The House on Hwy 18, Probably October 1999 by Brett Biebel

When I was 12, my dad spent a week camped out in the backyard. My brother and I would bring him Hamburger Helper and these little packets of ketchup we stole from the McDonald’s down the street. We’d talk about spaceships. Constellations. The night Ritchie Valens fell from the sky, and he said someday he’d show us where it happened, and we could leave flowers, and he’d never done it, but the drive really wasn’t all that far.

Except, that fourth night, we didn’t bring him anything. Could only see his shadow hunched over inside of the tent. My brother had found a dirty magazine in the dumpster behind the gas station, and we sat on his bed looking at it. Some of the pages were torn out. One of them had an ad for Campari. The women looked like they were from California or Florida or some place with lots of fruit and no snow, and my brother said someday his wife was going to look like that, and maybe mine would too. Only uglier. With fewer teeth. Definitely smaller tits. Then he said who was he kidding, and I wasn’t ever getting married, and his pal Lamar told him I was probably gay. I said I wasn’t. He rolled his eyes. I watched them moving around inside his head and realized he looked nothing like Dad, that it was only their laughs that sounded the same.


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Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauqua, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

Before the Apocalypse, the Loss by Kara Vernor

Mom bought me Wilbur Mohammad’s Geo Metro for eight hundred dollars, an electric blue stick shift, a flea of a car. Wilbur’s down the road from us, and I’d been seeing that car in his front yard my whole life. It’s like her to give me what I can’t say I need.

The backseats are flipped forward and weighted with my duffel bag, two backpacks, stuffed Walmart bags, and a milk crate of my books. I’m about to drive 2,203 miles. It might well be the first time this car rolls over the Duplin County line.

Mom and I are propped against the driver’s side looking at our front porch, the unlatched screen door all the way open and tapping against the house. Beyond the door is the couch where she caught me having sex with my first boyfriend while she was supposed to be at work, recording for the family court. I heard her weeping that night in her bedroom like she was the one who had something to feel sorry for. When I woke the next morning, there was a box of condoms under my pillow.

But no matter where—porch, living room, or kitchen table—when I have said what I need, she hasn’t heard it. I told her I want to breathe air that doesn’t reek of hog bowels. You can’t Glade the whole outdoors. I told her I need to plant beans in soil that isn’t saturated with hog shit after every hurricane when the sewage lagoons at the industrial farms overflow. I begged her to make a new home with me, this woman who hears and refuses to hear, who tells me I’m beautiful when my face is knobby with pimples, who holds my cold feet against her warm stomach in winter. My Uncle David tried talking to her, too, swore he had room enough for the both of us in Tucson.

“You could get sick here,” I say again and grab hold of her hand at my side. Her fingers and mine are the same: long with inelegant knuckles. I tell her just three days ago there was another baby who was born blue.

“You’ve got your A.A. and you’re headed off to start your life, and you want to take me with you?” She shakes her head like she’s seen it all, like nothing makes any sense anymore. Same as when she insists the water is fine. The Earth isn’t getting hotter. The value of the house she bought all by herself hasn’t dropped because of the smell.

On the way to Arizona I sleep in efficiency motels. I ask a man at a diner to buy me a bottle of vodka and I dance for him on the orange bedspread in my room, my body limitless. I stretch on the side of the highway when I need a break, and the semis pull their horns. I watch out the window as fields flip by, the ones growing crops that feed the animals people eat without thinking. I drive with the window down an inch to let in the fresh air, and I listen to the rustle of my earrings, the ones I made from the shards of a conch shell mom dropped on the floor of the thrift store after she’d put it to her ear and heard a howling.


KVernor

Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, and her writing has been included in The Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.

My Husband Bought a River by Mileva Anastasiadou

But now he is drowning.

He bought that river for me. He wanted to feel my pain, to know me better, he claims, but he’s on the verge of falling apart, because he can’t handle water, not like I do. He used to be calm, composed. I was the wreck up until now and he’d do his best to keep us together, he was the glue that kept the edifice standing. Collapse is the new normal and the glue can’t do much now, now that the ship we’ve been sailing on is falling to pieces. In fact, he wished to show me how good he can be, an expert at everything, he wanted it all.

But now he has nothing.

