Adhesive by Sarah Clayville

She pens a breakup letter the day she meets him, then runs her tongue along the envelope’s bitter strip. Sealed with DNA and tucked in the front pocket of her messenger bag. Estate planning for the relationship, she calls it. Do not resuscitate.

They met at the coffee shop in her office. He lingered by the register, pretending to browse gluten free donuts when all he wanted was for her to notice him. They walked around the sputtering fountain in the courtyard. He offered her a penny and made his own wish. She pretended to throw hers but let it drop onto the cement.

The breakup letter grows heavier in her bag each day they’re together. He shows her pictures of his family. She shows him ones she scavenged from a photo album at a thrift store. He gives her the key to his apartment. She adds his name to a pretend timeshare in the Outer Banks.

Inevitably there will be a dinner. He’ll wear a tie she’s given him, pink with navy diamonds because something about that combination of colors reminds her of a sunset against a resigned ocean. She’ll excuse herself to the restroom and never come back. The letter will take her place on the chair.

Pulling off the band aid her mother called it before heading to Dollywood with her boyfriend. Fucking someone over her sophomore roommate said before transferring to Duke. She believes it is inhumane to risk a messy breakup. Some broken things can never be properly mended.

The letter is kindness.

The letter is love.

In college she took a mapmaking class. Even the professor said hand-drawn maps are obsolete. Everything is done on computers. Sitting in his class felt like trying on the skin of a corpse. But she admired the destinations drawn with a flourish of sepia ink. The endpoint. It wasn’t like pulling off the band aid. It was healing a wound before the skin separated.

They eat at Market Cross Pub on Friday night. He’s ditched the tie because someone at work told him he hasn’t got a future with the company. When she orders two beers with no intention to drink hers, he holds her hands in his. Nearby, a waitress lets the man at the booth cup her ass. Nearby, an old man drops quarters in a jukebox that looks out of place. Out of time.

The harder she pulls her hands free, the tighter his grip, like quicksand. He says they should go to that timeshare this weekend. Skinny dip in the ocean. Wear straw hats. Let the sand grind off a dreary layer of their skin.
He tells her disappointment can be outrun. He traces the lines in her palm, stopping at landmarks like her thumb, her wrist. He wants to explore with her. He wants to know the craziest thing she’s ever done.

She stays.



Sarah Clayville teaches high school English and writes from a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived forever. She holds a special place in her heart for short fiction that stops people in their tracks. Find more of her work at and follow her on Twitter @SarahSaysWrite.

Balls & Planets by Tomas Moniz

I didn’t choose to have a kitten, let alone two. I stepped out of my backyard bungalow in east Oakland at three a.m. because something kept yowling and whining. I opened the door ready to shew the thing away and they both pranced into my room like they belonged and were returning home from a night out.

I fed them some chicken I had left over from my favorite spot: Lucky Three Seven. They got the best wings covered in this sauce called G-Fire that I know must have way too much sugar in it. But anyways, I offered them some chicken pulled off the bone, some half and half splashed in a little plate. I should’ve known they’d be like: hell yeah, we gonna live here. They snuggled up at the foot of my bed and slept like they were the safest little forest creatures in the world.


When I took them to the outdoor free vet clinic two weeks later and the vet tech asked their names, that was when I realized I never considered them mine because who names a cat Ratty and Balls. I named them that to make fun of them. To have something over them. A joke about a quality no one could love. So go on little Ratty and Balls, run wild outside and come back in all content and happy like you just found your way back home.

Ratty and Balls, the vet tech said. Like he was clarifying the names. Like was I sure that’s what he should write down. He was dressed head to foot in PPE attire so I only saw his eyes.

Yes, I enunciated through my mask.

Okay then, but Balls better enjoy his for the next hour because he’s about to have them in name only.

I nodded.

His balls were cute: the soft yellow of unripe apricots. I had a pang of regret. Not that I named him Balls but that I brought him here to lose them.

It’s been a hard year. I felt the need to hold on to such tiny precious things.

