It Takes 25 Minutes to Walk to the Laundromat by Andrea Lynn Koohi

I love the smell of gasoline.
When my stepfather comes home, his hands are blackened with grease. He washes them for four minutes under the tap.
The cat brings songbirds home in his teeth, hides them behind the sofa. My mother scolds him with tears in her eyes. Says he understands and he will learn.
My stepfather says don’t be anti-social. Says get out of the house, go make some friends. I pass a hooded stranger on my way out the door, sit under the walnut tree in the yard.
I can’t leave the table until I finish my milk. I stare at the back of a dirty fork, rub its sting from my knuckles. When the glass is empty, I vomit all over the floor.
My stepfather works beneath a car in the garage. I dance around tools, puddles of oil. When he asks for the wrench, I find it right away. His teeth flash praise, my breath releases. He rolls back under the car.
I see the stranger leave, sense a stillness in the house. I know to wait outside, make bracelets with dandelions, listen to the plunk of walnuts on the ground.
I peer over the sink to watch the day’s work float like an oil slick, then slip down the drain. I pop the dirty bubbles on the bar of soap.
In the car my mother rides seatbelt-free, window open, jewelled hand to the wind. My stepfather blares Bon Jovi on the speakers, drives 20 over the speed limit. I dig my hand into a box of French fries, feel the slip of oil on my fingers. I love this little nook in the backseat of their happiness. I never ask if we are there yet.
When my stepfather comes home, his hands are clean. He’s carrying papers and rage. I hide in my room with a pillow to quell the flapping in my stomach.
The more beautiful the bird, the more tears my mother cries.
It takes 25 minutes to walk to the laundromat. My mother pushes the metal cart while I steady the garbage bags that threaten to spill. My stepfather stays home, feet crossed on the sofa, eyes like the cat’s when they spot a yellow bird from behind a window. One foot shakes rapidly back and forth, going nowhere. There is no pedal to stop it.


Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. Her recent work appears in Pithead Chapel, Reservoir Road, Idle Ink, The Maine Review, Streetlight Magazine, and others.

With Appetite by Jasmine Sawers

People always ask me, Hazel, how did you meet your husband? I found him in a can of Spam. He was pretty as a painted teacup, brushing black curls out of his eyes. He unfurled from his jelly ham bed and held his hand out for me to shake, his touch the weight of a snowflake. By the time he stepped from the edge of the tin and into my palm, I was done for.

People always ask me, Hazel, how does a regular woman conduct marital relations with such a curio? All you have to know is he called me his mountains and valleys. My Everest, he would say into my skin. My Grand Canyon. My Vastness. With appetite he traced each freckle, nerve, and vein. He mapped me out. He traversed my expanse and wanted me anyway.

People always ask me, Hazel, didn’t you think about children? Oh, our magic beans. Too big for him to hold, too small for me not to crush with a single brush of my finger. We learned early about children.

People always ask me, Hazel, did you see it coming? It’s easy to look backward and cobble together the mosaic of how things went wrong. This quiver in his lip, that flutter of lashes around rolling eyes. This snide tone, that put-upon sigh. Nights spent separately: I in our sumptuous feather bed, he nestled in his beat-up empty can in the pantry, curl of tin pulled taut over the top. The truth is I was cleaved from my senses when he packed up his tic tac suitcase, cleared out his matchbox dresser. What else could I do but seize him where he stood?

What could any woman in love do but swallow him whole?

Sawers_smiley_author_photoJasmine Sawers is a Kundiman fellow whose fiction appears in such journals as Ploughshares, AAWW’s The Margins, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Sawers serves as Associate Fiction Editor for Fairy Tale Review and debuts a collection through Rose Metal Press in 2022. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now lives and pets dogs outside St. Louis.

The Songs of Some Birds by MJ McGinn

When I wake up, she’s already gone. The telephone wire, hanging limp outside our window, is bird free. There’s nothing in the bed but me and strands of Meg’s orange hair.

I shoot out of bed, pick up my glasses from the nightstand, slip them on, and go from blur to focus light-switch quick. I have my orange carry-on bag on the bed, and I’m stuffing socks and sports bras into it before I even check the time. This all feels practiced. Muscle memory. It isn’t.

I knew I was leaving yesterday. I had to, but I didn’t really know it until I woke up. Until I started stuffing clothes into a bag, debating if I could bare to leave my records behind.

It’s not Meg. Well, it is Meg, but it’s not something she did. I still love her, that’s really what I mean. On our first date, we went to the zoo. It wasn’t our first date. Our actual first date was at a bar, and she had to leave after half an hour because of a work emergency, so it didn’t count. We went to the zoo, and she paid for the tickets online, and she didn’t even have to convince me because I thought she was so way over-the-top gorgeous. In her car, on the way there, she told me that as a kid, a tiger peed on her.

I move on from socks and undies to t-shirts, jeans, comfy things. I check the window for birds.

I told her it was a cute story, but that I didn’t believe her. I told her that no kid from the Jersey suburbs could encounter a tiger in the wild and live to tell the tale. She smiled at that, a side of her mouth smile, she started to say something then cut herself off and just said, “I like you already, you know?”

I check the time, 8:56 AM. Meg leaves for the gym at 8:30 on Saturdays and gets home at 10, unless she gets coffee afterwards, then it’s 10:15. I have time for the records. I pull on jeans, socks, and a black t-shirt, two snakes crawl toward the collar. No time for a bra, but time for the records. I slip and slide out of the bedroom, step into my Blundstone’s at the door and avoid the kitchen, really just the fridge of summer weddings I won’t be attending with Meg, avert my eyes, head straight for the living room.

