Our Ongoing Moment by Nick Black

KELSEY’S MOTHER

I’m painting a garden wall when her mother calls, and she laughs at my never seen in all our years together enterprise. “You really are bored, aren’t you?”

The truth is I’m far from bored, my mind’s geysering ‘round the clock, rolling my eyes back and forth behind their lids as I pray for sleep to come take me.  I was hoping physical activity might help after Kelsey pointed out one night that I was jumping from foot to foot, in the kitchen. I started with push ups and now have unliquid biceps for the first time in my life.  I got into the push ups over-zealously for a few weeks until I hurt my back and now they’re the size of small oranges. As I’ve not done any since, they’re also shrinking, slowly, like oranges left on a fruit bowl. I consider asking Megan, Kelsey’s mother, if she wants to see them while she can but it seems somehow inappropriate.

“You want to see my arms?” I ask. “They got big.” What the hell, she saw more than that, back when.

“Not especially,” she replies. The theory that Past, Present and Future coexist, their separateness a fallacy, a limitation of our perception, there just one constant ongoing moment?  Scientifically proven by the tone of those two words.

We discuss when Kelsey might go back which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. The present expanding to the horizon in all directions.


THE INSTAGRAM CHALLENGE

Kelsey shows me the photo. I pull a face.

“What?!”

“I thought the idea’s to show solidarity against patriarchal legislature and the murder of women. You look like you’re put out they’ve cancelled ‘Dawson’s Creek.”

I see the blank, stop myself from explaining what Dawson’s Creek was.

She turns the screen to herself, muses, says “I like it.”

“It’s a good photo, I just don’t see how it… Maybe submit an angrier one?   Where you look like you’re fighting!” I throw a pose and feel foolish.

“No,” she says. “I like this one. I’m leaving it.” Backpockets the phone.

“You do look really nice in it,” I insist. “Will you send me a copy?”

Both of us dying deaths here.


WORK

She spends most of each day working in her room, wrapped in a blanket. It’s late July. If she’s not on a chair, in the blanket, she’s under the duvet, laptop on her stomach. I’ve given up talking about long term damage to her posture.

“I’m making tea. You want some?”

She takes her headset off. I repeat myself.

“Please. And a biscuit.”

Does she ever cocoon, in the blanket, under the duvet?

“Go,” she says, “I’ve got another call.”

I nudge the door to behind me.


REAPPEARANCE

I have an idea for a novel or a film or I don’t know what, if only I could figure out where to start it. A young kid, late teens, early twenties, turns up at home having disappeared for a day or so after a party. None of his friends who went with him saw him leave so they’d assumed he’d walked home on his own or caught a ride from someone else. The party’s on some farmland, remote. He could easily have staggered off drunk, stoned, into the fields to sleep off whatever, nobody’s especially worried about him until he reappears and his face is scratched up, his clothes scorched, slightly, like a hot iron had been sat on them for too long in several places. That and the fact that, when asked where he’s been, he tells his family he was abducted by a UFO, which makes them really mad, why can’t he ever tell the truth and so on. His older brother, convinced he knows what’s going on and what’s always been going on, thinks another guy’s involved, and maybe it turned sour, these not being the most liberal parts they’re living in. The plot thickens when it transpires that a girl who was at the party has also not been seen in days. The kid, instantly a suspect, tells the police, “yeah, I saw her on the UFO, I didn’t know who she was” but of course nobody believes him only, for lack of a body, neither can they arrest him for any crime. She never turns up, dead or alive. His whole life thereafter, he’s treated as a freak and possible girl murderer, struggles to hold down a job, stares into the night sky for hours, is a general mess.

“My god,” Kelsey says when I tell her my idea. “This really happened to you, didn’t it?”


LESS

I decide I’m maybe drinking too much tea and start to cut down. I tentatively restart the push ups. The oranges already look less dried up.

