Bright Flash Literary Review

Artwork courtesy Joanne Sala. All rights reserved.

Welcome to Bright Flash Literary Review, an online literary journal.

Submission guidelines: Flash fiction (50-word minimum), fiction, and memoir will be considered. 1500 word maximum for all submissions. Simultaneous submissions are permitted. Please notify us ASAP if your work is accepted elsewhere. 

Please include a brief (200 words or fewer) third-person bio. SUBMISSIONS WITHOUT BIOS (add at the end of your piece on Submittable or use Duosuma’s designated space) will be declined.

No page numbers or headers. 

Translations not accepted.

Submit only one piece at a time and wait for a response before submitting again. 

Average response time is 30 days. If you have not heard from us in more than 60 days, feel free to follow-up.

If your work is accepted, Bright Flash Literary Review obtains first Northern American rights. All rights revert back to the author upon publication. Writers are strongly advised to honor other publication’s guidelines concerning previously published work. If your piece is accepted by another journal after publication in Bright Flash Literary Review, please ask for first publication attribution to BFLR.

If your story is accepted, please wait six months before submitting again.

If your work is declined, please wait 30 days before submitting again.

Repeated violations of our guidelines may result in being blocked from our site. We accept submissions from writers 18 years of age or older.

We are a non-paying market, but also do not charge submission fees.

Submit below through Submittable or Duosuma. E-mail submissions are not accepted. New stories are posted at the beginning of each month.

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May I Help You?

By Lisa Rodriguez

Leah’s first year working at Mocha Cow flew by with lattes and chicken salads. The second year was decent, although not as smooth. Now at the start of the third year, Leah woke up to an itch at the nape of her neck. Like everyone else would, she ignored it and was ready for her shift by 11 am.

“May I help you?” She asked her first customer of the day, a lanky, gray-haired man.

“House, two shots.”

“Can I interest you in a new Christmas coffee flavor?”

“No, just the coffee.”

“How about a grilled cheese?”

The man’s nostrils flared. “I want my coffee without being interrogated.”

Leah’s left eye spasmed for a moment. “Of course.” She poured the coffee and added two shots.

“Here’s your damn two shots!” Leah threw the scolding drink in his face. It sizzled on his skin like an egg in a frying pan, the sound matched by his agonizing screams. Blood spots formed. Watching, her lips curled into a smile.

Leah blinked, breaking her stare.

“Have a pleasant day, sir,” she said, handing him his drink. Turning his nose up, he left, and Leah reached around and scratched the nape of her neck.

“Excussseee meeee,” the bushy-haired woman said, tramping through the store about mid-day. She stared at Leah under fake lashes.

“Can I help you?” Leah asked.

“Do you have anything low cal?”

It’s possible to make any drink with low fat or fat-free milk.

“Uhhh, what do you suggest?”

“Did you want a coffee base?”

The customer stared at Leah again.

“Well, how ‘bout a nonfat mocha latte?”

She shook her head.

“A blended coffee with light milk?”

She crinkled her nose.

Leah glanced past the woman. The line was growing. “I’ve had customers ask for the Honey Berry Cold Brew, and it’s only 120 calories.”

The woman pretended to shoot a gun.

“Coming right up ma’am.” She poured the drink, making it extra frothy.

“That’ll be $5.80.”

“I’m not paying. It’s ice cold.” She used her long nails to push it away. “I wanted a hot drink.”

“But I said it was Cold Brew.”

“Just give me a Flat White and hurry. I’m gonna be late.”

Leah bit her lower lip. A slight metallic taste entered her mouth. “Right away.”

After adding the coffee, Leah turned to the milk steamer. Her left hand automatically fell to the temperature knob. Without hesitation, she adjusted the temperature until the side display showed 193 degrees and then finished the hot drink.

“Here you are.” She put the lid and sleeve on the cup. “Sorry about the mix-up.”

The woman snatched the drink. “You should be.”

Leah watched the woman leave the café with her cup before she reached around and scratched her neck again. Something wet touched her fingers. She pulled her hand back to see a few droplets of red smeared on their tips. Leah gasped at first, but then smiled and washed her hands. No more blood.

“Five minutes left,” Becky, Leah’s coworker, said from over the counter.

Leah stopped sweeping. “Go ahead. It started snowing. Ella will wander where her mommy is.”

Becky nodded. “I owe you. I put away the food and the coffee and tea makers are clean. You should be good.” She hung her apron, clocked out, and put on her coat. But stopped at the door. “You okay, Leah?”

“Yeah, why?”

Becky shrugged. “It was a rough day, so checking on ya.”

Leah nodded. “Nothing a little extra sleep won’t fix, and a shot of vodka.”

“Right!” Becky laughed and left for the night.

Three minutes later, a stocky guy dressed in layers opened the door. Leah checked her watch: 7:58.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah love, a Cuban, halved.”

“We close in two minutes, sir. I’ve already put up the food.”

His eyes narrowed. “That’s two minutes to make my Cuban, isn’t it?”

