by Mark Reels
After Nathan argued with his wife, he retreated to the garage.
He would rewind the quarrel in his mind and alternate between being hurt by his wife’s words and being disappointed in his own anger.
How long could he lie to himself and call this place his home?
He considered the peg board with each tool hanging in its place. He saw the power tools sitting neatly on their shelves and felt the limits of his own power to build or repair his very life.
He looked at his perfectly maintained vehicle and realized he had nowhere else to go.
by Sarah Freligh
After the man died, the authorities carried out the bones of the six girls who’d gone missing and X’ed the front door in yellow tape. The neighborhood lit up with television cameras and microphones tethered to women with glossed-on faces who talked about what a nice neighbor the man had been. The cleaners came and tore down the walls of old newspapers, the hills of clothing, and left the whole mess by the curb for the trash men to take away. The daffodils came back in the spring; the new owners planted roses. No one remembered the girls’ names.
Big Girls Don’t Cry
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Mother’s in the kitchen, holding a bottle of wine like a microphone. Dad’s car speeds away, the sputtering fading, fading. Radio blasts The Four Seasons. Mother sings, doing pitch-perfect Frankie Valli falsetto: Big girls don’t cry. She repeats it over and over. Nick asks if she’s all right. She smiles, keeps imitating Frankie, waving the bottle. They don’t cry-yyyyyy. Nick tries to tell her it’ll be all right. They’ll move on. Things that seem empty and false. She keeps on singing. Voice cracks and for a moment Nick doesn’t know if she’s laughing or crying. Perhaps she doesn’t know either.
by Kip Knott
I live like a murderer who has contemplated the death of my numbness for months.
When I am alone in my house for too long, I hear the oranges in my refrigerator carrying on long, bittersweet conversations. They say another man lives inside of me. They say he is a man so full of sadness that he moves as if covered in tar. They say he lives just below the skin.
I love oranges. I love how when I peel them their juice runs down my fingers and palms and stings the small cuts running across my wrists.
by Beth Balousek
1969. It was Vietnam, and men coming home without the legs they left on. Her boys played with cap guns. They pledged allegiance to the flag and killed each other daily. So, she fed them. They crunched down sugary bowls of Kaboom. Lunch boxes filled to bursting. Dinners became debauchments. Gleaming shanks of lamb. Slabs of beef. Biscuits, breads, and rolls to sop up the blood. She gave them borderline diabetes and mild hypertension. She swelled them to sizes that were difficult to shop for. They grew uncomfortable, but dependent. They would not get her babies. Not her babies. No.
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This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz
by R.C. Weissenberg
The piece of bark attached itself to the wall and, no matter how hard anyone pulled, it wouldn’t come off. The next day it doubled in size, and by week’s end its diameter had increased tenfold. Bright green leaves sprouted from the wooden growth.
Nobody wanted a forest in the building, so they removed that piece of the wall and tossed it in the park. There, it blended perfectly, rapidly re-greening the barren landscape.
They tried to get an environmental tax break for doing this, but their request was denied. Their wall repair was costly.
If These Symptoms Persist, or Are Bothersome…
by C.G. Thompson
The morning after he started painkillers for his knee, he whinnied while brushing his teeth. He thought he’d stepped on a squeak toy. Then he saw hooves.
He navigated downstairs, a tail growing. Cartilage, then hair.
In the kitchen, he crunched carrots, read the prescription warnings.
Possible side effects: dizziness, nausea…
Pointed ears swelled behind his temples. Did he hear electricity flowing through the house?
A hard material began to encase his fingers.
Three hours later, police responded to a Palomino roaming a front lawn.
The horse ambled toward the patch of greenest grass. It favored its right front leg.
Elephants and Dolphins
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
I suspect that the language of elephants and dolphins is not in need of metaphors. To wit, when I barter for a candy bar I truck telescopic photos of the most distant stars. The brown clerk says he knows all astrologers. Put a man on the moon (again) and I will say -I’ve been there already. The moon itself is little more than that face my daughter makes when she sees life’s unfairness and says, dad, you didn’t teach me any of this. Le mot juste, unfairness this. Time to stoke the flames of our furnace.
Death and Taxes
by Lauren Punales
My sister’s corpse reanimated on a Wednesday. Unwashed and grey, dressed in an amalgamation of clothing different relatives insisted she’d be buried in. I quickly assimilated her into her previous life; reacquired her Taurus, moved her into my spare room, and bought her pungent drugstore lotion to mask her overripe stench. I argued with the IRS about tax evasion in death as my sister’s corpse moaned, hobbling sock-footed around my living room.
