You Know This Has To Be True, Or Else You’ll Dissolve, Too by Hannah Grieco

Your four-year-old holds your cheeks tightly in his tiny hands and whispers, “Kill me, mommy.” You shake your head, no, never. You pull away and he screams, “I WANT TO DIE.”


Later, a diagnosis appears and you hate yourself, your parenting, everything you ever did and said that fragmented your child. You go back in time and place your hands over his. I will love you forever, you whisper. I’m your safe harbor, you say.


It takes years. It takes setting yourself on fire. It takes being almost positive you won’t live through this. It takes living through this. It takes emptying your charred body of all it knew and fire-proofing the remaining shell. Now you are ready to learn, to forget what you were taught before. Now you remember how to breathe, to walk, to smile cracked lips.


Your daughters wait at a distance, watch you burn and reemerge, your face the same but different. They mirror how you stand. How you hold out your arms. How you bury your dread and stay intact.


Were you ever a good parent? Was there one day you did this right? Where you held them close and whispered and it was enough, it was good, they felt loved?


You wake up in a panic, your youngest asleep curled into you, your dream about her older sister clogging your throat. The four of you stood in the backyard of a house you never owned. Your middle child screamed and tore out her hair. She slapped you across the face. She pulled a gun from her pocket and shot her big brother while he begged her to love him. She ran into the woods and you knew you would never see her again.


You pour water into the bowl of cereal. You burn the toast. The last thin thread connecting you to this kitchen, this house, pulls tight and then tighter. It will break any second.


You take your children to school, stopping for doughnuts on the way. The powdered sugar on your son’s upper lip is so perfect that you reach for it with the tip of your pointer finger. He ducks at the last minute and blows you a kiss. Offers you a bite, even though it’s his favorite, even though he’s starving.


For every down there is an up. For every dark hole, a ladder reaching toward a distant ball of something shimmering. You know this has to be true or else you’ll dissolve, too.


You listen as your children eat dinner and talk about their day. They laugh, tell stories about friends, complain about school. You hold your breath and incise this moment into something fleshy that now grows inside you. You repeat their words out loud to yourself so they don’t fade, but they are gone the next day. You poke the swollen scab to remind yourself that good things happen.


You kiss your husband for the first time in months.


You and your son in his big kid bed at 3AM, your phone and his iPad blending blue light, two islands, his hand on your arm. A bridge. He is hallucinating again. The meds aren’t working again. You kiss his forehead until he collapses, boneless, his mouth open, into an infant’s sleep. You close your eyes, at last, and lean back against the wall.


This morning you wake up to a love poem typed by young fingers into your phone. Your son gets dressed for school, recites the poem as you read it. He smiles like any other kid. Your daughters run in and hug-attack him, three human pups rolling around the floor, squeals rising until you back out of the room and go downstairs. You turn on the coffee machine. You pack their lunches. You are not empty, you whisper as you pour coffee. People don’t dissolve, you say as you stir in sugar.


 

hgrieco

 

Hannah Grieco is a writer, advocate, and teacher in Arlington, VA. She can be found online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter at @writesloud.

When Someone Cuts the Tulips from My Front Yard in the Middle of the Night by Christine Taylor

I wonder if they think the world already has too many flowers. Five tulip stems, the heads severed clean by an apparently sharp blade, are left to quiver in the breeze. These five tulips burst from the ground outside the stone-walled flower bed, bulbs gone stray after decades of confinement. I planted those flowers when I was six-years-old, removed the bulbs from the mesh-net bag my father handed to me as gingerly as a six-year-old can. While I watched holding a small spade, my mother dug the first hole, planted the first bulb. Her thin fingers patted the dirt firm. Then I dug and planted. Dug. Planted. After bearing the heavy winter, those bulbs pushed into spring red, glorious. Decades later, I’ve moved on to dahlias, dusty miller, marigolds. Yet the tulips persist.


 

_MG_0051_copy

Christine Taylor identifies as multiracial and is an English teacher and librarian residing in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She is the EIC of Kissing Dynamite: A Journal of Poetry and the author of The Queen City (Broken Sleep Books, 2019). Christine has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her work appears in Glass, Turtle Island Responds, Haibun Today, and The Rumpus among others. Right now, she’s probably covered in cat hair and drinking a martini. Visit her at www.christinetayloronline.com.

