Prime Decimals 19.2

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A Note from the Institute for Underground Studies

by Robert P. Kaye

followed by Q&A

If I’d had enough money to really drink, I wouldn’t have noticed the man in the tweed coat and bow tie emerge from behind the section of wainscoting that opened like an invisible door. I’d nursed my microbrew for hours in the bistro, tracking the delivery of every plate of my favorite appetizer, built with figs, pork, and goat cheese, while fending off an incipient asthma attack. The waiter had given up on me hours before.  

The man who stepped from behind the wall caught my gaze and strolled across the room, a fist of keys chiming at his belt. The miasma of mold and earth that accompanied him reminded me that this subbasement constituted part of our underground past, created when slag and sawdust filled in the tide flats, submerging the old city below modern street level. “Mind if I join you?” he said.

“Please.” I motioned to the chair, desperate for human contact.  

“I couldn’t help noticing.” He pointed to my beer. “No trace of carbonation. Silverware unused. You could have sat at the bar if you wanted company.”

“Too much light,” I said.

He sat back. “Walter Denton.” He extended his hand. “PhD.” 

“Ellis Pine,” I said as we shook. “Former Adjunct Professor, Comparative Literature.” To distract him, I pointed to the badge clipped to his pocket emblazoned with the initials “IUS” and a logo of a manhole cover. “What’s that?” 

“Institute for Underground Studies.” He chucked his head toward the wall. “Come. I’ll show you.”

I looked at the unpaid check and thought: what the hell? 

By the time I reached the wall, Dr. Denton had disappeared. I clawed open a seam in the boards and stepped inside a vaulted brick passageway. The door shut, enveloping me in subterranean darkness. A click produced a small light dancing over the bricks, averting my claustrophobic panic. “Wear this.” A hard hat with a headlamp jammed onto my head. “And please, watch your step.”

Dr. Denton’s light disappeared around the end of the wall. Horrified at the prospect of being left in the dark, I followed, stumbling down flagstone steps that were once a front entryway and into a high-ceilinged sewer vault. Dripping water produced strange acoustical effects against the distant breakers of traffic rushing overhead. Sickly heat radiated from a steam pipe. Two stories up, near sidewalk level, mercury-vapor light bleeding through a grate silhouetted a nest of ferns. I swallowed fear with every step, my breathing ragged. 

A wooden door opened into a room with a tarnished mirror-backed bar. The bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling failed to illuminate the corners of the room and the figures in the shadows. 

I expected to be mugged, but remembered that the cash in my pocket was the last to my name. If they robbed me, the joke was on them. I clutched the inhaler in my coat pocket like a pistol.  

“Who’s this, Walter?” somebody said.

“Maybe one of us,” Dr. Denton replied. “His name is Ellis Pine.” 

My eyes adjusted and I saw that none of the half dozen people in the room would be out of place at a poetry reading or art house movie. 

“How do you know he doesn’t have a perfectly good life?” said an older woman with grey hair and a voice like my late mother’s. 

“How do you know he’s not a cop?” said a young man with a fringe of red beard that caught the light. 

“Look at him,” a gruff-voiced man answered. 

Titters swirled through the shadows.

“You don’t have a job,” Dr. Denton said. “Do you?”

“Not recently,” I said. Or retirement fund, or wife, or house or bank account or unemployment checks. 

“It’s the desperation in the eyes,” Dr. Denton said. “Unmistakable.”

“I’m a little confused,” I said—terrified perhaps more precise.

“In this day and age, perfectly respectable people are driven underground,” Dr. Denton said.

“We’re an economic footnote,” said a man in a Greek fisherman’s cap. “Omitted in the revised edition.”

“An invisible population,” said a woman. “With keys.” Jingling echoed off the walls.

I had the bizarre notion they might burst into song like a Broadway musical—hysterically funny, were I not perched on the verge of panic. A rat squeaked somewhere close to my ankles. “Was that a rat?” I said, airways constricting as I danced to the center of the light. “I’m terrified of rats.” 

“A musophobic,” Dr. Denton said. “Hum.”

“We’re not so very different from the rats,” said the woman who sounded like my mother. “They like their burrows. They’re intelligent, family oriented, and dangerous only when backed into a corner.”

I almost fled through the passageways back to the restaurant, but realized that the dregs of my beer would have been cleared, the table wiped, the check written off to petty theft. The waiter would recognize me and raise the alarm.  

Terrified or not, I decided I might be safer underground. My airways relaxed. I breathed easier. 



Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in over thirty publications including Monkeybicycle, Per Contra, Staccato Fiction, Green Mountains Review, Forge, Denver Syntax, Cicada, The Delinquent, Snake Nation Review and others, with nominations for Pushcart, Best of the Web, and Story South prizes. His novel Taking Candy from the Devil, about coffee, Bigfoot and trebuchets, is published online. Links appear at together with a blog about mankind’s bipolar relationship with technology. He writes, works, and juggles in the Emerald City.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: A release event for a local publication featuring a friend’s story took place in a wood paneled basement pub with the usual collection of misfit literary types in attendance, including a poet in a top hat and scarf straight out of the 1850s. It struck me what a struggle art is, pressed by recession and the forces or rationality, and how wonderful to be surrounded by those who trade in the currency of imagination. Wouldn’t it be cool if a man popped out from behind the wainscoting to serve as an escort into an underground society of arts and letters refugees? Writing the story became a matter of following the guide behind the wall through passageways, sewers and into a dimly lit room.

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London Calling

by John Duncan Talbird

followed by Q&A

You drop the needle, there’s a loud scratch, and then the guitars and drums of the Sex Pistols burst out of the speakers, Johnny Rotten sneering God save the queen! The fascist regime! The party, which has been tame, is suddenly anarchy, boys slamming into each other, tipping over tables, spilling beer, neighbors pounding on the wall to shut that noise off. When you picked up that record last month, I was like, man, don’t buy that shit, get the new Led Zep album, but you don’t listen. You also bought that Clash import, Armagideon Time, which doesn’t sound like rock or punk or anything good to me, and if you play it one more time I’ll puke.

But the girls seem to like this noise for some reason, though they won’t slam. Geena, who totally makes me want to orgasm, has put a safety pin through her ear lobe and dyed her hair pink. When you knock me on the carpet, I just lie there, staring up her Catholic schoolgirl skirt. I’ve come to this party armed with a condom and I’m ready for whatever comes my way. 

Hey Geena, I say from where I am, I’ll buy you an order of fries if you give me a blowjob.

Ha ha, you’re fuckin’ crackin’ me up, she says, not bothering to step away though I can see her pink, frilly panties from here. 

The girls all leave soon and, not long after, I’m vomiting in the toilet until I have nothing left to throw up. Lying on the cracked tile of your bathroom floor, I can hear Robert Plant sing Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true and, I think, Now, that’s what I’m talking about. 



John Duncan Talbird’s fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in Ploughshares, South Carolina Review, Grain, and descant among others. An English professor at Queensborough Community College, he has held writing residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He is on the editorial board of Green Hills Literary Lantern and a frequent contributor to Quarterly Review of Film and Video. He lives in Brooklyn. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: I’m working on a collection of sudden fictions (stories under 2000 words), tentatively titled Fancies, Games, and Random Documents. Although my fiction is not strictly autobiographical, I would like to think that “London Calling” touches on that time in my life when I was just discovering punk rock and my hesitations about—and ultimate powerlessness against—its raucous charm.

