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.

Ordering Fries at Happy Hour by Christopher Gonzalez

O.K., we’ll get fries, it’s done, it’s easy, the menu offers lemon-parsley for $6 and $7 for truffle, so why don’t we get the truffle, it’s only a dollar more, a goddamn steal in this city, a hallelujah for the wallet, never mind that I had to hoist myself up onto the barstool, the seat of which couldn’t hold a personal pan pizza let alone my entire ass, and nevermind that when the fries finally come out you’ll look them over and say some shit about how we shouldn’t be eating this, that fries are truly so so so bad, I guess we’re being bad today, before mentioning that article from The Atlantic about the proper portion size of fries and suggesting that we should only take six fries each, which would leave behind a whole fucking basket, and then you’ll laugh about the ridiculousness of it, the idea that anyone could stop at six, and then I won’t laugh while shoving six fries, maybe seven or eight, ten if I can manage, into my mouth, and I wonder if fries have feelings, if it’s cozy in my mouth the seconds before I grind them into paste, and do they feel safe in there from think pieces and Twitter threads and fat-shamers and coworkers who love happy hour but hate food, who never allow themselves to disappear into a bite, and do fries crave more than their salty graves, because sometimes I think, damn, what a joy it must be to live the short lifespan of a potato, and I think about their purpose, all that unlimited potential—we can mash or fry or bake or twice-bake or roast them in a hot oven or drown them in cheese—and if I were a potato, the best part is, I must believe, I wouldn’t have to listen to you and the waitress argue over the chipotle mayonnaise you’re ordering, whether it’s an aioli or a remoulade, and I wouldn’t have to hold back from finishing the fries before your dip arrives, or I wouldn’t have to pause to count how many I have eaten, whether the six or eight or ten were that many more than the number you ate, if I got greedy, if I was being too much me again, or if you’d even notice, and there would be no waiting over who should eat the last cold fry, no, they would stay hot and crisp, and the oil on my fingertips would be a blessing, anointing my tongue with every lick.

 

Christopher Gonzalez serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. His stories appear or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions 2019, Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, Wasafiri, Third Point Press, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Cleveland-raised, he now lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY and spends most of his free time on Twitter: @livesinpages.

Lizard Meat by Carina Martin

All the same day, I find the eviction notice taped to my front door and skim a lizard out of the bleach. “Well, it’s good manners to clean up the apartment,” my mother tells me over the phone, “before you hand in your key.” The lizard body sprawls, empty as a balloon, on a pile of tomato skins. Until flies coat the faucet like anguished rust, I don’t realize how little I do around here.

* * *

While I’m brushing my teeth, God comes into the bathroom and starts polishing the bathtub taps. “Please don’t do that,” I say. It’s embarrassing when your bathroom taps are so groggy that God shows up. “I can take care of that.”

“I don’t mind,” God says. “Cleaning is a special hobby of mine. But I wanted to talk to you about my favorite lizard.”

* * *

God uses the thin disinfectant wipes that leap from the container like spring lilies. “It was a really beautiful lizard,” I say. And it was: wet black and blue, its scales as neat as the arch of cards at a casino. “It was an accident.”

“Did you at least eat it?”

“I didn’t,” I say. “We don’t really eat reptiles here.”

“I can’t believe you would let it go to waste like that. It’s unnatural. And that was the last one. So I would have preferred.” God leaves the Clorox wipe draped over the bathtub tap, and I let it harden there. By the next morning, I have a scrubbing brush.

* * *

I call my mother to ask what kind of dishwashing liquid God would use. “Cascade,” she says right away. “Cascade, but the old-fashioned powdered kind. That’s what I use.” Then she says, “Are you at the store now?”

* * *

“Why that one?”

