This Story Probably Won’t Mean What You Think It Will by L Mari Harris

Requiem

My father and I dream in sync one night. A woman in a black cloak, hooded, is chasing each of us down a dirt hill. There are crows and a full moon in the dream. The crows fly out of the cloaked woman’s mouth and scatter. The next morning over oatmeal, we talk over each other, each trying to tell my mother about the dream. My father says he doesn’t remember the crows and the moon. I tell him he must not have been paying attention, because they were there.

Gun Shy

My husband pulls up one day with a black dog leaning against him in the cab. That’s the spot where I normally sit, one hand resting on my husband’s leg, ticking off the stops we have to make—Orscheln’s for chicken feed, Dr. Grismann’s to get my stitches out (another story for another day), Country Mart for milk and shoulder pork on sale for $1.99/pound. This big black dog looks like she’s always sat next to my husband. She is sweet, gentle, eager to please. He says he’s going to take her out, test her, see if she’s gun shy. She sleeps between us every night, kicking out in her dreams, retrieving felled pheasants and doves.

8mm Home Movie From The Eighties

Fade in: Another girl’s red and gold cowboy boots. What she looks like doesn’t matter, so keep that camera on her feet. Cut to Scene: I tackle her after school, pinning her to the gravel with my knees. Unzip those boots thisfast and zip them up over my own chubby calves thisfast.  Take off into the bean field behind the school licketysplit. Maybe then she’ll want to be my friend and invite me for sleep-overs. Dissolve to Scene: We’ll make Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Pretend we don’t listen at the door as we each use the bathroom at bedtime. Pinky swear we’ll walk those high school halls together every day until we either graduate or one of us gets a boyfriend. Zoom! Fade out. Cue credits.

Look Me In The Eye

My father tells me I need to toughen up, that we’re going deer hunting. We follow a creek bed that opens up into a small field of bluestem. We are downwind from a doe he spots. I have already been warned the shot will be loud. I am ready for it, braced to the dirt, toilet paper stuffed in my ears earlier when he wasn’t looking. The doe looks up. We lock eyes. I don’t want her to leave me. I scream, still rooted to the dirt. My father startles, firing into the air. I scream louder. The doe pivots and disappears up and over a hill. He looks down at me, hand half raised in the November cold. “Jesus Christ, you’re worthless.”

Little Bear, Fierce Bear

My mother draws the curtains closed. “Stay away from that window. Bad storm’s comin’.” I throw a blanket over my head, clutching it under my chin, and tell myself stories. I am a frontier woman. A grieving widow in black lace. A flushed-cheek baby, face tucked under my hoodie, squinting against the gales. The house creaks on its foundation. The cottonwood beyond the front porch sways, throwing tentacles across the walls. The tentacles grow faces, growling, grabbing at my arms and legs, grasping at my blanket. I will myself into a bear, a huge bear, a fierce and snarling grizzly, and rip that tree limb by limb.

Genesis

Blue. Blue buildings, blue sidewalks, blue potted trees on each street corner. A blue giraffe with a paisley scarf wrapped around and around and around its neck waits next to me at a crosswalk. It stares straight ahead, waiting for the light to change. I’m already guessing the light will be blue, but maybe a softer shade, like a pale cornflower or a duck egg. Once, I dreamed a shadowy figure was chasing me down a hill. A human, though. Not this giraffe. This giraffe seems like it would be jovial, doing shots off its own belly, if we were at a party together. A doctor tells me my headaches are from the boy growing inside of me.


 

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L Mari Harris lives in Nebraska, where she works as a copywriter. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at http://www.lmariharris.wordpress.com.

