by G.J. Williams
Like the Buddha, I’m held together by the forces of electromagnetism.
Like Queen Nefertiti, I take approximately 20,000 breaths of air every single day.
Like Florence Nightingale, I talk at the rate of about 180 words a minute.
I walk like Shakespeare and make the same sound as Jesus when I laugh.
Who am I?
300 Miles of Obligation
I rush to your bedside, secretly lamenting the things I will have to cancel. Important meetings, a long overdue haircut, a weekend away.
All it took was a call from the doctor. I probably would not have answered if it had come from you.
“I’m at work! Why are you calling?” I’ve complained countless times. Only blood and societal pressures compel us to come together. Christmas festivities have become quieter over the years as we have both chosen to endure endless silence to avoid any drama.
I rush to your bedside, not because I want to, but because I should.
So That’s Who You Are
by Mel Fawcett
There’s a young woman sitting next to me on the park bench. She’s been talking to me for ages, but I haven’t been listening to what she’s saying–I’ve been too busy wondering who she is. I’m getting annoyed by her incessant chatter.
I’ve been annoyed a lot lately. One day last week, when I went to the corner shop, I couldn’t remember how to get home and started haranguing passers-by until someone showed me the way.
Now, finally unable to take any more, I stand up to leave. The woman leans forward and says, “Where’re you going, Dad?”
by Ege Gurdeniz
A linden tree watched over our house when I was a kid. Honey. A hint of citrus. A bouquet so sweet you could taste it on humid days. It paired well with Mom’s mint lemonade. The Beatles on Dad’s radio. My sister splashing around in the pool. Daisy barking at some cardinals conspiring on a branch.
That’s the thing about smells – they turn into memories if you’re not careful.
30 years later. I am back to say goodbye. This time to Dad.
It’s a humid one. The house is quiet, but I can hear Paul singing it’s alright, little darling.
by Kris Faatz
One morning, your skin is the color of peacock feathers. It glitters in sunlight, diamond-dusted.
You’ve always folded your soul up small and tucked it away. Now you tug your shirtsleeves over your hands. Smother your face with makeup. You needn’t: your husband only sees your shape. He kisses you goodbye, not noticing when your blue fingertips pluck lint from his collar.
In the empty house, silence coils around your feet and legs, your chest and face.
You strip off your clothes. Flick on the lamps. When he comes home, that’s how he finds you: naked, breathtaking, covered in light.
Old Man River
by David Henson
He becomes a river to provide respite from job and family but, enjoying wandering, loses track of time.
After years of silt and drought reduce him to a trickle, he seeks human reconciliation, returns to find his wife has died. His daughter, now adult, damns him from her family’s life.
Can one stalk with love? Grandson to school at eight. His daughter to work by nine. Lights out at ten p.m. One Saturday the father takes the boy fishing. When his grandson whoops with glee, the man who was once a river feels the hook set in his heart.
The Little Mermaid
It was the little things. The way she was always at the water tray in nursery, her pockets full of stolen pebbles and seashells.
She spent hours watching Ponyo, hands pressed against the screen, puckered mouth blowing spit-bubbles.
When she was quiet, I knew where to find her: sitting naked on a pillow, brushing her hair with a silver comb, my mother’s pearls draped around her neck.
She was happiest on her stomach in the bath, legs kicking, toes flicking, head submerged like there was something only she could see.
And then, one day, we took her to the ocean.
Xavier Lee Martin Jr.’s mother swore that he could unhinge his jaw to finish dinner before the six o’clock news opening theme song. He idolized Lead Anchorman Perry Williamson down to the argyle bowtie. Xavier’s clipped on.
Perry’s tone was electric. “Good evening. In the biggest drug sting in Montgomery County history, police apprehended Xavier Lee Martin, Sr. who smuggled 6,000 pounds of . . .”
Live on air, officers escorted Xavier Sr. and Bruno who helped manage their “produce warehouse.”
The next day, a tieless Junior called his favorite teacher, Miss Tracy, a fucking bitch for the first time.
The Smiths Spice Things Up
by David Henson
“How would you like a pet snake, dear?” pops out of Mr. Smith and the blue one day even though snakes tremble him. Turning from her burners, Mrs. Smith says “Fine” as a shiver slithers up her spine. They surround a deadly coral with glass, bring home Saturday sacks of milk, butter, eggs, toads, and mice. One evening the cage is blank. A broom searches under the sofa, behind drapes, dangles galoshes. Finding nothing, the Smiths crawl into bed, pull the covers to their chins, and stare at each other wild-eyed. Smiling.
