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.
A Halloween Encounter
by David Henson
I’m raking leaves on a blustery Halloween morning when a green-skinned warlock appears. He tells me I can eliminate my life’s regrets with his magic rifle. With a wink and a hand wave, feathery things fill a bare tree in our yard. “I don’t want to shoot a bird,” I say.
“Not birds. They’re your regrets.”
Relieved, I fire. One of the creatures chirps and falls to the ground. Guilt engulfs me. “I should feel better, not worse. Was it truly a regret?”
The warlock flashes a wicked smile. “No. And now you have one more.”
by David M Wallace
After the stoning, no one could say for certain who had delivered the fatal blow. Sara was an adulteress. She had it coming. No one felt any guilt. As she lay bleeding, the men recalled her beauty. That night, the remembrance of the curve of her breasts fueled their fantasies.
by A. Zaykova
“Keep your eyes on that door,” Jim says.
Freddie, his new partner, looks green and nervous.
“First time?” Jim asks and bites down on a hotdog.
“Just do as I say and you’ll be alright.” Jim takes another bite and a splat of ketchup lands on his good pants. “Shoot!”
Freddie cocks his rifle and pulls the trigger. Some poor bugger falls to the ground with a red flower blooming between his eyes. Their target darts into the crowd and disappears.
Maybe Judith was right in saying there’s something off about a hitman who doesn’t use cuss words.
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.
by David Henson
This time we let the silence lie between us. It rolls onto its back, lolls out its tongue, invites someone to scratch its stomach. When no one does, the silence sits, whines, pumps its paws, stands and chases its tail. Neither of us reacts, so the silence scampers into another room, comes back squeaking, drops its playfulness between us. Still ignored, the silence stiffens, ears back, tail erect, hackles raised. Its lips curl, and rising snarls lather its jaws. The silence eyes your throat, mine. I take my chances, bite my tongue.
by Mikki Aronoff
One night I had a dream. I watched a blue whale slap its tail on the calm ocean surface, saw green anacondas slick their way through the steamy Amazon. I ambled along the Left Bank observing painters painting lovers, drove a car through a hole carved through a giant sequoia.
When I awoke, I thought this meant I was going to die. I went to my desk and filled my fountain pen to write my will. It skittered and scratched and blotched the page blue until I relented and replaced it in its stand.
Deep In The Woods
Summer weekends were spent in the old farmhouse. My brother and I sitting in the glow of the fire, our parents reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the smoky aromas of dinner lingering, cricket-song punctuated by the snap of escaping sparks. We’d found a tin box of toys which we gripped as we listened to the story of the lost little girl. When the fire and comforting smells receded and we were tucked in, I listened to the scratch of mice in the walls, drip of rain seeping through musty beams and wondered if the dark might swallow us up.
by Jennifer Lai
After the divorce, her heart turned to stone. He said she was dead weight who kept him from his dreams. From becoming the astronaut he was destined to become. She argued she was his rock, her words heavy like gravity. But he was light-years away. Silenced into a cosmic void. Years later, she saw him on TV. Orbiting in space on a broken shuttle. Outside he went but forgot to tether in and drifted away. Fast and light like a plume into the obsidian expanse, with no one around to keep him grounded.
Made in the Shade
by Brian Beatty
Young women gallivanted around the flea market grounds in skimpy cut-off jean shorts and bikini tops like they were auditioning for nudie bar jobs. Gawping teenage boys followed not far behind. Hurley took it all in from a hammock hanging between two shade trees near his tent full of merchandise. He pretended to be reading a Hardy Boys mystery from his inventory. Kids showed up at sales to be seen, not to buy. You only had to look down at their ridiculous shoes. The women wobbled along on high heels. Their admirers wore bright sneakers fresh out of the box.
by Fiona Evans
Mum hands me the spoon to lick. The mixture looks disgusting, like gritty brown poo. Chocolate, butter, and sugar whipped up ready for my birthday cake. It tastes like heaven.
She shakes her head and says, “I don’t know how you always look so untidy.”
“It’s my superpower.”
Mum doesn’t laugh. She hasn’t since Dad left. I spread my arms wide and run around the room pretending to fly like superman.
Still no laugh. She just wipes the sweat from her brow and says, “Go on and clean up now.”
by David Henson
Fingers snap. She’s a grade-school girl, fires apples at the teacher, stops them in midair like a string of beads. A stripper, she wears red balloons she lets the men pop with their cigarettes. When she finishes her act, there’s nothing left but glowing ashes and half-empty mugs. A nun, she dances in the air with a Jesus from a life-sized crucifix as the congregation flees the pews. She enters beauty contests, her talent — dousing herself with gasoline. She strikes a match, while blazing embraces every judge, sits down, and smiles at the screams.
Duty to Protect
When Haruki was drafted into the military, he had accepted death. He’d envisioned a brass bullet whizzing through smoke and blood and shrapnel, puncturing his helmet and splintering his brain, killing him instantly. Instead, one hand of a poacher squeezed his neck, suffocating his screams, while the other thrust a spear beneath Haruki’s ribs, a spear more often used to pierce the endangered eels around the Bemo islands sanctuary where Haruki was deployed, guardian to marine flora and fauna. His last thought was of neglecting his childhood goldfish and his apathy at finding them floating belly up in the water.
