Prime Decimals 59.2

Anna Lea Jancewicz.jpg

Riptide

by Anna Lea Jancewicz

Followed by Q&A

The screen door banged shut behind her. She scrambled up the dune, vanished over the top. It was right before dawn, when the stars are just starting wear thin, and I caught a dim glimpse of her jump from the summit. A split second of catching air. I imagined her hitting the sand running, like a coyote, a flurry of silent soft paws rushing toward the water. I watched her go, and I didn’t follow after. I never said I was sorry. She was always the one to follow after me.

She was naked when we started fighting, standing in front of the bathroom sink, her figure cutting a paper doll of sunbrowned skin from the monochrome background of pink ceramic tiles, pink porcelain basin, pink wallpaper. She was brushing her teeth, and her wet hair hung down her back, black and glistening. 

She had a bruise on her hip, that was the spark. I asked her about the bruise on her hip and she changed the subject. It lit up my suspicion. I started yelling and at first she just threw herself belly-down on the mattress and covered her head with this thin, pale yellow sweater she’d been wearing the night before. This summer sweater. But eventually, she got up and started yelling back. She started crying, and I felt a flush of satisfaction. 

Then I shoved her, that was the thing. I shoved her, and she stumbled backwards into the kitchenette, looking at me with her big wet eyes. For a second, she was a naked scared animal. Then she stomped over to the bed and snatched up her gym shorts from where they lay crumpled on the floorboards, and she grabbed my t-shirt from the back of the chair. It was my favorite t-shirt, threadbare and blue, with holes at the seams. She clothed herself in angry silence and took off barefoot toward the beach. The screen banged shut behind her, punctuation.

That was the first thing that hit me when I found out. The t-shirt. I thought that my favorite t-shirt was gone forever. I couldn’t help myself.

She disappeared over the dune and I went back to sleep. Whatever.

I never trusted her after I found out about the abortion. She went and did it, didn’t tell me until after. I always thought that maybe it wasn’t mine. That fear gouged away at me. I guess it was easier than accepting that she couldn’t choose the future in which we were chained irrevocably. Easier than accepting that I just wasn’t good enough. Because I wasn’t. But she kept following after, she kept hoping.

She disappeared over the dune and I just went back to sleep.

I dreamed of this place that I’ve never been, this place I dream about a lot anyway. It’s this church, on top of a mountain. I think it’s Greek, because it’s all full of gold and priests with long black beards. We sit in this courtyard, on a stone bench, and we can smell bread baking. We sit so close together that it’s hard to see anything but her face. We sit so close that really, I’m just seeing the pores of her skin, her eyelashes feathery and blinking in slow motion. And I’m wearing this jean jacket for some reason, and I reach inside the inner pocket and pull out a bee. It’s a real, thrumming little bee, and I can see all the bristles on its back standing up, but it’s made of gold, real gold. I hold it out between us, offering it to her, cupped in my palm. And I know, even in the dream, that she’s allergic to bee stings. I know, even in the dream, that she’s got an EpiPen in her purse. But I hold it out, and she smiles. She just smiles.

I keep trying now to remember the last time I saw her face, trying to catch the way she looked at me after she pulled the t-shirt over her head, before she turned her back to go, but I can’t grab hold of the image. I keep seeing the smile from the dream, that dumb simple smile. 

I imagine her wading into the water, the waves glittering gold as the sun juts up over the horizon, and I see her reaching out to touch the lights, a swarm of golden bees. And she’s smiling. She’s just smiling.

 

 

Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. She is an Associate Editor at Night Train literary magazine, and her writing has appeared at Bartleby Snopes, The Citron Review, matchbook, and other venues. Yes, you CAN say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at: www.annajancewicz.wordpress.com

 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: This piece owes its genesis to my having gotten the popular song by the same name stuck in my head for a solid two weeks this past summer. As it coalesced from disparate elements—the coyote image from an older poem of mine, a lost t-shirt, a dream I had about a golden bee— my thoughts were focused on developing the woman of the story. It was a surprise that once I started typing, it became more about the man. The shirt and the dream became his, as well as the voice. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story from a male point of view, so that was the biggest surprise.


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That Small Sailing Cloud

by Andrew Stancek

ollowed by Q&A

Milena stumbles into the train, almost drops the aquarium, swears. She feels the evil eye dagger from a kerchiefed granny, hears her grumble about mothers these days.  Keep walking, Milena steels herself. Two steps behind, Palo is still sobbing and Peto is clutching his hand. She hears Peto lean in and say, “Think of The Little Tramp. He’s shuffling in front of us. See?” His voice is seductive enough that even Milena looks but is met with a gypsy stare instead. Under the shabby coat a head is poking out. A rooster. He shakes his comb at Milena and his cock-a-doodle-doo is dismissive.

Maybe the aquarium was a bad choice and she should have brought their cuddlies instead. Two last stairs before the boys catch up and she leads them into an empty compartment reeking of urine.

