by Hannah Whiteoak
Run until your heart races, breath wheezes, January air grazes your throat, feet are on fire, a stitch gnaws at your side, legs burn and buckle as you sprint across the finish line and stagger to a stop. Bend at the waist, hands on your thighs, nauseous, gasping as you reach for your watch to check your time. Plan to run again tomorrow, despite aching calves and quads; set the alarm, plaster blisters, gulp coffee and go, because you remember when the black dog was gnashing at your heels and you know it is never far behind.
by Vincent Aldrich
She cried good tears. The long wait finally over. She said she loved the ring, and me, and I cried a little too, grinning. We laughed together, and it was pretty much perfect. But somewhere in the conversation following, while I worked my second drink, I made some offhanded comment about credit card debt and changing diapers, and something in her eyes clouded over. Now she stares at the grey waves in silence, then her phone, then the waves again. I sip my fresh drink and flip through the appetizers, while seagulls argue over some dead thing by the water.
by Maura Yzmore
I’ve always thirsted for rain. For gloomy skies and thunder. For running soaked to the bone along wide, sparkling streets.
Those streets led to a desert, and in the desert were you. Amidst scorpions, cacti, in the sweltering heat, the thirst felt deep in my loins, and it was quenched by your sweat.
Our children grow up on ice. All water, you say, like rain. But streets are narrow and mean, far too cold to get drenched… And you, my love, are a liar.
With you, it’s ice or heat. Never, ever my rain.
You let me die of thirst.
by Alanna Weissman
“Inoperable,” the doctor told her, showing her a scan. She attempted to decipher the black-and-white image, its contents a Rorschach, the tumor blooming like a flower, growing like a weed. She thought back to when she was a child and fascinated with medicine. Scabs, lipomas—how fascinating the things the body produced! She would squeeze a clogged follicle for the hardened bead of lymph it produced, peel the outer layer off a crusted-over cut. But illness, true illness, was something that only happened in television dramas and medical textbooks. Now she could only wait.
My Life Without Me
by Jim Doss
I quit my job a year before I did. After 20 years of service, the company gave me the big promotion to a corner office. I’d shut my door hours at a time, pretend I was engaged in delicate negotiations with an acquisition target only to watch pigeons landing on my window ledge, or people in the street below hurrying place to place. I sat there in my Brooks Brothers suits, staring at the double reflection in the corner windows, first left-side, then right-side, wondering who this stranger was, and why he stared back so intent on probing my soul.
A Prayer in Cinnamon
by Ellen Perleberg
Wander to the kitchen at one a.m., sleepless. She’s there, of course. Try politely not to notice She’s been crying. She looks up, smiles, conspiratorial. It’s less lonely when there are people in the house. “I was about to make hot chocolate,” She says. “Want some?” She hadn’t really been intending on cocoa. But it’s what people do for each other in midnight kitchens. She respects that. People need their litanies and lullabies. Take a seat at the table while She whisks chocolate, the kind that comes in disks and dissolves grainy, imperfect, into milk. Real cinnamon. Taste and see.
The Pastor and His Dark Church
by Stephen D Gibson
Someone changes the porch light bulb to red again. A “red-light district” bulb. A persistent prank. It doesn’t seem, to him, an accusation: “Pastor, you prostitute.” His parishioners are always outraged. It bothers him less. He advises turning the other cheek. Changing bulbs. They want private security. “No,” he says. “Who wants angrier, more expensive vandalism?” They’re conservative. Sharing wealth, even with God from whence it came, is difficult for them. So, he walks toward his building, sunrise only a glow. The barest pink behind the silhouette of the church comforts him. Stepping inside, he leaves the porch light burning.
The Summer of Love
by Jim Doss
1967. They were Barbie and Ken. Everything perfect, the world before sex and death. Plenty of money, Cadillacs, steaks cut into precise squares. Each evening always full debonair dress, hand in hand, hand on waist, violins swirling. Nothing could spoil the magic, not even war, that distant echo growing louder in foreign jungles. Then the draft, daddy’s money failures, deferment that didn’t happen. Mekong, Tet Offensive, napalm, flame throwers, tunnel rats scurrying past bullet-riddled bodies. Fear that makes a person retreat into themselves, cowering behind a wall of corpses. In his room the light goes on, off, on, off. Forever.
by Mark Reels
When Chelsea stopped by the supermarket, they were setting up for the wine tasting. The store put on a “Six for Six Celebration” with six appetizers and six samples of wine at little stations throughout the store. She bought a pregnancy test and headed home. When Brad picked her up, Chelsea didn’t tell him about the baby. Instead, they complimented each other’s outfits and drove to the store. Later, she stood in the gluten free aisle sipping a dry Chardonnay while scrolling through her phone looking for a clinic. She used the online form to make an appointment for Monday.
by Kelsey Maccombs
“I got you cinnamon tea. Is that okay?” Cinnamon tea tastes like screeching brakes and burned skin. Like pushing open the classroom door, still gasping, forty minutes after the exam started and explaining to the teacher I canttakethetest, needtogohome, donthavedryclothes, cantstopcrying. I spent an hour cleaning cinnamon tea out of the seats before I learned what totaled meant, so no, it’s not okay. But this is a first date, so I drink it anyway.
