Triptych 

 

By Tina M. Johnson

After

You walk out of the bank and slide gingerly into your car.  It resists turning over in the cold, but you keep trying. If you had left at 6 p.m. as you usually do, the car would have started immediately. But now it is midnight. When it finally starts you sit there, letting the engine warm up. The troopers didn’t ask if you were okay before they left. You’re not okay, but you sit in the frigid car trying to be okay. Your hands are shaking. You study the time and temperature sign across the road. It is blinking erratically, a frantic heart trying to calm itself.  

During 

When the two men push their way into the bank, you don’t scream. You smell the booze on them, the woodsmoke and sweat, the sour dirt on the balaclavas they wear over their faces. They look like terrorists, but it is the smell of the booze that frightens you. And the gun. They wave it in front of your face, then shove it under your nose until they see you understand; they would love to shoot you. 

The heavyset man grabs your arms and yanks them behind your back. He uses pain to steer you to the safe. When the men see the cash inside, they yip like coyotes. They shove you in a corner and start stuffing packets of twenties and fifties into their jackets and down their pants. The yipping and cackling . . . one of them sounds like a guy you knew in school. He was awkward then, moon-faced, and ugly. Well, he’s rich now, you think, and a squeak of hysterical laughter escapes like a hiccup. He walks over and stares at you. Another hic of laughter. He kicks you hard in the ribs.

Before 

You think how nice it is to be alone in the bank.  It is quiet and peaceful now that the day’s work is done. In a moment you will get into your car and drive to your house, a tiny dwelling tucked inside a nook of bull pines along the river. Yet, you linger. You love your home, but the empty bank is pleasant in a different way. The furnace clicks on with a blast of heat you don’t have to pay for. The lobby still smells of the morning’s coffee. A blanket of darkness begins to mingle with the streetlights, softening the room’s sharp corners. There is one last thing to do before you leave: you must lock the safe. But first, you walk to the window. There is a bank of altostratus clouds in the sky and snow has begun to fall in lazy, angel-winged flakes. You stand at the window, taking it all in. You feel sorry for the two men crossing the street with their covered faces, their bodies bundled up like Yetis against the cold.

                                                                          *   *  *

Tina M. Johnson is a poet and recent convert to flash fiction. Her poem, “Rift”, won first prize in the Idaho Writer’s Guild 2020 Writing Contest.  Other poetry has most recently been published in The Bellingham Review and Inkwell.  She resides in Star, Idaho.  

Lately

A Memoir by Dorri Ramati

Lately, I’ve been worried about dying. Not the ten-year-old child worry about pain, and the unusual ways to die. No. My worry is the fifty-year-old woman worry–of time, and regret, and permanence and loss. 

There was a short period in my life when I didn’t worry about anything. Not about dying, or about a career; not about money, or time running out. I just was. 

And no one tells you that you should STOP during that time and TAKE IT IN. That this moment in time, when your parents are still young and healthy enough, before you have children and worry about their well-being, before time takes its toll on your body and your relationships. 

This time. So brief. 

And me—so unknowing in my luckiness. My life, with its choices were spread out in front of me. My past, still close enough that I could look back and see where I had come from. So close that I could still see myself reflected in the rear-view mirror. 

This time, and its choices, took me to Tokyo; and to Nathalie. 

Nathalie was from France. Short dark hair, closely cropped, and bold, Nathalie was chic. Worldly, merely by being from Europe. She introduced me to Hotel Costes and sophisticated meals that weren’t stuffy and formal, but were delicious and casual, and layered. Her friendly smile had a way of making everyone around her, especially this friend, feel comfortable.

And then one night, Nathalie died. In her sleep. At 30.

I imagine Vitale, her husband, waking up next to her. Her petite body heavy despite its emptiness. Cold and unmoving. So opposite of her spirit. Nathalie gone. Were her ears already closed, deaf to her children calling out to her. Crying for her. Was the image of her children running in to wake her absorbed rather than reflected. Did the sadness and tragedy of the night penetrate her skin before she left. And could her body, stiff and inflexible, take the shock of it all?