“It had a good mating dance. There was a little colony north of Phoenix that I would visit in the winter. You could roll over a rock and see a dozen of them lying there really still. Then you buy margarita mix, you watch them mate, you fall asleep. It’s like my version of tarot. If this one lizard I picked mated, I would stay there for the winter. And if it didn’t, I would head to Las Vegas, or what was there before. Every year they changed the dance a little. Moved faster or flicked their tails around. And all you could come up with,” God says neatly, “was The Bachelor.”

* * *

“Make sure you get behind the bed,” my mother says. God calcifies my private garments with bleach. “You got to be sure to vacuum behind the bed. That’s the one place I always forget.” I open the dresser to find underwear: clattering like nautilus shells, coiled around an absent finger. Inventive with grief, God pollinates my toilet bowl with yellow acid scrub. I understand why lizard tails, lithe as live power cables, fall away from their bodies so carelessly.

* * *

I split the second lizard with a paring knife. Its meat is as taut, and then lax, as a rubber band. “Allow me,” God says to the dirty dishes. “I brought my own gloves this time. Afterward, God leaves them gutted in the sink. It’s only a minute before flies turn their fingers, opaque and precious as onionskins, into gangrene. Meat always burrows deep into your teeth, even if you are in charge of a lot.

* * *

“Your door was open,” God says. “Do you mind?”

“Sort of.”

“I am with you when you sit down, and when you stand up,” says God, pointing to the toilet and the shower in turn. “I wanted to talk to you about our dinner last night.”
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” I say. “So don’t be mad at me. I just wanted to keep getting along.”

“It’s like that joke,” God says. When the cap comes off, God’s bathroom cleaner smells like artificial lemonade and a finger up your nose. “There’s a taxidermist and veterinarian who share office space. And the sign out front says: Either Way, You Get Your Dog Back.”

* * *

“You have a nice home,” God tells me. God purchased this pack of organic unscented sponges at the corner mart.

“I liked living here, but I got evicted a while ago,” I say. “It’s a lot cleaner than it used to be. So. Thank you.” Submerged in hot water, the sponges flake as obligingly as tree bark.

“This,” God says, holding up a sponge, “is just how your soul soaks up your body. But how the hell did they know?”

* * *

“Your last day?” God says.

“I signed a new lease last night.”

“A nicer place?”

“A cheaper one.”

“Not nicer.”

“Similar.”

* * *

Again, God pulps the lizard on the kitchen countertop. God’s fingers grasp its neck like pincers around soft glass. The lizard starts its dance, twisting its throat and flinging its sticky toes against the Formica. Its body is a white radio scream that nobody can quite hear. “A little too slow,” God says. “We’ll try again.” Plate by plate, I fill the dishwasher. I’m prostrating myself in front of the sloppy dishes, over and over, and pantomiming grief for news I haven’t yet heard. “Did you know you have a fly problem?” God says.

 

Carina Martin is a nonprofit professional, a fiction amateur, and a 2018 graduate of the creative writing program at Houghton College. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a cat named Sophie and a menagerie of houseplants.

Dog Years by Michael Grant Smith

“Pete, would you please fetch me another extension cord?”

Mom vacuumed the front sidewalk twice a week. In my childhood she paid me an allowance of $2 per month if I caught Dad’s cigarette ashes before they hit the living room carpet.

“As a bonus, every time you extinguish one of your father’s fires, you’ll get to choose a treat from the bowl of root vegetables in the kitchen.”

When I thought about meteors at all, probably never, I considered them vast craters looking for a place to call home. The biggest were someone else’s problem: trailer park residents in Arkansas, reindeer foraging on a Siberian tundra. But the lesser ones — who cares?

My parents gave me a dog although not until I was nearly fifty. Dad kept the motorhome running, handed me a leash, and laughed because he knew the gift would slip my brain out of gear. Told me the dog was special, could sniff out meteors.

“You can’t see shooting stars if you stare right at them,” said the old man, Marlboro number sixteen-billion stuck to his lip. “It’s a blind spot. Just let old Hutch find them for you.”