I’ve been living alone, teaching science classes to children whose families were wealthy enough to create educational pods. The only good thing is that the other tenants in the main building never really came to the back yard: my little kingdom.


I complained to Jackson, my best friend, about how the kittens never really let me pick them up and spent most of their time racing through my apartment chasing crumpled up Post-it notes.

Jackson and I have hung out weekly at Peralta Park on Coolidge since March, when everything changed, almost nine months ago, both of us quickly realizing how little we did physical things, how few people we talked to, how small everything suddenly became in our world.

Buster, his dog, growled at every single person or animal that walked by us.

Jackson said, You mean the cats play fetch?

They don’t fetch. They’re cats not dogs, I said.

Do you throw this crumpled Post-it note?


And do the cats bring it back to you?

Yes. You have cats that play fetch. Are they feral? Do you let them outside?

At nights, when I go outside. They follow me, but then they always come back.


When I called my mom in New Mexico, my standing Sunday morning zoom check-in, she said, That’s what happens when you get quarantine cats. I read an article about it. It’s a thing apparently that lonely people do.

I’m not lonely.

Do you have a quarantine cat?

No. I have abandoned cats that have adopted me.

They must’ve known.

Known what, mom?

Known that you’re lonely, sweetie.


On winter solstice, I stepped into the backyard to see the convergence that everyone was posting about.

I had a cup of tea. I let Balls and Ratty out, watched them sprint away into the darkness. My neighbors, a young couple, walked out into the yard and waved at me. It was the first time I’d ever seen them in the back. They searched the sky.

You know it’s solstice tonight and the stars are lining up, he said as if I asked him to explain his presence.

Not stars, babe, planets, the woman said.

Yes, that’s right, planets. Saturn and Mars.

Jupiter, not Mars. Babe, come on, are you just teasing me, she said and reached out to push him. They were cute together.

My cats sauntered up to me and sat at my feet like I trained them.

Oh my god. Look, Jas. It’s our cats. It’s Kurt and Cobain. Where have you two been? We looked all over for you.

She hustled over and picked up Ratty, who meowed like she was so sad and sacred.

Balls meowed like he wanted to be picked up. Like I haven’t tried to pick him up every day for weeks.

The guy, apparently Jas, picked up Balls and cradled him like a little newborn baby, four little paws, reaching skyward.

They raced toward their apartment.

Those cats just looked back at me and, like that, they were gone.

I thought about saying something about their medical records, but really what could I say. I figured Jas would soon see his balls were gone and figure it out.


Later that night, I sat outside and threw the rest of my Post-it notes into the darkness of the backyard. Every time I threw, the motion lights went on. When I was finally out of Post-its, I just sat there hearing the sounds of east Oakland: the tire squeals, BART screeching, a car alarm, the ever present pop of fireworks. I looked up into the sky and, sure enough, I saw the planets converged. It was a beautiful sight, that bright steady light that centuries before guided people home.


Tomas Moniz’s debut novel, Big Familia, was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway, the LAMBDA, and the Foreward Indies Awards. He edited the popular Rad Dad and Rad Families anthologies. He’s a 2020 Artist Affiliate for Headlands Center for Arts. He has stuff on the internet but loves penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back.

Angela Expects an Earthquake by Rachel O’Cleary

The entire Pacific Northwest is a subduction zone. Angela has been aware of this for most of her life, but has only recently added Earthquake to the file she keeps in the exact center of her chest. She has filed it alphabetically, after Cancer and Drunk Drivers, and before Kidnapping and Mass Shootings.

Lately, Angela has been having the same nightmare over and over. In it, she stumbles endlessly past upturned pickup trucks and flooded basements, kicking aside loose shingles in search of a pudgy hand or a matted head to clasp.

Angela avoids sleep. She can lie awake for hours, visualizing her children, fully-grown. She stretches them, fills them out, makes them outgrow her. She pictures Tommy as an excavator operator, and gives him a deep, rich voice, tightly curled chest hair, and plenty of dirt beneath his broad fingernails. She conjures for him a husband named Fernando and two hazel-eyed children. In Angela’s mind, June unfolds into a tall woman, a geneticist in a white lab coat and thick-rimmed glasses, but whose hair still slips out from every attempt at a ponytail. Angela gives June a partner named Patrick and a gently swelling stomach.

