Born Again by Michele Finn Johnson

Stephen is a member of the PraiseTheLord club—he has their bumper sticker on his Grand Prix—and so I know that he is off-limits. Untouchable or, at best, touchable above the belt. But that’s just it—I want to touch him. More specifically, I want to lick his cherry lips—lick them until they fuzz over with chap and fall off. He doesn’t suspect this of me, the girl he just so happens to bump into in the apartment complex laundry room every Wednesday night. I think it might send him into evangelical convulsions.

“You’re pathetic,” my roommate, Janet, says, watching me pull clean clothes off of hangers, top off two laundry baskets with Downey-fresh shirts.

I drop the baskets in our hallway and do a headstand against the wall. “I know I am. But at least you’re getting your laundry done for you.”

“You’re roommate of the year, Lucy, but you’re also kind of freaky.”

Janet doesn’t really get me. She’s got a long-distance boyfriend, Henri, spelled with an ‘i’ because he’s super-French, complete with the accent and an addiction to champignons. I happen to think Henri’s Frenchness makes him less attractive, more Manhattan asshole, but Janet loves it, soaks it up like a syrupy waffle.

“Why in the world do you stand on your head?”

I don’t answer Janet until I feel my feet start to numb up and my head gets tingly. “It’s inversion therapy. Seriously? You’ve never tried it?” I flip down off the wall, steady myself while blood surges out of my head like thermometer mercury. “It’s a yoga move, Janet. Promotes clear thinking.”

Janet laughs. “If only,” she says. “Maybe then you’d give up your fake boyfriend.”


When I get to the laundry room, I can see I’m a tad too late. Stephen’s gone already; his jeans/towel load is busy agitating. I invert and do a headstand right in front of the washing machine, watch the endless frothing of Tide bubbles. Stephen’s zippers and pant legs and washcloths dart up against the convex window. I think about the time I emptied the dryer for him, found a crumbled business card in the lint catcher—Stephen Gordon, Engineer.  Maybe Janet’s right. Maybe I am losing it, stalking an evangelist engineer in a humid, hot, cramped laundry room. The thing is, Stephen is perfect—electric-white teeth, the smell of Listerine on his breath, hair the color of the fake lump of coal they sell at Spencer’s at Christmastime. Stephen is my future, I just know it. But still, staring at his spin cycle, I can’t but help to think that I’ve lost my beans. All for a guy who’s never even asked me my name.

The laundry room door opens after untold minutes into my headstand.

“I’m sorry, am I holding you up?”

It’s Stephen. Funny, looking at him upside-down, I can see that his sneakers are scuffed red with Carolina clay and his track pants are about an inch too short, likely over-dried on the high heat setting instead of permanent press. When I descend from my inversion and turn right side up, Stephen’s head looks kind of fuzzy to me, like I’m staring at him through cheesecloth. And then, everything fades to black.


When I wake up, there are bright sodium lights hovering above me. I’m in a hospital room, and I must be pumped full of something because I feel as if I’m suspended in a hammock. I can’t read the big ‘E’ on the eye chart on the wall, even though I know it’s an ‘E.’ Everyone knows it’s an ‘E.’

“You’re awake.”

I look over to the voice; it’s Stephen. “Hi Spin Cycle,” I say.

“Hi Lucy.” Stephen walks over to me and grabs my hand, clamshells it in between his.

He is real. His hands are warm, like towels fresh out of the dryer.

“You know my name?”

Stephen smiles, all fluoride and Colgate poster boy-like. “Of course I do.”

When I think about this later, I’ll realize that I was wearing my tennis team polo shirt that night in the laundry room, the one that has loopy, purple embroidery that spells out my name on the front pocket. But Stephen, ever the southern gentleman, will not tell me this. He will tell me, instead, about how he, too, loves to do headstands. How it stimulates endorphins, makes him feel alive—reborn. How it reminds him of his childhood in Savannah, of monkey bars; how he never would let go of the bar until he saw stars. How he wonders if that’s what I saw, before I blacked out—a Milky Way of stars. How he wonders if I will be okay once I am upright. How he wonders who, exactly, I am.




Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, The Indianola Review, and elsewhere. Michele lives in Tucson and is working on a creative nonfiction collection.; @m_finn_johnson.

The Director by Steve Trumpeter

The actress is struggling with the scene, the final one they’re supposed to shoot for a Panzier Pharmaceuticals commercial, so the director calls for a break because she’s heading for a meltdown. She’s supposed to catch a grape in her mouth, tossed from across the table by her salt-and-pepper-haired husband while a multi-ethnic menagerie of gathered neighbors cheer her on with fawning approval. For the life of her, she can’t pull off the trick.

“Can’t we move on?” she asks, and the director suppresses the urge to knock over the craft services table. He wonders if there’s room in the budget for a CGI grape, and why the easy path—a steady ad agency paycheck he’d long ago sold out his film school dreams to collect—has to be so hard.

“What does this pill even do?” she asks.

“It’s for wellness,” he says, whatever that entails. Panzier’s marketing people gave him a handful to try out when he agreed to the gig—perfectly safe, if not quite ready for FDA approval—but he’s been wary of sampling them. They have yet to settle on a name for the drug, so he’s taken to calling it “Fuckitol,” because that’s how he likes to imagine this pill would make him feel.