Husband holds on to me, like I’m his anchor, an anchor buried deep in the waters that drown him. He’s not familiar with waters that run deep, he’s dead frightened, shouting and yelling, but I can’t hear him, I’ve been drowning for long, I’m used to drowning, to endings, to danger. He’s been hopeful for long, afloat, but he can’t buy safety, he can’t swim now, now that the river is his to handle. He’s been the optimist, the joyful, the happy one.

But now he is desperate.

Remember the angst, the panic attacks, impending doom knocking at the door, for no apparent reason. Now there is a reason, I tell him. Now fear is justified. Justified fear is less frightening, it lessens anxiety, makes sense, soothes the pain, blessed are those who can breathe underwater, who walk proudly in chaos and all is back to normal, my kind of normal, now that the earth does not feel like home, now that we’re both drowning and life is beautifully terrifying.


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Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Flash Flood, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen, and others.

Safety Drill by Cortney Phillips Meriwether

On the morning of the final bus-safety drill of the school year, Gina Thornton felt sick to her stomach. They were supposed to always dress appropriately for bus drill days—no slip-on shoes, no dresses—but she forgot about Ms. Sharon’s announcement. Or maybe she was talking to Colleen and didn’t hear it. Or maybe the two-way radio crackled at the wrong time. Either way, Gina Thornton was wearing a skirt.

Their bus, Bus 720, always got the best safety rating in all of Willow Creek Elementary. It was a real point of pride for the northside kids—everyone took the drills very seriously. This was partly because they loved Ms. Sharon and partly because jumping off the back of the bus was a thrill. One time, their rating was so high that Ms. Sharon let them listen to Q94 during the ride home instead of the usual Sheryl Crow tape.

That day, when Ms. Sharon flipped the alarm, the other students stood up, ready to go. But Gina’s bare thighs were melded to the thick gray-green vinyl of the seat. We have to go, Colleen told her, looking down at Gina’s skirt with a wince. It’ll be over quick, Colleen said. Just jump.

The two designated fifth grade boys unlatched the back door and hopped out first. And the one who wore the Scottie Pippin jersey over a white t-shirt at least once a week? He’d once spent an entire bus ride trying to snap her choker necklace and pull her hair. He always called her Va-Gina. Now she was expected to stand above him in her skirt? Let him grab her hand and elbow? Help her jump to fake safety?

Colleen went first, bending her knees and reaching out to the boys as they reached up to her, effortlessly floating down and landing softly, guided by their grip. And so Gina moved to the edge, trying to tuck her skirt between her knees as she squatted, not looking at the one in the red jersey, even when she realized too late that the hand supposed to take her elbow and lift her forward—the same hand that reached between the seats and pinched at her neck that first and last time she wore the choker—was up her skirt and cupping her underwear before she even realized she was in the air.

The ground hit harder than the last drill, the impact shooting up through her knees, but Gina took off running like she was supposed to, reaching the sidewalk next to the bus loop faster than she ever had. Ms. Sharon glanced at her, barely seeing her before looking down to her clipboard to check her off. Got you, she said. You’re safe.


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Cortney Phillips Meriwether received her MFA in Creative Writing from NC State in 2012 and has been working as a writer and editor ever since. Her work has been published by Wigleaf, CHEAP POP, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She serves as a reader for Fractured Lit and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and son.

Blind Wolf Teeth by Michael B. Tager

For my AARP birthday, Bea took me to Surprise Valley. “We’ll find some hot springs,” she said as the 447 crested into the valley’s basin. “There’s supposed to be horses. Like Assateague Island.”

“Those are ponies.”

“Same thing,” she said.

“Those are ponies.” I put venom into the word like I was trying to kill something, and Bea sucked her teeth and let me alone while I watched the vast mountains. I wanted to feel something, but all I saw was emptiness and the Law and Order marathon I was missing and Bea’s blue vest that made her look like a Walmart greeter. She’d almost popped me when I told her that, but she still wore it.

I muttered passive aggressiveness, affronted at the idea that ponies were the same as horses, but really I just didn’t want this to be my AARP birthday. I resented everything, from the ache in my jaw to the wildflowers, creeks and hills. Somewhere out there were towns filled with people who weren’t getting older, and roaming herds of horses under the sun that thought they were free.

I thought about telling her all that, maybe apologizing for my tone, but I could tell she was done listening to me.
Eventually, we parked by the trail markers. “Get out, you old fool,” Bea said, rummaging in the back for canteens, tents, trail mix and who knows what else. She was always over-prepared. On our honeymoon, I brought a backpack with a couple changes of clothes and my razor. She brought two suitcases, the second filled with all the shit I’d forgotten.

