By Hedayat Reda 

“Start from the pain” they often tell you when you’re stuck. Just put words on paper and it will come. I’ve tried to tell this story a lot of different ways and have yet to succeed at finding a way that works. For some reason every time I click on a button to put words on a page the ink melts. Whatever was there becomes out of focus, like you’re looking at the words through a cracked magnifying glass. I reach into the recesses of my mind and wonder if this would work better with real ink. If turning the ethereal into the physical would somehow solidify the non-solid. If that’s where I could start.  At about this time I begin to wonder what your version of the story is. If it’s somehow more corporeal than mine. If it’s told in first person or in third person. If it includes as many almost fairytale-like moments as mine does. If it ends abruptly or leaves some room for wiggle. I wonder if we were two passengers boarding the same ship or if I was on some kind of special rocket, you know— the kind that reaches the moon really fast. They say that one-sided love doesn’t really exist. In order to feel love, it must be reciprocated. I say that those who believe that have never felt it. Love is one of those things you can’t describe until you’ve been through it and even then, all the metaphors in the world fall short of the real thing. I seem to remember a time in which we didn’t know each other. A time in which I wasn’t constantly checking my phone or waiting to bring your name up in conversation. Without falling into cliché, I long for that time. For that me. The transformation happened really fast. One day you weren’t there and then suddenly you were. It’s unbelievable that such a pace could birth the stillness that characterized my time with you. And yet I couldn’t imagine it any other way.  I wish we had started differently. Single, for one. Attentive, for two. I wish your name wasn’t already fused to mine in my head and we could laugh at our mutual propensity for gin instead of bond over it. I wish for clarity instead of comfort. I wish for slowness. I wish I had really taken in the details instead of letting you do the guiding. I wish time had been on our side. Or, barring that, I wish for a lack of sides. I wonder if you have graduated yet or if you’re still slaving over the books. I remember the first time you raved to me about your hopes and dreams. I remember noting that yours were singular and mine were plural. That still gets to me. My best friend really hates you. Every time I mention you she says k*ssomo (fuck him). It’s become almost a gut reaction of hers. I would be a lot funnier if it wasn’t true. Remember that time we went swimming at sunset? You were half-drunk and kept trying to make me touch your feet. I thought then that this was the beginning of something new (boy was I wrong). I now flinch every time I hear that accented lilt you had in your vowels. I would never admit this out loud, but sometimes, I elongate my own vowels just to feel a bit closer to you. The thing I miss the most is that freckle on your neck. If I got a do-over I would spend all my time kissing it and inhaling your scent there. I wonder if she’s noticed it yet. It pains me to think you might be touching her ankles the same way you touched mine. I saved a playlist with your name on it. Now every time I hear Anderson Paak, it takes me back to that first time with you. I wish I could take my gifts back. It’s petty and stupid but I hate that you still have a physical part of me. In an ideal universe I’d sever the tie clean. But then, what would happen to you? You would never understand why I feel the need to put these thoughts down. For you, silence always reigned supreme. It took me a long time to realize, but that was your particular brand of selfishness. Your assertion of control. I’d like to say that I regret meeting you. My life would have been much richer without your tendency to ghost. Unfortunately, I don’t. That’s another thing about love. Even if it sucks, you’re happier to have experienced it than not. There are probably a hundred different ways this could have ended. You could have manned up and told me the truth. I could have gone out on a limb and confessed. We both could have worked through it. I don’t know what it was about us, but for some reason it never worked. It was a bit like Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to the president. Beautiful, but unoriginal. Sometimes I wonder if you still think of me. And if so, I wonder if it’s in present tense or past tense. More than anything though I still think about that time we almost made love. How fast we shed our clothing. How luminescent you looked in the moonlight, the smooth R&B playing on the speakers. How your eyes said all the words you could never say to me. 

