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by Tiffany Grimes
Goldfish were thought to be like freshly cut wildflowers. Decoration only.
I don’t know what to do with my pet goldfish while I’m gone. He will slowly suffer, his tiny body rotten when I return.
I pick him up. It takes a few tries but soon I can predict his movements. I squeeze his golden body between my fingers.
I place him in my mouth. He squirms down my esophagus and then my only friend in the whole world is gone.
I don’t have to stop for lunch.
by Kirsty Holmes
The first thing I notice is the absence of birdsong; a thudding silence as my heart fights, as the panic closes hot, dry hands around my throat; the room shrinks around me until, Alice-like, my awkward limbs fold and my too-big elbows shatter the windows.
The only thing to do is run; choking on vinegar tears. Out; the field. I strike toward the sun; barefoot, dishcloth in hand; one two, nine ten; count the steps, my breaths, my heartbeats. Stare at the sky until it sears into my vision forever, the pain just about clean enough to hold on to.
by Leslie Cairns
I was ribs, bones, and sulking hallways.
Feeding tubes, and a skeleton weight.
A man who would later save my life and buy my graduation gown, would pull in one fluid motion. And, in the same sentence, reminds me of the other girls he’d seen and done the same. He used to call us the tools in his toolbox. Screwdriver, he’d laughed with abandon at that. I was, with some affection, the hammer.
Dashed lines, jagged cliffs, lost rocks. Wandering back, barefoot.
I’m a crevice, a flight path, a steady pattern of people coming and forgetting where they went.
What I Did for Love
by Roberta Beary
At the bar we bonded over favorite musicals. When I went home with him I knew it could turn weird. And it did. His hallway was filled with whips and chains masquerading as shabby chic wall art. He steered me to red silk sheets. It was over before it had started. He said It was good for me was it good for you, before rolling over and falling asleep. His armpits still had that yeasty smell. Like when we were married. Before I left I grabbed $500 from his wallet. For the kids’ music lessons.
On the Right Track
by Mark Reels
She resolved to do three laps around the walking path every day.
She trudged past the blooming daffodils in April.
In May she walked beneath the delicate flowers of a crab apple tree.
A teenager pointed and laughed at her as she jogged and panted past in June.
By July she was running with her earbuds in.
In August the apple tree was producing hard, tart fruit. When the jeering teenager whistled at her and yelled, “Lookin’ good, mama,” she picked an apple and beaned him in the head with it.
He gave chase, but she easily outran him.
by TL Holmes
Doctor Kline says it is chronic not fatal, that it is possible to live a full life with bent stems and wilting leaves, that there is a rose bush he cares for that’s been living with it for sixteen years. She is bald and thornless but still beautiful, he says. I’m not a rose bush, I want to scream, I cannot live without my leaves. My husband tells me he will love me no matter what but late in the night when he thinks I am asleep, I hear him in the garden with the daisies, just bloomed.
by Nathaniel Darbonne
I swallowed a needle while trying to make something beautiful. While holding it between my teeth I realized I would never be happy, a revelation that made me gasp and suck it in. With the needle in the back of my throat, I raced to the hospital and ran around, trying to convince the doctors there was something wrong with me, unable to speak. The needle traveled further down whenever I swallowed, scraping the soft tissue, gathering more flesh, creating scars, unseen.
An Arrival to Aimlessness
by Calvin Yorick
White walls glow cool with rainbow circuitry; razor lines thin like spider’s silk, threaded, tangled unbroken for what could be forever, pulsing methodically, all healthy-like. Fun to look at. Strange to contemplate—like most of the phenomena in this odd, underground vista. She wants to be perplexed, to be genuinely curious before this mystery, but the anxiety gnaws her open. The stretching pit in her stomach swallows any interest, atomizes whatever wonder. She’s not here to daydream theories about the labyrinth’s origins or nature. She’s here to stay lost, and she knows this, but she carries on regardless. Aimlessly.
by Calvin Yorick
The foul flesh of the white beast ripples like milk. It groans, ill with lacerations, thousands of newborn wounds. And then it deflates. Dies gasping. En masse the tortured souls of its victims pull themselves up through its shredded hide, and they’re all mottled and ugly and wretched with the weight of a timeless imprisonment. They do not linger. Or show gratitude. The ruined warrior, a premonition of offal, watches with weary pleasure the senseless dead rising like plumes of smoke into the sky, off to rediscover their options.
