Postcards by Eva M. Schlesinger

Acey’s parents wanted her to get a job. “For Social Security,” her mother said.

“Anti-social insecurity.” Acey smirked.

“And so your employer can pay your health insurance,” her father added brightly, so brightly Acey had to put on her shades. Her new wraparounds. They wrapped around her face and shielded her from her parents.

“Must you?” Acey’s mother sighed. “You have such a pretty face.”

“Must be that age,” Acey’s father said.

Acey blinked, taking a mental picture she titled “Parents Trap Daughter At Kitchen Table.” She imagined the scene on a postcard she showed to passerby. Out loud she announced, “Six-squared.”

“That right, dear. You’re thirty-six now.” Acey’s mother squeezed her hand. Her mother’s hand felt like a soapy sponge. It was a soapy sponge. Acey laid it on the nice, clean, plastic sunflower tablecloth to give it a rest from dishwashing. Even sponges deserved a vacation.

“You’d look more attractive if you flattened down your hair,” Acey’s mother said, drying her hands on an old gold dishtowel. The towel showed maidens in blue frocks milking cows. If you touched a cow in the right place, it mooed.

Acey touched the cow’s stomach.

“Moo,” the cow responded.

“That’s cow for I like my hair,” Acey said.

“Moo,” said the cow.

“Acey,” Mother warned.

“I didn’t do it. That cow has a life of its own.”

“I hope you’re spelling ‘its’ properly,” Acey’s father Sternly said. His name was Sternly, but his colleagues called him Stern. He turned a page of The Daily Dairy Diary, which the cow community published for milk drinkers.

“Its—no apostrophe,” Acey recited. “May I please be excused?”

“Excused?” Acey’s mother glanced up from bed sheet folding. She was a sportive bed sheet folder. She didn’t do it professionally. She didn’t do it commercially. Sometimes she practiced on stationery sheets.

“Thank you.” Acey remembered she was six-squared and could do as she pleased. As she got up, her mind’s eye snapped another shot, “The Excused Need No Excuse.”

“No allowance for you this week.” Stern rustled the newsprint.

“Then I’ll get a job,” Acey said.

“Our daughter’s come to her senses,” her parents chorused, beaming.

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“And this postcard depicts NuRotic at night,” Acey told the crowd. Tourists loved her tours of the postcard racks.

“Could you please speak up? You have a soft-spoken voice,” said a lady in an embroidered neon pink short-sleeved dress and high heels.

“NuRotic at night.” Acey’s shout made the cards rattle in their perch.

“Why, it looks just like Yew-Ott, our Eastern Seaboard gem.” The lady’s eyelashes tickled the photo of a twinkling star alone in the mist. “Isn’t that right next door?”

Acey didn’t respond. Her picturesque hometown postcards enticed those who, stuck in the usual drawbridge traffic, wanted to stretch their legs and gulp in sea salt air, before climbing back in their cars. She didn’t want to reveal that to the woman and lose her clientele. She wanted to present her hometown as an exotic locale.

“My favorite postcard is this one of the beach,” Acey continued. “See how the rocks kiss the sand and surf?”

“How do you know they’re kissing?” A man in a white tea shirt sneered. The shirt was manufactured from tea leaves and smelled like the earth after a good soaking.

There was one in every crowd, Acey noticed. “This over here,” she said, trying to ignore the man. Her shades were a cool reassurance against her cheekbones. Good thing her wraparounds were still around, since he reminded her of Stern, and she needed protection. “This over here,” she repeated, yelling, in case anyone fell prey to her soft-spoken voice. “This rack has the best deal in NuRotic. Twenty cents a card or six for a dollar.”

“Is that Canadian or U.S.?” the man asked. His skateboard click-clicked when he flipped it. “How do you know it’s the best deal? You do a survey?”

“Serious inquiries only,” Acey said. She picked up an orange megaphone. “As a matter of fact, I did do a survey. The drugstore down the street came in close second with twenty-five cents a postcard. American dollars. I am doing research on worldwide postcard currency.”