My Dada Is A Bird by Adam Trodd

Ice crunch. Teeth tingle. Mama says it will crack enamel. Mama says lots of rules. You’re like a human rocking chair. Haw haw I rock more. She haw haws too and holds me warm, her arms across my belly like a soft belt and we rock rock rock together our shadow two shapes and one loving on the summer wall. Lemonade cutting our tongues when we sip it ooh not enough sugar. Yellow taste still alive when I lick my lips later. There is everywhere colours. Frank is lavender and helps me sleep cos of his songs in a gentle river voice. He’s not my Dada no cos Dada flew away that time. I love Frank. His palm on my forehead is a cool stone. Conor is charcoal that is dark but still orange on the inside like a hot stove. Conor burns and bellows so like a bull sometimes I think my ears will split. He says I should stay in respite and never come home again, retard. Words hissing and soft falling like grey ash on me while Mama and Frank are busy. I draw pictures of Dada who is free with the wings of a dove, the sun behind the whiteness of him and sky the colour of his old Ford Escort around him. Dada had to be free Mama says and Frank just nods before walking away. When I am in bed Conor whispers to me Dada jumped off the balcony because he couldn’t stand having a girl like me. But I don’t believe him because when I shut my eyes my Dada is flying so free in the light of a million lemon suns and he gives me a crown that shimmers like the sea.


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Adam Trodd’s fiction and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Irish Times, The Incubator Journal, Crannóg, Banshee, The Molotov Cocktail, Ellipsis, The Launchpad and The Caterpillar, as well as the Bath Flash Fiction and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. He won the inaugural Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition and the Book of Kells Creative Writing Competition as well as being one of the selected poets for Ireland’s first Poetry Jukebox installation in Belfast. He was a Best Small Fictions 2018 nominee and is part of the XBorders:Accord project with the Irish Writers Centre. He lives and works in Dublin.

And No More Shall We Part by Sutton Strother

Not in our home, Joe and Katherine agreed, but there’d been some debate about accommodations. Joe wanted luxury while Katherine argued any old rattrap would do. Eventually they compromised – they’d long ago perfected the art – on a deluxe room in mid-priced chain halfway between the city and the airport.

They checked into their room at two and hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob before locking the door behind them. Katherine opened the window and tossed out their plastic key card.

“Gimme your phone.”

Joe nodded. “Hadn’t thought of that.”

Out went both phones, cracked dead rectangles now on the sidewalk below.

“What about the room phone?”

“We might want room service.”

They chuckled at the idea, faces hot with tenderness for one another.

Joe disconnected the phone line then settled onto the bed nearer the window. Katherine glanced at its twin, but her eyes stung at the thought of lying too far from her husband. When she turned back to him, he smiled and patted the spot beside him. Katherine climbed in, snuggling into the soft corduroy of his favorite jacket.

“How do you feel?” he whispered.

“Happy.”

Joe flipped channels on the TV until he found a sitcom rerun. They’d missed the first ten minutes, but Katherine had seen it before. When the episode was over, another started up. Halfway through, Katherine’s hands began to tremble. A heat was building deep in her belly, and then it rose like mercury in a thermometer up the back of her throat.

“It’s here.”

She leapt from the bed and raced into the bathroom. She retched four times into the toilet bowl, until she was emptied out, then fell back against the cool tile.

Joe looked on from the doorway, his body filling the frame almost completely. So sturdy, Joe. Those broad shoulders. She remembered nibbling the skin on his left shoulder after they’d made love for the first time, raking her little fingers through the cloud of hair on his chest. She’d laughed that night at the contrast of their bodies, delighted that two specimens of the same species could look so different from one another.

“Feel better?”

“If only.”

“It starts quicker in women. Ends quicker for men, though.”

“Don’t,” said Katherine.

“It’s okay. It’s true. And you won’t be far behind.”

Joe stepped into the room and flushed away her mess. His big hands took hold of her beneath the shoulders, guiding her to her feet.

It went on like that until around midnight. At the end, Katherine felt so much lighter, nothing left to heave up but acrid air.

“I think I have a fever,” she said with mild surprise.

It came for Joe soon after. He didn’t bother with the toilet, spilled his guts into the room’s little trash can instead.
“Sleep,” he urged Katherine when the first wave had passed.

“I should look after you,” she protested, but her body gave her no choice.

