by Robert Runté
Her skin had become so translucent, I could see the flow through the veins stop whenever I held her hand.
Called to her bedside, I asked, “Why now?”
“Birthday,” the nurse explained. “Either it becomes a goal—hanging on for whoever they have left to turn up for their 100th, so they can depart surrounded by family—or they refuse to believe they could get that old, and pass a day or two before.”
“Your mom’s new worker reminded her, ‘You’re turning 100 next Tuesday.’ Just making conversation, but your mom put down her tea. So I knew: this weekend.”
You could resign, storm out in high dudgeon and let the cards fall where they may. You could fantasize about finding another job where your skills are finally appreciated and imagine submitting your resignation with an air of smugness. You could become unmanageable and take the fired escape. (Except there’s the money, your unemployable middle age, the mortgage and the kids and your partner’s anger and the looming wasteland of your irrelevance to your former colleagues.) Or you could accept that you built this escape-proof prison and raise birds to release through the bars, before they become like you.
When the package arrived, Walter wrestled off the lid…then gazed at its contents and sighed.
The replicant Alice looked like a poor imitation. Same height, build, and hair color…but he saw gleaming rivets, which felt disconcerting, like he’d dragged home some Frankenstein’s monster to replace his dead wife.
He carried it to the sofa and draped a blanket over it.
Ten days later, he got up the nerve to turn the key.
Her eyes fluttered open–slate blue, like Alice’s.
He gasped. “I…made your favorite, carbonara.” Then he felt foolish; she couldn’t eat.
But she smiled. “Lovely.”
by G.J. Williams
Hope Towers. Inaptly named. And there’s a man who won’t move out of one of its third-floor apartments. How to make him see sense has replaced the weather as a talking point. He’ll be the song of the drunks yet. Category NETG: nowhere else to go, one of them. In short, one from whom there’s nothing to fear. Single male, middle-aged, keeps a cat. No comeback.
by Emily Clemente
Your mom used to bake pies in the dark. The light of day burned too much, but the moon was cold, just like her. That’s why she left at night, when the sun was gone from the sky. Now all I have of hers are the two things she loved most: The pie she baked that night. And you.
You don’t want to eat the pie. You say it looks too sad, like her eyes are in the crust. But I think you should. You might cry now, but one day you’ll see that our tears all taste the same.
by Susi Lovell
She stood on the quay in the moonlight looking like an angel, screaming like a fishwife. I rowed like the devil was after me. And wasn’t he? Not the blue boar — oh the teeth on him — it was her the devil, eyes all a-glitter.
At a safe distance, I rested my oars, looked back. She stretched up her neck, long and skinny, lips touching the moon. She swallowed it whole, the blue boar leaning against her knee, her hand cradling its head.
Get away, I told myself and set my oars in motion. But I drew closer and closer.
by Allison Douglas-Tourner
No band to welcome the heroes home. No cheers. No flags. He turned away from a church that was shocked to hear about smoking in the trenches. Took on a school in the flats where he spent his money on skates and books for the children. He taught fair play, and self-reliance, once mending his own bleeding hand at assembly with a needle and thread. Rely on yourselves he said. Don’t trust authority. He never had time for school inspectors. Too busy playing marbles with the kids. And, in memory of the fallen boys, he planted trees. Many trees.
by Doug Jacquier
The rain came in sideways, driven by the same scouring winds that had delivered the dust from farms hundreds of miles away for so many summers now and sent our own on a similar journey. As long as there was enough to drown our despair at fly-blown carcasses in the paddocks, 100-year-old trees falling like matchsticks and harvesters rusting in sagging sheds, because these days real seeds only produced phantom crops. We whispered prayers that the rain would trigger flash flooding and wash out the roads and cut off the power; that was pain we could gladly endure.
by Swapan K Banerjee
The vehement impulse to have nothing to do with this meaningless existence sent him packing to the seppuku forest. Following the trail he eyed a sign: Don’t venture further. He took the forbidden path, his unsteady feet struggling to detangle the gnarled roots. Amidst gathering darkness, as he felt the weapon in his pocket that would let him through this ordeal called life, finally, he got startled by the sound of a branch snapping. In a small clearing ahead he found his girlfriend, noose and a crucifix of Jesus on a chain around her neck, lying on the ground, alive.
by Carlton Clayton
On a Saturday afternoon, I was at the back of the elementary school facing the windows of my fifth-grade classroom. I could see the snakes floating in formaldehyde in large glass jars on the shelf behind the teacher’s desk. The paddle, a glazed candy-striped cricket bat with a strip of rawhide looped through a small hole in its handle, was propped up against the desk. Mr. Whitlock told us he’d made it himself. I hated him. The windows were in rectangular panes, a great wall of them, seven across and five down. Spectacular! I threw rocks and busted them all.