Seeping by Lucy Smith

In those small, empty hours, you find your hand putting the milk bottle in the oven, the cornflakes in the cupboard under the sink. 

A cat flashes its eyes at you from the top of the back garden fence and you know, through the window, that it sees. It sees the soul is out of you. There’s nothing inside your skin. It’s the time of the night when you could do anything. 

Slumped on the kitchen stool, you look at your fingers like they belong to something else.

The soul has to wash back in, on the shush of the dawn, when the oily sky spreads its pink and blue. Until then the streets run in dark threads from your gate. 

Your son sleeps in the room above. His soul is also out to play at this time of night. His head is filled with dreams of dark water; cold sharks sliding past his skin, red and yellow fish. There’s a diver ahead in a thick suit that covers everything but the hands, which are his dad’s.

You can’t dream anymore, because you can’t sleep. Your fingers are too cold to feel, and the cornflakes are left soggy on the counter, as your bare feet move towards the back door.  

Later, you will retrace your steps, wash up your bowl, make your son’s breakfast. Until then it’s just your toes on wet grit, ivy growing in chaos down the black alley, the glowing eyes of animals, the unshakeable chill. 


Lucy_Smith

Lucy Smith is a flash fiction, prose poem, and short story writer from North West England, currently based in Cardiff, Wales, where she has completed an MA in Creative Writing, two artist residencies, and co-written an audio story. She is the creator of Talking Ink, a podcast in association with Seren Books, showcasing flash fiction writers and poets and featuring music from local artists. Her fiction has been published by Palm-Sized Press and won awards from Legend Press and Lancaster University. Find out more on her website: lucysmithwriter.wordpress.com Continue reading “Seeping by Lucy Smith”

Remember the Sonics by D.H. Valdez

One late August afternoon, Roger Ruiz sat on a bench atop a hill that overlooked his former high school. He was wearing a white Sonics jersey, which is significant to the story because it is always nice to remember the Sonics and because in a few moments, the jersey would be covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash.

He was smoking a cigarette and was mildly concerned that this would be the one that sent him over the threshold into addiction. But more than this, his thoughts were on Mr. Garza, his former teacher who he had seen earlier in the day at the grocery store. Roger had put a loaf of rye bread in front of his face to avoid being seen. He loved Mr. Garza and was not sure why he did it. The reflexive act disturbed him enough to go atop the hill to smoke and contemplate and reflect.

Roger dropped his cigarette and made an attempt to put it out but his foot missed the still-smoldering butt. Oblivious to his mistake, he reached for another cigarette. The brown grass that had been burnt from the hot Seattle summer caught quickly. A fire about the size of the palm of a hand sprung from the earth. Startled, Roger stood up from the bench but rose too quickly and clumsily, causing him to trip. The fire grew to two palms.

Now on his back, he needed to act quickly. He aimed his body for the fire. He rolled over the flames and successfully put it out. His waxy Sonics jersey was now covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash. Everything was under control but he fled the scene, zipping down the hill towards his former school.

Later while on a jog, Mr. Garza ran slowly up to where Roger had recently been. He noticed a strange patch on the slanted face of the hill. A clean circle of dirt exposed around a blackened perimeter of barbecued grass. He patted the back of his head. The spot reminded him of his balding hair. He finished his run.

Rain poured heavy in Seattle that September. The grass on the hill greened much quicker than most years. The burnt patch began to heal, to grow.

One weekend that fall, Mr. Garza bought a Sonics hat at the mall. He took the tag off and placed it on his head immediately. The hat made him feel much better about his appearance. As he was heading back to his car he noticed Roger shopping at another store but didn’t move to say hello, thinking back to the time weeks before when he had seen him hiding behind a loaf of bread. As he remembered this, he saw Roger smiling and coming his way.

“Hey Mr. Garza!” Roger said. The two shook hands.


D.H._Valdez

D.H. Valdez teaches Social Studies at his former high school. He holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Washington. He and his wife Holly grew up together in Seattle and continue to live in the city. They are avid sports fans and desperately await the return of the Sonics. Valdez has previously been published in Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Citron Review.