Mom leaned out of the passenger-side window. “You’ll find he tries very hard,” she said. The dog and I stared at each other. My eyes narrowed. His tail wagged. To whom did she refer?

Dad backed out of my lane because there’s no room for turnarounds in relationships. I bent to touch the dog, who flopped down and showed me his belly. His pink-leather tongue dangled sideways. The armpits — turns out Hutch loved to have his armpits scratched. His breed? I suspect he was spawned from saliva and felted fur.

“Who’s a good dog?” I said in the over-earnest voice people use while pleading for sexual intercourse or when they talk to pets. “Who’s the best boy ever?” All conversations with pets are rhetorical.

At that time, “Pete sees a burning rock” had its own page in the brochure of things I hadn’t done. I would’ve assumed meteors were cartoonish red balls of flame trailing long, slow, fiery tails across the sky. Hutch knew better.

In fact, most fingerquote typical meteors end-fingerquote are brief needles of light whose visible journey can be hidden by your upheld hand. They fade in two blinks of an eye but my Hutch still found them. The outstanding ones drag accordion pleats of atmosphere. A wake of constellations, clouds, birds, the occasional airplane. Truly a fan-folded fun-factory. If you’re an admirer of plummeting celestial crap, you’d swoon if you experienced for yourself a meteor’s leash-dragging gravitational attraction.

The mutt and I stalked darkness. Clear weather was best, obviously, but Hutch tracked his prey no matter the conditions. Purpose swelled within me and my ears rang with it. Even during long sunlit hours spent on the porch, when I lounged in my skivvies and painted portraits on raw rice grains, Hutch barked and whined to alert me about incoming fireballs.

Most humans are smarter than canines, and opposable thumbs will carry you far, but our principal advantage over dogs is longevity. It hadn’t occurred to me I would outlive my dog.

There came a night when Hutch grew agitated, which I assumed was due to incandescent flying objects. I took him out to my front yard and he laid down in the chickweed and clover. No skyward-pointing nose, no sniffing, no howling; he simply curled up as if on a hearth and closed his eyes.

I was unaware of the convergence until later, but my parents, both of them, passed away the same night as Hutch, almost to the minute, except they expired in their Winnebago parked at a Walmart in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida. The cause of death was asphyxiation due to a small, smoldering fire.

Their attorney phoned me. She’d defended my Mom and Dad all three occasions I sued them.

“Their final wish was for you to straighten up and fly right,” she said. “I’m a lawyer, not a genie, so in this matter there’s no specific legal action I can take.”

I thanked her for the information and then we chit-chatted. She was a professional wrestler trapped in a jurist’s body. We’re dating now, but not each other. Every evening, I wait for sky-towing meteors. If one were to bounce onto my property I am bound to throw it back.

 

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, Unbroken Journal, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

Your Countdown to New Year by Riham Adly

One hour left: The Dream.

I had a dream about a tooth I lost. I wanted it back so bad, I almost forced it back into its socket, but the tooth looked smooth and perfect like a first-timer bride’s wedding gown. I could see pearly root-canals under the translucent sheen of its surface. The ache in my jaw was unbearable, but I couldn’t bring myself to put back the freed tooth.

 

Forty-Five minutes left: The Mad Mailman.

The Madman Mailman bangs at my door. I open the door. There’s this vague familiarity to his wavy curls, cinnamon scented cologne mixed with the whiskey smoke of his breath. He’s not a mailman, a madman maybe. He has a package nestled under his armpit. I wonder if I should invite him to my home/dental office. He hands over the package that now smells of his whiskey sweat, he wobbles and nearly throws up. I close the door behind him after I extract a confession. Someone bribed him to deliver my package, or was it You in another of your camouflages. You’ve always loved your masks, your masquerades.

 

Thirty minutes left: X-raying ghosts.

