College Boy and the County Fair by Christopher Notarnicola

Auntie was cutting vegetables like they weren’t even there, asking why I was worried about who would ride the Ferris Wheel with whom when these girls out here—hacking the back end of a butcher knife through the side of a sweet onion—were always wearing some too-tight torn-up see-through something over popped-up nipples like it’s cool to be cold. She stabbed a peel and brought the knife to her breast. Oh, she said with a moan, twirling the blade. I told her she’d better stop, swallowing a smile. Onion sting filled the air. She returned to the cutting board and told me I should hang out on campus instead of around the old neighborhood, get in with the ones who stay through spring semester, drink coffee, quote a poet, find a woman with clothes over her chest, a woman I could bring home for dinner, with appetite, whip smart but kind, a wholesome woman. The stockpot was steaming on the stove. Double Jeopardy was starting by the microwave. Alex Trebek was dead, and the soup was already reminding me of my mother. The word wholesome, I said, is composed of opposites—isn’t that funny. Auntie paused her dice, hovering over half-moons of onion, knuckles at the wide edge of the knife, tears jeweling the ends of her lashes, and she looked to the TV, maybe wondering if I had stolen the line from a category or if I had brought that one to the table on my own. The camera panned, and the contestants were at their buzzers. Boy, she said, if you don’t start peeling carrots.

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Christopher Notarnicola is an MFA graduate of Florida Atlantic University. His work has been published with American Short Fiction, Bellevue Literary Review, Best American Essays, Chicago Quarterly Review, Epiphany, Image, The Southampton Review, and elsewhere. Find him in Pompano Beach, Florida and at

Nursing #2 by Michael Levan

Time to bond, time to connect, time for her to be / the lifeblood of this young life.
Time to / be removed from everything adult she requires / and feel, as she says, Like
a cow dispensing milk / all damn day. Time to need the boy to sleep / a little longer, to
not demand colostrum’s liquid gold. / Time to worry over alternating breasts and
avoiding mastitis. / Time to feel like the only person who can keep this boy alive. /
Time to sleep in spurts and then, in turn, time to turn / grouchy or grumpy or testy,
maybe crabby or peevish / if the day’s been kind, snappy or ill-tempered or
cantankerous if not. / Time for the man to be jealous of the child who drifts / off
mid-suck while still he’s stuck in a chair / or on the couch, wondering if that gift of
sleep can come to him too. / Time for sleep to be all they think of, / daydream about,
obsess over. Time to question / if it’s worth it because formula can be mixed by a man
too. / Time that’s supposed to be enjoyed and, sometimes, / it is, but not as much or
as often as she had hoped. / These feedings how days have come to be measured. /
Nights too. Time to know this will last / only a short while. Soon this boy will push
away, / will reject all that’s been given him, and then / everything after will be about
closing the distance between them.


Michael Levan has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Laurel Review, The Rupture, Waccamaw, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Arts & Letters. He is an Associate Professor of English and edits and writes reviews for American Microreviews and Interviews. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and their three children.

How to Stay Safe in Caracas by Patricia García Luján

Forwarded many times:

1. Always be alert. Don’t give papaya and wait inside a parked car. Don’t stop at a red light at night. Don’t take the same route home every day. Don’t pull out your phone in the street or the car or the supermarket. Don’t give money to the barefoot kid in the corner. Avoid tables by the window. Spot the exits. Look for suspicious people. Don’t get distracted. Don’t make it easy for them to surprise you.

2. Keep a low profile. Wear a cheap watch, take off your jewelry, the wedding ring, even the fake pearls—they can’t tell the difference. Drive an old car, one with stained seats or scratches. If possible, live in an apartment, not a house. Carry only one credit card and little cash. Wear inconspicuous clothing, nothing with a brand or foreign sports team. Never wear polished shoes, never look too polished.

3. Learn how to spot malandros. They’re not ghosts, they’re not invisible, but they’re everywhere. They all wear hats. They all look the same. They’re all capable of violence. Don’t try and see if they have short hair or long, a beard or a mole, don’t look at what they’re wearing or the make of their motorcycles or the gun in their hand. Never look into their eyes.

