The Sycamore Table

By Allison Walters Luther

Just as the log falls to the axe, so must man.

Johann mused upon that thought as he battled the large sycamore, hauled with much effort from the forest to the north.

Anna had always wanted a large table born of a single piece of sycamore, sanded to a velvety smoothness, nary a splinter to be had. Johann had finally found the perfect tree, large enough to satisfy his wife who was so hard to satisfy.

The cutting was slow going, as he had no sons and no neighbors willing to help, but still he labored on. It was what Anna would have wanted.

And he aimed to have it ready for her if she ever came back home to him.

***

On the third day of the third week of the month, as he always did, Johann left as the sky was starting to brighten. Three hours there, three back, and he would still have to see to the livestock when he returned. These traveling days were not easy for his body, his mind, or his heart.

Three towns over, surrounded by desolate prairie, the manor house holding his daughter perched on a hill, an avenging god from some horrible myth. Clouds swirled around it, blue sky beyond, and Johann supposed it would have been pretty had he not known the horrors within.

As he approached the wide steps, he tried to ignore the screams coming from the windows. He heard those same screams in his dreams where people wore masks to fool him.

***

Inside, eyes cast down as he felt was proper (and to help him avoid the filth he was sure to come across) he made his way to the stairs leading up and up to the third floor, where Berta was kept.

He wondered if she would recognize him this time. If she would speak of that day three months ago, of horrors done and nightmares seen. Of the words Anna had flung at them both, accusations false and misleading, a strange man by her side, while she kept her hand protectively on her stomach, pleading, begging, for an understanding Johann was incapable of giving.

He brushed past bodies on the stairs, in the corridors, careful not to look directly at them. His rational mind assured itself insanity was not catching, but deep within his soul during the darkest parts of the longest nights, he doubted. What if he, too, was insane? Would he not have to be, to have lived with insanity for so long without recognizing it? Oh, how he doubted.

***

She sat, as she always did, in the corner by the fireplace. No chair, no cushion, simply there on the floor, watching the flames. She wore a simple shift, more gray than white. If he closed his eyes, Johann knew he would see her covered in blood and screaming, before she stopped screaming forever, before the doctor took her away.

“Hello, daughter.” Johann winced as he lowered himself beside her, knees pressing painfully into the wood floor. “How are you faring today?”

Her only response was to stare into the fire, hands twisting into each other, taking no notice of him. Her eyes had burned into his as the axe had swung that day, in protection of him, of her, of their family, and never since had he felt the weight of her gaze.

“How are you today, Mr. Dreier? Has there been any word from Missus Dreier?”

Johann recognized both the voice and the sturdy black boots that stopped next to him. “No word yet, Jane, though I do thank you for asking. How has our Berta been these weeks?”

“As you see here.” The nurse stooped to put a cup of water to the girl’s lips. She drank reflexively, not out of thirst, and liquid splashed down into her lap. Nurse Jane simply pulled a rag out of her apron and wiped Berta’s face.

“Has she spoken?” He braced himself for the answer, always knowing it could come one day and change everything.

“No, sir. Doctor Willard would like to do another series of ice baths. He feels that will induce her to speak. He feels that she may never recover if we don’t act soon.” Her voice was level, even, and Johann couldn’t tell how the nurse felt about the doctor’s suggestion.

“I would like to speak to him, if he is not otherwise occupied.”

“He is away to Churchill this week. There is another doctor who is supposed to be passing through on the new train he wanted to speak to.”

Johann grunted. “When he returns, please let him know he is not to proceed with the ice baths. Berta will speak when she is ready, and I do not want her to be forced. Is that understood?” He pulled himself to his feet and bent over to place a kiss on his daughter’s head. “One day she will speak, and we will know the truth of that horrible day.” The lie came easily from his mouth.

***

Johann’s worry was lightened after seeing Berta still in her silence as she had been since that day. He wished that whatever was lost in her mind would stay lost, as it should.

The sun was heavy in the sky when Johann returned to his empty home. He went about his business, never stopping to look at the splintered holes in the barn door: one, two, three. Nor did he notice the axe laying cast aside, rusted blade staining the ground a similar red as it had been on that day.