                                                                     *   *   *

Hedayat is an Egyptian experimental writer who dabbles in different genres and styles. She uses writing as a way to figure out the world and give voice to the voiceless. Hedayat is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at City College. Her work has been published in 433 online magazine, Promethean Literary Journal, and on the Womena website. Hedayat lives in Egypt with her family and dog.

The Loop

By Alea Giordano

“I’m going to need you to get up on the scale Mrs. G; let me help you.” The doctor took Jane’s frail hand and assisted her onto the platform. 

The glowing blue numbers flickered before settling on a decision. She was down to 105 pounds. It had been a tough two-year battle with cancer, but at 84, Jane was a warrior. She’d survived extensive surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and was still full of life. Her body had been trying to give up, but she wouldn’t let it.

“One last surgery on your lymph nodes, and you should be in the clear.” 

Jane thought about her doctor’s appointment as she climbed into bed that evening. She’d always been a petite woman, hovering around 5 feet tall, but she hadn’t weighed 105 pounds since high school. As Jane drifted off to sleep, she thought about how approaching the end was similar to approaching the beginning. 

The next morning, Jane woke up feeling better than she had in years. She momentarily paused to stare at the ceiling, knowing she’d be unsteady as soon as she tried to stand.

“I call first!”

“I call second!”

Jane abruptly sat up. That was strange. She could’ve sworn that she’d just heard her two younger sisters, Bett and Sis, calling their turns in the bathroom. For some reason, Jane was slightly disoriented, so she took her time getting out of bed. Her vision was blurry, which was odd because she’d never needed glasses for anything other than reading. However, when she put her feet on the floor, she felt incredibly sturdy. 

It was a pleasant surprise for Jane to reach the bathroom so quickly. As a habit, she sat down but didn’t need to pee since the cancer had taken her bladder. She stood up and moved her hand to the side of her stomach, searching for the urostomy bag, but nothing was there.

“What the heck?” Jane said out loud. The bag had gone missing. Could it have fallen off in her sleep? As Jane continued to feel around her body, she also noticed that her abdominal muscles were extremely firm, muscularly firm, in fact.

Jane darted over to the foggy mirror. Had she taken a shower and forgotten? She used her hand to wipe away the cloudy vapor.

“Oh, my God!” Jane said as her vision came into focus.

“Daddy! Jane just said the Lord’s name in vain!” Sis called out.

There was no time to think about her sister tattling. Jane’s reflection was incomprehensible. Staring back at her were the eyes of her 16-year-old self. She immediately looked down her nightgown and saw two perfectly prominent breasts. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “I’m either dreaming, or I’m dead.” 

Jane walked back to her room as if in a trance. She ran her index finger along the seam of her green chenille bedspread and then walked over to her window seat. As she looked out, she had a clear view of Rambling Stella and Lovely Lady being guided out by the stable hand for their morning exercise. Jane smiled. Her fondest childhood memories were the ones where she was riding horses. 

How could she be 16 again? Jane got up and walked over to her dresser. She used the soft-bristled brush to pull her hair back into a ponytail and then teased out her bangs that had clearly been set with a sponge curler. The next logical step was to get dressed. A short sleeve button-up blouse with a Peter Pan collar and a navy blue poodle skirt would do the trick. As the final touch, Jane wiggled her tiny feet into a pair of saddle shoes. They were much stiffer than she remembered, and Jane was glad for the advances in footwear since the 1950s.

The room that Jane grew up in was the biggest of the three sisters and had a door to a separate stairwell that went down into the kitchen. Before she descended, she could smell the eggs, waffles, bacon, and maple-brown-sugar steel-cut oats. Her breath lodged in her chest as anxiety began to overtake her, but Jane forced herself to fully inhale. In her real life, Sis was the only other living member of her nuclear family. Her mother, father, and middle sister, Bett, were all deceased. She had to keep going to see them with her own eyes. 

Sure enough, everyone was gathered around the kitchen table. Jane’s mother was standing by the stove in a full blush-colored floral dress with an apron overtop. Her father was seated, wearing his usual shirt, tie, and vest. Jane’s sisters sat on either side of him and talked excitedly as he read the paper. If Jane was dead, then she couldn’t imagine a better entrance into heaven. 

