No Such Person by Alina Stefanescu

“There is no such person over the long term.”
–Alain de Botton

I.
When I leave my college sweetheart, it’s with conviction in the sweetness of his heart. He’s good in a world where goodness is held against men. He’s my best friend.

He tells me our cats curl their fuzzy bodies into the absence my shadow leaves on the couch. He texts photos of my former butt-marks with kitties inside. The cats thrive.

I leave behind Romanian oil paintings, heirloom tapestries, rattan chairs, CD collection, French sheet music, countless novels that carried me through adolescence.

“Have you lost your marbles?” my mother wonders. She loves him. He is the best.

“I left my marbles,” I say. This is a mantra: an action asserted contra what was left.

II.
The first sign: an ache in the breasts, a tenderness. I have a new man now, but no kitties. Other fellows showing interest. A few dogs. More mammals than one should manage without calculus.

I have a new mantra: “All balls in the air.”

If this is a game, I’m not playing. If this is a set-up, I want to be surprised.

The bra holds my breasts like fresh bruises.

The new man says pro-life. Another man says lesser evil. All men say civil society will take care of it.

I keep the balls in the air, glance around the lobby and wonder, “What civil society?”

Where there is a child, I see a woman attached. Kids are like urchins poised atop mommy rocks and men are like Starburst. Men are like candy, not stars.

Next comes nausea. A sign urges consumer choice. A man laments liberal media.

A darkening of nipples. A different man says job creation. Some men say down-sizing is the future is necessary. Men say what it takes to make America great again.

I lean in–that’s what. I lean into the toilet. What bubbles from my mouth is collateral damage. Or baby thighs, fetus eyes that can’t see the shell they’ve bloomed inside.

III.
“She can’t really be pregnant.”

“Of course she can’t. But she is.”

“Now she’s fucked herself in your mother’s pussy.”

They speak in Romanian, using expressions that don’t pass through customs without gaining weight, without becoming baggage. In my native tongue, the most potent curses are attached to mothers.

The green light of my grandfather’s hearing aid is on. That’s good. He doesn’t know I’m pregnant yet. I imagine his mother’s pussy is still safe.

My grandfather collects communist stamps from the Socialist Republic of Romania. The images are vivid studies in motherland myths, how leaders make complicity popular. Pop culture moves propaganda into hive minds.

On these stamps, the nation is a young mother bearing bread loaves, daisies, and babies.

The man brings an unlicked stamp to his nostrils and inhales the sticky side. It’s pure, untainted, high-value.

IV.
I stay with my childhood friend in her Georgetown mock Tudor. She has a son and a recent divorce.

“Who knew they could be lanky at six?” I wonder.

Her brown eyes thicken with boxed pinot. “I didn’t know anything,” she admits.

As she speaks, a moth flings its gray body against the glass doors. Reggae seeps into the yard, soft enough to sound belligerent.

I head down M street to procure sashimi. Taxies and bureaucrats light the dusk with dull car horns. On the sidewalk near the park, a doe nibbles oak leaves. Her eyes lift, meet mine, in the middle of this furious city, and I know we can live through anything.

V.
A silver locket lacking a photo inside the heart. It was autumn. A leaf fell from the dogwood, orange imposed across the red of his sports jacket.

I brushed the leaf from his shoulder. Laid the locket in his mouth. Said: “speak.”

“It tastes like metal,” he whispered.

VI.
When I left him, the interlude between day and night tangled like underbrush at the edge of a forest. A blur of various light, cats, special pillowcases, embroidery floss, his best soup, our french press that traveled to Paris. The fur and muscle of dark was muzzled by these memories.

Today is April 14th, one day after my birthday, one day after the sweetheart’s birthday, also the day Mayakovsky took his own life. Like a ride-or-die poet, Mayakovsky’s last letter was a script that undermined life.

I want to make love to every human in the hour before their suicide. I want to be the last salt they taste, a final sweat, a swear word.

VII.
Instead, I marry the mammal I can’t forget.

I tell him: “When I leave you, red and pink valentine hearts will be awning the pharmacy aisles.”

He thinks the plot is strong, but the characters need developing. He’s right.

I sit with the notebook and untangle the arms of an unwritten story.

He accuses me of functioning under the availability model for marriage.

My lawyer friend accidentally had sex with a transient man, a regular known round the parks for his avid vagrancies. She didn’t realize it until she volunteered at the Sunday Night Soup kitchen.

“That was just a story. Not your real friend,” he says.

