Practically Asking For It
Nadine is shopping for a new boyfriend – she’s looking for a two-takeaways-a-week, comes-with-his-own toothbrush type. She doesn’t have the budget for anything else.
In aisle three, there’s been some kind of spillage. A muscular man labeled Colin is clearing up. Watch out love, he says and points at the luminous Hazard, Keep Clear.
In court, Colin will say she stepped out anyway, right into his path. The judge will smirk. Silly Nadine. Too dumb to read the signs.
by David M Wallace
A thin stream of drool traveled from the corner of his mouth. It hung off his chin like a translucent strand of whitish fish eggs. His lips moved silently as he swayed back and forth. Gently tossed on an invisible tide. The beads of his rosary slipping through his fingers.
At the Hardware Store
by Jennifer Lai
A couple considers paint swatches: Desire Pink, Sleepy Blue, and Lauren’s Surprise. “Lyin’ Eyes” plays in the background while “Special assistance needed in the tools area” blares overhead. I’m wandering aimlessly when an employee asks if I need help. Her tag says Ask Me Anything. I want to know why my best friend hasn’t returned my calls in over a week and why my boyfriend broke up with me last night. Instead, I ask for the bathroom. She gestures left, right, then left again.
“There’s signs along the way”, she says, “but they’re easy to miss if you’re not looking.”
by H. A. Eugene
Michael couldn’t afford new ideas. So he regurgitated the words he’d read and presented the book to the librarian, closed; a good-faith gesture meaning the ideas within remained uncomprehended.
“I am choosing not to learn,” Michael announced, walking backward through the library’s entrance.
He continued, carefully placing one foot behind the other until his backside arrived at home, where he resolved to remain until such time that change may not feel so expensive.
by Robert Runté
Her skin had become so translucent, I could see the flow through the veins stop whenever I held her hand.
Called to her bedside, I asked, “Why now?”
“Birthday,” the nurse explained. “Either it becomes a goal—hanging on for whoever they have left to turn up for their 100th, so they can depart surrounded by family—or they refuse to believe they could get that old, and pass a day or two before.”
“Your mom’s new worker reminded her, ‘You’re turning 100 next Tuesday.’ Just making conversation, but your mom put down her tea. So I knew: this weekend.”
You could resign, storm out in high dudgeon and let the cards fall where they may. You could fantasize about finding another job where your skills are finally appreciated and imagine submitting your resignation with an air of smugness. You could become unmanageable and take the fired escape. (Except there’s the money, your unemployable middle age, the mortgage and the kids and your partner’s anger and the looming wasteland of your irrelevance to your former colleagues.) Or you could accept that you built this escape-proof prison and raise birds to release through the bars, before they become like you.
When the package arrived, Walter wrestled off the lid…then gazed at its contents and sighed.
The replicant Alice looked like a poor imitation. Same height, build, and hair color…but he saw gleaming rivets, which felt disconcerting, like he’d dragged home some Frankenstein’s monster to replace his dead wife.
He carried it to the sofa and draped a blanket over it.
Ten days later, he got up the nerve to turn the key.
Her eyes fluttered open–slate blue, like Alice’s.
He gasped. “I…made your favorite, carbonara.” Then he felt foolish; she couldn’t eat.
But she smiled. “Lovely.”
by G.J. Williams
Hope Towers. Inaptly named. And there’s a man who won’t move out of one of its third-floor apartments. How to make him see sense has replaced the weather as a talking point. He’ll be the song of the drunks yet. Category NETG: nowhere else to go, one of them. In short, one from whom there’s nothing to fear. Single male, middle-aged, keeps a cat. No comeback.
Gatesy sways in his overcoat. When he found it he could hardly do the remaining buttons up. But he has “lost weight,” as he puts it. I call it starving.
“C’mon,” I implore, “You have to eat.”
Now if you want to eat you have to show faith.
We pray, pick up bowls and under posters exhorting piousness, join the queue.
The server jokes, “What’s it going to be?”
As if there’s a choice.
After staring at Gatesy he adds more into his bowl.
Gatesy smiles as he eats.
“What’s so funny?”
“I got them where I want them”
When Tomorrow Was Perfect
by Angela Gilbert
“They’re coming!” Griff swipes his sword near Brett, blocking the villains from their assault. The forest teems with orcs only they see. “Fix your sword!” Brett’s frantic fingers tighten the fraying coils of rope connecting the wooden blade to its handle while Griff holds them off.
