My sweet girl rouses from her nap. Excited to be alive, to be free years old. Isabelle who, last week, pointed at our doorbell, laughing and saying ‘is a bell’ and then pointed at herself, giggling so hard and yelling ‘Isabelle.’
Me, her mother, the grown-up version of the bubble-wrapped child.
You thought I could have a candle in my room when I was 16? No! Fire hazard.
You thought I could go out with a boy who drove a truck? No, girls get knocked up by boys with Fords.
Well ok sometimes we do.
My bulging belly did not serve me well in the little high school desks with the seat attached. Imagine trying to take your geometry final exam with little Isabelle kicking the desk impinging on her womb-space.
We work together to prepare our dinner for later. Talk about the spinach and corn and carrots we are adding in. I’m teaching self-reliance, no partner needed. She’s hup-ping mamma.
I pull out the mixed berry salad I had secured just as the clerk put it on the discount rack. Isabelle needs to touch each berry, to make our mommy and daughter salads exactly da same. Isabelle and I talk about all the different sorts of berries she loves. I ask what is her favourite kind of berry.
She pauses, to be fair to each of the berries.
Isabelle says, ‘I love blueberries, and blackberries, and strawberries, and raspberries. But my top best in the whirl kinda berry is a lie-berry.’
Dinner set to simmer, I give Isabelle the choice of what we do for the next hour. She smiles big, yells ‘bog!’ Bog is not a kid’s show. Or a book. Or a game. I try to ascertain what bog is. Gently. She says we’ve done it before and I love it too, it is so happy fun.
She bursts into tears. ‘I wanna go bogging. To bog. Onna sahledd!’
I grab our coats and hats and her little mittens, and us girls will go ‘tobogganing’ on her little plastic sled out back until the 4:30 dusk.
* * *
Susan Hatters Friedman is a reproductive psychiatrist and a mom. Her recent creative writing can be read in Hobart, Eclectica, and JMWW.
we all know what’s next. Mother kneeling on her bare-knuckle knees, and poking her hands under the couch. Mother lost most of her sight years ago, and the glasses don’t help her, but we don’t tell her that.
We let her search and search, and none of us even feels guilty. Mother told us years ago that guilt is a silly thing and mostly a waste of our time.
We watch as she crawls away from the couch and into the kitchen. She reaches her arm to the countertop. Her hand like a skittery crab.
We watch her, the guilt inside of us obedient and still. Till finally, one of us, I forget which one, cannot stand it anymore. It must be the one of us who snuck out in the middle of Mother’s warnings, when Mother would line us up and tell us that if we want to succeed, there is no room for a heart.
In this way, Mother was preparing us to get into a good college, to get a high-paying job.
But the one of us who didn’t hear, is right now trying to lift Mother off the floor. Telling her how her glasses are right there on the table.
Mother simply waves that one away, and lowers her nose to the floor, sniffing the linoleum for clues. Mother told us long ago, that it’s weak to ask for help. And if she were to accept help now, well, what kind of example would that be?
* * *
Written by Francine Witte.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be published by ELJ in Fall 2021. She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC.
Rain is rat-a-tatting the windows and lightning jolts the sky hotter than the surface of the sun. I thrill to that wild music, fling open the door, breathe in smells of wet soil and rock. And I’m sixteen again, stealing out of my stepfather’s house to the refuge of bellowing skies, bare arms puckering. I bound barefoot and ecstatic through empty streets, waterfalls sluicing down my back, and when thunder resounds through my drenched body, I dance harder, spinning like a dervish. Now my small, fearless dog is beside me on my own porch—all pointed ears, hackles and erect tail—sounding her fierce warning barks. Utterly wise in the ways of the world, I am sure she is telling me, get inside, fool, it’s perfectly safe in there.
* * *
Kathryn Silver-Hajo writes short fiction, long fiction, and poetry. She studied in the Creative Writing MFA program at Emerson College and has a degree in Middle Eastern studies. Her stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Unbroken Journal, The Drabble, The Ekphrastic Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal. Kathryn’s work may be found on her website: www.kathrynsilverhajo.com.
Sometimes I think about when we went camping in August in Mississippi and it was so hot, we hated each other and the dog got ticks and that night we wondered why our sweat felt like it was rolling up our necks instead of down and then we shined a light on us to see it was ants, not sweat. Remember that? We went with your brother and his wife and their two kids. We had our own tent, but we didn’t know how to build it. That could be the last time I’ve been camping – 15 years ago. We don’t talk now but I think about you from time to time and sometimes you pop up in my dreams and we are still together, never having our ending. And at times when I am in the shower, the water running down my chest, I’ll remember those ants – how they crawled up our wet bodies, the feeling of something rolling up our skin instead of down – and I’ll remember you and me and the heat and the dog and Mississippi nights.
