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.
by Madison Randolph
Pipe smoke swirled and tickled Tam’s nose as he puffed. The dirt path he walked undulated through the corn to a crossroads.
The smoke thickened two spirits appeared: a hooded figure stood to his left and, to his right, a veiled woman.
“You must choose,” they said in unison.
Tam turned, but the road had disappeared. Horrified, he fell to his knees before the veiled apparition.
It lowered the veil, rotting skeletal teeth smiled down.
The hooded figure sighed with a shake of his golden curls.
Life may be shadowed in mystery, but to some, death will always be inviting.
by G.J. Williams
The state he’s in, you can smell the rot. No question Big Aitch knows it. The aroma unmistakable. And where Big Aitch goes the rot goes. He tries to disguise it of course. Comes on all radio rental; rolls the eyeball, makes much of his fingers, puts on airs, pulls faces, has it out with his own shadow, calls a spade many things but never a spade. Makes up his mind so that his mind’s made up; tralala. Watch your words; watch his. There’s no telling. The state he’s in. You can smell the rot from here.
Switchbacks on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Ana Cotham
We’d heard a Trail Angel was four miles ahead, so we kept hiking. Shin splints knifed me with every step; Lisa gritted her teeth through blood blisters. We found the cabin, where a silver-haired woman greeted us with stew, coffee, hot showers.
Clean, fed, soothed with bandages, we shared stories over steaming mugs of cocoa. Sunset glowed, making a silhouette of trees, and she told us the storm had passed.
Lisa said uncertainly, “But—the weather’s been clear.”
“No, my love,” the woman said kindly. “The storm took you both by surprise. How else do you think you found me?”
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?”
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.
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 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 G.J. Williams
Oblivious of the cowering furniture, he paced up and down, smoking one cigarette after another. The watercolours grew nervous. The cat was nowhere to be seen. That the whole house shook is not to be believed. This was not a house easily shaken.
Our realtor suggested we make an offer despite the chalk outline of a body on the bedroom carpet. “Some spackle will take care of the bullet holes and those blood stains should clean up quick.” The schools were good and the taxes reasonable and so we agreed, knocking 20K off the asking price due to the ghost weeping in the corner. Because the market was sizzling, we lost to a higher bid. On weekends we drive by and wave to the new homeowners as they sip coffee on the porch, the ghost seated between them enjoying a fresh buttered scone.
by Michael Stroh
This new pill makes you an extrovert for four hours, give or take. Right before the bouncer let us in, I swallowed one dry. The thump of bass and swarm of people engulfed me. I was terrified until I started laughing and swaying with hands raised like an idiot. Even met a guy. I let him buy me a drink, and we flirted, and we danced, and I forgot all about the time. He asked for my number as the pill wore off. Panicking and drowning in bodies, I ran for the door, and in the commotion lost a shoe.
The Place Without Insects
by Matthew McEwan
Cicadas chirped under a diamond sun.
The girl with the insect head hid behind bushes, swatting at buzzing flies.
She peered through serrated leaves, to a place of crisp air and champagne sunlight. A place of humans and smiling.
A place without insects.
Before she knew it, she had stepped out.
Hands clasped, insect head hanging, she stumbled over, presenting a wet, trembling palm.
She couldn’t even stutter ‘hello’ before innocent smiles contorted into open-mouthed screams. Brightened eyes; dark, deep, horror.
And they were gone.
The flies buzzed.
Given something sharp, she would have cut her own head off.
by Melissa Jornd
The man next to me seems nice. He’s quiet, which calms me. Although the staring unnerves me–should I be doing something?
I glance at my tablemates: the nice man, temples graying. Two young adults, clearly siblings. One toddler, all chubby cheeks and drool.
“Hello,” I venture. They smile back.
A sandwich, veggies, and pudding land in front of me. I hate pudding.
The man reaches over, using sleight-of-hand to replace it with a daisy.
And I remember.
I grasp my husband’s hand, desperate not to forget again.
“My Daisy,” he murmurs.
“I love you,” I reply, while I still can.
by Lester L Weil
Although he lives here, the pictures on the refrigerator are hers. Figurines atop the cabinets—hers. Paintings on the wall—hers. Knickknacks on the shelves—hers. Plants that he diligently waters—hers. It has been years—her ashes long scattered—but everything here is still hers. And as he wanders through the house, the mirrors reflect him—still hers.
by G.J. Williams
Details pertaining to fabrics twilled or corded leave her cold. So, too, tales of glossy silkstuffs trailing parquet floors. She knows how she cuts it as she goes. Too tall for her own good; bareheaded to a fault. A figure boding ill among the hedgerows; so local she’s a silhouette. If only she. But then again. There but for the grace of. It’s said her eyes up close are bloodshot pools. That monster word: loneliness.
Elixir for Unrequited Nostalgia
by Katherine DiBella Seluja
Start with childhood trauma. Your father throwing you out will do. Mix in your schizophrenic brother, evening locked ward visits. Add a fistful of teenage pregnancy. Let it simmer for thirty-five years. Spread it thickly over 2000 miles. Lace it with your mother tripping on the dog and falling down the cellar stairs. The doctor said, the first forty-eight hours will tell. Run up and down those stairs seven times. If you can, make it ten. Watch strangers walk out of your house, back their car down the drive. Resist the urge to tell them, this was my childhood home.
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.