Their battle shields the lurking man from their notice.
Tonight will bring police. Interviews. Brett’s tearful mother asking Griff why they had walked home separately.
Tomorrow will bring posters, searches, and the beginning of a big forever without answers.
But right now laughter, sweat, and wooden swords hold the
promise of a perfect tomorrow.
Time to Move On
by Andrea Damic
All she can hear is the emptiness of rooms and corridors followed by squeaky floorboards and gushes of wind rushing through the hole in the roof. Pictures of family members displayed on tarnished walls alongside an unsteady spiral staircase whisper about the past long gone. She looks at their faces intensely attempting to remember their names but to no avail. Trying to put the puzzle together was like following a trail of disappearing bread crumbs.
For a moment she catches glimpses of her aged translucent body in a broken mirror across the hall. “Maybe it is time to move on.”
by Cheryl Snell
Before her legs gave out, she climbed into bed. Thought she could better track her body’s factories there. If she lay back and listened hard enough to the warnings–high winds rushing from ear to ear, vision blurring like raindrops on a windshield–she should have enough time to summon help. She looked at the brass bell she kept on the bedside table, a duplicate of the one her mother had used during her final illness. She’d ring the clapper dumb, never realizing the ringing in her ears was, as her friends liked to say, all in her head.
by David Henson
This time we let the silence lie between us. It rolls onto its back, lolls out its tongue, invites someone to scratch its stomach. When no one does, the silence sits, whines, pumps its paws, stands and chases its tail. Neither of us reacts, so the silence scampers into another room, comes back squeaking, drops its playfulness between us. Still ignored, the silence stiffens, ears back, tail erect, hackles raised. Its lips curl, and rising snarls lather its jaws. The silence eyes your throat, mine. I take my chances, bite my tongue.
by Mikki Aronoff
One night I had a dream. I watched a blue whale slap its tail on the calm ocean surface, saw green anacondas slick their way through the steamy Amazon. I ambled along the Left Bank observing painters painting lovers, drove a car through a hole carved through a giant sequoia.
When I awoke, I thought this meant I was going to die. I went to my desk and filled my fountain pen to write my will. It skittered and scratched and blotched the page blue until I relented and replaced it in its stand.
Deep In The Woods
Summer weekends were spent in the old farmhouse. My brother and I sitting in the glow of the fire, our parents reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the smoky aromas of dinner lingering, cricket-song punctuated by the snap of escaping sparks. We’d found a tin box of toys which we gripped as we listened to the story of the lost little girl. When the fire and comforting smells receded and we were tucked in, I listened to the scratch of mice in the walls, drip of rain seeping through musty beams and wondered if the dark might swallow us up.
by Jennifer Lai
After the divorce, her heart turned to stone. He said she was dead weight who kept him from his dreams. From becoming the astronaut he was destined to become. She argued she was his rock, her words heavy like gravity. But he was light-years away. Silenced into a cosmic void. Years later, she saw him on TV. Orbiting in space on a broken shuttle. Outside he went but forgot to tether in and drifted away. Fast and light like a plume into the obsidian expanse, with no one around to keep him grounded.
Made in the Shade
by Brian Beatty
Young women gallivanted around the flea market grounds in skimpy cut-off jean shorts and bikini tops like they were auditioning for nudie bar jobs. Gawping teenage boys followed not far behind. Hurley took it all in from a hammock hanging between two shade trees near his tent full of merchandise. He pretended to be reading a Hardy Boys mystery from his inventory. Kids showed up at sales to be seen, not to buy. You only had to look down at their ridiculous shoes. The women wobbled along on high heels. Their admirers wore bright sneakers fresh out of the box.
by Fiona Evans
Mum hands me the spoon to lick. The mixture looks disgusting, like gritty brown poo. Chocolate, butter, and sugar whipped up ready for my birthday cake. It tastes like heaven.
She shakes her head and says, “I don’t know how you always look so untidy.”
“It’s my superpower.”
Mum doesn’t laugh. She hasn’t since Dad left. I spread my arms wide and run around the room pretending to fly like superman.
Still no laugh. She just wipes the sweat from her brow and says, “Go on and clean up now.”
by David Henson
Fingers snap. She’s a grade-school girl, fires apples at the teacher, stops them in midair like a string of beads. A stripper, she wears red balloons she lets the men pop with their cigarettes. When she finishes her act, there’s nothing left but glowing ashes and half-empty mugs. A nun, she dances in the air with a Jesus from a life-sized crucifix as the congregation flees the pews. She enters beauty contests, her talent — dousing herself with gasoline. She strikes a match, while blazing embraces every judge, sits down, and smiles at the screams.