Only once did his step falter, in the barn, where the big sycamore rested. The earth lay uneasy, hastily removed and replaced, poorly concealed with sawdust and wood shavings. He hesitated but then shook his head and went to feed the chickens.

After all, there was no reason to worry.

Anna would come back to him some day. He was sure of it.

                                                                        *   *   *

Allison Walters Luther is a story-crafter who defies strict genre classification. Believing that no story is ever really over, she frequently leaves her pieces open-ended and doesn’t feel the slightest bit bad about it.
You can find links to her published works and read some unpublished stories at allisonwaltersluther.com
She resides near Seattle with her husband, three children, and a grouchy parrot. She is currently working on her first novel, THE OTHER SIDE OF WINTER. You can follow her on Twitter at @AllisonLuther.

Paint

By Sylvia Schwartz

Gloria dipped her brush into a gallon of white paint and instead of guiding its bristles along the blue wall, she snapped her wrist, flinging splatters against the surface like a blank canvas she had yet to make peace with. “Take that.”

Lines ran down the wall, drawing a demarcation between past and present—obscuring ghostly spaces where photos once hung, sconces once glowed, and their loveseat once resided. Flecks marred ordinary smudges accumulated over a couple’s lifetime, now reduced to one. 

She and her husband had both suffered an attack upon the heart. 

Though only his kind was fatal. 

Gloria had considered moving, but only hired men to haul away the sad living room furniture and bought herself a gallon of Benjamin Moore’s New Century White. Wherever her husband, who still felt like her husband, was, despite him not being there, she soulfully wondered, can he see me? She smoothed blotches, creating long arching swaths, like a multitude of new crescent moons lost in the universe. 

With her hands covered in paint, she set down the brush and placed her palms on the wall. They squished as they left their lonely small mark. Her husband’s hands were as big as his promises, all of which he’d eventually kept, except the last one—to always be at her side. 

She pounded on the wall to drown out the voice in her head—I called 911! I did CPR! I should have been able to save him!—while paint spat back at her face as if saying, no you couldn’t; it was already too late.

Exhausted, she squatted on the floor and whimpered, “I can’t do this alone,” and cried until no more tears would come. Then wiped them away, streaking her cheeks like war paint. 

A shadow crossed in front of her, and she turned toward the large living room windows that faced the wall. The sun was slanting in, filling the room with light. When she looked back at the wall through blurred eyes, the semi-gloss whiteness glimmered, transforming random blotches and smears and shapes into recognizable moments. 

She saw their first snowstorm together, laughing as they broke off icicles that stuck to their tongues; their first camping trip, cozying up under that cloudy night sky lit up by fireflies incessantly signaling; and their first argument where he’d whitewashed the truth of where he’d been one night and then kept his promise never to stray again. 

A complicated, yet satisfying, life was what she witnessed as she released a deep sigh. She looked down at her capable hands and picked away the paint lodged under each nail before beginning again. 

                                                                      *   *   *

Sylvia Schwartz studied literary fiction at The Writers Studio and One Story in New York. Her stories have appeared in the Ariel Chart International Literary Journal; the Potato Soup Journal; Savant-Garde; The Write Launch; Bold + Italic Magazine; Bull & Cross; Edify Fiction; The Airgonaut; The Vignette Review; and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. She is an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine and can be reached at http://www.sylviaschwartz.com or @aivlys99.

Relativity

By charlotte lowell

In Newtonian mechanics, space and time are absolute quantities. 

When I stand with my fingertips at your shoulder, the distance between us is 24 inches and just that. When I text you and you do not reply, the space between my heartbeats is one second, flat.

But relativity challenges these commonsense notions. 

So when I ask you who you are, you say my own name. And when you look at me closely, you see yourself upside down.

To make progress, we will have to exercise the utmost care with regard to logic and precision.

So do not tell me what you think you know. And do not tell me what your heart believes. In the doorway between the street and your home, I extend myself beyond the light to see you as you are. When I shift my gaze, how do you see me?

The challenge is to stay on this path and not to let our prior assumptions lead us astray. 

Can I trust you with my future? Can I trust you with your own? In some ways we are young, and in some ways, we are not. So will you take a breath and hold it with me?

A bird flies through the air. How fast is it moving? 

