Beer Breath and Hauntings by Ashley Sapp

My dad has called again, and this time there is a voicemail. This time, he says I haven’t heard from you in a while and I love you. He says, I want to know whether you’re okay, but it has been over a year and I am not sure that I am. The last communication between he and one of us was when he drunkenly told my sister that she was dead to him, so if that is the case, why does he think it is okay, now, to call me as though I am not her ally, as though it has ever not been the two of us against everyone else? As though the fight between them didn’t start when he said I was a disappointment. As though I have not heard all the things he has called me and accused me of. If that is the kind of love he has to offer, and I know full well by now that every kernel of love comes with a rope, then I do not want it. It is not safe here where there is no accountability,
and it has taken me thirty-three years to validate my pain. And yet, he also instilled guilt within me, so every time I hear his slurred voice, I am made a child again, haunted by ghosts of what could have been. Haunted, you see, first by his words and then by his absence. Haunted by everything I had yet to lose. So when he says I love you, he means, I need to hurt you. When he says, I want to know whether you are okay, he means, how dare you live outside of my reach? And I have dared to live, long ago deciding that I want to survive his love, not die from it. I will be his ghost. I will be his haunt, a forever reminder that his blurry breath no longer determines my fear.


xqN64w_T_400x400Ashley Sapp (she/her) resides in Columbia, South Carolina, with her dog Barkley. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of South Carolina in 2010, and her work has previously appeared in Indie Chick, Variant Lit, Emerge Literary Journal, Common Ground Review, and elsewhere. Ashley has written two poetry collections: Wild Becomes You and Silence Is A Ballad. She can be found on Twitter @ashthesapp, Instagram @ashsappley. Website: https://linktr.ee/ashsappley

At Times, You Get Under His Skin by Melissa Bowers

7:17 a.m.
You stiffen when his hand slides up your thigh. He tries it the way you prefer: gentle at first, like an accident, but his clammy fingertips give him away. “I think I hear crying,” you say, and slip out of bed.

9:52 a.m.
There have been two arguments already—about what, neither of you remembers, probably something to do with your job or his parents or the thermostat—in hushed tones, just in case infants can be traumatized. You want the twins to see what real marriage looks like, all adoring gazes and suggestive gestures. Lingering glances as you cross paths in the kitchen. Someone touching someone always. Or, surely, at least some laughter?

1:40 p.m.
One puckering mouth is affixed to each nipple and a tiny fist tangles in your hair. “My body doesn’t belong to me anymore,” you say again—words he’s heard for months—and you wonder if he notices the way despair sometimes sucks air from your vowels. But he has always claimed you are the one who controls the atmosphere, the one who says yes or no, and now he often acts as though you are the puppet master of everyone’s bodies: your children’s growth. Your collective degree of emptiness.

2:24 p.m.
When his father calls, you don’t push back your chair and leave the room this time because today the terrible news is slicing up his face. Shifting it completely, puzzling all its features into an arrangement even he won’t recognize tomorrow. You come up behind him with your arms, your hands, you press your face into his neck and say I’m sorry.

5:33 p.m.
At dinner, all you can hear are the forks. You sip from your wine glass and he swallows his meat whole. He reaches for you across the table. There is no hesitation: just your fingers curling around his, squeezing. You clear the plates and drop three forehead kisses in succession. Them, and then him.

10:09 p.m.
No matter what is happening anywhere else in the world, no matter what is happening anywhere else in your head, the babies always need to eat and they always need to play and they always need to bathe. He helps you rinse the bubbles from their skin so no one has to be alone. After they are bundled into their cribs, you unzip him from the chest and peel away the layers until you can crawl inside, maybe not because you are still in love, but because you have forgotten where else to go.


Melissa_Bowers_author_photo

Melissa Bowers is a writer from the Midwest. Her fiction was selected for the 2021 WigleafTop 50 and she is the recent winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest. Read more of her work at www.melissabowers.com.

After the Salon, Before the Plane by Annina Claesson

Only a few nights before I lose you, I decide that I like you best around 5AM, bundled up on the first train of the morning. On the cusp of sobriety after the night’s gig, I stop trying to measure how much of your head on my shoulder is drunkenness, how much is comfort, how much is care. The dawn’s syrupy tendrils trail over the tracks of the Keio Line as we run up the stairs, over the bridge, down again. Your guitar bounces on your back. We crash into the fence of the fire station and curl our fingers around the diamond mesh.