She woke to sunlight and stiff joints, a nest of her own black hair on the pillow case. When she ran a hand along her scalp, more strands slip free. Beside her, Joe slept, one arm encircling the trash can half-filled with his vomit. Vicious little lesions – bright red, seeping – speckled his chest and jawline. Katherine’s fingers skimmed along her own skin and found the same raw marks on the back of her arms. She gave one a curious prod and hissed. At the sound, Joe stirred but didn’t wake. Katherine gathered her hair from the pillow, braided it into a wreath and laid it over her husband’s chest, a talisman to ward off further harm.

That evening, they discovered they could pluck their fingernails loose, easy as flower petals. They arranged them into a garden on the bathroom counter, and within a few hours they’d encircled the garden with a fence built from their broken teeth. Blood dribbled from their mouths as they reminisced about the tulips they’d seen on a trip to Holland years before. Their words were gummy and would’ve been unintelligible to anyone else. They talked until their hearing went then made their eyes say the words instead. Ready, said Joe’s eyes, and Katherine’s answered, Wait. They repeated the words until shapes began to blur and the light in the room grew dim then, blind, dragged themselves back to bed.

There was no way for Katherine to know what time it was when the pain in her ankles woke her. The tendons there had snapped like two guitar strings. A scream clawed its way out of her, shaking the bed with its force. Behind her, Joe quickened, but whether it was her pain or some pain all his own that startled him, Katherine couldn’t know. He buried his face into her neck and kissed her over and over, spilling hot tears into what was left of her hair.

After that, Katherine didn’t sleep again. She pinched Joe’s arm once every few minutes, waited for him to pinch back. She did this until he stopped pinching.

It took Katherine half an hour to strip away their clothes, another hour still to roll Joe into the bathroom and lay him in the tub. He’d been breathing shallowly when she’d begun. By the time she flung herself over the rim, her fall broken by his soft body, he’d stopped breathing altogether.

Her foot inched up the wall, and she toed the faucet handle until the showerhead emitted its lukewarm spray. Water streamed over her face, her belly. It trickled between her legs. Eventually it sought the spaces where her skin met Joe’s, filled those spaces then dissolved them, melding their bodies together until there was no Katherine, no Joe, only one silent mass of bone and flesh and, minutes later, only white bone. In time, the bones dissolved, too, and the whole mess was carried down the drain in a neat little stream, and the water ran clear again.


 

SStrother

Sutton Strother is a writer and educator based in New York. Her work appears or is forthcoming at Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, Longleaf Review, Atticus Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She Tweets at @suttonstrother.

 

Daughter Of, 1949-1958 by Stacy Trautwein Burns

Louise was the first to leave and we called her traitor. She never wanted to stay in the first place; her son had a ranch near Denver.

They’d already started the dam. Early morning, the breeze just right, you could hear it—the sound of machines.

There wasn’t much to pack. What do you take when you’re losing your home? No sense in the tractor; there’d be no farm. No room for the sofa, where we were headed.

Graham and the boys took these things to auction. The whole town did. Everyone left for auction and I was alone in the streets. I walked them to see how it would be, the tracks along Main Street flooded, silt rising with every step. It was still dry, of course, but with the town empty, I could see it that way. I could hold my hands, at the station, against the tracks and feel them rust, then flake, grow slick with algae. I followed them out of town, to the church at the edge and the cemetery beyond.

I knelt at your stone, the one marked Daughter Of, and the water followed me. My skirt lifted in the imagined flood. Dirt drifted until your box uncovered and you spilled out, body as soft as I remembered. We floated together, with no one to see, wide-eyed beneath a surface crossed by boats’ and skiers’ wakes.

I stayed too long. I’m the reason they moved you and the others—they found me at auction’s end and said you couldn’t be left. Of course not.

A man photographed the rows of stones so we could lay you in order in your new home. Then we wrapped each stone in cotton—some were near eighty years old, from when the town first founded. And then we dug, backhoes like bugs, and stacked you with the others in the backs of pickups. We drove an hour away, to the new cemetery to unload, but by then it was too late to re-bury.

I saw my chance and took it.

Before dawn, I crept from Graham’s side. The boys’ breaths fell like a breeze down the stairs and I hurried outside. I pushed the truck to the road so the engine wouldn’t wake them, and I drove to the new place, where your box lay.