I decide to do the garden fence, since there’s paint left over. Many of the slats cross over like my bottom teeth and, if you stand in the right spot, you can watch the neighbours sunbathe, except the same gaps mean that they’d see you back. Were you to do that. I do my best to straighten the boards.

I’d barely started with the painting when Kelsey startles me. I can’t recall the last time I saw her in direct sunlight. Her eyes don’t seem too familiar with it either so I toss her my sunglasses, which she misses, and one of the lens cracks on the paving but the gesture, I feel, is appreciated and she puts them on. The cracked lens outright falls out the frame but she more or less fumbles it back in.

“You missed a bit,” she says, wonk eyed.  I stand there.  She stands there.

She comes and takes the brush from my hand.


NBlack

Nick Black’s writing has been published in lit mags including Okay Donkey, Splonk, Ellipsis Zine, Entropy, Bending Genres, and Jellyfish Review. He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.

Bird Dog Studios, 1962 by Alice Kaltman

Josie kneels on knees scuffed raw. She tilts her chin upwards as if to take communion. Her bright blue eyes—her ma’s eyes—are lasered at the bulbous silver microphone perched like a hornet’s nest on the stand in front of her.

Pa sits in a dark corner of the recording studio watching her, as always, his brown eyes steeled and rimmed with weary. The pittance of black hair still on his head is slicked back; pink scalp announces itself in alternating stripes. He’s worn his best shirt for this recording session because Bird Dog Studios are Big Time. His button down is bleached and starched so hard Josie could swear she had heard a crack each time Pa turned the steering wheel of the truck as they drove the four long hours towards this place. Towards this opportunity. Pa wouldn’t even crack a window for fear the churned dust from the dirt roads would sully his shirt’s startling whiteness. Josie got droopy from the stalled, hot air inside the truck, nearly fainted, and only felt back to herself once Pa got her a Pepsi from the soda machine in the Bird Dog lounge.

The sound engineer, a nice man who looks like Mr. Payard, her fifth teacher at the school she no longer attends—because it would be a sin to send Josie to school when she has what Pa tells everyone is “a heavenly calling”—adjusts the knobs and dials on the black box attached to the mike. There’s the pop, sizzle, fizz, and sharp tang of electric current on the verge of disaster. But only the verge.

“We’re good to go again, Sweetheart,” nods the nice man. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Mr. Payard had also been nice. He’d told Josie’s ma that Josie was bright the one and only day her ma picked her up from school like the other mothers did all the time. “Whip smart that one”, he’d said, and her mother gasped as if Mr. Payard knew about Pa’s whips, saved for special occasions. Josie squeezed her mother’s arm and consoled, “Not real whips, Mama. All Mr. Payard means is that I’m a good student.”

Now in the still air of Bird Dog’s recording studio, Josie raises her arms, sticky palms clenched. She inhales the deep suck of air her pa likes to tell people is Josie’s way of taking in the Holy Spirit. Sweat stains halo her armpits, ripening the slippery polyester of Josie’s Sunday best. The crimson sash around her waist binds her tighter than a trussed turkey, but there’s no time to adjust. Josie sings her pure little heart out. Voice as sweet as sun-ripened peaches. Voice like an angel. Voice like an exhilarated dove.

Josie gives herself over to song. She doesn’t know what, if anything, she’s channeling. All she knows is she’s singing for Ma, back home. Josie hits perfectly pitched high C’s then drops to a register so low it even shakes the blanketed boards of the studio walls. She imagines her ma bent over the ironing board, or the sink, or the toilet. Scrubbing, pressing, mending. Trying to keep things in order, to save the threadbare, to stretch the dinner of grits with an old cans of beans, to make due so that when Josie and Pa return he won’t have any dark reasons in him. So her ma won’t have to bend over in agony, and Josie won’t have to shut her mouth, her eyes, her ears, after all have been wide, wide open here in Memphis, at Bird Dog Recording Studio where the room is filled with the perfumed notes of hallelujahs and nothing can ever go wrong.


alice_headshot_glasses_

Alice Kaltman is the author of the story collection Staggerwing, and the novels Wavehouse and The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh. Her new novel, Dawg Towne is forthcoming in April 2021 from word west. Her stories appear in numerous journals including Hobart, Whiskey Paper, Joyland, and BULL: Men’s Fiction, and in the anthologies The Pleasure You Suffer, On Montauk, and Feckless Cunt. Alice lives, writes, and surfs in Brooklyn and Montauk, NY.

