Spicy Angry Stew

By Marco Etheridge

Homemade Spicy Anger Stew:


Fear cut into 1/2” cubes – 3 cups

Shame roughly chopped – 1 cup

Insecurity quartered and sliced thin – 3/4 cup

Vulnerability minced fine – 1/2 cup

Rancid Oil – 3 tablespoons

Tears of Frustration – 4 cups

Past Threats grated – 2 tablespoons

Powdered Anxiety – To taste

Syrup of childhood trauma – 1/2 teaspoon (optional) 

Heat a large stew pot and add rancid oil. Throw fear, shame, insecurity, and vulnerability into the hot oil. Sear quickly until all ingredients are blackened. Pour tears of frustration over the sizzling mess. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce heat. Season with past threats, powdered anxiety, and trauma syrup.

Simmer on low-to-moderate heat, stirring occasionally and violently, until the stew thickens to an ugly reddish color.

Under no circumstances should one substitute compassion for any of the main ingredients. Compassion negates the hot bite of anger and your Spicy Anger Stew will be rendered bland and insipid.

                                                    *   *   *

Marco Etheridge is a writer of prose, an occasional playwright, and a part-time poet. He lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His work has been featured in over one hundred reviews and journals across Canada, Australia, the UK, and the USA. “The Wrong Name” is Marco’s latest collection of short fiction. When he isn’t crafting stories, Marco is a contributing editor for a new ‘Zine called Hotch Potch.
Author website: https://www.marcoetheridgefiction.com/

Burning Nest

By Stephanie Flores

The great horned owl looked toward the east from her nest high above the forest
floor. Tongues of fire lapped at the distant forestry, devouring its greenery and leaving charred bony remains. Smoke choked out all light in the sky and entered her lungs with every breath. She shifted her body weight. Twigs dug into her underside, but her eggs were safe and warm. Even as the wall of fire advanced towards her nest, the safety of her eggs was all that mattered. Last week, an unbearable heat rose from the east. Thick ribbons of smoke rising toward the heavens soon followed. Other birds, prey and predator alike, flew past her nest as they made their escape. Yet she remained where she was. Her eggs wriggled underneath her body and she heard faint scratching sounds coming from within them. They were due to hatch soon and she could not leave her owlet to fend for themselves. Even if the fire spared her nest, a famished eagle would not be as merciful.

A pang of pain jagged into the owl’s underside. Not the slight discomfort that will occur when her owlets claw out of their eggs, but the deep gash of hunger. Her mate left a few hours ago to fetch her some food. As the smoke drove prey out from their hiding places, he should have caught something and returned by now. 

The owl let out a hoarse cry, a reminder to her mate. “I am here.  I am hungry. I will see the birth of our young. Please stay safe.”

The roar of the flames drowned out her cry. In the distance, she saw a pair of broad burnt wings struggling to remain afloat. Embers gnawed away at its feathers and with a single weak flap, the wings pummeled into the smoke. The owl let out another cry. 

Ash poured out of the sky and stung her eyes. She took a laborious breath, in and out, as the remaining oxygen was fading. 

The owl turned her head towards the east. The wall of fire reached toward the soot-colored sky and was swiftly advancing toward her nest. The owl shifted her body weight once more. Her body won’t be able to shield her eggs from the greedy tongues of fire. Fear and maternal instincts warred inside of her, one ordering her to flee and the other begging her to stay. The owl rose to her talons and spread her out to their full length. If she leaves now, she might be able to escape. She’ll fly to a thick lush forest, find another mate, and build another nest. She’ll lay another clutch of eggs and…..

The owl tucked her wings close to her body and repositioned herself on her eggs.

The wall of fire drew nearer. The panic cries and the chittering of other animals had died out, and the roaring of death filled the owl’s ears. Her mottled brown feathers were stained an ashy-black and she tasted grime on her break. There was no escape now, even if she gave into her survival instincts. Thick layers of smoke obscured the passage to freedom. Airborne embers would burn away her feathers, and she would plummet to the ground. 

Eventually, the fire began to gnaw at the branches surrounding her. Leaves turned black before dissipating into the smoke. Tiny twigs glowed red.

The great-horned owl shifted her weight, fully shielding her eggs from the destruction around them, and closed her eyes. 

*   *   *

Stephanie Flores is an emerging author from Connecticut, currently enrolled in Southern Connecticut State University’s Creative Writing MFA program.
Besides reading and writing, she can be found admiring rocks in her free time.

Better Off

By Ciahnan Darrell

The men shoved her toward the emergency room and ran. Stumbling, she fell forward, belly first, her head behind, whipping into the pavement with such force that it spun her onto her side. A spasm of vomit broke from her mouth and tumbled onto her grease-stained sweater as the world went dark. 

