Prime Decimals 13.2

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This Illusion

by Ryan Werner

followed by Q&A

There are exactly four-dozen registered female magicians in the United States and I’m dating one of them. People ask me what it’s like to live with her, like she’s Bob Dylan and I’m just holding onto her arm on the album cover. In their heads, she regales me with her new tricks when I get home from my job, the unimportant one that doesn’t involve real fire or fake telepathy, and when I ask her how it’s done she denies me in such a coy way that it only makes me love her more.

The truth is that everything’s the same except the laundry, long ropes of scarves mixed in with my t-shirts and a lint trap full of rhinestones.

* * *

Her name is Rena. The night I met her I missed her performance, which was apparently so bad and poorly attended that she walked right off stage and straight to the bar. I thought she was a stripper when I first saw her.

“Really?” she said. “Can you imagine a sexy way to get out of this?” She was wearing something more akin to the outfit of a figure skater, a tight-fitting, low-cut dress made almost entirely of blue and silver sequins and flesh-colored nylon on the chest and arms.

“No, but now I can’t unimagine an unsexy way to get out of it.”

Two years go by until a couple at a bowling alley asks us how we met. We tell them the story and the husband says, “Oh boy. And then what happened?”

Rena looks at him. “What do you mean?”

* * *

The puns and jokes got old quickly, even when I was the one making them. So, outside of using the following words and phrases in their actual context, I’ve stricken them from my vocabulary: disappearing act, do as I do, you may notice ladies and gentlemen, watch now as.

If I need to say magic to Rena about her act, I say work. If I need to say magic to someone about the way I feel, I don’t.

* * *

Rena calls it a “female magician convention” but the reality of it is that it’s twenty women hanging out in a hotel suite and showing each other card tricks. I went with her once, not for the cross-country brunch I can’t bring myself to call a convention, but for the chance to go somewhere and do something.

We dropped our bags off at our personal room and then walked up to the suite. All of the other women were already there and they were all beautiful, like models or—and this hit me later—magicians’ assistants. Rena briefly introduced me to everyone, and as I was leaving I could hear one of them asking her to tell the story, tell the story.

 “So, what’s the story?” I asked her that night.

“It’s my mentor’s story.” She didn’t sit up, but I leaned onto an elbow and looked at her. “She told me that when she was learning the trade she kept hearing her mentor say disillusion whenever she was actually saying this illusion. It made her go on medication for depression.”

I go, “Jesus, Rena. Why would they want you to tell that?”

“I tell it to them the funny way. Besides,” she finally leaned up on an elbow to face me. “It’s not even a true story. I just needed something interesting to tell the girls years ago when we all met, and that came out of my mouth.”

She smiled, but the puns were back in my head: this illusion meant everything to me, disillusionment: everything to me.

* * *

The phone rings at work and when it turns out to be for me, nobody is annoyed. I get so few personal calls that I turn into a celebrity of sorts for a few seconds, office carpet as my runway. Cornflower blue is the new black.

It’s Rena. Her assistant cancelled for tonight and she wants to know if I can fill in.

“Honey, that’s like me asking you to come in here and file the P&L statements because my secretary is sick.”

“Do you want me to come file the P&L statements?” She’s not a bully, but she has the ears, knows from the timbre of a person’s voice how much they will or won’t do. “Because I will if it means you’ll hand me stuff and shuffle a few decks of cards.”

When she cuts me in half that night, I swear I can feel it.



Ryan Werner is a former gas station attendant in Wisconsin. He runs the music/literature project Our Band Could Be Your Lit. “This Illusion” is based on the song “Feel” by Big Star.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: It seems like every Big Star song—except “I’m In Love With a Girl”—is about being really unsatisfied with some guy’s inability to close the gap between what he wants and what he has. That idea works well alongside the female magician schtick, I think: part nice little hook to make the story quirky and part deep-rooted allegory for the couple’s relationship. I’m pretty sure G.O.B. from Arrested Development was lurking around somewhere in the back of my head when writing this, too.

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The Cap

by Karin Davidson

followed by Q&A

Mr. H has a hard time getting up in the morning. His wife has gone on permanent vacation. The press is always outside his door. They wait with coffee and sticky buns, the kind he likes. Dark roast, a venti, and the blackest of bourbon vanillas.

Mr. H finally makes it to his shower. He scrubs and scrubs with ten different blue soaps, but nothing removes the sheen from his arms, legs, his nearly hairless chest. The hollow of his throat holds a shining pool of oil and, as he shaves, it rolls down his breastbone. When he dries himself, the towel turns several shades of black.

Mr. H stands in front of the open fridge. It is the best of refrigerators—spacious, stainless, restaurant-ready. Inside there are lemons and limes and stacks of dead pelicans, dolphins, a pair of Kemp Ridleys, and glass bowls filled to their brims with oiled seabird eggs. Mr. H takes a lemon, cuts it in half, and sucks out the juice. 

Outside reporters lean against each other. They wait and they lean. They have nothing new to say. If they say anything new, it is of no surprise. What they say is strange and addled and makes those who hear their words cry. 

Mr. H leans against the inside of his front doors—two doors that open outward, so that each time he leaves, he is really making an entrance. He remembers when his wife left, she did so by the servants’ entry, a single metal door with a small window at eye level. After the car took her away, the door was still open. Mr. H looked down at the gray stone drive in the gray morning light and thought, “Mrs. H has left the door open. Mrs. H has simply left. I do not know where she has gone.”

Mr. H doesn’t like to think of himself as unknowing. He likes to think of himself as all-knowing. In Mr. H’s mansion there are many mirrors. He looks into them all. Once the face looking back pleased him. Now it stares into strange corners as if looking for an answer.

Mr. H is working on lost time, ill-conceived time, time that waits for no one. He hasn’t ever had this problem before and is unsure of how to handle it. It is a definite conundrum. Mr. H loathes conundrums and says so to himself. Out loud. “I loathe conundrums.” Still, all the clocks in the house keep ticking.

Weeks ago the last servant left—the gardener, unsure of how to address the barrels that bordered his Swiss chard and lettuces. It was the cook who went first. When the Gulf deliveries started arriving, she didn’t know where to put them all. Crates of terns and seagulls went into the deep-freeze. The nest eggs, still warm from the Louisiana sun, fit nicely into the mixing bowls, the salad bowls, the serving bowls. She thought about omelettes and soufflés. But the pod of bottlenose dolphins was the last straw. She had no idea of how to prepare them.

Mr. H is a quiet man. He dislikes disruptions. He has been up to here—yes, eye-level—in the muck since April 20th. He didn’t observe Earth Day and was far too busy to take a break for Memorial Day. And Fourth of July? Well, that’s just not his holiday. He would like his life back. He gazes through the open foyer all the way to the kitchen. He remembers his wife there the night before she left, pouring herself a glass of wine and smiling at him. How her eyes had shown. On the granite island, next to the empty wine glass, a dead sea turtle now returns the gaze.

Mr. H barely remembers his childhood. He didn’t always live in a large house and have large ideas. Once he swam in the Gulf of Mexico. He was twelve, snorkeling with his father off the Yucatan peninsula. Coral, brilliant fish, swarms of sea anemones. Fish like silver dollars swam past and he reached out for one. He is still reaching out.

Mr. H holds the door handles and tries to breathe. His suit is tight and wrinkles against the oil that coats his skin. He brushes his hair back from his forehead and his hand is covered in crude.

In the garden a damselfly alights on a telescoped camera lens. Her wings are tinged with brown and she has trouble parting them. Another camera catches her struggle. Her photo will run for weeks on the New York Times slide show.

Mr. H rests against his front doors. A puddle is forming around him. In the center strange swirls of blue, violet, and dark red form. Mr. H looks into the puddle. There is a reflection, and he wonders if it is his own.

Mr. H is getting used to being alone. He knows it is hard to shake his hand, and he carries extra handkerchiefs for those who feel inclined to reach out and acknowledge him. He understands when new acquaintances gesture to chairs but keep their hands to themselves.

Mr. H says it will all be fine. Everything will be handled according to company standards; everyone affected will be compensated. On his desk a plaque reads, “If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?” Every day the warm ocean fills with thick black mistakes.

At the site where the oil bleeds into the Gulf of Mexico there are roving robots that tip their hats and explain in junk-shot lingo, “Everything will be fine.” It is odd how much their digital voices sound like Mr. H’s. One of them has a great idea and nods to his partner. The other points and nods as well. Then, with the highest caliber undersea robot tools, he removes the cap. Both robots are satisfied and celebrate with a fist-pump. New and better oil gushes around them. The cap floats off into the distance and disappears.



Karin C. Davidson is originally from the Gulf Coast and now lives in the Ohio River Valley. Her stories have appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, New Delta Review, and Precipitate Journal, among others, and have been shortlisted in several writing competitions, including the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition and the Bridport Prize. She has an MFA from Lesley University, and her writing can be found at



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: Barry Hannah once said of a rich and reckless woman he’d like to have punished for running down his dog in her SUV, “I set out to destroy that woman. But instead I’ve immortalized her.” I do believe I’ve done the same with a rich and reckless man.

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by Scott Carpenter

followed by Q&A

After all those nights of your place or mine, the first ours came on the overnight ferry, the one we boarded, you and I, as the storm whipped up, pooling our dollars for a wedge of cabin in steerage, tucked deep below the waterline. Cramped in our oyster room as the vessel pitched and rocked, we joked to calm our nerves: should the vessel go down, we’d be the last to know, learning only when moisture began to weep around the edges of the sealed door. And sink we did, you recall, but only into silence, too frightened to turn off the light as the metal ceiling tipped over our heads.

Since then, like hermit crabs, we’ve moved from shell to borrowed shell: the upstairs duplex with squirrels in the walls and bats on the porch, followed by a ruin of an apartment in a stone building, the walls lined not with paper but actual fabric, which the kitten would claw and climb when taking a break from stalking mice; then, a leftover from the postwar, where we tiled and painted and discovered the value of cheap labor (our own), where the train whistle, too close, sent the cat charging for the back door, where we quarreled and sulked and nearly parted; next was the southern tour with the mustachioed landlord, pomegranates and spiders in the garden, no heat but plenty of chilled air, and where once a roach the size of a child’s hand fluttered from the vent above the bed and landed on your pregnant belly; finally, the too-square home, with space for children and a swing set, every board and pipe and fleck crying for attention, the same old cat crawling along yet a while, trees falling and growing, the tinkle of music sounding through open windows—all this while we trained to become the willing servants of teenagers.

