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.
The Lover Crowned
by Reece Taylor
He strips from his garden the peonies and weaves a crown, then hurries towards the hills where his lover waits. In his heart he knows there is no greater gift than this. He passes their old schoolhouse along the way, and the field of pomegranate trees where they kissed and aged. He recalls that sweet, everlasting feeling. By evening, he arrives to find his lover wrapped in vines—such a wild thing now—and he steps forward with the crown, arms outstretched, and rests it over the pale blossom sprouting from a crack in the stone slab.
The Young Woman and the Moon
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
She’s always trying to get to the moon, to live there. To start a new life, undisturbed. Every night she walks, treading the same old paths, away from home, from her father’s mustache bristling like a porcupine, from the scent of abandonment and perfume. She walks through the quad of the old university, down the train tracks, and the moon reaches out. “Come to me,” it whispers soothingly. She keeps trying. No success. One night the moon disappears, leaving her in the darkness. All she can do is turn around, walking in the other direction towards what, she cannot say.
Man on the Bus Eating Fruit
by Alastair D Paylor
He ate the banana roughly. Chomping down so that son of a bitch disappeared in huge chunks. He watched them, watching him. They were uneasy, and their chatter had died away. They were relieved to press the bell and get off the bus when their stop came, but as they alighted and the bus slowly started to pull away they couldn’t help looking up. He was still watching them. His forehead pressed against the window pane, biting into an apple.
by JL Courtney
I can’t. I can’t go to yoga. It’s evil. Not weight lifting evil—all strain and bellow. It isn’t nefarious like Zumba—drums, up-tempo music, all the thrusting. Yoga isn’t the wet, drippy evil of a sauna. Towel-clad women chatting up smoothie recipes while sweat drips into their cleavage. In and out, fifteen minutes, leaving dual half-moon ass prints to dry on the cedar boards. No, yoga is glowing-skinned, water-guzzling, twenty-something evil. Insidious as a chiropractor. Crack! One session’s all it takes to show where the tension hides.
A Tight Fit
by Abby Burns
I am a master of false equivalency. For instance, I tell my boyfriend, if I can push a baby from my vagina, surely you can shove a car up your ass. The baby is born cesarean, but it’s too late. There’s a hood ornament wedged near his prostate and he needs surgery to save him from pleasure. Here’s the problem with men who take you literally: you both end up drugged and sliced open. Now I change both dirty diapers and colostomy bags.
This week’s artwork is “Cardboard Dreams” by Emily Story.
The Least of These
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Ever since his wife left with that priest, Matthew hangs out at bars. He drinks like a peasant, listens to trains wailing, lies about Betty. She’s dead, he says. He drowns their halcyon days, when responsibility was a shadow, throwing Junior Mints at children. Driving past apartments, mooning strangers. Swapping identities. His mind swishes over her note that read: I need a higher purpose. You too. He lies to fallen princesses around jukeboxes, says she had cancer, loved him wholeheartedly. If he keeps talking, to the moon, the emptiness, he’ll almost believe it, a man among the least of these.
by Romalyn Ante
I rocketed from the steel chair, flopping the dated magazine onto the table. I was certain I’d felt the weight of your fingers running down my arm. A glimpse of your shoulder as you pattered through the back door and you were gone. The doctor called it “grief hallucinations”. I didn’t ask for his explanation. The grey dog hopped on to the sill observing the faint flashes through the misted window, attentive of every screeching car, hoping, that, perhaps tonight you would tuck him to bed. But like any other nights, he and I would fall asleep, waiting…
by Dan Crawley
After saying our goodbyes at Sky Harbor, I complain to Paul in the car how his sister called me Julia, his ex. “At least they don’t call you Mooseface Scumbag like your family,” says Paul. Later, I feel bad and write him a funny love note and tack it to the fridge. My lovely Mooseface Scumbag. I would kill you, and then myself, if you ever found another Julia. XO. Then Paul’s mother visits. She insists on staying with us. I come upon her in the kitchen, staring at my note. “I knew it,” I hear her murmur.
A Hard Winter’s Tale
by Joachim Frank
The episode my grandfather recalled in his letter happened during a hard winter. It had snowed three consecutive days, then the temperature rose and the snow turned into rain. Next, a deep freeze overnight turned the snow on the ground into a shell of pure ice. In the morning the valley was filled with deer in many hapless positions. God works in mysterious ways. They had stepped out of the forest on top of the hill, lost their footing and slid down on their backs. Down in the valley the farmers stood open-mouthed, with their knives raised, and ready.
I Always Wear Pink on Tuesday
by Roy Dorman
“Jason, we need to talk and I’m going to be doing most of the talking,” said the angry voice on the phone. “Hold on. Wait a minute; wrong number. There’s no Jason here. But, ya know what, I could be Jason if ya want me to,” Bill Grogan said coyly.
“All right, smart guy, be Jason. What do you think I found when I was dusting under the bed this morning? A pair of women’s panties with ‘Tuesday’ in hot pink lettering on them.”
“Now, honey, I can explain that; those are my panties.”
by Joshua “Jammer” Smith
Go to work.