“This stuff will change the world,” they told him, and they want to be ready to hit the ground running once the drug is ready for market. Despite knowing the futility of the endeavor, he feels an obligation to deliver an ad to match. He’s designed one in a montage style: the heroine braving a windy afternoon to hang a festive tablecloth on a clothesline, digging her hands into a bin full of earthy mushrooms at a local farmers’ market, directing her husband with wild gesticulations to pull a pie from the oven. All in support of a narrative pastiche that will culminate in the hands-free catching of a casually pitched grape during a dinner party that purely illustrates how effortlessly happiness can be achieved with the right chemical balance. If Fuckitol can deliver on this promise, it’ll sell better than Flintstones Chewables.

He follows the actress as she stomps off into her dressing room. “So this is what my career has come to: catching treats in my mouth like a circus seal. I should just quit. Who even watches commercials anymore?”

The director can sympathize. But he knows art can overcome even the lowest medium. Last week, he got misty-eyed watching an LTE data network bring far-flung families together for a mother’s birthday. A beer commercial once compelled him to call his father out of the blue and talk baseball for an hour. Is this a sign of wellness, that he can be so swayed by his emotions, even after all the professional failures and quashed ambitions of this craft that should have left him numb by now to cheap sentiment? When he thinks of the potential effects of Fuckitol, he imagines an invisible foam barrier enveloping him in a light, spongy warmth as it provides a buffer from all the forces of the world that would have him realize that what he does with his life amounts to nothing. What price would he pay for 50 mg of such feeling?

The director pulls the orange pill bottle of Fuckitol samples from his pocket and offers the actress a tablet. “Maybe it’ll help you connect with your character.”

She swallows the pill without even looking at it, and the director takes one, too, because what else is left to try?

“It’s supposed to come on fast,” he says. “Whaddya say we try one more take?”

“Give me a minute,” she says. “I want to see if I feel anything.”

“Sure,” the director says, “let’s see how it makes us feel.”



st_headshotSteve Trumpeter’s fiction has appeared in Sycamore ReviewHobartJabberwock Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and others. He teaches fiction writing at StoryStudio Chicago and co-hosts a popular quarterly reading and music series called Fictlicious. Find more of his work at

The Live Room by Molia Dumbleton

He was in there now, fixing the new girl’s hair: arranging the end of one long, magenta curl so it landed just right between her fake tits. When did he start doing hair? There didn’t used to be cameras in the studio. You could show up in a bathrobe with mascara running down your face for all he cared, as long as you brought your voice. But there was cameras here today so this girl was all extensions and glue-on lashes. It was hard to imagine making music like that. My first album, me and him, we did it on four tracks in the bathroom of our shitty old apartment on Third Ave, with a carpet square over the sink and the cat meowing at the door. Today’s girl couldn’t make nothing in a bathroom. Nothing without multitrack. Nothing without those lashes. But you can still hear that old cat on the record if you know it’s there.



Molia Dumbleton is so thrilled to be part of the launch of Lost Balloon. Her fiction and poetry have been featured in The Kenyon Review OnlineNew England Review, Great Jones Street, Witness, Hobart, and others. She has been awarded the Seán Ó Faoláin Story Prize and the Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Award (both in Ireland), and has been named a Peter Taylor Fellow at The Kenyon Review and a Finalist for the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award. A full list of publications and links to work can be found at

Crossing the Meadow by Gay Degani

They ate no-peek chicken, drank fresh cow’s milk, savored squares of cherry cobbler before taking to the porch for the Texas Two-Step, the Electric Slide, and the Dos-a-dos. Taren sat along the railing on a hard wood bench, her eyes following Danny’s cleaned-up boots and new plaid shirt as he swept Molly Lacey in and out of the dancing crowd. They were all there: the wranglers, the kitchen-help, and, like her, the dude ranch guests from California.

Danny had helped Taren with her stubborn horse that day, his cowboy charm making her blush, so she told herself she wasn’t jealous of the girl in pink Tony Lama boots dancing with him now. She had no expectations, her tiny place in any crowd all too familiar. She slipped from the porch.

Out in the night, the stars were masked in cloud. She could barely see, but still she ducked through the split-log fence to hike across the pasture toward her family’s unlit cabin, imagining its tin roof outlined against the mountain.

The ground was uneven. She slowed and felt the blackness pinch around her. Fear fluttered into her throat, into her stomach. Stupid, she thought, to do this. A sprained ankle would only bring an angry lecture from her father. She almost turned back, but a kind of defiance took hold. She kept going, one careful step at a time, weeds and grass tickling her calves.

Halfway there, she stopped and listened for crickets. “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” floated across the field from the distant porch; a horse neighed in the other meadow. She should turn around, go back to the dance, watch Molly Lacy snuggle against Danny’s chest, close her eyes and pretend, but no. This was good for her, an adventure, a test. She had to find inner strength, didn’t she?

Taren crept forward, arms out, feeling the lumpy ground beneath her feet. Cool night air rippled across her face, her bare arms, caressed her knees. A sweet grassy scent wafted up. She pulled it into her chest, letting it out slowly. Kept going.

She strained to make out the cabin. Sensed it was there, black against a fainter black. She smiled, laughed. She’d made it across the pasture.

Then her left hand smacked against something warm, coarse, solid—stopping her, making her gasp and snatch back her hand.

She sniffed animal odor. Felt the flick of a tail. A rasping moo filled the air. She squinted into the murk. It was a cow. She reached out and touched its rough hide. Gave it a pat. The dense air next to her formed and reformed itself as the beast moved off.

The cool darkness bloomed around her. She scanned the sky, the stars now bright between ribbons of cloud, the far-off main house quiet except the hum of voices. Closing her eyes, she let the moment settle over her. Then, with a deep-throated chuckle, she tromped on through the gloom to her cabin.



Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11thGlass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.