“Are you sure? I miss her. I really like her. As a person.”

“That’s your thing, isn’t it, Alina? Liking people you make up to suit a story?”

In the morning, it’s hard to tell the difference between a dream and a desire. I wanted that Woman they advertised.
Desire inflames hope. I let the man hold my hand. “We can make this work,” he says.

He looks fabulous in my Che t-shirt. I let myself imagine the next part. Imagine men become solid mammals waking to diaper babies. Let myself want more than he promised. All of it.

I want to shepherd a revolutionary love through the strip malls of Alabama. I want a beloved community. And I do. I do. But when I pass the Victoria’s Secret, the eyes of those angels own me. And I want that Woman that flies off the American shelf.


 

AlinaS

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama. Her poems and prose are recent or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT,
Cloudbank, Prairie Schooner, NELLE, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor of Pidgeonholes, President of the Alabama State Poetry Society, and co-founder of the Magic City Poetry Festival. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the ASPS Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her first poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, 2017) included Pushcart-nominated poems. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and was published in May 2018. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.

This Story Probably Won’t Mean What You Think It Will by L Mari Harris

Requiem

My father and I dream in sync one night. A woman in a black cloak, hooded, is chasing each of us down a dirt hill. There are crows and a full moon in the dream. The crows fly out of the cloaked woman’s mouth and scatter. The next morning over oatmeal, we talk over each other, each trying to tell my mother about the dream. My father says he doesn’t remember the crows and the moon. I tell him he must not have been paying attention, because they were there.

Gun Shy

My husband pulls up one day with a black dog leaning against him in the cab. That’s the spot where I normally sit, one hand resting on my husband’s leg, ticking off the stops we have to make—Orscheln’s for chicken feed, Dr. Grismann’s to get my stitches out (another story for another day), Country Mart for milk and shoulder pork on sale for $1.99/pound. This big black dog looks like she’s always sat next to my husband. She is sweet, gentle, eager to please. He says he’s going to take her out, test her, see if she’s gun shy. She sleeps between us every night, kicking out in her dreams, retrieving felled pheasants and doves.

8mm Home Movie From The Eighties

Fade in: Another girl’s red and gold cowboy boots. What she looks like doesn’t matter, so keep that camera on her feet. Cut to Scene: I tackle her after school, pinning her to the gravel with my knees. Unzip those boots thisfast and zip them up over my own chubby calves thisfast.  Take off into the bean field behind the school licketysplit. Maybe then she’ll want to be my friend and invite me for sleep-overs. Dissolve to Scene: We’ll make Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Pretend we don’t listen at the door as we each use the bathroom at bedtime. Pinky swear we’ll walk those high school halls together every day until we either graduate or one of us gets a boyfriend. Zoom! Fade out. Cue credits.

Look Me In The Eye

My father tells me I need to toughen up, that we’re going deer hunting. We follow a creek bed that opens up into a small field of bluestem. We are downwind from a doe he spots. I have already been warned the shot will be loud. I am ready for it, braced to the dirt, toilet paper stuffed in my ears earlier when he wasn’t looking. The doe looks up. We lock eyes. I don’t want her to leave me. I scream, still rooted to the dirt. My father startles, firing into the air. I scream louder. The doe pivots and disappears up and over a hill. He looks down at me, hand half raised in the November cold. “Jesus Christ, you’re worthless.”

Little Bear, Fierce Bear

My mother draws the curtains closed. “Stay away from that window. Bad storm’s comin’.” I throw a blanket over my head, clutching it under my chin, and tell myself stories. I am a frontier woman. A grieving widow in black lace. A flushed-cheek baby, face tucked under my hoodie, squinting against the gales. The house creaks on its foundation. The cottonwood beyond the front porch sways, throwing tentacles across the walls. The tentacles grow faces, growling, grabbing at my arms and legs, grasping at my blanket. I will myself into a bear, a huge bear, a fierce and snarling grizzly, and rip that tree limb by limb.

Genesis

Blue. Blue buildings, blue sidewalks, blue potted trees on each street corner. A blue giraffe with a paisley scarf wrapped around and around and around its neck waits next to me at a crosswalk. It stares straight ahead, waiting for the light to change. I’m already guessing the light will be blue, but maybe a softer shade, like a pale cornflower or a duck egg. Once, I dreamed a shadowy figure was chasing me down a hill. A human, though. Not this giraffe. This giraffe seems like it would be jovial, doing shots off its own belly, if we were at a party together. A doctor tells me my headaches are from the boy growing inside of me.


