Let’s Sing All the Swear Words We Know by Anita Goveas

You’re a girl with a bell-shaped nose and an anchor-shaped birthmark. You’re Antonia cos it’s the closest to the only name your father picked out. You’re not the reason he leaves, but you’re not enough to make him stay. Your lungs are healthy when nothing else is, and you cry like the rushing river, all deadly undercurrents and no end.  You only eat basmati rice and only wear shorts.  You tattoo all your Barbies with indelible ink and sing all the swear words your babysitter teaches you in a chant that all the slaps in the world won’t knock out. You’re a girl with crescent-shaped teeth and your father’s kidney-shaped earlobes. You wear grease like perfume and touch every slug. You love the way numbers line up in your head and hide in Maths lessons under your haphazard fringe and your Pearl Jam t-shirts. You’re drawn to the smell of heated tarmac and leaves as brown as you under a magnifying glass. Your mouth says ‘fuck you’ without you having to open it.  You’re a girl with grapefruit-shaped breasts and a watermelon bottom. You watch the boys as they watch you. You don’t have the words to make anyone stay, you talk to yourself when no-one’s listening. You leave as soon as you can and go back every weekend cos nobody else knows the words to your song.


 

AnitaAnita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She lurks in libraries and her local independent bookshop, Bookseller Crow. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize Anthology, and most recently in Riggwelter Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, former cactus magLitro, and Longleaf Review. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.

Jack Rabbit by Travis Cravey

Leonard would have missed the jack rabbit completely if it hadn’t turned to run. The brown landscape stretching from Highway 90 south to the Chinati range had hid the jack well, but a fearful nature had exposed his cream colored legs to Leonard’s pick-up.

Leonard watched him dart back and forth. He wondered if that jack had any idea where he was going.

Leonard’s concentration was broken and he lost the animal in the scrub when Francisca’s cinnamon hard candies fell from her hand, one by one, onto the floor board. She had been awake a moment before, singing that when her “body was laid to rest, she would go the place that’s the best.”

It would be an hour before they reached the interstate, and three more hours after that to get home to Las Cruces. Normally when they visited her mother’s grave they drove straight, no matter the time, but he felt tired tonight. Van Horn would be as far as he would go today.

This was the first year that his daughter understood where they were, who was laid there, and Leonard was quietly angry she didn’t seem to care. And now singing about the after-life. He was confused. He was tired.

Francisca snored slightly, surely at peace in the arms of God as she knew it. Leonard’s God was, he hoped, still sprinting in the fading light, towards something in the shadow of Sierra Parda.


 

Travis

Travis Cravey is a mechanic in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Selwyn Place by Ann Gelder

 Edna Selwyn’s old house still hadn’t sold. It had been eight months since she died, and the house had been on the market for six. It’s true that the place was in bad shape, and Edna’s daughter had been too cheap (or too deep in mourning) to have it spruced up. The wallpaper was a sunflower pattern from the 1970s, the carpet the color of the red hair dye Edna favored. Also there was moss on the roof, and when the light hit it at a certain angle, the moss glowed in an otherworldly manner.

These cosmetic issues were secondary, however. I knew the real reason no one wanted the Selwyn place. You see, a child was living there—a five-year-old boy, seemingly ordinary, except no ordinary boy could have survived alone in that house for so long. I often saw him in the downstairs window when I looked out from my house across the street. He stuck his thumb against his nose and waggled his fingers, or slid his hand under his armpit and pumped his elbow, producing a flatulent sound.

Mrs. Burke, look at me, he sang. I know you can see me. Look at me.

The boy reminded me of one of my kindergarten students from decades ago, a very spirited child named David Dockery. When I said it was time for Silent Reading, David would take that as his cue to stand on his chair, flap his arms, and squawk like a chicken. More than once, when I was writing on the board and turned unexpectedly, I caught him mirroring, or rather exaggerating, my movements, waving his invisible chalk in great swoops and, for some reason, wiggling his behind. The other children found him hilarious. I admit, I secretly admired his anti-authority mindset. He wasn’t going to take any crap from The Man, or The Woman in my case, even if that crap was building the foundation for his future.

At any rate, whenever the real estate agent tried to show the Selwyn house, the boy must have peered out from behind the ragged old curtains, or stood behind the agent, silently mimicking her as she extoled the house’s hidden virtues. Confused and frightened, potential buyers made excuses and fled. Meanwhile, the place was deteriorating by the day, taking with it the neighborhood’s property values. And no one was doing anything about it.

