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.
Late Night Coffee
by Steve Bates
“That’s the last of the coffee,” she said. We’d talked half the night. She’d told me more about herself than I wanted to know, and I’d told her more about myself than I intended to. That’s the curse of two lonely people living in the same lonely apartment building in the same lonely city finally meeting. We’d revealed our dreams, dancing around our disappointments, which was really all either of us had found since moving here. No amount of small-town education can prepare you for this. “Should I put on another pot?” she asked. “Sure, why not,” I said.
It’s Not The Music
by G.J. Williams
He thinks the music brought back the rat. It’s not the music I said, and there is no rat. It’ll be the violins he said, the higher-pitched pieces. Or the promise of warmth in a cello. Neither I said, besides there being no rat. The walls are quiet when you’re around he said. And I certainly heard no pattering of feet across any ceiling. The music all the while stayed stopped. That’s not healthy I said, you love your music. There’s no serenading any rat. It’ll be the piccolos he said, it’ll be the woodwind the flutes the pipes.
Feeding the Hungry
Tiny tunnels lead through the grass to the crime scene – young squash vines strewn over the ground like corpses, decapitated chard shoots poking out of the soil, pole bean seedlings cut off in their prime, a harvest thwarted before it even had a chance. At the edge of the garden, a heron stands in silent vigil, then – stab! – and it’s vole for dinner. “Come back,” I call as it lifts its great blue body into the sky. In the shadows by the riverbank, a crow hovers over the heron’s nest.
Cradle and All
by David M Wallace
There was an official investigation, of course. No one blamed her. These things happen. It’s nobody’s fault. But next morning a little flurry of hail fell. She stood at the window watching it gather against the porch steps and dreamed of fairies and baby teeth.
by Linda Lowe
Linen napkins and tablecloths went first, along with candlelight and flowers. Predictable, given the times, but what happened in the heavens was downright surprising. While no one worried much about the disappearance of the Big Dipper, or stars, period, when it came to the moon, there was genuine concern. Short lived, though, as people seemed more intent on leaving than looking up. After a while so much was gone it made more sense to marvel over what was still around. You and me for example. Left to tell the truth I guess. Without a single sharpened pencil to be found.
Gone in a Flash
by A.M. McCaffrey
The civilisation business had finally gone under, and abandoned cars were among its rapidly depreciating assets. Shells and tyres would be gone in a century; engine blocks, five centuries; polyurethane seat cushions, ten; glass windshields, ten thousand. Every human construction, like the machines on the highway, would atrophy, and the second hand on the cosmic clock would twitch barely one space forward.
by David M Wallace
Every day at lunch Brenda sat alone in the playground sharing her sandwiches with a score of hungry pigeons surging around her. Patiently, she weaved their stray feathers into a dappled carpet.
“Where is Brenda?” asked Ms. Chen one afternoon.
A blur soared past the windows.
by Andrew Stancek
I am not in denial any more.
I spend my time on the couch, a blanket up to my ears. Monster has opened the box of Chablis, brings a glass, pops a pepperoni pizza in the oven.
I’ve mentioned him to the shrink but he always lets it slide. Hallucinations are not on the list of side effects of my pills.
Monster farts, burps, eats sausages and granola – he can’t be just a figment.
Can I love her more than before, since she died?
The pizza box said it serves six, so why is it all gone already?
by Alan James Beard
Aaahh, goes the singer, spaceships landing between the voice and the lights. He melted over to his future wife sat in the corner bored and talked down to her so he could see her face upturned, the body beneath, full display of legs in jeans. Dropped to his haunches, face bobbing in front of hers now. The music came up around her face as he looked popping colours around the rather long nose and chin, and drew them reluctantly together.
The Secrets of Lipstick
by Angela Joynes
Except for my Aunt Charlotte, everyone in this family lies. But she speaks truth as bold as the Avon lipstick she sells from a case that trigger-clicks open, containing dozens of samples the size of .22 bullets. With her jam-glossy lips–pomegranate, heirloom tomato, or maraschino–she exposes lying uncles, cheating grandfathers, and deer-jacking cousins.
And when I’m thirteen she offers to teach me her secrets. Makeup, she means. But all I want are her lips, the color and courage and power to dispatch my own secret cloaked by the night.
