Six Years

By Chris Pais

He was going to leave today.  After twenty years of knowing her, seventeen years of living together, fifteen years of being married and twelve years of raising their twins, he had enough.  He loved the three women in his life dearly, but he had enough.

He remembers the first time they came home from the hospital, the twins as small as hamsters after spending weeks in the incubator.  He remembers how he held vigils outside the neonatal Intensive Care Unit waiting for a hopeful nod from the doctor or for reassuring beeps from the monitor.  He brought Laura her favorite takeout that remained untouched as they held each other in prayerful embrace in the hallway of the hospital; her tender warmth and the smell of her hair just as reassuring as during their first days of courtship.

He remembers the early days of childcare and the loss of sleep, the unforgiving continuum of soiled diapers, midnight feedings, visits to the pediatrician and the pharmacy, weekend stints doing laundry and the small victories of hope over despair that made live livable.  Laura was a trooper and held it together for them while he escaped to the office for a taste of normalcy.

He remembers their first day of school, the frantic preparation and anticipation ending with unbuckling them from their car seats as they walked away, their backpacks weighing down their gait as he and Laura waved to the girls.  He did not realize then that the silence in their station-wagon on the drive home was a foretaste of things to come.         The girls grew older and they got busier.  Juggling work, schedules, mortgage payments, soccer games, birthday parties and family vacations made it seem like a tornado was rumbling through their little suburban house trying to rip it apart.  He and Laura were like buoys bobbing around in a furious ocean, fastened together and touching each other often, but never quite long enough.  They had date nights and therapy sessions, made New Year resolutions that were soon broken, embarked on diets together which did nothing but push them further into portly middle-age.  They watched helplessly and sometimes with a touch of envy when they saw their friends basking in what looked like romance and marital bliss.  He and Laura loved each other, but they slowly forgot how.

Many years ago, he realized he could not do this anymore.  Being a numbers man, he woke up every day counting the days remaining before he would leave.  When the twins are eighteen, he thought, they would be adults and really would not need him there.  Thirteen years and five months to go, he thought at first. As the numbers got smaller, he got more hopeful and the dreariness of his existence became bearable.  Ten years to go, he thought.  A few years later, he said to himself, eight years to go. 

When it was six years to go, he found it really unbearable to continue and decided to leave.  He could not do six more years of this.  Six years is over two thousand days, he thought.  Two thousand days!  The twins were twelve. There was no way he was going to make it until they were eighteen.  That is six more years, he thought.  Six years is a very long time.  Six years is two thousand long days.     

He did not prepare much.  He did not have many needs and the solitary thought of getting into his car and driving into the distance felt liberating to him.  Nobody was home when he hurriedly packed a small suitcase.  As he was backing out of the driveway, he saw Laura and the girls wheeling their bicycles home.  

“Dad!” the twins yelled in unison.  “Mom has a flat tire.  You have to fix it and join us.  We are going back. We found a cool trail we know you’d like”.

He pulled back into the garage and took out his toolbox to fix the flat.  As he pried the bicycle tire from its rim, his vision was clouded by the tears in his eyes.  Six years is not such a long time after all, he thought.  It is only two thousand days.  He slowly brushed off the cobwebs from his bike and joined them on the driveway.

                                                    *   *   *

Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.

For Old Time’s Sake


By David Larsen

     Sam Worth watched his wife, Cynthia, sashay briskly, almost theatrically—a heroine in a melodrama—through the maze of tables toward the booth in the farthest corner of the Happy Times Diner. Their booth. In their diner, the inexpensive eatery he’d courted Cynthia in, years ago. She was tastefully decked out in a summery, yellow dress, white, open-toed shoes, an outfit he’d never seen before. Something new for the occasion, he thought.

     Cynthia had wanted to meet in the lawyer’s office. But Sam insisted on their old haunt. Just the two of them. For old time’s sake.

     Cynthia looked good. As good as ever, not more than three pounds—five tops—heavier than the night they met at a party at the Lambda Chi house fifteen years earlier, before their abbreviated courtship, their fourteen-year marriage, his two years of graduate school, their two children. Before his dalliance with Ashton. 