I Never Gave Her a Name
I remember my synthetic baby girl. Like me, a smiling-sad little thing. My childhood doll was a plump thermoplastic form dad had brought home one unusual night. Unusual because he wasn’t in the habit of walking through the door holding little baby dolls in his big hands. He was thrilled I wanted a doll. My first. My only. My younger sister’s flaxen-haired, bow-lipped dollies had never bothered to kiss away my tears. My brown-haired baby doll was beautiful to me, a full-bellied, coffee-eyed friend. I never gave her a name. Then I gave her away.
by David Henson
A golf course snaked around the facility where they cooped the old woman after her name flew away from her. One day she snuck out behind the mail carrier and meandered the fairways and greens, snatching balls — eggs to bake the chocolate cake that once lured family to her home.
A foursome tried to corral her, but she out-maneuvered their carts and crouched among a gaggle by the hazard on seven. When the golfers charged, the birds honked into the sky and wedged away.
They found her housecoat floating in the pond, but Grandmother Goose was never seen again.
by G.J. Williams
There was no Dexter Mahon. He was made up, to account for the sinister edge that entered proceedings. He was never anywhere near. His matter-of-fact approach was the fruit of agonised retellings, each word honed. He’d no link to the lower echelons, no say to speak of. What daylight there was found him out, as it was bound to, of course, there being no such person. He was not even in the shadows.
by David Henson
His words hang above the kitchen table even after he leaves for work.
She stands on a chair, grips one of the letters, pulls it loose.
She finds a toolbox. His odor spews from the letter as she files it to a point.
That evening when her husband walks in, she plunges the makeshift weapon into his chest, then calls the police.
One officer examines the husband’s body while the other takes her statement in the kitchen. He notices the hanging words—STUP D COW—and asks about the missing letter. The I couldn’t take it anymore, she says.
by Jeannette Connors
Iris routinely sought out seemingly happy people for advice on fixing her mental health disorder. Remedies ranged from a simple ice cream cone to an extravagant African safari. Iris thought those were clearly lactose tolerant people with no fears of a spontaneous wildebeest attack. She always went back to what worked for her though in seeking the comfort of her pet iguana, who neither offered advice nor any inkling he cared about such things.
by Liz Betz
In the past she’s listened to her friends, a group of women who are always in crisis mode. From their viewpoint they label my behavior as overbearing and narcissistic and place her unhappiness on my doorstep.
Now my wife has discovered she’s an empath that needs special care. She says she has a tendency to put others ahead of herself and that she’s wearing out because of it. It’s draining her energy. From now on she’ll state her needs and there will be accountability for those who ignore them.
Thank you. State your boundaries. I’ve been flying blind.
When Grandpa Stopped Babysitting
It wasn’t when he taught the boy to piss upright and straight-backed in the front yard, staring down disapproving neighbors as they crossed the street. It wasn’t when he wrapped up an airsoft rifle for shooting birds, and gave it to the boy on his eight birthday. It wasn’t even when he taught him how to drive the station wagon, though the boy could only reach the pedals standing up. It was later, when his own name escaped him, when he saw the boy and could only ask, “who are you?” and “why are you here?”
by G.J. Williams
Rue is a strong-scented Mediterranean plant with yellowy-green flowers and pinnately divided leaves. A bouquet of rue, rightly held, will signify sorrows endured, depths of loss untold. Marigolds and fennel won’t do. Violets daisies carnations ditto. And forget roses. But scatter petals of rue as you go and the world smiles wanly with you. True, there’ll be a curtain-twitching aspect to contend with but, all in all, your going hence will be accorded the flourish of a dance. Strew those petals, mutter those barbs, give what lives the finger. Rue the day, the very sunlight’s touch.
Hands of Time
by James Dupree
She holds his hand in hers and wonders how something so extraordinary can be so small. Growth is slow, but time is slippery. Years feel like moments to her, and his hand begins to fill her palm, threatening to break their bond.
Fingers continue to extend, and muscles grow stronger, and before she can ready herself for this inevitable change, his hand matches hers in size. She watches her own hand shrink till the skin sags around the bones. His hand begins to overtake. He holds her hand in his and wonders how someone so extraordinary can become so small.
This week’s artwork is “Lotus” by Shadowlance
The Fates Watching Over John Henry
by David Henson
Tonight, John Henry, you’ll come no closer to sleep than watching it raise and lower your Lucy’s breasts. You will not understand why the moon weeps through the window and oils your shoulders for tomorrow. Why, this night, the stars seem heads of silver spikes only you can drive into the sky.
You carefully untangle straw that has leaked from the mattress into Lucy’s hair. We’ll leave after we grant you a snagged curl to awaken her.
But, John Henry, we must return when dawn hammers the horizon.
by Nicole Burton
When they would listen to her no other way, Echo learned to whisper in the ears of the pale-skinned gods who sat around boardroom tables. “You always have the best ideas,” she whispered to Pride when she took his coffee order. “If you invest, the company could never fail.”
