A Handful of Sparrow 

By Läilä Örken

Some things are meant to be in past tense before they even happen.

With P., all the signs were there. The choppy walk, as if P. was prancing on the balls of his feet, ready for takeoff at a moment’s notice. The curls glued tight to his head with an uncomfortable amount of coconut oil. The offhand familiarity with the Classics, the odd Latin phrase casually thrown into conversation. The ever-present book under his arm, as he waited for me under the big clock at the train station. All this lends itself into the ultimate past-tense, the-one-that-got-away reminiscence fodder, not a shared lifetime of vacuum cleaning, grocery shopping, his-and-hers sinks in the bathroom.

“We’re just friends, you know,” P. would say firmly, mid-shoulder rub, lounging in one of Europe’s most romantic spots on Valentine’s Day.

“We are the best of friends,” P. assured me as we slow-danced on his balcony while Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” played in the background, and a half-hearted swarm of sleepy bees couldn’t make up its mind over a crate of blooming lavender.

“We will get married and live together for the next ninety years. Platonically. As friends,” P. said, watching sunrise turn the surface of the lake into a saucerful of sparkling sequins.

We met by complete chance, at a pub quiz where I knew no one, and P. seemingly knew everyone, yet chose to spend the whole evening at my side exchanging weird jokes and nonsensical stories. By the end of the pub quiz, I was none the wiser about the 1978 album by the Bee Gees – what fossils made up the questions, I will never know – yet I had learned a great deal about P.’s family, his classical education, and his befuddling sense of humor. 

From there, we embarked upon a friendship that felt easier and more natural than anything else I had experienced. I was in a dreary relationship then, and I continued to sludge through it dutifully in the years when I hung out with P., although I do think I might have faltered if I only had reason to suspect P. had anything else in mind besides being friendly. 

Hindsight screams at me, slurring like a barefoot drunk girl with running mascara. What platonic friend invites you for a candlelit dinner and cooks chicken with pineapple chunks that float around like sweet little islands? What platonic friend gives back rubs and shoulder rubs, and walks hand-in-hand under the lilac trees, and drunkenly kisses you one night? And then again, on a tram stop, so fleetingly that you gaslight yourself into believing it never happened? 

But hindsight can fuck right off and take its mascara elsewhere. It didn’t hear a thousand times that what you have is pure platonic love, nothing more. 

As André Maurois once said, “the essence of platonic love is when she tries to guess what he wants, and he does not want anything.”

I should have known then, but I never learn my lessons. Like when P. caught a little sparrow to cheer me up, whistling softly and feeding it crumbs until it snuggled between his palms, peering at me with a beadily curious eye.

Like when I rode on P.’s shoulders, bobbing up and down in time with his skippy gait past city fountains and summer terraces.

Like when P. moved to a different town, with another girl.

It took many more years to change my verbs to past tense when I thought about P. And to this day, I am reminded of him when I listen to “Young and Beautiful” – which is not that often – or when I see a sparrow sitting perfectly still, its eyes black and beady and curious. Then I forget myself and think: me and P. are going to get married and live together for the next ninety years. You know, platonically. As friends.

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Läilä Örken has a PhD in law and works in the field of international relations and the environment. In the evenings, she writes stories and is working on a novel. Her stories appear in the “Eunoia Review,” “Black Sheep: Unique Tales of Terror and Wonder,” and others.

Come Back to Me

By Jessica Klimesh

On the south side of town, an assemblage of picky eaters walks into a large restaurant with a small menu. Ominous. They psst, psst to each other. Are we sure we should eat here? Oh, just relax. Their stomachs rumble with hunger. They decide to stay. A new experience. We don’t get out much. Yes, restaurants are always so problematic, aren’t they? After they’re seated, the water poured, they all smile up at the server, a young man with a fresh smile and patient eyes. The first picky eater says, “What do you have in white?” The server thinks it’s a joke at first, but the picky eaters aren’t laughing. The server says, “Well, we have sides of cottage cheese or cauliflower. Perhaps you’d like some parsnips?” After pondering such limited choices, the first picky eater says, “Come back to me.” The server is only too happy to move on. But then the second picky eater says, “What do you have in a shade of red?” The third picky eater wants yellow food; the fourth, turquoise. And on and on. Bewildered, the server raises his eyebrows at this troublesome gaggle of adherents before him. But no amount of hmphing or sighing makes a difference. The picky eaters continue on like this for hours, their indecision betraying their hunger. Come back to me. Come back to me. The server’s smile fades with the evening light, and a full moon appears in the sky like an unassuming chandelier, and then the sun comes up again. Finally, the exhausted server has taken the orders of all the picky eaters. But the restaurant has not yet reopened for the day. No chefs or line cooks have clocked in. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait,” the server says. “That’s no problem,” the first picky eater says, “but today I feel like something purple. Can I change my order?” And the second picky eater says, “Yes, today I’d like something green.” The third, pink; the fourth, gray. 

