their chins, poor imitations of her beard.  

Her boss announces a tentative end to working from home for April 2021. “Folks, that date could certainly end up being pushed back. We’re not ruling that out. But we wanted to let you know as soon as possible so you can start making the appropriate plans.”

Dorothy shudders. She can picture it. That first day back in the office – stumbling through all the hugs and high-fives, throwing out all the dead plants on her ledge, strapping the headset back into place. She’ll be clean-shaven, of course.

By this point, Dorothy can’t remember what she looks like without a beard. She has nightmares where it crawls right off her face and scuttles away on tiny legs, never to be seen again. “Bye!” It screams over its shoulder. “It’s been nice and all, but I’ve really got to get going before you throw me away.”

I won’t, Dorothy mutters herself awake. I won’t.

She throws out the trimmers, clippers, scissors, even the comb, instead. She decides to let the beard unfold according to its own seasons. Will it eventually fall all the way to her knees? Will she have to tie it back? Will it turn grey? She pictures herself hunched over and grizzled. The image puddles like hot honey in her chest.

Dorothy closes her eyes and pets herself, lulled by the tactile feel. She leaves those questions for another day.

 

Joy Guo lives in Manhattan with her husband. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a white collar and regulatory defense attorney. Her work is forthcoming in Failbetter

break/through by Cara Waterfall

“And see how the flesh grows back / across a wound, with a great vehemence, / more strong than the simple, untested surface before.”
                        ~ Jane Hirshfield, What Binds Us

call it unlovely,
a wanton blotch,
an undone stitch

call it a raw blossom
garish as a flare

call it the reef’s
clamour seething
to the surface

a scorched line,
heat clawing its way
out of my body

call it reptilian,
webbed & thickening —
a mottled seam

call it my
skin’s frayed hymn,
my body’s scripture

what’s left,
but the gnarled root of memory,
raking its debris,
with metal teeth
over me

what dark wounds
we are made of,
how they wreck & remake

I eulogize my younger skin
& all things young, but
I will never disown this —
revision, souvenir, script,
seal? — this gilded asymmetry,
of what was.

We heal ragged
even on the inside, pain inlaid
like an everlasting nacre.

Still,
praise what was salvaged:
the self, ravaged
now rising.

 

Ottawa-born and Costa Rica-based, Cara Waterfall’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in Best Canadian Poetry, SWWIM, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Fiddlehead, among others. She won Room’s 2018 Short Forms contest and second place in Frontier Poetry’s 2018 Award for New Poets. In 2019, she was a finalist for Radar Poetry’s The Coniston Prize and shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. Most recently, she won the Editors’ Prize for the 2020 Magpie Award for Poetry. She has a Poetry & Lyric Discourse diploma from The Writer’s Studio at SFU, and a diploma from the London School of Journalism.

My heart has given me the slip again by B. Tyler Lee

But if you’re searching for real, you’ll likely find him by the railroad tracks south of Settlement Road. Don’t tell the other organs. He’ll have his breakfast—which is also his lunch—wrapped in a handkerchief and tethered to the tea towel he uses as a bedroll. (Dinner is moonshine, always moonshine.) He’ll have his scruffy little dog with him. He named her after Daisy Buchanan: “Her bark is full of money,” he said. But it isn’t, and that’s swell, too. She’s made of tenacity and wire hair and lays down next to him like an ace girl should.

You probably haven’t heard over there in your land where amber waves and Washington’s cherry tree and equality all smell kinda genuine, but my heart’s a goddamned folk hero now. He’s the Johnny Appleseed of affection, the Doc Holliday of delight. He’s hard-boiled Casey Jones—he breaks instead of brakes. They say he doesn’t shy from donnybrooks, but that’s only because my heart seeks out injustice, and sometimes words can’t right a wrong. But he’s never bloodied a body who didn’t earn it.

My heart’s a true American. But not American like Babe Ruth and frankfurters. American like he won’t visit a doctor until his aorta practically smells of gangrene. American like he’d rather amputate his vena cava than admit he couldn’t find due west in the dark.

My heart has never read a Steinbeck novel because he’s the paradigm. (Also, he doesn’t have eyes.)

By day, my heart harvests blueberries three at a go, or he wields doll-sized picket signs and pummels the toes of anti-union goons. It’s all the same, in the end. By night, he sings Woody Guthrie ballads around a campfire to a different half-dozen hobo colons in every Hooverville. And when the bathtub bourbon surges inside him, he rubs an artery across his thimble-cup and thinks of you. No one knows but Daisy, but she’s always there, aware of how his months spent on Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway are really just the warp and weft of him running from you.

Even the ocean is treacherous, though: sometimes the Pacific will waft toward him, and he’ll remember the time you kissed us under the water in Atlantic City, how we rose after and felt you surface and dive, surface and dive, over and over like a mermaid, luring us toward that false realm of yours—bursting with stripes and stars, bootstraps and melting pots—we can never inhabit. This you know. This you knew. And sometimes he can’t tell one ocean’s perfume from another, the way you can’t tell an organ who loves you from one who doesn’t—but maybe he needs that reminder now and then, too.

Look, it’s true. My heart’s been avoiding you and me both. But you should also know that he’s only stolen once his whole life—the Widow Barker’s pocket pies, off her windowsill outside Duluth. Daisy lay starving, her fur patched away by an empty belly and the wind. Ravaged himself, he took two pumps and fed the rest to Daisy, ventricle to dying mouth, until she could roam and fight once more. And even after all this time, everywhere your beliefs have taken you, he’d still shatter his internal compass again like that if it meant he could save you, too.