She woke up alone, confused, an IV in her arm. 

Where was her baby?

She was only vaguely concerned.

They must have given her something. 

Naloxone, probably. 

She’d been on fentanyl; such a golden high, bathed in sunlight, floating on a bed of clouds. 

Coming down had been like slamming through crushed glass.

She almost hadn’t noticed the men roughing her up.

Someone appeared at her bedside, dark skinned, a mask.

No, she shook her head, no insurance.

The man gave her an odd look and left.

She blacked out again. Woke, slept; time dissolved into dust and the dust into a tangled wind. 

Awake again; a nurse wanted her to sign something. 

A birth certificate.

She wrote her name in a ponderous, quivering script, left the space for the father blank. 

He’d been a banker, had given her her first hit. 

She’d been nineteen, his intern, home from college. 

He’d flattered to deceive, poured honey in her ear, bed her.

She hadn’t known he had a family: a wife, four children. 

He’d said he’d made a mistake, that he never meant to hurt her.

She had nodded, bravely.

We’ll stop, she’d said.

He’d peered down at her, six foot four to her five three.

I won’t say a word, she’d said. Ever.

He’d shaken his head.

I promise.

And they did stop, and she was silent, no matter how persistently her parents asked her to tell them what was wrong.

Nothing, she always said, putting on a smile. 

Two weeks passed, three, and even though she cried, sometimes, late at night, life resumed its familiar patterns. But then she missed her period, and the banker informed her that he had to let her go and gave her an envelope containing $3,500 and the name of a clinic out of state. 

She’d had a few packets of powder leftover, snorted them successively over two-and-a-half days, found a way to get more.

Pictures of the banker’s family floated through her head sometimes, four blond girls in matching skirts, but she never cared when she was high.

She awoke to find a woman checking her chart. Was it a boy or a girl? she asked.

A boy, the woman read, turning. 

Oh, the girl said.

The banker finally has the son he’s always wanted, she thought, and he’ll never know.

And she wouldn’t, either, she realized. Know the boy.

Cops. They’d be waiting. She had to go.

Her eyes ran from wall to wall in terror, looking for her clothes, but couldn’t find them, so she stole a pair of scrubs from the closet and dressed. They were three sizes too large, but she didn’t care.

She had to go—now. 

She ripped the IV from her hand and fled, steeling out of her room and down the hall, skirting a doctor immersed in her clipboard and a patient care tech pushing a cart, turning the corner at a fast walk and running face first into the nursery. 

Eleven babies screaming behind plate glass as an overworked pair of nurses did their best.

She paused, scanning their bawling faces, their kicking feet, ignoring the pink caps, setting upon the blue.

Which was hers?

It didn’t matter, she thought, crumbling into the window beneath the shattering pain of the blood rushing through her head.

He’s better off with them.

She felt something hot on her leg and looked down to see blood spotting her pants. She forced herself to turn away and walk. 

Better off, she thought.

Better off.

                                                               *  *  *

Ciahnan is the author of two award-winning novels: A Lifetime of Men and Blood at the Root. His short fiction has appeared in multiple journals, including The Columbia Review. In addition to his creative work, Ciahnan has published essays on race and class relations in America, and he holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University at Buffalo, where his research focused on racialized and gendered violence in South African literature.

The Distance Between The Fowlers

By John O’Keefe

“Well why not? It’s not as if you would do any of the work. We have the staff!”

The husband lay in the bed, his eyes tracing patterns on the ceiling. 

“Janie and Frank have two already! If we keep putting this off, people will start to ask questions.”

“Maybe one day,” the husband mumbled.

“Really? That’s all you have to say?”

He sighed and shook his head. “Why don’t you do something to take your mind off it? Go for a drive in the new Mercedes. It has that new Burmester sound system you were so interested in.” He pulled the keys from his pocket and dangled them before her.

“You can’t be serious,” she said.

“I just don’t understand what you expect from me. The DOJ is down my neck over that bullshit with the media division, and Joseph’s attorney, the damn–”

“I can’t hear this again,” she said, waving him off, turning and heading for the door. He listened as her footsteps faded in the distance.

 Above her in the hall, a baroque chandelier glistened on the African Blackwood walls, and to her right, an antique console table featured priceless vases and china. Turning the corner, she entered the kitchen where marble countertops stretched across the room, reflecting the glow of the pendant lights overhead. A row of stainless steel appliances stood like sentinels, and a large central island served as a hub for culinary work. 

Standing beside the sink, she pulled a pack of Parliaments from the drawer and lit one, stuffing the pack in her pocket. Puffing on the cigarette, she walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Dom Pérignon. She pulled a flute from the cabinet and filled it, drinking as she crossed the kitchen and walked through the backdoor. 