I imagine her going to bed. Unaware. Did she dream. Did she and Vitale fight before going to bed. Was she too exhausted from having two young children to think about anything but sleep and the release it gave. Was she thinking of her regrets and all the things she didn’t do? 

I imagine her heart, prematurely tired, and wanting to rest. Was it so full that it became too heavy. Did it grow weary from living an entire life in so little time. Her heart willing to relinquish its role as sole provider. Its rhythm changing and slowing. Shutting down and withdrawing. Like a workman flipping the switch before leaving for the evening, the noisy system of wishes and whirls descending into a sluggish and steady quiet. Then nothing. 

I think about Nathalie often these days. Before I go to sleep, after I’ve kissed my husband good-night; or after I’ve told my children that I’m too tired to tuck them in. After I’ve shouted too much, understood too little, thinking of nothing and everything all at once. Numb. I lie in bed and think of Nathalie. And if that could be me. And when that would be me. 

Motionless, I’m filled with regret and panic and love and hate all at once. And the thought of resting and not running everywhere and to everyone all at that very moment is so hard to fathom. And with my heart rushing, panicking, I wonder how many beats are left in it for me. 

                                                                   *   *   *

Dorri Ramati is a writer, educator, observer and traveler who currently lives in New Jersey. She holds a B.A. in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University, and an M.A. in Education from Hunter College. In 2001, she began a 13 year journey of living overseas and traveling. It was during that time that she started her family while also finding her inspiration to pick up her pen. Dorri is currently working on multiple writing projects, including a book of essays about her experiences living overseas.

Thompson

By Jessica McGlyn

The last time she’d seen Thompson, he was hanging out in front of Biddy’s. He’d been armed, as always, with a sketch pad and a pencil behind the ear. She’d been drinking beers at one of those umbrella tables with some guy whose name she’d since forgotten. They’d just arrived, sweaty, from a long bike ride along the Anacostia River. Funny how vividly she remembered such an unexceptional day. 

There they were, drinking beers while Thompson stood on the street in the blazing sun, gaping at the people at the tables. No one seemed to mind. He was just sketching, like he always did. Everyone let him draw them, threw money at him for his efforts. 

“Hi, I’m Thompson,” he’d said, approaching her, like it was the first time they’d ever seen each other. That’s always how it was with Thompson. He’d handed her a drawing ripped from his pad. There’d been bits of moisture on the page, sweat from his fingers. She wondered why he hadn’t stood in the shade, or worn a hat, or done anything to protect himself from the heat. 

The sketch was a caricature but flattering. He’d drawn her eyes big, adorned by long curly lashes. A button nose and pouty full lips. High cheekbones and long wavy hair. Her date had given him some cash. She remembered thinking that it was way too much money. 

Still, she liked the picture well enough. When she’d gotten home, she’d placed it in a desk drawer that held nearly expired coupons, old letters from friends, metro cards she wasn’t sure still worked. Stuff she didn’t know where else to put. 

No one knew if Thompson was his first or last name. Or where he went at night. He always wore holey shoes too big for his feet. In winter he wore a coat coming apart at the seams. He was alley-cat skinny, bony and overly alert. But he never begged for money or food. He could have been thirty or fifty, it was impossible to tell. He didn’t carry bags of clothes or push carts of things like the homeless people in the neighborhood did. She’d assumed that meant he had somewhere to go when he wasn’t around. 

Since that day he’d sketched her at Biddy’s, she hadn’t seen or even thought about him. That had been over a year ago. Running into him again today felt both surprising and expected. She was walking her dogs along Pennsylvania Avenue. He was biking down the sidewalk from the other direction. As he neared her, he laid the bike down and pulled a pad out of his backpack. He was dripping sweat. It was a scorcher just like the last time they’d met. 