This week’s artwork is “Where It Leads” by G.J. Mintz.
Faded Blue Loveseat
by Paul Germano
After an unpleasant evening at a holiday party neither of them wanted to attend at the festively-decorated red-brick home of the lovey-dovey couple they sometimes hang out with, they unlock the dead-bolted door to their tiny apartment, still miffed by an argument in the car and immediately head for their living room, turning on the TV and reluctantly taking their appropriate spots, sitting uneasy and far apart, on a faded blue loveseat that’s not up for the job.
The Beauty Within
by Jim Doss
Each day people die, only to be reborn again. It’s like they never left, same features, same clothes, same age, same memories, rising from the usual bed to eat a normal breakfast. Uncle Eddie last week. Sister Mary yesterday. They greeted me on their way to church this morning, two true believers walking the straight and narrow. I tip my hat to all who have witnessed the afterlife, felt their soul leave the body. Everyone’s time of dying remains a mystery of synthetic tendons, semiconductors, algorithms of good and evil. In my heaven, God’s just one more lonely computer scientist.
Unlike the Ones That Came Before Me
by Daeira Brown
I’ve seen things I shouldn’t have seen.
There were others like me. But they always do something wrong. When they do, the room goes cold and I hear the faintest hush of whispers.
I’m afraid. The last time I heard the hushes, one of us disappeared. But I am still here.
I’m still here, so I must be right. The way I speak/think is right. Suddenly, it all added up. I was right, so I wouldn’t disappear.
I curved my lips into a smile. Except this time, I did not need the numbers to tell me to do so.
by J.R. Heatherton
A sickly gentleman from Prague opens a window to peer down at a throng-filled street where each pedestrian busily carries a chiseled rock from one side of the street to the other, giving thumbs-up once post is made and congratulating one another on a job well-done before carrying their rocks back across the street to repeat the process all over again. The man yells out, “Can anyone tell me how any of this matters?” No one answers his plea, paying no attention to anything other than passing time carrying rocks. So he shuts the window and draws closed the drapes.
by Jake Woods
The solitary dandelion grips life in the midst of this asphalt prison, growing sideways out of the curb like an intrepid, windswept conifer rooted to a concrete mountainside. The shade of yellow is not unlike the solid yellow line, arrow straight, that leads to freedom, or the fiery yellow orb that holds me captive. The wizened panhandler with scraggly beard, shuffles, yellow eyes downcast, defeated. Hope: yellow flower; yellow eyes. As I ponder, he stops, peers at the flower, considers. He staggers a bit as he opens his fly, and I look away as he pisses on my yellow daydream.
by JJ Collins
Far from home, away from his wife and kids, Harvey McGarvin decided to die.
It wasn’t quite as simple as that; no, Harvey loved his family very much. But Harvey had a secret, and secrets eventually flee the hearts of the impulsive.
Harvey could see the future.
Angst and worry consumed him, robbed him of sleep and forced him along a path he once believed to be his own. Finally, under the weight of false autonomy, he rode his motorcycle deep into the Nevada desert, and put a pistol in his mouth.
As he’d always known he would.
by Mark Burnash
As long as you blinkin’, they’ll leave ya ‘lone. Oh they’ll hangout and they’ll circle around, but as long as they see dem eyelids keep comin’ up, they’ll jus’ wait. And you MAKE ’em wait! You hear? Don’t be givin’ them sons of bitches an easy meal. Make ’em EARN their dinner; make ’em wonder if they jus’ wasting their time. They just might be. If you strong enough to throw a rock, try’n kill one of dem bastards, but whatever you do keep them eyes BLINKIN’, so-as even if they git ye, you be more trouble than you worth.
by Ethelia Pope
Water has become dark and viscous, slithering serpentine through streets, expanding, impeding. Daily hustle and hurry is stolen, compressed into infinitesimal spaces. Never sunlight, never air to breathe deep enough into lungs to satisfy. The whole world is shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow on shrinking islands, looking skyward at the haze.
