“Garbage Patch” by Alexander Jones

Image by Cole Rise, used with permission.

Way out in the middle of the open water about as far from land as one can get lurks the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s thought to have started in the late 70’s or early 80’s; our globalized, mechanized, consumerized societies here in the US and in Asia teach us to toss away our trash with little thought to where it goes, assuming that once it’s out of our hands, it’s gone. But our world is really a closed loop feedback system. Nature has been secretly storing all our thrown away garbage, mostly plastics, in a peacefully austere location in the middle of the ocean where the winds blow both together and at cross breezes, creating a trapped area of calm in the center of all the circulating currents. A no-man’s-land where our trash is piling up, breaking down, overflowing and densifying at the same time.

Our problems pile up, too.

Childhood traumas real or imagined, adolescent hurts never soothed, adult needs and wants unmet, gaping holes unfilled, hungers never fed, pressurized obsessions never released, broken things unfixed.

Itches desperately unscratched.

One of the most interesting features of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is that much of it is unseen. While there’s more than enough visible trash to impress anyone who cares to look, though we usually don’t, most of the plastic has degraded and dispersed, so the water around the Garbage Patch looks clear but is actually infused with plastic particles. This soupy plastic water poisons its way up the food chain, getting into the unsuspecting plankton which get eaten by small, unsuspecting fish, which get eaten by bigger unsuspecting fish, until it reaches unsuspecting humans who should really know enough to be suspicious.

The whirlpooling repository of our garbage is also out of sight but definitely not out of mind. Our problems slowly infiltrate ourselves until the self isn’t the same self it had once been, the cancer starting from the outside and working its way inside, hiding in plain sight, going from outside us to inside us until it’s become … us, us transformed, transfigured, mutated, like the plankton that don’t, can’t, know any better. Like a mugging victim who discovers later that the whistle, the mace, the handgun, the powerlifting routine, the karate lessons, the cash in the shoe, the bars on the windows and the debarked attack dog have all blended into seamless, perfectly reasonable seeming parts of their lives.

Despite its appearance, hitting a big, obvious piece of pinpointable plastic like a bottle or a wrapper is relatively rare in the pervasive plastic soup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Hopefully most of us have had only a limited amount of big, obvious trouble in our lives like a sexual assault, a car wreck, the untimely death of a loved one or cancer; something which changes our lives for the worse in a pinpointable singularity.

We’ve got the thickening plastic soup, instead.

The overdue bills in various shades of yellow and pink left sitting on the kitchen table, the fight with the wife that ended with grim mischievous satisfaction taken in her tears, the cold food delivered late which elicited a nasty call to the manager, the coworker who takes another donut even though he’s already consumed two and we haven’t had any, the phantom electrical problems in our cars, the leaky window we rattle until it cracks, the pushy ethnic neighbors who play their music too loud until we start wondering if the other millions of people in their country are the same way … all slipping into the relatively calm stillness out at sea after the vortex of stress is over, forgotten but not gone, dispersed into the thickening soup and slowly poisoning everything up the higher-functioning ladder until we drink too much or hit the kids or shrug at the suffering of others or go on a Columbine-style rampage after things reach the point that our diffused plastic soup has congealed into someone else’s pinpointable plastic bottle or statue of liberty, like a gradually gathered snowball hurled across a parking lot at an unsuspecting classmate who ends up with frigid dirty snow melting down the back of his shirt.

Whether god or science created the ocean, it wasn’t meant as a repository for our waste; our minds, our limbic systems are designed to deal with occasional hungry tigers or enemy tribesmen on the plains of the savannah, not the petty inhumanities of life in an apartment measured in square feet, in airplane seats priced on the inches of personal space we can afford, in deciding whether to order off the dollar menu or to splurge on the supersized option and then throw away the wrappers which eventually make their way to the Garbage Patch.

Some people’s garbage dump is a dry, dusty desert where things petrify and fossilize, while others have a dank, soggy swamp where fungus takes hold and grows. Rats and roaches and germs thrive on our waste, as do cynicism and disgust and eventually hatred. Who knows what Ebola or ISIS are evolving, waiting for just the wrong time to achieve critical mass and explode.

Is there a solution? Happy moments remembered and savored, a visit to a shrink, a weekend at a hot springs spa with detoxifying mineral water and a deep tissue massage included in the package deal? Someone invented a membranous maw to catch microplastic particles; someone else started recycling them. We can apply the effort to turn ugly events into harsh lessons learned. But the trick is to invest that ounce of prevention now, before a pound of cure becomes necessary.


Alexander Jones has short fiction and poetry appearing in Akashic Books, Bastion Magazine, Crack the Spine and DASH, among other publications. His nonfiction was recently anthologized by 2Leaf Press and an essay he wrote won GoRail’s 2012 contest. He has a BA in English/ Creative Writing and is pursuing a second BA in History. He works as a metal fabricator and lives with his family in New Jersey.

“Garbage Patch” first appeared in the journal Prometheus Dreaming.

“Bird Feeder” by William Cass

Image by Cole Rise, used with permission.