     “I’m in a hurry,” said Cynthia. She opened a manilla folder with a small stack of important-looking papers inside. She removed them hurriedly and pushed them toward him without looking up. “The sooner I get these back to the lawyer, the sooner this will be over.”

     “I ordered you a cherry coke,” said Sam, “and an order of those onion rings you used to love.”

     She looked at him, sighed, then pointed with her finger at a line on the first page. Her signature was already on the line above.

     Ten minutes later, six pages signed, Sam watched his wife, soon to be his ex-wife, slalom through the crowded room, every table occupied by carefree young people, yucking it up, participating in a ritual older than history itself, an exercise the two of them had engaged in, not all that long ago. She left every bit as confidently as she had arrived.

     He put an onion ring, now cold and soggy, into his mouth. Why should they go to waste? He took a sip of her untouched cherry coke. His own drink, a lemonade, suddenly tasted sour.

     Today, he thought, a crowded, off-campus diner. Next week, Cancun, with Ashton. 

                                                                     *   *  *

David Larsen is a writer and musician who lives in El Paso, Texas. Over the past two years his stories have been published in more than twenty literary journals and magazines including Oakwood, El Portal, Floyd County Moonshine, Canyon Voices, The Raven Review and Change Seven.



By Sarah Clayville


A strange present – written in cursive on origami paper. Uneven lines and creases means someone tried to fold a crane or a frog but failed. Kooper holds the word in his hand, wondering how it wound up in the pile of fastidiously wrapped packages. He is on a tight schedule. There’s no time for this. 


The other gifts are stacked haphazardly on the bed. Guests sent them ahead of the grand party, and Louise arranged the treasures by color and size as neatly as a photo shoot. She now fusses downstairs in the kitchen with desserts. The time of the party, seven-thirty, is intentional. Too late for anyone to expect a real meal.


Kooper doesn’t peek at any other gifts, but the green rectangle with the silver bow was intriguingly small, nearly miniature. He now stares at the word the box contained, wondering if it is a puzzle to a larger present. Then he feels like shit for wanting more than what he has.


Guests arrive fashionably late. Louise’s friends mostly. Kooper’s mates self-destructed after 40. Louise saved him, peeling away his vices one by one, polishing his naked core into the man who stands in front of the mirror today. Muscles bulge from his calves. When he reaches for things, there is a strain, a tightness from repetition at the gym. If you do the same action over and over again, Louise tells him, you become impenetrable.


Kooper is a master at Crosswords. Scrabble. Boggle. This word is impossible. Six letters, usually a verb. What is someone asking of him? Why is the word written so neatly with sharp edges? This is not a begging please. This one demands through gritted teeth, a dangerous word. The please followed by a threat if he doesn’t comply.


The navy striped tie presses against his Adam’s apple. Kooper can’t swallow and decides to open a second gift. Fifty fucking years old. He’s not a child and can open what he wants. The Robinsons give him a month of golf lessons. Another. The Smiths buy him a coffee table book about the museums of London. One more. The Levys personalize a pair of black cufflinks with his initials ground into the metal. His real friends wouldn’t know where to send a present, if they were still around.


The gifts are all stripped down on the bed. Monuments of wrapping paper stand along the ground. The first floor of the brownstone vibrates with droning couples, an orchestra of bullshit conducted by Louise. This isn’t a birthday party. This is Kooper’s funeral, and he’s dressing for the occasion.


He crumples the paper tight in his fist and then swallows it, loosening his tie. Sure, things pass through but the ink seeps into his bloodstream. He straightens his tie again, brushes his hair. He trims a jagged fingernail and practices smiling in the mirror. When he comes down the stairs, everyone applauds. Louise nods in approval. Only Kooper knows.

About the chaos upstairs in the bedroom.
About the mystery word seething in his gut.
About the train ticket booked on his phone.

He will vanish at dawn, and they can all do as they please…without him.