Of course, if tonight is the night, the children will never become adults, or parents, or even teenagers. They may open their eyes one last time as the previously solid floor begins to dip and roll like waves beneath their beds. Or maybe Angela will have time to gather them under the dining room table, where they will listen to the hammering of one another’s heartbeats as photos drop from flimsy wire nails, the refrigerator walks out of the kitchen, and, finally, the house sidles away from its foundations. Maybe they will even live to see all those things that had collapsed come rushing back toward them in a roiling wall of water: beds, chimneys, SUVs. But that is it. That is where the possibilities end. Angela has read that it is nearly impossible to survive a tsunami.

And yet, imagining it, a feeling of calm settles over her. Those final moments could get ugly – gasping, twisting, lungs burning – but Angela thinks that at least they would be brief. That her children would never have to watch her flesh devoured by hungry cancer cells, or clean her withered body while she eyes them warily, uncertain of who they are. And instead of tormenting herself with images of them drowning in a hotel swimming pool, or getting into a car with a drunk teenager, or marrying an angry man with steel in his eyes, perhaps there could be a certain beauty in the way she could simply stop struggling and clutch her family to her chest as they float, together, into eternity.


Rachel O’Cleary writes with Writers HQ. She studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and lives with her husband and three children in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. You can find a list of her published work at, and she occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.

College Boy and the County Fair by Christopher Notarnicola

Auntie was cutting vegetables like they weren’t even there, asking why I was worried about who would ride the Ferris Wheel with whom when these girls out here—hacking the back end of a butcher knife through the side of a sweet onion—were always wearing some too-tight torn-up see-through something over popped-up nipples like it’s cool to be cold. She stabbed a peel and brought the knife to her breast. Oh, she said with a moan, twirling the blade. I told her she’d better stop, swallowing a smile. Onion sting filled the air. She returned to the cutting board and told me I should hang out on campus instead of around the old neighborhood, get in with the ones who stay through spring semester, drink coffee, quote a poet, find a woman with clothes over her chest, a woman I could bring home for dinner, with appetite, whip smart but kind, a wholesome woman. The stockpot was steaming on the stove. Double Jeopardy was starting by the microwave. Alex Trebek was dead, and the soup was already reminding me of my mother. The word wholesome, I said, is composed of opposites—isn’t that funny. Auntie paused her dice, hovering over half-moons of onion, knuckles at the wide edge of the knife, tears jeweling the ends of her lashes, and she looked to the TV, maybe wondering if I had stolen the line from a category or if I had brought that one to the table on my own. The camera panned, and the contestants were at their buzzers. Boy, she said, if you don’t start peeling carrots.

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Christopher Notarnicola is an MFA graduate of Florida Atlantic University. His work has been published with American Short Fiction, Bellevue Literary Review, Best American Essays, Chicago Quarterly Review, Epiphany, Image, The Southampton Review, and elsewhere. Find him in Pompano Beach, Florida and at

Nursing #2 by Michael Levan

Time to bond, time to connect, time for her to be / the lifeblood of this young life.
Time to / be removed from everything adult she requires / and feel, as she says, Like
a cow dispensing milk / all damn day. Time to need the boy to sleep / a little longer, to
not demand colostrum’s liquid gold. / Time to worry over alternating breasts and
avoiding mastitis. / Time to feel like the only person who can keep this boy alive. /
Time to sleep in spurts and then, in turn, time to turn / grouchy or grumpy or testy,
maybe crabby or peevish / if the day’s been kind, snappy or ill-tempered or
cantankerous if not. / Time for the man to be jealous of the child who drifts / off
mid-suck while still he’s stuck in a chair / or on the couch, wondering if that gift of
sleep can come to him too. / Time for sleep to be all they think of, / daydream about,
obsess over. Time to question / if it’s worth it because formula can be mixed by a man
too. / Time that’s supposed to be enjoyed and, sometimes, / it is, but not as much or
as often as she had hoped. / These feedings how days have come to be measured. /
Nights too. Time to know this will last / only a short while. Soon this boy will push
away, / will reject all that’s been given him, and then / everything after will be about
closing the distance between them.