“Jane, are you alright?” 

Jane turned her head. “Yes, mother.” It had been nearly thirty years since she’d last uttered those words.

“Sit down then and have some breakfast.” 

The remainder of the day was precisely the same as any day of Jane’s junior year of high school, from cheerleading practice to making out with Paul in the parking lot. Her father had even had his one after-dinner cigarette before they’d turned in for the evening. Only now could she appreciate how wonderfully monotonous this part of her life had been.

The next morning, Jane realized that it had all been a dream. A beautiful dream, but a dream nonetheless. She placed her feet on the ground and headed to the bathroom to start her daily routine.

As Jane opened the door, she was greeted with a shrill scream.

“Jane! Try knocking!”

A thousand thoughts flooded her mind as she stared at her 14-year-old sister perched on the toilet. Embarrassed for both of them, she quickly shut the door. A new anxiety caused her breath to catch. If yesterday wasn’t a dream, then was she really stuck being a teenager again?

                                                          *   *   *

Alea grew up along the shores of New Jersey, where she developed a close relationship with her grandmother, who now doubles as her best friend. Alea spent the last fifteen years building a successful career in scholarly publishing and is passionate about Open Access. In addition to her profession, Alea is currently enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Rosemont College. Alea deeply loves all things antique, including buttons and glass goblets. She currently resides in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband, two young sons, and four cats.

In the water, with fins

By Michelle Hoeckel-Neal

Here, you see the parrotfish pecking. Its false beak bops bops bops off the coral, munching. It is your favorite species, something about royalty, or traffic. Its fins, iridescent. A glimmer of gold, scales like sapphires, sharp pink borders. You wonder what it means, to be both parrot and fish. You make shapes with your lips, speaking now to the parrot. The fish does not have a return message. It is so close to you. If you’re not careful, you’ll slap it with your rubber fins. You are constantly twisting behind yourself, or arching your neck downward, checking that your fins are not damaging the coral, not slapping the species. It is exhausting, this contortion. Like a dog chasing its tail, you spin and bend, fins kicking.

The parrotfish disappears behind the cetacean blue curtain, the place where your eyes can’t see your fins below your knees. You mourn the bird, the fish, the princess. Whatever it was, you grieve that it is gone. It has evaporated, into the beyond. Beyond the protection of a sea floor, of coral and sunlight. You gaze into the darkness. It is not an abyss, it is solid. Impenetrable. The tide does not seem to reach this space. There is no shifting, no swirling. As you stare, you drift toward the curtain. Are you pulled? Or do you push? You think, it is not the darkness that scares you. It is the opposite. The light, a needle, pierces. And there is your parrotfish, only now it is: parrot. fish. It is in two. Tail feathers detached from false beak. Between the halves, the curtain, and you.

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Michelle Hoeckel-Neal is a graduate student of English concentrating in creative writing at the University of Maine. She is a writer of short things, strange things, and things that aren’t all-the-way true. She is also a teacher for the University’s first-year writing course, and an editor for the Spire Journal of Conservation and Sustainability. She is not much of a tweeter, but you can find her @MHN_hello.


By Annette Gulati

I dial her number, take a deep breath, shield my heart. When she picks up the phone, I ask questions she never asks back. How are you? How do you feel? Is everything okay? 

She opens fire. Got an extra chicken leg from KFC. Harold fixed the window blind. The surgery is next month. Her words slide off my back easily. My counterattack is equally harmless. I shoot back—nice, great, oh. 

The onslaught continues for thirteen more minutes, then we hang up. That’s when her unspoken words creep in, slicing, mincing as they go. I retreat, my invisibility intact. 


                                                                            *   *   *

Annette Gulati is an essayist and freelance writer living in Seattle, WA. Her creative work has been published or is pending in Five Minutes, Nunum, The Oregonian, Sasee, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and elsewhere. She’s also the author of twelve children’s books.