Everything Was Great Until It Wasn’t by Theresa Boyar

At first the new babies were fascinating and you poked their fat bellies and stroked their eggshell heads and when your mother wasn’t looking you pressed your thumb, not too hard, on the soft indent in their skulls and pulled back at the jumping pulse you felt there. They listened to your stories and could be dressed up and made up with the lipsticks you found in the bathroom drawer but your mother didn’t like when you did that and look, she told you when she had to throw out the tubes of broken color, you had wrecked them all.

You noticed the babies changed her, your mother. They changed the way she looked at you and talked to you. You were no longer her sweet girl because her sweet girls were now in matching carriers and you wondered what had been pulled out of you while you slept, what had been subtracted or stolen, and given over to your sisters and their tiny spoons and jars of pureed peaches the color of that sunrise at the beach before the babies came when your mother had swung you by the arms, your feet swirling in the cold foam where you were sure there were sharks and your mother said no, no, there weren’t but just to be safe she would never let you go.

And when the babies started walking, prowling through the house, tearing up your best things, ruining them, biting the head off your only Barbie and chewing up your wax souvenir from Ocean World like candy, the once-smooth dolphin mangled by all those rows of sharp new teeth, you complained to your mother about the injustice of it all and when she told you look, it isn’t easy and you said yeah and she said she needed you to just be helpful, to be smart like she knew you were, because babies were a lot of work and not everything was a five-alarm disaster, you said yeah and you guessed that made sense but you still didn’t think it was fair and you grabbed their favorite crochet blankie when no one was looking and stretched it until there was a foot-sized hole in the middle and you buried the little red mallets to their toy xylophone in the backyard, and that felt better.

And when a snowstorm came and you and your mother worked together afterward to build a fat snowman, your sisters gathering pebbles for eyes and a mouth and helping in this tiniest, flimsiest way, and you all stood back and smiled and then your mother said it would be funny if she lifted you on top and your sisters said yes and you said yes and up you went and really, everything from up there was changed and wrong, you sitting over the middle section, clinging to the snowman’s head, your sisters’ grey snowsuits churning the snow like surf, and you told your mother no, you didn’t like it and wanted to come down and needed to come down and your mother said it was time you grew up and you felt the cold moving up from your feet like water and tried not to cry because you were sure if you moved too much, you’d fall and it was so far down, your own eggshell head would pour out on the snow in warm spoonfuls the color of sunrise and peaches and your mother crossed her faraway arms and said what the snowman really needed was hands and produced the little red xylophone mallets from her pocket and jabbed them in the snow somewhere beneath you while she laughed and your sisters clapped and from above, you were pretty sure you felt the earth tilt you farther away on its axis until all you could see was three gray shadows circling close together through the snow.

Theresa Boyar’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in The Florida Review, Poet Lore, Juked, and Tar River Poetry. Her essay “Peaches” was selected as a Notable Essay of 2000 by the editors of the Best American Essays series, and her chapbook Kitchen Witch was published by Dancing Girl Press. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two very barky dogs, Darla and Cooper.

Whiteout by Maria Poulatha

I’ll tell you a secret, Mama, like I used to do under the tent of bed covers, where we would crouch in our warm human scents and I’d whisper, “I stole a crayon. I love Walter. I saw God in the pool. Don’t tell Father…” But what I was really saying was, “I love you,” which you knew because you knew me like a mother knows a daughter, from the space I had carved within you with the nudge of rump and elbow, by the breadth of spleen and liver I had displaced. Knew me from the first time you positioned me on your breast as the nurses had taught and I bit right through you to draw milk and blood and you gave a little scream, they said.

Mama, you will hear on the news that I gathered my gear and took off for the mountains alone. I left behind my Garmin watch as well as Brian and I know that he’ll be happy to have that watch. It can take you to the end of the world and back, perhaps even to the underworld and back. That’s why they call it the Fenix. Brian is the tallest mountain I have ever encountered: jagged, pitched and frosted. Why did I wish to conquer him? Because he was there, so wanting and petulant.