Leah groaned and walked back to the fridge, grabbing what she needed for the sandwich. The man made himself at home, taking a seat at the nearest table and propping his feet up.

“Pimp-Dad, how’s it hanging?” The customer chatted on his phone. His back towards her. “Yeah, just grabbing a bite. Some dump of a diner.”

The toaster oven dinged, and Leah grabbed the sandwich, placing it on a plate to cut.

“No, totally not. More like homely. She’ll probably poison me. I made her do her job.”

His hyena laugh filled the empty café as Leah switched the neon open sign off and walked to his table. Her right hand, with knuckles turned white, still held the 10-inch chef knife she used earlier. Her neck, free of itches. She closed her eyes. She always hated the sight of blood.

                                                   *   *   *

Lisa Rodriguez lives with her family on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington. Although a new author, she has enjoyed writing thrilling stories for her friends for a while. When not traveling due to the military, she likes to drink coffee, travel and watch horror movies.

Afterschool Snack

By Lori Cramer

I used to look forward to hanging out with Meghan, but lately the only place she wants to go is the food court. Ever since the guy at Pop’s Pizza said he liked her Louisville Slugger T-shirt she’s been obsessed with him. She doesn’t know his name, so she calls him “Pizza Honey.” Not to his face, of course. She doesn’t say anything to his face except “One slice of plain, please.” 

When our slices are ready, Meghan drags me over to the table closest to Pizza Honey’s register so she can stare at him while we eat. While I eat, that is. Meghan’s too busy gabbing about how gorgeous he looks in his uniform, how his eyes are as blue as the summer sky, how he’s so much cuter than the guy at Tasty Taco. I keep telling her she should strike up a conversation with him, but she insists she’s too shy. She wants me to ask him his name. You know what I want? To talk about something other than Pizza Honey for a change.

One day, another Pop’s Pizza employee emerges from the back room with a pile of paper plates. Plopping them down next to Pizza Honey, he asks, “Need anything else, Beck?” Meghan’s face lights up. Finally, she knows his name!

The next day, while we’re pretending to study the menu—even though we always order the same thing—a girl dressed in head-to-toe black, like the people who squirt perfume on department-store shoppers, slinks over to him and purrs, “Hey, Beck Baby.”

Meghan gasps. 

Beck grins at the perfume girl. “I thought you said your break wasn’t ’til five.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t wait that long to see you.” Placing her hands on the metal bars intended for trays, she leans over the napkins, straws, and plastic utensils and kisses him. Right there in the middle of the food court!

Meghan’s eyes brim with tears. She turns away with a whimper. 

I pat her shoulder. Meghan can be awfully dramatic sometimes, but she’s my best friend.

The perfume girl tells Beck she’s got to get going before her boss discovers she’s gone.

“You’ll be back at five, though, right?” Beck asks.

“You better believe it!” She smooches him again. “See you soon, Beck Baby.”

Beck beams. “Can’t wait.” Leaning all the way over the register, he watches as she sashays away. Once she’s out of sight, his eyes meet mine. “Can I help you?” 

Meghan whirls around to face him. “No, as a matter of fact, you can’t help us,” she snaps. “There’s nothing here we want. Nothing at all!” She grabs my arm. “Come on. Let’s go get some tacos.”   

                                                                             *   *   *

Lori Cramer’s short prose has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, Unbroken Journal, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction. Links to her writing can be found at https://loricramerfiction.wordpress.com. Twitter: @LCramer29.

Your Name is on the Mortgage, but You Ring the Doorbell

By Tiffany Porter

Your name is on the mortgage, but you ring the doorbell. From outside, his approaching footsteps are ominous, the way thunder sounds before you see the lightning. But then the door swings in, and bumbling attempts at normality are lobbed from either side of the threshold before you cross precariously from what was to what has become. 

The ivory-colored shade that covers the lamp on the second-hand credenza does little to combat the darkness all around you. The light from the single bulb casts a jaundiced glow that makes the man who used to be your husband look ill and monstrous. If you had known, you’d have made the foyer more welcoming back when you still could. A woman’s gentle laughter and the scent of thyme and parsley drift deceptively like a welcome from the kitchen that you had once insisted on painting red. If you had known, you’d have picked something neutral. But now it’s too late and you’re standing in the foyer that you never cared about before and dread nearly overtakes you.    

With formality reserved for guests, the man that used to be your husband offers to hang your jacket. You wonder if the cheap wire hanger between his trench coat and rain slicker is still there. Pulling the faddish purple peacoat from the closet had been an afterthought when you walked out for what you thought was the last time. It had been hot, and you weren’t thinking of the future. Possibly, the hanger is still there, an unnoticed vacancy waiting for your coat to return to its rightful place. Or maybe something classic and timeless hangs from it. You pull the now passé purple wool around you tighter, and try to tell him that you want to keep it, but it’s too late. He’s already opened the closet door and revealed what’s become of your lives. A disaster lurking behind hollow-core veneer. 

“Let them come to terms with this in their own way,” the therapist has said. “Give them some room to express their feelings.”