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The Lists

by Brian Conlon

followed by Q&A

They started making lists of things. Not just lists, but ordered lists, lists with subsections, lists with hypothetical adjustments, lists with variables, inverted and averaged lists, abstract lists in which the items overlapped spatially and were nearly illegible, improvised lists that flowed directly from their pens but somehow bypassed their minds, three dimensional lists formed of play-doh and candy corn, frozen lists that melted into oblivion and were resurrected by memory, lists sculpted into the pavement, lists kept in separate and distinct folders on an external hard drive on the hardwood floor, lists traced into the pond up the street where the crows never swam, lists of women, lists of men, lists of wars, lists of dangerous animals, lists of friendly people, lists of teeth, lists of sandwich bread, lists of new crayon colors, lists of real colors, shaded lists impervious to the sun, sparkling lists that glowed in the dark, patriotic lists of presidents, secretaries of state, and treasury, chronological lists of stuffed animals they had owned, lists of the names of the Kings of France in order of how feminine their most famous portrait looked, lists of gymnasts by height, lists of foliage burned before it got too rotten, lists of orange trees they passed on the highway one summer, lists of jokes they once found funny, lists of dead siblings they imagined they had, lists of venereal diseases they’d heard of, lists of lists arranged by date and length and form and desirability and creativity and type of paper used, lists of gang members they had been threatened by, lists of television dramas they had been threatened by, frantic lists constructed in under a minute, methodical lists that took years to perfect and were still not right, lists of regrets, lists of achievements, lists of regretful achievements, lists of their friends’ children ordered from most to least likely to get suspended from school for biting someone, lists of cornered hats, a cornered hat that they had formed into a list through ingenuity and rare-bloodedness, frustrated lists that began and ended with one word, planned lists that would eclipse anything they had ever actually made, fermented lists that got them drunk and eased their minds, lists of designated drivers who drank anyway, lists of Christmas tree garnish they hung carefully, lists of famous salespeople from literature, lists of literature they had been given by famous salespeople, religious lists with meaning, lists of nonsense words, lists of areas where it might be painful to get a piercing, lists of post-modern architects, lists of pre-Roman civil engineers, lists of great oral surgeons, lists of poor dieticians, curved lists that started and ended at the same point, dense lists that had their own slight gravitational pull, floating lists that waded through the air in hopes of landing on a shingle, rolling lists that could sprain your ankle, cavernous lists that were never finished, lists of the one thing that meant something to them, lists of the many things that seemed to mean something to them, long lists of ways to die, short lists of ways to live, affectionate lists passed on without reciprocity, angry lists swallowed whole and regurgitated, lists of quarterbacks from most to least helmet-savvy, lists of millions and millions of irrelevant documents piled high in a law firm library, lists of corrupt village politicians arranged by facial hair and color, lists of benevolent dictators, lists of passive-aggressive cleaning ladies, lists of poorly dressed CEOs, lists of continuing education courses at the local high school, fried lists with gravy, corny lists of cartoon characters’ mothers in order of their pie-making abilities, lists of sordid scenes in PG movies, lists of innocent scenes in pornographic movies, lists of failed spokesmen, lists of successful businesswomen, lists of heart breaks, lists of types of heart attacks, lists of hybrid musical instruments, lists of portable housing units, lists of strong perfumes, lists of weak Constitutions, choreographed lists whose beauty was only surpassed by their functionality, stagnant lists that never changed, lists that constantly changed, lists of Gods, houses, sunsets, daydreams, cookies, body parts, broken bones, severed limbs, poor children starving to death, lists of great heroes, lists of innocuous people, and lists of things that might have been done if not for the fact that they had been busy making lists.  



Brian Conlon is a short story writer from Rochester, NY. He holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Comparative Literature from the University of Rochester and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. His fiction has recently appeared in The Green Bag, Lowestoft Chronicles, Knee-Jerk and Precipitate. He resides in Rochester, where he is currently hitting .750 in beer league softball. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This piece was inspired by the simple notion that it is pleasurable to make and read lists. It was written basically in one sitting and originally intended to be one single-spaced page. However, I was having too much fun making the list that is “The Lists” to stop. 

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Post-Mortem Survey

by Michael Kriesel

followed by Q&A

(Must be completed prior to processing)

1.On exiting the mortal coil, what did you see?

a)White light and / or dead relatives

b)Leviathan’s 3rd testicle


2.Which ice cream were you given on arrival?


b)Peanut Butter Buddha


3.Question 2 was a trick question. 

The only available flavor is worm.

4.Who did you blame for your weight problem? (Remember, ghosts are weightless)

a)Republicans     b) Democrats     c) Mirrors

5.What was your childhood nickname?


6.If you had to give God a nickname, what would it be?


7.On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 for love and 1 for loathe, rate the following by circling the appropriate number:


Free will       1  2  3  4  5


Aging           1  2  3  4  5


Uncertainty  1  2  3  4  5


8.Complete the following sentence: “If I had to do it all over again, I would…”


9.Complete the following sentence: “If I had to do it all over again, I would not…”


10.What makes you a candidate for reincarnation? (Limit your response to 50 words)


11.What makes you a candidate for oblivion? (Limit your reply to one haiku)







Thank you for your cooperation. Travel safely.


Michael Kriesel’s work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly, Antioch Review,  Rattle, North American Review, and the Progressive. He won the 2011 Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest, the 2009 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Muse Prize, and the 2004 Lorine Niedecker Poetry Prize from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. He was featured poet for the 2010 Great Lakes Writers Festival. Books include Chasing Saturday Night: Poems About Rural Wisconsin (Marsh River Press) and Moths Mail the House (Sunnyoutside). He was journalist in the Navy in the 1980s. He’s currently a janitor at the rural elementary school he once attended.



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: I’m fifty, and at this stage (the last few years), first drafts are easy, and the majority of my time is spent playing around, revising a poem. Writing is easy and fun. Meanwhile, I’ve really come to a love / hate view of poetry…doubting its worth anymore. It’s gotten to where I try to quit writing entirely, a couple times a year. But no such luck. 

Every time I try to quit, a month or so goes by, and a poem rises spontaneously, pretty much dictated full-blown by my subconscious. These are usually keepers. Part of it comes from the fact that I get so disgusted with poetry that I just don't give a shit anymore, and ironically, that often results in something fresh (for me). “Post-Mortem Survey” is one such “freebie”—two drafts and done. Such a fun idea I couldn’t just throw it away. I spent more time screwing around with the underline function on my computer than I did actually writing the poem. 

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Dexatrim: An Autobiography

by Ira Sukrungruang

followed by Q&A

You’re losing weight. 

You’re a fox, a cheetah, a wolf, sleek and slippery; not a sloth

that clings to trees like elastic used to round 

your waist. You’re looking good. 

You’re cinching that belt tight, cutting off blood 

to the brain, to the extremities, to the heart 

—but what the fuck do you care?—

’cause have you seen yourself in the mirror? Your chin is one

chin. You’re no longer a multi-layered galaxy, a vast space

of fat and blood blister black holes.

Your eyes, red and sunken, no longer blink, 

but that’s fine, and that jiggling leg of yours

has not stilled in days, but shit,

you’re a stick of handsome happiness. You’re a dehydrated dog,

lapping attention. You’re someone 

you used to dream about, you’re someone

who used to dream. 


