Four Hours More
by Jenna Baker
Shifting on the mattress, she contemplates when she’ll fit in dissertation edits with an overflowing satchel of unmarked essays.
Before sunrise, she smooths concealer under her eyes, blending stress into skin.
Now, Miss Berkley claps, requesting peace from pre-teens. Instead: “She did what?” “Why is this assignment dumb?” “Restroom, please?”
Counting questions off on fingers, she answers. “Don’t care, it has real-world relevance, not till I’m done with instructions.”
Aubrey sneaks over to her cluttered desk while pencils scratch paper. “Your dress is pretty.”
Smiling, she silently thanks the Big Man for small compliments. “Your work’s finished?”
“I got bored.”
by Ken Poyner
He sets his laughter down, but never out of reach. He has harvested a goodly mass of laughter for one day. He has been thinking all morning that for days which are this productive, he should start carrying handled sacks. Yes, two or three sacks in each hand. No more stacking the laughter and stuffing it under an arm. He looks over at the two girls on the next bench. He makes a droopy face and they begin to smile. He wiggles his ears and they begin the tiniest of giggles. He thinks, this is almost too easy.
by Ron Hartley
People at the nursing home said her whistled renditions of Lutheran hymns were always on key. She walked out naked except for a bathrobe and slippers, unnoticed by attendants overwhelmed with Covid-19. She moved like an automaton on low batteries, emitting squeaky whistles like she needed a lube job; then jaywalking back and forth, causing a van to swerve and smash into a parked car.
“Nutcase,” the driver screamed.
“Meant no harm,” she said. “Just looking for a house on a mountain where I was born. Lots of piano-playing there,” she said, “and songs of praise are most often sung.”
by Adam Chabot
During our daily walk, Colton admires everything in the quiet cul-de-sac: the yellow dandelions in our front yard, the concrete sidewalk marred by snow plows, the oscillations of water from the sprinkler in Mr. Heward’s lawn. Colton turned three last month.
He finds a sewer grate in the street. He’s examined it before but today he squats and gazes into its darkness.
“Circles,” he exclaims pointing at the holes.
“No, squares, buddy.”
“Oh. Squares,” he echoes.
With this, he tugs on the strings around his ears. He’s learned not to fight me about the mask anymore.
Our walk commences.
Business as Usual
by Brooks C. Mendell
“Got this buddy,” said Miller. “Used to wear corduroys with lobsters on them.”
“I know who he is,” I said. “Heard he screwed the high school French teacher.”
“No idea,” I said. “But with him, you think it could’ve happened.”
“That’s him,” said Miller. “He heard you have a quarter-ton pickup that nobody’s using.”
“Well, he got that body disposal grant from the county,” said Miller. “So, he’s huntin’ a spare truck.”
“Happy to talk to him.”
“Great,” said Miller, not moving.
“We’ll cut you in, don’t worry.”
Miller winked over his mask and walked away.
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.