Listening to George
by Alan Beard
In his back yard. He’s big, reddened, rough with illness, talking about the manic-depressive next door who was putting up their mutual fence after taking a dislike to their previous one. He’s left it half done to go off for a fortnight’s ‘session’. And of his lodger with his fear of scrambled eggs. He cracks a joke about the rain we’ve been having week in, week out and then says his wife is leaving him. Has left him. I thought it was quiet. Then he jokes it’s the lodger, the neighbor. There are madmen all around.
Now You See Her
by Lisa Strong
The girl with the cannula, offers to show me a magic trick. She must have been here before, looks sick enough to be a regular. I’ve just never noticed. Her bald head is the bleached white of an egg, but her eyes are very blue. A shaft of light pours in from the high institutional windows picking out every blond eyelash. I wonder, is it possible to fall in love on same day you find out you’re dying or is this just a trick of the nervous system, some flood of endorphins, as the soul desperately clings to life?
Two Goats and a Basketball
by Matt Weatherbee
I had two goats named Lebron James and Michael Jordan. I asked them who the greatest basketball player of all time was, hoping they’d start fighting so I could declare the winner the greatest and finally have a definitive answer, but they just tried to headbutt me. Jokingly I tossed a basketball up in the air over their pen. It plopped in the mud and scared them. I left the basketball there and soon forgot about it. Then one morning a few months later I found Lebron James and Michael Jordan dead, the basketball sitting bloody and deflated between them.
by David Ford
She is always jolly. Her kids hate that. She strokes the palm of her hand with her thumb, the life line and the heart line, wishing they were longer. Then the finger on her lips as if silencing the question: who will miss me when I am gone?
He holds her tight but not tight enough.
Listening to Seashells
by Hannah Whiteoak
I lift the shell to my ear. “Come back,” the sea calls. “Finish what you started.” I remember jumping from the pier, the sudden cold shock I was sure nobody could survive. And then the arm hooking under my shoulders, the stranger dragging me to shore. Air swooshes around the shell like waves closing over my head. Giving up should have been easy, but I clung to that swimmer until we reached the beach, where I dug my fingers into the sand and wept with relief. Inside the shell, my heartbeat echoes, reminding me to hang on.
by David Galef
Denvers was halfway down the trellis when the miasma hit. The breeze carried bougainvillea and pollen that stuck in his throat. He grew dizzy, about to fall when a child’s hand pulled him through an open first-floor window. He fainted on the linoleum floor, waking up alone in the darkness, which is how he spends most of his time these days. Once in a while, he’ll raise his head to look at the garden, but the effort costs him. The child never returned. The window is now barred. Those at the institution act as if he’s no longer there.
by Andy Brennan
I don’t know what else to say except I’m sorry. You were faithful; you stood by us through the evacuation; you bristled on the trail; you scented danger; you listened in the night. You were good. I told the kids you’d broken your leg in a trapper’s trap. They knew we couldn’t carry you and that we couldn’t heal you. They didn’t know we’d eaten our last can of navy beans two weeks prior. They didn’t know it wasn’t possum stew. You gave and gave and gave until the very end. That’s always how I’ll remember you.
by Debora C. Martin
Tom tossed in the king-sized bed while Sally assembled the 5,000 piece puzzle portraying the Milky Way. He wished her star gazing would end, and remembered a better life before her sobriety. Leaning over the wobbly table, neck and shoulders aching, Sally inserted lavender-hued pieces into purple skies speckled with microscopic stars. In her trance, she failed to hear Tom descend the stairs and walk to the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets. But, she ceased working, and commenced hating herself, when he entered the room and handed her a glass of wine.
by Hannah Whiteoak
Lying awake, imagine buying a patch of land in some remote place. You’ll build a tiny house: no space for his smelly socks, dishes piled in the sink, gadgets he buys but never uses. You’ll plant potatoes, keep chickens, walk in the wilderness with only a shaggy dog for company, and finally figure out who you could’ve been without him. He rolls over and drapes an arm across you. Remember your career in digital marketing has not equipped you with housebuilding skills. You’ve killed every plant you’ve owned. Animals frighten you. At least he’s stopped snoring.
by Jim Doss
A Solzhenitsyn look-alike slumps into the chair beside me, scowling. I always pick slot #13 for its anti-luck in this world of science. We don’t believe in miracles. We grunt at each other, starving men in a bread line awaiting our meager portion. The nurse hangs his bag of treated blood before feeding a clear liquid into my veins that shrouds me in fog. We live trapped in the gulags of our minds each day, never knowing when the bullet might come, or the gates swing open to forests filled with life, freedom beckoning like a mirage.
by Hannah Whiteoak
Run until your heart races, breath wheezes, January air grazes your throat, feet are on fire, a stitch gnaws at your side, legs burn and buckle as you sprint across the finish line and stagger to a stop. Bend at the waist, hands on your thighs, nauseous, gasping as you reach for your watch to check your time. Plan to run again tomorrow, despite aching calves and quads; set the alarm, plaster blisters, gulp coffee and go, because you remember when the black dog was gnashing at your heels and you know it is never far behind.