* * *
Ashton Russells’ work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, CHEAP POP, and Southeast Review. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
When Robert Holt moved from the city into George Brown’s old place after he passed, we explained that there were certain rules that had to be followed if he wanted to live and flourish in our community of Godhollow, so far away from the cities and the small towns that clung like fat parasites around their borders. Simply: wrong no person, harm no land, and never enter God’s Orchard. It was well hidden from the country highways that threaded around our homes like rivers, but nevertheless, if he had any exploring spirit at all, he might well stumble upon the perpetually blooming blood orange trees, their seeds planted by the wind and the birds and the bobcats. He might think it safe to pluck a fruit for his own desire and eat its red meat. We warned him it was not, that such things must be earned.
He thanked us for the warning with a look of amusement city folk often carry in their faces when they leave their steel and concrete forests, thinking we are too stupid to read their intentions and the mockery in their uptilted brows and laughing eyes.
A few among us were ready to call the Twins even then, arguing it was clear he would not follow our rules and why should we wait if we already knew where this was going? Let Thea and Themis take care of him before he caused trouble. But everyone gets at least two warnings, we reminded them.
Two weeks after, Robert Holt sawed down poor old George’s oak trees, tore their roots from the earth. We reminded him again: harm no land. Those trees had been there before his parents’ parents had been born, had survived hurricanes and droughts and pestilence, and should be treated with respect. He told us to fuck off, it was his property now, the deed paid for in cash, and he could do what he wanted with it.
Then our cats began to go missing. Professional rodent killers, whose ancestors had bred with the local bobcats and were still half feral, stopped returning to our homes and barns while Robert Holt chopped up trees, long cuts like bloody ribbons on his arms and face.
We explained there would be consequences if his behavior continued, but he said we had no proof, that the nearest police station was thirty-five miles away and no sheriff was going to come all the way out here just because some cats went missing. They were probably eaten by the local wildlife anyway, he said, and it was our own faults for letting them roam free.
We congregated in the church to discuss what should be done about Robert Holt. Those of us who had said we should have called the Twins at the beginning pointed fingers in the rest of our faces now, saying it was past time. Cats were always the beginning to something darker. Hadn’t we learned better from Harold Dodd? From Marie Emerson?
But we still had to follow our own rules, regardless of others breaking them. He had had his two warnings now and could only be punished when he ignored them a third time. We all agreed, however, we did not want to see what third offense he would create on his own, with his exact knowledge of the closest human authorities, his cocksure assurance we could not prove his guilt.
One of our young daughters slipped away from us into the moonless night during our arguing. We should have known better than to have discussed such things in front of her; it was her own sister who had been found buried under Harold Dodd’s house, who might have been saved if we had acted sooner.
Our daughter walked to old George’s place by herself, knocked on the door, and when Robert Holt answered, asked what he would do for an hour alone with her. When he said, Anything, she said, Bring me a blood orange from God’s Orchard. She even pointed the way, showed him the deer trail on the back of his property that would take him safely through the woods.
He said, “Come with me.”
She said, “I’ll be waiting for you here. Hurry back, before my mother and father know I’m gone.”
When he disappeared into the woods with only the light on his phone, she ran back to her home and called the Twins. There were four rings, then a soft click and a static void. She explained someone new had moved into old George’s place, and he had torn down the trees, killed our cats, and now was going into God’s Orchard. We warned him twice, like we were supposed to, she said.
Another soft click. Disconnected.
She came back to us in the church and confessed what she had done. Her mother held her close to her breast and stroked her hair, whispering she had done the right thing.
We went back to our own homes, locked doors and covered windows, turned off every light and waited in the dark. Soon the howls of coyotes echoed in our yards, our halls, our bones. Over their howls, the Twins laughed and shrieked with the joy of the hunt until dawn.
Robert Holt did not return. We sprinkled the upturned dirt with grass seeds, planted young saplings. We scrubbed new red stains off his floors. We left baskets of our best preserves – strawberries for Thea, tomatoes for Themis – on his front porch.
Four days after Robert Holt did not return, we woke to packages of meat wrapped in thick, white paper placed in our freezers, our sinks, on our tables. Fat, ripe blood oranges waited for us on our nightstands, and we bit into their rinds like apples, tearing out the sweet red pulp with our teeth, scarlet dribbling down our chins and throats.
