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?
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.
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.
by G.J. Williams
It’s in his face: no dog and twenty old ghosts. It’s in the way he sits, his clothes shining with years of ingrained dirt. Been in those clothes so long they’d have to be surgically removed, layer by layer. A man without. Muttering into his beard. And that muttering of his can fire up and things get noisy. Many’s the scuffle he’s had with thin air. Leathered on god knows what gutrot. Been at the end of his life for years kind of bloke. Always on his tod. With a bunch of ghosts. And like I say, no dog.
Ninety-year-old bare skin is crepe, crossed with turkey’s wattle and if you lightly bump or grip too tight it bruises like an evil has been done. My mother hates that her arms, her neck, her décolletage look this way.
When I hug her I can see Mum’s scalp through the thinning, flyaway hair now worn short, as her fingers can no longer manage hair ties. Mum was always proud of her hair so she hates that too.
Worse still is the oedema, the fluid retention that merges her ankles and calves into one inflamed whole. Anyone would hate that.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
by E. O’Neill
The hands of a thousand brides carry the life’s work of Saul Bergman. Stone tokens of love everlasting, each expertly cut and polished under his watchful eye. Now, the sign in the store window announces the closeout sale. The sign’s reach goes far beyond the store’s inventory. Its message has roots and limbs. It grows like ivy and covers all.
Four rows away a lawnmower rumbles, drowning out the rabbi’s prayer. Ida grieves but doesn’t weep. She steels herself to the weather’s chill and the uncertainty of the future. She’ll move to West Islip to be closer to her sister.
The Merest Crack
by Philippa Bowe
Syl balances on the Waterloo Bridge balustrade, waits for a sign, body swaying though there’s no wind, battered by gusts of forever-anxiety, and there! the last city lights stutter and go out, snuffed by the night’s dark, time to let go, plunge into the water below, wet cold shadows enfolding her, time to sink and rest, but no, up she floats on pillowing wings of clothes and lungs, face breaking the surface, tilting up to a seeping cleft in the sky, a finger of light beckoning as a solitary star – tiny, determined – eyeballs her, and she says, Well okay then.
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 Louise McStravick
Her hands would move quickly, without thought as she watched television. The hook pulling the wool through. I would watch it grow, widening.
I wrap myself in the colours of it. Fall asleep to a programme I’m not watching.
I dream I am wearing the blanket, in the woods. Somewhere we’d visited before. I cannot find her, so I walk deeper, unspooling until it is nothing. I am naked, cold, alone. I am running, following the thread back home to where she is sitting. Hands gathering wool.
I wake up. Alone. Held by the blanket.
Larry attended a knitting circle with his cellmate. He learned to hand-knit scarves and blankets, weave supple yarn with stocky hands. He looped soft thread around calloused fingers, was lulled into daydreams. Knitters smiling and chattering about neighbors or children. Knitters boasting of spouses and jobs, houses and cars. Knitters not shoveling gravel or swinging sledgehammers, not scrounging to survive. Knitters not getting blackout drunk and burning things, not beating a man and getting scared of who they’d become. Knitters not swearing they would change or be better, not breaking promises and knuckles as warm wool comforted their unstained hands.
She was down to a single Rome Beauty. The last apple for her last day. Later, she’d run naked through the frigid forest to finish what she came to the cabin to do. Go out as she came in. Bare ass moonlit naked. She counted down her time an apple a day for thirty days. Time to live. To think. Laugh. To remember. Or not. To howl with wolves. Dance the hot potato. Burn camp chairs in the fireplace. Hang pots and pans from blue trees. Sugar rush deer hardcore. Practice run to the cliff where winter skies wait.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
They bid me howdy in their white trucks with their easy smiles, scents of Camels and tar. The Eagles play from radios. They welcome me. Ask if there’s anything I need.
I smile. Wave. I even tip that cheap cowboy hat I bought.
It’s been months since I’ve heard that word. Fuck off has been my constant companion.
Every time I try to reciprocate, my words seem flat, like months-old Diet Pepsi. They nod in understanding. They must think me shy. Or weird.
But when they say goodbye, I reciprocate with desperate ease, word echoing like a hundred goodbyes before.