Duty to Protect
When Haruki was drafted into the military, he had accepted death. He’d envisioned a brass bullet whizzing through smoke and blood and shrapnel, puncturing his helmet and splintering his brain, killing him instantly. Instead, one hand of a poacher squeezed his neck, suffocating his screams, while the other thrust a spear beneath Haruki’s ribs, a spear more often used to pierce the endangered eels around the Bemo islands sanctuary where Haruki was deployed, guardian to marine flora and fauna. His last thought was of neglecting his childhood goldfish and his apathy at finding them floating belly up in the water.
Of course, I spilled coffee on my shirt. I was seven minutes late to work when our grace period was six minutes. All six reports were due today with two more being assigned within the hour. By lunch, I asked for the cheeseburger meal, but only got the sandwich and was still charged $7.00. My heel broke, and I realized too late this stall was out of toilet paper. I didn’t notice my gas tank was on E, and I’m not sure who Kristy is but she’s liking all my crush’s posts. Dinner burned. I’ll try again tomorrow.
This was how it ended: Dad splayed before the open door, shouting to the world he’d be leaving “ON MY OWN TURNS!” and Mom, two steps behind, hand to stomach, stopping as if shot. “Your own turns?” Her laugh became a shout. She spun and spun until falling to her knees on the hardwood floor. “Own turns?” she gasped, eyes closed, tears streaming. “Turns!”
Dad was dumb, fixed in place, as if he feared the slightest move would twist the whole whip-smart world down upon him, which, dizzy now, I want to imagine he might have sometimes thought he deserved.
by Salma Khalil
There is my mother, trying to put the little green bow on my head. As I refuse to cooperate with her, she gives up, fully aware that it was a waste of time. Not knowing that this would happen for years with no end, refusal after refusal. Little do I know, that turning down all those little bows might have been the worst decision of my life.
At Home With The Ticking
by G.J. Williams
Cled? Cled’s on what he calls ‘ticker time’. It’s his heart, the meat one, the literal ticking of it, a minute-by-minute affair. Seems it took fifty years for the news to reach him: dying’s a big deal, truly. It means what it says on the tin. Going by the look on Cled’s face he’d no idea. Odd, in view of his apparent death wish. He’d like to say it’s all been gravy. Instead, Cled says, It’s not been gravy, any of it.
Tolls went up two dollars. All I saw were red brake lights. The accident was on the northbound 24-mile bridge, but I was going southbound at 5 mph now. When the rubbernecking ending, I tried to make up for lost time, but the patrol car pulled me over and gave me a $300 ticket. A bird flew past my window and barely avoided suicide, but the thick layer of bugs that have collected on my bumper weren’t so lucky as I finally exited the bridge. Something tells me there will be a foggy convoy when I return.
by Judith Salerno
It was the same nasty breakfast, raw bean sprouts with prune juice.
“I understand the prune juice, Worf, but why the bean sprouts?”
He growled, “It’s the closest thing to gagh that I can find at the supermarket.”
“You’re not a Klingon, dear. Your mother just named you after one.”
He scowled, and I knew my mistake would cost me.
“Today is a good day to die!” he stomped to the den and started Klingon Academy on the big screen.
Great, he’ll be there all day while I’m raking leaves.
Maybe I’ll dig up some earthworm gagh for his dinner.
by Jen Schneider
The cast iron pot lived life in a box. All corners sealed. The attic its forever home. Amidst yellowed photos, christening gowns, and soiled denim. Clean-ups long overdue. Survivor on TV. She scrubbed spots. Diced celery. Chopped onions. Simmered broth. Chicken legs shed skin. Time melted in savory air. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.
by G.J. Williams
She said it was because he didn’t ask about the scar but instead kissed it. That’s what did it, she said. Miri all over. This Joe feller, he kissed that scar, held her wrist, said nothing. Where Miri lives, that’s a man with soul. That’s a bod worth keeping.
by Ashley McCurry
After you left, I started packing up boxes and found a picture of myself as an infant.
I was sitting with an unenthusiastic Santa, dressed as a tiny elf with white tights, grinning wildly.
The photo was worn, and a rusty orange smear coated my lips and teeth. I looked as if I had just devoured the raw flesh of my enemies, there on Santa’s lap.