                                                                               *   *   *

Sarah Clayville is a teacher and author who writes and dreams from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in several dozen publications, she is a fiction editor for the journal Identity Theory, and her children’s novel debuted in June 2023. More of her work can be found online at


A Memoir by Jennifer Lagier

As I lose my virginity while contorted on a 1965 Mustang’s bucket seat during the Summer of Love, a drunk staggers from riverbank underbrush, pastes himself against the windshield, ogles teenage nudity before passing out. Embarrassed, I stifle a shriek, cling to my gyrating boyfriend, not in passion but to conceal naked flesh.

This night is the culmination of his months of pleading and threats. Worn down, terrified by what’s to come, I succumb to clumsy, painful attentions. It hurts, is over quickly, ends with a slobbery kiss.

Afterward, I pull on wrinkled clothes, muse over this clumsy introduction to womanhood. I am now damaged goods, mute with remorse.

An hour later, back on the road, he’s satisfied and smug. I’m disenchanted. He buys us dinner at the local drive-in. Conversation is nonexistent. We crumple dirty napkins, greasy cheeseburger wrappers, return them to the window-mounted tray. His used condom floats atop root beer float leftovers in an A & W mug.


                                                                         *   *   *

Jennifer Lagier lives a block from the Monterey stage where Janis Joplin performed and Jimi Hendrix torched his guitar. She has published twenty books, in a variety of anthologies and literary magazines, edits the Monterey Poetry Review, helps coordinate Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Website:, Facebook:

Here on the Balcony

By Beate Sigriddaughter

The waves of the Adriatic Sea look so gentle this early morning. The daily assembly of beach chairs and umbrellas hasn’t been set up yet. The sand looks pristine. I wish I could own a moment like this forever. The red sun rises, the silhouette of a sailboat slowly crosses the disk of light, a shimmering path of light aims directly at me on the calm water. No one can take this away from me, not this cool morning breeze, not my long yellow silk dress fluttering against my legs. Might as well dress like a princess. Martin treats me like one. It is all like a dream. Why is it then that I cannot seem to relax? Maybe in time I will. I wish I could inhale all this deep into me to where my own sun would glow, red and golden. Instead, I feel like a stranger in my own skin, though the hair on my arms tingles as though in answer to a caress. The breeze is cooler than I expected.  

We spent the first week of our marriage in a castle at the foot of the Dolomites. Martin brought me fresh flowers every day. We spent the evenings holding hands, then touching and talking by candlelight and the glow from the fireplace. Even in May, the nights were surprisingly cool. Here too. I can tell he wants to make me happy, and he does. All this is more than I have ever asked for, and yet I can’t quite own it. I don’t trust it. The princess makes good. And she cannot believe she is good enough to deserve it. The memories of humiliation seem more real. The gossip. The sadness. 

Jeff didn’t die in my arms. He died from a heart attack after a fancy dinner his parents gave at their fancy house. He simply collapsed in their hallway, reaching for his coat. I have no idea what they ate and drank that night. He was nine years younger than I. Seemingly healthy and full of nervous energy. We’d lived together for just short of three years. He thought that was good enough for me, and what was I going to do? There was something murky going on underneath. I wasn’t going to give any ultimatum. He didn’t want to get married. Not to me anyway. And that was that. Was it that I was already too old to give him a whole bunch of children? That’s what I told myself on good days. On bad days, I told myself I simply wasn’t good enough in his eyes. He never introduced me to his family, not in all our time living together. It’s true, I made my living as a secretary, never went to college, and he was an attorney. But I paid my share of our living expenses, and my share turned out to be larger than what I had paid when I lived by myself in an efficiency apartment before moving in with him. At times I thought I merely stayed because my ego insisted I was owed something. His arrogance was enormous. I suspect I met his needs well enough. His greatest need was to be better than someone. In his eyes, I fit that bill. So much so that I gradually came to believe it myself. 