Dear bird, I am like a child while I wait for you. I am spattered with dew and brief lightning. When you fly above me you move at 10 m/s relative to the air. When the sky moves against you, you fly more slowly relative to the ground. Does this make you feel defeated? From my perspective, you are so brave.

To answer the question ‘How fast is the bird moving?’ you need to first answer the question ‘Relative to what?’. 

So tell me your heart when it speaks to you. And if you think of me, never let me know. I will wait for you in the valley of the damp woods where you first said my name. I will stand in the streambed while the flood fills in around me. 

A moving object does not have a true speed or velocity. 

If I sketch my love onto a coordinate plane, then will you comprehend me? If I tell you about my real name, then will you understand? My father tells me that I am late and inconsistent. My mother asks me for more time. 

The best we can manage is to specify an object’s velocity relative to the coordinate system in which it is measured. 

So shape me to your reference frame. Split me into atoms. When I dream, my nerve endings are zippy like wires. When I dream, I am like nothing you have ever known.

                                         *   *   *

charlotte lowell is a genderqueer gardener and undergraduate student at fairhaven college, where they study love and chaos. they like clouds and the color blue. they would love to connect with you about physics and anarchism @alittlecloudboy on most digi-spaces.

Marietta Takes a Walk

By Rina Palumbo

As she walked through the meadow, her shadow slicing the sunlit greenery, Marietta stopped, her eyes scanning the ground. Her long black hair, dressed hurriedly into a bun, was starting to loosen, and, just as she placed an offending strand behind her ear, she spotted it. To the right, partly obscured by a collection of alder saplings, was a nest holding a single brown speckled egg within its hollow. She took a step, stooped down, picked up the warm offering, and placed it into the large pocket of her apron.

Quickening her pace, she ascended the low hill, her bare feet delighting in the softer grasses. Marietta stopped abruptly after reaching the flattened top. Kneeling down, her long skirt swallowing her legs and feet, she carefully took out the egg and put it down in smooth brown contrast to the deep green of the wind-cropped grass. A small smile crossed her face.

Her burden discharged, she stretched out onto the grass, closing her eyes against the now overhead sun. She relaxed into the ground, letting the weight of sunlight mold her loose clothing to her body and the stiff cross breezes battle to dislodge even more of her hair. She lay motionless, tensing only her hands, closed now into tight fists.

Marietta could speak to the wind, and sometimes, but only sometimes, the wind spoke back. She had once posed a question to which, as of yet, she had had no answer. To hear the wind’s reply, she needed deep silence.

Above her, beyond the fragile blue of the sky, the vast cold space between stars and galaxies was filled with the noise of time, a hiss and spit that reverberated endlessly. Within the earth below her, slow, steady pressures from the liquid metal in its heart threatened with impatience to dissolve the weight of her flesh and return her bones to the hard rock.  

True silence could only be found in that small precious moment when her heart paused between one beat and the next. In each instant of pure, true quiet, she strained to listen. Each pulse was a failure, a shattering return to the noise of life.

And then, a single word. Her answer.

Standing upright, she replaced a recalcitrant strand of gray hair behind her ear while noting the jagged eggshell fragments at her feet. She started walking hurriedly down the slope into the meadow and saw the speckled brown long-eared hare watching her, eyes nervous, nose and whiskers twitching. A small smile found her face once more. As the creature raced back into a copse of alders, Marietta continued walking.

                                                                  *  *  *

Rina Palumbo (she/her) has an MA from Queen’s University. She has published work in Survivor Lit, Beach Reads, and local magazines and journals. She is currently working on a novel and has two other long-form works in progress while continuing to write short-form fiction, creative non-fiction, and prose poetry. Forthcoming work in Stonecoast, Milk Candy, and Amethyst.

 

Look How Happy We Are

By Riley Winchester

If you ever find yourself driving behind me, you’ll see it. My wife and I, we own a charcoal gray 2020 Kia Telluride. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve seen the stickers on the back. They were my wife’s idea. I always thought bumper stickers were corny, but that’s marriage for you. It’s all about compromises and choosing your battles. So when my wife came home with the stickers one day, I gritted my teeth and said I loved them. We each stuck ourselves on the back of the car. I stuck the dad, my wife stuck the mom, Rae stuck the oldest daughter, Isabel stuck the middle daughter, and Paige stuck the youngest daughter. 