In the closet are cubes built to organize shoes and ward off chaos, but the perfectly spaced shelves stand barren. Your children, with reckless abandon, have haphazardly thrown their shoes onto the floor of the closet that you had once been fastidious about. 

You want to lecture your children about their carelessness.   

No.

You want to throw your own shoes into pile of sneakers, ballet slippers, and baseball cleats and slam the door. 

No. 

You want to throw the woman that is laughing in your kitchen into the closet and slam the door. 

No. 

You want to organize the closet and put things where they belong. 

You want to put things back. 

But instead, he closes the door of the closet that desperately needs rearranging while you jam your hands in your pockets, muttering something about holding on to things, and wait to be invited inside a life that is no longer yours. The man that used to be your husband gestures silently in the direction of the kitchen, as though you might have forgotten.  

Then you’re there in the same room with her. She’s cradling a shepherd’s pie with oven-mitted hands while she stands in what used to be your kitchen. She is unassuming and gentle and you hate her with a passion that makes the heat pouring from what used to be your oven seem temperate. “Smells nice,” you say inanely, cheeks burning with the keen awareness that you are empty handed. 

“The Birthday Boy’s favorite!” she grins at you, ludicrously. As though you don’t know that it is your son’s birthday. As though you don’t know that shepherd’s pie is your son’s favorite meal. But he’s not your son anymore, and his sister is not your daughter, and they are no longer your kids because they are now the kids. 

This woman made claims – absurd, unbelievable, impossible claims – of loving the kids as though they were her own, and that was the last you ever heard of your kids. That was the moment they became the kids that belong to the collective of you, the man that used to be your husband, and the woman that is now his girlfriend who is standing in what used to be your kitchen.

“It’s good for the kids to see you all together,” the therapist has said. “They need to know that they don’t have to choose between you.”

You want to find fault with her perfect-looking, delicious-smelling shepherd’s pie. 

No. 

You want to find fault with her affable expression and amiable manners. 

No.

You want to make the best shepherd’s pie the kids have ever had, then smear it across her affable face. 

No.

You want the Birthday Boy to renounce his love for shepherd’s pie and pledge his allegiance to enchiladas instead.  

You want the kids to be your kids. 

You wish you had brought a cake. 

But it’s not a problem that you failed to bring a cake to a birthday dinner for one of the kids because the man that used to be your husband has developed the capacity to be helpful since you moved out, and picked up a piece of art masquerading as a birthday cake on his way home from work. “Voila!” he says with a flourish, unveiling a lush, miniature prehistoric forest roamed by miniature, but startlingly life-like, fully edible triceratops and velociraptors. “I know how much he loves dinosaurs,” the woman says, ruffling the hair of the now ecstatic son that has barely registered your presence for his joy over the Mesozoic loaf of sugar and carotenoids, “so it just seemed easiest to have a cake made, you know?” 

Dinner is pleasant in the way that getting a speeding ticket is pleasant. Being pulled over is inconvenient and embarrassing, and the ticket is expensive and the whole event will follow you around on a record kept by people that don’t know anything about you, or why you were speeding in the first place. But at least it was just a ticket and you didn’t get arrested. At least you didn’t die. 

Using sweet voices in high pitches to dull sharp edges, you and the man that used to be your husband exchange wounds through the kids. 

“Did you show your mom the awesome shoes daddy got you yesterday?”

“Did you tell your dad about the awesome new bed you have at mommy’s house?” 

“Did you tell your mom that we’re thinking of getting a puppy?” 

“Did you tell your dad that his girlfriend is a fucking bore?” 

Then everything is over. The perfect shepherd’s pie has been bludgeoned beyond recognition, destruction of astronomical proportions has been wreaked upon the once tranquil Jurassic landscape, and the kids are spinning around in circles in the backyard, their bloodstreams overloaded with insulin that feels like euphoria. 

You should get going. 

You make a sincere but unenthusiastic offer to help with the dishes, but are dismissed with the reminder that doing the dishes is how the kids contribute to the family. As though your contributions are no longer required because this is no longer your kitchen, much less your family. The docile expression of the girlfriend never changes when she offers to let you gather up the trash instead. 

Kisses and hugs and promises to see them in a few days are bestowed upon the kids as they flutter by you in waves of still chaotic energy. You smile mirthlessly at the room and announce that you’ll show yourself out, as though the act of you leaving was somehow novel. But the man that used to be your husband insists on following you through the kitchen, around the corner, and into the still gloomy foyer where awkwardness hangs between you like a stench. He doesn’t offer a hug, high-five, or handshake. Nor does he insist that your selfish, morally bankrupt character is corrupting the kids. 

“That sounds like progress to me!” the therapist will say. “Every peaceful interaction is a victory.” 

You want to tell him he should paint the kitchen taupe and add a lamp to the foyer. 

No.

You want to tell him that his girlfriend’s bovine-like expressions are impossible to take seriously, despite how good her shepherd’s pie is.

No. 

You want to tell him that this evening was great and that you’re happy everyone can be together for the sake of the kids. 

No. 

