The Relic Face of San Gilberto by Graham Henderson

The cathedral at Morrema had the dead face of San Gilberto. Each pilgrim took a time-stamped card at the entrance to the reliquary and carried it with them to get checked at the end. The cathedral charged pilgrims €2.50 a minute to see a dozen relics — though the most appealing was, of course, San Gilberto’s apple-skin face.

Angeline and I stood beside the case in reverent darkness. Next to us, a man and his young son stared. Into the eye and mouth slits, cut through that face before birth, and so close, now, to closing again, though they never would. The father looked down at his child, leaned over and whispered something. The child nodded and held out his hand. The father handed him two time-stamped cards and a handful of euro coins. The boy ducked back through the wall of warm bodies. Angeline broke off as well, muttered “gross” as she pressed sideways out of the chamber of gazers. I looked back at the father. He stared at the brown flap, hands folded.

The boy waited outside the reliquary, in the huge holy air of the church. He waited alone while his father enjoyed unlimited time with the saintly layer of skin. He sat in a pew, kicking the bench in front of him. Angeline, who hadn’t stopped for me, sat in the row behind, down the smooth wooden seat. I slid over to her. We watched the boy for an hour while saints stared up into the frescoed vaults. Stared up and discretely away.


 

Graham Henderson

 

Graham Henderson is the author of one story collection, Hendrix the Worm and Other Stories, has work published in Right Hand PointingSmartish PaceWater Soup, and elsewhere, and tweets @gw_henderson.

These Arms of Yours by Chloe N. Clark

It was the year our band changed its name, before breaking up for the last time, and it was the same year the lake ripped free of its dam. But this happened before those things and maybe should’ve been the omen of what was to come. The thing about omens, though, is that they don’t seem prophetic until you’re looking back at them, dazed, as you watch whole houses being pulled down the river.

My sister was the one that found the arms. She was on one of her hikes away from town to get some goshdarn peace, for gosh sake, from the tourists that swarmed the Dells in summer like plagues of short-short and baseball cap wearing locusts.

“There’s a house of arms, Cal,” she told me.

I pictured coats of arms painted onto a house, in the same way our neighbor had painted Favre’s jersey on the wall of his house that faced ours—prompting dad to black out our windows on that side while muttering “that man betrayed us.”

“No, like, arms,” my sister exclaimed. She waved her own pair in the air, to emphasize her point.

So I followed her to see them, expecting both a prank or a grisly murder scene in equal proportion because you could never tell with my sister’s imagination—sometimes she downplayed and sometimes she was just dumb.

We walked for probably a couple miles into the woods. The woods were so quiet compared to the buzz of town. Or rather, they were noisy in a different way: the hush-swish of leaves embracing each other in the breeze and the low throb of insect song.

It was a state park and there shouldn’t have been a house in there. There were laws and stuff, I was pretty sure. Plus, I’d walked those woods before—Mom leading us on nature hikes where she’d point out weird fungi and say things like “you know, it’s probably poisonous, but it looks kind of delicious. That’s how I’m going out one day, guys.”

Fact, I was positive I’d been in that exact spot before—probably looking at some psychically-displeasing colored toadstool— and there was never a house.

But now there was. It looked old and immutable, like newspaper headlines from decades ago about now famous stories, like how the Titanic looks doomed even when it hasn’t yet set sail.

It was a cabin of brick and old wood, with cobweb soaked windows. I wanted to get in there with some Windex.

“Look!” my sister said. She pointed and I saw.

Mannequin arms in the windows, white and delicate. A woman’s. They looked more perfect than human and yet they didn’t look like they’d been created by anything other than life. The arms reached up and up.

“What does it mean?” My sister asked.

I shrugged. I took a step closer. The light shining through the trees made them glow.

I’d remember those arms for years, the slightly bent fingers, as if about to grasp something. When the dam broke, when the band fell apart, when every startling thing happened in my life, I would remember them and try to answer the question I’d kept on my tongue then.

What were they reaching for? But the answers I came up with never would fit—would never erase the feeling that had crept over me–as I stepped closer and closer to the window, as the arms moved ever so slightly, beckoning me in or trying to tell me to flee.


