Here I Relate Her Short Marriage to an Artist in Ten Chapters by Vikram Masson

I
In the video, they look so serene circling the wood-fired flame: sparks skitter like fireflies; two brahmins drone mantras in Sanskrit; mothers and aunties look on. She wore diamond earrings shaped like jasmine buds. He painted a pointillist mural of pink flamingos and displayed it in the reception hall. “Blessings to the couple, blessings, blessings!” her tipsy father said, hoisting up a silver flute of Veuve Clicquot. He died of a stroke a few weeks later.

II
Early on, you knew something was amiss — dishes went undone almost every night and gifts from the wedding: a Le Creuset pan, gargoyle salt and pepper shakers, Waterford Crystal bowls, sat unopened on high, shadowed shelves.

III
He paints all day, mixing aquamarine, a touch of burnt umber and titanium white for his cotton clouds, and a ceaseless array of cloud paintings clutter up the apartment walls. At night, while she worked, he drinks rare tequila with lime and discusses fourth wave feminism with women on Twitter. She grew impatient one day and swiped the debit card from his wallet. Soon the wedding diamonds disappeared.

IV
Her grandmother had peered out from thick-lensed rhinestone glasses and said, “Don’t marry a dreamer.”

V
“You don’t respect him,” is what her doctor said when she asked, “How can I bring back the fire?” It was worse than all that. Secretly she wonders why she loathes so handsome a man’s odor, why she longs to sleep in a separate room.

VI
She strikes a match against her husband’s glass and sand head, igniting the white phosphorus, burning the sulfur, until he turns into a specter of crackling flame that diminishes in an instant to a smoky stump.

VII
She doesn’t actually do that, but dreams about that and is happy.

VII
It was the new man’s glance and his long, delicate fingers. How quickly, she thought: his fingers skating along the hot runnels made by her bra straps, the enchanting whiff of expensive cologne. This is the first time she’s spent a night away from the apartment; she insists on staying on top.

IX
How pathetic, she thought, seeing her husband next morning — his arms flecked with dragon’s blood and a rare Indian yellow (a paint made from the urine of cows fed mango leaves). He’s staring at the dull morning sun; he’s weeping.

X
They part uneventfully. Dust, paint rags, unopened coupon packs, empty bottles, and a single ladder left near where the unopened gifts were, on the high, shadowed shelves.


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Vikram Masson writes at the intersection of faith, identity and culture. His poems have been featured or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Glass, Juked, Prometheus Dreaming, Rust + Moth, and Without a Doubt: poems illuminating faith (NYQ Books).

Nitrogen Narcosis by Zoe Raine

We pull the rusting boat out of the weeds. It takes us an hour of searching the dark to find what we had abandoned years ago. I don’t remember who gave us the boat, or if we bought it, do you? Earlier, we laid on our sides, facing away from each other, wondering if the other was awake.

Do you wanna go fishing? You asked.

That sounds nice, I said.

I thought you meant “sometime,” the place we put things that we’ll never get around to— but then I felt you get out of bed.

Spiders crawl over our hands while we drag the cold metal toward the lapping waves. It doesn’t look like it will stay afloat, but I focus on the sound of sifting sand. My nightgown dips into the lake, and I like how it clings to my legs as I steady myself in the canoe. You give us the last push before jumping in. We have no paddle. We have no fishing poles, either. The clouds are covering all the stars, and I can’t seem to find the moon. After settling into the metal and rocking with the waves, I can feel that you’re looking at me, and I wonder if you’re also nostalgic about when we loved each other every day.

We almost don’t notice the leak in the boat, the water rushing in from the sides. Submerged up to our waists, we smile, and then we laugh. Hard. Even with headlamps blinding each other, we find the other’s eyes through blurred vision and burning cheeks, and we don’t look down at the water creeping to our ribs. The cold shows our breath between us, fogging the beams of light. Our headlamps don’t go out once we’re under water, and I watch the shapes of light and darkness dance in flecks around us. Your muffled voice melts into a kaleidoscope dream. Our lungs fill with the lake, and we make bubbles— laughing out the last of our air.