 

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L Mari Harris lives in Nebraska, where she works as a copywriter. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at http://www.lmariharris.wordpress.com.

My Dada Is A Bird by Adam Trodd

Ice crunch. Teeth tingle. Mama says it will crack enamel. Mama says lots of rules. You’re like a human rocking chair. Haw haw I rock more. She haw haws too and holds me warm, her arms across my belly like a soft belt and we rock rock rock together our shadow two shapes and one loving on the summer wall. Lemonade cutting our tongues when we sip it ooh not enough sugar. Yellow taste still alive when I lick my lips later. There is everywhere colours. Frank is lavender and helps me sleep cos of his songs in a gentle river voice. He’s not my Dada no cos Dada flew away that time. I love Frank. His palm on my forehead is a cool stone. Conor is charcoal that is dark but still orange on the inside like a hot stove. Conor burns and bellows so like a bull sometimes I think my ears will split. He says I should stay in respite and never come home again, retard. Words hissing and soft falling like grey ash on me while Mama and Frank are busy. I draw pictures of Dada who is free with the wings of a dove, the sun behind the whiteness of him and sky the colour of his old Ford Escort around him. Dada had to be free Mama says and Frank just nods before walking away. When I am in bed Conor whispers to me Dada jumped off the balcony because he couldn’t stand having a girl like me. But I don’t believe him because when I shut my eyes my Dada is flying so free in the light of a million lemon suns and he gives me a crown that shimmers like the sea.


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Adam Trodd’s fiction and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Irish Times, The Incubator Journal, Crannóg, Banshee, The Molotov Cocktail, Ellipsis, The Launchpad and The Caterpillar, as well as the Bath Flash Fiction and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. He won the inaugural Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition and the Book of Kells Creative Writing Competition as well as being one of the selected poets for Ireland’s first Poetry Jukebox installation in Belfast. He was a Best Small Fictions 2018 nominee and is part of the XBorders:Accord project with the Irish Writers Centre. He lives and works in Dublin.

And No More Shall We Part by Sutton Strother

Not in our home, Joe and Katherine agreed, but there’d been some debate about accommodations. Joe wanted luxury while Katherine argued any old rattrap would do. Eventually they compromised – they’d long ago perfected the art – on a deluxe room in mid-priced chain halfway between the city and the airport.

They checked into their room at two and hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob before locking the door behind them. Katherine opened the window and tossed out their plastic key card.

“Gimme your phone.”

Joe nodded. “Hadn’t thought of that.”

Out went both phones, cracked dead rectangles now on the sidewalk below.

“What about the room phone?”

“We might want room service.”

They chuckled at the idea, faces hot with tenderness for one another.

Joe disconnected the phone line then settled onto the bed nearer the window. Katherine glanced at its twin, but her eyes stung at the thought of lying too far from her husband. When she turned back to him, he smiled and patted the spot beside him. Katherine climbed in, snuggling into the soft corduroy of his favorite jacket.

“How do you feel?” he whispered.

“Happy.”

Joe flipped channels on the TV until he found a sitcom rerun. They’d missed the first ten minutes, but Katherine had seen it before. When the episode was over, another started up. Halfway through, Katherine’s hands began to tremble. A heat was building deep in her belly, and then it rose like mercury in a thermometer up the back of her throat.

“It’s here.”

She leapt from the bed and raced into the bathroom. She retched four times into the toilet bowl, until she was emptied out, then fell back against the cool tile.

Joe looked on from the doorway, his body filling the frame almost completely. So sturdy, Joe. Those broad shoulders. She remembered nibbling the skin on his left shoulder after they’d made love for the first time, raking her little fingers through the cloud of hair on his chest. She’d laughed that night at the contrast of their bodies, delighted that two specimens of the same species could look so different from one another.

“Feel better?”

“If only.”

“It starts quicker in women. Ends quicker for men, though.”

“Don’t,” said Katherine.

“It’s okay. It’s true. And you won’t be far behind.”

Joe stepped into the room and flushed away her mess. His big hands took hold of her beneath the shoulders, guiding her to her feet.

It went on like that until around midnight. At the end, Katherine felt so much lighter, nothing left to heave up but acrid air.

“I think I have a fever,” she said with mild surprise.

It came for Joe soon after. He didn’t bother with the toilet, spilled his guts into the room’s little trash can instead.
“Sleep,” he urged Katherine when the first wave had passed.

