“Gut” by Lucinda Kempe


“Determining” by Jane Cornish Smith, oil on canvas, 2014.

I held his toe in my hand. The toe had become disengaged from its disinterred paw. I hadn’t meant to dig up the body. In my mania for replanting I excavated an empty spot in the garden, completely forgetting what I’d buried there.

I could have had Nick cremated and tossed his ashes, the way I did with half of Mama. But I couldn’t do that to a creature I loved. A body should be returned to the earth in its original state, even if it’s stiff with rigor mortis and bled out.

Nick was diabetic and I gave him insulin shots for years. Not a people-friendly cat, he preferred the other felines, particularly Maxwell who tolerated being sodomized. I’d find them in the basement on a shelf near the towels, Nick on Max’s back happily humping away, and Max wearing a stoic expression. A vet in New Orleans rescued Maxwell, who, in turn, my mother rescued. Mama was kind to strays.

I brought Max and another cat I’d rescued, Miss Mouse, with me when I moved to New York. Nick was a Yankee cat I adopted from an upper west side Manhattan rescue. My husband and I called him “Baby” the first year we got him. Not long afterwards I got pregnant with our first child, a son.

I reburied Nick’s toe with the azalea. His skull I tossed off into the woods. I found it later, after I’d replanted the shrub. I buried the other half of Mama’s ashes with the corpse of a beloved dog named Comus. Nick wouldn’t have minded. Like my mother, he didn’t have truck with boundaries. Mama wouldn’t have minded either. She loved dogs more than anything.

 

 

Lucinda Kempe has had work published Jellyfish Review, Summerset Review, Matter Press’s Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, decomP, and Corium. She won the Joseph Kelly Prize for Creative Writing in 2015 and is an M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University.

 

“Yard Sale” by Nancy Ludmerer


“Orange Horizon Line” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil on board, 2014.

Jackie’s present to Brooke from two weeks before, Richard Scarry’s Mother Goose, was going for two dollars. The baby shoes she bought Brooke were on offer for a pittance as well. “Yard sale! Moving today! Last chance!” clamored the sign.

The screen door hung off its hinge. “Deirdre!” Jackie called softly to her daughter. The only sound was the baby crying. Deidre’s baby, and Tonio’s. Not yours, Deirdre said last time. Jackie’s ideas about child-rearing were antiquated, Deirdre complained, her gifts well-meaning but off. The pink baby shoes were kidskin — but they were raising Brooke vegan. Mother Goose was sexist.

When she heard they were moving to Tempe, Arizona, to be near Tonio’s people, Jackie said, “I’ll never get to see Brooke.”

Deirdre said she could come visit. She didn’t mention how hard it was for Jackie to travel – how she’d forget her tickets, or her house keys, or even where she was going. Jackie had gone to the library and looked up the city they were moving to, tried to figure out exactly how far it was from Clifton, New Jersey, but couldn’t even find it on the map. An hour later she realized she was looking for Temple, Arizona – a place that didn’t even exist – when the place they were moving was Tempe. She was too embarrassed to tell Deirdre about her mistake, or even what she had learned from her research, which was that Tempe, Arizona was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece, where in ancient times there was a temple to Apollo. Somehow she knew Deirdre wouldn’t be interested, or at least not interested in hearing this from her.

But she wasn’t there for that. She came to say good-bye to them, and to the baby.

Tonio appeared at the door. He was small and wiry and no match for her Deirdre, who was 5’9” with large, jutting hip bones. “Brooke dozed off before I could feed her,” he said wearily. “At least she stopped crying.”

“Isn’t Deirdre home?” Jackie asked.

“At the gym.” Then he left, too, to gas-up the U-Haul.

Brooke lay on her back in her crib, awake, violet eyes blinking, forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. Jackie wanted to say “I’ll make it up to you,” but knew it was a lie. Your parents are your destiny, not your brain-addled Grandma.

Instead Jackie chanted the one rhyme she could remember by heart: “Pussycat, pussycat where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”

The baby watched her. She kicked her bare feet and moved her small hands like birds, as if she recognized Jackie was her grandmother, as if she knew this was special, like a visitation from an angel.