In the garden, the air was hot and the champagne was refreshing in her throat.  Blue water poured from a white marble fountain before her, while a gray oak tree graced shade to the garden’s right side. In the beds, red tomatoes, green cucumbers, and orange bell peppers were vibrant, while above, the sky was painted on a canvas of purple and orange, the sun descending beneath the horizon. She glanced down and appreciated the smooth emerald lawn, the fragrance of freshly cut grass filling the crisp air. With a sigh, she lifted the cigarette to her lips and savored the final drag, then stomped it out in the grass, noticing something at her feet. 

Small, shriveled, and alone in the short green blades was a pink baby bird. She squatted down and stared at it, naked and exposed save for a single black feather atop its barren skull. 

“Where’s your momma?” she asked.

The bird chirped.

Mah-ma. Where’s momma?”

The bird chirped.

“Me? No. I’m not Momma.”

The bird chirped.

She smiled, extending her hand towards it. To her surprise, the bird made no attempt to retreat, inviting her touch as she grazed the soft expanse of its skull. Then suddenly, a deep voice broke through the tranquility. 

“Will you not run from me?” he sighed, stepping out the back door. “I’m sorry.”

She teetered at the sound of his voice, placing her hand on the ground for support. She stood, brushed her legs, and turned to face him. “I’m not running,” she stated, crossing her arms.

“Okay. But I’ve just been busy. You know that.”

“Yes, you’ve been busy.” 

“You can say that all you want, but you know it’s true. You know I’d do anything for you,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. Above them, a plane flew overhead, the atonal hum of the engine choking the air. 

Pulling the cigarettes from her pocket, she looked at him and chuckled, lighting one as she stared into his vacant gaze.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “It ages you – turns your skin to leather. How many times do I have to say it?”

You age me, Brian. I’m not some doll for you to flaunt around for your public facade.”

“Don’t be dramatic,” he said, waving her off.

“I’m not being dramatic, Brian. These are normal things I ask for! You always said you would give me the world,” she said, slapping her thigh. “This is not everything. This house, this yard, the cars – this is not the world.” 

Crossing his arms across his chest, he looked down at the grass, his eyes locked on a single yellow blade amidst the sea of green. 

“Are you even listening, Brian?”

He shook his head and grimaced, then shifted his gaze to the bird, his countenance tightly wound. He took a deep breath, sighed, then turned to glance up at the oak tree beside them. 

“There’s a nest in the tree. Do you want me to get the ladder?” he asked.  

“I’ll take care of it,” she said, puffing on the cigarette, looking down at the bird. He shook his head and turned away, walking through the back door. 

When he left, she knelt down and stared at the bird, watching as it chirped and squealed, its eyes round and black as it gazed into her face like a living mirror. With a heavy sigh, she scooped it up in her hands and looked over at the tree, watching as a robin swooped through the air and landed in the nest with its chicks. 

*   *   *

John P. O’Keefe is an experienced musician residing in the colorful city of Burlington, Vermont. With his band Blackwater, John has performed in various venues across the state, ranging from the eclectic basement scene of his home city, to nationally recognized venues such as Higher Ground and Nectar’s. John brings a unique literary influence to his music and is excited to express his creativity in a manner yet unseen by enjoyers of his music.

Carrots Could Be Dangerous

By Billie Chang

I left the napkin there in the book, that day my mouth split open, when I screamed so loudly it made the wind stop. My ear had been hurting all morning; baby Eric was crying and Mom couldn’t get him to stop, so I slept with my headphones in. When I woke, the wires were tangled in a way that made me think of Chrissy, who told me she almost strangled herself one time when her hair got caught in hers. Chrissy lived with her siblings, two sets of twins, in a house not far from mine. Her parents dressed them the same, so it was difficult for the neighborhood to tell the twins apart. I think it was the reason why Chrissy stood out – she had learned to separate herself from her family, in a way that made her intimidating and independent. Whenever it was raining, she would jump her fence and throw one big rock at my window. It happened so often, Mom bought me duct tape to cover over the crack that was beginning to grow. 

Chrissy was dating someone older; he was 28. We were 19. 

“My parents are seven and a half years apart,” Chrissy had said when she first told me. 

“They got divorced when you were two.” 

“Whatever. They still got married.” 

He had a large mole on his left cheek. They met while bagging groceries at Ralph’s. I knew him by face only; we had class together on Mondays at the community college down the street. After she told me about it, I’d sometimes catch him staring at me, in a way that made me feel on display. When I spoke in class, he’d roll his tongue against his teeth, tap his leg, purse his lips. I wore red lipstick one day and he’d sat next to me, pushing his knee against mine. From then on, I could see why Chrissy liked him. 

What was most frightening about that day was that it was not raining. I heard the crack at my window and assumed a squirrel was wanting in. So when I saw Chrissy instead, her hair dry and the rock still in her hand, it felt like something was shifting. 