The Great Pretender
by Alessia Pietraroia
I’m allergic to cotton candy. Rides make me nauseous. I’m afraid of clowns. Yet every weekend in July, I go to the fair. I hop into my prettiest shorts, the ones that mask bruises and salted wounds, and drive. I smile for pictures I don’t want to take, eat a candy apple, despite its poisonous center, play mundane games that bore me to exhaustion, ride the ferris wheel, in contempt of its rusted seats and loose screws. I ignore the stomach-churning scent of laughter and euphoria. And when I get home, I tell my family how much fun I had.
Family Road Trip
by Jody Perejda
“I spy, with my little eye, something starting with the letter ‘H.’” I feel like we’ve been in the car for six months. My brother smells like rancid roadkill.
“Whore!” I shout out. We’re on a highway in Kansas. No hookers in sight.
“That doesn’t start with an ‘H,’” is my dad’s reply. My flesh melts against the crap upholstery.
“I spy, with my little eye, something starting with the letter ‘D.’” I announce, snatching my victory despite flaunting all the rules of the game. My mom looks around pitifully.
“Diner?” Always optimistic.
“Dirt,” I tell them. Nothing but.
From the Sky
by Trevor Dunnigan
I flick my cigarette and the hot ash is taken by the wind. As I sit on the sun-soaked steel beam, I look down at the birds flying far below my throne. I look out, imagining the building completed. Covered in a beautiful skin of metal and glass. I try and picture myself standing on the soon to be completed floor wearing a suit and tie, but I cannot, I can only see myself, sitting on the skeleton of the beautiful building, shirtless, smoking my cigarette.
by Kathy Pendrill
“Will I see you again?” I ask.
She nods, and smiles a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes, those foggy blue eyes obscured by the smoke of a thousand last cigarettes smoked by a thousand Jane Does; eyes that seem covered by the cloud that hangs low in the room whenever I’m alone with her, that feels like breathing in the smoke my father used to blow just below the open window while driving in the front seat so that I, sat in the back seat directly behind him, could quietly choke.
“Sure thing,” she lies. I smile back.
by Albert Hughes
A huge tree grew in the garden of his childhood, casting its dark shadow over even his sunnier days. He and his mother had always hated it. When his father died, it was cut down.
by Celeste Regal
The moon over Louisiana bayous trick the mind into believing in magic. Mist of morning feels poetic, transformational. The shrimpers were romantic for ocean. Rough men. Hard working men. Their lives off shrimp boats produced a great longing. Florescent Mantis shrimp glowed like fairies in the darkness. The force of water bodies, cyan-blackened sky was powerful voodoo. A shrimper called Godzilla because a tattoo of the beast on his back pulling boats while breathing fire, told the tale. It is seasonal work. The mundane jobs taken off season dim the spirit, craving return to watery effusion.
Your Own Norma Desmond
by Jim Doss
From the outside, the house looked like a giant cobweb. Stepping through the front door, you heard the sound of flies buzzing against the windows. The live-in nurse greeted you with the thousand-year-old eyes of a Nile Queen, her fingers imprinted with gossip magazines. Climbing the winding staircase, you entered a twilight bedroom where an old woman lay motionless on the bed barely able to blink. Surrounding her were clocks of various ages, large, small, stopped and still ticking, affirming the countdown of hours in every corner of the world. The wall-mounted TV screen looped endlessly through her home movies.
by Zack Butovich
Based on the flies, the cows had been dead for two days. That was what Marcello said. Two days. Like a mantra, over and over. He was shaking, his boots too big for his feet, when Mika convinced us to keep hiking past the corpses, which she insisted was just hamburger meat left out too long. Bad burgers, she said, in her poor English, her thick-tongued German accent. “I am from Hamburg, I would know.”
