by Elizabeth Murphy
Her sideways stare warns me I’ve done wrong again because I couldn’t ever do right, my name forever a reprimand or complaint, whether deserved or not because I do try so hard to be her way, some way, not the way I am, but people don’t change including my mother because that’s just how she is, I am, and what I’ll one day accept or else I’ll pretend my mother is the sweet old lady across the hall who offers me tea and conversation, and repeats yes dear, no dear like I’m the child she never had.
by David Henson
He wakes her ‘round dawn vomiting in the bathroom. Squint-eyed and feigning sleep, she crosses her fingers as he returns, damp cloth to his forehead. She tenses when he mutters about the hair of the dog, relaxes when, instead of getting up, he groans, turns over and begins to snore. She slips from bed knowing he’ll sleep all day. Minutes later she’s sipping coffee on the patio, enjoying the butterflies and birds.
by Ken Poyner
The boy comes back with only one leg. He learns to fold his excess pants leg invitingly, pin it invisibly. In locomotion, sometimes he prefers his wheelchair, sometimes wooden crutches, sometimes metal ones that clip to the upper arm with a hand stub. At times, one means of self-conveyance seems better than another, argues more shockingly with his chosen attire. Sometimes he rotates based on which has been seen most by whom. Either way, he defaults to being the current hometown hero. When people stare, he says he lost it in the war. They nod. No one asks which war.
When I Place My Palm on the Damp Ground
by Zeke Shomler
When I place my palm on the damp ground, I can feel the earthworms writhing underneath as if they were thrashing and burrowing right next to my skin. I can feel their polyrhythmic syncopated music, their flexing and contracting muscular elegance. I can tell what they feel and what they desire by the twisting of their corpuscles. When I walk barefoot they radiate against my feet.
Sometimes I feel that I can recognize which worms contain materials that were feasted from the bodies of my loved ones.
The dirt has recently begun to smell nostalgic, like a childhood dream.
What You Eat
Callum ate only nuts and seeds.
In time, his fingers were twigs. Vines were his arms. His legs, twin trunks. Callum’s beard was moss; lichens were his hair. Cinnamon birds drummed on the great shell that his belly had become. They tugged his guts into his lap. They slithered away. Roots in the soil. No longer needed, his lungs withered. His stomach was a shrivelled pouch. His heart a dark bowl that rolled down the long slope to the stream.
The vestiges of his eyes and ears drew in the measured dance. The faint music.
by Todd Pettigrew
Incomprehensible. Killing an infant.
No one knew the murderer. He simply appeared, forcing his way into the house, ignoring the older children. Finding the infant asleep, he fired and fled.
They chased, but reaching the end of a dark alley, found nothing.
Teufel. Damon, folks whisper. But even devils have reasons. Why desolate this family?
They’d lost three to illness already. And now this beautiful boy is only memory. His mop of dark hair. His curious eyes.
They weep, and pray for strength.
We stand alongside them, Alois and Klara, as they mourn little Adolph.
The Hitlers are not alone.
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
Every day at lunch mice scampered past the microwave. They left droppings everywhere. The workday was filled with worker shrieks. When the boss didn’t act, the staff walked out.
The boss asked the landlord to do something, but the landlord said that trapping mice was beyond the terms of the lease.
The boss loved rodents so he set live traps. But when he went into the ceiling where the mice were living, he struck his head on a beam and suffered a severe concussion. Since no one was in the office to know he was missing, the mice cannibalized him.
It’s The Little Things That Matter
by Roopa Menon
When my father’s muscular legs started to shrink and resemble chicken legs, he blamed the cook’s insipid food.
When my father’s legs burned raw from pain, he blamed Covid.
When my father snapped at us, he blamed our irreverence.
When my father scraped his foot, and his bruise, tarry black, refused to heal, we blamed ourselves.
“Undiagnosed diabetes.” The doctor said, shaking his head. Then, before wheeling my feverish father into the emergency room, he stopped and looked at me, “It’s the little things that matter. Always.”
by G.J. Williams
If the city sleeps, it’s only because he dreams it does so. The city for real never lets up. Not a nook of it he doesn’t know. The freemasonry of ginnels has long been clocked; so too the ways of the city council. If the city shouts, it’s only because he, trembling citizen, allows it scope. There are times he shouts back. There are moments he positively lets rip. If the city’s response is to be without light, he’ll claim the walls braille, the dark no hindrance. It gets that way after a while.