Like usual, Walt stayed under the covers until he heard twittering from the earliest birds. By the time he’d used the bathroom, made his bed, changed into clothes, and fixed coffee and toast, the first blush of dawn had just begun paling the eastern sky above the neighborhood’s rooftops. He brought his breakfast outside and took his regular spot on the front step with it. As he ate, the silhouettes of newly-budded tree branches nodded in the yard on the small breeze. Gradually, he could make out the crosswalk fifty or so yards down the street that linked the elementary and middle schools. Her crosswalk. The one she’d guided elementary students across every hour during the day for P.E. classes at the gym they shared with the middle school. No one was out. Except for the birds and the occasional passing car or barking dog, it was quiet.

When Walt finished his breakfast, he returned to the kitchen, washed his dishes, and went into the bathroom again. He stared in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, the stubble on his head more salt than pepper, the skin under his tired eyes loose and sagging. It had grown more so since he’d retired from the library down the street beyond the schools a few years ago. Walt blew out a breath, then used the back door to go into the garage. He pulled the string on the tin-shaded lamp over his workbench and a cone of light lit the pieces of the bird feeder he’d been making. He blew away sawdust, turned on the old radio to his classical station, selected a hunk of sandpaper, and started smoothing the section of roof he’d left off on the previous afternoon.

Walt finished the feeder a little before eleven. Its design was simple, basic: a hollow house with wire on top and a wider, drawer-like bottom to hold the seed and provide a perch. He filled it with birdseed, turned off the radio, and carried it through the back gate and down the sidewalk towards the crosswalk. The replacement crossing guard, an older man like Walt, sat in a folding chair on one side of it. Flowers, cards, and candles were clustered against the fence that separated the elementary school playground next to him. Someone had even placed a framed photograph against the fence; she was young in it, perhaps thirty, about the age Walt had been when she’d started there as the crossing guard.

The fence was made of iron bars three inches apart that were joined by crossbars along the top connected to brick pillars every dozen feet. The playground was empty, though Walt knew it would soon be filled with students frolicking during their lunch recess. The replacement guard raised a hand to Walt as he stopped in front of the collection of remembrances. Walt returned the gesture then fitted the feeder’s wire over the bar in the fence directly above the collection. The replacement guard regarded him as he straightened it against the bar.

“I’m told she used to feed birds here all the time,” the replacement guard said.

Walt looked at him. “That’s right.”

“Did you know her?”

Walt felt a heat rise behind his eyes. He said, “Just to nod and smile.”        

The replacement guard did both those things. He pointed to the collection at the base of the fence. “I guess she was someone special, though I’m told she lived alone.”

Walt nodded. He said to himself: like me. He thought about passing her each day on his way to and from the library all those years and never having the nerve to say a word to her. Those eyes, that quiet, gentle manner. Regret overwhelmed him.

“That’s a nice bird feeder,” the replacement guard said. “Nice way to remember her.”


“You going to keep filling it with seed?”

Walt nodded.

“Good for you.”

Walt felt his lips purse. He nodded again and said, “Take care.”

“You, too.”

Walt turned around and headed back to his house. He fixed himself a peanut butter and banana sandwich, poured a glass of milk, and made his customary trip with them out onto the front step. By then, happy shouts from students rose from the playground. A pair of orange-breasted robins flew by overhead in that direction. Walt watched them swoop down to the perch on the feeder, watched the replacement guard follow their descent, watched him chuckle and shake his head. Until a week earlier, Walt had eaten his lunch there almost every day and watched her scatter birdseed at her feet on the sidewalk. Not anymore.  

Walt took a bite of sandwich and washed it down with milk. He didn’t know what he’d do with the rest of the day; now that the feeder was finished, he had no plans. Really no idea either how he’d fill the days and years ahead. Nothing but time lay before him. He watched one of the birds on the feeder lift off and fly away. A moment later, another replaced it.


William Cass has had more than 190 short stories published in literary journals including decemberBriar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a couple of Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.

“Perfume and Pearls” by Michael Olenick

Image by Cole Rise, used with permission.

Lina could not take Jake to England to get him set up at university, so I went instead. While away I bought gifts to convince myself I was returning to home as it had always been. Spending money for no reason is what you do when you’re on vacation, so I thought if I did that, it would mean I was vacationing (as opposed to deserting my wife to help my son). Kind of like dressing for summer to encourage warmer weather while knowing the next season was winter.

I always bought a duty-free bottle of O de Lancôme because, if my other gifts were not up to par, at least I had gotten one right. That was her perfume and I was grateful I no longer had to remember Chanel numbers. But it turned out that had stopped being her favorite years ago while I wasn’t paying attention. And what the hell was she going to do with perfume anyway? The pretty green and white box sits unopened on a basement shelf.

But the earrings, oh the earrings, I was right about those. She still liked pearls and she put them on each morning and removed them each evening, even if there wasn’t much else she could do that day. At least until the 3 A.M. when she took one with water, mistaking it for one of the bedside pills whose purpose was to make her feel that she could still be cured.

Was ingesting an earring reason to put her through another trip to the hospital? We had made enough trips already, and the act of getting off the couch, let alone up and down the stairs, was torture to everyone involved. But research was done, and although the search results mostly had to do with toddlers, this type of earring just passed right through. I think that was our last shared moment of gratitude. You were terminally ill but at least your esophagus would be spared perforation by an open clasp; your intestines would not be destroyed by an MRI sucking metal out of you.