Jack kept the cigarettes he stole from his dad at the bottom of his vinyl school bag underneath virgin textbooks and teenage boy detritus. We smoked them in the paddock that marked the halfway point between our houses. In an untamed hedge and using grass clippings from the paddock’s slashing we made that autumn’s cubby house where we perfected smoke rings and discussed girls. After he finished his cigarette, one name always made Jack unknowingly tie the fresh green stalk of a weed’s regrowth into a knot after making a big heart-shaped loop. I never told him that I noticed.
by G.J. Williams
As for the smoking crater at the centre of your being, it’s lost among foreign wars, localised tumours; divorces, evictions. That it still smoulders is testament enough; whatever was there must have taken some destroying. But we know, don’t we? We know what was there and how much it took to destroy it. So very little it ought to be sad. But it’s not sad, is it? Too few losses for it to be deemed sad. The cigarettes in your coat pocket were soaked, and there’s no accounting for your neighbour’s taste in music, loud and piercing as it is.
by Adam Conner
“Look,” she tells me, sitting here in a cafe we’d never been to before, in clothes that she no doubt wore the night before, thumbing her purse strap she’d yet to take off, circling the straw in her water (the only thing she ordered), checking her phone as if she received a message she’d been waiting for this entire time, still wearing her sunglasses as if she didn’t want to see me, she tells me, “We need to talk,” but we already have.
by Meredith Chiwenkpe Asuru
As the crowd scurried tomatoes from the fallen truck, raining abuses at the government, you scanned the scene from the park’s dwarf fence. Once you saw the driver’s bloody hand, you started screaming for help. But nobody helped. Nobody. Not even your kind mum.
You are sitting in a rickety bus, hoping to alight before it breaks when the radio announces that Ekwena has won the presidential election. A man screams “yes”, and other passengers curse him and his generation. You hiss, stare out the window, at hummingbirds gliding in the bright sky, and wish we were birds.
by DJ Tantillo
My entanglement increases as I travel the path. As a scientist, I do not fear death. That conclusion is too far off. That distance is the horror. I will think sharply for a time, but I cannot convert those thoughts, via aging nerves and muscles, to intelligible messages to share with my children. They suffer my blank stares. I elucidated the chemistry and biology, but I couldn’t change it. That discovery was my greatest accomplishment. Living through the transition is the punishment for my enlightenment. Refusing to share my knowledge may or may not redeem me.
Select all. Delete.
Creating a Stink
I sat on a barstool cloaking my farts with subtle postural adjustments, eavesdropping on conversations right next to me.
“Do you know why you can’t kiss a prostitute?” A man was asking his passive girlfriend.
It looked like he was talking to cause an effect rather than from the heart.
“No,” his girlfriend replied.
“Because,” I interrupted, loudly enough for them both to hear, “a kiss is more intimate than intercourse.”
The pub went quiet, like in a scene in a western film where a stranger enters a saloon, as I left. I created a stink after all.
How the Rain Rains is Everyone’s Business
by G.J. Williams
The rain does many things: settles jagged nerves, drowns out cries. It’s been doing so for years. Check out the unlovely house. Those windows have known rain you wouldn’t believe. Once upon a time branches clattered against them, adding mightily to the din. The trees have since been trimmed. But this is the last place you’d hear a pin drop. A little tarpaulin on the roof works wonders; when it rains it could be corrugated iron or tin. And it rains a lot. This is one of those places. What happens under cover of rain is what this place IS.
Life, in Slow Motion
by Jen Schneider
As a child, I’d watch the rain lamp on the console while the sitter watched Rain Man on TV. Neither of us were interested in pretend play. Neither of us were willing to pretend. She’d snack on goldfish, moisturize her arms with mineral oils, and read Greek mythology. I’d consume consommé and alphabet noodles, tally strands of filament, and study Aphrodite. Both of us would countdown to bedtime. All transactions timed. When the clock struck ten, the sitter would press stop on the remote. I’d pull the plug on the lamp. All (f)oils capped. Performance stops with the rain.
I see glimmers of her every day. Tiny purple shoes. Her chubby little fist. I remember how she’d grip my finger like a tether when I held her. I thought I could let her go, but she is my buoy.
My house is on the hill, near the field where they scattered my ashes. Because I lost my coin, Charon abandoned me, leaving me as a rootless specter.
Then I saw her flicker.
Now I linger, a sentry for her, anchoring in the loamy soil as I wait to watch her grow. As I wait to take her with me.
by Nicole Brogdon
“Honey, I swear, in the middle of the night, someone pulled our bodies out the bed by our feet. Then replaced us with two old people.”
Curtis stroked Annabelle’s thinning hair, yawning. “Is that so?”
“Look at yourself!” She removed the sheet, exposing grey chest hairs, soft belly, thin legs.
“Seriously! And me!” She jiggled underarm waddles. “I used to plank pose forever, on strong slender arms. These breasts… so firm once, I coulda served cocktails off of them.”
Curtis pulled Annabelle close. “Go back to sleep, Old Lady.” He smelled like himself, like a pear. But spoiling.
by Brian Beatty
Crows as big around as footballs filled the yard out front of Hurley’s rented trailer home.
As if taunting the hippie junk dealer and his decrepit hound. As if daring them to take their chances by stepping outside.
Hurley chuckled. “Where are you nasty buggers at the first of the month when rent’s due? Sure not around here.”
He understood talking to those birds meant he was essentially talking to himself again.
Monroe’s nose was working like crazy on the safer side of the screen door. Hurley had zero intention of letting his old dog out after them.
by Benny Biesek
His pastries took 1st. After the gala, he escaped to his bakery to think.