Little mouse, Jackie crooned, lifting her in her arms.

In the taxi Jackie called to speed her and Brooke to the station, she untied the shoes’ ribbon laces, stroked the soft pink kidskin, and fitted them on.

 

 

Nancy Ludmerer‘s fiction and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Hospital Drive, Litro, Amsterdam Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, and Literal Latte, among other fine journals. Her flash fiction has been published in Vestal Review, North American Review, KYSO Flash, Grain, Night Train, and Blue Monday Review and her flash “First Night” (a prizewinner in River Styx) also appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy.

“Quantum Mom” by Cezarija Abartis

Quantum Mom_Lands End
“Land’s End” Image by Pam Brodersen

Outside Paula’s window, the leaves were almost gone from the maple tree. She worried about her friend Andrea. Two weeks ago the tree blazed orange and scarlet, and now it was just skeletal branches against the dim and misty sky. And in six months it would bud green and gold. She hoped Andrea would get well. She closed the book that she’d been trying to read, a new translation of the Odyssey for the next semester, closed it on the page where Odysseus speaks with his mother in Hades.

Paula remembered her mother before she died. Young and slender, younger than Paula, who was fifty-two and looking matronly with her big hips. Paula never got to see her mother grow old. She had, at last, forgiven her for dying.

“Paula, dear.” Her mother appeared, wearing the apron Paula had sewn when she was in seventh grade, a cotton print of roses and baby angels with wings. “I want you to study hard.”

“Yes, Mother, I do.”

“I want you to get all A’s.”

“I only got one B. That was in Civics.”

“I know. You hate reading the newspaper.”

“I like reading books.”

“When I was your age, I liked books of fairy tales.”

“Were you twelve once?”

Her mother lightly flicked the tip of Paula’s nose. “Don’t mock your old mother.”

The next year, her slender and beautiful mother drove to the Fifth Street Bridge, got out of the car, climbed over the rail, and jumped into the river. She was thirty-seven. Paula’s brother was ten, and at first he thought she would somehow return. “Mickey expected you to come back a week later.”

“I was truly dead and gone,” her mother’s ghost said. “I missed all of you. Your father, of course, but you and Mickey most of all. I wanted to see you grow up.”

“Look at me, Mother. I’m fifty-two. You must be seventy-seven.”

“You’re beautiful, but I see a thirteen-year-old.”

“I got my Ph.D.” Paula pointed to her framed diploma with the gold-colored seal in the corner. “I’m a professor.”

“Funny, you look thirteen to me.” Her mother touched her own cheek with her familiar gesture of puzzlement.

Paula stared at this young, aproned woman with her chestnut-brown hair and her clear eyes. She wondered what her mother would’ve been like if she had survived depression. Her mother would be judging her: “You should find a nice man and have children.”

“Mother, I’m fifty-two.”

“You could adopt.”

“Mother, that ship has sailed.”

“I liked Evan.”

“You were gone before I met him. How could you have known?”

Her mother shrugged and put on a tricky expression. “I have my ways.”

“He’s dead. Cancer.”

“Perhaps in another pocket of time he would be alive?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I always liked science, you know that. Your father called it woo-woo science. But there are all sorts of things. Horatio says, ‘More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

“That’s Hamlet.”

“Right.”

Paula shook her head at her woo-woo mother.

Paula’s cat, Schrödinger, trotted in, tail perpendicular, confident, alert, powerful. She bent down to pet him, and he felt warm and solid.

Paula looked up and saw a vase of wilting roses on the nightstand and an old mother lying on a bed, the golden afternoon pouring down on her. But this was not possible. This mother had white, floaty hair. Her eyes seemed cloudy. This was a future that never happened. The living room had become a bed chamber.

Paula’s head buzzed.

Her cat, Schrödinger, ambled in, now skinny and old. Then Atom, her mother’s cat, came in meowing, stropping her ankles. “Okay, sweeties. I’ll get you a fresh can.” But they weren’t interested in food.

Her father had loved that cat, especially after his wife died.

