Story of a Nose by Laton Carter

Brushing her teeth in the mirror, what was that coming out of the pores on her nose? Some kind of orange powder. But it was winter, the flowers were all dead. No, not pollen, she hadn’t leaned over that close to smell anything. Yes she had. The mac-and-cheese for her son, the pouch of dried cheddar mix inside the box — why was it always so difficult to open, and when she had, the foil lining at last broken, a small cloud emerged. As if it were a bottle of perfume — and because no one would ever possibly see her do it, and because in the milliseconds assigned to such flash thoughts as what kind of elaborate machine had manipulated this substance into the pouch and were there workers who monitored such a machine, did they wear white lab coats and goggles, did they dislike their job or was it tolerable and did they avoid the product that they packaged — she lowered her face to the lip of the torn parcel. This is what had done it. Nothing was coming out of her pores, she had dusted them herself. But that was hours — which in parenting time translated to distinct slices in the day’s pie chart — ago. She had been orange-nosed for at least half the waking day. And her son, always tactlessly quick to point out any aberration from the norm, hadn’t told her. This meant, Jesus, not the coffee drive-through, but the post office, the pet-mart, the library book return, and the grocery store — all with a saffron amoeboid shape decorating the tip end of her nose. She needed to spit. Instead she leaned closer into the mirror — who was this woman, the fine lines and age spots, the jawline threatening collapse, green eyes searching her brow, her lips, an unplucked hair, and was the young girl behind the eyes still there — and was it, yes, it was okay, it would feel good to laugh, maybe cry, it would feel good to let it out.


 
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Laton Carter’s Leaving received the Oregon Book Award. Recent work appears in Entropy and Necessary Fiction. Carter’s flash fiction was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018.

The Heart Sniper’s Tale by Blessing Nwodo

Monye washed her hands with water, sighing heavily as she looked around at the lines and lines of the wounded, for whom she had been crushing herbs and administering hot bitter concoctions since the break of dawn, offering empty soothing words where she could do nothing. A man with a broken leg moaned from the far side of the encampment, one healer holding him down as another administered treatment. She shuddered and left, gritting her teeth as his muffled cry of agony followed her. She moved swiftly but quietly past the people outside, waiting for word on their beloved ones. The Heart Sniper watched unseen from a vantage point, tightening the knot around Monye’s heart, pulling her towards the forest.

She walked, a long way behind the encampment, her slippers raising the red dusty earth as she moved. When she got to the forest she raised her wrapper and ran, barely feeling the branches scratch at her as she zoomed past.

The bright blue piper birds in the trees and their love for gossip passed around the message speedily and soon every living thing in the forest knew that Monye was again going to meet her lover from the enemy kingdom. She’d met Eyimofe even before the war between the two kingdoms began, and even now it did not matter to her that he was supposed to be the enemy.

She always thought she was the only one in her kingdom who wasn’t afraid to use the Nkume juju, and she’d jerked in shock when she felt a force zoom past her inside the river. She followed it to the other side and watched as a lean, hard, muscular and completely naked body rose out of the water. He strode unhurriedly to some clothes on the bank, putting them on as if unaware she was there staring open-mouthed. “I know my body is impressive. You can close your mouth now,” he’d said. She was turned on by his arrogance. Attraction, like a hunter, captured her. He was sugar and she, a sugar ant.

Now she headed to the river, waded in and searched for an Nkume-mmiri, a sheeny pebble that grants the user the ability to control the tides. She placed it on her abdomen and immediately felt the power flow from it through her, right from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, enriching her with the ability to control the currents, breathe and see underwater. She shot with the speed of an arrow to the other side of the hill in minutes.

She stood up, gave back the Nkume-mmiri to the river, wringed her clothes, and walked to the hill. There, she picked an Nkume-ugwu, a tiny misshapen stone with distinct markings, and placed it once again on her abdomen. A green face materialized from the side of the hill. Its dark eyes assessed her, and she felt the Nkume-ugwu burn hot, then cool. The figure opened its mouth and allowed her to step through it.