His family’s arrogance was even larger. When he unexpectedly died, they curtly informed me I wasn’t welcome at his memorial or his funeral, though I had been welcome in his bed. The ceremonies were reserved for family and friends, not lovers. I didn’t count. I wasn’t his widow. If I had been important enough to him, he would have married me. He didn’t, and so, for all practical purposes, I didn’t exist. Jeff didn’t leave a will either. So, when he died, I simply moved out of the apartment, letting his family scramble about the lease and all his belongings. I didn’t have much. Found an efficiency apartment again. Rents had gone up in those three years. I could just manage it though. I visited his grave once to say goodbye. He wasn’t a bad guy. He wasn’t a particularly good one either. 

Sometimes I feel maybe I’m not meant for love, neither loving nor being loved. I wanted to give all of myself. And then there were all these diminishments. Jeff wasn’t proud to be with me. If anything, he was ashamed of me, my lack of education, my lack of pedigree, that sort of thing. Not that he was anything special in the pedigree department, but I guess being a lawyer was way up there in the of-consequence milieu. I think if I lived in a society where higher education wasn’t so expensive, I could have been his equal. But the way our world was set up, he had enough clout and nerve to sign up for student loans. I didn’t. Maybe it’s good we weren’t married. I might have ended up being responsible for his student loan balance. I have no idea, and since I was so unwelcome by his snooty family, I didn’t take the time and trouble to find out. 

I was prepared to wander the back alleys of life once again, just so as not to be a burden on anyone. Cockroaches. Drunks hollering or retching into garbage bins in the middle of the night outside my window. At least in that milieu nobody was looking down on me. Now I don’t quite know how to handle the open door to a better life. Martin says I’m free to do whatever I like. We can afford it. I could stay at home. Quit my job. Even go to college at long last and get a degree in something. I don’t know. I should be ecstatic. I’m married to a generous man. I stand here on the balcony in fairytale surroundings. The air is getting warmer now, though there are still goosebumps on my arms. I’m afraid of feeling like an outsider for the rest of my life.

Three small people walk on the sand down below close to one another. Picking up shells? Trash? Lost valuables? 

And here is Martin’s voice now from inside our luxurious suite. 

“Are you ready to go down for breakfast?”

I don’t know if I am ready for anything. 

“Yes,” I say and turn to go inside.

                                                      *  *  *

Beate Sigriddaughter,, grew up in Nürnberg, Germany. Her playgrounds were a nearby castle and World War II bomb ruins. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Her occasionally prize-winning work is widely published in literary magazines. Recent book publications include a poetry collection, Wild Flowers, and a short story collection, Dona Nobis Pacem. In her blog Writing in a Woman’s Voice, she publishes other women’s voices.

Performance Art

By Anna Hallett

My husband, John, says I’ve become Baroque. I checked and the internet says Baroque was once defined as bizarre and complicated. I would say, rather, I’m in my Renaissance. 

I was tired of being Minimalist, all hard lines and sharp edges. To my mind, boring and safe. I quit my job as a financial analyst, ditched the black business suit, the nine-to-five and started to make crafts to sell at fairs and online. I suppose that does make things a bit complicated. We can’t eat at the dining room table anymore because it’s covered in fabric, ribbon, glue gun sticks, and bits of this and that. 

I am also leaning heavily into my Dadaism phase, rejecting outdated social norms. I’ve stopped shaving my legs. I’m working my way up to leaving my armpits au natural as well. I choose my clothes for comfort, not to impress others. I let it all hang out—wrinkles, crinkles, and creases; fat, folds, and furrows; lumps, bumps, and bulges—me in all my Rubenesque glory.

I have thrown myself into the delicious art of gardening. I joined the wild abandon of scattered wildflowers with the neat rows of vegetables to create a delightful mash-up of Rococo and Precisionism that makes me laugh with joy whenever I look out the window. John finds the contrast an affront to his more Mondrianesque preference for basic color and directional, horizontal and vertical, design. 