Sucker by Chelsea Stickle

We’re reaching through the chain-link fence to get at the tiny yellow honeysuckles when Macy remembers something. Her eyes are sparkling like her mother has promised her afterschool ice cream for no reason. I drag the honeysuckle to my mouth and continue the charade. I suck and suck the way Macy taught me, but I never taste anything. Not really.

Between slurps Macy tells me that she found out there’s a way to learn if you’ll ever get cancer. You just have to see if your hand is bigger than your face. It seems too easy, but Macy’s dad is a doctor. My dad’s an accountant.

I dump my flower in the crumpled pile at my knees, and lean back onto my heels. The trouble with knowing what’s coming is that there are fewer surprises. My fingers spread and my palm covered in love lines and family truths comes closer to whisper what my life will be. Full of birthday parties and midnight kisses and ice cream cake, I hope. Even when I’m old.

My life line rapidly accelerates. Macy’s hand is covering mine like she’s pieing me. One of my fingers is in my eye. My nose feels wrong. The sting reverberates in waves across my face. Only a little faster than my brain understanding what just happened.

The smack is loud enough to get the attention of the girls playing horses nearby but not loud enough for Ms. Cunningham to notice. The girls go into hysterics, falling over each other like they weren’t about to ride each other.

Macy retracts revealing a face full of unbridled glee. Their laughter is her afterschool ice cream and today she’s getting two generous scoops of mint chip. She twirls the flower on her skort and sticks it in her mouth like a prize. The discarded yellow flowers on the woodchips around her, a flower crown.


Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Read more at chelseastickle.com/stories or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

Mentholatum by Ross McMeekin

The morning after Steve Lando discovered he was going to be a father, he and Teddy Nguyen drove Highway 2 through Gold Bar and Index up to Steven’s Pass to go snowboarding. The weather was dry until they hit Skykomish, when sleet started to fall, which slowly turned into a thick wet snow as they made their way further up the mountain.

Teddy rolled down his window to flick ash from a cigarette. The truck tires spun for a quick moment on the snow before catching. They were halfway through listening to Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil” when Teddy turned down the music and screamed. Teddy could do a good David Lee Roth animal howl, though there were very few people who could appreciate it.

Teddy turned down the music. “Lando, you’re bumming me out. I can feel your vibes. They’re gross.” He changed lanes to pass a Suburban that was going twenty through the packed snow.

“Relax,” said Steve. He turned the music back up. He worried about what a person should listen to around a child and at what volume. He didn’t know what one did with a child. He’d never even held one.

“Get it together, motherfucker,” yelled Teddy over the music. “Today we ride. Park and pow!” He slapped the wheel with his palm.

Steve hadn’t mentioned the pregnancy to Teddy, or anyone else. When his girlfriend Mona had told him the news, they’d stayed up late talking. The only way he could describe the conversation was that it felt like a phone interview, with all the silent pauses, the awkwardness. It was tough to put to words feelings you didn’t recognize. He’d managed it by being polite and asking questions, and letting Mona do most the talking, which she’d seemed grateful to do, or at least willing. After he left her apartment, all he could think to do was lift weights, so he went to 24 Hour Fitness and worked out until he could barely move.

They parked along the side of the road a quarter mile away and slowly trudged toward the slopes in their boots, snow piled up high and dirty beside the road. They planned to meet up with their friend Barney, who taught lessons in the morning and worked the afternoon shift at the Jupiter Express chairlift, which ran up nearly fifteen hundred vertical feet in four minutes. After spending most of the morning in the backcountry on the far side of the mountain, they found Barney at the chairlift and got in line.