You want to tuck your kids into their beds in this house that used to be your home when he was your husband and you were a family. 

You want to go home. 

You nod at him slightly, the way you would at a person you recognize but whose name you can’t remember. Then, turning one corner of your mouth up toward the October sky, you step on to the brightly lit front porch while the man that used to be your husband gently closes the door behind you. 

                                                                *   *   *

Tiffany Porter is an emerging writer with short stories published in Life In 10 Minutes and Ad Hoc Fiction, and forthcoming in Mosaic Literary Journal. She is the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards. She lives in Virginia with her soul mate and their many monsters.

The Complex Art of Grieving

By Zahraa Shehzad

Standing in the small square room, surrounded by the plain, white-washed walls and the sharp scent of illness, I missed the heat of tears in my eyes. They should have been streaming down my cheeks by now as loud sobs tore through my dry, chapped lips. But all that prevailed was the rhythmic beeping of a machine, and a disturbing absence of grief in my heart. 

Maybe it was because he wasn’t dead yet.

The lines on the monitor rose and fell like his chest. But the rest of his body was nothing but a vegetable, mostly a potato, with his dark skin covered in pores and his completely bald head.

Or maybe that thought was just self-reassurance, a weak attempt to make myself believe that I wasn’t a disgraceful, terrible daughter and an even more horrid person.

I released a quiet breath, shifting on the hard, uncomfortable seat that I’d been practically living on for the last two days. My bottom was no longer sore, maybe because I couldn’t feel it anymore. But my back was positively killing me. What were hospitals thinking when they chose these insufferable chairs for attendants of chronically ill patients? 

The least they could have done was provide us with cushions and a blanket which was more than a flimsy piece of woolen cloth. And maybe better food than the same, bland chicken served at the cafeteria every single day. Oh, and iced coffee, creamy and refreshing. Maybe some snacks to munch on as we sat there idly, staring at our beloved parent or friend or lover comfortably sleeping in their cot as fluids dripped into their bloodstream through the clear, thin tubes.

He stirred, making me instantly sit up straighter, afraid he would wake up and catch the bored look on my face. But he fell back asleep again, and I allowed my shoulders to slump once more. A humorless smile tugged at the corners of my lips. Even when connected to a network of IVs and wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth, somehow, he still managed to make me tense up and quicken the beats of my heart.

I swallowed, the dry walls of my throat chafing against each other. There was something fundamentally wrong with me, wasn’t there? Seeing him in that condition—so helpless and vulnerable—should have made my heart hurt. It should have tightened my chest and clogged my throat. And yet, I wasn’t able to shed a tear. 

I closed my eyes shut and leaned my head against the wall behind me as dizziness relieved some of my distress. 

Happy memories… maybe those would help? 

I thought long and hard. I searched the oldest, furthest and the dustiest corners of my mind. But memory worked in a funny way. I knew he would take me riding on horseback when I was six. I knew once in a while, I would sleep on his chest with my arms wrapped around his neck. He would sit me in his lap while pulling the car out of the driveway sometimes, pretending like I was the one controlling the steering wheel. But I remembered none of it. There were no images. No emotions. No feelings. Only a dull awareness.

And yet, I remembered my first plastic dining table, upon which I would place empty toy cups, pretending to serve tea for my dolls and my stuffed animals. I could still see the way he’d thrown it across the room, how it crashed against the wall and fell to the floor in pieces. I remembered everything I saw when he raised a hand on my mother for the very first time. His furious, bloodshot eyes, the fear on my mother’s face. I remembered the nightmares I’d had about him over the years, wherein he would sometimes hurt my elder sister, sometimes my brother, and sometimes me. My father had never laid a hand on either of us, and yet, my brain had managed to concoct those visuals, so strikingly vivid that they sent shivers through my spine.

Father whimpered, making me tense up once more. I stared at the monitor. The lines looked like the scribbles of a child’s drawing of grass. For a second, I think I saw the peaks levelling. But they hadn’t. I was probably tired. 

I closed my eyes again, a bitter taste coating my tongue, my stomach in knots. 

There was something fundamentally wrong with me, wasn’t there?

                                                              *   *   *

Zehraa is an emerging writer living in a bustling and rather crowded city in Pakistan. She has written multiple web-novels in the last six years and is now looking into publishing a Young Adult Fantasy book. When she isn’t writing, reading or studying for a rather academically challenging degree of Computer Science, she can be found sipping iced coffee, hanging out with her mother, siblings or her small but wonderful group of friends who keep her sane.

Letters in a skip

By Irene Cantizano Bescós

A hot summer day, not yet sixteen, when everything that mattered was each other’s skin. 

We found a skip, and inside it, the wreckage of a life. Books and shoes and pill boxes and a pair of broken glasses. Letters from the war on parched, crumpled paper. So we took the letters to the park and read them under the dappled shade of the elm. Around us, the children were running and shouting, and it smelled of ice cream, sunscreen and sweat. 

But now we were in Santander in 1938, and sugar was a once-a-month treat, and we were scared. She was eighteen, and her sister and her nieces were coming from the south, escaping from the bombs, and no one knew when the war would end.