Atom jumped up on the bed, and the old mother petted him until he nipped at her. “He only likes a certain amount of petting. Such a particular, fine cat.” She smiled and turned her creamy, cataracted eyes on Paula. “I saved him from death. I found him as an abandoned kitten, and I saved him. I don’t know where he is now.”

“We put him to sleep.”

“I don’t know where he is now.” Her mother’s face was infinitely sad. “So many things I don’t know. What is love? Will the universe unravel? Will there be a union of body and soul? Will we see again the people and creatures we loved?”

“And have you been healed of your depression?”

She sliced the air with her hand. “My pain is over.”

“Oh, Mother, that’s good.”

“I love to see your happy face. I can take that memory to eternity. Are you happy, dear? No danger? You don’t have my depression?”

Her cat, Schrödinger, trotted in. In this version her mother was young again.

“I just have a bad cold,” Paula said. “My October respiratory infection.” She coughed for her mother, a little, jagged exhalation.

“Don’t make light of it.”

“Only a mom would take this seriously. My friends get colds and we just pooh-pooh their complaining.”

“I used to get those heavy infections around my lungs, hot around my heart and throat,” her young mother said.

“I feel so sorry for you.”

“That’s in the past.” She waved dismissively. “No respiratory infections anymore. All gone.” She opened her arms wide, as if to display her health.

“Andrea has lung cancer.” Paula wanted to rush into her mother’s arms and tell her about her friend. “Will she get better?”

Her mother straightened the hem of her apron. “I was remembering about the past–that is to say, you were remembering. Anyway, you and Andrea were fighting about who was responsible for tearing the apron that you sewed in Home Ec class.”

“Andrea tore it–she pulled it out of my hand and caught it on a doorknob.” The perfect, unimportant memory made Paula shake her head at herself. She wanted to embrace her mother, but knew she was just a shade. “Will you come back?”

The young mother walked to the door, whispered, “Love,” fluttered her fingers, and disappeared.

Schrödinger meowed. Paula turned, picked him up, and hugged him to her chest.

 

 

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in FriGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, r.kv.r.y, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/

 

“Mother” by Digby Beaumont

Mother_Clowns Trailer
“Clown’s Trailer” Image by Pam Brodersen

My father stands on a branch high up in the sweet chestnut tree outside, peering through a telescope at the village along the valley. Way past my bedtime, I watch from my window, bare feet turning blue on the wood floor.

Dad leans forward. Maybe he’s searching for my mother. She hasn’t been around so much, and I wonder why. Is it something to do with him? Or me? Shifting his weight, he tries to find a firmer foothold. The branch creaks, then cracks, and he topples headlong. I catch my breath, yell to him, press my palms against the cold glass.

*

Outside the City Library, I’m singing in the school choir. I moved here to live with my foster family after Dad died. It’s Harvest Festival. We’ve drawn a big crowd. Second song in and there she is, standing at the back, my mother, in a red trench-coat and matching red beret. My voice breaks up, I stand taller, try to make eye contact, but she keeps her head bowed. I want to ask, Why are you here? To see me? After all this time?

She glances up. I can’t help myself. I run from the stage, plow through the crowd. Turning, she hurries away. I follow, my eyes on the red beret bobbing among the Saturday shoppers, but she doesn’t look back and I lose her in fog.

*

Christmas, and I’ve heard she’s moved back into the old house. I get up before the family wakes. I cycle all morning. From the top of Snowdrop Hill, the place nestles in the valley. I imagine how it will be inside. Warm. Carols on the radio. A tree, dressed in baubles and lights. The smell of turkey roasting in the oven. And her, standing at the kitchen counter, preparing vegetables, a rich cranberry sauce.

I pedal down and prop my bike against the fence, stopping to gaze at the sweet chestnut tree. From my rucksack, I take the gift I’ve bought her: a bottle of Charlie Blue. Always her favourite perfume. At least, it was. The side door isn’t locked, and I let myself in. Everywhere is cold, silent. No Christmas tree. No cooking smells.

In the living room I find her, crumpled on the sofa, sleeping. Bird’s-nest hair, smudged mascara. I kneel beside her, smooth her creased black dress. Resting my head on her chest, I feel her heartbeat, her breath cool against my face.