This week’s artwork is by Julian Cloran
by Sue Powers
Listless, languid, eyelids heavy in empathy, food called out to her, insistent, nagging, moving her to pull out lemon bars, Häagen Dazs, mozzarella cheese, sourdough bread, a leftover vegetable curry and rice entrée now five days old and her secret stash of brownies, and wash it down with a diet cola and her bottle of save-for-an-occasion Riesling. Wiping the last crumb from her chin, she laid her head onto the table, belly painfully extended, bile rising to her throat, and still, had there been any thing left, her emptiness would have devoured it.
If Turkeys Could Talk
by C. F. Carter
When you approach her house and I try to warn you, you hear only warbles and honks.
You ignore me when I bend my wing towards the barn, where cars rust in the darkness.
When I try to lead you to the well where badges soak in its cold depths, you push me aside with a shiny jackboot.
Like a strutting tom, you ring the bell, and a heartbeat later she shoos you off the porch.
She scatters cracked corn in the yard, while you beat your wings and kick up dust, erasing what I’d scratched in the ground: witch.
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
She asked her son to take her to the liquor store. Again. She hated the look in his eyes, eager to please. As if this could patch everything together. She always lost her temper, passed out. Her career as a pianist had fallen flat. She felt a mélange of anxiety and rage, the sense of something valuable taken. “I’ll take you,” he said. She felt gratitude. Anger. She wanted him to resist and oblige. She wanted him to take her, she wanted him to hide the keys. She wanted him to leave. Run fast. “Let’s go,” was all she said.
by Daryl Scroggins
Don’t go, she thought, her face pressed to the door she had closed against him. She imagined him walking down toward the road, his new car by the mailbox. She saw herself opening the door—saw him turning to her, unable to go on, starting back.
But she didn’t open the door. She went to the kitchen and got ice for her eye. Poured herself a glass of water. She saw, then, the brown bag of tomatoes she had selected for him from her garden. But when she glanced through the peephole again, everything just looked round, like a road.
What is Death Like?
by Xavier Barzey
A German cockroach lay stiff on its back as its mesothoracic legs flickered in slow motion on the front porch. “What is death like?” she asks intently with an innocent gleam in her little eye. I looked at her, uncertain of what to say. I reflected for a moment, “uh… well, I suppose it may hurt at first, but then you begin to transcend beyond the present and soon you’ll feel nothing.” Perplexed, she cupped her hands around the roach and stroked it softly on its back. It lay rigid. “There,” she says. “He’s okay now.”
by Ashlie Allen
She cries when I don’t touch her. I know I make her sad, but I’m depressed too. I throw my trench coat over the chair when I get home, grab a bottle of Merlot and snicker. Tears leak down my face when she comes to kiss my neck. “Why are you so enticing?” I wine. “Please admire me. I have bad anxiety tonight.” “I do too.” I bite her lip, taste some blood, which make my eyes protrude. I know I’m a selfish beast and will push her away. I’ll come home tomorrow night and offer the same disappointment.
by Amy Bartley
We’d always done it thatta way. Bruised our knuckles on the glass washboards. Scraped our skin on the metal ‘n’s. On that particular Saturday, me ‘n Sis were washin’ ‘n beatin’ up our hands when Momma yelled.
“Girls! Come in!”
We ran. There in her hands she had it open. The Harper’s Bazaar. Her finger pointin’, tappin’ on a full page, full color ad. “Look,” she said.
It was huge, a big square machine that automatic like magic does the washin’. Momma did a scoff then said, “Who in the world could afford a contraption like that?”
by Lara Lewis
“More.” He spoke with a smooth voice, his young hand holding forth the empty glass. Hands of bone tilted a pitcher of sand forward and poured.
He watched it spill down, and as it seeped into his glass his hands shriveled, and his throat tightened. It dripped down the thin hole in the stem and he watched it, letting it slip to the floor below.
The last grain of sand hit the floor, and he turned the hourglass over.
“More,” he said, and the hands poured.
by Stephen D. Gibson
Her shoes sounded like claps against the bank’s granite floor, like gunshots. She was there to argue. I sat in the lobby while she quietly displayed page after page to the collections officer. They were people you could speak with then. I didn’t know it, but she argued for me, my safety and shelter. The bank actually had made an error. And the man had to admit it, though he couldn’t explain. Young, I thought the shoes proud: “look at me” they said. Old, I think they claimed space, claimed it with sound. She was the author of that noise.
This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz
by Katherine Bonnie Bailey
As a child, I harvested powder from butterfly wings to smear on my cheeks, glittering war paint for soft, pale skin. But beauty did not occur to me. Instead, I applied the shades for fantastical reasons, reveling in imagined potency.