“I’m coming in.” Chrissy said, her eyes wild. 

“Okay.” I didn’t know how to talk to her now, scared I would say something about Travis. “My mom wants me to prep dinner.” 

“You gotta move out. It’s so freeing.” Chrissy had moved to the small annex in the back of her parent’s house. She spoke of it as her own place. I don’t think she even paid rent. 

I handed her a knife and we began to slice the carrots in half. I was thinking about Travis and how last week, he said he’d finally break it off with Chrissy once she got over it all. Her cat had just died. “Good riddance,” I had joked. “He smelled like old cabbage.” This had made Travis laugh against my cheek, his hand pressed into my back. We were on his couch, at his apartment, while Chrissy was at work. It was a routine we’d settled into. 

“I have to tell you something.” Chrissy said, the carrots hitting the board in chunks. 

I scratched my eyebrow, hard. “Okay.”

“Trav asked me to marry him.” Chrissy looked at me, her eyes wide and innocent. I noticed then that she wasn’t wearing her usual eyeliner. 


“We went to the farmer’s market and we were under the gazebo and he just asked.” 

I glanced at her hand. It was splayed across the cutting board now, as though trying to grip the surface. She noticed me looking. 

“Oh. He didn’t give me a ring. Well, not yet, anyways. It was more of a thing that just happened.” 

I stood there, my skin itching, picturing his hands over her body. The image made me feel like a bug under a shoe. There was something powerful about the both of them together, their bodies intertwined in my head so that her cherry-brown hair mixed with his, her lipstick coloring the sweat on his cheek. 

“Jayden?” Chrissy’s hand inched across the cutting board, grazing the fabric of my shirt. At her touch, I reflexively swung my hand out and down, my knife slicing through her arm in one jagged cut. She cried out, her blood coloring the wood, my hands, the carrots. When our eyes met, I held my breath, counted to ten, and began to scream. 


I hadn’t driven since I hit the curb and flew over Mrs. Cho’s flower beds last April. Still, I took the spare key above the shelf in the garage and sat myself in the front seat of Mom’s minivan. Chrissy was in the back, her face so pale, I felt I could push her over with just my thumb. 

She pressed a towel against her arm; I had gotten a glimpse of the bone before she covered it. I must’ve hit an artery – the minivan leather was already staining. I peeled out and onto the street. I was going 65 and the buildings were passing quickly. Each window looked like an eye: leering, taunting, condemning me for what I’d done. By now, Chrissy’s head was lulling against the window. At the fourth traffic light, I wondered if Travis would care if she were dead. If he’d feel grateful even: I’d saved him from marrying her, committing to her. 

“Can you call Trav?” Chrissy said, her voice tight. We hadn’t spoken one word to each other since the cut. “Maybe text him. He’s at work.” 

I nodded. We were 15 minutes from the hospital. A glance in the rearview mirror told me Chrissy’s lips had gone blue. I spit up on myself then. I had never seen so much blood before, except for the time Dad hit a deer with his pick-up. This was all new to me. 

At the eighth traffic light, I remembered an article I’d read in anatomy. About how the Brachial artery ran through your arm. And about how if you cut it deep, you’d die quickly. I sucked in my snot and my eyes became damp, the tears coming so fast and so sure that they were already down my neck before I could wipe them away. I screamed at Chrissy then, calling her ugly and conceited and selfish. I wanted to say only the horrible things, so that she’d wake up and start talking again – so that she’d fight me and prove that she was still alive, that she wasn’t any of the things I’d thought her to be. She didn’t defend herself; I think she’d passed out. The towel had fallen to the floor, so that her arm now bled freely. I hit 85. 

When we got to the hospital, Chrissy hadn’t spoken for the past 8 minutes. I watched as the Scrubs pulled her out and inside, their gloved hands massaging her flesh. It was then that I noticed the knife in the passenger seat, a bit of carrot still on it. I must’ve held it in my hand when I ran out of the kitchen. 


The sky was darkening when they finally let me see Chrissy again. I smelled as though I had bathed in a fountain, like I was buried in thousands of washed-up pennies. Chrissy was in a bed, hidden away by some skinny curtains at the end of the hall. I heard Travis before I saw him. He had a labored way of breathing, like he was gasping for air every time he took a step forward. He was about five feet in front of me, his hair tucked beneath a pilling cap. His curls peeked out at the nape of his neck, making me think, panickedly, about the first time we’d kissed, beneath the damp underpass five months into his relationship with Chrissy. I thought about the napkin that he’d given me after, where his scrawled print read: “This is our secret.” I’d hidden it between the pages of my copy of Jane Eyre, where I knew it was safe; Chrissy hated reading. I worried, then, that Chrissy would never know what happened between us. She’d marry him, love him, not knowing our betrayal ran deeper than a cut to her arm. 