 

 

Digby Beaumont‘s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, Blue Five Notebook, Bartleby Snopes, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review and 100-Word Story among others. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.

 

“Teeth” by Joe Mills

Teeth_Captiva Inflatables
“Captiva Inflatables” Image by Pam Brodersen

Each kid on the field was just a container for teeth. A big rattling money jar for dentists and orthodontists.

Jan spent the game doing story problems: A dozen kids on a team with thirty-two teeth apiece. If they each needed braces at ten grand a crack

She should have gone to dental school. That would have meant job security and at least then she could have taken Karen to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day or to the office after hours for treatment.

On Thursday, the dentist said Karen would need braces. But first: extractions, expansions, and various other procedures that made her daughter’s mouth sound like a major construction site.

She’d known this was coming. Years ago a hygienist looked into Karen’s mouth and said, “Wow, she has a lot of teeth!”

“Yeah, all of them,” she’d laughed, assuming Karen had the same teeth everyone had, which she did, but apparently not the space.

“Crowning,” Dr. Lucas called it, and now some of Karen’s teeth had to come out. Permanently.

The thought made Jan queasy. Didn’t we need our adult teeth? All of them? Would this be the kind of thing future dentists didn’t do any more? Like tonsillectomies? No one had those done now. Plus, where would she get the money? Dropping dental insurance had been part of workplace cutbacks. Eliminated. Extracted. Their new medical plan: Don’t get sick.

Each year around enrollment time, Jan put a box of tissues by the computer in preparation for the frustrated tears she would reliably shed. The plan descriptions were so bewildering she might as well have picked at random.

There were no “kitchen table” conversations for her. Not anymore. She used to ask Cathy Cornwall what they chose and pick the same plan. Then the Cornwalls got transferred.

Jan asked the dentist if it was just a cosmetic thing with Karen’s teeth. She didn’t need cheerleader teeth. She wouldn’t be entering beauty pageants.

The dentist pointed to the x-ray, said if it wasn’t done now, later treatment would involve breaking the jaw. Dr. Lucas basically predicted Karen’s adult life would be hell if she didn’t get braces now. And even if Jan discounted half of the jargon, it still sounded like something had to be done. Somehow.

Afterwards, in the car, Karen burst into tears. “I liked the tooth fairy better,” she wailed.

Jan reached across the seat and held her daughter, thinking, “Here we are again, crying about teeth.” Years earlier, Karen’s friend Gracie had lost a tooth and been given five bucks from the tooth fairy, leaving Karen heartbroken because she only got a dollar.

Gracie’s parents had thrown the whole tooth fairy economy out of whack, and Jan didn’t know how to explain the fundamental unfairness. What could she say? The tooth fairy loved Gracie more? Gracie was cuter? They’d negotiated a better deal?

These days, Karen knew who the Tooth Fairy was. The last tooth her little brother lost was from going over the handlebars of his bike. Chuck had come home sobbing, with a bloody mouth, a gap in his smile, and a fist clenched around a fragment of white.

Although Jan calmed him down with French fries and chicken-fried steak, she forgot to put the money under his pillow. Karen ran downstairs the next morning to tell her, and together they wrote a note explaining that the Tooth Fairy had been running late, delayed by traffic over Asia and an unexpected number of children who’d eaten taffy apples.

It was the Easter Bunny, that weirdest of holiday animals, its story so thin and its elements so odd, that led Karen to insist, “It doesn’t make sense, Mommy. Tell me the truth.” Even though Jan hadn’t wanted to, she told her daughter and the toppling of one icon brought the rest crashing down. Karen instantly understood that no Easter Bunny meant no Santa Claus, no leprechauns, and no tooth fairy. She crawled onto her mother’s lap and cried.

Sometimes, when one thing was pulled out, everything came crashing down. One fantasy. One tooth. One job. One member of the family. You had to adjust to a different world. If Jan could, she would crawl into someone’s lap right now and have a comforting cry. That’s all she wanted. Someone to be there for her. Some days, that was the best she could do as a parent. Just be there.

That sounds like enough. But you also need money for the teeth. All those teeth.