“Don’t,” My mother scolded when she saw. “They need their fairy dust for flight.”
But no dust would lift my feet from the ground. And if I couldn’t wing away, why should they? So I chained the colorful creatures to the flowers with tiny tears in delicate places, my face glimmering. Stranded, they were only worms. No better than me.
by Barry Basden
On his way for scones this morning, he rolled through a stop and turned in front of a tan pickup. Immediately a cruiser appeared in his rear view.
“I beat him to the corner,” he lied.
“Not if you’d stopped. Two weeks ago a woman got T-boned there. Broke her neck.”
He remembered that cluster of EMS and police vehicles, his irritation detouring around it. So. A woman with a broken neck had been at the center of all that commotion.
He tacked the warning citation above his key rack. He wanted to see it every time he went out.
He Remembers a Girl in Scotland
by David L. Arnold
Once, when he was much younger and on orders for Nam, he backpacked Scotland. In Mallaig, he sat on the dock with a girl he met on the Sands of Morar. They shared a head of lettuce, slicing it like an apple. She was going to Ben Nevis. He was waiting for the ferry to Stornoway. He thinks he still dreams of her sometimes; a girl walking beside him on the sand who he cannot turn and see. He has been back to Scotland. He never made it to Nam. He’s older now, so he figures it worked out okay.
The Good ol’ Days on the Farm
by Kenny A. Chaffin
On the farm we’d put up bailing-wire antennas for everything – the B&W television, the CB radio, even the chickens. There was only Channel 12 with its 10,000-watt, thousand-foot tower a few miles east of the farm broadcasting to the entire Southern Oklahoma and Northern Texas region. It came through everything. Like the Philco we’d listen to KMAD on, Channel 12 always there in the background. It was on the party-line phone, in the barn somehow through the galvanized steel and chicken wire. Mama heard it on her teeth. I believe it. I’m surprised we didn’t get cancer. The pigs did.
by Hannah Whiteoak
He prunes you like a rosebush, removing dead wood. He disentangles stems that might strangle growth: your mother, sister, friends.
Don’t you want to be perfect? He proffers pruning shears and urges you slice away bad habits: drinking, dancing, going out after work. Soon, you won’t need work. He provides.
You bear fruit: a daughter, with rose-red lips and skin that bruises like petals. When winter comes, you bundle her against frost. “Wait in the car. Don’t wake Daddy.”
Ten minutes later, you take the driver’s seat. You stash the pruning shears in the glove box, blades red as roses.
by Jamie Benedi
“Poppa, is our skin our bones?”
“No son, our bones are inside our skin.”
“But Poppa, how does God put bones inside our skin?”
“Very carefully,” the father says.
Meanwhile, in heaven, God is peering through a magnifying glass, tweezers in trembling hand, trying to put bones inside a human.
He runs sweaty overworked fingers, gnarled and knobby, through his tremendous white beard.
“This is the worst. My next design will be a meteor to end the world. Meteors don’t have bones.”
Side by Side
by MA Banash
Oh, the stories we never know until now. But then they are always with us. Like birthmarks on your back that only lovers see when you get up from the bed, naked, and stumble toward the bathroom and the day.
There was that one. Really, where? What about you, let me look?
But they don’t. Let us look. So, we write stories about scars and tattoos, birthmarks and lies close enough to the truth to be believable. While they stay there next to us in bed. Sheets pulled up to their necks. Suddenly, modest, sober.
Whenever you drive past the remains, you grip the steering wheel till your knuckles turn white. At work, everyone is wary of you – a ticking time bomb. So you let words like ‘accident’ and ‘fire’ roll seamlessly off your tongue till you can’t recognize your voice. Neither does your wife. She’s never hungry, always tired, always lost. She disappears into the past, and one Sunday morning, you follow her. She hears the patter of tiny feet, the soft hum of the radio, the sizzle of an egg frying sunny side up. You cover your ears to stop the noise.
Blue Skies, Scattered Clouds
by Sean Koji Callaghan
Georg took out the trash and his gun that morning to end the Raccoon War once and for all. He fired, they scurried, glass pinged, Del screamed, her boy died in the living room, his face buried in his swim bag. The police had already taken their report and Georg away by the time the Kettle kids came clattering out their front door shouting for the school bus to wait.
Metamorphosis Before Homecoming
by Zebulon Huset
As the campfire’s coals smoldered by the tents, Tom and June found a mostly even patch of grass and conceived a child, Harold curled against a tree as too-much heroin swam in his veins, and Mike worried about Monday’s physics test, about bears, silly meteorites destroying his existence.