Over time the lawn grew more vast. The years contracted. The new cats never quite belonged. Fresh paint weathered, and there were problems with the foundation. Even the children, it turned out, were only on long-term loan, and the departure of each cardboard box felt like another melon ball scooped ever closer to the rind.

And now, as this house finally exhales, too large and too empty, I find myself yearning for the close oyster room of the ferry. At night, we lie on the appointed sides of our broad bed just as we occupied berths during that churned crossing: silently, not giving voice to our own terror for fear of spooking each other—even now, when the engine of children’s voices has stalled and all has gone quiet, the vessel has tipped, and under the door we sense the first trickle of water.



Scott Carpenter teaches literature and literary theory at Carleton College (MN). A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, he has published a score of essays (not to mention a volume on literary hoaxes), and his short stories have appeared in such venues as Ducts, Every Writer Resource, Eunoia Review, Subtle Fiction, Lit-Cast and The Carleton Voice. His website is located at:



Q: What was your inspiration for this story?

A: We often think of our passage through time as it is measured by events or dates. I wanted instead to think about the various spaces people inhabit.

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About the crisis

Peycho Kanev

It is in all the newspapers, in the numbers of the Dow Jones, 

in all the thermometers, and into the victims of the loneliness.

(though tabular descriptives of such have not been invented).

 “You got those last months only for yourself.

The men of wisdom declared the last days,

but if they look for us they will find only dust.”

Love, because there is no other way out, feel

the words coming out of your mouth –

when we fall down,

just to restore the eternal cycle,

and we, accept – 

all of us – 

(what else could we do?):

the struggle.

It is such hard work to be honest and true,

when the rest of the world is decomposing.

We are not like them.

We do not talk quietly at Sunday dinner tables,

we do not communicate with passwords over the phone,

that’s the others, who peer through the peepholes,

growl at the fences, topple down the Stop signs,

scream at our walls, our last sanctuary – 

we are not like them, and they can’t go without

dragging us out of what was left of the ship,

which is sinking. 



Peycho Kanev is the editor-in-chief of Kanev Books. His poems have appeared in more than 500 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, The Monongahela Review, Steam Ticket, Midwest Literary Review, Third Wednesday, The Cleveland Review, Loch Raven Review, In Posse Review, The Penwood Review, Mascara Literary Review and many others. He is nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net. His poetry collection, Bone Silence, was released in September 2010 by Desperanto, New York. A new collection of his poetry, titled Requiem for One Night, will be published by Desperanto in 2012. He lives in Chicago.

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Ceilidh's Villanelle

Kathryn Kirkpatrick

followed by Q&A

The nectarine comes down in the snowstorm.

It is Ceilidh’s last day.

She is living on snow and air.


The first blossom, always, each spring,

though the tree bore no tangible fruit,

the nectarine down in the snowstorm.


Ceilidh. My first dog beginning to end.

Castanets on the tiles. Majesty of barking.

Beyond food now, just snow and air. 


And the sudden petals

among the gray branches?

No, the nectarine is down in snow.


Forget the direct gaze of dinnertime.

Unmoored, she is unmooring.

Ceilidh in the snowy air.


She will lie in the brow of the hill.

Stone Cairn. Stump. Silence.

The nectarine down in the snowstorm,

she was living on snow and air.



Kathryn Kirkpatrick lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and teaches at Appalachian State University.  She is the author of five collections of poetry, The Body’s Horizon (1996), Beyond Reason (2004), Out of the Garden (2007), Unaccountable Weather (2011), and Our Held Animal Breath (forthcoming, 2012).



Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?

A: I wrote this poem to commemorate one of the great guiding spirits of my life, a Shetland sheepdog named Ceilidh. The intense and recurring  grief I felt at her passing needed a strong container; the villanelle form made the poem possible.

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Number Theory

S.D. Lishan

followed by Q&A



Need.  4/2 You. 


For you. 

To you. 



a need-

     le planting of the thing. Le chose. 

Le gift. The choice. 




Two stitches my love 

has, to stitch and 2 com-

pleat me. Angel. Ardent one. 

Castle of my wanting.

Red in leaf, red in heart, 

thou who art 

meant of me


See here? 

And here? 


This space lets sleep in, 

lets room to breathe beyond 

where thou soakest in thy bones a-








embroidered-leaf-orchestra-in-thralled sun, 

Hast thou 


 love yet?



Hast thou breathed fragrant moon arméd bellied flowers? 

Flouted the shade of the astilbe, Glimpsed-thou-yet?

Done such as would husband courage? 

Done such pleasings as would 

make the dark part with its heavy labor? 


True bird, 

yellow finch,                                                                                                                                    nuthatch, 

in the tap and bark of thy squibbed song, 

hast thou comforted yet 

     in thy body 

Placed with-

in reach?



It was in the time of springing forth,  

wearing the sprung-rain down raiments of thine love,  

that thou freed thyself from the tines 

that hadst trenched and gibbeted

the muscles of thine heart’s own flesh,  

to give such a gift as this: 

Faith (Where thou hast thine 

allegiance to it, thou woulds’t stalk it 

and die for its golden eggs.).  

For to be faithful.


4/2. See

their shapes (big-nosed number facing away 

from the sailing swan).

don’t you hear the numbers cry? 

4 you/2 you 

Be faithful. 


you hear? 



So, how do we

quantify such 

longing in our 

language, in our 

time, in a

numbed num-

bered techno-

logical age

like ours?


How? Nine, for ex-

ample. In  is in there. Seven has even  one, but eight? 

No. Six, its sigh x’ed out before

it breathes, 

a Spanish yes marked out fully in breath.

Five? I’ve  no i-

dea where the our  has gone, except that

four is our  special one. 


Three might be regarded, except for our  above.

Below it, two cries so full of woe 

(Isn’t it obvious?).


One, and we are back.

It’s in loneliness.

it’s in 



What are its




Out of its minused and nonplused patterns,

come the graphed mosaics of the in-

tersections of us unearthed,

of an aligned one of us to 

another, like an ordinate 

to its beloved abscissa,

like ordinariness

to absence. 



I will tell you no more re-

garding the comb-


nation of love. 

I stroke your hair with it.


To find its ci-

ties. I wrap my arms 


around you. For 2b – its shape is of the swan  

and of one giving birth) – 

one (it ‘s in loneliness, remember?), 

4 2b 

1= p-

rayered light, how its error

is n-

ever holy

an err-

or, or a roar,

or even an-

nulled set of sun-

dry yearnings; for it is 

the gate of love you’ve entered, 

and have come out 

as more,

as one.



S.D. Lishan is an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, where he teaches classes in creative writing and poetry. His book of poems, Body Tapestries, was published in 2006. He also writes novels and creative nonfiction, and his work has appeared in such venues as the Kenyon Review, Connecticut Review, OVS, The American Poetry Journal, The National Poetry Review, Bellingham Review, Creative Nonfiction, and Brevity



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I was reading Shakespeare, Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, as well as some of the language poets and their forerunners when I wrote “Number Theory,” a love poem written for both the ear and, in its latter sections, the eye. It all mixes together when one writes, as most of you know, enriching one’s own particular voice and way of singing – transmuting, transfiguring, and most of all, hopefully, transforming.

Prime Decimals 13.3

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Six Fictions

by Kirk Nesset

followed by Q&A


He would defeat her, he thought, with his rapier wit. And did, but the tree grew new sparrows, and what isn’t stated conquered what is. 

Captain Love

The leering grotesque at the bar, infinitesimally tuned, yells as you pass: Bird Man! Hey, Captain Love! No cage now? Ain’t you the shit! 


She married, and that ended that. But the husband cheated, they learned. So here they were. Revenge, this was. For her first. Then for him.

Epitaph for the Buried Man

Years before the world disappeared, he paused at the door, brightly casting off doubt—prompting the first of the infinitesimal tremors.

Valentine’s Day

The girl on the stairs at dawn studies you, sighing, watching you watching her watch.

Delighted, you burst into flames.

Good one, she yawns.

Catastrophe Measure

The sky is on fire, our buildings bright pink. We wait where the ground shakes least, by bone yards and ash, endlessly repeating our names. 



Kirk Nesset is author of two books of fiction, Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road, as well as Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo (translations) and The Stories of Raymond Carver (nonfiction). Saint X, a book of poems, is forthcoming. He is recipient of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Agni, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. He teaches at Allegheny College, and serves as writer-in-residence at Black Forest Writing Seminars (Freiburg, Germany). More details:



Q: What was the inspiration for these pieces?

A: These pieces began as “hint fictions,” prompted by a call for stories containing thirty words or fewer. Each of the six fictions were drawn from notebooks I keep, and were massively/minutely revised in their creating, a process that took many months (and in a few cases, years).

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Psychic Cleaners

by Ann Hillesland

followed by Q&A

We know there’s a stain on the blue silk blouse. It’s your mother’s gravy, with a ring of oil around the spot because she never drains off enough fat before adding the thickening. And that white frosting on your wool skirt from the sticky hands of your sister’s perfect kid? Don’t worry—it will come out. Your clothes will survive Sunday dinner at your parents’ house with no whiff of your dad’s cigarettes. The smell rises from the sofa cushions and soaks into your hair, your watchband, your jacket’s polyester lining. He claims he’s quit, but you don’t have to be a psychic to know he’s lying. 

Your mother is also lying about that Alaskan cruise she and your father are taking next month. Your mother booked it and told her daughters, but your father refused to go anywhere so goddamned cold. Your parents had to eat the deposit and instead are driving to San Diego, where they will stay in a Best Western by the highway, listening to the hum of traffic and avoiding the mysterious matted black patch in the carpet near the bathroom door. Your mother will download pictures off the cruise company’s web site and claim they are her trip photos. You know how your dad hates to have his picture taken, she will say, with that little giggle that should tip you off, but won’t.  

You will meet a man in your office—he will be wearing brown slacks because he sells coffee supplies and needs to hide any drips from the sample cups he brews. You will go out with him, even though he has hair on the backs of his knuckles, because he has a wonderful smile. You will find his tooth-bleaching kits under his bathroom sink the first time you spend the night—syringes of whitener and rubbery, tooth-shaped trays resting on prehistoric plaster casts of teeth.  