The honeydew pieces she gave them in the waiting room are squished over their hands and malinovka is spilled on their runners. She moves the aquarium to the side with her foot. The gecko scurries into a corner, burrows under the shredded newspaper. She hands Peto a linen hankie and watches him smear the Oktoberfest mustard from his lips onto his cheek and then do the same for his brother. Hankie dropped on the soot-covered floor, Peto taps the glass to get Chaplin’s attention. The gecko moves his head and Milena is sure he wags his tail. Peto’s teeth chatter and his arms are blue but he refuses to put on a sweater for the trip. “Soldiers going to the front never wear sweaters, Mom,” he says.  

Palo squats next to the glass, stares at the green monster. “I wish Dad had got us the puppy,” he whispers. “He’d sleep in my bed and lick my face.” Sobs are just under the surface. 

“Maybe once we settle into the new apartment and Dad comes to visit, then we’ll have a puppy, right, Mom?” Peto says. Milena’s throat constricts and she nods without speaking. Chaplin was Peto’s idea, an eighth birthday puppy substitute. For a week he lived in their father’s bowler hat and the boys glued a mustache on him as well as themselves. After she strained her back moving the stove to capture him, she persuaded the boys that Chaplin would prefer to curl up in his home in the glass aquarium. Already a month for Chaplin’s survival, about three weeks longer than she expected. Better entertainment than radio rozpravky, the boys watched goggle-eyed one night as he turned lighter and chomped, teeth gleaming, on the skin he’d shed and then on the mustache. Palo, ever-eager, tried to bite off his thumb and gave himself a nasty bruise. After Milena dried his tears, both whined that their mustaches would make a perfect dessert for Chaplin, but Milena put her foot down. Each morning the boys reattached and wiggled their mustaches for a few minutes, before the adhesive wore off. Mercifully they forgot them this morning on the way to the train.

Milena settles into her seat. She wishes she’d had a chance to examine the new apartment before agreeing to take it, but Aunt Liba assured her it’d do, at least while she searches for a job in the new town. Milena closes her eyes and has a clear image of water left running in the kitchen this morning, after she’d given Peto a last drink. The sink will no doubt overflow, seep through the floor into the apartment below and she’ll be held responsible. The burner on the stove must still be on, too. Good luck to the landlord trying to collect when she’s living under a different name in Trnava.  

Peto moves the chicken wire from the top of the aquarium and lifts up the chirping Chaplin. Milena feels watched, squints up and sees a chalk-white mime face with a huge red smile peering through the compartment window. The mime wiggles his eyebrows, waves and moves down the corridor. Peto caresses his pet, his blue-green eyes intense, “When we get to our new home, Mom, I’m gonna find a field nearby and let him go.” Milena aches with an urge to curl up in the corner of the aquarium. She glances out the window at the trembling aspens and watches a leaf float to the ground.

 

 

Andrew Stancek grew up in Bratislava and saw tanks rolling through its streets. He now writes, dreams and entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House online, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Necessary Fiction, Pure Slush, Prime Number Magazine, r.kv.r.y, Camroc Press Review and Blue Five Notebook, among many other publications. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The novels and short story collections are nearing completion.

 

Q&A 

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: The piece began with an image: a gecko shedding its skin and eating it. Immediately after I saw two wide-eyed boys with pasted-on mustaches watching, one chomping on his thumb, trying to replicate the feat. In a world of harsh reality, leaving husbands/fathers behind, new identity, make-believe is vital to provide a glimmer of hope. I was so glad the mime waved.


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Boats

by Michael Lauchlan

A child stands on a chair,

leaning into the light to fill

her cup at the kitchen sink.

 

When we think we are cells, 

genes, blood, bones, hair, 

face, and shape, we are wrong.

 

When we think ourselves borne 

from heaven, righteous will

or pure evil, we are lost.

 

We imagine we’re the product

of our parents’ nightmares, love,

and neurosis and we’re wrong,

 

though we may have a point.

In our cells’ furnaces, sparks

leap. In our words are seared

 

the lives of others, their names

and dreams. And we burn

in lines still unspoken,

 

in phrases that will puff out

of children like paper boats

riding a breeze on a pond.

 

 

Michael Lauchlan’s poems have appeared in many publications including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, English Journal, Tower Journal, The Cortland Review and Innisfree. Lauchlan’s collection, Trumbull Ave., is forthcoming from WSU Press.


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Sound Lost in the North

Michael Lee

ollowed by Q&A

And there, the light clank and moan 

of the wind chimes spread out across the garden. 

An unexplained crack in a windshield. Frost 

across a pane of glass, you could watch it 

all at once. I recall my youth, 

 

how the wind chimes were deadened 

by the winter the moment I strayed beyond 

the porch light and into the moon’s gaze, 

scattered through the trees like dazzling buckshot. 

I looked back to see movement, but could hear no sound. 

 

It was the experience of living a moment as it simultaneously 

becomes memory. Minnesota winter is like that: 

far enough north and you have to strain to hear 

a distant rifle, especially if it finds its mark–the sound 

disappears with the bullet into the meat. 

 

That’s when you might imagine following the sound of the gun

and living in that moment–where the body, of whatever it was, 

swallows the bullet along with its sound. Imagine 

what that would to do to the sap or the blood. 

 

My grandfather was a craftsman 

and either he spoke of it or I dreamt of a hammer 

in his left atrium. The winter was so thick 

when he died the sound had nowhere to go 

and so I saw him follow a faint tinkering 

down and into his own body. 

