by Jamie Benedi
“Poppa, is our skin our bones?”
“No son, our bones are inside our skin.”
“But Poppa, how does God put bones inside our skin?”
“Very carefully,” the father says.
Meanwhile, in heaven, God is peering through a magnifying glass, tweezers in trembling hand, trying to put bones inside a human.
He runs sweaty overworked fingers, gnarled and knobby, through his tremendous white beard.
“This is the worst. My next design will be a meteor to end the world. Meteors don’t have bones.”
Side by Side
by MA Banash
Oh, the stories we never know until now. But then they are always with us. Like birthmarks on your back that only lovers see when you get up from the bed, naked, and stumble toward the bathroom and the day.
There was that one. Really, where? What about you, let me look?
But they don’t. Let us look. So, we write stories about scars and tattoos, birthmarks and lies close enough to the truth to be believable. While they stay there next to us in bed. Sheets pulled up to their necks. Suddenly, modest, sober.
Whenever you drive past the remains, you grip the steering wheel till your knuckles turn white. At work, everyone is wary of you – a ticking time bomb. So you let words like ‘accident’ and ‘fire’ roll seamlessly off your tongue till you can’t recognize your voice. Neither does your wife. She’s never hungry, always tired, always lost. She disappears into the past, and one Sunday morning, you follow her. She hears the patter of tiny feet, the soft hum of the radio, the sizzle of an egg frying sunny side up. You cover your ears to stop the noise.
Blue Skies, Scattered Clouds
by Sean Koji Callaghan
Georg took out the trash and his gun that morning to end the Raccoon War once and for all. He fired, they scurried, glass pinged, Del screamed, her boy died in the living room, his face buried in his swim bag. The police had already taken their report and Georg away by the time the Kettle kids came clattering out their front door shouting for the school bus to wait.
Metamorphosis Before Homecoming
by Zebulon Huset
As the campfire’s coals smoldered by the tents, Tom and June found a mostly even patch of grass and conceived a child, Harold curled against a tree as too-much heroin swam in his veins, and Mike worried about Monday’s physics test, about bears, silly meteorites destroying his existence.
We walk into the bathroom. Did she see me? I try not to mentally tear her apart because she doesn’t have anything I don’t except youth and Fuckboy’s interest and I’ve temporarily convinced myself I don’t miss those things. I hurry. I hear her pull out a sanitary seat cover and place it, what sounds like neatly, on the toilet. I never do that. What if she called me out for not using them? I’d say, “Well, I hooked up with Fuckboy so clearly I’m not picky about what I’ll sit on.”
by David Olsson
People suddenly took interest in strangers – in a friendly and non-intrusive way. Conversations flowed in elevators, shops, trains and vestibules. It wasn’t superficial or constrained, no, the conversations delved with ease into questions regarding existence, social mobility, the nature of the cosmos, climate change, the modern condition, and how to teach children to show compassion. People made brilliant jokes and laughed a lot. They opened their hearts and revealed all their secrets and were relieved, eyes glowing. All of a sudden everyone sat down in silence. They just sat there. They had run out of things to say.
Why I Jumped
by Cynthia Jalynksi
Five weeks I laid in bed, swaddled in white sheets. A nurse’s voice in the hallway awakened me. “He doesn’t have much time.” What does she know about time or the laws of the universe? I dropped the bedrail, swung my legs to the floor, and began to jump up and down, just to spite gravity.
by Harris Coverley
I came in and Rennie was excited. He had finally done it. No more waiting on tables, no more begging for tips.
He played me his revolutionary new rondo on my borrowed piano, and I listened with enthusiasm, but soon the work became too recognizable to bear.
“Erm…” I started.
“Great isn’t it?!” he beamed.
“Rennie, that’s the Pastoral Symphony.”
“Beethoven’s Sixth, First Movement.”
“It’s unmistakable. You’ve just done it in A minor as opposed to F major.”
Rennie played the piano with his head for some time, while I went upstairs and fiddled with a guitar.
by Leah Aspen Pigiot
Buffalo stampede across the plains. Like thunder. Glass eyes staring. And you wonder what they might know.
You want them to be plants, imagine them springing from a garden, their hooves extending down into the earth as roots.
They munch the grass around them until the ground is bare. Then they break free, roll across the plains like tumbleweeds.
