Grafton Hill by Michele Finn Johnson

Geoff says he’s sorry, but he’s not going to touch me tonight. My feet are on his lap and his arm weighs them down. He’s doing that thing he does when he sprints—curling his lower lip above his upper, exhaling hair away from his eyes. Those eyes. They’re half the reason I’m here, the way Geoff slants them toward me at running club; the angle of seduction, I call it. Geoff’s been my sure thing for over a year. No strings. I rub my toes around in his crotch just to see if he’s serious, but he folds my legs into a V, sets them down on the couch between us.

I’m surprised you called, he says. He stares at my hand. It’s a pear-shaped diamond. Almost a full carat, but it’s flawed. The colors from Geoff’s TV reflect off its facets like a kaleidoscope.

I always call ahead. I smirk at him. You hate spur-of-the-moment sex.

Geoff leans away from me. This is stupid, Mercy. You have to talk to me. For real.

The thing is, I want to talk to Geoff. I want to tell him why I said yes—it was an honest-to-God reflex, a reaction to the knee-bend and the jewelry box and restaurant cheers and then, BAM! The holy-shit reality. I want to tell him why I’m sitting here, with him, the most focused and logical person I know, instead of with my oopsy-daisy-fiancé, but it feels wrong, all this sitting when Geoff and I are so much about motion—running, sprinting, even our sex is about forward progress.

Want to go for a run? I ask.

Geoff’s street is steeper than any we’ve attempted on our Saturday morning club runs—it’s a nightmare triangle—and so I fall behind. I watch him as he jogs out up Grafton Hill, his shoes barely striking asphalt. He’s a natural runner, not a forced one. Running’s always been a grind for me. Just go. Move. No technique no matter how many tips I get from pros like Geoff who study this stuff. Now I see the flaw in this, my general lack of a life plan. Who would’ve thought spontaneity could lay such a trap?

At the top of Grafton Hill, Geoff bends and grabs his knees. He pants with an open mouth and waits for me to catch up. I’m glad to see this is hard for him, too.

You trying to kill me with your neighborhood trek? I ask.

Geoff reaches for me. I offer the hand without the ring. Let’s sprint the downhill together. He squeezes my hand. But at the bottom, you’re talking to me.

The night air is cool but today’s sun is still radiating up from the street. We fly. I’m all legs. I force my brain to focus on pace and core position, and when we bottom out, I’m spinning in an endorphin high. Geoff stretches his calves on the curb. For a minute we stand on the curb together, pulsing our heels up and down, silent.

I said yes.

Geoff is breathing like a metronome, even and controlled. I didn’t even know there was the possibility of a question. 

There’s a waver in his voice that could be hurt or anger, a 50/50 shot. Except I want to know, I want to be sure which way he is leaning before I decide if I’m going to tell him the truth or a lie.

Why didn’t we ever date? I ask.

Geoff hops off the curb. You’ve got to be kidding me. 

He pulls me so close, I can feel his sweat through my tee-shirt and on my legs. It’s almost like being in bed with him, how his heat moves around on my skin, except in bed it’s impossible to keep track of both his breath and tongue. Here, at the bottom of Grafton Hill, Geoff is both possible and impossible at the same time; if it’s anger or hurt or fear or confusion that he’s feeling, it is all of these things, all at once, inside me now. Wasn’t it me who’d said, Nothing serious? Can’t be tied down? Wasn’t it Geoff who’d said, If that’s what you really want?

It’s something, the way Geoff’s steady pulse has calmed me down. How my breath’s returned to me. I reach around Geoff’s waist and feel for that pear-shaped diamond. The point of it digs into the tip of my index finger as I turn it around to face the palm of my hand. I break away from Geoff and start to run, slowly, back up Grafton Hill. I count my footfalls, focus on smoothing out my stroke. My hair falls in front of my eyes and I exhale upwards, watch it fly.


 

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Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, The Adroit Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online @m_finn_johnson and michelefinnjohnson.com.

Northern Lights by Hillary Leftwich

I was left under a rock in the woods when I was a baby. An older man, his wife, and his son were hiking when they heard me crying. My dad lifted the rock and there I was, cocooned in a cavity of earth. They took pity and brought me home.