But you were back in the hospital soon after, and I’d like to think the pearl ended up as a nurse’s reward for tending to the needs of my now infant wife.


Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife’s ashes. He had a promising start with a story appearing in Journeys: Prose by Children of the English-Speaking World when he was ten and then put writing aside to focus on the usual sensible adult things. Since his wife’s death, his inner English major has awakened, and he has started writing again as a way to forget and not to forget. His poems have recently appeared in Euphony Journal and Offcourse Literary Journal.

“Him and Me” by John Vanderslice

Image by Cole Rise, used with permission.

“Why are you always so cynical?”

It’s a surprising accusation, flying up as if out of nowhere, as I drive him down the highway to his weekly viola lesson. Surprising because, well, first of all we weren’t having that kind of conversation, but mostly surprising because this accusation is coming from him—him—who acted like a hard-boiled forty-year-old at age twelve and at least a decade older than that at fifteen. Nothing but straight blackness out of his mouth then; nothing but the same color in his wardrobe. Hair dyed so dark a brown it might as well have been pitch. Black socks; black Vans, black wristbands. The dark sounds of screamo shouting at him through his ear buds. You get the picture. Thankfully, he’s started—started—to come out of all that over the last two years. But, still, I’m the cynical one?

I’ve always thought of myself as naïve, bordering on ridiculous. The kind of person who dares think well of people, almost always thinks well of people, until they prove otherwise; and sometimes even after they prove otherwise. A mid-Atlantic bred, lapsed Catholic, twenty-to-twenty-first century Akaky Akakyevich; the kind of guy who stumbles his way through life and keeps to his self-styled recreations, while the world keeps after its own, only vaguely aware that behind his back—and sometimes to his face—he is being ridiculed. And when aware of it, not sure what to do about it. The kind of guy who, at age 22 or 23, did not appear to be on any kind of track that might lead to marriage, home, family; to say nothing of gainful employment. You get the picture. Except that through a minor romantic miracle, occurring on or about the month of March in the Year of our Lord 1997, I found my way to all those things, and way sooner than anyone had a right to expect.

Thirty years ago, when I was a junior in high school, as he is now, I carried around inside me a global, uninterrupted sense of all that there was in the world I didn’t understand. Most problematically, people. People I understood the least. I felt like barely a person myself then. I could not have explained myself to myself. So how could I explain all these other people around me: in my high school, in my neighborhood, in my life? Where did they get their strange notions? What brought on their compulsive behaviors, their destructive alliances, their ugly decisions, their pointless risks? Where they did they get all their bizarre, dark-worldly knowledge? What kinds of homes must they have grown up in to become these kinds of people, to earn that sort of knowledge? Homes not like mine, that’s for sure.

“What do you mean?” I say.

“All you do is gripe about people.”  He’s staring out the windshield at the road ahead, as if it might disappear entirely without his help. His cell phone is in his hand, but he’s not looking at it. He’s not looking at it. Normally, that’s all he does in these car rides.

“I don’t gripe about people.”

He laughs. Not a real laugh. It’s not a real laugh. “Are you kidding?  You gripe about me constantly.”

Do I?  Is that what he thinks?  How could he?  I make suggestions to him, sure. I admit. Sometimes strong suggestions. But, honestly, with him and me it’s like Akaky Akakyevich taking on the Kremlin; or, rather, a tepid stream of water lapping against a brick wall: the limited force taking on the immovable object. I can’t bring him down in one fell swoop, so I try to brush up against him regularly, at sustained intervals, trusting that eventually I’ll break through a barrier. That’s not griping; that’s love in daily maintenances.

“You tell me I don’t dress right. You tell me I don’t eat right. You complain about my room. You tell me I need to try listening to this kind of music—because it’s your kind of music—though you don’t ever listen to my kind of music. You were especially bad a couple years ago. It’s better now that I’m listening to more classical, but a couple years ago all you did was make fun of it.”

I did?  My recollection from a couple of years ago is that at all times I was desperately trying—and trying successfully, let me say—not to express how dearly I hated his screamo. Even though I did hate it. I hated it so very much. He never fathomed the depths of my hate for it, because, as I saw it, I held back the storm. Heck, didn’t I buy him a couple CDs one time?

I choose my words carefully. “Well, you know, those are classic complaints that parents bring up with their kids. All parents. The music. The food. The room. It’s like in the rule book.”

He frowns but says nothing. He isn’t giving me that out.

“Hey,” I say, “you’re lucky I didn’t bitch about your friends.”

“You did bitch about my friends.”

“When?  When did I do that?”

Dad.”  He turns to me, his face caught in an expression mid-way between exasperation, befuddlement, and disgust. His mouth is hanging open, but he’s not able to push out any words.

“Which of your friends did I complain about?”

“C’mon, Sutton Parrish?  Ryan Turpen?”

“I liked Ryan.”

