Number 4 was Born at Home
by Shannon Hare
After a sleepless night, each crunchy step reminds me of granola. I swat at blackberry brambles with spoon arms. It helps to get scratches. To ground me. To pick at until tomorrow.
“I’m asking for ten minutes a day.”
I was too far away now to hear the baby crying. Still, the rush comes to me, just at the thought of it. Milky circles on my shirt.
Women and Girls
by David M Wallace
My dear wife. I have your letter and the joyous news. The army winters in Gaul but will return to Rome come spring, gods willing. I will send money soon. If the child is a boy, name him Lucius. If a girl, leave her to the elements. Greet my mother for me when next you see her.
by Ken Poyner
The guards at street’s end swing quart bottles of blood. It is not their blood. It is not your blood. With these exceptions, it could be anyone’s blood. When guard is changed, the new guards bring new blood. In your house you worry how the blood is collected, in what province or block, from which political party; with tubes and needles, or by sopping it from the floor. No one speaks of it, yet everyone worries. Slowly, it is marveled at less. It is assumed each rotation of guards will have new blood. It is normal. The experiment is done.
by Ken Poyner
He has been told of the potential danger in buying antiques. No one warned him when he was just buying old furniture; but antiques, being more expensive, had their own exaggerations. Sometimes, previous owners do not want to give up their possessions, attach their ghosts to challenge anyone who might repurpose the piece. There could be multiple ghosts in the construction, contending no matter who currently owns the piece. How could he know before purchase? Quibble moves each recent acquisition into his mother’s home, waits a week, calls to see if she is sleeping well and without newly minted nightmares.
There Is A Light, But It Will Go Out In Flames
St. Andrews, 2001, winter’s night céilidh: she blazed a furnace burning peat from Scotland’s earth. Bright hair swirled, tinged hottest fire, point-and-click camera flash, faceless smiling, bright eyes, she singed the ballroom with American heat. Sheathed in a body-hugging, glowing-orange gown, train scooped up in her fist, she danced out heartbreak. Peeling her body from sweetest sweat and joyful dress, she disembarked from that fragrant train. For one night, ticket punched, her porcelain shoulders gleamed against film’s negative dark, sharp-edged bones long buried under now middle-aged still-pale softness, aching feet. Then—a torch, a neon sign: Do Not Touch.
Tea for Two
by Pamela S. Kelso
Enid sat on sagging steps of a bedraggled farmhouse. Her hair pin- curled and wrapped in a chiffon scarf. She painted her lips with an old Tangee lipstick bought at Woolworth’s in 1960.
Enid and Edna shared that lipstick. They wore it on special occasions. They turned 100 today.
Ezekiel, their mailman, would arrive at the same time as always, he would check. He’d tell the others.
Dressed in her calico dress that matched Enid’s, Edna was on the broken bed in their ramshackle room off the kitchen.
Enid quickly drank from Edna’s teacup and joined her twin.
Reason for the Fall
by Ken Poyner
A red dog goes by on a bicycle. I don’t mind a red dog commanding a bicycle, but he seems to be ignoring all the traffic signs that should apply to bicyclists. Not that he is being otherwise reckless, just unheedful. He sits upright, focused on the road, well within the speed limit, oblivious to all the guides that are supposed to inform him of what bicyclists must do. And he is a red dog. Were he a blue dog, the environment, the import, would be different. I wave, not unfriendly, but not inviting, and the hidden curb snatches him.
by Amber Steenberg
Pierre was a lanky college graduate, 6’1, and had the hair of a Greek god. What brought him to Robin was their shared interest in film.
He found himself sitting in the back of an empty theatre, the movie murmuring as if grey were a voice. The projection’s hue pooled a mountain of contour as he turned his head, and he watched as she smiled on the edge of her seat, bright eyes glistening, and as soft breaths of laughter spilled through her teeth, which lingered in the theatre air. From this moment he fell into a trance of adoration.
Alpha and Omega
by Leesa Voth
She wished her mother had told her that breasts reveal how it begins and ends. That they emerge from the flat plains of childhood into dual summits that men would climb. That they achingly swell with milk after children arrive from the body. That their aging deflation concedes to a distant shadow of femininity.
She stood at the scanning machine.
An off-color secretion on the glass.
Do I have…?
She fainted. Later, the nurse gave her juice. In the dressing room, she searched the summit but hesitated before praying. For God is Man, and she just wanted her Mother.
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.
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.