Therefore, one warm spring night, I broke through the glass door at the back of the house with a tire iron and poured gasoline all over the living room. I lit a match and threw it toward the curtains. The flames flared with a Whump! that resounded through my whole body.

As I turned to make my escape, I noticed the painting of a young boy over the mantel. I had forgotten all about this painting, though there was no reason I should have remembered it. I had only been to Edna Selwyn’s house once, to discuss the AT&T box. All the neighbors refused to let AT&T put a U-Verse box in front of their houses, so I said, Sure, put it in front of mine. Now an ugly box looms over my lawn, and everyone has high-speed internet.

But who was the boy in the painting? Edna had no sons. The work was amateurish, likely from a garage sale, which was perhaps why Edna’s daughter didn’t want it. From the boy’s joyful grin, it was clear that he believed he was loved—at the time the painting was made, at least. Obviously, that was not true now.

I had no more time to ponder. The flames cackled behind me, yearning to consume me and the painting together. I snatched the boy off the wall and ran with him out the back door. With the painting propped beside me, I watched from my living room as the Selwyn place burned to cinders.

When the house collapsed, the painted boy, whom I decided to call David, turned to me and whispered, Thank you. He had been trapped alone in the house, you see. But when the place sold, he would likely have met an even more dismal fate in a landfill. His only choice was to keep buyers away as long as possible and hope a sympathetic soul like me rescued him.

After the fire, the debris was cleared away and the grass replanted. The lot is still for sale, at a reduced price, but at least we don’t have a decrepit old house bringing down our property values.

As with the AT&T box, none of the neighbors has thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. But I don’t mind. Since they’ve never given me a moment’s consideration, they will never suspect that I burned down the Selwyn place, even though the painting I technically stole hangs over my fireplace for anyone to see.

And now, at last, I have someone to talk to.


 

ann_gelder

Ann Gelder’s fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Monkeybicycle, Tin House Open Bar, and elsewhere. Her first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby (Bona Fide Books), is a satire set in 1980s America.

 

Limbo Land by Claire Polders

My silent mother returns to our silent home with stitches in her brow, swollen cheeks, her warmth extinguished. I’ve barely slept since Power took her away and sleep even less now. Each morning, I dab her wounds and brush her skin with my lips, crushed to find her scent is gone.
We don’t talk about the boys. We don’t mention how they doubled our days, promised us purpose, helped us hope. We don’t dare to wonder where they are now. They were foreigners and strangers, yet also ours. Their absence rattles our bones.
Power must have used force from the start, cracking my mother on the third day. What happened to her afterward, I wonder, when Power came for the second time, went straight to the attic, busted the secret door, and didn’t find what it had been promised?
I tell myself, had I not told the boys to run, all her suffering would have been in vain.
At night, I relive the moment right before Power dragged my mother away, when my eyes told her to keep quiet: I would never forgive her if she sold out the boys.
I make new soaps and experiment with the recipe—more herbs, less sunflower oil—not knowing what I hope to accomplish.
Time passes and my mother’s wounds heal. Even her warmth flares up: she strokes my cheek and says, I would have survived the moment of my betrayal, not the memory. But her words cannot restore me. The world in which I am innocent and brave seems no more real than the world in which I can fly.
She used to smell so reassuring, woody and wondrous, like a poem in summer rain. I wish it were my nose, my guilt embodied, and she has returned unchanged.

headshot_polders_BW_300
Claire Polders is a Dutch author. Her stories and essays are published wherever they are appreciated. Her first novel in English, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster, May 2018), is a kid’s book for all ages, co-written by her husband. You can find links to her short prose at http://www.clairepolders.com.

Moose Lodge #1384 by Lisa Ferranti

The lodge sits in the middle of cornfields, the cornfields sit in the middle of the Midwest, the moose sits on top of the lodge, and Ray and I sit on top of the moose. Ray’s in front, my arms looped around him as if I’m a passenger on a motorcycle. On a motorcycle, the wind would be whipping through our hair, mouths clamped tight against bugs. But the moose is stone still, made of molded plastic, and my mouth is open, licking the back of Ray’s neck.

“See, over there.” Ray points to a small fire in a nearby field.