Michael Levan has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Laurel Review, The Rupture, Waccamaw, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Arts & Letters. He is an Associate Professor of English and edits and writes reviews for American Microreviews and Interviews. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and their three children.

How to Stay Safe in Caracas by Patricia García Luján

Forwarded many times:

1. Always be alert. Don’t give papaya and wait inside a parked car. Don’t stop at a red light at night. Don’t take the same route home every day. Don’t pull out your phone in the street or the car or the supermarket. Don’t give money to the barefoot kid in the corner. Avoid tables by the window. Spot the exits. Look for suspicious people. Don’t get distracted. Don’t make it easy for them to surprise you.

2. Keep a low profile. Wear a cheap watch, take off your jewelry, the wedding ring, even the fake pearls—they can’t tell the difference. Drive an old car, one with stained seats or scratches. If possible, live in an apartment, not a house. Carry only one credit card and little cash. Wear inconspicuous clothing, nothing with a brand or foreign sports team. Never wear polished shoes, never look too polished.

3. Learn how to spot malandros. They’re not ghosts, they’re not invisible, but they’re everywhere. They all wear hats. They all look the same. They’re all capable of violence. Don’t try and see if they have short hair or long, a beard or a mole, don’t look at what they’re wearing or the make of their motorcycles or the gun in their hand. Never look into their eyes.

4. Listen to your sixth sense. If something feels off, it’s because it is and it’s already too late.

5. Let them do their job. If they ask for your address, give it to them. Give them the dollars and the jewelry and the combination of the safe. Give them the TVs and the iPads and the laptops and the Nintendos. Give them the silver and the car keys and everything else they want. Notice how easy it is to give it all away, how clear it becomes that all these things are worthless when the only thing of value is your life in their hands. Hold on to this feeling after they leave and you’re still alive and your home is bare and you forget again about what matters and what doesn’t.

6. Learn to use a gun. Carry one always. Buy lots of guns. Stash them all over the house. Hide them in your pants, the glove compartment, underneath your pillow. If you get a chance, aim for the head or the chest, or the heart. Don’t give papaya and shoot them in the leg.

7. Talk in a low voice, never yell. Don’t startle the finger on top of a trigger. Offer them a cigarette, offer them breakfast, offer them some water while they load up your car with your things. Ask them if they really want to be doing this, ask them if they could please not point the gun at the child, ask them about their mothers, ask them if they have no shame.

When they approach you, tell them you’re pregnant, tell them you’re on your period, tell them you’re an only child, tell them you have kids, tell them their names and their ages, tell them they can’t go to sleep unless you are lying next to them, tell them they’re probably lying in bed right now, awake, wondering where you are.

8. The best way to avoid malandros is to think like one. Put yourself in their shoes. Pick up on opportunities—the woman on the phone, the couple kissing in the car, the sliver of an open window notice how people give papaya all the time. Think with malice. Imagine that you’re hungry, that your kids are hungry, that you live in a rancho made with gray cinder blocks and muddy floors, that you have no mother, that it’s Christmas Eve and you have no presents for the kids, that you watched your brother die when you were fourteen, that you couldn’t believe all the blood, that you’ve seen so much blood it no longer scares you, that this is the only thing you know how to do, that you wish you could stop but don’t know how, that you wish someone would stop you, and that every time you go out into the dark, you hope this is the day somebody finally does.


Patricia García Luján’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, and Coolest American Stories 2023 (Coolest Stories Press, 2023). She is a former culture writer at Vogue and a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami’s MFA program. In 2021, she was named a Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award finalist and the Sewanee Review Fiction Contest finalist. Luján is at work on a short story collection.