“I guess we’ll fill out your W-4,” I told her slack jawed face.
She grunted, her stiff fingers scrabbling against each other, staring at her grave plot outside.
This month’s artwork is by Fabio Sassi
by Jack Caulfield
As the water rose and overwhelmed us, we found that more living things were left in it than we had anticipated. We had poisoned the seas first inadvertently and then deliberately, fearing retribution for our initial error and seeking in place of clemency the annihilation of the atrocity’s would-be avengers. Yet here they were, the writhing masses.
by Terry Cree
He is at the stage when girls his own age have changed shape and turned into something untouchable a long, long way away. They all have laughs that can wound or even kill. He and the friends he doesn’t like very much kick holes in fences, wrestle each other into headlocks, smell like cured meat. The future that people talk about is like the weather forecast; it might not happen but it probably will. In the bathroom mirror, he tries by small adjustments over many days and months to sort out the mess.
by Renee Reeves
Emmaline was still doing her calculus homework when the moon rose. She could hear them in the darkness, crying in the woods that ran, vein-like, through the suburban neighborhood. The popular girls, cavorting in their wolf forms, sang harmonies to the harvest moon. She longed to hear paws scratching against the door, feel dank wolf breath against her skin, but she was too tame to run for them. Perhaps, on a night she was feeling brave, she’d walk into the woods and call it an audition. Tonight, Emmaline closed the window and reached for her headphones.
by Abigail Skinner
She was a flower once. The hurricane came, ripped her up, tossed her around, and displaced her for miles and miles. She began to follow the wind, here, there, everywhere, and back again. She would pass the other flowers – their feet in the dirt, roots holding firm – and laugh with feral glee to leave them behind. Free, she saw wonders, met strangers, and wearied her bones, until an odd wind brought her here. Now the wind calls to her again – teases, pushes, pulls, and blusters. She stands in the yard, buries her feet, and prays for growth.
by Danielle Burnette
While strolling past a jewelry store, you wonder aloud about the job opportunity in Copenhagen. About bicycling every day to work and learning to love rye bread. I need a change, you say. You deserve a gift, he says and steers you into the store. He guesses which bracelet you like before you pick it. He knows you love turtles, especially golden ones with zirconia-crusted shells. They conga a ceaseless line around your wrist—one bedazzling dancer for each year he hasn’t proposed. A sign, perhaps, of how much he loves you.
Amazing Bike Ride
by Charles Gray
I’m pedaling through the park, watching ducks, and enjoying the smell of grilled steak, when four cyclists whiz by me. Pissed off by their rude behavior, my rental transforms into an Arabian horse. I kick her into an all out sprint, grab the reins, stand on her back, and feel the wind. She gallops through their slipstream and tramples them. Bikes flip, riders tumble, tires mangle. I cross the finish line, the winner. The crowd applauds. I take my bows. Then I open my eyes and see them in the distance, their muscular calves pumping, like pistons, a perpetual machine.
New Year’s Resolution
by Rich Gravelin
My resolution was decluttering, but it was disingenuous; I’d carried an unofficial obsessiveness diagnosis for years. Christmas was hardest; unlit pine candles and dusty tomtes flanked an artificial tree that lost needles anyway. I rarely read cards upon receipt; too busy whisking them from envelope to bookshelf. Cleanup was easier — sweeping into squared piles more efficient — but the photo of mom and me dancing at the wedding re-emerged. Two Christmases have passed since I phoned goodbye from an airport terminal. “We all die alone, anyway,” she said when I asked to come earlier, but I never believed she meant it.
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.
by Jean Straton
She was half-fish, half-human. “A mermaid.” Jack whispered.
She wasn’t moving. Could she breathe?
“Hey, are you alive? Please be alive.” He grabbed a nearby stick and jabbed it at her.
The mermaid coughed and seawater shot out from her mouth.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked.
The mermaid groaned and rubbed her eyes. “Where… am I?”
“You’re on land. Do you want me to help you get-“
“Oh, thank God.” She blurted and pulled her legs out from the mermaid tail.
Aunt Edna’s Stuffing
by Bill Diamond
Aunt Edna loved the holiday season: the decorations, music and food. Even the crowded shopping brought her joy. She especially liked the family gatherings.