You will believe him when he says that his shirts smell of perfume because of all the secretaries he meets with at work. Even when you find the sex stains on the sheets when you haven’t made love in two weeks, you will tell your mother that he is wonderful.

Your laundry will be ready Tuesday after 5:00, but we know you won’t feel ready to face us again until Thursday. You shouldn’t worry, though. All these stains aren’t permanent. 



Ann Hillesland’s work has been published in literary journals including Open City, North Dakota Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, NANO Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Bellowing Ark, Going Down Swinging, The MacGuffin, Toasted Cheese, and Red Wheelbarrow, and in the anthology A la Carte: Short Stories that Stir the Foodie in All of Us. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Queen’s University of Charlotte.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: A strip mall not far from where I live has both a dry cleaners and a psychic.  The mall sign says “Psychic Cleaners.”  I couldn’t resist.

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A Proof of Love

by Thomas Kearnes

followed by Q&A

Celine tells the group about the summer of her sixteenth birthday when Daddy gave her driving lessons in the tire factory parking lot. Hayden never lifts his head as he recounts to the clients how his mother took him for a sundae at Dairy Queen after he lost the first chair position in his high school marching band.

“That’s very good, Hayden,” Alice says. Her hands remain folded in her lap, her elbows angled at her sides and head cocked slightly back. She does this even as she recalls eavesdropping on Will as he joked that Alice must practice that position at home all night. Perhaps she copied the pose from an instruction manual: Sympathetic Stances for the Modern Substance Abuse Counselor. “Will,” she asks, “were you listening?”

Will nods. Alice knows he has listened and understood. Celine’s father showed his love for her. Hayden’s mother showed her love for him. And now there is Will. Who loved him and how can he demonstrate that love?

“It can be any story?” he asks.

“Don’t think of it as a story,” Alice says. “Think of it as a memory. A story is something you’d tell anyone, but a memory you only share with those closest to you.”

Will inhales and lets his head fall back. “I was six and it was summer,” he said. “My parents thought I should learn to swim. In my part of Texas, there are lakes everywhere. One per county at least.”

“So one of your parents teaches you to swim?” Alice asks. Will unsettles her, so she shepherds him through the story. She fears the effect he may have on clients, the ones who weep and mourn as they stack chairs after each day’s session.

“No, my dad worked and my mother didn’t like to get wet,” Will says. “They paid this lady in town to teach me. Her pool was nice.”

“That was very kind of them, but I was hoping you’d tell us something based more in your emotions, Will.” Alice folds her elbows so they fit snugly against her sides. Her hands remain clasped in her lap. 

“I wasn’t finished.”

Alice turns her head to survey the clients. Various expressions of woe. She returns her gaze to Will and finds his eyes waiting for her. She says, “Please continue.”

“This lady who taught us, she was—not old. Forties, maybe. I was just a kid, so I couldn’t be sure. But I remember thinking, what’s this woman who’s older than my mom doing with this nice, nice pool but no kids of her own?”

Across from Will, Celine shifts in her seat. Alice watches until she settles again.

“Every time you did something good, no matter how bogus—she wanted a hug. Me or whoever would be treading water, and she’d hug us every time. Even when we didn’t get it right.”

Alice knows Will wishes to look only at her. The others, she knows, are too adrift in their own puny recollections of love to listen. This story is for her, not them.

“You know when you’re a kid and something’s not right, but you don’t do anything? Maybe it doesn’t feel right because you never felt it before?”

Alice’s voice is firm. Her hands clench tighter in her lap. “What about your mother?”

“One day, we’re in the car and I think we’re driving to the swimming lady’s place. But when we get there, she drives right past. I ask her where we’re going, and she says to buy shoes. There was some sale. I asked, what about swimming? And she said we weren’t going back.”

A stillness seeps through the room. Alice’s lips press together, her forehead drawn up like a wrung towel. “What did your mother say?”

“She said, ‘That woman was a little too touchy-touchy.’”

“What else?”

“That’s it. She got that look on her face she gets when a discussion’s over. That was it. Gotta listen to your mom,” Will mumbles, grinning.

One of the clients gapes at Will. He looks serene as he folds his arms. 

“I don’t understand,” Alice says.

“I hadn’t said a word about the swimming lady. But Mom knew, and she told me I was right. From that day on, I knew to trust myself whenever a person wanted to do me harm.” He won’t stop looking at Alice.

The counselor claps her hands once and assesses the group’s overall mood. Will eases back while Celine flails her hands and speaks in high-pitched hiccups. Another client reaches out to Celine but won’t embrace her. She backs away as Celine wails, stumbling forward. The clients look to Alice. She purses her lips and tries to locate some words of comfort.

That night, Alice sits on the edge of her bed. Her left shoulder hitches up to her ear. Her torso turned at a half-twist to her legs, she leans onto the oak footboard of the bed. She gleams with receptivity. She holds that position a moment to magnetize the air, then bows her head further downward. Her gaze never leaves what appears before her. She believes her eyes piercing. Her eyebrows arch, her jaw tightens. Watching the full-length mirror, she says, “Will, that was inappropriate. I think you should question your motives.” 

This is Will, she reminds herself. She crouches deeper into her position on the bed. Alice admires the improvements in her position. She tells her reflection, “I think you should reconsider your understanding of love.” Yes, she thinks, that’s the proper way to phrase it. She adds, “Will, are you listening?”

She will practice again. The words must sound firm but compassionate. Will’s life depends on it. Alice will save him despite himself. She has memorized the actual definition of love from the dictionary. Its brevity surprised her. She waits for the day Will himself asks about love, informing her that he has finally surrendered. She must bring him to this point. She has skills, she has time.



Thomas Kearnes is a 35-year-old author from East Texas. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout. His fiction has appeared in PANK, Storyglossia, Night Train, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, Eclectica, The Pedestal, JMWW Journal, LITnIMAGE, Knee-Jerk, Underground Voices, 2 M Magazine, Temenos, and elsewhere, including several gay venues. He is currently marketing his flash fiction collection, “Please Save My Life.” He is a columnist for Flash Fiction Chronicles and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. He can be contacted at



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I was a blackout drunk from my late teens till my late 20s. My parents sent me to a lock-down substances rehab clinic in rural Texas not far from Dallas. I’ll spare the details because I’m eager to incorporate them into future stories, but let’s just say I was the only client the staff never made cry (despite begin the younger client there) and the experience hardened my devotion to atheism. On the plus side, the experience taught me that I can trust my mind and will power to protect me from malignant forces. Forget all that I’ve accomplished as a writer, those four months in rehab were the proudest period of my life. 


Note: While I still have a fondness for other drugs, I haven’t touched alcohol in over two years.

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Rock Wall

by Chris Crittenden

followed by Q&A

lichen-rich shadows

pool in a final resting place

for stones.


squirrels warily leap

the impediment

of their leaf-strewn heads.


the wall has been here

since the land first swelled

with patriotic pride,


still defines 

who gets to decree what.

who gets to feast.


if a bear rended it 

into strewn rubble,

grim faces of harsh founders


would gnaw the ground.


and the wall would be  

as impenitent as ever, 

unseen and unfelt,


pious in its might.



Chris Crittenden teaches environmental ethics for the University of Maine and writes on the edge of a spruce forest, 50 miles from the nearest traffic light. He blogs as Owl Who Laughs and is widely published. He has always aspired to be the human equivalent of a prime number!



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This poem is about two ways of entering into a relationship with the land–or animals, or another human being, or the universe. It has less to do with a rock wall than how to be.

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2 Poems

by Gail Peck

followed by Q&A

Grand Decoration, the Clouds

after Monet, 1920-1923


Here, reflected in water, a human face,

dark eyes, hint of nose and mouth, recalling

Monet’s self-portrait of 1917. Those circular strokes

of long beard that also shaped the water lilies

he so loved. Once, at an artists’ colony, I watched

as a woman made a face of clay and placed it in the river

then took photographs at intervals as it decomposed

in the current. It was beautiful, peaceful,

all burden lifted until there was nothing left.

This is how I want death to be, not the white and white

of sheets, meals and meals or day following night

to mark the days. Let me be lifted by the clouds

if only in reflection, and not at the dark edge 

of this painting, but near the center, the lavender wisteria. 



The House at Douanier, Pink Effect, 1897

after Monet


The sea

     the lonely sea

scares me


where nothing

     you can see

lives until


some creature


This house


atop a cliff

     I could not live here

so dark at night


except for stars


would be lovely


but I couldn’t easily sleep 

     through wind and tide

Who would walk


the path

     to visit

an excuse for kettle


on the fire

     biscuits to share

to speak of loss 


a hand reaching

     a nod that says

Through time


it’s always been—

     baby taken away

wrapped in a blanket  


last breath of the old

     the cold now

where the pillow lies



Gail Peck is the author of three chapbooks and three full-length collections, most recently Counting the Lost. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Nimrod, Cave Wall, The Southern Review, Greensboro Review, Prism Review, Brevity, etc. Work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she has been a both a finalist and semi-finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize.



Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?

A: I think the seed for these two poems was planted when I went to an exhibit in Raleigh titled “Monet in Normandy.” I didn’t know then that Monet’s art and work would become a subject for the manuscript I’m now working on. Monet painted several houses on cliffs such as the one I write about in "The House at Dounaier, Pink Effect." As for "Grand Decoration, the Clouds," this was painted after Monet had several operations for cataracts, and he later said, “My sight is totally restored. I am working as never before.”

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The Policeman that Came to See You

by Marc Vincenz

followed by Q&A

The Policeman that Came to See You

asked, Did you sense it?

When the old woman died across the hall.


She used to talk to herself you said,

and on Sundays she’d thump the wall with a broom handle


screaming something about a lost god.

But you didn’t know her. Not at all.


Once you recalled meeting her in the cellar

in the room where the coin-op washing machines


churned like the engines of the building.

In twilight or near darkness she almost looked transparent,


and her hair, in its very white became like thin

luminescent strands of plastic eels—


in the dark she stopped your heart more than once.

So when you were coming in from work in the evening


and the dawn was creeping out, you’d make sure

to smoke a cigarette in the cold to avoid her creeping down the stairs.


She’s lived alone most her life, he said.

She even had no cats or birds or fish, but talked to the walls 


as if that’s where she might find God.

It was strange, he said to live all those years,


then suddenly disappear into the depths 

of your bath to end all things.


