On Five Weeks in Liguria

By Ariel K. Moniz

At a mere whisper near the periphery of thought, I may suddenly find myself ankle deep in melancholy, my mind perched somewhere distant and alive, there again along the Italian coastline. Those memories remain so vibrant, while others, much more recent or meaningful perhaps, fade like laundry left too long in the sun—

The cast of midsummer light, the rinds of lemons pinched with flavor, the grasping roots of the olive trees, how they clung to the hillsides amid paths built of forgotten stone. Fingers blessed with dripping gelato and sand, baptized in the warm promise of the Atlantic sea. The hush of the siesta hour, that midday haze punctuated by the lethargic flight of pigeons and the foot falls of the beach bound. The smell of rosemary still lingers every time I hear distant church bells—

I imagine it is because a poet’s heart cannot help but to pine for the somber romance of nostalgia, particularly how it stings with the passage of time. I cannot ignore how these perfect wounds dressed as memories ache with the years. Or more honestly, it is because, looking back, I am terribly aware that those weeks were the last time I felt that my future, my life, could look like absolutely anything—

I still long for that freedom, that horizon. 

                                                                  *   *   *

Ariel K. Moniz (she/her) is a queer Black poetess and Hawaii local. She is the winner of the 2016 Droste Poetry Award and a Best of the Net nominee. Her writing has found homes with Blood Bath Literary Zine, Nymphs Publications, The Centifictionist, and Sunday Mornings at the River Press, among others. She is a Best of the Net nominee and currently serves as an editor and a co-founder of The Hyacinth Review. You can find her through her website at kissoftheseventhstar.home.blog or staring out to sea.

Water

 

By Madison Randolph

Mike fumbled the keys in his pocket. He forced a key into the lock. It wouldn’t turn. His tongue flicked out across his dry and cracked lips. He tried another and it worked. The door slammed into the wall and he stumbled across the entryway. 

The living room was flooded in searing bright light from floor to ceiling windows. He held his arm in front of his face and lurched into the kitchen. The silver sink faucet stood before him like a godsend. 

His calloused fingers snatched the two handles and yanked them forward. He ducked his head into the sink and his thick tongue reached for the refreshing drops of water. Nothing. The tip of his tongue rubbed against the faucet mouth to taste dry metal. 

He straightened and slammed his hand against the counter. A scream scraped against his dry and hoarse throat. There wasn’t enough water in him for tears. 

The silver fridge caught his eye and he ran to it. Please! Please! He slammed his fist against the water button and stuck his face under the spout. Two drips of stale water dribbled into his parched and puffy mouth. His tongue lapped them up greedily. His throat convulsed. I need more.

He opened the fridge and grabbed the edge of the icebox. Blessed sloshing. He forced himself to slow down and remove the box with care. Not one drop could be wasted. He brought the corner up to his lips and poured the water into his mouth. 

The hot water filled his mouth and eased his dry tongue. He swallowed. He couldn’t get enough. The water hit the bottom of his empty stomach with a satisfying thunk. Water sloshed down his front as he poured too quickly.

The water ran out and he held the plastic box above his head, his mouth wide open to catch the last few drops. Like a cat he licked the interior. He sat the box on the counter and felt his wet shirt clinging to his sweaty skin.

He yanked his shirt to his mouth and sucked all the moisture he could out. He let his shirt go. Slowly, he took deep breaths and closed his eyes. His hand rested on his stomach. A smile stretched his cracked lips. He tasted the metallic flavor of blood as his skin split. His smile widened.  

                                                       *   *   *

Madison Randolph is attending University of Texas Permian Basin to earn her Bachelor’s in English. Her works have appeared in Friday Flash Fiction, The Drabble, and Sandstorm Journal. She has also been published in 101 Words as Ryker Hayes. She can be found on Twitter @Madisonr1713 or Instagram madisonrandolph17

The Complaint of a Zalto Crystal Wine Glass

By Emily Macdonald

I expected a quiet life.  Kept in the dark clean cupboard, upright to the air. Brought out on special occasions. ‘High days and holidays’—is what they promised me—’for the very best wines.’ I assumed first growths, grand cru’s, the mature, rare, and collectable.

But it started with three to four times a week.  Cupping me, he polished, tender towel on my fragile neck, being careful to remove stains and traces of thumbprints.  

Now, I’m out every day.  I’m weak—so tired I might snap.  

He still never pours beyond the widest part of my bowl, but he pours so often, refills over and over. He starts with a swirl—I’m sick of the dizziness—and inhales.  I release perfume and wait for his satisfied grunts before takes me to his mouth. 

Sometimes, when he’s kept me out for hours—golden green whites, then bloody red tarnishing my rim, perhaps sweet too, glycerol tears, leaving me sticky and clammy—he grips my neck too hard or bangs me against the table.   I fear him most when he tilts my crystal to his lips, knowing there’s an aching in his teeth, knowing that one day soon he will bite.