“Ooh, exciting,” a woman murmured. “Very exciting.” Her aroma lingered, a familiar guest, in Acey’s nose. Her mother’s lavender dish soap. Acey had left her parents behind, only to find them on her tour.

“Any other questions?” Acey was tired of standing on her feet. Granted, life could be worse and she could be standing on her hands.

A woman jumped up and down. “Can we actually see these picture postcard sights?”

No one was satisfied with a mere glimpse into a snapshot, someone else’s idea of how life should be. They wanted it for themselves: more, more, more.

 


 

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Eva M. Schlesinger has received the Literal Latte Food Verse Award and is the author of four poetry chapbooks, including three whose covers she designed. Her flash has appeared in Atlas & Alice, Tattoo Highway, Riggwelter, former cactus, and elsewhere. Eva has twice been a Grand Slam contender on The Moth Stage, where she made the audience of 1,400 laugh nonstop.

Exodus by Barbara Barrow

The first time the county men knock we move east: away from the bedrooms, towards the shabby, sun-fronting den. The dogs follow. The men follow too, on the other side of the walls, their hands moving away the ivy and cupping against the foggy windows. They put an eye and sometimes an ear inside their circled fingers, as if the house were a seashell and we were the churning, restless ocean. The dogs thump and snort, their claws scraping at the murky floorboards. In the east end of the house the ceiling is rotted and blotched. Chunks of it fall down. At night, on our backs, we see the moonlight probing the dry spines of the house, sliding its fingers along the joints.       

Every December the oldest one goes out through the northern door and returns with a Christmas tree. Every April we drag her dead tree through the southern door and leave it on the porch. They make a ghoulish row of pine corpses there, a mortuary of holidays. The county men come again. The dogs bark and snarl. The men rap on the door, stand back at a courteous distance, leave notices. They tape these notices on the front door, next to the dollar bills we have pasted there for good luck.

In the spring of the ninth year the weight of the trees on the porch makes the steps begin to sag and she goes out with a mallet and knocks them down. Now there are five perfect steps that drop off into space, into the yawning gap of the basement. Like a mouth with missing teeth. The county men come and peer down over the rim of the pit, trace its periphery with caution tape, paste more notices on the stairs. The notices flutter bannerlike in the wind. The house is an inverted fortress, with its white flags rustling over the cool dark jaw of the crater. 

In winter we stoke the fire too high. The flames scorch the stones of the fireplace black, send sooty clouds up to the rafters. The rafters waver and split. Chunks of the ceiling fall down. We throw the chunks in the fireplace. Soon there are huge patches of sky where the ceiling used to be. The sun burns its way into the house, casts its tangled nests of light and heat onto the crumbling floorboards. 

We are blazing the house open to the county men. Soon the walls and ceiling are gone, consumed by the fireplace. We are left adrift on an open plateau. Some of us begin to leave, quietly, at night, slinking off the collapsing boards and out onto the land. But she stays. It’s not theirs, she says. Make them fight. She warms herself by throwing the rest of the house into the fire: the splitting doors and the tattered curtains, the broken knobs and faucets that spit and hiss in the flames. The county men wait a polite interval before they surround the fallen house. They circle us with their gun barrels pointing, their boots shaking dirt over the lip of the crater. 

We are building a plank. We lay the long board over the yawning gap of the crater. A plank for us to crawl along, a plank that will surrender us to the county men. But then she breaks away, unnoticed, and crawls into the fireplace that bears the last ashes of our dead house, the fireplace that spikes up like a rampart into nothing. She strikes a match. We turn away from the guns, away from the waiting faces of the county men, away from the whimpering hounds. Just in time to see her hunch in the tinder, her skirt alight, her hair smoking, her flaming skin merging with the bones of the house. Laughing. 


 

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Barbara Barrow is a fiction writer and literary critic who adores all things feminist, fabulist, and surreal. Her debut novel, The Quelling, will be published by Lanternfish Press in Sep. 2018. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron ReviewThe Forge Literary MagazineCease, Cows, and elsewhere. Follow her online at barbarabarrow.com or on Twitter (https://twitter.com/dustyoldbagz). 

Jane, the Ugly by Rose Andersen

Jane was the ugliest woman in the world. This was whispered into her ear the day she was born and never left her body. When she was barely a few months old, her mother entered her in an ugly baby contest and her picture was printed on the back page of some rag, as her father said. He liked to tell this story with a cigar in one hand and a tumbler of scotch in the other, despite the fact that he did not like hard alcohol.

Her mother was enthused by Jane’s ugliness; she made up t-shirts to sell with Jane’s crying toddler face, littered the walls of their small home with hundreds of framed photos of her. She would stand behind Jane while she got ready for school and beam at her daughter’s reflection, “I don’t know where you get it from, Jane, but God was looking out for this family the day you were born.”

It was only a matter of time before Jane went national with her ugliness and by her sweet sixteen, her features were known worldwide. As editor of her high school newspaper, Jane even had to oversee an article written about the dissymmetry of her own face. She perfected a smile not even her mother could love to combat the curious looks she received on a daily basis. It is okay to be lonely, she told herself. She applied to colleges on the other side of the country and prayed she would wake up plain.

The weekend after she moved into her college dorm, Jane got drunk for the first time. Her roommate sat with her while Jane threw up sunset colored daquiri mix and rum. Jane wept into the cool tile and confessed that she was worried she would never be loved for anything more than her ugliness. Her roommate stroked hair and told her everyone was scared of not being loved. When Jane woke up the next morning, her roommate and two suitemates had made her breakfast to combat her hangover and she thought, perhaps she would not be so lonely after all.

When aliens landed during Jane’s college graduation, they were eager to meet her. They begged her to remove her robe and the bright tassels signifying her many academic accomplishments so they could see every inch of her body. Jane politely declined, blushing at the memory of her hands tracing over her skin in the quiet of that morning. A galactic-wide council was formed to evaluate her and they all concurred; Jane was the ugliest woman in the universe. When her mother got the news, she baked Jane a vanilla cake with congratulations written in pink cursive on the icing. Jane hated vanilla cake, but ate it anyway. She knew other people had it much worse than she did.

Jane was well-read, could make paella from scratch, and was a favorite at trivia night. She loved things. Like the word cacophony and baking her own bread. She had many lovers, although she was wary of starfuckers (her mother’s words, not hers) and never settled down. Her friends teased her that if she kept it up, she would leave a wake of broken hearts across the known galaxy. Jane laughed but did not change her ways; ugly still hummed in her blood, her bones sang out with a longing for beauty that she wasn’t even sure she believed in.

She adopted a three-legged cat and dog who had to wear an eye patch. Her house was cozy and warm and she paid a great deal of money to build a wall to keep away photographers and fans. Similar to her mother, she filled the walls of her home with photos, but Jane’s photos were of her friends, her lovers, her cat and poor-sighted dog, the many corners of the universe she was lucky enough to travel. There were no pictures of Jane anywhere in the house and there were no mirrors. But there were books and there was music.

Jane died at seventy-three of a brain aneurysm. She felt nauseous and complained to her cat that she had a headache and then keeled over on her kitchen floor. Her cat did not have time to respond to Jane’s call for aid but viewed it as her last act of love that she did not eat Jane’s face in the 18 hours it took for her body to be found.

The whole universe mourned her. She had an open casket which traveled around the world and into space and people threw flowers and wept and the aliens cried alien tears and touched her face. The galactic council decided that Jane was to be shot straight into the sun; a burial befitting someone of her importance. But the sun could not contain her and Jane returned as shimmering dust and we were all left gleaming and unbearably sad.