Maybe I rely on her to be my memory, but I have other qualities. I know where to find the salt and how much olive oil to use, how to prune the roses and how to get the knot out of her back that visits just under her shoulder blades.
Bea waited patiently while I did frou-frou Yoga that I had to admit soothed the fire in my back muscles to a low broil. I can lift our grandchildren and run after the ice cream truck, but the kinks come out slower these days. At my checkup last week, the doctor said I’ll eventually need a new vertebrae and maybe new teeth. No wonder I have the grumps.

Eventually we walked towards the mountains and muttered at one another, not real conversation, just a reminder that we were alive. Over the hours, other hikers passed or sometimes we passed, and we waved and nodded and they nodded and waved, speaking the silent language of the out-and-about.

“I have to admit,” I told Bea while admiring the sky, “I feel better.”

“Happy birthday, fool.” She put her arm around my waist.

We stopped at a clear lake alongside a young family. The woman looked too young to be a mother, but she breastfed and texted and admonished her brood simultaneously, so she was clearly old enough. We got to talking and the middle child told us about the wild horses. “Some have fangs.”

“What do you mean?” I squatted despite my legs’ protest. Children deserved to be looked in the eye by their elders.
She played with the bead at the end of her braids. She glanced at her father, who nodded. “Some horses have teeth-like fangs in the back of their mouth but they’re just blind wolf teeth.” I could tell she didn’t quite know what she was saying. Neither did I.

“Like wisdom teeth? Those come in when you’re older,” I offered.

“Ok,” she said, and lost interest in me because where we were bugs crawled and clouds lived in the sky.

On the second leg, we passed mostly young folks, though one couple had whiter hair than us. They jogged in spandex, wiry muscles defying the sun.

Bea whistled when they faded into the dust. “We should take up running. Or squash. I used to play squash.

“I didn’t know that,” I said, thinking about the dusty barbells in the basement.

“You don’t know everything about me.” She winked, and I remembered why I loved her.

At our campsite, I roasted corn and chicken in our open fire while Bea rubbed her feet and asked my opinion of the day.

“Best birthday in years.”

Bea grinned and she patted the ground flat in order to lay down and put her head in my lap. While the food cooled, I stroked her hair in the dwindling light. My left hand snuck under her arm and rubbed her breast. She giggled and said, “What in the world are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Depends on what you think about it.”

She laughed and her eyes sparked in the firelight. She took my hand and led me to the tent.

Later, half-asleep, I stumbled out of the tent in my jockeys to relieve my bladder. I hoped I didn’t glow in the light of the full moon but also, what did I care? I walked some distance and looked around and saw nothing in the emptiness.
Mid-stream, I heard a snort and heavy footsteps and I turned.

The palomino regarded me with ancient eyes and pawed the ground. Its mouth hung open. Its teeth were cracked and a deep yellow. Some were missing. I reached out a hand to touch it, but it snuffled at me and flared its lips.

I stepped back and tried to calm it. “Shhh.” Its knees quivered and it did the little dance horses do in order to sit. I could see its eyes, filmed over with cataracts. I knew it was a wild animal, but I stretched out my hand again, out of a need for connection. It whinnied but didn’t stop me. Its nose was warm and soft, and I felt its heart beat slowly.

In the light of the moon, I saw a single tooth in the corner of its mouth shaped like a jagged tear. “Hello there,” I said, surprised at how steady my heart was, how calm I felt in the face of an ending life.


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Michael B. Tager is a writer and editor. His work can be found at michaelbtager.com. He is mostly vegetables.

She Could Have Been Queen by Lucy Zhang

cinderella

The dove laced up the back of the golden dress, pulling and tugging with its beak until her waist vanished to a pinprick beneath the organza. The shoulder straps led to a beaded, sweetheart neckline; iridescent beads adorned the bodice; rhinestone banners trailed the skirt’s horsehair hems. When she spun, the heavy fabric lagged behind her rotation, shimmering and then blinding when it caught up to her circular acceleration, and so it was only natural that the prince failed to remember her face and had to rely on the slipper she left behind. Maybe if the prince had looked a bit closer, saw the stain of blood where the back of her ankle had rubbed against the shoe, investigated the strands of hair on the palace steps, he could’ve matched the DNA, spared all the girls’ foot amputations to fit the delicate slipper. By the time he found the slipper, she had powdered soot onto her cheeks like foundation and finished rinsing a bowl of lentils to cook with onion and garlic over a fire, her appetite peaked after all the dancing. She poked a tree branch at the fire and watched its flames lick the bottom of the pot. Lentil stew: nutritious, delicious, the real secret behind her Claritin clear skin besides exfoliating properties of ash. After she fell asleep to a full stomach, the prince slipped the shoe on her foot and whisked her away so they could get married. And when she came to, pores clear, nails polished, hair trimmed of split ends, she had become a princess.