“Bonfire?” I ask, leaning back to adjust the straps on my lavender taffeta bridesmaid’s gown, third one this year, all of varying pastel colors and equal never-to-be-worn-again hideousness. Ray left his tux jacket in the pickup he drove us in from the reception to the Lodge. We waited long enough for Betsy, my college roommate, and his cousin Ben, to drive off, their car trailing aluminum cans, before making out in his truck.

When we came up for air, he said, “You gotta see the moose,” and with a few shots of tequila in me, I said, “Sure, show me the moose.” And now here we are.

“Not a bonfire,” Ray says as we survey the fields, the first fire burning in a perfect circle, another spot of flames appearing in a neighboring field.

He twists toward me, one hand holding onto the moose’s antler for balance. I lean forward to kiss him, but he grabs my chin with his free thumb and forefinger. “Aliens,” he says, and my tequila haze subsides for a moment as I consider that I’m sitting on a roof with someone I met the night before at a rehearsal dinner, who I know virtually nothing about other than he’s Ben’s cousin and he lives in this town where they grew up and works at the paper mill.

I laugh, but he says, “Really,” and turns my face to purview the fields as small fires sprout around us. “I think they’re aiming for the animals,” he says, “like a game.” I picture the computer game my mom plays obsessively that involves collecting livestock. In the field closest to us, I see what I think is the outline of a cow go up in flames.

“I’ve asked them about it,” Ray continues, “but there’s a language barrier.”

I kicked off my lavender-dyed heels at the bottom of the metal ladder we climbed to get to the roof. I think I could make it down myself if I had to, even though one of the rungs is split in half and Ray had grasped my forearm and pulled me up. I saw a pay phone inside the door of the Lodge, but who to call? Betsy and Ben on their way to the Bahamas?

I lean back, size Ray up. His black hair curls up slightly over his tux shirt collar, his blue eyes shiny from the reflection of the neon 1384 sign. He might be crazy, but I want to kiss his chiseled cheekbones.

“See?” I say. “My married friends can’t do this,” and I rip open the buttons of this almost perfect stranger’s shirt. “Tell me about the aliens,” I say, touching his chest. We rock atop the moose, and he recounts how they only come to him here, in this place. How their forms are pure light. I reach forward and grab an antler, crawl over Ray so that I’m in front, lean forward and hug the moose’s neck. Ray hikes up my dress, whispers in my ear, says that sometimes when they come he goes with them, and I let myself go, watch the burning circles and imagine they’re fireflies.

He drops me off at my hotel that night and I stand on the sidewalk, my heels dangling from my hand, and watch him drive away. There’s a faint scent of smoke in the air.

The next day I help Betsy’s mom with post-wedding activities, fold the wedding dress into a box, offer to drop it at the dry cleaners. Betsy’s mom touches my hand before I leave, says, “It’ll happen for you, too, dear, when you find the right man.” I swallow hard, hug her. I hear my own mom’s words before I left to come to the wedding, when I told her about my latest breakup: Men don’t buy the cow when the milk’s free. My dad: She’ll get married when pigs fly. They’ve never set foot on a farm, yet they throw around farm animal idioms like they’re the McDonald’s.

On my way to the airport that evening, I stop at the Lodge. I don’t see Ray’s truck, but I walk inside and the woman tending bar says, “He’s not here. Disappeared last night. Probably on a bender again.” I nod and walk back outside. I look up and wonder, but the only thing hovering above me in the dusk is the moose head.

It’s almost dark by the time my plane takes off. I’m alone in my row, in the window seat. I slouch, look toward the ground. Bright circles light up the fields, perfect circles of flames. I sit up straight, lean forward for a better view. Could it be? Off to the side of one of the circles, there’s a smaller fire, an organic shape. I press my face against the window, stare at the misshapen spot. A campfire? We inch higher into the sky. Streaks of color emanate from the smaller fire, liquid lavender fingers bleeding orange. I imagine starch-stiff taffeta melting into earth. From this height, a membrane-thin rim of pink lines the horizon, and I reach toward it, but my hand meets glass. On the other side, blackness. But further off, just beyond, white light beams.


Lisa_Ferranti_PhotoLisa Ferranti’s fiction has been a Top 25 finalist in a Glimmer Train Family Matters contest, twice short-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, a Reflex Fiction contest finalist, and highly commended in the 2018 Hemingway Shorts contest and National Flash Fiction Day 2018 micro competition. Recent stories have appeared in Literary Mama, FlashFlood Journal, Hemingway Shorts, the 2018 NFFD Ripenings Anthology, and Reflex Fiction. She lives with her husband, son and daughter near Akron, Ohio.