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Zoe Raine is an MFA candidate at Western Washington University (recently trading Michigan snow for Washington rain). She found her love of literary magazines through interning at Passages North and is now a fiction editor for Bellingham Review and reader for Fractured Lit. Her work is featured (or forthcoming) in The Hunger, Maudlin House, and A Velvet Giant. (Photo credit: Elation Studio)

Smoothing the Cranial Curve of a Ghostskull

Can’t shift this sticky Hoosier summer. No walks off the front porch anymore. My hair won’t behave and it floats like a cloud. My hangnails are drying up and my armpits are wet and the sky is a chalkboard of plane exhaust streaks. Ants nip at my dirty feet and crawl up my dirty jeans and the wind tickles the base-fuzz of my spine. I shaved my toes and still stepped on bees. The house chimes an idle litany. My dead dog’s dishes are asleep in the backyard. I scrambled barefoot over the prickle-grass, trying to find some remnant of her dried shit, but I missed the spring and the softening and now the bluebells by the stoop have turned beige. The basketball on the driveway bakes inside its mud shell. The cars hum down Carlisle. The monarch butterfly I’ve been trying to catch since first grade jitters in the peripheral. I don’t turn to face it. The wind dies. A fly pisses on my arm. A branch cracks by the road. A squirrel sneezes at me and I bark back. He scurries into the tree crown as my hair haloes.


kristinelangleymahler_headshotKristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Author of Curing Season: Artifacts (WVU Press, 2022) and recipient of a 2021 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council, Kristine’s work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2021 and 2019 and is published in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Brevity, and Speculative Nonfiction, among others. She is the director of Split/Lip Press. Find more about her projects at kristinelangleymahler.com or @suburbanprairie.

Epitaph by Kelsi Lindus

We made art. We wept. For no reason. There were tidal patterns in our souls that we could not understand. We had souls, we suspected. We knew very little. We saw colors and we named them. We burned things, yes. We burned everything. We took it all and we used it and we did not feel bad. We turned off the television. We cupped small lifeforms in our hands. It grew warmer. We looked for mushrooms in the dirt. We hosted dinner parties. We drank til we were sad. We never learned. We learned to forgive ourselves and continue. We held the door for a stranger. We were all just babies once. We were all so anxious. We invented occasions to feel warm and generous and sorry. We let the stains set. We put off the important things. We made love. We said love but didn’t mean it. We meant to say it more. We regretted everything and nothing. We were hard, then so soft we couldn’t bear it. We made dramas of our suffering. We could not get out of bed. We humiliated each other. We used our hurt in hurtful ways. We embraced. When it rained, words came to us, and we sat alone and wrote them down. We sang, and the singing broke our hearts, made us kind again, made us better listeners. We were terrible listeners. We were terribly selfish. We built cathedrals and would not let each other in. We were boring. We grew bored. But sometimes we stopped as a bird swooped, plunged its body through the water, reemerged, soared away. We knew to watch. We knew it to be beautiful. We knew.


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Kelsi Lindus is a writer and documentary filmmaker living in the Puget Sound. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from AutofocusX-R-A-Y Literary MagazineCloves Literary, and elsewhere. She can be found online at @kelsijayne or kelsilindus.com.

When Home is Not an Option by Naz Knudsen

Burning coals glow red atop the golden plate. The friendly café owner props the Hookah next to us by the planters of mauve and red lilies. My mom nods her thank you. I whisper mine. You say, “Merci,” and with it, watch my parents beam in your sweet attempt to speak Farsi. Our Turkish host chimes in, “Teşekkür.”

We flew across the ocean and over the seas, you and I, to meet my parents somewhere in between. I wanted you to experience a place akin to where I grew up—a city cloaked in honking horns and exhaust smoke, where drivers color outside the lines, and dark brown eyes are framed with deep wrinkles of smiles.