Travis reached Chrissy’s bed, his hand pulling back the curtain. I felt myself start to run, trying to catch him. He turned around, quickly, his eyes meeting mine. It was the first time that his gaze made me feel cold, as though a hair was being plucked from my head. 

“Chrissy.” My voice bounced off the walls. She was visible now. I saw her face crack into a tired grin, her arms opening to welcome Travis’s. I watched as he reached behind, pulling the curtain around their two bodies, severing me from them. I felt my feet sputter to a stop. I felt my feet sputter to a stop. My nails were still stained with her blood. 

                                                            *   *   *

Billie Chang is a Chinese-American writer based in Los Angeles. You can find her published work in The Racket Journal and Litbreak Magazine.



By Liz Ross

It starts in her mouth, a slight tingle on the tip of her tongue. That’s odd, she thinks, running tongue over teeth to investigate. She’s at dinner with a group of friends and does her best to quash any flash of curiosity or concern. Blaze’s husband has cheated and they’ve gathered, Blaze’s dearest, to offer support. This is about Blaze, she tells herself, not whatever is going on with you. She nods when the conversation requires, looks down at her hands when Blaze begins to cry. By the time the last bottle of wine has been drained, and the dessert plates cleared, the tingle has become something else, a numbness that has overtaken her tongue and feels poised to slide like a stain down the back of her throat. 

Her husband is asleep when she slips beneath the covers beside him. He wheezes, a Lilliputian whistle, the tell she trusts to know he’s asleep and not just pretending. In the morning, he’s gone – buttered bread and showered, a short note left near the coffee maker. 

ENJOY YOUR DAY, he writes.

It’s hard to be sure, but it seems the numbness has spread from the back of her throat down one of her arms. She showers, and with her good arm, picks up after him, wet towel on the floor near the sink where he shaves. 


By dinnertime the numbness has spread to her back and down both of her legs. 

HOME LATE, her husband texts. DON’T WAIT ON DINNER. 

She uncorks a bottle of pinot, grabs a glass by its delicate stem, goes outside onto the patio. The kids next door are playing with a garden hose and there is the sound of water hitting the fence, giggles and shrieks, loud feet pounding the lawn. She settles into an Adirondack, pulls the cork, pours herself a full glass. The sun swells as it sinks, fireflies blinking into the gloam. She takes off her shoes, wanting to feel the cool grass between her toes, but she can no longer feel her feet.  

He slips into bed late, hours after she’d undergone the elaborate routine of facial scrubs and mists, oscillating brushes and ridiculously expensive creams that promise to make her feel young again. In the morning he’s gone, another towel left near the sink, coffee rings on the bottom of another cup, another note. 

MISSED YOU LAST NIGHT, the note says. 

These sort of staged affections keep her guessing. Did he miss her? Intimacy was easier to pretend on paper, she knew. Yet they’d had their moments. Happiness, like migratory birds, flew in and out of their lives.  

Blaze calls. Her husband is moving out and she needs a distraction. They go to the movies at the fancy theater, the one where the seats are leather and recline, where you can push a button and a waiter will appear with your chardonnay and truffle fries. It’s a romantic comedy and not the best choice; it makes Blaze so thirsty she drinks three glasses of chardonnay. After the movie she drops Blaze home. From the curb, Blaze’s house looks the same, but inside half the furniture is gone and nails show in the walls where art once hung. 

She feels inspired to purge, starting in the kitchen, culling long-forgotten juicers and pasta makers, boxing them up to donate. She’s in her closet, knee-deep in clothes she’s pulled from hangers, when she hears the rumble of the garage door opening. He’s home early, standing in the kitchen, holding flowers.

“For you,” he says. 

They’re beautiful, peonies and roses, he definitely dropped a pretty penny.

“Let’s go to dinner,” he says.

They go to the place on the corner with the sourdough and sea glass. She orders scallops for the beurre blanc and capers. He gets the fish and chips and douses both with malt vinegar. 

“I took Blaze to the movies this afternoon,” she says. “ She needed a distraction.”

He stops chewing, the tiniest of movements around his eyes, a flinch avoided. 

“You’re too good to her,” he tells her. 

“She’d do the same for me.” 

He looks up from his plate and she remembers how he used to look at her, like something precious he’d guard.

“I don’t know about that,” he says, another fry disappearing behind his teeth. 

Back home, he lights a candle and opens a bottle of wine. They sit on the couch, barefoot, her body awakening and straining for contact. 

The next morning he’s gone again, granola crumbs across the counter, another note. 

THAT WAS NICE, he wrote. 