The lift attendant wore a beard tied into braids and was eating popcorn from a bag. Steve could smell the butter, which reminded him of movie nights when he was a child. He wondered how old a child had to be to watch movies.

It was their turn to get on the lift. The three of them hustled up to the red line and waited for the chair to swoop around and pick them up. A single got in next to them to fill out the fourth seat, a boy in skis and a parka that had a patch of the Nordic cross on the breast. Steve wondered how old he was but didn’t ask, because when he was a kid he’d always wished he was older, and admitting his actual age was always a letdown.

They all sat down and the chair rushed them up the mountain, lifting them through the tree line. Out past the lifts was a steep face covered in the scattered lumps and depressions of a mogul run. To the sides were evergreen trees laced with snow. Steve watched two skiers traverse the cat trails snaking between the trees. How long before you could teach a kid to snowboard?

“The air up here is like a drug,” said Teddy.

“I took Sudafed last night,” said the boy. “I had a cold but now it’s gone.”

“Well here’s something for you,” said Teddy. “Hockey players used to take handfuls of Sudafed before games, to give them energy. That’s because the same drugs that are in Sudafed are also in meth. Do you know what meth is?”

“Let’s not talk about meth,” said Steve.

“They keep the meth Sudafed behind the counter now,” said Barney, pulling one of his gloves tight. “They have to see your I.D. if you want to buy it. And they’ll only sell you that one package.”

“I play hockey,” said the boy.

“I almost forgot,” said Teddy. He took off his glove and dug around in his pocket. He handed what looked like tightly-wrapped candies to each of them, including the boy. “Mentholatum cough drops,” he said. The boy looked nervous. “They’re fine. They’re cough drops. Suck on them for a few seconds then open your mouth to the cold. It’ll feel like ice fairies are dancing inside.”

Steve removed his gloves and slid them into his pockets and unwrapped the lozenge. It was marbled white, slightly translucent, like the ice covering the lake of the winter cabin he’d visit once a year with his family, the lake he’d learned to skate on, and then hockey, with Teddy. He popped the lozenge into his mouth and sucked. He opened his mouth and felt the sharp cold. But there was also a warmth in his stomach and neck: this would be a trick a father would show a child.


Ross McMeekin

Ross McMeekin’s stories have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Redivider, Tin House Flash Fiction Fridays, and X-R-A-Y. His debut novel, The Hummingbirds (Skyhorse), came out in 2018.

Seeping by Lucy Smith

In those small, empty hours, you find your hand putting the milk bottle in the oven, the cornflakes in the cupboard under the sink. 

A cat flashes its eyes at you from the top of the back garden fence and you know, through the window, that it sees. It sees the soul is out of you. There’s nothing inside your skin. It’s the time of the night when you could do anything. 

Slumped on the kitchen stool, you look at your fingers like they belong to something else.

The soul has to wash back in, on the shush of the dawn, when the oily sky spreads its pink and blue. Until then the streets run in dark threads from your gate. 

Your son sleeps in the room above. His soul is also out to play at this time of night. His head is filled with dreams of dark water; cold sharks sliding past his skin, red and yellow fish. There’s a diver ahead in a thick suit that covers everything but the hands, which are his dad’s.

You can’t dream anymore, because you can’t sleep. Your fingers are too cold to feel, and the cornflakes are left soggy on the counter, as your bare feet move towards the back door.  

Later, you will retrace your steps, wash up your bowl, make your son’s breakfast. Until then it’s just your toes on wet grit, ivy growing in chaos down the black alley, the glowing eyes of animals, the unshakeable chill. 