“Mind if I draw your dogs?” he asked as his pencil screeched across the pad. She’d said sure, why not. He was already doing it and she wasn’t in a rush. 

“I’m Thompson,” he said, looking down at the pad as he drew.

“Yeah, you’ve drawn me before.” 

He nodded, still sketching. 

“I’ve got my own apartment now. And medical,” he continued, apropos of nothing. “Through the government. I been to Iraq. A few times.”

He ripped the sketch from the pad and handed it to her. It was cartoonish but endearing. He’d drawn their eyes big. Smiling mouths adorned with long whiskers. Tufts of fur curling up from their heads. 

“It’s super cute,” she searched her pockets. Coming up empty, she added, “I’m right around the corner. Want to walk me so I can pay you?”

He picked up his bike and they walked and talked about how hot it was all the way to her house. Her next-door neighbors, a young couple, were hanging on their stoop drinking beers. 

“Hey, this is Thompson,” she said. 

“Yeah, we know Thompson,” the guy replied. “Everyone knows Thompson.” 

She asked him to wait outside. She went into her house, unleashed the dogs, then searched her pocketbook. All she found was a 20-dollar bill. She thought about running to the store to break it but didn’t have the energy. It was hot. She grabbed a beer from the fridge and walked out the front door.

Thompson was still standing by his bike in front of her neighbors’ gate, but now he was sketching. He stopped once to wipe sweat from his brow. She squeezed by him and opened the gate. The neighbors made a space for her to edge through, two steps above them. She plopped down and popped open the beer. She and the couple chatted about their day while Thompson sketched. 

He ripped out the drawing and handed it over the gate to the neighbor woman. She rose half off her seat with an outstretched arm to receive it. She looked it over, nodding with approval. The guy fished around in his pocket and pulled out some cash. 

“Can you pass this along?” she handed the twenty to the guy with one hand, taking a swig of the beer with the other. The guy stepped forward, fist full of cash, and placed it into Thompson’s outstretched hand.

Thompson put the money in his pocket and the pad in his backpack. But he didn’t pick up his bike right away.  She felt him staring at them and stopped talking. She grasped her beer tighter, wondering why he lingered. It felt like he wanted to say something. It was awkward, him just standing there like that. She wanted him to leave. 

Finally, he picked up the bike, nodding goodbye. 

“Great seeing you, Thompson,” the neighbor guy called after him. Her shoulders relaxed, her jaw unclenched, watching him ride away.

                                                         *   *   *

Jessica McGlyn lives in Washington, D.C. and is a member of the Capitol Hill Writers’ Group. She writes short stories in a variety of genres.

fLies

By Sofie De Smyter

If you asked me to describe myself in 150 words, I’d give you 300, at least. Not because I am the kind of person who keeps on giving, but the kind of person who doesn’t know when to stop. That’s a problem, I’ll admit. I’m also the kind of person who calls a problem a problem instead of a challenge, which, I’m told, would be the more mindful way of addressing problems, especially mine, but the mindful way, apparently, is also about pretending you’ve never eaten raisins before. You’ve heard about the raisins, right? Because that’s what they made me do, the mindful people in my life, when all else failed. Got it out of some book, apparently. My mother, always the first to break. Eat a raisin, she said, it will teach you to focus on the here and now. Fill your entire mouth with a single raisin, and keep it there. Do nothing. Just taste, and feel. The future will happen the moment you stop thinking about it. 

You. Here. The raisin. Now. 

Like a heartbeat, she smiled.

A fucking raisin. 

Worse than fruit gone off, I tell you, which is at least still full of life. A raisin’s somebody’s way of telling you to embrace it instead of face it, when your body is folding back into itself, again, over the not-quite-a-grape thing, again, and your head becomes the place where flies go to die. 

And by flies I mean thoughts. I’m thinking of flies because there’s one in here, in this room. Lured in by the buzz of the radiator, its heat, beating itself up against the plaster, splattered now with shadows of flowers, the ghosts of the plastic Ikea pendant bought for the baby – the one forever in the making. 