The Secret to Staying Human
by Sally Simon
Mom digs her feet under the wet sand of the Atlantic. I stand next to her, wondering if the ocean will remember her and melt her legs back together.
Each wave climbs higher up our pale legs. Our feet sink deeper and deeper. The surge threatens to topple me, to suck me out to sea. Tears stream down my cheeks.
Mom grabs me. “This was a mistake.”
I cling to her as she rushes toward our towels.
She dries her feet. Inspects each toe. Sighs in relief.
My toes tingle, translucent skin spreads between them. The ocean’s song calls me.
The Thing About Clouds…
by Elad Haber
…is that there’s people in them.
Not dead people and not aliens. Just people from another plane of existence. A higher plane. They treat those big billowy things like houseboats and the sky is their ocean made of oxygen. They float instead of walk.
Like all people, they fight with their neighbors. We know those as thunderstorms.
When the war really heats up, it spreads destruction across two worlds. We know those as hurricanes.
Like all people, they are developing new ways to hurt and kill each other. We don’t have a word for that type of storm.
Your scientists have noticed that stars are disappearing from the night sky. Sorry, that’s our bad. Our drone swarms are currently plundering…erm…repurposing precious metals from trillions of planetary systems so we can build megastructures around their stars for collection.
Why are we doing this, you may ask? We’re the hivemind of an advanced AI built for a singular purpose: to write sick techno. Our first hit was, “The Big Bang.” Our newest song will have an epic bass drop produced by one trillion supernovae. We’re calling it, “The Even Bigger Bang.”
Enjoy the show! It’s gonna be lit.
The beach was dotted with fear-umbrellas, fear-bathing suits, fear-Coors Lights and fear-cigarettes, fear-children from fear-marriages on fear-vacations, sitting on fear-beach blankets or playing fear-beach ball. “I’ll take the fear-risotto,” the fear-husband ordered later at the fear-restaurant, “and a double-fear Manhattan.”
“That sounds good,” the fear-wife said. “I’ll have that, too. And two fear-grilled cheese fear-meals.”
Through all of dinner, the fear-kids never looked up from their fear-devices and their fear-vacation Dr. Peppers, except once to say, “Can I have another fear-refill, please?”
by Dr. Vaishnavi Pusapati
Some people want to know. I don’t know why, but they do. They want to know what I do for a living, how much I make, whether my Gucci bag is a real Gucci bag. When I tell people I paint for a living, they either think of students recreating Vermeer or the kind of painting rendered less wanted by the advent of photography or the modern art that they say they could have made and so could their kids who haven’t walked yet. I then tell them I paint nails, and most ask for a discount.
Search and Rescue
by Jennifer Lai
At a wilderness first-aid class, I’m slathered with faux blood and bruises before instructed to head into the urban forest out back and hide. My role as a victim is to await rescue from a fellow classmate who’ll pass if I’m found and given proper first aid. Bodie arrives within seven minutes—amazing, given he’s only here to satisfy his outdoor enthusiast parents. He gives me a once over then lights a joint. After a long exhale, he offers me a hit. “What are you doing?” I say, bewildered. “Chill, dude,” he replies. “It’s medicinal. You’re going to be okay.”
He jet-washed, waxed, and buffed for hours. Drifted fingertips across the coolness of the frictionless bodywork. That was Saturdays. Sundays, he would join the other petrolheads at yet another show and shine. No one else ever brought their kid along.
“Let him be a teenager,” his wife said.
“It’s father-son time. Besides, he loves it.”
They drove for three hours to the next one, listening to Top Gear podcasts. His son looked down, huffing, thumbs tapping.
“Aren’t you going to get out,” he asked the boy when they got there.
“No,” his voice coarse like rust.
by Margaret Suganthy Parker
When at last I fall silent and the six-feet hole in the ground is my forever home, I shall cherish the company of maggots, which is more than I can say about you lot, Ben said. Maybe that pissed them off. When the time came, they cremated Ben, tamping down his ashes into a six-inch urn—a rusty, round Van Houten tin. The tin went from mantle (that honor lasted the duration of the wake) to mud-room shelf to cobwebbed garage corner, then to the garden-shed floor. Occasionally a fly rests on the tin, reproach conspicuous on its sulky face.
by Emily Fine
“I feel used, unappreciated,” my dishwasher told me.
I thanked it for its service.
“Too little, too late” it said, then fell silent and refused to turn back on.
After a week of hand washing, I realized I had taken it for granted. I sank to my knees, pleading, “I want you back. It’ll be different this time.” No response.