 

CClark

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Flash Fiction Online, Gamut, Glass, and more. Her chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is available through Finishing Line Press. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes or at chloenclark.com

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Before the 6:30 by Pete Segall

Before the 6:30 screening Whisby forgot which way he was supposed to rip the tickets. He had never experienced this. He hadn’t experienced it before the 5:45. Did you rip them in half horizontally, leaving the customer with the bottom as a stub or was it supposed to be a long but not severing rip from the top down? Whisby studied the tickets. They were bubblegum pink and said admit one. That was what he did. He admitted. He had been on tickets for nine years. He also logged overnights as security for a very small bible college close to the airport. He carried a heavy flashlight and a walkie-talkie with no one on the other end. All he had for tickets were his hands. He could not remember the process. He started the motions of both rips, hoping muscle memory might kick in and that one way would just feel right. But in either direction it felt wrong. The tiniest insult to the paper felt violent and made no sense. “Hey Frank,” he called to the concessions guy. “Do you know how to rip tickets?” “Never done tickets,” said Frank, “sorry.” Frank was a two-time felon and possibly simple. Whisby looked at the tickets and despaired. Were you even supposed to rip them? Why not just take them whole? Because then the moviegoer has no proof of admittance. He has a right to reentry if he goes to buy a KitKat or steps outside to take a phone call. A person without a stub is no better than a person wandering in off the street who says he was in the movie but had to go out to take a call. The surrounding neighborhood was in decline. Watching movies was probably third or fourth on the list of most popular activities in the theatre. But what stopped someone who really had a ripped ticket from going to take a call and then reselling the ticket at a very slight discount? Maybe the answer was to have people write their names on their tickets. But that just answered the proof of purchase question, not the question of the rip. Tearing them in half on the long edge was more definitive and left the theatre with something to balance against the cash register. The small nubs, though, seemed destined to be lost and then what was the point. The ticket half-ripped on the short edge was retained in its entirety by the moviegoer. Yet in every way – visually, aesthetically, kiniesiologically, actuarially – nothing about that made sense. He stared at the tickets again. He’d never noticed that the trademark belonged to something called Confederated Novelty and that admit one, for no discernable reason, was written in lower case. That did not diminish the importance of admittance or the necessity of his job. It only added mystery. “Christ almighty,” said Thetford, the manager, coming in from the office behind the ticket booth. “What is with this line?” Whisby explained his dilemma as calmly as he could. “Are you fucking addled?” said Thetford. Whisby was disappointed not to get a more sympathetic reaction from Thetford. Thetford had a wife going blind from diabetes and a daughter who stole aerosol products to sniff in the parking lot. It seemed like he was someone who should understand. “Go sweep up auditorium two,” Thetford said. Whisby handed Thetford the tickets. “Frank, come do tickets.” “Never done tickets before,” said Frank. He sounded apprehensive. He was right to. Whisby walked slowly to the supply room, still feeling rattled and unsure. When he got to the supply room he saw Thetford’s daughter on the floor with a can of dust spray. Her face twisted like it was being pulled in different directions by quite a few hands. “You’re doomed,” she said. “Don’t even bother repenting.” She was bright red. Her eyes were black suns that would swallow the earth.


 

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Pete Segall is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a Truman Capote fellow. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, decomP, Forge Lit, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Timber. He has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

The Skywriter by Joe P. Squance

The skywriter fills his tank with gas and points his airplane towards the empty blue sky. The airplane is old—it burps and rattles in the open air—but it is precise and the skywriter’s hands are sure and steady. He pulls a lever. He begins to write in perfect italics.

When I was nine, he starts, my parents bought me a parakeet to keep as a pet. This parakeet lived in a cage, chirping in our living room. I don’t remember now what the parakeet’s name was, or if it ever had one. I don’t remember asking for the parakeet, though surely I must have because why else would it have been there?

I’m telling you this, he writes, because you need to know it. I’m telling you this because it’s important.

The parakeet’s care was my responsibility. It was my job to replace the liners in his cage and keep his little bowls filled with water and seed. When the seed ran out, it was my responsibility to replace it. It wasn’t much responsibility; at nine, I could easily do it.

I never told you this story before because I never wanted to. I only wanted it to dissipate like candle smoke.

The skywriter taps his gauges. The skywriter cracks his neck.

One day, I let the bird out of its cage. I thought it would be fun to have a bird flying around inside of our house. But the bird seemed terrified. It clung to the walls. It was clear that there was nowhere for it to go. It was not easy getting it back into the cage. The bird didn’t trust me. Did I mention that I don’t remember if the bird had a name? We were like strangers to each other.

Are you seeing this?

We ran out of seed and so I crumbled up some crackers and put them in the bird’s little dish. I didn’t feel like going to the store just then, you see. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever made those small concessions to your selfish nature? Just one, and then another? Anyway, the bird didn’t eat the crackers. And anyway, I was only nine years old.

In a couple of days—maybe a week—the bird had starved.

Here’s the thing I want you to know: I only needed someone to tell me that the bird was dying. I only needed one person to say it out loud to make it real. But it was a lesson about responsibility, and so the choice and repercussions were mine.

The cage was removed. I didn’t see it in the garbage—I don’t know where it went. My parents never mentioned it. We didn’t bury the bird; it was as if the bird had never been there at all.

