Birthright by Ron Gibson, Jr.

The fathers made off with the night. The dark, the stars, the galaxies. The moon even had chain marks from where the fathers had tried to pull it down with a 4×4 truck like an ornery stump. It hadn’t given. The moon was a node of bone still sticking out of the fractured morning.

Walking to the north end of the island, smoke trailed out of the green mountains to the south. Other children hadn’t noticed. Eyes ahead, coastal winds pushing their footsteps toward school, they too must have noticed the signs of their father’s departures at home.

“Fuckers,” I thought.

“Little bastards! All of you! I would’ve left all of you, too, if I was younger!” yelled Old Man Morgan from his front porch, shoulders shaking with laughter.

Some children looked, then kept walking. I stopped. I glared at him until his shoulders stopped shaking and he glared back, stony-eyed.

He knew what I was thinking. He recognized the ghosts in my eyes.

“It’s a shame Ricky Bowen’s father won’t be around… What’s an island without a sheriff?”

Without giving an answer, Old Man Morgan looked to the smoke out of the south, jaw tight, eyes watery with worry.

“Good luck sleeping with no night, you old fuck!” I shouted, mimicking the old man’s gross laugh from earlier.

<>

When I was small, my father took me hunting on the mainland. We didn’t have a dog, because my father hated dogs, so he sent me sprinting into the brush to scare up game.

Blurs of white, brown and tawny feathers would explode from underfoot, rocketing past my waving arms into the marble skies above, before my father pulled the trigger. I would watch the birds tumble back to earth, feathered confetti, mangled clockwork, bags of blood. Sometimes the wind blew them back toward me and I would catch them against my chest like a football. They would flap in my arms, eyes wide, bloody newborns.

<>

Moving my right wrist in a circle, cracking the joint, the way my father wrung the necks of wounded birds, I said to Jim, “Let’s kill him.”

“Who?!”

“Old man Morgan.”

“But, why?!”

“You heard him. He called us bastards. Every single one of us—bastards.”

“He was just being stupid.”

“So are you. If you end up on the wrong side of this thing, I’m not going to help you. I may have to kill you too.”

“What are you talking about?!”

“You’ll see. You don’t smell that? Smoke. Fire. Something new is coming.”

Eyes wide, Jim looked as if he had something to say, but said nothing.

<>

When my father shot me, I lay still in tall grass, bleeding, eyes full of marble skies, the right side of my body on fire. He said it was an accident. Said something about the pheasant zigging instead of zagging. Said the wind must’ve carried the buckshot off course.

When he turned his back to take a swig of bourbon to steel himself, I couldn’t tell if his shoulders were shaking from crying or laughter.

<>

“Shhhh…” I hissed at the others, our shoulders silently wrestling with laughter.

The sky was still bone-white at midnight. No sign of night anywhere, except the trail of smoke out of the south. Every so often a match head of flame burst from the treetops, then hid again beneath the thick, green canopy.

All throughout dinner, our mothers acted as if the smoke that made us wheeze and cough must be hay fever. When I told my mother that the mountains were on fire, she said, “The whole world is on fire at any given moment. Don’t worry about it.” When I asked where was father, she said, “Working late.”

“Now,” I said, and threw the first handful of gravel like buckshot at Old Man Morgan’s front window. It scattered loudly and a curtain moved.

Another handful of gravel thrown by Jim slammed against the side of his house.

Another handful of gravel shot down out of the Sutton’s tree next door on Old Man Morgan’s rooftop.

Another against his back door.

Another against his front door.

Everywhere. Gravel flurried like hailstones. Kids laughing on all sides.

I yelled, “Who’s the bastard now, old man?!”

Old Man Morgan crashed through the screen door on the front door, shaking with fury, tears in his voice, “You sons of bitchin’ bastards! You sons of bitchin’ bastards!”

I stepped forward, handful of sin, and threw a fastball. My fist-sized rock nailed Old Man Morgan straight in the chest. The wind shot out of him, bringing him to his knees, gasping, unable to regain his breath.

