Prime Decimals 17.5
by Lydia Fazio Theys
followed by Q&A
It happened the year no birds came to Marcia's feeder.
"It’s odd, Leo," she said. "Just odd."
"They're only birds, Marcia," Leo said, not looking up from his bottle cap collection. "No telling what they're thinking."
Marcia continued emptying, cleaning, and refilling the feeder, as if sufficient bustle and efficiency might right the situation.
"They don't need me anymore, Leo," Marcia said, sitting up in bed, back straight as a flagpole. "I'm not needed."
There was no perceptible change in Leo's snoring.
Marcia first noticed the diminutive creature flitting around the feeder on a Wednesday morning in June. Wondering what sort of bird it might be, she squinted through binoculars from the kitchen window. Her mouth formed a taut O and her eyebrows danced upward when she realized it was no bird at all, but a miniature girl in a sparkling blue leotard.
Marcia watched the girl twirl and spin around the horizontal bar that held the feeder, lifting her tiny body into handstands, swooping down and around the bar, over and over and over.
Marcia ran to the living room to find Leo with his head under the sink, searching for something. "There's a tiny girl on the bird feeder, Leo," she said. "A tiny girl."
"That's nice, Marcia," Leo's voice echoed from the cabinet belly. "Are we out of big trash bags? Gotta get over to the high school dumpster. There'll be lots of bottle caps after a big game like yesterday."
Marcia opened her mouth to speak but changed her mind.
For two weeks, Marcia watched the girl get better and better, twirlier and twirlier. When she tired, the tiny girl would help herself to sunflower seeds from the feeder.
One morning, Marcia placed a fragile porcelain saucer edged in baby blue filigree on the feeder. It held smidgens of foods that Marcia thought healthy for a pocket-sized athlete—bananas, cheese, carrots, nuts, even a chocolate chip. Drinking coffee at the kitchen table from a matching cup, Marcia watched as the tiny girl jumped down from a branch and helped herself from the buffet. Marcia thought she saw a smile when the tiny girl looked toward the window. With that look, for the first time, Marcia realized that the tiny girl was growing.
Marcia went into the living room to find Leo watching a baseball game. "I'm calling her Lena, Leo. I'm calling the tiny girl Lena."
"That's nice, Marcia." Leo turned his head toward her, but his eyes remained on the screen. "Tell me the bird names later, okay?"
Marcia began, "She's not a…" But she turned away.
Weeks passed and the tiny girl continued to grow. When Marcia placed her laundry rack near the feeder, Lena flew to it and began to twirl on its smooth rounded bars. It wasn't long before Lena outgrew the rack and Lena fashioned a bigger bar from a broomstick.
One night, Marcia lay awake thinking about the bars the Olympic gymnasts used on TV. The next day, she phoned and phoned while Lena twirled and twirled, until she found and bought a set of uneven bars.
She went into the living room. "I spent a lot of money on some gym equipment for Lena, Leo," Marcia said. "It's for Lena." Leo wasn't even in the room. Marcia smiled.
Marcia assembled the bars in the yard, next to the snack table she now used to serve Lena's meals. Lena was eating more each day, but with all that twirling and leaping, Marcia knew she needed her energy.
When Lena saw the bars, she sprung to them with a squeal, twirling, flipping and doing handstands in new ways, but several times, she slipped and fell. Marcia thought and thought and remembered the TV gymnasts at a big bowl on a pedestal, clapping and poufing special powder onto their hands. She went to town to buy some.
Marcia came home to find Lena sitting on the ground, the corners of her pixie lips downturned, no hint of the usual sparkle in her eyes. When she saw the rosin, she lit up and covered her palms and the bar with the powder. Now Lena began spinning in earnest, but she winced each time she jumped down. That's when Marcia remembered the bouncy mats and she bought one the very next day. Now, there was nothing to stop Lena from soaring.
It was a Thursday in August when Lena did not come back. Marcia waited four more days, hoping, but she knew.
She walked into the living room. "She's gone, Leo," Marcia said. "Lena's gone."
Leo did not reply.
Marcia stepped up onto the coffee table. "Answer me, Leo. Answer me right now."
"Can't it wait, Marcia?" Leo said. "I'm watching the Olympics. Look at that ad, Marcia. Now that would be a great bottle cap to get."
Marcia took a deep breath. She jumped down from the table, landing solidly on two feet, threw her arms up and back, and thrust her hips forward with a small leap. She turned her body and hopped to the left, then to the right, before she straightened her skirt and walked out of the room. She picked up a small suitcase and walked to her car. Marcia rosined her hands and the steering wheel, held her head high, popped a bright smile at the windshield, and drove away.
Lydia Fazio Theys studied to be an astronomer, co-founded a software company in 1976 that was “a player” and now writes for a living. Among the places her work has appeared, online and in print: Cezanne's Carrot, flashquake, Opium, Yankee Pot Roast, Mad Hatter's Review and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her work has been selected for several anthologies, read on KRCB public radio in California, and used as inspiration for a dance by the Junction Dance Theater in Pittsburgh. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two possibly-human cats and a toothless, hairless, epileptic Italian Greyhound.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I have been interested in exploring what happens when ordinarily passive people reach a point at which passivity stops working for them. I’m also attracted to the idea of writing what are essentially children’s stories for adults.