“I should look after you,” she protested, but her body gave her no choice.

She woke to sunlight and stiff joints, a nest of her own black hair on the pillow case. When she ran a hand along her scalp, more strands slip free. Beside her, Joe slept, one arm encircling the trash can half-filled with his vomit. Vicious little lesions – bright red, seeping – speckled his chest and jawline. Katherine’s fingers skimmed along her own skin and found the same raw marks on the back of her arms. She gave one a curious prod and hissed. At the sound, Joe stirred but didn’t wake. Katherine gathered her hair from the pillow, braided it into a wreath and laid it over her husband’s chest, a talisman to ward off further harm.

That evening, they discovered they could pluck their fingernails loose, easy as flower petals. They arranged them into a garden on the bathroom counter, and within a few hours they’d encircled the garden with a fence built from their broken teeth. Blood dribbled from their mouths as they reminisced about the tulips they’d seen on a trip to Holland years before. Their words were gummy and would’ve been unintelligible to anyone else. They talked until their hearing went then made their eyes say the words instead. Ready, said Joe’s eyes, and Katherine’s answered, Wait. They repeated the words until shapes began to blur and the light in the room grew dim then, blind, dragged themselves back to bed.

There was no way for Katherine to know what time it was when the pain in her ankles woke her. The tendons there had snapped like two guitar strings. A scream clawed its way out of her, shaking the bed with its force. Behind her, Joe quickened, but whether it was her pain or some pain all his own that startled him, Katherine couldn’t know. He buried his face into her neck and kissed her over and over, spilling hot tears into what was left of her hair.

After that, Katherine didn’t sleep again. She pinched Joe’s arm once every few minutes, waited for him to pinch back. She did this until he stopped pinching.

It took Katherine half an hour to strip away their clothes, another hour still to roll Joe into the bathroom and lay him in the tub. He’d been breathing shallowly when she’d begun. By the time she flung herself over the rim, her fall broken by his soft body, he’d stopped breathing altogether.

Her foot inched up the wall, and she toed the faucet handle until the showerhead emitted its lukewarm spray. Water streamed over her face, her belly. It trickled between her legs. Eventually it sought the spaces where her skin met Joe’s, filled those spaces then dissolved them, melding their bodies together until there was no Katherine, no Joe, only one silent mass of bone and flesh and, minutes later, only white bone. In time, the bones dissolved, too, and the whole mess was carried down the drain in a neat little stream, and the water ran clear again.


 

SStrother

Sutton Strother is a writer and educator based in New York. Her work appears or is forthcoming at Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, Longleaf Review, Atticus Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She Tweets at @suttonstrother.

 

Daughter Of, 1949-1958 by Stacy Trautwein Burns

Louise was the first to leave and we called her traitor. She never wanted to stay in the first place; her son had a ranch near Denver.

They’d already started the dam. Early morning, the breeze just right, you could hear it—the sound of machines.

There wasn’t much to pack. What do you take when you’re losing your home? No sense in the tractor; there’d be no farm. No room for the sofa, where we were headed.

Graham and the boys took these things to auction. The whole town did. Everyone left for auction and I was alone in the streets. I walked them to see how it would be, the tracks along Main Street flooded, silt rising with every step. It was still dry, of course, but with the town empty, I could see it that way. I could hold my hands, at the station, against the tracks and feel them rust, then flake, grow slick with algae. I followed them out of town, to the church at the edge and the cemetery beyond.

I knelt at your stone, the one marked Daughter Of, and the water followed me. My skirt lifted in the imagined flood. Dirt drifted until your box uncovered and you spilled out, body as soft as I remembered. We floated together, with no one to see, wide-eyed beneath a surface crossed by boats’ and skiers’ wakes.

I stayed too long. I’m the reason they moved you and the others—they found me at auction’s end and said you couldn’t be left. Of course not.

A man photographed the rows of stones so we could lay you in order in your new home. Then we wrapped each stone in cotton—some were near eighty years old, from when the town first founded. And then we dug, backhoes like bugs, and stacked you with the others in the backs of pickups. We drove an hour away, to the new cemetery to unload, but by then it was too late to re-bury.

I saw my chance and took it.

Before dawn, I crept from Graham’s side. The boys’ breaths fell like a breeze down the stairs and I hurried outside. I pushed the truck to the road so the engine wouldn’t wake them, and I drove to the new place, where your box lay.

I opened it.

A year’d gone by and my arms ached to hold you, but you weren’t the same. It took awhile to collect myself.

