The Corner of My Eye by Doris Cheng

I saw Meredith at breakfast today. It had been two, maybe three years since I’d seen her—really looked at her, that is. She usually resided in my peripheral vision, like a dust mote floating in the corner of my eye.

“Hi, Mom,” she said.

I was overcome. I loved my girl so much. “Honey, how did you sleep? How are things at school? Tell me everything.” I noticed her hair was in a complicated French braid; she must have learned to do that on her own.

She proceeded to tell me all about a fifth-grade project that involved toothpicks and copper wire and teeny tiny robots. There was some sort of classroom drama. I tried to pay attention. But I was packing her little sisters’ lunches and trying to remember who needed to bring their violin and who needed to return their library book. The dog tipped over the garbage pail and I had to wrestle a chicken bone from its mouth. I know I missed some details. But I thought, thank God I never have to worry about Meredith.

Around then Hallie’s anxiety got so bad she began levitating. I had to meet with the principal and child psychologist and drive her to a social skills group twice a week so she could play board games and practice keeping both feet on the ground. On top of that Fiona developed amblyopia. Her left eye starting rolling around in her head like a greasy marble in a ball socket. When I wasn’t driving Hallie to therapy I was on the Internet researching “levitation treatment” and “child has loose eyeball.”

I ran into Meredith in the kitchen. I’d come in to fix myself a cup of tea and saw her peering into the refrigerator.

“What’s going on, sweetie?” I was happy she was there. I hadn’t seen her in a while though I knew she was around. I could tell she’d gotten taller and more womanly.

“Nothing much. Everything’s fine.” She closed the fridge door. “We’re out of yogurt.”

“Sorry. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get to the store. Your sisters, their appointments—”

She told me it was no biggie. She was understanding, full of grace. I told her I was grateful to have an independent and resourceful daughter who always did what was expected of her. I hugged her.

I’m kind of fuzzy on Meredith’s high school years. I remember her little sisters were putting me through the wringer. Hallie needed gravitational therapy, which meant I had to tie cans of soup to her feet every night and force her into a heavy-footed walk. Fiona’s doctor recommended she get a mechanical eye. I was buried in insurance paperwork and probably a little depressed. I think Meredith played field hockey. Or maybe it was lacrosse. I vaguely recall there being a stick of some sort. Whatever it was, I’m sure she did well because she’s a team player. Other kids might drink at parties and throw up on people’s lawns, but not her. She’s too considerate for that.

I passed her on the stairs from time to time. Each time she was more self-possessed than the last. Sometimes I felt a hand reach its way inside me and strum a high minor chord along my rib cage. The note reverberated in my chest cavity.

The last time I saw her was in the spring of her senior year. Or maybe she had already graduated, I can’t say for sure. I woke up, looked out the window, and saw her in the yard tending a roaring flame. She was inflating a hot air balloon.

I ran downstairs. By the time I got outside she was already in the basket. The balloon began to float upward.

“Come down, Meredith!” I told her she had to let me know where she was going. She wasn’t licensed and besides, she would need a warmer jacket if she was going to spend time in the stratosphere.

Meredith untied the ropes. She tossed out some ballast and the balloon began to climb. I shouted at her to be careful. I wanted her to know that a mother’s love is infinite, but I wasn’t sure if she could hear me at that point.

She waved. The balloon crested the tree line and found an air current. A sudden gust took it up and away. I couldn’t tell if she was smiling. She kept waving until she was just a dot on the horizon, no bigger than a dust mote. The dog started barking and I turned to shush it. When I looked for her again she was gone.


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Doris W. Cheng is a Taiwanese American fiction writer. She received an MA in English Literature from Columbia University and teaches fiction and poetry in NY and NJ. Her stories are forthcoming or have appeared in New Orleans Review, Witness, Berkeley Fiction Review, The Normal School, The Cincinnati Review miCRo, The Pinch, and other literary magazines. She is an alumna of Tin House and the recipient of a 2020 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant for feminist fiction. http://www.doriswcheng.com

You Will, You Will, You Will by Jad Josey

The stippled frost on the south side of the neighbor’s roof means it will be too cold to surf comfortably, not without a hood and booties. This will not sway you. Your fingers will turn ghost-white beneath the not-white sea foam, beneath the too-white clouds stacked from horizon to horizon, beneath the white-hot sun burning where you cannot see it.

When the wild turkey stops in front of your car, his rectrices fanned wide and proud, you will collect his gesture as a sign. It will be days before you remember this sign, but it will matter again. You will carry the moment and shape it behind your eyes until it shines the way that suits you best.

There will never be a way back to your heart. When someone asks me how I know this, the silence with which I answer will break me in some small, nearly imperceptible way. I will hope they do not notice my undoing. I will hope, at least, for the kindness of their pretending not to see.

The ocean will be alive and swirling. A seal will follow close behind as you paddle through the dense bulb kelp destined to be gone by spring, ripped from its mooring by the plain hands of the sea. The seal will rise from the buoyant, salty water, taller than you expect, and then it will vanish in the way that memories often do.

You will stop using the rearview mirror unless absolutely necessary. Seeing the world moving away from you, the image flipped askance, has always felt unnerving to you. You will commit yourself to this ritual.

You will always remember the last time we saw each other, how you left with so few words. You will not recall the things left unsaid, but you will endure the echo of their absence. The casual cruelness of your silence will ring louder than whatever you might have spoken.

You will paddle for some of the bigger set waves. You will pull back at the last moment, offshore wind blinding you with sea spray, the reef draining beneath the almost-inevitable drop. You will regret the decision, but you will not regret having a choice.

You will long for love until it shows up, and then you will sigh, you will exhale, you will tap your white fingers on the steering wheel as you watch it recede in the rearview mirror. (I know what I said earlier, but this is one of the few times it will make sense to use the mirror.)

You will maintain your contempt for birds, especially large flocks of birds, no matter the kind. Their contact with the sky too reckless, hollow feathers too garish. Unless the bird is a wild turkey with iridescent tail feathers. Even then, you will tolerate it only because it offers you a sign.

A fleet of pelicans will glide along the scoop of an ocean swell, bending their arc toward you, the tips of their wings nearly touching the surface. You will slash your arm into the sea, the torrent of water impotent against them. They will carry on unperturbed. It will be the only thing at which you fail today.


Jad Josey resides on the central coast of California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Glimmer Train, Passages North, CutBank, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Read more at http://www.jadjosey.com or reach out on Twitter @jadjosey.

Fusarium oxysporum by Noa Covo

My uncle was buried as his banana fields burned. We left his house empty and sat shiva in the city. It was cramped in the apartment, visitors squeezing in on couches that could barely hold their weight, but none of us suggested we should have stayed in his house and watch his life’s work go up in flames.

When I was a child, my uncle used to take me to conferences. His scientist friends would invite him, the ones that used his banana fields to do experiments. They didn’t really have a choice in the matter, as my uncle and his neighbor Joseph were the only two banana farmers around. My uncle would go in an unbuttoned checkered shirt and drink cup after cup of free coffee and tell everyone they didn’t know shit, that the fungus would get here, eventually, that it would mutate, that it would kill his bananas and then he’d die of grief. I asked him once how he thought the fungus should be stopped, and he gave me a withering look and told me it was the scientists’ job to figure it out, not his. The scientists liked telling me things when my uncle was distracted. Maybe they thought I had potential.

My uncle knew his wife would leave for the city after he died. He told her that wouldn’t save her, that if the fungus didn’t get her, he would haunt her for the rest of her days. The fungus fascinated him. He kept close tabs on any plant disease that could possibly be a mutated version, he printed out articles and studies and read them in bed at night. The fungus hadn’t gotten anybody’s crops but his. It didn’t even get into his neighbor’s, Joseph, a man my uncle hated. He used to drive in his tractor to where his field ended and Joseph’s began and spit right over the line.

The day after the shiva ended, I returned to my uncle’s house with some gasoline in the trunk. I went to the shed and found the keys to the tractor. I drove until I reached the end of the field, where Joseph’s field began. I dumped the gasoline. I lit a match.

Joseph’s bananas were surprisingly flammable. They shriveled up in the heat and dropped to the ground. I wondered what the scientists would do, now that all the local banana fields had been burnt up. I decided I didn’t care. They didn’t know anything, didn’t even know to tell me how flammable bananas were, how easily whole lives could be consumed.


Noa Covo’s work has been published in Jellyfish Review, Okay Donkey, Hayden’s Ferry Review online, and trampset. Her micro-chapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press.

Palace Tent by Lindsey Harding

Night falls as we make our way back from the bathhouse on crunchy gravel, teeth brushed but little else clean. Our tent is a palace, a gray nylon dome for a dozen. We number just six. Even on tippy toes or jumping, I struggle to hang the lantern from the center ring. The kids cheer when I do, when soft light fills the tent, enough for us to read while the youngest plays with a plastic alligator.

Later, after we close our books and click the lantern off, a stuffed turtle casts wavy bands of blue light from its shell across the tent walls. We quiet one by one. The youngest resists. He’s three and shark-like, moving, always moving. Now he makes his way from one sleeping pad to the next, from one sibling’s side to another’s. Plastic alligator in hand. Then blanket in hand. Then blanket wrapped around his body like a cocoon. Eventually he comes to me, hands empty. “Can I lay on top of you?” he asks. I am to be his sleeping pad, he my blanket.

Someday, I think, he’ll be too big for this. He’ll need and want more space, like his brother across the tent, body unfurled, frugal now, bones and muscles only. “Sure, buddy,” I say, rolling onto my back, releasing my arms from my sleeping bag. “Come here.” He crawls on. His head rests on my chest, and a hand flutters to my hair. His fingers comb the ends, a ritual that pulls us both toward sleep. I wrap my arms around him and hold fast. His weight against me, the swirling blue lights, all of us here in this one place with cicadas calling from the woods and whispers of night’s coolness—peace settles upon us, dense as the dark. My nose smarts.

When all is calm, all is dark, a memory, like a knife, slips through this peace in a single cut. Yesterday in the car, we had stopped for to-go burgers and fries and drinks. One drink, root beer to the brim, fell between the seats, a pass from one brother’s hand to other’s incomplete. I had raged at this spill as liquid soaked the already stained carpet, splashed onto stuffed animals and jackets scattered on the floorboards. “What is wrong with you?” I screamed. “You’re nine years old. This is ridiculous.” Meanwhile, both boys cried, the younger one for the drink lost and the older one because of me, my sudden temper, my disappointment.

In the tent, bathed in watery blue, the youngest breathes, and I feel his breath as my own. Someday, I wonder, will I yell at him the way I yelled at his brother? Will I make him cry, too? A spilled drink was all, is nothing. Ten feet away, the older boy sleeps, arms and legs flung about, deer limbs. I must have held him like this once, years ago.

I feel in this moment a multiplicity, the echo of bodies against mine, words reverberating across time. In this cavernous tent, there’s room for our family now and then, all the thens since we became a family. There’s room, too, for the distance time commands and the growing bodies, the expanding lives our children lead, will lead, will lead them away, further and further, from us. This space yawns before me even as the baby tucks his knees to my ribs, his breath on my arm humid, insistent.

The turtle light shuts off, its automatic timer expired. The tent disappears. We are both inside and outside among the droning insects, the cracking branches, the star-filled night. Time, too, becomes diffuse: I yell again while I hold tight to me what I cannot bear to lose while I apologize in the morning.

“I’m so sorry,” I say the next day, the breakfast fire spitting smoke and white ash as you throw sparks. “I was wrong to yell like that in the car, and I’m sorry.” I feed wood shards and dryer lint into the haze. You grit your teeth and strike the magnesium rod again. A flame steadies, holds. “Yes,” we cheer as the fire begins to crackle, to roar, its heat climbing to our palms, our cheeks as we stare into its blue center, where I can see all the fires we’ve made and put out.

Soon we’ll eat oatmeal and Pop-Tarts while the three-year-old roasts the marshmallows that remain. And later, we’ll take down our palace tent, tuck it back into its canvas bag to store until next time. But I’ll imagine the dome remains around us after we put out this fire and head home, contracting and expanding to fit us, the shape of us, as we grow.


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Lindsey Harding is the Director of the Writing Intensive Program at the University of Georgia. Her flash fiction and stories have appeared in CRAFT, apt, Spry, Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, and others. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and four children.

If by Cheryl Pappas

If I were ice I’d sculpt my way to you over a century or two. I’d rise and roll and sink and swim into the shadow depths, just to inch closer to where you are, north or south, somewhere or nowhere: everywhere. I’d rise, all aglimmer, hoping sun would catch my light, that you’d see.

Come summer I’d turn to vapor and find myself on a cloud; I’d rain on you in Newfoundland, where I’d spot you on a city street, outside the bookshop, twirling that girl’s hair, steps from the shelter of the shop.

I’d stay pooled on the pavement a moment too long, let myself be a mirror of you and the girl dry inside, laughing. I’d see you leave.

I’d attach myself to the sole of an old man’s shoe. He’d take me to his third-floor apartment, the floor a maze of magazines and photographs. I’d find a photo of a glacier and crave the certainty of stone. I’d become meshed with paper, a spruce tree from the west. Hello, old tree, I’d say.

I’d barely be, there in a plastic box waiting for pick up. At the first fierce wind, I’d hitch a ride straight to Gibraltar. I’d drop myself off on the heady branch of a stone pine, the rich scent a pleasant repository for pain.

This terrain would suit me. I may solid to rock or branch, let water become a distant memory, let the languor of ice become a dream.


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Cheryl Pappas is a writer from Boston. Her work has appeared in Juked, The Chattahoochee Review, Jellyfish Review, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Her flash fiction chapbook The Clarity of Hunger will be published by Word West Press in 2021. Her website is cherylpappas.net and you can find her on Twitter at @fabulistpappas.

Sparrow Haibun by Kim Ellingson

For a short time, I was gorgeously exhausted from grief. My body rejected food. My hair fell out in thick plumes. People said, My god, you’re glowing. There was man I loved, who said, I wish you were less. I closed my mouth. I stayed silent and hungry. I lost a cup size. My skin stretched taut, thin as tissue paper. My mouth became a refuge for endangered birds. Soon, my size five prom dress fit my once size ten frame. There was no occasion to wear it aside from washing the dishes and taking out the trash. The man I loved said, look at those shoulder bones, look at those pretty closed lips. When my protruding ribcage received an ovation, the sound nearly drowned out his voice when he said, I choose her.

How can I eat when

a sparrow dies every time

I open my mouth?


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Kim Ellingson is from Token Creek, Wisconsin. She holds an MFA in poetry from Antioch University, and her work has appeared in Five:2:One, Prometheus Dreaming, Cagibi, and elsewhere. She currently lives in Omaha.

The Ravine by Genia Blum

KIEV

In September, the foliage turned yellow and red. Bodies fell, clothed only in fear, into the ravine, the pit, the abyss.

Naked flesh on naked flesh, warm blood, excrement—hell stinking beneath sand and earth.

All night, the bonfires flared, smoke rising into God’s desolate kingdom; a hundred thousand souls and more, tracing runes between the stars.

MUNICH

Every evening after Vespers, as altar candles flickered, pious sisters hunched over stacks of newspapers in the cloister’s vaulted hall, scissors opening and closing, snip-snip, click-clack.

They’d warned the children not to play in the verboten ruin that separated Schloss Nymphenburg from their reinstated convent school. Lucifer could snatch them up and drag them to an inferno under the crater where an Allied bomb had hit the palace. The attack destroyed the royal chapel, converted by the Nazis to an infirmary, and Mater Sekundilla had perished, as did a nameless patient who’d survived the Eastern Front.

The school’s lavatory was an unlit purgatory: wet floors, no soap or towels, no toilet roll, only unfinished wooden boxes filled with squares of inky newsprint—reminders of the trivial deprivations of the recent war.

Wimpled nuns worked their rusty shears, and Jesus glared from His crucifix on the wall, begrudging His forgiveness, tallying each snip-snip, click-clack.

WINNIPEG

The name escaped my parents’ throats with a soft, fricative “G.” They’d christened me “Evgenia” in a ceremony at Saints Vladimir and Olga Cathedral, but always addressed me by the diminutive “Genia,” with the inflection that led people to assume they were mispronouncing the far more common “Jeannie.” My schoolteacher called me that in class, which made me feel pleasantly ordinary. She also suggested my parents stop speaking Ukrainian at home, warning them of the foreign accent I’d acquire. Never. My mother bristled. We lost everything else.

After the war, my parents rescued consonants, vowels, a trail of syllables. They spoke and prayed in their mother tongue, worshipped their God in a church erected by immigrants, and denied the concept of collective blame.

The hymns and litany of the Divine Liturgy resound in a gilded nave; the sun pierces stained glass windows exalting rulers and saints, The Blessed Virgin of the Cossacks, Kiev’s Golden Domes.

Illuminated by colored light, dust ascends into incense-filled air: ashes from across the ocean, from the ravine, the scar, the abyss, where flakes of white bone remain.


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Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian writer, translator, and dancer. Her work has appeared widely in literary journals, both online and in print, and she has received several Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. “Slaves of Dance,” based on excerpts from her memoir in progress, Escape Artists, was named a “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2019. Find @geniablum on Twitter and Instagram, or visit her website: www.geniablum.com.

What We Omit by Victoria Buitron

Someone asks me if I’ve ever fallen on a hike.

The question conjures the sounds my body has made when I’ve lost my footing. A sudden scrape of boots on loose rock, the clash of hiking poles pinging against each other, the grunt from my chest once I realize what’s happening. I remember my last fall on Hunter Mountain. I’m descending on an October day, close to the summit, where the ecology differs from the trail’s first thousand feet. Here mushrooms the color of fog with splotches of pink line the path, and beyond them the damp moss reigns like bright algae, taking over most of the downed wood. Before the fall, I stop to stare at a worm-like creature, covered with white fuzz, making its way on a thin twig. Then, I’m on the ground, my butt wet and poles stiff at my sides, the throb of recently broken veins spreading.

I want to answer with Of course I’ve fallen. It’s like asking if I’ve ever had a falling out with a friend. Haven’t we all? I withhold my gut answer in case it’ll sound too curt, but before I can speak, my almost-response evokes another memory that swoops in hastily and leaves just as fast.

I’m in the country I was born in, before I’ve ever climbed a mountain, when I only understand boots as a fashion choice and not a means to protect the feet. I’m in the parking lot in the town of Durán, Ecuador—after its yearly music festival—staring at my best friend in the back seat of a van as she tells me there’s no space. I’d mentioned weeks before that I needed a ride to our town after the concert. I didn’t merely say Save me a spot. I laid out the plan. I’d be going with some high school friends, but they all lived in the town I went to school in, not in the town I lived in. I asked her to let the driver know I’d pay the roundtrip fee although I was just hitching a ride back home. She assured me she’d spoken with him, but on that night, she snuggles in the back seat next to her boyfriend and tells me it’s not her call. There’s no space she says. I know the Ecuadorian coast is always warm, but in my memory I’m wearing a light sweater and still feel a profound chill.

The van speeds away like bikers would swoop by me on trails in years to come. Panicked, I walk around, calling others with the slim data I have left on my Nokia phone. Then, a familiar face, the son of somebody my father knows. Hi, I’m Victoria, I know you I say. I’ll pay you all the money I have. Just don’t leave me here in this parking lot, I almost say. I get in the truck—a stranger among boys and men. The silence is piercing, as if they know there’s been a recent end to my most profound friendship. As if I would shatter if they ask me more than my name. She left me. She left me. Half an hour later, when only the headlights on the highway light the path, I wonder what would have happened if the man driving didn’t let me fit in between him and another boy in the front seat. I picture myself ambulating in an empty parking lot, hiding in the shadows, waiting for an uncle to make the hour-long trip as I stumble between fear and anger and sadness.

I know what it means to lose touch, even to ghost, but this is my first falling out. We fall out like a fledgling plummets from its nest, we fall out like how the rubbish manages to tumble from the trailhead garbage bin in a harsh wind, we fall out like how a dead tree thumps on dense snow during a storm. She left, continuing on the path in front of me without looking back. We still see each other; that same week she’s in my house. Not because I’ve invited her to talk or because she’s there to apologize. Our families are friends, confidants, kinfolk, and years will pass with us unable to avoid each other. I’m never able to retrace the steps to how it was before, unwilling to make space for her again.