She found Eyimofe waiting for her under a tree. She became very shy and tried to smooth back her short, wet, spiky hair. Eyimofe hurried to meet and hold her. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, one hand at her waist and the other in her hair, his heart pounding. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” he said, his voice muffled. She laughed. “Not even the piper bird’s gossip can keep me away from you.”

She sighed. “I don’t how I would survive with the wounded everyday, without you to help me remember that despite the evil humans do to each other, there are still good people.”

“You’re a healer,” he said. “I want to hold you all day like this.”

“How will you eat then,” she teased.

“I don’t need food. The sight of you fills me up.”

“Ha! I crossed seven mountains and seven seas to meet you here.” She tapped on her stomach.

“Come, hungry lioness.” He pulled her playfully to a cashew tree. “I brought some food.”

He fed her tapioca and coconut, and she nipped his fingers playfully with her teeth.

“I won’t feed you again,” he pouted.

She pulled the finger into her mouth and sucked it gently, holding his gaze with her eyes and watching them darken with pleasure. “Better?”

He nuzzled her nose with his. “You make me forget the pain the war brings to my kingdom.”

She moved her fingers through his hair. “Do not mention it.”

She jumped up, her hips swaying, her hands on her waist. “Sing me the igede song. I can’t remember the last time I danced the steps.”

“Of course,” he smiled.“I love to watch your hips move.”

He began the song, his voice a rich, warm caress as he tapped his hands on his muscular chest to create the beat. The sun reflected on her skin, and on the glassy beads on her waist. He quickened his tempo, drinking in the splendid sight of her body as she danced faster and faster.

When the song ended, she reclined on the ground beside him, her chest heaving. She pulled him down and kissed him, desire blocking out the cries of the wounded.

***

The Heart Sniper, a messenger of Ani the creator, smiled down at them. She looked away from Monye and Eyimofe, and toward the weapon suppliers for both kingdoms. She turned their gazes towards the forest, making them pine for a stroll along the same bush path. The heart sniper knew it would take a lot of her power, but she had to end the fighting and pain. She grinned and cracked her knuckles. There were more intricate love webs to be complicated and cast.


 

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Blessing Ofia-Inyinya Nwodo studied Adult Education/ English language in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she merited the award “Best Female Writer.” Her short story “Vaginismus” was featured in Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology by Brittle Paper, and she was awarded the Highly Rated prize in the Nigerian Travel Story competition organized by Travel Next Door in 2016. Her essay, “The gendered double standard of adultery in Nigeria” was published by Women’s Media Centre (FBOMB), and she has also been published on Kalahari Review, The Common, Naija Stories, 100 words Africa, Lion spot, and the Rota-Lion magazine. She would love to go for a master’s degree in creative writing.

 

The Last Orgy by Nancy Stohlman

The invitation came in the mail: You’re invited to our Fall Orgy! Please bring a dish to share!

The orgies had started last year. Someone decided we weren’t getting any younger and we better see each other naked before it was too late. The first orgy was super awkward, and I ended up getting Jell-o stuck in my hair and down the back of my favorite coat.

I arrive at this week’s orgy with my Tupperware and the intention of just saying hi and leaving. My friend opens the door dressed as Hugh Heffner. You’re here, he says. He touches my elbow and holds it there a beat too long. I’m so glad you could make it.

There are drinks in the kitchen and snacks in the living room. The fall theme is reinforced in every room with plastic gourds and an actual pile of leaves.

I can’t really stay, I say to our hostess.

Just a little bit, she says, refilling my daquiri.

I eat a cupcake shaped like a vagina, wave to friends in mid-orgy, deliver water bottles, wonder when I can leave and not seem rude.

Eventually the host calls us all into the living room and hands out bathrobes. So everyone take a break, because we have special guest here today who wants to invite us all to his condo in…the Bahamas!

No, your condo in the Bahamas!

We clap awkwardly as a guy wearing glasses and a sweater vest comes to the front of the living room and begins to tell us about time share opportunities in the Bahamas, complete with a PowerPoint presentation showing different floor plans and cost brackets. When he’s finished he calls my friend back.

We love our time share my friend said. It is one of the best purchases we ever made.

That’s right the time share guy says. Did you hear that folks? One of the best purchases he has ever…made.