When I was five orange lava flowed across our floor. I jumped from pillow cushion to pillow cushion, hoping my feet wouldn’t melt. My brother told me if even one tiny toe touched the lava I would explode. He scrunched his eyebrows in a very serious look. I knew he had to be telling me the truth. It took me an hour to get to my bedroom.

When I was seven my brother broke my favorite Ronald McDonald record album. He told me if I played the album backwards Ronald commands in a deep, demonic voice to kill your mom and dad. He said he would not tell Mom that my Ronald McDonald album is satanic and I was possessed. He broke it in half for my own good.

When I was eight I told my brother I wanted to float like Alice in the scene from Alice in Wonderland. He told me to put on my poofiest skirt. He said if I jumped off the top of the stairs I would fly into forever. He tied a rope around my waist just to be safe. Hurry and jump before Mom finds us. Mom came into the kitchen just as I readied myself to leap. She told my brother to go to his room while she untied the rope from my waist, shaking her head. You always believe the sun rises and sets on your brother.

When I was twelve I stood on the grass in our yard watching my brother fight another boy from school. My brother was big, but this boy was bigger. Their faces signaled red and white and red again. My brother was losing his breath. I ran inside and grabbed the cordless phone. I came outside as the crowd from school formed a ring around the lawn. I shouted Mom called and was on her way home. Everyone scattered and my brother was left alone on the grass. I had that kid pinned, he told me. We both knew better.

When I was twenty-one I returned home on Christmas day. My brother was staying in the basement. The garage door was pulled down and billowing smoke. It was different than smoke from a fire. It smelled like fumes. I opened the side door into the garage and found my brother inside his car, a bottle of whiskey in his lap and eyes closed. I couldn’t breathe. The exhaust puffed out of the tailpipe like an industrial waste cloud, squeezing my lungs. I opened the car door and dragged my brother out, thinking hurry as the whiskey bottle fell and broke in half, thinking hot lava, thinking hurry and jump before Mom comes home.

When I am thirty-five my brother takes a plane to Alaska and never returns. After three months I follow his trail, searching the national park for signs he is alive. I search for his favorite orange tent, for his hiking backpack with the Maui patch sewn on the back flap, for the abandoned campfire piled with American Spirit Mellow Yellow cigarette butts. The park rangers tell me people go missing every year and are never found. My mom begs me to return home. Losing both her children will kill her. I tell her I am going to stay and wait for the Northern Lights.

One day, the sky glows Christmas green. The park rangers find me on a trail heading south and tell me to return home. I tell them I met a woman in the forest last week with her two young children. She told me to watch the sky, that it would soon be changing colors. She said people call the colors the Northern Lights but they are not lights at all. They are the reflections of a fire from the dead letting us know they are thinking of us. They are trying to tell us they are safe, even though we are very far apart.

 


 

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Hillary Leftwich currently lives in Denver with her son. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review, host for At the Inkwell Denver, and a victim advocate for survivors of sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, and sex trafficking. Her writing can be found in print and online in The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Sundog Lit, Occulum, NANO Fiction, Jellyfish Review, and others. Her first book, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in spring of 2019. Find her online at hillaryleftwich.com and on Twitter @hillaryleftwich.

The Hand by Todd Dillard

After my mother died a green hand started following me around. It galloped after me as I walked down the hall, the pads of its fingers making a sound like drumming on a desk, a trample of impatience. Scratching noises when I went to the bathroom, knocks on my front door in the middle of the night that, when answered, were the hand, thirsting like an outdoor cat for the warmth of my living room.

I took it to the pound but they refused to accept it. Who would adopt it? How do you euthanize something that doesn’t have a heart?

I called the exterminators and they suggested I use a bracelet for a collar and, since it was winter, buy it a glove.

I called my brother, and he said the same thing had happened to him, only he gave his hand a long bolt and a wingnut. Now his hand sits in his lap all day, screwing and unscrewing the nut from the bolt’s threads. Maybe, my brother suggested, you could try something similar?

I looked through my mother’s things, plucked a dented pack of Turkish Silvers out of a box, and tossed it to the hand. It caught them and placed them on the floor, its fingers tapping the lid.

“Those were my mom’s,” I said.

Tobacco leaves scattered as the hand crumpled the package and dragged it to the trash can.

I gave it my mother’s hairbrush next; for hours the hand tweezed white hairs from bristles, eventually offering me a steel scouring pad of strands when it was done.