Still, there was a dress. She would wear it tonight to the dance, and maybe she would meet a boy, and she would go down to the beach and look at a thousand stars, and the breeze would rise from the sea to touch that spot on her bare shoulder and make her shiver in pleasure, and in that exact moment, just for a second, the whole universe would hold its breath. 

The moment passed, and the future claimed her. The long years of pain, and love, and loss and laughter that would end in a skip, then in our hands, on a hot summer day in Madrid when our lives were about to start.

                                                              *   *   *

Irene Cantizano Bescós is a writer and immigrant from Spain lost between two languages. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Black Hare Press, Moria, Five Minutes, (mac)ro(mic), and Tales to Terrify, among others. She is also a freelance journalist, and her reporting has appeared in leading Spanish and UK titles such as Huffington Post, El País, Telva, and Positive News. Irene lives in England with her husband, two toddlers, and two warring cats. You can find her on Twitter as @IreneCantizano.

Kazoo Nocturne

By Louis Kummerer

Todd’s an ass, and I really don’t want to have dinner with him. But it’s Carol—Todd’s long-suffering wife—who calls to invite me. I detect an undertone of desperation in her smiling voice, a hint that she, more than Todd, wants me to come.

So Saturday I drive to their Scottsdale home. By the time I arrive, Todd is already three bourbons into the afternoon. He and Carol are arguing about where to eat, but Carol is mostly nodding and agreeing, because nobody wins an argument with Todd. He’s in the mood for Italian and wants to go to Giovanni’s.

“It’s just down the street from the Sandstone Lounge,” he adds with finality, as if that ended the discussion, as if that geographic oddity were the decisive factor. 

Carol calls the restaurant and makes reservations. As we prepare to leave, she grabs my elbow and pulls me aside.

“I think it’s best if you drive,” she whispers. I nod, and she pats me gently on the forearm.

Todd climbs into the passenger side, relegating Carol to the rear seat, where she sits quietly, isolated from the mainstream of the conversation. But it doesn’t matter because the conversation is mostly Todd expounding on how well things are going in his new job.

“They get me there,” he explains, “That last place: We weren’t singing from the same songbook.”

He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a brightly-colored kazoo with a company logo printed on it. He waves the kazoo in front of me.

“This was my idea for the last sales conference,” he says, “Kazoo karaoke. They loved it.”

Giovanni’s is already crowded when we arrive and there are groups of people standing at the entrance and sitting in the bar area waiting for a table. Fortunately, we are on time for our reservation and we don’t have to wait. That’s a good thing, because Todd doesn’t need another bourbon at the bar before dinner. 

We order food, which, at Todd’s insistence, includes a $70 bottle of Saint-Émilion. He finishes two glasses of wine before the food arrives. We eat, and, between drinks, he continues chest-pounding about his new job. When we finish and are waiting for the check, I take advantage of a lull in Todd’s ramblings to ask Carol about her teaching job. 

Before she can answer, Todd stands up, pulls the kazoo out of his pocket and launches into a loud rendition of “Summertime.” He steps away from the table, and continues playing, closing his eyes and arching his body backwards as if he were Branford Marsalis playing at the Blue Nile in New Orleans. The steady rumble of conversations in the restaurant dribbles away to silence as the stunned diners watch him in dismay. When he finishes, they offer a smattering of polite applause. Todd turns toward them and takes an exaggerated theatrical bow.

We stop at the Sandstone Lounge, because Todd says that’s his happy place. We sit at a table and, when a young waitress comes over, Todd puts his arms around her waist and pulls her towards him.

“This is my girl, Sandy,” he announces loudly.

Sandy smiles uncomfortably. She pulls away from him and takes our orders, then quickly returns with our drinks.

I’m drinking water because I’m driving. Carol nurses a glass of red wine, but Todd gulps down a double bourbon and heads to the bar for another. Instead of returning, he sits at the bar, puts his arm around Sandy again and begins talking to her.

Carol looks on, not really angry, not really embarrassed, simply resigned. I stare at her for a moment and think: she’s smart, she’s attractive, she’s funny. What is she doing with Todd?

“Things seem to be going well with Todd’s new job,” I say, trying to break the awkward silence.

“Yeah,” she says. She pauses and glances over at Todd. “I hope so.”

She takes a sip of wine. 

“Todd was out of work the last time for almost a year,” she continues, as if she were blurting out a secret, “We burned through all our savings…” Her voice trails off.

Todd has once again taken out the kazoo, and is now on his feet, staggering around crowded tables as he belts out a sloppy version of “The Trumpeter’s Serenade.” The bartender comes over to our table and asks us to get him out.

Carol and I each grab one of Todd’s arms. He continues playing as we guide him out the door and maneuver him into the back seat of the car.

“Did you see the tits on that Sandy?” Todd says loudly, as we buckle him in.

“They were amazing,” Carol responds, “The highlight of my evening.”