François by Didi Wood

You should have leapt the instant you heard the splash. But in that breathless, urgent moment, you hesitated, scanning the murky water, waiting for her to bob to the surface so you could get a better fix on her location. You didn’t see her fall, you weren’t looking – there was just that smack of something hitting the water, and you knew before you whirled around that it was she, that she was gone, her tiny pink parka a crumpled chrysalis on the weathered boards of the dock.

You waited–just a second or two–any reasonable man would have done the same. And then, the second splash, as someone else jumped in first.

You wish you hadn’t thought about how cold the water would be, how filthy, churning with grime and bacteria, even as you prepared to jump. No one knows what you were thinking. How could they? The papers reported you shedding your phone and wallet along the way, implying that you were concerned about losing them, damaging them, instead of focusing on your daughter–your baby girl!–drowning in the dark, frigid waters of Elliott Bay.

And whose fault was it she fell in the first place? You hadn’t planned to bring her along, but your wife wanted a break, and she thrust kid and coat at you and pushed you out the door. You’re not stupid: you should have been watching, not fiddling with your phone, checking your email. You know that. You know! But that’s how kids are–ask anyone–look away for half a second and off they go, palming the hot stove or tumbling headfirst down the stairs or dropping like a stone into the goddamned freezing filthy Elliott Bay, with everyone watching and judging and that Frenchman diving in and reaching her first, saving her first, then disappearing like Superman from the scene, humble and gracious and noble and strong.

Your daughter is fine, and you’re grateful. You are. You held her, your coat tugged around her tiny, shivering body, as she choked and sputtered and wailed, and then someone handed her a stuffed rabbit, and she stopped crying and clutched it and smiled, tears and filthy bay water sparkling in her eyelashes.

A miracle. You don’t need to be told; you know it could have been so much worse, the worst.

But when she wakes in the night, gasping, afraid the waters are closing over her head, you can’t console her, no, only the rabbit will do, named for the rescuer, her savior, that Frenchman. She clutches it, tiny fingers working the tip of an ear, eyelids fluttering as she murmurs his name, syllables soft and sibilant: François, François, François …

François. The Frenchman is there, in your daughter’s room, in her bed, in her arms. He’s there in the moment before the meat on the grill turns from done to burned; in the seconds before your wife has to ask you (again) to take out the trash, for god’s sake; in her sidelong glance while you’re fucking, just before you come and she does not; and you know what she’s thinking, she’s thinking about him, the Frenchman, that fucking François, everywhere and everything that you are not.


 

Didi Wood

Didi Wood’s stories appear in Smokelong Quarterly, Cotton Xenomorph, Vestal Review, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. She’s fond of the serial comma, board games, and creepy dolls. Often she is festooned with cats. Find her on Twitter @DidiWood.

 

Planetary Disappointment by Kristen Seikaly

She couldn’t choose between one balloon planet or two. Saturn with its lush rings beckoned to her like a siren in the sea, but she pitied Uranus a bit because it wasn’t much to look at and had an unfortunate name. In the end she settled on Jupiter. The size almost made her capsize, but the eye of the storm hypnotized her. She held on tight. In some small way she imagined it would take her to the outer depths of space, although she did not know how it would do such a thing.

Skipping down the New York City sidewalk, she gripped her Jupiter balloon. It bashed into other people’s heads, a planet far too large to keep on a string. She failed to notice the disgruntled looks of those whose days had been disrupted by her round joy. Jupiter and her, a team uncaring and unbeatable.

Most thieves think to steal purses, but this city slicker with his callous lean and his sideways stare saw gold in the Jupiter balloon. He swiped at the string as she skipped on by, causing the girl to scream and scramble to reconnect with her planet. The thief’s satisfied sneer came a moment too soon, for they both lost in the end.

On that New York City corner, they each watched with regret as Jupiter flew back into the sky. They both felt the weight of having touched something of immense value release, though they would later disagree on what that value was. As they watched it float away, the girl wished she had selected the Uranus balloon after all. At least then it would have felt a little love for a little while. Plus the pain of loss would have been less acute, for Jupiter’s size meant she had to watch it disappear into the sky for that much longer.


Kristen Seikaly's Headshot - 2017

Kristen Seikaly is a Michigan native discovering the culture of city-living in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Thrice Fiction. With two degrees in music, she now works as a freelance writer and voice teacher. Find her at www.KristenSeikaly.com or @KristenSeikaly.