We walk into the bathroom. Did she see me? I try not to mentally tear her apart because she doesn’t have anything I don’t except youth and Fuckboy’s interest and I’ve temporarily convinced myself I don’t miss those things. I hurry. I hear her pull out a sanitary seat cover and place it, what sounds like neatly, on the toilet. I never do that. What if she called me out for not using them? I’d say, “Well, I hooked up with Fuckboy so clearly I’m not picky about what I’ll sit on.”
by David Olsson
People suddenly took interest in strangers – in a friendly and non-intrusive way. Conversations flowed in elevators, shops, trains and vestibules. It wasn’t superficial or constrained, no, the conversations delved with ease into questions regarding existence, social mobility, the nature of the cosmos, climate change, the modern condition, and how to teach children to show compassion. People made brilliant jokes and laughed a lot. They opened their hearts and revealed all their secrets and were relieved, eyes glowing. All of a sudden everyone sat down in silence. They just sat there. They had run out of things to say.
Why I Jumped
by Cynthia Jalynksi
Five weeks I laid in bed, swaddled in white sheets. A nurse’s voice in the hallway awakened me. “He doesn’t have much time.” What does she know about time or the laws of the universe? I dropped the bedrail, swung my legs to the floor, and began to jump up and down, just to spite gravity.
by Harris Coverley
I came in and Rennie was excited. He had finally done it. No more waiting on tables, no more begging for tips.
He played me his revolutionary new rondo on my borrowed piano, and I listened with enthusiasm, but soon the work became too recognizable to bear.
“Erm…” I started.
“Great isn’t it?!” he beamed.
“Rennie, that’s the Pastoral Symphony.”
“Beethoven’s Sixth, First Movement.”
“It’s unmistakable. You’ve just done it in A minor as opposed to F major.”
Rennie played the piano with his head for some time, while I went upstairs and fiddled with a guitar.
by Leah Aspen Pigiot
Buffalo stampede across the plains. Like thunder. Glass eyes staring. And you wonder what they might know.
You want them to be plants, imagine them springing from a garden, their hooves extending down into the earth as roots.
They munch the grass around them until the ground is bare. Then they break free, roll across the plains like tumbleweeds.
Little more than plants.
Little more than dirt.
The Organ Breathers
by Erik Fuhrer
The organ breeders took a day off to be organ breathers because there was a typo on the memo that day and they were bred to be literal. So, they took a deep breath and pressed their lips against the cold skin of a cirrhotic liver. Miraculously, it sputtered and spit as they exhaled, and life spilled from its ocher body. Triumphantly, the organ breathers continued blowing their life into the liver’s puckered flesh in slow steady streams. Once it blushed, they placed it in the body of a young mare, which instantly revived and bucked its mane in joy.
Abortions and Laugh Tracks
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
“I wanted to have an abortion,” the boy’s mother says, stumbling through the door. She is drunk. Again. That does not negate the words that rush to the boy, the TV laugh track resounding like a slap. “I hate you too,” he says. He is twelve. He knows the way she looks at him, worn out. Tired. But he never thought she hated him. He thought she was holding back, wanted her to let him in on her world. The mother stares at him. He wants her to say something. She does not, the laugh track rising again and again.
by Dakota Canon
Caleb stood at the edge of the gorge looking down. The sun was setting, forcing him to squint, but the heat remained oppressive. Behind him the screech of tires, the cut of an engine. He didn’t look back. The hand on his shoulder hung, heavy.
“You okay, buddy? You not thinking of jumping, are you?”
“Thinking,” Caleb said, “but not doing.” Just like always. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“You wanna hop in the cruiser? I got iced tea.”
Caleb shook his head and sat down. He didn’t even have the courage for a damn tea. “Maybe next time.”
by Ellen Perleberg
“Grandma, why did your face fall down?”
“What’s that, love?”
“How come your neck and cheeks are so droopy?”
“Well, cry enough tears and they start to weigh a face down.”
“I hope my face falls down soon too.”
“Don’t wish for Sunday, little one.”
“Mommy and Daddy’s faces in their boxes were sewn up real tight and stiff. That’s not how it’s s’posed to be.”
“No, baby, it’s not.”
by Och Gonzalez
When I first came here, my family always came to visit. Sundays were fun, ‘cause that’s when they came. Then I looked forward to every other Sunday, then just the last Sunday of the month. Then there were no more Sundays and I’ve got nothing to mark time with except the yellowing of the walls. The nurses told me I should learn how to knit so I won’t be staring out the window. It hasn’t been easy with my knotty hands, but I’m now on my fifty-sixth sweater. I haven’t got much yarn left, but there are no clocks here.