But why do you look 

hungry, ravenous really, 

a bear about to wake?

You’re happyhappy, 

aren’t you?

Then explain the storm

in your mouth, the tremble,

the sleepless nights.

Explain the rattle in

the bottle of your pocket.

Explain your vanishing. 



Ira Sukrungruang is the author of Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy. His work has appeared in North American Review, Post Road, Crab Orchard Review and other literary journals. He teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida and is the founding editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection ( For more information about him please visit:



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Dexatrim was a difficult poem to write in that I wanted it to capture the diluted voice of the speaker a person who did not know what his obsession about his body was doing to him. It’s a poem that relies on internal rhythms and an unawareness of consequence. For many people who suffer from body image related issues this voice is the one that often echoes in the head, a voice that is terrifying to confront.

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He just stands there and breathes . . .

by Alice Lowe

followed by Q&A

You’ve heard this one: A man retires, he’s underfoot and driving his wife crazy. “I married him for better or worse,” she says, “not for lunch.” 


I took early retirement four years ago after working almost non-stop since I was sixteen, through my senior year in high school, through college, right up to my daughter’s birth and returning to work just weeks later. After years of being “on” all day every day for colleagues and clients, I withdrew to read, write, sketch, garden, putter, rearrange tchotchkes, stare at walls. When writing became my priority, I centered my time and space around it. Home became my haven.

I’d always lived with other people, from family to roommates to husband and child. After my first marriage ended and my daughter struck out on her own, I moved into a shared housing arrangement. Then, finally, I got—with homage and apologies to Virginia Woolf—a womb of my own: a cozy 400-square-foot apartment. Cobalt blue tiles greeted me from my tiny kitchenette when I walked in the door, an azure pool in my private paradise. 

Then I met Don. He lived in another city, so we saw each other just on weekends. A friend said that I had the best of both worlds. She called Don my “Ken doll.” After we had our fun, I could put him in his shoebox and slide it under the bed until I wanted to play with him again. If that sounds sexist or a little creepy, it’s just to say that I still treasured my independence, my solitary nest, and this arrangement was ideal. But when everything’s wonderful, you want to be together, and after a four-year commuter romance, we’ve been married for fourteen. 


Don is a painter and a musician, but like most artists he has to have a day job. He’s still several years from retirement, and his four-day-a-week job suited us financially and gave him time to devote to his own work. And sometimes there’s a painting commission or a playing gig—boosts to our income and recognition for his talents. Then last year when business was slow at the shop, he was cut back to three days a week. Then two. Anyone who says the economy is in recovery is rich and/or out of touch with reality. Before we had a chance for it to soak in—just a couple of days later—his boss called and said, “Sorry…” and laid Don off. We’re better off than so many in these circumstances. We’ll manage. But it means tightening our belt, even though we thought it was already on the final notch. Just punch another hole ... suck it in, just a little more, squeeze.…



He’s home. 

All day. 

Every day. 



A cartoon on our refrigerator shows a couple strolling on a tree-lined path, his arm around her shoulder. The caption reads: “Let’s get away from each other this weekend.” That’s us. We love our time together, and we love our time apart. I don’t want to be with him, or anyone, around the clock, every day. A couple we know seems joined at the hip; an attorney and an accountant, they share both home and office. That’s too much togetherness for us.


But now. 

He’s home. 

Every day. 

All day.


After breakfast and our morning walks—sometimes together, sometimes separate—he goes to work in his studio, our converted garage. I write at my desk, which faces the studio. Our house is very small. I see him moving around, coming in and out the back door. I hear the toilet flush, the fridge open and shut. He isn’t lurking; he’s just there. 

He sits on the patio, just outside my window, and plays his guitar. I enjoy it, but it’s distracting. He reads in the living room, plays with the cats, just a few feet away from where I’m working. He clears his throat. He turns pages. I try to keep my focus, but I get sidetracked. It’s not his fault, but I’ve written less since he’s been home. 

He just stands there and breathes.

He doesn’t stand over my shoulder and say, “Whatcha doin’?” Well, hardly ever. Some mornings he asks, “So, what are you up to today?” I sigh, make a face, a facetious remark: “Duh! What do you think?” or “Oh gee, I think I’ll write today!” He doesn’t bristle, doesn’t return my barbs; he doesn’t have my sarcastic streak, thank god. One smartass per household is enough. 

But then sometimes I tell him what I’m writing, show him my work, ask for feedback, lap it up. Or look at sketches for his latest series of paintings or listen to an arrangement for a new CD. And I think how fortunate I am to have someone to share it all with. Don’t we just have it good? Until my inner Garbo nudges me and murmurs huskily: “I want to be alone.” 


We’re working it out a day at a time. Don’s happy, enjoying this gift of time. He likes having me nearby doing my own thing, although my presence in the window disarms him a bit, too. He’ll go back to work one of these days, and I’ll bask in solitude, even burst with productivity. But sometimes I wonder if I’m settling into a groove. I can’t believe I’m really saying this, yet I know that there will be days when I finish a first or a final draft of a story, and I’ll wish he was here, right now, to read it. To be Leonard to my Virginia. “What do you think, huh?” Or I’ll get an acceptance from a journal, and I’ll want to pop into the studio and say “Woo-hoo!” 


But I’m not ready. 

Not yet. 

And he’s still there….



Alice Lowe is a freelance writer in San Diego. Her creative nonfiction has appeared this past year in Hobart, Eclectica, Foliate Oak, r.kv.r.y and Tiny Lights, and is forthcoming in Phoebe and City Works. In addition, she was the winner of a 2011 essay contest at Writing It Real. She has published essays and reviews on the life and work of Virginia Woolf, including the 2010 monograph, "Beyond the Icon: Virginia Woolf in Contemporary Fiction." She has a blog of her own:, and is a regular contributor to



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

A: I was telling a friend about how difficult it was to have my husband home so much, telling her that he was very considerate & didn’t interfere with my work, but “he just stands there and breathes.” As soon as I said it, I knew I was going to write about it.

Prime Decimals 19.3

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by Brian Bahouth

followed by Q&A


Click on the link to listen to "Ambrosia"



Brian Bahouth is a longtime public radio reporter, on-air host and short story writer. He has been adapting his fiction to audio since 1999, and from his studio in Reno, NV, he continues to study how crafted sounds, musical elements and spoken words combine to create meaning.  Brian also edits and produces My Audio Universe—a literary magazine of sound.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: When humans interact with bears, the incidents are defining moments for both species, and so it is in “Ambrosia,” a bear story from the Lake Tahoe basin.

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Come to the Table

by Nancy Hightower

followed by Q&A

We learn to live underground, in whatever tunnels can be etched out. My father and I are at Mesa Verde, the Green Table. The tour guide, whose badge tells us in big printed letters that her name is AMY, explains how the Anasazi disappeared mysteriously in 1300. This baffles archaeologists, as well as my father, who want answers—signs of a massacre or famine or migration. Amy continues to rattle off astonishing facts none of us will remember while Dad mumbles something about me needing to find a place to stay for Christmas. No matter, I say. I’ll probably be too busy skiing to want to come home. This is a lie. I loathe skiing—the heights, the cold, the possibility of falling.

