State of the Union by Sarah Starr Murphy

Remember that today is picture day for the twins, but they have soccer so their hair should be in braids, pretty enough for photos but sporty enough that their coach doesn’t make another pointed comment. Pack the twins an extra packet of Halloween Oreos as apology for yesterday’s forgotten ice cream money. Try not to remember the fight with Liam last week about continually catering to their every whim, or the email from the twins’ teacher about healthy lunch choices that skirted the edge of body shaming. Don’t look in the mirror. Pour a mug of coffee, remembering the days when coffee wasn’t necessary, when the potential energy of the day was enough to swing the pendulum.

Go upstairs to wake Zack again, even though Liam insists he should rely on his new alarm clock and if he misses the bus, let him suffer the consequences. Hush the twins on the way, because they are buzzing around the dining room table throwing ping-pong balls at each other instead of using them as intended on the table in the basement. Remember that under that table waits a dead mouse, half-eviscerated by the elderly cat, Rufous. Miss the time spent playing with Rufous when he was a kitten, the delight of his orange paws batting at string, the house so hushed his scampering claws on tile were the only morning sound. Remember that Liam, upon discovering the mouse in situ a full week after its demise, described the neglected corpse as a sad commentary on the state of the union. Wince.

Remember the way he buried the twin’s guinea pig last year during a blizzard, his red knit hat bobbling in the howling wind, providing Fluffernut with unabridged, respectful last rites.
Knock six times and wait until Zack grunts but upon opening the door he shrieks like, well, like a teenaged boy whose mom just walked in on him wanking. Slam the door shut on the cliché. Whisper sorry towards the bedroom where Liam groans, trying to sleep off the fog of his twice-weekly night shift at the rehab center. Appreciate that Liam is the rarest kind of decent man, that being with him is the ficklest kind of luck. Realize how long it’s been since he groaned in a way that wasn’t leave me the fuck alone but its opposite.

Return downstairs and discover that Rufous has vomited a trail of fur, grass, and mouse entrails on the carpet. Attempt to hush one twin, who has stepped in it and is screaming like, well, like a kid with mouse brains on her favorite polka-dot socks. Reassure her that the only pair of clean socks left in the house, the despised striped socks, won’t be visible in the school photo. Discover the other twin hiding under the dining table, crying through a darkening shiner. Realize that the twins were throwing not the ping-pong ball, but a clumsy terra-cotta sheep Zack made ages ago in kindergarten, which explains both the black eye and the shards of clay on the floor. Realize that there is no time to hide in the bathroom and cry, because the bus is due in five minutes.

Cry anyway right there in the dining room, holding sharp splinters of lost sheep, until the twins descend in a miasma of child-tears and strawberry shampoo. Hug them and say consoling things and kiss the tops of their heads and somehow get all the lunches into backpacks and the arms into jackets and hats onto heads and they’re out the door. Watch Zack thunder down the stairs, swooping through the kitchen to grab a granola bar and although he won’t make eye contact, he yells goodbye as he runs, one Converse untied, to climb into his buddy’s F-150. Listen to the truck squeal away from the curb and stop behind the twin’s bus, idling at the red light.

Feel the quiet in the house and think about Liam. Glance at a honeymoon photo on the wall, see everything that will be lost and gained by that faded couple, which parts of them will tumble into entirely new beings, which parts of them will vanish. Consider ditching work, slipping between the blue flannel sheets, lying warm and still. Wonder if he’d blink open his hazel eyes and see all the incarnations he has loved.


Sarah Starr Murphy is a writer and teacher in rural Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in Qu (forthcoming), The Baltimore Review, Pithead Chapel, and other wonderful places. She’s a senior editor for The Forge Literary Magazine and eternally at work on a novel.

Sometimes I Wish I Said Hello by Sheila Mulrooney

I imagine my cat and I living in Buffalo which, I admit, is a pretty lackluster daydream, but in the one philosophy course I took we learned about Epicurus who said we should limit our desires so we only want simple, attainable things, and that way we’ll always be happy. The professor told us Epicurus was an ass who was basically encouraging us to short circuit life, and to fear what Aristotle called “excellence.” I thought Epicurus was smart. I’ve always hated Disney movies and questions like what’s on your bucket list or where do you see yourself in five years, so I wrote my essay on him and the professor gave me a C-.

I call my sister to tell her about Buffalo and she laughs. The name is stupid, she says, the ‘u’ caught in the back of the throat and then the double-fs stuttering out like a fart (her simile, not mine). Somehow I find this argument compelling and for the next few nights I stay up drinking decaf coffee switching the lights in my apartment on and off, wondering what it means to name a place something like ‘Buffalo,’ or a person something like ‘Eugene,’ and do names actually affect the way people think of themselves, or do you become numb to it after a while, like that scene in Spirited Away where the mean witch-lady raises the Japanese characters from the page and squishes them in her hands. I realize that places can’t ever become numb to their names, even when history tries to rewrite them the name remains, like with ‘Constantinople’ or ‘Turtle Island,’ and certainly anyone would have a hard time replacing something like ‘Buffalo,’ so I decide it’s okay to live there and log back into Trulia to find a one bedroom apartment that allows pets.