The skywriter thinks a while. He cuts the engine and glides in the silence. Above him are the sun and the dome of the sky; below him is the green of hard ground and his house and the woman who grows flowers. She’s sitting in the place outside where she likes to drink hot water with lemon and a drip of honey. She pinches a leaf of basil and puts her fingers to her nose. She is watching butterflies flit around the blooms on her climber, trying to decide whether or not to look up.

The skywriter chugs the plane back into sputtering life and continues.

What I can’t say now, he writes, is if I am still the boy who needs to hear things said aloud, or that boy now grown who has learned to be the thought itself and to speak it through my body, through my own two hands. Some days I’m the man repeating the mistakes of his parents without being able to see or understand it; other days I’m a man looking through a boy’s eyes, trying to remember, trying to be better, trying to grow as from a cutting.

Other days I think: Look at me. Look at what I’m doing. I find myself aloft in the thin, limitless air trying not to be terrified, trying not to panic, writing names in the sky hoping that someone will look up and read them before the wind blows them all away.

The airplane wheezes with fatigue. The woman who grows flowers holds out one finger for a butterfly to land on and sits quietly, contentedly, perfectly still.


 

IMG_7379
Joe P. Squance is a writer, editor, and teacher. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Fiction Southeast, Cease Cows, Monkeybicycle, Juked, Everyday Fiction, Menacing Hedge, and elsewhere, and he has written essays for Salon, Runner’s World, Organic Life, and Serious Eats. He lives in Oxford, Ohio with his wife and their young daughter.

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My Mother’s Ashes by Elaine Chiew

A cold front is coming in. The columbarium calls to say they’re open Monday to Friday, 9:30-12:30, for collections.  I recognise the urn when I go there; it’s Mother’s Ming Dynasty replica from her one trip to Hang Zhou she thought was such a ‘thrilling bargain.’  The negligently-dressed director sits me down to go over some do’s and don’ts: sports grounds, waterways, and National Trust grounds are popular choices, but “it’s not great for the next person who wants a picnic.”  His tone is jocular, but he’s not remotely funny. One grieving relative blew up ashes in fireworks, another pressed it into vinyl. Just imagine. I could tell him I’m driving to Venice, heading for the canals and I might trigger an anthrax scare, but I don’t. 

 It’s 1647 kilometres and will take approximately 16 hours. Mother’s strapped to the passenger seat, riding shotgun. In Warley, when I tank up, I explain to Mother we’re not flying because I can’t abide the thought of her sitting on my lap for two hours. She hates big bodies of water, anything looming large above her head. The urn wobbles all along the M25 to the Channel Tunnel (double-whammy there) but once across, the lid finally settles. Passing Calais, I see several car accidents, the wreckage looking like hulls, bodies. “Do you remember we’d taken a trip to see the German bunkers?” Where our words were slung as raw wounds—me, how does it feel to have everyone hate you! She, well at least they bother to hate me! But why shatter our fragile détente? Another road trip memory intrudes: detouring through Lyon, she demonstrated the art of the quicksilver word (your simian children) and the wounding minute gesture (the elegant shift of the body away from speaker mid-sentence).  Celestial accusations against one’s forebears can be heard, and the urn shakes from side to side, as we’re buffeted by sleet and wind down the A4.

The rental car stalls somewhere near Reims. A French mechanic shows up, quite dishy in a nondescript fashion: my type, as Mother might sneer. He shakes his head at my babbling, disrespecting my French. I finally work out I’ll have to hole up in a B&B while waiting for a new rental car. Mother always loved the Italians and hated the French. Every year she’d disappear off to Venice, and it’s a mystery what she did there. I imagined her roaming around St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace—gaining auras, bargaining like a cheap shrew for embroidered linen, flirting with the camarieri in the piazza while cursing tourists, family and pigeons. Well, there you go,” I say to the urn, just desserts,” and deposit her on top of a chest of drawers.

A pock and a thwack against my window-pane at night.  A mystery awaits in the dark. Gasping out of deep slumber, I stumble against the chest, trying to turn on the light. The urn falls and shatters.  I cut my foot on pieces of blue-washed Chinese hills and tiered pagodas. Blood smears the carpet but there’s no ash.

Shock. Where did the ash go? Then a sharp pain, tentacling away from my foot. Spreading. My heart shifts, locks. It’s my mother, still jabbering, not letting me go.


 

Elaine
Elaine Chiew is a writer based in London and Singapore.  She’s the editor/compiler of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015), and her most recent stories can be found in Potomac Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Jellyfish Review. She’s also won prizes (most notably the Bridport Prize) and been shortlisted in competitions, including the BBC Opening Lines, Mslexia, Fish, etc, and named Top 50 Microfiction by Wigleaf and Top 25 in Glimmer Train’s Emerging Writer’s Award. She has a law degree and an M.A. in Asian Art History.