My boots were soggy. I didn’t notice when they splashed in puddles that could have been more than just water.
The Hungarian Underground
by Patricia Quintana Bidar
My neighbor Lisa was a retired member of the Hungarian underground. Her husband, a suspendered attorney, decreed they’d leave New York for the sticks. There, he’d command the locals as a gentleman farmer. Lisa mended socks with staples, lobbed dirty dishes out the window, all in her peignoir and fur puff slippers. From her, I learned to advance my aims through eyeliner and misdirection. Because before long they returned to their penthouse on the upper East Side. As long as Lisa and I kept discreet, her husband was content as a connoisseur of bourbon and collector of handmade neckties.
by Mark Reels
After Nathan argued with his wife, he retreated to the garage.
He would rewind the quarrel in his mind and alternate between being hurt by his wife’s words and being disappointed in his own anger.
How long could he lie to himself and call this place his home?
He considered the peg board with each tool hanging in its place. He saw the power tools sitting neatly on their shelves and felt the limits of his own power to build or repair his very life.
He looked at his perfectly maintained vehicle and realized he had nowhere else to go.
by Sarah Freligh
After the man died, the authorities carried out the bones of the six girls who’d gone missing and X’ed the front door in yellow tape. The neighborhood lit up with television cameras and microphones tethered to women with glossed-on faces who talked about what a nice neighbor the man had been. The cleaners came and tore down the walls of old newspapers, the hills of clothing, and left the whole mess by the curb for the trash men to take away. The daffodils came back in the spring; the new owners planted roses. No one remembered the girls’ names.
Big Girls Don’t Cry
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Mother’s in the kitchen, holding a bottle of wine like a microphone. Dad’s car speeds away, the sputtering fading, fading. Radio blasts The Four Seasons. Mother sings, doing pitch-perfect Frankie Valli falsetto: Big girls don’t cry. She repeats it over and over. Nick asks if she’s all right. She smiles, keeps imitating Frankie, waving the bottle. They don’t cry-yyyyyy. Nick tries to tell her it’ll be all right. They’ll move on. Things that seem empty and false. She keeps on singing. Voice cracks and for a moment Nick doesn’t know if she’s laughing or crying. Perhaps she doesn’t know either.
by Kip Knott
I live like a murderer who has contemplated the death of my numbness for months.
When I am alone in my house for too long, I hear the oranges in my refrigerator carrying on long, bittersweet conversations. They say another man lives inside of me. They say he is a man so full of sadness that he moves as if covered in tar. They say he lives just below the skin.
I love oranges. I love how when I peel them their juice runs down my fingers and palms and stings the small cuts running across my wrists.
by Beth Balousek
1969. It was Vietnam, and men coming home without the legs they left on. Her boys played with cap guns. They pledged allegiance to the flag and killed each other daily. So, she fed them. They crunched down sugary bowls of Kaboom. Lunch boxes filled to bursting. Dinners became debauchments. Gleaming shanks of lamb. Slabs of beef. Biscuits, breads, and rolls to sop up the blood. She gave them borderline diabetes and mild hypertension. She swelled them to sizes that were difficult to shop for. They grew uncomfortable, but dependent. They would not get her babies. Not her babies. No.
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This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz
by R.C. Weissenberg
The piece of bark attached itself to the wall and, no matter how hard anyone pulled, it wouldn’t come off. The next day it doubled in size, and by week’s end its diameter had increased tenfold. Bright green leaves sprouted from the wooden growth.
Nobody wanted a forest in the building, so they removed that piece of the wall and tossed it in the park. There, it blended perfectly, rapidly re-greening the barren landscape.
They tried to get an environmental tax break for doing this, but their request was denied. Their wall repair was costly.
If These Symptoms Persist, or Are Bothersome…
by C.G. Thompson
The morning after he started painkillers for his knee, he whinnied while brushing his teeth. He thought he’d stepped on a squeak toy. Then he saw hooves.