The package is a slim gift-wrapped box. I wear sterile gloves with the intension of untying the ribbons, but first thing first. I give it a good shake, hear the unmistakable clatter inside. Was there a note, too? I hold the rattled package like a baby, and look for the proper-sized film to place on top. I hurry backward after I position the film right; press the button on the extension cord and beep! In the Darkroom’s nightmarish light, I remember how you used to x-ray everything: jaws, molars, books, flowers, condoms. To capture the aura, you used to say, the soul of things. I wondered if I was going to find You inside.

 

Twenty minutes left: Xerox-ing thumb-sized break-up notes I’d like to think of as suicide notes.

I place the thumb-size on my copier and select the Enlarge/Reduce button. Should I enlarge or shrink the words to non-existence?

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

 

Ten Minutes : X-in the X or is it an X-out?

And then there’s another note on the other side of the note.

Dear Suzy. I am sick. I will need to leave. Can’t come back. Love forever. You know, don’t you?

This one should have been better.

 

Five Minutes: ___________.

In the box there’s also your third molar, that wisdom tooth you let me cut and keep, the one you stole when you left me for the starlit adventures in your mind, for the untamed ardor you decided I lacked. I was only worth your hand-me-down sympathy, your loveless I-can’t-live-without-you love notes. You disappear in a heartbeat, come back in hailstorms, you die and undie over and over and over.

 

5…4…3…2…1…

Under the mistletoe I kiss the tooth of my dreams, touch its satiny wedding-dress color; wedge my nail in the empty cavity in its crown, and the feel aching absence in my jaw. This is the part of me I really wanted to keep…

Before I leave I place the tooth outside our no longer home/work doorstep.

 

Riham Adly is an Egyptian writer/blogger. Her fiction has appeared in journals such Bending Genres, Connotation Press, Spelk, The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, Volney Road Review, Five:2:One, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Gingerbread House Lit, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Anti-Heroine Chick, Danse Macabre, and @Fewerthan500, among others. She was recently short-listed for the Arab-Lit Translation Prize. Her translation of author Tareq Imam’s “An Eye” was recently published in Arablit Quarterly. Riham lives with her family in Gizah, Egypt.

My Eyelids Think They’re Something Else by Len Kuntz

But first I should tell you that my eyelids are known to tell lies. They say, We’re schizophrenic, dyslexic and corrosive. They say, We provide shelter from the storm. They say, We have killed a number of random hitchhikers and buried them in the desert where they’ll never be found.

My Ex liked to lick them, my eyelids, with her serpent’s tongue, so long and scaley, like a sundried salamander without legs. Sometimes she slathered my pupils with bubbly saliva. Other times, she nibbled my eyelashes off. She deemed such acts erotic. “The wetter, the better,” she said. And since I was a virgin, I never balked at her proclivities, never thought them odd in any way.

My new wife no longer looks me in the eyes, no longer notices the strange strength residing in my eyelids. I try to surprise her in the morning, leaning over her side of the bed, hovering there, waiting for her to wake, but she’s onto me and now wears an eye mask under an eye mask, both of which are overlaid on top of two Band-Aids.

I plan on giving my eyelids to science. In fact, I have them right here, sealed in this Mason jar filled with disinfectant. The challenge will be getting them to the lab in time. I can hear my wife in the other room, on the phone, her corrosive voice trembling as she says, “Hurry, please.”

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press.  You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

The Angle of Depression by Patricia Q. Bidar

Mignon, as always, wants to know what I’m thinking.

I’ve finally agreed to meet her in person, at the Berkeley Art Museum. The new one, with its blinding white walls and tomato-hued doors and echoey stairwells. A basement café with wine and salads of watermelon and feta and mint.

“Meat time,” Mignon called it.

But by the time we finish viewing the Peter Hujar photos in the lower gallery, I’ve formed the view that no one, ever, should visit an art museum in the company of another person. I want to stomp in the metal stairwell.

Yet here we sit in the museum café, emptied splits of champagne before us. It’s hot and my hair is heavy, redolent with horsey-smelling henna. Everyone else is in camisoles and shorts in ice cream colors. Last night I did my hair — yes, for “the occasion”– and it came out too bright.