 

I’ve known nights so cold the body is unlikely to bleed, 

in a miracle the shot might awaken the heart, 

like a kick to an engine shaking the frost out 

of its pistons, but even that would be lost 

 

among the snow. I have braved my own heart and swung 

a hammer so honestly that smoke curled off the nail, 

still there was no sound. In my grandfather’s name 

I have hefted an axe in the dead of winter, 

but still there was no sound, not even enough to follow 

 

down through the nail and into the wood. Each moment of winter 

is so faint and silent it is a memory even as you live it. And so it was 

then, as the hammer fell with such repetition it became slow and soft 

falling downward like snow, again and again, until the birds froze mid song. 

And the wordless chimes swayed like dark ropes. 

 

 

Michael Lee is a Norwegian-American writer. He has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Intermedia Arts. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in RattleCriminal Class Review, and Indiana Review among other publications. He has worked as a farm hand, a dish washer, a teaching artist, and currently works as a youth counselor in Minneapolis where he lives with a coffee pot and many books.

 

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this piece?

A: I wrote this piece in Northern Minnesota last winter; I was alone in a friend’s house and all I could hear were the wind chimes outside. The clanking of the pipes awoke a whole scene of my childhood I had forgotten about entirely. I followed the sound into my own memory and rediscovered the silence of my childhood, and memory, and winter, and my grandfather, how he was there for so many years and, just as seamlessly, was gone.


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Mile Markers

Marissa Landrigan

followed by Q&A

1.

I am 21 years old. 

His brand-new 2004 Subaru, less than five hundred miles on the odometer.

Two thousand three hundred ninety five miles west.

Tally the numbers.

I-90: The red rock outcroppings of Wisconsin. The unbearable sprawl of South Dakota.

Two time zones: Central, Mountain.

My first time crossing the Mississippi.

What am I counting toward?

***

Three years in Montana, on and off. I-90 East and West, I-15 North and South. 

More than 5,000 miles on the Subaru before we leave. 

 

2.

I am 24 years old. April 2007. 

1,137 miles. Sixteen hours in two days. 

I buy a 1983 Toyota Camry for $500 cash. 66,000 miles on the odometer. 

I-15 South from Bozeman to Ventura. 

He is already there, 50-mile one-way trips by boat to a tiny island off the coast. 

He counts how many eggs the endangered seabirds have laid since last week.

I already know we will stay only six months.

My third new time zone: Pacific.

Do the math: Miles divided by time divided by age divided by love. 

I am driving twelve hundred miles for a six-month stay because I am 24 and I love him and for now that’s enough.

 

3.

October 2007. In just a few days I’ll turn 25.

I-40 West to Route 66: a detour off an otherwise straight course north.

Route 66: A Days Inn. The Galaxy Diner. Aluminum siding. 

Day one of three. Eight hours of twenty one.

Five hundred of fourteen-hundred forty miles. 

A code. The way they align.

25, 66, 2007, 1,440. 

I-80 west to the North: the Grand Canyon in separate cars.

In just a few days I’ll turn 25. This is what I wanted for my birthday – a few extra days on the

road.

***

Two days later, we arrive back in Bozeman. 

We will spend just seven days there. 

 

4.

November 2007. I turn 25. 

Each year a new departure, each birthday a new zip code.

We mark the year, pack the cars, say our goodbyes. 

I-90 East: the terrible November width of North Dakota, swirling snow flurries and dark, long stretches of quiet road. 750 miles the first day. Fargo, a Super 8.

I-90 East: Minnesota, the rain-streaked window, the ghostly fog of a Midwestern landscape.

Count backward through time zones

The widths of state shrinking, the number of borders crossed increasing. 

Three days, thirty hours, two thousand miles. Eastern Standard time. 14850.

November 2007 and I already know I’ll leave before my 26th birthday.

 

5.

August 2008. I am still 25. 

I-90 West to I-80: a Holiday Inn in South Bend, a cornfield, a cornfield.

1,004 miles. Ithaca to Ames. Three cars: the Subaru, the Camry, a full moving truck. 

The plan is to stay three years, but he won’t last one.

***

I count because I don’t remember. 

These criss-cross-country trips. My twenties. 

All my memories are blurry, photographs snapped out the window of a moving car. 

The interstates, the motels, the gas stations. 

Water bottles. Mixed CDS. Mile markers. 

I count to make them mean something. 

This is the first. This, the seventh.

***

Three years in Iowa--three birthdays, two new cars, two failed relationships, one book. 

Hard soil. New growth.

 

6.

August 2011. I am 28 years old. 

A 2007 Subaru Outback, just one month mine. 93,000 on the odometer. Towed behind a U-Haul.

I-35 South to I-70 West to Hays: No radio, no rivers, one stop. One distant storm.

I-35 South to I-70 West: 500 miles, eight hours, one day.

One new house. One new degree. 

One: a neutral position, a new start. 

One is rebuilding. One is an empty odometer, waiting.

One car, one driver.

***

I will stay eleven months.

 

7.

July 2012. I am 29 years old.

Tomorrow, I will get in the 2007 Subaru and merge onto I-70 headed East.

I-70 East for three days.