Winding the cobblestone paths to the Galata Tower, we wander in and out of shops tucked into ancient walls. We practice our negotiation tactics with the amiable shopkeepers; we resist buying a large rug with hues that mimic the mood of the Blue Mosque watching over the Old City and its red-tiled rooftops. In the bazaar, you linger near the fragrant heaps of herbs and spice. I am drawn to the kaleidoscope of shawls and scarves. My fingertips run along the gleaming threads of silk. On a shelf next to the amber bracelets and opal rings, an orange tabby is soundly asleep. Ceiling fans lift the heat from our cheeks, the delicate fabrics dance. Blue and gold, sage and silver shimmer with the slightest breeze.

We find our way to the water. Near the bridges across the Bosporus, we settle in at a café hidden in a narrow alley, where old Maple trees shelter the travelers and the local passersby. Between the Black and Marmara Seas, Europe, and Asia, the four of us gather. We smoke Hookah, drink from thin-waisted teacups, and savor little Turkish Delights. My mom cuts into the flaky layers of Baklava, and I long for that hint of bitterness that almond paste leaves behind. “Iranian Baklava is different…it’s concentrated and intense, better , I think,” I say. You disagree, but I can trace a faint smile in the depth of your blue eyes. My dad laughs, and you roll the dice. The rug-covered cushions feel intimate, rough, just right against my bare legs.
Bubbles form in the base, loud at first, but soon they fade into the clinking of teacups. The sound of the checkers hitting the edges of the wood brings back memories long forgotten: the times my grandfather used to challenge my dad to a game of backgammon with a bit of bantering on the side.

Hagia Sophia, with all its charm, awaits us somewhere beyond this street. I sip on the hot tea with a perfect note of cardamom and think, perhaps tomorrow. Today, I want to be in-between.


NazbKnudsen

Naz Knudsen is an Iranian American writer and filmmaker. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Mayday Magazine, and she has a flash piece forthcoming in an anthology by Alternating Current Press. Previously, her translations have been published in Farsi. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches storytelling and film editing. You can find her on Twitter, @nazbk.

Exhausted by Brenden Layte

It spits and heaves from the bus downtown. You’ll notice men looking at your mother strangely and feel scared, so you’ll focus on the Velcro on your scuffed-up dinosaur shoes. When you go by Rural Cemetery, there will be a three-decker that your great grandmother lives in. You’ll announce the importance of this location to everyone on the bus. In another couple years you’ll find out that she walked the same route the bus takes before school every morning to deliver her family’s daily piece work when she wasn’t much older than you.

It fills the street behind you from an ancient panel truck, somehow still in one piece. The seats and frame will creak and bounce while you’re delivering nuts to the city’s dive bars with your father. He’ll get dirty wads of cash and you’ll get a few bags of pistachios, maybe even some red ones. In one bar, there will be an old-timer, a friend of your grandfather’s—the one who killed one of his kids and brutalized the others. You’ll sit at the bar and stare at pickled eggs floating through vinegar that hasn’t been clear during your lifetime while your dad jokes about how he could take his dad now that they’re both older and the old man at the bar will just laugh and shake his head. You’ll wonder why anyone would care about this but one day you’ll understand.

It fills your lungs because somebody thought it was a good idea to put an enclosed train platform next to the opening of an expressway tunnel. You’ll wait here bloodied to get the last train home from punk shows when you’re 15. Or you’ll be 19, fiddling with a discman, sad about a girl, reading a book that you don’t like all that much but has the right affectation, and you’ll already be nostalgic more often than you should be. You’ll be waiting to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or maybe even Easter if it’s before your grandmother is too frail to pick up a ham or cut through a turnip.