RoseA

Rose Andersen received her MFA at CalArts. She is a writer of strange fiction and stranger non-fiction. She writes to the dulcimer snores of her Boston Terrier Charlotte, and completes her stories despite the endless barrage of puns from her partner, Josh. She is currently editing her memoir, The Heart and Other Monsters which was awarded the Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize. She is published in Gone Lawn, Ghost Parachute, Jellyfish Review and forthcoming in Forge Lit Magazine. She can be found on twitter @roseandersen.

Photography is Like Magnetism, a Mystery to Almost Everyone by Adam Lock

It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. Now, the number on the top of the disposable camera reads: twenty five. Michael holds it up to his face and looks through the eyepiece, framing Snowdonia. The camera is weightless in his hands, hardly there at all. He has the thought it’s a toy, made of cardboard and plastic, nothing more. How does film work anyway — does anyone know? Yesterday, he told Andrea how photography is like magnetism, a mystery to almost everyone, and she laughed. He lowers the camera, tries to imagine her laughing; but because of the angle of her head, the stiffness in her shoulders, the adamant positioning of her hands on her knees, it’s impossible.

‘Wait until we reach the top,’ Andrea says, resting against a huge rock below, breathless. ‘Save it for when we reach the top.’

Again, he checks the number inside the plastic window on top of the camera. He recalls boarding the train three days earlier and taking the first photograph. Andrea took two miniature bottles of wine and two plastic wine glasses from her bag. She held the two bottles to her mouth, pretending to drink. He saw through the eyepiece, her cheeks flushed, her teeth glistening through newly applied lipstick, her eyes creased with smiles. There was the hollow plastic click when he took the photograph, followed by the scratching sound as he turned the wheel, ready for photograph two.

He holds the camera to his face and looks through the eyepiece.

‘I said, wait until we reach the top.’

‘Didn’t take one,’ he says, looking up at the path ahead.

She mumbles something about him looking through the eyepiece for no reason.

In a week’s time, Michael will look through the photographs. Photograph sixteen: Andrea on the opposite side of the dining table, black dress, eyes closed tight, head thrown back, mouth open wide revealing pink gums and white teeth. Then he will shuffle this photograph to the back of the pile. Then photograph seventeen: Andrea’s profile as she looks to her left, her face slightly downturned, her brow furrowed, her gaze looking, not at, but through the floor. When he sees this photograph, he’ll remember again what he’d said.

He’s the first to reach the summit and touch the cairn at the top of a set of stone steps. There’s the sensation of winning, of beating Andrea. He shakes his head, listens to his breathing, concentrates on taking in the view because this is what is important. To the west, the view is covered in cloud. But to the east, the sun is still high enough to fire shards of light through grey, revealing shades of green and bronze and silver. There is too much to take in. But this is the point. When he turns on the spot, he sees the horizon in every direction. There was a time he would have been eager to vocalise his thinking for Andrea, to make mental notes about how it made him feel, so he could tell her.

Andrea climbs the steps behind him. Without looking at the view, she stands next to the cairn, leaning against it with her feet crossed at the ankles. ‘Can you?’ she asks, flicking hair away from her shoulders. He takes the camera from his pocket and holds it to his face. He considers the composition, with Andrea on the left, the cairn in the middle, Wales on the right. He waits for the clouds to move, for the light to increase. And there it is, the final photograph. He pretends to press the button.

‘You take it?’ she asks, climbing down the steps.

He turns away, pretending to see to the camera.

‘Let’s go. It’s freezing up here.’ She makes hard work of the steps and walks into the visitors’ centre to catch the train for the descent.

Turning back to the view, he scans the horizon, looking for the right shot. In a week’s time, after he’s recalled what he’d said between photographs sixteen and seventeen, he will reach the last photograph. Looking at this photograph, he will recall how he’d waited for the light to change, how he’d tested countless views through the viewfinder, and how his finger trembled when he pressed the button.