1,165 miles.

My new university will pay two movers $3000 to drive my belonging those same miles, over those same three days.

I will drive the 2007 Subaru--one girl, one dog. 

Though I don’t know it yet, it will be the last move of my 20s.

We will cross the Mississippi. 

We will watch the odometer roll past 100,000 miles. 

We will stay indefinitely.

 

 

Marissa Landrigan’s work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Guernica, The Rumpus, Diagram, and elsewhere. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, where she completed a food memoir titled The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat. She currently lives and teaches in western Pennsylvania, and can be found online at marissalandrigan.com.

 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: Actually, I’d initially envisioned this as a video essay, which included a photo montage from the various road trips mentioned in the piece, along with a voiceover narrative of the text. But it just didn’t work. I was surprised that when I stripped the piece down to simply text, I was able to cull it into a poem-like meditation without the bells and whistles.


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A Brief History of Single-Color Marks

Natalie Shapero

followed by Q&A

Do not make the mistake, I once was admonished, of thinking the STOP on a stoplight is red for no reason. The STOP on a stoplight is red because red is the color that appears first to the human eye. STOP is the signal we need to see before all other signals, and red is the wave of light that’s transmitted the fastest. 

Red is also the wave of light that high-end women’s footwear designer Christian Louboutin selected as the standard hue of his shoes’ outsoles (the sloped, underside portions of the shoe visible to someone walking behind their wearer). Prior to Louboutin’s entry into the market, this part of the shoe was largely ignored by both designers and consumers. In 2008, Louboutin secured federal trademark protection for a lacquered red outsole of a high heel. At the time, the lowest heel in his spring collection was five and a half inches. Models walked down runway after runway, flashes of red at their feet. Three years later, Louboutin’s company brought a lawsuit against Yves Saint Laurent for selling a high heel that was entirely red, outsole included. The lawsuit asserted that red was fine for all the other parts of a YSL shoe--fine for the toebox, the lining, the throat, the quarter, the counter, the vamp--but the manufacture and sale of a lacquered red outsole was reserved for Louboutin.  

Heels are apparently sexy due to a combination of a) their shaping effect on the leg, and b) their impact on the wearer’s walk, shortening her steps. Is the short gait attractive because it makes the wearer take more steps than she otherwise would to cover a given distance, thereby increasing the frequency with which her hips swing back and forth? Or is the short gait attractive because it signals that the wearer cannot run? One Louboutin offering, a high-heeled boot with cargo pockets, is known as CNN Girl. The designer described the shoe’s hypothetical wearer as follows: “She lost everything, but she still has her boots.” 

A 2008 GOOD Magazine profile of Lara Logan, captioned “Bombshell in Baghdad,” started off with a mention of the foreign correspondent’s “eye-catching good looks.” The Washington Post later noted that Logan’s neighbors took notice when she wore a pink bodysuit and high heels on Halloween. In 2011, Lara Logan was sexually assaulted while reporting from a mob scene in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In 2012, she posed for a New York Times Magazine article about her recovery entitled “Safe At Home”; her strappy heels, the caption noted, were Christian Louboutin. 

In an era oversaturated with consumer goods, the trademark system aims to limit confusion. The idea is this: because a trademarked brand name or logo or slogan can be used only by the seller who registers it, merchants can shut down knock-offs that siphon their business, and purchasers will be clear on who made the thing they’re buying. The first court to hear the Louboutin-YSL dispute, a federal district court in Manhattan, likened the logic behind trademark law to Whitman’s musings on greenery as the signature of God, how the poet posited grass as “the handkerchief of the Lord, / a scented gift and remebrancer designedly dropt, / bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark and say Whose?” The trickiest question in the Louboutin-YSL trademark case was not whether YSL had copied Louboutin, but whether a red sole was eligible for trademark protection in the first place. In a section of the appeals court’s opinion entitled “A Brief History of Single-Color Marks,” the court discussed the narrow swath of situations in which, because the color of a given product is so deeply associated in the public mind with a particular company, the manufacturer is permitted to trademark that color-product combination. Examples include red stickers on car trailers and pink fiberglass insulation. 

Lara Logan spent much of her career covering war atrocities, but in the aftermath of the assault, she took a break from the arena of political violence. One of her first orders of business was a backstage interview at an Aerosmith concert, where she made a sour face when Steven Tyler offered her a swig of his drab-colored vegetable drink. Even if you put a gun to my head, she said, I would probably refuse to drink it.  

In a 2011 profile The New Yorker, Louboutin discussed the success of his shoes. “Men are like bulls,” he opined. “They cannot resist the red sole.” The appeals court hearing the Louboutin-YSL dispute ultimately ruled that Louboutin was permitted to have a trademark on a red outsole, but only when rest of the shoe was not also red. In the end, Louboutin’s signature was not simply the red sole, but rather the contrast between the sole and the rest of the shoe—the fact of the red butting up against another color, racing its wavelength, overpowering it. That’s what makes us look.

 

 

Natalie Shapero is the author of the poetry collection No Object. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and works as Associate Editor of The Kenyon Review

 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this?