Commute by Andrea Rinard

At the stoplight, I think about turning left instead of right and going who-knows-where but definitely not to my office. Then it turns green, and I move along my path just like every weekday morning. Once I merge onto the highway, the idea of turning the steering wheel ever so slightly and letting the car wander into the other lane occurs to me again. I don’t want to die; maybe just a couple of broken bones and a black eye or something. A coma would be nice as long as there are no brain injuries. I side-eye the car next to me and it’s a woman with a toddler in the back seat, and she’s smiling and the little boy is smiling and I’m not a monster so I keep going.

Last night Dan said, “Let’s go out!” as if getting all the stuff in the diaper bag and making sure there’s something uploaded on the iPad and getting two kids in the car before we’re starving and grouchy is so easy. I told him I wasn’t hungry and waved at them all from the doorway. “I’m going to get the house cleaned up,” I’d said, and Dan smiled too big and said too quickly that the house could definitely use a good cleaning, so not long after they left, I was standing in the backyard with two hamsters in my hands. “Be free,” I whispered before setting them down gently on the side of the fence that the realtor called a conservation area but we know is really a wet patch of wildness. I walked back to the house, not thinking about owls and snakes, planning on blaming the disappearance on my daughter who cried and cried and cried when I told her gently, “You must have left the cage open.”

My exit is coming up, and I put on my blinker, but my gaze lifts to the sign above the endless line of red eyes staring back at me. I could head south and keep going. By four o’clock I could be in Key West where no one would care if I never wore a bra again. But I keep going the way I always go. My sensible car is like that ride at Disney World, the one with the cars that go round and round on the track to nowhere while kids grip their little steering wheels as if they truly believe they could drive right to the castle if they wanted to.

I ride down the ramp to the gridlock of downtown toward the parking garage, hoping that my spot on the third floor next to the breezeway isn’t taken again today. My life narrows to a pinpoint in front of me, and I squeeze myself into it for one more day, wishing there was someone to put me on the other side of my fence.


 

AR_head

 

Andrea Rinard is a Florida native, long-time high school English teacher, and emerging writer. She enjoys the luxury of being in the graduate certificate program in creative writing at the University of South Florida and is also an alumnus of the Yale Writer’s Workshop. Her work can be found in The Jellyfish Review, Prometheus Dreaming, Crack the Spine, and Spelk. You can read more of Andrea’s work at writerinard.com and follow her on Twitter @aprinard.

I Wouldn’t Give Up by Kyra Kondis

The new girl at school is the missing girl, the one from the back of the milk cartons we get with lunch. My friends don’t believe me but I’m sure of it. How do you know? they ask. How can that be true? I show them the milk carton and they say, Don’t be stupid, Ann. That looks nothing like her.

The girl is quiet. Her arms and legs and body are thin like she’s been running a lot, and I wonder if she left on purpose or if someone took her. Maybe if they took her, she isn’t allowed to tell anyone. I imagine her family on the opposite coast, lighting candles every night and crying and waiting for her to come back. She thinks about them and is too sad to speak. I wish I could say to her, hey, I know what’s going on. You can talk to me.

The girl has soft brown hair and brown eyes. The photo on the milk carton is in black and white, but if it were in color, I’m sure it would capture that softness and brownness, maybe not perfectly, but as well as it could. I wonder how come our principal hasn’t recognized her, why he hasn’t called the police. I wonder if it’s a negotiation thing, like he has to pretend not to realize so he can make a deal with the captor. I wonder who else is in on it.

The girl is surprisingly good at kickball, and I think this is self-defense, like she’s preparing to bust herself out. When it’s my turn to be pitcher in gym class, I always give her curveballs, so she can get better at being ready for anything. If she misses or hits it out of bounds, she stamps her foot in frustration, and I smile my most encouraging smile, so she knows that I get it. I understand.

The girl is never picked up in a car. She always takes the bus, or if the weather’s good, she walks, stopping to buy Hot Cheetos from the corner store that the cooler sixth graders say they shoplift from. I wonder if it hurts, that fleeting bit of freedom before she goes home, if it can even be called home. I walk behind her for a little while, to make sure she doesn’t go missing again, even though I live in the other direction. If she ever noticed me, I’d have to pretend not to see her, because saying nothing is better than saying something dumb, especially to a girl who’s missing.