He reaches the bottom of the steps and sees Andrea looking through the window of the visitors’ centre. She’d watched him take the last photograph. He looks down at the camera, turning it in his hands, then back to Andrea. Photography has something to do with a chemical reaction, something to do with photons hitting film. Maybe memories worked in the same way.
It happened between photographs sixteen and seventeen. He was looking at the menu, and said, ‘I’m not sure, Abby.’ He waited, the air cooler, the restaurant receding about him. Andrea had always been, ‘Andy.’

‘Abby?’ she said, closing her menu, placing it on the table beneath a slow-moving hand.
He waited, his eyes scanning the menu without reading a word. ‘Andy,’ he said. ‘I’m not sure what I want.’

‘You called me, Abby.’ She glanced at the couples on the tables either side of them.
Andrea has the same hurt expression now as she had in the restaurant. He imagines her expression as photons etching themselves onto his memory like a photograph.

On the other side of the glass, and in its reflection, he sees both Andrea and himself raise a hand to say goodbye. They’d given it a go at least. He takes one final look at the view from the top of Snowdon, before setting off down the mountain alone.


 

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Adam was recently placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017 and was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had stories appear in various publications such as Fictive Dream, Spelk, STORGY, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Ellipsis Zine, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Website: adamlock.net. Twitter: @dazedcharacter.

 

Standardized Outcomes by Anne Hensley

In the half bath Joni is watching Sofia applying lipstick, jam colored, butter smooth and brand new, applying with ginger fingers to not crush the fresh angled plane of the stick. Joni’s on the toilet, skirt hiked, back of crossed legs pressed into yellow carpeted toilet lid cover. She’s wiping under her thighs in hopes that red stippling doesn’t bloom. The fan circulates nothing, buzzes under the light, a fly crypt that casts a sallow haze over the narrow room.

“Oh my god, how much was it?”

“Eighteen.”

“Oh my god.”

“I know, right? My mom’s buying me whatever I want right now. Like, anything. You can try it but it’s really not your color.”

“I’m good.” Joni’s phone pings, a video of disembodied hands holding chopsticks feeding vegan sushi to a capybara on a turquoise sofa. For days her dad has sent her every cute animal video he can find. Ping: hamster picnic. Ping: husky puppies howling while a girl plays the flute. Ping: yawning hedgehog.

<>

At the end of the parking lot surrounding Sofia’s apartment complex they slip into a path torn through a wall of honeysuckle. Down the pitch they skirt the edge of the bog preserve, stick to the wide, crushed limestone trail. It is the fullest, greenest time. Reeds and moss tremble and the peepers trill. Joni has 911 dialed and her thumb ready to send. Sofia holds her keyring in her closed fist with her sharpest key sticking out from between her pointer and middle fingers. Sofia topples off a sandal as the limestone shifts beneath her.

“That’s why I wear Chucks. Just take them off.”

“I just had a pedi. I am not walking barefoot on this.”

They reach the edge, the short but steep incline. Joni plants herself at the top and leans down to pull Sof up. They grasp forearms, Joni’s ash and Sof’s olive. Joni overperforms, more hoist than needed, and Sof falls into her. They topple uphill, legs entwined.

“Oh my god. Sorry.”

“Oh my god. Hilarious.”

“I’m, like, the clumsiest. I’m like a baby. Holy shit. What a dork.”

They laugh together, reclined on the peat, wipe their eyes and fix one another’s make up. Sofia reapplies lipstick. The dusk is honey.

<>

Cresting the grade, they emerge in a lot behind an oil change place. They snake between cars, the metal and asphalt release the day’s heat. They dash across to the turn lane and wait for traffic to clear. The current from passing cars lifts their hair, cools their damp legs and napes. A beige minivan with GO GREEN CLASS OF ‘18 painted on the tinted windows passes, the last vehicle in sight, and they skip toward the berm. The marquis at roadside heralds GREEN SPIRIT FOREVER and is flanked by yards of browning flower sprays, lethargic Mylar balloons, laminated letters, and art.

Under the pierce of the tended ends — perennial ryegrass daggers in gooseflesh triceps — the turf is full and wet on their backs.