* * *
Soon Jones is a half-Korean, full-lesbian writer and failed missionary from the rural countryside of the American South. Their work has been published in Moon City Review and Emerge: Lambda Literary Fellows Anthology, and can be found at http://www.soonjones.com.
My therapist Dr. Cy called the night he went on a bender. I was studying in the campus library with Jill, my best friend and roommate.
“I thought you broke it off,” she whispered when his number flashed across my screen. Our phones were out on the table.
“I did. Don’t worry about it.” I turned off the sound and slid the phone into my back pocket. I opened my religion book and highlighted intensely. She finally returned to her chemistry flashcards.
Jill means well but suffers from acute naivete. When she’d discovered Dr. Cy and me making out on the couch two weeks ago, she’d accused him of breaking the Hippocratic Oath. He’d attempted to talk her down (he’s used to dealing with girls gone crazy, like me at my first session), but she ran off and locked herself in her room. After three days of the silent treatment, I cornered her in the kitchen and vowed on our sorority’s founding mothers that I’d find a new therapist if she would talk to me again. She agreed but only if I would stop dating him. From then on, she’d acted like he didn’t exist.
“Katie?” Jill asked, looking up from the molecular formulas scattered across the library table. “Just out of curiosity – he’s like fifty years old. And bald.”
It’s so like her to believe that attraction relies on good looks and youthfulness.
“He’s brilliant,” I said. “No more panic attacks.”
“Yeah, but…” she blushed.
“He introduced me to a new way of healing. It’s a higher-order kind of thing.”
“Sounds like a load of garbage.”
“No, really. Intimacy’s all about soul connection.”
“Come on, Katie. You literally couldn’t get out of bed for weeks after what happened with the guy-who-shall-not-be-named. You know how many classes I missed to take care of you? And then you hook up with the doctor who’s supposed to help you get out of this mess? What were you thinking?”
“You make it sound so terrible. You’ll never get the true nature of our relationship.”
Her face soured. “You didn’t break it off, did you?”
I picked up my book and pretended to read.
She swept up her notes and stuffed them in her backpack.
“You’re not as smart as you think you are,” she said and walked away.
I don’t know how long I stared at the clock on the wall (each tick a hammer to my skull), but by 11:00 p.m., I decided to text Jill and tell her that Dr. Cy was the only one who had ever successfully dealt with my anxiety. I’d had panic issues way before college. The frat party incident made them far worse.
I pulled out my phone. Dr. Cy was calling again.
“Why didn’t you pick up?” he asked, his words slurred.
“Have you been drinking?”
“I fell and cut my head. There’s blood on the floor. The bed too.” His breath knocked against the receiver.
“Oh my God.” I tried to stay calm like he’d taught me.
“I need you. Come over,” he said and hung up.
I had seen Dr. Cy drunk before. He’d taken me to dinner at an out-of-town Chinese restaurant after we’d confessed our feelings for one another and kissed in his office. I flirted with him over wonton soup as he expounded on his theory about the transmutation of souls towards a higher unity. He ordered one Tsingtao after another, his explanations becoming frenzied, until he almost passed out at the table. I drove his car back to his apartment while he slept, his face planted against the passenger’s side window. When he came to, he explained that he’d received a DUI several years before but promised to get sober for me.
It was past midnight when I arrived at Dr. Cy’s apartment from the library. I found him in the bedroom stripped down to his tighty-whities and lying on the green comforter – one of the few things his wife had left after she walked out with the kids. Bottles of Coors lay helter-skelter across the bed and floor.
I sat down next to him. A swollen gash on his forehead pulsed purple.
“I’m lit,” he said.
“Let me find some ointment and Band-Aids.”
He grabbed my arm. “Maybe I crossed a line.”
“You said it’s a miracle when two souls like ours meet.”
“You wore that pink miniskirt. Your panties played peek-a-boo.”
He propped himself on his elbows, took a swig from the nearest upright bottle, and offered it to me.
I remembered the night when the guy-who-shall-not-be-named (the one whom I’d thought was my friend) had spiked my drink at the party and pressed himself inside me. Even though I went in and out of consciousness, I still blamed myself for not fighting back.
“Don’t be coy,” Dr. Cy said when I pushed the beer away with trembling hands. He went for the zipper on my pants.
Anxiety revved full force. My ears buzzed, my head throbbed, and I felt like I was going to pass out.
“You promised you wouldn’t drink,” I managed to say.
“So now you’re too good for me?”
He pulled me down on top of him. I yelled at him to let me go, and when he held on tighter, I rammed my fingers into his wound. He howled and threw me off the bed.
I lay on the floor for a long while staring at stains snaking across the white ceiling tiles. By the time he began to snore, the panic had evaporated, and I was sure that something entirely new had taken its place.