If you ever find yourself driving behind me, you’ll see a happy family of four stick figures. And if you look closely, you’ll see the faded outline of a fifth stick figure that once was there. What you won’t see is how hard my wife wiped away at the remains of Isabel’s sticker, how it was the first thing she did when we returned from the hospital, how Rae and Paige watched and asked me if mom had gone crazy. What you won’t see is that when we shifted over Paige’s sticker to be next to Rae’s, it wouldn’t stick, so we bought a replacement. 

If you ever find yourself driving behind me, you won’t see any of this. But what you will see is a happy family. Look at the smiles on our faces. Look how happy we are. 

*  *  *

Riley Winchester is from Michigan. He’s been nominated for some Pushcarts and he’s been shortlisted for some contests, but he’s never won anything.

Step Into His Shoes

By Natasha Bredle

You stand on the platform of the A train. People hustle all around you, some lugging bags and suitcases, some tugging children along. Some brush against you as they rush by, and you feel their leather jackets and velvet coats and wool scarves and tasseled hats. But their faces are blurred, their voices murmurs, distant as you stand and stare at the one person who is not caught up in all the mayhem: a man sitting cross-legged against the tiled wall, below a ripped poster. The man wears layers of blankets and presses his calloused hands together as if in prayer, his head tilted down toward the beaten cardboard sign that lies at his feet. Homeless, it reads. God bless. 

He looks up briefly, your eyes connect, and right that instant, you step into his shoes. 

The muscle beneath your chest carries a subtle ache with it. Not burning, just weary. As if a dozen minute strings are pulling it at once, each in a different direction, and yet you lack the strength to follow any. Shadowless beneath the shade the platform wall provides, the darkest thing you hold is not the black marker scrawled on your weathered cardboard sign, although that may come in at a close second. 

Your dark pupils are effortlessly lightless, staring out at the crowd, yet unseeing. Because she’s there, in a place better than the present, her eyes laughing, her hand grasping for yours. 

Your sign doesn’t say Homeless. It says lost. It says come back to me. It says I’m so sorry. 

An abiding sigh hangs in your lungs. In a few minutes, you will let it seep out, slowly, so that it seems like no more than a soft exhale. Then you will gather up your few belongings, ignoring the stabs of hunger—several different kinds—in your gut, and trek to find an empty bench in the city park. You will fall asleep to the sound of the owls echoing your loneliness, and in the morning, if you wake up, you pray it will be from a dreamless dark. 

You blink. The moment ends, and you are back in your place on the platform, in your own gray and blue flats. In your own buttoned coat, with your own luggage. The homeless man sits, as motionless as before, face still shadowed, the corner of the poster behind him fluttering. You finally force your legs to move: one step forward, two steps, and continue until you reach the man. You dig out your wallet and remove some bills. He looks up as you hand them to him, and for the first time you catch the details of his face. He looks strangely familiar. 

                                                              *   *   *

Natasha Bredle is an emerging artist based in Ohio. She writes about what she thinks about, which is really too much for her poor brain. You can find her work in Aster Lit, Trouvaille Review, and Full House Lit, to name a few. 

The Driftwood Redemption

 By Andrew Rodgers

There would be other opportunities. 

Definitely.

Well, probably. 

At least, that’s what Melissa kept telling herself to keep the dark thoughts at bay. If things didn’t work out this time… well, could they even stay together? What little money they’d started with was gone, and the remaining options weren’t great. There were distant relatives and friends, but it seemed unfair to burden them. Parents weren’t an option. They were even more distant.

Melissa gripped the chipped coffee mug tighter and sipped her chamomile tea, now lukewarm. After a moment, she caught herself tapping her foot under the table. Nervous energy surged throughout the room. The late afternoon rain drummed steadily on the fiberglass roof. The floor below vibrated from the strain of the bilge pump keeping their rented houseboat afloat. Even the walls seemed anxious, packed with vibrant canvases exploding with colors and shapes. Nearly everywhere was motion. Noise. Turmoil. As always, though, Bailey was an island of calm.

As if on cue, Bailey’s collar jingled as he lifted his head and looked toward the door. With ears perked, he listened for a familiar sound in the distance. 