He navigated downstairs, a tail growing. Cartilage, then hair.
In the kitchen, he crunched carrots, read the prescription warnings.
Possible side effects: dizziness, nausea…
Pointed ears swelled behind his temples. Did he hear electricity flowing through the house?
A hard material began to encase his fingers.
Three hours later, police responded to a Palomino roaming a front lawn.
The horse ambled toward the patch of greenest grass. It favored its right front leg.
Elephants and Dolphins
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
I suspect that the language of elephants and dolphins is not in need of metaphors. To wit, when I barter for a candy bar I truck telescopic photos of the most distant stars. The brown clerk says he knows all astrologers. Put a man on the moon (again) and I will say -I’ve been there already. The moon itself is little more than that face my daughter makes when she sees life’s unfairness and says, dad, you didn’t teach me any of this. Le mot juste, unfairness this. Time to stoke the flames of our furnace.
Death and Taxes
by Lauren Punales
My sister’s corpse reanimated on a Wednesday. Unwashed and grey, dressed in an amalgamation of clothing different relatives insisted she’d be buried in. I quickly assimilated her into her previous life; reacquired her Taurus, moved her into my spare room, and bought her pungent drugstore lotion to mask her overripe stench. I argued with the IRS about tax evasion in death as my sister’s corpse moaned, hobbling sock-footed around my living room.
“I guess we’ll fill out your W-4,” I told her slack jawed face.
She grunted, her stiff fingers scrabbling against each other, staring at her grave plot outside.
This month’s artwork is by Fabio Sassi
by Jack Caulfield
As the water rose and overwhelmed us, we found that more living things were left in it than we had anticipated. We had poisoned the seas first inadvertently and then deliberately, fearing retribution for our initial error and seeking in place of clemency the annihilation of the atrocity’s would-be avengers. Yet here they were, the writhing masses.
by Terry Cree
He is at the stage when girls his own age have changed shape and turned into something untouchable a long, long way away. They all have laughs that can wound or even kill. He and the friends he doesn’t like very much kick holes in fences, wrestle each other into headlocks, smell like cured meat. The future that people talk about is like the weather forecast; it might not happen but it probably will. In the bathroom mirror, he tries by small adjustments over many days and months to sort out the mess.
by Renee Reeves
Emmaline was still doing her calculus homework when the moon rose. She could hear them in the darkness, crying in the woods that ran, vein-like, through the suburban neighborhood. The popular girls, cavorting in their wolf forms, sang harmonies to the harvest moon. She longed to hear paws scratching against the door, feel dank wolf breath against her skin, but she was too tame to run for them. Perhaps, on a night she was feeling brave, she’d walk into the woods and call it an audition. Tonight, Emmaline closed the window and reached for her headphones.
by Abigail Skinner
She was a flower once. The hurricane came, ripped her up, tossed her around, and displaced her for miles and miles. She began to follow the wind, here, there, everywhere, and back again. She would pass the other flowers – their feet in the dirt, roots holding firm – and laugh with feral glee to leave them behind. Free, she saw wonders, met strangers, and wearied her bones, until an odd wind brought her here. Now the wind calls to her again – teases, pushes, pulls, and blusters. She stands in the yard, buries her feet, and prays for growth.
by Danielle Burnette
While strolling past a jewelry store, you wonder aloud about the job opportunity in Copenhagen. About bicycling every day to work and learning to love rye bread. I need a change, you say. You deserve a gift, he says and steers you into the store. He guesses which bracelet you like before you pick it. He knows you love turtles, especially golden ones with zirconia-crusted shells. They conga a ceaseless line around your wrist—one bedazzling dancer for each year he hasn’t proposed. A sign, perhaps, of how much he loves you.
Amazing Bike Ride
by Charles Gray
I’m pedaling through the park, watching ducks, and enjoying the smell of grilled steak, when four cyclists whiz by me. Pissed off by their rude behavior, my rental transforms into an Arabian horse. I kick her into an all out sprint, grab the reins, stand on her back, and feel the wind. She gallops through their slipstream and tramples them. Bikes flip, riders tumble, tires mangle. I cross the finish line, the winner. The crowd applauds. I take my bows. Then I open my eyes and see them in the distance, their muscular calves pumping, like pistons, a perpetual machine.