A: How ugly most of the shoes are. I mean that seriously. Though I myself am a resolutely drab dresser, I actually sort of love fashion and fashion photography. When Tom Ford came out with A Single Man, a lot of my friends criticized it for looking like a walking style magazine, but I could watch that movie all day. (I could also listen all day to the NPR interview where Terry Gross describes some of Tom Ford’s work for Gucci by saying a female model had a “shaved ….” and then has to trail off and rephrase). But I just can’t get behind Louboutins. I looked at a lot of them while I was writing this and now my eyes hurt.


Prime Decimals 59.3

Charlie Griggs.jpg

Bubblegum and Heroin

by Charlie Griggs

Followed by Q&A

When I found him, he was watching Shawshank and losing quarters to the old gumball machine his cousin Irving'd stolen from out front of the supermarket last weekend. Like the gumball machine, most of the furniture in his living room was secondhand—either stolen or a hand-me-down: sectional sofa from his Aunty Rita; an ottoman hoisted curbside from a yard sale while Irving ran interference; TV from the back of a delivery truck, bought on the cheap and reported as an inventory slip-up. Artie said he was thrifty; I said he was broke, spent too much money on shit he didn't need. Junk for needles for arms for highs for days he could waft through, hours he could forget. 

“Artie, you with me? You with me, Artie?” I asked, patting his ankles, crossed atop the ottoman. 

He pulled his legs back, swinging them onto the sofa, one tucked under, the other stretched the length of a frayed cushion. The loose white musculature of his thighs, hanging from old track shorts, advertised a time when his legs were used for dashes, hurdles, four-by-two-hundred relays. “Shur,” he said, mouth full of gray-pink bubblegum. “Awake, that's me.” 

Grabbing the remote from his hand, I muted the television, sat on the ottoman. “Artie. Buddy. Let's get out. Let's talk, grab a bite. We'll grab a bite and talk. What do you think about burritos?” 

Athletic tautness had given way to the emaciated frailty of junkies and now he wore a belt to keep his track shorts up, doubly useful as it was handy to tie around his arm when needed. I squinted across the room at the prison yard on the television and wondered why, when the rest of us used the TV to escape, Artie used it to predict his future. 

“I wanna grab some food. I wanna talk with you, Artie.” 

The binge began when Irving ODed three days prior. Artie's fix: bubblegum and heroin. 

Seated across from one another in that living room, I recalled how one day during track practice, Artie, in the middle of a relay, had swung out of his lane to where the hurdlers, myself included, were practicing. He cut me off and took my stretch, leaping each hurdle, before swerving back into his own lane to hand off the baton. Coach kept him late sweeping the track, running sprints, sweeping the track again. I waited for him in the locker room, and he showed up laughing as I pretended to throw punches at his ribs. My own form lacked; I caught the toe of my shoe on that last hurdle each time. 

Not Artie.

Now, as he removed the stretch of cracked leather from its buckle and slipped the belt around his biceps just above the elbow, he didn't say a thing, but his eyes, like that day when he intruded on my event, begged me to watch, defied me to stop him. Look what I can do, they said. Look what I can do. 

 

 

Charlie Griggs is an assistant editor for the literary journal Fiction International and currently lives in San Diego, CA. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Black Scat Review, Blue Lake Review, Foundling Review, Floodwall Magazine, Sleipnir Magazine, and Zoom Street

 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?

A: I'm much more comfortable working with long-form prose and, because of this, I tend to think of any piece of flash as just a scene, or a part of a scene, from something longer. “Bubblegum and Heroin,” however, try as I might, never allowed itself to extend further than what you see here. Any attempts to lengthen or further embellish felt inorganic. My biggest surprise, then, was how taut and inflexible the text ended up being. Nevertheless, it was, and remains, a pleasant surprise.


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Stranger and the Green Gloves

by Rachna Kulshrestha

ollowed by Q&A

On a Sunday evening, when the early summer sky glittered like steel struck with light, a man came through their front gate and kissed his mom. It was a few months after his father's death. She was on her knees working in the front yard, pulling weeds from the lawn. It was a hot day. Flies were persistent and buzzing. A clean rivulet of sweat ran down her neck. She had been quite oblivious and had not noticed her teenage son. He stood near the half-curtained window with his fingers laced together over his grey t-shirt, staring at the apostrophes of little black birds. And for the same reason as she felt the need to look at her shadow from time to time, she turned around and saw the man. She moved the damp hair away from her bronzed face and stood where she was. The man took her in his arms with a strange intimacy and kissed her pale lips, sliding her gloves to the side. They talked in a hushed tone. Then he left, leaving a slight tremor in the wind and a wet cloud in her eyes. The boy looked away as if it never happened.

In days to come, she washed the gloves and kept them in a safe, cool corner. Her bare hands moved inside the mounds of dirt, synchronized to the pulse of earth as if something was sprouting within her. She worked all day and showered in the evening - her wet hair crimped in place with bobby pins and a small rose on the side. The flowers in her garden bloomed and collapsed as sacred verses in the lap of gravity; the streams of sun played Morse code in their kitchen and as days turned into a haze, she lost track of time. The boy caught her sitting next to the washing machine long after the cycle had ended. Sometimes, she stood next to the boiling milk until it stuck to the pan and turned brown. She kept the curtains drawn, the rose-bush trimmed so she could oversee the entrance. Her ears picked up every sound - when a footstep hit the patio or when a spoon dropped or a bird took flight. She rarely slept and when she did, she kept her knees close to her chest to get through the night.