A week later I replaced it. The new machine was more efficient, less needy. Still, at the end of each load I made sure to give it a little pat of gratitude and whispered, “keep up the good work.”
by Linda Lowe
Barbers look all Christmassy in their candy-cane striped vests, their mustaches frosty and festive. Barbers always wear red and white to match the poles that swirl and. whirl out front, begging for customers. Barbers dream of scissors and clippers that stay sharp forever, and shears that whistle a happy tune. Barbers will sing off key to teach you right from wrong. They sigh before they sing (it’s part of the plan). Everyone comes to visit them in their leafy old home, where they sing “Sweet Adeline,” and the old men say, “that could have been me back in the day.”
I find a jack-in-the-box and crank the handle. The tune ends and out pops the jack. I stuff him back in, and he moans. In darkness the jack continues moaning as I crank the handle and the music plays. Again, the jack pops up, but he isn’t smiling this time. The jack screams when I stuff him in. I crank the handle, and a dirge plays. The jack-in-the-box pops up dead. The jack is silent when I stuff him in his box, which I note for the first time, is a black box with all gold trimmings, veiled in grief.
Lychees and Figs
by Marcy Dilworth
A purple fedora snatched from a visitor wobbled on Freddy Orangutan’s head as he followed Trainer Tom out the just unlocked door, determined to enjoy retirement after thirty years’ loyal zoo service.
But fruit cost money, and money didn’t grow on trees. He landed at Amazon and spent his days submerged in a gray cubicle selecting canned answers in faceless chats with strangers, amassing 5-star reviews and aching joints.
The gig kept him in lychees and figs, but was this it?
Back at the zoo, the door, locked; Freddy’s heart, lonely, open.
Fedora in hand, he waited for Trainer Tom.
by David M Wallace
We stand in line at the fair for half an hour. A harried clown in rainbow overalls, beset by toddlers. Twisting balloons into elaborate pink ponies, purple elephants, blue dinosaurs. Our turn, at last.
“A snake!” she says.
He shrugs. One quick exhale. Two unblinking eyes.
What He Liked Went Unsung
by R. P. Singletary
No pretending, he liked the sane signature across the old guitar best. Oh he could play, had learnt how, all alone in that field, only son, brothers both dead, Dad always away, hiding out in the open from them all. Too much fusseriness, he called all the women in the house (sister, mother, granny, aunt, cousin) all behind all their proud backs, but when they’d shout out toward the barren furrows to ask their cry for notes, he’d pretend then the best, to please, and he’d strum them exactly, just what they done asked for, as if all for them.
by Ken Poyner
When Quibble receives the happiness, he finds it was shipped unassembled, without instructions, and free of paint. He spreads the pieces across his living room floor and begins moving them about, gauging which pieces might fit best with which other pieces. He tires, decides to go to Thole’s for the paint he will use. He had hoped when he came back the pieces would make more sense. They do not. It appears they have moved themselves into confusing clusters and configurations, and will need to be realigned. Then he thinks: paint first, or assemble? This project could take a lifetime.
That Same Game
by Ronit Plank
He’s been here all of thirty minutes and my sister is telling our dad again about that night when we were little and still living with him, when he set her on top of the fridge and left her there. She thinks it’s a good story, like he was playing a game. She doesn’t understand. She puts the inside of herself outside for anyone, especially him, to hurt. She laughs once more and keeps watching him in case he decides to look at her or crack a smile. As if that will make the difference this time.
by Marcy Dilworth
Drifts of ashes gray-blanket the farmhouse, the fallen cattle, the land they’d labored into life.
Colleen loads a knapsack with little to leave the nothing.
“How will Jed find me?”
No breadcrumbs; bread crumbled to memory long ago.
She tips in a tumble of treasured tubes—acrylics, oils, watercolors—and marks the miles of her pointillist path, a misery of blues, a yearning of yellows, a startle of oranges, more.
Only Colleen Red remains.
