Sadness is Made of Nothing by Damyanti Biswas

 If someone asked you what you’re sad about, you couldn’t tell them, not exactly. All you know is it is like a battery. It fuels you to run, get things done, till one day, you stop, left only with the toxic residue.

When you water the lilies, they die. You don’t tell anyone your mother died a while ago, and no one asks you. You feed your cat, only to never see her again. You bake a cake, following the recipe to the last teaspoon, but it collapses at the center. You have a date, but he stands you up. Trains leave before time, without you. The bus driver does not wait even when he sees you in his mirror, running full tilt, your bag and scarf and hair flying. Your sadness grows, and in a strange way it makes you feel good. This is what you deserve, you tell yourself, you deserve to be alone with your collapsed cake.

Some of your mother’s books sit beside your bed. The ones she’s written, flanked by others she gifted you that you never opened. You pick one up at random, open a page, but the words dance and you shut the book to prevent the text flying off. You check yourself out in the mirror, but you reel back from the woman staring at you. Your short red dress and your swimsuit will never fit you again. Grief has bloated you up. A washed-up, orphaned divorcee.

You’re young. Barely fifty, even. You can’t give up yet. Your mother was seventy-nine. She used to paint her nails red, walked on the treadmill, got her hair done each Saturday. You stare at her photo on the back jacket of her book, smiling, her long red hair gathered on one shoulder, blush on her cheeks, every inch the writer of romance novels.

You pick up a book at random from her library of self-help tomes, and in its blurb you find the words she used to toss at you over the phone: you manifest your destiny.

Make decisions, she used to say. So you sign up at the gym. Take baking classes. You spot a red car you like while on the way to the furniture store. Secondhand, but who cares. You buy it right away, but you need driving lessons. At therapy, you talk about your dead mother, your cheating ex-husband, the absent father. You wonder about taking up the clarinet, set up an account on a dating site. You will manifest your destiny, dammit.

Months later you’re staring at the ceiling, a snoring man beside you, his arm heavy over your bare breasts. It was very good, you told him before he mumbled off to sleep. You still don’t fit into your red dress, but you’re on your way to it. A ginger tabby sleeps at your hearth. Your car hasn’t broken down in weeks, and this man beside you chowed down your red velvet cake. You haven’t thought about your mother in months. None of that battery residue shit. You’ve reinvented your life.

Beside you, the snoring grows louder, the hand on your chest heavier. You’re lying inside of a coffin, lined with white silk like your mother’s. You’re wearing your red dress, with a red jacket on top to hide your cleavage. You’re buried in bouquets of white lilies, the air heavy with their oily fragrance. You’re alone. Your red hair is tied up in a bun, your eyes are closed, your hands crossed over your heart, with red-painted nails.


Damyanti is an Indian author currently based in Singapore. Her short fiction has been published at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, and Puerto del Sol, among others. Her work appears in various anthologies, and she serves as one of the editors of The Forge literary magazine. Her debut literary crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was published by Simon & Schuster India, and optioned for screen by Endemol Shine.

Termination Point by Nathan Willis

If you ask someone who works there, someone who knows the machines, they’ll say the steam turbines sound like a storm on the ocean. If you ask any of the sixth graders who take the field trip through the power plant each February, they’ll say it sounds like the static when the cable goes out, only louder. Like the cable is going to be out forever. But none of these kids have been to the ocean. This is a town that people sneak out of or escape. They don’t take vacations.

After the turbine room, the kids are shown an illustration detailing how the electricity, once created, is sent to the power stations, and from the power stations it shoots out in every direction over deteriorating powerlines. The lines split at every street, then again for each side of the street. And every time they split they get weaker.

They split one more time to terminate at their destination.

At our house, the line terminates outside of Hanson’s room.

Hanson isn’t here now. He’s at one of his appointments talking about why he gets so upset. The doctor says he’s too young to understand his own disappointment and anger. They are developing a coping strategy for him. Jenn and I have strategies of our own. They fail us but we won’t let them go. We would rather blame each other. We stand in Hanson’s room talking about what to do next.

I look at the line draping over our front yard. If I were outside, I could jump up and grab it. I imagine a lightning strike. Sparks shooting out of the outlets. I imagine finding the words to explain that love doesn’t matter anymore. The lights would get bright and then go dark. Every bulb would need to be replaced.

I open my mouth and what comes out sounds like a storm on the ocean. At one time that would have been enough. Hanson is in fifth grade. We can still figure this out.


Nathan Willis lives in Ohio. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of journals including Passages North, Outlook Springs, Cotton Xenomorph, and Jellyfish Review. He can be found online at and on Twitter @Nathan1280.

Cetacea by Erin Calabria

When a riptide comes, mother says to swim crosswise against it. But I am already thinking of the whales. Of all the heavy millennia before they went back to the sea—a dwindle of limb, a lengthening of spine and fingerbone steering them out, deeper and deeper, into such softness and hush, it would carry their voices for miles.

(I never heard your voice, only heartbeat, twinned with mine. The sound of you lost now, save for the lullaby mother sang beside the crib, how she tucked my name against yours, certain I would forget).

I cannot sing like a whale, but I spout like one now, salt and spume whooshing from my lungs as mother lifts me up, up, up. She knows what any whale mother knows, to nudge her young towards air. But whales breathe twice the oxygen any land mammal ever could, store it deep down in the muscle, like growing a third lung.

(I want to know which world would you have chosen, if you could. Which one would have let you breathe).