 

 

Joe Mills is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published six collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently Exit, pursued by a bear which consists of poems triggered by stage directions in Shakespeare. He edited the collection of film criticism A Century of the Marx Brothers. With his wife, Danielle Tarmey, he researched and wrote two editions of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries, and his essay “On Hearing My Daughter Trying to Sing Dixie” won this year’s Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. More information about his work is available at www.josephrobertmills.com.

 

“Shelby County Courthouse” by Kathryn Kulpa

A Note_Shelby CountyCH
“A Note” Image by Pam Brodersen

I was testifying at the hearing when I saw you sleeping.

Your meemaw beside you looked like an old tree, gnarled and bumpy from too many hard winters. The crocheted blanket that wrapped you round was two shades of pink: odd dye lots from the Dollar Salvage, and I knew just what she’d said as she bought them: “The baby won’t care if they don’t match.” And she was right. You don’t care.

The domed, painted ceiling above you is gold and blue. It looks calm and holy, the way the Sistine Chapel might look inside. Or maybe not. I’ve never been there. The only church I’ve seen is the one I was married in, and that one had a white drop ceiling. His mom picked it. It was near the Olive Garden. And even though we didn’t care about getting married I thank God every day she said what she said about custody and made us go. Thank you, Meemaw.

Because now my mama can’t take you, wherever they send me. My mama who wouldn’t quit that man, even after I told her what he did to me. She swore she was done with him, like she swore so many things, but then I came home and found him alone with you.

Things I always knew about you: that you will make it out of here alive. That you will be better than where you come from, better than all of us. Even if you’d looked like that man whose name I won’t say. I’d dream about that before, worrying I wouldn’t love you if you looked like him. It wouldn’t have mattered—I know that now—but you don’t. You’re caramel and curly. Nothing mean could ever look out of those wide brown eyes. When you dream, you dream a world where even the moon smiles down at you.

You wake, looking up at this gold-and-blue ceiling like it’s a skyful of stars, like you did that time at the carnival when I took you on the Ferris wheel, held close in my lap, and you weren’t scared at all. You looked up and waved your hands at the sky and my eyes blurred watching you, I loved you so hard, and you won’t remember that night, or me, most likely, but that was when I knew. I’d die to keep you safe. That night your face turned to rain.

 

 

Kathryn Kulpa is the author of Girls on Film, a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest, published by Paper Nautilus. Her stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Reservoir, Monkeybicycle, and other journals. She leads writing workshops for teens and adults in Rhode Island and will be a visiting writer at Wheaton College in fall 2017.

 

“Cactus” by Foster Trecost

Cow Hit by Lightning (Cactus)
“Cow Hit by Lightning” by Pam Brodersen

I counted telephone poles and the seconds between them. The highway cut straight through the sand, and it seemed the road would never end. No curves. No hills. Just poles.

I’m not sure when she changed. After kids, I guess. She rarely smiled, joked even less. I watched her drive. Not even a blink. Just an arid stare, dry like the desert, alone like a cactus. I wanted to say something, but I knew she just wanted to drive, to hide behind the wheel, an excuse to concentrate, a reason to focus on something other than me. Maybe I had changed, too. I went back to the poles.

She once asked me to keep her young. “There’s not much I can do about aging,” I said. So she asked me to keep her youthful. “That, I can try.” And so came the days when everyone we saw became someone else. We spent hours inventing stories about people, who they were, what their lives were like. She later told me she got the idea from a Simon and Garfunkel song. “See that woman over there,” she said in a grocery store checkout line. “She’s having an affair with her tango instructor. Her husband knows it, too. But he’s sleeping with his secretary.” She looked at me, and waited for what I would say.

“Do you think they know?” I asked.

“Know what?”

“Do you think they know her tango instructor is married to his secretary?”

She kissed me, right there in the checkout line, for a long time.

I tired of the poles and wanted to turn on the radio, but figured no stations were in reach. I also figured she’d turn it off if I found one. I wanted to talk, or break something.

I must have dozed off because I don’t remember stopping. I woke to an empty car, still running, her door open. I jumped out, looked around, and found her standing in the sand some ways away. I walked to where she was, but let her speak first. She stood in front of a cactus, prickly in bloom.