You nodded, sighed, then started into his eyes

as if they were pale blue Mediterranean oceans.



Marc Vincenz is the author of Upholding Half the Sky (Casa Menendez, 2010) and The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees (Argotist, 2011). His poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Spillway, The Potomac, Poetry Salzburg Review, nthpositionMiPOesias, Pirene's Fountain and many others.  A book of translations is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. 



Q: Who was this enigmatic old woman?  Was she real? 

A: As real as any living ghost. I never saw her, but my girlfriend claimed to have seen her many times. Apparently there was a little Chihuahua involved. For months, I teased my girlfriend that she was imagining things. Only, there were the noises and the door-slamming when I would leave for work. The strange thing is that she only became real when she was finally gone, when the detective was sipping coffee in our living room.

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Wife's Fantasy at Mid-Life

by Elaine Neil Orr

followed by Q&A

Some night, I imagine, my husband might read Wallace Stevens to me.  

We are bolstered by pillows at either end of the bed, facing one another in a green room lit lavender with lamps. His shirt is open at the collar, jeans rumpled, his belt still on. I wear a skirt gathered at the waist, something I’ve had for years, so old it’s frayed at the long hem, and a t-shirt long ago splattered with bleach so a series of white dots cluster below my left breast; socks on my feet.

Darkness waits in the open windows of mid-summer. Cicadas sing in waves. My husband’s chest rises and falls as he reads lines of Wallace Stevens. His voice is raspy from smoking. But here in the bedroom there is no hint of smoke; instead a hint of water in grass upon some distant hill in Tennessee. There is a jar, shining clean, hovering over our heads, holding nothing else but the lavender color of the room distilled to a burgundy. A dominion of air, the slovenly wild made reverent in the space of the bed.    

My husband turns the page. He smiles. He has found the blackbirds. Until now he had not known that he and I and a blackbird are one, nor that blackbirds dance at the feet of the woman he loves. Or that they wheel above the mountain, a shadow over the ground, our shadow against the wall. My husband lays the book aside, pulls off one of my socks, massages the arch of my foot. The blackbirds dance, beaks piercing green sky. Do I prefer my husband’s voice or the moment when his voice ceases?  

Again my husband searches. The sound of pages turning is as promising as a gift unfolding. Wallace Stevens brings us a snow man. Ice and snow, page and leaf. The book itself  smells—watery and leaf full. Our bodies shift. My husband runs his fingers through his hair, touches a finger to his tongue. The snow man, it turns out, is not huge balls of snow but a man in snow, a man accustomed to the sounds of winter. I hear the creak of the pine tree, imagine its snowy boughs. We are chilled. Our legs reach and stretch, for someone’s warmth. I close my eyes but still I see my reader’s neck, his long-fingered hands, the bright gold band, his beard as it might be frosted in snow, imagine his snow strength.  

The poems are fireflies in jars let go, exciting and unknowable except in the way we touch our thighs, put a hand to the breastbone, listen for a quiver of sound.  


There is more.  

Now we are somewhere in Florida with Wallace Stevens. A huge moth bats against the screen, our window a portal to the sounds of all the world. We hear the surf. Here the sand gleams like glass, bright and pointed against my white feet, but dark, too, dark as the depths below coral. I step carefully, my feet so tender. I feel the lull of the land, sense the ordering of dunes. A crab juts into my line of vision though there is none in the poem. As we enter the tide, the bed sheets rise like sleeves of voice, more than ours. The air turns brassy, even as lights smear bright on boats at harbor and we sense the woman in her long song, the one she sang from the sea.  

The notes thrum upon my thighs. We are shapes we did not know, spun arms in the dark.  

My husband’s throat flares, a light in sea spray.  I bloom like hibiscus.

Remember how you were in childhood, riding the waves.  Remember how you felt later in bed, how the waves still buoyed and rocked you until at last you slept like the dead.

A daughter of Nigeria and the American South, Elaine Neil Orr is author of the memoir, Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life (Virginia: 2003), ranked #2 by Book Sense among university press books of the year. Her short fiction and memoir appear in the Missouri Review, Image, PoemMemoirStory, The Louisville Review, Blackbird, Southern Cultures, and Shenandoah, among others.  She has three times been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (in memoir and fiction) and has received the honor of selection as a North Carolina Arts Council Fellow. She has published two scholarly books, Subject to Negotiation: Reading Feminist Criticism and American Women’s Fiction (Virginia, 1997) and Tillie Olsen and a Feminist Spiritual Vision (Mississippi, 1987).  Orr is an award-winning professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh where she teaches creative writing and world literature, and serves on the faculty of the Brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University in Louisville.



Q: Can you tell us about the motivation behind this piece?  

A: My husband and I are happier after thirty-five years of marriage than we’ve ever been.  And yet one can always fantasize about the next best thing! I love the idea of vivid romance in one’s fifties.

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by Jesse Cheng

followed by Q&A

Two oversized marbles, about a full inch each, one of them a cat’s eye of translucent beige infused with swirling ribbons of red, black, and green, the other a mysterious clearie with tiny air bubbles suspended in the darkest, most vibrant blue I’ve ever seen. Behind me, the tinkling chatter of classmates, the snips of blunt-tipped scissors on stiff paper, but my whole world lies here at the corner of Mrs. Arms’s desk where these glass orbs are nestled atop a black velvet drawstring pouch. It’s the first deliberate act of theft I remember ever committing, a one-handed swipe of both marbles, then I scurry back to my seat and tuck them into the tight side pocket of my shorts.     

“Let’s all gather in front,” Mrs. Arms calls out from the rear of the room, and the bustle immediately crescendos as sneakers scuff the floor and hurried bodies brush past small plastic chairs. Astonishingly fast, all twenty-some of us are silent and sitting cross-legged on the rug, backs straight, hands clasped, facing the teacher’s desk. I hear the marbles clink gently as my snug-fitting shorts ride up when I sit, pooling heavy in the fold of the hip socket.

Mrs. Arms holds up a classic U-shaped magnet—one of those that’s red along the length of the curve but naked metal at the tips.     

“Who knows what this is?” Little hands spear the air in instant unison. 

“A magnet, that’s right!” she says. “And who knows what magnets stick to?”

The high-pitched chorus: “Metal!”

Our teacher plucks a small box from the top of the desk and pulls out a single nail that suddenly leaps sideways, locking on to the magnet’s prongs with a crisp click. And I’m noticing now that the box is one of several objects, all lain out in a neat row at the desk’s edge. 

“But all metal?” The magnet taps indifferently against the second entry in the lineup, a pink can of Tab soda, our teacher’s favorite.     

“No, it looks like aluminum doesn’t stick. Who thinks wood will?”

A courageous few raise their hands, but the alphabet block doesn’t take. Neither does the paper (“That’s right, paper is made from wood!”), nor the plastic toy cars. 

“Now, how about glass?”

Our teacher reaches for the final item in the row. She pauses mid-gesture. “That’s funny.” She straightens up, surveying the row of knick-knacks. “They were right here on top of the bag before. Did someone put them back inside?” She pokes her fingers in the pouch, swirls them around the limp velvet. Suddenly, Mrs. Arms’s kind visage is grim.

“Boys and girls, would the person who took the marbles please give them back to me. Now.” 

Stillness. Then teacher’s fingernails tapping the desktop, tut-tut-tut-tut, tut-tut-tut-tut. I focus on my hands, lace my damp fingers tight, a feeling of crawl winching my gut as a cat’s eye and an alien planet bulge out of my left pocket. 


Maybe someone sniffles. Maybe another hour passes.

“Okay. If no one’s going to say anything—there were two marbles here made of glass—but let’s take this glass that we use to drink water, also made of glass, right? So, is it magnetic?”  

Another measure of silence, then the muted response: “No…” 

Mrs. Arms looks at the young children with their eyes downcast, uncertainty in their faces. She sighs. Kindness returns to her demeanor. “All right, kids, let’s go back to our seats.” And with the shifting of limbs the chatter kicks up, life reenters the room, and everybody except me forgets what just happened. The teacher has made her point.

The real lesson I will learn, though, lies in what comes after: in my little brother’s utter joy when I unload them on him first thing after getting home, and I tell my mother that teacher gave them to me because she knows how much I love marbles even though I’m thinking Alex would really enjoy them; in my parents’ unsuspecting assent when I ask them to buy me more, just so everyone will think I actually like the damn things; in the way these contortions within become just a little more numb when I commit further acts like this, bit by bit, year after year, so that I can look deep into the eyes of the one I’m supposed to love and say, without any qualms at all, But I did it for you.



Jesse Cheng is from Southern California. His works are forthcoming in r.kv.r.y. and NANO Fiction. His website is



Q: Can you tell us about the motivation behind this piece? 

A: I harbor much guilt about a good many things, this episode being but one of them. For so long I’d carried such a distinctly clear memory of my first act of theft, it eventually had to make its way into words, or I’d burst. Finally, it did.

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When I Was a Mouse

by Reneé K. Nicholson

followed by Q&A

The year the sink fell in our dressing room, I was the littlest mouse. When the sink fell, water sprayed out into the long room. The sink was attached to a wall with no pedestal or cabinet underneath for support. Just an old sink with rust stains around the drain. The wall was painted gray, fluorescent lights shone overhead and mirrors lined the opposite wall. When the sink fell, no one touched it, although the backstage moms in charge of our dressing room kept telling us to wash our hands.

Instead, we gathered our bags and costumes and marched out—me petrified that I’d be blamed for the sink, because it hadn’t occurred to me that the theater’s backstage was old and maintenance shoddy, because I had complained out loud about the pink canvas shoes we had to wear with our costumes. I figured I was already branded a troublemaker and the fallen sink would be blamed on me. I was sure of it.

I preferred leather shoes to canvas. Party scene children wore black leather slippers.

Damp and cramped in the hallway, the legion of little mice was quickly divided, half sent to the dress with the soldiers, our onstage enemies. All girls were chosen as soldiers. Many were nice. We rehearsed with them every weekend in Studio B until we moved into the theater. Unlucky me, not sent to the soldiers’ dressing room.  

In the Party Girls dressing room, the dancers kept their hair gelled around foam curlers so that onstage they all had perfect ringlets. Costumes with petticoats and ribbons, too. The Party Girls smeared crimson over their lips, their backstage mothers coating girlish lashes with mascara.  Many begged for false eyelashes, like the company women wore. Chatter was high pitched and pointed. The party girls did not like mice.