Mother puts me on her back and arcs above the waves, breaching. Once, I thought the same word meant three things: to rise, to rupture, to be born the way a whale is born in water, tail first so as not to drown. But on land, the opposite. The way some words change the moment they touch water:





(If the world were only liquid, would you feel any weight at all? Or would the sea carry what you couldn’t, would it swell to fill any lack?)

My first home was water, long before I can remember, the way whales must forget what it once felt like to walk. Still, mother knows the feel of my floating. She rocks us in the surf, limbs slick and glittered with sand, shaking from the water’s pull. Heart to heart on the tideline, we breathe, till within and without there is only the sound of currents, of rush and break, rush and break. Till neither of us knows which parts of us are earth, and which ocean. Till all of it becomes a kind of singing.


Erin Calabria grew up on the edge of a field in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, which publishes writing about home, place, and memory. You can read more of her work in Little Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, and other places.

Thief by Meg Max

It’s not a crime to be boring, Stephanie reminds herself. Underneath the van, the house, the job, the three kids, the two dogs, the cat, the hamster, the goldfish, the golf, and the penchant for buying rare Star Wars Lego kits off of eBay, Joe must be a vibrant and interesting man. She wouldn’t have married him otherwise.

But Stephanie is so bored and irritated she’s considering opening the door of the van and just leaping onto the highway. Shoving Joe out would work, too.

The anniversary trip out east is supposed to be a pilgrimage back to where they met. Stephanie had wanted to spend a night or two in a hotel, just the two of them. “But the kids!” Joe had protested. They can’t afford plane tickets for all five of them, so they are driving and camping and miserable.

It’s supposed to rain for the whole ten days of the trip. Stephanie follows a fat drop of water down the van window with her fingertip. “I need to pee,” she says.

The kids are asking for snacks and candy before they’ve pulled off the highway.

“We have a cooler full of food,” Stephanie tells them, but of course they respond with “We want good food.”

Stephanie runs towards the rest stop so she won’t end up stuffing the snacks she’d carefully prepared at 4am down the throats of her ungrateful children.

In the bathroom, she remembers (as she often does in the moments when she resents her children most) how it felt to want a baby. Once, her eyes had snagged on a tiny pair of socks in the infant section at Walmart, and she’d stood with them in her hand, tears streaming down her face. When she got home, she found them in her pocket, with no memory of how they got there.

Stephanie washes her hands. She’d straightened her hair that morning, but it is frizzing from the rain.

Why does she bother straightening her hair? Why had she gotten up so early to pack snacks no one wanted to eat? Why had she insisted the kids would not have tablets in the car, so she is now forced to entertain them constantly or listen to them bicker and moan? Why is she on a vacation that is not going to be a vacation at all, it is just going to be her regular life without her Vitamix or Posturepedic mattress or the internet? Why had she had a third baby she wasn’t even sure she wanted?

The worst part of aching to be a mother is missing someone you haven’t even met yet. It’s knowing that you’re going to have to suck them from the marrow of your bones. She’d been so sick her first pregnancy, had hated every second of it, but forgot how awful it had been the instant she held her baby in her arms. Each subsequent pregnancy had been easier, but she’d wanted each baby less. Questioning why she does the things she does feels like fiddling with a loose thread. Pull too hard and her whole life will unravel. Best just to leave things alone.

In the store she finds her children with arms full of chips, Joe arguing with the youngest over a package of black licorice she’s insisting she wants but they both know she won’t eat.

He looks up at her. “Are you ok?”

She can see her wavy, distorted reflection in the mirrored wall of the shop behind him. Her hair is huge and puffy. Her mascara has run.

“This is my real hair, Joe. This is my actual face.”

She asks him for the keys, but he’s taken off across the store, repelled by her sudden outburst.

“No gum in the car,” he calls to the children.

Stephanie’s family doesn’t notice when she leaves. Outside, she puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out the key fob she’d slid from Joe’s cargo shorts while he put packages of gum back on the shelf. It felt good to wrap her hands around the keys and take what she wanted.

She climbs behind the wheel of the van and turns the heat on.

She slides the seat forward. Puts her feet on the pedals.

She intends to pull up and wait for her family at the rest stop exit so they don’t have to get wet in the rain, but instead she drives out of the parking lot and onto the highway.

In the hotel room she books with the credit card she and Joe have for emergencies, she takes a long, hot shower. She uses all of the tiny, fancy toiletries. When she gets out, she stares at herself in the mirror. The lines beside her mouth. The crow’s feet. The chin starting to double. Her eye lashes are almost invisible without mascara. Her hair is enormous. She smiles, but it makes her look unhinged so she stops.

Stephanie orders room service. Steak. A salad. A molten chocolate cake. A half liter of wine. It gets wheeled into the room on a trolley covered with a white table cloth, a red rose in a bud vase on top. She stands in the white hotel robe, barefoot and big haired, and tips the bellhop too much money for not flinching at the sight of her.

Her steak is rare, just how she likes it and can never have it, because it makes her middle child gag to see the blood on the plate.

She knows she should miss them. Soon, she’ll feel the same horror about this that she did when she first found those tiny socks, that same feeling of being uncertain about the lengths she’ll go to get what she wants. At some point, Stephanie will pull this memory out of her pocket and will barely recognize herself at all.


Meg Max is a writer and mother living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She is the founder of Writers in Bloom. Her work has been published in The Feathertale. You can read more of her first draft work at