Fuck. I’m dying.
Go to bed.
Dream. I’m dying again.
Wake up (too early)
Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Amy Canales.
Strangers in the Night
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Mama disappears into a Plymouth. This isn’t the first time. There was that time she left for three days. She’d come back, happy, singing to him at bedtime, making him cocoa. The world was his. He goes into her bedroom, with the scent of lavender, mixed with something skunk-like. It’s empty. The suitcase, Sinatra records, her Tolstoy. He doesn’t know where to go. He’s not sure if he should chase her, or wait. That’s when he sees the note, tucked behind her desk, where they used to hide secrets. Mama’s unhappy. She needs to find herself. Water the plants.
by Bart Van Goethem
They had assured him if you close a door behind you, another one will open. When he did so, nothing happened. In the pitch black he groped for a handle. None. He groped for a wall. None. After a while he screamed, and then he screamed some more. He started punching air. Until the black shifted to a shade of dark unfathomable to a living, breathing man. A split-second later, he opened his eyes, squinting against a white light. ‘Welcome,’ they said. ‘We are Soul Catchers.’ It wasn’t what he had expected, but at least they hadn’t lied to him.
Cat in a Box
by Shinea Brighton
I’m trying to decide if you love me. I take measurements: how often you call, how long we talk, how often you break dates. Two recently. You never say, “I’ll call you later.” or “We’ll reschedule for next week.” Instead it’s, “How about Wednesday?”
Sometimes you hold my hand. Sometimes you are distracted and lonely. You go days without kissing me then you won’t stop long enough for me to eat.
It’s complicated. Are you a wave or a particle? Are we decaying at a predictable rate? I’m hungry and I can’t tell if you are feeding or poisoning me.
by Jessica Standifird
He was an old house in need of a good contractor. Ever since she’d convinced him he was dilapidated, the ink from his tattoos had flecked, faded. His foundation had cracked and his gait was now unsteady. She would roll her eyes and accuse his front porch of sagging. And if eyes were windows to the soul, well, no wonder she complained. The glass was old and warped, the panes full of drafts. It was cold inside. Maybe all he needed was a real estate agent who could spot potential. He wondered if Carrie at Remax would be interested.
by Jonathan Oak
Normally I hear the engine halfway down the street as a subtle change in the background noise, but the sound was too loud. Normally I see a glint from your bumper or your windshield. I missed it this time. Sometimes you call ahead to says how good it’ll be to be home. When all this fails, the dog, keen senses attuned to your arrivals, perks up her ears, springs to attention, whines at the door, peeks through the curtains. She just laid there. So when you came through the front door… lesbians going at it on the computer screen.
Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Kate Salvi.
Leaving on a Ghost Train
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
The ghost train came to take me, the night after the dead took over. It came through the kitchen, blinding my sister and me with its melting light.
“Bugger off,” Margaret said, wrapping an arm around me. “You can’t have him.”
“All twelve-year olds work for the dead,” the train said in a Yorkshire accent. “They’re the most fit to serve the new order.”
“I’m not going,” I said. “Take the neighbors.”
The train plunged into my sister, wheels grinding up strands of red hair, eyes, spinning like hypnotic Ferris wheels. She waved and smiled, her smile turning to crinkled stardust, falling away.
by Joey To
Jane slipped her shoes off, then glanced at the longcase clock and sighed: 10 p.m. and unsurprisingly quiet. She dragged her feet into the dark lounge room, then froze. The glowing spiral staircase was lined with little candles all the way up. Red petals were scattered all over. Jane’s lips curled a little as she sprung up the first steps… “Honey?” Silence. But she continued her ascent. “Mike?” No answer. Jane paused… then padded up the last steps—”Mike, you alright?”—and dimly saw a snoring mass, her husband with his arms around another: it was Kayla, their 150-pound Rottweiler.
by Rachel Tanner
Her cleavage is visible, respectable, nothing she wouldn’t wear to college. An unknown guy grabs her arms, holds her in place. Another stands in front, licks his lips, caresses her face. “What about me?” he says as he slips his hand inside the top of her dress, clutching firmly. In this room full of people, he brings her breast out into plain sight. Plays with it. She tries to escape; she’s held back. Finally she’s freed as his hand reaches for more. She runs outside into the street, grabbing for her phone. Grabbing for anything to make her feel safe.
by Cheyenne Marco
You’re a lifeguard. Up at four for work at six, spending the extra hour scouring the house for hidden six packs, pouring what you find down the drain. Then it’s off to work to break the back that was healed by luck after that car crash forty years ago. Home at five. She’s flooded with Coors. From where? From who? You remember her standing by your hospital bed, holding your hand when you thought you’d never walk again. You want her back. But you stare in the depths of those eyes, and you know that that woman has drowned.
by Joanne Hayle
He’s smacking his lips together over a glass of red wine. He claims that his reluctance to go out is proof of his contentment and that “home is where the heart is.” Satisfied, he sprawls on the sofa night after night. He’s haphazardly flicking through TV channels, doesn’t bother to wave as I leave for my salsa class. He knows that I’d rather dance with him. We used to enjoy and explore life together. I can’t tempt him out anywhere these days. When I return he’ll be snoring, inexplicably exhausted. He’s not dynamic enough to have an affair, is he?
Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork by Joseph Pravda.
The Night of a Thousand Heads
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
The pileup of heads began at sunset. By midnight, the streets were full of them, silhouetted by moonlit shadows. We’d begged the narrator to stop it, but he couldn’t. He’d shed his trench coat and fedora, told us he was through with the job. He was sorry and tired. We gathered in droves, laughing spectators, without sympathy for the dead. That’s when we saw the narrator on the hillside, holding his wife’s head. He pulled back like an expert bowler, sending her flying, her dead momentum rushing past us, weighing us down in our laughter. “You fuckers,” he said.
by Callum Davies
No stubble. Four days have gone by now and still no stubble. Every time I look out of the window it’s the same clouds. The hot water isn’t working and there’s no food in the fridge. No cars ever come past. The birds don’t sing. I can’t leave. I don’t know what’s out there anymore. The belt is still tied to the doorknob where I left it. Perhaps I am, too.
The Royal Wedding
by Dan Campbell
Before the wedding, there were the usual preparations. The princess tried on wedding dresses and the royal maids dusted and mopped night and day. The royal secret service positioned snipers and checked for bombs in the church and mines in the street. The royal police trained in crowd control while the royal army stationed tanks in strategic locations and filled the sky with drones. Meanwhile the prince, who was just a frog the week before, remembered his friends who croaked in the night, and he wept when the princess ordered the royal environmental agency to drain his frog-days pond.
by Merrill Sunderland
She is the kind of bald skinheads only dream of. Her skin became pale after one night in the hospital. As a sheet. She wears a blue-speckled gown called a johnny that covers little and flails open without aid or consent. She can only sleep when she dreams of her two little boys, four and eight, thank god for small favors. Her arms grow tubes fastened in place by wads of tape that wrap and wrap around her. There’s no skin to be seen. When she’s finally unveiled, de-tubed and sent home, her boys will hug her nearly to death.
You’ll Thank Me Later
by Cerise S. Carter
Smile until it sticks, my girl. I made you breakfast in bed when you were sick, remember? That hole punched in the wall was a mistake. I cry tears of remorse for you. I tell you we should go camping, and it will be romantic. Share that Facebook status; tell your friends, dear. I only spent all of our money on guns because I need a collection to feel whole. I am an aficionado, remember? How could you love me and not want me whole? You are safe with me, love. I give you the world. The one I made.
Special Thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Marc D. Regan.
Gabriel, Oh, Gabriel
by Jonathan Oak
She lay on the insertion room table. Her DNA screening had gone well. The GBRL came alive, unfolding as it approached her, wings of light illuminating the workspace between her legs, its arm extending a gently curved duck-billed facilitator. It hummed like Sunday mornings; early, sleepy dawns when her mother moved like a half remembered song, making pancakes, listening to sermons. Then the miracle of modern science happened, the immaculately conceived child, not born of lust, or desire, but in the clean, comforting atmosphere of purpose. They were making the world a better place, one unblemished child at a time.
Without A Song
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
The boy chases after the Chevrolet, rain falling from graying clouds. If he’s fast enough, he can stop Mother before she leaves him at Deerfield Academy. He doesn’t know anyone. Back home, he was Piano Boy, writing compositions about autumn and lonely kingdoms. It was hardly a compliment, but he knew where he fit. He remembers Mother smiling when he wrote his first composition. Rocking him to sleep after nightmares about dung-beetles. Dung-beetles who chased Mother across their favorite ice-skating rink.
The boy stumbles, the car fading into a pebble-sized speck. He cries into flickering shadows in the rainy, wind-swept street.
Every Time I Look
by James Croal Jackson
You sat alone in bed as the others filtered out. You did not inch away when I got close. You said “hey” so quietly I imagined it. Your head was on my shoulder like in a dream. I said, “I’m drunk.” You were, too. I felt the roughness of your jeans. Your fuzzy sweater clung to my arm. Your hairs brustled my cheek. I said, “I like you.” A chill inflicted the room when you told me I should have saved it for another time. From bed I watched the rest of the party dissipate into vast, empty space.
by Edward Palumbo
She was my Venus, and she had four limbs, although it was rumored that she was missing a toe. I never found out. “Make love to me in the dark” she would say, “and don’t look at my feet.” She painted in reds and umbers, odd, as she was a musician. “Someday I will be the greatest pianist in all Russia,” she promised, “if I ever get out of Milwaukee.” They came for her one spring evening. She called for my help, but I had a face full of shaving gel. Perhaps this is better.
by Marc D. Regan
Max decided a backdoor might be necessary. Like a dog door. Just in case. Because things don’t always work out. Divorce was huge in those days. The prospect of being left alone terrified him. Thus, without her knowledge, he devised a plan. A series of steps. He could go here or there. He would stash money. Just in case. Because people kept secrets. Media corrupted morals, bred fear. Friends modeled new possibilities. His wife had changed. She radiated independence. He needed a plan. Just in case. When he looked up from his scheming, she was grinning. Which meant what?