I’ve fallen I answer. I’ve fallen hard.


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Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in Entropy, Bare Life Review, Bending Genres, and more.

The Breakfast Triptych by Alexandra Kessler

I.      The first thing I remember is disgust. As a child, breakfasts of my lazy mother’s undercooked bacon while Arthur played on PBS Kids. I could eat happily while the animated characters talked, frolicked, Arthur’d, but could not bear to do so during commercials, where real human actors drove Hondas and digitally penetrated Floam. My bacon was made from the stuff of the people-actors—meatfatgrease—and it was like I was eating them. Jellied bites of the dull woman spooning Dannon yogurt into her clammy mouth. I chewed her tendons, the look in her dumb eyes, pleading. Covered my plate with paper napkin until the safe, textureless cartoon people came back. The ones without an appetite for themselves. My neighbor, very fat, stood shirtless in his front yard, staring directly into the sun. Frying. I studied art history in college and once went to Madrid to see Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych at the Prado. In Spain, there is special meat. Jamón ibérico de bellota. Pigs who only ever ate acorns. In the Triptych, silverywhite bodies squirmed and helixed. Twisted into spooky shapes by their avowal to fleshy consumption. But the figures themselves were clean, lean-limbed, pellucid. The devouring is acceptable if you are beautiful. I bought a ham and egg sandwich from a boy behind a counter and he watched me eat the whole thing, standing there in the store. I threw it up on the curb. In the left 1 panel of the Triptych, Adam touches his toes to God’s toes and God holds Eve’s wrist. Linked organs. Constant digestion. I bought another sandwich and could not taste acorns, only the lame salt of myself.

II.      Pete and I make fun of his wife. She’s a chef, and ugly. Pictures of her on his instagram— her greasy little eyes. Her smile like a happy face finger-poked into the meatloaf to make a stupid child laugh. It was never about her being beautiful, Pete says. He’s maybe embarrassed, but I understand: she’s kept him fed. I stand on her kitchen counter with my bare feet. Drink her half and-half. I play with her knives. I’m gonna slice you into pork chops, I say. Lick the blade. Pete laughs, but his body is scared. He says, get down. Years ago, he was mugged and stabbed while stumbling drunk down the street eating a 7/11 bacon egg and cheese. He is writing an essay about it, and I want to take him to Spain. I show him the wikipedia page for Bosch’s Triptych. He looks at me instead of the painting. Puts my thumb in his mouth and bites. His pointed canines dent me. His wife keeps her knives so sharp that you don’t even feel it when they cut you. Pete says he loves me. That he could swallow me whole. His wife is away, filming a cooking competition show called Bringing Home The Bacon. Pete and I get a week alone together. I worry that we’ll pickle but I risk it. He grabs the knife from my hands and holds it against his belly. He’s drunk. I’ve gotten so fat, he says. Plumped up for the slaughter. His eyes are sad and varmint. I just wish I had met you first, he says, and it’s worse for all of us that he means it. The first night we spent together I said I wouldn’t make him breakfast in the morning. I never learned to cook right. Good, he said, I’m sick of all the fucking breakfasts.

III.      Pete’s wife comes in last on Bringing Home The Bacon. Dead last, cut the first round. Your handling of this meat, the judge said, lacked a hunger for trancendence. She didn’t have enough time, but this is the game. She thought she’d carmalize edges, maple glaze, cook all the way through. She doesn’t understand how it’s so easy for other people. The chef who beat her, licking his wet lips. She drives away from the studio. It is late at night and early in the morning. Her raw face in the rearview mirror, oil-burned hands. On the side of the empty road, a 24-hour diner. She eats a plate of eggs and bacon while watching commercials on the streaked wall-mounted TV: husband and wife share some Tropicana. Sunny suburban kitchen. On her phone, no calls from Pete. The waiter brings her an extra side of bacon. Why not, he says, it’s just between you and me. Out the window, the sun rises. She feels the tilt of the world. The waiter watches her, the diner fills with their bodies. Dense and rare. It’s a new day, the waiter says, you have to start it off right. Her stomach shifts. She’s not hungry anymore, but she chokes it all down.