A thing like that ain’t natural, of course. It changed me, I know. But I held you and loved holding you and remembered combing your hair that last day, how you fought to be gone, the picnic at the creek already begun and you anxious to climb that tree, not knowing how you’d fall.

It don’t matter what they saw when they found us, what they said or did. All that matters is that they dug your grave and put you in it. They took me home.

After Louise went Matthew and Agnes and theirs. Then Tom with his family and Bob with his. The Jacobsons. The Pickenses. Wilbur and Mary.

We were the last because I would not pack and I would not leave. I sat in your room with the pink wallpaper and the quilt Great Grandmother made and I held your dolls in turn, but there were too many and I didn’t know which had been your favorite. Did you have one? I don’t suppose so, always hankering after a new one the way you were.

The dam finished. The air, mornings, hung still. Graham took the boys to the place he’d found in the city. He said, “Pick what you want and come after,” but I couldn’t pick.

I stayed. Water shone on the south horizon. The ground turned gradually soft. Graham took to coming every weekend, when he had time from his job at the print shop there in the city and the boys were off from school.

Authorities knocked sometimes, said I had to leave.

Water ran ribbons through town.

Graham said, “It can’t stay like this forever.”

“Don’t touch me,” I warned.

It’s rained since and Graham hasn’t returned. Water laps the steps in town but ours is farther north, on a knoll. The road’s swamped, and the yard, but our step is clean and dry. I haven’t checked the cellar.

But Graham’s right—I can’t stay forever.

I hate your goddamn dolls and I’ve a bag packed with none of your things. It’s some satisfaction knowing, if you can’t float beneath that lake, they will.


 

HeadShot

 

Stacy Trautwein Burns’s flash fiction has been published online at Smokelong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review, and New Flash Fiction Review (among others) and has been anthologized in print with Bath Flash Fiction and Reflex Fiction. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University.

Close Down by Stefani Cox

The girl at the bar has words for me, wants to see the draft version of her story. She’ll tell me anything, anxious to escape a dark, sticky room of clustered hands and wicked moonshine.

Tap tap tap until I find her face again. Pay attention. These syllables can curl and arc like boomerangs. Don’t miss a one.

A man walks over all questing eyes and roving digits. I am an ordinary body, she says, the extraordinary ones go home by three. When the check arrives, he leaves alone.

Girl hurls a cocktail that will or will not implode, green vodka, tumbled olive. I apologize to the owner, as I pull her to the door, cheeks red at the embarrassment of night.

 


 

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Stefani Cox is a speculative fiction writer and poet based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published to LeVar Burton Reads, PodCastle, The Mantle, Mirror Dance, and FIYAH, among other outlets. She’s also an alumna of the VONA/Voices workshops and has served as an associate editor for PodCastle. Find her on Twitter @stefanicox or her website stefanicox.com.

Watermelon by Ellen Ellis

When I was four, we grew a watermelon in the backyard garden, under the split-trunk oak. Every morning the screen door would rattle from the passing of my two velcro sandals and the neighbor’s dog would bark as I squatted, square knees and dirty hands, to inspect that watermelon.

It swelled like summer passes, hair grows, knitting knots, so slow you couldn’t tell it was happening until one day it was bigger than I was. Sweet striped shell, vine and leaves. The critters ate all the tomatoes but they left that watermelon alone. Indomitable watermelon, under the sun and the tree and dog’s crossed eyes.

Kelly says I would sit out there next to the watermelon in my little yellow dress, toes in the dirt, talking at rocketship speed to my variegated friend, making squares with my two sky-sweeping hands. Outlining that craggy four-year-old universe to a very good listener.

July I tried to catch it in the act – get up early, tiptoe down the stairs, edge the screen door open far enough so that (holding my breath) I could fit my round kid belly through the gap. The moon, enormous, hung in the hot air. It probably knew how that watermelon just kept growing, but Mom’s following feet kept me from asking.

One morning it sat smug in the sunlight, self-satisfied in its mysteries, and the next it was a crater in the August earth, a severed stem trailing leaves. Our biggest white bowl overflowing with red flesh, a spill staining the tablecloth. Kelly put a whole slice in her mouth at once and the juice ran down her pufferfish cheeks, dripped in red rainspots onto her turned-up collar.


 

EllenEllis

 

Ellen Ellis’ work has been a finalist on Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Top 25, and received the Margaret C. Annan Memorial Prize and SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. She’s based in Chicago, and her story “Noise” was published in Wigleaf.