My father’s grimace relaxes into a half-hearted smile. Poor thing. Now is not the time to tell him, trapped here in this tourist minefield of ancient ruins, that he’s already lost me. Mesa Verde boasts of 600,000 visitors a year. Come in the summer, and those statistics will be wearing straw hats and flip flops, Hawaiian shirts with Slurpee stains. They believe in car camping, showers, real bathrooms with toilet paper. They are delighted to find the rugged west so photogenically preserved and roped off. Some pant heavily as they walk up trails and stone steps, smelling sweet and sour as perfume mixes with sweat. Dad is slightly out of breath, his bald head turning too pink. I imagine Susan’s face turning a similar shade when she yells at him for forgetting sunscreen, that he never thinks straight when he’s with me. 

The remnants of kivas at Arches, Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep are nothing compared to the one we are visiting, Cliff Palace. Two hundred and seventeen rooms in twenty-three kivas: the New York of Anasazi cities. I wonder if the disappeared are still here, gathered and waiting for wandering souls. No matter. My knees creak as I begin to climb down one of the ladders. The kiva is deep and kept in shadow—ancient air conditioning. Look up and smile. I stare into sunlight, make out a black form holding a camera and remember the myth that looking straight into an eclipse will cause blindness. A flash of light and then a furious kind of blinking to make the bright dots go away. Dad reappears. Magic. Beside him a small shadow seems to shimmy away into the light. I rub my eyes to get rid of residual stars and doppelgangers. Damn that flash. 

Come on, there’s more to see, Dad says and goes through another low arch. The remains of the rooms and towers look like broken stairs, seem to twist up like an Escher painting, leading into dark corridors. The signs say not to touch or climb, leave no sign we were there. Dad beckons to a man standing nearby to take a picture of us with the dwellings in the background, his hand waving me to come over. Muscles tense as he puts his arm around me, and now my mouth stretches into acceptable grin even as I think about that shadow. Had the flash recorded what I had wanted? Another burst of light. I detect movement in one of the doorways, a young woman. Her dress is all wrong—made of cotton and fitted so loosely it must be cinched by what can only be a belt made of hair. The necklace that dangles at her breast is made from stones rather than beads. A moment of enlightenment. Since when did they hire actors? I ask, pointing. It’s too hot, Dad says, shaking his head, and I turn to see only the threshold cut in half by shadow and sun. We often see what we want instead of what’s really there, but still I move away from his arm, ready to follow her. Dad tugs at my elbow, didn’t you want to go to the gift shop? 

We are met with a rush of icy air as the door opens, and I head over to the gift books and leather journals. When I was working at the lodge a few months back, my father mailed me a partial of his diary—fifty pages badly photocopied and stapled together, coffee stain on the title page. Just so you understand all this was never about you, the post-it on top had said. On page twelve he devotes a paragraph to the affair he had while I was at boarding school. Susan kicked my father out of the bed, so he slept in my room for two weeks. Once invited back, he still used my pillow until Susan screamed at him to leave me out of their bedroom. Always, I am behind their minds, a soft thing to rest their weary heads on and smother all their hurts with.

Dad comes over with a handful of postcards to buy, and points at the arrowheads sitting next to the books. I collected those when I was your age, but forgot to bring them with me to college. Dumbest mistake I ever made since they got thrown out in the move which reminds me—can you stay with a roommate over Spring Break too because I’m not sure it would be good to come home just yet but let’s not think about that now since it’s your eighteenth birthday and you get to decide where to go for dinner tonight. He babbles something about writing a letter a week as we retrace our steps through the kivas once more on the way to the car. Once past the first ladder, I see another shadow by the doorway. Two, actually. I slow my steps. The smaller one beckons me to enter the murky room, where I can see nothing past their shadows. Even their faces are blurred—I only see the indentations of eyes, the slight curve of a nose. The smaller one is wearing a stone necklace that gleams in the darkness. My father has walked on ahead, still talking as if I was by his side. But this is Mesa Verde, a dry land full of ravaged souls, shape-shifters who understand home is what you make it. Their bodies part slightly as the taller one turns to go, and this time, I follow them into the dark. 



Nancy Hightower’s fiction has appeared in Bourbon Penn, Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. She is the art columnist for Weird Fiction Review and teaches the rhetorics of the grotesque and fantastic at the University of Colorado.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: I went to a college near the Four Corners area, so the myths of the Anasazi and the spirituality of the desert really inspired a sense of place in the story.

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by Ross McMeekin

followed by Q&A

Babies have a fear of falling even when they’re in the womb, said Gustavo. He sat on the stern of the twelve-foot Zodiac. One hand held the handlebar throttle of a four-stroke Honda, the other a can of Rainier. 

Bullshit, said Jacoby. How could they even prove that? He sipped on his and shifted his weight to the port side pontoon. 

They paced along the no-wake zone of Shilshole marina, through the smell of saltwater and exhaust, passing rows of sailboats and cruisers on one side and a slag-pile jetty on the other. It was nine a.m.

Moro reflex, said Gustavo. It’s when their hands fly into the air, like they’re startled, like when people go down a waterslide or something. Babies do this in the womb, at eight months. No shit. Consuela got up from her chair one day last week and she felt the baby freaking out inside of her. Then it happened again a few hours later. She called the nurse and that’s what she told her. Moro reflex.


Yeah. Nurse said they think it’s the only unlearned fear response humans have.

Gustavo steered the Zodiac around the jetty and revved the engine. Outside, water the color of shale made jagged little disorganized peaks, big enough to clump against the bottom of the boat but little else. Beyond, a fog bank hid the Olympic Mountains and half of Bainbridge Island. Containers, Cruisers, and Trawlers littered the Sound. 

Consuela told her dad about it, said Gustavo. He used it in his sermon last Sunday, as proof of intelligent design.

How? It could just as easily be proof of a lot of other stuff.

Something in the Bible about God knitting babies together in their mother’s wombs. He did a good job.

Were you convinced?

Of the fact that he’s a good preacher.

Makes it sound nice, huh? 

But then there’s the hell stuff.

Right. The real purpose of the Moro reflex. Jacoby lifted up his beer to toast. 


They cruised around Meadow Point toward Carkeek. Beyond, fog obscured the rest of Bainbridge Island and a quarter of the straight with watercolor blots of gray. 

Know what’s weird? Sometimes I’m jealous of Consuela’s dad being convinced and all, said Gustavo. That’s a pretty big thing to have figured out.

I don’t trust it.

Yeah. I hear that. Once in college I thought I was. Convinced, I mean. Well, maybe I was. Anyways, I held on for a while but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I wasn’t anymore, no matter how much I wanted to be.

Jacoby finished his beer. Do you think Consuela’s dad is really convinced? I mean really? I think about those people sitting on their couch or something at two in the morning watching infomercials and wonder how convinced they are then.

When nothing is at stake.

Right. Or everything.

Jacoby opened up the tackle box at his feet and began fingering through flashers and lures. Purple, he said. Dark day, dark colors.

Grab me a blue.

Fog covered half of the bay. A small green-and-white passenger train appeared around the point at Carkeek then clacked by the large Cape Cod-style homes lining the shoreline.

I know Consuela has her doubts, said Gustavo, but she doesn’t have the heart to say it, at least to her dad. I don’t know. To answer your question, the old man might be convinced. But there’s that thing where if you lie to yourself enough, you eventually believe it. Carve a path through your brain for the thoughts to travel.