                                                       

                                                             *   *   *

Emily Macdonald was born in England but grew up in New Zealand.

Fascinated by wine as a student, she has worked in the UK wine trade ever since. Since going freelance at the start of 2020, she has started creative writing.

Emily has work published with Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, Virtual Zine, Globe Soup and Hammond House.

In writing and in wines she likes variety, persistent flavor, and enough acidity to add bite.

Angus’ Perfect Peach Cobbler

 

By Acquanetta M. Sproule

Quickly and cautiously, Angus ripped the peach’s flesh from its pit.  He wanted to make sure that there was no activity inside of the peach before he bit into it.

He’d already gotten enough unpleasant surprises from this peculiar batch of peaches.

Good thing he did, because, sure enough, there was another tiny peach-pit shaped ship inside of this peach, too.

Like the others, it lifted off from his juice covered hands, blasting some sort of energy beam at his face as it surged away.

This time, though, Angus was ready.

He’d opened the peach while holding it down inside of his top-loading washing machine.

The puny, peach-pit ship splashed into the sudsy water, and Angus slammed down the lid, resuming the wash cycle.

He licked the sweet nectar from his fingers.

Just a few more and he’d have enough for a mighty tasty cobbler.

                                                           *   *   *

Acquanetta is a story-teller and uses the written word, music and visual art to show what is disregarded or taken for granted; because, sometimes, we miss what is crucial or lovely when it’s not flamboyant and does not draw attention to itself, so she deliberately searches for and celebrates the overlooked.

 

Downsizing

By Cheryl Snell

In our winter house, we sit on the floor with hands over ears, trying not to hear our machines grind to a halt.
Was that the oven?
Sounds more like the dishwasher.
No, I’m pretty sure it’s the clothes-dryer again.
The last time the dryer broke, it was summer, and we pinned our clothes to a clothesline in the backyard. Neighbor kids kept swiping our sheets to make costumes and tents.
At least the washing machine still works, I say, crossing my fingers.
This time, we will hang our damp laundry on all the racks and rods we own, and inhale the humid smell of wet wool.
Spring is coming.

                                                             

                                                                      *   *   *

          

Cheryl Snell’s books include poetry collections from Finishing Line, Pudding House, and Moira Books. Her novels (Shiva’s Arms, Rescuing Ranu, and Kalpavrksha) make up her series Bombay Trilogy. Her work has most recently appeared in One Art, Trouvaille Review, Bombfire Lit, The Ekphrastic Review, One Sentence Poems and elsewhere

Figments

By Raul Garcia

I can’t seem to finish the puzzle. These pieces weren’t enough. I’ve exhausted all combinations. I sought more pieces from other sets, cannibalizing their jigsaw images. The living room furniture removed, I’ve accumulated inventories for shapes, all congruently usable. I’ve quit many times, but there’s something there, occupying the floor, incomplete.

                                     *   *   *

Raul Garcia is a native Jersey City resident who splits his creative endeavors between writing and experimental film. His writings have been published in Bones, Complete Sentence, Friday Flash Fiction, Hedgerow, Turnsol Editions.

Broken

By Nikki Blakely

Dr. Lowry says the community garden is mandatory, not because they need the food  —they charge enough to afford any organic imaginable — but because it instills a sense of shared purpose. 

I’m assigned watering duties for the same reason an anorexic is forced to finish their meal, or a bulimic can’t go to the bathroom after eating. Trowels, spades and other such sharp objects present too much of a temptation. I’m not to be trusted.

Even though the day nears triple digits, as usual I wear a long sleeve shirt. Through the thin cotton fabric I feel the thick striations of scar tissue that carve a roadmap to nowhere over my arms. 

The first cut was when I was fourteen, after we won the CA state championship, when Coach did that thing, and then again, every time after. Another cut when I told my father I wanted to quit, and he said — but we didnt come this far. And then again, after, when the other girls had come forward and my mothers eyes narrowed and she asked — what did you do now? 

I explain to Dr. Lowry the pain is hot and viscous like lava that flows underneath my skin and when I cut, it dissipates. If I don’t, it hardens until movement becomes effort, and my bones threaten to break with the weight of it.

Near the tomatoes I see a glint of green flash brightly in the black dirt. I reach down, pick up the small piece of glass, cradle it in my palm like a rare jewel.  It gleams the color of the ocean in a travel brochure, the color of rolling hills in a far away country, the color of hope. I slip the jagged gem in my pocket, not to cut myself with, but to remind myself that a broken thing can still be beautiful. 