You can sit down now he says, pushing my friend. Because I’d like to give each of you an opportunity to discuss your own personal condo needs with one of our happiness specialists.

They divide us up into groups and lead us off to different parts of the house. My group heads toward the back bedroom, where several sales people block the door. I know what you’re thinking the sweater vest guy says—you just want to sit through the spiel, get some free stuff, and then get back to your orgy. But our company doesn’t work that way he says. Before anyone is leaving this room someone will be purchasing a time share condo.

The door is blocked by two more bouncers. There’s a pile of purses and wallets in the middle of the room. How about the first person who signs up for a time share gets to go home? And for the rest of you, I have several PowerPoint presentations as well as a TED talk we can watch. The time share guy lifts out a faux leather purse from the pile by its tail like a dead rat. We have a winner he announces. Whose purse is this?

No one answers.

He opens it up and goes for the wallet. Jackie? Who is Jackie. No one says anything. Well, I guess we could just take all these credit cards and create a new identity.

No no, it’s mine Jackie says, coming forward with her head hung.

Jackie, you’re about to be the proud owner of a time share condo. Let’s give her a round of applause everyone.

One by one we are all called forward and one by one we sign a 20-year contract for a time share condo. As we’re leaving our host and hostess stand at the door handing us little parting gifts in paper bags tied with ribbons. I’m sorry he mouths.


 

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Nancy Stohlman’s books include Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of OdditiesThe Vixen Scream and Other Bible StoriesThe Monster Opera, and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape, a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and the co-founder of Flash Fiction Retreats. Her work has been published nationally and internationally and was included in the W.W. Norton Anthology New Micro: Very Short Stories. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder. Find out more about her at www.nancystohlman.com.

The Assimilation of Boyboy Santos by Elison Alcovendaz

On the morning of the Annual Santos Sibling Karaoke Contest, Boyboy told the police he was Justin Timberlake. Previously, he’d been other famous, white, American men: Bill Clinton, George Clooney, and, for one inexplicable weekend, Batman. He never dressed the part, not that it would’ve mattered; of my nine brothers, Boyboy was the shortest and the darkest and owned the flattest face. No amount of makeup or costuming could make him pass as a white man. In fact, he looked so Filipino that random strangers automatically spoke to him in Tagalog, as though he’d just arrived from Manila and hadn’t yet adopted his new American skin.

Or maybe it was his name.

The genesis of Boyboy’s name is one of contention. According to Junior, Dad’s nickname was “boy” growing up, so he named him “Boy’s Boy” though Mom, the stickler that she was, thought apostrophes didn’t belong in people’s names. Thus, Boyboy. Robert says that, since Boyboy was the youngest and the smallest, Dad thought calling him “boy” twice might someday make him a man. I, however, know the truth. When Boyboy was born, our family was months away from moving to the States. Dad and Mom, worried their youngest would have no ties to his Filipino roots, gave him the most absurd Filipino name they could think of. With that name, they said, there’s no way he will ever become one of them.

I found Boyboy on the corner of Calvine and Mack dressed in a plaid shirt and jean shorts. He held a comb to his mouth as a microphone. He danced, too, though most people wouldn’t call it dancing. The cops had arrived before me. They stood against their cars with their arms folded across their chests, laughing their white faces off. Boyboy smiled at the audience as he pumped his fist and spun on his toes. I stayed in my car and watched. It would be better for him to be arrested again, I thought. I drove off. Boyboy waved as I sped by.

None of us expected Boyboy at the Contest, but after we had already sung, he arrived. He didn’t look at any of us as he strutted through the house, stopped at the microphone stand, picked up the remote, and selected his song. For five minutes, he sung without his usual accent. In fact, he sung so perfectly, all of us closed our eyes. When he finished, we opened our eyes to find our brother standing in the middle of the room, though he was tall and blonde and his skin was the color of ivory. Robert jumped off the couch and tackled him while Junior called 911, but all I could think about was that he finally did what Dad and Mom said he’d never do.


 

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Elison’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Portland Review, Gargoyle Magazine, and other publications. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State and once won a short story contest in sixth grade. To learn more, please visit www.elisonalcovendaz.com.