I know what’ll happen. I do. The fly won’t stop storming the ceiling, looking for a route, but there’s no way on, or out. It’ll end up dead on the carpet, or somewhere I can’t see, and as soon as the heat drops into darkness, the fly will look like a fool, and after a number of days, like a raisin.

                                                                  *   *   *

Sofie won a number of accolades for the fiction she wrote in Dutch back in the days she could still do somersaults. Posts in tune with life’s rhythms on www.soofs.co.uk. She has a story coming out in #2 of The Belfast Literary Review. 

He Was 87

By Richard Davis

HE WAS 87 years of age and lived on his own in a small home reduced to the size of one ground floor room. All he owned in this world was contained within this space. He had the walls, the floor, and the ceiling around him at all times. Positioned in one of the walls was a window. The old man slowly paced over to the window and looked out at the garden as he had done for many years. It was an unattended mess of weeds and overgrown shrubs, plants, and trees. It was his beloved wife’s garden. She had worked hard to make it a place of beauty. Wonderful colors, lush shrubbery, blooming flowers and a couple of stone statues and a stone bird bath. She had green fingers and a great sense of how things grow and of the space they occupy. When she died, he decided to let the garden fall to wrack and ruin. Year upon year of neglect as if he was punishing the garden for taking so much of her time from him. It had not mattered to him then, and he had enjoyed the fruits of her labour, but it mattered to him now. He resented the garden and wanted it to rot away. When he turned from the window he was back in his space of warmth and safety. Of solitude and isolation. Of dust and decay. He had not stepped outside the room for many years and knew his life would come to an end within this space with her watching him, waiting for him to join her. This gave him comfort and calmed his anger. The world outside was unfamiliar and he knew nobody in it, so he drank wine to remind him of the past and of the many places they had visited together. Sometimes the wine made him sleepy, and he thought death was coming for him. Sometimes the wine made him angry or sad. One night, when he had finished his wine and the darkness had smothered the garden, he knew he would fall asleep for the last time and smiled to her.

                                                            *   *   *

A British writer who now sees himself as a European writer, RD has worked in print, online, comics, film and TV. His other writing is inspired by video games, soccer, Burroughs and Ellroy, fine wine and films.

One Look at the Hip-Hop Club

By Eloísa Pérez-Lozano

I know you see me watching you, watching me from that far wall. You’re hot, but I don’t want you, though I’d like to think you want me. You’re looking for another conquest as you visually trace my figure. Shirt shaping my assets, holding them in a snug embrace.

I want to be the why behind your smoldering eyes as the blood in your veins begins to simmer. I want your hands to twitch, your fingers longing to cup, then clench, my curves below, framed in tight, flared jeans. I want your nose to itch and your lips to quiver when you nuzzle your face into the welcoming arch of my neck.

As you feel my hands running over your chest, weaving, grasping at your hair, your fingertips electric on my hips, I want you to burn for me from within. I long to bring you to the brink of explosion, to lead you to ecstasy in this to and fro, alluring as I lure you, a siren for a night.

But I come to the bars strictly for dancing, not dating and I don’t really need you, not even a little bit. That’s why my gaze only locks with your eyes for a second or two, enough for your interest to peak and my fantasies take flight.

            

                                                                          *   *   *

Eloísa Pérez-Lozano writes poems, flash, and essays about Mexican-American identity, women’s issues and motherhood. She graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in psychology and an M.S. in journalism and mass communications. A Best of the Net-nominated writer, her work has been featured in Every Day Fiction, Houston Chronicle, and Poets Reading the News, among others. She lives with her family in Houston, Texas.

Arat Fort

By Linda McMullen

“… and this next site, Arad Fort, predates Shakespeare,” my guide intones, with her insinuating British accent.  Maybe it’s just me.  Four months into our planned year of post-graduate globetrotting, Michael left me for a girl from Liverpool with a fourth-rate education and a burgeoning career as a glamour model.  That was back in Istanbul.  It’s been one week and approximately ten pounds of Turkish Delight since then.  