She tidies up, wipes the countertops, plumps the cushions on the couch. In their bedroom, while making their bed, she remembers the earring, how it sparkled, tucked into a fitted sheet, the shock of it because it wasn’t hers. Diamond solitaire, modern bezel setting, Blaze couldn’t imagine where she might’ve lost it. 

She has kept Blaze’s earring in a wooden box with other important things—birth certificates, deed to the house—certain one of them would notice eventually, the rage shimmering around her like an aura, how it caught the light, not unlike a diamond. 


Blaze calls again, says she has something for her, a gift.

“A token of my appreciation,” Blaze says.

She would like to think guilt has come for Blaze, that her own husband’s infidelity has forced a reckoning. 

“Remember that earring I lost?” Blaze asks. 

She nods. 

“I had this necklace made for you with its partner,” Blaze says. 

Blaze holds the necklace up so she can see, helps her with the clasp at the base of her neck. With the thick bezel setting, the diamond feels substantial, a heavy reminder hanging just above her heart. She can feel the weight of the diamond against her skin. She can feel everything. The numbness is gone.

                                                              *   *   *

Liz Ross has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in LEON Literary Review. She lives and works in Southern California.

Sugar Lump

By Theo Greenblatt

Sugarbaby, Sugardoll, Sugarlump. These were all the names my dad used to call me. There was a 50s song he liked called “Sugar Lump,” and he would sing it to me in his goofy, off-key voice, “Sugar Lump, Doot-doot, Doot-doo-wah,” sometimes dancing me around the living room, with my feet on top of his. When I was little I liked it, but by the time I got to high school, it drove me crazy. I wanted him to call me by my real name, to see that I was a person, not a doll or a lump. I started calling him Steve instead of Dad, to make a point, which really bugged my mom. But it was too much trouble to remember to do it every time I talked to him, and anyways, he just laughed at me. 

We would sit at the dinner table and my mom, annoyed—she used to be annoyed a lot—would say, “Ste-eve,” drawn out into two long syllables, like stretching a piece of gum. And she didn’t need to say anything else because we always already knew what she was annoyed about. Some bad joke of Dad’s, or a crude remark to my brother, Joe, about sports or girls, or maybe some political thing she didn’t want him to bring up in front of us. She had a rule about no politics at the table. 

Dad would puff out his lower lip all exaggerated, mom would roll her eyes, Dad would say, “Sorry, Honey,” and then “Pass the peas, please,” even when there were no peas, because this was supposed to be funny and neutralize the tension. For a while Joe and I would laugh and fake passing a dish, and talk in silly English accents—I’m not sure how that was connected to peas but we thought it was hysterical. Joe had a pretty good accent, too. But later it got to seem as stupid to me as Sugarlump. Sometimes everything about your family is stupid and embarrassing. 

Anyhow, the point is, I didn’t want to sound like Mom when I said “Steve,” but I’m pretty sure I sounded like her anyway when I drew out the word “Da-ad” in the same irritated tone, a hundred times a day. 

Of course this was all before the “diagnosis.” 

Once Dad got sick, we stopped having most meals at the table. At first we all had dinners on trays in the living room in front of the tv, where Dad was set up with his recliner and his crocheted afghan from Gramma Claire. Then we had to rent a hospital bed that we put in the dining room, and shoved the big table against the wall, piled high with medicine and Depends. Now Dad is pretty much stuck in there and Mom tries really hard not to be annoyed about anything. But she did start going out and smoking on the back porch, which she had quit doing before me and Joe were born, she said. Mostly she does this at night, after she gets Dad settled in with his shots and his diapers. Ironic, Dad is dying of cancer—pancreas, not lung–but still, she’s out there puffing away as if she wants to kill herself, too. But still, again, I guess you can’t blame her because it all just sucks. 

Last night I was in the living room with the tv on, trying to do some math homework, when I heard this sound like a scratchy sort of hiccuping. I thought it was the cat throwing up so I ignored it, but then the cat walked in from the kitchen and the noise was still going on. Mom was out smoking and Joe was upstairs playing Grand Theft Auto, as usual, so it wasn’t either of them.

I went to the bedroom-that-used-to-be-the-dining room door, which we always leave open a little, and peeked in. I could see Dad’s face, just a slice of it in the greenish light from the clock-radio. Yeah, we still have one of those, because Dad likes to listen to the baseball games not watch them. Anyhow, I could see just enough of his face to tell that he was crying. I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about going to get mom, but I didn’t want to freak her out. I’ve never seen him cry in my whole life.

“Dad?” I said, not stretching it out at all. “You need anything?”

There was a long silence. I don’t think he knew I could see him. I watched him wipe his face on his pajama sleeve and hoist himself up a little onto the pillow, and over to one side. It looked like a huge effort.

“Come here, Sugarlump,” he said, patting the edge of the bed. 