A Mrs. Dalloway Kind of Day by Reshma Ruia

Nose buried in a bouquet of flowers. She strides through the park. The distant hum of traffic. A bee’s snore in her ear. Easy enough to be happy. Toss a coin. Swipe a card. Buy the dress. The shoes. The jewels clap away spider web shadows. Lurking in the rooms. The hurt. The bruise. The dripping faucet of an eye. They belonged to another day. If only she could run back to her ten-year-old self. Chasing butterflies on the village green. Cheeks freckled with sunshine not age. A heart somersaulting in joy. Limbs dripping youth.


 

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Reshma Ruia is a writer based in Manchester, England. She has a Masters with Distinction and a PhD in Creative Writing from Manchester University. Her first novel is called Something Black in the Lentil Soup. Her second novel, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the 2014 SI Leeds literary Prize. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in various international journals and anthologies and also commissioned for Radio 4. She is the co-founder of a writers collective that aims to encourage emerging British South Asian voices.

The Sound of Ice by Megan Furniss

They say you can only see us from space. From there we are tiny flicker pinpricks, a join-the-dots circle of light, bobbing on a dark sea. You would need to go to space to know we exist.

I wake up to the sounds I know. There is the lonely yawning of the big ice, a creak and scream. There is the huge, continuous slam of ocean against that wall of ice. Closer. I know that ma’s hands are pulling the rope and I can hear her arms brush up against her skirt and apron. Shook, shuck. Shook, shuck. Every day the rope is pulled. Sometimes the wooden bucket attached to the rope has hand written notes of greeting, bits of precious chocolate or scraps of fabric for sewing. Messages from the other lighters; women like sharing small gifts. And of course, there is our daily block of ice.

We are known as the lighters. In our circle there are 167 tiny boats, each with their own mother and daughter crew. We light a circle of protection for the iceberg. We defend it with our lights. We protect this valuable resource of pure water from thieves and pirates who might stumble upon us. You would say how could we do anything? Ma says we are nothing more than an early warning system. They don’t mind losing us. But we are safe here.

The waves slap against wood. I peep out. It is dark. We sleep in the day and wake and watch at night. Let them know by radio if we see anything strange. We have learned the sounds of water and ice.

Ma says my thirteen-year-old body is typical. I need sleep. Hours of it. Ma says, “Lucky we out here, with all the time in the world. Lucky for you.”

“Ma, ma. Let’s have tea. It’s cold ma.” I drag my coat off the floor, pull it under the bedclothes, grunting and struggling to put it on without letting any air in at the sides. Inside the coat pocket is my purple woolly hat and I stick my head under the blankets to put it on. It smells and I gag. When I burst through ma is laughing and my heart lights up. “You been warming yourself with farts again?”

She is chipping at the ice block and scraping the shards into a pot. Then straight onto the burner to boil for tea. Each boat gets a tiny block of the iceberg every day. “It’s the price it has to pay, poor thing.” Ma says.

I shuffle across the creaky wooden floor to the tiny cupboard and open the tin. Wrapped in oilcloth with tissue paper on the inside to keep them dry are ginger biscuits; one for each of us, one for every day of the month. There are two left. That means a delivery tomorrow. A month’s supply of everything we need will be parachuted into the water near us and we will haul it in. Also, once a month the circle of boats is ruptured when the huge icebreaker comes to take a chunk of the iceberg to shore.

The bell tinkles. A fish. Ma gets there first, opening the hatch in the floor and pulling a thinner thread this time, until a silver fish flops up, gaping, bringing with it the cold, and salt on the air. I stand with the hammer and aim perfectly, crushing its head. I whisper thanks, like a prayer. I hate the moment of killing.

“Put on the TV and I’ll fry it up ma.”

I clean the fish. Silver fish scales collect like extra nails on the ends of my fingers. The TV screen shows the sea, the camera moving in a circle and following the light, over and over, forever and ever. The light makes the waves white, then grey, then black. Suddenly the beam passes across the surface of the iceberg and the TV screen goes completely white, no end or beginning.