It’s too soon, Melissa thought. Kellie needed time to make a sale.

Bailey sniffed the air, put his head back down on the rug, shifted his paws and sighed.

The light outside dimmed and Melissa shivered as the storm grew stronger. Most of the neighbors would soon move back to their condos in Florida for the winter. She and Kellie would be the last ones on the lake. Again. But only if they could raise the money for rent, she reminded herself.

 Melissa turned on a nearby lamp. It was a battered garage sale find, like nearly everything else they owned. Except for their brushes and paints, that is—those were the only luxuries they’d indulged.

Melissa studied her hands. Rough and dirty. Unpretty. To some, at least. Cadmium lemon paint stained the creases of her knuckles and the crevices around her fingernails. Fortunately, Kellie never seemed to mind.

A smell caught Melissa’s attention. She moved quickly to the propane stove and got on her hands and knees to look underneath. Sure enough, the pilot light was out again. One of these days they weren’t going to catch it in time.

Melissa stood and scanned the kitchen counter. She found the matchbook under a small stack of unopened bills. She needed something else, though. In the tiny fridge, behind the milk, she found the half-eaten cupcake and plucked out the pink candle, shaped like a four. The blue zero candle had gone into the garbage almost immediately.

For the next few minutes, Melissa fumbled with the lit candle, lying on the floor, stretching as far as she could reach under the stove. Why were these vintage stoves so difficult? Eventually, the pilot light’s flicker returned. The houseboat didn’t explode. She breathed a sigh of relief, blew out the candle, and tossed it into the sink.

On his rug, Bailey sighed again.

This is ridiculous, Melissa thought. But there was nothing she could do. She could only wait.

The two had argued the night before. Maybe it was time to split. Kellie, ever the optimist, insisted things would get better, that their lucky break was just on the horizon. They’d started this journey excited, passionate even. But after all these months, with the rejections mounting and not a single painting sold, not even the portrait of the cow that everyone loved, Melissa found it hard to be enthusiastic about anything.

Her thoughts drifted to the duffle bag tucked under the bed she shared with Kellie. Over the past few days, she’d mentally packed it a dozen times. There wasn’t much left worth anything, though. Just some clothes and cosmetics, a laptop with a cracked screen, and some brushes.

Melissa didn’t even have a phone anymore. She’d been texting Kellie while walking along the slip when it fell out of her hand and into the water. For weeks, they shared just the one phone. Aside from each another, who would they call anyway?

The real question was what would happen to Bailey. He’d grown so used to them, and they to him. He’d simply wandered in the front door one day in the middle of summer, knocked over a tray of drinks and curled up for a nap.

Melissa walked over to rub Bailey’s ears and run her fingers along the fur on his back. It was slick with the oils of a lake dog who didn’t like baths but loved to swim.

Reaching to rub her own forehead, Melissa realized she hadn’t showered for a few days. Maybe she should wash her hair.

Then, through the sound of the rain, Melissa heard the slam of a car door. Bailey heard it too and lifted his head. Moments later, they both heard the familiar footsteps on the wooden planks outside. Bailey stood up, tail wagging. Melissa’s heart sank. It was still too soon. Kellie hadn’t made the sale. The rich collector who professed a love for “emerging art” didn’t like their work. It had been the last chance. Now they would drift apart and build new lives elsewhere.

The steps grew louder, quicker. The houseboat shook slightly as Kellie stepped onto the deck. Melissa held her breath. The door flew open.

Melissa knew immediately. Drenched from the storm and out of breath, Kellie’s broad smile and shining wet face said everything.

Tears welled in Melissa’s eyes. She rushed to Kellie. The two embraced while Bailey rubbed against their legs. They sobbed together, celebrating. It had all been worth it. Everything would change. But now, finally, on their terms.

*   *   *

Andrew Rodgers is a writer and filmmaker in Denver, Colorado. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Our State, SOMA, and the Chicago Tribune. His film “Crooked Candy” premiered at the New York Film Festival and played more than 30 festivals worldwide.