“Your boobs look hot.” Joni is talking loudly enough to be heard over the marching band playing “What’s Going On” but is trying not to be seen turning her head or moving her lips.

“Demi balconette. I made my brother wait 45 minutes while I tried a bunch on. I had to lie on the floor of the fitting room to see how they’d look lying down. You know, just in case this goes viral.”

Joni doesn’t anticipate a rest at the key change and is caught in a cackle. Señora Thompson, the Spanish teacher who had to eat half of a peach flavored cannabis gummy (bought for her by her nanny who has a med card) in order to leave the house shushes them for too long, listening to her own breath as it escapes her. “Sshhhh. Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Joni and Sof scoff at her, heads turned slightly toward one another, mouth what the fuck.
Brooke Seits tells them to shut up. She’s wearing bracelets from wrist to elbow, a gilded snake around her bicep, a plain white tank top, and fatigue pants. She has been quoted in almost every piece about the school, a senior who quite suddenly had fertile college application essay material and took full advantage.

Eduard is looking up the skirt of the girl lying behind him, that cute, tiny freshman who looks tough enough to eat you. Jack Bostov’s sister. Joni. He’s looking both because she is there and available and because he is hoping to give himself something to fixate on to remove the image of Jordan’s body dead and bleeding on the floor of the chemistry lab. Jordan’s body spent most nights at Eddie’s in the summer before junior year. Jordan’s hands always beat Eddie’s at Mario Kart. Jordan’s mouth sucked down countless cans of beer supplied to them by Eddie’s brother Dominic. Jordan’s feet had the freshest, whitest sneaks in school. Jordan’s face told the whole junior class at the drunk driving assembly that alcoholism had ruined his relationship with his best friend when his best friend’s mom tried to “get with” him during the previous summer. Jordan’s brain knew everyone in school would make an immediate connection to Eddie.

“Oh my god, J, he’s totally looking up your skirt.”

Sofia kicks Eduard’s face, sandal to cheekbone. Fire rushes his skull and he doesn’t feel himself say, “do it again,” but he says it.

“Fucking perv. Freak.” Joni crosses her ankles.

The band quiets and lies down still in formation, joining the demonstrators. Brooke stands, approaches a preset microphone, says “The worst thing about this is that because we weren’t shot, everyone thinks we’re OK.”

Brooke’s words ring. She does not immediately continue. From the stands a young male voice breaks, “Go Vikings!”

The crowd in the bleachers is silent but the field lights moan. (Ping: kitten sleeping on mastiff. Ping: jumping baby goats in flannel pajamas.) Joni sees the bugs above her flooding the glare, gnats and mosquitoes spasming, no apparent intention.

 


Anne H

Anne Hensley (left) is a writer, musician, and co-founder of Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), a literacy nonprofit that celebrates and amplifies youth voice by forging avenues for collaboration, creativity, and joy. Anne’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her family of humans and dogs. Find her online at https://weirderwonderland.com/.

Terrarium by Robert Kaye

I wake up wrapped in snakes and think, oh, man, not this again.

It’s that feeling of being bound up in scaly bandages. Some squirm against my body, others wrap around limbs— those are the constrictors, I suppose. Even my head is covered. It’s a helmet of cold meat. The smell of anxiety.

The question is, why snakes? It’s not like I have a phobia. I’m not freaked out, but I am definitely getting there. “What the hell is this?” I say.

“Psychosexual dysphoria,” says a copperhead with a red face. “From challenging issues in your daily life.”

He strikes me as pedantic. “You mean like being covered in snakes?” I say.

“Freud said snakes are penises,” hisses another.

“Freud says everything is penises,” hisses some variety of rat snake.

“You’re a corn snake for god’s sake.”

They all pretty much hiss when they speak. Bone dry. Like falling rice.

“This isn’t a dream,” I say. “This is real.” I’m wide awake, shivering, since snakes are cold blooded and that many of them leeches the heat right out of a human body. They’re the opposite of cuddly.

“He has a point,” says the copperhead, who seems to be in charge.