I pushed the door open wider and went and sat down where he was patting, careful not to bump him because he bruises so easy. 

“I know you don’t like it when I call you that,” he whispered. He put his hand on top of mine and patted a few more times.

I nodded. “It’s okay, Steve,” I whispered back. His lips cracked into a grin. He started humming that song off-key like the old days. We stayed like that, his hot hand over mine, until his humming faded and he fell asleep. 

*   *   *

Theo Greenblatt’s prose, both fiction and nonfiction, has appeared in Cleaver, The Columbia Journal, The Normal School Online, Tikkun, Harvard Review, and numerous other venues. She is a previous winner of The London Magazine Short Story Competition. Theo holds a PhD in English from the University of Rhode Island and teaches writing to aspiring officer candidates at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI.

Birds Without Feathers

By Bryan Thomas Woods

At football practice, I’m a scarecrow. It’s not hard, mostly. Crows, sometimes Cardinals, scamper among the overgrown grass that pokes through the wooden bleachers. The other players ignore them.

When the team huddles, I stand behind them in my shoulder pads and helmet to look bigger. I wave my arms and march towards the congregation. The birds fly away before I get close. 

My brother, Jake, plays quarterback. Dad moved him up a year, to play with the sixth graders, because the competition is better. Jake hates when I’m a scarecrow. He grabs my facemask and drags me back to the huddle. 

After practice, Dad picks us up in his van. Jake and I sit in the back. Dad wears a crumpled blue button-down and smells of stale cigarettes. He asks Jake if he threw any interceptions. Jake didn’t. He asks me how many passes I caught. 

“Not sure,” I say. 

“He played good,” Jake says. He doesn’t mention the scarecrow because I ask him not to.

On the drive home, Dad tells us about the team we are playing on Saturday, Cedar Hills. Small but fast. 

“We should throw the ball over their heads,” I say.

“No, they’ll be in the receiver’s pocket the whole way,” Dad says. “Keep your head on a swivel and keep them guessing, Jake.”

Jake nods and we pull into the apartment parking lot. 

A gaggle of geese surround the fountain out front. Green water dribbles from a spigot and pools, ankle-deep, in the stained stone base. I slam my car door and the geese scatter.

Inside, I do my homework on my bed and let Jake use the desk. This is our second apartment since Mom died. In the first, we had our own rooms. Now, Jake and I share the only bedroom and Dad sleeps on a pullout in the living room. His clothes hang from a pipe in the corner. Better for everyone, he says.

Every night, after dinner he pulls out the mattress. Jake and I lay down together and watch TV. Usually a detective show. Dad stands in the dining room, swinging his golf clubs and chiming in with who he thinks did it. He’s usually right.

“Do you want to go outside?” Jake asks. 

I slam my textbook closed and hop off the bed. After our homework, we are only allowed outside to practice, so I grab a football from the floor.

We play catch in the courtyard. A small patch of burnt-out grass cut between the snaking sidewalks that connect the buildings. Jake doesn’t laugh when I drop the ball and chase after it. I pick it up and jog back to him.

“Do you hate birds?” he asks.

“No,” I say. “I like them.”

“Hike,” he says and smiles. I run another route, but the ball bounces off my hands and rolls behind a decaying pine bush. 

“And football?” Jake says.

I shrug, push the branches aside, and crawl into the bush. The football rests against a root, next to a goose from the fountain.

I reach for the football, but the goose stands tall and squawks. It spreads its wings and flaps. I try to stand, but pine needles and broken limbs scrape my forehead and cheeks. The goose lurches forward and snaps his bill on my hand. I scream. 

The goose honks and flies away.

A mixture of blood and tears drips down my face as I stumble from the bush.

“I’ll go get Dad,” Jake says. His voice is high-pitched. Scared.

“No,” I say and grab his collar before he can run. I stifle sobs between gasps for air.

“You have to stop this stuff,” he says. 

“It’s fine,” I say. “No one understands scarecrows either.”

For a while, we sit in silence. The blood dries and I can breathe. Jake crawls behind the bush and grabs the football.

We sit on the sidewalk and roll the ball back and forth to each other. We talk about football, school, and Mom. When it gets dark, we head inside.

“What happened?” Dad asks.

“Tough practice,” I say.

Dad and Jake smile and we climb onto his mattress.

“Dad, do you like birds?” I say.

“Not really. Do you?”

I shrug. His eyes narrow on mine, but only for a second. Then, he smiles.

“After your game on Saturday, I’m going to play golf,” Dad says. “Tons of birds out there. You can come if you like.”

I nod yes and we turn on the TV.

                                                                *   *   *

Bryan Thomas Woods writes short fiction and humor. He is studying creative writing at Full Sail University. After serving in the military, Bryan settled in Orlando, Florida with his wife and children.