I decided to text Jill and apologize. I’d tell her she was right about Dr. Cy. I’d explain that I saved myself this time. I’d swear it would never happen again.
* * *
Sascha Goluboff has a PhD in Anthropology, and she is a Professor of Cultural Anthropology and the Director of Community-Based Learning at Washington and Lee University. She obtained her MFA in Writing from Pacific University in 2021.
The morning after Jenny’s wedding, Kyoko lay beside me on my half-deflated air-mattress and asked me if I wanted to play a game.
“What game?” I said, stroking her smooth arm. Hot daggers of sunlight knifed through the blinds and cut across the floor, the mattress, the blankets, our bodies. The fun, sloppy fuck we had this morning after stumbling half-drunk into my apartment was the first time we’d been together in almost two years, and as much as I tried to stop my head from filling with visions of the two of us getting back together and spending every Sunday morning like this, I couldn’t help myself. The glide of her skin beneath my fingers, the warmth of her body against mine, and the smell of her hair filling my nose were too powerful for me to think about anything else.
“The Game,” she said, staring up at the low, popcorn ceiling of my shitty apartment. “I just lost, but it’s still pretty interesting. Me and my friends used to play it back in college.”
“What’s the game? And how did you lose already if we haven’t even started playing yet?” I slid my hand down her arm and interlocked my fingers with hers.
“You are playing The Game. Everyone in the world is playing The Game, all the time, whether they know it or not,” she said, her voice growing quiet. She pulled her hand away, wedged it between her knees, and turned her back to me. “And each time you think about The Game, you lose.”
“I guess I just lost then,” I said with a laugh. Turning onto my side, I drew shapes on her naked back with my fingertip: cars and planes and planets and people, boxy skyscrapers with sharp spires like toothpicks. She tensed at my touch. Long strips of muscle rippled beneath her skin. I sensed her slipping away to that quiet place inside herself where she shuts me out and hides away from the world, but I didn’t want to let her go again.
“Yeah, me too,” she said.
“So how do we win?”
“You can’t,” she said, sitting up on the edge of the mattress, her pink hair spilling over her bare shoulders. “The prime minister of the UK is the only person who can end The Game.”
“Wait, what? Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” she said, raking her fingers through her hair. “According to the rules my friends told me about in college, The Game only ends when the prime minister of the UK says that the game is up.”
“I don’t get it,” I said, reaching for her thigh, trying to keep her here with me for as long as possible. “Is that a meme or something? Do people say that a lot in England?”
“I have no idea,” she said. Her warm skin slipped past my fingertips as she stood up and started collecting her clothes off the floor. Warped bars of sunlight danced across her shoulders, her legs, the backs of her hands. My hip pushed through the dying air mattress and pressed against the floorboards. Kyoko walked into the bathroom and quietly shut the door.
* * *
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/
About eight months into their relationship, Dale told Karla he was starting to feel horny for men again.
“What?” Karla was stunned.She and Dale had been enjoying a very physical relationship that he’d been after her for months to consummate.They’d met when Karla was living with someone else.He was a friend of a friend in their circle who showed up one night in a club and joined them at their table.
“Little accident with the Daisy?” he’d asked Karla, noticing a bright red scab on her heel through her nylons.Karla looked at him, surprised.What kind of man knew about such things?This one was beautiful, with Roman features and light brown eyes, like a thoughtful animal.
“He’s after you,” her boyfriend would say accusingly, each time they’d run into him.
“I think he might be gay,” offered Karla, just to shut him down.
Her boyfriend snorted.“Gay, schmay.He loves you.He’s always staring at you.”
Turns out they were both right.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” sobbed Karla.She’d left her boyfriend the year before and had been crashing on the couch with friends in Beacon Hill.
“Come over,” said Dale.“Call a cab.I’ll pay for it.”Feeling a desperation that belonged in a Jeff Buckley song, Karla did, sobbing the whole way.She got to Dale’s tiny Fenway apartment around 1 a.m.He hugged her while they sat in the kitchen to discuss his feelings.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” he said.
“Don’t you like being with me?” Karla knew she sounded ridiculous even as she spoke.If he liked men, he liked men.That’s when she noticed the cockroach, a nut brown bead scurrying across the counter.She screamed.
“Why can’t we just keep seeing each other?”Dale sounded hurt, and reasonable.
“Because you’ve just opened up a huge door.”Karla noticed another cockroach, this time in the sink.She grabbed a glass from the counter and capped it over the bug.
“I like that glass!” protested Dale.