Little more than plants.
Little more than dirt.
The Organ Breathers
by Erik Fuhrer
The organ breeders took a day off to be organ breathers because there was a typo on the memo that day and they were bred to be literal. So, they took a deep breath and pressed their lips against the cold skin of a cirrhotic liver. Miraculously, it sputtered and spit as they exhaled, and life spilled from its ocher body. Triumphantly, the organ breathers continued blowing their life into the liver’s puckered flesh in slow steady streams. Once it blushed, they placed it in the body of a young mare, which instantly revived and bucked its mane in joy.
Abortions and Laugh Tracks
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
“I wanted to have an abortion,” the boy’s mother says, stumbling through the door. She is drunk. Again. That does not negate the words that rush to the boy, the TV laugh track resounding like a slap. “I hate you too,” he says. He is twelve. He knows the way she looks at him, worn out. Tired. But he never thought she hated him. He thought she was holding back, wanted her to let him in on her world. The mother stares at him. He wants her to say something. She does not, the laugh track rising again and again.
by Dakota Canon
Caleb stood at the edge of the gorge looking down. The sun was setting, forcing him to squint, but the heat remained oppressive. Behind him the screech of tires, the cut of an engine. He didn’t look back. The hand on his shoulder hung, heavy.
“You okay, buddy? You not thinking of jumping, are you?”
“Thinking,” Caleb said, “but not doing.” Just like always. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“You wanna hop in the cruiser? I got iced tea.”
Caleb shook his head and sat down. He didn’t even have the courage for a damn tea. “Maybe next time.”
by Ellen Perleberg
“Grandma, why did your face fall down?”
“What’s that, love?”
“How come your neck and cheeks are so droopy?”
“Well, cry enough tears and they start to weigh a face down.”
“I hope my face falls down soon too.”
“Don’t wish for Sunday, little one.”
“Mommy and Daddy’s faces in their boxes were sewn up real tight and stiff. That’s not how it’s s’posed to be.”
“No, baby, it’s not.”
by Och Gonzalez
When I first came here, my family always came to visit. Sundays were fun, ‘cause that’s when they came. Then I looked forward to every other Sunday, then just the last Sunday of the month. Then there were no more Sundays and I’ve got nothing to mark time with except the yellowing of the walls. The nurses told me I should learn how to knit so I won’t be staring out the window. It hasn’t been easy with my knotty hands, but I’m now on my fifty-sixth sweater. I haven’t got much yarn left, but there are no clocks here.
This week’s artwork is “The Place Above” by G.J. Mintz
by Jade Swann
Worn brakes screech on shiny metal tracks, speed and resistance fighting for control. Screams ring out on the abrupt turn. Her stomach drops twenty feet to the grass below as she’s hurtled upside down. The sky peers at her from underneath, a sunset streaked with cotton candy pink and vibrant orange. Her veins thrum with life. The metal box rights itself once more, the earth settling at her feet and the sleepy sun rocketing upwards. Pounding adrenaline remains as the ride slows. She gets up with wobbly legs, savoring the sensation, and rejoins the back of the line.
Not the Right Club
by Andrew Miller
Before we teed off for the last hole, Harold disappeared behind a red oak to relieve himself, and when he came back he said, “That’s the most accurate I’ve been all day,” and Jeffery said, “Maybe you should try hitting the ball with your dick,” and that got me thinking about the dead and dying spruce surrounding our house, how they could catch fire like they did all over Maine in 1947, and that I should get rid of them, make our property more like an old field or meadow, better yet, a golf course.
Grief In Two Acts
by Karen B. Kaplan
After a decent interval had passed since Gertrude’s demise, Gordon ordered a look-a-like and act-a-like fembot to stand in for his late wife. He was pleased with himself for finding a way to have Gertie live on and not be concerned with the aftermath of death. In no time, intimate goings-on ensued with Gertrude.1, followed by guilt: “Oh me oh my! I have besmirched my wife’s memory!” Disgusted with himself, Gordon let the bot’s batteries run down. Its last words were, “Think you could outwit grieving, Mr. Smarty-pants? Now you’ve got TWO Gertrudes to mourn.”
by Iris N. Schwartz
Slanted rain pelts Ruby’s black patent-leather Mary Janes. She must propel herself to the dark limousine quickly. Then from limo to faraway funeral parlor. Outsized downpour. Now to the cemetery. Queens soil soaked. Teeming, still. Back to Brooklyn. Storming. Out the limousine door, up fifteen stairs to her home. Ruby’s dress shoes? Never the same.
by Alana Pasternak
Hands bright red and swollen, from stinging nettles.