By the time we get home, Todd has dozed off and we struggle to get him out of the car. He is barely conscious as we drag him into the house and plop him face down onto a bed in the guest room. We pull his shoes off and leave him fully clothed on top of the covers. He is already snoring when we turn off the lights. 

Carol takes my arm and leads me to their front door. We stop there briefly and she gives me a goodbye hug. To our mutual surprise, the hug suddenly turns into a kiss. She clings to me eagerly for a moment, her lips pressed against mine. Then she abruptly pulls away, opens the door and pushes me through it. 

Outside, the faint aroma of citrus blossoms permeates the night air. I breathe deeply and look up to see a meteorite. It streaks white-hot across the sky and explodes in a brilliant burst of light.

                                                                *   *   *

Louis Kummerer is a technical writer working and living in Phoenix, Arizona.

Anything Helps

By Logan Markko

The old man sitting outside the bank looked like he could use a drink. Beads of sweat dripped down his sunburned face and into his matted beard. He was at least three hundred pounds and wheelchair-bound. A miniature American flag was taped to his chair, a panting beagle sprawled across his lap. He held a cardboard sign that read: HOMELESS VET. ANYTHING HELPS.

Across the street, Dennis fiddled with his car’s broken air-conditioning knob. He quickly gave up and rolled down his window. A woman leaving the bank stopped to give the old man some money from her purse, while two men in gray suits pushed past her and through the doors of the building. 

It was nine a.m. on a Monday and Dennis was exhausted. Ever since being laid off from his job as a machine operator at the paper mill, he’d been racking his brain over what to do next. He tried to remember how long it had been since he’d last slept, thinking that if he closed his eyes, even for a second, he could sleep for a million years.

He watched the old man pour water from a canteen into a bowl sitting at his feet. The beagle leapt off his lap and gulped from the bowl. When it was finished, the dog laid down in the shade of the old man’s shadow and went to sleep.

The summer air was thick with humidity, and with no breeze the flag attached to the old man’s chair hung limply from its wooden pole. Watching the old man, Dennis thought of the men in his family, how they used to gather on his grandfather’s front porch to drink beer and swap war stories. He too, had wanted to serve his country, but the doctors said he had a leaky heart, and the Army wouldn’t take him. 

Dennis opened his wallet and sifted through the credit cards and crumpled receipts, counting each dollar he had. His mouth felt suddenly dry, as if all the saliva had mysteriously evaporated. 

He checked his watch, then got out of the car and hurried across the street.

“Excuse me, sir,” Dennis said, handing the old man a few dollars. “I wanted to thank you for your service.” 

The old man grunted. 

“Both of my grandfathers were at Normandy,” Dennis continued. “My dad got drafted to Vietnam and my brother did two tours in Afghanistan.” He hesitated. “I would’ve enlisted myself, but…”

A sharp crack echoed from inside the bank. Through the bank’s large plate glass windows, Dennis saw the two men in gray suits, ski masks now covering their faces, guns in their hands. One of them raised his weapon and fired a shot into the ceiling, while the other shoved a plastic garbage bag into a bank teller’s hands.

The beagle barked and jumped into the old man’s lap, knocking the cardboard sign from his grasp. Dennis looked around, wondering if he should drop everything and wheel the old man away. 

The bank doors swung open, revealing one of the gunmen, a bulging garbage bag in his hands.

“What the fuck, Dennis?” the man yelled, his eyes blazing fiercely from behind the slits of his ski mask. “Are you trying to get us killed? You were supposed to stay with the car.”

Sirens sounded in the distance.

The bank doors opened again, and the second gunman stumbled out, clutching his ribs. He wiped a bloody hand against his leg.

“What are you looking at?” the first gunman hissed, glaring down at the old man. He reached into his pocket, reconsidered, and turned to Dennis instead. “Have you lost your mind?”

“But he’s a veteran,” Dennis stammered. “He probably served in Vietnam.”

“We don’t have time for this,” the first gunman said, grabbing the keys out of Dennis’ hand. He hefted the garbage bag and ran for the car parked across the street. The other gunman hobbled after, leaving a trail of blood behind him. 

Dennis watched them speed away, his feet anchored to the pavement. 

He understood. Like him, they too had lost their jobs at the paper mill. 

Soon, the place would be swarming with police. Reporters from the local media outlets would follow, and by noon he’d be a story. 

Dennis felt the pistol hidden in the waistband of his jeans, solid and heavy. He could take matters into his own hands, storm the bank, wave his gun around, and make demands. Then return to his family with enough money to forget about the job he’d lost and the years he’d wasted. 

He wiped his face with his shirt, remembering distant summers as a kid spent swimming in the city pool until the sun went down and it was safe to emerge, skin pruned, eyes bloodshot from the chlorine. Once, he split his head open doing a backflip off the high dive trying to impress a girl. His friends had howled with laughter, pointing at his bloody face as the paramedics loaded him into an ambulance.

It was strange, Dennis thought, how a memory could drift up out of nowhere. 

He thought of his wife at work, answering phones, and his children, sitting at their desks at school, listening to a teacher drone on about linear equations or the Bill of Rights. 