by Vincent Aldrich
She cried good tears. The long wait finally over. She said she loved the ring, and me, and I cried a little too, grinning. We laughed together, and it was pretty much perfect. But somewhere in the conversation following, while I worked my second drink, I made some offhanded comment about credit card debt and changing diapers, and something in her eyes clouded over. Now she stares at the grey waves in silence, then her phone, then the waves again. I sip my fresh drink and flip through the appetizers, while seagulls argue over some dead thing by the water.
by Maura Yzmore
I’ve always thirsted for rain. For gloomy skies and thunder. For running soaked to the bone along wide, sparkling streets.
Those streets led to a desert, and in the desert were you. Amidst scorpions, cacti, in the sweltering heat, the thirst felt deep in my loins, and it was quenched by your sweat.
Our children grow up on ice. All water, you say, like rain. But streets are narrow and mean, far too cold to get drenched… And you, my love, are a liar.
With you, it’s ice or heat. Never, ever my rain.
You let me die of thirst.
by Alanna Weissman
“Inoperable,” the doctor told her, showing her a scan. She attempted to decipher the black-and-white image, its contents a Rorschach, the tumor blooming like a flower, growing like a weed. She thought back to when she was a child and fascinated with medicine. Scabs, lipomas—how fascinating the things the body produced! She would squeeze a clogged follicle for the hardened bead of lymph it produced, peel the outer layer off a crusted-over cut. But illness, true illness, was something that only happened in television dramas and medical textbooks. Now she could only wait.
My Life Without Me
by Jim Doss
I quit my job a year before I did. After 20 years of service, the company gave me the big promotion to a corner office. I’d shut my door hours at a time, pretend I was engaged in delicate negotiations with an acquisition target only to watch pigeons landing on my window ledge, or people in the street below hurrying place to place. I sat there in my Brooks Brothers suits, staring at the double reflection in the corner windows, first left-side, then right-side, wondering who this stranger was, and why he stared back so intent on probing my soul.
This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz
by Katherine Bonnie Bailey
As a child, I harvested powder from butterfly wings to smear on my cheeks, glittering war paint for soft, pale skin. But beauty did not occur to me. Instead, I applied the shades for fantastical reasons, reveling in imagined potency.
“Don’t,” My mother scolded when she saw. “They need their fairy dust for flight.”
But no dust would lift my feet from the ground. And if I couldn’t wing away, why should they? So I chained the colorful creatures to the flowers with tiny tears in delicate places, my face glimmering. Stranded, they were only worms. No better than me.
by Barry Basden
On his way for scones this morning, he rolled through a stop and turned in front of a tan pickup. Immediately a cruiser appeared in his rear view.
“I beat him to the corner,” he lied.
“Not if you’d stopped. Two weeks ago a woman got T-boned there. Broke her neck.”
He remembered that cluster of EMS and police vehicles, his irritation detouring around it. So. A woman with a broken neck had been at the center of all that commotion.
He tacked the warning citation above his key rack. He wanted to see it every time he went out.
He Remembers a Girl in Scotland
by David L. Arnold
Once, when he was much younger and on orders for Nam, he backpacked Scotland. In Mallaig, he sat on the dock with a girl he met on the Sands of Morar. They shared a head of lettuce, slicing it like an apple. She was going to Ben Nevis. He was waiting for the ferry to Stornoway. He thinks he still dreams of her sometimes; a girl walking beside him on the sand who he cannot turn and see. He has been back to Scotland. He never made it to Nam. He’s older now, so he figures it worked out okay.
The Good ol’ Days on the Farm
by Kenny A. Chaffin
On the farm we’d put up bailing-wire antennas for everything – the B&W television, the CB radio, even the chickens. There was only Channel 12 with its 10,000-watt, thousand-foot tower a few miles east of the farm broadcasting to the entire Southern Oklahoma and Northern Texas region. It came through everything. Like the Philco we’d listen to KMAD on, Channel 12 always there in the background. It was on the party-line phone, in the barn somehow through the galvanized steel and chicken wire. Mama heard it on her teeth. I believe it. I’m surprised we didn’t get cancer. The pigs did.
by Hannah Whiteoak
He prunes you like a rosebush, removing dead wood. He disentangles stems that might strangle growth: your mother, sister, friends.
Don’t you want to be perfect? He proffers pruning shears and urges you slice away bad habits: drinking, dancing, going out after work. Soon, you won’t need work. He provides.
You bear fruit: a daughter, with rose-red lips and skin that bruises like petals. When winter comes, you bundle her against frost. “Wait in the car. Don’t wake Daddy.”
Ten minutes later, you take the driver’s seat. You stash the pruning shears in the glove box, blades red as roses.