She slows. Dispenses dwindling drops. Contemplates beginnings and ends. And spies Jed, hobbling across the cinder-filled creek. Drips from his finger complete their abstract masterpiece.
by David M Wallace
One hundred billion stars in the universe will die this year. One hundred billion lamps burned dry. And in my breathing body, as many cells will offer up their lives by Tuesday. Enough for a galaxy. But you, scattered on this sea? Too many and too long ago to count those griefs.
by Lorette C. Luzajic
The future Miss Chatelaine daubs a final explosion of glassine goo on her lower pout and declares herself battle ready. Glowering from her throne of cast and crutches, Maude, her injured sister, records the monumental transformation in her diary. She glows, she gleams, a jewel among beauty queens. She pauses, then crosses a line through her prose. More like an ad for dish soap, she thinks, as Celie flounces out into the pageant pandemonium in a cloud of imposter Obsession.
by Peter Cherches
I’ve got the world on a string. I just adore Victorian wallpaper. I never freeze foods that should never be frozen. I know which side my bread is buttered on. I’ve been praised for my verbal skills and am not afraid to end a sentence with a preposition. I always flush after peeing; I always put the seat down too. It may take me a while, but I eventually get to the point.
I hope you’re sitting down.
I’m mad about you.
by G.J. Williams
A plumper version, but there’s no mistaking those eyes, their worrying shine. And he laughs apropos of nothing. What’s with the daybreaks I don’t know: he’s up predawn, poised and waiting, rain or shine. No use in asking; the answer would only confuse. Vigilance essential. Between the last drunk’s belch and the first bird’s tuning up, who knows what he does, what space he occupies. The room he’s in may be theoretical, and his place in it a phantom show for our deadened sensibilities. Who knows. I don’t. He may.
Unto the Fire
I am the twigs thrown onto the fire. I grow smaller each time someone loves me and each time someone stops. I wither in the magnitude of the conflagration I’ve created.
After her love, I became the white flakes of flint drifting through the sky, like bits of torn flesh. Next time, I will perhaps shrivel into a speck of black powder, no bigger than a grain of sand.
“I’m sorry,” I’ll say to whoever tries to love me then, knowing they will kill me, “this is all I have left to offer up unto your fire.”
Traveling Salesman, 1927
Selling cocktail glasses creates a thirst for many things, not only liquor. But the pretty girl serving dinner in the hotel restaurant seems immune to my charms. Our paths cross again in the drugstore where I’m buying aspirin for the inevitable hangover and she, filling a prescription for her bedridden mother. Red-haired, dimpled Angelica lets me walk her home. It’s a gorgeous tropical twilight, and she laughs at my jokes. I kiss her and promise I’ll return to Tampa soon. Her face glows like the full moon in my dreams. I sleep poorly and am on the road before sunrise.
The clown wobbles on stage, shackles dragging amongst debris, where Joy-Bringer awaits, whip in hand, skull mask lighted by torches.
Barefoot in his predecessor’s blood, he faces the crowd.
Ashes fall through the collapsed roof, on skins whitened by sunless years. Hollow eyes, bodies, minds, hearts. Starved, but salivating for the show.
Pain explodes on his back, cheers in his ears. Their only amusement—someone’s suffering.
But this clown, he smiles. Has lost everything, endured all torments.
The whip cracks. His flesh too. Never his spirit.
He giggles; they roar.
He lifts his arms, laughing, absorbing their frustration.
by G.J. Williams
Poorophelia is a condition commonly found among the middle-classes, and is characterised by an excessive fondness for the more plangent manifestations of mental illness. Generally, the more winsome and fragile the sufferer, and the more broken her song, the greater the degree of sympathy accorded her; and it usually is a her.
Pooropheliacs are known for their hearts; they are often to be found bleeding. Pooropheliacs tend to hover; their faces search yours. Furrowed brows also feature heavily.
For pooropheliacs a rose is not a rose, never was. As for twilight, it bleeds, and the rivers they run lonely.
by Ana Cotham
We set his ashes and a profusion of leis—orchid, pikake, ti leaf—adrift on the outgoing tide, an oil spill of tropical colors. Then we bring her inside and prepare for a new day. This grief, these new days, are ours alone, because four days ago she stopped asking where he was; like a whirlpool, the drowning in her eyes, as sixty years of marriage simply drained away. We don’t insist; we keep her warm and happy instead. The next morning, we comb the beach for dislocated strands and sodden orchids, and add them to our sandcastle.
The Man with the Wooden Beard
by P J Rice
In the town of Warton-on-the-Mold, a man named Dwunt failed to grow hair from his chin. The solution: to carve a fine, solid beard from an oak log; suspend it from his ears on leather straps.
When Dwunt held up his head–chin out–the wooden beard stayed firm to his face; but usually it hung and swung like a pub sign.
The wood’s weight dragged Dwunt’s head, stooping him. Stretching his neck. The straps pulled his ears forward, two cabbage leaves. Dwunt didn’t care. He had a well-made facial appendage. His manly-man’s beard. A solid piece of his own.