<>

My father carried me a mile back to the car, holding me like a bloody newborn against his chest. Eyes closed, I breathed in his body odor, his bourbon-sweet breath. I wanted to live in that moment, to be part of his body, to never touch the ground again, to never feel the burden of gravity.

But then he unceremoniously dumped me, face-first, on the hood of the car.

<>

When Old Man Morgan came to, we had strapped him to his kitchen table like a dead deer to the hood of a car. One by one, everyone got their shots in. Punches to the face, the stomach, the testicles. At first his eyes were full of tears and pain, groaning with each new impact, but then something deadened, turned steel, became an abandoned tenement.

Surrounded by ghosts of himself as a boy, Old Man Morgan tunneled further down within, alone, a planet hiding life.

<>

Even though I felt the cold car hood against my bare chest, felt the sting of tweezers digging into my skin, plucking out lead BBs, heard my father’s grunting, swearing and labored breathing, I pretended I was dead.

I was not there. I was a planet, a comet, a galaxy holding its breath whenever the telescopes turned its way.

“Knock it off, dammit!”

<>

I slapped Old Man Morgan back to earth. He groaned when the burden of gravity weighed on his chest and dared him to breathe.

Everyone was gone. I sent them home. Even Jim, who was now crying about his part in all of this.

Before Jim left, I told him that he was good, that I was proud of him, that he’d done all that I asked of him and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

Jim quietly accepted it as if spoken by his own father, and walked home a hunched figure, alone in a bloodless night.

Old Man Morgan blinked repeatedly, before staring into my eyes and I into his. We didn’t say anything for a long time. He looked like hell. Bruised, bloody. He looked like I felt, and I think he knew it.

“Why do you hate us?” I asked, unexpectedly bursting into tears.

“You know why.”

My face contorting with pain and rage, I choked out, throat tight, knotted, chest spasming, “Yeah. I guess I do.”

I bent over his strapped-down body, laid my wet cheek against his badly bruised chest and listened to his old heart, a telegraph message from his father to mine to my future son, calming my emotions.

I let out long, deep breaths, matching his, before asking, “You think they’ll ever come back?”

Old Man Morgan said, “I don’t think so.”

I kissed his cheek, then his forehead. The room felt hot, as if the fire had finally crawled out of the mountains, taken over the entire town, taken every piece of our lives, everything we had ever known, ever hated and destroyed it in order to start over, in order to find a new way of being.

“What do we do now?”

<>

When we got to town, my father bought gauze and other first aid supplies from a country store. In the backseat of his car, his hands were hot and gentle. He took time cutting surgical pads to size, rolling gauze and securing it all with medical tape.

When he was done, he asked me to move around a little. The right side of my body was still pain and fire. I was half of a mummy, because I was half-dead, now, I thought. Like the earth’s poles: one half six months of day, the other half six months of night. While one half of my life had fallen into shade, the other half would be spent waiting for my father to finish what he had started.


Ron6
Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Moonsick Magazine, Real Story UK, Easy Street Magazine, Rabble Lit, (b)oink, Mannequin HausStockholm Review of Literature, Cheap Pop, New South Journal, Jellyfish Review, Whiskeypaper, Unbroken Journal, Crack the Spine, Gone Lawn, etc… forthcoming at L’Ephemere Review & Midwestern Gothic. Find him @sirabsurd.

Nail Polish by Emma Faesi Hudelson

At first, it wasn’t about changing. It wasn’t about coping. It was about not drinking. Another hungover suicide attempt landed me in the psych ward, and I realized I couldn’t kick alcohol alone. So I went to meetings. I listened. I heard sober drunks say things like, “I try to do the next right thing. It’s nothing noble. It means making the bed. It means brushing my teeth. It means feeding the dog.” They told me to write gratitude lists. To forgive myself. To question my motives. To pray. They told me to get a sponsor. They told, and I did.

I found Charlotte.

Charlotte is old enough to be my mom. She has shoulder-length dreadlocks and straight, white teeth. She laughs a lot. She says “mmhmm,” with emphasis on the second syllable. She can pray like a preacher’s daughter and call your ex a motherfucker in the next breath. She’s heard my inventory of resentments, fears, debts, and sexual mistakes and hugged me afterwards.