“You said his family was like holdover hominids from the Stone Age. You said they reminded you of nomadic peoples hunkering down in the caves of Northern Europe 20,000 years ago. Except, you said, they weren’t good enough to paint horses on the walls so the tribe would have kicked them outside to go hunt woolly mammoths.

“I never said—”

“But, you said, they were so stupid they would have ended up squashed to death beneath a big, hairy foot.”

“Did I really say all that?”


I consider this for a moment. I think: That was pretty clever of me.

“Well,” I say, “they were fairly primitive.”

 He raises his hands to the sky.

 “But I never disliked Ryan. And you have to admit that Sutton Parrish was a washout.”

“Sutton’s father was in jail. Their family was having a really hard time of it then.”

“I guess.”

“No. No guess, Dad. They were.”

“Is he still in school?”

“He’s not even in the state. They moved to Texas like a year ago.”


“I’m pretty sure I told you that.”

“Maybe you did.”

“I did,” he says.

I drive. He stares. He squints. I drive.

“Okay, so I’m sorry for being kind of rough on Sutton and Ryan. But the other stuff—the food, the room—isn’t that all true?  Are you going to tell me your room doesn’t look like a war zone?”

 “But you are always going on about it; like it’s all you can think about. Like your life can’t be right if my room isn’t the way you want it.”

“But your room is really sloppy. I mean really, really sloppy.”

“See?” he says. “See?”

He’s pushing back now on his seat, his neck straining, his right leg pressing forward, as if imitating a braking motion. Except that traffic on the highway is moving normally. The closest car is several lengths in front of us. And he hasn’t even learned to drive yet. Why is he doing the braking thing?

“See what?” I say. I’m looking with double attention at the road, wondering what I’m missing.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And, no, other parents don’t go griping after their kids all the time.”

“They do too,” I say. Then: “Sometimes.”

“Dad, I know other kids. I go to school with other kids. I know other kids’ parents. They’re not always griping to them about their rooms. Or how they eat.”

“Well, maybe those kids are willing to taste a vegetable once in a while; maybe those kids clean their rooms.”  If he’s thinking of his girlfriend and her parents, I happen to know that she does eat vegetables—plenty of them—including broccoli—also that she keeps her room hypo-allergenically clean. Her room is probably cleaner any four hospital rooms combined. I know her parents. They told me.

“See?” he says, his neck straining again, his leg braking once more. “Don’t you see?”

“What?” I say. I check the road again. “See what?”

“Sometimes, I think—I really think this—I think that for you guys being parents is like purely an administrative duty or something. Something you have to do, like taking out the trash, doing your taxes. Something to get out of the way. Something you have to do, but you’d really rather not do it; you’d really rather wish you could be let off the hook.”

Good lord.

“Is that how you feel?” I say. I’m not even trying to keep the hurt and exasperation out of my voice now.

Is that how he feels?

“I mean,” I say, “is that how I seem to you?  What makes you say that?”

He turns his face, looks out the side window for several moments, as if studying the trees in the distance for some school-enforced botanical survey.

“I’m not sure I should answer,” he says.

“But I’m asking you.”

“That doesn’t mean you want an answer.”

“What do you mean?  If I ask you, I want an answer.”

“You might want an answer, but it doesn’t mean you want a real answer.”

I chew on this for a bit. Can it be true? And, if yes, what does it mean? I mean, what does it mean for the entirety of our relationship, the seventeen-year living history between him and me? Have I been existing inside a bubble of illusion all this time? Some phony, happy idea of what I was—or at least could be—as a father, and he was as a son? How long had he been holding back? And what did it mean for us now or going forward? What would it mean next month? Next year? Eight years from now? If he’s finally lost his patience and proceeds to cut, what will that new reality look like? What will I be?

I hold my breath. I watch the road roll past beneath the burden of my car. “I have a feeling there’s something you want to say to me,” I say. “Maybe you should just go ahead and say it.” He stays silent. He doesn’t look at me or out the window anymore. Just ahead, at what is coming. I see something like worry—but not actual worry—pass across his eyes. “I’m a big boy,” I say. “I can take it.”  Then: “I should take it.”

He breathes a sigh through his nose, his heavy lovely cheeks sag—as a baby, even as a six-year-old, he had the chunkiest cheeks you’d ever seen, and there’s still, even as a teenager, a residue of that fleshiness in his face. His head dips the tiniest human measure. He still doesn’t look at me, yet I feel him looking at me.

“That’s okay,” he says. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

That’s probably exactly what I would have said to my own father, at his age, in this situation, in a closed automobile, driving at highway speeds. That is, if the man had ever begged me for the truth—which he never did. And never would have. But that’s exactly what I would have said. Because I would have known the truth and would not have wanted to hurt him with it. To unsettle him. To unseat him. To break apart his precious, heart-beholden delusions. I think to tell him this, as he sits there next to me, frowning at the windshield. I should tell him. I should say it: That’s exactly what I would have said to my own dad at your age. But I don’t. I don’t say it. I keep driving and, finally, eventually, he begins looking at his phone. I like to hope he understood, he understands.


John Vanderslice teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Central Arkansas. His stories, poems, essays, and plays have been widely published, including in such journals as Sou’wester, South 85, Laurel Review, Crazyhorse, and The Pinch. In recent years, he has published two books: Island Fog (Lavender Ink, 2014), a linked story collection, and The Last Days of Oscar Wilde (Burlesque Press, 2018), a historical novel.