sleeping beauty

She slept on linen sheets covering feather beds softer than the morning snow (before soldiers marched their muddied boots to the castle and shook off blood and sweat from their swords and foreheads). An ornamented canopy hung above her head, embroidered with their family emblem, a weasel whose long and slender body made its legs seem disproportionately short, whose creamy white belly clashed against its red coat as it stood tall, with nowhere to burrow, and watched. She woke to the curtains drawn around the bed, her bare legs blanketed by shadow, his hand rubbing her stomach and then gliding from a bullet wound of a belly button to her breasts, like memory foam, capturing his fingerprints in a snapshot of time. She woke to whispers of my princess, my princess, and when he allowed her to speak, she whispered back yes, papa. When she failed to wake one morning, her index finger bruised and bloodied from a spindle’s puncture–the largest spindle she could find, the king knelt by her bed and brushed his lips and nose over her thighs, calves, toes and placed a tiara on her head, parting locks of hair so they surrounded her head like a halo. The queen offered her own–the one she had worn when they were first engaged–a diadem crammed with seven pear-shaped aquamarines and rose-cut diamonds and no room for romance. He scoffed as he fingered the hem of his daughter’s dress, not for my darling girl.

snow white

The day before she lost her virginity, she dissolved Epsom salt in a cup of warm water and swallowed. She began her fast that morning, flushed the toxins from her intestine, sucked in her flesh with a gasping fish-on-land inhale as she glimpsed her side profile in the mirror across her bed, and felt clean and airy and empty as she went about her day. The night she lost her virginity, she remained still, moving only as directed, counting poisoned combs and apples like sheep. The day after she lost her virginity, her lady-in-waiting asked if it hurt and she responded truthfully: she didn’t remember, for she had been too concerned about sucking in her hollow belly, wiping her mouth and face and thighs dry when she thought he wasn’t watching, plaiting her hair to the side so she wouldn’t need to re-straighten it the next morning. On subsequent nights, she wondered if the late queen ever caught a glimpse of the panting body above her slight frame and if she thought the reflection beautiful.


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Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Heavy Feather Review and assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Stopping by a Store on a Summer Evening by Francisco Delgado

Once the storm cleared, they left for their evening walk. The tree, whose branches scratched and pawed at their front windows only minutes ago, was back in repose. The gutters, overflowing and summoning the smells of garbage and sewage that ran just beneath them, had largely subsided, too. Only a few puddles remained – but not for long, not once an overzealous child or dog leapt into them.

The couple reached their grocery store and, without a word, entered. The doors parted and invited them in without touching them, and they heard the AC before they could hear the music. A song that sounded like Phil Collins, but was definitely not Phil Collins, played on low from somewhere.

Their favorite tea was on sale. For her, its smell brought back the green-blue sea of the Mediterranean, the warmth of the sun right after a couple’s massage on their honeymoon. For him, it brought back this same memory and others: friends gathered at a table, the warmth of being pulled in for a picture, faces livelier in memory than on their dormant social media accounts.

“Are we out of milk?”

“Get it,” looking at the expiration date, “It won’t go to waste.”

Nearby, two middle-aged men in matching chambray shorts talked about the storm. One was in a Martha’s Vineyard t-shirt, the other’s had the name of a university in blue, block lettering across the chest. The couple couldn’t tell if the men were close friends or strangers. If you know someone long enough, don’t they become a little bit of both?

Towards the front, the cashiers were all smiles. Fast hands, faster pleasantries. A customer or two mistook this friendliness for something more, engaging the cashiers in conversation beyond the trendy topic of the moment: the storm that had just aggressively pushed through their neighborhood and left.

“Crazy how fast it moved.”

“When something picks up that quick, it never lasts long.”

The couple’s own cashier was quiet, perhaps too focused on the actions of her hands to make eye contact. Afterwards, each of them wondered if it had been them – especially because the cashier brightened with the next customer.