 

B. Tyler Lee is the author of one poetry collection, With Our Lungs in Our Hands (Redbird Chapbooks, 2016). Her hybrid essay “●A large volume of small nonsenses” won the 2020 Talking Writing contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 32 Poems, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Puerto del SolJet Fuel Review, HAD, Acting Up: Queer in the New Century (Jacar Press), and elsewhere. She teaches in the Midwest.

sorry sorry (sorry) by Kora Schultz

sorry i can’t come to the phone right now,
my body is 1000 hedgehogs in a trenchcoat

& loud noises make them nervous.
            & soft noises make them nervous.

i pay my carcass rent with stillness.
even the life rafts make thunder of
my limbs.             the critters know this.

they keep score when my muscles can’t.
baby,                 i’ll have to call you back.

 

Kora Schultz (they/them) is a queer Wisconsin-based poet, writing student, and assistant editor with Juke Joint Magazine. By day, they work with folks experiencing homelessness. Their work has appeared in various literary magazines, poetry journals, and on their partner’s fridge. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter at @oatmilkmom.

Night Feeding by Lindy Biller

I unbutton my nightshirt and discover them: tiny fire ants tracing the rosary around my nipple, each goosebumped pore and coarse dark hair a prayer bead. 

I don’t have any offerings to give. No crumbs, no crust of sugar for their squirming, hungering children. Mandibles pinch and release, testing ripeness. I brush them off and stomp the ones I can reach. The rest of the colony melts into hiding places: the cracks in the headboard, the chasm between wall and baseboard, the open-mouthed sockets. Do ants notice when fewer of them return? I touch my breast with one finger. Round and hard as a bowling ball, skin stretched tight. Your father is asleep in bed and there are no bites on his face, no dark pixels crisscrossing his skin. 

In the hallway, my hand misses the light switch a few times. The pump waits in the closet, top shelf. I grab all the parts and force them together. There is dried milk on the plastic shield, air bubbles in the tubing. There is mold growing in the first bottle I grab, and I can’t find another one. No time. I am moments from bursting, like the parable I was supposed to teach for Sunday school. New wine, old wineskins. If you mix them, both the wine and the skins will be lost. Isn’t that how the story goes? Your father, still snoring, would know. I’m not sure. I skipped church and took the stale communion bread down to the river and tore off pieces for the ducks, and even they knew better than to eat it. 

My skin prickles beneath the plastic shield. I pump the handle as though I’m spraying Windex on grimy windows. Nothing comes out and my breast is on fire and the rhythmic mechanical gasps make me think of heroic measures in intensive care units, though I’ve never been inside one. No time. The paramedics thought you were probably gone within half an hour of when I laid you down. I didn’t kiss you before I tiptoed out—you were in a deep, warm sleep and it seemed too risky. When we found you in the morning, your father did chest compressions: two fingers pressing straight down, dead center between your nipples. I sealed my mouth over your face and sent small puffs of air inside, inflating you like a balloon. If I could’ve blown my own life into you, I would have.

One drop falls in the plastic bottle. Two. Then the milk gushes. Everloving fuck. Soon I am past the one-ounce line. Soon I’m past two and three and four and I need to switch to a new bottle, except there isn’t one. I fill two cereal bowls and a confetti-glazed mug and the glass pitcher my mom filled with lemonade when she stayed over, doing laundry and cooking dinner and sitting next to my bed, rubbing my back until I fell asleep. She did the same thing the week you were born, except it was your back she was rubbing. Her visits like bookends. 

I break the seal with my pinky and set the pump aside. I am empty. Deflated. Fire ants emerge from the darkness, probing the sides of my mismatched vessels for something to grip.

I should donate my milk to someone who needs it. Next time I will. But for now, I carry the mug and bowls and pitcher outside, milk sloshing over. There are ant mounds sprawling along the back step, bathed in moonlight. I empty the pitcher into their tiny, gaping mouths. Maybe they’ll be satisfied and stop biting me awake. Maybe they’ll drown. Either way, an improvement. There are poppies growing along the fence, buds closed like small fists, and I pour the rest of the milk over them. Maybe when they open they’ll smell like your skin, that yeasty maple syrup sweetness, maybe I’ll hold the blooms close to my face and whisper your name to the soft, milky petals.

 

Lindy Biller is a writer who hails from Metro Detroit and now lives in Wisconsin. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming at SmokeLong Quarterly, Heavy Feather Review, Pithead Chapel, and Apparition Lit. She works at a small game design studio, crafting stories and concepts for online learning games.

Tendrils by Rachel Brown

I have a kidney bean blooming beneath my jeans.
As a child I feared watermelon seeds, but never kidney beans.

I can feel new growth, leaves entangling between my vertebrae
tender sprouting between by ribs,
a lattice of light green climbing up
my skeletal walls, coaxing the sunlight
out of my skin, glowing beneath my fingernails,
turning me green.

There is a delicate balance, as it
grows brighter, stronger,
larger, and I grow tired feeding
relentless nature with joy and self-made sunlight.

I never wanted to grow kidney beans between my breasts
and beneath my nerves. I do not know how
to remove roots, repot or nurture to maturity
the glowing inside me.

But now I have a kidney bean whose tendrils
caress my neck and help me find sunshine
and relief.

 

Rachel Brown holds Bachelor’s degrees in Creative Writing and English Literature, as well as a forthcoming Master’s degree in English Literature from Central Washington University, where she also teaches composition. Her creative work has appeared in Northwest Boulevard. She is currently reading, writing, teaching, and running in Eastern Washington.