“Relative Sanity” by Ellen Lord

“Old Door” by Sydney McKenna, watercolor, 22″ x 30″

In my dream mother was waiting for me in a room with old-world charm, classic books and high ceilings. Rare pieces of art lined the shelves, multicolored masks and Merino glass sculptures shimmered in the afternoon light.

She sat curled in a leather chair gazing out the window at a mottled sky.  She was barefoot in a cotton dress, young with long auburn hair and bottomless eyes. In her distracted loveliness, she didn’t look like the woman I remembered. She smiled as I approached and then softly faded away.

Later, I had visions of her escape from Newberry State Hospital. She was 33 years old with five children. Daddy and Grandpa put her there after she attempted to tame a nervous breakdown with doses of Mogen David wine. It was sometime in autumn of 1957 and the weather was turning cold.  

She never told me how she got out of those  locked doors and caged windows but she hitchhiked 200 miles clad in hospital garb and  worn slippers. She would later recall, “the nicest folks gave me a ride and it was the best time I had in a long while….I felt reckless and wild.” 

My memory flashes to the night she got home. I was awakened by lights flashing in the driveway. The police had come; she had locked herself in the bathroom and we could hear the shower running. She spoke calmly through the door, “I’ll come out when I’m damn well ready.”

I remember everyone waiting and waiting….

They took her back to the asylum and she didn’t return that year. We would drive to see her on weekends; Lake Michigan iced and roiling along U.S. 2 as the winter settled in. She gave us braided lanyards and moccasins from art therapy. I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother but I recall the quiet ride home.

asylum seeker
dancing barefoot and childless
in another life


Ellen Lord is a Michigan native. Her poetry has appeared in Open Palm Print Magazine, Peninsula Poets Chapbooks and Traverse Area District Library Poets Night Out chapbooks. She was the recipient of the Mike McGuire Poetry Prize in 2019 and won the Landmark Books Haiku Contest in 2017. She is a member of the Fresh Water Poets Group in Traverse City and the Charlevoices Writers’ Group in Charlevoix. She is a behavioral health therapist and loves working with folks who navigate the murky perimeters of mainstream society.

“The Museum of Salt-Encrusted Objects” by Faye Brinsmead

Clouds in sunlight, a painting.
“After Effects” by Sydney McKenna, oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″

I didn’t realize I was an artist until yesterday. Breakfasting in the empty dining room, I picked up a book from the coffee table to browse while I ate my muesli. I holiday here, at the Marine Guest House, every winter. In the hope that sea and sky will reach in, grab the gray-blue churn of my moods, and never give them back.

The book was about an Israeli artist who immerses emotionally-charged objects in the Dead Sea. Entranced, I turned page after page. A suspended tutu grew a mantle of Russian snow. Quartz-glitter court shoes waltzed the ghosts of scarlet toe-nails. A muffled violin dreamed of being a baby white whale.

She had been creating salt sculptures for more than 20 years, I read.  Maybe I’ve been doing it for twice as long, I thought. All those things I pushed into the dead sea …  I pictured the objects that tell the story of that day as museum exhibits, encased in glass. Each transformed by a shimmer of salt. Beneath the sparkly crusts, their colors were unfaded. I was protected, yet not protected, from shocks of recognition. I was 45. I was five. I am five.   

The Pink Dress

I’m wearing my cioccolato dress. I don’t know cioccolato is Italian for chocolate. To me, the looping letters on the label mean the family of pinks picnicking on the puffed sleeves, the satin sash, the three-tiered ruffle. It came in a big padded envelope for my birthday. Grandma’s blue scrawl on the front. Today, when the church ladies admired it, I hid behind the elm. Now I’m hiding under the bed, because Pastor and Mrs Winter have come to lunch.

Squatting beside the elm, Pastor Winter said, Would you like to ride home with us? I shook my head, pink as my dress. Say no thank you, Pastor Winter, said Mom. I said it to his shoes. Shining so darkly the looping elm-leaf letters wrote on the toes.  

The Black Patent Shoes

They squeak like mechanical mice. In the toyshop window before Christmas.  Does he wind them up before putting them on? The pointed toes are twitching noses. The laces, whiskers. The nose-tips stop at the edge of the rug. That high whooshing must be some dog hunting the mice. I wait for it to spring.

I’m sad you’re hiding when I’ve come especially to see you.  There’s nothing to be afraid of. If you come out, I’ll read you a story.

More whooshing. The mice scare me, but the thought of the dog attacking them is worse.

When they hear me crawling out, the dog and the mice go carefully backwards together.  

The Storybook

Most stories aren’t for Sundays. Not Bambi, or Amelia Bedelia. Uncle Joseph’s Bible Stories are, though. Their blue spines march across the bookcase in the living room.

Pastor Winter’s hand has lines and knots like floorboards. It slides out Volume Fifteen. Beneath a dazzling sky, Jesus, in a fluffy white bathrobe, embraces yellow, pink and brown children.  Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. We sang that today.   

