by Ken Poyner
Six yellow dogs consider the long dirt road. There is the porch, the water trough, the food bowl, the dirt road. Grass comes and goes along the dirt road’s edges. Too few cars for six dogs. Too few cars for four dogs. Too few cars for two dogs. One dog would not feel slighted by the lack of cars. He could dream what he wanted to dream, rolling in his somnambulant readiness on the careless porch boards. The color of that dream would not matter. He might dream of six dogs, of being the one dog worthy of a car.
by Anastasia Kirchoff
“I named her Bessie!” He says, pointing a small finger.
I don’t tell my son that Bessie is more of a cow’s name than a goat’s. “Pretty,” I say instead. Tufts of their dichromatic winter coats have begun to shed, littering the pen in discarded heaps. Soon my hair will be like that—scattered detritus. Unlike the goats, I will not grow springtime fat. Though I suppose we are both near to slaughter.
But not quite yet.
“Let’s check on the chickens.” I watch his chubby legs carry him away, trusting that Bessie will be there tomorrow.
by Esther Zigman
Cucumber scented curls tickle my lip as my toddler falls asleep in my arms. The corkscrew curls that bounce happily when she runs, and glow chestnut brown in the sun. The ones that compel strangers to comment.
“What beautiful hair!” they say.
We smile. I thank them.
“Too bad it’s a pain in the ass to manage.”
She doesn’t understand, so she keeps smiling. She brings that smile home; the one that goes all the way up to her eyes.
One day she’ll understand. That day she’ll bring home tears.
And hair irons.
She’ll borrow them from me.
by Howie Good
A woman named for a dead grandmother crossed her arms across her chest in a conscious attempt to hide her trembling. She thought the birds up in the trees sounded like they were asking, “Hey, you all right?” Most of her communications with the world were strained or superficial. It took a while before she realized that everything she was interested in saying was contained somewhere in a book. Now when she closes her eyes, she can see flowers, fire creatures, viruses leaping from the cracked tarmac. She hesitates to call them visitors. More like chasing pink, she found red.
by Ran Walker
Terry continued to unwind his kite as it sailed higher and higher against the burnt orange of the sunset. Coltrane, his Lab, had given up chasing after it, choosing instead to trot along the coastline, its paws tracking the sand like musical notes.
That evening Terry would get his weekly phone call from his mother and how she worried about him being single at his age. But she couldn’t see the sunset, the kite drifting toward the violet of dusk, or Coltrane nestling against his calves as he stood there with the sand between his toes.
He was just fine.
Breakfast for Ghosts
by Lora Kilpatrick
Every morning, a man walks out of our pond and stares in the back door. His skin is bloated and purple. Algae hangs off his hat. At first, Mama fainted. Now we just let him in and save him a seat at the table. Mama serves him a plate of eggs and a cup of coffee. He never eats, but we think something like a smile splits his swollen lips. When we’re done, he tips his hat to Mama and walks back to the pond. Mama says not all ghosts want to scare people. Some just want breakfast.
by Barbara Schilling Hurwitz
The land shook senseless for days before the tremors ceased. All was still but the movement of the sea. The world once heated by the warmth of the sun was left cold, grey and lifeless. We approached with caution the petrified hand, covered in ash, rising from the packed granules of sand, its fingers motioning us closer. “You,” a thundering voice spoke, “have been gifted a fresh canvas on which to paint the world anew. But heed my warning, choose your colors with care or like the previous holders of the brush, you will bring forth the apocalypse once again.”
by Howie Good
One person in six hasn’t heard of the Holocaust, doesn’t know what it is, a planet of smoke and flames. Seventy year ago my relatives didn’t believe it was there, and then they walked through the gate and under the slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei, and found they suddenly had a dismal view of God’s back from inside the barbed wire. So I look around, and though the times are terrifying, try to act like a kind of thunderstorm blue, like I can see clouds in the shape of a woman’s mighty body and feel the rain that hasn’t fallen yet.