I opened it.

A year’d gone by and my arms ached to hold you, but you weren’t the same. It took awhile to collect myself.

A thing like that ain’t natural, of course. It changed me, I know. But I held you and loved holding you and remembered combing your hair that last day, how you fought to be gone, the picnic at the creek already begun and you anxious to climb that tree, not knowing how you’d fall.

It don’t matter what they saw when they found us, what they said or did. All that matters is that they dug your grave and put you in it. They took me home.

After Louise went Matthew and Agnes and theirs. Then Tom with his family and Bob with his. The Jacobsons. The Pickenses. Wilbur and Mary.

We were the last because I would not pack and I would not leave. I sat in your room with the pink wallpaper and the quilt Great Grandmother made and I held your dolls in turn, but there were too many and I didn’t know which had been your favorite. Did you have one? I don’t suppose so, always hankering after a new one the way you were.

The dam finished. The air, mornings, hung still. Graham took the boys to the place he’d found in the city. He said, “Pick what you want and come after,” but I couldn’t pick.

I stayed. Water shone on the south horizon. The ground turned gradually soft. Graham took to coming every weekend, when he had time from his job at the print shop there in the city and the boys were off from school.

Authorities knocked sometimes, said I had to leave.

Water ran ribbons through town.

Graham said, “It can’t stay like this forever.”

“Don’t touch me,” I warned.

It’s rained since and Graham hasn’t returned. Water laps the steps in town but ours is farther north, on a knoll. The road’s swamped, and the yard, but our step is clean and dry. I haven’t checked the cellar.

But Graham’s right—I can’t stay forever.

I hate your goddamn dolls and I’ve a bag packed with none of your things. It’s some satisfaction knowing, if you can’t float beneath that lake, they will.


 

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Stacy Trautwein Burns’s flash fiction has been published online at Smokelong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, and New Flash Fiction Review (among others) and has been anthologized in print with Bath Flash Fiction and Reflex Fiction. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University.

Close Down by Stefani Cox

The girl at the bar has words for me, wants to see the draft version of her story. She’ll tell me anything, anxious to escape a dark, sticky room of clustered hands and wicked moonshine.

Tap tap tap until I find her face again. Pay attention. These syllables can curl and arc like boomerangs. Don’t miss a one.

A man walks over all questing eyes and roving digits. I am an ordinary body, she says, the extraordinary ones go home by three. When the check arrives, he leaves alone.

Girl hurls a cocktail that will or will not implode, green vodka, tumbled olive. I apologize to the owner, as I pull her to the door, cheeks red at the embarrassment of night.

 


 

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Stefani Cox is a speculative fiction writer and poet based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published to LeVar Burton Reads, PodCastle, The Mantle, Mirror Dance, and FIYAH, among other outlets. She’s also an alumna of the VONA/Voices workshops and has served as an associate editor for PodCastle. Find her on Twitter @stefanicox or her website stefanicox.com.

Watermelon by Ellen Ellis

When I was four, we grew a watermelon in the backyard garden, under the split-trunk oak. Every morning the screen door would rattle from the passing of my two velcro sandals and the neighbor’s dog would bark as I squatted, square knees and dirty hands, to inspect that watermelon.

It swelled like summer passes, hair grows, knitting knots, so slow you couldn’t tell it was happening until one day it was bigger than I was. Sweet striped shell, vine and leaves. The critters ate all the tomatoes but they left that watermelon alone. Indomitable watermelon, under the sun and the tree and dog’s crossed eyes.

Kelly says I would sit out there next to the watermelon in my little yellow dress, toes in the dirt, talking at rocketship speed to my variegated friend, making squares with my two sky-sweeping hands. Outlining that craggy four-year-old universe to a very good listener.

July I tried to catch it in the act – get up early, tiptoe down the stairs, edge the screen door open far enough so that (holding my breath) I could fit my round kid belly through the gap. The moon, enormous, hung in the hot air. It probably knew how that watermelon just kept growing, but Mom’s following feet kept me from asking.