The Fondue Eaters

By Chris Pais

The sun is blazing with its seventy degree heat in the dead of winter but this is nothing unusual for Houston.  Peter and Yvonne have turned the air-conditioning in their small apartment to its lowest setting and left it running for days, hoping to cool down the apartment in preparation for their annual fondue dinner.  It has been a ritual that they have followed for over twenty years since moving to Texas from Switzerland.  Peter worked for a precision machinery manufacturer in Switzerland and easily found a job in the engineering hub of Houston.  Yvonne teaches French at the local high school. 

Today, they are going to have their annual fondue dinner.  They spent weeks gathering the ingredients.  The cheese blend had to be of precise proportions, the Emmenthaler, the Appenzeller and the Gruyere had to be aged perfectly.  The liquors they use to make the fondue had to be just right; white wine from their favorite vineyard and kirsch, a colorless brandy made from cherries.  They use heads of organic garlic to season the pan and flavor the fondue.  They bought bread with a hearty crust and a soft center in advance and let it sit in the open for a few days so that it develops just the right amount of staleness.  After all, fondue originated a few centuries ago in the Swiss countryside when people – as a measure of austerity – stretched leftover scraps of cheese and stale bread in the long winter months to make an additional meal. The bread is cut into one inch cubes and becomes the perfect vehicle to transport the molten cheese onto a hungry mouth.  For accoutrements, Peter and Yvonne have prepared the choicest gherkins, pickled pearl onions and blanched asparagus.  They added slices of Bartlett pear to lend a tinge of sweetness to the otherwise salty fare.  They will gently spice the fondue with nutmeg and paprika. 

It is very cold in the apartment and they are ready for dinner.  The fondue has been made, the fixings have been fixed, the drinks have been poured, a glass of kirsch and white wine for each.  The fondue is set at the center of their small dining table over a low flame and the smell of melted cheese, garlic and brandy fills the air. Classical music is playing softly in the background.  Peter and Yvonne are wearing their favorite sweaters and start eating.  The tiny forks have to be first inserted into the soft part of the bread cubes until it reaches the crust and is pushed in until it is halfway through the thick crust.  An experienced fondue eater will not let the fork pass all the way through.  However, if the fork is not inserted deep enough into the crust, the insufficient grip may cause the bread to dislodge and fall into the fondue.  When this happens, the victim becomes an object of ridicule around the table and is traditionally asked to do the dishes.   

They talk about the last time they had fondue in Switzerland over twenty years ago.  They remember the blizzard and the sub-zero temperatures.  They talk about the incident without referring to it in literal terms, treading lightly around it, and making occasional verbal skirmishes without actually talking about it.  The incident changed their lives forever and caused them to leave Switzerland, never to return. For twenty years, they’ve missed the mountain air and the alpine lakes, the hiking trails and the punctual trains, but most of all, they missed their fondue.

They continue to dip their cubes of bread into the fondue and eat it with the gherkins, onions, asparagus and pear.  They sip on the wine and the kirsch.  As the level of fondue in the pan drops, the molten cheese starts to bubble furiously like the lava in an angry volcano.  When there is just a little bit of fondue remaining, they decide to stop eating and let the remnants cook until it turns into a disc of golden brown crust in the center of the pan.  This is called religieuse; Peter and Yvonne often argued about the origin of this word but not today. They turn the flame off, scrape off the religieuse and break it so each gets a semi-circular portion.  The religieuse captures all the essence of the different cheeses and the spices and distils the meal into a single bite.  As they bite into the crispy religieuse, tears stream down their eyes.  They raise their glasses of kirsch and say a silent toast.  They reach across the table and hold hands, communicating by touch what words cannot accomplish.  Outside, the Texas sun is setting.  It shines through the window shades to form long, orange shadows on the wall.  Soon, Peter and Yvonne will put their fondue pot and cutlery away until it is time for them to be used again next winter. 

                                                    *   *   *

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.

Taking Off

By Kelsie Thorschmidt

Genevieve watched fat snowflakes flurry around a charming Victorian home. Indoors, she imagined a happy family opening presents around a glorious tree. How different from her shabby, mostly empty stepmother’s house with its orange shag carpet.

Genevieve sensed the cashier with the long beard eyeing her suspiciously. I don’t got any money. He knows it. A man in a suit carrying his luggage shuffled out after purchasing a magazine. 

She returned the snow globe to its shelf. Maybe in her dreams she would see that house again. Asleep on the plane later, all Genevieve dreamt about was orange shag carpet.

                                                         *   *   *


Kelsie Thorschmidt is an emerging writer and middle school Language Arts teacher. She recently received her MA in English & Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Portland, Oregon where she takes advantage of the rainy weather to catch up on her reading and writing.