The One-Armed Man and His Dog by Tiffany Hsieh

The one-armed man who moved in next door has a little dog. The dog is shared between him and
his ex who comes now and then to walk the dog. Sometimes we see the one-armed man and the
dog outside the house. Now and then we see the ex and the dog on the trail. Our dog is usually
friendly with other dogs but the one-armed man’s dog has no friends. A couple of times our dog
goes out of her way to be neighbourly with his dog and his dog whines as if our dog is going to
maul him because our dog is bigger and taller and has the ability to growl a deep growl. Both
times the one-armed man turns into a mama bear and shoos our dog away with his leg, as in
kicking. Both times we can only watch in horror and call our dog back and say sorry to the one-
armed man. We say sorry to him because we can’t think of anything else to say to a man who has
only one arm, like, Please stop kicking our dog. We say sorry because the one-armed man may
be ex-military or a victim of a car crash, and he is holding the dog’s leash in his only hand and
kicking is his only option besides standing there and watching his dog get pawed, as in playing.
Each time we try our best to avoid the one-armed man and his dog for a few days. We discourage
our dog from going pee-pee in the backyard when his dog is going pee-pee in his backyard. At
times this is unavoidable and our dog sniffs along the fence trying to be neighbourly. Three times
now his dog whines as if upset by our dog’s nose but the reality, according to the ex on the trail
now and then, is that the dog is going blind. All three times the one-armed man shoos our dog
away from under the fence even though our dog is in our backyard and not his. All three times
we call our dog inside and slide the patio door shut behind us. We leave the one-armed man be
because we can’t think of anything else to do with a man who has lost an arm and whose little
dog is going blind.

TiffanyH
Tiffany Hsieh was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada at the age of fourteen with her parents. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Salamander, The Shanghai Literary Review, Atticus Review, Poet Lore, Sonora Review, the Apple Valley Review, and other publications. She lives in southern Ontario with her husband and their dog.

A History of Baptism* by Christopher Bowen

First find the body of water you knew as a child, thinking about the body.


Baptism was practiced by John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher, in the early 1st century. Revered as a major religious figure in Christianity and Islam, some saying he belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a Hebrew messiah and who practiced Baptism ritually.


Anais Nin writes in The House of Incest, “My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water. I looked with chameleon eyes upon the changing face of the world, looked with anonymous vision upon my uncompleted self. I remember my first birth in water.”


Baptism is practiced in several different ways. Aspersion is the sprinkling of water on the head. Affusion is the pouring of water over the head.


Walk towards the beach or drop past the deer trail clearing to the muddy bank. Don’t slip on the summer grass, you will need to strip down. Now praise the sun that reflects off the water’s surface by stretching your arms out in a Y towards it. Good. Feel the way it warms your skin, the vibration of it. If it is cloudy and there is no reflection, there cannot be baptism. If it is cloudy and there are incoming storms, you cannot be purified this way.


*See also: rain as a form of baptism.


Precipitation is performed in several ways. Remember first your birth in water in a porcelain tub in a house by a seaside cliff. You take the clothes off, the sea crashing on nearby rocks. Remember how it wailed for you, too, once.


*See also: driftwood on the shore, driftwood in the water, driftwood in your heart. It may take years to come ashore.


The tide comes, small crabs and nonsense things crawling into pools and crags until morning, the places you can’t get them out of or speak about. A sand bar above the horizon’s edge is an image that means there’s still hope. Your humanity stands a quarter of a mile out and you swim the marathon.


John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded, so you dip your feet in the frothing water. The wave is something the ocean does, too. Don’t hesitate, but there’s room for regret because you’re halfway past the waist now. That scrap of fishing net to the right has knots of hemp and cotton and promises. Waves lap each other like birthday cake icing and white foam—the visions of your parents nearby and a paper hat strapped to your head by string in a darkly lit room. The joy of your eyes blowing the candles out with all the wind your little life lungs can handle, it is enough.


Experts say the gravitational pull of the moon ebbs and flows the coming and going of tides on beaches across the world. Still others say there’s billions and billions of stars and solar systems to find out there. They say you are eternally saved after a lifetime of baptizing and for some reason that is just enough for this first lesson.


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Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River (http://www.burningriver.info.)

The Field of Dead Girls by Cassandra de Alba

A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.

The dead girls can float, but they still sin.

Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.

What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.

The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.

Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.

The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.

Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.

The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.

The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.


AuthorPhoto_credit_GennaRose_NethercottCassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.

Ex-Lover Speaks of Appalachia by Barbara Costas-Biggs

My second year in Tucson, the town next to my hometown flooded, made CNN, people canoeing down 52, standing on top of their cars. I showed my roommates, telling them I knew that carry-out, knew that intersection.  When I met the boy I was sleeping with, he laughed when I said the word “duvet.” I said it right, I used it correctly.  He thought it was funny that an Appalachian girl knew what a duvet was, maybe even had the audacity to own a duvet.  He told me a story about his mother, a nurse who grew into a politician’s wife, learning about hill people being tended to by doctors on horseback.  He told me like it was yesterday.  Like it was my story.  Like I got my meningitis vaccine from a man sitting in a saddle, savior to us all.

 


 

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Barbara Costas-Biggs lives and works in Appalachian southern Ohio. Her work has been published by Glass, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, Ghost City Press, 8Poems, and others. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

 

The Way Ash Clumps in Bales by Jennifer Todhunter

The spring we divorce it won’t stop frosting, and I watch Shameless like an addict on Netflix. I trim my hair with scissors I find in the drawer beside the oven in my rental, the ends so split they fray towards each other. It’s these days I miss the arc of our ashtray, the bump of our butts against its glass rim, the way ash clumps in bales. It’s your breath on my back, I think, the feeling of knowing you’re there without seeing you, like shards of a life in my eye. It’s the grasp of the unknown around my neck that has me running down these backroads in the night, half-drunk and half-wanting to forget, the kilometres ticking by like farm fields.

