Zombies in the Bosque by Becca Yenser

You don’t want to park at the end of the trail where glass is smashed upon the pavement
twinkling like the presents you wish you could afford, but there is no point in parking in the
islands between the lanes where the New Mexican drivers try to stay within the lines. Up here
the air sparkles a bit too much, gets into your lungs but puffs out like glitter.

You don’t want to walk to the second duck pond, or even the first one, but the woman
you might love said she’d be waiting in the blind. You picture her now, her hair blending in with
the dying grasses while the oily black ducks dive beneath the surface of the water. They make
other-earthly noises as they fly overhead.

You walk by the tree where a man was nailed to the trunk through the backs of his hands.
He had just gotten off work and was still carrying his briefcase when he decided to walk between
the tall white cottonwoods. Rio Grande cottonwoods have been growing in the Bosque for more
than a million years. The path was between the main gravel trail and the river. You saw his
hands in the newspapers, and yeah, there were two black holes the size of pupils in the hearts of
his palms. They called themselves ‘Bosque Zombies,’ he was quoted as saying.

You walk up a short hill to where the water almost meets your shoe. The black diving
ducks are pochards, sea ducks that made their way South in the fall. ‘Pochard’ sounds like a bad
word, she’d said, the bruises on her thighs yellow in the middle like split peaches.

In the blind is the shadow of a woman. A group of young men come around the pond
from behind. Their hoods are up. They are silent. A pale middle-aged woman walks among
them, in the middle, and she looks scared. She gives you a Wal-Mart smile. The woman you
thought you loved might or might not be in the blind. Give me everything you have, she might
say, and you will lift your palms to the sky.


IMG_2360

Becca Yenser has an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. They are the author of the chapbook Too High and Too Blue In New Mexico (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). Their writing appears in Hobart, The Nervous Breakdown, Heavy Feather Review, Madcap Review, and elsewhere. Grief Lottery, their creative nonfiction flash collection, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in December 2021. Find them on Twitter @beccayenser.

Beginnings by Anu Kandikuppa

She watches the weathered hands of the proprietor pour the ghee into the bottle and slap a label on it: Gowardhan Desi Cow Ghee, Since 1947. An inch of golden liquid over grainy goodness in the heat of Hyderabad, it would turn into a yellow cake in Chicago, yield to the pressure of her spoon. A spoonful a day in hot dal for her daughter Meena, through her to the baby.

The bottle grows in her mother-hands: trussed in pages of the Indian Express plastered with pictures of body bags and hospitals—bleak world for new life—then bubble-wrapped, tied with twine, bundled in a sari, and tucked in a suitcase. Joined there by papery methi-stuffed parathas, and packets of pomegranate seeds and dry red chillies, the heat and goodness of the country sealed into their powdery bodies. A bottle of hing snuggles in a brassiere cup, a baggie of ginger frolics in the blouses, plastic-sheathed parathas glint between saris, a serene green-flecked sea.

The baby is a girl, third in a line of women, starting with the mother. As blood thinned, so would ill-luck—that was the hope. The mother’s: a bad heart laced up with metal, early widowhood. And Meena, a sickly Lactogen baby—grief and stress had seen to it. Beginnings matter. She pushed away mother-made food, stood stock-still in pillowy mother-embraces, fled at eighteen to America, where she ate fries and burgers and pizza and ruined the lining of her stomach. Can’t eat wheat or rice or onions, she said on distant, infrequent calls. Can’t feed myself, couldn’t feed a baby, can’t have one. There went the mother’s second chance.

Anyone would think she was traveling. In truth, suitcase, mother, chillies, all were in service of the ghee—they were henchmen to the ghee—the ghee rich in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that stimulates the secretion of gastric juices and aids in better digestion and smooth bowel movements, which is very important in new mothers, and, in addition, increases vitamin absorbency thereby strengthening the immune system. Her keen mother-eyes had read the words in a doctor’s office, her mother-mind memorized them. Three lemons, skin cratered like the moon, and several sprigs of curry leaves, flawless in their geometry, lurk in her hand baggage as do twists of turmeric root, to be ruthlessly boiled in water and honey for Meena. At the last minute, she thrusts in her suitcase small packs of basmati rice, yellow lentils, and dried chickpeas, her shoulders heaving with relief at having remembered.

Pokerfaced, she tells the uniformed man at O’Hare that she carried nothing, nothing at all. Masked, shielded, camouflaged, Mother and ghee roll through the green channel and into Chicago. The ground shakes, the city quakes beneath her mother-step. Then she’s with the American Meena married—enabler of the surprise baby—who twangs away at her. What is in her bag, why is it so heavy? “Gee? There’s gee in Chicago,” he says. “G-h-e-e. G-H,” she sighs. The cows were not the same, the hump made all the difference, research had shown. He starts talking about the flavored gees in Stop & Shop. She stops listening and stares at the traffic.

Then Meena, after fifteen years, sallow and rotund. “I don’t know why you came,” she says, clueless about mother-might. One sweep of her arm and out go the ketchup, the peanut butter, the mayonnaise. By evening they are sitting down to a meal, Meena, the baby, and the ghee.


Anu_Kandikuppa_photo_S

Anu Kandikuppa’s flash fiction has appeared in Gone Lawn, Jellyfish Review, and The Cincinnati Review, and her short stories and essays appear in Colorado Review, Epiphany, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, and other journals. Her work has received Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction nominations. Among other degrees, Anu holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She worked as an economics consultant in a former life and lives in Boston.