But the doubt is still somewhere in there. He just never visits it.

Sure. I guess. Maybe. I mean, I don’t really know how this shit works.

The fog arrived, interrupting their vision, settling on their hands and faces and pearling on their coats. Foghorn blasts erupted out in the bay—the ships doing their duty to let everyone know their location and build. 

Gustavo slowed the outboard to trolling speed. They unclicked the stops on their reels and let the weight spin the line out through the spools and pull it down into the water. They could barely see beyond the ends of their poles.

I’ll do the honors, said Jacoby, pulling out an air horn.

I don’t know, man. Do you think it matters? said Gustavo.

Probably not. We’re pretty close to shore.

No. The whole Consuela and her father thing.

The god shit? 

I’m serious.

Jacoby pressed down on the air horn and let out a full two-second blast. That’s what I think. 

Gustavo shook his head.

Jacoby set down the horn. You’re all serious, he said. Wow. 

The long, sustained chord of a train whistle echoed through the fog. 

The thing is, it’s tough to ignore when the people around you are talking about it like it’s a done deal. Good people, said Gustavo.

Some of them.

Sure. But this baby girl, I wonder if we should baptize her or something. I’m sure Consuela and her dad think it’s a no brainer.

Baptize her?

I’m serious.

You feel like you should?

I know, I know. It’s weird. But I just want to be sure. For her.

Right. Moro reflex. Jacoby shrugged.

You’re such a cynic. I mean what do you think, really?

You missed your calling with the church.


Fine. Here’s my answer. I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the answer, right? Can it be anything else?

I don’t know.

That’s why I hate thinking about it, said Jacoby. The question is a fucking sinkhole. What if I had a heart attack and died right here—where would I go? I had some guy ask me that outside of the Seahawks game.

What did you tell him?

Hopefully wherever you’re not.

Gustavo leaned over and picked up his backpack and rustled around for something. He peeled out another beer and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

Are you crying? asked Jacoby.

Gustavo cleared his throat and spit off the port side. 

Did I say something?

Gustavo didn’t answer, kept looking over the side.

They fished for a couple of minutes.

Gustavo coughed. It’s just that’s the thing, he said. What if I end up somewhere and Consuela and the baby are somewhere else. I know—it sounds stupid. But that’s it.

Hey, I’m sorry man—

Don’t. It’s fine. It’s just how it is now.

The fog lasted twenty minutes. They jigged their lines and circled the shoreline. The whole time, all around them, intermittent horn blasts called out through the fog—ships making certain everyone knew they were still there.



Ross McMeekin’s stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Dark Sky Magazine, FRiGG, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Necessary Fiction, Connotation, and other fine journals. He is the assistant fiction editor at Hunger Mountain, lives in Seattle, and blogs at



Q: What can you tell us about this story?

A: I gathered the key bits of information that drive the metaphors in this story from a Coast Guard Auxiliary class and a study on infant brain development.

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Another Line About Death

by Mark DeCarteret

followed by Q&A

Soon I’ll have even less light

and less ways to put it having 

slept off the advances of the moon 

and sung my heart blue again 


slipping out just past dawn

from my plaster of Paris tomb

moth-costumed and addled

having looked at everything 


God looked except for the hallway 

in Hell where those who merely

played at evil simmered and paced

searched in vain for their breath,


and now am ready to remove

the spider sacs from my typewriter– 

cotton-throated thought-balloons

caught between timelines and up-   


holding yet another of these oddities–

how while one has grown older, evolved 

lots more of what was once us has  

not only been stolen, re-sentenced,


but lost on the white of the page, 

and yet what does this change… so there 

once was one word and then more of them? 

Other worlds that were fine seen as flat.



Mark DeCarteret’s work has appeared in the anthologies American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Press), Thus Spake the Corpse:  An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998 (Black Sparrow Press) and Under the Legislature of Stars: 62 New Hampshire Poets (Oyster River Press) which he also co-edited.  His fifth book Flap (Finishing Line Press) was released last year.     



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Stylus-eyes and then prods this most ironically treated of threads (thinnest ropes?) out through Bishop’s “black scrolls on the light” and then into some footage of Baudelaire’s Paris before a short stopover with his spirit-father Poe and those filmiest of eyes and then all of it tied up into this tidiest of knots (nooses?).

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The Feather in the Cellar

by Marcia Meier

followed by Q&A

In the clapboard house, the cellar

the laundry and shelves of canned goods

where once my mother wept, soft as a feather


Alone upon her tiny chair of wood

her face a sadness I could not touch

the laundry and shelves of canned goods


So solitary, the chair she clutched

tears washed her cheeks, stained her cotton blouse

her face a sadness I could not touch


I stood upon the stair in the house

What could I do? I could be good

tears washed her cheeks, stained her cotton blouse


Hidden, so small, a child who couldn’t

fix it, watching her among the dirty clothes

What could I do? I could be good


I knew no words to utter

in the clapboard house, the cellar

sitting among the dirty clothes, the clutter

where once my mother wept, soft as a feather



Marcia Meier has been a professional writer her entire career, but only began to write poetry seriously about five years ago. She has since had several poems published, and spent a semester studying poetry last year for her MFA. She says: "I used to consider myself strictly a free-verse poet, but discovered, much to my surprise, that I love writing in form."



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: “The Feather in the Cellar,” a terzanelle, came out of a series of exercises in style I did for my master’s degree program last fall. The series focuses on events that happened in the cellar of my childhood home, including this first time I saw my mother cry.

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Stature Quo

by Diana Geffner-Ventura

followed by Q&A

“Is Amos taller than me now, or are we still the same?” my eleven-year-old son, Julian, asked reflectively, as we lay awake in the darkness after the dust of the day had settled. Amos was our eight-year-old family friend.   

Julian thought for another beat. “Daisy is as tall as me now,” he continued, referring to our neighbor’s dainty nine-year-old daughter. “I hate my life,” he lamented. “It’s no fair. Everybody’s getting taller than me.”

Our son is, as my husband David and I often remind him, a big kid inside. He is boisterous, confident, and tenacious, no wilting flower. He is, in fact, not unlike a Rottweiler that sinks his teeth into our collective beings with unfaltering resolve, stalking us throughout the house, from room to room, in dogged pursuit of his latest must-haves: an I-Phone, a new Wii game, a hypo-allergenic puppy.

Almost daily, I find myself looking at short men, even seeking them out. One I know is the other parent in this house, but the others, strangers, are the men I look for to see how they have measured up as modest-sized men in their own lives. What have they achieved? Do they look relatively successful? Busy, involved, needed? Are they married? I look for a wedding band. Do they have kids? A man on the subway one recent morning had a young daughter hanging from his elbow, while his middle school-aged son, almost his height, gazed sullenly past him into the thick of the densely packed train.

Seven years ago at age four, Julian underwent a series of blood testing, including growth hormone stimulation, which revealed he was not deficient. Growth hormone injections were, therefore, not an option we wished to consider, first because we were concerned about hormone imbalance and the potential long-term effects, but also because the additional growth for kids who are not deficient would be negligible—one to three inches, if that, we were told. Furthermore, without this deficiency, shots would not be covered by insurance: without the medical necessity, the injections would be considered almost cosmetic, and would cost as much as $25,000 per year. 