I follow him to the couch. When he sits, his arms and legs creak. His pants swish.  He gives his trouser-knee a dry slap.

Sit here.  

The Eyes

This huge close face makes me want to hide again. Its wooden slats slide up and down when he smiles and talks. The smell through his white shirt and black tie is too sweet, like the maple-sugar candy I found under the back seat of the car. His hair is yellow-white feathers. His eyes are shut in two wire cages. They dart around, as if they want to get out. I don’t want them to get out. 

There is something else. Wanting to get out. It fidgets behind the ruffles of my dress. I don’t want to know what it is. Not-wanting fills me. The room. The house.    

The Black Lamb (which Smells of Raspberry Jam)

In the dark I hug black lamb. He’s from Grandma, too. He has black button-eyes. I press my face into him, breathing the raspberry jam smell of his real wool. Not thinking. Not remembering. Raspberry jam. Raspberry jam.     

The Salt Grinder

Nothing is as clean as salt. If you sprinkle its scrubbed-fingernail flakes over something, the real look and taste get covered up. Like snow. Only it won’t ever melt.

I’m fine, I say. Grinding. Everything’s fine.

After grinding, I’d always pretend I hadn’t. The grinder joined the other things pushed into the still, green, dead sea. The lamb, the eyes, the storybook, the shoes, the dress.   

Yesterday, I re-encountered them all. Gazing at their hard brilliance as the ocean churned up its own intestines, grinding fresh salt by the ton. When the first stars came out, I unlocked the display cabinets and set them free.

Right here, on the beach, I created an open-air museum. It’s only temporary. Day by day, wind and waves will scour my sculptures until they’re not art anymore. Just small, naked scraps of life, able to breathe at last.


Faye Brinsmead  lives in Canberra, Australia. A lawyer by day, she writes flash fiction in all the snippets of time she can find. Recent work appears in MoonPark Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Twist in Time Literary Magazine, Reflex Fiction and The Ekphrastic Review. She tweets @ContesdeFaye.     

“After” by Rhema Sayers

“Salt Prune” by Sydney McKenna, oil on canvas

The entire house sparkled, immaculate. Or at least it sparkled as much as it could for as old as it was. It had taken weeks, especially with all these people tramping in and out. They’d been coming in, bringing her food, expecting her to be grateful. She had enough casseroles stockpiled for the next decade.

Sometimes she just kept on cleaning while they were trying to talk to her. The visits were becoming fewer and shorter, she’d noticed. When she pounded them over the heads with a two-by-four, they actually figured it out. Her lips twitched. “I vant to be alone,” She said aloud.

Her voice startled her. It was so quiet in the big house. She liked it that way. No more constant drone of the TV or the blaring voices of talk radio. Just silence and the occasional creaks and groans of an old house. So peaceful. So empty.

She filled her time with cleaning. There was so much still left to do. The stains in the rugs and the upholstery had been particularly stubborn. But she’d marshaled her forces, her Windex, her Mr. Clean, her carpet cleaner and her Bissell machine, and she had led them into battle, attacking with a ferocity the enemy could not withstand and the stains were vanquished.

Now she was advancing on the attic, which should produce some epic battles. She pulled down the retractable stairs and was showered with dust, causing her to sneeze repeatedly. Her eyes watered and for a moment she was crying, great tearing sobs that ripped from deep within her chest. But she focused  on the dust and ablution and carefully placed the sobs on a back shelf for later. She had had several long talks with herself (or maybe it was God she was talking to), discussing what her life should be like now. After. And she had struck a bargain with herself (or God). She would think about her life and her loss—after the house was cleaned—thoroughly.

She had gotten through the first few weeks with her dust cloth and mop held high. After the attic, there was the garage and then the closets still to do. There was time yet before she had to keep her bargain. She hadn’t been out of the house except for the funeral. She certainly didn’t need food. But she was going to need toilet paper soon. And laundry detergent. And Windex. And Pledge. And paper towels.

Walking out the front door would be like setting foot into a war zone. The eyes of her neighbors, friends would be watching. They would stop her on the street, in the stores, demanding to know how she was, what she was going to do now. She would see the sympathy, the pity in their eyes. She thought about asking her daughter to go for her, but she would see accusation as well as pity in those eyes, those sharp eyes that always reminded Melissa of her mother-in-law, who had been a world class bitch. Even their nasal voices were the same.

Maybe she could run out to the car, moving too quickly for anyone to reach her and then go to a store on the other side of town where she didn’t know anyone. Better yet! She could go to a different town! Encouraged by the brilliance of the solution, she started up the dusty steps to the attic. Her eyes went up to the black hole of the entrance in the ceiling and she stopped, riveted by the darkness. There it was—the whole of it. Black. Empty. A Stygian hollowness. And she felt its twin in the cold vacuum of her existence with all its light extinguished. And the sobs returned and would not be denied.

 Rhema Sayers is a retired doctor, now working as a freelance writer with some success. She has had over 40 short stories and historical articles published. She lives with her husband and three dogs in the desert near Tucson.