“I have been in the Party Scene for two years,” a redheaded party girl said. “I only did Battle Scene my first year.”  

“Stay still,” a backstage mom said, and then swiped a huge blush brush over her cheek.

Her friend, a little blonde with a head full of pink foam curlers, nodded. She waited for her blush and then said, “I’m the youngest of the Party Scene Girls.”

“How old?” redhead asked.

“Eleven,” curler-head replied.

When I was a mouse, I thought as a mouse. I crept around the outskirts of their conversation. Paid attention, looked for cheese and mischief.

“Last year there was a ten-year-old girl in Party Scene,” the redhead said.

“Most ten-year-olds are still in Battle,” the curler-head said.

I smoothed my hands along my pink tights, fresh from the Capezio wrapper. My mother bought them especially for performing. No holes or runs. The Party Girls narrowed their shadowed and mascaraed eyes. I didn’t need makeup because I wore a mouse head.  

Curler-head pointed a slim finger at me.  “How old are you?”

“In ten days I’ll be eight,” I said.  

“That’s too young,” redhead said, her voice raising an octave so that she nearly squealed it. I’d made her mad.

“I don’t believe you,” curler-head said. She stared down her own reflection in the big lighted mirror on the wall of the Party Girls’ dressing room. Another mouse told her it was true. We were supposed to get a cake the night of my birthday, to have after the performance. We performed until Christmas Eve, my birthday only a few days before.

Many years later, in Studio Nine at American Ballet Theatre, I would be told, half joking, that little girls are evil, that anyone working with children should read The Lord of the Flies.

“They make you wear a mouse head because you are ugly and need to hide your face,” curler-head said. She kept staring at herself in the mirror, fussing with a foam curler near her cheek. “Only the prettiest girls get Party Scene. One of us will surely be Clara soon.”

“You might never get in Party Scene,” redhead added. “Or you might have to play a boy.” Sometimes girls would have to play boys in the Party Scene because there were never enough boys for the parts. Mice and soldiers were better than that fate.

“Everyone knows mice aren’t good dancers,” said another Party Girl, wanting in.

I looked down at my feet, covered by the wretched canvas shoes. The girls were laughing at me.  “You don’t even get a good dressing room,” curler-head said. “Even your stupid sink doesn’t like you.”

I wanted to cry but didn’t. I wanted to take off those canvas shoes and hurl them at the Party Girls. Instead, I fiddled with the elastics, trying to come up with a real good reply, one that would shut them up. My ears filled with the sound of my own blood pumping. Then I heard my name.

“Quick!” said the director of the children. She was a dark haired woman with slim arms and legs and a long, imperial nose. “We need you for a photo shoot with the Company Mice.”

I heard the chorus of Party Girls. The words photo and shoot being repeated, slowly, up and down, a complaint. There were little mice like me and big mice, men from the company, and the Mouse King, also from the company. The paper wanted mice pictures. The paper wanted the little mouse. Me. I could have stuck my tongue out at those Party Girls. But I didn’t.

Within the week, the wall was patched where the sink fell, and the mice got a dressing room again. Over the place where there used to be a sink, my friends taped a copy of the newspaper picture of me and the big mice. They wrote happy birthday and signed their names. They asked the big mice to sign and they did, and on my birthday the little mice and big mice and even some of the soldiers and third act gingersnaps sang to me, and I wished hard and blew out all the candles in one breath.



Renée K. Nicholson lives in Morgantown, West Va., splitting her artistic pursuits between writing and dance. She earned teaching certification from American Ballet Theatre, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Chelsea, Mid-American Review, Perigee: A Journal of the Arts, Paste, Poets & Writers, Dossier, The Superstition Review, The Gettysburg Review and elsewhere. She serves as assistant to the director of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, and is the 2011 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State-Altoona.



Q: Can you tell us about the motivation behind this piece? 

A: Often, my writing is fueled by my experience in ballet, and this piece certainly is. But I was asked by a friend when I first knew that, no matter how competitive ballet was going to be, that I wanted to be a dancer, and this piece is my answer to her.

Prime Decimals 13.5

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The Plate Spinner

by Curtis Smith

followed by Q&A

The plate spinner stepped onto the stage. Beyond the footlight’s glare, the clink of glasses. Tipsy murmurings. A woman’s shrill laugh. The audience little more than shadows, the plate spinner alone in his cocoon of light. He told jokes as he unlatched his trunk. The lumberjack and the milkmaid, the pool boy and the bored heiress—but his timing was off, the punch lines flat. Grumblings from the dark. The woman’s laugh again, drunk and choking with stupidity. In the plate spinner’s thoughts, the panic of nakedness despite his red blazer and black bowtie, the stage disorienting without his assistant. He retrieved a stack of plates and tossed the first high into the smoky air.

They’d always started with a juggling bit, the plate spinner and his assistant. His lover. Six years together, a bond deeper than the vows they’d never bothered to exchange, a marriage to the stage and the life. They’d chosen this underworld of clubs and bars and ten-dollar scams. They’d chosen the road over mortgages and backyards. They’d chosen each other. Somewhere along the line, he’d lost his grip on what held them together. This morning he woke in a dingy motel, his arms empty. A note on the dresser.

The plates flew around him. Their round faces cascaded through the light, an illusion of moon phases circling his head, their flight fueled by reflex. The three-piece house band lurched into a lazy accompaniment. In the wings, the Flandreau twins adjusted each other’s ostrich-plumed headdresses. They were the night’s stars. Soon, they’d hoof their clumsy steps, and piece by piece, their clothes would hit the stage. Their pretty faces and young flesh would shine like jewels, the darkness all around rippling with longing and desire. 

One of the twins tugged her spangled bikini top and adjusted her breasts. Her sequins shone, and in the breath-wide cleaving of light and dark, the plate spinner’s lover appeared. Her gaze was as it had once been, familiar, welcoming, their eyes locked as the plates flew between them. A nod, the wordless shorthand of lovers and performers, and they dared each other with the Saint Louis Loop, the dicey Hungarian Weave. Sweat glistened on their brows, their bodies united with rhythm and purpose.

A plate slid through his fingers. His lover’s image dissolved, a curl of smoke that faded into the dark. The plate shattered, an odd and beautiful sacrifice at his feet. He reached out, grasping nothing, the spell broken. He stepped back, his hands covering his head, as the world fell apart around him. 



Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over seventy-five literary reviews. His latest books are Bad Monkey (stories, Press 53), Truth or Something Like It (novel, Casperian Books), and Witness (essays, Sunnyoutside).



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: My last novel had this big, long-running riff about plate-spinning. But that whole thread didn’t make it through the final edits. I guess I’ve been looking to do something with the concept since then. I’m glad my little plate spinner has finally found a home.

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by Cezarija Abartis

followed by Q&A

When she rearranged them, the postcards felt smooth even after all these years. Postcards of Lake Baikal, Stonehenge, and white-washed houses with orderly terra cotta roofs. No people in them. Here was Devil’s Tower, a brightly colored image of stunted stalagmites growing out of red soil in Serbia, no cave, no ceiling, and no corresponding stalactite yearning toward the ground. Larry had sent her these postcards the summer that she refused to travel with him.

Here was the one that could have been their honeymoon, but she said no at the time, and later he said no: a glowing square in Barcelona at night, the lamp lights promising and peaceful, the full moon lovely and watchful above. Paula sighed. She and Larry had met in graduate school, where he was studying Social Justice and she was studying French literature.

He was the one. In her mind, he was the one she could spend eternity with. If they were imprisoned together, it would not be prison as long as they were together.

“Paula,” he said, “I need time to think about us. I’m just not sure we’re a couple.”

“Of course, I can give you time. Or I can change. Tell me what you want.” She tried to keep the fever surge out of her voice.

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

Another boyfriend had said that, before he left the city. Ed became an assistant district attorney and prosecuted deserving criminals. Well, she forgave him. He found another woman to love, and Paula came to this town and met Larry.

Larry was a good dancer. She was clumsy. He said she was intelligent and funny. She could do anagrams. “What is m-o-w-n-e?” he asked her the night that they met at a party. She had boasted about her ability to rearrange letters.

“I only need a second,” she said. “Women.”

“How about r-e-t-o-r-r?”

She leaned in and whispered, “Terror.”

“I can’t stump you.”

“In France, Thomas Billon was appointed a Royal Anagrammatist by Louis XIII.” She put down her beer. “Are we in competition? Do you need to win?”

Larry looked away, slightly guilty. “Of course not.”

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. But he was still there when she came back. She had not frightened him off. He sat smiling on the purple paisley couch. He stood and brought her another beer. He asked her if she wanted a ride home at the end of the evening. 

“I came with my roommate. Judy’s over there.” Across the room, Judy smiled and laughed at what the guy with curly hair was saying. Couples danced to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

Larry thrummed his fingers on the table. “Could we meet for coffee tomorrow?”

Her favorite postcard was the single sailboat adrift on a limitless ocean with a speck of something on the horizon–perhaps another sailboat, but most likely just a dotted flaw in the paper, so the sailboat really was alone on the vasty deep.



Cezarija Abartis's Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Prime Number MagazineWaccamawStory Quarterly, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: In early February, I started this with a prompt about postcards on I posted this in Patricia McFarland’s office on and received helpful suggestions from Gay Degani and Mark Budman, which I incorporated in my September version. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it took more than seven months to write these 499 words.

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Mating Habits of the Carolina Wren

by Christy Strick

followed by Q&A

Carolina wrens are monogamous for life, only finding another mate if a partner dies or disappears. 

The spring before I left Jake, a Carolina wren began attacking our bedroom window. At sunrise each morning, we woke to the sound of his beak hitting the glass. Snowy chest puffed out, tail erect, the slashes of white over his eyes like an old man’s eyebrows, he’d peck all day, until the sun went down.

The tapping drove Jake crazy. He couldn’t sleep past dawn, couldn’t relax on the weekends. The first time he reached for me in his early morning ardor and the bird started tapping, he couldn’t stay hard, and I was secretly relieved. 

At the end of the first week, Jake said, “He thinks his reflection is another bird. I read that some company makes spider web decals to scare away birds.” 

I searched online and found a giant web printed on clingy plastic. When it arrived, I stuck it to the outside of the window, but the wren continued tapping. I began to look forward to seeing him each day. 