The semester after my philosophy class I was funneled into a Milton seminar, where the dean of Renaissance studies spent a full two hours on the part of Paradise Lost where Adam names all the animals. The dean explained how language, and specifically naming, likens Adam to God in that it creates something ex nihilo, and this scene is second only to the one where Adam and Eve bang, because sex is the ultimate generative act. I was happy he said that because personally I find sex pretty God-like and any academic who tries to tell me that naming something is better than fucking has a lot of explaining to do. But then a cute girl raised her hand and said that naming was the most primitive and nefarious power structure at play, and she referenced Harry Potter and Ladybird as two contemporary works which acknowledge this structure and seek to overturn it, and I wrote that down in my notebook, resolving to finally read those damn wizarding books because they’d made their way into the university, which means they must be important in some big, epistemological way. After the lecture I told the girl she was smart and mentioned that I never named my cat, I hated the responsibility of it and kept putting it off until a few years went by and finally he was just ‘the cat.’ She said that was nice but reminded me that the very taxonomy of animals was part of the problem, so really calling him ‘the cat’ didn’t help, and I nodded as if I had already thought of this, which I hadn’t, and then decided she was probably too smart for me to ask out. Last week I saw her at a coffee shop by campus but didn’t say hello because my cat and I are moving to Buffalo, so what’s the point?

The next time I call home I’ve put a deposit down on a tiny place that has exactly three windows but borders a rich neighborhood where I can waitress and pay rent through tips. My sister answers but I ask for my mom because I don’t want to tell someone who will laugh that I’m moving 487 miles north to a city whose football team has never won the Superbowl. (I’ve been doing research on my new home. OJ Simpson played for the Buffalo Bills, and they went to the Superbowl four times but never won. F. Scott Fitzgerald also grew up in Buffalo, but moved away when he could, which I found both demoralizing and ironic.) I don’t even end up telling my mom I’m going to move. Instead I ask her how she chose our names and if she was nervous about it, or if it came naturally to her.

A bit of both, she says. Yours was easy because I had horrible morning sickness all through your pregnancy and sage was the only spice I could stand to smell. So we called you Sage.

I try not to think about this, the fact that my name was chosen purely for its non-nauseating implications, and what that might mean for my general sense of self-worth. I tell my mom I love her and three weeks later my cat and I are I-90 North, my car packed with all my belongings and still half empty. As we enter the city’s limits, a sign reads Welcome to Buffalo: An All-American City, and I imagine Epicurus sitting next to me, saying, you’ve done it, you’ve hacked life to its core, and now you can sit back and watch without fear, and I smile and bask in this glory, this tiny victory no one will ever know about. The feeling only disappears when I pull up to my new apartment and I realize I am here, in Buffalo, stranded in a place lined with streets and people whose names I do not know.


Sheila Mulrooney has an MA in English Literature from the University
of Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including the
White Wall Review (forthcoming), The Wayfarer, Rejection Letters, and
others. She lives and works in New York State.

Hollows by Monique Quintana

California reads like an old school map with monsters on the periphery. Teeth turn to tiny white crosses as grave markers, spitting out holy water from basins lodged in a wall of adobe and stone. Those monsters are my cousins a thousand times removed, telling burnished hands to work, searing their heads out of the soil to bark orders, moist soil, dry soil, beach sand as dark as my sister’s hair. My sister sleeps in her bed again, and her hair is growing. I send her apps with whale sounds to drown our mother’s scolding, even though it’s good for us. I’ve heckled mornings running and swallowing the bugs and the dry heat of my town. My rental was built in 1927 and the closet only has room for two party dresses. Down the road, fruit grows, plucking my father’s fingers as a boy. The mist burrows in the scales of fish swam from Michoacán, making them whistle tales about fake clouds and giants sleeping under grass to make mountains to protect us from fault lines. My sister sleeps in her bed again, and her hair is growing.

Quintana_Headshot_SP21Monique Quintana is a Xicana from Fresno, CA, and the author of the novella Cenote City (Clash Books, 2019). Her work has appeared in Pank, Wildness, The Acentos Review, and Winter Tangerine, among other publications. She has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and the Pushcart Prize, and has been awarded artist residencies to Yaddo, The Mineral School, and Sundress Academy of the Arts. She has received support from the Community of Writers, the Open Mouth Poetry Retreat, and she was the inaugural winner of Amplify’s Megaphone Fellowship for a Writer of Color. You can find her @quintanagothic and