I slip out of the bus behind the Canadian couple (in polite, disbelieving disagreement over something), a pair of retired Frenchwomen on a bucket list adventure, and a bearded backpacker with no sense that his shorts are out of place.  Muharraq is under construction; new malls and condos seem to emerge in real time.  And still preserved within this urban development is an ancient fort.  Loving hands must have restored this structure, a gleaming sand-tinted citadel beneath azure Bahraini skies.  

“This fort – with its thick, straight walls and circular towers – is representative of traditional Bahraini military architecture,” the guide continues, though I’m the only one listening.  The others are lining up for selfies, pivoting 180 degrees to capture both the imposing edifice and the Manama skyline.  Beardy – who unfortunately resembles Stuart, the angst-ridden pseudo-poet I dated before Michael – is asking the tour guide how she likes Bahrain.  How she keeps in touch with her family.  How long she’s planning to stay here.  What she likes to eat.  What she’s doing for dinner tonight.  My eyes meet hers and we exchange a look of profound mutual comprehension.

“Hey,” I interrupt.  “I have a question.  What kind of stone did they use to build the fort?”

The tour guide beams at me.  “Coral limestone,” she says, promptly.  This allows her to segue into a mini-lecture about how Bahrain’s efforts to reclaim not only its heritage, but land… how the island has expanded over the years… 

Beardy drifts away, glaring at me.  I let the guide’s words drift over me like the gentle breeze. Everyone always thinks of the Gulf in terms of oil / wars / hellacious heat.  Somehow no one ever considers calm 68-degree Decembers and playful zephyrs ruffling the fronds of swaying palms.  Even I hadn’t.  Michael designed this part of the itinerary; I picked up again starting in Romania in the spring.  

He would have loved this – the historic setting, the gorgeous weather…

…and – I thought – me…

I turn my attention back to the guide.  She’s explaining the fortress’s defense mechanisms, including placements for cannons and machicolations.  I edge along the narrow catwalk so I can inspect them.  Michael would have taken aim at me, called me out for shots fired, for my ability to drop barbs on him out of nowhere.  Hmmph.  Well, I hope he and Gemma are as happy as they deserve to be.

My eyes feel hot.  I really thought that Michael and I… I run a sleeve over my face.  Of course, earlier I had imagined that Stuart might be my…

Guide.  Follow the guide.  She’s now describing Bahrain’s colonial history to the French women, explaining that the Portuguese and the Omanis took control of the fort at different times – “but now,” she smiles, “it belongs to Bahrain.”  I straighten, place my hand on the sun-kissed stone.  Still standing.  

                                                     *   *   *

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred fifty literary magazines. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.

It Was Always Going to Fall Apart in the End 

By Christina Carlson 

I never could speak in metaphor. Instead, I scream my words in repetition, praying that one iteration of my meaning would penetrate their walls. So many words have been lost this way. 

Silence became my friend. My heart can’t be hurt if it is never noticed.

I silently play The Game of Life in the corner by myself. “Where’s Chrissy,” they say. 

Dad asks questions but never waits for my response. Conversations with him turn into a series of unexplainable problems with no attempt at solutions. The words, “Chris, can you just do it for me?” end many of these talks. He never waits for my response. 

My sister rolled her eyes when I read something I wrote for our little brother’s funeral. To say that I chose silence is like saying Gionni chose to die. 

“These fucking Democrats,” Dad says.

“Be careful,” I warn, knowing he has been doubling down on the far-right Facebook videos since the election has grown close.

“They’re all fucking losers,” he says.

He launches into another series of unexplainable problems but my ears protect my brain by engaging a sharp buzzer in my head.

“Dad,” I interrupt. “Dad, I am a Democrat,” I say.