It sputters from tuk-tuks outside an after-hours club. It’ll be five or six in the morning, and you’ll have been at this for days now. You’ll think that you’re probably ready to go home, but you might just end up in a flophouse downtown again. You’ll be looking around too much because a man that was wearing an all-white suit kept grabbing your friend and she kept telling him to fuck off, and you were high so you threw a drink at him and fucked up his white clothes which caused a scene and so you swiped through the converging bodies to get a few hits in. So now you’ll be outside coming down and nervously fidgeting with a cigarette you won’t be sure about lighting and drivers will descend on you with promises to take you to places where you can keep whatever this is, because it’s clearly not a party anymore, going.

It hovers low like fog, casting a gray-brown filter over everything, even the waves lapping at the posts barely holding the dock above the water. You’ll walk past the boats to the end and wonder what it would feel like if the pylons broke and the dock just floated out into the ocean with you on it, untethered and sinking. You’ll have woken up in a broken-down old bathroom stall, your clothes wet with something that hopefully came from you and coarse with sand. You’ll have stumbled out, bought a beer, and sipped at it while taking in the first light of day under a banana tree. Then you’ll have stripped off your clothes until you stood naked and alone on the beach, walking into cerulean surf set ablaze.


Layte_photoBrenden Layte (he/him) is an editor of educational materials, a linguist, and a writer. His work has previously appeared in places like Entropy, Ellipsis Zine, Pithead Chapel, and the Forge Literary Magazine. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with his girlfriend and a cat that was described as “terrifying” the last time he went to the vet. He tweets at @b_layted.

wandluv.com by Aimee Parkison & Meg Pokrass

Rhiannon says she’ll find us a good deli open for breakfast, but she’s not saying when. Abracadabra, I call her privately, plunking a bagel emoticon between us. Long blue hair, ruby lips, crackery smile.

“Hiya,” she says, and my phone rings like a bell through the night. “What did you say your given name is, anyway? I’m not interested in your avatar name.”

“David… Dave.”

“David, I like it,” she says. “A trustworthy. Old-fashioned. Name.”

“What’s yours?” I say.

“Rhiannon, of course. I don’t do avatars, David.”

There are things I don’t do, too. For example, I don’t say that I’m wearing a weighted shirt, excited to know what dating a real witch is like. What been taken by the wind feels like. But I’m sure that finding the right witch can only bring me luck.

***

Tonight, my night terrors transform a wall of dark bedroom into a computer screen displaying code for wandluv.com

Lilith, the old hag, the crone, and Rhiannon flicker as wandluv.com opens onto screens with multiple matches in parallel universes. So many Davids and Daves are looking for Rhiannon.

Are she and I lovers from a past life destined to keep returning to each other?

Braided in bats, streaked with moonlit, the night sky of her long blue hair tickles my face until I hear a song-shadow avatar whisper my name. I wake again at night in the dark room to the old hag staring down at me with loving eyes. Who is she? Is she really her? I see the crone Lilith, sitting on my chest, holding me down, whispering, Rhiannon.

***

“Sorry I disappeared, just very busy. Sometimes I’m here, other times I’m not, David my friend.”

“Is that like phantom limb?” I ask. “Like having feelings in your feet when your feet are missing?”

“A bit like that,” she inserts a wide-eyed emoticon. “I’m a bit like a missing foot myself, I guess. And hey, here’s a question for you. Do you know how my Wigtown ancestors were murdered, David?”

“Nope,” I say. I’m standing at the window, watching the starless sky.

“I’ll weave it for you someday,” she texts, inserting a winky eyed face.

I lay there and listen for sounds in the universe, for texts from more cute witches. So far, no dates. Abracadabra wants me to hang around? I google “Wigtown witches”.

But it’s too late. She’s gone. Will you ever win? I think.

***

In emailed photographs, her spinal tattoo is the Tree of Life.

The trunk branches between ribs.

Birds rest in branches.

Inky birds hide in the night sky of her hair.

Tattoo birds break free of her skin.

Skin flies from bones.

Blood rains as bones become tree.