I wish I could transport myself back into that plump, unsuspecting vessel, watching my parents waving at me to coax a smile—
Believing that I would always be the center of someone else’s universe.
by David M Wallace
Follow the path of crushed stone, the curled leaf riding the creek. Pass under the bridge with moss hanging from its struts. Climb the bank toward the strains of the calliope, where trinkets dangle, whirligigs spin, and clowns lean from a carousel waving white Jesus on a stick.
There Are Wolves
by Kaitlin Beauchemin
“There’s a mountain lion in the yard.”
The husband presents this information like an accusation. Like he’s taking a stand.
The son yanks out another clump of her hair.
Her eyes water.
“No, honey. No.”
“You can see it from the window. It’s right there.”
The husband watches her very carefully.
The son slaps her face.
She gazes out the window.
What fucking yard?
A Bar Joke
by Peter Cherches
Three things exist in a bar. The bartender notices them for the first time, though they’d been hiding in plain sight for ages. In fact, they’d been in the bar so long they had collected a thick veneer of dust. It’s a slow day, so the bartender dusts the three things off, revealing their true natures. One of the things strikes the bartender’s fancy, so he moves it behind the bar, a place of honor. Now all the customers begin to comment on the thing. It has become a conversation piece, which cannot be said of the other two things!
What Daedalus Really Said to Icarus
by Dave Donovan
As he fastened the straps around the boy’s broadening shoulders, the craftsman spoke: “Listen to me. These wings aren’t built for a joy ride–they’re a means to an end. We’re escaping a dickhead who’s pissed that his wife fucked a bull. So here’s the deal: fly too high, you’re dead. Too low, dead. Got it?”
After a moment, the father sighed with despair: “Still, you are meant to die. That’s what young men do when given a chance like this. To you, it beats farming and growing old. I understand. I’m just letting you know you were loved.”
Documentarians Went There So You Don’t Have To
by Todd Mercer
The film festival Jane and I attended showcased nations that are terrible safety risks for filmgoers to visit. Transitioning from a pitch-dark theater into sunlight, reflecting on why Yemen is disqualified from vacations, I tripped. Laid on the concrete awhile.
Jane said, “See, Marshall? Nowhere is completely safe.”
Then she helped me up.
I didn’t want to draw attention to my bleeding knee. The festival reminded us: people are bleeding all over. People gasp for breath. They starve in a time of plenty.
We recovered at a sandwich shop. Jane’s was a Cuban, mine a Rachel—a turkey Reuben.
Where Did That Leave Him?
by Mel Fawcett
When Michael was learning French he began watching a filmed interview of a famous French actor. Over time, he learned to copy the actor’s intonation–to such an extent that people said he sounded like him. Flattered by this, he began to develop the mannerisms of the actor, and then move like him. He even started to dress like him. Eventually, it got so that in his mind there was no difference between the actor and himself. That was why he started to use his name. But then he read that the actor had committed suicide.
Reason for the Fall
by Ken Poyner
A red dog goes by on a bicycle. I don’t mind a red dog commanding a bicycle, but he seems to be ignoring all the traffic signs that should apply to bicyclists. Not that he is being otherwise reckless, just unheedful. He sits upright, focused on the road, well within the speed limit, oblivious to all the guides that are supposed to inform him of what bicyclists must do. And he is a red dog. Were he a blue dog, the environment, the import, would be different. I wave, not unfriendly, but not inviting, and the hidden curb snatches him.
by Amber Steenberg
Pierre was a lanky college graduate, 6’1, and had the hair of a Greek god. What brought him to Robin was their shared interest in film.
He found himself sitting in the back of an empty theatre, the movie murmuring as if grey were a voice. The projection’s hue pooled a mountain of contour as he turned his head, and he watched as she smiled on the edge of her seat, bright eyes glistening, and as soft breaths of laughter spilled through her teeth, which lingered in the theatre air. From this moment he fell into a trance of adoration.
Alpha and Omega
by Leesa Voth
She wished her mother had told her that breasts reveal how it begins and ends. That they emerge from the flat plains of childhood into dual summits that men would climb. That they achingly swell with milk after children arrive from the body. That their aging deflation concedes to a distant shadow of femininity.
She stood at the scanning machine.
An off-color secretion on the glass.
Do I have…?
She fainted. Later, the nurse gave her juice. In the dressing room, she searched the summit but hesitated before praying. For God is Man, and she just wanted her Mother.