“New Hierarchy” by Soramimi Hanarejima

“Flow” by Sydney McKenna, oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″

Though you suspect she would much rather spend her weekends and evenings convalescing at home, you ask her to meet you in city plazas and parks, insisting that fresh air will do her some good. To your surprise, she accepts your invitations—the springtime atmosphere of warmth and wildflowers perhaps too pleasant to pass up even in her despondency.

During your outings with her, she makes for dreary company, mopey and taciturn—gloomy, like you’re walking down sunlit streets or through verdant landscapes with a gray cloud floating alongside you, always on the cusp drizzling. But companionship isn’t the point of these excursions.

When meeting her in the open, busy spaces you’ve selected, you always arrive early, so you can see her approaching from afar and furtively point the telephoto lens of the psychoscope at her. It’s supposed to be used only at work—and even then, just for approved projects—but you are driven by concern (and admittedly, curiosity) to discreetly keep an eye on her broken heart; to track the reassembly of the sundered pieces—to make sure they are in fact reassembling. And over successive rendezvouses with her, you confirm that, to your relief, the cardiac fragments are indeed drawing closer together, albeit very gradually.

Your surreptitious surveillance of her metaphysical anatomy continues to be reassuring, until you see that its slow rate of reconstitution is allowing her heart to reorganize out of order, with self-concern and cynicism heading for the center of the new arrangement.

You monitor the situation closely as these two shards of her character vie neck and neck, locked in a sluggish jockeying for the position of greatest influence over her life. Rooting for self-concern, you grow ever anxious about which contender will triumph, what her new psychological regime will be built around.

To your dismay, cynicism wins this slothy race and seizes the crucial spot, dashing your hopes that there would be at last an era of her life when she treats herself with utmost importance. You brace for an epoch of distrust and acrimony.

But even with this mental preparation, being around her is an incredible drag. She is always moody and brooding, unmoved by beauty, barely responsive to kindness. When she does say thanks, it sounds like her gratitude is being relinquished oh so begrudgingly. Little things set her off: cars parked too close to lines marking lot spaces, posters advertising beauty products in subway cars, people who walk in the very middle of the sidewalk making it difficult for her to pass them.

Still, you try to accept her for who she now is and channel your pessimism into conversations with her, which is surprisingly easy. There’s always something you can glibly complain about, and the effect of voicing your dissatisfactions is immediate. As though you’ve flipped a switch in her mind with your judgmental words, the camaraderie of negativity turns her more talkative—sometimes garrulous—in your company. The two of you are soon disparaging all manner of things: insipid mainstream movies, the shoddy state of public spaces downtown, the inflation rate, the overabundance of refined flour and sugar in the local foodshed, the excessive fixation upon—if not outright glorification of—romantic love in pop culture. Riffing off each other’s rants ultimately leads the two of you to rail against the human experience itself: riddled with cognitive biases, feral propensities and other historical cruft, the common enemy you can pin everything on.

All this vehement denigration cements a vigorous rapport with her but one that weighs heavy on your psyche, making it ache with despair and longing.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this any more,” you finally say to her.

To pace out the words you’ve prepared, you take a moment to look at the wind filtering through the bright, fresh leaves of the maple trees across the meadow. You’re glad that the bench you’ve chosen faces such a calming view and allows you to say these words as though to the landscape.

“I thought the darkness would be manageable—tolerable if it kept us close. But it’s exacted more of a toll than I thought it would.”

Unsurprisingly, she responds by unleashing a torrent of spite, declaring that everyone proves to be unreliable, untrustworthy and self-serving given enough time. You find it encouraging—almost touching—that her bitter words are leveled entirely at humanity, only falling upon you as they rain down on all humankind. But ultimately, her vociferous sentiments affirm your decision. You just cannot partake in (nor of) this misanthropy indefinitely. So once she’s said everything she must, you tell her to take care of herself and that you hope to see her again under different circumstances. With unexpected ease, you rise from the bench and take the wooded trail that will bring you to the river.

A few days later, you drive to her neighborhood and park down the street from her place, in a spot that will afford a clear view of her leaving for work. When she steps out the front door, you train the psychoscope on her just as you have so many times before. You recoil at what it shows you, then readjust the focus several times as she walks down the sidewalk, until there can be no mistake. Her heart has splintered apart.

You set the psychoscope down on the passenger seat, trying to make sense of this. Are you the culprit this time? It never crossed your mind that you could have this kind of effect upon her—any such thought at least miles away as she wielded scorn so mightily. Behavior you now know you should not have taken at face value. The psychoscope would no doubt have shown you her heart’s persisting, underlying fragility, and you would not have mistaken voluble rancor for true vigor.

You start the car while your mind extrapolates the future: the next rearrangement (no doubt already underway) will run its course, a new order ultimately establishing itself. You won’t watch that hierarchy form and will instead study it covertly when her heart is once again whole. Or simply adhere to the company policy that prohibits the use of equipment for personal reasons, affording her and yourself space. Either way, you will miss her—more than you already have.



Soramimi Hanarejima is a writer of innovative fiction and the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018KYSO Flash and Book XI.

“The Worm Hunters” by Mark Putzi

“Entangled Essence” a Diptych by Lisa Boardwine.

