Tinnitus by Sophie van Llewyn

The small piece of white cloth on the back seat was like a dark speck on my retina. A black hole, sucking all the air from my lungs. I looked at my wife, full of hope that she wouldn’t see it, but in a heartbeat she had it in her hand. For a moment, she looked at it as if she didn’t know what it was, but then she brought it to her nose and took a deep breath. The smell of old, coagulated milk must have been disgusting, but she smiled for the first time in weeks.

Did you know that a newborn’s heart rate is 100 to 205 beats per minute?

At home, she could pretend that she didn’t notice the clumsy way in which I had hidden the absences. The tiny bed had clawed itself into the lacquered parquet when I yanked it out, but she ignored the scratches. She didn’t see the empty shelves in the baby blue closet in the spare room. Nor the clotted dust, lingering after the diaper changing table had been removed. With so many things now gone, the house breathed again, but not in relief. It was more of a heavy panting.

A baby’s respiratory rate is 30-53 breaths per minute. 

But a burp cloth is harder to ignore than an absence. She pocketed it and smiled again, reassuringly.

Severe depression has to be treated in a specialised institution.

She helped me lift the crate with the books from the trunk and told me to go ahead, saying that she’d lock the car herself.

I stopped in front of the door, remembering that I didn’t have a key. It was the sounds that made me turn.

Tinnitus is a condition that causes you to hear ringing in the ear.

After testing me in all possible ways, the doctors say that there’s nothing physically wrong with me. That it’s tinnitus. But it’s not. It’s screeching tires and a blunt thud.

 


 

Sophie

Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. Her prose has been published by Flash FrontierThe Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Halo, and Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, among others and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently polishing her novella-in-flash.

Correspondence by Christina Dalcher

Not email. Not texts. Not the pings and chimes of electric bricks, relentless in their announcements. Instead, the metal clap of a mailbox, rusty flag hinging down for another spin of the earth, mailman trucking through summer’s fire and winter’s ice. Little girls running down driveways to collect birthday cards from Gran, all glittery poems and well-wishes, five-dollar-bill tucked inside, crisp from the bank. The slow wait for pen pal letters, fat loopy scrawls, bulging hearts, words like dreamboat, whose lexical frequency plummeted before your breasts swelled. Words that smudge when tears fall. Stamps.

Missives, unerasable, from a boy on the other side of the ocean, now a man who may be living or not—the gods of Google don’t tell. Locks of hair, soft as his skin, careful when you open me up, I might blow away. Sometimes, when the house is quiet, take them out of the old stationery case, the one you bought when there was no money to buy anything, when cotton sheets and water-cut edges were more delicious than dinner. A fair trade.

Ink (medium point, chunky, blue like a midnight ocean) smearing from the southpaw push of a pen. Crumple it up if the words hang; start over. Seal kisses with spit and dispatch them for other eyes to see, tie in bundles, secrete in cigar boxes. Your only copies, no longer yours to read.

Trips to the post office, key in hand, maybe today. Slide silver blades or pink fingernails into the corner of his heart and peel it open. Write back in cryptic cursive and lick your stamps, tasting sticky-sweetness. Say I love you. See if it returns. Not in emoticons. In sounds. Amore. Je t’aime. Liebchen.

Pieces of him exist, hiding inside yellowed envelopes. The ones that say lire and francs and marks and sleep forever in dark drawers.

 


 

Tine in an Old Boat

Christina Dalcher weaves words and mixes morphemes from her home in the American South. Her short work appears in Bartleby Snopes, McSweeney’s, and New South Journal, among others. Find her at christinadalcher.com or @CVDalcher.

The Fat Lady’s Hands by Kyle Hemmings

The Fat Lady, who bangs the piano keys every night in some blue room of smoke & cut lips & cheap-brandy breaths, brings me her damaged hands. I inspect them, tell her that they are beyond repair. Too much squeezing, too much groping, too much coldness, too much neglect, too many strangers with kind faces who only wanted to use you for your hands, is what I tell her.

I imagine these one-night scavengers scribbling phone numbers onto her hands, leaving only runny lines of dried incomprehensible ink by morning.

I want to use the words virgins & tenors & virtuosos. But that would be too much, would leak out of context.

I ask her if she’s tried using vinegar solutions. She says she’s tried everything.

Please, she says, my hands no longer recognize me, they are as deformed as the ugly little men who pay me off the books with faded bills & some loose change. I live in an apartment that is a cardboard box that folds whenever I’m feeling flat & lonely . When it rains, the ceiling, the walls leak. The floors become soggy. They squeak as if trying to speak, as if trying to say Don’t you know what this apartment is made of? How long do you think it will take before every room collapses?

What it comes down to, she says—my hands can no longer hold water.

I agree to take her damaged hands for the last time. I promise to massage them, soak them in a jar of rose water & mixed sloes & some exotic herbs from nameless rain forests. She thanks me & leaves. For a moment, the world is once again her private lounge of smiling, invited guests.

She will play the piano tonight with porcelain-white hands, unblemished mute hands, hands with no history, no life lines, no hint of brittle bone, but as on other nights, everyone will be blind & tone deaf, acting as if they never ruined anyone’s hands. They will be too drunk to carry a tune. Driving home, they will not stop at red or orange signs. In the morning, they will confess to whomever lies next to them that they have driven all night, listening to The Fat Lady’s song. They have driven an entire lifetime in denial. They have driven an entire lifetime with ruined hands.

 


 

KylePicKyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose are Future Wars (from Another New Calligraphy) and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies,  manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.