To My Saint, the Lady Who Does the Car Insurance Commercials, Save Us by Ron Burch

I know you’re not real. I know you’re only an actor pretending to be a multi-insurance salesperson, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop believing. It’s good to see you there. Kind of, what they call reassuring. You know what a messed-up time it is. The world is falling apart. It doesn’t look good for us according to the science. Let the other crazy bastards believe what they want; it doesn’t matter; we all know what’s coming. Sorry, got off track there. My parents are dead. Don’t have much. But I look forward to your commercials. I know, laugh, some crazy lady out there is writing fan letters for your commercials. I worry they will stop you. Eventually, we know they will. Commercial franchises only last as long until the next dip of their market charts. I worry I won’t see any of you, you and all your fellow saints, any longer. My friend Tasha said that if I wrote to you, it wouldn’t make any difference, that there isn’t anything to believe in anymore, that the organized religious stuff is just a cash grab, but there must be something to believe in, and the more I thought about it, the more I discarded things to believe in. What a horrifying list. Some of the things, I didn’t know I could, and would, discard. I shocked myself at the end of it, when I looked over what I had left, discouraging. But then one of your commercials came on the tv, you know, the one we’re you’re all at the opera and it’s a disaster. Lol, I love that one. You’re funny and smart and witty and can play multiple characters, and the ensemble is right out of a sitcom, in a good way!, even better than that lame one about the friends. Tasha says you’re just an actor and you won’t care and that you won’t even respond to this. She says always writing you and not getting anything back is like ghosting. That’s the problem. All our leaders are ghosts. She’s invited me to an event about the climate, and I’m down to my last stamp, but I ask you again, My Saint Who Does the Car Commercials, Save Us before we have to save ourselves.


Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel JDP was just released from BlazeVOX books. He lives in Los Angeles.

Everything Was Great Until It Wasn’t by Theresa Boyar

At first the new babies were fascinating and you poked their fat bellies and stroked their eggshell heads and when your mother wasn’t looking you pressed your thumb, not too hard, on the soft indent in their skulls and pulled back at the jumping pulse you felt there. They listened to your stories and could be dressed up and made up with the lipsticks you found in the bathroom drawer but your mother didn’t like when you did that and look, she told you when she had to throw out the tubes of broken color, you had wrecked them all.

You noticed the babies changed her, your mother. They changed the way she looked at you and talked to you. You were no longer her sweet girl because her sweet girls were now in matching carriers and you wondered what had been pulled out of you while you slept, what had been subtracted or stolen, and given over to your sisters and their tiny spoons and jars of pureed peaches the color of that sunrise at the beach before the babies came when your mother had swung you by the arms, your feet swirling in the cold foam where you were sure there were sharks and your mother said no, no, there weren’t but just to be safe she would never let you go.

And when the babies started walking, prowling through the house, tearing up your best things, ruining them, biting the head off your only Barbie and chewing up your wax souvenir from Ocean World like candy, the once-smooth dolphin mangled by all those rows of sharp new teeth, you complained to your mother about the injustice of it all and when she told you look, it isn’t easy and you said yeah and she said she needed you to just be helpful, to be smart like she knew you were, because babies were a lot of work and not everything was a five-alarm disaster, you said yeah and you guessed that made sense but you still didn’t think it was fair and you grabbed their favorite crochet blankie when no one was looking and stretched it until there was a foot-sized hole in the middle and you buried the little red mallets to their toy xylophone in the backyard, and that felt better.

And when a snowstorm came and you and your mother worked together afterward to build a fat snowman, your sisters gathering pebbles for eyes and a mouth and helping in this tiniest, flimsiest way, and you all stood back and smiled and then your mother said it would be funny if she lifted you on top and your sisters said yes and you said yes and up you went and really, everything from up there was changed and wrong, you sitting over the middle section, clinging to the snowman’s head, your sisters’ grey snowsuits churning the snow like surf, and you told your mother no, you didn’t like it and wanted to come down and needed to come down and your mother said it was time you grew up and you felt the cold moving up from your feet like water and tried not to cry because you were sure if you moved too much, you’d fall and it was so far down, your own eggshell head would pour out on the snow in warm spoonfuls the color of sunrise and peaches and your mother crossed her faraway arms and said what the snowman really needed was hands and produced the little red xylophone mallets from her pocket and jabbed them in the snow somewhere beneath you while she laughed and your sisters clapped and from above, you were pretty sure you felt the earth tilt you farther away on its axis until all you could see was three gray shadows circling close together through the snow.