Lucy_Smith

Lucy Smith is a flash fiction, prose poem, and short story writer from North West England, currently based in Cardiff, Wales, where she has completed an MA in Creative Writing, two artist residencies, and co-written an audio story. She is the creator of Talking Ink, a podcast in association with Seren Books, showcasing flash fiction writers and poets and featuring music from local artists. Her fiction has been published by Palm-Sized Press and won awards from Legend Press and Lancaster University. Find out more on her website: lucysmithwriter.wordpress.com Continue reading “Seeping by Lucy Smith”

Remember the Sonics by D.H. Valdez

One late August afternoon, Roger Ruiz sat on a bench atop a hill that overlooked his former high school. He was wearing a white Sonics jersey, which is significant to the story because it is always nice to remember the Sonics and because in a few moments, the jersey would be covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash.

He was smoking a cigarette and was mildly concerned that this would be the one that sent him over the threshold into addiction. But more than this, his thoughts were on Mr. Garza, his former teacher who he had seen earlier in the day at the grocery store. Roger had put a loaf of rye bread in front of his face to avoid being seen. He loved Mr. Garza and was not sure why he did it. The reflexive act disturbed him enough to go atop the hill to smoke and contemplate and reflect.

Roger dropped his cigarette and made an attempt to put it out but his foot missed the still-smoldering butt. Oblivious to his mistake, he reached for another cigarette. The brown grass that had been burnt from the hot Seattle summer caught quickly. A fire about the size of the palm of a hand sprung from the earth. Startled, Roger stood up from the bench but rose too quickly and clumsily, causing him to trip. The fire grew to two palms.

Now on his back, he needed to act quickly. He aimed his body for the fire. He rolled over the flames and successfully put it out. His waxy Sonics jersey was now covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash. Everything was under control but he fled the scene, zipping down the hill towards his former school.

Later while on a jog, Mr. Garza ran slowly up to where Roger had recently been. He noticed a strange patch on the slanted face of the hill. A clean circle of dirt exposed around a blackened perimeter of barbecued grass. He patted the back of his head. The spot reminded him of his balding hair. He finished his run.

Rain poured heavy in Seattle that September. The grass on the hill greened much quicker than most years. The burnt patch began to heal, to grow.

One weekend that fall, Mr. Garza bought a Sonics hat at the mall. He took the tag off and placed it on his head immediately. The hat made him feel much better about his appearance. As he was heading back to his car he noticed Roger shopping at another store but didn’t move to say hello, thinking back to the time weeks before when he had seen him hiding behind a loaf of bread. As he remembered this, he saw Roger smiling and coming his way.

“Hey Mr. Garza!” Roger said. The two shook hands.


D.H._Valdez

D.H. Valdez teaches Social Studies at his former high school. He holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Washington. He and his wife Holly grew up together in Seattle and continue to live in the city. They are avid sports fans and desperately await the return of the Sonics. Valdez has previously been published in Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Citron Review.

The One-Armed Man and His Dog by Tiffany Hsieh

The one-armed man who moved in next door has a little dog. The dog is shared between him and
his ex who comes now and then to walk the dog. Sometimes we see the one-armed man and the
dog outside the house. Now and then we see the ex and the dog on the trail. Our dog is usually
friendly with other dogs but the one-armed man’s dog has no friends. A couple of times our dog
goes out of her way to be neighbourly with his dog and his dog whines as if our dog is going to
maul him because our dog is bigger and taller and has the ability to growl a deep growl. Both
times the one-armed man turns into a mama bear and shoos our dog away with his leg, as in
kicking. Both times we can only watch in horror and call our dog back and say sorry to the one-
armed man. We say sorry to him because we can’t think of anything else to say to a man who has
only one arm, like, Please stop kicking our dog. We say sorry because the one-armed man may
be ex-military or a victim of a car crash, and he is holding the dog’s leash in his only hand and
kicking is his only option besides standing there and watching his dog get pawed, as in playing.
Each time we try our best to avoid the one-armed man and his dog for a few days. We discourage
our dog from going pee-pee in the backyard when his dog is going pee-pee in his backyard. At
times this is unavoidable and our dog sniffs along the fence trying to be neighbourly. Three times
now his dog whines as if upset by our dog’s nose but the reality, according to the ex on the trail
now and then, is that the dog is going blind. All three times the one-armed man shoos our dog
away from under the fence even though our dog is in our backyard and not his. All three times
we call our dog inside and slide the patio door shut behind us. We leave the one-armed man be
because we can’t think of anything else to do with a man who has lost an arm and whose little
dog is going blind.