The boy thought of saying something but never found the words beyond: "Mom, are you OK?" "Yes, sweetie," she said. And he held her hand, his eyes reading her face - bare and concentrated. After an uneventful summer and fall, the prismatic landscape changed to a banal grey. She spent more time by the fireplace, stuck on the same page of a romance novel, watching the snow cover her barren flower bed, the gilded grass and her hopes with an icy blanket.

When spring arrived, a heady smell of grass persisted for days. On the day, exactly a year since the stranger had appeared, she sat amidst new bags of mulch and top soil. Then as if she recalled something, she recovered the green gloves from the corner and stuffed them in a half-filled trash bag. The boy, standing not too far away, snatched the shiny, black bag and ran to the dumpster at the end of the street and emptied it over a heap of debris and circling flies. Then he climbed inside and mixed it until the gloves were out of sight. Knee-deep in filth, he looked at the sky. The sharp lines of light crisscrossed under the liquid blue canvas. Not a single cloud. Holding one of the edges of the dumpster as though it were a close friend, he wept. His voice eventually faded until he could only hear its echo in his heart. When he arrived at home, he stood at the gate for a moment, his mom, with her back towards him, kneading the lumps of soil with her hands, sang lightly as if to a bird.

 

 

Rachna Kulshrestha is an Electrical Engineer who designs integrated circuits at a Startup Company for a living. She lives in McKinney, TX with her husband and two kids. She loves to read, write and sketch. She is a private pilot and has instrument rating for single engine aircraft.

 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: What surprised me most was the evolution of the story. The characters grew in the process of discovering love and grief. The story started from the opening line and took a shape of its own.


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What She Knew

by Anne Lindley

She practiced sadness her whole life. As a kid, she wouldn’t play in the rain because of the worms, flooded and drowned. She wrote poems about birds unable to smile. She shouldered sadness, proud and tall, the queen of her own small country. 

Now her boyfriend and her new roommate explained kindly, in simple words, they wanted her to move out of the apartment they shared. They said, “We’re happy together. You understand, right?” She wasn’t surprised. 

What did surprise her was the ease, the pink contented glow that carried her sailing through the end stage: packing, settling bills. Happiness ends, she knew. When their happiness runs aground, they will stand agape and outraged, crying for someone to save them. But I have my sadness, she thought, and I always will. I can eat my sad heart and I will never go hungry. 

 

 

Anne Lindley is a writer and a librarian. Her short fiction has been published by Five Stop Story and by the Sunday magazine of the Hartford Courant newspaper. She is also a lyricist whose songs can be heard on public and SiriusXM radio. She grew up in Los Angeles but she has lived in Connecticut so long people think she invented the place.


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Autumn Angel

by Devon Miller-Duggan

ollowed by Q&A

She sliced her skin from breastbone to hip cradle and filled the wound 

with fallen leaves. There will be more. 

Afterward she went out into the brute sun. 

There will be more. 

 

It was always the trees. 

The trees were always the children of angels. 

They called the sun. They called for burning. They called the frost, 

the sugar in the veins. There will be more.

 

Their wings will drop away and they will rise. 

The leaves winged around her head.

The weather smelled of wet wool or whiskey.

There will be more.

 

Wet leaves clung to her legs under her skirts.

Summer’s skin bittered under her tongue

and the hush and steam of the rain on the leaves

turned everything the grey-brown of bark.

 

Rain on his feathers moaned through his bones.

Afterward, she stepped into the stone chapel. 

Rain on his feathers sang through his bones like broken wolves.

A gallimaufry of leaves and wings—

 

Fall is a sweeperwoman, healer, digger of graves,

therefore prayer. 

Sun crystalled the sky and the ocean stirred. 

Leaves clapped together as they passed her eyes. 

 

Sugar refining veins, sugar distilling light.

Sugar moonshining the air. Frost in her song. 

Frost in the crickets’ calls. Frost closing her wound.

There will be more. 

 

 

Devon Miller-Duggan teaches for the Department of English at the University of Delaware. Her first book, Pinning the Bird to the Wall, appeared from Tres Chicas Books in 2008. A chapbook, Neither Prayer, Nor Bird, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. 

 

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: Nerdy, but I fell in love with the word “gallimaufry” because it sounds a bit like Dr. Who’s home planet. It also sounds like the word for a huge lace collar or 16th c. puffy pants for men. I’ve managed to use it in two poems this year. Even though the book of angel poems came out, I keep writing the darn things, though this is more fractured fairy tale than angel poem, which is a relief.


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That Will Be All

Kim Winter Mako

ollowed by Q&A

1 dirty bra—picked up off the floor, 2 questionable socks—will have to do

2 bags of clean laundry, immaculate squares, waiting at Laundromat

3 unreturned calls from mom, 3 angry red blinks on machine 

1 message from agent, re: audition for soap opera. Walk-on—as waitress—on Tuesday

1emphasized note from agent, “They’re looking for something different.”

2 days to practice 1 mediocre line, “Will that be all, then?”