“I liked the ones of the wrecked cars,” I say. “And that glum man with the giant penis.” What I am really saying is what I am always saying at museums. “You don’t know me! You don’t know my taste!”

I met Mignon online. Our exchanges have been filled with nuance and shy disclosures. Once, I related the details of a violent crime to which I’d been victim. Mignon confessed she’d once driven into a kid on a bike. Another time, we’d negotiated logging off to cry, after confessing to each other the depth of our loneliness.

But in person, Mignon emits a river of combat and insecurity. Just like everyone else around here. What band/bistro/hiking trail am I obsessed with, that no one else has heard of? Who eats the local-est, grass-fed-est food? Who’s vacationed in the farthest-flung place?

I gaze at the office supply store across the street with its industrial carpeting, balm of greenish light and wide aisles.

“It’s annoying how Hujar framed his subject in the middle of the shot.” I say.

Mignon brightens, pouring the remaining champagne into her flute. “He learned a way of composing called the Angle of Depression,” she explains, eyebrows raised self- importantly. “See, it’s the idea that the viewer’s eye takes this angle — technically this diagonal line ends below the bottom edge. There’s something we don’t see.”

She continues, telling me how Hujar’s last name would be pronounced in Spanish, if he were Spanish, which he probably is. How the British television show, The Office, was modeled after a David Foster Wallace story about working for the IRS. Then she shyly adds that she puts away a bottle of wine every night before allowing herself to open her computer to see if I’ve written.

Mignon meets my eyes then. She picks up a ball of melon and tucks it into her mouth. Meaningfully, it seems.

“Will you excuse me?” I said, then glide to the women’s room. A pullover youth with pimples around their mouth enters behind me.

Determined to act casual, I attempt a “selfie” in the bathroom mirror. My russet hair smolders nicely in the recessed lights. Then my bag slips into the sink, setting off the automatic gush from the faucet. My legs fly from under me. Fucking hell!

I consider staying down for a day or so. Who would know, other than half-in-the-bag Mignon and now this waif currently attempting to exit their stall.

“Hi! Help!” I say, rolling aside. The waif’s sweater as they easily lift me smells of fabric softener.

They ask if I’m all right. “You betcha!” I say, and the waif toddles off.

I gingerly settle back at the table. I feel like I’d been attacked by a javelina. My flank throbs. I swear to fucking god the infant is coming back with a fresh split of champagne.

“You know him?” Mignon asks. “He’s so… frat boy.”

“No frat boy uses Downey.”

“You have an awesome day, ma’am,” the waif says, their mouth a hard line.

Why did  I wear these ridiculous heels? And why does this pain feel good and right and deserved?

Mignon snaps her fingers, as if an idea has occurred to her, or maybe just to capture my attention. How long have I had my nose pierced? Because she recently removed her nipple ring, which she got in her thirties “because of National Geographic.”

“I could give it to you!” she says. “I just have the one…”

“Oh! I guess I always thought they came in twos, like earrings. Or, you know, none,” I say.

“… although I have been wondering how much I could get for it, like, at a We Pay Cash for Gold place…”

Meat time. Who needs it?

Let’s say I summon the courage of my convictions. Soothe myself by purchasing pencils and notebooks across the street. A squishy strip to soothe my wrists.

Or more dramatically, I could emulate the mountain lion in that recent news story. Remember? The one where the two cyclists did all the things we’re told to do: holler real loud, make themselves appear larger. If I could be that magnificent beast, I’d rake Mignon with my claws and let the pimpled waif go, to tell the tale.

But that isn’t the way the story went. Remember?

In real life, it was an elderly couple. The lady neutralized the mountain lion by jabbing it in the eyes with her ball-point pen. She saved herself and her mate.

See, in the end that you can do everything you are supposed to do, and fate really doesn’t give a hoot. Me, Mignon, the cyclists. The mountain lion. The waif from the woman’s room. Even beautiful Peter Hujar, with his portraits of the famous, the abject, the endowed, and the ruined cars.