TiffanyH
Tiffany Hsieh was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada at the age of fourteen with her parents. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Salamander, The Shanghai Literary Review, Atticus Review, Poet Lore, Sonora Review, the Apple Valley Review, and other publications. She lives in southern Ontario with her husband and their dog.

A History of Baptism* by Christopher Bowen

First find the body of water you knew as a child, thinking about the body.


Baptism was practiced by John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher, in the early 1st century. Revered as a major religious figure in Christianity and Islam, some saying he belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a Hebrew messiah and who practiced Baptism ritually.


Anais Nin writes in The House of Incest, “My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water. I looked with chameleon eyes upon the changing face of the world, looked with anonymous vision upon my uncompleted self. I remember my first birth in water.”


Baptism is practiced in several different ways. Aspersion is the sprinkling of water on the head. Affusion is the pouring of water over the head.


Walk towards the beach or drop past the deer trail clearing to the muddy bank. Don’t slip on the summer grass, you will need to strip down. Now praise the sun that reflects off the water’s surface by stretching your arms out in a Y towards it. Good. Feel the way it warms your skin, the vibration of it. If it is cloudy and there is no reflection, there cannot be baptism. If it is cloudy and there are incoming storms, you cannot be purified this way.


*See also: rain as a form of baptism.


Precipitation is performed in several ways. Remember first your birth in water in a porcelain tub in a house by a seaside cliff. You take the clothes off, the sea crashing on nearby rocks. Remember how it wailed for you, too, once.


*See also: driftwood on the shore, driftwood in the water, driftwood in your heart. It may take years to come ashore.


The tide comes, small crabs and nonsense things crawling into pools and crags until morning, the places you can’t get them out of or speak about. A sand bar above the horizon’s edge is an image that means there’s still hope. Your humanity stands a quarter of a mile out and you swim the marathon.


John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded, so you dip your feet in the frothing water. The wave is something the ocean does, too. Don’t hesitate, but there’s room for regret because you’re halfway past the waist now. That scrap of fishing net to the right has knots of hemp and cotton and promises. Waves lap each other like birthday cake icing and white foam—the visions of your parents nearby and a paper hat strapped to your head by string in a darkly lit room. The joy of your eyes blowing the candles out with all the wind your little life lungs can handle, it is enough.


Experts say the gravitational pull of the moon ebbs and flows the coming and going of tides on beaches across the world. Still others say there’s billions and billions of stars and solar systems to find out there. They say you are eternally saved after a lifetime of baptizing and for some reason that is just enough for this first lesson.


profile_pic

Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River (http://www.burningriver.info.)

The Field of Dead Girls by Cassandra de Alba

A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.

The dead girls can float, but they still sin.

Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.

What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.

The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.

Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.

The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.

Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.

The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.

The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.


AuthorPhoto_credit_GennaRose_NethercottCassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.

Ex-Lover Speaks of Appalachia by Barbara Costas-Biggs

My second year in Tucson, the town next to my hometown flooded, made CNN, people canoeing down 52, standing on top of their cars. I showed my roommates, telling them I knew that carry-out, knew that intersection.  When I met the boy I was sleeping with, he laughed when I said the word “duvet.” I said it right, I used it correctly.  He thought it was funny that an Appalachian girl knew what a duvet was, maybe even had the audacity to own a duvet.  He told me a story about his mother, a nurse who grew into a politician’s wife, learning about hill people being tended to by doctors on horseback.  He told me like it was yesterday.  Like it was my story.  Like I got my meningitis vaccine from a man sitting in a saddle, savior to us all.

 


 

biggs

Barbara Costas-Biggs lives and works in Appalachian southern Ohio. Her work has been published by Glass, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, Ghost City Press, 8Poems, and others. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.