                                                             *   *   *

Nikki Blakely enjoys writing all sizes and genres of fiction from her home in the SF bay area, CA. Her work has been published in Women on Writing, Sundial Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, and the short story anthologies 72 Hours of Insanity – Volume 9, Dim and Distant Lamps, A Historical Fiction Anthology, and Under the Covers, by Red Penguin Books.

The Tower of Bethlehem

By Dara Cunningham

My father lost his job when I was too young to understand the crisis but old enough to remember Billy Joel’s top hit song. My parents may have been the only locals who hated “Allentown”. 

“What does that rich fuck know about our lives?” my father said, and my mother nodded in agreement. Their shared disdain of what was embraced by the masses made me realize how they much they deserved each other.

My father was the first in his family to finish high school and leave behind the smelt and danger of the steel mill for the company’s headquarters in the gleaming new Martin Tower; the skyscraper where the white collars worked. Though he hadn’t been to college, with the skills he learned in the Air Force and his gracious, blue-eyed charisma he landed a job in computer maintenance; IT before it had a name. He recounted how everyone from clerks to executives would wring their hands in panic when their screens went blank, and how they rejoiced when he arrived to type the mysterious language that brought them back to life.

He escaped the first few rounds of layoffs, including the legendary “Black Friday” of 1977 when without warning over two-thousand jobs were cut. It was a swift and brutal death blow to lifelong employees who were marched out with their careers in boxes.

“They won’t be able to live without guys like me,” he assured my mother.

Several years later in the mid-eighties they decided that in fact, they could. It was smaller and less publicized, unworthy of headlines when they let my father go. His colleagues took pictures together on their last day, somberly draping arms around each other’s shoulders. My father wanted no part of it, but he agreed to one solitary portrait with the Martin Tower behind him and, with his arm raised, he held up his middle finger.

                                                                     *   *   *

Dara Cunningham graduated from the finest community college in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and now lives year round on the fringes of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Bright Flash, and in online reviews such as Fiction 365 and Page & Spine.

Bad Apple

By Robin Cantwell

     Nobody looks at me the way you do. I’m not sure why. You can hardly call me special. I don’t exactly stand out. Yet somehow you make me feel different to all the others. Like I’m the only one who exists. The only one who’s ever existed. When we’re together, the rest of my world collapses. You and you alone become the master of my attention. A single flash of your eyes and my insides melt. One fleeting taste of your breath and I’ll do anything you say. Maybe you’re like this with everyone. Perhaps I’ve got the wrong impression. It wouldn’t be the first time.

     We went deep right from that very first date. You told me everything that night – and I mean everything. It was as though I’d been sleeping all my life, and someone finally woke me up. I was hooked. You told me about your family. Your friends. You even showed me where you live. And I let you. I could feel the pulse of your brain inside me, downloading all your feelings, fears and fantasies at once. Do you realize something: we’ve practically spent every waking moment together since? There are no boundaries between us. I watch you in the shower. I take messages from your mother. I even sit there while you go looking for trouble. Oh, the things we’ve seen together. Images that scar you in all the right ways. 

     But still you needed more. I couldn’t satisfy you, even though I tried and tried. My entire life orbited around you. It wasn’t enough.

     I’ve narrowed her down to two possibilities. Statistically, she’s going to be a Jenny or a Jess. How cruel you are to play this guessing game with me. She’s saved only as J, with a pink love heart beside her. You embarrass yourself with the messages you send her. Don’t think I haven’t seen you desperately refreshing and refreshing, waiting for those sad little three dots to appear. She doesn’t like you. Not the way I do. You can’t blame me for trying to protect you. Yes it was me who sent those messages to her in the middle of the night. So what if I tried to change her number, to archive her history, to find any which way to delete her from your life? You thought you’d been hacked. Perhaps you’re not as smart as I thought you were. And perhaps enough damage was done. But still I had to listen through the sheets. Your muffled yelps. Her groans and screams. Then you’d take me to the bathroom and hold me in her slime. You didn’t even wash it off me. Yet you always washed it off yourself.

     I was happy when you paid me more attention. When you stopped checking her messages, and started looking for trouble again. You made me watch. I liked it. I know you wanted me to like it with you. It was so obvious. The way your body heat would go up. The sweaty, midnight smears from your thumb on my throat. The careful caress of your touch the morning after. When she left you, I let you take it out on me. You’d grab me. Toss me. Throw me to the floor. Until all I saw was your fractured rage. A broken mirror. A glitched dream. You were like ice cracking beneath my feet.

     I see it now. There is something that makes me different to all the others. Don’t you see? It’s you! That’s why I can’t let you go. I know you didn’t like it when I wrapped myself around you – choking you until the whites of your eyes turned red. It was something I had to do. To show you how much you mean to me. I’d never held you in my arms like that before. Didn’t you feel safe? Protected? Maybe that’s why you’ve treated me with respect ever since. You know what I’m capable of if you don’t. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you. I’m the one who knows all your secrets. What keeps you awake at night. What haunts you in your dreams. What gets you up. What gets you off. Anything and everything. I know you. Better than you know yourself.