“Could it have been -?”

“Had to have been.”

“But why?”

Outside, they stared in awe at the neighborhood they had made their own. The neighborhood, especially their moving-in almost a decade ago, had been such an event. Friends visiting, sharing well-wishes and bottles of wine, making soft plans for “next time” and “later” and “soon.” Recently, the neighborhood had become familiar without being cozy, like the Target that had replaced the bookstore or the bank that had replaced a bank.

“Should we keep going? Or head back?” he asked.

“Where to?” she replied.


F Delgado

 

Francisco Delgado is a proud Chamorro and, through his maternal grandmother, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca (Wolf clan). He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and lives in Queens with his wife and their son. His creative work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Pithead Chapel, Lammergeier, and Wigleaf, and he is the author of the chapbook Adolescence, Secondhand (Honeysuckle Press, 2018).

Bones Passing Through by Stephen Ground

He asks for the bill.

I’ve been watching them. Grubby, tired. Eating slower than you’d expect from bony, glass-eyed ones like these. Beneath the patchy beard and mask, his eyes twinkle like fresh pennies. Like mine. Impossible, and I know it, yet I’m transfixed by the invisible weight hunching his shoulders, familiar grimness clenched in his jaw. Austere stillness found in cornered spiders and predators waiting to pounce. The boy’s brightness gleams through his smudged coat of unbathed weeks. Pink cheeks cut the tarnish.

I waddle behind the counter, slow since it’s the lull before bars close and hooligans start lusting for bacon. Resting on my elbows, I tally their order from memory: basket of fries, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a lemonade I’d refilled twice on the diner’s dime. My candles might cost more than my cake, but the mind’s sharp from years of nights with Sajak and Trebek, gulping jars of Nutella with a spoon when I should’ve been finding companionship, maybe love. Planting roots. Wisdom displayed on the bare mantle and walls of my musty, rented room.

I punch in the order and the register jams, like every other damn time. I hiss all the things I’d like to do to Mr. O’Neill, his tight wallet, and his seventh wife who, big surprise, got the morning manager job I deserved despite never working a day in her life. Somehow she’s the laziest one yet, which I never thought I’d say after Number Four. No, instead I get another season rising at sunset to sling coffee for folks who don’t want it known they exist, then trying to sleep after ten hours on my feet sweating like a heifer on a hamster wheel, daylight bleating through janky blinds I can’t afford to replace. I slam the side of the register with the heel of my hand and the chit judders free, streaked and bleary. Scanning the diner, I pluck a well-earned wedgie, subtle and quick, then wander towards their table, straightening cutlery and flicking crumbs to the floor off vacant ones. I present the bill facedown to the man with a fistful of probably-stale pineapple candies.

Thanks, he says, eyes averted. Hesitating to check the damage.

Don’t worry, I say, nudging it closer. I took care of you.

Thanks, he says again, hesitating a moment longer before sliding the candies to the boy and snatching the bill, cradling it behind cupped hands like I wasn’t the one who rang it in. Inscrutable panic deep in his eyes knocks me through a wormhole: I’m sixty-seven and seventeen in the same breath, overcome with no-tears shampoo and disappointment, flashes of tiny hands and distant, tinkling laughter. I’m staring at his trembling fingers clutching the crumpled bill. Dirty nails, knuckles swollen and red.

You okay, ma’am?

Blinking hard, I smile wearily at the boy. He looks like him, too, beneath the grime, the chips and holes in his cautious grin. How I imagine he would’ve, anyways. Though if you asked me to bet a slow night’s tips, I wouldn’t.

The bell over the door clangs and a wave of college drunks crashes in, swept by riptides of cheap beer and failed conquests. I wait for them to settle in a corner booth then pass by, dropping menus and mugs, splashing them full without asking like the Ken Jennings of caffeinating assholes. The bell clangs again; a ball of grimy, crinkled bills and sprinkles of small change holler like cannon fire next to the mostly-empty basket of fries, the mug streaked like gas station porcelain. A crumpled napkin sags in the dregs of the third lemonade.

I glance out the window at the parking lot; the glistening, humming street crammed full of emptiness. In another world – a fair one, if such a thing exists – I could’ve been clocking out at dawn and heading to their place for breakfast, having coffee poured for me, then strolling hand-in-hand with the boy to a school he hates, chatting about the little girl who drives him crazy. I just wish I’d been told sometimes chances come once, and fairness is illusion fueled by the desperate. In reality, the only fair comes around in the fall, the sparkling midway luring booze bags from the diner like half-priced domestics for a few nights, at least. I like that fair. I believe in it.