Invisible Pearl

By Sara Dobbie

     Along the riverbank frogs croak as herons stand watch over the flowing currents, while sunshine dissipates the early morning fog. Swallows chirp in the thickets and squirrels dart across the grass. Inside her cottage, Pearl wakes up and rubs her eyelids. She peers from her window and watches the rays of bright light chase away the rolling mist, wishes she could join the tiny animals in their ignorant bliss and leave humanity behind. She chastises herself for such negativity but acknowledges that lately she’s been feeling like an outsider.  She questions if there is a reason to participate in a world that doesn’t see her anymore, in a world that treats her as though she is invisible.

     She walks into the bathroom and leans close to the mirror over the enamel sink. Her reflection stares back like a washed-out shadow of her former self. She analyzes the fine lines in her forehead, agonizes over the deep ones at the corners of her eyes. Next, she begins her daily routine. Cleanse. Exfoliate. Moisturize. Magazines and social media videos and television commercials have instilled the importance of skincare, of hydration and retinoids. She needs to stay youthful, yet age gracefully. To embrace her beauty while halting the natural effects of time.

     When Pearl was small, she learned the steps required to tackle each day through careful observation of the women in her life. Her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, her teachers. She watched them emerge from their powder rooms with pink smiles and rosy cheeks and thick, black lashes. Foundation. Blush. Mascara. She concluded over time that women must always put on their face before anyone will want, or be able, to see them.

     In spite of following this feminine code of conduct, recently it seems that Pearl is like a ghost. She winces at the recollection of last weekend when she sat at a table for two waiting endlessly for a man who did not arrive. The waiter walked past countless times, never once inquiring if she would like a drink, or an appetizer, or if she was waiting for a dinner guest. She had never intended to be single and middle aged, but she found herself fumbling through the galaxy of online dating, where everyone sought youth and beauty and the ideal partner. She’s too old, too tired, too hopeless. Without having spoken to a single soul, Pearl left the restaurant and went home to bed. 

     Today Pearl is going to run errands. She steps outside the cottage, glances over the wildflowers she lets run rampant across her lawn and follows the path to the road and into town. She walks past a group of construction workers in orange vests and hard hats. They don’t whistle or holler, they don’t even glance in her direction, but continue digging a giant hole in the sidewalk. While this is a relief for Pearl, who never grew accustomed to attention from strange men, it is also a sharp reminder of her condition. Her status of faded bloom, of wilting flower, of menopausal woman. The certainty that no one will want her ever again, whether she wants them to or not. 

     She raises a finger to dab her lips, feels the oily slick of gloss, and is assured that her face is still on. She thinks about slinking in between the men, touching their shoulders as she slips past. She also thinks about what it would feel like to drop down into the manhole.

     Pearl passes three teenage girls at the bus stop. She says hello but they huddle together to look at something on a small screen and ignore her. She is humiliated by their freshness, the shine of their hair, their careless attitude. They don’t know she used to be just like them, that she can remember living inside that elastic skin and casting judgements through her eyes as if it were yesterday, not decades ago. They shake their hips to a beat that Pearl can’t hear. They hold the whole world inside their hands, inside their bodies. They are unaware of her existence. She is nothing to them, she is alien. 

     Once, Pearl was luminous. She was a wife, a mother, an employee, a citizen of the world. Time was an endless river flowing forward, the people she loved were immortal, her life indestructible. But in a blink the present became the past, and now the future is a lonely prospect in which she pictures herself wandering, a wraith, a spirit, clamoring to be heard, or at least, noticed. She wonders sometimes if she is imagining things, but in the produce aisle at the grocery store the stock boy keeps walking when she says, excuse me. She only wants to know where to find the artichoke hearts, but he will not help her, so she searches until she finds them on her own, pays the cashier and leaves.

     In the drugstore, Pearl surveys rows of bright lipsticks. A new shade might be the thing to tip the scales. She imagines applying a blood red sheen to her lips, pictures herself walking up to the construction workers and grabbing one of them by the hand. Or maybe she could go back to the stock boy, who she’d have to let down gently when he declared his admiration. Then again, maybe she’s thinking of things all wrong. She pictures the animals near her cottage, of the river, of what really matters. Maybe it’s time to give it all up, to stop trying so hard to force a square peg into a round hole. 