In the beginning, her mantra was, “Honey, you’re okay.” I’d call her after fighting with my boyfriend and she’d say, “You’re okay.” I’d be pissed at my boss, ready to quit, and she’d say, “You’re okay.” I’d wake up anxious and she’d say, “You’re okay.” When that boyfriend left for good, I dialed her number and watched my face crumple in the mirror while I waited for her to say, “You’re okay.”

When depression left me gasping, fingers twitching toward knives, Charlotte would tell me to do my nails. I’d glare at her then—I want to die, and you’re giving me beauty tips?—but now, I get it.  A D.I.Y. manicure is like hitting “reset” on a camera. It pulls me out of my head, refocuses my lens. As usual, Charlotte was right.

So tonight, as my brain rages, telling me I’m hopeless, broken, not worth it, I won’t binge on whiskey or reach for a razor. Instead, I will paint my nails.

I will sit on the bathroom floor and choose a shade of blue from a dozen different colors, from black to pink to brown.

I will push my cuticles back and sever them with a tiny, U-shaped blade.

I will draw the brush across my left index fingernail first and feel the coolness of wet polish. I will paint three coats of color then a topcoat, just like Glamour says.

I will hold my hands in front of my lips and blow.

I will sit in stillness until they dry, careful and silent. For fifteen minutes, I’ll be okay, just like Charlotte said.

And when I stand up again, fingers tipped sapphire, ocean, stormy sky, I will be changed. Not brand-new, but better than broken.


 

EFH

Emma Faesi Hudelson teaches writing at Butler University in Indianapolis. She lives in a house by the woods with three dogs, two cats, and one husband. Her work has found homes in Booth, BUST, Linden Avenue, The Manifest-Station, and others.

 

 

 

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Us, Anywhere by Jules Archer

You made me cry on the school bus. Row two, window seat. I never truly knew what made the tears come fast and heavy. Maybe it was your awful motorcycle jacket, the one with the silly Mickey Mouse patched on the back, or maybe it was when you put your hand on my knee and squeezed. While I burned like gasoline, you made me promise to meet you beneath the bleachers that afternoon. I never did tell. What I did do was take lovers like you. Rest of my life. Lean, quiet men with gentle hands and sad, kind eyes. The snap of them made my heart break. Like yours broke, shot down in the rushing faraway jungle. Our last kiss, you held me like I was going out of  style. The homecoming crowd thundered above us. Popcorn, peanuts rained down through the slatted seats. I listened as you said we already had our home. We could be us anywhere. But young, we were young. Too young. And promises beneath bleachers never amount to anything. Only the weight of bodies atop empty beds. Stretching an arm out for a memory that won’t shut up.


 

julesa

Jules Archer likes to smell old books and drink red wine. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, The Butter, Foundling Review, and elsewhere. She writes to annoy you at julesjustwrite.com.

The Unwelcome Guest by E.M. Hubscher

The other woman showed up at our house, braless, on Mother’s day. Her t-shirt looked like a wax-paper envelope with messages to my mother visibly enclosed. We’re younger, perkier, winning, they said. Babies haven’t suckled us. Your husband’s a different story. I was just a girl. Still, I understood.

I tried to slam the door in her face. My furious father let her inside anyway—just as he had the first time, every time, since they’d met at hiking club. My mother served charcuterie while the woman talked about how to shit in the woods. Creamy slices of dill Havarti. Camembert. Crackers on a wooden board. Salami. The woman squatted in the corner. I wondered if she would actually defecate near the philodendron I’d bought Mom as a gift. She was here to mark her territory, after all.

Now I nurse my newborn daughter while my husband frosts a cake meant for me, downstairs. Belly full, my baby fills her diaper, and the smell reminds me of that woman’s body odor, like stinky cheese and pheromones—pungent—even though the memory is stale. Not this Mother’s day. I close my eyes and watch this Mom club the unwelcome guest with the cheese board; there’s splintered wood, and a patch of skin opens like a present.


 

emhubscherauthor

E.M. Hubscher is a writer and toxicologist from North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Eunoia Review, as well as several scientific journals and a textbook. You can find her online at http://emhubscherauthor.weebly.com or @emhubscher on Twitter.

 

 

 

Gerald’s Place by David Henson

Gerald crawls out.

He got the idea while stocking shelves at ShopMart. It closed to customers at midnight. From then till 4 a.m. the cleaners and stockers took over. After that the store was empty till 9:00. Not even a security guard prowled the premises so confident was management in the door sensors and glass break protectors.

One morning Gerald clocked out at 4:00 with everyone else, but couldn’t bear the thought of going home. So he quietly ducked into the men’s bathroom and waited for the night crew boss to go through her routine and lock up. Then he crept out into the store to the huge mountain of toilet paper packages. It reached nearly to the ceiling and sprawled across four aisles. Valuable real estate for sure, but it was practically a tourist attraction. Hell, it was a tourist attraction. People posed in front of it, came from out of town to see it, and put make-a-wish sticky notes on it. The staff even decorated it for holidays.

He carefully repositioned eight-packs to create a crawlway to the center of the mountain. Once inside, he removed and re-stacked packages to hollow out a living space. When he was finished, there was room for him to stand and more than enough for sleeping and moving about. It was good enough to live in. So he does.

He likes knowing there’s so much commotion outside, yet the super-absorbent walls muffle the noise of the busy store to a soft relaxing murmur. He passes the time sleeping, taking advantage of the store’s free WIFI to browse and listen to music on his phone, and reading by light of a lantern from Outdoor Life. A bucket gets him through the day.
During his 4-9 a.m. excursions, he takes care of hygiene, charges his phone, and pilfers supplies — usually chips, candy bars, peanut butter, and cola. He strolls through Magazines, his personal library. He’d take in a movie, but too many security cameras eye Electronics. Same for Jewelry. There’s a necklace his wife would have loved. Ex-wife. “I want more, Gerald. You just don’t have any ambition.”

Maybe she was right. He looks out as dawn creeps across the parking lot. Maybe he should strive for more. A magnificent mound of paper towels is taking shape over in aisles 42-46. It would make a real castle. Maybe then he could convince Doris to move back in with him. It’d take a lot of work to make it livable though, and he doesn’t care for that side of store, he thinks, as he posts another sticky wish and crawls back inside.

 


 

DaveHensonDavid Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years. They now reside in Peoria, Illinois with their dog, who loves to walk them in the woods. David’s work has appeared in two chapbooks, Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Dime Show Review, among others. Find him online at http://writings217.wordpress.com.

The Boy with Clown Feet by Ali McGrane

I never went to school. My mother hid me away. She’d refuse to let me play in the street with the other children. Some days I’d refuse to speak.

The black nights were my escape. We lived close to the river, and I’d sneak to the water’s edge, shivering as velvet mud wormed between my toes and sucked at my heels.

After my mother died, I made sure the whitecoats didn’t catch me. It was better to be a circus freak. The Feltz Brothers signed me up as Flipper Boy; set me next to Snake Tongue and the Bearded Lady. They were my new family. Each afternoon and evening the punters came to gawk at the sideshows. Brave men stood close with their beery breath. “Devil’s spawn,” they’d hiss, and cross themselves.

I was glad to join the Tumbling Billies, clowning in the ring. My limbs learned to flow round my feet. I can still hear the crowd’s roar.

My old bones release me into the dreaming dark, and I push through musty midnight curtains. Half-lit phantom faces loom from front-row seats. I launch myself onto my palms, cartwheeling first one way, then the other. The smell of old sawdust fills my head, the echoing voices of the Billies sing out around me, and my body whirls.

Dust rises. I am spun into light and air. You can see clear through me.


 

Ali McGrane lives in the UK and is an emerging writer of short fiction and poetry. She has studied literature and creative writing with the Open University and works in a university library. Her work has appeared in Fictive Dream and is forthcoming in Ink Sweat and Tears.

Staying Afloat by Madeline Anthes

Papa said it wasn’t good to keep secrets so the morning after my nightmare I told him about it.