Next to him, the old man was scratching the beagle behind its ears, whispering something to the dog. Dennis dropped to a knee and picked up the cardboard sign that had fallen to the ground. He handed it to the old man along with the rest of the money from his wallet and started to walk away from the bank, slowly at first, then faster, until he was no more than a blur.

                                                                            *   *   *

Logan Markko lives in southeastern Michigan with his wonderful wife, their toddler son, and a 100-pound American Bulldog named Sam. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Straylight Literary Magazine, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Potato Soup Journal’s Best of 2022 Anthology.

Birds

A Memoir by Rebecca Haas

In the front yard a large flock of American Robins are assembling, dozens racing from the trees to the grass from the grass to the trees, cacophonous and violent, their amber chests the color of the leaves in the late November sunshine.  I stand at the window watching them.  I’ve never seen Robins behave this way, like a wandering hive of agitated honeybees.  Yes, Robins were often in our yard, two or three strutting across the lawn pecking at earthworms and insects.  But nothing like this.  And then, in the same instant, two birds smack against two separate windows.  I jump back, alarmed.  This is not right.  Something is wrong.

Earlier in the kitchen I’d heard what I thought was knocking.  Thump.  Thump.  A pause.  Thump.  I opened the front door but found no one there.  Now I understand it was the sound of bird bodies pummeling windows.  Why?  Did this have to do with climate change?  Had the world become untenable for them?  Was the big earthquake coming?  Was Mt. Saint Helens going to erupt again?  

Was my house, my family, cursed?

A week earlier, my fourteen-year-old daughter’s bunny Marshmallow died in her arms after being mauled by a raccoon.  Marsh had been my daughter’s emotional support animal at the therapeutic boarding school she attended after suffering a mental health crisis a year into the Covid pandemic.  When she returned home from school fifteen months later, she brought the bunny, a beige and white Holland Lop with long floppy ears and an outsized personality.  

You could not look at this curious, plucky bunny and not grin.  My daughter’s two brothers and my husband and I were instant groupies, gathering nightly in the living room to watch her “bink” – a twist hop bunnies do when they’re happy.  Bunny TV, we called all the hours we sat watching her.

My daughter, ever the meticulous observer, scrutinized our reactions to the bunny.  From the garden, my husband gathered roses and dandelions for Marsh to eat and cut sticks from our apple tree for her to gnaw on.  My older son emerged from his bedroom cave to do homework in the living room, lying on the rug so Marsh could hop up and perch on his back, surveying the room from his shoulder blades.  Her younger brother happily ‘babysat’ for the bunny whenever my daughter cleaned the cage.  “No, no, no!” he’d warn when she hopped across the floor and sniffed at a houseplant.  All of us worked together to build a large outdoor pen and took turns lying in the grass with Marsh after school and work.  

Watching my daughter watch us with the bunny, it was clear we’d passed a test.  

All week after Marshmallow’s death, we walked around like zombies.  It was difficult to not be in the same room with my daughter, I was so worried about her.  She’d lost her friend, her baby, her bridge back to us.  She blamed herself.  I knew she was thinking, why go on?

I blamed myself too.  How had I let this happen?   Motherhood, with all its limitations, seemed pointless, felt like cruel and unusual punishment.  I could not go back to the night the bunny died and switch places with my daughter, be the one who found the bunny, who lifted her up and saw her face scratched off.  Nor could I go back to the night of my daughter’s suicide attempt the year before.  I’d been sound asleep in the bedroom across the hall from hers, oblivious to her intention, to the goodbye notes carefully stacked on her desk.  If only the birds had come flapping against the windows that day, to warn me.

People are gathering on the sidewalk in front of the house, gawking at the swarming Robins. Another bird strikes the glass, leaving a faint imprint of down feathers.  My husband walks into the room and stands beside me at the window.  The birds squawk and shriek.  I shake my head.  The horror.  

“They’re drunk,” he says.  He points.  “Look, they’re eating those orange berries off the ground.  They must have fermented.”

I blink.  With both hands I rub my eyes and then open them.  He’s right.  In an instant, the scene transforms from funeral to celebration, the birds riotous under the cobalt sky, soaring through a cascade of falling leaves, plummeting, pivoting, living.

                                                                                       *   *   *

Rebecca has worked as a journalist and public relations exec for twenty years.  Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published by many literary magazines including The New Ohio Review and Into the Void and performed by Liars League PDX at Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon.  Rebecca lives in Portland with her husband and three children.

Tattoo as Post-It Note

 

A Memoir by Victoria Zeolla

A friend takes hold of my wrist, reads the black ink etched into my skin––my daily reminder to be strong, courageous. I can’t imagine you being afraid of anything, she says. Probably because she didn’t see Dad’s fists pounding the windshield from the outside. Mom, brother, me with restraining orders, an illusion of safety. The nightmares, even years after Dad turned to ash. Or later, husband’s diagnosis: rare and aggressive. Me, reading WebMD, 75% fatality rate, dropping to my knees. Our son, a baby who may never know his father. I run a thumb across the black ink, reciting scripture. 