Belly of the Whale
by Ashley Inguanta
followed by Q&A
I am in your hometown singing all the songs you used to love, all electric and big, big hair. I hitched a ride here with a man. I’m in the back of his pickup, leaning into the driver’s seat. He smells like wheat, metal.
He says, Why you singing that?
I say, Because I miss her.
He says, You miss her. Why.
I say, What’s it to you.
I press my lips to his neck. I shake, but I keep my mouth soft, loose, so still I can sing. This man, he’s so gold he’s California, vast, sided by ocean and pulled by moon.
He taps the steering wheel while I make music. He says, I wonder what it takes to write a song. I want to ask the man questions. I want him to say, I know you love her, it will be okay, it will. Instead I keep singing, electric—my lips on this man’s neck, my hand on his shoulder. The air’s so thick it’s like I’m being cradled in the belly of the whale. The moon’s all neon, booming. The man keeps quiet now, like God. I slide my hand down, slipping my fingernail into his forearm, into his skin. The world outside’s all field and water.
Ashley Inguanta is a Florida-based writer, photographer, and editor. Keep up to date with her publications and travels at ashleyinguanta.com
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: We are wilting, warping wood. We ache, a plum bruise. We hurt like Earth hurt when she caught orbit. We love like the moon loved when she held on.
Frog Chartreuse, Toad Wart Brown, Fern Frond Emerald
by Lisa Cihlar
followed by Q&A
Moss woman rolled in her burrow under the cedars. A wet day, a fog day, a green and gray day. The rain tempered through the boughs to a drip and drizzen. There was a yawn. She pinned up the hair on the back of her neck and tasted the bark tea. Tannin bitter and tongue curling perfect. The titmice were fledging, fluttering down to take seeds from her lips. Her lover left before dawn. He drove his pickup to the quarry. Blasted gravel shards for yards. His face his hands all scarred and sacred to her all night long. She could find him wounded in the dark. She murmured words of damp things and ferny. The sodden sheets cooled. He poured his boots outside her stoop where she walked barefoot and memory cut her feet to frays.
Lisa J. Cihlar’s poems have been published in The South Dakota Review, Green Mountains Review, In Posse Review, Bluestem, and The Prose-Poem Project. One of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, “The Insomniac’s House,” is available from Dancing Girl Press, and a second chapbook “This is How She Fails,” will be published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2012. She lives in rural southern Wisconsin.
Q: What can you tell us about the inspiration for this piece?
A: I love writing prose poems because I can get very surreal yet the reader, hopefully, buys into the images. In this piece all the wet and green contrasts with the scarred lover, cut up by flying quarry rock. That duet is going on in the outside world of the poem and in the bed of the characters.
by Maya Stein
followed by Q&A
The billboard on the highway said it would be
Judgment Day, so I suppose I should have thought twice
about taking the subway, lest the power fail
and humanity begin its terrible unraveling underground.
But not a hitch delayed the departure
or arrival of the J Church, and I rise out of the
Van Ness steps buffeted by a strong bay wind.
Two miles away, a baseball game
is in its first optimistic innings, but here the streets
are almost deserted, the parking lot of the conservatory
a skeleton of its weekday twin.
If this turns out to be my last evening on earth,
I muse, at least there will be music.
And soon, a young man takes the stage, suit-
and-tied 17-year-old, and begins, by heart,
Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor. I wish my father
was sitting next to me – I can already imagine the
glee in his face, the way his own fingers would begin
their pantomime on his lap, remembering. At intermission,
we would reminisce about the duets we played,
and there would be a moment I’d admit regretting stopping altogether,
watching this boy-man coax stories out of the keys, and wonder
if perhaps I took a wrong turn somewhere, or left prematurely,
fearing the discipline or disappointment, whichever came first.
And then I would remember, no, this is exactly where I needed to be,
listening, listening, leaning back into my squeaky seat and simply
The concert continues, unapocalyptic. The building doesn’t fall.
Night slides by like it always does, one hour, then another.
There is still time enough for everything,
and I know this because when the boy-man takes his bow
it’s clear the story hasn’t ended, all that is yet to be written
and played, waiting waiting waiting, on the tip of his fingers,
at the doorway, on the stairs, in the empty parking lot,
on the rustling tracks and on early summer bleachers,
under this dark and possible sky.
Maya Stein is a poet and writer currently living in Amherst, Massachusetts. She facilitates writing workshops live and online at www.feralwriting.com, plays pickup basketball every Tuesday, and runs a crepe stand at the local farmers’ market.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: It was May 21, 2011, and I remember this strange state of suspension in San Francisco, where I was living at the time, all this hubbub around the end of the earth. But walking into that conservatory concert, it all fell away, and I sank into the music and the boy’s hands dancing on those piano keys and I felt so incredibly lucky, and that even if the world as I know it was coming to a close, I could at least know I was witness to something beautiful before I had to go.