“How’d you guys get in, anyway?” I say. I’d spent a lot of time stopping up holes in my house chewed by rats or something. Holes I wouldn’t have known about if not for the snakes, so I guess that’s a positive. Obviously, I didn’t fix them all. There are vipers and cobras and even a black mambo.

A green tree python is wrapped around my neck. If they wanted me dead, I’d be dead. I worry more about the holes than the snakes, because I don’t like rats. Or spiders.

“This might be about your father,” says a garter snake, a striped S-curve on my chest. His chin is up. He looks hopeful.

“Again, not a dream,” I say.

“Point taken,” says an eastern coral snake, whose venom could have killed me in minutes. “Maybe you’re like Harry Potter. Talks to snakes, connected to evil, that sort of thing?”

“I’m not a character in a YA series,” I say. “I’ve got a job I have to get to. I’ve got a girlfriend. What if she spends the night and you guys show up? She hates snakes.” I haven’t told Simone about the snakes. Sometimes she wants to stay the night and I have to claim there’s a gas leak. I leave the stove on just a little before she comes over to make sure she smells it.

“One of these days you’re going to blow yourself up,” said an elephant trunk snake.

“Or asphyxiate,” says an asp. “Like Sylvia Plath.”

“Never gonna happen,” says a king snake. “Simone is gonna dump his ass any minute. What kind of fool lives with a gas leak?”

“How about you let me worry about that,” I say. “I have to pee.”

They unmummify me, slithering toward the holes, which I can’t see in the dark. You can’t turn the lights on when you’re covered in snakes. It’s best to lie still until they leave.

“Maybe it’s about creative life force,” says a ball python on the way out.

“Shed your skin and move on, man. Haven’t you ever seen that symbol with the snake swallowing its own tail?”

“Penises again,” says the loudmouth corn snake.

“Bullshit,” said the bull snake. “An ouroboros signifies infinity.”

Or doing the same thing over and over. I happen to know from working at Petco that if a snake is stressed enough it will try to eat itself, tail first. It isn’t pretty. I think it best not to mention this. I don’t want to prolong the conversation.

“We’ll see you again soon,” says the copperhead. “Probably Thursday. Right guys?”

A rattlesnake shakes his or her tail, but none of the others answer.

There’s no chit-chat as they disperse. Scales whip across carpet and scrape through holes.

When I’m sure they’re gone, I reach for my glasses. My phone, shows it’s 3:45 in the morning. No way am I going back to sleep. After this, I have to go to a job devoid of meaning, call a girlfriend who I know is going to dump me, maybe turn the gas on.

This again.

 


RPKaye
Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in Potomac Review, Hobart, Juked, the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Beecher’s, and elsewhere, with details at www.RobertPKaye.com. He facilitates the Works in Progress open mic at Hugo House in Seattle and co-founded the Seattle Fiction Federation reading series.

Everyone Fails by Siân Griffiths

Everyone fails the first time. It’s what Tucker told you, morning after morning, as you and he sipped coffee from the same old mugs, preparing for another day of training. A flight pattern would be a little crooked, or your x-ray vision wouldn’t permeate that particular thickness of steel, or the simulated baby rescued from the fire would have a have a slight cough. If being a hero were easy, he’d say, everyone would do it.

Packing the mug was dumb. It was fragile, breakable. It wasn’t a stowed bag kind of thing. But you told yourself you couldn’t be your best on Styrofoam coffee. You told yourself that it’d done its time, and it was already chipped anyway, and you didn’t care if it smashed. You told yourself a lot of things.

The truth is, you never intended to fail. Your training group spent the summer clearing pines, tossing them into the back of the rig with a flick of your fingers. You and Tucker raced farm kids in their souped-up trucks, letting them eat your dust on those hot gravel roads. With the strong track records of Gotham and Metropolis, no one looked to Idaho for heroes, but you were determined to show them why they should. Tucker suggested you rethink that, adopt a fake city, sharpen your look. You insisted, hometown was your brand.