***

I’ve attempted to console myself with HeavenlyWitch.com, a randy new witchsexchat app. The world is frothing with sexy, desperate witches. Needy, disgusting, untraceable. And not a one like Rhiannon.

But then suddenly she’s back!

“Long time, no see, Davey-o,” she says, poking a sad-faced smiley into my saddened bachelor’s life.

This time, she admits she doesn’t quite understand my profile photo.

“Why is your smile triangular, David?” she asks.

“Anyway. If we meet for breakfast, David,” she says, “I’d like some basic protections.”

“Open-air delis are good,” I say.

I describe for her how I prefer my breakfasts, make myself relatable. “I’m a bit too keen on the bad stuff. For example, salt, and pork fat,” I say. I insert a smiley moon emoticon, a fat-faced friendly one. “I probably need myself a healthy witch to reform me,” I write. “Can you please just promise me a bit of your heaven?”

“I like to see a man enjoy himself,” she says, which I believe means yes.

***

Her web of illusions spiders inside me.

She shuffles tarot cards, the sun and moon kissing her palms. The chariot and star brush fingers.

I want to kiss her ruby lips and slip my tongue into her smile.  Instead, I ask what it’s like to burn at the stake as villagers stare in longing while the executioner shows the flame, holding the torch high so everyone can see your face. The fire touches straw stacked beneath you.  Your hair smokes. You feel heat rising to your toes and smell the scent of your flesh searing as the crowd cheers, Rhiannon.

“I’m burning,” I whisper as Rhiannon rises from ashes like a star exploding light.

“Burning?” she whispers.

After that much pain, terror is bliss.

“Sorry, Dave,” she whispers. “I have to ghost you, again.”

“Anything you want, anything at all.”

Back to wandluv.com. Avatars flicker in blue light. She kisses the devil and romances the hanged man before climbing the tower to make death her lover. With spells whispered like names of strangers from another land, witches enter cloud castles before spinning the wheel of time.

***

One night, right out of my turned-off phone, she sends me a few naked selfies.  The older the woman, the stronger the magic.  The naked crone ages in reverse, becoming a young woman twirling on a stage.  Swirling her body inside a black-lace shawl of dark diamonds, she becomes the night.

In my dream, I’m seeing the murders from the sky. I can’t help looking down at the Solway Firth, can’t help crying like rain. Watching the scalps of the staked witches, some old, some young. Hearing every one of their screams as the tide creeps in, each of them dangling at the lip of the Irish sea. One of them is Rhiannon. I rescue her right before the water laps over those beautiful blue lips. I unwind her easily, fly her home to my cat. Brew her up some valerian root tea to calm her down before telling her all about my unusual, very human magic. I can’t save you witches, I say. You live in the world of my imagination, like missing dreams. She kisses me then. I can taste a tidal basin, salty and deep, like a spell.


Aimee_Parkison_2019_Utah_High_School_class_visitAimee Parkison is widely published and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, the Kurt Vonnegut Prize from North American Review, the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, a Writers at Work Fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Fellowship, and a William Randolph Hearst Creative Artists Fellowship. She currently teaches creative writing and literature in the MFA/Ph.D. program at Oklahoma State University.

Meg_Pokrass_author_photoMeg Pokrass is the author of seven collections of flash fiction and prose poetry, and her work has appeared in hundreds of literary publications and best-of anthologies, including the Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50, and is forthcoming in the 2023 Norton anthology Flash Fiction America, edited by Sherrie Flick, James Thomas, and John Dufresne. Meg is the Founding Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She lives in Northern England and wears many hats.

Dogcalling by Sage Tyrtle

I was waiting to cross the street when I heard humans barking. I turned, and a convertible Mustang full of young men howled with laughter. One screamed, “Only a dog would look if they heard barking, you fucking ugly dog!”

I didn’t say anything.