He knows. There have been many nights this year when the buzzer in my ears has also protected my heart.
There is a pause– a jerking, awkward moment of silence.

“Yeah…” he says, “but we have to forgive you of that because you went to college.” 

Mom listens. In quiet moments, together. She listens and she folds me into her, hugging my heart for just a breath. In these moments, I am seen, I am known, I am loved. And in these moments, I allow myself to live in the lie that I am enough. 

My sister says “Go cry like you always do.” I am 5. I am 13. I am 30. She is saying it now. 

My husband says he supports my dream. “Go be great,” he says before listing off all the ways I put him last. 

All the quiet moments come raging from my mother’s mouth like a river without a dam. 

You did this, she spits.
You.
You opened your mouth and built these walls. 

                                           *   *   *

Christina Carlson is an MFA graduate from Randolph College and writes from the parts of Las Vegas that have nothing to do with The Strip. She writes true things that sometimes turn into lies and lies that sometimes tell the truth. She worked for many years on the Las Vegas Strip and likes to think that time is behind her but is continually surprised by the way it pops up in her stories… which happens quite a lot.

Artificial Lakes

By Gary Reddin

Erica leaves tomorrow. But right now, we are a hundred miles from home sitting outside of a 24-hour Korean supermarket, somewhere between Tulsa and the end of the world. I am alone in the predawn with only the steady dinging rhythm telling me, politely, that the driver’s side door is open. I run my hand over the back of the broken compass she gave me when she arrived. It won’t find north, but it will keep you a step ahead of your misery. The supermarket door opens. Erica comes back to the car holding a brown paper bag. I still have the compass in my hands. 

“What’s it telling you?”

“Nothing yet.”

She takes a bottle of clear alcohol with a foreign name out of the bag. 

“A step ahead of your misery,” she says, passing it to me.

I take a long drink. Its warmth spreads down my throat and through my body.

“The guy at the counter told me about a place nearby where we can watch the sunrise,” she says.

When she closes the door I feel a space in my chest hollow out where the ‘I’m open’ noise had been. We pull out of the parking lot, crunching gravel under our wheels like broken dreams.

“Tread softly,” I say, remembering an old poem.

The road is weather-worn and cracked. It dips deep into the earth, then crests like a shark’s fin. Graffiti coats the waves of asphalt like constellations. 

The car noses into the emptiness and my stomach disappears for a moment. We ride the wave up the other side, surfing on obscene stars, and discover a million miles of flat earth marching into the pink horizon. She parks on the shoulder. We get out and sit on the hood together. She laces her fingers through mine, and I surrender the bottle. She drinks an ocean’s worth. 

“Annihilation.”

“How’s that?” she asks.

“Something my mom used to say. After dad died, a verse she used to recite to me. Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive.”

“Is that from the Bible?”

“The Art of War.”

I take out the compass again, holding it to the sky. The needle rotates twice before deciding that we are facing west, which I know is impossible since the sun is rising in front of us.  

“What’s it saying now?” She asks, resting her head on my shoulder, the half empty bottle hanging loosely in her other hand. 

“I think—I think it’s telling me I’m lost.” 

She lets go of my hand, takes the compass in hers, and inspects it like a precious stone. 

“It’s telling you that direction is your enemy.” 

The edge of the sun rises on our wasteland. She puts her forehead against mine and whispers a prayer. She says it is for good luck. Her eyes are an abstraction. Caught somewhere between blue and grey. In some empty pocket of time after the prayer I decide on silver. They’re not hungry but starved. Waiting for the end of some secret fast.

“Where to now?” She asks.

“Direction is my enemy, remember.” 

I watch her slide off the hood and step into the middle of the road silhouetted against the flat oblivion. She pours out what’s still left of the alcohol, places the bottle at her feet, and spins it. I watch light glance in and out of my rotating future until it stops, the neck pointing straight ahead into the horizon. 

“A step ahead of my misery,” I say, and she nods.