And on and on.

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Jessica Klimesh (she/her) is a US-based writer and editor whose creative work—mostly flash and microfiction—has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver, trampset, Atticus Review, HAD, Whale Road Review, Bending Genres, and Ghost Parachute, among others. She is currently working on a collection of linked flash stories. Learn more at jessicaklimesh.com. Twitter: @JEK_Writer

The Cottage

A Memoir by Judy Salcewicz

I was three when Dad built it piece by piece in our basement.  We carted it to the lake and nailed it to a frame. We stayed in it before it was complete. At three, I was afraid of the ghost-like images reflected in the silver coated insulation stapled into the walls. The knotty pine floor lived up to its name. Mom nailed can lids over the holes so snakes wouldn’t come in. Our dog scared a skunk wandering beneath the floor. Mom augmented the odor with Lysol until we gasped for breath.  A bat flew in. A cacophonous chorus of relatives cajoled us kids to put pillows on our heads. Dad raced after it with a fishing net. And now, fifty years later, it’s the most peaceful place I know.

                                                                                  *   *   *

Judy Salcewicz, a retired teacher, lives and writes in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Her stories have been published in The Kelsey Review, six Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, U.S. 1 Summer Fiction edition, and Horse Network. 

Born Without Enamel

By J.P. Pressley

Your father was born without enamel—born with enamel hypoplasia if you want to be specific. Not that you know the difference. No, don’t Google it now. Don’t research now what you never cared to before. But you should’ve cared before; you should’ve cared to examine the difference between how the two of you navigate life.

Your father experiences everything fully—when he’s thirsty, cold water crashes against his naked incisors with the ferocity of a winter wave; when he’s hungry, warm meals conform around his sensitive canines with the painful sweet sting of a heat pack to the knee; when he’s breathing, crisp air strikes all the way back to his bare molars like a bowling ball attacking spare pins. You don’t. You feel how cold water is cold, how warm meals are warm, how crisp air is crisp, but it doesn’t impact you the same way. These sensations don’t pain you any more than they delight you.

Your father still wishes he could become numb now and then, yet he embraces his reality without complaint. He leans into it, searching for the slight variance in the experience of any and every little twinge. You take your protection for granted, yet complain whenever you face the slightest irritant. You avoid discomfort like the plague, seeking to bypass any and every little twinge without ever stopping to embrace your reality and truly grow through the experience. And you know it.

Your father was born without enamel. You were born with it. That’s not a bad thing. But taking your life for granted? Failing to experience all you can, where you can, when you can?

Your father will die having fully lived. Will you?

                                                     *   *   *

J.P. Pressley is a storyteller with enamel issues and a high pain tolerance. A Minnesotan masquerading as a Brooklynite, he is a graduate of Lindenwood University’s MFA in Writing program and has fiction in 365tomorrows, Litbreak Magazine, and Suddenly, and Without Warning. You can find him at www.jppressley.com or on Instagram and Twitter at the handle @iamjppressley.

Detective Work

A Memoir by Luanne Castle

Every night after dinner, she lingers over the evidence board, linking her father’s lies with turkey-trussing twine. One of the index cards reads Forced me to sell biz at knifepoint. Another: Did not punch asshole in movie line. She unpins and flips over the card: no matter what your brother swears he saw. This one connects to a Post-it, my own father’s fault if I was angry, but I’m not. Every note is strung to the photo of her father with a pack of cigs rolled in his sleeve, resting on his shoulder. She places the last string from the sticky note to the portrait of her father’s father, a man she never met and her father barely knew, a man who had ignored his secret second family until he died. Stepping back to get an overall view, she senses something still missing, then catches her reflection in the mirror. 

                                                                            *   *   *

Luanne Castle’s award-winning full-length poetry collections are Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line 2022) and Doll God (Kelsay 2015). Her chapbooks are Our Wolves (Alien Buddha 2023) and Kin Types (Finishing Line 2017), a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Luanne’s Pushcart and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Bending Genres, Dribble Drabble Review, Copper Nickel, and other journals. She lives with five cats in Arizona along a wash that wildlife use as a thoroughfare.