                                                                   *   *   *

Victoria Zeolla is a writer, wife, and mom from Pittsburgh, PA. She can regularly be found talking to herself as she drafts her next novel. 

Alberta’s Hair is Pink

A Memoir by Linda Allison

Today we’re tinting Alberta’s hair pink. 

Well, a few strands anyway, just some fun highlights.

Using the step ladder I’ve pulled into the kitchen Miki, Nancy, and I help Alberta onto the stool we’ve moved near the sink.  At four feet nine inches tall and just ten days shy of her 94th birthday, Alberta needs a little boost.

Miki pulls on bright blue plastic gloves and retrieves something that looks like a tube of toothpaste from her bag.  

Alberta laughs lightly, holding my hand while she watches the preparations.  She’s game for all of this. Alberta’s game for almost anything.

She pulls a wallet from her purse on the counter to show us “girls” a photo of her hair when she was younger.  The picture is of Alberta and her husband Calvin, taken almost twenty-five years ago,  nine years before Calvin passed away.  Carefully laminated, the photo is from one of those portrait studios once popular across the Midwest.   

In the picture, Alberta’s hair is a warm brown, the color of an acorn, thicker than her short, snowy white hair is now.  But Alberta still has a fairly thick head of hair, especially for someone about to celebrate their 94th birthday.  And those twinkly blue eyes peering out from the picture?  They’re still the same.  

From her tube, Miki squeezes thin ribbons of hot pink goo the consistency of tempera paint and, holding fine strands of Alberta’s hair between gloved thumb and index finger, slides her fingers from root to end.  Nancy and I touch shoulders as we lean across my kitchen counter to watch.  Miki assures us that the color will be lighter once we wash Alberta’s hair.

Alberta’s been staying with me and Bill, her youngest son, my boyfriend, for a few weeks, a respite of sorts from the tiny southern Illinois town where she lives.  Miki and Nancy met Alberta the other evening at our house.  Over glasses of Rose’, the conversation had turned to the colored highlights Miki had put in Nancy’s hair a month ago, mostly washed out now although traces of pink remain, and wouldn’t Alberta look cute if we did the same for her? 

So here we are, in my kitchen on a Saturday afternoon, adding pink highlights to Alberta’s white hair.  Miki strategically applies thin ribbons of pink. Then we wait, snacking on cheese and leftover meatballs while the color sets. 

Once enough time has passed, Miki carefully positions Alberta’s head over the sink and, running her fingers through her hair, rinses it with the kitchen sink spray nozzle and tousles it lightly with one of my old towels.  Something about all this reminds me of those downy baby chicks you see dyed pastel colors at Easter.

With the blow dryer, it takes just a minute, and we have the finished product, like a snow cone, fluffy white hair with streaks of pale strawberry.   Miki, Nancy, and I high-five ourselves; we’re delighted with the outcome.  The pink strands complement Alberta’s rosy cheeks, and she laughs as she looks at herself in the mirror, visibly pleased with the results.  

It’s moments like this when I’m most inclined to feel that small stitch of sadness.  I know Alberta’s remaining time on this earth is limited, and I think about how much I’ll miss her when she’s gone.  But I don’t want to watch too much of the creeping decline that has already begun to steal snatches of her memory and withhold from Alberta the words she grasps as she tells her stories.  I’ve seen that before in my parents; personalities dissolve, and their spirit disappears, leaving someone recognizable only physically, the essence of them gone.   That sense of adventure and delight with the world around her that’s kept Alberta ginning for so many years, long after most of her friends and family are gone, I can’t bear the thought of it leaving her.  

We were making her meatball recipe the other afternoon when Alberta mentioned she was thinking of quitting her bridge club.  I hovered over my crockpot, trying to appear only mildly interested, but inside, my stomach churned with a swirling mixture of heartsickness and indignation. I’d heard that some women in her bridge club wanted Alberta out.  Once an excellent player, I imagine her skills have waned.  And although she might never acknowledge it, I suspect Alberta had gotten the hint that she’s no longer welcome.  Don’t they know Alberta looks forward to bridge club every week? Can’t they appreciate the happy glow Alberta casts on everyone in her proximity?    

Days after the hair-tinting adventure, Bill and I wave to Alberta as a nice airport employee pushes her wheelchair through security.  Her oldest son will be waiting for her when she arrives in St. Louis in a couple of hours.  

‘What do you think of my hair?’ we hear her ask the young man wheeling her to her gate.  

‘I love it,’ he says indulgently, ‘It suits you.’  

Bill and I chuckle, envisioning the reaction Alberta’s hair will receive from the bridge club ladies.  We circle arms around one another’s waist as we wave one last time before Alberta disappears into a sea of travelers.   

                                                                            *   *   *

Linda Allison is a recovering banker living in The Woodlands, Texas, with the love of her life, found late in life.  A hiker with an insatiable travel lust, emerging writer, photographer, and a very poor golfer who loves to play, Linda’s work has appeared in MacQueeny’s Quinterly, Star 82 Review, Dark Winter Lit, and others.