One morning it sat smug in the sunlight, self-satisfied in its mysteries, and the next it was a crater in the August earth, a severed stem trailing leaves. Our biggest white bowl overflowing with red flesh, a spill staining the tablecloth. Kelly put a whole slice in her mouth at once and the juice ran down her pufferfish cheeks, dripped in red rainspots onto her turned-up collar.


 

EllenEllis

 

Ellen Ellis’ work has been a finalist on Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Top 25, and received the Margaret C. Annan Memorial Prize and SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. She’s based in Chicago, and her story “Noise” was published in Wigleaf. 

That Motherfucking Light / Cuánta Luz by Maria Alejandra Barrios

Me and Pablo just met and we’re both depressed. I’m depressed because I don’t have a visa and I don’t know where I’ll sleep next month. Pablo is depressed because his pot business is too small and he’s scared he is going to get caught.

His real name is not Pablo.

My parents spent a lot of money on a fancy Ivy League education in New York for me. My J1 is about to expire and soon after that, if I don’t get an extension I’m bound to go back home to Colombia. Pablo is from Colombia too but that’s not why he sells drugs. He sells because he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd and he likes easy money. He likes meeting new people every week, too. That’s how we met.

“Fumas?” He asked at a house party in Crown Heights.

“I do now,” I answered, taking the cigarette from his hand.

While I took the first hit, I thought about RCN showing the marihuana cultivos being burned to ashes in the 90’s. I thought about the other Pablo and his reign of violence. I thought about the eight-year-olds selling drugs in Medellin on the streets. I thought about me swearing papi I would never smoke. I thought about me promising it to God when I was little at Catholic School. Pablo interrupts my thoughts:

“That’s not how you smoke. You have to inhale the smoke and hold it until it burns as it tries to get back out.” I thought for a second about papi and god but the thought in my head doesn’t last long. The burning in my throat does.

After we met that night, Pablo and I start hanging out almost every day. We both work mostly at night. He sells his stuff and I think about what will happen if the visa doesn’t get here in time and I will have to go home. I think about where home is. I think about not having a country. I think about how there’s no end in sight. I don’t sleep, and Pablo doesn’t sleep either. So it works out.

“That’s why I’m bad at this business. I’m too scared.”

“I am scared too.”

“And that’s why you don’t do anything. Maybe you should come with me tomorrow.”

The next day we get together to do his round. We speak to all of his clients and smoke with his favorite ones. The last couple of the night offers us chicken. Pablo lights up a joint and says:

“I know what I said yesterday, but you shouldn’t do this. It’s too dangerous. I would rather have you not do anything.”

I imagine the land under my feet splitting in two. I hear my mom’s voice “Come home. You’re spiralling, mija.” I hear the voice of my therapist: “are you sleeping?”

“It’s okay.” He says like he could read my thoughts. I wonder if he can.

Pablo gets caught the next day selling but he doesn’t stay in jail long because it turns out his par-ents have money too. It also turns out his real name is Pablo.

He calls me from prison telling me that he misses me. The week after he comes to my room in Bushwick and kisses me. He kisses my arms, my hair, my forehead and my sunburned chest. In that paisa accent of his, he tells me that he loves me.

“Pablo?” I ask but he doesn’t respond.

Pablo holds my hand. He says he’ll go back to go school for real this time and I don’t say any-thing because I don’t have a plan.

“Pablo,” I say, “Pablo, don’t fall asleep.” But he does.

And I think that Pablo and I don’t have a country but we have something better together, his snores go quiet and all I can hear is the noise of the sirens outside. I hold Pablo’s hand not caring about waking him up. I squeeze his hand harder and prepare for the road ahead.

He wakes up and tells me to go to sleep but I can’t close my eyes. I can feel the land opening up and swallowing me like it does every night. I feel the warmness of the earth and the mud. Except this time, I’m not scared. All I can see is the light.

That motherfucking light of love.


MariaBarrios

Maria Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester, where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. Her fiction has been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center. She lives in New York and is currently working on her first short story collection and her first novel.