I once saw a woman drive off a cliff. I was running in the mountains, she was coming from the opposite direction and before she drove by in her silver Renault, I looked at her face. I can tell you one thing and that is that her face was sober. Something made me look back and when I did I saw her car continue its ride off the mountain. For a brief moment everything seemed normal, the vehicle in flight, the pilot in control of her craft, the air around the car pale as down feathers. I did not bother to cover my ears. Later on the news I heard that the search team believed there were several women in the car. Bloodless limbs were scattered all around the crash, a half-dozen bent arms, smooth torsos and blank faces poking out of shrubs and mounds of dirt. But then we learned that the woman driving the car owned a clothing store and was transporting a carload of mannequins. The fireman who reported this on the news looked like he was trying not to laugh and people noticed this. To me he just looked relieved, not to have to collect so many human pieces.

You will hear on the news that the weather has changed for the worse, that it will be difficult to search or rescue. Have I ever needed to be rescued, Mama? Don’t you worry, I will be somewhere else, far from the sniffing dogs, ordering hot wine and sausages and the matronly owner will ask, ‘More cheese?’ and I will nod until she stops serving and plants her fists on her wide hips and says, ‘You look cold and tired. You will not go out into that storm.’ And she will hide my muddy boots and shush me into the barn and spread a thick gamey blanket over the hay next to the steaming manure. The gentle bodies of cows will sigh and shuffle and as I am about to sleep, the farmer’s son will enter with a tin mug of milk and I will ask him to scratch my back and invite him to wrap his milk-strong arms around me and we will keep each other warm, like hot bread under cream. I will breathe in the sour dough of his skin and snore.

The men will tire before the dogs do, although they will not say it. They will trudge along, like heroes on duty, but they will begin to think of their wives at home, warming dinner, dressing down. They will begin to wonder where their daughters are at this time of night. Are they in their bedrooms in their long nightgowns and fuzzy slippers, reading schoolbooks? They are probably not, sirs. So go home, tell them, look for your daughters instead. It is cold now, but I am warmed by dung-pasted paws, caressed by long docile cow lashes, touched by a man who knows how to use his hands because he must.

When the snow covers the ground perfectly, it’s as if nothing has ever tread here. It was not a priest, a soccer coach, a distant uncle. It was my own husband who broke me. You’ve seen some trees in the forest, 50 meters tall that burst into the skies lush and green. But inside they are being eaten hollow by parasites until suddenly, the fragments undone, the sap drained, they yield to a pile of mulch. I didn’t tell you because I knew it would break your mother’s heart. Or maybe I didn’t tell you because you already knew, you who knows me the way a tongue knows the mouth it is hinged to.

Because it was there: the most arrogant, flippant words uttered by man.

It is so cold. But there is a freshness to such cold. A newness. The dull tinsel of pine needles rustles overhead, releasing its medicinal sweetness. Everything that is beautiful appears to be out of reach until you touch it, then it is no longer out of reach, nor is it beautiful. So the saying goes. It doesn’t matter because nothing changes between mother and daughter. The umbilicus unwinds and unravels, it thins to flossiness, to delicate hair, to microscopic cilia. But there is no end to it.


Originally from New Jersey, Maria lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter. Her stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Okay Donkey, trampset and elsewhere.

Catholic School Girl by Jeanine Skowronski

I’ve been trying to grow wings, which sounds crazy, I know, except Cara has a pair. I swear. She shows them to me every time we change for gym class. They’re small — just two fuzzy, little knuckles raised about three inches below the nape of her neck — but her mom, who’s president of the PTA, promises they’ll get bigger with a little holy water, so, after school, Cara and I sneak into the church’s vestibule, dunk our fingers in a font and bless our shoulder blades.

In Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ seventh grade class, we learn religion. She tells us we believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She tells us only men can wash the pope’s feet. She tells us Paul fell off his horse and Lot’s wife turned to salt after God drowned the earth and everything wasn’t hunky-dory. She tells us Lucifer had wings, until he didn’t, and now we (unlike him) better not get seduced by evil. She won’t tell us, but I’m pretty sure Satan lives underneath the girls’ bathroom, the one between the two kindergartens. The tiles give off a heat that seeps through your penny-loafers, even when you avoid the cracks. I try not to go in there, the same way I avoid the fourth floor and Marnie Levinsworth. This school is full of monsters and ghosts.

Cara and I loiter in the back stairwell. She runs a finger across my back and frowns. You need something stronger than holy water, she says, and hands me a shampoo-sized bottle of chrism. Blessed by Pope John Paul II, it reads. Cara’s mom got it when they saw him say mass at Giants Stadium.
Two drops before bed, Cara suggests, but I never take the oil out of my backpack. I feel too guilty to use it.