And then, she isn’t on the milk cartons anymore. Instead, it’s a little boy with an overgrown bowl cut, a rat tail slung over his shoulder. It’s sad, how people gave up like that—the police, the milk carton makers, the FBI.

There, my friends say, you can stop obsessing now, it was obviously someone else. I nod and blush and eat my cafeteria pizza, but look for her out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t give up on you, I think, as if we’re telepathically linked.


 

KKondis

 

Kyra Kondis is an MFA candidate in fiction at George Mason University. She is also the proud owner of three (3) small cacti and is the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak Journal. Some of her work can be found in Matchbook, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf, and at her website, kyrakondis.com.

Sunday Morning Girl by Gabriela Gonzales

i am his Sunday morning girl. he picks me up in his ugly blue car, water cup in hand, hangover dripping off his wet hair—he took a cold shower this morning.

a Sunday morning girl wears dresses, floral perfume, and nice shoes. she is not pretty, maybe, but she tries to look pretty. a Sunday morning girl carries her bible in her purse. a bible all marked up and crumpled—if you ask, she could recite verses for you. you don’t try to kiss a Sunday morning girl. you don’t try to touch a Sunday morning girl. you don’t drink wine out of bags or do shots off the fire escape with a Sunday morning girl. you tell her all of the stories, or most of them—enough that she can set you at ease, but you cannot taint a Sunday morning girl. Sunday morning girls are always snow and pure and clean.

i look at him like galaxies and he looks at me like the church doors he opens once a week. he runs the red light while i cover my eyes and laugh and it just makes him feel so exciting.

you show a Sunday morning girl the aftermath of the party, but you do not invite her. a Sunday morning girl helps you clean your fish tank. you open the liquor cabinet in front of her and you serve her black tea. this is how you drink wine out of bags you say, this is how you do shots off the fire escape, you say, here is your shot glass, you say. it’s in the shape of a tiny brown coffee cup. here is black tea and black tea and black tea. ask a Sunday morning girl to sit on the porch with you and watch the flowers fall off the trees like glitter on the blank canvas sidewalk in front of your house—she makes this place look so quaint and pretty, doesn’t she?

he says, “it’s fucking stupid, right?” and then he looks in my eyes and he say “hecking, i meant hecking,” i mean, i didn’t think less of him when he cursed. i didn’t notice until he corrected himself. i’m 21 and have heard worse.

a Sunday morning girl remembers. sometimes she remembers things that you have long since forgotten. a Sunday morning girl puts her hand on your arm when you become bright red. she puts her hand on your arm when you become a pastel shade of yourself. a Sunday morning girl breathes like she has been practicing. a Sunday morning girl always orders tea. never caffeinated. but you make her black tea while you laugh in the kitchen and her hands shake. here is black tea and black tea and black tea and even her excitement is like dust off an attic-ed trunk, like your nose pressed against the pages of an old leather-bound book. a Sunday morning girl watches you while you speak, memorizes the shapes your mouth makes, smiles she smiles she smiles at the way you move. a Sunday morning girl is learning to love you and learning that you are human and understanding and not understanding them at the same time. mouth on the rim of your old mug, sipping black tea, no honey, tastes sweet.

there are stories of the people who fill his house on late nights. i am aware that there is a difference between the people he asks for on a friday night and the people he asks for on a sunday morning. there are midnights, sometimes, when i want to know what would happen if our minds were gone together, what his body would be like on mine, what one am tastes like on his lips and they ring cognitively dissonant with walking down 8th after church, with braiding dandelions into my hair while he watches, with recounting childhood stories, an open envelope for his secrets, his secrets, his secrets, black tea, so sober, in his kitchen, in his ugly blue car, on his front porch, i can’t stop laughing when he talks, i laugh so hard i cry alone in my room when he drops me off because i am not laughing anymore when i am alone in my room, laughing when he talks because those eyes glow, laughing when he talks because sunday mornings make me happy, because i am happy in dresses, watching flowers fall, drinking black tea, i am happy i am happy with my hand on his arm, i am happy with me like this with him, i am happy with you.

you can break the heart of a Sunday morning girl because she won’t leave. a Sunday morning girl cannot touch your face and then pretend she doesn’t remember the feeling of your skin against her hands. a Sunday morning girl remembers your fingers interlocked in hers. a Sunday morning girl misses you when the sun rises and at midday. a Sunday morning girl has no replacements in her back pocket. a Sunday morning girl waits for you to come back. even if you don’t come back. even if you take so long to come back. a Sunday morning girl prays with her eyes closed. it’s always for you.