Carolina wrens are not selective about where they nest, building in evergreen branches, in shoes or hanging plants. The male wren builds multiple nests, starting before he has a mate. 

The wren had been tapping for two weeks when he disappeared, and I thought he was gone for good. But the next morning he reappeared, shuttling twigs in his beak to a branch in the pine outside our window. Soon a nest began to take shape. Once it was finished, he returned to his tapping. 

One website suggested a hanging plant, so Jake bought a pot of ivy and installed a hook over the window. But the plant didn’t hang far enough to block the wren’s reflection, and I watched as he built another nest in its tangled vines. 

Desperate, Jake tacked a sheet over our window, thwarting the wren but also blocking our view of the river, and I made him take it down. 

The river was the reason Jake and I had bought the property. We’d been married a year when, out driving, we’d seen a realtor’s sign. That day, standing at the top of the hill looking down across the lawn to the river and the sycamore on its bank, we knew we would build there.

We spent all that summer agonizing over choices we thought were critical to our lives. I picked the paint colors: a soft green for the boy we would have, pale yellow for the girl. 

When the house was finished, we moved in to wait for our lives to begin. Eventually, the green room became Jake’s study, while I spent hours in the yellow room, reading about surrogates and adoptions that Jake refused to consider.   

Four years, three babies lost. I wanted to keep trying, but Jake wanted a break, saying he wanted to let my body heal. I knew that what he really wanted was to return to a life when our dreams were still possible, when I wasn’t depressed and he didn’t have to comfort me.  I understood. I missed our easy love. But I was no longer that woman, and Jake was no longer able to reach the one I had become.

The male Carolina wren puts on an elaborate show to attract a female. As soon as the female comes close the male starts courting by circling and hopping in a stiff pattern. 

About the fourth week, I caught sight of a female wren. My wren began alternating between his pecking and courting the female bird. The mating dance was carried out underneath our bedroom window, the male hopping around the female, his chest out and his tail fluttering like a Victorian lady’s fan. The female’s tail and wings quivered, and as the male wren grew more frantic, and his tail became fully erect, I turned away.  

Jake started showering and doing his morning preening in the guest bath, while I drank my coffee staring out the window.  We no longer made love. Jake couldn’t get hard, and I couldn’t summon the energy to help. He felt me pulling away, and blamed everything on the birds. I didn’t tell him there was nothing left for me in our house on the hill, that the wrens were the only things there that gave my life joy.

Female wrens lay about four eggs and incubate them for two weeks. A mating pair of wrens may have several broods each year.

A sixteen-week-old fetus is the size of a fledgling wren, though I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew then was that my first baby was a tiny mass at the bottom of the toilet, sinking in a bath of blood.

The second one held on longer, so that we knew it was a boy. The third slipped away before it was much bigger than the sunflower seeds I later scattered across the yard for the wrens.

A blogger suggested Jake hang a curtain of beads over the window. It was the final annoyance for the wren, because he and his mate disappeared, and stayed away even after the beads came down. I tried inviting them back, spreading the windowsill with peanut butter and seed, but they were gone, the nest in the pine abandoned.

Jake reached out for me again in the mornings. While we made love, I listened in vain for the sound of tapping against the window.

In the past, a bird tapping on a window was considered a bad omen, believed to be the soul of a dead person there to lead a departing soul into the afterlife.

The day I left Jake, I saw what I thought was my wren in the sycamore by the river. When he pushed off the branch and lifted into the sky, I saw his female, and beside her, I imagined the heads of three tiny birds peaking out of a nest, beaks raised to their mother.



Christy Strick’s short fiction has appeared in New South, Pearl 38 and Pearl 40, the Delmarva Review, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Volume 3, lifewithobjects, and onepagestories. She is the recipient of the 2012 Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar, and has been awarded residencies at The Studios of Key West, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Hambidge Center. Ms. Strick is a founding member and past president of WriterHouse, a nonprofit writing center in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is currently at work on a novel.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This story, like most of what I write, grew out of my curiosity about what makes people and things act and react in the ways they do. One spring, a bird tapped on my bedroom window practically nonstop for weeks. It almost drove me insane, and yet when he disappeared, I felt strangely bereft. I got a little obsessed with the whole thing, and spent quite a few hours researching why birds peck at windows, which led me to studying wrens and their mating habits (it made perfect sense at the time), which led, well, to this story.

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Freeing Myself from Foremothers' Clutches

by Nandini Dhar

followed by Q&A

[Two Bangla (Bengali) phrases have been used in this poem—Pati Param Guru and Patir Punye Satir Punya. The phrase Pati Param Guru literally means, My Husband Is My God and Patir Punye Satir Punya means, A Chaste Wife Accrues Good Deed Through Her Husband’s. These phrases were often embroidered by middle-class  housewives as forms of decorative art  on pillowcases, bedcovers, and also framed on walls in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal, a region in East India. ]



She knows only one story. Unlike her mother,           who never let any of her stories        spill

from her lips


This story, she repeats, everyday, amidst              the heaviness of dailiness–

unwashed plates, sacks of potatoes to be peeled, clotheslines pressing down with linens–

workday’s end. She begins her double-shift. And summons me. Her index finger raised.


Perched on a stool, the bottle of coconut-oil at her feet, three kinds of combs peeking out of her 

                   grip. This, I have been told, is the moment, when mothers and daughters, bond. 

Throughout the planet.                     I sour


innovate curse-words                               pepper them with 

can’t you just leave me alone, bitch the last word, of course, I say, only to myself       in silence, that is.

She is unable to tame into shape my lips.

            She makes up by oiling my hair in two fat braids of obedience. 


It isn’t that she herself hadn’t ever apprenticed 

       in the school of laughters upside down. Like, she had once refused

to touch her own mother’s hands through the threads of this framed sampler–

now safe beneath its dust–worn glass, wooden cages–tulips which would never bloom 

any time of the day. Birds copied from mimeographed pattern-books, and     most importantly,

                 the advice manuals. 



Pati param guru

Patir punye shatir punya

She, who is my ma, had once rejected the lure of the needle.

Refused to learn 

                          to sew 

                          to knit

to trace oneself in already determined designs

didn’t let her own mothers’ tears pierce her self, as if she is a piece of cloth          waiting         to be

embroidered                      down to the last detail              yet       that’s not the story she tells

                                                   in my facility to treat 

                                 the wall            the page                even my own skin

as the open field          waiting to be curated             with images          yet to be named

              she recognizes the shapes she could have taken  had she not been so eager

                        to be taken as a fret board                and played.           Hence this need to curate my hair into recognizable shapes


She invokes her own mother thus every evening–the mother whose death-bed

she had once avoided. My grandmother, too, the woman who never shied away 

        from acting out every cliché 

without shame or embarrassment                               charms up her damn stitches

wounds them around my neck, too tight—cutting off my oxygen. Me, powerless between my mother’s 

                         knees. More so against this mother-daughter legacy. An once-disobedient daughter, after all, is much better than a granddaughter expert in casting

sideway glances to the very idea of family-name

What I wouldn’t do to free myself from my foremothers’ clutches? 


She knows only one story.


Which, she repeats everyday, at least twice.

            Once, during serving me my  

            night-rice, and once while leashing my hair into manageable shapes


            Me, a captive audience between her knees, 

            silently promising to myself, I will indeed

            leave. If for nothing else, for the sake of 


foregoing this ritual of the tug at my skull

every single day. For. I am not someone who 

            loves pain. Her fingers pricking    stabbing     my scalp


bereaves me of verbs everyday. Thus, for 

the next hours two or three, I have to plant

myself nowhere else, other than the floor


trying to remind myself that for a sentence

to be fully complete, one needs the nouns

and pro-nouns to do something. 


Act that is.


Once I succeed to retrieve the order back again,

I cannot help admitting to myself, that this is how

her one story makes me feel too.



She knows only one story.


which, she repeats everyday, at least twice. 

Every time she prefaces it with the same query:

did I ever tell you the story of...


as if her bag is teeming full of them.

As if, even if she tells ten new ones 

every day, she would never reach the end.



If I delineate my mother and her mother’s trajectories, it would seem, the fate of a woman

is to keep on copying words without knowing their meanings            spellings   to keep on memorizing 

            stories others wrote for them  without thinking of the consequences 

I ask my her, my un-lettered, now dead grandma that is, did the curves of the letters you threaded, look to you like your own rounded hips? Did you once care to know the message you’re stitching?

She doesn’t respond–predictably. Instead, she urges her own daughter to tighten         the grip

of her knees around me               keep my hair firm within her fist

Not even one should escape the braid       or            the ribbon redemption

That’s the only way girls can be taught that desires to explore alone          is lust indeed in some 

profound disguises

and should be abhorred thus, by all means 


For a long time, I have wished myself free. From my foremothers’ love-clutches.

I do refuse to wait anymore for the rains to give me back my sighs, suppressed

often, with much too care                  and affection            yes, one night


I cut off my braids        kept scissoring them  

until they were nothing but a black heap near my feet

At last. They have ceased to be me. I, then, opened my scalp for the sun to sculpt its furrows deep


See, I already have more than one story to tell. 




There is no way you can convince someone of the need to

crack open the fence of the courtyard. You cannot tell someone

that’s one of the possible ways to go about collecting new stories.

Along the same lines, there is no way you can tell someone that

new stories build up their nests on her own eyelids every single 

day, to be retrieved, peeled clean and prepared for the dinner-plate.


You cannot teach anyone the act of retrieval, so to say.


Meanwhile, the only story she has ever known, being interrupted,

multiple times, hangs as a jacket on the coat-tree on the porch.     The 

moral of the story, because it was itching to be let out in front of 

the Parrot-King, becomes a pair of shoes. Just so that it has a shape

worth mentioning, touching, feeling, and wearing by a human being. 


And, in their sleepless profiles, they finally acquire noteworthy verbs.




Nandini Dhar’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stonetelling, Up the Staircase, Hawaii Review, Prick of the Spindle, lingerpost, Palooka, Inkscrawl, Chanterelle's Notebook, Cartographer: A Literary Review, Cabinet des Fees, Penwood Review, Wilderness House Literary Review and Melusine. A Pushcart nominee, Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India, and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at University of Texas at Austin.



Q: What can you tell us about the origins of this poem?