Soon the hand was tunneling through the sleeves of my mother’s coats, frolicking among her hats like a frog in a throng of lily pads. Within a few hours it had formed two piles—piles that didn’t make any sense, stacked with my mother’s books, boots, pictures, half-used bottles of nail polish, chipped Cutco knives, unfinished quilts, a diary, a gun.

The hand pointed to one pile, then the other, then turned up its palm. One pile, the other—it wanted me to choose. I picked one at random and went to bed. In the morning the pile I didn’t pick was gone.

Weeks now, and so little of my mother’s belongings remain. Every night I fall asleep listening to the hand work, listening to the crunch and shuffle of things being dragged out of boxes, hauled to one of the two new piles rising from the living room floor.

Now when I dream it’s of the hand and not her. It drags me to the living room, places me on top of one of the mounds. I have to choose. But something gets miscommunicated, the hand thinks I want to keep the other pile, the one I’m not in. I wake gasping to a light knock on my bedroom door.

I call my brother, but when he picks up he won’t speak, won’t say anything at all.

“I don’t know what to do,” I say. “What should I do? What are we going to do?”

In front of me two piles wait. The hand points at one, points at the other, then turns up its palm. Points, points, palm.

On the phone the squeak of a screw turning, turning.


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Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Barrelhouse, Nimrod, Electric Literature, Superstition Review, and Split Lip Magazine. His flash fiction was selected as a finalist for the Best Small Fictions 2018 anthology, and his work was recently nominated for the Best of the Net.

When Viv Wanted to Walk to Crescent Street by Kim Magowan

Before her life cracked, Maggie had a theory about youngest children: they were either precocious, always trying to catch up to the older sibs, or—and this was the more likely scenario—a little immature. Maggie herself had been the former, smoking pot for the first time when she was twelve with her two older brothers in the garage, Sean demonstrating how to hold the smoke in her lungs. But Viv was very much the latter. Even though she was one of the tallest girls in fifth grade, all legs, a colt, she had that baby face. She had that baby voice. A voice so high and squeaky that a drunk on the bus had once said to Maggie, “That kid sounds like a character in a cartoon.”

So when Viv wanted to walk to Crescent Street alone, the neighborhood commercial strip, Maggie thought this grasp for independence was a good thing. When Maggie was ten, she’d ridden her bike all over town by herself. Of course that was Tulsa, barely a city, but still.

Viv was so young for her age. Just a year before, they’d finally broken the news about Santa Claus, and only because Viv had asked directly, and Maggie had promised John that under such circumstances she would tell. (After a certain early point John was no fan of the Santa Claus charade. Maggie had to leave the Santa trail of evidence all by herself, taking bites out of the cookies left for Santa and sips from his cup of milk and nibbles from the baby carrots Viv plated for the reindeer). Despite asking, Viv had cried, been truly heartbroken by the news, at least in that feeble, faint way Maggie used to think of hearts breaking.

So when Viv wanted to walk to Crescent Street by herself, naturally Maggie said yes: it was all of seven blocks, and safe, and daylight. The danger she considered was cars. “Make sure you look both ways when you cross the street,” she said, and Viv nodded, pocketing the $5 Maggie had given her—she was going to buy a popsicle at the grocery store. Really it was just an excuse to take a walk by herself.

The truth is, Maggie felt a kind of lurch, a squeeze in her chest. But she imagined she was being over-protective. Kids needed to take risks, to test themselves; so John always said. Maggie thought of being ten in Oklahoma, zipping around everywhere in her bike, the basket decorated with yellow plastic daisies.

She fastened her Swatch watch on Viv’s wrist. “Be home by five thirty.” John would not approve of a popsicle so close to dinner, she thought that too.

“Be home by five thirty”: those are the last words Maggie spoke to her daughter. When Viv was at the door, Maggie almost called her back and sent Sophie with her, but Sophie was finishing her Spanish homework.

Their neighborhood had once been seedy but was now gentrified, like everything in San Francisco. When people talked about dangers, it was the coyote on the hill killing cats. Allegedly there was a crack house, though Maggie could never remember where it was supposed to be.

Braising Brussels sprouts, Maggie kept looking at her bare wrist.

When they talked to the police later, all Maggie could remember about what Viv was wearing was that borrowed blue Swatch watch. Everything else was blank, irradiated. It was Sophie who recalled dark leggings and a long-sleeved shirt with a unicorn.

The police took notes. There were two of them; the female cop was kind. She had brown freckles, like someone had sprinkled cocoa powder on her cheeks. “We’ll find her,” she said, though she must have known better than to make promises.

In those earlier days when tragedy was a thing observed from a distance, to take sips of—the kid in Sophie’s gymnastics class who had spinal meningitis and never woke up, the young, pregnant art teacher who was mugged and lost her baby—somewhere in those days, Maggie had read that most lost children were never found. She remembered this when she read it again, during sleepless Googling nights.

That cop should have known better, but she may have been a mother too, and she may have, despite her better judgement, wanted to offer Maggie something. Maggie must have scraped her, like a shard of glass.

Because it is that police officer, Louise Hennessy, who calls Maggie three years later to tell her the news. It’s just Maggie and Sophie living in the house now: John moved out over a year ago, their marriage collateral damage in the wake of Viv vanishing, along with Maggie’s drinking and Sophie’s eating problems, everything blighted and burnt.

Holding the phone, Maggie reminds herself that she said to John, and Sophie, and others too, plenty of witnesses, that not knowing is the worst. That anything is better than not knowing. But as Louise Hennessy tells her, so gently, “Yes, I’m afraid, we are sure,” and something about dental records, Maggie wails, learning that there is still more pain to bear here. People talk about “hitting bottom,” especially in AA. But Maggie feels not as if she is falling but flying, a runaway kite shredding in the sky.

 


 

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Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.

 

Daiquiris at the End of the World by Connor Saparoff Ferguson

I’m still trying to figure out if this toucan behind the bar is real, and I’m running out of time to ever know.

When the alarm first went off, there was a pantomime of general panic. I went up to our room in a daze and opened the door to find my wife, naked, surrounded by what looked to be every last hotel cabana boy. Honestly, I admired her for throwing whatever that was together so quickly.

By the time I came back downstairs, a good portion of the guests and staff had spilled onto the beach, faces turned up to the sun and arms outspread as if in ecstasy. I made for the bar.

It was empty except for Mike, the bartender, who was drying the giant margarita glasses. He held each one briefly up to the light, then chucked it at the wall paneled in fake bamboo. Crash.

“Are you still serving?”

“Sure,” he said. “Why not?” Crash.

“What’s a good last drink?” I ask, taking a seat just outside of the glasses’ trajectory.

“Daiquiri?”

“Hit me.”

He jumped up on the back bar to pull a bottle down from the top shelf, produced two limes and appeared to cut them in midair, shook the drink vigorously for no more than five seconds, then strained the pearlescent liquid into a tiny coupe glass that had materialized in front of me.

“That’s a daiquiri?”

“A real one.” He rinsed the shaker and set it upside down on the edge of the bar, ready for the next customer. “I’m not really sure how it ended up referring to those blended strawberry-pineapple things.”

I took a sip. It was crisp and tart, with an unexpected dry snap from the rum.

“Wow,” I said, and drained the rest. Mike was already shaking me a second one. I thought that despite everything else, there was nothing sadder in that moment than the fact that I had almost died without knowing what a real daiquiri was.

That’s when I noticed the toucan, nestled in a pile of rope on the top shelf behind the bar. It regarded me with an eye like a drop of crude oil.

“You’re not going to join me?” I asked Mike.

“Nah. I’m eleven years sober, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, sure, but you know…” I indicated the herd on the beach, each of whom looked as though they were accepting a hug from an invisible, floating friend. Mike laughed, more to himself than to me, and threw another glass. Crash.

“A promise isn’t worth much if you welch on it as soon as things start to go south. Even a promise to yourself.”

“Well, more power to you.” I raised the glass to him and knocked it back.

The toucan’s feathers look real enough, but I’m still not sure. Assuming it’s real, I feel almost as sad as I did about the daiquiri, thinking of the poor bird ending his existence pickled and stuffed, watching two poor loners cheerlessly await the end of the world.

A nearly subsonic rumbling creeps into the edges of our hearing. Mike and I look at the ceiling and shrug to each other.

“Another one for the road?”

“Coming right up,” he says. A moment later he sets the familiar coupe down with one hand and the toucan down with the other.

“I saw you looking at him, and I think you should have him.”

“You sure?” I pick up the bird like some precious orb and run my thumb over one of his leathery feet. “Hey, do you know if this thing’s real?”

“Course he’s real,” Mike says and tosses another glass. Crash. “For another minute or so, at least.”

I stroke the toucan’s head, bring it very close to my face, and peer into the inky eye. Nothing but blackness. Mike throws the last margarita glass (crash) and flips on the stereo, which starts to play “Iko Iko” by The Dixie Cups. I tuck the bird under my arm and stand up to take the last sip from the bottom of the glass.


 

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Connor Saparoff Ferguson is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Baltimore Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he lives in Boston.

Postcards by Eva M. Schlesinger

Acey’s parents wanted her to get a job. “For Social Security,” her mother said.

“Anti-social insecurity.” Acey smirked.

“And so your employer can pay your health insurance,” her father added brightly, so brightly Acey had to put on her shades. Her new wraparounds. They wrapped around her face and shielded her from her parents.

“Must you?” Acey’s mother sighed. “You have such a pretty face.”

“Must be that age,” Acey’s father said.

Acey blinked, taking a mental picture she titled “Parents Trap Daughter At Kitchen Table.” She imagined the scene on a postcard she showed to passerby. Out loud she announced, “Six-squared.”

“That right, dear. You’re thirty-six now.” Acey’s mother squeezed her hand. Her mother’s hand felt like a soapy sponge. It was a soapy sponge. Acey laid it on the nice, clean, plastic sunflower tablecloth to give it a rest from dishwashing. Even sponges deserved a vacation.

“You’d look more attractive if you flattened down your hair,” Acey’s mother said, drying her hands on an old gold dishtowel. The towel showed maidens in blue frocks milking cows. If you touched a cow in the right place, it mooed.

Acey touched the cow’s stomach.

“Moo,” the cow responded.

“That’s cow for I like my hair,” Acey said.

“Moo,” said the cow.

“Acey,” Mother warned.

“I didn’t do it. That cow has a life of its own.”

“I hope you’re spelling ‘its’ properly,” Acey’s father Sternly said. His name was Sternly, but his colleagues called him Stern. He turned a page of The Daily Dairy Diary, which the cow community published for milk drinkers.

“Its—no apostrophe,” Acey recited. “May I please be excused?”

“Excused?” Acey’s mother glanced up from bed sheet folding. She was a sportive bed sheet folder. She didn’t do it professionally. She didn’t do it commercially. Sometimes she practiced on stationery sheets.

“Thank you.” Acey remembered she was six-squared and could do as she pleased. As she got up, her mind’s eye snapped another shot, “The Excused Need No Excuse.”

“No allowance for you this week.” Stern rustled the newsprint.

“Then I’ll get a job,” Acey said.

“Our daughter’s come to her senses,” her parents chorused, beaming.

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“And this postcard depicts NuRotic at night,” Acey told the crowd. Tourists loved her tours of the postcard racks.

“Could you please speak up? You have a soft-spoken voice,” said a lady in an embroidered neon pink short-sleeved dress and high heels.

“NuRotic at night.” Acey’s shout made the cards rattle in their perch.

“Why, it looks just like Yew-Ott, our Eastern Seaboard gem.” The lady’s eyelashes tickled the photo of a twinkling star alone in the mist. “Isn’t that right next door?”

Acey didn’t respond. Her picturesque hometown postcards enticed those who, stuck in the usual drawbridge traffic, wanted to stretch their legs and gulp in sea salt air, before climbing back in their cars. She didn’t want to reveal that to the woman and lose her clientele. She wanted to present her hometown as an exotic locale.

“My favorite postcard is this one of the beach,” Acey continued. “See how the rocks kiss the sand and surf?”

“How do you know they’re kissing?” A man in a white tea shirt sneered. The shirt was manufactured from tea leaves and smelled like the earth after a good soaking.

There was one in every crowd, Acey noticed. “This over here,” she said, trying to ignore the man. Her shades were a cool reassurance against her cheekbones. Good thing her wraparounds were still around, since he reminded her of Stern, and she needed protection. “This over here,” she repeated, yelling, in case anyone fell prey to her soft-spoken voice. “This rack has the best deal in NuRotic. Twenty cents a card or six for a dollar.”

“Is that Canadian or U.S.?” the man asked. His skateboard click-clicked when he flipped it. “How do you know it’s the best deal? You do a survey?”

“Serious inquiries only,” Acey said. She picked up an orange megaphone. “As a matter of fact, I did do a survey. The drugstore down the street came in close second with twenty-five cents a postcard. American dollars. I am doing research on worldwide postcard currency.”

“Ooh, exciting,” a woman murmured. “Very exciting.” Her aroma lingered, a familiar guest, in Acey’s nose. Her mother’s lavender dish soap. Acey had left her parents behind, only to find them on her tour.

“Any other questions?” Acey was tired of standing on her feet. Granted, life could be worse and she could be standing on her hands.

A woman jumped up and down. “Can we actually see these picture postcard sights?”

No one was satisfied with a mere glimpse into a snapshot, someone else’s idea of how life should be. They wanted it for themselves: more, more, more.

 


 

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Eva M. Schlesinger has received the Literal Latte Food Verse Award and is the author of four poetry chapbooks, including three whose covers she designed. Her flash has appeared in Atlas & Alice, Tattoo Highway, Riggwelter, former cactus, and elsewhere. Eva has twice been a Grand Slam contender on The Moth Stage, where she made the audience of 1,400 laugh nonstop.

Exodus by Barbara Barrow

The first time the county men knock we move east: away from the bedrooms, towards the shabby, sun-fronting den. The dogs follow. The men follow too, on the other side of the walls, their hands moving away the ivy and cupping against the foggy windows. They put an eye and sometimes an ear inside their circled fingers, as if the house were a seashell and we were the churning, restless ocean. The dogs thump and snort, their claws scraping at the murky floorboards. In the east end of the house the ceiling is rotted and blotched. Chunks of it fall down. At night, on our backs, we see the moonlight probing the dry spines of the house, sliding its fingers along the joints.       

Every December the oldest one goes out through the northern door and returns with a Christmas tree. Every April we drag her dead tree through the southern door and leave it on the porch. They make a ghoulish row of pine corpses there, a mortuary of holidays. The county men come again. The dogs bark and snarl. The men rap on the door, stand back at a courteous distance, leave notices. They tape these notices on the front door, next to the dollar bills we have pasted there for good luck.

In the spring of the ninth year the weight of the trees on the porch makes the steps begin to sag and she goes out with a mallet and knocks them down. Now there are five perfect steps that drop off into space, into the yawning gap of the basement. Like a mouth with missing teeth. The county men come and peer down over the rim of the pit, trace its periphery with caution tape, paste more notices on the stairs. The notices flutter bannerlike in the wind. The house is an inverted fortress, with its white flags rustling over the cool dark jaw of the crater. 

In winter we stoke the fire too high. The flames scorch the stones of the fireplace black, send sooty clouds up to the rafters. The rafters waver and split. Chunks of the ceiling fall down. We throw the chunks in the fireplace. Soon there are huge patches of sky where the ceiling used to be. The sun burns its way into the house, casts its tangled nests of light and heat onto the crumbling floorboards. 

We are blazing the house open to the county men. Soon the walls and ceiling are gone, consumed by the fireplace. We are left adrift on an open plateau. Some of us begin to leave, quietly, at night, slinking off the collapsing boards and out onto the land. But she stays. It’s not theirs, she says. Make them fight. She warms herself by throwing the rest of the house into the fire: the splitting doors and the tattered curtains, the broken knobs and faucets that spit and hiss in the flames. The county men wait a polite interval before they surround the fallen house. They circle us with their gun barrels pointing, their boots shaking dirt over the lip of the crater. 

We are building a plank. We lay the long board over the yawning gap of the crater. A plank for us to crawl along, a plank that will surrender us to the county men. But then she breaks away, unnoticed, and crawls into the fireplace that bears the last ashes of our dead house, the fireplace that spikes up like a rampart into nothing. She strikes a match. We turn away from the guns, away from the waiting faces of the county men, away from the whimpering hounds. Just in time to see her hunch in the tinder, her skirt alight, her hair smoking, her flaming skin merging with the bones of the house. Laughing. 


 

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Barbara Barrow is a fiction writer and literary critic who adores all things feminist, fabulist, and surreal. Her debut novel, The Quelling, will be published by Lanternfish Press in Sep. 2018. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron ReviewThe Forge Literary MagazineCease, Cows, and elsewhere. Follow her online at barbarabarrow.com or on Twitter (https://twitter.com/dustyoldbagz).