I miss the feeling of a cigarette, of someone’s fingers between my fingers.

I miss Fiona telling Jimmy to fuck off.

I miss the scratch of your beard on my cheek when you roll into my space, while you sleep barefoot and broken toe.


 

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Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

Reimagining: In Which I’m Not a Picky Eater & I Eat by Moisés Delgado

I top my tacos de asada / al pastor / lengua / cachete / adobada / carnitas with sal & limón, cilantro, cebolla, aguacates, salsa verde & salsa roja, eat both tortillas, half a rábano, the entire serrano, & when I ask for another three tacos mamá doesn’t wait for the sound of an empty stomach, doesn’t ask ¿Will you ever love yourself?

 


Moisés R. Delgado is a queer Latinx writer from the Midwest. His prose appears in or is forthcoming from The Pinch, Puerto del Sol, Passages North, Pidgeonholes, Homology Lit, and elsewhere. Moisés can often be found dancing on the moon.

Welcome to Treasure Island, Florida by Joyce Wheatley

Until the drawbridge opened, we idled on the Causeway and marveled at the monstrous Buccaneer, like one of those humongous bright balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His saber sliced cerulean sky, a Sunshine pirate greeting on a road to Paradise.

We joked about our final stop, this last resort of turquoise pools, abundant sun, alligators, Geckos and Palmetto bugs—indeed, every sort of crawler! Sea gulls called, crying over parking lots, Tyrone Square Mall, Winn Dixie, 7/11, palms. Salty Gulf breezes blew sand in everything. Transients and friends with names like Jinx and SuSu, natives of sun and storms, children born of heat and hurricanes, wafted cannabis and citrus. In Judy’s yard, grapefruits grew, big as melons, their juice profuse, sticky pink, and she told us in her Lakeland drawl of Spook Hill and vehicles rolling in reverse.

Which is where I find myself, going backyards up an incline, returning to a place and time, defying gravity and reason, somewhere so many decades gone––beaches of honeyed scents, coconut and mango, lotions slathered in lazy half-circles on each other’s back, and the newspaper was free if the sun didn’t shine.


 

WheatleyJoyce

Joyce Wheatley is a librarian in a public library in Upstate New York. She writes brief stories, poems and recollections.

 

Geophagia by Patience Mackarness

Chalky soils are the most delicious, you say, taking a pinch from the earth bank as we pass.

We’ve come along this sunken lane because Mum’s long gone, Dad only just, and it seems like we need to start being sisters again. The lane leads to Sunset Hill, where we always played. Its high banks are thick with primroses, like the times we’d pick them to decorate the church, but here beneath the exposed roots of an oak tree there’s a dry hollow, like a small cave. Having smacked your lips over its fine yellowish soil, you reach up for a handful of dark humus, rich as fruit pudding. Shreds of wet leaf and insect-casings stick to your chin as you munch. You swallow, breathe Yesss!

Dirt must be a superfood; you look more fabulous than ever. My mouth tastes like ashes.

Why can’t you be more like your sister? That was Mum, in the last days when she’d forgotten tact and fairness, her lifelong principle of treating us both equally. Because I can’t fucking compete, I didn’t say. Later, to my therapist, I blurted out all the things you did more and better than me: friendship, parties, sports. Sex, obviously.

She has a joyful spirit, Dad said at your first wedding. She opens her arms wide and embraces life.

That’s not all she opens wide, I didn’t say.

Our parents didn’t know half of what I knew about you. The shoplifting, the vandalism, the magic mushroom omelettes, the high-powered business trips that turned into orgies.

Or perhaps they did.

Even when your marriages failed it was spectacular, crash-and-burn. I try to remember what Dad said about me at my wedding. I think it was something about my cooking.

We’ve reached the top of Sunset Hill, named not for its west-facing aspect but for the pinkness of its soil. You sigh, God, I’ve missed this! You fall to your knees by a scraped-out depression, between clumps of tough grass. It looks as if a dog’s been scrabbling after rabbits, or maybe a badger. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? you ask me.

Oddly, it does.

You wet your forefinger, pick up a line of rosy dirt. Look, you whisper. Just a dusting is all it takes. On the very tip of your tongue. You demonstrate. Your eyes roll in ecstasy. I kneel by you, reach out a fingertip.

You go, Isn’t it amazing?

And it is.


 

2018

Patience Mackarness lives and writes partly in an elderly VW camper van, partly in a cottage in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published or accepted by Lunch Ticket, Dime Show Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Coachella Review, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/