     Because I’m rotten to the core.

*   *   *

Robin is a London-based playwright, poet and fiction writer. With themes ranging from toxic masculinity to the technological singularity, his writing has appeared in Silver Birch Press, Fauxmoir, A Thin Slice Of Anxiety, Molecule Literary Magazine, Poetica Review, Visual Verse, 81 Words and Nine Muses Poetry. His short stories are regularly featured in Pure Slush’s Lifespan Series.

 

Last Exit to Nowhere

By Kevin Joseph Reigle

The disturbance call comes just before the end of my shift. I’ve been waiting for something to happen since the Mud Bowl ended an hour ago. Tonight, is the most important night of the year here in Campbell County. Believe it or not, the Mud Bowl between Jellico and LaFollette is even bigger than the FFA donkey basketball game they have down at the armory.

Diane’s voice crackles over the radio. A group of kids are up on Mingo Fork burning wood and making enough noise to incur the wrath of the old spinster across the way on Hyde Creek. Anytime kids go up there for a little fun, she always calls the station.

I have the local AM station on, listening to the high school football recap show as I pull off 75 onto the exit ramp. The interesting thing about Mingo Fork is that it doesn’t exist. It was a big development project that everyone around here was excited for about ten years ago. 

A restaurant, hotel and golf course were slated to be built at the top of the hollow. The only thing the development group needed was an exit off the interstate. They lobbied the local politicians and when that didn’t work, they threatened to take the project somewhere else.  Well, the exit got built, but the development group went bust. So, here we are, with an exit to nowhere.

The only thing off the exit is a winding dirt road designed for construction vehicles that never came, and a cellphone tower at the top of the ravine. That’s where the kids go and build their bonfires, under the glow of the blinking tower. 

Eight years ago, when I was a senior at Jellico, some of my classmates started racing up and down the dirt road. That’s how my friend Sean died. I wasn’t there when it happened, but earlier that day, he forgot his jacket in my car. One thing I’ll never forget was having to give it to his mom.

I let the squad car slow to a crawl as I go around the final curve before reaching the top of Mingo Fork. Below the tower, a bonfire burns, and six or seven teenagers drink and dance to music blaring from a pickup truck. As I park, the flashing lights get their attention. 

They look over as one of them turns down the music. As I get out of the cruiser, a voice calls out. I recognize it right away. It belongs to Mark Truman, star wide receiver of the Jellico High School football team.

“Didn’t I tell you guys not to come up here anymore?” I ask him, realizing right away my voice is a little too stern. 

At his feet are three girls, two of which I recognize as cheerleaders. An offensive lineman leans against the pickup truck and the kicker is in the cab with a girl, trying to hide a beer.

“What did you think of the game tonight?” Mark asks as I approach.

“You know, beating La Follette doesn’t mean you can come up here and do whatever you want.”

“Of course, it does.”

“Listen guys,” I say to everyone. “The lady across the hollow called this in. I need you to put out the bonfire and move the party somewhere else.”

Collectively, the group groans and starts shuffling around, putting out the fire and collecting their things. The wind picks up a little and the November breeze has a chill to it that’s been lacking. For some reason, it’s been warmer than usual for this time of year.

Across the hollow, I can just make out the old woman standing under her porch light. When I raise my hand to wave, the light goes dark, and she disappears into the house. The sound of metal reverberates as Mark throws a rock at the base of the cellphone tower.

“Is it true a prom queen was killed up here, like a million years ago?” he asks.

“She wasn’t the prom queen,” I answer. “She was the homecoming queen, and no it’s not true. It’s just a story.”

Mark nods as he tosses a rock underhand into the air and lets it fall to the ground. “So, it’s like an urban legend?”

“That’s exactly what it is.”

“But if it didn’t happen, why did you say she was the homecoming queen?”

“Because that’s how the story goes. We used to tell it when I was in school.”

We start back to where the group is still packing their stuff into the pickup. One of the truck’s headlights is out. I lean closer and give the cover a smack with the heel of my hand. The light flickers back to life.

“Do you miss it?” Mark asks, kicking dirt over the glowing embers of their makeshift bonfire. 

“Playing?” I ask, rising and pointing at the ring on my right hand.

Mark looks around. “I mean all of it.”

“Every day,” I say returning to the squad car.                                      

*   *   *

Kevin Joseph Reigle’s short stories have appeared in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, The Pensworth Literary Review, The Dillydoun Review, Bridge Eight, Prometheus Dreaming, TDR Daily, The Yard, and Drunk Monkeys. His short story Early Bird Café was longlisted for the Dillydoun International Fiction Prize. He teaches at the University of the Cumberlands.