40 minutes on the subway—1 transfer

12 versions of “Will that be all, then?” mouthed silently, riding train, facing AIDS hotline poster

 

    1 nod hello from bartender, 1 grunt from manager

    3 specials to memorize: 

        Breakfast Panini (fancy MacDonald’s: egg, bacon, cheddar), 

        Ahab’s Omelette (old-ish salmon chef needs to dispose of and can hide in eggs)

        Croque Monsieur (ham & cheese with a bloated sense of self)

One 1-top, four 2-tops, three 6-tops, then 7

10 squeezed in on a 6, Two 2s spread out on two 4s

12 Bloody Marys, 4 diet cokes – 1 with lime, 3 tap waters

15 tap waters: 8 with no ice, 1 eye roll

“19 pick up!”

1 rehearsal at table 19, “Whiwl that be aawl, then?” á la Cockney, wiping nose on sleeve

3 blank stares

2 mustard-yellow, 3 mustard-golden, 8 mustard-honey-dijon

 

    5 requests for Happy Birthday, made by lying requesters

    5 off key renditions sung by red-cheeked waiters, their eyes on their shoes

    “21, pick up!”

    4 customers calling, “Excuse me, Miss?”

    10 demands for coffee, “Now!”

    3 pots of decaf served, disguised as regular

    3 wary vegetarians, 2 entrée returns, 1 screaming child

    1 fat man’s napkin, resembling a Civil War tourniquet

 

1 shared cigarette in bathroom stall with coworker, to brag about audition

3 comments from coworker: “I’ve auditioned for them. The roles are precast. They’re mean.”

1 request from coworker, “Will you introduce me to your agent?”

1 poorly made up excuse

2 waitresses giggling over the fat man with the gross, Civil War-tourniquet-napkin

 

    “23 pick up!”

    2 illegals, filling bus tubs

    2 missing tips

    “23! CHRIST! PICK! UP!”

 

1 beard, collecting bits of scrambled egg

1 rehearsal with beard, 

        “Will that be…all? Then?” á la seductress, leaning cleavage into his face.

1 phone number, written on napkin speckled with egg bits

 

            15 Bloody Marys, 15 tap waters, 1 Betsy Ross?

            5 plates balanced on forearm

            1 burn, 1 crash, 5 apologies

            5 complimentary pumpkin cheesecakes

            “86 the pumpkin cheesecake!”

            5 complimentary apple crumb tarts

            1 rehearsal with crash victims,

                “Will! clap, clap clap, That! clap, clap clap, Be alllll then!”  á la cheerleader

            5 frowns

 

100 in tips, 10 paid out to bartender, 30 ketchups wiped down

3 avenues, walking east to Central Park

1 practice run with homeless woman on bench, “Will that be all, then?”

         á la nurse comforting sick child

3 dollars given to homeless woman

2 large trees on the edge of Sheep Meadow, creating a shady spot to sit

1 large hawk, swooping down, lifting unsuspecting squirrel into tree

5 crunching sounds from above, that bring to mind chocolate, malted eggs

1 rehearsal with hawk, “Will that be all then?” á la disgusted waitress to glutton

 

        40 minutes on the subway, 1 transfer

        12 versions of “Will that be all, then?” mouthed silently, riding the train, facing an AIDS hotline poster

        1 moment wondering if this will be all

        1 note to self—call mom

        1 note to self—pick up laundry

 

 

Kim Winter Mako’s creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nervous Breakdown, Drowning Allison and Other Stories (Grateful Steps Publishing 2012), Ducts.org, and The Great Smokies Review. Kim grew up in New Jersey, attended Syracuse University, and lived for many years in New York City as an actor. She was a founding member of atheatrco, a non-profit theatre creating original works. She currently lives in Asheville with her husband, is in love with the mountains, and frequently contributes to Listen to This: Stories in Performance. 

 

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?

A: This piece was fun to write and was a mix of fantasy and things that I actually heard or saw. I used a list structure to go with place—the grid of the city, numbered trains—and a waiter’s multi-tasking mind—keeping track of table numbers, food item numbers on a restaurant computer, money. I’m interested in working people. A lot of my poetry and short stories are focusing on that.


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Scavenging

Heather Bartlett

followed by Q&A

“Did you think your mother was going to die?” We’re in a small room with too white walls. I’m staring at a porcelain cat figurine on the bookshelf. The shiny brown animal is reaching for a copy of The Woman Warrior. My therapist doesn’t blink when she’s waiting for an answer.

Four years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years ago, she finished radiation. Last year she had her last surgery. While I’m sitting in this room she’s likely starting a roast in her new dutch-oven or rearranging carpet remnants in the basement rec room.

“No.”

***

When I’m ready to start moving things, I turn off all the lights except the table lamp next to the old chair. The darkness has always been what allows me to see most clearly. And in this early morning dark, this quiet stillness before anyone is awake, I want to see the room from this chair. I stand on it, securing my bare feet on its rounded edges, tossing broken pencil pieces around the room. Most of them roll along the uneven floor to the baseboard edges, but some stick where they land, catching in the frayed carpet. I keep tossing until enough pieces fall together to make a full pencil—the corner across from the door. This is where the chair will start.