Theresa Boyar’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in The Florida Review, Poet Lore, Juked, and Tar River Poetry. Her essay “Peaches” was selected as a Notable Essay of 2000 by the editors of the Best American Essays series, and her chapbook Kitchen Witch was published by Dancing Girl Press. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two very barky dogs, Darla and Cooper.

Whiteout by Maria Poulatha

I’ll tell you a secret, Mama, like I used to do under the tent of bed covers, where we would crouch in our warm human scents and I’d whisper, “I stole a crayon. I love Walter. I saw God in the pool. Don’t tell Father…” But what I was really saying was, “I love you,” which you knew because you knew me like a mother knows a daughter, from the space I had carved within you with the nudge of rump and elbow, by the breadth of spleen and liver I had displaced. Knew me from the first time you positioned me on your breast as the nurses had taught and I bit right through you to draw milk and blood and you gave a little scream, they said.

Mama, you will hear on the news that I gathered my gear and took off for the mountains alone. I left behind my Garmin watch as well as Brian and I know that he’ll be happy to have that watch. It can take you to the end of the world and back, perhaps even to the underworld and back. That’s why they call it the Fenix. Brian is the tallest mountain I have ever encountered: jagged, pitched and frosted. Why did I wish to conquer him? Because he was there, so wanting and petulant.

I once saw a woman drive off a cliff. I was running in the mountains, she was coming from the opposite direction and before she drove by in her silver Renault, I looked at her face. I can tell you one thing and that is that her face was sober. Something made me look back and when I did I saw her car continue its ride off the mountain. For a brief moment everything seemed normal, the vehicle in flight, the pilot in control of her craft, the air around the car pale as down feathers. I did not bother to cover my ears. Later on the news I heard that the search team believed there were several women in the car. Bloodless limbs were scattered all around the crash, a half-dozen bent arms, smooth torsos and blank faces poking out of shrubs and mounds of dirt. But then we learned that the woman driving the car owned a clothing store and was transporting a carload of mannequins. The fireman who reported this on the news looked like he was trying not to laugh and people noticed this. To me he just looked relieved, not to have to collect so many human pieces.

You will hear on the news that the weather has changed for the worse, that it will be difficult to search or rescue. Have I ever needed to be rescued, Mama? Don’t you worry, I will be somewhere else, far from the sniffing dogs, ordering hot wine and sausages and the matronly owner will ask, ‘More cheese?’ and I will nod until she stops serving and plants her fists on her wide hips and says, ‘You look cold and tired. You will not go out into that storm.’ And she will hide my muddy boots and shush me into the barn and spread a thick gamey blanket over the hay next to the steaming manure. The gentle bodies of cows will sigh and shuffle and as I am about to sleep, the farmer’s son will enter with a tin mug of milk and I will ask him to scratch my back and invite him to wrap his milk-strong arms around me and we will keep each other warm, like hot bread under cream. I will breathe in the sour dough of his skin and snore.

The men will tire before the dogs do, although they will not say it. They will trudge along, like heroes on duty, but they will begin to think of their wives at home, warming dinner, dressing down. They will begin to wonder where their daughters are at this time of night. Are they in their bedrooms in their long nightgowns and fuzzy slippers, reading schoolbooks? They are probably not, sirs. So go home, tell them, look for your daughters instead. It is cold now, but I am warmed by dung-pasted paws, caressed by long docile cow lashes, touched by a man who knows how to use his hands because he must.

When the snow covers the ground perfectly, it’s as if nothing has ever tread here. It was not a priest, a soccer coach, a distant uncle. It was my own husband who broke me. You’ve seen some trees in the forest, 50 meters tall that burst into the skies lush and green. But inside they are being eaten hollow by parasites until suddenly, the fragments undone, the sap drained, they yield to a pile of mulch. I didn’t tell you because I knew it would break your mother’s heart. Or maybe I didn’t tell you because you already knew, you who knows me the way a tongue knows the mouth it is hinged to.