The compost pile in the backyard I started a few months ago to fertilize the garden is a thing of beauty, all black mush and earthy fragrance. Stinky and gross in the best possible way. On top of the pile I throw away the blood red flesh of rotting farmers market strawberries, green celery leaves, orange peels, and yellow, moldy shortcake—a Fauvist palette of vivid color that melts itself into a masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism to rival any Pollack. John can’t comprehend why I bother. He says it’s just a pile of smelly garbage and I should put it out with the trash like every other sane person in the neighborhood. 

I know in my heart he wants me to be happy, but we don’t see eye to eye these days. Everything is a bit out of whack now, very Cubist. We are both looking forward, but we can’t see each other anymore. I want John to be happy too. I think we were once meant to be together, but to continue to have the happiness we wish for each other, we need to paint a new future in separate landscapes better suited to our personal aesthetic. 

Dividing our union is a Surreal canvas of liquifying grief and solidifying serenity. But I am boldly sculpting a new path for myself, an unfettered mixed media journey of freedom and spirituality. I am, as ever, a work in progress.

                                                                   *   *   *

Anna Hallett lives in the Anza Borrego Desert writing under the blazing sun and shining stars. Her works appeared in 101 Words, Five Minute Lit, Wicked Shadow Press Anthology “Murder on Her Mind,” and Literature Today. 


By Bryan Vale

Katey adjusts her mask and cracks her knuckles behind the desk. The actions remind her about disinfection — she presses down on the sanitizer dispenser and rubs the alcohol-smelling viscous liquid over her hands. This done, she leans back in her rolling chair and with a casual flick opens a laptop on the desk. She wonders what would happen if the wifi went out — whom would she call?

The lobby is tall — the height of two normal-sized rooms — and wide — six copies of Katey’s desk could fit alongside each other. An abstractly shaped blue rug covers part of the concrete floor, its curves stretching from underneath her desk to within a couple yards of the double doors at the office’s front. Two couches occupy the left side of the room, perpendicular to each other. Magazines sit unread on the squat table next to the couches.

Through the glass of the office’s front wall she can see the street: two lanes, two wide sidewalks, parking meters in parallel rows, a brick warehouse that serves as a combination of office and pizza parlor across the street. The pizza parlor has gone out of business, and the office is silent — like this one. No vehicles slide across her field of vision on the street, and no cars are paying the meters. It is a quiet and ghostly road.

But they can’t fire her if she keeps showing up for work, right?

The gray day passes for her through a combination of Solitaire and TikTok. The digital snap of the cards and the echoing beats of the challenges fill the dead air of the lobby. She’s bored. But employed.

At a quarter past four the landline phone on the far end of her desk rings, startling her. She puts away her personal phone, rolls in her chair to that side of the desk, and picks up. “Townsend Technologies?”

“Hi Katey. It’s Nellie. I wanted to check if you were in today.”

“Yeah, I’m here!”

“Okay. Has anyone else come in today?”

“Ah…” A lie would be disproved by a quick check of the security cameras… “No.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought. Did you see the news just now?”

“What news?”

“They’re extending the shelter-in-place orders by another three weeks.”

Shit. Here it comes. Income gone. Student loans ballooning — she should have stuck it out and finished school, she should never have gone to school in the first place, she’ll have to move in with her parents, she’ll have to —

“Oh,” she says. “Okay.”

“So you’re going to be by yourself there for another little while.”


“Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah.” It doesn’t seem real. “So you’re not…you’re not gonna let me go?”

“Well…frankly…not until they close the office.”


“Management’s still deciding about that.”


“But until then, we either pay you or pay a security guard to be there during the day. We need a body at that desk.”

“Ah.” So she’s a body.

“Alright, that’s all for now.”

“Thanks Nellie!” The line is already dead.

The body at the desk replaces the phone in its cradle. It opens up a new browser window on the laptop, researching what to get for dinner.

                                                                      *   *   *

Bryan Vale is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His fiction and poetry have appeared in several journals, including Friday Flash Fiction, Paddler Press, Boats Against the Current, and Spirits. Learn more at, or follow Bryan on Twitter and Instagram: @bryanvalewriter.