“So you want to be non-monogamous, then?What about AIDS?” challenged Karla.A larger cockroach appeared to be climbing over the glass.
“Well, duh, obviously I’d be careful.I don’t want anything to happen to either of us.I really care for you, Karla.”
“I love you, Dale,” cried Karla.“But if non-monogamy works for you, it’s gotta work for me, too.” A cockroach waited on the wall and listened.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dale crossed his arms.
“It means it has to work for me, too.Do you have any bug spray?”Karla’s eyes darted to the wall.
“How is that going to work for you?” Dale rummaged under the sink.
“If you can see men, so can I.”Karla wasn’t sure why she was saying this – she didn’t even want to see other men – but it seemed fair.
Dale looked at her thoughtfully.“No,” he said.
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean, no.I wouldn’t be cool with that.”
“Bug spray, please?” Karla noticed wall cockroach was joined by a friend.
Dale went back under the sink.“Sorry, Karla, but it’s not the same thing.”
“Sure it is.”
“No it isn’t!It’s different.I should be enough for you.”He came out from under the sink, holding a can of Lemon Pledge.
“Sorry, this is all –“
“And I should be enough for you!” Karla screamed.
“I can’t even believe you.”Karla was near tears.When did Dale become this possessive and sexist?She found herself inexplicably turned on.She grabbed the can of Lemon Pledge.
“What are you doing?” Dale demanded.
“Dale.Let’s some make art”.Karla sprayed the cockroach that was now scurrying down the wall.It stuck in place, frozen and stiff.
“Nice!”Dale nodded his approval.“There’s another one.”He grabbed the can of Pledge and sprayed.A cockroach stopped mid-scurry, stuck to the wall like a magnet.
“Right there!” Karla screamed and pointed.They took turns pointing and spraying until the walls of the kitchen were a cockroach mosaic, decorative rather than dirty.Dale pulled Karla by the arm and led her into the bedroom.Over the course of the night that was left they could hear them falling, hitting the floor with a crack, little legs suspended to the ceiling.
* * *
Michele Markarian is a short fiction writer and playwright.Her work has appeared in Bridge Eight, The Furious Gazelle, Daily Science Fiction, The Journal of Microliterature, MoidaMagazine, and several anthologies.A collection of her plays, “The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures” is available on Amazon.
The daughter wore knit ankle-to-thigh leggings for dance practice to toil, to sweat, not for elegance of form but to remember strain, effort, feet bared to develop leathered soles like the palms of her father, her mother, from their work in the soil. When life slowed after college, the urge to jeté left her legs. She gave the leggings as a present to her father, obsolescent in work and make.
Drawn up to and bunched at the father’s knees, the leggings pulled the pooling blood at his ankles back toward his thighs for the coursing transport up to his heart. They reminded him of semi-pro baseball days, the loops worn, the white leggings showing, the second base bag kicked and dust stomped off his cleats, the clay a lasting swipe across his stealing legs, the five-dollar bill full of Nebraskan dust handed out by the furniture store owner when the game was over. He’d been known for getting a good jump on the pitcher, for flying down the base path. That winter, dying, he read westerns, and one morning gave the leggings as his last present to his wife.
Out in the snowing, the flakes piled up, uniqueness compacted, lost. The mother felt the warm pleasure of the leggings pulled taut under her heavy jeans, let the shovel stand against her arm, the blizzard cover what she had just cleared. Here, at sixty, husband inside chest opened and closed from surgery and lashed to a wheelchair, she was unaccountably happy, thinking the leggings made her nearly airborne like the snowflakes, she was drifting, a snowflake, her home was no longer the ground but the sky. She had not felt elation in such a long time. Her husband died by morning, having rolled out onto the patio in his wheelchair overnight. She moved south to Arkansas, welcomed wintering birds, found warmth returning to her body. She gave the leggings to her neighbor, a young man who could not afford to heat his small apartment.
The young man liked to jump around the house in the leggings listening to The Moldau as if they were waders to remind his feet of fly-fishing, a river, and the cold channel that ran at the bottom where both the rounded rocks and bigger fish lived. He knew the eagerness of water to run, to leap. He left the leggings at the end of the couch one morning before going to work.
His young cat, with the white paws and back and belly and the black legs, played with the long leggings, drew them to the hardwood floor, with claws unraveled them. When the young man returned home, he saddened, but kept the door open and swept the filaments outside.
When the wind blew, the threads flew.
* * *
Jeff Burt has contributed fiction to Gold Man Review, Green Lantern Literary Journal, NewMaps, and Lowestoft Chronicles. He won the 2018 Consequence Magazine Fiction Prize.