If Not for Love
by Lacie Semenovich
I’m married. Happily married. Except at 2 AM when I’m homicidal. I don’t sleep well anymore. My bladder. My bones. My memories. My husband sleeps like a drunken teen and snores like an asthmatic. I imagine the weight of the memory foam pillow in my hands, hovering above his face, still handsome after all these years. He’ll think he’s dreaming. Then blissful silence. Ah, if not for love… Instead, I plant my foot in the middle of his back and push. The dog knows better than to sleep on his side of the bed. I roll over and feign sleep.
by Celeste Regal
It was always winter in her heart. Even in this torrid country where dogs go mad, locals walk like zombies inert and unsurprised. A dearth of freedoms profound, though. On this day, awash in light, a fantastic bird perched on the gallery and spoke. “Outliving them allows transition to the acropolis.” It disappeared in a rainbow flutter. She looked askance at the cloak of hidden desires bursting at the seams. Back to her desk, she wrote away regrets with strokes full of color and confidence. Each paragraph left trails for another oracular bird to arrive unannounced.
Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Pat Bouchie.
by Sylvia Petter
Kone sits in his top-floor office, sipping a double Bourbon. He closes his eyes and sees a young boy squatting in the school ground, drawing a circle in the dust with a whittled stick. The bell peals and the boy stands up, tucks the stick into the belt of his grey uniform shorts and goes back to class. Kone leans deep into his leather armchair. The boy in the dust had imaginary whiskers that would twitch whenever things were amiss. Kone runs the back of his hand over a close-shaven cheek, empties his glass and sighs.
27 Signs You Are in an Existential Crisis
by Howie Good
The process involves clinging to fragments floating around – a woman taking off her shirt, an ugly mood, an eye – and tying them together. Yet nothing is ever resolved, nothing adds up, nothing goes anywhere. Just yesterday, I woke up to rain gusting against the window. There were other bad omens, all the things that make me, me, the sense of having quotation marks around them. I looked in the mirror and saw that my eyebrows were gray. I saw that I was sixty-two, almost sixty-three. I have a box full of photographs I have taken of clouds to prove it.
by Gabby Dexter
“I don’t understand your story,” he said, thumbing through the papers.
“You don’t?” she said.
“The character is in pain. Real, physical pain. She’s ill. Every day she wakes in agony, and all she can do is wait for the next day and hope it will be different so that maybe she can live. But it never is.” She could detect the sneer in his voice. “Your story has no structure, no shape, no meaning. There’s no ending – no conclusion of any kind. It’s not satisfactory.”
“No.” She reached for her cane and lowered her eyes. “No, it’s not.”
by Marc D. Regan
Outside, his spine pressed to the clapboard siding, he exhaled smoke. Delightful smoke. In his head Peter, Paul and Mary sang of Jackie Paper’s dragon, Puff. His lips and fingertips buzzed, and he loved it. Sort of. After many failed attempts, he’d finally done it: quit. Until tonight, in his childhood backyard, he had. Three nicotine-free months—over. He glanced right, left. As if on the sly, his girlfriend, the reformed cigarette smoker, had tailed him to say: “But your mom’s smoking. Lung cancer. Honey. No.” But after enduring his mother’s funeral today, all those dour faces, he deserved it.
by Erica Plouffe Lazure
I try not to take them anymore. But I always give in. The kids in the ward: their bald scalps haloing bright smiles, sagging jonnies. Rows of them, making wishes, clutching tiny effigies of themselves, fingers tracing hand-stitched smiles, affixing Band-Aids to cloth limbs, whispering secrets. Some sport pigtailed wigs, dwarfing ball caps that fool no one. When it’s time to trundle one down the hall, we pretend the gurney’s a roller coaster or choo-choo train or rocket ship. A bicycle. An airplane destined for Disney—anything, even for a moment, to pull us out of this terrible adventure.