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Alexandra Kessler’s short stories have appeared in such venues as JoylandJuxtaProse, Maudlin House, The Boiler, and Pigeon Pages. She was the recipient of the 2014 Lizette Woodworth Reese Award for Fiction, the 2016 Ross Feld Award, and the 2017 Lainoff Prize for Fiction. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology nominee. She lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.

Instructions for Fucking Your Postpartum Wife by Megan Pillow

1)  First, get the groceries. Get the baby when he cries. Get a clutch of flowers, and make sure they’re the wild ones. These, the ones that waver when your car wings past, the ones that seem to be stretching toward you with every stem and every filament.

2)  Forget your hands, your mouth. Forget that ancient come-on that you used back when it was just the two of you. Grab her breasts while she’s cooking, and she will become a stinging nettle. Put your hand down her pants when she’s washing the dishes, and she will become a man o’ war. If she lets you, touch her hair by hair and inch by delicate inch. Expect nothing.

3)  Imagine that you, instead, are the one who gave birth and every day is marked and made by baby. All day, the kick of his doughy little legs into the soft of your stomach, the cry after cry, the endless shushing and burping over the drone of the home improvement shows in Toronto or Waco or Orange County. There is love, there is love, so sharp and unceasing that you feel the cut of it all the way to your bones. There is also the constant weight of him, the yank and the clutch, hour after hour. You have become the glassy window the baby smears his lips against, the railing on the stairs where the polish has all worn down. Deep beneath the press of him, deep beneath the blade of your love, you know you are never free, you know you never will be.

4)  Let her sleep and sleep and sleep.

5)  If there is a bird, sing to it. If there is a children’s television show playing, turn it off. If there is open sky, if there is open air, make love to the both of them first. Fill your lungs. Tuck the shine under your skin. Take them to her as an offering. Let the breath and light begin to bring her back.

6)  Consider the people she’s told you about. Consider the people she hasn’t. The chiropractor who cried as she fucked him. The barista with the two different-color eyes who bit your wife’s fingers when she came. The doctoral student who told her he was married right after he put the condom on, who she’d liked a little more in that moment because it was the first honest thing he’d said. The neighbor whose testicle she’d found a mass in while giving him a blow job, the neighbor who said she was lying and who slapped her hand away.

7)  Consider that she is circling the edge of it, a dulling, a breaking down. Consider that she has been here before, the penny clutched in the hot of a hand, the worn brass doorknob, constantly turning.

8)  Imagine doling out your skin, your hunger, your hurt. Imagine what she has done with her worn-out body to keep you fed.

9)  Consider the people she fantasizes about while breastfeeding in the peach-soft light of morning. Consider the people who will ask no questions. Out there, somewhere, there is a someone who won’t pass her like she’s a piece of furniture on their way to go play video games. Out there is a someone who will tell her for a solid hour she is beautiful, no matter how soft her stomach, no matter what underwear she’s wearing. Consider, consider that those someones are just a text, a call, a handful of houses away.

10)  If she lets you, lay her down.

11)  Let her tell you where. Let her say that the only antidote to too much touch is more of it where the hands of a child will never go. Spread her legs and run your tongue along the inside of her thigh like a blade of grass, like the blade of a knife. Whisper between her legs you are the gloss over all of the universe, you are the fire and the light, you are everything, everything, burning. When she shivers, bury your tongue and your fingers inside her. Let her clutch the pillow. Let the roar and rush of her breath tell you the tempo that will take the pain away.

12)  And if her body is a house, then it is still haunted, and you must enter it slowly.

13)  And if her body is a sanctuary, then you must worship the whole of it.

14)  And if her body is the nucleus of the atom of your love, then you wait for her to beg you. You wait for her to tell you yes yes yes. And then you fuck her until she feels new again, until she is burnished, until her skin is gleaming.


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Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Believer, Passages North, TriQuarterly, and Gay Magazine.