Dusk settled into Sycamore Lane like a secret companion. Crickets rubbed their legs in song. Street lights flickered on, casting a yellow glow on the sidewalk below. The sign on the street post hung tattered and torn. As long as Emma could still read Last Seen Wearing Jeans and a Pink Jacket, she’d be setting a third plate for dinner.

                                                                        *   *  *

Sally Simon (ze/hir) lives in the Catskills of New York State. Hir writing has appeared in or forthcoming in Longleaf Review, Citron Review, Emerge Lit, Vision Magazine, and elsewhere. When not writing, ze’s either traveling the world or stabbing people with hir epee. Read more at 

I mowed the grass today.

By Richard C. McPherson

I own a push mower of the old-fashioned style. The machine itself is nearly new; I’m the one who’s slightly antique. Its polished, dark green handle, the slow, steady blades and stodgy black wheels are not some sort of protest against progress, but a belief from my youth: the incessant snarling of a gas mower shatters the serene sendoff I believe tender, lush, newly cut grass deserves. (And an electric mower always seemed like a toy, unworthy of such a solemn process.)

I mowed today, and for a few moments – fleeting but outside of time – I inhabited the hot, Oklahoma summers of my childhood, when there was meaning in everything. The relentless noon heat meant the popsicle truck was on its way and would soon stop under the massive, hide-and-seek oak next door. I could almost taste the icy coconut or banana. The blue summer sky was so vast it meant the afternoon might last forever (it had been known to happen, after all). There’d be plenty of time to visit the Bookmobile waiting around the corner. The heat rising from the pavement meant I’d soon be in the sanctuary of my room, breathing the comforting smell of thick, aging pages in a library adventure book. The peaches in the back yard didn’t smell quite ready (why did it seem they were never quite ready?). But that meant that the thicket of honeysuckle and creamy white magnolia blossoms would be perfect for lingering. I learned something every day, and it didn’t matter whether the lesson was practical or mythical, because when you’re ten, they are the same.

There were certainly other, darker summers as I grew older, with disappointments, even tragedies – an older brother would leave home to begin a life-long estrangement, parents would battle health and financial woes, and the stabbing heartbreak of first love would find me. But the past is like my big backyard storage shed: the things you’re unable to discard can be put in the back, out of reach until those rare occasions you need them. So those darker summers are subjects for another day; today I cut the lawn and traveled in time.

                                                                          *   *   *

Richard C McPherson’s short stories have been featured in Bright Flash Literary Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Twelve Winters Journal, The Write Launch, and the 2022 Anthology “Conversations.” His debut novel, Man Wanted in Cheyenne, has been called “smart, funny and tender,” and was just released by Unleash Press. Mr. McPherson taught digital communications at UCLA, Columbia, and New York University. His website is


By Clare Rolens

Her eyes gave me a start when I saw them staring at me from under the clear surface of the water. There she lay, the girl who ran away from home so long ago, and drowned in a shallow stream. I saw the story in the news, but I never thought I’d see the poor girl with my own eyes. Though still and lifeless she is perfectly preserved, looking as she did then. I stand with my feet in the same cool water that rushes over her face; she looks a little like me, I think, back before it all happened, back when I still had the clean lines of a young woman. But her eyes, those look more like my eyes now—staring out without wandering, unaffected by what passes before them. An old sight has fixed her gaze thus, and that old sight is all she sees. I wait for her to acknowledge me, to say hello, as if to a friend. She wouldn’t have to stir or sit up, she could just fix her eyes on me, and I’d know the greeting. But then I remember she died long ago, that it’s silly to think of a dead woman looking at a live one. Ghosts aren’t real, and besides, she’s the opposite of a ghost: body left over, spirit dissolved and rushed out to sea.

                                                                      *   *   *

Clare Rolens is an English Professor and one of the faculty advisors for Bravura, Palomar College’s literary journal. Her academic writing has appeared in Callaloo and Arizona Quarterly, and her flash fiction is forthcoming in Vestal Review and Litbreak Magazine. Born in California and a resident of sunny San Diego, she suffers from fernweh, the opposite of homesickness. She can currently be found happily making dinner or reading a detective story.