From here, the shape of the room seems distorted. I’m suddenly aware of uneven angles and oblong shadows. I walk from one end of the narrow room to the other, rolling yellow splinters in my fingers. I measure approximate widths and distances with footsteps, guess at color pairings in the dark, make pencil piles where furniture will go. Then I begin. For hours, I move and shift and nudge. Everything gets relocated, most things more than once. Except for the chair. 

When daylight starts to invade the room, and I can’t see anymore if this new arrangement is right, I send a picture message to my mother: “needed a change.”

***

My mother and I have always been obsessed with transformation, changing things by changing what surrounds them. An oversized blue vase is a different blue when it sits on the black end table, a small elephant statue takes on a new personality when placed in front of the largest window, a room has new purpose when the sofa is moved to the center of the floor. This is what my mother and I share. We were never much interested in getting new things; we only wanted to make things new.

***

“Why not?” My therapist wants to know where my emotions come from. I want to know how to have the right ones. I want to say something about fighting with my mother. I want to say something about the months we barely spoke—how I moved the chair away from the window because she had put it there. I want to say something about the day we made up—how I moved the chair back. I want to say something about worrying, not that she was going to die, but that we would never understand each other. 

I don’t say anything. The porcelain cat is staring at me now.

***

When I moved from Queens back to upstate New York, my mother and I went scavenging. We scoured this small town for unexpected pieces to fill the grand, empty spaces my city-sized furniture couldn’t fill. We found snap together shelves to put against a bare wall, brightly colored sheets to transform moving boxes into side tables, chipped floor vases to fill empty corners. We spend the afternoon placing and replacing, examining rooms through stretched arms and finger frames, nodding when we knew we had it right. We spent two hours trying to find an aesthetically pleasing yet functional place for an old wooden desk, thirty-five minutes on the exact corner angle of the couch. We flitted back and forth between rooms; the typewriter belongs in the office, certainly, but doesn’t it look good on this stand in the bedroom?

This is the way we’ve always made sense. We are nesters, decorators, architects. We recognize each other in these skills. I feel like my mother when I move a chair from one side of the room to another. I know that I came from her when I notice she’s switched out her entryway rugs, when the picture of my grandparents is moved closer to the window, when every room shows the evidence that she’s been there.

 

 

Heather Bartlett received her MFA in Poetry from Hunter College. Her poems have appeared recently in Barrow Street, Connotation Press, The Nervous Breakdown, Phoebe, Prime Number, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches writing at Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland. She writes and grades papers from her small apartment in Ithaca, NY.


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Two Essays

Katherine Riegel

My Love, Everything is Risk

In the second dream, I meet your two sons, older than the daughter I know about. They are charming and have your accent, and wink at you as if to say, “Good job, Dad.” Then your ex-wife comes in with a gun, and there is running and chaos and I wake myself up trying to escape.

In the third dream, we are driving through the neighborhood of my childhood. You point at houses I’ve nearly forgotten, standing in the background, leaning so far they could almost fall over, all the windows dark. We notice them, and you take my hand, and we drive on.

In the fourth dream we are in a game that is not a game. There are pieces of torn-up paper that make up messages we don’t know whether we are supposed to decipher or discard. We get separated, and I lean against a cold mirror and fall through into your bed, only partly awake, and shivering, because you have gotten up and gone to work.

In the not-dream, you cried because you loved me. And I did not tell you that I had cried too, earlier. What I told you was that your cat, the one who had been held down as a kitten with a lighter put to her paws, climbed into my lap, purring. No, you said. She’s never done that, even to me. 

I cannot remember the first dream anymore, but I would like to believe it was simple, beginning and ending with a kiss.

 

 

Apology That You Have to Live in My World

I’m sorry for the sun half-blinding as you drive west, for the insistent, unwavering flash that stays on your eyelids when you blink, for your fear of slamming into something because you’re squinting so hard all the sunshapes look the same. Yes, that was my fault. I asked for light.

I’m sorry for the flowers not lasting long enough in their pretty vase. I wanted room for more flowers, frilly frothing hillsides of them, throats full, arms full, colors and patterns as varied as handmade quilts, and because of that, not everything could live.

I’m sorry for distances. I’m sorry for sleep. I’m sorry for icicles pulling at the gutters. I’m sorry about birth, and for what they call growing pains, that acrid ache in your legs when you were lying in your twin bed at night. I’m sorry for vacations, how they speed by like a train and leave you standing in the same place. 

I’m sorry for the way you cut yourself for love, thinking you need to feed it on drops of blood the way rescued baby squirrels are fed milk with eyedroppers. I’m sorry you’re afraid of rage. I’m sorry you want someone to hold you when you’re crying, the hard sounds coming out of your mouth and your nose dripping, but you can’t let anyone see you that way. 

I’m sorry for memory’s faulty wiring, rooms going dim just when you enter them, others lit garishly and you can’t shut the door. I’m sorry you feel responsible for everything. Most days I’m not sure what I wished for that made things turn out like this, I just know somehow it’s all my fault.

 

 

Katherine Riegel is the author of two books of poetry, What the Mouth Was Made For and Castaway. Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and teaches at the University of South Florida. Visit her at katherineriegel.com.