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.

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

Beer Breath and Hauntings by Ashley Sapp

My dad has called again, and this time there is a voicemail. This time, he says I haven’t heard from you in a while and I love you. He says, I want to know whether you’re okay, but it has been over a year and I am not sure that I am. The last communication between he and one of us was when he drunkenly told my sister that she was dead to him, so if that is the case, why does he think it is okay, now, to call me as though I am not her ally, as though it has ever not been the two of us against everyone else? As though the fight between them didn’t start when he said I was a disappointment. As though I have not heard all the things he has called me and accused me of. If that is the kind of love he has to offer, and I know full well by now that every kernel of love comes with a rope, then I do not want it. It is not safe here where there is no accountability,
and it has taken me thirty-three years to validate my pain. And yet, he also instilled guilt within me, so every time I hear his slurred voice, I am made a child again, haunted by ghosts of what could have been. Haunted, you see, first by his words and then by his absence. Haunted by everything I had yet to lose. So when he says I love you, he means, I need to hurt you. When he says, I want to know whether you are okay, he means, how dare you live outside of my reach? And I have dared to live, long ago deciding that I want to survive his love, not die from it. I will be his ghost. I will be his haunt, a forever reminder that his blurry breath no longer determines my fear.

xqN64w_T_400x400Ashley Sapp (she/her) resides in Columbia, South Carolina, with her dog Barkley. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of South Carolina in 2010, and her work has previously appeared in Indie Chick, Variant Lit, Emerge Literary Journal, Common Ground Review, and elsewhere. Ashley has written two poetry collections: Wild Becomes You and Silence Is A Ballad. She can be found on Twitter @ashthesapp, Instagram @ashsappley. Website:

At Times, You Get Under His Skin by Melissa Bowers

7:17 a.m.
You stiffen when his hand slides up your thigh. He tries it the way you prefer: gentle at first, like an accident, but his clammy fingertips give him away. “I think I hear crying,” you say, and slip out of bed.

9:52 a.m.
There have been two arguments already—about what, neither of you remembers, probably something to do with your job or his parents or the thermostat—in hushed tones, just in case infants can be traumatized. You want the twins to see what real marriage looks like, all adoring gazes and suggestive gestures. Lingering glances as you cross paths in the kitchen. Someone touching someone always. Or, surely, at least some laughter?

1:40 p.m.
One puckering mouth is affixed to each nipple and a tiny fist tangles in your hair. “My body doesn’t belong to me anymore,” you say again—words he’s heard for months—and you wonder if he notices the way despair sometimes sucks air from your vowels. But he has always claimed you are the one who controls the atmosphere, the one who says yes or no, and now he often acts as though you are the puppet master of everyone’s bodies: your children’s growth. Your collective degree of emptiness.

2:24 p.m.
When his father calls, you don’t push back your chair and leave the room this time because today the terrible news is slicing up his face. Shifting it completely, puzzling all its features into an arrangement even he won’t recognize tomorrow. You come up behind him with your arms, your hands, you press your face into his neck and say I’m sorry.

5:33 p.m.
At dinner, all you can hear are the forks. You sip from your wine glass and he swallows his meat whole. He reaches for you across the table. There is no hesitation: just your fingers curling around his, squeezing. You clear the plates and drop three forehead kisses in succession. Them, and then him.

10:09 p.m.
No matter what is happening anywhere else in the world, no matter what is happening anywhere else in your head, the babies always need to eat and they always need to play and they always need to bathe. He helps you rinse the bubbles from their skin so no one has to be alone. After they are bundled into their cribs, you unzip him from the chest and peel away the layers until you can crawl inside, maybe not because you are still in love, but because you have forgotten where else to go.


Melissa Bowers is a writer from the Midwest. Her fiction was selected for the 2021 WigleafTop 50 and she is the recent winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest. Read more of her work at

After the Salon, Before the Plane by Annina Claesson

Only a few nights before I lose you, I decide that I like you best around 5AM, bundled up on the first train of the morning. On the cusp of sobriety after the night’s gig, I stop trying to measure how much of your head on my shoulder is drunkenness, how much is comfort, how much is care. The dawn’s syrupy tendrils trail over the tracks of the Keio Line as we run up the stairs, over the bridge, down again. Your guitar bounces on your back. We crash into the fence of the fire station and curl our fingers around the diamond mesh.

Down on the pitch, twelve rows of men move up and down in synchronized pushups while their captain chants numbers. We count along, quiet and giggling at first, then mimicking their imperial booms. Our laughter spills through snorts, a soprano counterpoint to their drumming.

We try to find a bench but collapse on the concrete next to hydrangea bushes that will bloom when the rains come. Your voice slides into a hum as you rest the guitar between your crossed legs. Bum bum bums buzzing on your lips. You wanted to be a jazz musician, but you ended up with a wispy voice and open chords and a girlfriend whose father used to play keys for Mott the Hoople. I have never been able to give you what you want, but I can at least clap along in uncommon time.

The audible sweat from the firemen makes me thirsty. At first, I assume you will fall silent as soon as I leave you alone, but your fingers keep picking at the strings, rummaging for voiceless melodies. I find the nearest vending machine and let the little plasticky 100-yen coins roll into the slot. Some twelve feet away, you look homeless on the concrete. I drink and drink again, my insides arid where they were sticky only a few hours ago.

A lone dog walker becomes your first audience member just as the sky shifts to indigo. She stares, debating whether to shush you. Alcohol bubbles inside me once more and I want to start a fight with this bomber vest and her Pomeranian, but then the dog bites its own collar and yanks the lady forward, wagging its tail in triumph, and she lets herself be led away, sighing into such blissful fatigue that I relax my arm and let the tea spill out of the bottle without even noticing. Your head bobbles along to a rhythm of its own.

A few weeks after I have lost you, I walk to work early one morning with my scarf draped over my head to keep my hair dry, and I find the firemen again. This time, none so symmetrical. Assorted lumps of oversized overalls twirl translucent umbrellas, limbs lollygagging, coffee cans and tea bottles spread all around the fence. I cannot tell if they are laughing, but the wires send electric memories up my arms all the way to the dimples in my cheeks. I indulge a fantasy that you might come back to play for the Kanagawa base, but you would never make such sacrifices for me.

The bell rings and the captain strikes his tuba-timbred opening chord. All humanity runs out of the firemen like liquid. Their boyishness stiffens into mechanical jumping jacks, uniforms tightening in the rain.
Over their chanting, I start humming. Discipline is not enough to recall the melody just as you played it, but the beat tastes the same.




Annina Claesson is a geographically confused writer and researcher currently based in Paris, France. Her short fiction has recently appeared in New Reader Magazine and won awards at the Charroux Litfest.