A: The poem began as a workshop exercise. We were all supposed to write  an imitation of Sharon Dolin's “To The Furies Who Visited Me In The Basement of Duane Reade.” At the time, I had been re-reading Ginsberg's "Howl," and wondered what it would look like if a woman like me– a politicized middle-class woman from a postcolonial/neocolonial Third World space– had given voice to the howls that reside inside. In my poem, I have retained Dolin’s rhetoric of outrage. Like Dolin’s narrator, my narrator spreads herself across the page. The lines are long–they take up literal as well as figurative space, in contrast to the self-dwarfing of the foremothers she writes about. I drew much of my material from family archives, women’s stories, and memories of my native Bengal. However, I also wanted to move beyond an uncritical celebration of “women’s cultures.” Using the rhetoric of outrage that I read in Dolin and Ginsberg, I tried to write about the conflicts that define relationships between women, and about how women’s cultures sometimes police younger and creative women, inadvertently reinforcing patriarchy.

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2 Poems

by Steven D. Schroeder

followed by Q&A

A Place to Hang Your Head

Unfinished as the basement, nightfall 

Drip-drips from pipe fittings and creeps

In non-egress windows—no bars means no 


Burglary yet. Two doors require three keys,

But one freezes in ghettobird floodlight. 

Deadbolt your bedroom to keep out


Sleep and break-ins by kin who chatter

At your attic squirrels.Yes, that’s our pickup

Idling outside, no we will not help you


Move again, and no you’re not invited

To our party and/or fight. The last owner left


Through default and walls made of holes.

That hallway leads to nobody.



Note: I stole the title from “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” by Warren Zevon



Imbecile, Donkey, Flax-Head, Dope, Glump, Ninny and Fool

My arms have grown too long for sharp corners,

So I cut them. I think some think on purpose


When them might not even mean my arms.

My best arm is a bastard sword. I fight dirty 

By starting arguments about who gets 

To fight first. Anybody who would try to buy


My sourcebook on remorse could buy it.

If I get bigger than this, I want to be a mogul, 

A highrise or charisma. From the right height, 


Concrete can treat you softer than water.

What do they say it means when I dream 

Only about elevator shafts? Please oh please 

May they name this disease after me.



Note: I stole the title from “Gimpel the Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer




Steven D. Schroeder’s first book of poetry is Torched Verse Ends. His poems are available or forthcoming from Pleiades, Copper Nickel, Barn Owl Review, The Collagist, and Drunken Boat. He edits the online poetry journal Anti-, serves as a contributing editor for River Styx, and work as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.



Q: What can you tell us about these poems?

A: These poems are from a full-length manuscript with all stolen titles, dealing with theft, lies, and other transgressions. They both have notes of autobiographic accuracy in them as well, but I’m not telling which notes.

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Original Sin, a Mystery Play

by Wendy Vardaman

followed by Q&A

[… forgets the apple she was told to take—]


Poet: I left my mother in the dark—she waved, 

but I didn’t look back. For six days we sat, 

while the seam in her knee, laced like a boot, 

eyed itself, grommet to grommet. Something hurts her 




Conductor:  How do you know you’re not asleep? 



Poet: They broke the knee when they went in, 


Surgeon: struck off 

bone that shouldn’t have been, 


Poet: sliced the muscle, 

peeled it away. 


Surg.: Not much left of the knee—


Cond.:They say—


Poet: snapping the new one in its place.

I heard her weep but didn’t rise for the light. 

She pulled up the portcullis every night. 

Drew up the ladders, sealed us tight against—


Cond.: What?


Poet:I can’t say, 


Cond.: can’t say? 


Poet:except that she’s 



Cond.: Been this way? 


Poet:When I was a child 

I caught her fright, spent years— 


Cond.:Out-lapping Anxiety?


Poet:I try to reason her back to life:


Cond.: Don’t 

give into fear. 


Poet:To petty thoughts. 


Surg.:To rage, 

neurotic knots.


Poet:Death will find us soon enough, 

won’t need to break in to carry us off.  


Cond.:Why speed its arrival with rank belief?

with self-pity when you’ve a house and eat?

with anger at those who don’t do things right?

with panic, at every shadow and noise?

locked in your house, watching the news?


Come out?


Surg:Come out. 


Poet:O come out & live!


Cond.: When your worse self whimpers?


Surg:Don’t give in. 


Poet:Rehearse the thoughts you want to keep. 


Cond.:Start swimming now while your knees


Surg.: are new, 

while your hips still work and your legs are true—


Poet: Running Eve’s lines before falling asleep, 

I can’t recall all the words when I wake up, 

just the grief.


Eve:Show me a moon—


Surg:I’ll show you a broken heart: 


Cond.: All hearts are broken from the start.



Wendy, lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press 2009). She works for The Young Shakespeare Players, is co-editor and web master of Verse Wisconsin, and Cowfeather Press, has three children, and does not own a car. In addition to poetry, she writes essays and interviews, which have appeared in Poetry Daily, Women’s Review of Books, and on



Q: What can you tell us about this piece?

A: I work at a theater and find myself gravitating in my writing more toward drama and away from poetry. This piece started out as a poem that moved between rather sing-song nursery rhyme lines and prose. As the voices started to become more distinct from each other, I decided to rework it as a short verse drama. I enjoy exploring the line between poetry and theater.

Prime Decimals 13.7

Rachel Unkefer.jpeg


by Rachel Unkefer

followed by Q&A

Each time Jessica turns her head for a breath, she sees a man above, moving along the edge in parallel with her, as if he were walking a dog on a leash, if the dog were in a swimming pool. For a few lengths he loomed at the end of the lane, but her flip turns thwarted him, so now he's following her on the side. This pool has four lap lanes; why do they always go for the one with a woman in it? She's supposed to be magnanimous, generous, happy to share, but she needs this relaxation time—a break after a stressful workday at the bank. Why can't she be a total bitch sometimes? Why can't she just say, "Ask somebody else. I need this lane to myself. Now buzz off."?

Because that's not how she grew up. Be nice. Be polite. Otherwise, men won't like you. That was guidance from her mother, who can no longer take care of herself, because, at age sixty, she's eaten her way into morbid obesity and a variety of chronic illnesses.

As Jessica gets ready to flip at the end of the lane, she sees the man's legs dangling in the water. Ignoring him isn't working. There's no way to complete her flip and push off against the wall of the pool with his legs in the way. As she gets closer, trying to figure out what to do, he reaches out and taps the top of her bathing cap. She stops and stands, startled by the touch.

"Can I share this lane with you?" he asks.

When all else fails, be crazy or a pain in the ass. She blurts, "If you want, but my eyesight's really bad, so I have a hard time swimming straight. I have a tendency to bump into the rope, and the side, and, well, whatever's around. And I do backstroke every third lap, so you definitely have to watch out for me then." She smiles and shrugs. "But, whatever." She turns away from him and swims underwater a few yards before surfacing. By the time she reaches the opposite end, the man is putting on his goggles and getting ready to slip into someone else's lane.

Was she a little passive-aggressive? Maybe. But isn't that better than plain old aggressive? What would happen if Jessica told her older sister outright that she refused to take in their mother? So what if Megan has two young children and no room in her house? Jessica's trying to have a career, a social life, keep in shape. Having her mother back in her life would ruin everything. Her therapist agrees.

Some days Jessica can't get her rhythm in the pool. Her kicking is out of sync and she forgets to keep one arm stretched out in front until the other one comes around. She's trying to learn a new crawl stroke, and today the old way's creeping back in. She's fighting the water instead of gliding through it.

Coming back toward the shallow end, she encounters turbulence. Someone has invaded her lane without even giving her the courtesy of asking. Just as the intruder kicks past on her left, she goes for a breath and gets a mouth full of water. She has to stop and stand in the lane to cough and reposition her nose plugs, while the trespasser continues, oblivious. Jessica rests a moment against the wall, and then puts her head back down and pushes off. The two swimmers each occupy half a lane now, passing at irregular intervals, since they're not keeping the same pace. Now, in addition to being thrown off her rhythm, she's struggling against the other swimmer's wake.

Yesterday, Megan called and tried to make Jessica feel guilty about wanting to put their mother in a nursing home. Megan's rewritten the past, pretending they had a normal childhood, with a mother who baked cookies and put Band-Aids on their knees. She doesn't want to remember what it was really like, fending for themselves when their mother locked them out of the house so she could entertain her boyfriends, or having to scrounge in the couch cushions for lunch money before school when she stayed out all night. Jessica wanted to remind her sister, set her straight, but she couldn't bring herself to do it.

Her right arm is outstretched, her hand straight in front as her left pulls her through the water. Then the left is straight in front before the right pulls down and back. It takes discipline to keep from windmilling her arms, which wastes power. As the other swimmer approaches, Jessica slows down and calculates the timing. At the right moment, she brings her left fist around, slightly outward, and connects. Her knuckles hurt more than she anticipated, and the jolt travels up to her elbow and shoulder. For a split second she's confused, feeling as if she is the victim of the punch. She makes it to the other end, stops, and pivots, still submerged below her chin.

The other swimmer stands a few yards away, in the middle of the lane, holding her nose. A bloody waterfall streams down her face. She waves her red hand in the direction of the lifeguard. 

The whistle blows. "Everybody out. Now! Bodily fluids."

Jessica clambers over the side and lands hard on the tile. She puts on her glasses and heads toward the locker room. Halfway there she looks back and sees the lifeguard pressing a towel to the woman's upturned face.



Rachel Unkefer is president and a founding member of WriterHouse, a non-profit writing community in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her short stories have been published in Crab Orchard Review, the anthology Shaking Intensified, and elsewhere. Her unpublished novel, A Useful Life, was a 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel quarterfinalist and a semifinalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition. She was awarded residencies by VCCA and Writers in the Heartland in 2011.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I often fantasize about engaging in socially unacceptable behaviors when I'm angry or irritated, but instead of giving my id free reign, I write about characters who are allowed to do almost anything. Even so, don't ever get into my lane at the pool.

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To Dance at Tamarindo

by Craig Fishbane

followed by Q&A

We make a perfect pair: I’m an awful student and he’s a lousy teacher. His gaze is never far from a water-proof Timex as he shouts in a mango-flavored version of English—Keep your balance! You keep your balance! This is the signal that the white-capped waves of the Pacific are about to dump me off my surf board and toss me like an uncoordinated lump of driftwood in the pebbled mud of the stone-bottomed sea.