Tucker had already tried out twice and refused to believe that the third time held any kind of charm. Sure, he could go freelance, but then you were reliant on tips for daring dos. Go through the show, and you were in the union making union wages. You’d watched each of Tucker’s seasons umpteen times, recorded off NBC, trying to understand why they hadn’t taken him. Lean as he was, he faded perfectly into his alter ego look. Glasses on, and he was a nerd, a wimp, a background guy no one noticed slipping into the phone booth. He was someone out of Queer Eye or the Jeopardy contestant everyone forgot the instant he’d won his hundred thousand. Loosen the tie, though, and he was a lean, mean, ass-kicking machine. The panel of heroes had to have seen that.

You wonder now, as you sip and sip, if he was too alter ego, too middle America. No one wants a hero who’s relatable, Tucker said. In hind sight, you could have ordered custom tights, had your hair done at a salon, consulted with a graphic designer on a logo, or Christ, even had your artsy sister mock something up, but honestly, this was supposed to be about skill. You chose to wear that summer’s faded yoga pants and over-sized cotton tee, pit-stained and rank, under a worn flannel.

You don’t know if you are more aggravated at your lack of vision (super-powered in every sense but the figurative) or at theirs. You saw it in the women’s looks from the moment you entered: disgust. The men (super-, bat-, aqua-, spider-) were merely bemused. The women, though? Their faces said it all. They’d worked too hard to get any kind of respect, and here you were, a mockery. It didn’t matter that you’d aced every test they threw your way. You would be judged by the same standards they’d had to pass. Diana Prince asked your cup size. Natalia Romanova ran a tape around your hips and frowned at the number under her thumb.

Who exactly do you think you are? Did she speak the words, or was it her thoughts you heard? Sometimes, it is hard to know, particularly with that kind of proximity. You thought you’d be Cougra or the Mountain Lioness, something lithe, something inspired by the big cats that slunk from the woods blending with the tawny color of ripened wheat. You were to be the one they never saw coming. Now, you have no idea who you are.

You think of Tucker and his endless reps, bench-pressing semi trucks, flexing afterward, hoping this time the muscles would bulge enough to tear his shirt. You reminded him about scrawny Peter Parker. Tucker said he was the exception that proved the rule. You shot back with Dare Devil, the old rules were shifting, the old prejudices were breaking down. Tucker: Keep telling yourself that.

“We’ll let you know your results in six to eight weeks,” Bruce said, but his eyes and the camera were already on the next candidate. The next candidate’s legs.

So here you sit, back in the humming hotel room with the old coffee mug you’d packed for luck because sometimes all the superpowers in the world are not enough, though, as it turns out, neither are lucky mugs. Your mother bought it as a gift when you were five, filled it with cinnamon Jelly Bellies. A little sweet, a little spicy: your favorite. You cradle it, hot in your hands, plain and white except for your initial, a single S in large block font, like might appear on a football uniform (a man’s sport, but it never felt off limits before). The ceramic is chipped on the lip, exposed and unglazed where it touches you. Objects, you tell yourself, have the right to expose their vulnerabilities, just as people do, and if those vulnerabilities cause inconvenience or discomfort, whose right was it to label the thing flawed?

If you get the job, if they’ll only give you a chance, you’ll emblazon the old mug’s S on your chest, pair it with ring-striped sleeves, lycra knee pants, and sneakers because you never could bear running in boots. So much about heroism needed a rethink.

You glance at your phone, not quite ready to text Tucker back, though you’ve watched it lighting to life every few minutes for the past few hours.

Six to eight weeks, you tell yourself, as if they haven’t already given their answer, as if there’s enough time for the world to change.

 


 

Associate Bad Ass

 

Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she directs the graduate program in English at Weber State University. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Cincinnati Review, American Short Fiction (online), Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, and The Rumpus, among other publications. Her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press), was a semi-finalist for the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Currently, she reads fiction as part of the editorial team at Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit sbgriffiths.com.