Honeymoon: St. Lucia
by Susan Morehouse
“It’s an island,” he said. “Flat. You’ll be fine.”
She knew about islands rising hot and stinking from the depths of the sea. How they were not habitable for centuries. How they weren’t flat.
On the back of the van, the wheels of her bike spun easily next to his. He sang “My Girl” with the radio. She changed the station.
It rained all week. She pushed her bike up mountains. She fell, rose, and pedaled on. Rainbows shimmered in the spray from his tires.
At night, her heated body exploded, like song, like something feral, like fire inside water.
by Judith Shapiro
Otters sleep holding hands lest they float away and lose one another.
After our argument, we turned and faced the other way, feigning sleep that eluded us, keenly aware that we’d both still be here in the morning.
Elephants are like ballerinas. You think they have these big, flat feet but underneath it all, they’re walking on their tiptoes, as if in toe shoes.
I wanted to ask you if you’d rather be an otter or an elephant in your next life.
Crown of Rain
by Matthew McEwan
Rain fell and drowned in curbside rivers.
The man in the grey suit waited under a drumming umbrella.
He used to love standing out in the downpours. His mother would yell at him for getting wet. But when the streets were empty, the city was his. He could walk anywhere. He was a king.
The man stuck his hand out, catching cool raindrops.
The taxi’s brakes whined.
‘Uh-‘ the man stammered, wiping his hand on his suit.
by Gail Tyson
On this frigid night, I’m famished. Linda and I order at the bar, but my entrée doesn’t come. She kindly shares her salad. So far in life, I’ve avoided kale, but tonight my fork spears a blue-green leaf curled around a wedge of butter-soaked toast. Salty-sweet tang explodes in my mouth. Bite after bite, kale and toast remind me what I’ve been missing: how what is good for you and what is not can come together, spark hunger I never knew was there, every mouthful making me want more until only the taste lingers on my tongue.
Please Dispose Of Your Heart Properly
by Elad Haber
“I gave him everything!” I sobbed to the screen. “Six years!”
The matronly woman on the other side of the screen had wire-rimmed glasses and calm, understanding eyes. She pressed a button and a slot opened in front of me. A proffered tissue. I wiped my eyes with it.
“It seems to me,” said the therapist, “that your heart is broken and you will need a replacement.”
Another slot opened with a ticket.
“Please take this to the next screen for further assistance.”
In the surgical room, warnings papered the walls.
I sighed and attempted to follow the on-screen directions.
Daddy, Can We Build a Snowman?
He knows he should say no, but he can’t. So he bundles his four-year-old in her winter coat and carries her to the center of the road, where together they begin rolling snow into three orbs of differing sizes. After the orbs have been placed in a snowman configuration, he makes his way to their gravely stuck car where they have no cell service, where his wife breastfeeds their newborn, where they only have enough snacks for a day trip and only a half tank of gas, to rummage through their belongings for something that will make a good nose.
Upstairs, Carl logs on and searches for forbidden fantasies: classics removed from schools and libraries because the district now calls them “unbalanced” and “inappropriate”.
“Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to read. I hear worse language in class every day”, he thinks, skimming another ‘offensive’ story. “I know people like this, they’re cool. What are these idiots trying to prove? It’s all online anyhow.”
He loses himself in books the censors don’t want him to see; they’re tinder to the spark inside him. Another file copied, another friend messaged, and he spreads the brushfire further.
by G.J. Williams
Music as Terror: Discuss. The wiping out of villages to Shostakovich. The snow-muffled strains of Schubert as played by the Angel of Death, circa 1943. Or those funkier numbers favoured by the Mad Sams of the underworld who drill through flesh in derelict basements. Music to kill by. The soaring guitars against the Vietcong. The songs in Manson. The headphones of Nilsen. Not forgetting Stalin’s perfect pitch. For Stalin, every sound had its key. A building might crumble in E-flat, a tram go by in A-minor, a fly buzz in F-sharp. Every human had a special scream. Discuss.
by David M Wallace
Lena’s teacup performed a little jig in its saucer as the vibrations grew closer. The tiny cry of porcelain chiming over the rumble of tanks grinding in the street below her window. Soldiers trudged behind, clad in khakis and impunity.