Julian has also had several bone age analyses, wherein the left wrist is X-rayed to indicate how closely the wrist bones are fused together. There is a textbook standard for every age. So if the bone age of a six-year-old child is, say, that of a four-year-old, it would be two years delayed, as was the case with Julian a couple of years ago. It means that when most of his peers are finished growing at sixteen, for example, he will finish growing at eighteen. Pretty good news. If, on the other hand, a child’s bone age is the same as his chronological age, it means that he is right on target. This is fine for kids who are at least of average height on the growth chart. But if a child who stops growing at sixteen is significantly shorter than his peers, then that will be that—probably no catching up.

The most recent bone age tests reveal that Julian is about two years behind, which was indicated when we began this investigation seven years ago. He continues to follow his own curve, and he is growing, but not as much as a young child should, which is about two inches per year. But it’s appropriate to have this testing done as often as every six months, since the results show up differently from test to test. Meanwhile, the recent blood tests reveal that again, everything is normal, which is reassuring.  

Our endocrinologist says that when considering the heights of my husband and me, 5’6” and 5’4” respectively, Julian’s family height at maturity should be 5’7½”. At this rate, however, it’s not clear if he’ll make it that far. Idiopathic short stature is what they call it. But both David and I each have a tall parent, and tall siblings. Surely, our doctor can squeeze out a prediction of another few inches with this information, can’t she? What’s the mystery? What’s going on with those other inches? Clearly, nothing much is happening at all.

And hen there’s that inevitable question of self-esteem. How do children of short stature really feel about themselves? How do they fare among their peers? Does a child ever feel inferior because of his height or lack of it? Why not consider the toll this affliction can take on a child’s strong sense of self? Could it be that good mental health is merely cosmetic? According to studies, our doctor said, there is no indication that a person’s height has anything to do with his or her self-esteem. Indeed, as we have seen in Julian, apart from the occasional spark of indignation, this is surely the case.

I think of Chicago’s mayor and former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, successful at 5’7”. I run the occasional search on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) when a short actor pops into my head. Al Pacino, Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller are 5’7”. Dustin Hoffman: 5’5 ½.” Richard Dreyfuss: 5’5½”. Michael J. Fox: 5’4". Dudley Moore was only 5’2½”. Danny DeVito is only 5’. Even that extra half inch would have helped. But he did find his match in wife Rhea Perlman, another short actor who, after all these years, has loved him for all his diminutive might. Even though, according to IMDB, she has one-and-a-half inches on him.

And I think of my very own statistically short husband, who, among all the other, taller men I had known, had stuck out of the crowd. This man, who one evening, more than twenty years ago, walked into the packed jazz club where I served cocktails, pulled up a chair at the piano bar and confidently, without fanfare, ordered a beer. He continued his visits to the club, usually with the same, taller friend, on the many weekends that followed. I would occasionally forget to charge him for his drink, and ultimately, would hand him my phone number scrawled on a napkin. Looking back, I wonder what it was in this man that attracted me so. Was it his warm smile and the twinkle in his eyes? Was it his affable charm? The many interests we discovered we had in common? The way I always felt at ease—in fact, relieved—the moment he walked through the bar door?  It could have been any or all of those things. It certainly wasn’t his height, though, that’s for sure, which seems to have worked for me anyway.

To people whom we might meet on a bus, in a store, in our elevator, Julian has been lying about his age, downward. At first, it didn’t occur to me that he was covering his chronological butt.  However, I soon realized his need to save face. To avert that sinking feeling of helplessness he had so often felt after answering a friendly stranger’s innocuous question, ‘How old are you, seven?”  The typical reaction of astonishment he’d been receiving had taught Julian there had to be a better response than the truth.

Lately, though, it seems Julian’s been cutting himself a little slack. We popped into a diner a couple of weeks ago for an afterschool snack. The waitress came around with the usual water, place settings.  She smiled at Julian, who eyed me suspiciously: he knew what was coming.

“Hi sweetie…and how old are you?” she asked.

Julian’s furtive grin took hold.  “Eight,” he replied, snickering.

I joined him in laughter, impossible to resist.

The waitress was entertained, but a bit puzzled. “What’s so funny?  Why are you laughing?” she asked, trying to get in on the joke.

“Well,” I began, tentatively.  “Julian is really…”  I hesitated, looking to him for a sign of approval to give him up. Clearly, we were busted.

“Nine!”  Julian answered, the two of us still laughing. “I’m nine.”  

Having been caught in a web, he had managed to get closer to the truth while still holding his self-preserving ground. The laughter died, but the joke lingered. The waitress got it, the little bit that we gave her. I was relieved for my son. 

The next sizeable challenge in all of this will be middle school. A new sixth grader fresh from the minor leagues, Julian will undoubtedly spend the next three years quietly gauging how his growth, compared to that of his peers, is progressing. Maybe he will be the class mascot; or perhaps, he’ll have that unexpected growth spurt, and finally relinquish his long held status as the shortest kid in the grade. Whichever way it turns, we know this kid well. He will play on his sports teams, sing in the chorus forever in the front row at one end or another, voice his opinions loud and clear.

We continue our follow-up appointments every six months. As of now, the jury is still out. We’ll just have to sit and wait, and take the occasional X-ray. Make sure Julian gets enough sleep and eats well. And make sure that he, like every other kid, finds something that makes him feel successful, something he’s great at, his short-term calling. With luck, everything else that follows in his life will be up for grabs, yet entirely within his reach.



Diana Geffner-Ventura has been a writer for most her adult life, but this is her first published work. She is currently working on a collection of essays about managing life and family with cancer in the house. Formerly a theatrical producer, Diana is now a real estate broker in New York City. She lives in Manhattan with her husband David, sons Max and Julian, and dog Pablo.



Q: What was your inspiration for this essay?

A: Here I have this kid who holds his own better than any kid I've ever known, even with friends and family (and strangers) always inquiring after his growth, knowing full well we were already on the case. When he finally expressed his frustration that night, I just thought, damn it, this kid is really bugged, and what an opening line for an essay that would be. The rest explains it all.

Prime Decimals 19.5

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Crucifixion, Kinetic

by Gerald Fleming

followed by Q&A

Often, the scene depicted tranquil—fait accompli, three men in their proper places, on crosses, assorted provokers and grievers below, sky leaden, sense overall not meat but vegetal, varnished, tableau.

Let’s say it did occur. 

Then: cross? This planed and surfaced lumber in pictures we knew long ago—in Giotto, Raphael, even Goya?

No. Rough spar. Oak, or cedar. Maybe an adze hacked away the bark, maybe a few draw-knife marks, but it’s still tree, still round, chunks of its skin left on, bleeding sap, lots of knots—strong enough, though, to hold a man.

Each upright so tall no mother at night might take down a son, no brother a brother. And the cross-strut surely not mortised, fit tight/square to its vertical other, but cruder stuff: hemp-rope to lash the X together, coarse fiber, the cross-strut at front, main-beam behind, rope-laps raising it further so that a man’s deltoids and pectoralis majors are either racked backwards, spine arched out from the upright, or else his arms straight, pinned at wrists and elbows, thoracic vertebrae torqued inward, rolled; he’s hunchbacked.

The tying’s done on the ground, of course, crowd gathered round, a few protesting at first, most goading, quick-tempered, spinning to kick dogs fighting underfoot.

And of the three: do they accede, span themselves over each cross? Not likely. 