Whenever I see that I cannot breathe. It is the same cannot-breathe-feeling from before, when we were not here, just a family, and the man-my-father has me in a chokehold, his body behind me, and shoving.

“Ma!”

“It’s ok, Luce, it’s ok. Here, here’s a towel.”

I come back. I have pressed the scaling knife along my palm without noticing. Ma hands me the tea towel and I wrap my hand. She looks at me and I start breathing again. There is sorrow in her face, deep and long, but the fear is gone.

Before, at the women’s shelter, ma had panicked. We had run with nothing when she had come home early from work and caught him up against me and me not breathing, in a chokehold. She had struck out at him and we had run, even as he got to his feet, threatening to kill us both. “He will find us,” she had cried, “and then he will kill us,” over and over. The shelter knew where nobody would find us. We would be invisible, but we would be the lighters. Like many before us, and many to come. That’s where people like us go.

The fish sizzles in the shallow pan. I sip tea, holding the mug one-handed and watching the liquid move in time with the waves outside. Waves slap wood. Tiny tea waves slap the china wall of the mug. The ice groans and sighs. Ma runs her fingers along the tiny bookshelf. “We’ll have some new ones tomorrow. Just think.”

She holds up a worn copy of Roald Dahl’s BFG. “Imagine, the queen of England. Imagine a giant, even a little one.”
“And snozzcumbers ma, and whizzpoppers.” Imagine.

I look at the TV. The beam moves across the waves. White, then grey, then black. We dip our ginger biscuits in the tea, just long enough for the edges to start crumbling away, then we stuff them in our mouths and suck.


 

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Megan Furniss is a playwright, writer, theatre director, actor and improviser. She loves words and stories and making stuff up.

Revival, or The Mistakes Made by Those Stuck in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan by Kaitlin Ruether

You must be desperate or something, because you haven’t looted in ages, and your fingers tremble when your eyes fall on the wall of spices, the second biggest you’ve seen (the first you witnessed when your mother dragged you by the wrist to another Saskatchewan farmer’s market, the Big River Market, three hundred kilometres from where you stand now) and you are mesmerized by the pale carmine chilli and the gamboge curry, the staples of your craft; of course, in a town as small as Porcupine Plain, there are eyes that follow you, know you by reputation, so you move from the wall of spices out into the world (you still have a baggie of nicked onion powder in your glove box, next to the weed), but you are stopped in the parkade by a woman, mid-fifties, with smudged eyeliner and a too-large tank-top who blocks your path and stares you down as tears streak her cheeks, and she begs you to do her a favour, whimpers, “My son-in-law … he’s hurt,” so you follow her back to her blue sedan and see not a child like you imagined (caught on the word “son”) but a man of maybe thirty passed out in the passenger seat, and the woman eyes your sleeve of prison-gained tattoos with expectance so you rattle the door handle, but it’s locked, and behind you she sobs so you look at her and wait until she says, “He’s been drugged,” then shakes a breath from her lungs, “I drugged him,” she finishes (ah, so expected criminal empathy is why she cornered you), and you think of the turmeric in the aisle, the forbidden tangy nip of the dust, and you ask why, though you’ve never had a good answer to that member of the 5 Ws family yourself, but “I love him,” falls out of her mouth like too-hot makhani eaten with impatience: it slops to the pavement and you are uncomfortable to watch, so you look at the man and the dribble of drool that pools on the strap of the seatbelt, and you can hear music from the stereo — Jethro Tull’s forty-four minute “Thick as a Brick”: one song, one album, no full-stop — and the man in the car inhales and you exhale and the breeze dies, and the woman begs you again to get him out, but you’ll need a coat hanger, which you tell her before you tread back towards the market where you remember a young woman who sold tie-dyed t-shirts, but on your way you pass the spices, and your fingers wrap smooth along the glass of golden curry powder, the thrill in your blood returned — tonight you’ll craft kashmiri lamb and potatoes, or tikka masala and palak paneer — and the man in the car will wake to the tune of a rock ’n’ roll flute and a mother-in-law in crisis and you will be far, far away.


 

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Kaitlin Ruether is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph in Toronto and a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing Program. Her work has appeared in New Limestone Review, Freefall Magazine, and This Side of West.