He told me not to worry. “It’s normal to dream about your Mama.”

I had woken up crying and my eyes felt crusty along the edges. I picked off the dust. “Do you dream about her?”

“Sometimes.” He turned back to the nook in the wall he called the kitchen and flipped the eggs. “Just means she’s on our minds is all.”

The lake water cast reflections that glittered along the ceiling in the morning sun and it made me remember my dream again. Mama used to call those Glimmer Fairies and we’d pretend to catch them in jars when I was little. She’d put the mason jars out on the front porch that overlooked the lake. At night, she’d say they’d gotten out. “You can’t keep them captured up for long. They always get out.”

Papa put my eggs on a paper plate and ate his right out of the pan. We’d been at the cabin for four weeks now and I was starting to think we may stay here forever.

“We’re just going to get away for a while,” Papa had said as he packed my duffel bag back home. “A change of scene would be good, right?”

I’d nodded and told him yes, and hugged him around the neck and waited for his arms to wrap around me. I let go when they didn’t.

I thought we’d go somewhere new. A vacation somewhere warm maybe. I thought maybe Papa and I could drive down to North Carolina or Florida, somewhere with a beach, and we could lay in the sun and both of us not talk for a while. I thought of us giggling over salami sandwiches (“more sand than wich” he’d say) and slathering on sunscreen.

I didn’t think we’d be going to Mama’s cabin in Michigan. It took us hours to drive there from our house in Ohio; Papa drove slow. I watched the sprawling green and yellow farmland roll past, one ocean of vegetation looking the same as the next.

It was the first time I’d gotten to make this drive in the front seat, but the view looked the same. Just less tinted.

It didn’t seem right, being here without her.  She’d grown up in the cabin, coming here with her own parents on weekends and holidays. Then she took us here, letting us shape her place into something that was ours. Now it was ours and not hers. We’d stolen it.

I wondered if people still owned places after they died. I’d gotten her costume jewelry, scarves, and a few antique pens she’d loved. They were packed in a box somewhere – Papa had put them away.

We ate so quiet I could hear a boat’s motor rev up across the lake. The dead-wake hours must have ended. I wanted to ask Papa to take me in the fishing boat. I wanted him to ask me to go on the boat. He’d been working on the engine in the motor for days, cursing and spitting over the gunwales, hands streaked with oil. Once our old boat was up and running I wanted him to take me through the canal. I wanted to go fishing in the lake that connected to ours; it was bigger and had larger fish, or so Mama used to say. But Papa hadn’t gotten the motor started yet, so I didn’t ask him.

During the day there wasn’t much for me to do. Papa worked on the boat and I fished off the dock for minnows using breadcrumbs and a large net. After I caught them, I threw them back. I didn’t need bait.

I shot bottle rockets at the ducks floating by until Papa told me to stop the racket and let them be. I tried talking to Papa and asking if he needed help but he told me go run off somewhere. Where would I run?

I didn’t want to be bored. I wanted to find something engrossing, something that filled me with such interest that I didn’t mind that his back was towards me as he leaned over the glossy black motor.

I was dipping my net back into the water when I heard Papa yelling and the engine spitting into life. His hands were pumping above his head, and he leaned back in a way that could only mean victory. He was still holding his wrench, and for a moment I worried he’d drop it on his head, but then he tossed it aside and clapped with a whoop. He turned around to face me. “I got it,” he said, a smile spilling across his face.

And just like that I felt a lightness grow within me.

I knew he’d take me on the boat tonight and we’d watch the stars come out of a dusky blue sky and make our own constellations. I knew he’d tell me stories about times they went camping and then he’d coast the boat towards the middle of the lake. I knew I’d fall asleep on the leather seats, lulled by the rocking and the smell of gas and lake water.

I knew I’d put my mason jar out on the front porch overnight and see if the glimmers stayed, just this once, until morning.

 


 

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Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary, and her work can
be found in WhiskeyPaper, Third Point Press, and more. Read more about her at madelineanthes.com or follow her on Twitter at @maddieanthes.