Down on the pitch, twelve rows of men move up and down in synchronized pushups while their captain chants numbers. We count along, quiet and giggling at first, then mimicking their imperial booms. Our laughter spills through snorts, a soprano counterpoint to their drumming.

We try to find a bench but collapse on the concrete next to hydrangea bushes that will bloom when the rains come. Your voice slides into a hum as you rest the guitar between your crossed legs. Bum bum bums buzzing on your lips. You wanted to be a jazz musician, but you ended up with a wispy voice and open chords and a girlfriend whose father used to play keys for Mott the Hoople. I have never been able to give you what you want, but I can at least clap along in uncommon time.


The audible sweat from the firemen makes me thirsty. At first, I assume you will fall silent as soon as I leave you alone, but your fingers keep picking at the strings, rummaging for voiceless melodies. I find the nearest vending machine and let the little plasticky 100-yen coins roll into the slot. Some twelve feet away, you look homeless on the concrete. I drink and drink again, my insides arid where they were sticky only a few hours ago.

A lone dog walker becomes your first audience member just as the sky shifts to indigo. She stares, debating whether to shush you. Alcohol bubbles inside me once more and I want to start a fight with this bomber vest and her Pomeranian, but then the dog bites its own collar and yanks the lady forward, wagging its tail in triumph, and she lets herself be led away, sighing into such blissful fatigue that I relax my arm and let the tea spill out of the bottle without even noticing. Your head bobbles along to a rhythm of its own.

A few weeks after I have lost you, I walk to work early one morning with my scarf draped over my head to keep my hair dry, and I find the firemen again. This time, none so symmetrical. Assorted lumps of oversized overalls twirl translucent umbrellas, limbs lollygagging, coffee cans and tea bottles spread all around the fence. I cannot tell if they are laughing, but the wires send electric memories up my arms all the way to the dimples in my cheeks. I indulge a fantasy that you might come back to play for the Kanagawa base, but you would never make such sacrifices for me.


The bell rings and the captain strikes his tuba-timbred opening chord. All humanity runs out of the firemen like liquid. Their boyishness stiffens into mechanical jumping jacks, uniforms tightening in the rain.
Over their chanting, I start humming. Discipline is not enough to recall the melody just as you played it, but the beat tastes the same.

 


 

ACpic

Annina Claesson is a geographically confused writer and researcher currently based in Paris, France. Her short fiction has recently appeared in New Reader Magazine and won awards at the Charroux Litfest.

Opening Chapter by Carolee Bennett

The part of the story where we decide to believe in the protagonist. The part where she falls out of the boat. The part where she barely makes a splash. The part where we can’t distinguish her cries from laughter, where she photographs moths and storm clouds, insists we guess which is which. Thumbing that fat stack of pictures animates them, showing us how she bobs in the sky over Cleveland. Her smile, a sign of trouble, wins us over.

She takes us to a few parties where her engine clears its throat. This is the part where we learn a belt can mess with timing. The part where she censors thoughts that make her mother look bad, fears anything spotted on an x-ray, shows barely enough faith to see snow as temporary. When she’s clumsy, her father calls her Gertrude. That’s back in a time when carpets creeps halfway up walls in some houses. A time with too much eyeliner and Mercury in retrograde. A time with blind trust in strange dogs. It’s the part with open curtains. Putting on a show for the whole neighborhood, Gert?

We grow protective. When she goes home with the one who applauds her lily padding washer lids at the laundromat, we want her to love him, but she sneaks out as soon as he’s asleep. This is the part where she prepares to leave the riverbank. The part where she moves up into the hills, hot on the trail of a spell to unscorch the earth. The part where grief gets in her way. But since we also wear our pain like big toes poking out of socks, we keep reading. When it comes to hell or high water, none of us wants to be alone.


image0_1

Carolee is a writer and artist living in Upstate New York, where – after a local, annual poetry competition – she has fun saying she has been the “almost” poet laureate of Smitty’s Tavern. She has an MFA in poetry and works full-time as a writer in social media marketing.