New Year’s Resolution
by Rich Gravelin
My resolution was decluttering, but it was disingenuous; I’d carried an unofficial obsessiveness diagnosis for years. Christmas was hardest; unlit pine candles and dusty tomtes flanked an artificial tree that lost needles anyway. I rarely read cards upon receipt; too busy whisking them from envelope to bookshelf. Cleanup was easier — sweeping into squared piles more efficient — but the photo of mom and me dancing at the wedding re-emerged. Two Christmases have passed since I phoned goodbye from an airport terminal. “We all die alone, anyway,” she said when I asked to come earlier, but I never believed she meant it.
Breakfast for Ghosts
by Lora Kilpatrick
Every morning, a man walks out of our pond and stares in the back door. His skin is bloated and purple. Algae hangs off his hat. At first, Mama fainted. Now we just let him in and save him a seat at the table. Mama serves him a plate of eggs and a cup of coffee. He never eats, but we think something like a smile splits his swollen lips. When we’re done, he tips his hat to Mama and walks back to the pond. Mama says not all ghosts want to scare people. Some just want breakfast.
by Barbara Schilling Hurwitz
The land shook senseless for days before the tremors ceased. All was still but the movement of the sea. The world once heated by the warmth of the sun was left cold, grey and lifeless. We approached with caution the petrified hand, covered in ash, rising from the packed granules of sand, its fingers motioning us closer. “You,” a thundering voice spoke, “have been gifted a fresh canvas on which to paint the world anew. But heed my warning, choose your colors with care or like the previous holders of the brush, you will bring forth the apocalypse once again.”
by Howie Good
One person in six hasn’t heard of the Holocaust, doesn’t know what it is, a planet of smoke and flames. Seventy year ago my relatives didn’t believe it was there, and then they walked through the gate and under the slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei, and found they suddenly had a dismal view of God’s back from inside the barbed wire. So I look around, and though the times are terrifying, try to act like a kind of thunderstorm blue, like I can see clouds in the shape of a woman’s mighty body and feel the rain that hasn’t fallen yet.
If Not for Love
by Lacie Semenovich
I’m married. Happily married. Except at 2 AM when I’m homicidal. I don’t sleep well anymore. My bladder. My bones. My memories. My husband sleeps like a drunken teen and snores like an asthmatic. I imagine the weight of the memory foam pillow in my hands, hovering above his face, still handsome after all these years. He’ll think he’s dreaming. Then blissful silence. Ah, if not for love… Instead, I plant my foot in the middle of his back and push. The dog knows better than to sleep on his side of the bed. I roll over and feign sleep.
by Celeste Regal
It was always winter in her heart. Even in this torrid country where dogs go mad, locals walk like zombies inert and unsurprised. A dearth of freedoms profound, though. On this day, awash in light, a fantastic bird perched on the gallery and spoke. “Outliving them allows transition to the acropolis.” It disappeared in a rainbow flutter. She looked askance at the cloak of hidden desires bursting at the seams. Back to her desk, she wrote away regrets with strokes full of color and confidence. Each paragraph left trails for another oracular bird to arrive unannounced.
by Jean Straton
She was half-fish, half-human. “A mermaid.” Jack whispered.
She wasn’t moving. Could she breathe?
“Hey, are you alive? Please be alive.” He grabbed a nearby stick and jabbed it at her.
The mermaid coughed and seawater shot out from her mouth.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked.
The mermaid groaned and rubbed her eyes. “Where… am I?”
“You’re on land. Do you want me to help you get-“
“Oh, thank God.” She blurted and pulled her legs out from the mermaid tail.
Aunt Edna’s Stuffing
by Bill Diamond
Aunt Edna loved the holiday season: the decorations, music and food. Even the crowded shopping brought her joy. She especially liked the family gatherings.