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
I bought a broom that lets me sweep up spiders without breaking their legs. I can deposit them gently into my garden. My garden is like a coliseum of displaced insects. Some have all of their limbs, while others are missing one or more for mysterious reasons. How is it that insects are threatened with extinction? I find them wobbling around, waiting to grow new limbs. They prove the point that life is more than fight versus flight: it is autosarcophagy. A fox will chew off its leg to escape a trap. There is a future for the maimed.
by G.J. Williams
The man who gave you a helping hand has had his fingers broken, and the woman who gave you shelter is homeless. Is how it stands at the moment.
And those kindly fruitsellers at the park? Picking stones, somewhere north. As for your ornithologist friend, she’s finding the dusty basements hard going, old dental records not being her bag. And your neighbours? They keep to themselves, and are happy enough to do so, aware as they are of the various alternatives.
Is how things stand at the moment.
by Iain Rowan
Even though he doesn’t get letters anymore, because who does these days, he still looks forward to the post arriving.
He picks each envelope up from the doormat and holds them tight in his hands for a few moments before putting them into the recycle bin. Even though it’s only ever junk mail, to reach him it has passed from one human hand to another, and in that there is something.
by Blue Silver
Two thin fuses lie buried in my face, and one day my skin will flicker and burn. I unearthed them in the mirror, and they creep towards my nose from upturned corners. You told me I had ignited yours, but levity and gravity always left you traceless.
These days, I watch stars from my porch and sometimes old newsreels of your launch, and your descent towards the red dirt. Tonight, I hit play on the last tape, the fireball upon landing, and wonder why your fuse burned quicker than mine. You might have loved the view from this porch too.
by Bernardo Villela
Beset by the world’s woes Bill Lee went to live at sea. Landlocked existence churned his stomach; acrid wildfires stung his eyes; the summer sun scorched his skin.
With fish and fresh air, he could live anywhere. Beneath the water line, in the brine, barnacles started growing upon his hide. Surfacing for warmth didn’t shake them or kill them off. He loved them as they multiplied, felt a symbiosis with them—they were Neptune’s gift.
They were his armor against mankind. When people approached he’d say “Woe betide to all who come this way.”
Off they ran, and stayed away.
Get Back to Work
by Nicholas T. Schafer
The framing nail stuck out of my chest. Everything stopped. I stared at the nail. Jesse, who was holding the other board, stared at the nail. Sam, our foreman, who had fired the high velocity shiner out of the nail-gun through the two by four into my chest, stared at the nail.
Only the nail moved. Up and down. I realized, with relief, that I was still breathing, and that breathing didn’t hurt.
Sam reached over, pulled the front of my shirt. The nail pinged to the floor.
“No blood, no foul. Get back to work.”
None of Us Is All Here
by G.J. Williams
This is where cigarettes are called christnumbers and the go-to place after death is referred to as The Shangles. What happens there is unclear but is generally thought to be agreeable. In the meantime there’s a white wall of silence; palpable; procedural. And there’s always someone who’ll pipe-up, ‘Hey, where isn’t Jesus?’ A more valid question can scarcely be imagined, given what’s at stake, which is to say: everything. Immortelles are in their vases, corridors cry. All is not well with the world. It comes on strong, adopts a joshing tone as it clatters in, the cutlery plastic.
by Xanthe Miller
I got fed up. That has made me wicked. By wicked I mean effective. Unapologetic. I’m not sorry, just hungry from years of genteel starving. Ravenous with a mouth full of my unspoken self, footsore with undanced dances. I am finally getting comfortable in this skin, just as it begins to shift and fade. I’ve opened the book of spells and have my favorites. So tonight at sunset I will put on the voluminous skirt that belonged to my mother and my grandmother and whirl and whirl while I can. And take what I take.
by Liz Betz
Jenny knows she could have parked straighter, but she’s running late. First the car needed gas and then she caught a string of red lights. Her toddler begins to cry at the door of the daycare. Jenny has to be strong and kiss her goodbye saying, Mommy has to hurry. Mommy loves you.
Her little girl would be okay in a few minutes, but will she? Back at the car, she sees the flapping paper. A ticket? No. A note. You SUCK at parking. SERIOUSLY. She can’t argue. She needs to do better.
Enough of a Triumph
by Ken Poyner
Playing croquet on a hillside complicates the game. Grass thickness comes even more into play. Strategy requires elevated thinking. You do not recover as well from a blunder. And yet, it adds thrill to sending an opponent’s ball thundering off. Differences in elevation drives subtlety in approach. Consider how long it will be, from all the leaning back or aside, before your hamstrings give out. I’m off to lay out my wickets in the cruelest of spots. I cannot wait to see the confusion on your face.
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.