Towards evening we ran about in our hooded sweatshirts and held our hands over our heads complaining. We had crushed a dozen or so just-opened buds with the bees still in them. Then it came time to celebrate because the sun was low and our spirits were struggling to burst out of our bodies. As the mist of evening descended upon us, we watched the last glorious red rays color the edges of the clouds. We made fog trails with our hands. We listened as the older kids walked up and down the street when all we could see of them were the lit ends of their cigarettes. 

At night, we threw nuts at the nest the squirrels had made in the old tree. Hardly looking at one another, we fidgeted in front of the T.V., while the sprinkler produced an artificial thunderstorm in our back yard. I often wondered why they didn’t simply move to another yard where they’d be safe. For I knew they were aware of me. They felt my voice, even in whispers.  The methodical pound of my footsteps echoed in their hearts like a drum. Sightless, I was sure they could yet envision me: processional, head bowed like a hooded monk, directing my beam of flashlight along the ground. Some darted for cover instantly when detected, but others — the martyrs — stretched themselves out, basking, fully glistening in the light.

I would inspect the cans of dirt for moisture. We would divide into two teams. My brother Chuck and I, on our hands and knees, would comb every inch of grass in the back yard. We could hear our younger sister and Tommy in the front yard, laughing, conversing.

There were hot and cold regions, lush greenlands where the nightcrawlers congregated with a disproportionate thickness, and arid deserts which contained only the odd sociopathic worm.  We worked silently: many times we pushed down the impulse to cry out when our efforts were rewarded with a capture. Afterwards, we compared lengths and thicknesses. We tried to sex them, always settling on females being the fattest because of the likelihood they were pregnant. We discussed fat or wiggly or both to determine which of these attributes would produce the best lure.  We did not ask God to deliver a big fish: He punished selfishness with foul weather and knotted lines inside our reels. So we asked God for lucky worms, for worms the fish could not resist eating.  Then it was up to us to land with our skill from among the many fish, the biggest. 

            We took a knife and cut holes into the plastic lid of our coffee can—we remembered always the time we had not done so by mistake—and set the can in the basement beside the pumpkin, which had ripened to a spectacular yellow-orange, awaiting Halloween dissection. From inside their metal confines, they emitted prayers to my father, imploring him to stay away, until at three in the morning he overcame their will, crashed up the stairs and into the bedroom, awakening me from a nightmare, and fending off my mother en route to the bed. I was on fire again, the Lightning Bolt Man from General Electric summarily cornering me in the attic where the yellowed Polish newspaper in my hands lit with a flash as I awoke. The next day they rejoiced and dug back under between rows of green beans and radishes while my father slept it off, his socks half dangling from his feet. “No you didn’t!” shouted Chuck, “Eat this dirt you lousy worm!” as he tripped and pummeled me when he saw the empty can with its lid beside, full of triangular breathing holes. They were the culprits, these holes allowed the worms to beseech my father’s tardiness. I laughed because I knew we’d fish another time. It never hurt when someone hit you, only afterwards. That afternoon, I went between the houses where the snapdragons grew, took it out on the bees. I watched them curiously, buzzing erratically back and forth, finally lighting on their deathbeds.


Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee in 1990. He has published stories in Jazz Street, The Cream City Review and Wilderness House Literary Review and poetry in many small press magazines. Since 2012, he has worked as a retail pharmacist in Milwaukee. In 2015 he married for the first time. His wife, Sharon Nagel has published two mysteries in collaboration with her co-writer Jocelyn Koehler under the pen name Juneau Black. The family pet, Willow, is an internet star and a highly accomplished tortoise shell cat.

“Common Blackberry” by Kirsty MacKay

“Gilded” by Lisa Boardwine, Oil/Cold Wax on Panel, 12 x 12.

A woman floats on her back in the Sandy River under a rare Oregon sunshine. The layers of gray have given way to blue skies. The sun says to all the people below, “I’m still here!” She stays afloat with an occasional fluttering of her fingertips and, perhaps, some kind of buoyant dreaming. Growing along the opposite bank are thick and wild stream-fed blackberry bushes. The fruit dangles over the river. The underbrush rustles from waxwings and robins and meadowlarks that feed on the berries. The woman rises slowly from the water in her green bathing suit, noticing. As she carries no basket, she just takes a plump fruit and pops it into her mouth. She tastes fully, raising her shoulders with pleasure, and then reaches for another. With the sun warming her face and the water cooling her ankles, there is no craving for whipped cream for the berries, just the sweet taste of instant gratification. She is like a large water bird surrounded by the things that she needs. As she turns back to the water, you can see blackberry stains on her fingers, her lips, and her chin. The water reopens to her and washes her hands and face gently. She resonates joy like a laughing Buddha and goes to lie down on the sand; anyone watching has learned something without even having had a talk with the bather about her philosophy of life. The past is a phantom and the future never comes, or, perhaps—the fruit is ready; are you ready for the fruit?


Kirsty MacKay is a live storyteller who shares ancient stories from the Ohlone people of the South Bay. She has been writing poetry for roughly three decades while dealing with chronic issues of depression and anxiety. She considers herself to be a fairly recovered woman who remains, nonetheless, vulnerable. She also enjoys leading poetry strolls through parks, discussing the works of Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Alice Walker.