The barking got bigger, faster, the terriers transformed into Great Danes. Two men half-stood in their seats, spit spewing with every bark. The light changed and the Mustang sped off, shrieks of “ugly dog” and “fucking dog” drifting back on the wind.

That wasn’t the first time a stranger called me ugly. It wasn’t even the hundredth time. The first time I was five. A blonde girl examined me, her impeccable nose almost touching my cheek. She said, “What’s wrong with your face? You’re so ugly.”

I was born in 1972 with a cleft palate. Put your finger right under your nose. Trace down to your lip, following the line of your philtrum. I was born without a philtrum. I was born without that connection, and the split, the cleft, ran right through the roof of my mouth.

I was born looking like a little kid drew a cat’s mouth on a human face. And the surgeons did their best, but it was still 1972. I have a scarred upper lip and a smushed-in nose. In North America, surgery’s improved so much that I never see a young person who looks like me. But every once in awhile I’ll see a stranger my age, with the same scar, the same nose. And I always feel this hot flush of joy, have to stop myself from running to them, to hugging them tight, to shouting, “Hello! We look the same! We’re from the same place!”

After the Mustang sped away I wondered why that moment, a drop in an ocean of nasty moments, was such a gut punch. Perhaps it was the calculated script. A car full of young men who had figured out the perfect way to get women to “admit” to being ugly, and when their plan worked their rapture was grotesque.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d shouted too. “Driver guy, you have brown hair!” or “Baseball hat guy, your dad was never kind!” or “Hey you in the backseat, you put sedatives in Solo cups at frat parties!”

I wonder what would have happened if I’d turned into a harpy and flown at them. Majestic wings breaking arms, razor talons drawing blood, beak pecking out eyes. Their gleeful barks turning to screams.

But instead I leaned on the telephone pole, dizzy with rage. I waited another light cycle before crossing the street.

As I got older, I discovered that being beautiful was no better. One friend told me about being the only person on the subway car when a drunk man got on. He sat next to her, he asked her out. She said no. She said no, but she was very nice, because it was a long way between stops, and it was 1 AM, and she was afraid. The man kept telling her how beautiful she was, while she weighed which would put her in more danger: staying on the empty subway car, or exiting and being followed. What saved her in the end was how drunk the guy was. She got off, was able to run up the stairs much faster than he could, and lost herself in a big crowd of people heading home from the bars. They’re angry when I’m ugly and dogcall. They’re angry when she’s beautiful and catcall. The game is rigged and all I’m trying to do is, you know, walk to the fucking library.

In 1991, I met my husband Todd on the internet. The baby internet, the internet that was just words on a screen. No images. No video. He told me he loved me before he knew what I looked like. He fell in love with my words, and I fell in love with his.

Many years later, I was walking with Todd and our son down the street in Montreal. We were laughing, all three of us, and a young man slowly passing us in a car shouted something. His Quebecois accent was thick, and I called, “Sorry, what? I couldn’t hear you,” and then kicked myself for being so foolish as to ask.

The man called again, “What a beautiful family! You are a beautiful family!” and we all laughed with delight. But that’s not the best thing a stranger ever said to me.

I’d just finished telling a story on stage in which I said everything I wish someone had said to me when I was a teenager. When I was waking up every day and chanting, “You ugly fuck, you should die,” in the mirror.

There are a lot of words in that story, but they all mean the same thing: you are worthwhile.

My husband was waiting as I packed up my props, and a seventeen-year-old girl came walking up to me. She whispered, “Hi. Um, I just wanted to say thank you. For the things that you said in your story.”

I told her how much her words meant to me. I asked if I could give her a hug, and we hugged for a long time, and I didn’t know how to say it but I hoped she understood that what I wanted to tell her was this: I was you, once. And someday, you’re going to be me.

After she left, I burst into tears. I cried on the sidewalk and on the subway and on the bus. I cried and cried. I cried so hard that two women sitting on the bus glared at my poor innocent husband, which made me giggle and then sob even harder.