Every day, she whispered daffodil words to him, and he unknowingly echoed her praise as if it were his own. “I think we should invest.”
Every day, she ran his errands and watched him turn her words into skyscrapers and gold, knowing they would never be hers.
by Phil Trafican
Once there was a rich man who walked with a limp. His town folk wanted to be rich, too and copied everything about him that they could. So, of course, every man, woman, and child began to walk with a limp. Even the dogs were hobbling around.
But then the rich man hired doctors who cured him of his limp. He could now walk fine while everyone else still limped for they had forgotten how to walk the right way and could not afford doctors. In the meantime, the rich man got even richer selling the town’s people crutches.
by Jago Furnas
Late in an empty dive bar, a beautiful girl hands your arse to you over the pool table and drives you home on the wrong side of the road with Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ blasting. Any pre-emptive performance anxiety is replaced with survival anxiety, which is kind of liberating. She makes sudden stops to roll cigarettes every few hundred meters. The two of you will laugh about this in ten years on the porch of your weatherboard house in Thornbury, as you make sure your beautiful kids have their helmets on before they ride their bikes around the block.
by DS Levy
Standing at his locker, he hears firecrackers and sees Billy Evans in his black trench coat. He touches his chest; his fingers, smeared in blood. Unlike the movies, he feels nothing—until he does, a searing spasm. The light fades as handfuls of Luna moths flutter out of his chest, wingtip-to-wingtip, and he hears Mr. Lewinski, his biology teacher, saying how they spend two weeks as eggs, six to seven weeks as larvae, and nine months as pupae before emerging as beautiful lime-green bodies, big as small plates with moon spots, and live for one short, but glorious week.
How It Was
by G.J. Williams
It’s so cold the stone weeps. Write that down, comrade; it’s all in the detail. It was so cold the stone wept. Walls. Put walls down too. Walls weep. It was so cold the walls wept. That’ll be us, comrade. It’s the tale they’ll tell. Make a note. How the walls wept, how the stone ran, as winter closed in. And how it was the writing hand turned blue. And wolves, don’t forget how we heard the wolves. We’ll hear them soon enough. Let it be known it was their call we died to. Make the moon full.
A serpent wraps back on itself and starts to swallow its tail having decided it was unhappy with how it got to where it was. It thought, “I’ll start here and eat my way back to the beginning so I can start all over again. The tail disengaged and wrapped itself around the head saying, “I’ve already seen the end and don’t want to sit through the movie again from the beginning.” The belly, sitting quietly in the middle of the conflict, laughed content to eat what was served.
This week’s artwork is by Christine Duncan.
Even Though I Don’t Believe in Such Things
The room is ghost white then black again and the sky cracks with such violence the bed frame shakes. The rain thwacking wet against the glass sounds as if God himself is throwing drumfuls of it. The dog whines like she is heartbroken we deserve such punishment. She buries her nose under my feet, coveting more of the duvet from my side despite the neat, empty plentitude on yours. She’s still waiting for you. And even though I don’t believe in such things, if there was a night for ghosts, this would be it.
The Loved Ones
by Pratik Mitra
The under construction skyscraper could be seen from her slum. Lockdown delayed it’s work. Nights were still left to stay dark and mornings echoing with birds’ chirp. Things would change soon into a cacophony of halogen lights, metallic clanks, and screaming of exhausted men. She wondered while peeing just outside her hut under open sky for how long that pee would be able to go and fall into that disputed marshland on which the skyscraper was being built up. The only thing that she loved besides her body was that marshland and yet…
by David Henson
As we drive through the Illinois farmland we pass a coyote sprawled roadside I want to pull over get out pick up the broken teeth rattle them shout this is all you’ll ever hear from me we might as well put our lips to this growl only the asphalt can hear exhale the last breath of our marriage over this slab of tongue and into the flat sacks that were lungs and call someone to haul this poor beast away.
But a dead coyote’s a blink at sixty. We have more to do with the corn.
by Angelo Aita
He was infatuated with her when they first met, but as soon as they slept together he pulled away, though not before he said he’d love her until the world exploded, which was not technically a lie; and although she didn’t much like him, she became obsessed with his pulling away, i.e., reading into the late-night text messages he’d send (seemingly at the precise moment she’d begun to accept his pulling away) in hopes of continuing their sleeping together at an emotional distance he was comfortable with, ad infinitum.
After Her Daughter’s Suicide
by Molly Clark
She burned the dinner. She had spent hours preparing it, chopping the vegetables, caramelizing the onions, marinating the meat. She was responsible for feeding her family and the failure burst out of the fire extinguisher with a blast of cool death. A finalizing air. Her husband was disappointed; the party was ruined. Everyone went out to eat instead; they needed a meal she couldn’t destroy. She stayed home and scrubbed the pan.
by Ana Gardner
On opposite sides of the Atlantic, two titanic women played ping-pong with a little girl.
“You can have her this summer,” said one woman, paddling the girl across the ocean with a backhand spin.
The other paddled back. “Take her for Christmas, but I want her back in January.”
A serve went awry, once: the little girl fell in the ocean and swam by herself, in any direction she pleased, and she never wanted to go back.