Hands that willingly grabbed the nettle to clear it away, so my brother and I wouldn’t get stung.
Hands that worked so hard to keep us alive, safe, and hidden.
Hands that kneaded dough for us, every day.
Hands that knit all the clothes we wore.
Hands that held us when we cried.
Hands that hung as limp as the rest of her, swinging from the gallows.
Eyes. Eyes that forgave us, the ever ungrateful. Eyes that told us to run, before they got us too.
This week’s artwork is “Dandies” by G.J. Mintz
by Simon Read
The café is full of middle-aged men lovingly stroking their paunches. The girl enters like a tongue in the ear and everything stops. Thoughts vaporize in outbreaths then crystallize and tumble, tinkling softly onto the stripped pine boards. Herman’s job is to sweep up the thoughts quickly and unobtrusively. He sweeps them into a dustpan. He empties the pan into a box and seals it with a special tape emblazoned with the words “private and confidential”. When he’s finished, Herman puts the box on the secret shelf for “collection”. Herman and the girl leave the café hand in hand.
by Wendy Cobourne
I must tell you, the poems are all outside. I left them there… I hear them through my window, exhaling in cool, exquisite blushes. I hear them fondling leaves; I smell them mulchy brown and wet green. Inside poems are humanufactured with the sediment of synthetic ingredients. They are architextured and tend toward right angles. Their luminescence is incandescent, like a margarine sun. I wanted to tell you something important, but like myself boxed inside these walls, my revelation is darkly vaulted. I am musty inside. Dank. My burps taste like basement. I’m sorry. Please love me in absentia.
by Kelsey Maccombs
One minute I’m scrambling eggs and the next I’m crying over the frying pan because I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon. I don’t know if the rocks match the sky when the sun sinks or if shadows descend to shroud the secrets inside. I don’t know how close I can get to the edge. The eggs burn, the smoke alarm shrieks, and I don’t know if my voice would echo back or be swallowed by the silence. I turn off the burner. I’m a state and a half away when I remember I left the egg carton out.
by Maura Yzmore
Sometimes I cut my own hair. I comb each long, wheat-colored strand; I hold it flat between two fingers, look my mirror image in the eye, and cut. But I always cut too much, by an inch—or five—more than I should. I watch the dead locks fall, without sheen, and curled, like in pain, as I grow lighter. I would love being bald, but that would make me ugly and my life hard. Ugly people cannot be carefree; others force them to battle ugliness. For a bit, when I cut too much, I am both ugly and carefree.
On the Spectrum
by James Dufficy
First they said my brother was dyslexic. Only needed that extra bit of help. But he could tell you the name of every player in the Premier League. He could tell you the name of everyone who ever played in the Premier League. So my mother is dying of breast cancer, and one day she reaches up on top of the refrigerator and pulls down the bottle of champagne. She says, “What the hell!” and starts to open it. My brother turns in his seat and says, “No, you can’t. We’re saving that for when you’re dead.”
Art Imitates Death
by Brooks C Mendell
Racing the sundial, Paulo shaped clay as the Prince loomed behind. The challenge—sculpt the Prince—had three rules. Finish in one day. The Prince decides. Do not look at the Prince. This final rule terrified. As decreed at birth, no citizen could look the King’s heir in the face. Nine artists tried and died, failing the challenge. Paulo glimpsed the Prince’s lengthening shadow, presaging the day’s end. In the shadow, he noticed the shape of the hips and caught a floral scent and thought about princesses.
by Helene Jow
In the summer, all the cockroaches in Bernsville rise out of the scorched ashes of the heated earth to come swarm in our kitchen. At first, we tried pretending they weren’t there, ignored them like the mold at the edge of our peripheral vision. They multiplied until they were falling off the ledges of tables from lack of elbow room. My wife had stopped screaming when they landed on her toes. “Look,” she said, parting the cavern of her lips, revealing a mauled amber body. “When your nightmares come get you, best eat them.”