Tigers by Kathryn McMahon

Blue, green, and yellow roses bloomed over my grandparents’ sofa. Napping on it, I once saw a sapphire tiger there among the musty blossoms. My grandfather and uncles crawled around, hunting for a paw or tail, only to tell me it had been a dream. I asked where my grandmother was. “Out,” they answered. Tucking me into bed after dinner, my mother told me her parents were getting divorced. “They don’t like each other anyway,” she said, jaw popping. My grandmother went to live with a man who wore mutton chops and served lamb with mint jelly at Easter. (I did not dream that.) Then a woman came to sit among the blue and green and yellow roses. She smiled commercial lips and smelled of a department store flashing jewelry and dizzy lights. The sofa cushions were no match for her perfume, but I still fell asleep in her lap. My grandfather soon left for California with the perfumed woman, but before he did, he sang to me one final time and gave me a tiny gold ring with my emerald birthstone. I begged to wear it on our last walk. Perched on his shoulders, I dipped under the kitchen threshold, and we stepped out into the wide backyard that melted into a park. Somewhere along the way, the ring slipped off. My grandfather and uncles crawled into the night after it, but never found it. Wiping my face in the shy, summer dark, I looked up at the perfumed woman. “The emerald is camouflaged in the grass like a tiger’s stripes,” I said. She knelt down and smoothed my cheeks. “There you go. Now you’ve made a treasure for another little girl.”


 

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Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog.
Her stories have appeared in Syntax and Salt, The Cincinnati Review, The Baltimore Review, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, and others. Recently, she has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart, and she was a finalist in the 2017 Wyvern Lit flash fiction contest. She also reads prose for The Adroit Journal. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com.

Nine Pancakes by Melissa Fu

1. My very educated mother just served us nine pancakes

Well that’s a real slap to the poor woman, isn’t it? What’s the point of all that education if she just ends up serving pancakes to snot-nosed kids?

This is to help you remember how to keep things in their place. This is the order of the planets. This is the order of the family. This is what the women do. This is what the children do. This is how you make the pancakes. From scratch, not from the box.

2. My very educated mother just serves us noodles

What kind of mother only serves noodles? That’s what happens when you let education and women mix. Bet you anything the noodles aren’t even proper pasta. Ramen, probably. Just add MSG and hot water from the tap. Yo mama’s so educated she neglects her kids.

3. My very educated mother just serves underhand

This is what she has learned: It’s better – more efficient, more tactical, less hassle, fewer headaches – to conduct her business on the sly. Like Austen hiding novels under needlework. She uses the low expectations of the well-fed as trip wires. Underhand, she serves balls to catch the Old Guard off guard. She makes them scramble across the court when they thought this thing was going to be doddle.

4. My very educated mother just sighs

when once again, assumptions are being made. Assumptions about who the doctor is, who is speaking on the phone. Sighs when she sees only one female and two brown faces in the lecture theatre when she derives the Schrödinger equation. None of this is new. She started sighing years ago when a boy marched around study hall shouting ‘She’s wrong! She’s wrong!’ to anyone who would listen to him and even to those who wouldn’t. She wasn’t wrong. She just didn’t solve the problem the same way he did.

5. My very educated mother jumped

from discipline to discipline. From continent to continent. To the front of the queue. To the back of the pack. Over the candlestick. Out of the Ivory Tower. Again and again. Why did she keep climbing up that spiral stair case? What was she looking for each time she leapt from those parapets? There she goes again – falling, tumbling, twisting, turning, head over heels over head. What does she see this time? She was not pushed. She jumped.

6. My very educated moth

flies toward the flame. Not such an enlightened act, when you think about it. On the other hand, maybe it’s the only thing to do. There comes a point where there is no other draw, no other lure. The moth cannot undo its education, it can only go forward, into the light. Even if it blinds. Even if it burns.

7. My very existence

I owe to my very educated mother. Each time she hopped orbits, from the pancakes to the flames, she learned something, became educated in a different way. If not for her circumnavigations, I wouldn’t have my owl-like ability to look at life from all angles.

8. My voice

has within it the voices of my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother. Although it comes from just one body, it is layered with the wisdom of generations. When I speak, all these voices ripple outwards, carrying our words into greater spheres of influence.

9. Me

I stand, not on the shoulders of giants, but on this stack of nine pancakes. I can see for miles. If I have seen further than my mother, it is because of her pancakes and the way she served them.


 

21430243_1430595740393902_3471833617508160878_nMelissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and lives in Cambridgeshire UK. Her work has appeared in many publications including Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Gnarled Oak, Loss Lit and The Nottingham Review. She was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based WordFactory. Other honours include a Pushcart Prize nomination and shortlisting for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2017. Find her at Spillingtheink.com or @WritingCircles.