Struggle, boots to the gut, the men blindsided, bare-knuckled, yanked down, faces struck and kicked, clothes ripped, and their cursing—all three, and all three self-mucoused and bloodied and pissed, pinned now at the wrists, ankles crossed and bound, four soldiers to a man, More rope! More rope! knives tossed to slice the hemp, and they’re stilled now, fixed, the crowd cheering Yes!—one of the men in the crowd with a hard-on.

Some few curse the soldiers, their epithets kept under breath.

Three tall crosses, one by one to be raised.

Who dug these goddamn holes? Not deep enough! One-third the length of each pole! Who trained you fools—your mothers?

And the laborers, new men, bend again, fifteen minutes’ work, their blades shear rock, much complaint, the tied men still supine, new rubble beside the post-holes, and now the call to raise: a soldier at each side of the struts, two at the vertical, they count, lift, the wet wood heavy and the bound man heavy, no balance to be had, pitching backward, swaying, Lift higher! says one with a helmet on, and the cross is lifted, lowered into its hole, voice of man on pole dolorous but lost in the crowd, but still it’s not plumb, It’s leaning, and they heave too far left, foolish workmen, compensate now too far right, finally straight, the workmen shamed, angry, There—now fill it in, shovelers packing rubble into the hole, slapping it with the back of their blades, the pole-holding soldiers still shouldering it, heroic poses in opposition to each other, more rubble, more soil. Done. Next one.

The second one plumbed, and now to the third man, still on the ground, bound, the one they were told to nail. The nails flat-shafted, pounded on an anvil, tapered, black. The man’s right wrist bound tight, one nail straight through the capitatum. That’s no pain, they say, you woman. Want nails in the tips of your fingers? Now the left.

The man’s feet, wrong in literature and tableau, here crossed at the ankles, bound in hemp, loosed briefly so that each crossed foot can find a surface for nailing. Two men on their knees—each takes a foot, jerks it downward, works it around the side of the post, nails it in. The cord tightened again.

The man himself now, as if oiled: in blood, in sweat, in piss, and the noises he makes animal noises, not human. He is raised, the skies leaden, yes, the birds already circling, the soldiers folding their arms, well pleased.



Gerald Fleming’s most recent book is Night of Pure Breathing: Prose Poems from Hanging Loose Press in New York. “Crucifixion, Kinetic” will appear in his next book, The Choreographer, due out from Sixteen Rivers Press (San Francisco) next spring. 



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece? 

A: A few things. Astonishingly successful censorship of war by the military-industrial complex. Concomitant media sterilization of brutality. Exploitation of suffering by religions purporting to exist against such. Aesthetic “inconvenient truth” that many artists and writers have never known hard physical work, though they often exploit such as their subject matter. Finally, desire to try to get as close to fact of the thing as possible, given what I think I know.

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by Mamie Potter

followed by Q&A

One: The doorbell rings. Your feet hurt a little as you walk from your bedroom to the stairwell and down the top stair. It’s Friday, it has been a busy week, and though the weekends are lonely, on Saturday you will put on your favorite gray corduroy pants and the red flannel shirt we gave you for Father’s Day, watch ball games and talk to some of us on the phone. On Sunday you’ll put on a suit, go to church and sing in the choir.

Two: The second stair, like the first, is fairly easy even though you are in a hurry to get the door, to pay the man who worked in the yard today. The money you pay him is so appreciated he always says, and though he does only a so-so job it is worth it because you are helping him. So many people you’ve helped through the years: giving donations, tutoring, baking pound cakes, sending get well cards.

Three: Three times a month you deliver meals to shut-ins. You, eighty-eight years old, get in your car and knock on the doors of those too old or too tired or too sick to fix food for themselves. You feel so fortunate as you walk down their stairs and sidewalks to drive to the house you’ve lived in for sixty years. “Three,” you think as you count your way downstairs.

Four: On the fourth stair you falter, grab the rail with a veined and arthritic hand. You re-balance and move on. Four times this month you have gone to funerals of friends; you know how fragile life is and how “like that” it can all be over. 

Five: On the wall beside the steps is a picture of our mom, dead now these twenty-five years, with whom you had the five of us. Five children with children of our own, lives of our own, we don’t need you that much anymore and you try not to need us either. You keep the bad news from us: questionable doctors’ reports, high blood sugar, low energy, knees and back that ache as you move to the sixth stair.

Six: The knocking at the door has urgency now that you can detect even without your hearing aids in. We talk too loud when you wear them, too quietly when you don’t, make fun of you by saying, “Huh?” to each other when we think you can’t hear us. “One minute, I’m coming,” you call out as you move one stair closer to the bottom.

Seven: Your mother just died seven years ago. Maybe you’re only now beginning to feel free, an adult without a parent to answer to. You could live to be as old as she was—a hundred and one. You move carefully to the next stair.

Eight: Eight seconds it has taken you to get to this stair, eight seconds that your life is still productive; it’s still a time when you’ve never missed a Rotary meeting and go to work every day and sit in your chair in your house, yes, lonely but gratefully self-sufficient, so glad to be alive. And then for some reason you will never understand, you’ve miscounted the stairs—was it when you stumbled on the fourth one?—and your foot hits only air and you’re falling in a twist, landing heavily, awkwardly on the worn brown carpet. The pain is engulfing you so you can’t think and groans issue from somewhere inside you and the knocking at the door is more insistent; “Mr. Lewis? Mr. Lewis?” is muffled in your ears, but you can’t reach the doorknob or even the deadbolt key, and somewhere behind the pain, as frightening as what has happened to your body, is the certainty that you have counted your last stair.



Mamie Potter is a writer and photographer who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her stories have appeared in online literary magazines, Impact: An Anthology of Short Fiction, and the 2009 and 2011 Solstice Anthology. One of her short short stories won a contest judged by Elizabeth Berg.



Q: What was the inspiration for this story?

A: This story is a fictionalized version of the day my father missed a step and broke his hip.  He died a very short two months later, two days after his 88th birthday.

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by Cezarija Abartis

followed by Q&A

Caroline was having dinner at La Belle Epoque with her oldest friend, Andrea, who was in town for a conference on Building Happy Families for Our Children.

“I would never get a divorce,” Andrea said. “It’s terrible for the children.”

“The chicken isn’t terrible.” Caroline shook her head. “I’m sorry. I misunderstood. Children.” She looked around at the crowded restaurant, the white linen and white plates, the smiling people on the upholstered chairs. The light glittered down on them and rang in the air like broken glass all the way to the shadows in the corners. “What if there were no children?” Caroline cut the chicken, pushed the pieces to the opposite ends of her plate, and scraped the sauce off with her knife.

“Then why bother to get married?” Andrea put down her fork. “I’m sorry. That was tactless. We’ve been trying to have a baby. I have kids on the brain.” Andrea chewed on a spinach leaf. “You don’t like the mango sauce on the chicken?” 

“It’s fine. It’s all right. Actually, I don’t like it that much. Actually, it’s repulsive.” 

“My salad is good. What’s the matter?” Andrea watched the brown-haired waiter at the next table.

“I should eat more vegetables.” At the table behind Andrea, Caroline could see a couple, a thin woman in a sleeveless black sheath and a handsome man wearing a pale pink shirt. The woman sipped her white wine delicately and laughed at something the man said to her. The woman’s lipsticked mouth made a small ellipse and she tapped her waist as if his joke were too much to hold. Caroline tapped her own waist. If she didn’t do something soon, she would be wearing maternity tops. She arranged the asparagus spears in a circle, the tips overlapping. “I should be a vegetarian.” 