So, the family was surprised, but not shocked at her will. It requested she be stuffed and displayed each year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s to enjoy the celebrations and camaraderie.
It was weird at first. But soon, decorating Aunt Edna was an annual tradition. The children rubbed her nose for luck and wished for presents.
Edna was an island of seasonal cheer. She beamed regardless of the chaos, family traumas, or how outrageous her costume.
by Annalise Grey
“What are your plans for the future?” Dr. Madden asked as he sipped his fourth cup of coffee.
George shrugged. “Marry a pretty Martian girl and raise a green family.”
Dr. Madden laughed before turning to leave. “Extraordinary sense of humor, son. I’m sure the new hyperdrive we’re developing will make your fantasy come true.”
Glancing over his shoulder, George carefully shoved his Martian porn comic into his desk’s only lockable drawer.
by Mark Reels
The calendar featured a scene from some exotic location above each month’s blank grid of days.
Nathan dutifully added his work schedule, his son’s soccer games and his daughter’s swim lessons to the grid representing June.
Ayers Rock sat above the timetable for his daily life. The monolith sat beneath a full moon in a velvet sky streaked with starlight.
Nathan recalled a documentary about Australia. The contrast between its vibrant coral reef and the desert that makes up most of the continent had left him melancholy for days.
Next year he would get a calendar with puppies or something.
From This Distance
by Ed Higgins
Can you remember now? How we could each disappear completely, connected despite fault lines; subduction zones all our own. Lie protected. Surfaces sliding under failed recognitions as overlying sediments accumulate under pressure transforming into anthracite or other hardened evidence. Reminding me of a nearly lost premise: Once we sang so goofily out of tune we may actually have laughed out loud. Uncertain now are favored wines: zinfandel, chardonnay, oaky pinots we declared made just for us. Little suspecting some later taste, like treachery, say, calculated–or maybe only through regret, conveniently overlooked. While staring into one another’s eyes.
by Susan Sabry
Pumpkins fell from the sky, and managed to hit everything but a small girl in the middle of a field. There were no witnesses. In fact, every man driving by could only see a small scarecrow. A scarecrow with a summer dress and a mouth stitched in a circle letting out a silent scream.
Moby Dick: The Abridged Version
by Marc Simon
He is above. I am below. He is air. I am water. He is black. I am white. He lives to hunt. I hunt to live. He has steel. I have tooth. He’s drawn my blood. I’ve tasted his flesh. He wants my life. I want to live. Come noon the third day we will meet on the in between, and once and for all, decide.
by Alexis Nau
This tiny creature is getting larger and harder to feed. She whines out for more of me, cry like a ravaged beast. Sometimes I wonder if she only plays at being small, for I’m certain on my down-low days she could grind me into dust under her smudged heel. Her brother is golden, my sunshine-boy who likes to hide under snow drifts in winter. Sometimes I forget his name amidst the clamor of her wailing. I set him on his feet and he bobbles away, frightened by the sound of her again.
A Single Cloud
by Henry Bladon
It can’t be that bad, he said. I looked out of the hospital window. A single cloud means something bad, I said. You’ll be fine, he said. He didn’t look convincing I gestured to the tubes sprouting from my arm, the bag above my head. That’s nothing, he said. You’re a winner. You always win. I said that sounded tautological. He shrugged. Anyway, I said: You know what they say in all the films? He looked at me hopefully. Tell me it’s something good. I shook my head. So tell me, he said. I put him out of his misery. They say: ‘Let’s get out of here’.
by Nick T. Johnson
The narrow piece of paper, tacked to a bulletin board, loomed in the room like an ominous hourglass. Among the many markings of accomplishment upon it, there remained, for the last ten years, only one unadulterated item. When reached by the aging man, the implications of finishing the final task, Learn to play the Piano, had become paralyzing. Awoken, revelation from his mother’s past words consumed him, “Only God knows when it’s your time; he doesn’t bargain.” Drawn to the dusty fixture, he struck an unknown key, praying it was his first of many.