We had sex after the zoo and it felt very animal. Tigers. Roar. Her orange hair everywhere.

I can’t fit all the records (67) in the suitcase, and I don’t have time to make executive decisions, so I close my eyes and pick five. Stuff the five in the bag without checking what’s what, then say fuck it and pick two more. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Cost of Living.

I’m not leaving because of her. I love her. Really. That day at the zoo, that night in the bed I’m leaving behind, I thought that was it. The story we’d tell our kids. I texted my mom the next morning and said, “Hey, I know who I’m gonna marry now.” She sent back three heart eyes emojis, then “What’s her name?”, then “don’t tell your father until I talk to him.” It wasn’t the first time I texted her that, but it would be a lot cooler if my dad was a lot cooler.

I’m leaving because of the birds, or maybe her attitude towards the birds.

I order an Uber and look around the room, a final sweep. Anything else essential? My chest and shoulders tighten. I rub my chest where my heart lives, where the t-shirt snake’s head rests. My therapist says I carry my stress in my shoulders and my depression in my ribs. She says anything in the chest is a mix of both. I think she makes up everything she says the night before.

The problem isn’t that Meg is haunted by a cauldron of birds of prey. The problem is that she likes it. Maybe loves it. She blows them kisses goodnight. She thanks them for leaving her dead presents. I don’t mind having the only apartment in Philadelphia with no mice or rats. I mean, the birds are beautiful. Regal. Powerful. All the things Meg is. Dangerous.

The Uber is here, and I don’t take any last-minute items, no miniature memories. No strands of orange hair. Meg can have it all. I walk down the three flights to the street with my orange rollaboard click-clacking each step along the way. I’m not crying, but I might just be too upset to know.

Yesterday, or actually two days ago, Meg and I got in a fight. Over fucking Grubhub. It wasn’t our realest fight, but it was our loudest. I guess the birds heard. Friday morning, walking to work, they dropped a cat on me. Its fur orange with dried blood. They sat on their electrical wires, cleaning their wings with their beaks, preening, like look what we can do.

When I told Meg about the cat, she wasn’t angry. She wasn’t scared. She just said, “Catherine, they love me.” As if dropping dead animals on a romantic rival, real or imagined, was simply a product of love. The worst part was, she was right. Because when the birds dropped that dead kitty on my hair, got its blood on my best work blouse, my first thought was to throw it back.

The drive to the airport is quick. Henry, the driver, smells like Newports and doesn’t say a word. No traffic on 95. The skyline is a haze of heat in the distance. The sun chews up the clouds, spits them out. I see birds in the distance, little v’s. I wonder if they’re Meg’s and how fast they can fly.


MJ McGinn received his MFA from Adelphi University. His work has previously appeared in the Guernica/PEN Flash Series, New Flash Fiction Review, The Molotov Cocktail, Firewords, Bridge Eight Press, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.

Man-Child’s Menu by Annie Berke

Chicken Fingers with French fries $6.00
+ Substitute sweet potato fries +$1.00
+ Consume one-handed while playing Call of Duty. Your girlfriend will sit at the table, eating a salad. You won’t know if she’s talking to you, so you gesture to your headset without moving to take it off +$0.50

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich with carrot sticks $5.00
+ Add apple slices +$1.00
+ Forget to ask her if she wants one too. She will steal one of your carrot sticks, and each crunch will sound like an accusation +$1.50

Chicken Quesadilla with corn chips and mild salsa $5.50                                                       

+Add guacamole +$2.00
+ Order this on a wet Saturday night. She’ll go out with her friends that really despise you, not the ones who just casually hate you. She will come home, drunk and gloomy, and eat your chips hovering over the garbage can +$1.00

Hamburger with French fries $7.00
+ Add cheese +$0.50
+ Request this from a waiter at her cousin’s wedding, since you don’t eat fish or the chicken. Watch her eyes fill with tears as the best man toasts to the bride and groom’s future children +$5.00

Noodles (Spaghetti or Penne) with Butter and Cheese $5.00
+ Leave butter and/or cheese on the side +$0.50
+ Let her be the one who leaves. That way, on paper, at least, you aren’t the bad guy. You’ll tape together a cardboard box for her to pack up her things, and she’ll say it’s the nicest thing you’ve done for her in years. You’re the best woman I’ve ever been with, you’ll tell her, and she will respond, flatly, What does that mean? That question will make you feel so tired. You’re tired! Men are allowed to be tired! Maybe with the next woman, you’ll think, you won’t have to translate everything. She’ll just get it—get you. After all, your mother always told you that when you find the girl, it’ll be easy. She still says that, though lately she says it gazing at you like your glasses are crooked. You don’t wear glasses. Your now-ex will pack up the box and shut the door quietly behind her without a word. She has always been like this, you think: classy, no drama. Or maybe you’re already idealizing her now that she’s gone. You’ll wonder if you’ve made a mistake, and the regret will taste like you’ve bitten your tongue while chewing: the sharp shock of it, your mouth hot and mean now, flooded with salt and metal. You will never let yourself have that thought again *no charge

Annie Berke is the Film Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and the author of the forthcoming book, Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar America. Her fiction has been published in Pithead Chapel, Rejection Letters, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. She lives in Maryland.