I turned to the window, taking deep breaths. For a moment I saw the ghost of a Mustang convertible before it fell away into the darkness.


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Sage Tyrtle’s work is available or upcoming in X-R-A-Y, The Offing, and Apex among others. She’s told stories on stages all over the world and her words have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS. She runs a free online writing group open to everyone. Twitter: @sagetyrtle

Signs of Life by Audrey Carroll

She thought of it as a kind of game: every time she thought of the dead, she needed to fill her house with something living. It started simply enough with potted basil, potted violets, potted Venus flytraps, things with roots and the safety of soil and nothing but sunshine. They need not worry about drowning because they only ever got the right amount of water; they need not worry about withering, because the house was always climate controlled. But then she moved on to fish and mollusks. It started with a small platy, then a snail, then another snail, then dalmatian mollies that gave birth and ate their babies all in the same day and she decided to count all of the babies’ deaths as one so that she did not have to buy two dozen living things as penance for thinking about the dead. Instead, she bought a small potted peace lily. But then, after she’d bought as many small things as seemed possible and her thoughts of the dead lingered for longer moments that sometimes lasted for entire afternoons, she moved up to bigger animals—dogs, cats, birds, and even a particularly friendly bearded dragon that an old co-worker was looking to rehome. She filled the place so fully that it seemed every inch of floor was coated in something or someone. It was difficult to see around the place because of the collection of Ficuses, ferns, and bamboo that made the place so lush with green, that made it so easy to breathe. She had chuckled to herself about her mother’s favorite saying with the forest and the trees, and then she’d needed to feed the dogs and immediately go to the store and pick up a catfish for one of the aquariums. She had no cause to leave the house except for supplies, no one to speak to or answer to. Her hours were monopolized by care, her hands so busy watering and cleaning and preparing that she hardly had time to think of the dead. The place looked like an island from a picture book she’d read as a child, one about wild things, one about escape. If she took off her glasses, the rooms around her blurred. Nothing had walls or boundaries. All there was was wild green and animals chattering away. The place was so full of life that thinking of the opposite was impossible. And then, one day, she smelled the faintest hint of decay. She left to bring back something living. But when she returned, the rotting stench was worse. She had surrounded herself with so much life that she could not find the source of decomposition, as though it were mocking her. And every moment of every day she thought about the dead, but now there was no escape. She could not leave to bring back more life, to cover up the worsening signs of death. She had no choice but to live among the expiration, a reminder of it dawning again and again with each stubborn breath that her own lungs demanded.


Author_PhotoAudrey T. Carroll is a Best of the Net nominee, the editor of Musing the Margins: Essays on Craft (Human/Kind Press, 2020), and the author of Queen of Pentacles (Choose the Sword Press, 2016). Her work has been published or is forthcoming in (mac)ro(mic), Miracle Monocle, The Broken Plate, Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, So to Speak, and others. She is a bi/queer and disabled/chronically ill writer who serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

How We Were Fiction by Sacha Bissonnette

In a way, it was my fault. We always hosted on Fridays. It became our thing. It was convenient. Our friends and their friends would come to us, and we barely had to move as we drank. If we did leave, it was down the street to the college bar that smelled of chemical cleaner and patchouli.

I asked June to stop annoying our friends with her stories. I told her to write them down and do something else with them. I told her she was just randomly spouting them, and for who?

“I do it for me. For us.”

But really, I was jealous. I could never hold court like she could; the ruby-red wine in her crystal glass would swoosh up to the brim the more animated her stories became, but would never spill. Newcomers with ironed collars, wide brimmed hats and clear glasses would corner me later. Was she single? “I need more ice,” I’d say, burying my head in the freezer, until either the trays were empty or my glass was just ice.

The way June ushered us into place reminded me of my mother. Story time carried weight in my family. Mother read us Hughes and Dumas, her tired brown hands slowly flipping through the battered pages of the stories. My brothers and I all knew how they ended, but we couldn’t get to sleep without them. I would stay up the longest, to hear them end, before I could fall asleep.