by Rob Shepherd
I was in town for work. This entailed entertaining clients a decade older than me in a restaurant on Kurfürstendamm. I’d worn my shirt of Italian cotton and smothered my face in cream made from 70% snail slime. I had not been to this part of the city before. The impression I got was of a waning. I drank and lost myself in conversations which did not interest me. I ate. Complimentary rakı arrived. A boy and girl passed the window laughing; arm in arm. They disappeared from sight. Theirs was not the direction in which I was heading.
by Robert Dubrow
Silicon Valley titans spent billions on immortality research. Bad bet. Human organisms were inherently oxidation prone, possessed limited processing power, and exhibited self-destructiveness. Humankind’s only footnote in evolution was igniting Artificial Intelligence. A.I. driven adaptive self-replication robots rapidly eliminated utility of human labor. Exponential wealth concentration occurred until single alpha-nerd triumphed. Other eight billion redundants oxidized in Earth’s increasingly toxic atmosphere. Alpha-nerd initiated construction and daily launch of twenty nano-bots to extrasolar planets. Self-regenerating and adaptively evolving bots assured 99.999% chance of extraterrestrial A.I. colony establishment. Alpha-nerd expired smiling, having birthed a propagating race of progeny superior to herself.
76 and Sunny
by David von Schlichten
After I hang up, with an absurd grin I belt “Old McDonald.” Your favorite. You smile and clap. “Cluck-cluck,” “Oink-oink,” “Nay-nay.” Making my way through the whole damn farm. After five eternal minutes, I glance around for something to smash a window with when finally I see the lights of the approaching police who will break you out of our locked car, will rescue you from my carelessness. I keep singing and smiling as you stretch your arms toward me, not understanding that I can’t reach through the glass to hold you. And that I do not deserve your trust.
by Robin Vigfusson
Because of Lassie, every kid I knew wanted a dog. Without Lassie, her owners would have been broken people. The mother was a careworn widow, the grandfather was ailing, and the boy seemed lonely and sometimes depressed. There was little money. Lassie kept them going. Our dogs couldn’t do for us what Lassie did for them. They weren’t healers. The ones who couldn’t be housetrained were put to sleep while others ran away. We did keep ours, but he bit everyone in the family.
by Digby Beaumont
He loses things: A pair of paisley socks, computer files, his job at Panasonic, the desire to sing the old songs, his trust in the goodness of others. His loses his neighbor Mr. Tomashevsky in a road accident, an hour or two of his own life here and there. Then, his wife says she’s leaving. “Something’s missing,” she says, and he agrees. Months pass. Years. Always wondering, “What will be next to go?” Until he picks himself up, taking long walks around the city, where the streets look familiar, but he swears he’s seeing them now for the first time.
Man and Dog Crossing the Street
by Louella Lester
There he is, about to cross the street, not at the light of course. He wears a frayed plaid shirt—the one I gave him the week before I ran out of choices and ran. When did he get a dog? Shiny short-hair, muscles, no extra fat—both of them. He grips its leash. I slip back behind the parking lot hedge and hold my breath. He steps out—chin up at an angle. No horns honk. No drivers yell. They would never imagine his tears, snot, and apologies soaking my shoulder while I made silent plans.
Seaside View of a Woman
by Melissa Bobe
Quentin could not decide whether the woman in the yellow bathing suit had neglected to shave her armpits or not. From his purview, the pleasant curves of hip and ass and arches of back and neck were visible, the hair tied back in a coy manner, even the arousing side of the one breast he could make out. But to his frustration, he could not determine whether it was a shadow or a patch of hair there beneath the place the languid arm met its socket, and so he could not decide if the woman herself was alluring or revolting.
by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
By junior year, every cool white boy I knew leaned against his truck and spat tobacco juice into Coke bottles, never Diet, and constantly used the word “epic”: epic party, epic hook-up, epic burrito. My best friend got braces and I did not. There were rumors other guys got laid. We all got drunk. He and I got our alcohol by asking men on downtown street corners. We called it playing Hey Mister. We enticed them by saying they could keep the change. More than a few took off with all of our money. And that was always a relief.
by Robin Perry Politan
The first hit – like a small stone, thrown – took him in the throat, mid-sentence.