We get back in the car and drive toward the rising sun. I can see mirages forming on the concrete. They wash over us, tides untethered from the pull of the moon. Aching for it, chasing it, and yet never able to meet it. We pass through towns with names like Daisy, Antlers, Blanco. As if the people naming them were as drunk as we are now. Erica keeps the car on the road. We pass no police and by noon we are sober again.

“Eufaula.”

“What?”

“Eufaula, that’s where the compass is taking us.” 

She points to a green sign advertising skiing, camping, and recreation. Lake Eufaula, twelve miles. We turn off the highway and onto another lonely backroad. I watch the world untie itself for us through the windshield as we snake a path toward the lake. There is a moment at the apex of every curve where I believe we will meet another car head on. I tense with each bend that rolls by. But the impact never comes, and the road straightens out. A dirt path runs down to the shore of the lake and we follow it to its conclusion. 

She steps out of the car and walks toward the water’s edge. I watch her through the windshield. She takes off her shoes and steps barefoot into the lake. The compass needle spins but cannot find us a way forward. I sit it on the dashboard, step out of the car, and join her in the water. She takes my hand, and we walk out into the shallows until it rises to our waists. 

“It’s not real,” she says.

“What isn’t?” 

“The lake. Its manmade. One of the largest. All of the lakes in Oklahoma are like this, artificial.” 

She covers her silver eyes with her hands as if to hide from this truth. 

“Take off your shirt,” she whispers.

 I obey. The water is cold against my skin. She lowers her hands and takes hold of me. Her grip is strong. 

“Are you prepared to face your enemy?” 

She positions herself beside me. With a surprising amount of control, she lowers me backward and submerges me beneath the waters. I open my eyes but cannot see her through the murky haze. Her grip loosens and I sink away from her until my back finds the silt of the lake floor. This is my annihilation. The space left in the wake of the world’s end. But it is an artifice. A creation meant to contain, to control. It is the gloss between two versions of myself. 

My chest tightens. My lungs constrict, begging for breath. I close my eyes.

The water is quiet. Calm. Directionless. 

                                                                   *   *   *

Gary Reddin is a writer, poet, and recovering journalist from Southwest Oklahoma. He is a current MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. His work has most recently appeared on Essay Daily and in the Dillydoun Review. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewreddin for more of his work.

The Elements are Harsh, But the Pup Must Be Set Free

By Miranda Keskes

“Did you get enough to eat?” 

“Yup.”

“Excited for school today?” 

“Nope.”

“Looks like great weather for football tonight.”

“Sure.” 

He speaks in mono-syllables these days. It reminds me of his toddlerhood, but the inflection’s all wrong. He looks down at his phone, thumbs in constant motion, slouched over in the passenger seat. I sigh, pushing a little harder on the car’s accelerator. 

  The gaps between the time we spend together are widening. 

Last night, I stumbled across a documentary about harp seals. The mothers abandon their young after two weeks. The pups learn to fend for themselves, bobbing along on ice caps, adrift at sea. 

 

I tighten my grip on the steering wheel, stealing glimpses at his newly sharpened jawline, the light shadow across his upper lip. We inch our way through the school dropoff line. 

 

Many dangers await the young pups: hunting, vessel strikes, entanglement, chemical contaminants, oil spills, climate change. The mortality rate for harp seals in their first year is 20-30%.

My foot presses on the brake. Our turn. He opens the car door, climbs out. “Bye, mom.” 

“Have a great day. I love you.” 

“Yep.” He pokes his head back in before closing the door. “Love you too.”  

 

Harp seals often appear to be crying. I’m told it’s because they lack the ducts to drain away the tears. 

                                                                  *   *   *

Miranda Keskes is a writer and educator whose fiction has appeared in Pigeon Review, Everyday Fiction, and the anthologies: You Do You, Heart/h, Hysteria, and 100 Ways to Die. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons. Find her on Twitter @mirandakeskes.