 

GGonzales

 

Gabriela Gonzales is a Creative Writing major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee who writes about the beautiful tragedy of human communication. Her work has been featured in the Live Poet’s Society of New Jersey, the Belmont Literary Journal, Awakened Voices Literary Magazine, and formercactus. She really appreciates giraffes, the oxford comma, and babies dressed like hipsters.

Rehearsal by Nuala O’Connor

Marty’s car was a hearse, so that was the first turn on. Then there were his maroon lips, so girlish, so startling against his waxy skin.

Mother was appalled, of course. “He’s three times your age,” she said.

“Get knotted,” I said, and drove around with Marty in that Cadillac with its curtained windows where the dead used to lie.

At night, we parked behind Tesco and, in the coffin space, Marty peeled off my fishnets, restricto-knicks, and double F bra. And with those wine-bright lips he drank me down, plundered from every inch of me, while I lay under him, thinking of soil.


 

Nuala_OConnor_photo_by_Úna_OConnor

 

Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, “Ulysses.” Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was recently published to critical acclaim. She is currently writing a bio-fictional novel about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at new flash e-zine Splonk. www.nualaoconnor.com

Propitiation by David Drury

The universe works in threes, and while at home alone on a Saturday I was triangulated into an act of violence. I did not act alone, but some burden of responsibility falls to me. As they say, “It takes three to triangle.”

My wife’s sister had been staying all week with her three daughters. She was going through a painful divorce. She needed the support and her daughters, our nieces, needed a get-away.

“While the nieces would love to see you get a pedicure,” my wife said after breakfast, “they think you might get bored.” I helped load the five of them into the car and off they went. The smallest niece, Olivia, left behind her palm-sized turtle, “Puppy,” so I was not entirely alone. I started the dishwasher and opened all the curtains. I laid on top of the bed doing snow angels from the waist down while reading a book from the waist up, as one does who is not accustomed to having the house all to themselves.

I watched the birds lining the wire outside the window. One, two, four, eight, ten. I had never seen so many. The wire sagged into a smile. I was not sure the line could hold them. And what were they staring at? Something in the yard. I traced the line of their stare, but the walls got in my eyes.

Just as I nodded off for a nap, the birds got to chirping and wouldn’t stop. I heard the neighbor children playing in our yard. That must be it. I might have gone to the window and stared the kids back into their own yard, but the nieces had given me a renewed appreciation for the spirit of youth. I lay there with my eyes open. One of the birds turned her head and looked at me. After we held eye contact for a moment, she rolled forward off the wire. I heard her hit the pavement, and flap her broken wings against the house.

I sat up and went outside, only to find that I had forgotten to turn off the hose. Water and potting soil cascaded from the planter to the porch, down the walk, and into the yard, where it had had turned our new garden into a pond. Then I saw it.

Puppy the turtle must have gotten out while I wasn’t paying attention. The neighbor kids had found her, flipped her onto her back, and placed a heavy rock on her belly. The rock was holding her underwater in the now flooded garden. As it turns out, a turtle can drown faster than dry out.

I brought the dead turtle inside and set her body on a washcloth on the center of my bed. I began searching for words inside of me that might begin to explain death to a four-year old. Was I so shallow as to pretend this wasn’t my fault?

I heard the girls pull up in the driveway. As they got out, they began to shriek. I had forgotten about the bird. I wondered if the bird had taken a nosedive to call my attention to the turtle. Little good that did, I thought. As the girls came inside, I felt that I should be the one laid out on a burial cloth. I looked to Puppy, but the washcloth was empty.


 

 

Screenshot_2015-04-02-22-43-59

David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio, twice published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and appears in ZYZZYVA, Paper Darts, Jellyfish Review, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. He has a Master’s degree in Christian Studies from Regent College, University of British Columbia. Visit Daviddruryauthor.com.