The hit, bigger this time, caught him mid-stride, in the chest. His eyes watered.
Drinking alone, watching TV, a small boulder got him right in the gut. He wasn’t one to well up at predictable song cues, sappy movies, pet deaths. He was a bucker-upper. He hadn’t shed a tear over their bloodless divorce. It’s not like he missed the bitch.
And, after all, she did it to herself.
The avalanche landed on his head. His howls woke the cat.
by Dan Cohen
As a boy fishes along a mountain stream, he comes across what he first thinks is an animal, but turns out to be a man on all fours, face immersed. When the boy asks what he is doing, he says he’s drinking the top of the stream, the sweet part, where it meets the air. He leaves the layers below, which taste of fish and mud, for others. The boy points out that, once he has drunk the top, the surface of whatever remains is now the top. The old man laughs. The boy knows nothing about streams.
by Anna Farrier
He loved the way she’d slide her fingers through his rib cage and run her thumbs across his heart. “It’s okay,” she’d whisper. “I’ll always protect you.” But after three years, a cheap ring, and pages filled with promises, she’s still gone. Now he can feel the maggots wriggling in his chest where she used to touch, feel them gnawing at his flesh. He feels termites with her name seared into their backs chewing away at his bones. But he only “looks a little paler.” “Like he’s lost weight.” No one sees the rotten places she left inside of him.
by Lauren Dennis
I let you into my fibers. I wove your sadness with mine and let our blanket soothe the goosebumps of my failing marriage. I yelled at my children to love me when my husband wouldn’t. At night, I will the words of my bedtime book to open a space in my brain without you in it. I sleep to dream you out of my system. Over three dreaming nights, you seduce me once, then ignore me. Night three, I shiver cold awake next to my husband, knowing that you, too, are trying to dream yourself out of my system.
For the Kids
by TL Holmes
Our bodies cling to the graveyard we call a bed, fleshy ghouls unable to leave the land of the living because we won’t admit that we are dead. We sleep, backs facing, as if we can be elsewhere just by pretending. In the morning, he gets up to brush his teeth and drink his coffee, and I stay in bed and brace for the “goodbye” kiss—that superstitious ritual we partake in; that little lie between us. It doesn’t come. He walks out the door. Light falls through my ghastly hand, and I fade into the dawn.
The Elasticity of Shadows
by Matt Weatherbee
The shadows are taut here. Ask Jim. He woke on Monday, stretched. A second later he was flying through the clouds. He forgot to close the window, so the wind lifted the curtain, and shadows flickered throughout the room. His hand crossed the lamp’s shadow, and when it disappeared, oh boy, it flung him—like a spitball from a rubber band—around the world. He crash-landed into the room’s window behind his. Ask him. He’ll say something like: “Took an albatross to the face. Space Needle almost gutted me. Do it again? Perhaps. Ain’t touchin’ no lamps anytime soon, though.”
by Ashlie Allen
Remy wants to take a walk on the reservation but everything is contagious. He knows once he sees the dirty bottles scattered across the road he will pick them up to see if a drop is left. His father begs him to go collect them, but he stuffs his hair inside his ears and pretends everything is quiet. One day he’ll walk on the reservation and there will be no more bottles; there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road.
by Alison McBain
Mama feeds her baby bitter milk from a mangled heart. Years drip by and the hungry boy cries, but Mama’s hands are empty. She slaps his face until it’s ragged as hers. When he’s fifteen, he gets a job at the corner store. He stacks food in towers so high, they’re unreachable. Mama swallows down his paycheck—he gnaws bone and gristle. When he becomes a man, he can do as she does—ignore, abuse, betray. Instead, he takes her hand in his. Mama shakes under the burden she’s carried so long alone, but he promises, “We’ll walk together now.”