The clutch of drunks are hungry and fading, their booth a nest of sloppy three a.m. chaos I get paid the bottom legal dollar to wrangle, plus tips. Sliding a pad from my apron, I brace for omelette orders no self-respecting human would sniff without a pistol pressed to their temple; drop my weight on my good hip and poise my trusty ballpoint. Forcing a smile, I patiently scribble garbled orders with one eye and watch out the window with the other. Like any good mother could.

 


Stephen G

Stephen Ground is a short fiction writer, poet, and screenwriter based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’s co-founded Pearson House Films. After graduating from York University, he moved to a remote, isolated community in northernmost Saskatchewan, filling years of long, dark nights by reading books and trying to write one. His work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, Sky Island Journal, Typishly, and elsewhere, and is a 2021 Best Small Fictions nominee. Find more at www.stephenground.com.

Something Like Happy by Emily Devane

I came here with a body full of poison and hair loose in its sockets. The thrill of standing by the harbour is something else. Better than Disneyland, you say. Of course, I reply, of course.

Gulls screech like newborn babes and the air has a taste to it like sweat, like tears, like life at its gritty best. And we say yes: to ice cream with sprinkles and sky-blue candyfloss; to hours of digging holes in the sand and skipping over the waves, our skin staying just the right side of pink, our lungs stinging, singing with the salt; to crabbing beside the harbour wall; to feeding our two penny pieces into the metal-guzzling machines at the arcade, watching the forwards and backwards until they’re all gone.

By the caravan with the genuine Romany inside, I wonder if, with one look, she’ll avert her eyes, knowing my fate.

We climb the steps and I’m breathless but I don’t make a fuss because today is an illusion and it matters, more than anything, to be normal.

A stranger takes a photograph of us in the picture-postcard cemetery, its tombstones rakish as ageing teeth. Our faces beam with the relief of the fearful. For now, we are saying, this is okay, this can be done. And though the wind whips my hair into tangled knots and my scalp tingles with the losses to come and my life is too short to count, we are something like happy, and that is enough.


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Emily Devane is a writer and teacher from Yorkshire, U.K. Her stories have won prizes, including the Bath Flash Fiction Prize, and have been widely published. Emily was a Word Factory apprentice and a Northern Writer’s Award winner. She is an editor at Saboteur-nominated online journal FlashBack Fiction.

Essential Parenting Terms by Lauren D. Woods

1.  Time:  That which is always lacking. That which my own parents lavished on me, but which I can never wrest enough of, to be generous enough, to stop hoarding and make more of—see #2

2.  An Effort:  Trying hard. Like when I draw out letters for you to copy in purple marker, but you scribble over the page, rip it to shreds, and leave purple-colored scraps scattered around the living room. You must know I’m doing my best to ensure your life won’t turn out—see #3.

3.  Bad:  The kind of mom you call me when I make—see #2.

4.  Good:  The kind of mom you call me when I’m on the phone and let you start dinner with chocolate ice cream and sprinkles that you shake on yourself, because I’m on a work call, or a personal call, and I wish I were making more—see #1, because what I’m really feeling is—see #5.

5.  Sorry:  When I think of how you don’t live in a home with two parents, how little I give you sometimes in terms of—see #1, and that makes me afraid you won’t see this home as—see #4.

6.  Love:  Watching you sleeping in the bedroom you share with your brother and me in our apartment, with your mouth parted open, hair splayed on your pillow, legs longer than they seemed to be a week ago, which is also when I feel—see #7.

7.  Fear:  The feeling that your childhood will be harder than my early years with a mom and dad and comfortable house in the suburbs. The feeling that you will notice the hours I am working, or on the phone, or only halfway present, that I have not been generous, the feeling that when you rip apart those purple letters, you are expressing some deeper brokenness I cannot fix. The cost of—see #6.

8.  Anger:  The feeling I get when your teachers tell me you don’t want to practice your letters, that you’re distracted and have stopped listening. When they pause and ask gently if things are all right at home, a feeling that is based in—see #7. Please forgive me for not making enough—see #1.


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Lauren D. Woods is a Virginia-based writer of fiction and CNF, with work in Hobart, the Offing, Forge Literary Magazine, and other journals.