Andrea shrugged. “There’s a lot of things I should do different.” She leaned in. “That waiter, his eyes remind me of Michael Conroy. Eyes drooping down at the corners. He died, you know.”

“I hadn’t heard.”

“A car accident. God, how I loved him in college.” Andrea closed her eyes as if to contain the memory, and her face lit up in a knowing smile like that of a painted Madonna. “I hung around outside his classroom pacing in the freezing rain, waiting for him to finish his class on James Joyce so we could walk to the cafeteria together.” Andrea’s beautiful eyes opened. “You had a sweetheart too, I remember, Jimmy—no—Danny, before you met Eric. How is Eric?”

“Eric’s fine. He’s at a conference this weekend. I’m sorry you’ll miss him.”

“We’ll get together another time.” Andrea waved the apology away. The votive candle on the table flickered and lit up Andrea’s hands. To Caroline, Andrea’s hands shone like those in a painting by Renoir. Andrea tilted her head to one side, pensive and perfect. “Michael . . . . That was so long ago.”

“Not even ten years. And look at us: you’re a hotshot in the government.”

“Ha. I’m GS-10. That’s nothing.” Andrea laughed and straightened. “You, on the other hand, are an artist.”

“I work at an ad agency, sketching cola bottles and kittens.” Caroline made a line with her finger on the tablecloth. “You know what Danny wanted to be?”

“I don’t remember.”

Caroline moved the chicken pieces to the middle of the plate, a little mountain of protein, then covered it with asparagus paths running up the mountain. “Danny wanted to start a foundation for the humane slaughter of farm animals. He was always trying to improve everything.”

“I heard a story on the radio yesterday. Humans will not evolve anymore.” Andrea picked a piece of lint off the sleeve of her jacket and flicked it away. “There are seven billion of us, and there’s no chance that a random mutation will take hold and get an advantage. We’re the pinnacle of evolution. This is as good as we get.” She raised her wineglass in a theatrical toast. “Unless a catastrophe wipes out six-and-a-half billion of us.”

Caroline ignored Andrea’s dark joke. “Danny died too. An overdose. Cocaine.”

“So Eric was a better choice.” Andrea covered her mouth. “That was tactless of me.”

“Eric is fine. He’s at a conference. He’s sorry he missed you.”

“You already said that.”

In the far corner of the room, the shadows gathered to make obvious the chiaroscuro of the scene. Caroline let out a long breath. “I worry about the pets. Who’ll take care of the cats and puppies when we’re gone?”

Andrea looked at her with sad eyes. Her fork clinked on her plate. “What’s the matter, Caroline?”

“Nothing. Everything’s fine. Really.”

“Here we are, dear, happily married and in our chosen careers. What more can we wish for?”

“Nothing. Absolutely, completely nothing.” Caroline folded her hands in her lap as if she were waiting for nothing. “But it’s still not enough.”



Cezarija Abartis's Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Prime Number Magazine, Underground Voices, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf's Top 50 list of flash fiction of 2011. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.



Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?

A: This began, as many of my flashes do, in response to an on-line prompt. I subsequently revised, expanded, and generally messed around with the first draft.

Sean Thomas Dougherty.jpg

Elegy for Myself on My 46th Birthday

by Sean Thomas Dougherty

followed by Q&A

I'll try not to blow


my brains out today


Maybe when I walk



I will


see a bluebird

and I'll think of Marcus,


that fat twelve year old black kid

with the squinty stutter,


who spits and shits

at the halfway house


where C works as a counselor,


who blindside tackled C

for no good reason except


to see C fall, face muddied

grass grained onto his skull


one afternoon it was, Marcus, crying

CCCCC to see to be seen—I bet


he could use that bird.

use that god damned little bird

so I'll draw him a picture

with crayons

like when I was Marcus’s

age when I had to fight

every black kid on my block

and my hands were fists

so often I forgot my fingers

for my knuckles

until I found something to make 

I will make a blue bird

and put it in an blue envelope

and seal it with my spit

and write on it  Marcus, one day C


you can give him this

no legged winged thing

when Marcus sees what's


inside maybe he will sing


which might be enough reason

to stick around


what do you think


though in the end we both know

people like us


end up snapping


our own fucking wings anyways.



Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author of 12 books including the forthcoming All I Ask For Is Longing: Poems 1994-2014 (BOA Editions), and Sasha Sings the Laundry on the Line (2010 BOA Editions).  His awards include two PA Fellowships in Poetry and a Fulbright. He currently works at a pool hall in Erie, PA, where he listens and witnesses, and teaches part time at Cleveland State University.  



Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Most of everything I write is written for actual people I know. The daily impact of writing is important to me. This poem was written for my friend Corey who told me a story about where he worked at his group home the week of my birthday, which I woke up on extremely upset, I am a very poor person and sometimes that just eats one up. So I wrote the poem as a testament for struggle, for me, for that kid Marcus, for Corey, for all of us who are just barely making it, and trying to keep our voices above the rising water.

Lois Marie Harrod.jpg

What These Lips Have Kissed

by Lois Marie Harrod

followed by Q&A

The nickel my mother tied in a corner 

of my handkerchief. I sat in Sunday 

school and sucked as if it would save, 

but when the plate was passed, the knot 

had wadded so tight I couldn’t open it,   

and I learned that though I  could kiss 

and make-up, it was hard to kiss and let go.  


The lead pipe railing that lead up 

the Sunday school steps where I 

practiced skinning the cat, turning 

myself over and inside out until my tooth 

kissed cement and the cement 

took what I offered like my father 

turning his cheek. My mother wanted 

to pull her front tooth and give it to me.


A tongue eventually, but not at church 

camp where a preacher unlike my preacher-

father railed and rutted about necking and 

petting until I asked my bunk mate what 

was Frenching. She made it sound disgusting 

like sharing a toothbrush with a guy in a beret.


The stiff lips of Mikey McClelland 

when he kissed me in the living room 

after the Christmas formal, asking first 

if he might. Me wearing my green 

spun sugar and he sporting a stolid tux 

with black tie crossed at his neck.  

I could see I’d never marry a guy

who begged for my permission.


The fat fender of that orange phantom 

in which I squeaked through the slippery 

tunnel in Tennessee. Without a scratch. 

What got me through was kissable,  

even if it left a cold metallic taste 

in my mouth like the platinum 

partial plate I had been kissing every 

morning since I was eight.  


Not my father when he lay dead,

for I had embarrassed him enough in life,

his continually prodigal daughter 

planting kisses on his stern face.  

Had he had a fatted calf, he would

have spared it.


But perhaps my mother when she dies.

She, the only one my father kissed shamelessly, 

my mother who wanted me to kiss 

my dead grandfather when I was thirteen, 

and I would not, the old codger, 

a thoroughly dissolute man,

or so I thought. . . then.



Lois Marie Harrod’s The Only Is won the 2012 Tennessee Chapbook Contest (Poems & Plays); her 11th book Brief Term, a collection of poems about teachers and teaching, was published by Black Buzzard Press, 2011; and her Cosmogony won the 2010 Hazel Lipa Chapbook award (Iowa State).  She teaches creative writing at The College of New Jersey.