A Tiger’s List by Lu Han

I started a list of things I would like to discuss with you if we ever speak again.

  1. The Dark Web. This is a thing? A place for people to demand illegal, terrible things that don’t belong to them like someone else’s kidneys and child pornography? Why hasn’t somebody – the government, vigilante hackers – stepped in to shut it down? And how does it work? Is it a structured hierarchy with an org chart and gatekeepers, or a free-wheeling Craig’s List market, rife with randomly capitalized letters and terrible grammar? More importantly, can I find you in it? And if I do, can it translate the words I said to the meaning I intended?
  2.  Infinite monkey theorem: if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing randomized sequences of letters, they would eventually create the text of Hamlet in its entirety. The proofs tell us we would need a ridiculous number of universes and an unfathomable amount of time (three hundred and sixty thousand plus orders of magnitude from the Big Bang to the end of the universe) to achieve a shot at Hamlet. This seems like a stupid thing to quantify. In this theoretical exercise, you have an infinite amount of time, infinite supply of typing monkeys. Isn’t that the whole point of infinity? The absence of limits?
  3. My mother was born in the Year of the Monkey. According to every guide, description, and magazine column I have read on this, Monkeys and Tigers do not get along. This could be a coincidence or it could explain a lot about my relationship with her. Yet my mother loved you, a Tiger not of her own blood, biologically alien to her. We have been told two Tigers cannot coexist without fighting. For a long time I thought our friendship debunked this. We rode the bus to high school together, Febrezed the cigarette stench from our clothes, went to prom ironically and slow-danced the final song without making eye contact, co-created an epic playlist to  help you assimilate in the midwest, e-mailed through two years of graduate school—you from your tundra in Wisconsin, me tucked in an overheated fifth-floor Upper West Side walk-up. We were close enough to draw blood from each other on a daily basis, but we didn’t. Our friendship lived in defiance of zodiac predestination for a decade and now, now we cannot be in the same room. I would rip you to shreds and you know it.
  4. In middle school, my best friend taught me about the pink elephant theory by tricking me into thinking about a pink elephant. It’s an annoying way of saying that among the many things you cannot control are your own thoughts. When high school started, my best friend’s family moved, forever swallowed by the suburban beast that is Long Island. Before cell phones tethered us together and force fed us information like a relentless placenta, this kind of distance was the kiss of death for friendships. I think you should know that when we met, I was still tender from my first significant loss—friendship death by geography. It was a slow, trickling death, like bleeding out internally from an ulcer. Back then, I didn’t know that people generally don’t die of ulcers.

Perhaps we will speak about this one day.

If we don’t, then do me one favor. I hope you invent a method for selective auto mind-control. An invention that allows us to choose which of our memories to frame and hang in the hallways of our minds, and which ones to drop in the trash icon, say “yes” to deleting forever. How difficult can it be? We do it all the time, often by accident. After everything, it’s the least you could do, to help me find a way to unclench my jaw, to pry my teeth from your flesh.


Lu Han is a Chinese-American writer based in New York, NY. Lu highlights the undervoiced and displaced through fiction and nonfiction. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Margins, The Jarnal, Overachiever Magazine, Inheritance Magazine, and elsewhere. Find more at www.helloluhan.com

In Death and Hate by Belle Gearheart

We are at a funeral, because her grandfather died last month. We find her mother in a pew, looking like all sorts of a mess, and her father is on the other side of the room, mumbling to her uncle about football in a way that was meant to not look obvious. Her mother greets me, distant and cool. I am the girlfriend, and she is the daughter, and there is her mother, and we are three women together in a room full of grief.

At the gathering after the service, at her childhood home that her parents still live in, we sit in a corner of the study while people mill about with glasses of wine and tumblers of whiskey. Her father’s desk is neat and organized, and the leather chairs have a deep wooden cigar smell that makes me want to hide my face in them. We are joined by her cousin, ten years older than us, who also lives his life on the outside of acceptance. He is restless in the way that former druggies are, his knee bouncing, jangling the keys in his pocket. His face is worn and tired, and he looks older than he is.

It’s a shame, he says, but I guess that’s life. We live the best we can, and then they put us in a box. He pauses and sips his soda water, the glass sweating underneath his large fingers. I’ll tell you though. I’ve been in that box too many damn times already, and I got lucky enough to climb out of it before I was dropped into the ground.

She looks at her cousin, her face smooth and expressionless. She watches his nose as it twitches in thought. I know she is thinking about the repeated cliches of addicts, and the perpetual cycle of debasement and self critique and upward motivation that stimulates the economy of recovery because we have had those conversations about her cousin before. But she doesn’t say anything to him, only pats his hand, looks back out across the room.

People shove plates of food at her that she piles up on the end table. No one seems to notice the small servings of stuffed mushrooms, shrimp, cheese and olives that she has made a mountain of. I nudge her to eat. She ignores me. Her family ignores me, except for her cousin, and his family ignores him.

She takes leave of me and begins her dance around the rooms of the house, giving polite greetings to ancient family members and long forgotten neighbors. I watch her body move underneath the black dress she is wearing, and wonder when the last time was that I saw her naked. Not naked in mere circumstance, like getting changed or jumping into the shower, but naked with intention, with desire. She has been oscillating between chaste clinginess and repulsion of my touch for weeks. She is a dazzling actress. I even see a few tears when her prim aunt cups her face in a long fingered hand.

She hated her grandfather, but he hated her first. When he died she didn’t cry, but she was angry.
He never got to meet you, she fumed. He would have fucking hated you.

Well, I’m sure you disappointed him enough for one lifetime, I assured her. Being a dyke and all.

We leave before the gathering becomes too sparse, in order to hide our sudden disappearance. She pulls the velvet headband through her hair and throws it on the passenger floor of my car, slams the door after she climbs in. Her body is turned away from me, head against the cool window. I try to hold her hand but it goes limp at my touch.

She gets out at the supermarket to run in and grab cat food. I pick up her phone to change the music, and I see a text from someone: i miss you so much, please come over and… When I open it, there is a picture attached of a woman with breasts that are small enough to hold in one hand but full enough to still enjoy. Her body is all angles and steep slopes, dainty but forceful. It is not the only photo, but it is the first sent today. The text thread goes back six months.

I look up and see her crossing the parking lot. I toss the phone back down. She opens the car door and gets back in, and as she sets the bag of cat food in the backseat, I wonder if it is time for me to finally get out of the box.

Belle Gearhart is an emerging writer with forthcoming work in Bullshit Lit, Flash Frog Lit, and the Longleaf Review. A displaced New Yorker, she lives in Southern California with her partner, child, and many, many cats.

See Ruby Falls by Sutton Strother

You won’t answer your phone the first time it rings, but you’ll know it’s me. I’m still in your contact list. You’ll tell me so on the fifth call, the one you finally answer. “Entropy,” you’ll say. “Laziness. Don’t read anything into it.”

I’ll let you have this one.

I’ll get to the point: in two days, a total solar eclipse will darken our hometown. I’ll remind you of a sixteen-year-old promise to watch it together. “When did we say that?” you’ll ask, and my words will conjure the living room of your college apartment: me on the couch in a pair of your boxers, astronomy textbook in my lap, you naked in the armchair smashing the Xbox controller, half-listening as I explain Gamma and Umbra and the Diamond Ring Effect. I find a page listing dates of eclipses for the next century and where best to view them. I see, printed there, the name of a place we avoid saying aloud, like the name of a demon or a ghost. “We could go back for that,” I say. “Only for that,” you say.

On your end of the line, a baby will cry. You’ll keep your word. I won’t ask what compels you.

We’ll meet at the motel and fuck before we even say hello. The sounds you make will sound like curses in a foreign language, harsh and a little silly, but your body will feel familiar. Sometimes I search out new photos of you just to look at your hands, to keep their shape committed to memory, to ensure that whatever else time alters your hands remain the hands I knew before. “The very same,” I’ll say aloud when I kiss your left palm, and you’ll be too far gone to ask what the hell I’m talking about.

We won’t linger. We’ll get in my car and drive around town. We’ll pretend our memories are fuzzier than they are – “Isn’t that where?” “Didn’t we there?” – like we don’t travel these roads every night in our minds to lull ourselves to sleep.

I won’t need GPS to find the barn where we used to get high and fool around. There are dozens like it scattered across the South, the words SEE RUBY FALLS emblazoned on the side facing the highway. This town sits three hundred miles from Ruby Falls. I’ve never been there, don’t even know what I’d find if I went, though as we make the old climb up to the roof of the barn, I’ll remind you of something I told you long ago: when I was a kid, I imagined Ruby Falls as a hail of gemstones tumbling over a glittering rock wall. I’ll recount how you rolled your eyes and said it was the goofiest thing you’d ever heard and how after, we split a forty and made out until the streetlights flickered on.

You’ll lay your head against my chest and call me your time capsule. I won’t explain how I hold onto these things hoping one day you’ll come to claim them.

The sky will dim. The air will cool. I’ll produce the special glasses I bought to protect our eyes, knowing you won’t have thought to bring your own, and we’ll laugh about how silly we look in them. Soon after, a car will pull onto the shoulder of the road. Its passengers will disembark – a mother, two boys. They won’t notice us at all. The mother will tell her sons how you don’t get many opportunities like this, not in one brief little lifetime.

Soon the moon will come, crescenting the sun. I’ll swear I feel the moment hum through me, through us both, through every atom on the planet, a buzzing promise. Cows in a nearby field will low in chorus. Coyotes will bark in the woods back towards town. The crescent will stretch into a corona then – “The Diamond Ring,” I’ll say, finger pointing heavenward. “Not diamond,” you’ll answer, and when I look again, I’ll see what you mean.

Light will pulse behind the moon, shifting first to orange then deepest red before it melts around the shadow, drips down from the sky.

Red rain will fall around us.

Not rain, hail.

Not hail, rubies.

Shrieking, hand in hand, we’ll leap from the roof and race away, past the mother and sons catching gems in their open shirts, marveling at the unexpected bounty. We’ll slide into the backseat of my car, reach again for one another as the rubies dent the hood and crack the windshield. A red rivulet will trickle from your head where a stone struck you, and when I kiss the wound, my lips will come away bloodied. “I told you so,” I’ll say, and you’ll holler, “You were right! Goddammit, you were right!” You’ll kiss me hard, and with your own bloodstained mouth you’ll proclaim the miracle, and I’ll believe at last we’re getting somewhere.


Sutton Strother is a writer and instructor living in New York. Their work has been featured in several publications including, most recently, Uncharted, Janus Literary, and HAD. You can find them tweeting @suttonstrother and read more of their work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com.

Bumble by Caitlyn Hunter

Fun fact: Black women are ranked the least desirable demographic in online dating. It’s amazing what you overlook when you want someone to find you attractive. In a world where Black isn’t always beautiful you do what you must to work through the feeling of being unlovable.

I open the door to a thin weasel-like man who resembles a side-character from Seinfeld. Standing on tippy toes, he reaches up to hug me, “You look like your photos.” He smells of day-old Axe body spray and coconut oil. His receding hairline is accentuated by long flowing and curly hair. Skeletal fingers jab the sides of my rib cage, “Coochie coochie coo.”

Is he tickling me? I giggle as if the act is funny. This isn’t about love. This is about getting over. This is about me. I gesture towards the couch. “Would you like to watch a movie?” Michael nods and jumps hard on the sofa. He grabs the TV remote and turns on Netflix.

“Let’s watch my favorite show,” he says, landing on Dark Tourist. I sit beside him and open up my robe.

“So…are you from this city?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Born and raised. You?”

“No. My mom is though. How about a job. What do you do for work?”

“I’m a mortician’s assistant.”

“Oh. That’s cool. So you’re in mortuary school?”

“No. I just love being around dead bodies.”

The TV host is touring Fukushima, the core site of a nuclear reaction. People on the bus take selfies. “Didn’t a lot of people die here?” I ask, trying to make sense of what I’m watching.“Yeah. They even go to Chernobyl in this one. Sick right?”

Sick. The red flags on this guy continue to accumulate. Mortician. Necrophilia. Dark tourism. I remind myself again. This is about me. I want to have sex. I want a win. Maybe there is a way to redeem this. Maybe he’ll have a big dick. I remove my robe, letting it hang around my shoulders.

He leans in to kiss me. His thin dry, chapped lips, slice against mine. His hands make their way towards the sides of my waist. He whispers in my ear, “Coochie coochie coo.” I push his hands towards my breast to grope me. He flicks the tip of my nipple. Grinning, he echoes, “coochie coochie coo.”

I try to direct his hands in the ways I want to be touched. He grabs mine and locks them behind my head. He looks into my eyes as if he wants to devour my face. “I want to tie you up. If you wait here I have five pairs of handcuffs in my car.”

Five? What is the fifth pair for? Now, I’m uncomfortable. Something about his insistence, his gaze is unsettling. I want to be desired, not consumed.

“Um…” I pull my hand from his grasp. “Maybe next time? I figured we could just have some traditional fun. Get to know each other before we do anything experimental.”

His face sobers. “Oh, ok.” He pulled my underwear aside and tried again, scratching the sides of my labia. “Coochie, coochie, coo.” This isn’t about him, this is about me. I want to be wanted. I want to be in control. I lean up staring at Michael between my legs.

“That isn’t turning me on. Can we switch it up?”

He sighs and leans back, “Yeah, I guess. Women usually love that move.”

Perhaps he had found the magical oasis of females who desired to have their vaginas tickled. I gesture to the bedroom. “Maybe we just need more space.” This isn’t about him. This is about me. This is my chance to reclaim my body. I grab his hand and lead him to the bed. This is a chance to declare if not to others but myself that I am sexy. I am someone to be desired. I climb on top of him and lean in to kiss him. This isn’t about him. I close my eyes. I feel two hard fists slam into my thighs.

Blow by blow he pounds my flesh into tenderized dark meat. The look in his eye returns. Spit foams at the side of his lips.

“Tell me you’re a filthy slut.”


He banged his fist into my thigh.

“You want this cock,” he whined. “Don’t you?” He grabs my hand and shoves it down his pants. “You like that don’t you, you naughty bitch.”



“No.” My thighs and back ache. His penis, his small limp penis, is the final straw. This man is useless. I pull away. “I think you should leave.”

“But, I’m not finished.”

“And neither did I.”

He lunges towards me. I back away and he falls onto the floor, his legs still tangled by the pants hanging around his ankles. I grab his shoes and throw them at him. “Leave. Now. Or we’re going to have problems.” He shuffles his pants back up around his waist. He slides each shoe over his foot in silence. He leaves, I lock the door, and cry.

On Instagram I come across a story of a Black woman who went missing after going on a first date with a white man. They find her corpse days later on the riverbank. It had been months since I thought about that night with Michael. If I had let that man stay would I be here to tell the story?

Everyone has an online dating horror story. We laugh at their outrageousness. When I tell the story to others, the story’s frame becomes a funny anecdote, a quirky mishap over superficial banter and beers. Nothing about that narrative is scary. Nothing about that story is dangerous. My foremothers taught me that if you don’t name those shortcomings as trauma, then they never happened. Not really. It’s easier for me to call what happened a dating bumble. It’s easier to deny my survivor’s guilt.


Caitlyn Hunter was the inaugural Emerging Black Artist in Residence at Chatham University (2021-2022). She is a doctoral candidate at Duquesne University where she researches African American literature and Black Food studies. Her debut book, Power in the Tongue was published in 2022 through Tolsun Books. She currently teaches and resides in Southern Maryland.

After He Talks With God, Abraham Sees His Nephew’s City Consumed by Flames by Abe Mezrich

Sometimes your prayer rises up and turns to smoke. Sometimes a prayer asks too much. Sometimes you offer a prayer for the undeserving but there must be punishment. Even so the smoke continues to rise. It ascends and ascends to heaven. In heaven when they inhale they smell your smoke, your prayer. It reminds them that down on earth, where the fire is, even the wicked can be loved.


Abe Mezrich is the author of three books of poetry on the Hebrew Bible: The House at the Center of the WorldBetween the Mountain and the Land Lies the Lesson, and the forthcoming Words for a Dazzling Firmament, all from Ben Yehuda Press. Learn more at www.AbeMezrich.com.

Mascot by Iona Rule

The panda was in the dairy aisle again, fur damp from the milk bottle condensation. Every Friday night since I’ve worked the late shift, I’ve watched this familiar stranger circle the store to the Best of the 80s soundtrack that plays on loop. I’ve witnessed him linger in the cereal section, weighing up the advantages of Coco-Pops vs Sugar Puffs. Occasionally a paw hesitates over muesli before swaying back to the comfort of sugar. Sometimes I consider looking him up online, discovering which team he mascots for. Which sport, even. I imagine scrolling through a squad’s headshots like Who’s Who, before finally my finger hovers over him, the face beneath the costume. But I don’t. Partly, for the same reason I didn’t ask questions of the woman who lives upstairs. When she appeared last weekend in her dressing gown, placing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a pregnancy test on the counter between us. They’re only passing through and some things are best left unknown.

When I was nine there was a lion outside the ice cream parlour in town, giving away balloons. Mum would take me there most Saturdays after Dad left, hoping to heal a child’s grief with bubblegum ice cream and sprinkles. I only wanted to see the lion. He smelt of Dad, the same concoction of cigarette smoke, Old Spice and mint shampoo. I believed it was him underneath the mane and plastic toothed grin, with pure childhood indifference as to why he would choose this disguise. It was his arms that hugged me and his felt paw that pushed a balloon ribbon into my hand. I kept every one he gave me, even when they shrunk and withered like old grapes. I stored each wrinkled carcass in a shoebox under my bed. Then one day we drove past the parlour when the lion was on his break. I saw him by the bins, decapitated, holding the maned head under one arm as he rolled a cigarette. He was a pale teenager with a face rouged in acne. For once, I didn’t beg Mum to stop.

The panda brings his purchases to my counter. I wonder sometimes if the panda has someone at home who takes off his head, kisses him and asks about his day. Or if he’s single, roaming bars and apps for connections. I wonder if the women he meets ask him to stay in costume, revealing late-night fetishes for a man in a mask and polyester fur. That, like me, they prefer an illusion. I scan his discounted steak pie and a four-pack of lager. As I pass him the receipt, his fur briefly grazes my palm and I envision another night, when I’ll put my arms around him, my name badge pressed into his chest, when I’ll stare into his glass eyes and hear him say,
“I promise I will never leave.”



Iona Rule has always had a fear of people in mascot costumes. She recently came second in the Bath Flash Fiction competition and has been shortlisted in Retreat West, Fractured Lit, and TSS Publishing. Her work can be found in a few places including The Phare, Epoch Press, and Sans Press.

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 SarahSaysWrite.com 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 https://rachelocleary.wordpress.com, 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 christophernotarnicola.com.