“They’re spies,” she said.

I waited.

“They’re spies from another planet, sent here to watch us. See those flowers,” she said. “Those flowers aren’t really flowers.”

It was my turn. “No, they’re not. They’re communication devices used to send information back to their home planet. Information they gathered throughout the year.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what they are. Communication devices.”

I wanted to ask where she’d gone, but instead I kissed her for a long time.

 

 

Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, and sometimes very short. He lives in New Orleans.

 

“Controlled Delivery” by A.E. Weisgerber

Controlled Delivery
“Grassy Tracks” by Penelope Breen

Ben had to ask a favor. He needed one of Big Ed’s guys for some roll-off job, but when he stopped by Big’s, things seemed none too happy.

“He’s out in the warehouse.” The office girl’s head made tiny shakes and she kept it down in her screen. “Big’s moving boxes around.”

“Thanks, Bree.”

She swiveled to turn on the radio behind her, some droning medical show, and said to the world, “Tell him: no drums.”

When Big uses the forklift, drums wind up where crates should be. Foreman can’t locate orders for a week.

Big’s phone went straight to message. Ben followed forklift sounds and finally yelled, “Yo, Big Ed! Stop jerkin’ off!”

Big, in his bucket hat and Giants windbreaker, turned to look at Ben, then lowered the fork with a heavy sigh.

“How can you listen to that racket?”

Big stayed up in the seat looking down. He accepted a cigarette Ben offered and hit the off switch. “Thanks, Cuz.” Big took a puff and blew out smoke through his lips, his tinny voice followed it to the sodium light. “You know my nephew, that one that’s always asking for money?”

“Yeah. Nicky Cash? He was with you yesterday.”

“He didn’t show this morning. Found him dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.” Big hooked his arm on the seatback, shrugged his shoulders, and faced Ben. “It can hook you. Coke got me.”

Ben, nothing to say, counted boxes.

Big Ed lost his nose to coke. He had a rubber one for a while, some putty-looking fabrication. Docs did that thing where they grew a new nose on his forehead. He was hard to look at for a year or two. His warehouse called him The Fucking Nose. But his sea-monkey-growing nose finally got big enough that the docs carved it out, left a hinge, and flipped it down. It’s still not right. His one leg dangled off the side of the lift. He was wearing old man Velcros. Big was quiet. Ben let him smoke in peace.

Big offered, “What’s going on?”

Ben put the favor on the back burner, put his foot up on the wheel. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Ben leaned forward on his arm. “It’s the doctors. Remember when I had a backache? I was up to three Tylenols for breakfast and three for lunch. Va fanacul, my back was bothering me. You remember that? Right around when you bought out Garcia. You had me keeping an eye on that new fucking guy.” Ben snapped his fingers thinking. “What was his name? Eyebrows?”

“Yeah. I remember Eyebrows.” Big closed his eyes.

“So I went to my doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a pain.’ He says, ‘Take these.’ So I took them. They were okay. I was feeling good. And then I ran out of pills and my scrip was done. I got some kinda flu. I couldn’t get out of bed. I told Lisa not to leave the house I was afraid I was dying.”

“Fucking flu,” Big Ed said.

“Here’s the thing. The fucking thing is, it wasn’t the flu. I went to the doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a flu and my back hurts again.’ He said ‘You’re addicted to those pills. When’s the last time you had one? I can give you something else to get you off the opioids.’ I said, ‘I’m addicted?’ So I jacked him up.” Big Ed opened one eye. “I grabbed him by the throat and jacked him up on the wall and said ‘Do you mean you turned me into a fucking junkie? I’m a fucking junkie now?’”

“Fucking docs,” Big Ed closed his eye.

“No more pills for me.” Ben pushed off the tire and stood up straight, offered the rest of the pack to Big Ed. “I’m sorry about Nicky. How’s your sister doing?”

“It’s a big weight. A child is a heavy thing.” He ground out the cigarette under the ball of his foot, pressed the button. The beeping resumed. Big lifted a drum.