Because it was there: the most arrogant, flippant words uttered by man.

It is so cold. But there is a freshness to such cold. A newness. The dull tinsel of pine needles rustles overhead, releasing its medicinal sweetness. Everything that is beautiful appears to be out of reach until you touch it, then it is no longer out of reach, nor is it beautiful. So the saying goes. It doesn’t matter because nothing changes between mother and daughter. The umbilicus unwinds and unravels, it thins to flossiness, to delicate hair, to microscopic cilia. But there is no end to it.


Originally from New Jersey, Maria lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter. Her stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Okay Donkey, trampset and elsewhere.

Catholic School Girl by Jeanine Skowronski

I’ve been trying to grow wings, which sounds crazy, I know, except Cara has a pair. I swear. She shows them to me every time we change for gym class. They’re small — just two fuzzy, little knuckles raised about three inches below the nape of her neck — but her mom, who’s president of the PTA, promises they’ll get bigger with a little holy water, so, after school, Cara and I sneak into the church’s vestibule, dunk our fingers in a font and bless our shoulder blades.

In Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ seventh grade class, we learn religion. She tells us we believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She tells us only men can wash the pope’s feet. She tells us Paul fell off his horse and Lot’s wife turned to salt after God drowned the earth and everything wasn’t hunky-dory. She tells us Lucifer had wings, until he didn’t, and now we (unlike him) better not get seduced by evil. She won’t tell us, but I’m pretty sure Satan lives underneath the girls’ bathroom, the one between the two kindergartens. The tiles give off a heat that seeps through your penny-loafers, even when you avoid the cracks. I try not to go in there, the same way I avoid the fourth floor and Marnie Levinsworth. This school is full of monsters and ghosts.

Cara and I loiter in the back stairwell. She runs a finger across my back and frowns. You need something stronger than holy water, she says, and hands me a shampoo-sized bottle of chrism. Blessed by Pope John Paul II, it reads. Cara’s mom got it when they saw him say mass at Giants Stadium.
Two drops before bed, Cara suggests, but I never take the oil out of my backpack. I feel too guilty to use it.

Whenever Evan Merkle misbehaves, Sister Jerome Gaudentius flings an eraser at him. She keeps a set, just in case, lined up on her desk: fat, yellow rectangles, pink pencil toppers, a translucent watermelon wedge particularly good at leaving juicy, red welts. Once Evan learns to duck, so do we.

Cara tells me that my wings won’t grow because I think too much. It doesn’t matter how much oil (or water) I use; it doesn’t matter if I only say an even number of Hail Marys before bed. Your mind has got to be light, she says, like a feather.
Maybe, I say, except wings aren’t all fluff. They’re also flesh and blood and bones that’ll break if you ever crash down to earth. Something to carry, you know, not just something that carries you.
Cara blinks at me a few times. Marnie Levinsworth has had wings since fifth grade, she finally says.
OK, I say, even though we both know Marnie Levinsworth’s wings aren’t real.

Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ pulls me out of lunch to tell me to eat more. She remembers back in first grade, I used to toss the crusts of my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches underneath the cafeteria tables. She remembers, last week, I passed out in gym class and my mom showed up with orange juice. I tell her she’s wrong because she is. I’m not starving myself. I don’t tell her I’m always a little sad.

Before First Friday mass, Evan Merkle whispers that his sister Liz said that Monsignor Kasprowicz once told her that if you try to smuggle a Eucharist out of church, it’ll turn to blood in your pocket. No one believes him, not really, not even Cara, but during communion, most of our class takes the wafers with their tongues. I don’t take communion at all.

Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because my parents weren’t married in a church. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I don’t like Marnie Levinsworth. Or Sister Mary Gaudentius. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I can’t write the Our Father on graph paper without touching any horizontal lines. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because the other 7th grade girls deserve wings more than I do. I can’t remember the last time I thought I was going to heaven.


Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, Lunate Fiction, and Fewer than 500.