“Good night sweet princes,” she’d whispered, as we all got a kiss, from youngest to oldest, the same order every time.

I met June a week before my mother’s passing. I had difficulty with the order of things, of grief, and paperwork and finances. I attempted to write a eulogy before I spoke to any family. I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to arrange my mother’s life into a single story. June helped me through the process, and I fell in love with her for it. She rewrote the eulogy and made my mother sound like the heroine of a Great American Novel. Which she was to us.

June had an order to her stories. When she had us all seated on the couch or the floor, she would shoot me a glance to make sure I was paying attention. I would stare back in mock attentiveness. I was there, wasn’t I?

The first story was always about a woman who kept a bowl of seeds under her sink. She would try and grow them when she was feeling lucky, but often she didn’t feel lucky. Once a month she would reach into the bowl and pull out three seeds. She did this for a year, exactly twelve months of growing. Okra to morning glories to fennel. One day, she came upon a seed that wouldn’t grow. This little seed got all the attention. She forgot to care for and water the other plants. Eventually they died. The seed grew into a beautiful orange flower that gave off an awful smell. The stench was so bad that the woman ripped the plant from its pot and threw it out the window.

This story always got mixed reactions. I asked June to cheer up her material when people started to drink. I said that people can’t handle these dark endings, but she refused to break her sacred order. It was always, always her opener.

The second story was about these twins in the Midwest. As June’s wine disappeared, she played up her narration. There would be accents and wild hand gestures. As people finished their drinks, I’d jump in and play second fiddle.

The twins were the sons of an infamous bank robber. They adored their Daddy and wanted to be bad just like him. Daddy taught the twins to crack safes, but they could only manage with the other’s help. Their adeptness was a blessing, but their curse was to need each other. See, the twins only rarely got along. During one fateful heist, they began to bicker. When the cops showed up, they were wrestling on the floor, but as they saw the police, they both reached for their guns. We acted out the firefight to the whoops and whistles of our audience. Some nights, the twins went down in a blaze of glory. Other nights, they snuck out the back of the bank.

Cliché, but I didn’t care. It was fun. June looked at me differently when I was up there, bank robbing and gun slinging with her.

The third and final story was never the same, except for the ending. On some nights, June danced. She looked truly beautiful as she swayed in front of those watching with bated breath or half-shut eyelids. She asked, but often begged, the crowd to join in. There was singing, too. Sometimes a beautiful rendition of St. James Infirmary, sometimes it was The Song That Never Ends, until she broke into an uncontrollable sob. Someone would signal me to peel her up off the floor and bring her to bed. She would fake sleeping until I was done tucking her in as tight as I could. Every time, as I turned, she would ask,

“Do you still love me?”

“Yes,” I always answered, unsure of whether this was part of the performance.

“Only when we’re bank robbing and gun slinging? Only in our stories?”

“No,” I answered, annoyed by the same questions I heard every Friday.

A trial separation was what she wanted and I agreed. I booked a stay at a hotel to give her space. By the second week, I ran out of boxers. I popped by and found her lying on the hardwood floor, surrounded by papers, writing with intent. Seeing her there, it became clear that it was my fault. She had been carrying the burden of our story all by herself. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen.


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Sacha Bissonnette is a short story writer from Ottawa, Canada. He is reader for the Wigleaf top 50 series. His work has appeared in Wigleaf, Lunch Ticket, SmokeLong, and Cease, Cows, among other places. He has upcoming short fiction in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Ruminate, BULL, and Terrain.org. He is currently working on a short fiction anthology with the help of a National Canada Council for the Arts grant, an Ontario Arts Grant, and a Youth In Culture Ottawa Grant, and was recently selected for the Writer’s Union of Canada – BIPOC Writer’s Connect mentorship. He loves film and comfort food and tweets @sjohnb9