“I like people who dare,’ Hujar famously said.” Yet here we are frozen, cast in our living roles. I am lonely as hell, and that is no lie.

I split the bubbly between our glasses and say, “To meat.”

 

Patricia Q. Bidar is a California-based writer with family roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. An alum of the UC Davis Graduate writing program and a former fiction editor at Northwest Review, Patricia’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sou’wester, Wigleaf, ellipsis…art and literature, Litro Online, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, and Riggwelter, among other places. Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar.

A Tremendous Head, Uneasy by Nell Ovitt

Blue light on the nightstand woke me up again. Like a hole I’ve been filling keeps turning up empty. Eagle and the liver guy, that guy’s me. Can’t remember his name, but I get him big time.

Four-thirty in the morning. Loud when it’s quiet like this.

I could make someone be awake. Whatever I want I can do.

Usually there’s someone in the kitchen. I’ve checked. This time of night it’s one guy. He sits in the corner, I don’t know what else he does, probably nothing. He gives me pizza when I tell him I want some. But he doesn’t look at me. Got some problem with me, maybe, doesn’t want to talk to me. I don’t know why—there’s people, a lot of people out there, and what they’re saying is, I’m a very likable guy. A very likable guy.

So I think I won’t go down there tonight. Anyway I’ve got other options, got a million of them. I put on a robe. It shines in the light on my nightstand. Little flash of gold. Looks good on me.

I turn on the TV and stand in front of it, let my jaw hang loose. Doctor says I have too much tension, on account of I’m a tremendously busy guy. So I let my jaw hang very loose. The people on the screen are talking fast, always up. I know all about what they’re saying. My head starts to feel not so good, so I turn them off. How do they like that.

I’m gonna go somewhere. Shake things up.

I sneak out the door quiet. No shoes, I realize, once I’ve already gotten started. But I can do it. It’s all up to me, so I can do it.

Walk soft down the hall, scratchy carpet under my feet. Don’t know who decorated this house but tell you what, the guy’s a little out of touch. I go by a picture on the wall. I don’t look at the picture but I know what it is of. It’s a man with a horse and they’re both important.

I walk outside. Feel the night come into my robe. Little cold, and the hair on my skin, it lifts up hard. Makes me wish I had socks now, so I walk fast past the garden and the big white columns. There’s a door up ahead that’s got a window made of funny glass. I stop, want to check me out. But I forgot it’s nighttime so I can’t see. Well I know I’m good-looking, don’t have to see to know.

I go into the building. Take rights and then lefts. It’s fine if I don’t one hundred percent remember the way right now, I’ll remember it soon.

I’m starting to wonder where is everybody. Hallways too empty. I left the blue light in my bedroom. Should’ve brought it with me so things wouldn’t be so quiet, but I didn’t. My stomach feels it first. Realize I don’t know where I am. Why I’m.

Maybe I’ve been going down.

Now there’s something, I can hear it. I want to leave all of a sudden, but before I can do that a man comes around the corner up ahead. He’s got gray hair and a suit and looks mad at me. I’ve seen this guy before, definitely. He puts a hand on my shoulder. Steers me back.

Have you done it, he says. Have you done what I told you.

No, I tell him, no, I forgot. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.

Dammit, he shakes his head saying dammit a few more times. Then he walks fast, me with him, my robe starting to come loose, but I don’t care. So what if people see, I’m a good-looking guy.

I’m just tired, is what it is, I need a break. I try to tell him. He doesn’t answer. I feel his hand grip hard on my shoulder and I start to think he won’t let go ever. I wonder if I ran would he try to catch me. I could try it. But I’m not wearing any shoes.

When we finally stop it’s at the room, that one. I tell him can’t I just do it in the morning. I’ll be terrific in the morning.

It is morning, he says. You have to do it now.

I don’t want to go in there, I say.