 

 

A.E. Weisgerber’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

 

“Hunting” by Leland Seese

Hunting
“Ellis Island #5” by Penelope Breen

 

The one-time Eagle Scout spent the drive up to the mountains texting with his husband in their condo back in town. At the lodge the busker lit a fire in the woodstove with a single match and half a paper sack. A junkie in recovery started up a coffee pot to flow both day and night. We brought three pounds of French roast for the weekend to fortify the twelve of us. No beer. No scotch. No vodka. No cigars. Nothing that might tempt a single one to sacrifice sobriety. Throughout the weekend, scents of boyhood hunting trips, summer fishing expeditions, wood smoke, pine, and skunk cabbage, and memories. This one learned to field dress a deer from men who later passed out drunk in camp. Another told why God the Father isn’t comforting for those whose fathers beat them with a belt. Two call-ups to Afghanistan left a third one screaming in his bunk bed in the middle of the night. No one brought a shotgun or a rod and reel. Were we the first guests in this lodge to mourn the harm we’d done, or pray for opportunities to make amends, or fill the pot with meatless stew? And though we peppered conversation with our shits and fucks as men up in the mountains do, we shook our fists at all the ways the world had wounded us. Lying on our backs beneath the Milky Way, we trusted myriads of stars to understand as we drew out fears like little demons from the shadows near the dying fire, and let forgiveness stalk us, wild and unpredictable through the forest night.

 

 

Leland Seese’s poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Nassau Review, The East Bay Review, and many other journals. He lives in Seattle, where he and his wife are foster-adoptive-biological parents of six children. Much of his work as a pastor involves work with homeless and immigrant communities.

 

“Glass Splinters” by Tyler Anne Whichard

Glass Splinters
Black Hand” by Penelope Breen

When his mother died, he didn’t cry. I guess he couldn’t find it in him. His eyes that teared up in every argument we ever had were dry at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that, too. Some people are just like that: all the mourning happens on the inside, and that’s fine. If anything, it’s worse for the people watching. My eyes followed him at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that. I felt like Noah building his arc even when everyone told him it wouldn’t rain. I had heard the same voice he had; we both knew a flood was coming.

~

One night, I found him alone in his room and he held his arms out to me with a look that reminded me of the glass his friend Eric shattered three parties before; I’m sure if someone looked hard enough, they could still find splinters of it in the corners of the room, under the lip of the lower cabinets.

The pretty girl he danced with went home and everyone who couldn’t drive fell asleep in random places throughout his house. I kept him on his side the entire night in case he got sick from all the alcohol and came to terms with the fact that I would be picking the splinters of him out of me for a very long time. He fell asleep and I wondered if he found what he was looking for there.

~

On the last night of a summer trip we went on, he sat outside in a little rocking chair; it was balanced against the wall so no one could tell it was broken at first glance. If it was sat in the right way, it didn’t give way beneath you. It was around two o’clock in the morning when I woke up and found him there, crying silently. He never spoke about his mother, but I knew who the tears were for.

“You’re always the one to find me,” he said with a breathy, not-funny sort of laugh.

“I’m always looking for you,” I said – only, come to think of it, I can’t remember if we ever said anything like that out loud. If we didn’t, I don’t know why. I remember I wrapped my arms around him as he buried his nose in the silent place between my collarbones.

The rocking chair didn’t give out – I guess it knew a thing or two about timing.

~

At the last party I ever attended at his place, I stayed up on the couch talking to one of his friends, confusing them as my own for a night. I didn’t go up to his room.

At one point, one of his little brothers came over to me and told me he hoped things worked out because I was the best thing for his older brother, even if he didn’t know it. I guess I’m the type of person people are meant to stay with, only no one does, and I don’t really know what that says about me. I didn’t go up to his room after hearing that, even though I wanted to. I knew who was up there with him, and he knew I knew.

I hope she kept him sleeping on his side. He wasn’t one to lose his alcohol, but it was best to play it safe and he snored on his back, anyway.

I drove myself home and slept for two days.

 

 

Tyler Anne Whichard is a 21-year-old aspiring writer working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The r.k.v.r.y quarterly literary journal is the first official publication of her work. Her hobbies include staring at blank Word documents, binge-watching Korean dramas, and pouring too much creamer in her coffee in the morning.