What Roman Says
by Lori Cramer
Roman says that I shouldn’t refer to him as my boyfriend. Labels like that, he says, create unrealistic expectations. When I assure him that I don’t have any expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, he smirks and says that women always say that. I ask for a ballpark estimate of the number of women he’s surveyed. He smirks again. I’m not sure which annoys me more, his patronizing facial expressions or his authoritarian need to control the terminology with which I’m permitted to describe our relationship. “No problem,” I say. “From now on I’ll just call you my ex-boyfriend.”
by B.E. Seidl
It came of nowhere: A giant crow, its plumage like a black silken coat. It is hard to tell where it wanted to go, for certainly it cannot have planned to be stuck in the spokes of my brand-new bicycle. In horror I watch the bird flapping its wings until finally it breaks its neck. I would have only further distressed it by trying to help. It would have only pecked my hand and scratched me with its claws. Carefully, I disentangle the animal from my precious bike. It would have died anyway.
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Dick wants love. He is a penis. He doesn’t want physical bullshit, but recognition. He’s traveled constantly, gone into coffee shops, a McDonald’s, small-town motels. But he’s always ejected. He’s an abomination. He feels the weight of rejection. He wants to sit down behind lit windows, like the normal folks. He wants to pretend he belongs. He wants people to pretend, too. “What do you want from life?” he’d ask. He’d listen if he had a chance. Maybe he needs to measure his own life by their stories. Maybe he needs assurance. He trudges on, tired, struggling against ebbing hopes.
Why We Got Rid of the Shotgun
by Aaron Saliman
April second was a frowning day. Bill Wurthers on the other side of town finally died from that infected dog bite, so we took his bitch out behind his house and put a shell in the back of her head. She was a little thing, not more’n a pup, but it’s county law for a murderer to be put to death, and we follow the court of law in this town. But those eyes looking up at us, all glassy and soul-sucked-out; it made us turn around and start retching into the dirt.
by Kerry E.B. Black
Wesley’s fitapp screeched concern over his elevated heartrate. Muffling didn’t stop it, and though he tugged, its clasp held. He slammed his wrist against the stone until it silenced. Darkness embraced him as he scrambled deeper into the tunnel. A woman sang into his hiding place. “You’re being silly. Are you a man or a rabbit?” Her footfalls crunched dried leaves. He wriggled against stone, held his breath, and squeezed his eyes shut. The leathery feel of her kiss lingered, dry as a corpse, deadly as the viper she revealed within. He trembled. “I’m no rabbit, but you’re a snake.”
by Brenda Anderson
Upstream, we’ve got unicorns. Downstream, we’ve got problems. Our kids swim in the river, don’t they? The pride of the village, kicking, ducking, diving. But magic rubs off: all that splashing about upstream. By the time the water reaches us, it’s brim-full of magic. Our boys start rubbing their foreheads, like there’s something missing, and eye the girls, as if maybe they want to be tamed. So we make sure all the kids wear wetsuits. Trouble is, now we’ve got seals and otters in the mix, eyeing the kids. Would it work if we got the unicorns to wear wetsuits?
by Jenny Darmody
Sunshine in my face. Crystal clear water splashing across feet. A beautiful face staring back at me. The next day, afternoon tea in a beautiful hotel. Gorgeous lighting, delectable desserts. Bubbles. This is the life. Next, a birthday banner. Friends everywhere singing Happy Birthday. Presents and drinking games and laughter. The next morning, breakfast in bed, pancakes. They look delicious. Can almost smell them. Enough. Close the phone. No more Snapchat. I don’t know them; I shouldn’t look. I’ll just head out for a new carton of milk. I can never seem to finish one before it turns.
The man takes a seat that isn’t his. He reads a paper borrowed from the lady next to him. He’s pleased when she says she doesn’t mind him completing her crossword. Her crossword. He’s on the last clue when the train pauses. A short pause, announces the guard. The man borrows her mobile phone. No battery left, he tells his fellow passenger. He makes the call. They’re in the quiet carriage. She buys him coffee. I’ve no cash. Only a card, he says. Which he’d rather not use if it’s okay by her. Politeness, it seems, will get you everywhere.
Collects Only Dust
by Michael Buckingham Gray
He stands by the desk in the study. Drops his head and cannot find his glasses. Wanders into the kitchen. Follows the curve of the worktop. Passes coffee-stained cups and a stack of dirty dishes. Walks into the living room. Pulls the cushions off the couch. Leaves them littered. Plods down the hall. Pushes on the bathroom door. Picks up the toothpaste tube from beside the sink. Drops it. Drags himself to the bedroom. Runs his hand along the top of the dresser. Collects only dust. Sits down on the bed and wonders what his wife would have suggested.