Whenever Evan Merkle misbehaves, Sister Jerome Gaudentius flings an eraser at him. She keeps a set, just in case, lined up on her desk: fat, yellow rectangles, pink pencil toppers, a translucent watermelon wedge particularly good at leaving juicy, red welts. Once Evan learns to duck, so do we.

Cara tells me that my wings won’t grow because I think too much. It doesn’t matter how much oil (or water) I use; it doesn’t matter if I only say an even number of Hail Marys before bed. Your mind has got to be light, she says, like a feather.
Maybe, I say, except wings aren’t all fluff. They’re also flesh and blood and bones that’ll break if you ever crash down to earth. Something to carry, you know, not just something that carries you.
Cara blinks at me a few times. Marnie Levinsworth has had wings since fifth grade, she finally says.
OK, I say, even though we both know Marnie Levinsworth’s wings aren’t real.

Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ pulls me out of lunch to tell me to eat more. She remembers back in first grade, I used to toss the crusts of my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches underneath the cafeteria tables. She remembers, last week, I passed out in gym class and my mom showed up with orange juice. I tell her she’s wrong because she is. I’m not starving myself. I don’t tell her I’m always a little sad.

Before First Friday mass, Evan Merkle whispers that his sister Liz said that Monsignor Kasprowicz once told her that if you try to smuggle a Eucharist out of church, it’ll turn to blood in your pocket. No one believes him, not really, not even Cara, but during communion, most of our class takes the wafers with their tongues. I don’t take communion at all.

Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because my parents weren’t married in a church. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I don’t like Marnie Levinsworth. Or Sister Mary Gaudentius. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I can’t write the Our Father on graph paper without touching any horizontal lines. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because the other 7th grade girls deserve wings more than I do. I can’t remember the last time I thought I was going to heaven.


Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, Lunate Fiction, and Fewer than 500.

Strategy by Kari Treese

We started playing monopoly in bed at night when we canceled cable and tired of the
DVD’s we owned. The TV loomed in the dark hanging above the dresser.

I always picked the shoe, you the car. I let you be the banker once, but it took you so long
to count change, I relented and took over. I think it isn’t that you can’t count change quickly, but
that you prefer to let me take the role that demands more labor.

For the last three nights in a row, you win monopoly by purchasing every property you
land on, even when this seems unwise. Last night, when I turned out my light, I whispered into
the newly dark room, “I’m never playing monopoly with you again.”

I hate to lose. You know this. Tonight, I try your strategy. I buy everything I land on: Park
Place, Marvin Gardens, Pennsylvania Ave, Illinois, the electric company, and two railroads. I
think I’m off to a great start until I see the spread of cards littering your side of the bed. When
you hit free parking right after I get stuck in jail, I know I’m beat.

You have enough paper cash over there to start stacking houses and hotels on the triplet
of pale blues and that annoying pair of purple you managed to acquire by chance.
I wait three turns before I ask, “Are you letting me win?”

“No,” you say. But I think you are lying because you grin when you say this. “Playing
cautious,” you say when I roll my eyes. “Because it looks like you’ve got a good chance.”

I know you are lying when you say this too because you can see the cards and the money
dwindling from under the board on my side of the bed. “Don’t let me win,” I say.

You buy hotels the next turn. When I roll an eight, I throw up my hands and stomp to the
living room. You get me to return by telling me, “It’s chance, love.”

“I don’t need you to tell me how the game works,” I mutter while I follow you back to
the bedroom.

The next night, when I open the box, the car is missing. You say, “I don’t want to play if I
can’t be the car. I’m always the car.”

“Just be a different piece. The hat or the dog?”

“No,” you say. You suggest a list of other games I don’t want to play because I want to
beat you just once.

We settle on backgammon, because it’s quick and we’ve wasted half an hour. I beat you
three times before we turn out the lights and I know you tried. It was you who threw up your
hands in the last game when I had you skunked with two pieces still on the bar.

I find the car a month later when I’m vacuuming under your side of the bed. I think about
placing it back in the box, inviting you to play tonight. I rub my fingers over the bumps and
grooves. I’ve beat you in nearly every game since we quit monopoly. I’m stingier with strategy
than you.

When the car plunks into the toilet, I think about how you said “It’s chance, love.” I tip
the handle and watch the car swirl out of sight.

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Kari Treese is a writer and math enthusiast currently living in Middle Tennessee. Her work has appeared in CHEAP POP, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Lunch Ticket, BULL, and others. She tweets @kari_treese.