So, the family was surprised, but not shocked at her will. It requested she be stuffed and displayed each year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s to enjoy the celebrations and camaraderie.
It was weird at first. But soon, decorating Aunt Edna was an annual tradition. The children rubbed her nose for luck and wished for presents.
Edna was an island of seasonal cheer. She beamed regardless of the chaos, family traumas, or how outrageous her costume.
by Annalise Grey
“What are your plans for the future?” Dr. Madden asked as he sipped his fourth cup of coffee.
George shrugged. “Marry a pretty Martian girl and raise a green family.”
Dr. Madden laughed before turning to leave. “Extraordinary sense of humor, son. I’m sure the new hyperdrive we’re developing will make your fantasy come true.”
Glancing over his shoulder, George carefully shoved his Martian porn comic into his desk’s only lockable drawer.
by Mark Reels
The calendar featured a scene from some exotic location above each month’s blank grid of days.
Nathan dutifully added his work schedule, his son’s soccer games and his daughter’s swim lessons to the grid representing June.
Ayers Rock sat above the timetable for his daily life. The monolith sat beneath a full moon in a velvet sky streaked with starlight.
Nathan recalled a documentary about Australia. The contrast between its vibrant coral reef and the desert that makes up most of the continent had left him melancholy for days.
Next year he would get a calendar with puppies or something.
From This Distance
by Ed Higgins
Can you remember now? How we could each disappear completely, connected despite fault lines; subduction zones all our own. Lie protected. Surfaces sliding under failed recognitions as overlying sediments accumulate under pressure transforming into anthracite or other hardened evidence. Reminding me of a nearly lost premise: Once we sang so goofily out of tune we may actually have laughed out loud. Uncertain now are favored wines: zinfandel, chardonnay, oaky pinots we declared made just for us. Little suspecting some later taste, like treachery, say, calculated–or maybe only through regret, conveniently overlooked. While staring into one another’s eyes.
by Susan Sabry
Pumpkins fell from the sky, and managed to hit everything but a small girl in the middle of a field. There were no witnesses. In fact, every man driving by could only see a small scarecrow. A scarecrow with a summer dress and a mouth stitched in a circle letting out a silent scream.
Moby Dick: The Abridged Version
by Marc Simon
He is above. I am below. He is air. I am water. He is black. I am white. He lives to hunt. I hunt to live. He has steel. I have tooth. He’s drawn my blood. I’ve tasted his flesh. He wants my life. I want to live. Come noon the third day we will meet on the in between, and once and for all, decide.
by Alexis Nau
This tiny creature is getting larger and harder to feed. She whines out for more of me, cry like a ravaged beast. Sometimes I wonder if she only plays at being small, for I’m certain on my down-low days she could grind me into dust under her smudged heel. Her brother is golden, my sunshine-boy who likes to hide under snow drifts in winter. Sometimes I forget his name amidst the clamor of her wailing. I set him on his feet and he bobbles away, frightened by the sound of her again.
A Single Cloud
by Henry Bladon
It can’t be that bad, he said. I looked out of the hospital window. A single cloud means something bad, I said. You’ll be fine, he said. He didn’t look convincing I gestured to the tubes sprouting from my arm, the bag above my head. That’s nothing, he said. You’re a winner. You always win. I said that sounded tautological. He shrugged. Anyway, I said: You know what they say in all the films? He looked at me hopefully. Tell me it’s something good. I shook my head. So tell me, he said. I put him out of his misery. They say: ‘Let’s get out of here’.
by Nick T. Johnson
The narrow piece of paper, tacked to a bulletin board, loomed in the room like an ominous hourglass. Among the many markings of accomplishment upon it, there remained, for the last ten years, only one unadulterated item. When reached by the aging man, the implications of finishing the final task, Learn to play the Piano, had become paralyzing. Awoken, revelation from his mother’s past words consumed him, “Only God knows when it’s your time; he doesn’t bargain.” Drawn to the dusty fixture, he struck an unknown key, praying it was his first of many.
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.
A Prayer in Cinnamon
by Ellen Perleberg
Wander to the kitchen at one a.m., sleepless. She’s there, of course. Try politely not to notice She’s been crying. She looks up, smiles, conspiratorial. It’s less lonely when there are people in the house. “I was about to make hot chocolate,” She says. “Want some?” She hadn’t really been intending on cocoa. But it’s what people do for each other in midnight kitchens. She respects that. People need their litanies and lullabies. Take a seat at the table while She whisks chocolate, the kind that comes in disks and dissolves grainy, imperfect, into milk. Real cinnamon. Taste and see.
The Pastor and His Dark Church
by Stephen D Gibson
Someone changes the porch light bulb to red again. A “red-light district” bulb. A persistent prank. It doesn’t seem, to him, an accusation: “Pastor, you prostitute.” His parishioners are always outraged. It bothers him less. He advises turning the other cheek. Changing bulbs. They want private security. “No,” he says. “Who wants angrier, more expensive vandalism?” They’re conservative. Sharing wealth, even with God from whence it came, is difficult for them. So, he walks toward his building, sunrise only a glow. The barest pink behind the silhouette of the church comforts him. Stepping inside, he leaves the porch light burning.
The Summer of Love
by Jim Doss
1967. They were Barbie and Ken. Everything perfect, the world before sex and death. Plenty of money, Cadillacs, steaks cut into precise squares. Each evening always full debonair dress, hand in hand, hand on waist, violins swirling. Nothing could spoil the magic, not even war, that distant echo growing louder in foreign jungles. Then the draft, daddy’s money failures, deferment that didn’t happen. Mekong, Tet Offensive, napalm, flame throwers, tunnel rats scurrying past bullet-riddled bodies. Fear that makes a person retreat into themselves, cowering behind a wall of corpses. In his room the light goes on, off, on, off. Forever.
by Mark Reels
When Chelsea stopped by the supermarket, they were setting up for the wine tasting. The store put on a “Six for Six Celebration” with six appetizers and six samples of wine at little stations throughout the store. She bought a pregnancy test and headed home. When Brad picked her up, Chelsea didn’t tell him about the baby. Instead, they complimented each other’s outfits and drove to the store. Later, she stood in the gluten free aisle sipping a dry Chardonnay while scrolling through her phone looking for a clinic. She used the online form to make an appointment for Monday.
by Kelsey Maccombs
“I got you cinnamon tea. Is that okay?” Cinnamon tea tastes like screeching brakes and burned skin. Like pushing open the classroom door, still gasping, forty minutes after the exam started and explaining to the teacher I canttakethetest, needtogohome, donthavedryclothes, cantstopcrying. I spent an hour cleaning cinnamon tea out of the seats before I learned what totaled meant, so no, it’s not okay. But this is a first date, so I drink it anyway.
This week’s artwork is “Where It Leads” by G.J. Mintz.
Faded Blue Loveseat
by Paul Germano
After an unpleasant evening at a holiday party neither of them wanted to attend at the festively-decorated red-brick home of the lovey-dovey couple they sometimes hang out with, they unlock the dead-bolted door to their tiny apartment, still miffed by an argument in the car and immediately head for their living room, turning on the TV and reluctantly taking their appropriate spots, sitting uneasy and far apart, on a faded blue loveseat that’s not up for the job.
The Beauty Within
by Jim Doss
Each day people die, only to be reborn again. It’s like they never left, same features, same clothes, same age, same memories, rising from the usual bed to eat a normal breakfast. Uncle Eddie last week. Sister Mary yesterday. They greeted me on their way to church this morning, two true believers walking the straight and narrow. I tip my hat to all who have witnessed the afterlife, felt their soul leave the body. Everyone’s time of dying remains a mystery of synthetic tendons, semiconductors, algorithms of good and evil. In my heaven, God’s just one more lonely computer scientist.
Unlike the Ones That Came Before Me
by Daeira Brown
I’ve seen things I shouldn’t have seen.
There were others like me. But they always do something wrong. When they do, the room goes cold and I hear the faintest hush of whispers.
I’m afraid. The last time I heard the hushes, one of us disappeared. But I am still here.
I’m still here, so I must be right. The way I speak/think is right. Suddenly, it all added up. I was right, so I wouldn’t disappear.
I curved my lips into a smile. Except this time, I did not need the numbers to tell me to do so.
by J.R. Heatherton
A sickly gentleman from Prague opens a window to peer down at a throng-filled street where each pedestrian busily carries a chiseled rock from one side of the street to the other, giving thumbs-up once post is made and congratulating one another on a job well-done before carrying their rocks back across the street to repeat the process all over again. The man yells out, “Can anyone tell me how any of this matters?” No one answers his plea, paying no attention to anything other than passing time carrying rocks. So he shuts the window and draws closed the drapes.