4. Listen to your sixth sense. If something feels off, it’s because it is and it’s already too late.

5. Let them do their job. If they ask for your address, give it to them. Give them the dollars and the jewelry and the combination of the safe. Give them the TVs and the iPads and the laptops and the Nintendos. Give them the silver and the car keys and everything else they want. Notice how easy it is to give it all away, how clear it becomes that all these things are worthless when the only thing of value is your life in their hands. Hold on to this feeling after they leave and you’re still alive and your home is bare and you forget again about what matters and what doesn’t.

6. Learn to use a gun. Carry one always. Buy lots of guns. Stash them all over the house. Hide them in your pants, the glove compartment, underneath your pillow. If you get a chance, aim for the head or the chest, or the heart. Don’t give papaya and shoot them in the leg.

7. Talk in a low voice, never yell. Don’t startle the finger on top of a trigger. Offer them a cigarette, offer them breakfast, offer them some water while they load up your car with your things. Ask them if they really want to be doing this, ask them if they could please not point the gun at the child, ask them about their mothers, ask them if they have no shame.

When they approach you, tell them you’re pregnant, tell them you’re on your period, tell them you’re an only child, tell them you have kids, tell them their names and their ages, tell them they can’t go to sleep unless you are lying next to them, tell them they’re probably lying in bed right now, awake, wondering where you are.

8. The best way to avoid malandros is to think like one. Put yourself in their shoes. Pick up on opportunities—the woman on the phone, the couple kissing in the car, the sliver of an open window notice how people give papaya all the time. Think with malice. Imagine that you’re hungry, that your kids are hungry, that you live in a rancho made with gray cinder blocks and muddy floors, that you have no mother, that it’s Christmas Eve and you have no presents for the kids, that you watched your brother die when you were fourteen, that you couldn’t believe all the blood, that you’ve seen so much blood it no longer scares you, that this is the only thing you know how to do, that you wish you could stop but don’t know how, that you wish someone would stop you, and that every time you go out into the dark, you hope this is the day somebody finally does.


Patricia García Luján’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, and Coolest American Stories 2023 (Coolest Stories Press, 2023). She is a former culture writer at Vogue and a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami’s MFA program. In 2021, she was named a Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award finalist and the Sewanee Review Fiction Contest finalist. Luján is at work on a short story collection.

To My Saint, the Lady Who Does the Car Insurance Commercials, Save Us by Ron Burch

I know you’re not real. I know you’re only an actor pretending to be a multi-insurance salesperson, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop believing. It’s good to see you there. Kind of, what they call reassuring. You know what a messed-up time it is. The world is falling apart. It doesn’t look good for us according to the science. Let the other crazy bastards believe what they want; it doesn’t matter; we all know what’s coming. Sorry, got off track there. My parents are dead. Don’t have much. But I look forward to your commercials. I know, laugh, some crazy lady out there is writing fan letters for your commercials. I worry they will stop you. Eventually, we know they will. Commercial franchises only last as long until the next dip of their market charts. I worry I won’t see any of you, you and all your fellow saints, any longer. My friend Tasha said that if I wrote to you, it wouldn’t make any difference, that there isn’t anything to believe in anymore, that the organized religious stuff is just a cash grab, but there must be something to believe in, and the more I thought about it, the more I discarded things to believe in. What a horrifying list. Some of the things, I didn’t know I could, and would, discard. I shocked myself at the end of it, when I looked over what I had left, discouraging. But then one of your commercials came on the tv, you know, the one we’re you’re all at the opera and it’s a disaster. Lol, I love that one. You’re funny and smart and witty and can play multiple characters, and the ensemble is right out of a sitcom, in a good way!, even better than that lame one about the friends. Tasha says you’re just an actor and you won’t care and that you won’t even respond to this. She says always writing you and not getting anything back is like ghosting. That’s the problem. All our leaders are ghosts. She’s invited me to an event about the climate, and I’m down to my last stamp, but I ask you again, My Saint Who Does the Car Commercials, Save Us before we have to save ourselves.


Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel JDP was just released from BlazeVOX books. He lives in Los Angeles.