I am tattooed with salt-water scratches that decorate the length of my legs. It is easy to see how these are the same legs that carried me to last place in the rush of seventh-grade relay races. They are also the same legs that stopped a yard too short as the game-winning hit dunked in at summer camp. They are the same legs that stuttered past Lori Ciccone at Spring Prom. I remember how her eyes glistened with the same shade of green that radiates now from the forested mountains rising beyond the sand of Playa Tamarindo.  

The 4PM breakers are relentless as locker-room bullies as I push my way back through the punishing tide. Although my instructor stares at his wristwatch with ostentatious hope, I insist that I’m ready for one more try. I belly-flop on my rented board with the same unbalanced body that has carried me on the thirty year journey from the school-yards of Brooklyn to the beaches of Costa Rica. I admit it is the body of a born observer—legs too long, hips too wide, feet bent at a crooked angle—the body of a pure season ticket-holder, with dreams of leaping past the railing of a field-level box.

For one last time, I hop into position—feet straight, knees bent low, weight shifted back. A sea-born swell rises and I ready myself to catch, not the wave, but the moment—the moment when I belong here, gliding with the Tamarindo surfistas—tall, lean and graceful, a harmony of body and mind. For one tick of the water-proof clock, I dance to the liquid rhythms of the universe, swaying and balancing with such verve and precision that even my instructor is reduced to helpless cheerleading. I can no longer distinguish his voice from the squawks of seagulls. Lean white wings trace a path above cresting water.

A strange new coastline surges forward to greet me and, finally, I am released to fly.



Craig Fishbane has been published in the New York Quarterly, Flashquake, Opium and Night Train.  His chapbook, Dengue Fever, will soon be published by BoneWorld.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: Like much of my writing, this piece deals with personal transformations that occur in surprising contexts. For me, attempting to surf was such a (pleasant) shock to my system that I instantly knew something had changed. In some indefinable but perceptible way, I had become a new person.

Bray Shawn Wang.jpg


by Bryan Shawn Wang

followed by Q&A

Lara and Dave must have been doing all right for themselves. A split level on the Boulevard, with the main floor dormered out, the front of the house gleaming with windows—not exactly a mansion, but no shack either. Big surprise. Even as a child, Lara had been pretty darn choosy.

The front yard looked a mess, though. The sun was slipping down behind the house, dragging everything into shadows, but that couldn’t hide the fallen branches, the leaves smothering the lawn.

They probably didn’t have the time to keep the place up and didn’t have the money to pay somebody. They’d both be working full-time just to pay the mortgage. Even with home prices down, Chesterton homes weren’t cheap. But Lara would insist on Chesterton schools.

Once upon a time Grady had cared about the Chesterton schools, too. Or at least Wanda had cared, and he’d played along. He’d played along even as he’d played around.

I was a goddamn prick, Grady said.

Lara wouldn’t have argued with that.

To his face, Lara had told him: Mom would be so much better off without you. You’re sucking her dry, she said. Selfish gets as selfish gives.

After Wanda passed away, Lara had stopped talking to Grady altogether. Grady had moved out of Chesterton, and Lara had moved back, as if to make a point. He hadn’t seen her once in the two years since. Why hadn’t he been invited out here? He guessed he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t even deserve to ask the question.

He rang the doorbell. Maybe if he’d seen a car in the driveway he would have thought twice about ringing. He wondered how he’d made it this far. No one answered. Big surprise.

The screen in the door sagged out, and he could just about picture little Asher pressing up against it. Little Asher, six years old now—a kindergartener, or a first grader. Grady could never keep the years straight.

A piece of loose weatherstripping dangled out from underneath the door. Although who was Grady to notice something like that? As if he was Mr. Fix-It-All.

I’m sorry, Grady said.

Two rakes slouched against the downspout on the porch. Beside them, a child’s rake lay sprawled across a plastic wheelbarrow.

Grady surveyed the yard, the empty driveway. He would wait for them. He’d resolved to make an effort. He would wait, and he might as well make himself useful.

Grady swept the leaves straight across the yard and down to the street, where the town would collect them. He remembered that much, although back at the house, Wanda had done all of the yard work, on account of Grady’s bad heart. He still had a bad heart, he guessed. He just wasn’t real careful with it anymore.

He raked in rows neat as noon, a quiet rhythm in his work, satisfaction in airing out strips of lawn that had already yellowed. He used to sneer at those guys who liked everything spick and span, who emptied their garages once a month, who wouldn’t know life if it bit them on the ass. They’d rub on some antiseptic, return the bottle to its shelf, and go back to oiling their hedge trimmers.

When he finished, Grady stood his rake up on the porch alongside the other and arranged the toy wheelbarrow and rake, like a display. The yard looked renewed, the bank of leaves at the curb, the branches bundled along the driveway. 

He tried to straighten, to stretch out, but his back was unwilling. His wrists and arms, even his fingers, were sore. He was aware of the quick, uneven beat of his heart.

He reached as far as the sidewalk before he fell. Before he took a seat on the concrete. He was just resting. Just waiting.

Headlights appeared. The beams shot over him, past where he was sitting, and swung into the driveway. The car stopped beyond where he’d stacked the branches. He wanted to call out, but he felt tired, dead tired.

The door on the passenger side of the car opened. Lara, the birthday girl. See, Grady hadn’t forgotten this time. See, he’d tried to help out. The woman slammed the door shut.

Three silhouettes on the porch. A key, the front door opening, a light switched on. For an instant, Grady saw his daughter with her family. Then that door closed, too.

His heart was still bumping along, flip-flopping inside his chest. Maybe those fellows knew something after all, Grady thought. He closed his eyes. Those neighbors with their caulking guns and hedge trimmers and well-worn rakes, those men who could find a place for anything and everything.



Bryan Shawn Wang lives with his wife and two children in a small town outside a small city in Pennsylvania. His fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as decomP, LITnIMAGE, The Citron Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Medulla Review, Solstice, and the anthology Sudden Flash Youth (Persea Books) and has been shortlisted for the storySouth Million Writers Award.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I’d previously written a short story from the perspective of Grady’s wife, and I felt he needed a forum for his own narrative. I’m sorry she didn’t survive to hear it.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird: A Collaboration between a Foremost American Poet and the Ghost of Jelaluddin Rumi

by Carolyn Moore

followed by Q&A


Among twenty snowy mountains. Among twin teas. A Hmong.

The only moving thing was what’s-his-face who throws birds in cars

at stoplights. What popped out once was the eye of the blackbird.



I was of three minds, each conscious of itself,

like a tree stripped to become what it truly is,

a tree in which, cawing bliss, there are three blackbirds.



The blackbird whirled. Black bird-world. Blackened bird, whorled

in cream corn sauce. My family loves cream corn and pantomime.



A man and woman are one candle

and the moth crazy around it.

A man and a woman and a blackbird

are one small fig from a random tree.



I do not know which to prefer. Not know, witch. Not No!

Choose the beauty of inflections: kingdom of cling peaches,

fireworks, red ants? Or the beauty of innuendoes?

And can you name the four areas of surrender?

The blackbird whistling, “lights out baby,” or just after.



Icicles filled the long window—

all ice thinks only of this chance.

The shadow of the blackbird

crossed it, to and fro, like a Sufi,

all eye and spiritual breathing,

his caw muffled in the shadow,

an indecipherable cause.



O thin men of Possum Holler, O Thin Mints of Possibility,

why do you imagine self-conscious Southern poetry,

preposterous as a wedding dress? Do you not see how the blackbird

suffers from what Wittgenstein calls aspect blindness?

Are they real or virtual, those feet of the women about you?



I know noble accents and ditties

and lucid, inescapable twirlings.

But I know, too, that when he caws

“Don’t theorize about pure essence!”

the blackbird is involved in what I know.



When the blackbird flew out of sight. Wind: the black Bird Flu—outta sight!

That was a helluva note—it marked the edge. Come, my sultry refulgence:

salvation—don’t leave earth without it in one of many circles.



At the sight of blackbirds

dervishing in green-light ecstasy,

even the bawds of gloom

would cry out sharply.



He rode over Hog Waste Lagoon. He wrote over hog waste

in a glass coach. Once, a fear pierced him in a shop,

voices emanating from the shelves.

In that he mistook the shadow of Poetry. West of Rome

is Poetry. Poetry, Georgia. Wonder who lives there?

Besides Pattycake and blackbirds.



The river is moving. How it meanders in praise!

Still whooping bliss, the blackbird must be flying.



It was evening all afternoon. Even in Gaul after noon

it was snowing and it was going to snow. Onionlight.

That’s right. Vidalia onions. Onionlove.

All of it mystery, mystery, mystery as the blackbird sat,

opaque and revelatory, in his hitherworld of cedar-limbs.




Carolyn Moore’s three poetry chapbooks won their respective competitions, as has her book of poems, Instructions for Traveling Light, pending publication from Deep Bowl Press. She taught at Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA) until able to eke out a living as a freelance writer and researcher, working from the last vestige of the family farm in Tigard, OR.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Wallace Stevens’s famous poem is often parodied, but I was aiming for an homage to Coleman Barks’s exuberant treatment of Rumi’s poetry—and especially one to C.D.Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining, which, as Emily D. might say, “took off the top of my head.”

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2 Poems

by Penelope Scambly Schott


When the disaster landed, we had large stocks

of frozen grapefruit juice and canned yams.


None of us liked yams

and no one would confess to having bought them.


When the grapefruit concentrate started to thaw,

we thought of mixing up the juice,


but then someone said we shouldn’t waste water,

so we ate grapefruit slurry on cold yams.


For the end of the world, it tasted pretty good.

We all told each other that we loved each other,


but I don’t know whether we actually meant it

or maybe we only wished we had.



The man was a gardener

who collected ground hogs in Havahart traps

and let them loose on the far side of the river.


Whenever he happened to cross that river,

he admired his ground hogs all happy and fat,


sunning among rocks by the edge of the road.

The man happened to die too soon. His widow


took down the garden fence. Now she plants

nothing, but she drives her car over the bridge


to park near the rocks. She wonders how long

a ground hog can live. Which ground hogs


are his? Which, their plump descendants?



Penelope Scambly Schott’s most recent book is Crow Mercies, winner of the Sarah Lantz Memorial Poetry Prize. Her verse biography, A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, was awarded the Oregon Book Award for Poetry in 2008.