“What is it to become untouchable?”
Quite weary, he turned dough in his hands, then laughed.
He’d leave it all behind: renounce his riches.
In search of answers, he waits in line at the food pantry, quietly avoiding the dessert section.
I’m Not Creepy
by John Young
“I’m not creepy. I’m observant.”
That’s what I told Lulu looking through my binoculars across the street at the man who buttoned up his shirt every morning at 8:15.
“Observant means you notice details that others don’t see, not that they can’t see.”
The man stuffed his shirt in his pants, wrapped a tie around his neck, and grabbed a jacket hanging on the back of the chair.
“And just like that, he’s out the door.”
“What color shirt was he wearing?”
“What?” I said narrowing my binoculars on Lulu.
“His shirt. What color was it?”
by Steve Bates
The walk down the lane to the mailbox has become long and difficult, and I still have to walk back to the house. I no longer gaze at the trees and birds and butterflies on my trek, but simply stare at the ground while concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I hadn’t planned on getting old; it just happened when I wasn’t looking. At least it’s a cool, cloudy day, and it isn’t raining. As I near the mailbox, a sudden crash of thunder grabs my attention.
Stories Do What They’re Told
by G.J. Williams
What began with a syrupy drawl ends in a sandpapery whisper, the intervening years having stretched all notions of patience. Martha puts it down to the song she never got to sing, a classy number, the elongated vowels so huskily wrought they’d’ve cut every listener to the quick. That she’s neither pale nor sorry-eyed is testament to her faith in helpful strangers. But that’s another story. Or so we’re told. As it goes with stories.
While Genevieve worked full-time, Ned was the model stay-at-home dad. He finger-painted and read with the kids, made them their favorite foods, and took them on outings.
One day when he was chasing little Emma on the playground, he tripped and cut his knee. When he examined the wound, there was no blood. He saw…metal plates, wires, and circuitry.
He sat heavily on a bench.
Another dad, Ron, sat beside him. “You okay?”
Ned shook his head. “My whole life has been a lie.”
Ron patted Ned’s arm. “Think how I must feel. I’m an older model than you.”
That The Blood Won’t Turn
by G.J. Williams
No, the jackdaws have not turned grey, they’re simply covered in ashes. It’s the times we live in. If panthers were native to these parts, they too would have a dusting of grey. It’s just how it is. And to preempt any objection to my use of the word ‘dusting’in this context, be assured that I am all too aware of how deeply ingrained in fur feather and skin is this ash of which we speak. The roses are grey, the grass is grey. What we dread is what a flesh-wound might reveal: grey blood, its flow weak.
Walk Like Lovers
by Akmal Hafizi
As we’ve just missed a bus on our way back to the dorms, I was afraid you’d think this is the worst date you’ve ever gone on after lectures. But, to see you’re still gleaming those dilated pupils got me thinking it wasn’t really a bad idea to take a walk with you around the campus. And, as I regretted my dull “I’m not so sure,” to your “Was it all about the journey or the destination?”. Your “But I like the way we walk like lovers, and I actually wanna walk further,” really swept me off my feet.
by Linda Lowe
Among the hurly-burly of the aftermath: your couch, whose cushions have departed, your favorite chair, muddy and torn, the kitchen table, resembling firewood. Snagged in the old maple, a sheet, a blanket. And scattered about everywhere, clutter, including beads you hated, a gift from the man you divorced years back. It’s all years back, you realize, standing ankle-deep in broken dishes, glasses, and silverware, twinkling in the sun of a calmer day. Among the missing is your car, which took flight from this miserable existence. That car, old and sad. Do you really want to drive, anyway? Ever again?
by Kristen Walsh
For reasons I could never explain, I have always hated the smell of honeysuckle. I tried explaining this to my mother once, but she simply shuffled past like I had not spoken, had not finally told her something true. I told her there were rotten honeysuckle roots winding inside me. I told her they twisted in the core of my being, connected to something I could feel but not touch. I told her no matter how far I followed them down, no matter how hard I pulled, I could still smell their sickly, sweet scent whenever I saw her face.
Tell Us How You Feel
I’m sitting on a city bench, running on empty. Whatever vividness used to live here has just. Burned out. That space of empty space. Lost in something I have lost. It’s a feeling not like ice, but ash asking, “Where do I go from here?”
And then staring at the ground beneath my feet. Losing myself in the monotonous sameness of the pavement. Wishing that I could have. Wondering where I’m supposed to be. Then speaking the only other question on my mind:
“Do you know how long this train is supposed to take?” I ask, talking to the breeze.
First Time Lucky
by Alison Wassell
He boasts that they’re each other’s first and only. The grandchildren think it’s sweet. There was, she knows, the fling with Eileen in accounts at the knicker factory, and one with Valerie from two doors down who had a Hoover only he could fix. But she lets it go.
She does Wordle while he reads his newspaper and guesses the word the first time. She is raging, cheated of the fun, the tension, the near misses, the hard-won eventual success. It is, she thinks, just one more game she never got to play.