     Although there are many customers in the store, not one of them sees Pearl put the crimson tube of lipstick into the depths of her bag. She is filled with an exhilaration long absent and walks out smiling without any interference from the staff. If no one sees me anymore, she thinks, then I will do exactly what I want. Back at home she doesn’t waste time feeling guilty about the pilfered makeup, it was more of a personal statement than a crime after all. 

     In the evening, Pearl imagines building a raft from twigs and branches. She could use it to float up and down the river gathering plants and enjoying the sun. Like a holiday, every day. People can’t see her anyway so no one would mind an old woman bobbing past, no one would ask her where she was going. She could float on forever and never return, no one would notice or be any the wiser.

      Pearl no longer attends her scheduled hair appointments. She lets the grays creep in, winding in long streaks from her temples. She lets it lengthen and curl until she realizes she feels powerful. She wears whatever clothing strikes her fancy, sometimes overalls with a t-shirt and sometimes a formal dress. She doesn’t care what anybody thinks and does things only if she feels like it. The lipstick, for example, is something she can wear if she wants to, but if she decides to go without it, the planet continues to spin. 

     The mailman finds Pearl one morning sitting cross legged amongst the wildflowers in a strapless evening gown, gray hair cascading and lips the color of cranberries, tossing peanuts to the squirrels. He waves to her. 

     “You can see me?” she asks. He approaches slowly, a perplexed look on his face.

     “Of course,” he answers.

     He makes idle small talk for a few minutes, asking questions about the gardens, then wishes her a good day. It seems to Pearl that a spell has been broken, a curse lifted. She leans back against her willow tree and extends her legs under the satiny fabric of the dress. Sparrows land in a fleet to fight the squirrels for the nuts and Pearl thinks how wonderful it is to finally be seen. She gets up and surveys her property and begins collecting bits of long grass and sticks. It’s time to get serious about that raft. 

                                                                          *   *   *

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her stories have appeared in New World Writing, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute, Ruminate Online, Trampset, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Her debut collection “Flight Instinct” is forthcoming from ELJ Editions (2022). Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites.

Escape

By Izabela Ilowska

Once certain words are spoken, you can’t take them back. But you can translate them into another language. Ungrateful, stubborn, controlling, self-absorbed, cold. This is just a list of adjectives. They seem abstract, they don’t hurt me. Their Polish equivalents, on the other hand, are more problematic, burdened with personal associations. I see Damian as he puts his jacket on and leaves the flat, slamming the door behind him. A few hours later my telephone starts to ring. Damian says that it’s over and that he won’t come back. Sometimes he threatens to swallow pills or to slash his wrists and hangs up before I have a chance to ask where he is. When he calls again, he keeps his voice calm, impersonal. He tells me about a woman he met some time ago. They have been seeing each other regularly ever since. He says that she is younger than me and cooks very well. He wants to know if I’m jealous of her. When I don’t respond, he gets angry at me. We begin to insult each other with the same cruel words. I feel exhausted when he finally hangs up. Ungrateful, stubborn, controlling, self-absorbed, cold. The list goes on and on. I write down some of the adjectives on a piece of paper and then I translate them into English. My heartbeat slows down, my breathing becomes easier, my hands stop trembling. 

                                                     *   *   *

Izabela Ilowska holds a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Her flash fiction has appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Bangor Literary Journal, and Free Flash Fiction.

Insufficient

By Yash Seyedbagheri

I can’t pay my credit card because I used it to subsist on bare green TV dinners and Lays.

I can’t bring my bank account positive, because I got fired. No thank yous or false promises. Just talk of metrics and severance. Severance, a word that evoked someone’s head rolling around, like an unloved soccer ball.

 But before that, I needed to drink champagne, savor the verve, and feel like a royal. I drank nightly. And before that I needed sushi and lobster, after that first demotion. Not up to speed, they said. 

Now overdraft fees and bounced checks prey on me. Interest rates devour.

 I can’t explain, because no one wants explanations unless they involve being run over, fighting robbers, or losing a kidney. Even though once upon a time I marked calendars with colored highlighters, set clocks half an hour fast, and thought data crunching was sexy.

And I can’t speak contrition. Contrition’s insufficient. No kidneys lost.

                                                      *   *   *

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA fiction program. His stories, “Soon,”  “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,”  “Tales From A Communion Line,” and “Community Time,” have been nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work  has been published in  SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.