He opens the door. It’ll be quick, he says.

It’s dark when I go in. He turns on the light. The walls round in on my head. He points to the desk where there are some papers and a phone.

He points to the phone. Make the call, he says. Then you can go to bed. Then you can go home.

I want to tell him where he’s talking about isn’t home. Real home’s where there’s a phone but it’s only for calling a woman who brings me pizza if I want her to and never pushes me around the hall unless I tell her to. I have a robe there that’s way shinier than the one I’ve got now. I know all the rooms in it even though there’s a lot, and I decorated it myself basically. Home’s where I never wake up in the night to the blue light glowing on my nightstand, to things growing back huge and worse in the morning.

Make the call, the man says again, holding up a piece of paper with numbers on it.

I pick up the phone and press the numbers. He watches me the whole time I dial. This guy, I’ll tell you what he is, and you know it’s true—unbelievable. I’ll get him back for this.

A voice on the other end of the line says something to me. Why they had to answer. I’ll get them back too.

The man in front of me points to the nameplate on my desk. I guess he wants me to say something. Okay, I can say something. I was going to anyway. I know how things work.

This is Donald, I say.

 

Nell Ovitt is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where she focused on English and Religious Studies. She is an artist and a sometime traveler, and is currently working at a university in Japan. This is her first published story.

here is the whole history of us chapter one by Amanda Claire Buckley

we came out of the ocean. coming out of the ocean began with your attempts to get on land. you’d developed lungs. they were badly formed. no one had even thought to try to get on land before you. you said it was easier for you on shore. it felt better. i worried about you. come down from there. i called from the sea bed. i’m ovulating. we had a child who inherited both your lungs and my gills. i worried my gills made her lungs even weaker. you died above us not long after she came out of me. it was too bright. your scales and your eyes had nothing on your lungs and your lungs were barely there to begin with. your lungs were small half-formed pockets that were continually ripping and sloshing with salt water. you’d cough up the salt water on the beach. you’d tell me about how the sand got wet where you coughed. you leaked our home out of your lungs. you said the shore wasn’t so different from what we had down below. everything was just heavier up there. the sand. your body. our child is already swimming and your bones are where the light is. she asks about you. i tell her i remember very little. i tell her she will have to remember better. her brain is bigger than the both of ours. but she has your cough. i worry about her lungs. i put my ear to her chest and hope. our books say nothing about what to do with these new bodies. i have read them all. our child is already kicking. i can’t believe it. she launches her body above the break of the ocean. into the air above us. then she crashes back down into the dark weightlessness. back to where we live together. we’re a small family compared to the others. i beg our girl to please stay near the sea bed but she says it’s easier for her up there. in the air. i tell her not to go on shore. i worry. she says she’ll try not to go on shore but it’s just so easy. it’s so easy for her up there. away from me. she’s growing. she doesn’t need her mother to tell her anything anymore. she doesn’t need my gills. i weave seaweed in my hair to make myself look younger. our child is growing faster than the others. i write the books i wish i could read to her. our child is grown. she is tan. one day she is late for dinner and i call her and ask her if she’s alright and she tells me she’s seen your skeleton on a nearby beach. how long have i known she asks. i tell her i didn’t want her to learn this way and she tells me she thinks she’s going to stay on the beach above me from now on. it’s just easier for everyone this way. by everyone she means her and her new child. my grandchild’s lungs are so wide they can’t help but float at the surface of our world. i would cry but I have not evolved tear ducts yet. i give a lecture to the others about paradigm shifts. the others say the world is flat. i tell them i’ve seen feet.

 

Amanda Claire Buckley is a writer who was once a waitress who was once a philosophy student who was once a musical director for a sketch comedy troupe. Her work has been featured in X-R-A-Y, The Same, and Story Club Magazine. She’s currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College and is a contributing editor for the literary journal Pigeon Pages. She can be found on Twitter @aclairebuckley and online at www.amandaclairebuckley.com