Pocketed by Sarah Fawn Montgomery

Polly is as small as your fingernail, but shiny and clean, not like your ragged half moons, the ones you use to dig in the sandbox as though you are trying to escape, drag across your thighs to leave pale tracks, skin turned dust as if to confirm how easily you can be reduced to nothing. 

Polly wears a red headband around her blonde curls, and you try one on in the bathroom mirror, balancing on the sink to see yourself as if for the first time, gangly gap tooth girl playing dress up behind the toothpaste spray. When you lean forward to magnify your desperation, smell old food and sharp sting of Listerine. 

Polly keeps a dog and a cat at her country cottage, a basket of kittens and a koi pond at her parade village. She looks after animals in her veterinary hospital. They smile even though you know this isn’t possible. Dogs like yours jump the metal fence to run away, choke themselves hoarse trying to escape the chain. Your haunchy cat slinks the yard like a premonition. 

You find disemboweled mice on the porch—blue and yellow gut sacks, heads held on by strings. You feel that way sometimes, like you would drift away if not for the tether of your spine. Severed hands and feet—tiny as your plastic Polly Pocket, a dollhouse that fits in you palm—try to scurry off the cement. 

The cat loves Mommy best, brings her baby bunnies, wild-eyed and frozen. Mommy pries them from the cat’s jaws, walks into the field across the street—dead with weed and dust, broken bottles and cigarette butts—to set them free. 

Polly hosts sleepovers in her pastel living room, volleyball parties on her private beach. Polly has a secret garden, a magic jungle. 

No one comes to your sleepovers because last week a bar fight left a man dead on Main Street. Because the house by the riverbed pulses meth smoke like rotten eggs. Because the rusted-out cars look like piles of bones. Because your parents fight so big and loud that you hide beneath your bed. Because you said out loud that your swollen eyes make your lashes look like spiders when you look to sky. 

Make a fake beach in your sandbox, pretend to be stranded and cry please help. Struggle for air like drowning so good that sometimes you for real can’t breathe. Make a garden of dirt clods. Hang ribbon from the doorway, pretend to be Polly walking through jungle vines. Pretend so good you imagine them snakes like in your nightmares, all that thrash and gnash in the sheets trying to escape. 

Polly’s houses are plastic compacts shaped like a star, like a flower, soapsuds, a seashell. Polly fits inside anything beautiful. Polly makes any place a home. She even fits in your hand-me-down pocket, the one sagging at the corner where you bury your hand, your head. Where you try to climb inside. 

Your house is getting bigger, like the shouting is pushing out the walls. Or maybe it’s you getting smaller. Your clothes don’t fit right, your bed’s too wide. You must be imagining it, you think, even the thought too big for your skull, floating out and above your head. Your plastic bank, the empty girl you drop pennies into, is nearly your height now, and even the ballerina in your music box twirls large in front of your face. 

Your feelings don’t fit, like how a feel slips out your mouth and you say stop or no, your heart struggling inside your small, aorta pumping at your throat. 

Polly’s smile has worn off under your frantic fingers, but you draw one in red pen to match your own wavering line. 

There are rattlesnakes in the yard, black widows in the eves, sex predators down the street. Your principal ran away with your classmate. He was nice, covered your small hand with his largeness. 

Your neighbor spies from his second-story window, whispers through the knothole in the fence that he watches you undress. Your other neighbor never sleeps, mutters on the porch about ghosts, pops his head over the fence when you take out the garbage to say it’s the end of the world. 

You crouch when you undress, try to hide from the man peering inside your pastel room. You hold plastic still. 

You crouch smaller when you take out the garbage, bones splitting the bag, revealing the gnaw where someone sucked out the sweet marrow. Whiskey bottles bang your shins, leave them mottled purple and blue like Mommy’s arms, the place around her eye. 

You crouch smallest to escape the neighbor’s arms reaching over the fence towards you, pleading, “Let me save you, girl.” 

Daddy watches boxing on tv while you play Polly in her tiny jewel house. The sound of fist on flesh is familiar, and does anyone notice how you shrink? Now you fit in the suitcase Mommy is rolling to the front door, the bruise across her back, the box of Band-Aids she keeps beneath the sink. 

Polly grows and grows or you shrink and shrink and now she is bigger than your nail, your finger, your whole clenched hand, tendons tight against the cage of your skin. 

One man punches another, teeth down the throat. Blood spatters across the screen like stars, the twinkle lights in Polly’s enchanted garden. 

You climb inside Polly’s house when Mommy closes the door. The tiny dog and cat meet you. The koi fish leap from the pond in greeting. You smell the sterile safe of plastic. You walk the path, sit quiet on the bench. Everywhere is green. There are no neighbors. You can’t even find Polly. 

Inside the house, the bed is big enough for one. The couch too. There is no fighting on tv. There is no toothpaste on the bathroom mirror when you check your Polly hair, Polly smile. 

Grab the lid, snap the compact closed. Now you are hidden, safe in this brittle plastic heart. 


Sarah_Fawn_Montgomery_author_photo

Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks. Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including Bellingham Review, Brevity, Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Electric Literature, LitHub, The Poetry Foundation, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Split Lip Magazine, and others. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery